Book 3 in the Arcticclan Series
Brightstar sat next to Goldstar, who had his tail tangled with Wolfstar's. The danger was seen, and they needed to pick their four cats. Brightstar stepped to the edge of the ridge. "I say, Tigerpaw and Dawnpaw first of all." Trees rustled. "Of course you'd pick them," snarled a voice. "They're your kits." The cats turned to see a dark brown tom come out of the dark forest. He laughed, "Don't be so surprised. There are greater cats than you. They sent me to settle this problem."
Wolfstar growled, "Why should we trust you to pick well?" A sneer lit his face. "Because, I just want Braveheart not to have so much glory. Is that fine by all of you?"
Goldstar thought for a moment. "Show us your choices." The dark tom pointed out four apprentices.
Goldstar looked at the rest of the committee, then nodded to the cat. "Claw, for once you have chosen well. These four cats will be the four of the prophecy. Now return to the Darkness."
Claw began to slip back. As he did so, he hissed, "Be careful, StarClan. When angered, the Darkness can touch the light."
And with that, he was gone. Far away, Eclipse woke, his heart beating rapidly. The time had finally come to fulfill his purpose. He walked blindly to the entrance of his dark and dank cave the sunlight filled his vision. Stars shall die, a Sun shall rise, four young Paws will save Frost and Night. Those four apprentices held the future of the Clans in their paws...
Tigerpaw eyes shot open, his tabby pelt bristling. He had had that same dream for over a moon now, and it was it more bizarre each time: this time, he was Face to face with a gray fox, and he could hear his father whispering some thing in his ear, but all he could remember was 'Stars shall die'. He felt Foxpaw starting to stir next to him. She had been sleeping next to him since his mother died.
She rose her head, her green eyes sparkling with something Tigerpaw didn't realize. "You're up early" she mewed. She affectionately licked his ear. "Come on, go back to sleep…"
He grinned apologetically. "I can't, I'm on the dawn-patrol with Shadowstream and Braveheart. NightClan have been pressing the Borders, and Blackstar's worried." He licked her briskly and left the apprentices' den underneath a large slab of rock.
The ArticClan camp was still quiet. He could see Blackstar moving around in her den beneath the FrostRock, and saw Braveheart, his mentor, and Shadowstream emerging from the Warriors' den underneath a holly bush. He was about to join them when Dawnpaw emerged from the medicine den a she ran over to him.
She skidded to a stop. "There you are, I've been looking for you, I'm coming with you guys on the patrol, Barkwhisker is running low on Marigold, it's near the Stream border next to the twisted tree."
He nodded. "Sure, I was just about to tell them I'm ready." They padded over to the Warriors together and left the camp. The sun was well above the horizon when they reached the twisted tree. The warriors went ahead to check the scent markers while Tigerpaw and Dawnpaw collected the Marigold. Tigerpaw pricked his ears when he heard the swishing of heather on the other side of the Stream. He rounded to it and saw a Full patrol of NightClan warriors.
NightClan's deptuy stormed forward. "Why are you so close to our border," hissed Woodclaw. A black she-cat slipped forward. "Its none of our business as long as they remain on their side of the stream is it?" interrupted Blackpaw. Tigerpaw blinked her thanks. He knew what she meant, and Woodclaw wouldn't defy his leader's daughter. They left, Cinderpaw hissing angrily at Blackpaw for stopping the battle.
The next morning, Tigerpaw slipped out of the den. He waved his tail at Foxpaw. "Get me a vole?"
She just grinned and bounded away. He sighed and slipped over to the fresh-kill pile. "Some mate you are," he muttered. A shadow appeared at his side. "She's some kind of sister too," hissed Icypaw. Tigerpaw jumped. He couldn't stand Icypaw, who hated their relationship. "What do you want, Icykit?"Icypaw remained silent."Answer me!"
The white tom blinked his eyes. "I just want to remind you, she's too young. She and I are still a package deal. And my name is Icypaw, son of Braveheart, your mentor." Tigerpaw snapped, "At least I have a true mentor. And packages come apart." Icypaw stiffened. "All the warriors are my mentors. And breaking up packages is a two-way deal."
Blackstar stormed up to the quarreling toms. "Icypaw, Tigerpaw, stop it both of you. You both ought to be ashamed. If your mothers were available I would send you right back to the nursery! You are acting like kits, not like the apprentices you are." Blackstar sighed. "Tigerpaw, Braveheart asked to be your mentor. I wouldn't have given you to anyone else but now you are behaving like you were given to him because there was no one else. Icypaw, the leader rarely takes an apprentice. I could have chosen one of the others but I have picked you. Now please, act like you are the apprentices of the leader and one of my senior warriors!"
Blackstar snapped, "Now Tigerpaw, clean out the elder's den. Check for ticks. Barkwhisker will give you some mouse bile. Do not talk to Dawnpaw. Icypaw, you will do duties for Barkwhisker today, and you will not speak. I will ask to take Dawnpaw training." She whisked away in fury.
Sunpelt trotted up to the bristling cats. "She is right you know. You need to learn how to get along even when all you want to do is rip the fur off them. I am on Icypaw's side, however. Tigerpaw, you are an apprentice which means you are too young to take a mate, no matter how much you enjoy their company."
Sunpelt smiled grimly. "I imagine, Tigerpaw, that you are thinking: 'She doesn't know what she is saying. She has never been in love.' Well I have. And I am sad. But I got over it because I have a duty to my Clanmates. And you have forgotten that duty. So you must be reminded." And then Sunpelt walked off and took her apprentice hunting.
Tigerpaw left to clean the elder's den, which seemed empty without Moonfeather. There was no reason he and Foxpaw had to live apart its not like they mates yet. Tigerpaw knew that he'd have to wait but the warriors made it seem like they were already having kits.
Blackstar watched Tigerpaw clean the empty den. He wasn't happy, she knew. She felt bad about that, but remembered her apprenticeship. She had cleaned the elder's den many times because she would watch the sky with her sister. But that was different then fighting. At least there had been no blood. Perhaps StarClan might intervene and give both toms a kick on the head.
The full moon floated above Foxpaw's head. Blackstar was leading the way down to the High-Tree for the gathering. The air was thick with the scent of NightClan, who were already in the clearing. She felt her neck fur rising and Tigerpaw obviously noticed. He approached her. "Calm down, this gathering's bound to go smoothly, nothing big has happened for three moons now…" He brushed up against her.
She didn't respond. She was too focused to make sure he didn't see the pretty NightClan warrior, Dovewing. Last gathering she saw Tigerpaw talking to her, and she felt her heart clench. "What's wrong… oh there's Dovewing--"
Foxpaw jumped. "Don't talk about her," she cried. Her eyes streaming. A fight was averted as "Let All Cats Gather Here For the Moon-High Gathering!" Watchingstar's call sounded.
Feeling hot under her fur, Foxpaw slipped off to sit next to her brother, Icypaw. By this time Blackstar was already speaking.
Blackstar smiled. "...And we are proud to have two new warriors, Whitestep, and Silverclaw. Cheers rose from ArticClan, but NightClan stayed silent.
Foxpaw began to bristle again; something wasn't right, not at all. Watchingstar stayed calm for a new leader, and looked straight at Blackstar and said dryly, "We have scented your cats on our territory, Blackstar, and the scent of prey." The accusation was made calmly, but it was clear as StarClan's light.
Blackstar stiffened at the accusation. "We have also scented cats on our territory, it may as well be some rogues passing through, not aware of our borders," she retorted with equal calmness.
It wasn't the same attitude with the cats below. The Clans were yelling insults at each other; Foxpaw even saw Tigerpaw and Cinderpaw nose to nose, claws unsheathed. They couldn't fight tonight, StarClan would be angry. Foxpaw peered up and sure enough clouds were covering the moon slowly, no one seemed to notice, not even the leaders who were quietly discussing, no, arguing.
Then Watchingstar howled, "This Gathering is over."
As the Clans were beginning to break into their patrols and leave the clearing, suddenly there was angry howling as Cinderpaw leapt at Tigerpaw. Tigerpaw merely moved to one side without looking at Cinderpaw, and left him to crash into the ground. Watchingstar ran over to his son and dragged him back to the NightClan cats by his tail. Every cat stared at Tigerpaw, astonished. He had dodged the attack without even a glance at Cinderpaw. It worried Foxpaw how easily battle moves came to Tigerpaw...
Dawnpaw glanced nervously around. This looked like what Barkwhisker had described the Light Forest looked like, just like the forest of living cats combined to fit all four Clan ancestors. She heard the sounds of talking and she wandered over towards them. Perhaps she could talk to a fellow medicine cat.
