Bramblekit and Tawnykit had just been born, when I see Fireheart come in, carrying two small, helpless kits. His brilliant ginger fur is shining, though his green eyes are tired and desperate. Frostfur's daughter, Cinderpaw, comes in behind him.
"Goldenflower," she mews, "This is Featherkit and Stormkit."
I stare at the two kits, the silver tabby looks exactly like...
"They're Graystripe's kits," Fireheart informs me. "And...Silverstream's."
"Silverstream!" exclaims Brindleface, then quickly turns away, noticing that Fireheart's information wasn't for her. She grooms her back, and circles her nest, making enough noise to scare away all of the prey in the forest. Speckletail squints, but Frostfur's just staring at Cinderpaw, her blue eyes dark and sad, as though she can't believe her daughter would be involved in such a crime.
"Can you nurse them?" Fireheart asks me quietly. I turn back to him, startled, but the queens around me break out in impatient and annoyed noises.
"Absolutely not," Speckletail hisses, lashing her tail.
"Of course she won't," spits Brindleface. "Why should she?"
Frostfur stays quiet, but I scuff the moss with my paws. "I think--"
And that's when Bluestar enters the den. "Goldenflower. Would you please nurse these kits?"
Bluestar's blue eyes are clear, and her voice is firm, though still offering it as an option, I can feel that I really don't have any options. I stare at the other queens, both steaming mad except for Frostfur, and then at Bluestar.
"She shouldn't," Speckletail snarls.
"Hush," Frostfur says, not taking her eyes off of her daughter, who is limping away. "This is Goldenflower's decision."
I want to thank Frostfur, but I can't, not now. "Goldenflower?" prompts Bluestar. I turn my gaze back to her.
"I'll do it."
Bramblekit has woken up. Bluestar stares at him, but Fireheart's gaze is disgusted. I turn to him. "But I won't if you look at my son like that."
Bramblekit whines for milk, waking up his sister. Tawnykit yawns widely, and Bluestar stares at the two in tired affection. "Kits," she mutters, and then pads away.
Bluestar and Fireheart pad out of the den, and I crane my neck to peer into the camp.
"Just a moment, Bramblekit." I spot him. "Wait right here, kits. Frostfur, make sure they don't go away to explore," I tell the white queen, and she nods, eyes still glazed.
He turns, his amber eyes meeting mine, and his eyes soften as he comes to meet me. "Come meet your kits, Tigerclaw. They've opened their eyes."
Speckletail stifles a growl as Tigerclaw enters the nursery, his broad frame blocking the light from streaming in to the den. Bramblekit and Tawnykit squirm in the darkness, but Tawnykit blinks and pads toward her father.
"W-Who are you?" she mews tentatively, and Tigerclaw bends down to lick her ear.
"I'm your father, Tawnykit. And yours, Bramblekit."
"You're our father?" squeaks Bramblekit. His dark pelt almost blends in with his father's as he jumps on him, play-fighting. Tigerclaw growls playfully, and paces around in a circle, until Tawnykit attacks his tail. I watch my kits and their father rolling around, and have to supress a laugh.
A squealing interrupts me, and I turn, forgetting my other charges. Featherkit and Stormkit are both mewling.
The two almost collapse after drinking their fill, and by the time the moon has appeared on the horizon, Bramblekit and Tawnykit stumble into the nursery again, their eyes drooping with fatigue. They settle down beside their new brother and sister, and within moments, everyone's asleep.
"What are they?" sneers Darkstripe. I turn to him, narrowing my eyes, and herd Featherkit and Stormkit towards Fireheart.
"What do you think they are?" snaps Sandstorm. "They're kits." Darkstripe glares at her, but the young warrior turns toward Fireheart, whose apprentice, Cloudpaw, is running around his paws.
"Fireheart!" I call out, and the warrior turns.
"I think you should properly meet Featherkit and Stormkit." Fireheart's green eyes drop from my face to the brilliant amber eyes of Stormkit, and the piercing blue ones of Featherkit. Both kits stumble a bit on their paws, but are awed by the size of Fireheart.
"He's huge," breathes Stormkit. Fireheart beams.
"Hey, Sandstorm!" Dustpelt calls. Most of the Clan that is sitting by swivel their heads to look at the dark brown tabby. Sandstorm slowly turns her pale ginger head to face him.
"What?" she asks, somewhat irritably. The eyes of the whole Clan are on both of them.
Dustpelt falters for a moment, then turns and pads away. The Clan erupts into whispers, most of them amused or surprised.
Sandstorm spots me, and heads over to the kits. I can hear Bramblekit and Tawnykit bounding around in the nursery, and Speckletail's occasional hiss of annoyance.
