A dark tortoiseshell she-cat limped forwards through the snow. Her sides were stained scarlet, and as she struggled on she left little drops of blood behind her. As she came into a pool of moonlight it became visible that she only had one eye. The other eye had been ripped from its socket. She looked odd in the darkness, with only one glowing amber eye, but that was an old injury. It had happened moons ago when she had first met Aidan.
"Long live the general line [of the Community Party], long live the Great Leap Forward, long live the people's communes."
She had been stalking a mouse by the lake when she had heard rustling in a nearby bramble bush. Turning around she had seen two glowing green eyes and then a well-muscled tom stepped out. Her eyes had lingered on his missing front leg but she managed to ignore it.
“Who are you?” she snarled. “This is my territory you know.” The ginger tabby hissed, the fur on his back rippling, his claws unsheathing. The she-cat stared for a second as his lips curled to show his teeth. He looked terrifying.
“I go where I want, thank you very much,” growled the tom, taking a step forwards. The she-cat moved closer too. Her fur was on end now, teeth bared and claws unsheathed, ready for battle. She crouched down to the forest floor, studying him closely. The tom copied. She leaped to the side, an instant too late. The tom had pinned her to the ground and was raking her belly fur with thorn-sharp claws. She let out a cry of pain and tried to throw him off. He was surprisingly strong, despite his missing leg. She tried again and again, but it was half-hearted. She was beginning to tire. The tom could sense it. He became more gentle and was about to back off when she leaped upwards. His claws slipped and slashed her eye. The she-cat howled in agony as her eye was taken out. Dizzy with pain she staggered around for a bit until the tom pressed against her side, supporting her.
“I’m so sorry!” he gasped, and she could actually feel the shock coming off of him. “I didn’t mean to...” She was trembling furiously, her vision was blurred.
“Its fine,” she meowed, her voice much higher than usual and shaking slightly. “I shouldn’t have gotten up like that.”
“Look, I’ll get you to shelter and make up for that mouse you almost had,” he meowed. “I’m Aidan by the way.”
“I’m Tawny,” she replied and let him carry her to safety.
Now Tawny was desperately searching through the blizzard. She knew she couldn’t make it much further; if she could just find Aidan...
Then she saw him, hurrying towards her. His green eyes were wide as they ran along her injured body. He pressed himself to her side and Tawny let herself fall into him.
“What where you doing?” Aidan demanded with a hint of a snarl in his voice. “What do you think you were doing, endangering yourself and the kits?” Tawny sighed. She was deeply regretting the thought of going out had ever crossed her mind. If only she had left it to Aidan and the others...
“I’m sorry,” she meowed tiredly. “I just didn’t think.”
“I know you didn’t!” snapped Aidan. “Now come. Bolta and Utri are waiting up ahead.” Tawny swayed slightly.
“What about the others?” she asked. “Are they all right?”
“Rory has sprained his paw and Lido has torn a claw but the rest are all right,” Aidan assured her. Tawny nodded and padded onwards. She could just make out the silhouettes of Bolta and Utri up ahead. Utri looked terrified, swinging around at the slightest sound. Bolta just sat still, staring ahead at nothing. Utri leaped forwards as Tawny and Aidan approached them.
“Are you both okay?” he demanded. Aidan nodded calmly. Utri relaxed slightly.
“I’ve been so worried!” he cried. “Can we go now? It creeps me out to be in the dark when it’s snowing. You can’t see or scent anything!” Aidan nodded and Bolta padded to Tawny’s other side and pressed against her. Tawny let them carry her back to the old abandoned two-leg nest where they lived. They went single file through the crack in the wall and then Bolta and Aidan carried her up the steps to one of the rooms. Lily and Smudge sat sharing tongues on the window-ledge; Rory was licking his paw tenderly underneath them while Lido and Angel were curled up on the old cobwebbed sofa. Utri and Bolta went to join Lido and Angel while Aidan and Tawny curled up together on the armchair. Aidan began to lap soothingly at Tawny’s blood-stained fur and before she knew it she was fast asleep.
“They’re coming!” Tawny cried. Lily and Angel purred calmingly. Lily put her paw upon Tawny’s stomach and felt. A moment later Tawny scented a warm, new, milky smell and Angel put a tiny kitten in front of her nose. Tawny began to lap it and very soon it began to breathe. She purred in delight and rubbed her cheek against it. Very soon Angel gave her another kitten. She did the same.
“Oh,” gasped Lily suddenly. Tawny pricked her ears and craned her neck to look at the pale she-cat. Something was wrong... “I’m sorry Tawny...” Lily sighed. “These two are still-born.” Tawny felt a wave of grief and tried hard not to wail. How could she be upset about two kits she didn’t even know? But at the same time... Lily gave her the two dead kits. One was a ginger tom, the other a smoky grey she-cat. Tawny stared at them for a while and then began to clean their fur.
“Shall I get Aidan?” Angel asked. “I think that’s it.” Tawny said nothing, still lapping the two tiny kittens’ fur.
“No,” she decided. “Tell him I’ve gone outside and I’ll be back in a moment. Say nothing about the dead kittens. I’ll bury them.” Tawny picked up the two dead kittens and padded outside on unsteady paws. She was unbelievably tired, but this was important. It had to be done. She set down the kits on the snow and began to dig a hole. She didn’t stop when she reached the grass. No fox will get my kits. Soon she had a deep hole. She picked up the first kit, the tom, and set him down at the bottom. Tawny grasped the other kit in her jaws and was about to lay her down when she squirmed in her mouth and gave a huge squeak. Tawny quickly put the she-cat back down on the snow and nosed the tom. It was stone cold. Even if it had been alive it was dead now. She began to put the earth and snow back over the hole. Tawny picked up the she-cat and hurried back inside. This kit needed warmth. And quickly...
Bolta watched Cleo, Spike and Jay play with a pang of sadness. Tawny was so lucky to have such beautiful kits and Aidan. Bolta shook her head as memories began to rise in her mind. She turned and padded to the top of the staircase were Lido already sat. Her sister wrapped her tail around Bolta and purred calmingly.
“Utri and Rory were wondering if you wanted to go hunting,” Lido mewed. When Bolta shook her head she added gently, “It might take your mind of things.”
“No,” Bolta meowed. “I’d rather stay inside.”
“You know,” Lido mewed. “You could be like Tawny some day.” Bolta snorted.
“What, with one eye and a whole lot of scars?” she meowed. “No thanks.” Lido let out an exasperated sigh, shaking her head.
“No,” she meowed. “I mean Utri.” Bolta stared at Lido. Utri? What had Tawny got to do with Utri? “If you paid attention, you’ll see,” Lido told her. She got to her paws and leaped down the stairs. Bolta watched until her white tail tip disappeared outside. She was still confused. Utri? she kept asking herself. Deciding to forget about him, Bolta followed Lido down the stairs and headed into one of the rooms. It was dark, cobwebbed and smelt musty but at least it was empty. At last she was alone with her thoughts. But was that what she wanted? Bolta shuddered as images kept popping up at the back of her mind. Images of Henry and Flora and Finn... She closed her eyes. It was too much for her to take. She curled up in the corner and let sleep lap over her like a wave.
It was morning when Bolta woke. Her fur was ruffled and cold and she realised she had fallen asleep by a hole in the wall. Bolta lay awake staring into the old and ragged room. Her dreams had been haunted by nightmares just like every other night. But at least she had been able to sleep for a little while. Yawning hugely, she scrabbled to her paws and stretched.
As she came away from the hole, frosty sunlight filtered through it, dimly lighting the room and warming her fur. Bolta padded carefully out into the hallway. She could hear Tawny’s kittens mewls and shrieks from upstairs.
“Come on Jay!” Spike was calling. “Come on Jay, or you’re a mouse!”
“No way!” Jay replied, her voice high in fear. “I could die!” Bolta pricked her ears. What, that was upstairs, could possible kill Jay? She took the stairs two at a time and stopped at the top.
“Scaredy mouse!” taunted Spike. “Scaredy mouse!” Jay kept on protesting and finally Bolta understood. Spike was daring Jay to jump out of the window! She lunged forwards towards the voices.
“Stop!” she yowled. Bolta skidded to a halt in front of Spike. She puffed out her fur, unsheathed her claws and drew back her lips to show her teeth. Spike squealed in alarm and leaped back, terrified at the sight of Bolta so furious. Bolta let a growl escape her jaws and she jumped across the room to pick up Jay. The tiny she-cat was crouching by the open window. She looked like a limp bundle of smoky grey fur. Bolta carried her out of the room and into the other. This room was full of sunlight, but still just as dusty as all the others. Aidan, Tawny, Lido and Rory all sat on the same sofa. They looked up as Bolta padded in, eyes narrowed and Jay hanging from her jaws.
“You should keep a closer eye on your kits,” Bolta growled, dropping Jay in front of the sofa. Jay leaped up and hid in her mother’s fur.
“What did you do to her?” Tawny hissed, glaring across at Bolta. Bolta held her glare.
“It wasn’t me, it was Spike,” Bolta replied. “He tried to make her jump out of the window.” Tawny continued to glare. She obviously didn’t believe the truth.
“Why don’t you ask Jay,” suggested Rory. He looked down kindly at Jay. “What happened?”
“It was Spike,” meowed Jay simply. Bolta nodded and stalked out of the room. She needed fresh-air. Brushing through the crack in the wall, Bolta padded out into the snow. She kept going until she reached the crumbling wall. There was a cat there. It was definitely a she-cat. She was a pretty grey tabby with delicate white paws and tip of the tail. Bolta would have thought this cat was a kittypet; it had no scars and did not look as if it could catch so much as a mouse, if she had not been so skinny. Every one of her ribs showed beneath her thick grey coat. Bolta approached her cautiously. The she-cat turned before Bolta had reached her.
“Who are you?” she demanded, slightly cautious. “Are you one of Death’s followers?” Bolta narrowed her eyes.
“If I was would I tell you?” she asked. The she-cat stiffened, her fur rising. “But I’m not,” Bolta assured her, slightly amused. “I’ve never even heard of Death.”
“I’m Bella,” the she-cat meowed. Her clear green eyes swept across Bolta. “Who are you?”
“I’m Bolta,” she told the she-cat. Bella blinked as if the name stirred something. “I live just over there.” Bolta flicked her tail towards the old two-leg nest.
“I live nowhere,” Bella meowed and turned to leave. Bolta felt a stab of sympathy for the pretty grey tabby. She knew what it was like to be unwanted, to have nowhere to go.
“You can shelter with me and the other cats that live in there,” Bolta blurted out. “There’s plenty of space.” Bella turned and leaped back onto the wall, green eyes glowing. A rumbling purr rose from her throat.
“Thank you!” she cried. Bolta nodded, she beckoned with her tail for Bella to follow her. She began to trudge through the snow, Bella panting behind her. They soon came to the crack in the wall; she ducked down and crawled through. Bella was so small she didn’t have to duck, she just padded through easily. Bolta leaped up the stairs to find the others. They were still in the sunlit room.
“Hey guys,” Bolta purred. Lido and Rory looked up.
“What put you in such a good mood?” Lido asked, looking amused. Before she had time to answer Bella appeared at the doorway.
“Hello,” she mewed shyly. Rory’s eyes widened at the pretty she-cat. Lido whacked him with her tail and he looked away quickly. Bolta’s good mood disappeared instantly. It was replaced by hurt.
“Hi,” meowed Aidan. “And who are you?”
“I’m Bella,” Bella mewed. “Bolta said I could shelter here.” Tawny snapped her head up.
“She did, did she?” she asked. Bella backed away a few paces looking alarmed. Bolta knew it was Tawny’s one eye. Just wait until she sees Aidan’s got a missing leg!
“Well I’m Rory,” Rory mewed. “That’s Tawny and Aidan and this is Lido. Lily, Smudge, Angel and Utri have gone hunting.” Bella nodded. Bolta realised Bella’s eyes were fixed on Aidan and not Rory. Good.
“Three will come again; the bright-eyed Jay, the prickly Holly and the brave Bolta.”
Hollypaw jolted awake but the words still whispered in her ears. She didn’t understand. Was StarClan giving her a message? And if they were, why weren’t they giving it to Flightfeather? After all she was the medicine cat. And Flightfeather knew what to do. Hollypaw had no idea.