Suddenly a cat leapt from the shadows before she could emerge from the trees. He was light with his paws. "Don't. You'll change things if you go out there," he whispered. The tom was a light brown. He was lithe and had a quiet cockiness about him. "My name is Hunterclaw."
Dawnpaw looked warily at him. "I am Dawnpaw, the medicine cat's apprentice." Hunterclaw tilted his head slightly. A puzzled look crossed his face before he nodded. "Well Dawnpaw, I think you had better peek and see what's going on. You are going to be the medicine cat. And perhaps StarClan will call you for a dream tonight." He pressed her towards the bush.
Dawnpaw started crawling under it before she turned back to thank Hunterclaw. But he had already vanished. With a sigh, Dawnpaw twisted back to the other cats. Icestar sat there, as did Wolfstar and Goldstar.
Brightstar raced in shortly. "Should we wait for Sorrow?" No on e agreed. Wolfstar sighed. "Alright. We should tell the apprentices." Icestar leapt to her feet. "NO!! We have already given the others enough. It's not our fault if the medicine cat apprentice cannot interpret our signs!"
Blackstar's father leapt to his feet. "They did not go to Dawnpaw," chided Goldstar. "And Blackpaw couldn't."
Icestar growled. "They should have. I thought I taught Blackstar better than to place little worth in the medicine cats."
Bushes shook and waved. "It is not Blackstar's fault," purred a newcomer. "Perhaps they think little of their dreams. You did not mentor every cat, Icestar." What do you know Sorrow?"
More than you, it seems." Icestar growled and would have leapt if Wolfstar hadn't blocked her way. "Is that really the way to behave you two?"
Sorrow nodded. "Yes, we are setting a bad example for the young apprentice in yonder bush. Come on out, Dawnpaw. I met Hunterclaw on the way here." Blushing, Dawnpaw joined the elders . The black she-cat motioned to her. "Sit with your fellow medicine cat. I am Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her, mother of Snowrose. I come from the Warrens far beyond the mountains. Unlike these leaders, I am alive, as are you." Dawnpaw just nodded. "I called you over here for there is something we must tell you, isn't that right?" She turned to the cats with stars in their pelts and gave them a hard stare.
Icestar nodded. "Brightstar? She's your daughter." Right...um..."
Sorrow resuced him. "Child of a great legacy, you must join with two others. Soon, Stars shall die, a sun will rise, and four young 'paws will save Frost and Night. The four will be of the legacy's gathered here." Sorrow gestured with her tail to Brightstar, Goldstar, and herself. "Find them yourself."
And then Dawnpaw was plunged back into the living forest.
Tigerpaw walked through the Light Forest, the scents of prey was all he could smell. He followed his paws to a rock cleft in the forest floor. "Brightstar? Moonfeather? Are you there? It's me Tigerpaw."
Brightstar came out of the cleft. "Your mother is hunting. But you are in time for you battle lesson… I saw how you dodged Cinderpaw at the Gathering. I don't any cat will quarrel with you without thinking for a while. Now practice the move from last night..." Tigerpaw woke his body aching from the training with his father. He stared at Foxpaw, who was sound asleep. He remembered the way she reacted last night when he mentioned Dovewing…. He shook it off, it was probably nothing.
He left the den and collided with Dawnpaw. "Tigerpaw! Oh, sorry. Um...do you know who Goldstar's kits were?"
Tigerpaw looked at her curiously. "Why are you asking me. Just ask Blackstar who her siblings were."
Dawnpaw's eyes widened. "Blackstar?"
Her brother nodded. "Yes. Why are you so shocked? Don't you remember Snowrose telling us the story as we were in the nusery with her and her kits." Dawnpaw's jaw dropped. All this time, Sorrow had been so clear but Dawnpaw just hadn't seen. "Thanks alot Tigerpaw! You've really helped me, I mean really helped me." She raced off to find Barkwhisker.
Dawnpaw sat down next to Barkwhisker who was sorting herbs. "Barkwhisker can I talk to you?" He nodded. "Okay, so I had this dream. There was a black fox and Moonfeather whispered to me: A sun shall rise. Also, last night I walked in StarClan's forest and they told me of a prophecy, that four cats from three legacies would save Frost and Night." The brown cat looked up. "Well, you saw a fox, that was black. There you have two legacies right there. Why don't you talk to those two. Maybe they'll have another clue for you." Dawnpaw blushed. "I can't really talk to Blackpaw." Barkwhisker smiled lightly and turned back to the herbs and Dawnpaw walked away.
Her brother turned to face her. "Yes, sister?"
She flushed. "Have you seen Foxpaw lately?"
He shook his head. "She went on the patrol a little while ago." She snarled in annoyance. "Well, come on with me. And hurry. It has to do with...I don't know. But come on." They rushed out of camp, Tigerpaw wasn't even sure what was going on. They found Foxpaw by the Great Willow. Foxpaw! I need to speak to you!" cried Dawnpaw. Then, something hit her in the side and she fell. There was a hiss and a snarl, one from Tigerpaw, one from a stranger. Foxpaw leapt up, abandoning the scent of squirrel."
"Cinderpaw! How could you? The Great Willow is on our land!" The gray 'paw hissed. "It's now ours. NightClan stakes a claim on this land, now and forever more."
The three gasped. "But...but..."
"CINDERPAW!" A voice roared from the other side of the river and willow. A huge black cat with rippling muscles stood on the ridge overlooking the waters. "Get back to this side NOW!" Then the ripples faded out and Blackpaw stood there. The four on ArcticClan soil stared in shook. "CINDERPAW!" The voice was not hers. It echoed through the trees and the valleys and it boomed like StarClan. Dawnpaw turned to Foxpaw and her brother. "She is one of the four that will save the Clans." The two looked back at Blackpaw. Cinderpaw was slinking back over the border. He was every inch the scolded child.
Blackpaw raised her head high. "I am sorry for my brother. Sometimes he forgets what's important."
Cinderpaw slid up the hillside, drenching wet. His sister cuffed him on the head. "They are our allies, they are the reason we are alive and well. How could you want to ruin that?" She growled and began to herd him towards their camp and lands. Cinderpaw snarled, "Just wait. Woodclaw will agree with me."
Blackpaw hissed, "Then father had better choose a new deputy, for no one will agree with him."
She grabbed his tail with her teeth and hauled him away. Foxpaw and Tigerpaw turned to Dawnpaw. "What's the deal?"
Dawnpaw looked off across the river. "StarClan told me that four apprentices from three great legacies would save out Clans. Blackpaw is one of them, from the legacy of Goldstar. The other legacies are Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her and Brightstar. I think that Foxpaw is another cat. What remaines is Brightstar, our father. One, or both of us is going. Maybe Icypaw or Wolfpaw. But, our Clans are in great danger."
Icypaw growled when he saw the three enter the camp. Couldn't they have included him? But he swallowed his jealousy and merely smiled as his sister and Brightstar's brood entered. That night, he started planning what to do.
But the next day was the Gathering. Blackstar called out the cats who were coming, Foxpaw, Tigerpaw, and Dawnpaw were included.
Icypaw snarled that he would be left behind. Sunpelt cuffed him. "That is no way to get invited next time." The moon was full when they set out for the Gathering. NightClan was already there. Welcome, Blackstar," hissed Woodclaw.
Foxpaw's fur bristled. Something was wrong. Only Blackpaw gave a friendly glance, every other NightClan cat was angered. And they were so thin! Let all cats come together for the Gathering," yowled Watchingstar. "Our prey is not running so well. And Blackstar, we scented your cats on our territory, paired with scents of prey." Blackstar looked hurt, but hid it. "Watchingstar, we have also scented cats. Perhaps there are rouges."
A cat hissed, "Yeah right. I bet it was Tigerpaw." There was a yowl as said apprentice attacked Cinderpaw. "Say that to my face!" All around the leaders, the Gathering fell apart.
THE GATHERING IS OVER!" yowled Watchignstar. And NightClan vanished. Slowly, ArcticClan made their way home. Way to go, brother," hissed Dawnpaw. "You ended the Gathering. The leaders might have been able to end this peacefully."
Snow began to fall, grazing their pelts. Leaf-Bare had come.
That night, Darkness touched the light. The Dawnpaw was awoken by Barkwhisker's wails. She rushed over. "Barkwhisker, wake up!" The brown tom jerked up. "Dawnpaw, not long ago, the ancestors were warned, by Darkness, that when they grew angry, they would touch the light. And they have. NightClan cats are coming. Many are starving already, and now they are injured. Woodclaw is now Woodstar, though Watchingstar still lives. Go tell Blackstar while I prepare medicine." Dawnpaw scrambled out and raced to wake Blackstar. "Blackstar, NightClan is in danger. Refugees are coming!"
