Chapter I - Wounds
Blizzard’s Wing trudged up the slope that was covered in snow as far as the eye could see. He was a cave guard, carrying prey for a prey hunter.
The tom carried a scrawny vole in his jaws. It was the middle of leaf-bare. He peered through the snowstorm to see the entrance to the Cave of Rushing Water ahead. He sighed with relief as his hunting patrol neared it.
The white tom shivered as freezing water sprayed him. The patrol padded into the cave and Blizzard’s Wing shook out his pelt.
“Hello,” mewed a brown and white she-cat.
“Hey,” replied Blizzard’s Wing. “I don’t suppose anyone else brought back fresh-kill while I was out?”
“Why?” she chuckled. “Are you hungry?”
Blizzard’s Wing shook his head. “There was nothing there when we left. It’s been a hard leaf-bare.”
“And newleaf won’t arrive for a while,” mewed a gray tom, padding up to them.
“Hello, Storm Pelt,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
Storm Pelt smiled at Blizzard’s Wing and turned to the brown and white she-cat. “Hi, Spotted Fur.”
“Hello,” mewed Spotted Fur.
“I’d better go talk to Stoneteller,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
“Why?” inquired Spotted Fur.
Blizzard’s Wing sighed. “Remember those injuries that Jagged Cliff returned with last quarter moon?”
“Yeah,” mewed Storm Pelt.
“Well, the same thing happened to Shifting Clouds,” continued Blizzard’s Wing, “and I think it’s more than a coincidence.”
“But what could it be?” asked Storm Pelt, looking puzzled.
“Other cats,” mewed Spotted Fur.
“You’re probably right,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing, “and if that’s true, I definitely need to tell Stoneteller about it. He should know.”
Blizzard’s Wing padded away into Stoneteller’s den. He noticed the hard, craggy rock floor, and though there were feathers lining Stoneteller’s nest, it couldn’t be comfortable.
“Hello,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing.
A silver tom sat up in the nest. “What is it?”
“Shifting Clouds came back with wounds similar to Jagged Cliff’s,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
Stoneteller got to his paws. “And what did his hunting partner say happened?” he asked.
“Lightning's Claw said she didn’t know,” replied Blizzard’s Wing.
“What does she mean by that?” inquired Stoneteller.
“She said all she saw was a black blur, then she woke up to find Shifting Clouds wounded,” answered Blizzard’s Wing. “She asked Shifting Clouds what happened, he said the same thing, but that he couldn’t remember past that point.”
Stoneteller nodded slowly. “I’ll go address the Tribe.”
Blizzard’s Wing dipped his head as Stoneteller padded past.
As Stoneteller leapt up onto a rock to address the Tribe, he yowled, “Let all cats of the Tribe gather for a meeting!”
The Tribe cats flocked to the rock. Blizzard’s Wing spotted Storm Pelt and Jagged Cliff at the edge of the crowd, and he padded over to join them.
The two toms were deep in conversation when Blizzard’s Wing reached them.
“You can’t deny that there were claw marks on you,” mewed Storm Pelt.
“It could have been a fox,” meowed Jagged Cliff adamantly.
“There are no foxes in the mountains,” Storm Pelt pointed out.
“It could have been an eagle,” mewed Jagged Cliff.
“You said you saw a black blur,” commented Blizzard’s Wing. “Eagles aren’t black. Also, eagles would have left different marks on you. You said there were marks on your belly, but an eagle would swoop down and grab your back or shoulders.”
Before Jagged Cliff could reply, Stoneteller yowled, “Silence!”
He began to address the Tribe. “You all know of Jagged Cliff’s wounds,” he began. “Shifting Clouds returned with the same type of wounds. He claims to have seen a black blur, and then he woke up with Lightning’s Claw bending over him with the same type of wounds. Blizzard’s Wing and several other cats believe that the ambushes were the work of cats.” Stoneteller narrowed his eyes. “Jagged Cliff, the first to be wounded, claims that it was an eagle or some other creature.” He paused before continuing
“Shifting Clouds,” Stoneteller mewed, beckoning with his tail to the gray and white tom, “will tell you what he believes happened.”
“It… it was all too fast,” stammered Shifting Clouds. “Like Stoneteller said, all I can remember is a black blur and waking up with Lightning’s Claw over me.”
“Very well,” meowed Stoneteller. “It is time for a meal.”
The Tribe gathered around the pile of prey in the center of the cave. Blizzard’s Wing sat back on his haunches and took a hawk from the pile. Spotted Fur padded over to him.
“Want to share?” he asked, pointing with his tail to the hawk.
“Sure!” she meowed, leaning down to take a bite.
Blizzard’s Wing took the next, then Spotted Fur again. They continued in this manner until the hawk was gone. Storm Pelt padded up to them. “Hey,” he mewed.
Spotted Fur greeted him with a flick of her tail, and Blizzard’s Wing said, “So, it was obviously a cat, right? Why won’t Stoneteller confirm that?”
Storm Pelt nodded. “Well, let’s go out and get the evidence.”
Spotted Fur’s eyes widened. “You mean go catch the cat?”
“Or cats,” Blizzard’s Wing pointed out. “We don’t know how many there are.”
Storm Pelt nodded again. “If it’s not cats, then no big deal. If it is cats, then we report back to Stoneteller.”
“I guess it’s simple enough,” mewed Spotted Fur.
Blizzard’s Wing stood up. “We leave tomorrow,” he meowed.
The other two flicked their ears in acknowledgement, and the three of them padded off to their beds. Blizzard’s Wing settled down in his scoop in the rock floor of the cave, which was lined with feathers. He shifted, too excited to go to sleep right away.
* * *
Blizzard’s Wing awoke and saw Storm Pelt creeping out of his nest. The white tom glanced at the sky. It was filled with milky predawn light. The pair crept over to Spotted Fur’s nest. Blizzard’s Wing glanced mischievously at Storm Pelt when he saw that the she-cat was still asleep.
He bent down and whispered in her ear, “Wake up, sleepy head!”
She shot up, hitting Blizzard’s Wing in the chin as she did. Before she could open her mouth, he recovered and hissed, “Don’t!”
Spotted Fur looked confused, and then she glanced at the pair that was waking her, and at the rest of the Tribe that was still sleeping, and she seemed to remember.
Blizzard’s Wing beckoned with his tail to the pair. They followed the Path of Rushing Water behind the waterfall. Blizzard’s Wing’s paws slipped on the wet surface. He glanced over his shoulder at the others to see Spotted Fur having similar problems and Storm Pelt completely at ease. Blizzard’s Wing wondered how the gray tom had grown so comfortable with surfaces like this, until he remembered how Storm Pelt would always sneak out of the cave by using the path when they were to-bes.
They emerged from behind the waterfall, and padded along a snowy path beside a sheer cliff. Blizzard’s Wing glanced down to his left at what seemed like a never-ending drop into icy oblivion, and then wished he hadn’t. The three cats crept along the rock wall and saw a hole in the side of the mountain.
“Let’s check it out,” suggested Storm Pelt.
“Sure,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing in reply.
“Fine by me,” meowed Spotted Fur.
Blizzard’s Wing let the other two cats fall in beside him. He peered inside the hole. Then everything went black.
Chapter II - Evidence
Blizzard’s Wing felt his haunches slide through huge snowdrifts. He coughed as the freezing snow shot up his nose.
He glanced to his left and saw Storm Pelt. He stared upward at the animal dragging him. He froze -- not from the snow, but shock. It’s a cat! he thought frantically.
He looked to his right to make sure Spotted Fur was there. Sure enough, she was being dragged through the snow by another cat.
The cat dragging Blizzard’s Wing was a broad-shouldered white tom. Spotted Fur was being hauled across the rock by a slender gray she-cat, and Storm Pelt by a burly brown tom.
Blizzard’s Wing wriggled to try to slip out of the grip of the cat holding him. When he slipped free, he opened his jaws to let out a yowl of triumph -- only for a tail to be slapped across his mouth.
“Shut it,” snarled the white tom as he slashed Blizzard’s Wing across the face.
Blizzard’s Wing growled as the tom reached for him again. Blizzard’s Wing stared straight into the other tom’s blazing amber eyes and realized that this cat knew how to fight.
The other tom raked Blizzard’s Wing’s belly, then rolled over to get out of the way. Blizzard’s Wing saw the gray she-cat twist around and race towards him to help the other tom.
“No, you mouse-brain!” yowled the tom battling Blizzard’s Wing.
At that moment, Spotted Fur recovered from being dropped on the rock and sprang at the she-cat that had been dragging her.
A look of confusion flashed through the gray she-cat’s eyes, then she seemed to regain her composure as Spotted Fur flew through the air. The gray she-cat twisted as Spotted Fur landed, but Spotted Fur lashed out with her back claws, hitting the other she-cat square in the shoulders and knocking her to the ground with her belly exposed.
