|The Evil Rising Saga|
|Preceded by: |
|The Rise of Evil Special: The Parting of the Clans||Succeded by: |
The Rise of Evil: One
This story is dedicated to Leppy for her suggestion that I write a prequel about Bloodstar. So I did, and here it is. Enjoy!
Leader: Tanglestar - Dark brown tabby tom.
Deputy: Birdflight - Pale grey she-cat with blue eyes.
Medicine Cat: Fernleaf - Grey she-cat with bright green eyes.
Leafbriar - Dark tabby tom with pale blue eyes.
Pollentail - Cream she-cat with blue eyes.
Flowerpetal - Creamy brown she-cat with amber eyes.
Twigscale - Bright ginger tom with vivid amber eyes.
Snakeskin - Dark brown tom with dark eyes.
Oatpaw - Dark brown tabby tom with amber eyes.
Thornpaw - Tom with yellow eyes and a brown tabby pelt.
Swiftpaw - Brown tabby she-cat with dark blue eyes.
Mountainsnow - White she-cat with mismatched blue and green eyes, mother of Twigscale's kits.
Otterkit - Dark brown she-cat with splashes of white and lime green eyes.
Skykit - Black tom with white patches, blue eyes and a feathery tail.
Dazzlefur - Bright ginger she-cat with cloudy blue eyes.
Fawngaze - Pale brown she-cat with amber eyes.
Swiftclaw - Black-and-white tom with a long tail and blue eyes.
Leader: Owlstar - Tawny brown tom with large amber eyes.
Deputy: Olivestone - Dark brown she-cat with black eyes.
Medicine Cat: Mintnose - Pale grey tabby tom.
Featherwind - Grey she-cat with pale green eyes.
Damselwing - Brown tabby tom with turqoise eyes.
Cloudfur - Fluffy white tom with blue eyes.
Sneezetail - Brown tabby tom.
Webnose - Reddish tom with blue eyes.
Dashfoot - Tabby tom with green eyes.
Redpetal - Cream she-cat with blue eyes.
Petalear - Beautiful cream tabby she-cat with amber eyes.
Beanpaw - Brown tom with long tail.
Flamepaw - Reddish coloured tom with amber eyes.
Orangepaw - Orange furred tom with vivid green eyes.
Scarpaw - Grey tom with ugly scar over one eye.
Breezepaw - Pretty tortoiseshell she-cta with amber eyes.
Mistypaw - Grey she-cat with blue eyes.
Rippaw - Small yellow tom with green eyes.
Burnpelt - Dark red she-cat with sightless white eyes, mother of Owlstar's kits.
Duckfoot - Dark brown she-cat with amber eyes, mother of Webnose's kits.
Fangkit - Black tom with coal black eyes.
Leafkit - Tabby brown tom with amber eyes.
Brookkit - Tabby brown she-cat with black eyes.
Hollykit - Beautiful black she-cat with mismatched amber and blue eyes.
Tumblefoot - Dark brown tabby tom with amber eyes.
Leader: Stretchstar - Pale ginger tom with light blue eyes.
Deputy: Burrtangle - Dark brown tabby tom with pale yellow eyes.
Medicine Cat: Frostpelt - Pale grey tabby she-cat with pale yellow eyes.
Cragfur - Grey tom with white patches.
Dustypelt - Ginger and white tom.
Ashtail - Grey tabby tom with blue eyes.
Wingsky - Tabby brown she-cat with pale blue eyes.
Toadfoot - Dark brown tom with amber eyes.
Bloodpaw - Copper pelted tom with amber eyes.
Nettlepaw - Dark brown she-cat with deep blue eyes.
Applepelt - Reddish brown she-cat, mother of Ashtail's kits.
Icekit - White she-cat with blue eyes.
Fogkit - White tom with amber eyes.
Dapplenose - Pale brown she-cat.
Oatkit stood alone in the clearing of the WonderClan camp. It was finally his apprentice ceremony, but he was not enjoying it as much as he had hoped. Yesterday, a badger had broken into the camp. Many of WonderClan's brave warriors had driven it off, but in the battle three WonderClan cats had been killed, including Oatkit's brother Sandkit. Now, Oatkit was facing his ceremony alone. The younger kits in the Clan, Otterkit and Skykit, were watching excitedly with wide eyes and baited breath, and the two apprentices, Thornpaw and Swiftpaw were waiting excitedly for their new denmate.
"Oatkit, from this day until you earn your warrior name, you shall be known as Oatpaw. Your mentor will be Pollentail."
As Oatpaw listened to his Clan calling his new name, he suddenly realised that even if Sandkit couldn't be with him, he was watching from StarClan. Oatpaw raised his head to the stars and murmured to his brother.
"Are you there, Sandkit? I miss you. Don't worry, I'll be a good enough apprentice for both of us."
As the Clan continued to call his name, Oatpaw's mind was still far away.
Sandpaw, he thought. Sandpaw.
Oatpaw headed across the clearing towards the fresh-kill pile. He had his eye on a juicy vole. As he hurried over, Flowerpetal and Leafbriar both came up to him.
"Congratulations, Oatpaw." Flowerpetal meowed. "I'm proud of you, my son."
Leafbriar merely nodded, saying nothing.
Oatpaw knew that Leafbriar had preferred Sandkit. Oatpaw could tell that Leafbriar wished that Oatpaw had died instead. There was a dull ache, somewhere inside Oatpaw, that hurt every time Leafbriar looked at him like that. Oatpaw hunched over, as a sharp pain shot through his belly. He missed Sandkit so much it actually physically hurt.
"Are you alright?" Flowerpetal asked anxiously.
Oatpaw nodded, and forced himslef to stand up again.
"I'm fine. I'd better go to training now. See you later."
Pollentail was waiting for him. "Come on, we'd better go do some training. I asked Twigscale and Thornpaw to come too."
Oatpaw nodded, but he still felt hollow inside.
Thornpaw was a kind and gentle tom, yet very protective of his sister, Swiftpaw. Oatpaw liked both his denmates. Twigscale was the brother of Pollentail and Flowerpetal. Normally, cats didn't mentor their kin, but there had been such a shortage of warriors, that Pollentail was mentoring Oatpaw, her nephew, anyway.
"You will be hunting today. Thornpaw, I'd like you to hunt around the Twisted Tree, and Oatpaw, near the GorgonClan border, alright?" Twigscale told them.
Oatpaw and Thornpaw bounded off, towards their hunting places.
Oatpaw made sure he was looking for prey far enough away form the border, so that he didn't accidentally chase anything over it. He then settled down on the roots of a large tree, and watched. Soon, a faint scratching sound carried to him on the wind. There was a mouse under some leaves nearby. Oatpaw crept forward silently, and leapt. He felt his claws puncture the mouse's body, and he looked proudly down at his first fresh-kill. Suddenly, a new sound reached his ears.
"Come on Brookkit!" a young voice complained.
Kits! Oatpaw realised at once what the voices were. But there isn't a Brookkit in WonderClan. They must be GorgonClan kits!
Oatpaw padded closer to the border, hiding silently behind clumps of bracken. He soon saw the cause of the commotion. Three small kits were stumbling over the border. They looked about three moons old. The first kit to cross was a little black tom. He was smaller than his brother, and bigger than his sister. He peered around, and scented the air.
"Come on! I can't smell any cats," he called.
"I'm not trusting you again," the biggest kit, a tabby brown tom, muttered as he stumped after his brother. "Come on Brookkit," he added. "You're so slow."
The third kit, a tiny tabby brown she-cat, tried to catch up with her brothers despite her shorter legs.
