She couldn't give up their position for him. None of them could. He'd kill them if they did. He'd kill them for-
For what? Strongheart asked himself bitterly. For saving my life?
But if they saved his life, they would be throwing away the rebellion - and probably many more lives. Surely they could see that. Surely they knew it wasn't worth it. They couldn't even consider it... but they were. He could see the indecision and terror in Silverbreeze's eyes. Finchnose looked horrorstruck, and even Reedfur had no cunning plan shadowing his green eyes. They were blank and full of fear.
Aquatail's claws pressed deeper into his throat. Despite trying to fight them, spots began to dance on the edges of Strongheart's vision. He fought for breath desperately, the need for oxygen so great it surpassed the pain; he didn't even notice the trickle of blood dampening his neck-fur.
Pain twisted his friends' features - which were already twisted in his dimming eyesight - as they saw his suffering.
"We can't let you in," Silverbreeze choked out, then collapsed crying.
Strongheart's last conscious thought was, She looks sad. All of them do. I'd like to comfort them...
And then it was dark.
Everything was a blur. The fight was back on. Reedfur was once again among raging, ravaging cats. He bit down on ears, shredded flanks, and kicked into bellies.
But he processed none of it. He had to get to Strongheart. That was it. He had to see if there was hope.
After Silverbreeze had announced - or rather cried out, like the words had been wrenched from her very soul - that they wouldn't let Aquatail in, he hadn't seen what had happened to Strongheart. Though there was precious little chance of Aquatail's mercy, he had to make sure for himself.
Hope refused to die within him.
It took a painful second of indecision - should he ignore the cry for help or abandon all hope of rescuing Strongheart? - but Reedfur made himself turn. And he was glad he had. Shellbeam was pinned under two, larger GreenClan cats. Reedfur recognized one of them from a previous battle - what was his name again? Stickleg? Fishleg?
Whatever his name was, he was going on.
"Hang on!" he yelled to his fellow rebel, leaping for the larger tom's back. He dug in with his claws and pulled with all his strength, but he was no match for... Treeleg. Well, at least I remembered his name.
This thought came a split second before the hefty tom slammed him to the ground.
Nearby, Shellbeam had struggled to her feet and was facing down the other tom. Reedfur wanted to help her, but he already had more than he could handle with Treeleg. As he was distracted for an instant, the tom bouldered into him, throwing him to the floor.
His mouth filling with his own blood, Reedfur coughed and spluttered, regaining his paws as quickly as possible. This time, he took the offensive, lunging for Treeleg. He missed the throat entirely, but managed to get a good bite on the shoulder, and clung to it effectively. Treeleg snarled and ripped at him, but Reedfur had chosen a position that was extremely hard to get at; the tom couldn't twist his head around to reach him, and Reedfur was clinging to his legs, hampering his ability to scratch.
Though he was fighting hard, Reedfur's mind was elsewhere. It was partly with the cats at the entrance to the Tunnels. Had any GreenClan cats gotten through? From his current position, he couldn't see. And most of his mind and heart was with the still body of his friend.
Now, he was really beginning to fear for the Hidden. Their chances of winning this battle were looking slimmer and slimmer. The only thing they had on their side was the fact that the Tunnels were uncompromised; they could fight to defend the small opening, and wounded cats could be protected easily. But even that couldn't last for long.
StarClan, I know the Clans are sort of... gone. But please, could you send a miracle tonight? Like when you raised Finchnose...
But somehow, he knew two times was too many.
I killed Strongheart. I killed him.
"You didn't kill him, Silverbreeze," Finchnose said.
Startled, as she hadn't realized she'd been speaking out loud in her dazed state, Silverbreeze looked up into her friend's eyes. "I did, Finchnose. I was the one that said it."
The little medicine cat's shoulders slumped. "But we all knew it had to be done."
The two were inside the Tunnels. Finchnose was tending to patients, and Silverbreeze was sort of in a daze. She didn't know how she'd stumbled back here, but if she'd stayed outside she would've been killed in a heartbeat. She was in no condition to fight, not after what she had just witnessed.
"I hate Aquatail." The words were said with a vengeance.
Finchnose padded over and wrapped her tail around Silverbreeze. "I know, Silverbreeze. I know."
And to think I once trusted her... Silverbreeze was disgusted by her own naivety.
"I'm gonna go back to fighting. Reedfur'll need my help."
She trotted back outside. The pain was still there, but she had corraled it for now, and locked it away. Eventually, it would explode and overcome her, but for now she needed all her wits for fighting.
Reedfur was wrestling with a mammoth tom almost twice his size. Her first instinct was to rush to his aid, but... he actually wasn't doing that badly. For a minute, Silverbreeze let herself get lost in watching him. He fought quickly, darting in and out, or hanging onto the GreenClan warrior for a long period of time. His face was scrunched up in concentration, and his green eyes glowed in the moonlight.