Blizzard’s Wing had been so caught up in watching her that he had failed to notice the white tom creeping up on him from behind.
The tom pounced on Blizzard’s Wing, who whipped away at the last moment, thrusting out with his hind legs. Blizzard’s Wing’s attacker crashed into the cliffside.
“Ice!” shrieked the gray she-cat as she darted across the slippery stone.
Ice stood up. “The she-cat’s coming back around, Falcon!” he yowled. Blizzard’s Wing realized he must be referring to Spotted Fur.
As Spotted Fur attacked Falcon and Blizzard’s Wing resumed his fight with Ice, Storm Pelt twisted free of the brown tom. Hope flared in Blizzard’s Wing. We can win! he exclaimed inwardly.
Then five more cats rounded a corner ahead of Blizzard’s Wing and came charging towards them. The spark of hope disappeared as he saw a massive black tom with blazing eyes the color of fire at the head of the patrol. He, Storm Pelt, and Spotted Fur stood no chance against eight enemies!
“Storm Pelt! Spotted Fur!” called Blizzard’s Wing. “We don’t have a chance against them! Stop fighting or we’ll be killed!”
The black tom skidded to a halt just as the other two cats stopped trying to fight. “Who are they?” inquired the black tom as he padded over to Ice.
“Tribe cats,” replied Ice, dipping his head in respect.
“Good,” meowed the black tom.
“We’ll escape! The others did!”
“Tribe cats are foolish,” mewed the black tom simply.
“What kind of answer is that?” spat Storm Pelt, sounding outraged.
The black tom snorted. “They didn’t escape.”
His words sent a chill down Blizzard’s Wing’s spine. “W-what do you mean?” he stuttered.
“They never knew we were here,” the black tom replied.
“Why are we telling them all this, Shadow?” asked the brown tom that had been fighting Storm Pelt.
“We will not tell them any more than is necessary, Mud,” answered Shadow coolly.
“But we’re already telling them that--” Falcon was cut off when Shadow clapped his tail over Falcon’s mouth with surprising speed.
“Watch your tongue!” he hissed, then took his tail off. Blizzard’s Wing noted that Falcon was shaking.
Immediately calming down, Shadow meowed, “Let them go back to the Tribe.”
“Fox dung,” hissed Ice under his breath as he watched Blizzard’s Wing and his friends hurry off.
“Fox dung yourself!” shouted Storm Pelt over his shoulder.
Blizzard’s Wing was at his shoulder in seconds. “We don’t want a fight!” he hissed into his friend’s ear.
Storm Pelt shrugged. Ice was hurling insults at them, and Blizzard’s Wing added, “Well, at least you riled him up.”
Storm Pelt stifled a laugh as the three friends padded up the slope. Blizzard’s Wing kept casting nervous glances over his shoulder, but Shadow never moved.
Spotted Fur was grumbling behind them. Blizzard’s Wing dropped back to walk beside her. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Stupid ice,” she hissed. She was shaking her paw as if it hurt, and Blizzard’s Wing didn’t know a thing about herbs or wounds or anything of the sort.
“Storm Pelt!” he yowled to his gray friend, who was several fox lengths ahead now. Storm Pelt glanced back and saw the two cats, then hurried back to them.
“What’s wrong?” he inquired.
Nodding at Spotted Fur’s paw, he asked, “What do you think it is?”
Storm Pelt blinked. “A paw?” he replied, his expression playful.
Blizzard’s Wing sighed and gave him a shove with one of his shoulders. “The injury!” he mewed.
Storm Pelt looked at Spotted Fur’s paw, then looked back up at Blizzard’s Wing. “Sprain,” he meowed.
“How do we fix it?” Blizzard’s Wing pressed.
Storm Pelt narrowed his eyes, looking thoughtful. “She should rest for a few days, probably.”
Blizzard’s Wing rolled his eyes. “Mouse dung!” he spat. “We don’t have time for that! We need to get back to the cave! They’ll all know we’re gone by now! It’s already sunhigh!”
Storm Pelt backed away. “How come you’re so mad?”
The fur along Blizzard’s Wing’s spine rose. “I don’t have a good feeling about Shadow and his gang of rogues.”
Storm Pelt shrugged. “Who would? But they’re behind us now, and Spotted Fur needs to rest.”
Blizzard’s Wing spat again. “How far to the cave?”
Storm Pelt narrowed his eyes. “About… three tree-lengths, I’d guess.”
Blizzard’s Wing turned to Spotted Fur. “Can you walk?” he asked.
“I think so,” she grunted, standing up.
Suddenly a brown speck appeared in the sky, growing rapidly larger. Cruel talons and a hooked beak shown in the sunlight. Blizzard’s Wing barely had time to screech “Eagle!” before it was upon them, sinking it’s long talons into Spotted Fur’s shoulders.
Chapter III - Return
Blizzard’s Wing watched as Spotted Fur screeched. He was frozen with terror. Blizzard’s Wing was snapped out of his trance when he heard Storm Pelt’s yowl beside him.
The white tom leapt at the eagle, slashing furiously at its wings. The huge bird barely loosened its grip. Blizzard’s Wing heard Storm Pelt’s shriek of fury and panic beside him, sounding the same as his own.
Spotted Fur was yowling above their heads. “Help me!” she screeched.
Blizzard’s Wing jumped up and grabbed her legs and yanked. “Attack the eagle!” he yowled to Storm Pelt.
The gray tom nodded as he jumped up and clawed at the eagle’s gnarly legs. The eagle screeched again and jerked upward, bringing Spotted Fur up several mouse-lengths as well. Blood spattered on the cold gray stone as the eagle tried to take off.
Blizzard’s Wing yanked Spotted Fur down as hard as he could, knocking her to the ground. He landed on top of her. He couldn’t move, as much as he knew he should have rolled off right away. Instead, he found himself staring into her eyes.
Storm Pelt padded over. “Er… should we get a move on?”
Blizzard’s Wing got up and shook out his pelt, scattering snow. Storm Pelt jumped backward to avoid being showered by the white flakes.
Blizzard’s Wing nodded and padded up the slope along with his two friends. He saw the opening of the Path of Rushing Water up ahead. Blizzard’s Wing glanced up at the sky. It was well past sunhigh, the first hints of a beautiful sunset creeping into the sky.
A group of cats rushed out to meet them. “Lightning’s Claw,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing mewed, dipping his head.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Out looking for evidence,” answered Storm Pelt.
“Of what?” asked a gray tom. Blizzard’s Wing recognized Eagle’s Swoop.
“That cats attacked Jagged Cliff and Shifting Clouds,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
The white tom narrowed his eyes as he recalled that Lightning’s Claw was the one standing over Shifting Clouds after he had been attacked.
“That’s absurd!” exclaimed Lightning’s Claw.
“Well, we found cats who confessed to having attacked Tribe cats, so how can we trust you?” mewed Storm Pelt accusingly.
Blizzard’s Wing was curious to see how Lightning’s Claw would react, thought she only snarled and bared her teeth. “How could you think such a thing?” she yowled furiously.
A light brown tom padded up, and Blizzard’s Wing acknowledged Morning Dew’s presence with a flick of his tail. This tom was his brother.
“Let’s just get back to the cave,” suggested Morning Dew calmly.
Eagle’s Swoop nodded, but Lightning’s Claw was still bristling. She turned and padded up the slope with the others.
Morning Dew dropped back to walk beside Blizzard’s Wing. “What were you doing?” he asked. “You had us all worried sick!”
“We found proof! Our Tribemates were attacked by cats!” Blizzard’s Wing declared.
Morning Dew nodded slowly. “So you’re going to report to Stonteller, I assume?” he questioned.
Blizzard’s Wing nodded.
The light brown tom shot a glance at Lightning’s Claw. “You really think that she would do something like this?”
“I never said a thing about that,” replied Blizzard’s Wing. “That was Storm Pelt that accused her.”
“What were the cats like?” pressed Morning Dew. “Who were they?”
“There was Ice, Falcon, Mud, and others whose names were not revealed,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing. “Their leader was Shadow.”
As they entered the cave, cats from the Tribe gazed at them, some looking annoyed, some of the kits in awe, and others that seemed to just be glad they were home and safe.
Blizzard’s Wing headed for Stoneteller’s den immediately.
“Stoneteller?” he mewed, dipping his head.
“Yes?” asked the silver tom.
“We found evidence that cats attacked our Tribemates,” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
Stoneteller shot straight up and bounded over to meet Blizzard’s Wing. “What sort of cats?” he inquired.
“They appear to be rogues,” reported the white tom.
Stoneteller nodded and raced out of the den. “Cats of the Tribe!” he boomed.
