Book One in the Silent Ancestors Series
Pollution is destroying the home of one. Hostility with the other clans is threatening the peaceful life of the other. Two she-cats from different worlds must come together to defeat the darkness and bring back the stars.
A cold silence wrapped blissfully over the ShadowClan camp. Inside one of the largest dens, three felines crouched over the form of another. Outside paced a fifth, glancing into the large den each time he passed it.
Exasperated, one of the three standing felines padded outside to comfort the tom. "Stop worrying, Adderstar," She purred, laying her tailtip on the tom's shoulder. "You'll fret your whiskers off!"
"I'm sorry, Cinderfur," He said, blinking warmly at the gray-furred she-cat. "It's just that I'm so worried!" He confessed, his voice rising higher with each word.
"Don't worry so much, Adderstar. She'll be fine. Everything is going smoothly." She purred, nuzzling his shoulder affectionately.
"Alright, Cinderfur, thank you." Adderstar meowed, dipping his head towards the younger she-cat, his racing heart slowing down to a normal pace.
"I'm sure your kits will be beautiful," Cinderfur meowed. Her eyes held the smallest glimmer of remorse.
"Cinderfur..." Adderstar murmured, twitching his whiskers. "I'm sorry. You know I am."
Cinderfur nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry as well." She stared into his eyes for another moment, then turned and padded into the medicine den. Adderstar watched her leave sadly. Maybe, in a different world, one where she wasn't a medicine cat...
He shoved these thoughts from his mind. He had no time for that right now; Smallflicker required his undevoted attention. She was his mate, not Cinderfur.
Adderstar sat down and began grooming his mottled brown fur, his words with Cinderfur troubling him slightly; though at least his mind was distracted from the worry.
A small yowl came from the medicine den, Adderstar sprang to his paws. His tail lashed from side to side as he skidded over to the heap of fur that was Smallflicker.
An attractive cinnamon-furred tabby, Smallflicker was curled into a crescent shape. Two kits lay at her belly, though one was still. She was being shaken by spasms, her paws flailing limply, and Cinderfur's ashen face told Adderstar the worst.
Arch shook out her pelt, dusty from sleeping, and matted on one side. She gazed around for a moment, stifling a yawn as it threatened to burst from her throat. Her whiskers twitched outwards, and she licked her right paw, dislodging a piece of grit from between her pads.
"Arch, are you ready?" Eid poked her head into the den. Her spotless off-white fur was groomed hastily, a few clumps of fur sticking in all directions. Arch bobbed her head, padding to the exit. Eid withdrew her head, and Arch squeezed through.
"I don't think it's fair that you get your own den," Arch's sister grumbled, scowling. Arch flicked her tail, laughing. "Well, I am the only one who can fit in the entrance," She meowed.
"And you couldn't be bothered to move the brambles around a little? I don't appreciate being crammed in a den with seven more cats, you know." Eid said crossly, flattening her ears. Arch laughed again.
"Come on!" She mewed, batting at Eid's long ears playfully. "It's almost time for the Ritual; we can't be late! Stop grouching your paws off and get a move on!" Arch said, her voice quivering in a haughty impression of their mother.
"Yes, yes, hurry along now, and groom your fur, you can't possibly think that's a job well done!" Eid continued in the same nasal tone. Both felines erupted into laughter. The laughter died from Arch's eyes as she saw a beautiful dewy tabby pad over to them. Arch bowed down, her muzzle brushing the grass underpaw, as was the custom of their tribe, the tribe of starless skies.
"Starsearcher." Eid mewed, bowing low as well. "Rise, my children." Starsearcher purred, laying her tail on Arch's shoulder. Slowly, she moved up, not meeting the tribal leader's gaze.
"I understand your Ritual is today, is it not?" Starsearcher purred in her velvet tones. Arch felt a twinge of resentment. Starsearcher called them her children, and she wasn't their mother; their mother was ashamed of the two.
Her eyes fell on Orian, the Starsearcher's child and heir. Orian was two moons younger than Arch, but her mother had never clawed them for asking questions, or withheld prey for failing to catch her a juicy rabbit.
