Perhaps it wasn't the most triumphant battle cry. But it was all Finchnose could think of once she'd finally rid herself of the bitter-tasting gag of leaves. Besides, her battle cry didn't matter once she had crashed into Aquatail, knocking the black she-cat into a tangle of thorny branches. Brightsong leaped back in shock, mouth hanging open. Luckily, she didn't stay still for too long. She jumped right back in, slashing at her sister's hide while Aquatail was in her helpless position.
Since it had taken her quite a bit of time to formulate the courage and plan to attack Aquatail, Finchnose wasn't quite sure what to do now. She inched forward a little and stuck a claw in Aquatail. No effect. Hm. Maybe she wasn't going about this the right way, and it felt unnatural anyhow.
Stepping back, she let Brightsong do her work.
Don't panic. Don't panic. Whatever you do, don't panic.
Way too late for that, Silverbreeze thought to herself. She was ready to cry with frustration. Where was Finchnose?
Upon looking up and seeing Reedfur trotting towards her, she nearly lost her footing, ready to just collapse. He quickened his pace, worry thickening in his green eyes. "Are you okay?"
She ignored the question. "I haven't found her."
"Me neither," he whispered.
Around them, cats were rolling and tumbling and fighting. But none of them sported that warm, malted shade of cocoa on their fur, nor the soft cream underbelly or the gentle hazel eyes. Plus, Silverbreeze was reasonably sure that Finchnose would never fight. It just wasn't in her nature.
Beside her, Reedfur's ears pricked up. "Do you hear that?"
Seconds later, two cats exploded out of the bush next to them. One of them was Finchnose and the other was Brightsong- hadn't she been fighting? What was she doing in a bush?
It didn't take long for her to get her answer.
Aquatail went streaking out of the other side of the bush, blood slick on her black pelt. For once, Silverbreeze saw fear in the cruel she-cat's eyes.
Time seemed to slow down in that instant. Silverbreeze felt like she was watching everything from inside a glass wall, with two sides. Her one option was to stop Aquatail. It was the obvious option. If she could just slow her down, Brightsong could catch her and avenge all the cats her sister had killed. But... something inside Silverbreeze was saying, Remember how she used to be? Remember laughing in the Chamber? Don't you remember when she was one of your best friends, your most trusted cat?
There was no time for memories in a war. Silverbreeze shot out her paw, and watched as Aquatail crashed to the ground.
Brightsong was on her in an instant, claws on her throat. Oddly, there was no more anger on her face. Just a kind of resigned sadness. "You could've chosen right, Aquatail. You could've been a hero. But you can't go back now."
"Please. You were always the hero." Aquatail's blue eyes glowed feverishly, even as the rest of her body bled out. "But I will still be the winner. Viperstar... is on his way here... now."
There was no need for a final blow. With a satisfied smirk, Aquatail ceased living.
Silverbreeze wasn't sure whether to cheer, cry, or scream.
This was not what Strongheart had been anticipating at all. For one, he had imagined himself as the one to kill Aquatail. Second, he had thought that there would be blood and screaming, or at least Aquatail falling off a cliff or something. Or maybe dying in a chamber filled with Dark Fire poison gas, for what she had done to them. But... at least she was dead, right?
"She said Viperstar was coming." Reedfur. Always the brainiac.
"That's not good." Violentclaw. Always the... yeah.
Glancing around, Strongheart saw that the GreenClan cats had taken their distraction as an opportunity to get the heck out of there. The battlefield was mostly deserted, though the churned earth and blood-stained patches on the grass left a telltale story of what had gone down tonight.
And now it looked like they were in for more.
"Do you think he knows about the Tunnels?" whimpered Ivyfleet.
With a sigh, Strongheart mewed, "It doesn't matter if he does. Either way, once he gets here he'll find it. With the battlefield right outside, it's only a matter of time."
"And right now, we're running out of time," Reedfur snapped impatiently.
Suddenly angry, Strongheart whirled on him. "Oh yeah? You think we don't know that? We're not standing around here because we think this is a party! If you're so smart, what do you think we should do? Huh?"
"Guys-" Finchnose began.
But Reedfur was glowering back at Strongheart. "Excuse me? Why don't you try to come up with something besides fighting? Why is it always me that has to get us out of trouble?"
"GUYS!" Silverbreeze screamed. All eyes turned to her. Just looking at her thin face made Strongheart feel guilty. "This is not the time for fighting, okay? We need a plan, and it doesn't matter who comes up with it."
Reedfur hung his head. "Yeah. I'm sorry."
"Me too, bro." Strongheart nudged his friend affectionately.
Obviously lost in thought, Reedfur mewed, "We'll never make it out of here all together."
Angelcloud stepped forward, shaking her head. "You're not saying we split up, are you? Because we're a group. We can't do that."
He bit his lip. "We have to. A few cats have to run and get help."
"We'll go," Stormflower said instantly. "Me and Amberflower. We have contacts nearby."
Strongheart nodded. "What about the others who've been with the Network? Blazesong? Electricswirl?"
Their response came as one. "We're staying."
Though he appreciated that they cared enough about the rebellion already to risk their lives by staying, Strongheart didn't think two cats could get help fast enough, nor enough help. "We need more cats. Fast runners."
All eyes turned to Silverbreeze and Reedfur. Both of them mewed at the same time, "No way."
