Home, Strongheart thought. We're going home.
After staying away from the Tunnels and doing so many things during that time, he was just about ready to head back and rest for a couple of eons. Still, it was amazing all that they'd managed to do in such a short amount of time. He was truly proud of their rebellion.
Nearby, Silverbreeze and Reedfur argued over names for the group(once again), while Finchnose and Cinderdapple discussed remedial herbs and berries. Bramblepath, Birdsong, and Ivyfleet padded alongside each other, listening to Wetstream's hunting tips. Yet, despite the apparent tranquility, Strongheart knew there were two cats missing. Despite the fact that they had been betrayed, his heart was saddened to think of Tornadoheart and Aquatail. If only they had chosen what was right, instead of siding with Viperstar. They might still have been here. But they didn't, and they're not. We have to be even more careful who we trust.
"Whoa," Cinderdapple said, coming to a stop just ahead. Cloverice's eyes widened as she peered past the gray she-cat.
"What is it?" Reedfur asked, pushing past them. Strongheart followed suit, and relief flooded through him. In front of him, a huge expanse of grass spread out to the horizon, like orange flames in the light of the sunset.
Birdsong gave a wide smile. "The plains. We're almost there."
"I've never seen so much grass," Brightsong said in awe. With a jolt, Strongheart remembered that she had lived her entire life in the woods and canyons of GreenClan territory. Cinderdapple, Firesoul, and Cloverice had identical expressions on their faces.
He grinned. "Well, you won't spend all your time in the open. The Tunnels are pretty sheltered." To himself, he thought how fortunate it was that the Tunnels were so big. There was no way that the Chamber could fit all the cats that had joined their group.
"We can camp here," Finchnose said, gesturing to a small pool that lay right where the woods and prairie met. "This'll be useful." After they consented, she knelt and began gathering new herbs for her herb-sack.
"We should go hunting," Strongheart said, his belly rumbling. "Silverbreeze, Wetstream, Birdsong, Angelcloud and Reedfur, come with me. That should be enough."
One thing he would miss about the woods was the cover. The bushes and branches provided great camouflage, even for his fiery ginger pelt, and the woodsy squirrels and shrews found here were unparralleled by the prey by the Tunnels. "Let's split up," he said, mouth watering at the thought of one last forest-caught meal. "Get into small groups."
"Okay, good idea. Too many cats will chase the prey away," Birdsong said. "Wetstream, want to hunt together?"
"Sure." The dark gray she-cat flicked her tail. "Let's head for the grove of oaks. Bound to be some good prey there."
As he looked about for a partner, Strongheart's eyes fell on Silverbreeze. The evening wind was ruffling her beautiful fur, and the dying light turned it to the color of moonlight. Her blue eyes were more radiant then ever against the dusky colors of the landscape, and suddenly he felt a strange feeling shoot through him, both uncomfortable and pleasant at the same time. He swallowed hard, gathered his courage, and walked over. "Hey Silverbreeze. Want to go hunting in the woods with me?"
She gave him a smile that made his heart do a flip. "No thanks Strongheart. Now that we're finally near the plains, I'm going back to hunting in the grass."
"Oh." He tried to hide his hurt. "Okay." Turning, he padded into the woods. Part of him wished that he had offered to hunt with her, but another part said this would be his last chance to hunt in the woods, and he might as well make the most of it.
Still, all of him agreed on one thing. The way he had felt when he saw Silverbreeze was indeed strange. He had never really noticed she-cats, though back in SunClan he was aware that one or two had noticed him. But somehow, Silverbreeze was different. Maybe it was everything they had been through together, or the way she was so loyal and loving no matter what happened. He definitely admired her, but...
He shook away the thought. There was too much at risk. There wasn't any time for this. Still, he couldn't stop the question from coming.
Am I in love?
I'm in love.
Reedfur watched Silverbreeze snake through the grass, her slim form tense with anticipation as she focused on the hare ahead of her. When she had asked him to go hunting with her, he thought his heart would pound out of his chest. Though his mind was screaming, Yes!, he was rendered speechless for almost an entire minute before he could stutter out a reply.
Jolted out of his reverie, he turned to see a grinning Silverbreeze, the hare clenched in her jaws.
"Nice catch!" he exclaimed.
"Thanks," she said. "Along with the pheasant you caught, I think this should be enough."
He nodded in agreement, though he wished they could keep hunting, just so he could have some more time alone with her. To his surprise, Silverbreeze picked up both pieces of prey and hid them in a clump of grass. She blushed when she saw the curiosity in his gaze. "I thought we could... go for a walk together. It's a beautiful sunset, and we're back on the plains, and I just-"
"Sure," he said, wondering if this was a dream.
She gave him a shy smile and trotted beside him as they headed out further into the softly blowing grass. A cool breeze wafted into Reedfur's nostrils, dreamily laden with the scents of fruit, dew, and wild heather. Bending his head down, he clipped a few violet-blue flowers off their stalks and held them out to Silverbreeze. She gasped.
"Thank you, Reedfur."
His face felt like it was on fire. "N- No problem."
They paused on a tiny crest, gazing out at the horizon. The lavender sky was nearly black around the edges, but he didn't want to go back just yet. This was perfect. This was what he had always dreamed of, but had never really expected.
"Let's get back to the others," Silverbreeze finally said. "They'll be hungry."
Hiding his reluctance, Reedfur nodded. "This- This was nice." But she was already trotting off to get their prey. Sighing, he followed. It was wonderful while it lasted. No way would a she-cat as beautiful as her choose a tom like me.
"Is it just me," Finchnose said aloud, "Or is everyone lovestruck tonight?"