"You're so bossy, Leafkit," she said, glaring at him. "Owlstar should give you the warrior name Leafbossyboots."
"Stop arguing and hurry up!" the first kit called. "I want to see what WonderClan looks like."
"Fangkit, are you sure this is WonderClan, not VanishClan?" Brookkit puffed, hurrying to catch up. "We don't want to end up in VanishClan instead."
"Have I ever been wrong before?" Fangkit asked huffily.
Brokkit and Leafkit looked at each other and purred.
"Yes!" they said in unison.
Oatpaw watched. From behind the little kits came another one, this one maybe only a moon.
"Fangkit, Leafkit, Brookkit, wait for me!" she called.
"Hollykit?" Leafkit gasped. "You were supposed to stay in the nursery!"
The little black kit pouted, narrowing her mismatched amber and blue eyes.
"I want to come too," she complained.
"Well you can't," Fangkit said grumpily. "Go away."
"I'll tell Mummy and Burnpelt," Hollykit threatened.
Brookkit sighed. "Fine, you can come."
Oatpaw decided it was time to take a hand. He stepped out from behind the bracken. All four kits gasped.
"I thought you said there wasn't anyone here," Brookkit accused her brother.
Fangkit looked sheepish. "Oops," he whispered.
Oatpaw stifled a purr.
"I think you all need to go back to your Clan now. You mothers must be very worriedl" he told them.
Brookkit's eyes widened at this.
"I don't want Mummy to be worried!" she cried.
"Then you'd better get back to camp, hadn't you?" Oatpaw told them.
"What if a fox catches us?" Hollykit asked with wide, scared eyes.
"I'll protect you," Fangkit said bravely, and Leafkit nodded, but both looked scared.
"I'll make sure you all get safely back to your camp." Oatpaw promised.
He led the four kits across the border and into GorgonClan territory.
"Which way now?" he asked Fangkit, who shrugged.
"This way!" Leafkit called.
Oatpaw soon realised that he could smell fresh GorgonClan scent, and a minute later a dark brown she-cat with amber eyes burst through the trees. As soon as she saw the kits, she started to purr, and ran to Hollykit, running her tail across the kit's black pelt over and over again.
"Thank you," she purred to Oatpaw. "Say thank you to..."
"Oatpaw," Oatpaw supplied.
"Say thank you to Oatpaw," the queen encouraged the kits.
"Thank you Oatpaw!" the four of them chorused.
Oatpaw dipped his head, and hurried back to his own territory. As he left, he could hear the queen beginning to scold all four kits, especailly Fangkit. It seemed every cat knew that he was the troublemaker. Fangkit sighed, and turned to look over his shoulder one last time. Oatpaw purred softly, and waved his tail, and Fangkit hurried after his littermates.
Oatpaw wriggled with excitement in his nest. It was almost evening, and he, Thornpaw and Swiftpaw were all going to the Gathering. Oatpaw's excitement was added to by the fact that Pollentail had been very impressed by how he had dealt with the GorgonClan kits earlier that day. She had told Tanglestar, and he had praised Oatpaw in front of the whole Clan. Now Oatpaw was finally going to get his first proper glimpse of GorgonClan and VanishClan. He could hardly wait.
"Keep still," Swiftpaw muttered from her nest beside him. "You're supposed to be sleeping before tonight's Gathering."
Oatpaw tried to still the excitement racing through him, but was only calm for a few second before he lashed his tail eagerly again. Swiftpaw rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath.
Suddenly, a large, dark head peered into the apprentices den.
"Come on, you three. Tanglestar says we're ready to leave."
Oatpaw leapt to his feet, and rushed to the entrance, knocking Thornpaw off his paws on his way out. Oatpaw leapt away from the entrance and immediatly crashed into Birdflight, the Clan deputy.
"Sorry Birdflight!" he yelled over his shoulder as he bounded over to the cats who were going to the Gathering.
"Will you tell us everything when you get back, Oatpaw?" Skykit called from the nursery where he and Otterkit were sticking their heads out to watch the cats leave.
Oatpaw nodded, and Skykit purred eagerly, then squeaked in annoyance as a white paw reached out and dragged him and his sister back inside the nursery.
"Mummy!" Oatpaw could hear him complaining.
Then Tanglestar waved his long, brown tail, and the cats headed out of the camp. Oatpaw padded along between Swiftpaw and Pollentail, trying not to show how nervous he was.
"I can't wait, can you?" Swiftpaw asked, nudging Oatpaw cheerfully with her shoulder. Oatpaw shook his head, trembling with anticipation. He followed behind his mentor, watching his paws, placing each one down carefully. He was so engrossed it watching the bunched dark brown fur that he walked right into another cat.
"Sorry!" Oatpaw gasped, glancing up and noticing an unfamiliar scent. It must be a VanishClan cat! The tom looked a little bigger than Oatpaw, with gleaming copper fur and bright amber eyes. He narrowed his eyes as he saw Oatpaw, and spat furiously at him.
"Watch where you're going, mouse-brain!"
Oatpaw stumbled backwards, shocked by the hostility in the tom's eyes. "Sorry, I'm sorry!" he gasped out, backing up another step, only to feel the earth slide away from his paws. He slid backwards and almost landed in a puddle, but soft fur wove around him and pulled him back onto safe ground.
"Thanks," Oatpaw muttered.
His saviour purred cheerfully. She carried the same scent of VanishClan as the hostile copper-coloured tom, but her eyes gleamed with friendliness and curiousity. Oatpaw purred too, steadied himself, and turned around to face Thoher, shifting away from the dark brown fur to peer into her eyes. They were a deep, beautiful blue. Oatpaw had never seen a colour like it, and he would have been content just to stare at her forever, but she interrupted.
"I'm Nettlepaw, by the way, and that grumpy furball is my brother, Bloodpaw."
"Nice to meet you," Oatpaw said politely. "My name's Oatpaw."
Nettlepaw waved her tail at him, beckoning him onwards towards where the other cats in WonderClan and VanishClan were hurrying up the hill towards the Gathering place.
"It's a long walk, isn't it?" Nettlepaw asked. She glanced over her shoulder. "Come on, Bloodpaw! I want to get there on time, like every other cat!"
Bloodpaw grunted, and quickened his pace until he was only a pawstep behind his sister and Oatpaw. Nettlepaw ran ahead, circling around the two toms and chatting constantly. Oatpaw really liked her. She was so bubbly, happy, and bright all the time. Her eyes gleamed with such friendliness and excitement that it was impossible not to like her.
"Look!" Nettlepaw exclaimed suddenly. "That must be where the Gathering is held!" She flicked her tail towards the thick forest ahead. Swiftpaw had told Oatpaw that the Gatherings were in a clearing so surrounded by trees and bushes that cats had to crawl in through a tunnel.
Oatpaw twitched his tail in anticipation, a purr rising in his throat.
"Come on, you two!" Nettlepaw exclaimed. "Our Clans are going in!" She bounded ahead, and Oatpaw followed close behind her. He glanced over his shoulder once, and saw Bloodpaw still padding steadily down the slope. His eyes gleamed like his sisters, but with a different emotion, something darker. Oatpaw shuddered, and turned his gaze back to the disappearing tip of Nettlepaw's tail.
Stretchstar opened the Gathering. The leader of VanishClan had pale ginger fur, and his icy blue eyes seemed to pierce right through Oatpaw.
"He's scary," Oatpaw whispered to Nettlepaw, shivering.
"Don't be silly," Nettlepaw snorted back. "He's a great leader. And he's Bloodpaw's mentor!"
Oatpaw gasped, to be mentored by a Clan leader was a great honour.
"Mind you," Nettlepaw continued thoughtfully. "I do wish Bloodpaw didn't boast about it so much."