"Yes, Starsearcher." Eid spoke for the two, nudging Arch. She snapped back to attention, eartips burning with shame. Here she was, thinking ungratefully about how her own mother showed her children a bit of tough love, when her senior was addressing her!
"I wish you the best of luck," Starsearcher meowed, her eyes on Arch. They moved briefly to flit over Eid, who bowed low again. "And I hope you both survive. Eid, you will make a fine huntress." Starsearcher purred.
"A- And me, Starsearcher?" Arch asked. She winced as soon as the words were out of her mouth, it was not her place to speak. Starsearcher frowned for a moment, then gave Arch a bizarre smile. "Well, we'll have to wait and see, won't we?"
Arch watched the graceful feline pad away, puzzled. Instead of reprimanding her, the Starsearcher had... praised her? Comforted her? Whatever the case, it was confusing. Arch suddenly became very aware of Eid's gaze on her back.
Arch swung her head around to face her sister, hissing. "What?" She demanded. Eid shrugged. "Nothing, really. It's just, that was really weird, right?" Arch flattened her bristling fur. "Yeah... I wonder what she wanted to talk to us about."
Eid made a face at Arch. "She wanted to wish us luck in the Ritual, of course. What else?" At the mention of the Ritual, Arch's blood ran cold. "The Ritual!" She sputtered out. "It's time," Arch meowed, with a look at the climbing sun.
Eid flattened her ears, pawing at the ground nervously. "Are- Are you sure?" She asked, clearing her throat. Arch nodded warily. "Yes, it's time." Eid let out a low moan, squeezing her eyes shut. She opened her jaws, panting. After a moment, she sucked in a deep breath and opened her eyes. "Alright," Eid meowed, her chest heaving. "Let's go."
The Ritual was fairly simple, though many had died doing it. The healer's den was a cavern in the rock wall that encompassed their tribe's camp. A small waterfall gushed over the entrance to the den, but Raza, the current healer of the tribe, and one of Starsearcher Starsearcher's littermates, always managed to enter and exit without getting wet.
The first challenge was to manage to get inside the den without drowning. Several smaller tunnels branched out from the den inside, and the challenge was to make it to the other side, where any feline who made it would find themselves facing a life-threatening peril. If they overcame it, they'd be given a way back to the tribe.
"Good luck," Arch meowed quietly, touching her tailtip to Eid's shoulder. "You too." Her sister meowed, nodding. "Be careful." Arch wasn't sure Eid heard; her sister was staring at the medicine den with intensity. Arch took a breath, studying the waterfall. It ran over every side of the entrance, a very un-glamorous hole in the rock, with no space to allow a feline to squeeze in.
Arch hummed quietly, her eyes falling on a briar bush near the waterfall. It was big and covered with thorns, roses intertwined with the thick, tendril-like roots. Green leaves decorated it, though from afar it wasn't very eyecatching.
Eid was frozen, muttering something under her breath. Arch padded closer to the briar bush, sniffing it.
Her whiskers twitched. It smelled freshly of cat, and herbs. Arch's pulse began to beat faster.
This was another way into the den.
For Flamepaw, life was simple. Hunt, train, gossip, sleep, repeat. Over and over. Day after day. She never dreamed she was important, nothing more than the daughter of a clan leader.
And yet here she was. Flamepaw's fire-colored pelt shimmered in the sunlight, her claws making small scraping noises as they trailed across the rock. Her haunches were low, her muscles tense, as she slowly crept forward, her eyes narrow, trained unwaveringly on her prey.
The adder hissed at the air, its tongue flicking out from under fanged jaws, unaware of the feline creeping up behind it. If she caught it, Flamepaw would be the most celebrated apprentice in camp, and she'd pass her assessment.
Flamepaw quietly paused, her tail twitching in the air. Sould she wait, then corner it on the rocks? Or pounce now, trapping it beneath her sturdy paws? She let out a small breath of impatience; a large mistake. The adder froze, then coiled itself up, slithering out into the sunlight. The sun warmed the snake's patterns, showing the red and blue rings circling the adder's belly.