Cats gathered around Stoneteller to hear what he had to say. Their jaws dropped as Stoneteller announced the news.
“So,” he concluded, “we need patrols around the borders to make sure we don’t see these cats in our territory again!”
Storm Pelt was at his paws in an instant. “What borders? What territory?” he yowled.
Stoneteller glared at the gray tom. “The one we will make!” he declared. “It should be easy enough to fight off these cats if they’re near our cave!”
Blizzard’s Wing got to his paws and shouted, “Shadow, the leader, did not seem easy to fight off!”
“You will follow my orders!” Stoneteller hissed.
“I think that we need new leadership!” yowled Storm Pelt. “All we’ve done is sit here while our cats have been attacked. One will be killed soon, and you will have their blood on your paws!”
Blizzard’s Wing stood there, gaping. They hadn’t planned this!
“Hand over your position! We will elect a new Stoneteller” demanded Storm Pelt. He narrowed his eyes. “Listen to me or be removed by force.”
Chapter IV - Overthrow
Stoneteller hissed at Storm Pelt’s challenge. “I am the leader of this Tribe, and I will guide it through this!”
Storm Pelt unsheathed his claws and hissed, “Stand down.”
“Never!” Stoneteller yowled defiantly.
Blizzard’s Wing bounded to his friend’s side. “We don’t need to start a fight with Stoneteller!”
Storm Pelt’s eyes darkened. “Any one of those cats, including us, could have been killed!”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded slowly. “Because Stoneteller wouldn’t take action,” the white tom admitted reluctantly.
Storm Pelt looked at Stoneteller with undisguised anger flaring in the eyes of both toms. Spotted Fur rushed up to Storm Pelt, but Blizzard’s Wing held her back. “He’s not thinking straight,” he meowed to her.
His gray friend’s fur wasn’t fluffed up, like it would be if he was… well, actually angry. This was a cold anger, as if he had been planning this, though Blizzard’s Wing didn’t think he had been.
“You will yield!” Storm Pelt yowled as he launched himself into the air.
Stoneteller whipped around and sank his claws into Storm Pelt’s scruff, shaking him violently. The Tribe was in an uproar, cats crashing into one another and stumbling around the cave trying to get to Stoneteller.
Stoneteller was much larger than Storm Pelt, but also clumsier. Storm Pelt reared up on his hind legs and crashed down upon Stoneteller with more strength than Blizzard’s Wing would have thought possible. Blood was seeping from a wound in Stoneteller’s belly.
Oh no no no no no... Blizzard’s Wing was desperately trying to get to Stoneteller and Storm Pelt, clawing his Tribemates in the process. “Have you completely forgotten our goal?” he hissed in his friend’s ear.
Storm Pelt turned blazing amber eyes toward the white tom. “He needed to be removed,” said his gray friend.
“Now,” Storm Pelt continued, “Who would volunteer to be the next Stoneteller?”
The question sent gasps of surprise around the room, and Stoneteller groaned feebly.
“This will not continue!” he proclaimed in a weak moan. “We will--” he was cut off as he coughed up blood. He hacked up more sticky, red liquid in that one moment than Blizzard’s Wing had ever seen, with the exception of eagle attacks.
The silver tom regained his composure and continued. “We must be strong when the rogues attack! We need to--” he was cut off again as blood gushed from his belly and mouth, even starting to trickle from his nose.
Storm Pelt padded over to the dying tom, a look of dismay in his eyes. “I wasn’t trying to do this!” he mewed, sheer despair in his voice.
Blizzard’s Wing tried to comfort his friend. Every cat in the cave was gathered around Stoneteller. The silver tom spat even more blood onto the stones of the cave floor, spasmed, and then grew very still.
“Our leader is dead!” Morning Dew’s shriek came first, and soon after, every other cat added their wails to the commotion.
“Stop!” roared Blizzard’s Wing.
Everyone fell silent, and Blizzard’s Wing stalked up to the place where Stoneteller had addressed the Tribe.
“Storm Pelt’s question remains!” he yowled. “Who will be our next Stoneteller?”
Cats looked from one to another until Jagged Cliff stepped forward. “I will gladly take the position of Stoneteller,” he mewed coolly, smiling ever so slightly. But it wasn’t a genuine smile.
Blizzard’s Wing’s distrust of this particular cat had grown greatly in the past quarter moon. The attacks combined with the fact that he had seemed to agree with Lightning’s Claw (another cat that he distrusted) on everything didn’t exactly make Blizzard’s Wing very fond of the older tom. However, he couldn’t accuse Jagged Cliff, a senior member of the Tribe, in the open like this.
Blizzard’s Wing narrowed his eyes and reluctantly meowed, “Very well, Stoneteller.”
Storm Pelt looked outraged behind him, and Spotted Fur still looked bewildered by the events that had occurred in the last several minutes.
“Nightfall is almost upon us,” announced Jagged Cliff. “All of us must get some sleep.”
As the Tribe headed for their nests, Storm Pelt made his way over to Blizzard’s Wing and Spotted Fur, looking angrier than he had been at the start of the battle between himself and Stoneteller. “Why did you do that?” he hissed. “I’ve just murdered the leader of the Tribe for nothing!”
Blizzard’s Wing winced as he realized that was true.
“We were better off with that useless elder that we could have pushed around in the future,” his gray friend continued, “than with this flea-bitten mange pelt!” He flicked his tail at Jagged Cliff.
“He’s right,” mewed Spotted Fur, who looked at Blizzard’s Wing. “All the events that have transpired here lead us to end up with one of the last cats that we would have ever wanted to listen to leading us.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded solemnly. “And now Lightning’s Claw will be the unofficial second-in-command.”
Spotted Fur looked surprised. “What do you mean? Isn’t she still Shifting Clouds’s mate? Did I miss something?”
“No,” Storm Pelt chimed in, “you didn’t. They just seem to agree on everything. And we all know that Jagged Cliff is not the cat that we want leading.”
Storm Pelt had echoed Blizzard’s Wing’s previous thoughts. The white tom heaved a sigh as he curled up to go to sleep.
And Stoneteller’s matted, bloody silver fur was printed in his mind.
Chapter V - Fall
Blizzard’s Wing awoke to Storm Pelt’s amber eyes a mouse-length from his face.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, scrambling to his paws. When he realized that no more of the Tribe was awake, he hissed more quietly. “What are you doing?”
Storm Pelt stepped out of the way so that Blizzard’s Wing could see Spotted Fur right behind him.
She looked a little nervous. Jagged Cliff, he remembered, clenching his jaw grimly.
“We’ve been assigned to another patrol,” she mewed.
“Great.” Blizzard’s Wing shook out his pelt to wake himself up. “It’ll take my mind off you know who.”
Spotted Fur nodded.
“Morning Dew and Lightning’s Claw are coming with us,” she meowed.
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. “Are they ready?”
“Hey!” called Storm Pelt, turning his back to Blizzard’s Wing. “Morning Dew! Lightning’s Claw!”
The two cats hurried over -- though Blizzard’s Wing noticed that Morning Dew came over to them much quicker than LIghtning’s Claw.
“What is it?” grunted Lightning’s Claw. “I’ve only just woken up.”
“We’re going on a hunting patrol,” answered Spotted Fur.
Morning Dew nodded and raced to the Path of Rushing Water, bounding along the slippery rock. Storm Pelt followed, then Lightning’s Claw, Spotted Fur, and Blizzard’s Wing.
Once outside, the five of them raced through the snow. Blizzard’s Wing would have thought that it was pleasant to be sprinting through the ice and snow, carefree -- except that cold winds were smacking his face, bringing freezing snow with it. He shivered, lowered his head, and ran faster.
Lightning’s Claw and Spotted Fur drew slightly ahead, as they were prey-hunters, but Blizzard’s Wing surprised himself with his own speed.
He picked up the scent of a vole and signaled to his Tribemates to slow down. Lightning’s Claw and Spotted Fur nodded to him.
The two prey-hunters stalked up to the prey, and Blizzard’s Wing watched for eagles coming from above. After the previous day’s attack, he wasn’t taking any chances. Lightning’s Claw darted in and chased the vole toward Spotted Fur, who finished it off quickly.
Blizzard’s Wing flicked Spotted Fur on the shoulder. “Good catch,” he mewed.
Storm Pelt nodded, then whipped around and lashed out with one paw. He came up with a mouse in his jaws.
“Whoa!” meowed Spotted Fur. “Nice job!”
“Thanks,” Storm Pelt mumbled around his catch.
Lightning’s Claw only grunted. “Let’s get a move on.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded.
“I’ll go with Storm Pelt,” she continued, “and Spotted Fur can take Blizzard’s Wing and Morning Dew.”
Blizzard’s Wing narrowed his eyes. Storm Pelt alone with Lightning’s Claw? That couldn’t go well.