A feeling of guilt washed over her, though she didn't know why. It wasn't just because she ought to be participating in the battle. Somehow, Reedfur made her think of Strongheart, and vice versa. And thinking of Strongheart was not something she could do well at this point.
Luckily, she was spared anymore conflict, because a GreenClan cat careened into her at that point, and she instantly went into fighting-mode.
Sinking her claws into her opponent's shoulder, she bit down hard, letting all her emotions dissolve in the pure adrenaline-rush of battle.
Silverbreeze turned into a fighting machine. She hardly noticed when the GreenClan she-cat fled, and she was left alone, with bloody paws and glazed eyes. Sick with herself, she turned back towards the Tunnels. She couldn't do this. The grass was slick with crimson below her paws, and even the silver of moonlight couldn't cast a peaceful halo on the twisted, bloodied bodies that littered the field.
Feeling like she was going to throw up, Silverbreeze began to stumble back to the Tunnels.
What was she thinking, agreeing to lead this? She could barely stay on her own paws.
"I don't care if they need you out there, Bramblepath. You'll be no good to anyone in your condition. Now lie down over there. Don't make me sedate you."
Muttering, the tabby warrior trotted over to a corner and shot longing glances towards the boulders framing the opening of the Tunnels, clearly wanting to be out helping. Finchnose shook her head as she cleaned up the leftover hebs and cobwebs. She would never understand the warrior-type cat and their seeming addiction to fighting. It gave her the chills to think of sinking her claws into another cat, even one like Aquatail.
As for herself, Finchnose did want to be out in the battle, but for a different reason. She had to be by Strongheart. Even if he was dead... she had to be by him. See for herself, even if it crushed her.
"Jaywalker!" she called to the tom, who had been helping her treat cats throughout the battle. "Can you hold this place down for a bit? There's something I need to do."
Understandingly, Jaywalker nodded his head. "Go ahead, Finchnose."
"Thanks," she breathed.
Hurrying out into the battlefield, she instantly shut out all the gruesome scenery and sounds of pain. To be a medicine cat, you had to be both immune and sensitive to pain. It was a tricky balance; sometimes you could be too unsympathizing, and other times you could just fall to pieces at seeing a cat's condition. As she made her way to the place where Strongheart had fallen, she prepared herself for the worst.
I'll be calm. I will quietly walk over there and take a quick peek. That's it.
Her resolution lasted about two seconds. As soon as she saw the shock of ginger fur in Afthe grass, she sprang forward with a wail and just fell on top of her friend, sobbing. "Oh Strongheart..." she whispered into his thick fur. "Why you?"
"I don't know, and I really wish it had been like... Viperstar or something."
Finchnose nearly fainted. "I- You- Wha..."
He grunted and smiled up at her. "Yeah. I me wha."
Laughing nearly hysterically, she choked out, "But how? She killed you. We saw it... kind of. Still, how did you escape?"
Slowly, Strongheart got to her paws. There were two bloody dents in his throat, but no sign of an actual huge wound worthy of murder. "I don't really know. I kind of... passed out. I don't know what happened. In fact, I just woke up a few minutes ago, and I've been trying to get myself to move." He winced. "I hurt all over."
After thinking he was dead, Finchnose could hardly bring herself to care about this, but she licked him on the ear and smiled. "I'll take you back. We'll have to go through the battlefield though... and a few cats might die of heart attacks."
"I still look that good, even after nearly being killed?"
Side by side, they padded back into the clearing.
Birdsong was the first to see them. Her jaw dropped till it nearly hit the floor, and her eyes bugged out. "Strongheart!" she screamed.
Aquatail's ebony head reared up like that of an ugly snake's. For a nanosecond, the look on her face spelled disbelief. Then it twisted into venomous rage.
Strongheart grinned, looking surprisingly well for someone who Finchnose knew was in a lot of pain. "Surprised to see me, Aquatail? Shows how much you know about killing cats," he sniffed scornfully.
Beside him, Finchnose was grinning like an idiot, partly because of joy and partly because she couldn't wait to see Silverbreeze and Reedfur's reaction to the news that their friend was alive. It would be a heartwarming sight at the least.
"You..." the black she-cat trailed off, her blue eyes orbs of fire.
For the first time in her life, Finchnose understood battle-lust. "You think you can take us, Aquatail? We will fight you, every step of the way."
GreenClan warriors surrounded the she-cat as she stepped towards them. "Don't make promises you can't keep, little medicine cat. I have the whole of GreenClan behind me. Taking me on will mean war."
Despite the fact that her legs were trembling, Finchnose didn't hesitate in her reply. "You think I won't tear down this entire place to get rid of you? I will fight till the rivers are red and the skies are gray to get rid of GreenClan. I will do anything to make this place free again, so cats can live a real life. Do you think I won't? Do you honestly think that?"