Flamepaw froze. This was a poisonous viper, a snake that could kill her with one bite.
A blur of black barely registered in her vision, until the next second it slammed into her, bowling her over. The two felines tussled on the rock for a moment, until Flamepaw managed to pin the black cat down, gasping for breath.
"What was that for?" The black cat demanded. It was a tom, Flamepaw realized, a tom that she recognized.
"Thornfoot, what are you doing here?" Flamepaw asked, stepping off him. The older tom got to his paws, shaking out his fur. "Nuttail told me to come and get you, because you were taking forever. And then I saw the viper." Thornfoot explained, giving his rumpled fur a few quick licks.
"Alright, sorry, Thornfoot," Flamepaw meowed, rolling her eyes. "I wouldn't've had to tackle you if you'd let me handle it, though," She added devensively, scraping her paws on the rock.
Thornfoot rolled his eyes. "That snake would've bitten you, and you know it." He scoffed, licking his paw. Flamepaw sighed. "Now come on, or Nuttail'll send out a patrol for you."
Flamepaw flattened her ears anxiously. "You don't think he really would, would he?" She asked desperately. Thornfoot sighed and shrugged. "Honestly, Flamepaw, I don't know. But you were gone all day. You did catch something else, right?" He stared at her.
Flamepaw nodded, slightly stung that he'd thought her stupid enough to waste her day stalking one piece of prey. "Two blackbirds and a rabbit, enough to pass my assessment. And I collected some cob nuts and horsetail for Rosethyme."
Thornfoot nodded. "Good. Hopefully you'll get a bonus for those herbs. Your fath- Adderstar," He stumbled over his words, "might not be so impressed, though; it took you..." He looked up at the sky, where the sun was climbing lower in the sky. "Roughly half a day to catch three pieces of prey."
Flamepaw's eartips burned with embarassment. She didn't dare mention it had taken so long because she had dozed off on one of the rocks. She shuffled her paws. "How about this? We can hunt quickly, so at least you have more to show than two blackbirds and a rabbit." He meowed, nudging the downcast feline.
Flamepaw looked up at the tom. "You'd do that for me?"
Thornfoot nodded. "Of course. Your mother was my sister, you know. That makes us family." Flamepaw's pelt felt as if it were covered in marching ants, and she jumped to her paws. "You knew my mother? What was her name? What did she look like? Was she nice?"
Thornfoot placed his tail on Flamepaw's muzzle to silence her. "Hunt now, talk later, okay?" Flamepaw nodded, about to respond. Suddenly, a thought came to her, and she frowned.
"Actually, Thornfoot, I think I'll be fine with my prey." She decided after a moment. "I want this to be legitimate." Flamepaw shuffled her paws. She suddenly realized what she had to do. She couldn't cheat. It wasn't right.
Thornfoot stared at her curiously. "You'd give up the chance for a redemption at your assessment? So it would feel... legitimate?" He asked, as if he couldn't believe his ears. She nodded. "It wouldn't feel right. I'd only have my warrior's name because I cheated."
Thornfoot smiled at her. "Good choice." She frowned. "Wha-" "This was your final assessment. Congratulations, Flamepaw. You did it. You passed."
Arch's voice carried in the caverns. Lit by the glow of oddly shiny moss, the tunnels seemed to stretch on forever. A sense of hopelessness washed over her, and she let out a small wail that echoed through the rocks.
"This way," Came a small whisper. Arch's head snapped up, but there was no one around her. "No, over here!" A different voice urged. "This is the right way," Another one purred.
"Augh!" Arch yelled. "Leave me alone!" The voices all laughed, as one. The shadows in the cave drew more menacing, and Arch let out a small squeak, trembling.
"Well, would you look at that," The first voice purred, amused. "She's scared." "I- I- No, I-" Arch stammered out, floundering. "L- Leave me alone!" She growled, feigning bravery.
The voices all laughed again. "Ha!" One chuckled. "It really thinks we'll believe that!" The words stung her harder than a blow. It. The voices called her "it", as if she was nothing more than a measly scrap of prey.