“No way.” Blizzard’s Wing padded closer to Lightning’s Claw.
Lightning’s Claw looked slightly surprised at being talked to that way by a much younger member of the Tribe. “What do you mean?” she inquired coldly.
“I mean that you’re not going hunting alone with Storm Pelt. It can’t be just because you feel like it -- you two hate each other!” Blizzard’s Wing retorted.
He shot a glance at Storm Pelt, who was bristling with fury.
Lightning’s Claw unsheathed her claws, and snarled, “Why do you think that? There’s nothing wrong with me choosing to hunt with one Tribemate or another!” Seeming to realize that this was an unwarranted response, she sheathed her claws again, still furious.
“You argue about everything!” he exclaimed, then added more sarcastically, “I would have thought that would be obvious, but then again, you always have been a mouse-brain.”
Lightning’s Claw’s ears shot up. “What was that?” she growled.
Blizzard’s Wing’s neck fur was bristling. “Why can’t you take me with you, if you’re so eager to take Storm Pelt?” He shot back with a question of his own.
Lightning’s Claw was seething now. She leapt at Blizzard’s Wing, pinning him down. Panicking, Blizzard’s Wing lashed out with all four paws, ripping out tufts of gray fur and sending blood dripping onto the stone. Lightning’s Claw yowled with pain and fury, and Blizzard’s Wing wriggled free.
Storm Pelt leapt on Lightning’s Claw, planting his paws across her chest. Blizzard’s Wing rushed over to help. They had pinned the gray she-cat to the stones at the very edge of the mountainside. Cold wind buffeted his fur as Blizzard’s Wing planted his paw on Lightning’s Claw’s stomach.
Storm Pelt growled. “This couldn’t have been caused purely by your dislike of my friend.” He jerked his head at Blizzard’s Wing.
Morning Dew was still standing, horrified, a few fox-lengths away. He gazed at his brother with wide amber eyes. “W-why are you doing this? Why did Lightning’s Claw do that?” he asked shakily.
Storm Pelt growled, and Lightning’s Claw spat in his face. “What do you know?” she hissed.
Storm Pelt picked her up and held her over the edge of the cliff, shaking her violently and provoking screeches of pain from the gray she-cat.
“Do you have something we should know about?” hissed Blizzard’s Wing.
The she-cat hesitated. “Why should I tell you?” she snarled after a moment.
Storm Pelt shook her again.
“I-I’ve been--” she was cut off as a shape came into view for a heartbeat. It lashed out and raced away again.
“Morning Dew! Follow that thing!” yowled Storm Pelt.
The brown tom nodded and raced away through the snow.
Blizzard’s Wing looked down. Lightning’s Claw was losing her footing, stumbling and shrieking as she fell off the side of the mountain.
Chapter VI - Suspicion
Blizzard’s Wing stared, helpless, as Lightning’s Claw fell down, down, down, crashing into sharp rocks and sending pebbles crashing down with her.
“Help!” was the last word she shrieked before she disappeared from view. Not long after, Blizzard’s Wing heard a splat.
Lightning’s Claw was dead.
Storm Pelt looked horrified. Spotted Fur pressed into Blizzard’s Wing’s shoulder, and Blizzard’s Wing stood still, as if he were afraid to move.
Morning Dew came pelting back. “There’s no sign of the animal that did it!” he shouted, panic flaring in his eyes.
The winds had started to pick up, and snow was hitting Blizzard’s Wing in the face. He squinted to keep it out of his eyes. “Did they have Tribe scent?” he howled over the wind to his brother.
“I couldn’t tell!” the brown tom yowled back.
A sound like thunder suddenly shook the ground beneath Blizzard’s Wing’s paws. He looked up and opened his jaws wide. “Avalanche!” he screeched.
He ran for his life, barely dodging huge masses of snow, threatening to fall on him and suffocate him.
He glanced up again to see a shape that looked like a cat. No, two cats. And one of them had mud plastered on their fur -- a Tribe hunting technique.
Before he could get a closer look, more snow fell. He tried to roll out of the way, but a huge mound of snow hit him on the head. Then he couldn’t see anything.
* * *
Blizzard’s Wing woke up in a moss nest. Stoneteller -- the new one -- was bending over him, muttering something inaudible due to the herbs in his jaws.
“W-what happened?” he asked, sitting up.
It was Storm Pelt who answered. “You were hit by a falling rock.”
Stoneteller picked up a leaf from a nearby pile, picked it up, and trickled some of the juice onto Blizzard’s Wing’s wounds. “Where is Lightning’s Claw?” Stoneteller asked, as if he had only just noticed that his Tribemate hadn’t returned from the hunting patrol.
“She… uh… didn’t make it,” answered Storm Pelt.
Stoneteller’s ears shot up. “What?” he asked sharply.
“She was…” Blizzard’s Wing glanced at Storm Pelt, unsure how to explain how their Tribemate had attacked him. “Well, she attacked me, and we pinned her. Then she was about to say something to us, we don’t know what, when a cat pushed her off the cliff. We couldn’t identify them.”
“What a tragedy,” Stoneteller responded. “We shall sit vigil for her tonight.”
Blizzard’s Wing and his friends padded away. Morning Dew had gone to the fresh-kill pile, so the three of them could talk with no interruptions.
“Who do you think it was?” asked Blizzard’s Wing, sitting back on his haunches.
“I don’t know,” mewed Spotted Fur.
“What about Shadow?” Storm Pelt asked. “He’s definitely capable of doing that.”
“Yes,” meowed Spotted Fur, “but why would he want to?”
“Well, Lightning’s Claw was about to tell us something when she fell,” Blizzard’s Wing mewed. “We don’t know what that something is, and it could have been important to Shadow.”
“True,” meowed Storm Pelt, looking thoughtful. “But we have to consider other suspects. Morning Dew said that he didn’t know for sure that the attacker was part of the gang of rogues.”
“Are you suggesting that it was one of our Tribemates who killed Lightning’s Claw?” gasped Spotted Fur.
“Well, you have to admit, it’s not out of the question,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing. “Who hated Lightning’s Claw enough to want her dead for one reason or another?”
Storm Pet looked at him incredulously, and Blizzard’s Wing added, “Well, besides us.”
“We would have never done that!” exclaimed Spotted Fur indignantly.
“Don’t be so sure about that,” meowed Storm Pelt.
Spotted Fur’s eyes widened, and Storm Pelt mewed, “But the information was the most important part. Since very few cats would have just killed Lighting’s Claw out of the blue like that, the killer had to have been eavesdropping the whole time. They must have known what Lightning’s Claw was going to give away.”
“Well, we don’t know that,” countered Spotted Fur.
“No, but it’s very likely,” Blizzard’s Wing defended his friend.
“I think it was the rogues,” mewed Spotted Fur. “It has to be. We know that Shadow was attacking the Tribe, so it has to be them!”
“It doesn’t have to be anyone,” meowed Storm Pelt darkly. “But that’s definitely the most obvious answer.”
Blizzard’s Wing got up. “This isn’t going to be more productive than it already has been,” he mewed. “I’m going to have a drink.”
He padded over to a pool of water near the Path of Rushing Water and lapped up a few drops. The water was freezing cold, and Blizzard’s Wing nearly spit it out.
He heaved a sigh. He was worn out from the patrol, and even after being knocked unconscious for what must have been hours, he still felt like he’d barely gotten a wink of sleep.
Blizzard’s Wing padded over to his nest and curled up in the soft feathers. \
* * *
Blizzard’s Wing awoke to a low moaning. He crept out of his nest, stretching, and saw that it was Shifting Clouds making the sound.
Oh, right, he thought. Lightning’s Claw was his mate.
At that moment, Stoneteller came out from his den in the cave and bounded to the center of the Cave of Rushing Water.
“Cats of the Tribe!” he yowled, his voice echoing in the cave. “As many of you already know, Lightning’s Claw has died.” He lowered his head.
Shifting Clouds’s head lowered as well.
“We will sit vigil for her,” continued Stoneteller, “although there is no body.”
Storm Pelt leapt to his paws. “Are you even going to mention that she attacked us?” he yowled, furious.
Blizzard’s Wing sighed. His headstrong friend sometimes didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.
Shifting Clouds was on his paws in an instant. “She would never do a thing like that!” he hissed.
“Well,” Storm Pelt meowed, “she did.”
Shifting Clouds was bristling with fury. He seemed to be resisting the urge to hurl himself at Storm Pelt, as his mate had before her death.
Blizzard’s Wing hurried up to Storm Pelt. “What are you doing?” he hissed in his friend’s ear. “Last time you did something like this, you killed our leader!”
Storm Pelt’s eyes darkened, and he sat down.
Stoneteller looked annoyed with Blizzard’s Wing’s gray friend. “As I was saying,” he continued, “the Tribe will sit vigil for her.”
