Just an acknowledgement of your kindness, modesty and selflessness.
My first dream had been the creepiest. The one with Nightpaw had been the sweetest, and yet the cruelest. But this one, this one, was clearly the oddest of them all.
It was WaterClan. Normal WaterClan. The apprentice den was in its normal place, there were no dead bodies, there were no cats who weren't supposed to be there, who would never be there. There were no strange voices, no creepy forests, no memories, nothing...
But it was a dream. I felt it. Even as I watched Rainpaw and Mistypaw conversing-in the exact manner that they would every day in the Clan, I knew it was a dream. And I knew they were more than just figures of a dream.
There was just a feeling inside me, almost as though someone had deposited a box of information into my mind, which I was now discovering the contents of, that made it clear that all of WaterClan was sharing a dream. A dream located in WaterClan camp. An odd, senseless dream.
"Hey, Aquapaw," I turned around to find Gingerpaw-the younger Gingerpaw-staring at me. The Clan oddly had two Gingerpaws at the moment. For the moment we were bearing with the confusion, but I couldn't wait for at least one to become a warrior to save the whole of the apprentice den from confusion.
"Hey, Gingerpaw," I whispered, "Odd, dream isn't this. You'd think if someone was going to bother setting up some sort of dream for us, they would do it in a situation they couldn't find us in everyday."
"Right?" She tipped her head to the side, "Although I sense there's more behind this dream than the chance for us to just hang out while we're sleeping as well. I can sense a purpose coming along."
"Well it better come along faster," I rolled my eyes, "Because I have no intentions to enjoy this dream, until all is made clear to me." Especially after the disastrous ones I have had the past two nights.
But Gingerpaw didn't know about those dreams-no one did. I hadn't even told Hawkpaw about the dream of the previous night... it was just a little too personal for that. When she asked me, I said there had been nothing particularly odd about the dream, and she had responded claiming she hadn't got anything strange either.
Still, I was confused about the previous dreams. And a part of we was getting the strange urge that the two were somehow, inevitably connected.
"Want to go hunting while we wait?" Gingerpaw offered, "Not that the food we catch will really do any good to the Clan but you know... you do still need to improve your hunting skills."
I let in a disdainful sniff. There wasn't an apprentice in the whole den who wasn't aware of how incapable I was at hunting. And even if it was a dream, I figured some help would be a really good idea.
"Sure," I replied, shrugging sheepishly, and I followed Gingerpaw as we headed out of the apprentice den, and from there out of camp. As we passed by, however, I could notice the warriors all chatting nervously among themselves. We were all waiting for something to occur. Some dreams were odd but this was beyond that.
This had to have a purpose.
It just had to.
"Nice catch, Aquapaw!" Gingerpaw cheered, as I caught my first piece of prey from the past few sunrises. I wondered if my mentor would accept it-even if it was just a dream. Just a dream.
I probably knew better than to think like that. I probably knew better that to assume things were just a dream. Because that wasn't the way it worked, as I had learned. Perhaps before they were just little frights or excitements but as of late... Nothing was just a dream.
"Let's head back to camp," I offered, not bothering to pick of the dead mouse. It wasn't like it would do us any good anyways. Dreams didn't fill stomachs-unfortunately.
Gingerpaw and I chatted casually as we walked back. I asked her about how her apprenticeship was going, she questioned mine as well and there was something relaxing about speaking to her. Gingerpaw could listen, and give you all the reactions you expected. The two of us were friends, but I didn't personally know her that well.
I figured those who did were very fortunate.
"So what happened in your dream last night?" Gingerpaw questioned. For a moment I was sure I was going to respond with a casual lie. But for some reason, at the particular moment, it didn't feel right.
"Nightpaw," I whispered gently, "She returned."
Gingerpaw was silent-something I was grateful for, but I could feel her reaching out to me in sympathy, which I appreciated. The apprentices had spent a lot of time mourning as a group over the lost of Nightpaw but sometimes that wasn't what worked to get over things.
Sometimes all you needed was one, understanding friend. Just you and them. And it could be much more effective than trying to get over something as a group.
As we headed back into camp I noted that there wasn't much different from when we had left. Bramblestar was waiting in the entrance to camp, obviously waiting for whatever it was that had brought us together in our dreams as well to show up and state its cause.
"How are you two doing?" She asked us as we walked in.
"Well," I replied, "Although this situation is just really odd... I don't exactly get it."
"None of us do," She smiled, "I suppose we just have to wait."
But I didn't like waiting.
Gingerpaw nudged me gently and I followed her back into the apprentice den. I couldn't help noticing the full fresh-kill pile, and, unable to help myself, asking Gingerpaw to pause for a moment as I grabbed myself a giant rabbit. It was nice not needing to consider the queens, elders of medicine cats and just grab prey as I pleased.
"If only my whole life was a dream," I whispered, as I approached Gingerpaw and took a long whiff out of the rabbit. Dream or not, it smelled delicious.
Gingerpaw laughed gently, "I'm sure there's a catch too. You can't injure FireClan cats in dreams-pain is only mental. Unless you want to win an insulting competition it's not very likely."
"Well, I am very good at insulting people. You should ask Rainpaw! My one moon sentencing to cleaning the elder's den every day only just ended because Rainheart thought it got too out of hand, even though I didn't really mean anything I had said."
"I was wondering why no one was asking me to make the elder's den at all as of late," Her whiskers twitched, "You should have told me, I would have tried to help!"
She was nice, I noted. Too nice even-I hoped no one would ever try to take advantage of her.
As soon as we entered the apprentice den, I realized the situation must have changed a little since we had left. The paws were all going wild, whispering furiously, speaking furiously, yelling furiously.