Oatpaw glanced behind him at Nettlepaw's brother. Bloodpaw curled his lip in a snarl when he saw Oatpaw looking at him. His amber eyes gleamed coldly. Oatpaw turned quickly back to face the front, just as Stretchstar invited Tanglestar to speak first.
"Thank you, Stretchstar," Tanglestar meowed formally.
"That's my leader," Oatpaw hissed proudly in Nettlepaw's ear.
"Cool," she breathed back.
"WonderClan has had a good green-leaf, with plenty of prey. A badger broke into our camp, and was driven off, but in the attack three brave Clan members died. The Clans give thanks for the lives of Darktail, Minnowpaw and Sandkit."
Every cat at the Gathering bowed their heads respectfully. Oatpaw dipped his head as well, his chest burning with the memory of his brother, bounding out of their den with the sun gleaming in his amber eyes and his tufty ginger fur fluffed up.
"I'm sorry," Nettlepaw muttered. "Did you know them well?"
"Darktail was an elder," Oatpaw muttered back miserably. "He used to tell me and my brother stories. Minnowpaw I didn't know very well, but her brother and sister Thornpaw and Swiftpaw miss her very much. Sandkit was..." he choked up, then continued, "...my brother."
"I'm so sorry," Nettlepaw breathed, swiping her tongue gently over his ear.
A hiss from Bloodpaw stopped her, and both apprentices faced Tanglestar again.
"WonderClan has also made a new apprentice. Oatpaw is here tonight, and his mentor is Pollentail."
Oatpaw hunched down as curious gazes swept the crowd, searching for him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Pollentail with her head held high, looking faintly embarrassed.
Nettlepaw nudged him with her shoulder. "Sit up, mousebrain, people are looking for you!" She gave a faintly amused purr.
Oatpaw took the fiesty she-cat's advice, sitting up and smoothing the fur on his chest with a few quick licks. There was a hostile hiss from behind him, and Bloodpaw shoved past, baging Oatpaw with his shoulder, then said something to Nettlepaw in a low voice.
Nettlepaw listened, then tossed her head, irritated, and turned her back to Bloodpaw.
"My brother's a complete mouse-brain," she snapped, shuffling closer to Oatpaw. "Let's ignore him."
It was almost a moon after the Gathering. Oatpaw could hardly believe how much smaller he had been back then. Now, his head reached higher than Pollentail's shoulder, and his broad shoulders were even wider than those of his mentor. A lot of cats thought he took after his father. Leafbriar was a strong powerful cat too, they said. He should be proud of his son. Oatpaw knew that he wasn't. Leafbriar had never liked Oatpaw, and it seemed that he never would, no matter what Oatpaw did. It didn't seem to matter that his son was the best fighter in the whole Clan, could catch more prey than any of the other apprentices, and followed the warrior code to the letter.
Oatpaw wished that there was something he could do that would really make Leafbriar sit up and take notice, but so far nothing had come to mind. The next Gathering was approaching fast, and Oatpaw knew that he'd be allowed to come. The whole camp seemed to be in a state of anticipation and excitement, although that could be just because Otterkit and Skykit were bouncing around and getting under everybody's feet because they would be six moons old the night after the Gathering. They told anyone who would listen, over and over again.
There was a yowl from outside, and Oatpaw's head shot up. He clambered up from his nest, still a little dazed with sleep, and shook his head. Stepping over Thornpaw's next to reach the entrance, Oatpaw stuck his tousled head out of the apprentices den and gazed around the clearing.
"What's going on?" he asked Swiftpaw, who was closest.
"Nothing important," Swiftpaw purred. "Otterkit stood on a thorn. I'm sorry they woke you."
"it's fine," Oatpaw reassured her. "It wasn't your fault, and don't we have battle training today anyway?"
"Uh huh," Swiftpaw nodded. "I'm just waiting for Leafbriar. You should grab a bite to eat before we leave."
Oatpaw dipped his head, and bounded across the clearing, leaping right over Skykit as the tiny cat barrelled into his path. He arrived by the fresh-kill pile barely panting, and dipped his head, grabbing a vole between his teeth. He ripped a few bites out of it, before he heard Pollentail calling.
"Oatpaw! We're ready to leave!"
He left the remains of his shrew and dashed over to his mentor. She was waiting by the tunnel out of camp.
"Leafbriar and Twigscale have gone on ahead with Swiftpaw and Thornpaw," she told him. "If we hurry, we can catch them before they reach the training hollow."
Oatpaw followed her eagerly out of camp. The wind ruffled his fur, and his paws skidded on the fresh, new grass which had sprung up seemingly overnight after the rain. He opened his mouth, tasting the scents as he ran. There was prey everywhere, and the smell of fresh growth was strong too.
Pollentail twitched her ears as they slowed to a stop. There was a flurry of birdsong overhead, and a large magpie swooped downwards, flicking its claws at their heads. Oatpaw and Pollentail ducked away.
"Stupid birds," Pollentail muttered. "They think cats eat eggs."
"Hey, Oatpaw! Swiftpaw called suddenly. She bounded up to him, twining herself around him happily, purring. "I'm glad you're here to train too. Thornpaw's too rough!"
"Do you want me to have a word with him?" Pollentail asked, smoothing a patch of messy fur on her daughter's head.
Swiftpaw pulled her head away and shook it rapidly. "Nah, he's just being a tom."
Pollentail purred, and led the apprentices into the centre of the hollow.
"Who wants to start?" Twigscale asked.
"How about we put Oatpaw and Swiftpaw together, then pair Swiftpaw and Thornpaw?" Leafbriar suggested.
Pollentail shrugged. "Fighting other apprentices isn't much of a challenge for Oatpaw anymore," she pointed out.
"Yeah, and he always wins," Thornpaw complained, frisking his tail.
"Then why don't you two pair up," Twigscale said, shoving his apprentice towards his sister, "and Oatpaw can train with me till he's tired."
"That alright with you, Oatpaw?" Pollentail asked, looking sideways at him. Oatpaw nodded eagerly.
Twigscale beckoned with his tail. "Alright, how about we start with you attacking, and me defending. Try the jump strike, that's probably advanced enough for you."
Oatpaw crouched, his eyes fixed on a point above Twigscale's head. That was where he was going to aim. The jump strike was supposed to involve the cats leaping above their opponent's head, clawing them while in the air, and landing behind them, able to unbalance them easily. The defence was to duck as your attacker sailed over your head, then spin round and be ready to trip him as he landed.
Oatpaw frowned, deep in thought. If he twisted as he leapt, he could change the direction of his jump midstrike. That would confuse Twigscale. Satisfied with his plan, Oatpaw jumped high into the air, pushing sideways with one of his hind legs. His front paws skimmed Twigscale's fur, but the larger warrior ducked down, avoiding most of the blow. He turned, facing behind him, waiting for Oatpaw to land, but Oatpaw fell neatly to one side, and pushed at Twigscale with his forepaws, unbalancing the older warrior as he turned around.
Twigscale fell on his side in the dirt, then scrambled up, surprised.
"Did you plan to land there?" he asked, shaking his pelt.
"Yes," Oatpaw explained. "I knew that you would know the right defence, so I changed the move a little. Was - was that alright?" he added, suddenly unsure if he had done the right thing.
"That was brilliant!" Twigscale exclaimed. "Lets try some more improvisation. I'll defend again."
Oatpaw crouched down, Twigscale weaved slightly from side to side, light on his paws. Oatpaw darted forward, and flashed out a front paw. Twigscale rose on his hind paws to block, and Oatpaw ducked suddenly, skimming under Twigscale's belly, and knocking his hind legs out from under him.