"Hi Goldenflower. I thought Bramblekit and Tawnykit were yours...whose are these?"
I glance briefly at Fireheart, who shakes his head almost imperceptibly, and I turn back to Sandstorm, at loss for what to say. "I...they're...they're not mine. You should ask Fireheart."
I quickly grasp the two kits by their scruffs, and hurry back into the nursery, not letting Fireheart meet his friend's kits. As I enter the nursery, I almost trip over Bramblekit and Tawnykit, who are both bounding around talking loudly.
"We should go to the elders!" cried Bramblekit. He began to move away, before Frostfur woke up and gave a startled mew.
"Brokentail! I--I--StarClan, no!" she wails, and Bramblekit and his sister press close to me. Featherkit and Stormkit are staring up at the trembling queen with wide eyes.
"Kits, go to the elders," I say shakily, and move over to comfort Frostfur.
Featherkit and Stormkit bravely pad up to Frostfur, and bury their noses in her fur in condolence. Frostfur sniffs.
"She should go to the medicine den," rasps Brindleface. Frostfur shivers, but stands up and pads away towards Yellowfang and Cinderpelt's den. I know she'll find solace in speaking with her own daughter, and maybe having a few poppy seeds to help her sleep.
Bramblekit and Tawnykit bash into my shoulder, and I jump up, hissing. They both stop, and cautiously step backward, until Tigerclaw steps into the den. Brindleface and Speckletail crouch, moving away from him, but I let his amber eyes fill my gaze.
Without warning, he drops his gaze, picks up his kits by their scruffs, and marches out into the clearing.
"You're eating fresh-kill," he announces, and Tawnykit squeals. She flings herself towards the pile, sinks her teeth into a vole, and drags it over to her brother.
"I wanted a shrew," whines Bramblekit, and the other queens and I have to stifle laughs. Speckletail trails off into a sort of snort, and then shakes her head and falls asleep.
My kits don't come back until sunhigh.
I'm sitting just outside the nursery, when I hear a commotion, and Leopardfur, the RiverClan deputy, bursts into the camp, followed by Blackclaw and Heavypaw, a warrior and his apprentice.
I turn away, thinking they've come for Bluestar, and watch Bramblekit jump on top of Featherkit and wrestle her to the ground, while Tawnykit and creeps up behind her brother and leaps on him. Stormkit attempts to tug off Tawnykit, but fails, and flops back down.
I'm surprised when Leopardfur stalks right over to the rolling kits, and I rush over to Bramblekit, Tawnykit, Stormkit, and Featherkit to usher them out of the way of the spotted deputy. She glares at them, and then picks up Featherkit by her scruff, signals to Blackclaw, and begins to leave the camp. Blackclaw takes Stormkit, but the entrance is immediately blocked.
"What are you doing?" hisses Runningwind.
"Taking the ones that rightfully belong to my Clan!" the deputy replies vehemently. She attempts to push past the tabby warrior, but he pushes her back.
"What are you talking about?" demands Mousefur. Thornpaw stands his ground right next to her, digging his claws into the dust.
"Those kits are the children of one of our warriors!"
"Who?" retorts Dustpelt. "And how do we know you're not lying?"
"Their mother was Silverstream," growls Leopardfur, setting Featherkit down. She trembles, and pads over to her brother.
Fireheart's glance pleads with the RiverClan deputy, but she seems in vindictive pleasure as she announces to the Clan, "Graystripe."
With a collective gasp, we all turn towards the gray warrior, whose head is bowed. His apprentice, and my son, Brackenpaw, looks sadly up at him, and sighs heavily, sorrowful for such a young cat.
"These kits should be with their mother's Clan," Leopardfur snarls, and tries once more to exit. Bluestar emerges.
"Stop. What are you doing?"
"Taking what rightfully belongs to RiverClan," insists Leopardfur. Featherkit and Stormkit are pressing close to each other, their eyes huge and frightened.
Suddenly, I unfreeze and hurtle forward. "My kits!"
"They're not yours," spits Leopardfur. Featherkit buries her head in my fur, and Stormkit mewls plantatively.
"I don't want to go!"
"Leave them here," demands Bluestar. Leopardfur stalks up to our leader, and sticks her nose in her face.
"Stop, stop, please!" begs Graystripe, hurrying forward. "Just let them go."
Leopardfur smirks, picks up the kits and begins to walk away. Graystripe gives us an anguished look...and follows.
"No!" Fireheart steps forward. "Graystripe, don't do this, don't let them take your kits, don't go to RiverClan..."