Hollypaw looked up from her nest. Rowanberry stood at the entrance to the apprentices den. “Come on,” she mewed. “Time for battle training.” Hollypaw briefly wondered if she should share her dream with her mentor but quickly shook the idea out of her head. Rowanberry would get worried, and anyway she was a warrior; she wouldn’t know what to do either. Getting to her paws, Hollypaw shook scraps of moss and bracken off of her pale ginger fur. She leaped out of the den and followed Rowanberry through the thorn-tunnel. It seemed like moments to get to the training hollow, probably because she was still half-asleep and thinking of her dream. Rowanberry stopped in the centre of the training hollow, Hollypaw by her side. "Right," she mewed. "Attack me." Hollypaw blinked. She then remembered this was battle training and dropped into a hunter's crouch. She studied Rowanberry carefully. Judging by the way she was leaning slightly to the left meant she was going to dodge to the right. Hollypaw sprang forwards. She had guessed correctly; Rowanberry did leap to the right.
Hollypaw managed to push her over onto her back. She did an easy but useful move and clawed her belly, making sure her paws didn’t actually touch her mentor. Rowanberry had gone limp so it was quite easy. But she had to cling on tightly because she knew any second she wound leap upwards. When Rowanberry did lunge upwards, Hollypaw was already ready. She clung tightly to her dark ginger belly.
“Okay okay,” Rowanberry panted. “You’ve squashed me as flat as a leaf!” Hollypaw realized her mentor was in pain and quickly jumped off. Rowanberry shook sand off of her fur. Hollypaw, now completely awake, noticed how clumsy Rowanberry was. Usually she could beat her every time they did battle training but this time Hollypaw had managed to knock her over. She had tired her mentor out with a simple move! What was wrong with Rowanberry? Was she ill? Hollypaw then realized she was staring and looked away quickly.
“I think that should be enough for today,” Rowanberry meowed, still panting slightly. Hollypaw knew something was wrong now. Usually if they did battle training they would do it until it got dark, laughing and joking the whole way through. “Come on.” Hollypaw nodded and followed Rowanberry into the undergrowth. Hollypaw sat and wolfed down her fresh-kill. Her sister Snowpaw was approaching and the last thing she wanted was to have to talk to her.
She didn’t want to talk to anyone. All Hollypaw wanted to do was curl up in her nest and think things over. But before she could escape Snowpaw was by her side.
Snowpaw studied Hollypaw and for a moment it was hard to believe that she couldn't actually see her.
"Hey," Snowpaw meowed. Hollypaw couldn't help but noticing that Snowpaw was staring past her. Glancing behind her she saw Blackpaw.
Blackpaw, Hollypaw thought furiously. Why does she like Blackpaw? He's nothing but an annoying furball!
"Hi," Hollypaw meowed, finding it hard to keep her voice cheerful. "What's up?" Snowpaw jumped and turned her gaze back to Hollypaw.
"Nothing much," she meowed. "Have you seen Nightfall?" Hollypaw shrugged. Then she noticed the dark tom talking to Icepool below HighLedge. She flicked her tail towards him and Snowpaw leaped forwards towards him.
Well I'm glad that’s over.
Hollypaw licked her lips and then turned back to the apprentice's den, suddenly exhausted although she had nothing to tire her out.
Hollypaw woke at dawn the next day. Three will come again, the bright-eyed Jay, the prickly Holly and the brave Bolta. The words still played over and over in her mind, louder this time. She spent a while in her nest trying to remember her dream.
But it had slipped from her mind.
“Hollypaw,” a paw prodded her side. Hollypaw blinked realizing she had fallen asleep.
“Battle training,” she croaked. “Yeah I know. I’m just coming Rowanberry.” Scrabbling to her paws, Hollypaw shook out her fur and stretched, blinking sleep out of her eyes. How come she was so tired all of a sudden? Surely she hadn’t caught whatever Rowanberry had? But at the same time it felt likely, she could barley open her eyes. Hollypaw turned around and felt her fur grow hot with embarrassment. She had called Robinsong Rowanberry! Eyes round, she mumbled hurried apologies.
“It’s okay,” Robinsong mewed, looking slightly amused. “Come on. Rowanberry doesn’t feel she’s up to training today.” Hollypaw nodded. It didn’t come as a surprise; she had kind of expected it. Hollypaw followed Robinsong out into the hollow. Now this surprised her. The whole of the hollow was covered in a thick layer of ice. Yesterday it had been just fine. Carefully she padded across the hollow. Robinsong wrapped his tail around her neck as they came to an especially slippery bit and soon they made it across the camp. They plunged into the tangle of brambles and ferns and emerged, not at the training hollow, but at Sky Oak.
“We’ll do some hunting practice today,” Robinsong told her. “First I want you to tell me what you can smell. Close your eyes.” Hollypaw did as she was told and began to explore the world around her. A mouse was scrabbling around at Sky Oak’s roots. She could hear its tiny heart beating and its paws scratching. In the top most branches of the Sky Oak was a squirrel. She could hear its bushy tail sweeping across the branch that it was sitting on. Hollypaw let her senses flow further, out towards the lake. She could hear fish splashing in the lake and to her surprise she could hear ShadowClan
warriors by the shore.
“Elderflower, get back!” meowed one of the warriors. “You’re not a RiverClan warrior anymore!”
“Oh come on, Yewtail,” meowed a soft voiced warrior. “Don’t tell me you don’t miss the feeling of water.” Yewtail let out a longing sigh and Hollypaw could imagine her gazing out at the rippling lake. Then Hollypaw sensed another cat beside them.
It was another she-cat; she was keeping back from the other two cats.
“I won’t tell,” meowed the she-cat. “I promise.”
“Thank you Honeypaw,” Elderflower mewed. “Come on Yewtail!” Hollypaw heard a loud splash as the two former RiverClan warriors plunged into the water.
“Hollypaw,” Hollypaw jumped and her eyes flew open. She had completely forgotten about the training session.
“Oh yeah,” she meowed, dropping into a hunter’s crouch. “I’ll go get the mouse.” Hollypaw stalked forwards to the base of Sky Oak. The mouse was just inches away. She sprang but before she could land, the mouse sensed her and scurried into the hollow trunk. Hollypaw followed it. The inside of the Sky Oak was slightly scary. It was quite small but the very tall; she guessed it went all the way to the top most branches. Then, just as Hollypaw was about to spring she scented a familiar scent. Closing her eyes, she drew in her breath. It was her own scent! And Snowpaw’s! But as Hollypaw continued to draw in the scents, she found the smells of three unknown cats. Two she-cats and a tom. All the scents carried the same milky smell so they must have been there at the same time. Milky scent, Hollypaw thought. A queens milky scent and her four kits milky scents. But this queen was not Cloverpool. This cat was another cat all together...
Jay slept soundly that night. She was away from her Cleo, Spike, Tawny and Aidan at last. Alone; that’s what she liked. To be alone with her thoughts. She closed her eyes and memories of the open window came flooding back to her. What had she done? She had made the still morning suddenly a howling gale and nobody had noticed. Why hadn’t anybody noticed? Jay got to her paws and left the room. She imagined milky moonlight flooding in through the windows, casting weird shadows down the staircase though all she could see was blackness. Jay returned to the room with the open window and leaped onto one of the strange boxes so that she was level with the window-sill. Closing her eyes, she thought hard of storms. A strong gust of wind almost pushed her off of the box. Jay gasped in surprise and then began to think of a light breeze, just enough to touch her fur but not enough to ruffle it. To her surprise, it worked. A purr escaped her mouth as she realized what she could do. I can control the wind! Jay jumped down off of the box. She hadn’t realized how tired she was. Following her scent trail back to the room she had been sleeping in, Jay thought that she could hear paw-steps. Deciding it was nothing but her imagination; she carried on and curled up on an old and dusty rag.
It seemed like only seconds to Jay when the door creaked open. Leaping to her paws, she hissed and spat at the intruder, backing away. Then she tumbled into something. What was it? Another cat? Panicking, Jay scrabbled blindly, losing all sense of direction.
“Jay,” Jay calmed slightly as she recognized Bolta’s voice. “Can you see me?” She stopped struggling, turning her head in the direction of Bolta’s voice. The truth was all she could see was blackness but she could imagine the jet-black she-cat but she could imagine Bolta clearly.
She imagined sleek her black fur and her amber eyes, standing uneasily by the doorway and staring at Jay. Jay knew she was staring at her because her fur had grown hot with the scorch of Bolta’s gaze.
“No,” Jay had decided against lying. “I can’t see you.” Jay knew that Bolta’s eyes had softened. She didn’t know how. She just knew.
“Does your mother know?” Bolta asked. “Or any of your family?” Jay shook her head. Then she remembered the pity she had felt in Rory’s gaze.
“I think Rory knows,” she meowed. “But we’ve never talked about it.” Jay imagined Bolta nodding. “Please don’t tell anyone,” Jay added quickly.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Bolta meowed, taking Jay by surprise. “If you promise not to tell anyone.”
“Of course I won’t tell anyone,” Jay replied immediately. Bolta nodded and sat down. Jay sensed her sadness as if it were her own. Of course she wouldn’t tell.
“When I was younger,” Bolta began. “I had a mate. His name was, Jacob. He was perfect, beautiful, an excellent hunter and very skilled in battle. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that a cat like him actually liked me. Very soon I was expecting his kits. He stuck by my side. He hunted for me and made sure I had shelter and warmth. When I could no longer move from place to place, we lived in this very house. Then came the day that the kits were born. Jacob said he knew a cat that could help me and disappeared. The cat he had gone to collect came to help me. But where was Jacob? The cat, Rowan, said he had gone to catch me a mouse. But I never believed her. At first I thought that Rowan had hurt him, done something terrible to him. But then I realised that Rowan was barely six moons old. How could she possibly hurt Jacob? He was so brilliant in battle. It took ages for the kits to be born but at last all three of them were curled beside me in the freezing, draughty room. I named the two toms Henry and Finn and the she-cat Flora. They all looked like Jacob except little Henry. He was black like me. When they had fallen asleep, I wrapped them in a rag and went out into the freezing night. Rowan had left straight after Flora, Finn and Henry had been born and her paw prints had been covered by snow. I didn’t know where she had gone. I didn’t know where to find Jacob. I searched and searched but I couldn’t find either of them. Where had Jacob gone? He couldn’t have just left me. Then I remembered the kits, asleep and wrapped in rags. Alone and cold and completely unprotected.... I returned to the house to find it deserted, completely empty. Where were my kits? Where were Flora and Finn and Henry? I searched until dawn and then curled up in the room were my kits had been born. I was just about to fall asleep when I realized something was wriggling by my side. Quickly, I got up to find Henry under the rags. He was freezing and probably starving to death. I curled up against him and let him feed. But I was so exhausted I couldn’t stay awake to make sure he was fine.
When I woke up Henry was shivering and trembling. He was dying... It was too late. I couldn’t do anything for him except for stick by his side. It took a long time, but at last he was still. I buried him in outside. I believe it was next to the spot were Tawny buried your brother.” Jay’s eyes widened in surprise. She had had a brother? Why hadn’t anybody told her? “I went away then. I didn’t know where I was going, all I knew was that I had to get away from the house. I travelled from place to place but no cat was kind enough to take me in. No cat was kind enough to take me in except for Lido. She had had kits. Her mate had been Utri but they had had an argument before I had come. Utri stuck by Lido though, even though they were no longer together. I watched Lido’s only kit; Willow grow up. I helped Lido raise her and even thought of Willow as my own kit. But soon Willow was no longer a kit. She left us to find her own home. Soon it was only me, Lido and Utri living in a sheltered wooded area not far from here. We were soon joined by Lily and Smudge and Rory came after them. The clearing became too crowded and it was clear that we would have to move to a new home. We went to this house. I was very unhappy about it but managed to push the memories of my mate and my kits out of my head. Aidan and Tawny stumbled across us about nine moons ago,” Bolta finished. “I haven’t been in this room since I had my kits.” Jay tried to imagine Bolta young and scared. Somehow she couldn’t. She had always thought Bolta was tough, strong and untrusting. Now she knew why.
Jay was lost for words. How could any cat have such a terrible past? And what had happened to Flora, Finn and Jacob? Could Jacob, perhaps, have stolen Flora and Finn and gone into to hiding?
“I –I’m sorry,” Jay stammered Staring at the spot where she knew Bolta was standing.
