What do you know me by? A murderer? A thief? A traitor? No.
You know me by the fact that I left Daisy, left her kits, to her own devices. To their own devices. I didn't give a mouse dung about them. That's what you heard. You heard that I was abusive in my special way. I didn't care for them, didn't love them, didn't give them the time they needed. I didn't give them a father.
But that's not all.
I wish to show you why I left her. Never loved. Never took a mate. You say I'm in love with Ambermoon? No. I'm not. Never was, never will be.
"Wake up, Spiderkit, wake up!" I open my eyes, to the dim light of the nursery, pressing up against Ferncloud. My mother. Someone is shaking me, which causes me to shrug them off.
"Wake up!" The voice shakes me even more forcefully. "Firestar's going to make us apprentices!" At once my drowsiness falls away. I leap up and run around the nursery in excitement. Shrewkit, my brother, is all over the place. We were laughing and whooping until a soft ginger tail stops us. "Hush, you two. You'll wake Whitekit." We stop and tumble outside the nursery, where Brackenfur, Cloudtail, and Mousefur are yawning and getting ready for dawn patrol.
Graystripe, snoring, stumbles outside the den. He trips over Shrewkit's tail and nearly squashes me. Pausing to blink sleep out of his eyes, he mumbles a sorry, and smiles. "Apprentices, huh? No wonder you're up early."
By the time the sun was up, we are standing in front of the Highrock, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our apprenticeship. Who will be my mentor? I wonder. I don't like bossy mentors, but I want to be the best I could be. I don't like Cloudtail, or Mousefur. I want Brackenfur as my mentor-he's so cool! But maybe Thornclaw? Or Graystripe! Yeah, I want Graystripe!
"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!" announces Firestar. He looks down at us and flicks his tail. We scamper up Highrock and try to look solemn and dignified. Later Whitekit tells us we look like we have fleas. [We did not, Whitekit! Shut up!] "These kits have reached six moons, and are ready to be apprenticed.
"Spiderkit, from this day on, you will be known as Spiderpaw. I entrust your mentorship to Mousefur. She will guide your paws in everything from hunting to battling to loyalty." No! I didn't want her!
She pads up to me. "I know you didn't want me," she murmurs. How does she know? "But you'll learn to like me in time." Are you sure?
Firestar continues on with the ceremony. "Shrewkit, from this day on, you will be known as Shrewpaw. I entrust your mentorship to Thornclaw." Lucky! "Thornclaw, you were the lucky apprentice of Mousefur. You will be an excellent mentor to Shrewpaw." Hah! Thornclaw, lucky?! Firestar must have bees in his brains!
"Are they here?"
"Let me see!"
"Move over, Squirrelpaw!"
"Come on, let your mother have space."
Ferncloud lay on the ground, panting and sweating heavily. Her body convulses, yet no kits are arriving. Cinderpelt and Leafpaw are sitting near her, with the gray she-cat murmuring about the kits being stubborn. "They won't arrive. They're stubborn."
"Like Dustpelt," jokes Squirrelpaw.
"Shut up!" I growl. Just because you're snarky doesn't mean you can insult our father!
"Enough," sighs Firestar. He is anxiously waiting for the kits so he can announce it to the Clan, and at later's Gathering.
Dustpelt paced the room, sighing and moaning. I am nervous too. If this goes wrong, we could lose our siblings, our mother . . . and our father's sanity. And our mother is everything to us. She defends us, she loves us, she even plays badger rides with us. Also, if Dustpelt lost his sanity, the whole world would come crashing down and the sun would set the forest on fire and everything would break. The end.
Haha, no I'm joking. Except for the Dustpelt-losing-his-sanity-part-if-our-mother-died part. That isn't a joke. It could happen.
"They're coming!" screeches Leafpaw. She's jumping all over the place, causing Cinderpelt to drag her back to where Ferncloud is. "Focus," the dark gray cat hisses.