"Oof," Twigscale gasped, as he fell heavily on his side for the second time that training session. "That was great," he added, scrambling to his paws. "Pollentail! I reckon you should take Oatpaw hunting. He's about done with training for today."
Pollentail purred at the praise of her apprentice, then beckoned with her tail. Oatpaw murmured a quick farewell to the other cats, and bounded after her.
Leaf-bare had drawn in rapidly. The whole camp was covered in snow most days. Otterpaw and Skypaw had loved the snow at first, but now they were annoyed with it for being so cold and wet and hampering their training. Oatpaw, Swiftpaw and Thornpaw were out with their mentors nearly every day, trying desperately to find what little fresh-kill they could. Every single cat in the Clan seemed to be searching day in and day out.
Oatpaw was on a hunting patrol with Pollentail, Mountainsnow and Birdflight when he heard the squeaking. It was coming from a hollow tree near the GorgonClan border, and his first thought was that those kits were back, exploring again, but then he realised that they must be apprentices by now, and the squeaking sounded like much younger cats.
"Birdflight, I hear something over here!" he alerted the deputy, and waited while the other members of the patrol caught up to him.
"What is it?" Birdflight wondered, tipping her head to one side.
Both Mountainsnow and Pollentail didn't hesitate though, rushing straight to the tree.
"It's very young kits," Mountainsnow called over her shoulder, before reaching the hollow tree and peering into it. "Four of them," she added.
Birdflight bounded over to her sister, Oatpaw hot on her heels. He peered into the tree, and saw the tiny, mewling cats that lay there. The biggest kit was a grey tom with tabby stripes down his back. His green eyes were open wide, staring up at the cats looking in on him. The kit beside him was mewling the loudest, its tiny face screwed up, and its black-and-white fur fluffed around it. The only she-cat was the smallest, with pretty cream fur that was slightly darker on her paws and face. Her blue eyes gleamed up at Oatpaw as she opened her pink mouth wide and wailed furiously. The last kit was a grey splotched tom with dark blue eyes. He was the only one who was lying quietly, gazing curiously at the world around him.
"The poor little things are frozen stiff!" Pollentail meowed, licking frantically at the tiny scraps.
"We have to get them back to camp, Birdflight," Mountainsnow added. "They're close to death."
Birdflight hesitated. "It will only mean more hungry mouths to feed," she pointed out. "We don't even have enough fresh-kill for our own Clan!"
"You can't seriously be thinking of leaving them here to die?" Pollentail snapped angrily, turning on the deputy. Her eyes gleamed with fury and pity, and Oatpaw remembered with a shock that it was only a few moons ago that she had lost one of her own kits, Minnowpaw.
Mountainsnow seemed to be thinking of her two kits as well. "Calm down, Pollentail," she meowed softly, then flicked Birdflight's shoulder with her tail. "Imagine if it was Otterpaw and Skypaw out here freezing to death," she added, pressing her pelt against her sisters. "Think how much you would hate that."
"We'll take them back," Birdflight agreed reluctantly. "But I still don't know how we're going to feed them. Don't forget, we have no nursing queens at the moment. I don't think we'll be able to feed them at all."
Oatpaw dashed back to the camp with the others, holding the little she-cat tightly in his jaws. She wriggled, and squeaked, but she seemed to be tired out, because by the time he arrived, she was asleep.
He followed the she-cats into the nursery, and laid the kit down with her brothers. Birdflight hurried out to talk to Tanglestar, while Pollentail and Mountainsnow hovered protectively over the kits.
"Do they look old enough to eat fresh-kill yet?" Pollentail fretted.
"Maybe if we chew it up for them first?" Mountainsnow suggested, but her eyes were worried.
Tanglestar thrust his way into the nursery, shoving through the brambles with his powerful shoulders. "Are these the new arrivals?" he asked, bending over the kits. Behind him, Fernleaf slid through the entrance, carrying herbs in her jaws.
She lowered them to the floor, and peered at the kits. "They're freezing," she pointed out. "Lick them, Oatpaw, rub their fur the wrong way to keep them warm. You help, Pollentail."
Mountainsnow clambered into the nest and curled her body around the kits, surrounding them in her warm fur. Oatpaw licked steadily at the she-cat, and at the tom next to her, while Pollentail worked on the other two, and Fernleaf chewed up herbs.
"Try and get them to eat a little bit of this," she meowed at last, and handed green paste to everyone.
Oatpaw took the slimy mess on his paw, and pushed it towards the biggest kit's mouth. He shoved it in, then held the kit's jaws closed and blew on his nose to make him swallow. The tiny cat's throat convulsed, and he gulped down the herbs, then jerked his head away from Oatpaw, and mewled even more pitifully, sticking out his tongue in an effort to get rid of the foul taste.
“That’s right,” Fernleaf meowed encouragingly. “Make sure they swallow all of it, Oatpaw.”
Otterpaw and Skypaw came bursting in, shaking snow of their pelt and staring at the kits curiously.
“Who are they?” Otterpaw asked. “Prisoners?”
Mountainsnow rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Don’t be silly, Otterpaw,” she sighed. “WonderClan doesn’t take prisoners.”
“That’s what they all say,” Otterpaw grumbled. Skypaw took a step closer to Oatpaw and peered at the tiny kits.
“They’re so small!” he gasped. “Are they going to die?”
“Not if we can help it,” Pollentail muttered. “Skypaw, fetch us a mouse, can you?”
“I’ll help!” Otterpaw said instantly, shoving past her brother to get out of the nursery first. Skypaw followed good-naturedly. The apprentices were back shortly with a half-frozen mouse. They had shaken the worst of the snow off, and now they put it down on the mossy floor of the nursery.
Oatpaw ripped a chunk of mouse off, and started chewing it quickly, resisting the urge to swallow. His belly growled hungrily, but he ignored it, and eventually spat out his piece of ground-up mouse. The biggest kit squeaked, blinked open green eyes, and started squirming towards the scent of fresh-kill, his sister close behind him.
Fernleaf looked pleased, watching the two kits wriggle. “They look alright,” she said with relief. “I wonder who their mother is? She must be frantic.”
“Some rogue?” Pollentail suggested. “Maybe she’s dead.”
“They can’t have been there for long, or they would have frozen to death,” Mountainsnow pointed out thoughtfully.
“Or a fox or badger would have gotten them,” Oatpaw agreed.
Tanglestar had been listening agreeably to the conversation with his tail tucked around his paws. Now, he rose to his feet and spoke with quiet authority.
“Well, they look like they’re doing ok. Oatpaw, I need you to get back to your hunting duties. Same goes for you, Pollentail. Fernleaf and Mountainsnow will look after the kits. Also, I think we should name them. If they’re going to be a part of WonderClan, we can’t just call them ‘the kits’ all the time.”
Otterpaw flicked her tail at the she-cat. “Lightkit,” she said instantly. “Cos her fur’s all light, and her eyes are light.”
No one objected, so Tanglestar shrugged, and nodded.
Mountainsnow nosed the black-and-white kit, who was burrowed into her side. “See that?” she asked, dipping her head at a white mark on his black forehead. “It looks like a star.”
“Starkit then,” Tanglestar agreed.
The biggest kit finished his mouthful of mouse and mewled, drawing everyone’s attention to him.
“Scarkit,” Skypaw said firmly. When the other cats looked at him, confused, he defended his choice of name. “Look at his back!”
Oatpaw peered closer. Skypaw was right, he realised with a shock. The grey kit had long scars stretching over the stripes on his back.
“It looks like it’s from an eagle,” Fernleaf said wonderingly.