As the Tribe crouched to sit vigil, Blizzard’s Wing couldn’t grieve like some of his Tribemates. Lightning’s Claw had tried to kill him! And the cat who had killed her was yet to be identified.
So much deceit, he thought as he curled up beside his friends. We need to root out the killer, and we need to do it fast.
Chapter VII - Reconnaissance
Blizzard’s Wing awoke to find Storm Pelt and Spotted Fur still asleep beside him. He had fallen asleep during the vigil along with most other Tribe cats.
An idea had come to him overnight, one that he needed to share with his friends. He placed his paws on Storm Pelt’s shoulders and gently shook his gray friend.
Storm Pelt’s eyes shot open. “Oh,” he meowed groggily, “it’s only you.”
Spotted Fur, apparently woken by the noise, arched her back and stretched, letting out a long sigh.
“I have an idea,” he mewed, still whispering. “But I need to run it by you two.”
“Why?” asked Spotted Fur.
“You’ll see once I tell you. Now come on!” Blizzard’s Wing replied, beckoning them behind the waterfall with a flick of his tail.
Once they were behind the wall of water and they were sure no one could hear them, the three friends sat down on the slippery stone path.
“So what’s your idea?” Storm Pelt questioned.
Blizzard’s Wing took a deep breath, then meowed, “We need to find the rogues’ camp and spy on them.”
Storm Pelt’s eyes lit with surprise, but he looked determined, and nodded. Spotted Fur did the same. “But how will we get permission from Stoneteller?” she asked.
“We don’t,” answered Storm Pelt, appearing to have caught on. Turning to Blizzard’s Wing, he added, “This sounds like one of my plans!”
Blizzard’s Wing ignored the joke. “We need to leave now, before the rest of the Tribe wakes up.”
“What are they going to think we did?” asked Spotted Fur.
“They won’t think any less of us than they already do,” growled Storm Pelt.
“But seriously,” she mewed, “we could be accused of conspiring with the rogues to kill Stoneteller! Or Shifting Clouds! Or anyone else we don’t like!”
“She makes a good point,” admitted Storm Pelt, turning to Blizzard’s Wing. “What do we do?”
“I would think you’d just move on, taking whatever option you saw as being the best, and leave the two of us to follow you!” meowed Blizzard’s Wing.
“I killed Stoneteller -- the previous one -- the last time I did something like that,” the gray tom answered.
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. “Fair enough. I think we should go ahead with it. What about you?” he asked, flicking one ear at Spotted Fur.
After a moment, she nodded. “We need more information on those rogues. Let’s do it.”
“My vote doesn’t matter,” Storm Pelt butted in, “but I’d like to go ahead with it.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. “Regardless of whether or not your vote counts,” he mewed to Storm Pelt, “this decision is unanimous.”
The three friends crept out behind the waterfall, as they had done more than once in the past few days. Once they were out in the snow, Blizzard’s Wing turned to Storm Pelt. “Should we head for the spot where we last met the rogues?” he asked.
“Sure,” his friend replied.
The wind was starting to pick up. As Blizzard’s Wing looked at the sky, snow started falling. Flakes floated down onto his nose, and he shook them off, sneezing.
He continued along the side of the mountain beside Storm Pelt and Spotted Fur. His friends’ warmth against his pelt was comforting, as the wind had picked up. It was howling through the rock far below them, roaring through the air, tearing at the mountainside.
Blizzard’s Wing trekked along the rocky ground, which was beginning to slope upward, as he spotted an eagle in the sky. It dove toward them. Blizzard’s Wing unsheathed his claws and snarled, then realized that the eagle wasn’t heading for them. It was heading for another spot near them. It dove down until it disappeared behind a spike of rock that jutted up from the cliffside. The three friends heard screeching and yowling, and exchanged a glance.
“Come on!” Storm Pelt shouted over the wind. He raced off through the now fast-falling snow and around the spike of rock.
Blizzard’s Wing drew in a deep breath, accidentally sucking in snowflakes, then pelted through the blizzard, coughing up snow as he went.
He could see Storm Pelt up ahead, and Spotted Fur soon drew in front of both of them. When Blizzard’s Wing reached Storm Pelt, the friends rounded a corner to see Spotted Fur hanging on to a steep cliff. She didn’t scream, but there was a look of panic in her eyes. Blizzard’s Wing raced over to her, Storm Pelt beside him. They hauled her up onto the ledge and peered down at the hollow below through the snow still flying around.
Spotted Fur pressed herself into Blizzard’s Wing’s shoulder. “Thanks,” she whispered.
Blizzard’s Wing nodded stiffly in reply. He would have responded differently, but what he saw in the hollow below was shocking. It wasn’t very deep at all -- Blizzard’s Wing guessed only about three fox-lengths to the ground below. But he still wouldn’t want to fall. The rogues! he thought. We found them!
Storm Pelt was looking equally excited -- but he looked more excited to charge down and kill Shadow than excited to spy, like they were supposed to.
Blizzard’s Wing flicked his gray friend on the shoulder with his tail and jerked his head at the hollow below. “We have to watch,” he hissed.
Storm Pelt’s face changed to a look of determination as he nodded at Blizzard’s Wing. The friends settled down by the ridge to watch the rogues.
One of the cats called inside a den made of sticks. Shadow emerged. Storm Pelt looked like he was going to leap out of their hiding place and attack the cat who had hurt their Tribemates, but Blizzard’s Wing shot his friend a glare. “Just watch!” He had a hard time not yowling the words so every cat could hear.
Storm Pelt still looked incredibly angry, but nodded. “We don’t want to get caught again,” Blizzard’s Wing added.
A cat stepped up to Shadow. “How are things going with--” Shadow slapped his tail over the cat’s mouth. Blizzard’s Wing noticed that the speaker was Falcon, the gray she-cat from their last encounter. Shadow seemed to dislike her. Storm Pelt smirked beside him.
But Blizzard’s Wing was thinking about what Falcon had almost said. How are things going with what? he wondered. With the other rogues? Or… or with the Tribe?
“I think the rogues are planning an attack on the Tribe,” he mewed immediately to Storm Pelt.
Storm Pelt’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. “They must have murdered Lightning’s Claw!” Spotted Fur added, clearly shocked. “Shadow must have murdered Lightning’s Claw!” she nearly shrieked her last sentence. “We need to warn the Tribe!”
Falcon’s head shot up, but a white tom -- Blizzard’s Wing recognized Ice -- was pelting toward them. “Run!” he yelled to his friends. But it was too late. At least six of the rogues were on top of them, and the friends crumpled to the ground underneath in a screeching, thrashing mass of fur and teeth and claws.
Chapter VIII - Escape
Blizzard’s Wing opened his eyes to find Ice standing over him with a paw planted firmly in his chest. He decided not to try to escape, because the last time they had tried doing that, they had attracted the attention of more rogues.
Blizzard’s Wing saw Storm Pelt and Spotted Fur unconscious behind him. “Where’s Shadow?” he hissed at Ice.
Ice glared down at him. “He had some business to attend to,” the rogue answered gruffly.
Falcon, who was hunched over Spotted Fur, looked like she was tempted to claw the other she-cat’s ears off. Another rogue that Blizzard’s Wing had never seen before was holding down Storm Pelt. She was about as big as Ice, but looked younger. Storm Pelt hadn’t yet woken up. Blizzard’s Wing snorted, imagining what a pain he would be for his guard to handle.
Blizzard’s Wind decided it couldn’t hurt to get to know his enemy -- it could play to his advantage, and at the moment, he had no idea who most of the rogues were.
“So,” he mewed to the she-cat guarding Storm Pelt, “working for Shadow seems to be going pretty well for you.”
She looked rather surprised that he was trying to initiate a friendly conversation, and Blizzard’s Wing snorted again.
“Yes,” she answered cautiously.
“Why do you do it?” he asked, primarily trying to distract her so that Storm Pelt could fight her when he woke up. His gray friend wouldn’t think for an instant about the danger they could be in, just about how much he would want to hurt the rogues. I bet he would have died by now without Spotted Fur and I there, Blizzard’s Wing thought, amused.
“There’ll be a reward,” she answered, snapping Blizzard’s Wing back to reality. “A big one.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. Like what? he wondered, then thought, Right. The mountains.
He suddenly remembered how he and his friends needed to warn the Tribe about the attack. Blizzard’s Wing growled, frustrated that even if he somehow managed to escape, his friends would need to escape as well. Suddenly, his ears shot straight up. He had an idea.
“I need to make dirt,” he meowed abruptly, then tried not to cringe. Great job, that sounded normal.
“Er… okay,” the rogue replied, looking rather uncomfortable. “Ice, let him make dirt.”