The black she-cat looked at the young apprentice as she blinked sleep away. "Then we'd better tell the clan." With a yowl, she woke the other cats. "Let all cats gather beneath FrostRock for a clan meeting."
Some grumbled, others dashed, the cats came. Dawnpaw has some news for you."
Suddenly nervous, Dawnpaw stepped forward. "Um...I know NightClan was mean...but they're in trouble...um...cats from the Drak Forest...you know, dead evil cats...have sorta...taken over through living cats...Woodclaw now is leader...some lucky...sorta...NightClan cats escaped...and are coming here."
Cats yowled in protest until Blackstar silenced them. "You realize my kin are amoungst them? Would you have me drive away my family?"
No cat raised a cry after that. Then Blackpaw fell in through the entrance. Barkwhisker leapt into action. He grasped the apprentice by her scruff and dragged her to his den. "Dawnpaw, help the others."
She nodded as they entered. Watchingcloud was leaning heavily on her daughter, Wolfpaw. Iceheart was dragging Clawkit along while Dovewing was helping Whispertail stay on her feet. Cinderpaw," Watchingcloud moaned. Wolfpaw looked pained. She began, "Dawnpaw..."
Yes. Follow me. Barkwhisker was preparing some herbs. You are very lucky." Dovewing coughed. "I don't feel like it." ArcticClan aided the other cats, taking Watchingcloud from her daughter, Clawkit from Iceheart, two toms picked up Whispertail.
The cats made a solumn procession towards Barkwhisker's den. Shadowstream slipped beside Wolfpaw. "Who did this? And where is Watchingstar?" The gray apprentice looked down. "Cinderpaw and Woodclaw. They rallied the rouges. It's Maliceheart all over again. And Woodstar is the sham of a leader. And Watchingstar is their playtoy!"
The ArcticClan cats gasped. This was very wrong. Hopefully Leaf-Bare would help end this monstosety. Foxpaw nudged Tigerpaw and they stepped out of the other cat's way. "Remember Dawnpaw's prophecy?"
Tigerpaw's eyes widened. "Do you think..." Yes. This has to be the danger. We're going to save NightClan!" But the missing two..."
You and Dawnpaw. Dawnpaw is a medicine cat apprentice and you are a good fighter. We're well rounded then." Tigerpaw looked down. "Don't you want Icypaw to come?" No. It's time we grew up, apart. He's not the same." Icypaw had hid himself well, though he almost wished he hadn't. Those words from his sister struck a blow to his heart. But then he came up with a plan. He'd go with them anyway, maybe sabotage, maybe prove that he was one of this prophecy. Then they'd be sorry.
Remind me why we had to exclude him." To make them stronger." Goldstar lashed his tail. "By endangering them we could kill them. Nothing hurts more than a heart wound. They can kill." Brightstar leapt up. "Is that a slur?" No! I merely meant I missed my daughter." Really? Because I thought..." SHUT UP YOU TOMS!" yowled Wolfstar. "You are worse than to jealous she-cats. We all agreed beforehand to choose the cats...Claw...had pointed out. Do you want to go back on our agreement?" Goldstar growled, "He didn't exactly keep his." Wolfstar sighed. "In a way, he kept the agreement we had agreed on. He just pushed the date a little faster. But now the apprentices know what they must beat in order to save the day." Shall we tell them of Eclipse?" We must. They need to get to him soon. He will teach them." The three leaders smiled grimly and looked back down to wait for the apprentices to dream.
Dawnpaw opened her eyes to see a gray she-cat with blue eyes and stars in her pelt. "Dawnpaw, welcome. I am your mother, Moonfeather." Oh! I'be heard of you! They say you were a greater medicine cat than Barkwhisker!" She blushed and ducked her head. "Perhaps. But now is not the time for that. You must hurry my daughter. The Dark Forest is growing. Go east, towards the setting sun. There you will find a cat called Eclipse. He will help you. Oh, and there's one last thing, but I shan't tell you until you return. Go!"
Tigerpaw leapt towards his father. "What am I learning tonight? An attack, a defence?" None of that." What?"
The tom sighed. "Tonight, I am sending you on a quest, along with Foxpaw, Dawnpaw, and Blackpaw. It is of the utmost importance that you hurry towards the east. Eclipse will tell you the rest. One last thing, of, nevermind. It can wait until you return. I am so proud of you, Tigerpaw."
A golden tom paced before her as Blackpaw cracked her eyes open. "Listen, daughter, you must race with four ArcticClan apprentices towards the setting sun to Eclipse. He will..." I'm not your daughter."
He flushed. "I am sorry. You look so much like your mother and aunt, my daughters. I am Goldstar. "Anyways, Eclipse will tell you all you need to know. Well, actually, when you return I'll tell you the last bit."
Foxpaw leapt up, startled by the rowan she-cat before her. "Hush, little one. I am Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan, your great-grandmother from the Warrens. Now listen. Sorrow could not come so I did. Dawnpaw, Tigerpaw, and Blackpaw, who I assume you know, are going towards the east and a stranger named Eclipse to save NightClan, and your own Clan. Go with them. And when you return, I shall tell you something else." With that, she turned tail and raced away.
Icypaw stood out like a sore pad in the forest. It was so dark here, he shuddered. Hello, Icypaw. How are you doing?" A dark colored tom circled Icypaw. I am Claw, your uncle. Isn't that something. I'll bet you parents never told you about me." Actually, my father did. He said you were a good fighter, but your heart was in the wrong place."
Was it? I remained loyal to the place I was born into. He left us, abandoned us for the Clan. Don't get me wrong, I am glad he left, I recieved more glory. But how do you know he can be trusted? He changed loyalties once, I'm sure he can change again." Icypaw bristled. "My father is not a traitor!"
You think so now. But parents are hardly what they seem to be. After all, the only reason my father is here is because he spawned me and my brothers. I've seen him. He is terrified." Claw laughed. Stay where your nest is warm then, kittypet. There are five cats in the prophecy. I guess now there are only four."
The Four apprentices were hanging out in the elder's den, which was empty. Dawnpaw was leading the meeting, to her annoyance. "Um. So, do we tell Blackstar? 'Cause Barkwhisker already knows..."
Blackpaw sighed and rescued her. "We are apprentices. Do you think they'll let us go off on our own to who-knows-where? Especically with Cinderwolf and Woodstar around." Foxpaw tilted her head. "You guys always say Cinderwolf before Woodstar, and the latter is leader. Why?"
Because the latter is a pushover. Now, I say we go on the hunting patrol, and not come back." But our parents will worry," put in Foxpaw. And Watchingcloud does not need anymore stress. Cinderwolf alone could be her undoing," added Dawnpaw.
Tigerpaw sighed. "Fine. We'll tell our more sensible parents. Is that good?" The others nodded. "Great. I'll talk to Blackstar about a partol." They left the den, Blackpaw and Dawnpaw to Barkwhisker, Foxpaw to Snowrose, and Tigerpaw to Blackstar. Blackstar?"
Their leader was pacing her den and didn't look up. "Yes?" I'd like to lead a hunting partol." She nodded. "Sure. Watch out for the rouges and the shambles of NightClan." Yes, Blackstar." Tigerpaw bowed out to meet the smiling faces of the other three. "We're clear."
Blackpaw gave a curt nod. "Then let's go!" Red, tabby and black raced out of the hollow. They headed east, away from both Clans, to where a few mountains stood threateningly against the sky. A blur of white followed them, anger and fear feeding his paws. They had better not think they can leave me behind.
Icypaw leapt over the moldy log. And only another cat watching could have noticed, but for a moment, his pelt flashed dark brown.
The forest vanished beaneath their paws. But suddenly, Tigerpaw stopped. The others turned back.
What's the matter, Tigerpaw?" asked Foxpaw. Do you...do you think the ancestors can still talk to us, even when we leave Clan land?" Dawnpaw purred laughter. "Of course they can. If they didn't, what would all the questors have to guide them?"
You make a point." Blackpaw padded forward. "As do you. We have made good time and are out of Clan territory. I think we should pause to really hunt and rest. We may need it later." The other three purred in agreement and split up.
Icypaw however, scrambled up a tree, desperate to hide. However, a squirrel startled him. With a cry, he slid back down the tree. Howling in pain, he attracted Dawnpaw and the others. While Dawnpaw got to pulling out all the splinters, Foxpaw yelled. How could you be so stupid? Coming after us? Of all the rules you've broken this is the worst! I can't believe you would stoop so low! Dod you tell mother? She knows I'm gone but what about you? She'll be worried sick!"
She'll assume I followed you." Blackpaw and Tigerpaw made a discreet escape.