“It’s not your fault,” Bolta murmured although Jay knew she was trying to convince Jay it wasn’t just as much as she was trying to convince herself.
“I really am sorry,” Jay meowed. “I must remind you of your own kits.” Bolta began to tremble. Jay approached her and pressed against her side. They sat there for a while staring at the rags in the middle of the floor. “We’ll find them,” Jay promised. “We’ll find Flora and Finn.”
Bolta woke early the next morning. She and Jay had planned and planned about how they were going to do it. Finally they had decided how they were going to find them. First they would go to the lake. Jacob had talked about it often, how he had lived there for a while. He had also mentioned the Clans that lived there. Bolta had told Jay how dangerous their journey would be but the tabby she-cat didn’t listen. Jay was determined to go with her. Bolta stretched and padded out into the hallway. Jay was already waiting by the crack in the wall. Bolta studied the tabby cat. She had grown a lot since the first time they had met. With her still kit-soft grey fur and delicate tabby markings, her clear blue eyes and the black tips of her ears Bolta thought she was most unlike her mother. Not just in looks but in personalities as well. Jay was a trusting cat, a wise cat, despite how young she was, but most of all, Jay was a kind cat. She cared. That was what Bolta liked so much about Jay. Tawny however was a rough cat; she found it hard to trust anybody else and probably would never endanger her life to help Bolta find her missing kits. Of course Tawny would have cared. Just not as much as Jay.
“Are we going then?” Jay asked. Bolta nodded and followed Jay outside. She wished it would rain, that way it would hide their scent trail and the others would never be able to find them. To her greatest surprise, big drops of water began to fall from the sky. Soon it was pouring with rain and the wind had risen. It was almost impossible to see, but that was good. The rain would wash away the evidence that they had ever been there. Bolta wrapped her tail around Jay’s neck so that she didn’t lose her. This was where the journey began... They went at a steady pace down the deserted street and into the forest. They stopped to rest at the same sheltered clearing were Bolta had once lived.
“Right,” Bolta mewed, realising that Jay had never been hunting before. “I’ll teach you the hunter’s crouch first.” Bolta dropped down into a low crouch, her belly brushing the wet leaves and tail just skimming the ground. Jay just stared at the spot where Bolta was. It took a while for Bolta to realise she couldn’t see.
“Let’s try a different way,” she suggested. “Crouch down for me.” Jay crouched. Bolta moved forwards and laid her tail on her back, pressing her closer to the ground. “Make sure your tail doesn’t touch the floor.” Jay lifted her tail up. Bolta nodded. “Now scent the air. See what you can find. I’ll go and try for something further into the forest.” Bolta left Jay crouching to the ground and scenting the air. Closing her eyes, she drew in the familiar forest smells. There was a mouse scuffling in a bramble bush right beside her. She dropped down and stalked forwards. It was an easy catch, the rain had disguised her scent. Bolta decided to catch something else, just in case Jay hadn’t managed. She buried her mouse by the bramble bush. Bolta closed her eyes and let her senses explore the forest. Excitedly, Bolta dropped back into her hunter’s crouch, moving as lightly as possible. She moved quickly through the forest to a small grassy clearing, unsheltered by trees. A small rabbit was nibbling at the rough and springy grass. Bolta moved forwards but the rabbit it heard. It looked around and then ran off. Frustrated, Bolta chased after it for a while. She could see it just ahead, just a few tail-lengths out of reach. Then a grey furry thing leaped out of the trees. Bolta watched in astonishment as Jay leaped perfectly onto the rabbit and killed it with one swift bite.
“Wow!” Bolta meowed, leaping forwards to join Jay. “That was... Brilliant!” Though at the same time Bolta felt a surge of disappointment. If she’d only taken her time she could have caught the rabbit. Now all she had was a mouse.
“Let’s share,” Jay offered. “We won’t need anything else after this.”
“Thanks,” mewed Bolta. Together they carried the rabbit back to the clearing and settled down to eat it. “We should just sleep here. It’s nice and sheltered and we’ve gone far enough for today. I don’t want to tire you.” Jay nodded gratefully and curled up in a tight ball under the shelter of an overhanging branch. Bolta curled up beside her and pretty soon she was asleep as well.
Bolta’s dreams were confused. At first she was staring into a familiar face. He had holly-leaf green eyes and flame-coloured ginger fur. Rory was staring back at her and for a bit they just sat in the moonlit clearing. Then Bolta got to her paws and huge puddles of water began to fall from the sky. Rory ran. Bolta followed but the puddles followed her, leaving a stream of water behind her.
Then the dream changed. She was sitting in the same moonlit clearing but she wasn’t staring at Rory. She was staring at a handsome grey tabby tom with clear jay-blue eyes.
“Bolta,” he meowed. Bolta jumped. How did this cat know her name? “The Dark Forest is rising. They’re breaking through into your world.” Bolta stared at the tom.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “What do you mean?”
“I’m Jayfeather,” he replied. “And I’ve come to help you. There used to be four Clans of wild cats living by the lake; ThunderClan, ShadowClan, RiverClan and WindClan. Now only ThunderClan and ShadowClan remain. They’re dying, Bolta, and you have to help them.” He couldn’t keep the plead out of his voice. Bolta just stared. Jacob had often spoken of the wild Clans he had used to live with. Jayfeather continued. “When a Clan cat dies they go to StarClan. When I lived StarClan made a prophecy. There will be three, kin of your kin that will hold the power of the stars in their paws.”
“How can any cat have the power of stars in their paws?” Bolta wondered. Jayfeather ignored her.
“At first we thought it was me, and my brother and sister; Lionblaze and Hollyleaf,” Jayfeather meowed. “But we were wrong. Hollyleaf wasn’t the third cat. She was crushed in the caves under the lake. Then Dovewing came along and at last we had all of the three. StarClan thought that we could defeat Tigerstar, an evil cat that lived in The Dark Forest. They were wrong. Me, Lionblaze and Dovewing died and the prophecy died with us. Now StarClan have made another prophecy; three will come again, the bright-eyed Jay, the prickly Holly and the brave Bolta. StarClan have made even more powerful cats. Bolta, I need you to take Jay safely to the lake. That is where Holly lives. We need you to defeat The Dark Forest. The fate of the Clans rests in your paws.”
“What do you-?” her question was cut short.
“Bolta!” Jay prodded her side. Bolta felt a wave of annoyance and frustration.
“What?” Bolta demanded.
“I can scent them,” Jay cried. “They’re here! They’re coming! The Dark Forest has broken through into our world!”
The next few moons went by in a blur. Hollypaw spent most of her time inside the Sky Oak, breathing in the scents of Snowpaw and the three unknown cats, trying to figure out what it meant. The obvious thought was that this queen, this queen that was not Cloverpool, had given birth to her. But who was this queen? Why hadn’t Cloverpool told them that she wasn’t their mother? Maybe, a sudden idea struck Hollypaw, this cat was a cat outside of the Clans. Maybe she had abandoned Hollypaw, Snowpaw and the two other cats Hollypaw assumed to be her brother and sister. Maybe Cloverpool found them and pretended that they were her own. But the longer Hollypaw sat and thought the idea through, the more unlikely it seemed. Why would a queen abandon her kits? Unless she was scared, or had to or something terrible had happened to her. There was about a million different theories, each as unlikely as the next.
“Hollypaw,” a quiet voice called her name. Hollypaw had not heard this voice for moons. She ducked out of the hollow trunk and padded over to Rowanberry. Hollypaw’s eyes widened as she got closer to her former mentor. Her dark ginger fur was mud streaked and ungroomed, every one of her ribs were showing and the sparkle that used to be in her eyes was replaced with a dull, sad glow that made her look dead and lifeless. “I think you need to know why I haven’t been teaching you.”
“But you’re ill!” Hollypaw protested. “You should go back to camp!” Rowanberry shook her head.
“Not ill exactly,” she meowed. “Just...”
“Ill!” Hollypaw cried. “Get back to camp before you make yourself ill!” Green eyes met green as Rowanberry looked Hollypaw in the eyes. Something told Hollypaw not to interrupt.
“I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told any other cat,” Rowanberry declared. “Maybe then you will understand.” Rowanberry sat awkwardly on the mossy roots of the Sky Oak. Hollypaw sat as well.
“When I was a known as Rowankit I was a WindClan cat,” she began. “I had two siblings, Rabbitkit and Nightkit. My father was Smokefoot and my mother was Goldenstream. Goldenstream was a lovely cat, a great mother, until I reached five moons. The WindClan leader, Galestar, died and Goldenstream was at last the most powerful cat in WindClan. She banished Nightkit from WindClan when he said that he thought Galestar was a much better leader and I went with him. I refused to stay if Nightkit went. Goldenstar didn’t care and announced that from now on she only had one kit; Rabbitkit. My sister was a lot like her mother and loved power. She stayed loyal to Goldenstar until the very end.
Meanwhile, me and Nightkit were lost. Without a Clan or a mother to look after us we didn’t know what to do. Until, that is, we came across a cat named Jacob. He seemed nice at first, he really did. First he told us to change our names. So we did as we were told and became Rowan and Night. Then he told us about a shelter not far from where we were and led us to it. It was a broken twoleg shed. We were nervous at first but we soon got used to us. Then Jacob left us. I think he knew really.
In the morning we woke up and these dogs were trying to get in. They were vicious creatures, huge things. Night and I were terrified. We managed to escape out of the broken window and ran for it. We were still running when we bumped into Jacob again. He apologized about the dogs and swore he had never known that they had lived there. Then he asked me to go and help his mate. She was having kits you see. He told me to come straight back here when they were born. So I did as he said again and followed his instructions on how to get to an old abandoned twoleg nest.
His mate was on the very top floor and she was weak. I helped as best I could but I had no idea what I was doing. Then, once the three kits were born, I left and went back to the place where I had left Jacob and Night. Jacob told us that his mate, Bolta had moved to a safer place and we had to move her kits for her. Again, we did as we were told and went to collect the kits. When we got back to the twoleg nest we only found two kits but guessed Bolta had taken the third with her. We took the two kittens to were Jacob had said.
But Bolta wasn’t there. And neither was Jacob. We waited for him but somehow, we both knew he wouldn’t come. So there was only one place that we could go. Carrying the two tiny kittens and trying to make sure they ate bits of fresh-kill, we went back to the lake. But we didn’t go back to WindClan. We would never go back there as long as Goldenstar was leader. ThunderClan took us in. What harm could four kits be? Runningfox nursed Bolta’s two kits that I believe were called Flora and Finn. Lionstar made Night and I Nightpaw and Rowanpaw. As soon as we were known as Nightfall and Rowanberry, Flora and Finn decided to leave. ThunderClan waved them off.
But I don’t believe Flora left for good. You see, she was expecting kits. Nightfall’s kits actually. When she left, I don’t know if she even made it out of ThunderClan territory. I think she would have stayed. But it was Finn that desperately wanted to leave. And every cat knew that Flora and Finn never left each other’s side.” Rowanberry looked at Hollypaw. Hollypaw shook her head.
“I still don’t understand,” she meowed. “How does that story make you ill?”
“It’s not the story,” Rowanberry meowed patiently. “Didn’t you hear at the last Gathering that Goldenstar died? Now Nightfall’s desperate to go to ShadowClan, were all his old clanmates are now. And after we had been banished we swore that we would never leave each other.” Hollypaw stared at Rowanberry.
“You mean Nightfall wants to go ShadowClan?” she demanded. “Why? What about Cloverpool?” Rowanberry smiled.
“Remember what I told you about Flora and Nightfall?” she mewed. “And remember at the last Gathering Lightstar announced that a new warrior had joined their ranks?”
“She was called Windwhisker,” Hollypaw meowed uncertainly. “Wasn’t she?”
“Well I don’t think that’s quite true,” Rowanberry meowed. “You see, Windwhisker was at the Gathering and she looked very familiar. I believe that Windwhisker is Flora.” Something clicked inside Hollypaw’s mind.
“That’s why Nightfall wanted to go to ShadowClan!” she exclaimed. “Because he wanted to see her!” Hollypaw wrapped her tail along Rowanberry’s neck and urged her forwards. She led her former mentor into the hollow trunk of Sky Oak.
“Sniff,” she mewed. Rowanberry, looking bewildered, scented the air. Her green eyes widened and she gasped.