“Exactly,” said Skypaw. “He’s very lucky to be alive, and his name will remind him to be proud of that.”
The others shrugged, and when no one had any objections, Scarkit was officially named.
Oatpaw had been watching the last kit, who was gazing at all the bigger cats looming over him with quiet interest. “Thistlekit,” he said suddenly, and everyone stared at him. “I - I mean, his tail is all fluffy, but it looks spiky… like thistles,” he blustered.
“Right then, that’s done,” Tanglestar decided. “Thistlekit, Scarkit, Lightkit and Starkit. Newest members of WonderClan.”
Oatpaw purred briefly, then disentangled himself from the kits and followed Pollentail and Tanglestar out into the cold, ready to continue the long search for prey.
Oatpaw pounced, landing squarely on the blackbird he had been stalking. It had taken him a while to find the bird, tugging worms out of the thawing earth, but it was good and plump, and would probably be a good meal for the kits or elders.
Oatpaw carried the blackbird over to where the rest of his prey was buried, and scraped away the earth covering it. This was his last hunt as an apprentice. His ceremony was tonight, and his first Gathering as a warrior was tomorrow evening. Excitement tingled in his paws at the thought, and he had to admit, just to himself, that a lot of his excitement was centred around the thought of seeing Nettlepaw as a warrior.
“Oatpaw!” Pollentail called, bounding over to him. “Catch much?” Flowerpetal was padding more sedately behind her sister, but she purred when she saw her son.
“Yes,” Oatpaw replied, bursting with happiness. “I was just taking it back to camp.”
“I’ll take some,” Pollentail meowed, dipping her head and grabbing a squirrel and a mouse. “After all,” she mumbled through a mouthful of fur, “you don’t want to be spitting bits of squirrel hair out all through your ceremony!”
As she bounded off, Oatpaw dipped his head to grab the blackbird, and his mother picked up a shrew.
“I’m so proud of you,” she told him, brushing her pelt against his. “I know you had a tough time when Sandkit died. I miss him very much, every day. But seeing you become the best apprentice, and now the best warrior, makes up for missing out on his life. Your father’s proud of you too,” she added. “I know he isn’t very good at showing it, but he really does love you, Oatpaw.”
Oatpaw dipped his head respectfully, and headed after Pollentail, but he didn’t honestly believe his mother’s words. Flowerpetal meant well, but even she didn’t know everything that was going on in her mate’s heart.
It didn’t take long for Oatpaw to arrive back at camp. Otterpaw and Skypaw were scuffling outside the apprentices den, their eyes bright with exhilaration. Lightkit, Thistlekit and Starkit were watching from outside the nursery, their kit fur fluffed up against the wind. Suddenly Mountainsnow burst out of the nursery behind them, her eyes wild. Seeing the kits, she relaxed a little, scolded them, and herded them back into the nursery. Oatpaw could hear them complaining, and headed into the nursery with his blackbird.
“But we were only watching,” Lightkit moaned, wriggling as Mountainsnow tried to wash her.
“Yeah!” Starkit agreed. “We’ll never be warriors if we can’t watch the apprentices.”
Thistlekit nudged his shoulder into his brother. “Mouse-brain. What do you think mentors are for then?”
Starkit glared, and was readying himself to pounce when Oatpaw came in and dropped his prey.
“Oatpaw!” Lightkit exclaimed. Starkit spun around, trying to see the apprentice, tripped over his own paws and fell in a heap. Thistlekit and Lightkit stumbled over him as they bounded towards Oatpaw.
“Ready for the ceremony?” Mountainsnow purred. Oatpaw nodded, puffing out his chest.
“What ceremony?” Starkit asked.
“Your warrior ceremony?” Thistlekit guessed. Oatpaw nodded.
“Wow!” Lightkit gasped. “Can we watch?”
“If I think you’ve been good enough,” Mountainsnow said. “Now, you’d better eat the prey Oatpaw brought for you.”
“Mmm, blackbird,” Lightkit muttered. “Yummy. Thank you, Oatpaw.”
“Thank you Oatpaw,” chorused Thistlekit and Starkit.
“You’re welcome,” Oatpaw purred. Then he looked around, confused. “Where’s Scarkit?”
Mountainsnow drew in a shocked breath, and glanced around. “I thought he was outside with the others!”
“He went off to Fernleaf’s den,” Starkit piped up.
Oatpaw and Mountainsnow exchanged alarmed glances, then Oatpaw spun on his heel and raced out of the nursery. Hurrying across the clearing, he prayed that Scarkit hadn’t touched anything that could hurt him.
Bursting into the medicine den, he looked around desperately, expecting to see the kit on the ground writhing in agony. Instead, he caught sight of the grey tom sitting up attentively in front of Fernleaf.
“They’re called deathberries, and they’re very dangerous,” Fernleaf was mewing. “You must never ever touch them. Just one could kill you within minutes.”
“But how do they kill you?” Scarkit asked. “Do they crush you inside, like a badger?”
Fernleaf opened her mouth to answer, but then she saw Oatpaw standing in the entrance of the den. “Hi, Oatpaw,” she meowed.
Scarkit turned around, whipping his stubby little tail behind him. “Oatpaw!” he exclaimed. “Fernleaf said you were being a warrior tonight! Is it true?”
Oatpaw nodded. “Yep, my ceremony’s very soon!” he said. “But shouldn’t you be in the nursery?”
Scarkit looked down at the ground and scuffled his paws. “But it’s boring in there,” he pointed out.
“You have your brothers and sister to play with,” Oatpaw suggested. “My brother and I made up some really good games when we were in the nursery.”
“I suppose so,” Scarkit grumbled.
“Mountainsnow was really worried,” Oatpaw added. “You’d better come back with me now. You don’t want to miss the ceremony, do you?”
Scarkit shook his head, and called a quick goodbye to Fernleaf before following Oatpaw into the main clearing.
After escorting the tom to the nursery, Oatpaw headed to the apprentices den, quickly smoothing down his fur and pulling bits of moss from his pelt.
“You ready, Oatpaw?” Thornpaw asked.
“Course!” Oatpaw told him.
“Same here,” Swiftpaw purred. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever.”
“I wish Minnowpaw and Sandkit could be here,” Oatpaw sighed, and the other apprentices purred in agreement.
The three of them were silent with thoughts of their lost siblings for a minute, until Tanglestar’s call came.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here for a Clan meeting!”
My warrior ceremony, Oatpaw thought. This is it.
Oatweave bounded across the ground towards the Gathering place. He was bursting with excitement, and had hardly been able to keep still all day, in spite of the long vigil the night before. He was still tired, and he could tell Thornpelt and Swiftstream were from the way they had been yawning all day, but the joy of being at the Gathering stopped his eyes from closing.
He could see cats everywhere, but not the one he was looking for, and a sudden stab of disappointment greeted him when he realised that he might not be able to tell Nettlepaw his news. The leaders were already stepping forward to begin the meeting, as the nights were still cold and no cat wanted to stay out longer than necessary. With a sigh, Oatweave settled down beside Flowerpetal and Otterpaw, who was fidgeting constantly, and watched as Owlstar began the meeting.
“GorgonClan has had plenty of prey this past leaf-bare,” the leader began. “We have also made four new warriors. Beantail, Flamefur, Orangepelt and Scarface are here tonight.”
Upon hearing the last name, Oatweave shuddered, and hoped Tanglestar would choose a better warrior name for Scarkit. He caught sight of the four new warriors sitting in a group of GorgonClan cats, their heads up proudly.
“We have also made four new apprentices. Damselwing is mentor to Fangpaw, Olivestone is mentor to Leafpaw, Redpetal is mentor to Brookpaw, and Scarface is mentor to Hollypaw.”