"What's going on?" I questioned.
"You're not the only one with short patience," Featherpaw replied with a quick eyeroll. I noted that she was sitting silently and couldn't help remembering the time a patrol had went to FireClan to check for Mistypaw and Birdwing and how she had taught me to wait.
This time, however, I was excited to join the commotion. I preferred not to be left out of something unless it was a last resort.
Before I could jump into the mess, however, there was a loud call-a meaningful yowl-that was let out by Bramblestar. Without hesitation, we all raced out of the apprentice den, to see what Bramblestar had called us for.
We were not disappointed. Not in the slightest bit.
As I craned my neck to see over the large crowd of cats that had gather around Bramblestar, who was still sitting in the center to camp, I gasped at what saw once I was able to glimpse at it.
It was the mouse I had killed. Except it wasn't dead. It was alive, and it was flying several feet up, floating just before Bramblestar's face.
"I killed you!" I exclaimed, trying to shove my way through the cats to meet the mouse who had returned from the dead... or technically not since one couldn't die in a dream.
As I forced my way to the front, the mouse eyed me curiously, "Yes. You were a terrible hunter though-I could hear you sunrises before you even reached me."
I tried to hide my furious blush.
Next to me, Gingerpaw and Rainpaw were both purring in amusement, and I looked down at my paws, as the mouse turned back to Bramblestar.
It was only then I noticed that it had spoken to me. Huh.
"I have a message for you," The mouse claimed, turning back to Bramblestar, "A message for your Clan, that is." It's voice wasn't squeaky like I would have expected. Rather it was deep and dark. Familiar. Too familiar.
And suddenly I knew it. It was the same voice that had haunted my dreams just two nights ago. It was the same voice that had been toying with Hawkpaw. It was the same voice that prophesied our doom. The end of WaterClan.
But I didn't say anything, deciding it wasn't currently the time. It would give it's message and then I would kill it. I would kill it for real this time. It had claimed cats could die in their sleep, I would do the same to it. But first the message.
"An omen, actually, as opposed to a message."
Right. First the omen.
"Are you okay?" Gingerpaw turned to face me, "Your face seems a lot harder than before. You seem as though you've been seriously bothered by something."
"I'll be okay," I managed, "Nausea."
"Alright." She didn't question further.
"I suggest you give it to us quickly," Bramblestar claimed, eyeing the floating mouse suspiciously, "Because a flying mouse that talks is very curious-even for a dream which is already odd enough as it is, and they are all probably very curious of how a talking mouse claims. I can only hold of my Clan's special appetite for so long."
"I'll be quick then," The mouse offered, it's voice still deep.
"Dark times. Your Clan is going to face dark times. I'm aware that as of late your neighbors have been causing issues, but that was just feuds, battles, wars. This is doom. Your Clan is going to be corrupted from the inside. Every member of your Clan will be corrupted from the insides. None of you will be safe, even within the own walls of your camp, even within the walls of yourselves, even within the walls of your sanity."
"Destroy the enemy within. WaterClan must destroy the enemy within," I was hating that voice more and more by the moment, "Or else... the enemy within will destroy WaterClan. Piece by piece, cat by cat, bit by bit."
The whole Clan was silent. They were probably expecting a bit brighter of a reason to have us all brought together in a dream. Not to have a mouse, a flying, talking mouse at that, warn us of of the doom that would be coming from an enemy within."
Although I figured it must be more severe than I was taking it to be. This kind of stuff didn't just happen. This was likely real. I decided, however, that I would wait to wake up before I began to get overly worried.
Until then, I had a mouse to kill.
Without hesitation, I threw myself onto the mouse, rage burning through me. This was the voice that had showed me the sickest image of my life.
It would have to pay for that.
"Aquapaw, no!" I heard Gingerpaw scream, as Hawkpaw quickly flashed to my side, obviously recognizing the voice as well. The others might not recognize it but I was detimrined to take it down.
"You can't kill me," The voice hissed, "This is a dream."
"Is that why you're so convinced my Clanmates will die in their dreams," I replied, aware of the fact that the whole of the Clan was watching me but not even caring.
"But you guys are real. I've never been anything but a figure of a dream-I've never been anything but your hidden conscious. I can't be destroyed my claws, by words, by images."
"Let me prove you wrong," Hawkpaw offered, unsheathing her claws, and bringing them down on the mouse. Before I could watch them make contact, however, Gingerpaw had pushed her aside.
"Hawpaw! Aquapaw!" She hissed, her voice grave, "What are you guys doing?"
"It's a long story," I claimed, "But I know this rat-or the voice that's speaking through it. And it's been haunting Hawkpaw and I a lot lately."
"You heard it-this isn't the way," She whispered.
"What?" I spun around to give her a curious glance.
"This isn't the way," She repeated, "This isn't a battle of claws, of words, of negotiations anymore. Didn't you hear it? This is a battle of doubts. This time you can't escape your insides. And killing this mouse which doesn't even exist won't help you with that."
"Then why is it bothering you so much if we kill it?" I questioned.
She offered an apologetic shrug, "I can't stand to watch anything being killed without good reason-even if it is only a dream."
Hawkpaw sheathed her claws, again and I offered Gingerpaw an apologetic smile, "Sorry, I guess there was just so much pent up emotion towards this voice."
"And that's the problem," Bramblestar spoke towards us, towards the other cats, towards herself, towards WaterClan, "We're building up monsters within ourselves. And if we want WaterClan to survive we have to face them. And before it's too late."
Before anyone could say anymore, the dream was fading away and reality was fading back in. Alongside with the sinking feeling that we were about to face off against another enemy.
An enemy more sinister, much harder to face, and less bearable to hurt than any of those WaterClan had ever seen before.