“B-But,” she gawped. “That’s Flora’s scent! And yours! And Snowpaw’s!”
“And...” Hollypaw continued. “I think my brother and sister’s scent too.”
Jay leaped to her paws, her fur puffed out, claws unsheathing and teeth bared. Although she could not see the attacking warriors, she their reeking scents wrapped around her. She gagged as she breathed in a mouthful of their rotting, dead smell. Beside her she could hear Bolta choking on the disgusting smells of the intruders as well. Then it happened.
A battle cry rose from an attacking cat’s throat and soon warriors were hurtling themselves at Jay. She struggled, trying to force them off of her but it was hard. She couldn’t see them. The warrior that was on top of Jay was snarling and in an instant Jay knew it was over. She squeezed her eyes shut. The warrior was lunging towards her neck... She expected blinding pain, the scent of blood and the triumphant yowls of the Dark Forest cats. But it didn’t come. Confused, Jay opened her eyes and gave a startled cry. She could see! She could see the trees that surrounded the clearing, the grass beneath her paws and the battling warriors in front of her. But to her surprise, it wasn’t just Bolta fighting against The Dark Forest cats. There were other cats, cats with stars that danced and shimmered in their fur that were driving The Dark Forest warriors backwards. Amongst them, she spotted Jayfeather, the grey tom who had visited her dreams so many times. He was fighting fiercest of all, slashing any warrior within claws reach. Then finally, the cats of The Dark Forest turned and disappeared. Jay stared at the starry cats before approaching them. They had got ridden of The Dark Forest warriors. They were on their side.
“Hello, Jay,” Jayfeather mewed, approaching the small she-cat. Jay felt a purr rise in her throat. She had finally met him. The cat that had walked in her dreams so many times. The cat that knew what it was like to be blind.
“How can I see you?” Jay suddenly wondered, looking questionably at Jayfeather.
“Because I’m not really here,” Jayfeather replied. “I’m dead.” Jay jumped back, startled. She gazed around at the other starry cats.
“Are they dead too?” she asked. But it wasn’t Jayfeather that answered. It was a shockingly handsome golden tabby tom. Jay stared at him, unable to believe her eyes.
“Yes,” the tom mewed. Jay just gawped at him, staring at his clear amber eyes. “I’m Lionblaze by the way.” Then something hit Jay. This cat was dead... She didn’t know if it was just tiredness or of the sudden realisation that this Lionblaze wasn’t real. All she knew was that she suddenly felt a surge of grief.
“You must get some sleep,” Jayfeather mewed, looking slightly disappointed that Jay’s eyes were fixed on Lionblaze. “You have a long journey ahead of you.” Jay nodded, tearing her gaze from Lionblaze. She brushed past Jayfeather and curled up under the same overhanging as before. Sleep hit her like a black wave.
It was dawn when she woke. She could hear the birds singing and smell the lovely smell of dewy grass. Bolta lay beside her. She was awake too. Jay could sense it.
“Morning,” Bolta yawned. “Sleep well?”
“Yes,” Jay mewed dreamily. “Very well.” Bolta shifted and got to her paws.
“Hungry?” she asked. Jay shook her head. Bolta nodded. “Well, let’s go.” Jay got up to and followed Bolta to the edge of the clearing. Memories of last night came tumbling back and Jay shuddered. She forced herself forwards and followed Bolta through the forest and across the grassy strip. They plunged into more forest; not speaking a word to one another. They trekked onwards. Soon they came to the edge of the forest. Beyond that was a river, full to the brim.
“Let’s hunt,” Bolta declared. Glad of something to do apart from walking, Jay dropped down into a hunter’s crouch. The mouth-watering scent of mouse came from beside the river bank. She stalked forwards, as quietly as possible, before leaping onto the mouse. Before it could squeak or struggle free, Jay bit it. She ate the mouse there, wolfing it down in two ravenous bites. She hadn’t realised how starving she was. But the mouse had filled her up for now. Jay looked up and heard Bolta coming from the forest, and imagined the remains of prey all around her mouth. Jay followed Bolta down the river bank. The black she-cat obviously knew where she was going.
They walked and hunted until nightfall. Jay could scent huge amounts of water ahead and knew that they were almost there. She was about to leap forwards when Bolta put her tail out to stop her.
“We’ll sleep here,” she declared. “And won’t go anywhere until dawn.” Jay did as she was told without questioning and followed Bolta to a sheltered bramble bush. She curled up together, grey fur mixing with black, and very soon Jay was fast asleep.
“Jay,” Bolta’s voice sounded very far away. “Jay, wake up!” Blinking open her eyes, she stared at the usual darkness ahead of her. Bolta’s scent was wrapped around her along with the scent of bramble berries and water. Getting wearily to her paws, Jay turned to the spot where she knew Bolta was standing.
“What now?” she asked. “Where will we go?” Bolta turned around. Jay scented a pine forest up ahead.
“This way,” she mewed. Jay stared around her. She could scent an even stronger scented forest behind them. It smelt of darkness and pine. She didn’t want to go in there. Across the lake she could scent a watery smell with a tang of fish. Fish... Jay had never tried fish. Along from there she could scent open smells of, heather, dirt and springy grass. Jay decided Bolta had made the right decision. The scents up ahead were the most welcoming smells. She stayed close to Bolta, making sure their fur brushed and moved further into the unfamiliar territory. They walked for only a short while until they came to a stream. Bolta moved further upstream, Jay by her side.
“There are stepping stones here,” she told Jay. “I’ll go first and check if they are safe or not.” Jay waited. She could hear the slap of Bolta’s paws as they hit the wet stone. “Its fine,” Bolta called. “The stream isn’t very deep if you fall and the water isn’t running fast.” Jay approached the stones nervously. She squeezed her eyes shut and placed a paw onto one of the wet stones. Heart beating fast, she took another step forwards. Then another. Soon she felt lush grass underneath her paws and smelt a leafy smell in the air. Bolta wrapped her tail around Jay’s neck and they moved further into the forest. With a jolt Jay realised there was a strong cat smell around here and as she stepped forwards, her paw fell into a paw print in the ground. Bolta seemed wary but not nervous. She took Jay to where the cat smell was strongest and soon she felt thorns rake through her pelt. Then yowls sounded from all around.
“Don’t move a paw!”
“We’ll turn you into crow-food!”
Bolta felt every hair on her pelt bristle as she stared into the eyes of ten hostile cats. Her claws glinted in the sunlight and her lips curled into the beginnings of a snarl. The warriors were moving forwards. If they set a claw on Jay she would fight. She would tear these cats apart. Then to her utter astonishment a pale ginger she-cat leaped through the crowd of warriors and stood protecting them. If it hadn’t been for her holly-leaf green eyes, Bolta would have thought it had been Flora. Two other cats leaped forwards to stand facing the approaching warriors. One was a hauntingly familiar dark ginger she-cat, the other a rusty brown coloured tom. Soon two grey cats joined them.
“What’s going on?” boomed a voice above the snarls and growls. Bolta looked up to see a golden tom emerge out of a cave and onto an overhanging rock. His dark eyes swept across the cats below him, taking everything in.
He must be their leader.
“There are rogues in our camp!” called a grey tom with a black tail.
“Those mouse-brains are trying to protect them!” hissed a brown tabby tom. Bolta narrowed her amber eyes narrowing to furious slits.
“We are here you know,” she hissed pushing past the cats protecting her. “And we aren’t rogues.” She stared up at the tom on top of the ledge. “We’re looking for a cat. Three cats actually.” The golden leader glared at his warriors.
“And which cats are you looking for?” he growled.
“Holly,” Bolta meowed. “Flora and Finn.”
“Flora and Finn are no longer ThunderClan cats,” snapped the leader. Before he could say more the pale ginger she-cat that looked almost exactly like Flora stepped forwards.
“I’m Holly,” she mewed. “Well, Hollypaw really.” Bolta stared at the she-cat for a moment.
“Well you need to come with us,” she announced. Hollypaw’s green eyes widened for a moment but then she nodded.
“I know,” she meowed, stepping forwards so that her fur brushed Bolta’s. She added in a whisper that only Bolta could hear, “You’re Bolta aren’t you.” Bolta nodded. This cat definitely was Holly.
“If you’re going,” mewed the dark furred ginger she-cat. “Then I think your mentors should come as well.” She stepped forwards with the rusty tom by her side. Soon the only cats that weren’t by Bolta, Hollypaw and Jay were a grey tom, a brown tabby tom, a black tom and a brown tom. The golden leader was glaring at the cats gathered around Bolta, Jay and Hollypaw.
“Well great,” he snarled. “My Clan is full of traitors.” His voice dropped claws glinted and dark eyes gleamed menacingly. “You do realise that if you go, you can’t come back.” No cat moved except for a little black and white she-cat.
“Why would we want to come back?” she hissed boldly. “When our leader is evil.” The golden tom roared in rage.
“How dare you?” he yowled. “Silentspirit, Darkstorm, Mossclaw, Forestfall and Blackpaw, over here!” The cats that were still on their leader’s side leaped up onto the overhanging ledge and followed him into the cave. Bolta turned to the cats around her.
“Let’s go somewhere were no cat can overhear,” she meowed. “Do you know of a place?”
“Yes,” mewed the dark ginger she-cat. “And we know where you can find Flora.” Bolta eyes widened in surprise.
“Where?” she demanded.
“She’s in ShadowClan,” answered a dark grey tom. “She’s calling herself Windwhisker.” Bolta began to walk forwards through the thorn-tunnel.
“Take me there,” she meowed. The following cats exchanged glances.
“I think only four of us should go,” mewed a small white she-cat.
“I agree with Icepool,” meowed an elderly ginger she-cat.
“Then it should be Hollypaw, Nightfall,” the dark ginger she-cat flicked her tail towards Jay and Bolta. “And both of you.” Bolta nodded. “When you get back we’ll be at Sky Oak,” the she-cat told her. She began to lead the rest of the cat’s forwards and Bolta watched until they disappeared from sight.
“Come on,” meowed the grey tom Bolta took to be Nightfall. She followed him forwards, making sure Jay was right next to her. They trekked forwards. Bolta wasn’t taking in anything around her. All she wanted was to be safely with her daughter, even if they could find Finn.
“We’re here,” Nightfall announced. They had come to a halt at a small sheltered clearing. “You lot stay here. I’ll go and get her.” Bolta flicked her tail impatiently and sat between Jay and Hollypaw. She gazed out into the dark pine trees, drinking in their scents and wishing time would speed up. It seemed like an age before Nightfall reappeared with a beautiful pale ginger tabby with the loveliest golden eyes. She was purring, her tail twining with Nightfall’s. Hollypaw was looking up, suddenly alert. Then she was purring too.
“Hello mother,” she mewed quietly, green eyes glowing. Flora and Bolta’s heads snapped up at the exact same moment. Mother?
“Hollypaw,” Flora breathed. She rushed forwards, lapping Hollypaw’s pale ginger fur. Jay and Bolta watched, sitting side by side with their fur brushing.
“They look happy,” Jay whispered. Bolta could see her eyes glowing, but not of happiness. She must have been thinking of her own mother.
“We’ll go back soon,” Bolta promised. Jay nodded.
“I know that,” she murmured, sighing. “I just wish Spike and Cleo could have come too.” Bolta pressed closer to Jay, and began to groom her tangled grey fur. They sat there until late afternoon when Bolta’s belly began to grumble. She pulled away from Jay and, dropping into a hunter’s crouch, she scented the air.
“Hello.” With a jolt Bolta sprang back up and turned to face the four cats in front of her. The others tensed, getting ready for battle. But it never came.
“Foxwhisker, Yewtail, Elderflower and Honeypaw,” Flora meowed. “What are you doing here?” A bright ginger she-cat narrowed her dark golden eyes.
“Are you saying we aren’t allowed to step out of our camp into our territory?” she demanded. Then her tone softened, “No. We wanted to come with you.” Nightfall nodded, and flicked his tail for them to follow.
“The other’s are waiting,” he meowed.
Hollypaw ate side by side with Nightfall and Flora. A full moon was floating high in the sky. Hollypaw watched it, surprised that it was glowing just as brightly as ever. Then she glanced around for her sister’s white fur. Her eyes scanned the crowd of ThunderClan and ShadowClan cats again and again but she couldn’t see any white fur. With a jolt Hollypaw realized Snowpaw wasn’t here.