"Oh, so you know mom now, really well. Right. When was the last time you went hunting with her? The last time I remember was...never! You spent all your time trying to break up something you can't. What if it is written in the stars huh? What about that? I'll bet you followed so you could keep doing so. Of all the stupid things..." I followed because there are supposed to be five cats. Not four. You left me behind!" If you had been chosen I gladly would've let you come!" Dawnpaw pulled the last splinter away. "Icypaw, StarClan only told of four apprentices. Did anyone come to you?"
And you believe him over StarClan?"
What he said made sense. You know, fine. I'll do what you say, just this once Foxpaw. I'll crawl home like a kit in trouble. But never again will I do what you tell me. Never." And he slunk off.
Icypaw..." Foxpaw hung her head. Dawnpaw nuzzled her. "Why did you yell?"
"I don't want to see him hurt. Yes, I hate who he is becoming but I still love him. He's my brother. I just hope we return before he does something drastic."
And the two she-cats joined the others and the set off again. But even if Foxpaw had turned and run flat out after Icypaw, she wouldn't have gotten back in time. Icypaw did do something drastic. Something terrible. Something horrid.
He went to Cinderwolf.
It is way to cold to go traipsing off on an adventure!" wailed Foxpaw. The snow was falling hard now. It was deep into Leaf-Bare and the cats had been traveling for a while. It was also difficult for the cats to see whether they were headed East, or in another direction entirely.
Tigerpaw nuzzled her side. "We have to do this now. If we wait for New-Leaf, Cinderwolf might take over our Clan."
The orange she-cat bobbed her head. Hey, can you imagine what would happen if Icypaw got lost out here?"
There was a brief sparkle of laughter. At the moment, the Four were crossing over a wide plain with no trees, or anything in sight, except for the one mountain.
Dawnpaw looked up at it. "I wonder why we could never see it in the forest?" Blackpaw glanced up. "Perhaps the trees blocked our way?"
Suddenly, there was a rustle and cats came shooting out of the snow covered ground. All of the cats had white or nearly white pelts flecked with brown or black. The flecks were so indiscreet, they looked like dirt. However, the cat's eyes were varing shades, as was the fur in their ears and on their underbellies and paws, the latter two where hidden in snow. The colorful ears could be swiveled back and flattened to look as though they were not there. But once the cats realized that the four were not threats, their ears popped up. A cat with gray fur stepped forward. "Why do so small cats, in such a small number, roam across our plain?"
Her voice was silky and smooth like the fesh snow drifting over the plains. Blackpaw stepped up. "I am Blackpaw, from NightClan. Accompaning me are Foxpaw, Tigerpaw, and Dawnpaw from ArcticClan. We seek Eclipse for our Clans face great danger."
The she-cat began to walk around them, sizing them up. "And are all your Clan cats so small?" Tigerpaw raised his head. "No. But we are not full grown." The she-cat smiled a strange smile. "Your leader would send kits on a quest into the unknown? He is a fool."
Blackpaw stepped forward again. "We are not kits. We are training to be warriors. We were chosen by our ancestors. Also, ArcticClan is lead by a she-cat like yourself." The strange cats made no sound, but they suddenly stood up. The she-cat turned to the apprentices. "We cannot deny you hospitality. If you are to save your families, you need food and rest." She beckoned with her tail and the four followed. She headed towards the mountain.
Foxpaw piped up, "May I ask what Clan this is?" We are not a Clan, we are a Warren." She ignored Foxpaw's gasp. "We are Warren-of-the-Changing-Pelts. In winter, we are snowy white. In the other seasons, we are other colors." What's winter?" asked Dawnpaw.
Forgive me," the she-cat said. "I forgot that Clans and Warrens are different. Winter is Leaf-Bare."
A few pads later, Tigerpaw asked, "How do you know so much about Clan life?" A long time ago, Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her shared of the Clan cats and our need to be accepting to other ways of life. I am the ambassador. And you, the orange one, are you out of breath? Stop gasping!"
But...but Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her is my grandmother." The she-cat wheeled about. "Is that so. Then tell me, what is the name of her kit that ran away from home."
Foxpaw held her head high. "Today, she is known by her Clan as Snowrose, the foreigner who saved our Clan many moons ago with Blackstar. To you, she would be called Kit-With-Uncertain-Destiny, for to a black she-cat a white one was born, with red flecks." The she-cat bowed her head. "You are right. And I spy Sorrow in your face. I am Gray-Stone-That-Stands-Between-Paths."
I am Foxpaw."
I am Blackpaw."
My name is Dawnpaw."
"Call me Tigerpaw, and do you have a nickname? Gray-Stone-That-Stands-Between-Paths is too much to say everytime we need to talk to you." She laughed. "Yes. You may call me Ambassador or Stone-Between." Thank you."
Stone-Between led across the plains, to a place about a day's walk to the mountain base. There was a small gap in the ground.
Stone-Between looked towards the others. "Don't worry, it's not that far to go." With a wave of her tail, she dipped into the hole.
Tigerpaw shrugged and followed her, meaning Foxpaw hurriedly dashed after him. Dawnpaw trotted after the two. Blackpaw, as usual, paused and looked about before ducking in. The tunnel was surprisingly well lit. Blackpaw noticed that there were small holes that through filtered both light and fresh air.
Ingenious," she murmured.
Through out the offbranching tunnels, ones cats could fit in, they could see flashes of other white pelts moving about.
Blackpaw slipped between the other cats and up to Stone-Between. "Where do these lead?" Other gaps to the plain. They're how we travel around and got alot of us towards where you were. And the strange thing is, we didn't dig these. Someone else did. Someones else who were cat-size."
Stone-Between suddenly stopped. "Here is our exit."
She took them up a slope, back into the light. They were in a ring of trees. A large stone stood in the middle.
Where are we?" whispered Dawnpaw. "There were no trees in sight."
Tigerpaw looked all around. "Are we still headed for the mountain?"
Of course. That is where Eclipse is. But first you must meet Leader-of-Warren-White-Tree." The Four looked at each other. Had they mentioned Eclipse? Stone-Between motioned to them. With a shrug, Tigerpaw started padding forward. The others followed suit. They went around the boulder to find a small group of cats relaxing in it's shade.
Stone-Between pointed with her tail to the four. "Leader-of-Warren-White-Tree, I have brought the four strangers." An aging all-white tom stood up and stretched. He slowly walked over. "Gray-Stone-That-Stands-Between-Paths, why did they come?"
They seek Eclipse. Their Clans are in danger."
The tom turned back to the she-cat. "Clans? Why could Clans come seeking Eclipse?" Our ancestors advised us to. And it seemed a better plan then trying to fight when we are so young and barely trained," said Foxpaw, looking quite the young and naive.
Did you even talk to your leader?"
Our leader would have said no."
The old tom laughed. "And for a good reason. You are barely trained as you said so yourself." At this point, Dawnpaw stepped forward to speak. "I am Dawnpaw, a medicine cat apprentice. And I have reason to believe that one of our personal ancestors are walking with us, pawstep for pawstep. My mother walks with me."
Tigerpaw nodded. "I have my father."
I am guided by my grandfather, leader of HillClan," said Blackpaw. Foxpaw smiled. "Someone walks with me who you might know: Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan." The Warren cats glanced at each other. "Tree-of-Rowan is your ancestor?" Yes. Kit-of-Uncertain-Destiny is my mother."
Leader-of-Warren-White-Tree came closer. "You will probably hear the question again from Warren-on-the-Mountain, but what was her destiny?"
Foxpaw's eyes glimmered with pride. "She was to journey far over the land, from Warren to Clan. She would find friends and acceptence as Snowrose, the pretty white she-cat with red flecks on her pelt. She was to fight the rouge king Cruel and banish him a way, thus losing half of her flecks. But she was also to accept him in his time of need. And thus she became a pure white cat, mate to Cruel now Braveheart and mother to me and my brother." The Warren cats looked approvingly at Foxpaw.
You are worthy to have Tree-of-Rowan by your side," said the leader. "Stone-Between, since you are the ambassador, please escort these four cats to the Warren-on-the-Mountian. From there they will go to Eclipse."
Stone-Between nodded and beckoned to the four. With a swish, they were back underground, racing through the tunnels.
And with each step they could feel a tingle in their paws growing.
The cats resurfaced at the foot of the mountain. Tigerpaw gazed up at its peak. "I never knew something could get so tall." You should have seen the mountains by HillClan," murmured Blackpaw.
Stone-Between nodded in agreement. "Yes, it is tall. And we can't be sure, but normally, Eclipse resides at the peak. But only Warren-on-the-Mountain will know." And they began the acesent.