Anger ignited in Arch's veins, blooming to life like a flame fueled of pure anger. "I am not an it," She snarled, clawing at the air. "I am a member of the Tribe of Starless Skies, and my name is Arch!" The last word rang in the tunnel like a scream.
The voices were silent; it took Arch a moment to realize they had dissipated. She had scared them away. The moss's light dimmed, until only one tendril of it shone, leading down the darkest cavern.
Shivering, Arch tentatively pricked her ears, padding quietly into the chosen path. It was cold, the rock floors damp, sending an unpleasant chill up Arch's pawpads. The air smelled foul, as if something had crawled inside the tunnel to die.
"Arch. Arch! Arch, help me!" The scream rang through the air, turning Arch's blood to ice. It was Eid. "Eid!" Arch screamed, breaking into a sprint. She smashed against a wall, opening a gash on her left limb on her shoulder.
She barely felt the pain. "Eid, where are you?" Arch screamed, shouting for her sister. Her shoulder was throbbing, blood oozing from the cut and pooling at her paws. "Arch! Please, help me! Arch!"
The last word hung heavily in the air, but Arch couldn't pinpoint where the voice was coming from. "Arch, please! Arch, save me! It's coming for me!" Eid's voice screamed.
Dispelief washed over Arch as she stared numbly into the moss-lit darkness. This tunnel was narrow, with jagged rocks along the sides. There was no way Eid could be there. "I'm sorry, Eid." Arch whispered, shaking out her fur.
A few drops of blood splattered the wall. "You're not real." And it was true.
Eid was still screaming, but it dimmed down to a whisper.
"You've passed your trial," An amused voice purred. Arch's eyes darted around. Beside her, was a sleek, silver-furred she-cat, glowing orbs spilling out from her pelt like tears or droplets of water.
"Who are you?" Arch yelped, jumping away from the she-cat. The orbs dissapated when they reached the damp floor, and the she-cat looked saddened. "My name is Smallflicker, and I am not one of your anscestors." She chided, as if able to read Arch's mind.
"No, but I am an anscestor," She meowed, shaking her head. "I am a cat of StarClan, and I only have a few minutes here with you." Arch frowned. "StarClan? What is StarClan?"
Smallflicker's voice came out in a rush. "Ten days from here's travel is a large lake. Around this lake are four clans. StarClan are the warrior anscestors of these clans." "What are clans?" Arch butted in.
"I'll explain it all later. Once you get closer to the clans, I'll be able to talk with you for more time." Smallwhisker meowed, brushing her whiskers across Arch's shoulder. The she-cat was instantly washed over with a sense of peace, and she sat down expectantly.
"Good," The starry feline meowed, swiping her tongue around her whiskers. "Now. You need to go to this lake. Your Starsearcher will forbid it. You must trust in me, and in your anscestors."
This touched a nerve with Arch. "Our anscestors abandoned us! We were once called the Tribe of Starsmattered Skies, did you know that?" She spat bitterly. "Then the stars vanished, and so did they!"
Smallwhisker let out an indignant meow. "Abandoned you? Your anscestors have been here whole time, greatly weakened. They are trapped as ghosts, shadows of what they once were. Their connection with the stars has faded, and you must bring them back."
Arch let out a small wail. "Bring back the stars?" She meowed incredulously. "How can I bring back the stars? They're stars! I'm just a she-cat!"
Smallflicker twitched her tail. "Yes, you are. But you are special, Arch, and at the lake you will find out why. I can show you the way out of here, and I can show you the path to the lake, but you will have to trust me. Do you trust me, Arch?" Smallflicker asked seriously.
Arch hesitated. Did she trust Smallflicker, this desceased she-cat who claimed her anscestors were trapped, ghosts walking among felines. Arch cleared her throat. If there was any chance, any chance at all of bringing back the stars... "I do."
"Nuttail, has your apprentice, Flamepaw, passed her assessment? Does she understand our noble code of warriors, and the importance of following it?" Adderstar asked, swishing his tail. The stripes on his fur lit up the camp, and Flamepaw felt proud that he was her father.