“I wonder if any cats will go to the Gathering tonight,” meowed Nightfall, apparently unaware that his second daughter wasn’t here.
“I think Lightstar will go,” Flora mewed. “She wouldn’t miss one for all the prey in the world.” Then a sudden idea struck Hollypaw.
“Can we go?” she asked. “Just a few of us, I mean.” Nightfall eyed her thoughtfully.
“I think that would be a great idea,” he meowed. Raising his voice he yowled, “I think we should go to the Gathering tonight!” Mews of agreement rose from the cats around them.
“Rowanberry, Seedwhisker, Nightfall, Foxwhisker, Bolta, Jay and Hollypaw should go,” Robinsong yowled. No cat argued. Hollypaw knew Robinsong had almost made ThunderClan deputy so was considered a very high up warrior. She was proud to be his apprentice. “And if you’re going, you should go now.” Hollypaw leaped to her paws and followed Nightfall to the crowd of chosen cats. They began to move immediately. Hollypaw soon fell into step with Rowanberry.
“Snowpaw didn’t come with us,” she whispered. Rowanberry’s eyes widened.
“She didn’t?” she demanded. “I thought you and Snowpaw did everything together!” Hollypaw felt her fur grow hot.
“Well I had been avoiding her lately,” she confessed. “Because she keeps hanging around Blackpaw.”
“That’s no reason to avoid her,” Rowanberry meowed. But she fell silent as they approached the island. As quietly as possible, the Gathering cats slid along the fall log and onto the island. They crept forwards and hid in a tangled mass of bramble bushes, peeking out at the two leaders on the branches of the twisted tree.
“DeathClan will rule the lake!” Lionstar was yowling, his fierce eyes glowing. For the first time Hollypaw noticed the colour of his eyes. They were blood red.
“But who will be our leader?” demanded a cat. Hollypaw felt her heart skip a beat as she recognized Snowpaw.
“I will of course!” Lionstar declared, his claws ripping at the branch he was sitting on.
“No,” Lightstar climbed down the tree so that she was on the same branch as Lionstar. Hollypaw saw a flash of claws and Lionstar fell to the ground. Her stomach lurched. Her eyes were fixed to the spot where Lionstar lay. She kept expecting him to stir but she knew he wouldn’t. Lightstar had murdered at a Gathering night. She glanced up at the moon and felt her eyes widen in horror and her fur bristle. The moon had turned scarlet and appeared to be dripping with blood. Hollypaw heard the cats around her give terrified cries. Foxwhisker had begun to back away, her dark golden eyes round and scared.
But Hollypaw couldn’t move. Her eyes were now fixed on Lightstar. Her claws glinted red but apart from that there seemed to be not even the tiniest drop of blood on her pale fur. She glared out at her DeathClan warriors.
“And that’s what will happen to you if you dare try to run away,” she snarled. “That’s what will happen if you try to take my place as leader.” Then her voice softened slightly as she looked out at her cats. “Silentspirit will be my deputy! And Cinderfur my medicine cat!” Hollypaw stared. Cinderfur! The ancient grey she-cat sat at the back of the gathered cats. Her eyes drooped and she seemed to have no idea what was going on. She didn’t even look up as Lightstar called her name.
“What about Darkpool?” asked Blackpaw.
“He was a traitor!” Lightstar growled and turned around. “The Gathering is over!” Without waiting for a response, Lightstar leaped off of the branch, bounced off of Lionstar’s body and led her Clan away.
Hollypaw stared at the spot where Lightstar had disappeared. Snowpaw is in DeathClan... Sighing tiredly, Hollypaw crawled out from under the bramble thicket. Her Clanmates had fled. Careful not to be seen or heard, Hollypaw slid along the fallen tree and off of the island. Head down and tail drooping she walked through WindClan territory. It was a cold night and the wind ruffled her fur. She didn’t know exactly where she was going or what she was doing. Her paws where leading her. There was a rustle in a heather bush beside her and Hollypaw jumped a tail-length. Two cats stepped out. They weren’t showing any signs of hostility, just curiosity.
“I’m Thicket,” meowed a scrawny tom. “And that’s Maia. I didn’t know any other WindClan cats survived.” Hollypaw blinked in surprise.
“I’m not... Well my father is...” Hollypaw stammered, looking at the two new cats. Thicket was a brown flecked tom and Maia was a muddy brown colour. They looked very alike; definitely brother and sister.
“It’s okay,” mewed Maia. She stepped forwards so that they’re fur brushed lightly.
“Well,” Hollypaw meowed. “I have to get back to my Clanmates.” Maia’s eyes widened in surprise.
“There are still Clans left?” she asked.
“DeathClan and the Clan cats that don’t belong to DeathClan,” Hollypaw meowed. “And I’m not a DeathClan cat.” Maia nodded.
“I kind of figured,” she mewed.
“You don’t have a name?” Thicket asked. Hollypaw shook her head and turned to leave.
“Well, bye,” she meowed. But Maia and Thicket didn’t leave her sides. Together they walked through WindClan territory and back into ThunderClan. Hollypaw was glad of their company as she padded out of the forest and into the reddish gloom. Her Clanmates were hiding either in the hollow trunk of Sky Oak or in the bramble bushes and undergrowth that surrounded the clearing. Hollypaw beckoned with her tail for Thicket and Maia to join her and ducked into a holly bush. She made the leaves into a nest and curled up beside the two WindClan cats. Hollypaw listened as their breathing gradually became slower and peaceful. Her eyelids were beginning to droop but she didn’t want to sleep. Not just yet.
StarClan, if you’re watching now, please keep Snowpaw safe. Please don’t let Lightstar do to her as she had done to Lionstar.
Warmth and sunshine greeted Jay the next day as she pulled out of the bramble bush. She stretched luxouriously, feeling the sun scorch her blue-grey fur. All around her were the scents of cats and it was hard to pick out the ones she knew. It was very confusing trying to pick out Bolta’s smell but at last she found her sitting side by side with Flora and Nightfall.
“Hello, Jay,” purred Flora, beckoning her closer. “I was just telling Bolta the good news.” Jay glanced at Bolta, confused.
“Flora is going to have kits,” Bolta told her.
“Congratulations!” mewed Jay enthusiastically.
“We were just thinking up some names,” she meowed. “They’ll be born some time next moon.”
“We’ve thought of Summerkit, Songkit, Willowkit and Olivekit for she-cats,” Bolta went on. “And Sootkit, Thymekit, Moonkit and Riverkit for toms.”
“That’s fantastic!” Jay mewed distractedly. She turned away from Bolta and Flora and heard Nightfall get up too. Scenting the air she picked out Hollypaw’s smell. Jay dodged the other cats and approached Hollypaw. She imagined the pale ginger she-cat lying on the lush grass, her holly-leaf green eyes staring up at the sky. “Hey,” Jay greeted her. “I was looking everywhere for you last night. You know the DeathClan cats are sleeping in that stone hollow.” Hollypaw’s head snapped up. The sudden movement startled Jay and she backed away a couple of steps.
“Did you see Snowpaw?” she demanded. Jay didn’t answer. She turned her head towards Hollypaw. Or where she though Hollypaw was. It was confusing with all the other cats walking about. “You’re blind,” Hollypaw whispered. “I’m sorry. I never noticed.” Jay nodded.
“Not many cats do,” she mewed. “Only you, Bolta and Rory know.”
“Rory?” asked Hollypaw. Jay sighed, remembering Tawny, Aidan, Cleo and Spike. It seemed like moons since she had last seen her family. Jay glanced sideward’s towards where Bolta sat. Is she missing Lido? Jay imagined Bolta and Lido sitting beside each other. She knew Lido was black and white with golden eyes. “Jay?” Jay jumped.
“Bolta isn’t my mother,” she meowed. “I left my family back home when I came looking for Flora and Finn. Tawny and Aidan are my mother and father and Cleo and Spike are my sister and brother.” Hollypaw nodded.
“You must miss them lots,” she meowed. “I know I miss Snowpaw.” So Snowpaw is her sister. Jay closed her eyes, letting the sun warm her fur. It was a nice change from snow, rain and wind. Wind... Purring slightly, Jay thought of howling storms and listened as the cats around her gave startled cries. She made the wind calm again.
“You can do that?” Hollypaw cried. “I can do this!” Jay strained her ears, listening. There was a crack or thunder and the bramble bush beside Jay caught fire. Crying out in shock, Jay leapt back, fur on end.
“Make it stop!” she yowled. She listened again but the fire roared on. Hollypaw was hissing in frustration.
“I can’t!” she cried.
“Let me past!” a new voice shouted over the frightened yowls of the other cats. Bolta shouldered her way past Jay. Suddenly the flames hissed and died. The scents of smoke and water were both heavy in the air. Bolta had made it rain! But she was confused. She hadn’t felt any rain land on her fur. Had she just made it rain over the fire? The watching Clan cats tried to run and soon Jay felt herself being trampled over by hundreds of paws. At last, when they were all safely hidden, Jay was alone with Hollypaw and Bolta.
“Water, fire, and wind,” she breathed. “It’s just as Jayfeather said. StarClan have made even more powerful cats.”
“Three will come again; the bright-eyed Jay, the prickly Holly and the brave Bolta,” Hollypaw recited. Jay rested her gaze on Bolta, feeling slightly hurt that she hadn’t been able to trust her.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bolta demanded. Jay nodded. She hadn’t trusted Bolta either. She hadn’t trusted her not to keep quiet. But that had been stupid. After all Bolta had never told any cat of her blindness.
“Well we all know now,” mewed Hollypaw fairly. “All we have to do is figure out what we have to do.” Jay nodded. That couldn’t be that hard. Could it?
Then an idea struck her right out of the blue. She sniffed, keeping her nose to the ground until she found a small stone. Resting her gaze on it and concentrating as hard as she could, Jay imagined it being lifted up into the air. Her hold body seemed to tremble as she concentrated. Up. Up... There was a huge gust of wind and the stone was lifted high off of the ground. Purring, Jay let it back down.
“Wow,” Hollypaw meowed. “That’s well... Wow!”
“I wonder...” Bolta’s voice trailed off and Hollypaw and Jay followed her to the edge of the lake. Jay wished she could see but all she could do was listen. She waited. Nothing happened. Well, nothing that she could hear... Then Hollypaw gave a gasp of surprise and Jay heard a crack. She stepped closer to the water and touched her nose to it. It was cold. Icy cold... Bolta had made the water freeze!
“Wait,” purred Hollypaw. Jay leapt back from the lake. The water that had been so cold a moment ago was now hot as fire. Steam was coming from the lake making Jay hot and confused. She backed away and made the wind blow the steam towards the other side of the lake.
“That was great!” Jay mewed. “Now we all know what we can do!”
“But what do we do with these powers?” wondered Hollypaw. “Why have StarClan given us them?” Why had StarClan given them these powers? Why would they want cats so powerful? They could destroy all the Clans and probably every other living cat.
“StarClan gave us these powers,” Bolta meowed slowly. “Because they want us to destroy The Dark Forest.” Hollypaw gasped and Jay’s head snapped up.
“The Dark Forest?” Hollypaw demanded. “But isn’t that dangerous? Any anyway, aren’t the cats of The Dark Forest dead? How can they hurt us?”
“StarClan have already killed cats with these stupid prophecies,” Bolta hissed. “I’m not helping.” Jay narrowed her eyes at the black she-cat. She couldn’t say that!
“You are helping,” she meowed firmly. “All three of us are. If we don’t, more than three cats will die.” That was true. She had already witnessed Lionstar’s death. If there were more Lightstar’s wondering around then they were all in trouble...
Bolta sat side by side with Hollypaw and Jay. The sun was setting and finally the Clan cats had begun to venture from their hiding places. Jay flicked her ears in annoyance. Bolta could tell that she wanted to say more.
“We should probably go now,” Hollypaw murmured. “Nobody will notice us.” Bolta and Jay nodded in agreement and they all got to their paws. It was easy to slip away without any cat noticing. Once they were in the forest they could at last talk without fear of being overheard.
“Do you really think StarClan will come to us if we go to this place?” Jay asked.