Like climbing any mountain, the beginning pawsteps were easy, a gentle slope. But gradually, it grew steeper and rockier. Even Stone-Between was getting tired, and she had made the climb about a dozen times already. At Sunhigh, they reached a ledge, where Stone-Between encouraged them to rest. As they settled down to catch their breath, Tigerpaw panted, "Hey, I'll bet Icypaw could've scaled this easily. He was a good climber."
Foxpaw nodded and wondered aloud, "What do you think the Clan is doing right now?"
At the moment, the Clan was gathered beneath FrostRock. Blackstar yowled, "Since Sunpelt has retired, it is time to pick our new deputy. I say these words before StarClan so that our ancestors may hear and approve my choice: Gingerpelt will be the new deputy of ArcticClan." It was no surprise. Most of the warriors were injured after a patrol was attacked by the rouges. Gingerpelt was also the smartest choice anyway.
Shadowstream had also retired, a few days ago his coat had suddenly been unglossy and silken with age. Or maybe it had been like that for many moons, just no one had noticed. And his pessimissm had dimmed. When Foxpaw returned, her mentor would change. The Clan was in turmoil, with NightClan tipping over and five apprentices missing. Five.
As mentioned before, Icypaw didn't crawl home to his parents.
let me get this Straight. If I give you your warrior name, you'll go back to your Clan and sabotage them?"
Yes. My sister shall pay."
Cinderwolf's eyes glittered. "I see. I am getting revenge on my sister also. Well, I am not the leader, we must talk to Woodstar, first and foremost."
Icypaw rose and followed the gray cat to the brown tom lounging in the sun. What is it, Cinderwolf?" Icypaw wants to join our Clan."
What ever for?"
Cinderwolf grinned. "He hates his siblings."
Woodstar sat up. "Welcome to NightClan, Icyheart."
The five rose and began their climb again. How high up is Warren-on-the-Mountain? Not at the peak I hope," said Tigerpaw. It was a bit past Sunhigh and they were barely a quarter of the way up.
Stone-Between shrugged. "Eventually, one will show up."
As soon as she said that, a few cats appeared out of nowhere. "Gray-Stone-That-Stands-Between-Paths daughter of Moon-That-Shines-Over-Water, why have you come? Who are these cats?"
Stone-Between bowed her head. "Heart-Beating-For-Justice-Alone son of Blue-Sky-Over-The-Mountain, I bring four cats from the Clans who seek Eclipse. With me are Tigerpaw and Dawnpaw children of Brightheart, Blackpaw daughter of Watchingstar, and Foxpaw daughter of Snowrose daughter of Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her."
The new cats looked at Foxpaw quizzically. "Then come," said Heart-Beating-For-Justice-Alone. "And welcome."
The yellow tom turned and led the party along the mountain face. Stone-Between, in introductions, do they always say your parent?" asked Foxpaw. Yes, and if you have any signifcant grandparents, say them also." Tigerpaw looked at her. "How did you know our parents?"
The four nodded and sighed, seeing as that was all they were going to get out of her. The cats padded to another tunnel, but this one widened out to become a cave, the Warren's camp. There were ledges on which were grass and moss, beds. In the center was the fresh-kill pile. The cats looked up to glance at the newcomers and then they returned to their activities.
A black she-cat slowly made her way over. She was greatly aged. She looked the cats up and down. "Well, Stone-Between, what's wrong with them?" They need Eclipse."
Oh. I'm not a good enough medicine cat anymore? Fine. Fine. Tell that to Leader-of-Warren-Blue-Eyes."
Shadow! Have you grown so old that you don't recognize strangers?" The black cat paused. "That's an oxymoron. But, I recoginized that I have never seen them before. Except for the orange one. I know her from somewhere."
Foxpaw crept forward. "I am Foxpaw, daughter of Snowrose." Shadow smiled. "I know. I have watched you and your brother many times with StarClan's aid."
Suddenly, she darkened. "Come with me, now. I realize it is late and I am old. But your brother is in grave danger. We must go to Eclipse, now. Stone-Between, come also. And you, Heart. Quickly." And she moved as fast as her old body could take her.
With a sigh, the cats followed her. Stone-Between leaned over to the Clan cats. "Once Sorrow decides on something, it's best to follow."
Aye," agreed Heart. "There is no stopping her."
The seven made their way up in the falling light. And strangely, the higher they went, the younger Sorrow grew and the older Heart and Stone-Between became. The apprentices were unaffected. Curious, Foxpaw asked Sorrow about it.
In a voice full of youth and life, the pure black she-cat grinned happily. "It is StarClan, or Warren-of-True-Safety. Sooner, rather than later, I will climb up this hill for the last time. Then Otter-In-The-River will be medicine cat of Warren-on-the-Mountain. And our ancestors are warning the other two not to climb up so soon. It is not their time." Foxpaw looked back at the wobbly warriors, still determined to press on. "Do all old cats climb this mountain?" Only those who are near or had a great destiny. Perhaps someday you will hear of mine." Sorrow turned to the two Warren cats. "SafeWarren dictates you must not come farther, at risk of your own life. Please, stay here and wait for the apprentices to come back. They do not know this mountain well like me." Foxpaw noticed that Sorrow did not say to wait for her and she wondered why, but did not speak. Perhaps it was a medicine cat thing.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, the five cats reached a ledge, on which there was a cave and then about five pawsteps to the peak of the mountain top.
Sorrow stepped forward and yowled: Eclipse, come out!"
Slowly, an old brown tom walked out of the cave. His blue eyes meandered over the five cats standing there, taking the most time on Dawnpaw, before staring at Sorrow.
He opened his mouth and rasped, "Sorrow-Does-Not-Hold-Her." Even though his voice was nearly gone, the apprentices could still hear a tint of disdain in his words.
She looked defiantly back. "Eclipse-Over-The-Sea."
Carefully, he padded forward. "I told you never to come up here again." What was I supposed to do? Let Heart and Stone-Between die leading the apprentices up here? No, it was my time." Eclipse hissed, "I never should have loved you."
If you hadn't, we'd be missing one of the Prophecy's cats. So you'll have to live with your regrets. I have put mine behind me."
With a sigh, Eclipse said, "You were always good at that."
That's why SafeWarren chose me. Now, tell them everything." Sorrow sat back on her haunches expectedly. Eclipse gave her a saddened glance, then turned to the four apprentices. "Before me, I see Tiger, Fox, Night, and Day. I see Rowan, Light, Gold, and Moon. I also see the new Frost and the aged Hill. You are the four who were expected and asked for. Now please, get comfortable.
Long ago, back in the beginning of the ancestors, they shared the skies with each other for there were few. The starry cats wandered over all skies, watching over Clan, Warren, and Tribe. There were still Dark ancestors, and they were confined to a specific place in the skies, the edges right near the horizon, where, if you look, you will see no stars. Since there were so few Light cats, the Dark ancestors were prone to escape. But they would always be caught, except on one occasion. His name has long since been forgotten. But he was a villain, a truly evil cat. When his name was remembered, queens would scare their kits into being good by using his name. Little did they know he was sorely tempted to carry out their threats. He had escaped to where no Light cat could find him, the land of the living cats. The cat was not alive, nor was he exactly dead. The Two-legs call such an enigma a ghost. Because the Light cats could not follow him, they wove a Prophecy, condemning him to walk the earth forever, until he could find a living cat to be willingly swallowed by his villainy. Then, the tom would have that one chance to take the earth as his kingdom and realm for eternity. If he failed, he must return to the confines of the heavens.
Many, many moons passed and he did not strike. One of the Warren ancestors, thinking wisely, took a loyal cat up to this peak, and told him to keep the story alive and to wait here for four apprentices who would come to defeat the tom. Any cat would climb the mountain young could take the waiting cat's place and then the waiter could go to SafeWarren, for then the ancestors were splitting up and the Dark cats weren't escaping as much. And that is how the prophecy surrounding you four came to be. That is how I came to be here. That is how NightClan fell. The problem is, we do not know which cat is the tom who has come again to life."
Icyheart stood silently, keeping sentinel over ArcticClan. He was truly doing so, it was too early for an attack. He was, startled when a pale cat appeared.
The tom was young, however there seemed to be a drag in his steps. His coat was a very pale white, with black splotches, that almost looked like holes. The tom plodded closed to Icyheart, and then sat down, staring at him. With a growl, Icyheart leapt up. "Who are you?"
The stranger's head titled. A sad look crossed his face. "I am so old that not even the stars remember my name." Icyheart scoffed. "That cannot be so. You are here. And StarClan knows the name of every living cat."
The nameless tom just blinked at him. "Do you know what you are doing?"
Are you sure it the right thing to do?" I am sure."
Would you bet your life on it?"