There was that Scarface again. Oatweave was starting to have a bad feeling about this tom.
Owlstar went on about a litter of kits that had been born to Featherwind, then stepped back and let Stretchstar take his place.
“VanishClan also has new warriors. Bloodfur and Nettlefang are here tonight.”
Nettlefang! Oatweave glanced around quickly, then rose from his place and walked slowly through the crowd, trying not to look like he had any purpose, until he was settled right behind Nettlefang. He would recognise that tabby brown pelt anywhere.
He waited behind her as Stretchstar finished, then watched eagerly as Tanglestar took his place.
“WonderClan has fared well this winter. We found an abandoned litter of kits in the forest almost a moon ago, and they are now a part of our Clan.” He turned to the other leaders. “Have GorgonClan or VanishClan lost a litter of four kits recently?”
Both leaders shook their heads, and Tanglestar continued. “WonderClan also has three new warriors this moon. Swiftstream, Thornpelt and Oatweave are all here tonight.”
At the sound of his new name, Nettlefang spun around, searching for Oatweave. It didn’t take her long to see him, and the depth of affection in her eyes shocked and excited him. As the Gathering broke up, and the Clans prepared to leave, Nettlefang brushed close by Oatweave and hissed in his ear.
“I have to talk to you. Moon-high tomorrow. Your territory.” And then she was gone.
“Lightkit, from this day forth until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Lightpaw. Swiftstream, you have much to teach an apprentice, and I hope that you will pass on to Lightpaw your wisdom and courage.”
Oatweave watched as Swiftstream stepped forward and touched noses with the new apprentice. Lightpaw’s blue eyes glowed with happiness, but there was a subdued affair to the whole ceremony. Starkit had been growing steadily weaker for the past moon, and had died two days before the apprentice ceremony. It had been a blow for everyone, especially his brothers and sisters. Mountainsnow was convinced that she had failed the kit, and that if she’d noticed earlier that he wasn’t as healthy as the others, he would still be alive. Starkit was the kit she had named, and she had always had a close bond with him. Thornpelt too was very upset. He had liked the bright young kit, and had been due to mentor the younger tom. Everycat knew that Thornpelt was the perfect choice for deputy one day, but without an apprentice, he wouldn’t have a chance.
“Scarkit, from this day forth until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Scarpaw. Scarpaw, is it your wish to train as and become a medicine cat?”
Scarpaw nodded, his voice certain. “It is.”
“Fernleaf, is it your wish to take Scarpaw as your apprentice?”
Fernleaf nodded too. “It is.”
“Then, Scarpaw, I entrust you to the care of Fernleaf. She can teach you much, and one day you will become a good medicine cat for our Clan.”
Oatweave watched as Scarpaw and Fernleaf touched noses, then tensed, his whole body stiffening. It was his turn next.
“Thistlekit, from this day forth until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Thistlepaw.”
Thistlepaw! My apprentice!
“Oatweave, I trust that you will mentor Thistlepaw with all of your loyalty and skill.”
Oatweave dipped his head, then stepped forward. Thistlepaw raised his own head, stretching up, and touched his nose to Oatweave’s. The older cat could see fear in his eyes, and he purred softly.
“Don’t worry, you’re doing fine,” he murmured softly, and Thistlepaw’s eyes filled with gratitude.
The meeting broke up, and Thistlepaw looked anxiously at his mentor. “What do I do now?” he asked.
Oatweave jerked his head towards the apprentices den. “How about you go and get your nest ready? There should be plenty of spare moss, Otterpaw and Skypaw are pretty thrilled about having new denmates. Take Lightpaw with you.”
“What about Scarpaw?” Thistlepaw asked, eyes filled with panic. Oatweave could understand that the little cat didn’t want to lose another of his siblings.
“Fernleaf’s already made his nest. Don’t worry, you’ll see him all the time. He’ll be just across the clearing.”
Thistlepaw nodded, then darted away to his new den. Oatweave glanced up at the sky.
Almost moonrise. I better get going.
He had been meeting Nettlefang most nights since the Gathering five moons ago when they had both been announced as warriors. Both cats felt a deep and powerful affection for the other, and Oatweave couldn’t find it in him to care about breaking the warrior code. Nettlefang was more important than any other cat.
She was waiting for him at the edge of WonderClan territory, just as she always was.
“How are you?” Oatweave purred eagerly, rubbing his head against her flank.
“Fine,” Nettlefang said hurriedly, “but I’ve got some important news.”
“Me too!” Oatweave exclaimed, brushing around her and twining their tails. “You go first.”
“Bloodfur was just named deputy of VanishClan,” Nettlefang blurted.
“What?” Oatweave asked, confused. “What happened to Burrtangle?”
“He went to join the elders,” Nettlefang confessed. “He’s been sick for a while now.”
“But - but Bloodfur’s never had an apprentice!”
“He pressured Stretchstar into giving Brightkit, Grasskit and Moonkit their apprentice names three moons early,” Nettlefang whispered. “Grasspaw is his apprentice now. Moonpaw is mine.”
“That’s awful!” Oatweave said.
“I know,” Nettlefang muttered. “But there’s more. I think Bloodfur suspects about you and me. He’s been giving me things to do every heartbeat, making sure I never have a spare moment, and tonight he set himself on watch.”
“He didn’t see you leave, did he?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. But I’m scared of him, Oatweave. I know he’s my brother, but for him, ambition comes before family. He wants to be leader.”
Oatweave shuddered, and stepped closer to Nettlefang.
“You said you had news too?” she remembered, looking up at him, her beautiful blue eyes glowing.
“Thistlepaw’s my new apprentice!” Oatweave exclaimed. Nettlefang purred congratulations, but somehow they were hollow and empty after the news about Bloodfur. Oatweave had been scared of the copper-pelted tom since the moment they met.
He woke when the sun was just rising. The birds were singing loudly, and there was the sound of prey scuttling everywhere. There was a cold place beside him where Nettlefang had slept the night before.
Carefully, he rose to his feet and hurried back to camp. Snakeskin was on guard at the entrance.
“Hey, Oatweave,” he called cheerfully. Oatweave dipped his head politely.
“What are you doing up so early?”
Oatweave thought fast. “Uh… hunting. Couldn’t find anything.”
“You? Couldn’t find anything?” Snakeskin said incredulously. “Wow, are you sick or something? You look kinda tired,” he mused.
“I’m fine!” Oatweave said irritably, and brushed past Snakeskin into the camp. As he headed for the warriors den, he bumped into Birdflight as she emerged, heading for the medicine cat’s den.
“Sorry,” he muttered, then noticed where she was going. “Are you sick?”
Birdflight purred, and shook her head. “No, but I think I might be having kits!”
“That’s great!” Oatweave purred, jolted out of his bad mood. He pressed his muzzle to the deputy’s side, happy for her. “I’ll let you go then. Do you need me to lead a hunting patrol or something?”
“That would be great, yeah,” Birdflight agreed. “Thanks, Oatweave.”
As Oatweave stuck his head into the den and called for warriors, his mind was on the last thing Nettlefang had said to him last night, before they’d fallen asleep.
Nettlefang is having my kits!
Oatweave hurried through the gorse tunnel, blinking away the rain. Thistlepaw bounced behind him, skipping from one clump of dry grass to the next and hopping over puddles. The three new apprentices had been planning to do some training together today, but when the rain began Fernleaf had taken Scarpaw to search for the herbs that needed to dry before they could be used, and so Oatweave, Thistlepaw, Swiftstream and Lightpaw were on a border patrol at the VanishClan border.