Nuttail stepped forward, dipping his head respectfully to the clan leader. "She has, Adderstar." Nuttail meowed. "But I am concerned. She has shown a vast lack of restraint, and she seems to think that she can handle anything."
Adderstar's eyes glowed, and he laughed. "That sounds like my daughter," He meowed, swishing his tail again.
Nuttail nodded. "Today, she went purposely over the border to ThunderClan's sunstones to catch an adder, right near the lake. I don't think she was seen. She froze when she saw it was a poisonous viper, and Thornfoot had to rescue her."
Indignation swelled up inside the flame-colored she-cat, and she let out a small cry. "That's not true! He rammed into me, and I pinned him down!" She yowled, instantly abashed at the outburst. Murmurs erupted in the clan, and Nuttail narrowed his eyes. Thornfoot was one of the best warriors in the clan, it seemed highly unlikely that an eleven-moon-old apprentice, slim as she was, could pin him down.
"Thornfoot, is this true?" Adderstar asked, dipping his head in the direction of the black tom.
Thornfoot stepped forward. "This is true, Adderstar. Nuttail had sent me for the final stage in her evaluation, and I saw her on the sunstones. She was only a few tail-lengths over the border, and she was stalking an adder. Her form was perfect. Then, it uncurled itself, revealing the stripes that showed it was poisonous. Flamepaw was retreating already, but I thought she was in trouble. I pushed her out of the way, but she was a lot stronger than she looked. She thought I was attacking her. She managed to hook herself onto me. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't stand a chance against her." Thornfoot meowed.
Adderstar frowned thoughtfully. "Very well. I have chosen to believe you, Thornfoot. Thank you for protecting my daughter, though I'm sure she could have handled herself." The clan leader meowed, swiping his tongue around his muzzle.
"Yes, Adderstar." Thornfoot dipped his head, stepping back into the crowd of cats.
"Has this apprentice learned integrity and honesty?" Adderstar meowed, curling his long-furred tail around his paws. He was the epitome of regality and grandness, and Flamepaw felt a small shiver of apprehension. What if Nuttail demanded she re-take her apprenticeship? What then?
But Nuttail only nodded, "Yes, Adderstar." Adderstar looked satisfied, flicking his ear back.
"Very well. I, Adderstar, leader of ShadowClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you as a warrior in her turn. Flamepaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?" Adderstar asked.
Flamepaw's answer came out as a squeak, and a murmur of hushed laughter rippled through the clan. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Yes, Adderstar."
"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Flamepaw, from this moment on you will be known as Flamerunner. StarClan honors your courage and energy, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan." Adderstar meowed.
The clan cheered, "Flamerunner! Flamerunner!" echoing through the camp.
"Dismissed," Adderstar announced, leaping down lithely from his perch on the large oak tree where he made the announcements.
Cats swarmed forward to congratulate her. Their words and faces blurred together, only a few standing out; Thornfoot brushing his muzzle with hers and promising to tell her about Smallflicker, Violetstorm, her kithood best friend, twining her tail with hers, and Adderstar, congratulating her.
Finally, the cats dispersed, leaving the newly-named Flamerunner alone. She eyed the warriors den for a moment, before walking forward and padding inside.
She had never been there before. When she was a kit, she had been too scared, and when she was an apprentice, she'd been too busy. Now, though, it was her new den. She'd live there for as long as she was a warrior.
It was spacious, with large green mossy dens. In the back, there was an empty den. It was rich and soft, though it was plain, and Flamerunner vowed to pick some flowers or feathers to place on her den.
"It's great, don't you think?" Came the soft voice from behind her. Flamerunner turned to see Violetstorm. "Yes!" She purred, blinking warmly at her old friend. "It's too bad I won't be able to sleep in it tonight." She meowed.
Violetstorm laughed. "Don't worry. My vigil was a few nights ago, and it was fine. I slept the whole day through, though!" She meowed, purring with amusement.