"Could just be you," Birdsong said, who appeared to have no interest in any of the toms in their group. "I doubt it though."
It felt strange to think of her friends taking mates. All those aspects of life had been pushed to the side in face of the rebellion. Now, with everyone more relaxed, it looked like romance was in the air. Finchnose had no interest in toms as more then friends. She was a medicine cat, no matter how dead the code seemed to be, and she was proud of it. Nothing and no one was worth giving up her position. Still, she felt oddly lonely as she glanced about. Jaywalker and Fernheart were sleeping comfortably near each other, while Silverbreeze and Strongheart talked in hushed tones. As Finchnose completed her scan, her eyes locked with a pair of sea-blue ones. Ivyfleet.
Giving a soft smile, the medicine cat got up and padded over. "You okay?" she asked.
Ivyfleet nodded, obviously blinking back tears. "Yeah. I'll be fine. It's just... Nights like this remind me of Tornadoheart. Of us."
"I understand," Finchnose said. "You miss him still, don't you?"
"Despite everything he did, I'll always love him." She looked shocked that she had said the words aloud.
Finchnose nodded sympathetically. She didn't know much about toms, but she knew about unconditional love. Despite the fact that Goldenshimmer had weakened to the point of no return after Strikefur's death, she would never have dreamed of abandoning her mother. Family ties went deeper then blood, and she supposed it was the same with mates.
Stroking Ivyfleet's back with her tail, she said, "You know what they say. If you love something, set it free."
"But... How can I be part of a rebellion when I might have to end up hurting, or killing, Tornadoheart?"
She was quiet for a minute, trying to decide what to tell Ivyfleet. "What does your heart say is more important?"
Ivyfleet blinked away tears, but one slipped down her cheek anyway. "You guys. The rebellion. Doing what's right, and freeing all the cats under Viperstar's rule."
"Exactly," Finchnose said. "I became a medicine cat because I saw that there was more to life then yourself, or even your mate and you. There's a world out there, full of cats that need to be helped. I'm willing to put anything aside, to sacrifice anything, in order to get to them."
"Whoever said," Ivyfleet said, "that medicine cats weren't as brave as warriors because they didn't fight, was dreadfully wrong."
Flushing with pleasure, Finchnose mewed, "Thank you."
"Wake up Silverpaw!"
Yawning, I opened my eyes and glanced about. My mother stood over me, her eyes shimmering with tears and agony. Above us, the moon was high and full, the sky speckled with stars.
"What is it?"
She didn't reply, just beckoned for me to follow her. I did, careful not to wake any of the sleeping GreenClan guards that were situated around the BreezeClan camp(even though I was dreadfully tempted to step on all of their faces).
We tore madly through the woods. Mother was in such a rush, and I had no idea why, so I just struggled to keep pace. "Galeflower," I panted heavily. "Where are we going?"
She skidded to a stop, at the BreezeClan border, the one that didn't face any of the other Clan territory. Beyond it was just wilderness.
Before I could ask my question again, Galeflower turned around and gave some kind of signal, like the call of a bird. Seconds later, a few bushes rustled, and a tom came galloping out towards us.
My voice was as incredulous as I felt. What was he doing out here? If the GreenClan cats caught us, all heck would break loose. "What's going on?"
Bladeclaw's eyes softened. "Silverpaw. I have to go. You- You won't see me, ever again."
"What?" I said, not believing him. I knew things had gotten bad ever since Viperstar arrived, but I'd never dreamed they were this bad. Surely he wasn't abandoning us. "Why?"
My father hung his head. "I would stay if I could, but Galeflower says-"
"It's the only way to keep him safe, Silverpaw," my mother interrupts. "Otherwise, they'll kill him. I need you... I need you to let him go."
My heart broke. "Okay."
"Don't go," Silverbreeze murmured in her sleep.
A voice came from above her. "Silverbreeze? Are you okay?"
Opening her eyes, she saw Finchnose's concerned hazel eyes above her. "Huh? Oh yeah. I'm fine." Pulling herself up to her paws, she smiled weakly. "Are we leaving now?"
Still not looking convinced, the medicine cat nodded her head. "Yeah. Come on. We're almost there. In a little bit, we'll be back in the Tunnels."
"Is that a good thing?" Silverbreeze wondered aloud as they rejoined the rest of the cats. "I mean, we got more done in the heart of GreenClan territory then anywhere else."
"I think it's a good thing," Finchnose said. "We need time to rest, and to regroup. Then we can plan our next move. At least we know what we're capable of now."
She nodded. "True."
Strongheart turned back to face them. "You guys ready? Today we go home."
Excitement charged Reedfur like an electrical current. He stood erect, straining for a glimpse of the boulders in the distance. Already the familiar sights of his old home were making him feel comfortable again. No longer did he glance behind him with every step he took. It might not be a Clan, but this was where he felt safest now.
"There!" Silverbreeze yowled from beside him.
As if attached by an invisible force, all four of them burst into a run. It felt so good to spread out his legs again, eating up the stretch of grass underpaw, wind whistling through his fur, breath hot and fast in his throat. Behind him, Reedfur could hear the other cats racing to catch up, but Strongheart, Silverbreeze, and even short-legged Finchnose were in the lead as they grew closer. Birdsong and Bramblepath joined them, eyes glowing. "I never thought I'd be so glad to see the Tunnels," Birdsong panted.
Ahead of them, Strongheart slowed to a stop. Reedfur paused beside him. "What's wrong?"
The ginger tom's only reply was to sniff the air. Following suit, Reedfur stiffened in shock. The unfamiliar smell of strange cats was more poignant the closer they got to the Tunnels. Wait. I know that scent.
"Does this mean...?" Finchnose began.
"Yes. We've been invaded."