Icyheart jumped back. "What kind of question is that? Of course I would. I'd bet your life too." The tom smirked and continued to stare right into Icyheart's eyes. "What point is there betting my life? There is little risk to you and therefore no gain. Only a coward and a fool risks another's life. The honorable person risks their own and gains eternity."
Icyheart moved closer. "Who are you?"
A traveler, simply moving about to find someone willing to take me in, villainy and everything." NightClan needs some help."
The tom's eyes glittered. "Will you take me with you?"
Icyheart nodded. "Yes, willingly." With a triumphant cry, the tom leapt forward. Icyheart took a step backwards, but the tom was on top of him...Icyheart looked around, stunned. Surely the rouge could not have missed at such short range. It was impossible. But where had he gone? Where... Something clicked in his head and his eyes narrowed. The tom was an ancestor, a Dark ancestor, who now sat quietly in his head, ready to give advice. Go on, continue with what you were doing. I will be silent. And Icyheart continued watching for NightClan.
It must be Cinderwolf!" cried Dawnpaw. "He is the one with the most motive and anger."
The other cats nodded in agreement, Blackpaw's eyes glittered dangerously. Eclipse sighed and padded closer. "Now I hate to do this, but it must happen until the villain of eons ago is finally gone. One of you...five, must take my place. It is in the rules laid down by the SafeWarren."
Sorrow hissed. "No. They are the Four. I walked up here young. I shall stay."
Leader-of-Warren-Blue-Eyes needs you down there."
Otter-in-the-River can handle things without me. And I will be here if she needs me." Dawnpaw watched the bickering with a growing realization. "Both of you, stop bickering like kits. Eclipse, is it true that some cats walk up here to peacefully join SafeWarren instead of waiting to die in battle like Clan cats?" The tom noddded.
"Then Sorrow, you and Eclipse shall go to SafeWarren. I will wait for the tom to be eliminated." The two old cats opened their mouths to protest, but Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan raced down and dragged her daughter away. Eclipse shrugged at the Four then, and followed them.
Dawnpaw nudged Tigerpaw. "Go on, I'll be fine. As long as you get rid of Cinderwolf, I won't be here forever." With one last glance at his sister, he began down the mountain. The three slowly made it back to the Warren-on-the-Mountain's camp, where Stone-Between heard the full story. She also gave them great news.
"Both Leader-of-Warren-Blue-Eyes and Leader-of-Warren-White-Tree have agreed to send a patrol of warriors with you. And Leader-White-Tree is coming also."
Blackpaw bowed her head. "You honor us too much."
Suddenly, a regal cat with fiery blue eyes leaped out of a crevice. "Ambassador, why was I not made aware of Sorrow's departure? And why was I not told her descendant was here?"
"I apologize Leader, I did not think."
The tom nodded his head curtly. "You are forgiven. Now, I want the cats I assigned to go, NOW!" His tail flashed in the sun as he ducked away.
Tigerpaw leaned towards Stone-Between. "Is he always like that?"
She whispered as they began to leave, "Yes, he is still miffed that Kit-of-Uncertain-Destiny fled, and that Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan did not pick him for a mate, and instead chose a random passerby to father Sorrow, may they all rest in peace."
Foxpaw's eyes widened, "You mean my great-grandmother was a...nothing?" No, she was everything, powerful, sleek, majestic. She did what she did to get revenge upon a Leader of long ago who said no she-cats shall be Leader, and also SafeWarren, for letting him do it. She never had the same prowess afterward and continued to scorn Leader-Blue-Eyes until her death." Foxpaw was silent the rest of the way down, but she had the half-smirk that rested on her face. When they touched the plain, dozens of Warren-of-Changing-Pelts shot up, ears swiveled forward. As one, they said, "We are marshaled and ready. Lead us forward, Four of the Prophecy."
Flushing, the apprentices began to lead scores of foreign cats to their home.
Blackstar passed around the den, her mind a torrent of whirling motion.
Braveheart peeked in, to ask her if StarClan had talked to her about his kits and apprentice, but he thought better of it. His mind drifted back to the last time she had paced. Her feet followed the same pattern. But the longer he was nostalgic, the more he noticed the differences. There was a slight limp in her step. Her fur was graying around the edges. She wasn't moving as quickly as before.
He drew back, murmuring to himself, "Must all the legends grow old?" But then his courage grew and he ducked back into Blackstar's den. "Blackstar, can I speak with you?" She turned to face him, in a sharp, fast twist as usual.
Her eyes, though, drifted slightly before they came to rest on his face. "Yes, Braveheart?" Inside, his heart cracked more, fear for himself, fear for all the cats. What would happen if all the great warriors aged before they could defend their kits?
Carefully, he pushed his doubts down. "Icypaw continues to do the patrols of two warriors. I may be his father, but I think he ought to become a warrior."
A glaze crept across Blackstar's eyes as she remembered her life. "Yes. It is time. He deserves it." Braveheart ducked away and slipped over to his son.
Icypaw leapt up, spine curling in surprise and barely masked anger. "Dad, uh, hi."
Son, get ready. By tomorrow you will be a warrior." Icypaw watched his father leave, him puffed up, proud of his son. It was ironic really. Icypaw was already a warrior, Icyheart.
That piece of news was for NightClan cats alone.
But the time was coming when all cats would know. And all would be surprised
Blackpaw spearheaded the procession, her black paws retracing the paw prints that still remained from their journey there. But she hardly glanced at them, her eyes were locked on the western horizon and anger was plainly read in each curl and uncurl of her muscles. Eventually, when the snow began to disapear as they came close to the forest, Tigerpaw persuaded her to drop back and he led for a while. Cautiously, Stone-Between came even with Blackpaw.
"You seem angry. Why?"
The apprentice did not look away from the horizon. "My brother betrayed us. And he is likely to be the villain of many moons ago reborn."
The ambassador looked down. "I'm sorry. What will you do?"
"He's your brother."
Blackpaw finally looked at the she-cat. "He is a cruel cat. He always had a darker streak than Wolfpaw and me. We tried to help him. But he resisted everything kind. So I asserted my right as first-born. And I will use it in a short time."
"That's a little harsh."
Blackpaw looked away, no regret on her face. "Not if a new friend is stuck at the top of a mountain if you fail." Stone-Between had no reply. Foxpaw took a few bounds and slipped up beside Tigerpaw.
"Do you miss your sister?"
"Not yet," he joked, "But I will when I get a splinter in my pads."
Foxpaw licked his shoulder. "You'll be fine for a short while without her. I'll do my best until she gets back."
"But that's just it," replied Tigerpaw, eyes misting as his head swivled to face her. "What if we fail? What if the villain wins? We'll be stuck under his paw forever and I'll never see Dawnpaw again." StarClan," she murmured.
Tigerpaw's shoulders sagged. "I wish those elder ancestors hadn't made such a promise. He might rule the whole world." Are you calling me a fool? Only Tigerpaw heard the whisper. I lived more seasons than you might see and you call me a fool? The voice echoed of agelessness. Oh how I long for the day when kits do not act so foolishly and say thoughtless words. I did what was best at the time. Besides, Icyheart's power has waned over the moons he has walked the earth. You should have no trouble. And then the voice was gone with a sigh.
Tigerpaw turned to Foxpaw. "Did you hear something?" She shook her head. "Must have been my mind. Look!" he cried suddenly. "A forest!" The cats broke into a run, the Three recognizing the forest of their lives.
Blackpaw leapt forward. "Let's rest here, outside Clan territory and get refreshed. We do not know what will be on the other side of the bushes."
Leader-of-Warren-White-Tree padded forward. "The kit speaks wisely." The others barely had time to blink before the cats of Warren-of-Changing-Pelts were gathered together in one large, furry ball of napping cats. With a shrug and giggle, the others settled down too
Icypaw stood, shivering with glee. The ancient inside him was stirring around silently, watching through his eyes at the ceremony before him.
Icypaw could feel the disdain that warrior felt when he saw the aging Blackstar leap up to FrostRock. But Icypaw did not agree.
He was excited she was growing old for Cinderwolf had given her to Icyheart as a target. The naming ceremony was brief, for over each of the cat's heads hung the looming disaster of the rouges and the missing apprentices.
Icypaw, from this day onward StarClan shall know you as Icyclaw."
The cats shouted his name, welcoming him into the ranks of the warriors, but the joy was muted. Icyclaw bowed his head. "My sister and Tigerpaw should be with me." The cats froze, his name caught in his throat. Blackstar looked strait at him and replied, "But they are not, new warrior. As you stand vigil tonight, perhaps you should ask StarClan to return them to you so that you might share your triumph."
Icyclaw nodded his head and raced to his bluff for his vigil. That would end suddenly tonight.