Flamerunner nudged her friend. "Violetstorm, when you had your ceremony, I was so jealous!" Flamerunner confessed with a purr.
"But mine was super stressful!" Violetstorm protested. "Did you know that I almost didn't catch enough prey? The sun was going down, and I didn't have a vole, which it was Pineclaw asked me to fetch, but then as I was entering the camp, a vole practically scrambled into my paws!"
Flamerunner's eyes widened. "No, I didn't!" She gasped. "Wow! But at least you caught it!"
"Yeah, and in full view of Adderstar, too! I'm so lucky it was a neat catch," Violetstorm blinked warmly at her friend. "I've got to go, dusk patrol. But I'm sure I'll see you when I get back!" Violetstorm meowed teasingly.
Flamerunner rolled her eyes playfully. "Oh, don't tease."
Violetstorm laughed, and with a wave of her tail, padded out of the warriors den. "Oh, by the way," Violetstorm meowed, poking her head back into the den. "Feel free to take any of my flowers or shells or anything,"
Flamerunner purred. "Thanks, Violetstorm." Violetstorm nodded, drawing her head back. "Of course!"
Arch slowly followed the ghostly form of Smallflicker through the tunnels, trying to imitate the starry feline's graceful lope, the way her paws barely seemed to touch the ground.
At first, Arch had thought she was hallucinating, but it was definitely happening: the orbs, or stars, spilling from this she-cat with an odd name, were fading, their brilliant light dimming.
Something was gnawing at Arch, grating at her sides. "Smallflicker?" She asked.
The she-cat looked back at Arch impatiently, never slowing her pace. "Yes, Arch?"
"Why did the stars leave?"
Smallflicker only shook her head. "The black mist that the twoleg dens belch out day and night swallowed the stars. But if you manage to convince the Starsearcher to lead the Tribe to the clans, the stars will follow. They always have."
Arch stared, almost tripping over her paws. "They always have? Does this mean that the stars have been taken before?"
Smallflicker shook her head again. "No, not taken. But your tribe once lived far, far away, under a different name."
"Yes, the Tribe of Starsmattered Skies," Arch meowed, "But I thought they always lived in the canyon."
Smallflicker flattened her ears. "Do you have bees in your brain? I'm talking about a tribe that came long before yours. The Tribe of Running Water." The name sent a chill through her paws, something familiar, instinctive.
"Oh." Arch meowed. "And why are they gone? What- What happened to the tribe?"
Smallflicker's tail twitched. She had a jumpy air about her with this question, as if she wanted to tell, but was trying not to reveal too much. "They recieved a prophecy. They changed their name, their leader, their location, their customs." She meowed, avoiding the real question.
The felines trodded on in silence, an occasional oath or grunt the only sound punctuating the silence. Finally, the tunnels seemed to brighten, and the blinding glow of sunlight momentarily stunned Arch.
"I must go now." Smallflicker meowed, flattening her ears. "Do not tell anyone of our meeting, not until I deliver some... news." She said this last word with a grimace. The stars streaming from her pelt were now barely visible, indiscernible from her pelt until they landed on the ground.
"To who?" Arch asked, too startled to be polite. Her tail lashed from side to side. Did this mean there were others involved in the quest to save the stars? The idea worked her into a frenzy.
"Your questing companions." Smallflicker said this as she might've said, "Your little sibling." Arch's lips parted at the confirmation. "Wha- Who?" She demanded, but Smallflicker would say no more.
"Enough. I have told you all you need to know, for the time being. Go, now, and show the others you have survived." Smallflicker meowed. She was already fading, becoming more opaque with each passing second.
"What do I do if Starsearcher asks how I got out?" Arch asked, licking her paw urgently. "You said not to tell anyone."
Smallflicker was gone, with only the scent of apples to remind Arch that she had been there, a pleasant, sweet smell. "When the time is right, you will know what to do," The voice of Smallflicker was the faintest echo.
With a deep breath, Arch stepped into the sunlight.