“What’s that smell, Swiftstream?” Lightpaw asked curiously, sniffing the air.
“VanishClan, of course,” Thistlepaw answered loftily. “Oatweave and I came here yesterday.”
Lightpaw glared at him, and Oatweave tried to focus on the apprentice’s argument, instead of his growing fear about Nettlefang. The queen hadn’t been at the last Gathering, and Oatweave was starting to worry.
Swiftstream cast a shy glance at him, and muttered something under her breath.
“What was that?” Oatweave asked absent-mindedly, gesturing at Lightpaw to mark the border.
“I said the rain makes your eyes sparkle,” Swiftstream repeated. “It looks really pretty,” she added softly.
Oatweave gave a soft purr, and Swiftstream seemed relieved, but his mind was on other things. Suddenly, the VanishClan scent grew stronger. Lightpaw came racing towards them with her tail fluffed out.
“I see strange cats coming!” she gasped out.
Oatweave turned and saw what looked like most of VanishClan coming up the hill towards him.
“Lightpaw, get back to camp and warn Tanglestar,” he ordered.
The apprentice nodded and dashed away. Oatweave prayed that the VanishClan warriors hadn’t noticed. It didn’t feel fair that he should have to deal with this now. He had been made deputy only a moon ago, when Birdflight had moved to the nursery, and he still wasn’t used to the position of power. It wasn’t something he wanted, and it hadn’t been something he had expected.
He glanced briefly at Thistlepaw, and a pang of worry pierced him. The apprentice hadn’t been training for long, although he had been training longer than his sister. Lightpaw had badly hurt her ankle on her second day as an apprentice, and had been unable to train for almost a moon.
“You alright?” he asked Thistlepaw.
The tom nodded, gritting his teeth.
Oatweave turned to Swiftstream on his other side. She was shaking, and he gave her a quick lick on the head, trying to calm her. “Be careful,” he advised, and she turned to him, her blue eyes catching him and holding him fast.
“I will,” she promised, pressing her head into his side for a heartbeat.
Bloodfur waved his tail and signalled his cats to halt just before the border.
“What are you doing here, Bloodfur?” Oatweave asked. He tried to remember that this was his territory, and he had every right to be here, as well as the fact that he now equalled Bloodfur in rank.
“It’s Bloodstar now,” the tom replied, his tone drawn out and lazy. “Stretchstar died not long ago.”
“My condolences,” Oatweave called. “What happened? Stretchstar was a strong young cat, it was not his time to join StarClan.”
Bloodstar shrugged. “There was an accident.”
A sudden chill crept into Oatweave’s heart. He killed Stretchstar. He murdered his own leader!
“You haven’t answered the real question,” Oatweave pointed out. “What is VanishClan doing on the border?”
“We need more territory,” Bloodstar said coolly. “So we’ve come to take it from you.”
“You’ll have to fight for it,” Oatweave said, trying to keep his voice steady. Beside him, Thistlepaw took a step forward, his tail quivering.
“We expected no less,” the leader snapped. He raised his tail. “VanishClan, attack!”
The warriors leaped forward. Bloodstar was leading the charge, a ginger-and-white tom Oatweave vaguely recognised as Dustypelt keeping pace with him on one side. Oatweave guessed that this was VanishClan’s new deputy. On Bloodstar’s other side was a small white tom with bright green eyes. He looked barely five moons old, but he was marching with a determined confidence.
Oatweave’s eyes flickered over the other cats, but nowhere could he see Nettlefang or any other kits. He dared to hope that she had been left behind in safety. A tiny silver she-cat who looked like Moonpaw, Nettlefang’s apprentice, was pacing beside a dark brown tom who stooped to hiss at her every few steps. All the evidence was saying that Nettlefang wasn’t there.
“What do we do?” Thistlepaw asked tremulously.
A yowl jerked through the forest, and Thornpelt, Snakeskin, Leafbriar and Skypaw burst out of the trees.
“What are you doing here?” Oatweave asked, relieved.
“Hunting patrol,” Leafbriar grunted.
“You ordered us near the border,” Skypaw added. “Remember?”
Oatweave sighed, thanking StarClan for their good fortune. And then VanishClan was upon them.
A grey tom with white patches flung himself at Oatweave. He had huge, broad shoulders and his amber eyes gleamed. Oatweave ducked, and his opponent flew over the top of him. He landed on his paws, and spun around instantly.
“This isn’t your land,” Oatweave spat, as the two cats circled each other warily.
“It soon will be,” the tom snarled, and leapt.
Oatweave dodged sideways, and flashed out a paw, raking it along the tom’s side. He screeched, and blood welled up. The tom aimed a blow at Oatweave’s muzzle, and clawed the side of his face. Blinking away spatters of red, Oatweave flipped the tom over, using his own broad shoulders to pin him there, then battered at the warrior’s belly with his hind paws.
With a yowl, the tom broke Oatweave’s grip and raced away. With blood running down his muzzle, Oatweave glanced around. His cats were doing badly. Swiftstream was struggling beneath two huge warriors, and Oatweave prepared to leap to her side, but Thornpelt got there first, flinging the warriors off his sister and leaving huge claw marks for them to remember him by. Leafbriar was fighting like a whole patrol of warriors, and Skypaw was sticking close to Thistlepaw’s side, keeping an eye on the younger cat.
Suddenly, Oatweave realised he couldn’t see Snakeskin. He spun around desperately, but the tom had vanished.
As he made his way over to the two apprentices, Oatweave felt claws grip his hind legs. A reddish she-cat was digging her claws into him, her face twisted in fury. Oatweave struggled, but he couldn’t throw her off, and she clawed her way up his back as if he was a tree trunk.
“Get off my mentor!” Thistlepaw yowled, appearing out of nowhere and barrelling into the she-cat.
She hissed at him, and lashed out with a paw, but Thistlepaw had the element of surprise, and he dug his claws into her tail and hauled her backwards. She didn’t go easily, pulling strips of fur off Oatweave, but at last she was cowered on the ground, and mentor and apprentice bit and clawed at her until she shrieked and fled.
“Two down, more to go!” Thistlepaw yowled cheerfully, flinging himself back into the battle.
Oatweave turned back to the fight, then was startled by a fierce cry from behind him. He turned, and saw Tanglestar leading a whole patrol of warriors down the slope, Lightpaw running at their head. At the same moment, a hiss from nearby caught his attention.
It was Nettlefang, he realised, with a relief so great it nearly stopped his heart. Carefully he slunk towards the she-cat, sensing VanishClan being forced back behind him.
Nettlefang was crouching in the shadow of a bush just over the WonderClan border. Her dark brown fur was plastered to her sides with mud and blood, and Oatweave was not pleased to see how skinny she was. He sniffed at the blood.
“Is that yours?”
“Only a little of it,” Nettlefang answered. “You should have seen the other cat!” she added jokily, but Oatweave’s focus was on the cats at her paws. There were three little kits crouching beneath their mother. The smallest, a white she-cat, was lying still, her fur plastered to her side, with only the faint movement of her flank to show that she was still alive. The second, a dark brown tom, was rolling back and forth on the ground, catching at his mother’s tail, and the largest, a dark grey tom, was huddled into Nettlefang’s fur.
“They’re beautiful!” Oatweave gasped. “They’re gorgeous!”
“What should we call them?” Nettlefang asked.
Behind him, Oatweave could dimly hear the battle still raging, but it didn’t seem important right now.
“I - I don’t know,” he stammered. Picking names for kits suddenly seemed the hardest thing in the world.
“How about… Cloudkit?” Nettlefang asked, touching the only she-cat gently with the tip of her tail.
The smaller tom squirmed after the tail, batting at it with thorn-sharp claws.