Graystripe's eyes are heavy and sad as he shakes his head slowly, turns, and follows Leopardfur out of the camp, and into the forest.
At The End
Rogues attack the camp. There is one pelt among all of them, however, that stands out for me.
A massive dark brown tabby tom, with long, unkempt fur, thorn-sharp claws, a broad, flat face, and torn ears is the leader of the patrol, and I whimper, flattening my ears at the likeness of this cat and my mate.
I can see Clawface, Blackfoot, Boulder, and Russetfur attacking cats, and in the midst, I can't spot Tigerclaw anywhere. Fireheart has disappeared as well, and Bluestar is nowhere in sight. We're in anarchy.
All of a sudden, a ginger pelt hurtles out of nowhere, slams into Brokenstar's side, and sends him toppling, falling in a flailing mass of fur and limbs as Fireheart attacks him.
The three ShadowClan warriors flee, and after a moment's hesitation of overwhelming defeat, Boulder rushes after them, leaving Brokenstar splayed in the clearing, though not visibly dead.
A shriek from inside Bluestar's den, and Fireheart races in, dragging out Tigerclaw a moment later. The deputy is clawing at him, but Fireheart keeps tugging him until he's out in the middle of camp.
Tigerclaw hops back up again, ready for a new attack on Fireheart, and the warrior's back is turned. I'm not sure whether I should warn him or not, take the side of my mate or this handsome young warrior.
But Sandstorm beats me to it. "Fireheart, watch out!" Tigerclaw hisses, his surprise is lost, but he still fights.
Fireheart whirls around him, biting his legs and clawing his flank, while Tigerclaw, whose weight and muscle are no good in this quick combat, twirls around, trying to fight Fireheart. Darkstripe attempts to aid him, but Sandstorm sends him spinning back. It's obvious they were meant for each other.
Fireheart finally has Tigerclaw pinned to the ground, but Tigerclaw doesn't seem to feel the battle's over. However, all he can do is grind his teeth and snarl at Fireheart until he lets him up, which I'm sure is not going to happen any time soon.
"He tried to kill Bluestar," gasps Fireheart, and the whole Clan lets out a noise of disbelief.
"It's true," he insists. "Just now. And he killed Redtail as well!"
He begins to tell a story, starting with Tigerclaw's apprentice, Ravenpaw, and how, at the battle of Sunningrocks just before Fireheart came to the forest, Tigerclaw killed Redtail, hoping to become deputy. Fireheart tells us everything he knows about Tigerclaw.
"All for the sake of getting power," spits Fireheart at the end. "For himself."
"Is it true?" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them, directed at Tigerclaw.
I can't meet his gaze, he turns away, and I believe Fireheart. As of this moment...Tigerclaw will probably forget me, now, in his bid for power.
"You are exiled," roars Bluestar. I hadn't noticed her standing there, breathing heavily, but now her blue-gray fur was shimmering, and her dark blue eyes were piercing, glaring down at the cats in the camp, as though daring them to contradict her, to beg Tigerclaw to say.
Tigerclaw snarls, throws Fireheart off of him, and stands up, growling. He swings his head over to the unmoving cats, who are staring, petrified, at him. "Darkstripe? Longtail? Dustpelt?"
Darkstripe hurries to Tigerclaw's side. "If you exile him, you exile me."
Bluestar looks down at him coldly. "Very well."
"Longtail?" Tigerclaw prompts the pale tabby. Longtail looks at his paws, back up at Tigerclaw, and mutely shakes his head, quickly. I can smell his fear, however, and know that he hadn't made this decision lightly.
Tigerclaw's eyes show no sign of disappointment as he turns, finally, to Dustpelt.
"I looked up to you. I wanted to be like you. But Redtail was my mentor. I owe him more than any cat. And you killed him. You killed him and betrayed the Clan. I'd rather die than follow you!" Dustpelt spits, tears filling his eyes, he turns away, leaving Darkstripe the only cat joining Tigerclaw.
"Then I'll go," mews Tigerclaw. "But you will regret this."
I see him in the center of the clearing, his limbs splayed out, his amber eyes unseeing, his black and white pelt smeared with blood, almost beyond recognition.
"Swiftpaw!" My breathing quickens, and I hurry over to him, tears spilling out my eyes as I see him lay, dead, there. "What happened?" I say, my voice breaking, as I turn to Fireheart, now deputy.
"Whatever was at Snakerocks killed him," he mewed, bowing his head. Bluestar emerges, her eyes fuzzy as she stares at Swiftpaw's body. Frostfur lurches out beside me.
Fireheart bites his lip, and then looks over toward the medicine den, where a ginger and white tail is trailing in the dust. "She's alive!" cries Frostfur. Fireheart stares at his paws.
