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They were in the cavern.
Smokepaw looked at Rushingpaw, her one true love. Three simple words whisked out of her mouth. "I love you."
"Me too." Rushingpaw purred back. His dark gray pelt glimmered in the moonlight.
"But- we're only apprentices!" Smokepaw protested, stretching her long, silver body.
"It doesn't matter. Just because Reedstar won't let us become warriors doesn't mean we're not old enough..." Rushingpaw looked serious.
"Mates, then?" Smokepaw asked, scared to death but with a strong voice.
"Mates. Forever." Rushingpaw's words faded away as the two apprentices settled down on the warm, mossy floor of the secret cavern.
Smokepaw was on a rock in the river. A frog croaked. She sunned there peacefully.
Suddenly, the usually calm river started to rush. The clear water turned white as the fast water washed over the rock. Smokepaw was swept away.
She struggled to keep her head above the water. What are you doing? You're a RiverClan cat! Swim! A voice inside her mewed impatiently. Smokepaw could do nothing. She fell underneath the water, and slipped away...
All of a sudden, the water was drowned out by flames, and ashes fell from the surface...
"Smokepaw!" StarClan? "Smokepaw!" A paw prodded her side. Just a dream. She opened her eyes to see Mossyfur, her mentor, shaking her awake.
She was in the apprentice's den, after sneaking back at a time close to dawn from the cavern. Sheand Rushingpaw had been going there every night for a moon and a half now.
Smokepaw sighed. It was always battle training! Ever since Reedstar, their leader, started to find fish scales on ShadowClan's side of the border, he could think of nothing else, even the making of new warriors...
Smokepaw veered away from the clearing. She was disappointed with herself: she was getting so slow and clumsy!
She ran all the way to the river; she needed time to think.
The apprentice splashed into the water, creating a wave. It washed onto the reeds, submerging some plants. She hopped out with some difficulty, but balanced somewhat precariously on a rock. Skillfully scooping a fish from the river, she ate it in one gulp.
Something squirmed inside her belly. Probably indigestion! she thought. She looked at her stomach. It does seem a little bit bigger than usual... maybe I should get some watermint from Willowshine...
Suddenly she heard a rustle in the bracken. A familiar scent came over her as a silver tabby she-cat stepped out from behind a tree, with watermint in her mouth.
"Hey, Willowshine." Smokepaw greeted the medicine cat.
"Smokepaw, there's something I have to tell you, I think..." she started.
"What is it?" the silver-gray apprentice asked.
"I-I think you're going to have kits...and I don't know what you should do..."
"Kits?" Smokepaw gasped. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no!
"Yes. Smokepaw, I don't think this will be a problem, as it isn't in the warrior code..." Willowshine replied.
"But- how..." the apprentice stuttered. She took a deep breath. "How many?"
"More than three. They'll come in about one moon."
"How will I tell Rushingpaw?" Smokepaw was dazed.
"Rushingpaw? He's the father?" Willowshine asked, padding towards the rock Smokepaw was sitting on. "Just tell him gently. He'll take it well, I think..."
"Thanks for your help and news, Willowshine. I really wish I was a warrior now..." Smokepaw sighed, and got up from the rock.
She raced back to the RiverClan camp. She was breathing heavily by the time she got to the apprentices den.
"Is Rushingpaw in here?" she asked Snakepaw and Lilypaw, two littermates resting in the den. The two gray tabbies were a ball of fluff, apprenticed in the last moon.
"No, I haven't seen him." Snakepaw rolled over to look at Smokepaw.
"I think he went hunting near the ShadowClan border!" Lilypaw piped up.
"Thanks!" Smokepaw mewed. She ran out of camp as fast as her paws could take her. She reached the Green-leaf Twolegplace and looked wildly around for her mate.
There! She spotted a solid dark gray pelt underneath a tree.
Then she realized that ginger fur was mixed with it. Smokepaw vaguely recognized the ginger apprentice as one of Ivytail's kits, Flamingpaw.
Rushingpaw and Flamingpaw were sharing tongues.
Smokepaw was shocked. She almost forgot the fact that she was pregnant.
What can I do? They'll be mad if I interrupt, yet I can't just sit here and do nothing! she thought.
As she decided to present herself to them, the two apprentices got up.
"I-I guess I'll see you... at the gathering tomorrow?" Flamingpaw asked.
"Yes... meet me in the hawthorn bushes near the edge of the island." Rushingpaw purred, so softly Smokepaw almost couldn't hear.
"Goodbye." Flamingpaw padded away from the Twolegplace, stopping only once to look back.
Rushingpaw nodded to her, signaling that she should go. He flicked his tail, a sign of affection. Then the dark gray tom pounded off towards where Smokepaw was hiding behind a tree.