Foxpaw woke to damp fur. She leapt to her feet with a squeal of distaste. Tigerpaw and the other cats looked up, then followed suit. Silently.
The snow was melting, had melted under the warmth of the cats' bodies. Puddles trailed away, turning into miniature rivers, leading the way to the nearest river.
The cats shook themselves vigorously to get rid of the water. Leader-White-Tree padded up to the Three. "Shall we move on with the invasion?"
The Three looked to each other and shrugged. "May we fill our bellies?"
"If you can find any prey," laughed Blackpaw. She looked towards the forest. "Please hurry though." The old tom bowed his head, backing away. His cats sprung away into bushes and other places, chasing scents. Blackpaw motioned the other two towards the forest. "Does it look darker to you?"
Tigerpaw shrugged. "Maybe it's leaf-bare."
Blackpaw shook her head. Curious, Foxpaw joined her angle. Then she drew in a sharp breath. "It IS darker." Stone-Between overheard them.
"Do you want me to marshal the troops?" The Three snapped to her. She looked back, eyes unblinking in her honesty. Foxpaw sighed and shook her head.
"They will be hungry. In fact, I am. We should eat before we venture into Clan territory." The four cats bounded away from the looming trees.
Dawnpaw rocked back onto her haunches away from the pool. SafeWarren was amazing, just like StarClan. They had provided the waiting cat with a pool so that they might watch the world unfold as they looked for the Four apprentices. Now Dawnpaw used it to watch out for her siblings.
She turned as she felt a tail tap her shoulder. Moonfeather was there. "Hello, my daughter. You have grown so much since I last saw you, in person. You were just a kit then, eyes still unopened. Now you are worthy of being a medicine cat." Dawnpaw was filled with pride.
"Now," she continued, tail lashing. "I need to tell you the final thing, remember from when I first met you and sent you on this quest?" Dawnpaw nodded, but before her mother could speak, she rushed into words.
"Mother, not now. It can wait until after the battle. The cats need you there, protecting those on the side of StarClan. I will still be on Earth after the battle, whether or not I am in the mountain."
Moonfeather's eyes filled. "My daughter. You are so wise. I shall miss you." She turned tail and raced away.
Smiling, Dawnpaw turned back to the pool, perhaps her siblings were headed off. But when the image appeared, she screamed.
Blackstar threw a swipe at rouge. He leapt back and snarled. With a grin, he began to prowl forward. Blackstar grimaced. "You rouges. You think everything can be taken by force. Don't you know that you'll spend the rest of your life fighting to keep it?"
"We'll make that sacrifice!" The two cats launched at each other with a yowl. Across the camp battle ruled. Sunpelt and Shadowstream stood guarding the kits, occasionally giving them battle tips or laughing grimly. They were fighting valiantly together, in each movement there was an echo of their past glory, him smooth and majestic, her quick and sharp. Surprisingly, the rouges mostly ignored them. It was the warriors who were at the front lines. They were badly out-numbered but they tried to stick together as much as possible.
They had no hope.
Blackstar tripped in her duel and called out to the nearest warrior. "Icyclaw!" The rouge stepped away and Icyclaw prowled forward.
"Ah, Blackstar. So wise. So trusting. Unflappable in battle. It is time you learned something important. Once, there was a pair of kits. One was overshadowed by the other. He swore that his sister would pay for everything she had taken from him. And now you are part of the deal. I'm not sorry, Blackstar." With a snarl, he lunged at her. Blackstar was in shock as she automatically fended him off. Icyclaw, her own apprentice. Slowly, she became unattached in shock and shame, she hardly noticed the final blow. But the other cats noticed.
Every cat froze. Icyclaw had slipped away and the beloved leader lay alone. Laughing, Cinderwolf stepped a bit closer. "See, not even StarClan and its nine lives can protect you cats. You will all fall today."
The Warren cats walked carefully through the forest. The Three grew increasingly worried that they encountered no patrols. Then they bumped into two new cats.
The female was very beautiful with a sandy pelt and red eyes. Her belly was swollen with kits and her mate hovered around her. He was gray with a long coat and wise amber eyes. He turned to look at them and over one eye rested a scar. The tom took a tentative step forward. "Um, may we ask for help?"
Blackpaw stepped forward in return. "Only if we may ask yours. Can you tell us of the Clan that lives in this part? How is it doing?"
As far as we know, well. We were just passing through...
Blackpaw looked to the others, who shrugged. "No trouble...I am sorry, what is your name?" The tom nodded obligingly.
"I am Loki, this is my mate, Aphrodite. We used to have housefolk, though no longer. We just want to find a safe place for our kits."
Foxpaw leapt forward.
"I'm sure Blackstar, our leader, will help." Leader-White-Tree came forward then.
"From what I know the queen ought to have a group of she-cats to stay behind with her. Will any of my cats volunteer?" A few tails rose. "There, Aphrodite. You have your escort."
She spoke for the first time then, "Thank you."
"And Loki, you can lend strategic strength. Many of my cats have learned to fight together. You can aid them on where to strike. Raise your tails please." Loki was easily directed to them. With a quick once-over, the Three began to lead again. But when they heard the sounds of war, they started to race forward, until Leader-White-Tree had an idea.
Braveheart leapt forward. "WOOD!"
The wiry brown tom jumped in surprise. "My name is Woodstar, leader of NightClan." His limbs began to shake as his brother stared him down.
"What Clan cat would dare to call themselves leader when the previous leader still lived?" Cinderwolf snaked in front of his trembling leader.
"What makes you think he is still alive? We cannot make any promises. He was terribly sick when we left him." Braveheart growled.
"If that is so, stay out of this. This battle is between two brothers and fellow leaders."
"YOU are the leader?"
"Yes. I was the deputy. Now our leader is dead." Gingerpelt began to step forward but Whitestep held her back, blue eyes blinking with wisdom. Cinderwolf smirked.
"If that is the case..." Braveheart was attacked by several rouges at once. He twisted and turned, instinct leading him. But eventually, he was hit against the wall and lay still, his sides heaving. Snowrose raced for him and the rogues were held back by Cinderwolf. The tom faced the remaining ArcticClan cats.
"Will anyone else accept the role of leader of ArcticClan?" Just as a few warriors began to step forward, there came a yowl.
CINDERWOLF! All heads swung to the top of the cliff at the end of the hollow. On top of it stood a magnificent cat. She was black like midnight and her pelt was more glossy than Shadowstream's had been. Underneath, muscles rippled.
"Cinderwolf, what are you doing?" She began to walk down the cliff face, her paws finding footholds never before noticed. "How dare you."
There was a roar and the black she-cat was not startled. But all the other cats looked nervously towards the entrance to the camp. There stood a huge tom. His eyes glowed deep amber as he stared down Woodstar. He took a few steps forward and his dark tabby pelt rippled. The rogues back away from him.
Snowrose gently nudged Braveheart. "Open your eyes, just for a moment." He obligingly did so, slowly, just in time to see a small and lithe she-cat leap over the tom at the entrance. She was fiery red and her green eyes picked out Icyclaw. Anger filled them and she dropped into a hunter's crouch and began to stalk forward towards the white tom. The black cat walked through the Clan cats and the red she-cat maneuvered herself so that the three created at triangle. The black she-cat spoke again.
"What a pity your plan failed."
"Hardly. There are only three of you." As soon as he said that, over the side of the cliff and through the entrance poured stranger cats until they formed a complete circle around the usurpers. The rogue refreshments poured in also, only to be cut off by a second group of cats, these with almost pure white pelts.
"Want to give in?" asked the huge tom. Cinderwolf merely hissed and attacked.
Woodstar trembled in a corner. Part of him reasoned that he had nothing to fear, NOTHING. his brothers were dead, as was Cinderwolf by this time; that Blackpaw was fierce. All he had to do was walk out there and say StarClan had shown him the way. Then he could run later, far, far away. HillClan, he was their past leader's favorite pupil. They had to accept him. Yes, that was it. Nothing to it. So simple. No need to shake in a corner like a leaf. Just go out and... The huge tabby tom appeared before him. "Let's go."
Icyheart lurked on the edges, looking everywhere for a flash of red. "Come out, little sister..." He started forward, but Foxpaw leapt on top of him from an overhanging ledge that Icyheart had forgotten about.
Cinderwolf was slinking around the chaos in the hollow, headed for the dirt tunnel. This plan was finished with. He could find a new group, and take this pathetic band of cats out. Or, at least, his sister. Speaking of which, she grabbed his tail and hauled him around to face her.
Woodstar was wailing as Tigerpaw dragged him away from his corner. "Please, let me go! StarClan! StarClan!" Tigerpaw turned on the faux leader as his father slipped down, filling his son with StarClan's power.