“Yes,” Hollypaw meowed confidently. “It’s were the medicine cats go.” Bolta said nothing. She didn’t want to `share tongues` with StarClan. She didn’t want to have anything to do with these stupid dead cats. All she wanted was to live a normal life with Flora and Finn... They made their through the forest, avoiding the stone hollow and keeping to the trees. Bolta let herself fall behind Hollypaw and Jay, only half-listening to their conversation. It was dark now and the moon was casting a reddish glow over the forest. She felt the hair rise on the back of her neck. Did this mean that they had the right idea? Or did it mean that DeathClan had the right idea? They quickened their pace and veered out of the forest. Her claws slid out. The scarlet light was almost blinding without the cover of trees. They had begun to run, leaping over a silver shimmering stream and scrabbling up a twisting rocky path. At last Bolta saw it. A small sandy clearing with gorse bushes sheltering it from the wind. In the centre of the clearing was a pool of silvery water. Definitely not ordinary water. It shimmered and sparkled with stars, the wind didn’t seem able to touch it and nor did the blood-red moon.
Instinctively, Bolta moved forwards. Something was pulling her closer. Closer... Something was moving her paws and making her crouch by the water’s edge. Something made her lap the silver liquid. It was if icy water was trickling down her spine. Bolta tried to pull away. Struggling and struggling... But that made it hurt worst. She relaxed and felt a wave of calmness rush through her. Unnatural calmness... Suddenly it was peaceful. The wind had stopped, Jay and Hollypaw were asleep by the edge of the pool and to her utter astonishment the moon was no longer red. But what made Bolta panic was that it wasn’t just the three of them in the clearing. Four starry cats sat in front of her. She recognized Jayfeather at one. He sat at the front beside a flat-faced she-cat with long matted grey fur. Behind them sat a blue-grey she-cat and a pretty tortoiseshell she-cat. Bolta stared. They weren’t attacking. That meant... StarClan had come to her?
“Hello Bolta,” meowed the ragged grey she-cat. It was StarClan...
“You can’t back out,” Jayfeather meowed. “You’re the most powerful of all. We need you to save them.” Bolta just stared.
Why should she? The Clans had nothing to do with her.
But cats are dying... You saw what happened to Lionstar...
“Our families are dying, Bolta,” Jayfeather meowed.
“You can’t back out,” the ragged she-cat meowed. “You’re the most powerful of the three.”
I can back out, Bolta held her tongue. I want nothing to do with the Clans.
But if you back out then more cats will die. You saw what happened to Lionstar...
Bolta almost jumped a tail-length. Those weren’t her thoughts. She wasn’t thinking that!
“Think what it’s like for us,” the tortoiseshell she-cat mewed softly. “Watching our families die without being able to do anything.” Bolta sighed. She could imagine herself watching Finn and Flora die with her paws glued to the ground. It would be torture.
“You have to work together,” the blue grey she-cat told Bolta. “Otherwise you will fail. You will need fire, water and wind all through your journey.”
“Okay, okay,” Bolta meowed. “I won’t back out. Just tell me what you want us to do.”
“What do we have to do?” Hollypaw asked. Brambleclaw, Leafpool and Lionblaze had come to her. They exchanged glances.
“Well,” Brambleclaw meowed. “First we’ll have to tell you what happened to WindClan and RiverClan.” Leafpool drew in a long breath.
“It happened first to WindClan six moons ago,” she began. “It was dark. An ordinary day in WindClan. A few warriors were still sharing tongues or fresh-kill. Meanwhile over by horse-place was the original DeathClan.” Hollypaw cocked her head to one side.
“Original?” she echoed.
“Yes original,” Lionblaze meowed. “Their leader Death wanted to rule all of the Clans. He told his warriors to attack the weakest Clan first. So they crept over the hill, keeping to the shadows. When they got to the WindClan camp they told the warriors that they could either join DeathClan or die. A few cats fled, a few gave in and joined but the remaining warriors were murdered by Death himself.
They did the same to RiverClan but because most of the DeathClan cats had fled, most RiverClan warriors escaped. Death was furious.”
“He killed most of his warriors in his rage and went next to ShadowClan,” Leafpool continued. “But the only cat awake was Lightstar.” Hollypaw hissed.
“I bet she killed him,” she spat. “I bet she killed him like she killed Lionstar.”
“Lightstar is a good cat,” Brambleclaw meowed quietly. “But she is scared. Fear makes cats do awful things. But she didn’t kill him. She said that she’d finish of ThunderClan if Death left her warriors alone. But when most of ThunderClan went away, it didn’t go quite according to plan. So Lightstar decided to make another DeathClan to destroy the first DeathClan. When Lionstar said he’d be leader she had to kill him. He didn’t know what she was planning.” Hollypaw gasped. She stared wide-eyed at the three starry warriors.
“So we have to fight the first DeathClan,” she meowed after a moment. “Well, that can’t be too difficult.” Leafpool, Brambleclaw and Lionblaze exchanged guilty looks. What aren’t you telling me? Hollypaw wondered.
“The thing is,” Lionblaze meowed. “DeathClan are already dead.” Hollypaw was now completely lost.
“Then how could Death kill his warriors?” she asked.
“Because Death knows how,” Brambleclaw told her. “Death is the leader of The Dark Forest.” Hollypaw stumbled backwards. She couldn’t help it. Her paw lashed out, and ripped through Brambleclaw’s brown tabby fur. Her eyes widened and she tried to stop herself. But it was impossible. It was if something was controlling her, making lash out ripping and tearing at the StarClan warriors. The StarClan cats were backing away, almost as horrified as Hollypaw. Hollypaw tried to back away too but she couldn’t. She struggled and struggled. I’m waking up, she told herself fiercely. I’m waking up before I hurt more cats.
But the other her other half kept fighting and slashing the air. It wasn’t until Leafpool, Brambleclaw and Lionblaze had disappeared until she finally opened her eyes.
She gulped in air, panting as if she had been underwater for too long. Then to her horror she figured she was drenched. But not it water. She was drenched in blood... Scrabbling to her paws, Hollypaw ran down the rocky path and leaped into the stream at the bottom. She didn’t care that it was as icy cold as the Moonpool water or that she was being swept further and further down the stream. She only stepped out when her fur was back to its normal pale ginger colour. Shaking drops of water from her pelt, Hollypaw tried to calm herself. Her heart was beating so hard she thought it might explode.
Hollypaw turned around to see Jay standing at the base of the winding rock path. Her eyes were just as wide as Hollypaw’s. Well she couldn’t have possibly seen what Hollypaw had been covered in. But had she scented it? Hollypaw took a calming breath and faced Jay confidently.
“What is it?” she asked. She froze as she saw the fur along Jay’s back ripple.
“I can smell it Hollypaw,” she growled. “The scent of blood is heavy in the air. Turn around.” Hollypaw gasped. Every hair on her pelt bristled, her claws unsheathed and she stood frozen on the spot and staring into the stream. It made it look even spookier with the red moon glowing down onto it. Hollypaw gaped at it for a while and then turned away from the stream of blood.
“It’s... horrible... red stream,” Hollypaw stammered. Then her voice broke and came out in a wail. “It’s all my fault!” Jay’s fur laid flat and she approached Hollypaw cautiously.
“How can that be your fault?” she asked nervously.
“I was covered in it when I woke up,” she cried. Her breathing was ragged and she stared guiltily into Jay’s blue eyes.
They weren’t judging or accusing. If anything they were sympathetic.
“Yes but what happened before that?” Jay mewed with strange calmness. Hollypaw took deep gulping breaths. She forced her claws to unsheathe and her fur to lie flat. Closing her eyes, she stepped closer to Jay.
“Well there was a moment,” she began, her voice barley a whisper. “When I couldn’t control myself. It was if something was in my mind, making me fight the StarClan warriors...” She had expected Jay to gasp or hiss but the grey tabby said nothing.
“Don’t let them come in your head,” she meowed. “Imagine a wall of thorns, too strong for any cat to push or climb over and no gaps for it to climb through. Try it.”
Think, think, think... Block me out...
Hollypaw stared in Jay in confusion. Those weren’t her thoughts! She began to think desperately. But she didn’t think of thorns like Jay had suggested, she thought of a wall of fire. Fire was much stronger than thorns. To her surprise it worked. Jay’s eyes glowed.
“You’re a natural!” she mewed. “You’re fantastic!”
“But how did you do that?” Hollypaw demanded. “How did you know?”
“Before The Dark Forest came they tried to attack my mind,” Jay explained. “But I’ve practiced blocking my mind to other cats.” Hollypaw nodded, feeling better. Know if anything tried to control her again she could block it out with the wall of fire. She knew it would work. What she wanted to do know was rip The Dark Forest apart. To save her family. To save Flora and Nightfall and of course Snowpaw. Then maybe after that she could track down her other brother and sister.
Bolta led the Clan cats with Hollypaw and Lightstar at her side. Jay was lagging behind, her gaze flickering to the black tom. Trying to ignore her, Bolta plunged further into the forest. They weren’t far from the stone hollow now. Her paws slipped and stumbled on the leaf-strewn ground and she stumbled over fallen logs. They turned a sharp corner before finally coming to a halt at the thorn-tunnel. Lightstar took the lead, Bolta second and Hollypaw third. Bolta flinched as the thorns dragged through her fur but it was soon over. She was in the stone hollow with the sandy ground and the towering cliff walls.
“All cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here for a Clan meeting!” Lightstar yowled, clambering up onto a high ledge. Her Clan gathered instantly, leaping from bushes, hollow logs and bramble thickets. They stared curiously at Bolta and the others but none of them moved a claw. They’re all terrified of Lightstar, Bolta realised. They all saw what happened to Lionstar...
“We’ll be going to the Moonpool,” Lightstar announced. “There is no time to ask questions. Just do as your group leader tells you.” The DeathClan exchanged confused glances. “Your group leaders will be Jay, Bolta, Hollypaw and me. Hollypaw, Jay and Bolta, would you line up here for me.” Bolta stepped forwards and sat down a little apart from Jay and Hollypaw. Lightstar began to call out names and soon Bolta had a mixed group of well-muscled warriors behind her. She stifled a purr of amusement as she saw that Jay had the tom, Blackpaw in her group.
“Jay,” Lightstar yowled. “You take your group to the Moonpool now. The rest of us will follow.” Bolta watched Jay lead her group back out of the hollow. She then sat and stared at her own group. She recognized a few cats like, Foxwhisker, Robinsong, Silentspirit and Inkpaw. The rest were strangers to her.
A wet summer’s breeze stayed heavy in the air. Why has it so wet? But as soon as she asked her question was answered. Gasping, Bolta backed away. A huge wave of water had begun to gush down one of the cliff walls. Most of the other cats had noticed and had begun to make their way to the thorn-tunnel. The wave loomed up above Bolta’s head for a stretched out second before came crashing down onto her.
Water soaked through her fur in an instant, weighing her down beneath the water. It choked her, filling her ears and making her eyes sting. Bolta struggled, kicking her legs ferociously. At last her head broke the surface and she managed to get a few gulps of breath before being pulled under again. It happened again and again but finally Bolta managed to swim with her head above the water. Around her she could see other cats struggling to keep their heads above the surface. But one cat in particular caught her eye. It was a ginger kit that was being pulled by the current and was coughing and choking feebly. Bolta kicked her way over to it and grasped the scruff of its neck in her jaws. I have to get this cat to safety! That’s all Bolta thought of as she swam determinedly towards the place where the thorn-tunnel was. Water was already gushing through the hole. Bolta ducked back under the water and quickly through the thorn-tunnel.
She tumbled onto the shallow stream that was running down the forest on the other side. The ginger kit coughed and spluttered, its tiny sides heaving. Bolta laid it on its back on the dry ground. She began to rub its belly.
“Starkit!” Bolta’s head snapped up. A pale she-cat was stumbling over to a tree-stump. “Starkit!” the she-cat shrieked again. Bolta looked down at the small kit beside her.
“Over here!” she yowled. The grey queen streaked in a bee-line to her. Her soft blue eyes became pools as she saw the tiny bundle of drenched ginger fur.
“Oh, Starkit,” she whispered.
“He’s still breathing,” Bolta murmured. But as she looked down at Starkit she saw that the breaths were slower. Its tiny blue eyes drooping as its body began to shut down. The queen dropped to the ground beside her son. She began to lap Starkit’s fur.
“I’m here,” the queen murmured, her voice barely a whisper. “I’m here, Starkit.”