Sure enough, a tiny figure slowly but surely, makes its way out of Ferncloud, and onto the nursery floor. "Nip the sac," instructs Cinderpelt, her paw on Ferncloud. "I think two more now? And lick her warm," she tells our father.
Two more figures appeared afterwards, and Ferncloud, exhausted and sweating, flops back onto her nest and starts snoring. "Great StarClan," your mother can snore!" exclaims Leafpaw.
"Out," Cinderpelt snaps. "All of you. Ferncloud needs her rest. I'll bring her some borage when she wakes up, but now she needs rest."
Ferncloud sighs. "Names. I can't think of names. I'll need much more names if I want more kits." She glares up at us. "Name them. Quickly."
I glance at Shrewpaw and Dustpelt. They are just as surprised as I am. We all rack our brains for names. Suddenly I remember my favorite tree, one I used to want to climb. The larch tree. It's unusual, sure, but I know for a fact that Spider is also unusual. And I happen to like unusual things . . . "Larchkit." I glance at one of the tabby she-kits. "That one's Larchkit."
"Ooh, favorite trees, right?" chirps Shrewpaw. "That other she-kit can be Hollykit."
"Birchkit for that one," meows Dustpelt. Birchkit is the only tom, and seems the strongest, yet he's unable to find his way to Ferncloud for milk. "Mew!" he cries. "Mew!"
Leafpaw pokes her head in. "Aw, that's too cute. Whaddya name them?"
"Larchkit, Hollykit, and Birchkit. Tell Firestar."
"No! No! No!" wailed our mother. I run over to her. "What? Don't say—"
"Shrewpaw is dead! Dead! StarClan, why?" Her sobbing fades to the background as I sink to the ground.
All around, the world slowed to a halt. It wasn't true, it was never true, my brother wasn't dead, our mother wasn't grieving even more, and this was all a dream. Nothing made sense. Nothing was true. How could everything go wrong? It was all planned out perfectly, and that perfect plan had shattered, leaving nothing but destruction, broken hearts, and waste where it broke.
How could StarClan allow this to happen? Self-doubt, hate, murder, lying . . . it would never go away. Never stay away. It would always pierce our hearts, meddle with our relationships, and knock the hell out of us. I can't escape this.
My life, my world, my purpose is collapsing into a singularity, and nothing can stop it. A black hole, unleashed from the depths of despair, left nothing but grief in its wake. Where did it go? Where did my happiness go?
She pulls me in. Like no other.
What can I say? She is no like no other she-cat, like no other cat even.
Soft fur. Blue eyes. The way she licks her paws, the way her eyes catch the light of the sun. How can I even describe her? Her purr, her step, her swish of her tail. What is wrong with me?
"Spiderleg?" Her voice stops me. "Is there anything wrong?"
"Huh?" I snap out of my daydream. Daisy stares at me. I shake my head, and she nudges me.
"You mouse-brain. I was asking you if you wanted to go on patrol with me, but if you don't want to . . ."
I shake my head as fast as I can, and then ask, "Where?"
Daisy waves her tail vaguely. "Haven't asked Brambleclaw," she sighs. We walk over to where the brown tabby is, and he meows a cheerful greeting. Around him frisk Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit. "Kits a handful?" I tease.
He shrugs. "Nah. Actually yes, they're all troublesome." He waves them off. "Go see Mommy." Turning his attention back to us, he paces around us. "Patrol . . . hmm, ShadowClan are getting a bit antsy again. So are WindClan. Your choice."
We decide on WindClan and call Honeypaw over. She bounds over excitedly, and when she hears that she's coming with us, her eyes turn skeptical. "Daisy's coming with us?" I sigh and nod. After being scolded about ten times, she finally accepts it and we head off towards the WindClan border.
"Where's your mentor?" I ask. Sandstorm is nowhere to be seen and Honeypaw is supposed to be with her. She shrugs.