“And Tumblekit,” Nettlefang added, laughing. “I don’t think he even kept still when he was inside me!”
There was a rumble overhead, and Oatweave leaned closer to the unnamed kit. “Thunderkit,” he said softly. “For his fur.”
“Perfect,” Nettlefang purred. “But I’m worried about them, Oatweave. Especially Cloudkit. She seems so weak! And I haven’t eaten for days. I don’t have enough milk to feed them.”
Oatweave almost turned around and tried to kill Bloodstar right then and there. He couldn’t believe that any leader would let a queen and her kits suffer like this, let alone their own sister!
“I told you before,” Nettlefang said quietly, as if she knew what he was thinking. “Bloodstar values VanishClan and loyalty to it above all else, even his own kin.”
Oatweave dipped his head in submission. “Come on,” he muttered. He scooped up Tumblekit, and nudged Thunderkit ahead of him, and Nettlefang followed, carrying Cloudkit. “Let’s go home.”
They arrived at the camp to find the others already back. Many were licking cuts, and Scarpaw was hurrying to and fro across the clearing, checking wounded cats and fetching fresh herbs for his mentor.
Snakeskin was lying, still and cold, in the middle of the clearing. His eyes were closed, and he looked as if he could have been sleeping, save for the ragged, bloody wounds ripped all over his body. His mate, Pollentail, and kits Swiftstream and Thornpelt were crouched over his body. All three looked shaken and distraught.
Tanglestar padded slowly over to Oatweave. “We won,” he said, with a hint of pride. “Who’s this?”
Swiftstream had looked up when Oatweave came into the camp, and now, relief on her face, she started padding over to him.
“This is Nettlefang, Bloodstar’s sister,” Oatweave said steadily. “Bloodstar drove her out of her Clan. This is Cloudkit, Tumblekit and Thunderkit. They are her kits…” he swallowed audibly. “… and mine,” he added, so softly that they barely heard him.
“Yours?” Tanglestar asked incredulously.
Swiftstream gave a strangled cry and fled out of the camp. Thornpelt chased after her, with a hostile look at Oatweave as he passed him.
Oatweave nodded, feeling Nettlefang press closer to his side as the other cats of WonderClan began to crowd around them, shooting hostile looks at Oatweave, the deputy they had thought was loyal.
Tanglestar heaved a sigh, then turned and faced his Clan. “Oatweave will not be punished for his actions. Love is not against the warrior code. Nettlefang and the kits will be allowed to remain in WonderClan.”
There was a chorus of hisses, and part of Oatweave died inside as he heard his own Clan shunning him like that. But he squared his shoulders and stayed strong for his mate and kits.
Late that night, as Oatweave tossed restlessly in his nest, he was disturbed by a cry of anguish from outside. In an instant, he was up and dashing out into the clearing. For a moment, it bothered him that he was more worried about his VanishClan mate than his true Clanmates, but he pushed the stirrings of disloyalty aside, and listened.
Fernleaf hurried out of the nursery, her eyes dim and listless. Scarpaw followed behind her, his head hanging and his eyes wide and unseeing. Oatweave dashed towards the nursery and slipped inside.
Nettlefang was curled in the nest, pulling two of the kits close to her. For a second, everything seemed right, and then Oatweave looked around for Cloudkit, and couldn’t see her.
“Where’s Cloudkit?” he gasped desperately. “Cloudkit? Cloudkit!” He pawed over the mossy nests, poked his nose into every corner, even though he already knew what had happened.
“Oatweave,” Nettlefang said softly, and he hurried to her side, pressing his nose into her fur. “She was too weak.”
“I wanted her to grow strong in WonderClan,” Oatweave murmured. “She was the only she-cat. She was going to be a real tough fighter.”
“I know,” Nettlefang whispered, and Oatweave bent his head, breathing in the soft scent of his two remaining kits.
Tumblekit squeaked, waving a paw and hitting his father’s nose, while Thunderkit snored softly.
It seemed a very long time since Oatweave had been a kit. Everything had been so simple then. Playing with Sandkit, he had never had anything more urgent to worry about than what prey their father would bring them, or whether or not they’d be caught if they explored the apprentice’s den. Now his whole life seemed to have been turned upside down, and, for the first time he could remember, he felt the warrior code and the rules of WonderClan pressing in on him, and he wanted to escape.
Closing his eyes, Oatweave pressed his ragged fur against his mate and kits, feeling as their breathing slowed gently and they drifted into sleep.
“Oatweave,” someone murmured, poking him with a paw. Oatweave opened his eyes, slowly and sleepily.
“W - who are you,” he stammered, sitting up and staring at the ginger she-cat in front of him. “You’re not a WonderClan cat!”
“The tale of my life is a long one,” she she-cat mewed calmly, “and there is no time for it now. I come to deliver a message.”
“From StarClan?” Oatweave asked in disbelief, and the she-cat nodded.
“You have suffered hardships in your life, Oatweave,” she whispered. “and there are more to come. The deaths of everyone dear to you.”
“Why does StarClan want to tell me this?!” Oatweave gasped, his eyes filled with pain. “Are you trying to tell me that I’ll lose Nettlefang, and my kits, and my Clan?”
“You will never cease to be a part of WonderClan,” the she-cat murmured. “You must stay with your Clan. There will be great trials ahead, and only you can set the paws of WonderClan on the path that will lead them to victory. The greatest threat to your Clan does not come from VanishClan, nor from any cat who you have wronged. Sometimes, the greatest threats are those that bide their time, waiting for you to relax before they appear.”
“What are you trying to say?” Oatweave asked, his voice hushed. He crouched down, digging his claws into the dirt as if he might be swept away.
“You will rise in WonderClan, and lead them to victory. But the price will be high. Do not forget that lives will be lost, for naught, if you should leave your Clan. You must choose now. Will loyalty to your Clan, or your kin, come first?”
“I don’t understand,” Oatweave yowled, but the words stuck in his throat, because he did understand, he understood more than he wanted to, and what he was being asked to do was terrible, the worst decision he had ever had to make. The StarClan she-cat dipped her head, and faded away.
Nettlefang raised her head. She could feel the warmth of Tumblekit and Thunderkit beside her, but Oatweave must have slipped away in the night. Suddenly, a missing presence caused Nettlefang to become wide awake almost instantly. There was no noise from the camp. She looked around, the sun was high in the sky, but there wasn’t a sound from the camp.
Nettlefang climbed carefully to her paws, not waking the little ones, and poked her nose out into the camp. It was empty, and a sinking feeling began to plague Nettlefang. Birdflight was not in the nursery.
The she-cat darted from den to den, calling, and searching, her eyes wide and frantic, her fur fluffed out. It was when she reached the leader’s den, yelling into the gloom, that movement caught her eye. She spun around, and her brother was behind her.
“I would never have stopped hunting you, sister dear,” he meowed softly.
“We’re kin!” Nettlefang gasped out. It was getting harder to breathe, and she was panicking.
“You’re a traitor,” Bloodstar snarled, “and those kits are half-Clan filth.”
“Bloodstar,” she choked, but his eyes showed no mercy.
“I’m going to rid the Clans of you, traitor. And then VanishClan will rise to become the greatest in the forest. The WonderClan traitor can live, his blood was tainted anyway. But I can’t let you live to poison the minds of future VanishClan kits.”
He took a step forward, and raised a paw, his claws glinting in the sunlight. “I’m not sorry,” he whispered, and then his paw sliced down, and there was a sharp, shooting pain, and then… nothing.
End of The Parting of the Clans
The next book in the series is The Rise of Evil: One.
The whole series can be found here.
Thanks for reading.