Ice growled at Blizzard’s Wing. “He shouldn’t be left with no guards!” he mewed. “This one’s a trouble maker.”
“Then you’d like to come with me while I make dirt?” Blizzard’s Wing challenged.
Ice shook his head, growling even more. “Fine,” he finally hissed. He lifted his paw off Blizzard’s Wing’s chest.
Blizzard’s Wing arched his back in a quick stretch, trying not to smile, and then padded away through the snow and sparse, leafless bushes.
He emerged from a circle of bramble thickets that lined the clearing and immediately pelted back around to where he thought another entrance would be, if there was a second entrance.
He saw that in the back of the camp, there was a cluster of brambles thicker than the others that he would have to squeeze through to get back into the camp.
He peered through the prickly thorns to see if there were any rogues nearby. There weren’t. Ice and Falcon were pacing, still close to Spotted Fur, but Storm Pelt’s guard had wandered over to another part of the camp to talk to another rogue.
Blizzard’s Wing darted through the bramble thicket, stifling a yowl of pain as the thorns dug into his back, and raced over to Storm Pelt. He shook his friend as hard as he could, but clamped his tail over Storm Pelt’s mouth when the gray tom almost screeched.
“Come on!” he hissed. “We don’t have much time!”
“What?” asked Storm Pelt. “What do you mean?”
“We have to rescue Spotted Fur!” Blizzard’s Wing whispered.
Immediately Storm Pelt’s eyes narrowed and he nodded, getting to his paws and racing back to the bramble thickets with Blizzard’s Wing.
“Fox dung!” Storm Pelt hissed when they were back outside the camp. “Those thorns hurt!”
Blizzard’s Wing just nodded in reply and raced over to another spot by the wall of bramble thickets. He saw Spotted Fur directly ahead. “It would take the entire Tribe of Endless Hunting to pull this off!” Storm Pelt mewed beside Blizzard’s Wing.
“Just do it!” Blizzard’s Wing meowed in reply.
The two toms raced through the thickets, thorns scratching their fur. They left several tufts of fur and a little blood behind, but they were too concerned about getting to Spotted Fur without being seen to be worried about that.
They roused Spotted Fur and dragged her across the camp until she could get to her paws. Once she was on her paws again, she was running alongside them for the thickets.
Blizzard’s Wing heard angry yowls from the camp.
“Where are they?” roared Ice angrily.
“They’ve escaped!” screeched Falcon.
“What are you waiting for? Go after them!” hissed the she-cat that Blizzard’s Wing had met.
A few heartbeats later, the friends heard several cats crashing through the brambles behind them. Blizzard’s Wing’s heart threatened to leap out of his chest. “Keep going!” he shouted to his friends.
The three of them raced up the mountainside, and the rogues reluctantly slowed and stopped once they were near the Cave of Rushing Water. Storm Pelt turned to Blizzard’s Wing and Spotted Fur. “Let’s sneak in through Stoneteller’s den,” he suggested.
“We need to be careful,” warned Blizzard’s Wing. “If he spots us, we’re done for.”
“The Tribe will spot us anyway,” meowed Spotted Fur.
“But Stoneteller’s out to get us,” Storm Pelt pointed out. “If he catches us before the rest of the Tribe notices we were gone, he can accuse us of anything.”
“So then why in the name of the Tribe of Endless Hunting would you try to sneak past him?” questioned Blizzard’s Wing.
“There are quite a few places to hide in Stoneteller’s den,” Storm Pelt responded. “Behind the stone columns, in the shadows, pretty much anywhere in the cave.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Let’s do it.”
“Alright,” mewed Spotted Fur. “But we’ll need to sneak in through a hole in the cliff. Let’s all look.”
All three friends searched for a crack big enough for a cat to fit through. “I found one!” called Storm Pelt after a little while.
Storm Pelt went in first, then Blizzard’s Wing, then Spotted Fur. What they saw made their blood freeze out of horror -- Shadow and Stoneteller talking calmly in the cave.
Chapter IX - Revelation
Blizzard’s Wing’s jaw hung open in shock. “Traitor!” hissed Storm Pelt. The gray tom’s shoulders shifted as he tried to climb over the rock they were hiding behind.
“No! Stop!” Blizzard’s Wing whispered. With Spotted Fur’s help, he pulled the gray tom back down.
His paw met Storm Pelt’s face. “Mouse-brain!” he hissed. “You can’t give away our position! Besides, we need to listen to what they’re saying!”
Storm Pelt shakily sat up and pricked his ears to listen to Stoneteller and Shadow’s conversation, shocked into silence by Blizzard’s Wing’s harsh words.
“...the rogues,” Shadow was saying.
Stoneteller nodded. “I understand.”
“And,” Shadow added, examining his long, sharp claws, “you must agree to not harm us. Not now, not ever. We mean you no harm, as you have cooperated, but your Tribe does not yet know about this. Am I correct?”
“Then,” mewed Shadow, “no harm will come to my rogues. Do we agree?” Shadow inclined his head. His eyes looked like that of a friend, though the tone of his voice told the three friends that he was a dangerous enemy.
“Yes,” Stoneteller conceded slowly.
Shadow stood up, scattering a few small pebbles and watching as snow fell from his fur. “I will report this to my rogues.”
“But if my Tribe doesn’t know about it,” inquired Stoneteller dangerously, “why are your rogues being informed?”
Blizzard’s Wing waited for an awkward or uncomfortable answer from Shadow, but instead he said coolly, “I will inform them because the alliance simply will not work unless at least one side knows about it. Otherwise, if I decide not to kill one of your cats when I easily could, my rogues will become suspicious. That is not good for the treaty, nor is it good for your Tribe.”
Stoneteller nodded. “It seems we have reached a consensus.”
Shadow flicked his tail, then padded to the exit. At the last second, he looked over his shoulder. “You had better make sure you follow the terms of this agreement, Stoneteller.” The words sent a shiver down Blizzard’s Wing’s spine.
Then Shadow padded out of the cave.
Stoneteller’s eyes gleamed with a mixture of relief and knowingness. Then Storm Pelt’s paw shifted, and a pebble rolled across the stone floor. It was not visible from Stoneteller’s position, so the older cat immediately swept the area with a steely gaze.
Storm Pelt shrunk back, and Spotted Fur pressed herself into Blizzard’s Wing’s side. The white tom held his breath, not daring to move. Stoneteller padded closer. His eyes swept the room again. His head did not turn left or right; only his eyes swiveled in their sockets, searching the room of stone for signs of intruders.
Blizzard’s Wing unsheathed his claws, ready for a fight. However, he was careful not to let his claws scrape the rock.
Stoneteller turned his baleful stare away from the three cats and padded out of the cave.
Blizzard’s Wing let out a barely audible sigh of relief as the three cats crept out from behind the rock. They pelted out of Stoneteller’s den and raced across the Cave of Rushing Water, aiming for the path behind the waterfall.
Blizzard’s Wing saw Morning Dew walking across the cave. The white tom dove for the cover of a rock so he wouldn’t be spotted. When Morning Dew had passed, he darted out from behind the rock and on to the Path of Rushing Water. His two friends sat beside him.
“What just happened?” asked Spotted Fur in a whisper.
“Stoneteller just made a treaty with Shadow,” Storm Pelt meowed. “But he’s not telling the Tribe.”
“Why wouldn’t he tell the Tribe?” asked Blizzard’s Wing. “It’s a good thing that we don’t have to worry about the rogues attacking us anymore.”
“I don’t like this,” mewed Storm Pelt. “Something’s going on here.
“Maybe he’s just being cautious. Doesn’t want to make anyone angry,” suggested Spotted Fur.
“But who would be angry about the fact that the rogues won’t attack us?” challenged Blizzard’s Wing.
“Well, Shifting Clouds probably has a hunch that the rogues killed his mate,” Spotted Fur pointed out. “He wouldn’t want to make peace with them.”
“But he’s being too secretive,” argued Storm Pelt. “Stoneteller’s been doing things, big things, without telling us.”
“Let’s just go to him and ask him about it. We’ll just be honest, tell him we overheard the conversation, and ask him what was happening,” Spotted Fur meowed.
“I’m still pretty sure Stoneteller’s out to get us,” mewed Blizzard’s Wing, “so I don’t want to go to him about this. We figure it out ourselves.”
Spotted Fur’s eyes turned somber, but Storm Pelt’s eyes were gleaming with anger. “We’ll confront him about it all right!” He stood up and walked across the slick surface to the end of the path.
“No!” yowled Spotted Fur frantically as she dug her claws into his flank to hold the heavier cat back. “You’ll give us away! We can’t let him know where we are!”
Blizzard’s Wind clapped his paw over Storm Pelt’s mouth as the gray tom roared with anger and pain. One of his flailing paws hit Blizzard’s Wing in the head, sending him flying into the wall of the path. Stoneteller, who was around the fresh-kill pile, looked up. The older tom’s stare fell on Storm Pelt’s blazing amber eyes.