“Mum!!” a tiny voice cried. “Where are you?” Bolta turned to see a small grey kit make his way over to Starkit. “Mummy what’s wrong with Starkit. Why is he sleeping?” Bolta felt her heart ache for the small family. The pale queen looked up at her other son with eyes like watery pools. She seemed unable to speak.
“You’re brother is on his way to StarClan,” Bolta whispered. The grey tom let out a devastated cry and fell to the ground beside his brother.
“Don’t go Starkit!” he wailed. “I’ll be so lonely without you!” Bolta began to creep away. She made her way over to Hollypaw who looked just as drenched as Starkit and was shivering furiously.
“Are you okay?” Bolta demanded. Hollypaw couldn’t end up like Starkit. She couldn’t! Hollypaw gave a shaky nod.
“I just didn’t expect it,” she whispered. Her holly-leaf green eyes were wide and scared and then suddenly unfocused. What was happening to her? Soon the cloudiness left her eyes and they seemed to stretch even wider.
“Jay!” she cried. “Their losing!” Bolta jumped. She had forgotten all about JayClan!
“Any cat who is able!” she yowled at the top of her voice. “Get up and reform your group! We have to go and now!” There was a huge scurry as cats struggled to find their group leaders but soon they were racing towards the Moonpool. Bolta stumbled and slipped as she led every cat forwards. She was running faster then she had ever run in her life. They bounded across edge of the hills and very soon they came to the Moonpool stream. It was still running red with blood. Bolta leaped over it. Not waiting for the others she launched herself up the winding rock path. Her claws scrabbled in her rush to get to Jay in time. The others were close behind but she didn’t ever glance back. But when she came to the top she was frozen to the spot.
Cats ran in every direction. The sand was already splattered with blood and nasty wails and cries came from everywhere. Bolta gawped as she saw Flora. Her neck was scraped at either side so that it looked like she had gills. Her sides were red and tail covered in bite marks. But she struggled on, fighting like the whole of LionClan. It looked as if she were dancing as she weaved between battling cats and scraped or bit the occasional Dark Forest cat. On either side of her, her clanmates began to appear. They all stopped and stared.
Hollypaw launched herself into battle. She gripped onto the nearest Dark Forest warrior she could find. Soon they were locked together, hissing and spitting and rolling over and over, knocking into other battling cats. As soon as she got the chance, Hollypaw slashed at its eyes. The cat roared and struggled free, stumbling blindly into the Moonpool. Hollypaw waited for the splash that never came. She turned to see that he had disappeared. This could be easier than we thought. She fought her way towards Lightstar. Her pale fur and golden stripes stood out amongst the crowd.
“Drive them into the Moonpool!” she cried. Hollypaw saw her nod in acknowledgement before she was knocked to the ground. A tabby tom with eyes like chips of ice tore at her belly fur. Hollypaw howled in pain and knocked him off. Her claws raked his sides and face. She bit his neck and watched in satisfaction as blood welled around the two teeth marks. But she knew that couldn’t kill him. So she clamped his tail in her mouth and heaved him into the Moonpool. He faded into nothingness. Two down about a million to go. She turned at a howl of pain. It was Blackpaw. There was a scar across his face and blood was welling up in his eye. Hollypaw struggled towards him but Jay got there first. Hollypaw gawped as she watched Jay tear at the warrior that had hurt Blackpaw. Jay’s claws slashed and ripped and tore. She bit him while whacking him with her back legs.
“Jay!” Hollypaw cried. “Jay, you’re getting carried away!” Hollypaw leaped over and pushed Jay off of the warrior. “The warrior code says we never kill a warrior.” Hollypaw clamped the blood-stained warrior’s tail in her mouth and dragged him over to the Moonpool. He disappeared quickly. Hollypaw turned back to Jay was crouched over, sides heaving and eyes wild in rage. She managed to stroke her tail soothingly across her side before leaping back into battle. She found herself on the ground with a dark brown tom. They fought each other fiercely, shrieking and yowling and hissing. Finally Hollypaw ended pinned to the ground. Luckily, before he could finish her off, Robinsong knocked him off of her.
“Thank you!” Hollypaw cried after him. “You saved my life!” Hollypaw lay on the spot for a moment, slightly winded. Then she scrabbled to her paws and began to try Flora’s move. She weaved in and out of the battle, sinking her teeth into any Dark Forest cat she passed.
It worked for a while until the hissing and wails and growls stopped. The crowd formed a circle. Hollypaw scrabbled under bellies to get to the front. A fierce looking tabby tom with amber eyes stood on top of two cats. With a jolt Hollypaw recognized Lightstar and Jay. Both were severely injured with blood dripping from them. But as Hollypaw looked she could see Jay’s blind blue eyes blinking up at her. Would it be the last time she would ever see those beautiful eyes? No. Hollypaw launched herself forwards on top of the tom. They fought and yowled and scratched and bit. In Hollypaw’s blind blur of anger and grief it was hard to tell which direction she was going. But she finally managed to drive the warrior into the Moonpool. After he was gone she leaped back towards Jay and Lightstar.
“Jay!” she whispered. “Jay, are you still...” Jay blinked at her again.
“I’ll be fine,” she croaked. But she closed her eyes again and her breathing became more forced. Keep fighting Jay. Hollypaw turned to Lightstar. Her beautiful golden stripes and cream fur was barely visible beneath the blanket of blood that covered her.
“Keep them safe, Hollypaw,” Lightstar gasped. “Save them...” Hollypaw closed her eyes and pressed her nose to Lightstar’s cheek.
“Save your breath,” she whispered. “I wish you a safe journey to StarClan.” A shudder ran down Lightstar’s body.
“I must leave you now Hollypaw,” the pale she-cat croaked. “I know that someday you will be the greatest leader in the forest.” A last shudder ran down Lightstar’s body and then she was still. Hollypaw choked down a wail of grief. Lightstar was too young to die! And so was Jay! Oh, Jay! As Hollypaw crawled back to the grey tabby she felt Bolta and Robinsong press against her. She crouched by Jay’s body and began to clean it. It came as great shock when Jay’s body suddenly shifted and her sides began to rise and fall once more. A tiny spark of hope burned in Hollypaw’s chest.
“Jay,” she whispered. Jay looked up at her and Hollypaw could see agony in her friend’s eyes. She shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Let her go peacefully to StarClan. It was almost a plead, her eyes lifted to the sky that was already darkening. Soon the scarlet moon would rise.
“Hollypaw,” Jay croaked. “Bolta...”
“Shhh,” Bolta murmured calmingly. “I wish you a happy life up in StarClan.” Jay shook her head, gulping in gasping, rough breaths.
“There is something,” she rasped. “Need... Tell... You...” Her sides heaved in and out and she tried to catch her breath again. Hollypaw felt her eyes turn to pools of grief. Poor, poor Jay... Bolta gave a shaking sigh and suddenly she was trembling. She looked like a queen who had just lost a kit.
“Goodbye Jay,” Bolta whispered.
“Goodbye,” Hollypaw and Robinsong echoed dully. Hollypaw turned away. She couldn’t face seeing Jay like this anymore. With her small, limp body sprawled out and her eyes pained and lifeless. She felt Robinsong follow her like a shadow as she pushed through the crowd of watching cats. The Dark Forest had disappeared. Did I kill Death? Hollypaw wondered without really caring. She stopped at the bottom of the rock path.
“It’s not your fault,” Robinsong whispered. Hollypaw glanced up at him.
“I know,” she sighed. “It’s that evil tom’s fault.” Robinsong pressed against her side.
“You got rid of him,” he meowed. Hollypaw sighed again.
“I know,” she croaked. “But they’re still dead.” Hollypaw closed her eyes. Jay... Why did it have to be Jay? She had fought as fiercely as TigerClan but her blindness had still been a weakness.
Soon Hollypaw felt her gaze locked with Robinsong’s, holly-leaf green met golden. They sat side by side at the base of the rock path. The moon was casting red light over them and a small breeze ruffled their fur. They pulled closer to each other and their fur was soon mixing, dark ginger mixing with pale.
Jay looked down at her own crumpled, bleeding body. This was the end. She was going to StarClan now. Sure enough a blinding silver light appeared from nowhere and she felt the ground fall from under her paws. She felt as if she were being squeezed through a tiny rabbit hole. Her sides were squished and air rushed in her ears. It was all over soon. She tumbled into a clearing. It was a lot like the Moonpool clearing except the moon wasn’t red, the sand wasn’t blood-splattered and there were no fighting cats. A small breeze moved her fur and the air was nice and warm. Jay closed her eyes and sat on the sand. She was missing everything. But funnily enough it didn’t seem to bother her. It hadn’t bothered her when she had seen her own body and it didn’t bother her that she was dead. The sound of paw steps made her turn and open her eyes. There were two cats in front of her. Jayfeather and a pretty tortoiseshell she-cat. “Turn back, Jay,” meowed the tortoiseshell urgently. Jay cocked her head to one side.
“Sorry?” she asked. “I’m dead, aren’t I? How can I turn back?”
“It wasn’t you’re time,” Jayfeather meowed, flicking his ear. “Now turn back.” Although still confused, Jay turned around. In front of her was the same silver light she had come through. She walked into it.
Jay felt as if she’d jumped off of a cliff. She was rushing down... and down... and down.
Her paws hit the ground and gulped in a huge breath. Immediately her vision blurred and went black again. She felt lightheaded and fuzzy. Really, really sleepy. Jay closed her eyes again and sleep washed over her like a black wave.
“Are you sure she’s dead?”
“Does that mean Lightstar’s alive then?”
“Lightstar is obviously dead.”
Voices were whispering in her ears. They echoed and seemed to be coming from a long way away.
“I’m not touching a dead cat!”
"She’s not dead mousebrain!”
The voices got closer and more real. Jay opened her eyes. All around her came gasps of astonishment. Paw steps came from everywhere and it made Jay even more confused. Aren’t I dead? I thought I was in StarClan... Then memories came flooding back. Memories of how she had turned away from StarClan... Her mind was a hazy swirl and senses blurry. Jay lifted her head.
Every bone in her body ached. Everything was sore and stiff and just achy. Her head fell back to the ground. She closed her eyes again and tried to pick out all of the different smells around her. Bolta!
“Bolta,” Jay purred. Jay felt a tongue lap her fur soothingly. Bolta was purring louder than Jay had ever heard her purr. Happiness came off her in waves, strong enough to knock Jay off of her paws.
“You’re alive!” Bolta mewed in delight. Jay nodded weakly.
“Is every other cat... fine?” she asked. “Did we win?”
“Yes,” Bolta mewed. “But Deathclaw, Lightstar and Hollowheart are... in StarClan now.” Jay felt relief mingled with grief wash over her. Lightstar, Deathclaw and Hollowheart had been brave cats. They had died fighting for their Clan’s freedom. A real warrior’s death.
“Shhh now,” Bolta whispered. “Sleep...” Jay nodded. It wasn’t hard. She could feel her eyelids droop and her breathing slow. Soon she had fallen into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Jay woke for the second time. Bolta’s scent was wrapped around her and she could feel the black she-cat’s warmth. It must have been dawn. The air was still and birds chirped happily from their branches that shaded the clearing. Jay got stiffly to her paws and stretched, shaking off all of her achiness. She could smell Bolta right beside her and Hollypaw was a little way off, her scent mingled with Robinsong’s. It felt nice to smell all of the fresh morning smells again.
“Jay!” whispered a voice. “You’re awake!” The voice belonged to a kit. It was jumping up and down at her paws. Jay drew in this kitten’s scent but she couldn’t recognize it. She had never come across this kit before.
“Who are you, little one?” Jay murmured.
“I’m Songkit!” the kitten mewed excitedly. Then three other kits came bounding over. They were tiny. Probably all just a week old.
“I’m Rushkit!” chirped the biggest tom. “And that’s Larkkit and Marshkit!” Jay purred down at the four tiny kittens.
“And who’s you’re mother?” she asked.
“Mama’s called Flora,” Larkkit mewed shyly. Flora? Then Jay remembered Flora mentioning it the day before they first went to the Moonpool. It seemed like ages ago now.
It was Hollypaw. Jay swung around towards her. Happiness came off of her in floods. “Oh Jay,” she purred. “I thought I’d never see you again!” Jay purred as well and pressed her nose to Hollypaw’s cheek.
“How long have I been asleep for?” she asked, glancing down at Flora’s four kits. Hollypaw looked at the kittens too.