Smokepaw quickly dived into a berry bush, only regretting it when the berries started bursting onto her plump body. But only after Rushingpaw left did she tear herself free.
She crept back to the camp, but halfway to the sound of running water, she heard a voice.
It was Rushingpaw.
"Oh, StarClan, what have I done? How can I break this to Smokepaw?"
That was when she started running.
She reached the camp in what seemed to be a few heartbeats. Sh ran into Willowshine's den. The medicine cat was the only one she could talk to.
Except the medicine cat wasn't in there sorting herbs or consulting a warrior about a wound from a ShadowClan patrol.
She was there.
But she was dead.
The silver tabby medicine cat was lying on the floor of the den in a pool of her own blood, a wound on the throat. In between her claws was the fur of a gray cat, RiverClan by the smell of it.
She heard pawsteps. Lilypaw and Mossyfur.
"Hi, Smokepaw. Lilypaw got a thorn in her pad and-" Mossyfur stopped, looking with horror at the scene of crime.
"Smokepaw! How could you?" the brown and white she-cat accused.
"I thought you were nice! I thought you were my friend!" Lilypaw interrupted, whimpering.
"I'm telling you, I didn't do it!" Smokepaw yowled.
More pawsteps were heard.
Just my luck! Smokepaw thought as Reedstar and his deputy, Pebblefoot entered the den.
"What is all this commotion?" Reedstar asked, coldly glaring at Smokepaw, Lilypaw and Mossyfur.
Then he spotted the body lying on the floor. He examined the fur tucked in the claws.
"Smokepaw! Come to the River-Rock! Now!" he ordered, freezing fire lingering in his ice-blue gaze.
I gulped. The River-Rock is where cats get sentenced to exile- if they're lucky- or death.
I can't die! I thought desperately, glancing at my belly. The tiny lives inside me would never be born.
I saw Rushingpaw quickly enter the camp out of the corner of my eye. Then Lilypaw pounded up to him, explaining what happened. He looked genuinely stricken.
He pelted up to me.
"You killed her?"
"No! I would never! Anyway, I have something to tell you..." I mewed.
"I'm going to have your kits."
"We have to escape! You can't die!" Rushingpaw muttered.
"How can we?" I wailed. "Reedstar's guards are everywhere!"
"I know a way."
He led me to the river, blending into the gray rocks with ease, and diving into a hole when Mossyfur sniffed suspiciously. He slipped in. The river! Perfect!
The last words we heard from Reedstar before we left were,"Smokepaw and Rushingpaw have escaped!"
We swam silently away from the lake. When we were far enough away from the camp, Rushingpaw pulled me onto ShadowClan territory.
I looked warily around. This was the clearing that he and Flamingpaw were sharing tongues in!
We huddled under a pine tree. I suddenly felt a pang of longing for Willowshine.
"Don't worry. Our kits will be fine," Rushingpaw murmured, pressing his fluffy gray fur against mine.
I snuggled up to him.
Smokepaw woke a few days later with pangs in her stomach.
She prodded Rushingpaw.
"The kits are coming!" was all she needed to say. Rushingpaw was up before you could say 'New-leaf fish run'!
"What do I do?" he demanded.
"Get me some water... and a stick..." Smokepaw shivered as a spasm passed through her belly. Rushingpaw was off in a flash.
The first one's coming! a voice said.
"Willowshine?" Smokepaw mewed wearily. She yowled as another spasm came.
Yes. Now, when it comes, nip the sac open and rub its fur so it can get warm! Willowshine's voice whispered.
Smokepaw groaned as the kit finally slipped out. She easily bit oven the sac and warmed it up. It was a silver and white she-cat.
Rushingpaw pelted back, skidding on the leaf mold with wet moss and a large stick in his mouth.
"She's beautiful!" he mewed.
"Stop praising the kit and help me!" Smokepaw yowled crabbily.
The next kit came. It was a black she-cat with white paws and a white spot on her back.
Nearly there! Two more to go! Willowshine encouraged.
The second-last kit was a chestnut brown, long-haired she-cat.
"Mouse-dung!" Smokepaw yelled in pain. She bit down, hard on the stick.
The last kit was a dappled silver tabby she-kit.
"Four beautiful she-cats!" Rushingaw rejoiced.
"Aren't you sad there aren't any toms?" Smokepaw joked tiredly. She was worn out from the birth.
"I don't mind! What do you want to name them?" Rushingpaw asked.
"The silver and white one can be... Eveningkit, the black and white one can be Patchkit, for her white patches, the pretty brown one can be Chestnutkit, for her fur color, and the last one can be... Willowkit."
"I understand," Rushingpaw mewed softly. "Eveningkit, Patchkit, Chestnutkit and Willowkit. They're so beautiful!"
Smokepaw was worried.
It was the middle of the night, the day after the birth.