The Stoneteller yowled a few words that Blizzard’s Wing couldn’t hear. The white tom’s head was throbbing. His vision was fading, and the waterfall thundered beside the blood roaring in his ears. He clawed his way up to stand. The ghost-like form of Spotted Fur was clawing at Storm Pelt. Blizzard’s Wing opened his jaws to yowl. But then the pain in his head pulsed again, and again, faster and more painful. Eventually, the pain was too much for him to bear.
He collapsed against the wall. He saw Spotted Fur run toward him, but he also saw Storm Pelt’s shape, wavering in his darkening vision, claw at Morning Dew’s shoulder. He saw Spotted Fur faintly, but her desperate words were lost in the roar of battle and the waterfall. Spotted Fur’s anguished cry couldn’t be heard by Blizzard’s Wing as she buried her head in his shoulder. Her tears wet his fur, though he scarcely felt them.
He felt a few drops of blood trickle down the side of his head, leaving his fur sticky and wet. His blurred vision perceived a dozen Stonetellers marching toward him as his vision went black.
Chapter X - Accusation
Blizzard’s Wing’s eyes opened and he saw only darkness. He jerked his head up, trying to find light. Am I blind? What’s happening?
He jerked his head back, trying to spot something, but he couldn’t. Then a voice sounded in the dark.
A long, low, pained moan.
Blizzard’s Wing’s eyes lit with fear. He tried to run, but he hit a wall of rock. He lifted a paw to try and climb, but his claws hit rock, and when he tried to dig them in, one was ripped out. He stifled a howl of pain.
The moan sounded again.
The white tom’s wild eyes stared into utter blackness as he smashed against the stone wall. And then again. And again. But it wouldn’t move.
The groan came again.
Blizzard’s Wing bent over and charged with his shoulder into the stone wall. He collapsed in pain, writhing on the rock floor. He heard yowls and chants outside of his prison of stone. He stood up again, only to slip and fall on cold, wet stone. Stoneteller’s den!
But Stoneteller wasn’t there. Thoughts raced through his mind, bumping into one another in his panic, as the chants grew louder, and closer:
“Execute them! Execute them!”
Blizzard’s Wing tried to rear up on his hind legs and peer over the wall, desperate to see something other than darkness. But his muzzle slammed against the rock wall once again, and he fell.
He could hear pawsteps now, in the room, marching toward him. He made out Shifting Clouds’s voice, yelling “Kill them! Kill them! They deserve death!”
Something heavy fell to the floor. Then another. And another. And another. Eventually, the top of the stone wall was lined with golden light, streaming in from outside.
Blizzard’s Wing’s relief quickly vanished as he saw who had removed the stones from his prison: Stoneteller. This cat was not to be trusted.
“Silence!” yelled Stoneteller. The cheers died down.
Blizzard’s Wing saw Storm Pelt and Spotted Fur in half-fallen stone prisons of their own. He craned his neck to see them. Stoneteller’s claws met his face, and he jerked back to meet the older tom’s piercing gaze.
The white tom peeled back his lips to show his teeth. Stoneteller’s eyes were blazing with fury.
“This cat and his two friends,” he bellowed, “is responsible for the murder of your friend and Tribemate, Lightning’s Claw!”
The bloodthirsty chants started again, and Stoneteller roared over them. “They will be executed for killing one of our own!”
“What?” shrieked Storm Pelt. “We didn’t do that! It was the rogues!”
“Ah,” replied Stoneteller, a wicked smile creeping onto his face. “There is some truth to that, but, it’s just another excuse. Bring out the other prisoner!” he yelled to Eagle’s Swoop.
The broad-shouldered tom nodded and padded away into a cave behind and to the left of Blizzard’s Wing. The white tom knew better than to try and escape after what had happened by the waterfall.
Eagle’s Swoop emerged from the cave dragging something behind him. No, Blizzard’s Wing realized. Someone.
The tom dropped the cat onto the slick floor and stepped back into the horde of angry Tribe cats. The cat lifted her head from the ground with a groan. Blizzard’s Wing gaped at who it was. The rogue he had met at Shadow’s camp!
She raised her head and wearily tried to get to her paws. Blizzard’s Wing guessed her eyes adjusted, because they flared with panic as she arched her back, hissing. Morning Dew and several other cats glared at her, unsheathing their claws.
Stoneteller padded up to her and roughly shoved the rogue toward Blizzard’s Wing and his friends. She staggered over and stood there, her gaze flitting from side to side.
“These four cats,” announced Stoneteller, flicking his tail at them, “killed their Tribemate Lightning’s Claw. They killed her because she knew that they were allying with the rogues and plotting to kill myself and you!” He swept his tail in a wide circle at the Tribe cats.
“The rogues could be in league with them,” Stoneteller continued. “That is why we must kill these four and move swiftly to crush the rogue before any harm is done to our Tribe!”
His words were met with cheers of approval. Blizzard’s Wing desperately sought out Morning Dew in the crowd. His gaze fell on his brother. The brown tom looked crushed, angry, and betrayed. His amber eyes were edged with darkness, and a single tear dripped down his cheek.
Blizzard’s Wing wanted to cry out to the whole Tribe that he didn’t do it. He wanted to shred the deceptive leader of the Tribe right where he stood. But he couldn’t. That would only make it worse for him and his friends.
Blizzard’s Wing’s head hung. Utterly miserable, he hardly heard Storm Pelt’s curses or Spotted Fur’s distraught yowling. He was in his own world, a black cave of endless darkness with no way out.
He racked his brain to see if he could find an excuse that would work, but he couldn’t think of anything. Stoneteller was much smarter than Ice. If Blizzard’s Wing said he had to make dirt, Stoneteller would figure out that something was wrong.
There was no escaping this time.
The rogue’s distressed gaze shot from side to side, frantically searching the room of stone for an escape route. When she couldn’t find any way to get out of the situation, she roared with fury and desperation and charged at Stoneteller.
The older cat looked startled, but Morning Dew caught the rogue off guard with a swipe at her shoulder from her right. She went skidding across the cave and stopped only when she hit a rock wall, which knocked the wind out of her.
No! Blizzard’s Wing yelled at his brother inwardly. You’re helping the wrong cat!
Stoneteller’s eyes grew cold and hard. “Pick her up,” he mewed.
Eagle’s Swoop and Shifting Clouds lifted the rogue from the floor and held her in front of Stoneteller.
Stoneteller said his next words with a note of heartlessness that Blizzard’s Wing had only ever heard from Shadow: “Kill her.”
Chapter XI - Execution
Blizzard’s Wing’s eyes widened in shock as Eagle’s Swoop drew a claw up over the rogue’s neck. The rogue shrieked and thrashed around, trying to loosen Shifting Clouds’s grip on her shoulder and back.
Eagle’s Swoop’s eyes were chips of ice as he brought his unsheathed claws down on her neck, slicing through tendons and tearing muscle as they made their way out the other side. Eagle’s Swoop’s bloody paw wet the already slick stone floor as he placed it down.
Then, an eerie silence filled the room, only to be broken by a cruel, hard thump. The rogue’s head hit the ground, and as it fell to the side, the echo of its fall from her severed neck filled the room of stone.
Storm Pelt’s eyes betrayed his terror, Spotted Fur was scratching at the floor in dismay, and Blizzard’s Wing was frozen with horror and shock.
Stoneteller’s face transformed into a ghostly smile, whisked away as his Tribemates turned around.
“Now,” meowed the older cat, turning his eyes toward the three friends and licking one paw. “You three have seen the punishment that you are sentenced with. You will be beheaded tomorrow at sunhigh.”
He turned his back on the three of them and padded to the entrance of the cave. Before leaving, he paused and turned around. “Traitors.” With that, he left.
* * *
Back in his prison, Blizzard’s Wing scored the ground with long, sharp claws. He had almost no sense of time or direction as he stumbled miserably and bleary-eyed over to one of the walls.
My last night alive.
He bared his teeth.
Imprisoned by my own leader!
He let out a snarl of anger. He scratched the wall again.
That good for nothing heap of fox dung!
A ray of light shone through a crack in the wall. A stone fell to the ground. Morning Dew was taking them off the wall of his prison.
“Why would you do this?” growled his brother angrily. A tear fell from his eye.
“Save it,” hissed Blizzard’s Wing. “You don’t believe me. Why should I even try?”
His brother led him out of the enclosure into the cave. Blizzard’s Wing glanced up. Sunhigh.
Stoneteller was in the cave. He smiled evilly, and seemed to be expecting Blizzard’s Wing to lash out. But the white tom didn’t. He had made up his mind.
I’m going to die.