I tell Daisy and the light brown she-cat to stay where they are and I run off, back to camp. Panting, I spot the light ginger she-cat. "Sandstorm! Come with us! We, uh . . ." I pause at her stern face. "We kind of stole your apprentice. WindClan border patrol. Me, you, Daisy, and Honeypaw. Please hurry."
She rolls her eyes. "WindClan can wait. Call them back. Berrykit, Mousekit, and Hazelkit are going to become apprentices!"
"You heard correctly . . . at least, I hope you did. Call them back. Berrykit, Mousekit, and Hazelkit are going to become apprentices!" I don't hear the last part; I'm already sprinting up the hill to tell my patrol the good news. "Daisy! Honeypaw! Come back! Three kits are going to become apprentices!"
Daisy peers out. "My kits?" Beside her Honeypaw snorted. "Yes, your kits. If Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit become apprentices we're doomed."
We all slide down the hollow, tripping over each other and nearly rolling down the ravine. "Oof!" "Ow!" "Oh!" "Ouch!"
Finally all four of us arrive, with sand in our pelts and knotted fur. The she-cats are busy grooming themselves so they don't look as horrendous; me, I don't care as much about my looks. Nobody really bothers to pay attention to me anyways. However, Brambleclaw has other thoughts. He's glaring at me, and mouthing: "Clean up!", and I realize I'm in for a treat. Scrabbling to my feet, I manage to scrape off most of the sand, and the knots in my fur are partially undone.
"You stupid," Daisy sighs, and begins grooming for me. I purr a sincere "thanks" and wait as she goes over my rusty grooming. "There, you furball. Take care of it."
"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highledge to hear my words!" Firestar yowls. "Three kits are now ready to begin their apprentice—"
Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit scramble up the Highledge, their tiny little legs struggling to land on the rock. "Is it us? Is it us?" they chirp.
Squirrelflight titters and scoops up her daughter, then nods for her mother and father to carry the other two down. "No, my loves," sighs Brambleclaw. He gazes lovingly at his tiny mischievous kids. "One day. But not today." They grab the kits by the scruffs and set them down where they belong. Ferncloud, their playmate, wraps her tail around them.
"Come, my little ones. Let's play 'Who Can Sit Still the Longest?' Winner gets first choice of the fresh-kill pile!"
Firestar rolls his eyes and clears his throat. "Let's try this again. These three kits are now ready to begin their apprenticeship. Berrykit, Hazelkit, and Mousekit, come on up!" The three kits leap upwards, their bodies already resembling somewhat that of Daisy's. They glance proudly at their mother before staring solemnly at Firestar again.
"These kits have reached their sixth moon. Berrykit, from this day on, you'll be known as Berrypaw. Brambleclaw will be your mentor. He is my trusted deputy, and he has shown resilience and bravery throughout his life. I entrust him with your apprenticeship." The cream tom eagerly stretches out his nose to reach the taller deputy. He doesn't have to stretch far; he's growing bigger by the day.
Hazelpaw's apprentice ceremony doesn't take long, and before anyone knows it, it's Mousekit's turn. "Mousekit," booms Firestar, "from this day on, you'll be known as Mousepaw. Your mentor will be Spider—" Whoa, whoa, hold the fresh-kill. I'm a mentor? I thought that would happen when Firestar flew! Well, okay, if he leaped off the Highledge, then that would technically count. But I digress.
I faint right then and there. Well, maybe not instantly, but—[shut up, Daisy, it wasn't that instant]—when I wake up Daisy's licking me. Oh boy, I almost faint again, but luckily I don't. She grins at me and I stare back, embarrassed. "Uh, hey, Daisy. Um, help me out—I mean in—I mean—"
"Mousebrain," she purrs. "Come on, Leafpool will tend to you."
"I'm not sick. I just passed out. See the diff?"