"Barely," he whispers. "She's slipping."
Frostfur erupts into tears and hurries over to the medicine den. "My kit!"
I am lost for words as I stare at my eldest son. Whitestorm pads over, pats me comfortingly on the head with his tail, and pads away, head down, toward the medicine den. Brightpaw was his apprentice.
I close my eyes and bury my head in Swiftpaw's fur. What has ThunderClan done to deserve this?
Of the Tunnel
I stare through the crisscrossing branches of the hazel bush, up toward the glimmering, beckoning stars of Silverpelt. Brambleclaw, my son, made a warrior, sits beside me, resting his nose in my fur, while Leafpool, the new medicine cat and Firestar's daughter, is bustling around outside.
"Firestar," Leafpool calls softly. "Firestar, it's Goldenflower."
The handsome tom, who became leader after revealing my former mate's attempt to kill Bluestar. Bluestar later died, saving ThunderClan from the vicious pack of dogs that had killed my son. Tigerclaw had later become Tigerstar, the leader of ShadowClan, and had gotten RiverClan to join him to recreate the ancient Clan--TigerClan.
I remember seeing Tigerstar die, all nine lives stripped away at once.
And now, it's my time to join him.
I don't know where he'll be in StarClan, if he'll be with the mother of his other kits, Hawkfrost and Mothwing, or if he'll be waiting for me...he had always loved Hawkfrost and Mothwing's mother more than me, I knew that. But I've never loved any cat more than Tigerstar. I just don't know if he knows it.
"Goldenflower," whispers Firestar as he enters the elders' den. "Goldenflower, I'm sorry."
I try and move my mouth, but the muscles won't work. Leafpool lays her tail across my forehead to silence me, and gives me a long, sad look, before turning to her father.
Brambleclaw sniffles slightly, but won't let himself show any weakness. He's ThunderClan's deputy now.
"She's not in any pain, Brambleclaw," Leafpool mews softly. She's right...I'm not.
"Goodbye, Goldenflower," Firestar says. "May StarClan light your path."
"T-Tawnyp-p-pelt," I croak.
"Tawnypelt," yowls Brambleclaw, sensing my voice. "We have to get her, our mother's dying, Firestar, let me go get--"
"It's no use, Brambleclaw." Already Firestar's ginger pelt is fading from my sight.
The only thing I had ever wanted for my kits was for them to be happy.
Tawnypelt is, with Rowanclaw and her kits, Flametail, Dawnpelt, and Tigerheart. She is happy in ShadowClan.
But Brambleclaw isn't. Brambleclaw, in ThunderClan, believing Squirrelflight really had given birth to his kits, he was thrilled. And then Hollyleaf, the cat he believed to be his own daughter, revealed the truth. Everything that he felt towards Squirrelflight, everything he's ever felt towards her...vanished.
Jayfeather summons us, to fight with him, to aid him, and I go down beside Whitestorm, ready to fight.
And that's when I spot him.
Just out of the corner of my eye, a flash of a dark tabby pelt, and I'm positive.
"Goldenflower?" His voice is edged with disbelief, and Whitestorm's chuckling at Graystripe before plunging into the battle.
"No time for reunions," snaps a StarClan cat, pushing through us and snapping at a Dark Forest cat that was about to nip Brambleclaw's leg.
"Let's fight," yowls Brambleclaw, and I nod, hurrying after him.
We leap onto the same cat, and while Brambleclaw rakes his left flank, I pummel his ears. We send him off, and he yowls, defeated.
There are so many cats here, innumerable, countless bad souls who were denied entrance to StarClan. I race through the forest, away from them, toward ShadowClan land, Brambleclaw at my paws.
"Tawnypelt!" I call, and I see her tortoiseshell pelt turn towards mine, her eyes glitter with surprise.
"No time," growls Blackstar. "Come on, we've got cats to fight!"
And we had. Together, my whole family, missing only one cat, we tore through the thronging cats. Swiftpaw fought beside us as well, clawing at any cat who dared try and separate us.
Until finally, many of them were gone. Brambleclaw and Tawnypelt were going back to their camps, Swiftpaw was yawning with exhaustion, something that normally doesn't happen in StarClan...
All of a sudden, claws hook around my neck. I whip around, snapping my jaws, and then stop astonished, watching, almost in slow-motion as he bites my throat, and then pulls back, teeth and claws dripping with blood. I feel myself fading, but the last thing I see is my own amber eyes meeting his, and I know what I said was true.
Tigerstar never loved me. He had killed me.
But my children were, and always would be, the light waiting for me at the end of the tunnel.