He pointed his muzzle up at the sky, at his ancestors who were supposed to be watching over him, protecting him. Why have you abandoned me?
Stoneteller bared his teeth. “Morning Dew!” the older cat ordered. “Place your claw on the back of Blizzard’s Wing’s neck and wait for further instructions.”
Blizzard’s Wing knelt down, defeated. Morning Dew carried out his orders.
“Eagle’s Swoop,” Stoneteller continued, “do the same to Storm Pelt.”
Storm Pelt’s fiery amber eyes shone with fury as he knelt. Eagle’s Swoop placed his claw in the position he had been ordered to.
“And Shifting Clouds,” mewed Stoneteller, “follow the same orders for Spotted Fur.”
Spotted Fur knelt, her eyes desperate. And Shifting Clouds did what he had been ordered to do.
“And now,” declared Stoneteller, his voice rising to a yowl, “these traitors shall die!”
The three executioners raised their paws. Blizzard’s Wing felt a tear drip down his cheek. Spotted Fur lowered her head in dismay. Storm Pelt growled.
Then Morning Dew let out a yowl and rammed into Eagle’s Swoop, who staggered into Shifting Clouds. The three toms were writhing on the floor of the cave, grappling and spitting at one another. “Go!” shouted Morning Dew. “Get out of here!”
Blizzard’s Wing scrambled to his paws. “Come on!” he shrieked to his friends.
They followed him and pelted across the cave, but a tom blocked their path. Blizzard’s Wing hurled himself at the cat, screeching and yowling furiously as he slashed at their throat. The tom hit Blizzard’s Wing in the chest with his shoulder, knocking the wind out of the white tom. Then the Tribe cat threw him to the ground where Blizzard’s Wing lay, panting, on his back.
Blizzard’s Wing, lost in the fire of battle and wildly trying to escape, swung a paw with unsheathed claws at his Tribemate.
And the claws met flesh.
With a horrible gurgling sound, the cat, Blizzard’s Wing’s Tribemate, fell to the ground and keeled over, dead. Blizzard’s Wing stared in dismay at the corpse. No!
But his gaze snapped up as he heard Morning Dew’s yowl of triumph. He had sent Eagle’s Swoop screeching away and Shifting Clouds reeling away in pain.
But Blizzard’s Wing’s brother failed to see Stoneteller creeping up behind him.
Stoneteller sunk his claws into Morning Dew’s back and jumped on, forcing him to the ground. The older cat jumped off and swiftly clamped his teeth around Morning Dew’s throat.
“No!” shrieked Blizzard’s Wing. He hared across the cave, but Shifting Clouds blocked his way. Blizzard’s Wing groped for the brown cat’s eyes, frantically trying to reach his brother. Shifting Clouds hissed and jerked away, and Blizzard’s Wing ran to his brother’s side.
He aimed a hefty blow at Stoneteller, who skidded across the floor of the cave.
But Blizzard’s Wing’s efforts were too late.
He crouched beside his brother, whose ragged breathing seemed to tear Blizzard’s Wing’s heart. “No!” he breathed. “You can’t die!”
“The paths of life are dark,” meowed Morning Dew feebly. He placed a paw on Blizzard’s Wing’s shoulder. “My path ends here. But you have moons ahead of you. Run and live on, brother.”
And the brown tom collapsed, dead.
Tears flooded Blizzard’s Wing’s eyes. He let out a cry of anguish, yowled to his friends, and pelted out of the cave, onto the mountainside, and into a world of pain.
Chapter XII - Decisions
Blizzard’s Wing pelted along the cliffside, sheer drops to his left and thousand-foot stone walls to his right. The wind was cold and harsh, sharply whipping his back as he hared away from the Cave of Rushing Water.
His paws slapped cold stone as he ran, gasping for breath as he neared an overhang. “Let’s stop here,” he suggested to his friends, who had been running behind him.
Storm Pelt nodded stiffly while Spotted Fur twitched an ear solemnly. All three cats huddled together, facing outward. The endless blue sky yawned before Blizzard’s Wing. Blood-red dawn light shone from the sun, soaking the sky and turning it shades of orange. A tear slid down Blizzard’s Wing’s cheek.
Spotted Fur’s tail whisked along his side. He twitched the tip of his tail slightly, acknowledging her. Storm Pelt’s eyes were bleak, glazed over with tiredness and emptiness.
Where do we go? Blizzard’s Wing wondered sadly. Our own Tribe tried to kill us!
But another thought lingered in the forefront of all four cats’ minds: the death of Morning Dew.
Blizzard’s Wing growled, but it came out as a sob. He died saving us.
Storm Pelt’s tail wrapped around Blizzard’s Wing’s shoulders. The three friends all leaned against each other and listened to the wind whine, racing through gorges, out into the sky and back again, smacking rock walls and chipping pebbles off, one by one by one.
Blizzard’s Wing let his eyes drift closed, but his sleep was haunted by the death of his brother.
* * *
The white tom awoke to rays of sunlight streaming in under the overhang, lighting up the sky and brightening the world. Blizzard’s Wing’s eyes were lighter, more happy now, but they were still shadowed with sadness.
And then Spotted Fur spoke what all three of them were thinking: “What do we do? I, for one, don’t want to live like a rogue until Stoneteller’s dead.”
Storm Pelt’s eyes lit up. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” asked Blizzard’s Wing.
“We…” Storm Pelt paused, glancing at both of his friends uneasily, as if he wasn’t sure how well his idea would be received. “We may need to join the rogues.”
Blizzard’s Wing’s shot to his paws.
“What?” shrieked Spotted Fur.
“Well,” mewed Storm Pelt, “it’d be a lot harder living out here on our own. If we can get Shadow to trust us, we’ll have more protection there.”
Blizzard’s Wing nodded. “Safety in numbers.”
“But why do we have to join the rogues?” Spotted Fur asked angrily. “Their leader murdered Lightning’s Claw!”
Blizzard’s Wing was about to nod again when a thought struck him like lightning. I’m a mouse-brain. How could I not have put this together before? “Storm Pelt,” he mewed slowly. “Spotted Fur. I… I don’t think the rogues murdered her. It was Stoneteller.”
Storm Pelt’s eyes widened. Then, the gray tom’s claws slid out. He let out a vicious growl and scored the cliffside with claws as strong as an eagle’s talons. “That traitorous piece of fox dung!”
“But why did he kill her?” Spotted Fur asked, still stunned by the news.
“Well… I don’t know,” confessed Blizzard’s Wing. “Maybe she knew something about him -- something related to the alliance with the rogues, possibly -- and he wanted to silence her.”
“Sounds just like Stoneteller,” the she-cat growled.
“Yes,” agreed Storm Pelt. “It makes sense.”
“So if Shadow probably didn’t murder Storm Pelt, and the Tribe is hunting us down, and we’re currently alone on a mountain surrounded by enemies, don’t you think we might want to consider joining the rogues?” inquired Blizzard’s Wing.
Spotted Fur grudgingly nodded. “You’re right. We’ll have better chances there.” She sighed. “Things have changed so much in the last quarter moon. Just think: before, we were hunting for our Tribe and our biggest problem was prey shortage, and now we’re running away from our leader who tried to execute us!”
Storm Pelt flicked his tail furiously. “So we’re joining the rogues now. Right?”
Blizzard’s Wing sighed resentfully. “Yes.”
Spotted Fur leaned into his shoulder. “Yes,” she breathed.
The three friends stood up and padded out from under the overhang as snow began to fall, lightly touching down on their backs and freezing their fur. The sharp wind picked up, blowing more snow with it as the friends set out for Shadow’s camp.
They pelted along the mountainside, the wind whipping them in the face as they sprinted along, alone, on the side of the jagged mountain.
The friends soon came within sight of a huge barrier of thorns and bramble tendrils, sure to keep out any unwelcome visitors. The rogues’ camp.
The last time the friends had been there, they had been prisoners of Shadow and his cruel allies.
But then, the rogues didn’t seem so evil anymore. Not compared to Stoneteller.
The Tribe cats -- former Tribe cats -- trotted up to the entrance of the camp and waited. After several seconds, a white head full of scars poked out. Ice.
“What are you doing here?” the rogue snarled when he saw them.
“We come in peace.” The words caught in Blizzard’s Wing’s throat. This is it. We’re joining our enemies.
Ice narrowed his eyes. “Why?”
It was Storm Pelt who answered. “We’d like to join you.”
“Oh, yes, and mice will fly!” snorted Ice. “Get out of here! We’re not interested.”
Blizzard’s Wing let out a growl. Just as all three were about to unsheathe their claws, a smooth voice from behind the thorns said, “Ice, it’s okay. I know what they’ve been up to. They’re among… friends now.”
And Shadow’s malicious amber eyes gleamed through a gap in the thorns.