"Do not call on the Clan you abandoned! Now, defend yourself." He dropped into a hunter's crouch and Woodstar whimpered.
Icyheart and his sister tumbled about on the ground. Slowly, Icyheart's fur became stained with blood. The tom tried to stop himself, this wasn't what he wanted, not her death, just pain, but the ancestor was in control. Foxpaw leapt back in fear as her brother began to attack himself. Get out of my head!" Never! You let me in, now I will have my revenge if it kills the world, which it will.
Grey circled black. He spat and she swung unsheathed claws at his nose. He attacked when she was distracted by a yowl.
Leader-White-Tree had fallen. But so had Shadowstalker, his foe. They were breathing hard, and White-Tree looked at the rogue with respect glowing in his eyes. You are a marvelous fighter. How did you learn that skill at your young age?" The black tom shrugged. He knew he'd met his match. They both began to rise at the same time. Leader-White-Tree bowed his head in concedment. Shadowstalker shook his head. "I ought to bow to your wisdom. Will you teach me?"
The old tom smiled. "I will, just as I taught..."
He was cut off as a rogue swiped him. Shadowstalker leapt on the cat and dealt him an equal blow as the rogue yowled. "I'm sorry..."
Leader-White-Tree sighed. "White-Tree-That-Shines-In-Moonlight. I was the leader of my Warren, and I...I want to change who will take my place. Come closer, I want you to call for that cat."
Woodstar tried to escape. All his tactics failed him. The tom was everywhere and moved like a snake. Woodstar made a feeble swipe. Tigerpaw took the opening. His paw slammed into Woodstar's head from the opposite side, what Two-Legs call backhanding. The lithe tom went flying into the nearby wall. He started to stagger up. Tigerpaw had vanished, he considered that blow to be enough payment for now. But the force of Woodstar against the hollow's wall caused a rock on the rim to be dislodged and it fell. The life debt Woodstar owed StarClan was repaid.
Icyheart writhed about, flailing as he tried to regain control. Occasionally a paw would snake towards Foxpaw, who would bat it away. She watched in fear. Her brother wasn't there anymore. You, Icyheart, carry my name. You carry my pelt. You carry my hate. You carry me. I have wandered for many, many moons and have now found rest and a chance that I may never wander again. You have willingly taken me in. I will not leave! It was then that the second Icyheart died, driven from his own body. But his heart kept beating, his eyes kept seeing. For a different cat.
Blackpaw stumbled back from her brother. She dragged her mind back in time to block as many blows as possible and deal some back. She felt a cat brush up against her, quite friendly. Her eyes flicked to the side. A black she-cat wandered about. There was a sadness to her. Suddenly, as Blackpaw turned back to her brother, the stranger leapt forward and pushed Whitestep to the side.
The rogue missed. Whitestep blinked thanks to the cat now dueling the rogue. In turn, she stepped in the way of a blow meant for Snowrose and the weakened Braveheart. The silent she-cat drove the rogues away from the couple, standing guard while Snowrose did her best to heal her mate.
Foxpaw sensed the death of her brother. She leapt forward, fighting with a furiosity that she couldn't have summoned up for her real brother. Give in. Icyheart did. Foxpaw only fought harder. She drove the ancestor back against the wall. Then with a mighty blow...
Blackpaw calmly deflected Cinderwolf's attacks. She became detached, and watched the hate she saw in his paws. Finally, she could bear it not longer.
Blackpaw seemed to grow. With a mighty lunge, she hit her brother with her paws and he flew back he skittered away, only to race forwards again. Blackpaw flung herself forward and buried her claws into her brother. Her vision blurred and she begged StarClan to guide her paws. When she could see again, her brother, all of him, body too, was gone. Her paws were clean, strangely. She glanced at the heavens gratefully, then plunged back into the melee.
Foxpaw's claws raked down the ancestor's face. Snarling, he tried to retaliate. But he couldn't reach her, his limbs were jerking and shaking uncontrollably. Foxpaw stuffed all feelings down and threw the ancestor onto his back. With a swift hit, he was mortally wounded. The pain ended his convulsions. He staggered to his feet, hissing laughter escaping him. You think this is over? It will never be over! Not until the world is mine! StarClan owes me! StarClan promised... NO! a voice boomed and the world froze. Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan came racing from the sky, leading a cat that looked decrepit even as an ancestor. Icyheart, Foxpaw's brother, slunk behind them. The old cat looked at the cruel one. We promised, ancient one, that if you took the world in one cat's life, you would keep it. You have lived on your own in a cat's body and you are about to die in a cat's body. Bow to Death. The dying ancestor attacked Rowan. She batted him away easily. Again and again he attacked. Rowan defended herself with ease each time. Finally, the ancestor fell. Foxpaw's brother leapt forward. As the ancestor was led away, Icyheart reclaimed his body. He looked up at his sister as Rowan brushed him with her tail, restoring him. I'm sorry?" Foxpaw tackled him. They rolled a bit, before Foxpaw ended up on top. Her claws were sheathed. I forgive you."
Stone-Between fearfully padded close to her leader, followed by the deputy. White-Tree coughed. "Shadowstalker?"
The black tom nodded solemnly. "Your leader is dying, by the paw of a now dead rogue who had no respect for anyone. He, due to his fading strength, has asked me to proclaim this for I still have my voice. Grey-Stone-That-Stands-Between-Paths is the new deputy of The-Warren-of-Changing-Pelts. This is the final wish of your leader, White-Tree!"
The cats were still. Then the Clan cats began to chant "Grey-Stone", lifting her name up to the ancestors. Shadowstalker yowled for silence.
"THIS has been done in re-payment for the she-cat denied her rightful place as leader when she was the only cat truly worthy, Tree-of-the-Lightest-Rowan. May she guide the first she-cat leader of a Warren in several generations."
White-Tree lifted his head to Stone-Between.
"May SafeWarren guide you sure." And then he knew no more.
Foxtail walked beside Tigerdawn. It had been several moons since the attempted coup. Icyclaw was recovering well, though shame still covered him like a blanket. Though on occasion, he would glance towards the heavens and seem rejuvenated. And gradually, cats began to trust him.
Dawnpaw was back and the Warren cats, with Leader-of-Warren-Grey-Stone, were gone back to their tunnels. And life began to smooth over.
Tigerdawn gently nudged Foxtail. Tigerdawn," she laughed. "Don't make me challenge you to a hunting competition!" The tom bounded ahead of her by several yards. "Come on, Foxtail, you know I would catch more than you! I was taught by Braveheart!
Foxtail darted to his side. "Braveheart is my father, you know."
Tigerdawn nuzzled her shoulder affectionately. Foxtail rubbed up against him in return. Then she leapt away, pouncing on a vole. "Let it begin."
Tigerdawn laughed as he padded swiftly along the path. "You are asking for it Foxtail! Just wait till I bring back more prey than you!"
"That's what you think! Won't it be embarrassing when the deputy is beaten by his mate?" Tigerdawn snatched up a mouse. "I'd like to see you try!"
Foxtail licked her kits carefully. The red one stirred first, nearly leaping to her paws. The pretty white one stirred peacefully and gave a polite meow.
Dawnpaw laughed. "Looks like you have a lady there."
Foxtail smiled back. "Yes, I suppose so." At that, Tigerdawn shouldered his way in.
"Foxtail, they are so...so beautiful. I guess they take after their mother." You helped." Dawnpaw snorted. Tigerdawn turned to his sister.
"Is that sarcasm I detect in you sister?" The medicine apprentice shook her head in slight laughter.
"I'll leave you four in peace. I have better things to do then watch a couple coo."
She paused before completely leaving the nursery. She had a sneaking suspicion that these two kits were destined for great things. Redkit seemed familiar and Moonkit... A brush of a tail on her flank pulled her thoughts away. Hunterclaw sat not far off, stars in his pelt glowing softly. He shook his head slowly with a smirk on his face.
"Not yet Dawnpaw. That prophecy will come in time to save your Clan, don't worry. Let your kin enjoy happiness for a while before you burden them with a past leader and new savior." And with that, the tom leapt to his feet and rushed away, leaving Dawnpaw even more confused and lonely than before. She glanced back at the quartet one last time after she left the den. Was one of them really a past leader getting another chance? And were Tigerdawn and Foxtail going to have to watch their kits... Hunterclaw brushed past Dawnpaw again, this time flashing her a warning look. Dawnpaw swallowed her musings and entered the medicine cat den fighting her suspicions down.
"Later," she murmured. "I will learn all the answers later."
Hunterclaw sighed when he heard her. Racing back to StarClan, he shed a tear. "No Dawnpaw. You won't know all the answers."
Watch out soon for the ArcticClan: Divided Trail of Blood