Nothing was different in the hollow, except she now stood above the rock wall. She hadn't noticed it, but the tunnels had been sloping gently upwards, carrying her to the top of the wall. She stood on a narrow ledge, the rock worn and crumbled beneath her paws.
She let the faint wind ruffle her whiskers and fur for a moment, then let out a yowl that carried all around the canyon. From below came the astonished yowls and caterwauls of her tribemates, all staring up at her with their faces a mixture of awe and inspiration.
“Come down!” Came the loudest yowl of all, though Arch couldn’t see where it came from. She smiled broadly, the wind buffeting her from all sides. The stone was sturdy under her paw pads, though a few cracks showed from the ever-present howl of the wind.
Her eyes traced a path down the ridge. It was narrow but it looked firm, and she was positive it would hold her weight. She jumped onto the first step, a large, hollowed out crevice in the rock. It was slick with some kind of liquid. Arch thought it was water at first, but it was black and oily and smelled rancid.
“This is what swallowed the stars.” Smallflicker’s voice came to her. “This is what swallowed the sea.”
Adderstar threw back his head, his yowl reverberating around the clan. "Clan meeting!"
Flamerunner exchanged a puzzled glance with Violetstorm over the shrew they were sharing. There were no kits to be made apprentices, and no apprentices to be made warriors. What was happening?
When it seemed that nearly the whole of ShadowClan was before him, Adderstar cleared his throat. "ThunderClan scent has been found on our territory."
Flamerunner's head was reeling as she took in what her father was saying. He stood grimly, his tail twitching.
"What?" Someone meowed from the back of the crowd.
Adderstar nodded. "Yes. A patrol has just returned from renewing the scent markers. Curvedclaw, care to explain?" He asked.
Curveclaw nodded, stepping forward. He opened his jaws to speak, and his voice was angry. "We scented ThunderClan scent on our borders. We waited for a patrol to come around, and they attacked us. Orchidspots is in the medicine den recovering as we speak. Luckily, we lost no cats."
"ThunderClan fox-pelts! We'll flay them alive!" Violetstorm yowled from beside Flamerunner. She nodded angrily. "Yeah! Make those scum-furs pay!"
Adderstar raised his tail for silence. "Tomorrow night is the Gathering. We'll confront ThunderClan and Rookstar then. Do not bring this up with other patrols you may encounter from here on out - no need for ShadowClan to seem weak. We'll risk invasion."
"I'd like to see them try!" Nuttail growled, flattening his ears. "If anyone tries, we'll send them a nasty surprise!" Thornfoot yowled behind Flamerunner. "They won't dare!"
Insults and slurs directed at ThunderClan rose from the ShadowClan cats; cruel slang and hissed curses. Flamerunner felt anger prick at her fur, and she let out a low growl.
Adderstar waved his tail again and the commotion died down almost instantly. "Meeting dismissed; return to your duties at once. ThunderClan have always been violent, and tabbies can't change their stripes."
There was a general murmur of assent from the gathered crowd, and they dispersed, most filing into the elders' den to tell them what had happened.
Flamerunner turned to Violetstorm, whose flanks were heaving with anger. "Those rabbit-brains won't know what hit them if they try to come into our camp!" She vowed.
Flamerunner nodded, her eyes wide. "What I wouldn't do to sink my claws into their mangy pelts!"
"Enough gossip," Thornfoot snapped. Flamerunner jumped, she hadn't noticed him sneak up on them. "Violetstorm, you can go help Nuttail with hunting, and Flamerunner, make yourself useful barricading the camp."
Flamerunner's eyes widened. "Barricading the camp? What for?" Thornfoot shrugged, looking mildly bemused. "I've no idea, but I suppose it has something to do with ThunderClan. We've ought to be prepared for anything right now. Adderstar and Curveclaw asked for it specifically."
A shiver clawed its way down Flamerunner's spine. Were things so bad with ThunderClan that they had to fortify their defenses? And was Adderstar hiding something from the clan?
"Flamerunner! Did you hear me? Go get sticks and fill in the gaps in the bracken barrier!" Thornfoot meowed impatiently.