"It's for the good of the group, guys," Finchnose told them.
Reedfur shook his head. "Forget it. We need to stay here and help you two."
Strongheart gazed at his friend, hoping he would understand how important this was. "Listen. You and Silverbreeze are incredibly fast. We're counting on you guys, okay? We all have our talents, and we need to use them. Finchnose, Bramblepath, Birdsong and I can manage. But none of us will survive if you guys don't-"
"Okay. I'm in."
Giving a soft sigh, Silverbreeze meowed, "Me too. Let's go."
"Great. You and Reedfur will go one way, and Stormflower and Amberflower the other. Get help, fast."
The cats nodded, and before Strongheart had a chance to say good bye - especially to Silverbreeze - they had vanished into the night. Fighting off the choking feeling that had seized his throat, he said gruffly, "Everyone, inside the tunnels. I don't want any less than eight cats guarding the entrance at a time. Fallensky, go check the prey supply. If you don't think there's enough, take three cats hunting with you, and have two guards looking out for you. Finchnose, do you have enough herbs to last?"
Reading what he was thinking - there might be more wounds before the battle is over - she said, "I'll hurry and collect some more."
As the Hidden dispersed to obey his commands, Strongheart felt a mixture of pride and regret. He had gotten them ready for war. True war. He had taken over.
What had he done?
Running alongside Silverbreeze, with the night sky spread above them and the soft grass underneath them: it should've been a dream come true. But it wasn't. Reedfur was running for his life, and more importantly, his friends' lives. His paws ached from pounding the ground, and his lungs and heart begged for mercy. Mercy he didn't give. There was too much depending on this.
Beside him, a sheen of sweat coated Silverbreeze's moonlight-colored fur, but she continued matching pace with him, her blue eyes steady with resolve.
No words passed between them, but both gave a sigh of relief when the woods came into view. Reedfur was already reviewing a list of cats that he knew/had heard about who supported their cause.
They were that much closer to saving their friends' lives... and maybe winning this war they had started.
Everything was quiet. Too quiet for Finchnose's liking, especially after the clamor of the battle.
She padded through the Tunnels, making sure every trough - ditches and crevices in the walls where they stored water - was filled. Fallensky and her hunters had done well; there was plenty of prey. At least, for now. Finchnose didn't know how long it would last with all their cats. If GreenClan laid siege...
No. Think positive. The others are getting help.
Ahead, through the exit of the Hall, she could see Strongheart pacing back and forth in the tunnel that led to the entrance of the Tunnels. There was a permanent crease in his brow, and dried blood still clung to his orange fur. Sympathy twisted within her heart, and she trotted over to him.
"We have guards up," she said softly. "Get some sleep."
He started, looking up at her with haunted eyes. "I can't."
She patted the ground beside her. "At least lay down next to me and rest a little."
After a brief pause, he did so, lying so their flanks brushed gently. Finchnose rested her head on her paws and blinked up at the ceiling. "Are you worried about Silverbreeze and Reedfur?"
She could feel him flinch beside her. "Yeah."
"Me too," she whispered.
Without replying, he wrapped his tail around her, like she was a little kit. Though she knew she didn't need that kind of protection, it felt good for once. To just bury her face in his flame-colored fur, with his head on her shoulder, and drift away into a dream.
Oddly, it wasn't those cold, lifeless blue eyes of Viperstar's that haunted Strongheart's dream.
Well, it was GreenClan at first. Battles, blood, everything he dreaded. But slowly that faded away, and he found himself standing in a sloping meadow. A she-cat's delicate laughter carried on the wind. He recognized it. "Silverbreeze?"
An odd happiness filled him. It was so peaceful here, and Silverbreeze was here too. They were by themselves. Together.
"Where are you?" he called.
A little gray shape emerged on the horizon. Not Silverbreeze. Hazelpaw.
He broke into a run, bounding towards the young apprentice who had been his first true love. But as he did, darkness began to overcome the edges of his vision. Darkness was everywhere. She was gone. Only her voice remained.
"Strongheart... you need to realize... I love you."
No, it wasn't Viperstar's blue eys that haunted him. But... it wasn't Silverbreeze's blue eyes either. Nor Hazelpaw's green ones.
Because the eyes staring at him out of the darkness?
They were hazel.
Finchnose stood up, leaving Strongheart still sleeping, and padded towards where six guards were standing(the other two were in the Observation Post). "Any sign of them?"
"No- Wait. I hear..." Fallensky turned to her, the expression on her face grim. "They're coming. Violentclaw, go wake everyone. Get them here."
"I'll get Strongheart," Finchnose mewed.
She charged toward her sleeping friend- and then stopped. In slumber, he looked so innocent. She was about to wake him up, to throw him back into the exhausting, grueling life of war.
Sure, she was a medicine cat. She didn't completely understand the concept of fighting. But somehow, she knew that this war was going to cost them a lot. Today was the day war began, a war that was long-coming. And they were on the front lines. Yet without them, all hope of overthrowing Viperstar was lost. They were needed. Finchnose knew she would stand by her friends till her dying breath.
Therefore, she knew she had to do this. All of this. From a simple task like waking Strongheart up to saving her friends trapped in poison chambers to... whatever other crazy tasks the war gave her. This was what she was made for.
"Strongheart? Wake up."
He opened one eye confusedly. "Wha'?" Then it clicked.
"Ready for war?"