Leafpool rolls her eyes. She whispers something in Daisy's ear, and the cream she-cat begins to protest, but the medicine cat places her tail on the queen's spine. They talk in heated whispers, until Daisy relents to whatever the heck they're talking about. Firestar sighs. "Spiderleg, will you accept Mousepaw as an apprentice?"
"Yes siree!" I yelp instantly. Then I slap my tail over my mouth. Stupid mouth! I remember Shrewpaw in one of his serious moments, telling me, "StarClan gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, Spiderpaw." I miss him. I miss Larchkit. I miss Hollykit. Birchfall is all we have left of the three kits Ferncloud gave birth to back in our old territory. Why did they have to die? We were so happy before, just us seven cats, living together as a joyful family. Time has a way of ruining our lives, I guess.
He reaches up to touch my nose, and I notice he's a little shorter than his siblings. Not for long, though. I'm now taller than Ferncloud and only a teensy bit shorter than Dustpelt. He says soon I'll be the tallest of them all. Not now though. Not now. Daisy comes over to congratulate me and so does everyone in my family, which is only Ferncloud, Dustpelt, and Birchfall. Not a lot to work with, but who cares?
Fox dung. Fox dung, fox dung, fox dung. What have I done? I scramble all over camp, yelling the exact same words.
"I can't find Mousepaw! FOX DUNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!! I've been searching all over for him! Where is he?!" And for some reason I get the exact same response.
"Dude, listen to (insert whoever I asked before this cat). Chill. All you've been doing is running around screaming your head off." Smart-ears. Great StarClan, what will I do?
Daisy's the only one's who concerned. "Um, I've been searching around camp, and around the territory—" Everyone interrupts her, staring wide-eyed. In unison, they gasp, "You actually get outside of camp?" The cream she-cat rolls her eyes and gives them a death glare good enough to scare even the toughest ShadowClan warrior. "Puh-lease. Yes, I do. I even hunt. Just do it during the night. I hide it by pretending I have to make dirt."
Brackenfur nods. "So that's why you keep getting up at night. I first thought you had issues." Daisy rolls her eyes and pretends she didn't hear him. Everyone listens to hear what she has to say next. She waves her tail in the direction of the RiverClan border. "Think Mousepaw went off somewhere over there, Spiderleg. Want me to help you find him?" I nod eagerly.
"Then it's settled," Firestar announces. "Spiderleg, you will lead a patrol to find Mousepaw. Take Daisy, of course, Dustpelt, and Hazelpaw."
We set out on this journey, and along the way, Hazelpaw accidentally trips over a large root. "Ow!" she moans. Silently, out of the shadows, three cats pad out. Their eyes pierce the darkness, and as they survey us, someone decides to speak. "Who made that sound?" it asks. That's Toadkit! I think, recognizing Tallpoppy's kit. It's a bit deeper, sure, but I still recognize it. "Toad . . . ?" I manage.
"You scared away our prey!" hisses a higher-pitched voice. She bounds out and it's clear she's an apprentice. She's a white she-cat but her eyes are fierce and determined. Toadkit/Toad-whatever glares at her sternly and turns his attention to me. "Quiet, Snowpaw. Spiderpaw—"
"Spiderleg," I say, correcting him. He frowns, then shrugs and continues. "Since it's clear we have new names, why don't we introduce ourselves. I'm Toadfoot, you've already met Snowpaw, and that's Snowpaw's mentor, Wetfoot." Dipping my head to both of them, I ask the patrol if they've seen a gray-and-white tom, about six moons old. Wetfoot shakes his head. "No, I'm sorry. You might wanna try RiverClan."
We thank them and move towards the river. Sitting down, I try not to let my fur bristle. What if we never find Mousepaw? What if we find him dead? What if he's dying when we find him? Yep, my fur's definitely bristling. Daisy reaches out her tail to calm me down. "He's not dead," she meows, as if she's been reading my mind. "We would know if he was dead." Both Hazelpaw and Dustpelt nod. I'm still not sure. I've managed to lose an apprentice the first day. What's Firestar gonna think?