Flamerunner jerked to attention. "Oh, right. Sorry, Thornfoot; I'll get right on that." She meowed, shaking out her pelt in a distracted fashion. With an uttered "uh", she padded away.
"For my sister's daughter, she's certainly aloof, that's for sure." She heard Thornfoot meow. Violetstorm let out a purr of amusement. "Certainly! She's still my best friend, however spotty she may be."
Flamerunner's paws went numb with apprehension. She had always lived a quiet, peaceful existence. ThunderClan was threatening to take that away from her with war.
Flamerunner had heard the word war, she'd studied tactics for war.
She never dreamed she'd actually have to use them.
"My daughter," A she-cat purred. Flamerunner froze, glancing around. Standing beside her was a starry cinnamon-furred tabby, sparks of Flamerunner's red poking out from her paws and chest.
"Who are you?" Flamerunner asked, her eyes wide. "I don't know you! You're not from ShadowClan," She hissed.
"But I am. I'm from StarClan, and I'm your mother." The she-cat insisted. A warm feeling washed over Flamerunner, and she relaxed. "M- Mother? Smallflicker?" She asked, her eyes welling with tears.
"Oh, my beautiful daughter." She purred. "I wish I'd come with better news, but I'm afraid I haven't." She meowed, her eyes sad. "News? What do you mean?"
"Tomorrow at moonhigh, a she-cat will stumble into the camp. She will smell like fire and herbs. Do not attack her, welcome her. She is crucial. She is key. She is from a tribe, the Tribe of Starless Skies."
"But why will she come?" Flamerunner asked, panic searing her gaze. "Is she coming to attack the clan?"
"No, dearest one. She's coming for help. Twoleg fire has eaten the stars of her tribe, and she wants to relocate her tribe. The clans will have to shift territory. But the stars will make room for her ancestors here. They always have."
And them Smallflicker was gone.
Arch's eyes skipped around the clearing, falling on Starsearcher, and then Orian - there was no sign of Eid.
Her eyes rose to the sky, where a thick black fog hung. She frowned. Thunderclouds, maybe?
But an acrid stench washed over her; one of smoke and fire, burning forests. She flattened her ears as the scent didn't fade. A wail rose from the cats as they began to smell it too. "Starsearcher!" Someone yowled. "Starsearcher, what's happening?"
Yowls, oaths, and caterwauls rose from the tribe cats, Arch among them. She was suddenly aware of a starry she-cat brushing next to Arch, weaving around her.
"Follow me," Smallflicker hissed. "You have to leave now." "But my tribe!" Arch protested, flattening her ears with a hiss.
Smallflicker cuffed her round the ears - though she was dead, she could still claw, apparently. Arch winced, shaking out her fur.
Smallflicker let out a growl. "There won't be a tribe to start with if you don't leave now! The smoke will leave in a moment, but it will return. I'm showing you how to save them, Arch."
Arch braced herself. "Alright." She meowed, her voice surprisingly even and steady. "I'll go."
Smallflicker brushed her muzzle on Arch's shoulder, and her touched burned louder and brighter than fire. She let out a gasp, black dots dancing in front of her vision. She stumbled to her paws.
"What was that?" She asked, when she could talk again.
Smallflicker twitched her whiskers into a frown. "I'm not sure. Come on."
Arch followed Smallflicker out of the main area of the tribe's camp. She skirted around wailing mothers and yowling kits, fully-grown felines burying their face in the ground to block out the stench.
It was horrible.
"What's happening to my tribe?" Arch asked Smallflicker.
She flattened her ears. "They're scared. Fear can drive cats to do things they'll regret later. Fear can make cats abandon their homes, their kin."
"But can't love do the same thing?" Arch countered, her whiskers twitched into a frown. "I mean, I'd do anything for-" She stopped short. "Eid! Where's Eid?!" Arch growled.
Smallflicker ruffled her fur. "She's fine. She'll be coming out any moment now. Come on!" She growled, gritting her teeth in agitation.
Arch pawed the ground nervously. "Where are we even going?" She asked in defeat, flattening her ears.
"Follow me. It's time you met my daughter."