“About a week,” she meowed quietly. “I didn’t think you’d survive.”
Jay then noticed something completely off of the subject. The way Hollypaw was looking down at Songkit, Rushkit, Larkkit and Marshkit. There was such warmth in her gaze. Warmth and... longing? Hollypaw glanced back over towards where Robinsong was still sleeping.
“When where they born?” Jay asked.
“During the battle,” Hollypaw whispered. “Flyingkit, Gemkit and Thymekit died.” Jay gasped.
“She had seven kits?” she demanded. Hollypaw nodded.
“Flightfeather and Cinderfur said they’d never seen a queen give birth to so many kits at a time,” she meowed. Jay looked back down at Songkit, Rushkit, Larkkit and Marshkit. These four were survivors. Born wild cats. They’d make it all of the way.
Bolta felt old as she trudged back to the stone hollow. She had grand kits already! She turned a corner and came to the thorn-tunnel. Then she remembered what had happened. The stone hollow had flooded! It had dried mostly but the sand was still damp as Bolta stepped inside the hollow.
A horrible sight met her eyes. The hollow was ruined. Most of the dens had collapsed, boulders had tumbled down from the cliff walls and the ledge had broken from the wall and was lying on the ground. But that wasn’t the worst of it. All around her dead bodies lay littered on the ground. Only two pairs of eyes blinked at her. It was the queen and her son Moonkit. They were crouched in the corner looking skinny and ragged.
“It’s Willowheart and Moonkit,” Jay whispered from beside Bolta, flicking her tail over to the two skinny cats. “They were in my group.” Bolta couldn’t say anything. Her gaze was still fixed on the bodies. There were five of them all sprawled out on the sandy floor, scattered around the hollow. A few warriors had begun to creep towards them.
“Riverclaw, Cloudstorm, Speckledflower, Thicket and Redstorm,” Hollypaw murmured, her voice shaking. “All gone...”
“It’s okay,” Robinsong whispered. “Everything will turn out okay.” Bolta shifted from paw to paw awkwardly as Robinsong pressed against Hollypaw’s side. She turned her gaze back to the devastated hollow. Ruined... Destroyed... This place wasn’t a home anymore. The lake wasn’t a home. From that moment Bolta had decided one thing. They had to leave now. It was the only way they could survive.
Yes. I was wondering how long it would take you to figure that out.
Bolta almost jumped a tail-length. Who had said that? It seemed to be coming from inside her head. Was she going crazy?
No. I’m Blaze.
Blaze? Who are you?
I’m a cat.
Bolta snorted. Obviously. But where are you from? Are you from StarClan?
When I was still alive I didn’t believe in StarClan. I’m where all the ordinary cats go when they die. But I can visit StarClan for a short amount of time. We ordinary spirits can get into other cats’ minds you see. We can practically control them. That’s why StarClan chose me to try and help you.
Help me? Why couldn’t StarClan do that?
Too risky. The Dark Forest have found out about their powers to control cats. So they chose Jigsaw, Ellie, Hutch and me to help you instead.
“Earth to Bolta,” Archpaw’s voice woke her up. Bolta turned to the dark grey tom that had been in her group. He flicked his ears. “Clan meeting.”
“Who called it?” Bolta asked. They had no leader. Archpaw shrugged and made his way to the broken ledge that lay on the ground.
Hollypaw and Jay called it. They’ve got a pretty smart idea.
What’s they’re smart idea? Bolta began to pad over to the group of gathered cats.
You’ll have to wait and see.
Bolta sat between Foxwhisker and Maia. Hollypaw and Jay were standing on top of the ledge and gazing at the small group of Clan cats. What surprised Bolta the most was that no cat was protesting that these small, young cats had called the Clan meeting.
“Right,” Hollypaw meowed. “Before we go any further we have to figure out who is to be our leader. The senior warriors should step forwards.” There was still no arguing and protesting. Bolta flicked her ears. Then the realisation hit her.
They all wanted to follow some cat. They wanted to be told what to do. Perhaps it would be better once they decided on their leader.
Robinsong, Seedwhisker, Rowanberry, Nightfall, Foxwhisker and Ravenflight had made a line at the front. Bolta watched each of them. All would be good leaders.
“Stand behind the cat you think would be the best leader,” Jay mewed. Every cat got up and did as they were told. Bolta went to stand beside Rowanberry though it was already obvious that Seedwhisker would be leader.
“Seedstar! Seedstar! Seedstar!”
Bolta purred. The Clan cats seemed happier now that they had a cat to look up to. Seedwhisker dipped her head, seeming embarrassed.
“I’m not leader yet,” she protested as warriors came to congratulate her. Seedwhisker bounded onto the broken ledge, gazing around with warm blue eyes.
“Robinsong,” she mewed. “You shall be my deputy. I know you will make a great leader when I am gone.” Bolta gazed up at Seedwhisker. Definitely a good choice.
I agree. A very good leader.
“But before you all leave,” Seedwhisker meowed. “I would like Hollypaw, Inkpaw and Blackpaw to step up here please.” Bolta tipped her head to one side. Hollypaw, Inkpaw and Blackpaw were glowing. Why?
“StarClan,” Seedwhisker was speaking to the sky. “I ask you to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to learn the warrior code and I ask you to make them warrior in return.
Hollypaw, Inkpaw and Blackpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code even if the cost is your life?”
“I do,” The three apprentices said it at the same time.
“Hollypaw,” Seedwhisker continued. “The Clan will always honour your fabulous battle skills and quick thinking. From now on you will be known as Hollyfrost.” Newly named Hollyfrost padded over to the side, catching Bolta’s eye as she went.
Good choice in name.
Do you think I’ll ever get a warrior name?
If you’re a Clan cat you will. Are you a Clan cat? Do you care enough to learn the warrior code?
Bolta closed her eyes. Did she? Was she a good cat? A proper warrior?
“Hollyfrost! Inkpool! Blackshadow!”
Bolta was jolted out of her thoughts. She made her way up to Hollyfrost but before she could open her mouth Seedwhisker spoke again.
“One more thing,” she meowed, her voice suddenly grave and eyes almost grey. “I think the best chance of us surviving is to leave. Tomorrow. We don’t know that The Dark Forest is really gone. We’re not safe here at the lake where they know where we are.”
Sorted. We’re going.
You did that? Blaze you shouldn’t mess with cats’ minds!
Who’s going to stop me? Anyway we have to go.
Hollyfrost curled up beside Robinsong and the other warriors. She was tired and tomorrow the journey would begin. They had to get as far as possible away from the lake. But the thing that scared her the most was that the stars where everywhere. StarClan was everywhere. The Dark Forest was everywhere.
No. The Dark Forest isn’t everywhere.
Hollyfrost looked around. Who’d said that? Was she so tired she was hearing things?
I’m Jigsaw. I’m here to help. But don’t worry about me just now. You’ve got a big journey ahead of you; you’ll need your rest.
Strangely Hollyfrost felt calm about hearing voices. Maybe it was because she knew the voices would disappear in the morning. She lay her head back down on the cold, wet sand and fell asleep with her tail twined with Robinsong’s. An almost icy wind woke her with a start. It was the middle of the night and the moon was shining red light down on her.
Hollyfrost blinked sleepily and looked around. She could hear something. A bit like... Shuffling?
Another gust of wind hit her. Hollyfrost got to her paws and scanned the hollow. That was when she saw it. Right in the corner of the hollow a small pale grey kit was prodding something. What was it? Hollyfrost flicked her ear and made her way over to the kit.
It was only when she was only when she was right beside him did she see what he was prodding. Willowheart. This kit must be Moonkit. He was whimpering quietly and didn’t even seem to notice Hollyfrost.
“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly, hoping not to scare him. Moonkit looked up with wide blue eyes.
“She’s not waking up,” he whispered. Hollyfrost felt her heart skip a beat.
Calm it. She’s still breathing.
Hollyfrost jumped a tail-length. Maybe she was going insane. She was hearing voices! Just go and get Bluepaw. She’s asleep beside Archpaw.
Hollyfrost felt herself turn around and leap across the hollow towards the two sleeping grey shapes. Archpaw and Bluepaw were brother and sister. They would have been twins if Archpaw hadn’t the black stripe along his back. She prodded Bluepaw.
Bluepaw looked up. She looked as if all her energy had been drained out of her. Her grey eyelids were drooping over her pretty blue eyes.
“What is it, Hollyfrost?” she yawned.
“It’s Willowheart,” the words came out so fast that they jumbled together and she was surprised that Bluepaw could understand her. “She won’t wake.”
Take deep breaths. Willowheart’s going to be just fine.
Bluepaw leaped up and without waiting for Hollyfrost, streaked across the clearing. Hollyfrost followed her fur prickling. She closed her eyes and took in great gulping breaths.
“Come on Moonkit,” she mewed kindly. “You can sleep with the warriors tonight. I’m sure you’re mother will be just fine in the morning.” Moonkit nodded bravely. Hollyfrost scooped him up in her jaws and led him away from Willowheart and Bluepaw.
They curled up side by side beside Robinsong. Hollyfrost could feel her eyes closing already. Moonkit’s breathing was dropping so it was in sync with her own.
Milky dawn light pooled down onto the three sleeping cats. Hollyfrost opened her eyes. Moonkit was nice and warm, snuggled up against her. Hollyfrost purred and looked happily down at him.
“Wake up sleepy-head,” mewed Hollyfrost, prodding Robinsong. She was careful not to wake Moonkit. Robinsong stretched and then opened his golden eyes. They widened slightly.
“How long have I been asleep?” he asked. “Twelve moons?” Hollyfrost sighed and cuffed him playfully around the ear.
“That’s Willowheart’s kit,” she mewed. “She was ill last night so he came to sleep with us.” Robinsong shook his head and sighed in pretend relief. Hollyfrost could see that he was smiling. Hollyfrost turned around to see if any other cat was awake. She had gotten up early because she hadn’t wanted to be the last up. Suddenly she knocked to the ground. She gave a startled cry as a great dark ginger thing began to rake her belly with sheathed claws. Hollyfrost knocked him off of her.
“That was not funny!” she hissed although she was purring at the same time. “Don’t do that again!” Hollyfrost began to shake sand from her fur. Her ears were flat against her head but she couldn’t stop the silent laughs from shaking her.
“Robinsong,” a stern voice meowed. Hollyfrost turned expecting to see Robinsong’s mentor or something. “You shouldn’t attack Clanmates.” Seedwhisker was purring.
“Now come on,” she meowed in her normal voice. “It’s time to go.” Robinsong and Hollyfrost followed her across to the broken HighLedge. They sat down facing her. “Would all cats gather beside HighLedge for a Clan meeting!” Seedwhisker yowled, her voice ringing around the hollow. Almost instantly a small group of cats appeared beside them. To Hollyfrost’s greatest relief, Willowheart was among them.
“Ravenflight, Snowbuzzard, Patchfoot and Archpaw,” Seedwhisker called. “Can you go on a last minute hunting patrol? Flightfeather, Cinderfur and Bluepaw, I would like you to see if you can find any travelling herbs. We can give them to the queens, elders and kits.” The hunting patrol got up and padded out of the thorn-tunnel. The three medicine cats went off to the medicine cat den.
“The rest of you,” Seedwhisker meowed. “I would like you to gather up outside of the stone hollow. We’ll go as soon as the hunting patrol and medicine cats get back.” Hollyfrost nodded and padded through the thorn-tunnel. She sat beside Robinsong, Jay and Bolta. None of them said a word.
When the hunting patrol came back they ate their prey in silence. When they were ready to go they still didn’t speak. It wasn’t until they had reached the Gathering Island that Robinsong broke the silence.
“I’ll miss the lake,” he meowed. Hollyfrost looked around for the last time. This was it. They were really going.
“So will I,” she meowed dreamily, thinking of all the times she had crossed the fallen log onto the island.
“We will too,” Jay meowed. “We’ll miss it very much.”
Swipe her! That’s it! Get her stomach!
Bramble aimed blows at the pale she-cat beneath his paws. She was weakening but she was still fighting. Bramble crouched and was about to do the final bite. He froze and got off of the she-cat. What was he doing? He gazed down at her blood-stained and tangled fur. He had gotten too carried away. And so had Hutch. He had been encouraging him and whispering advice in his ears.
“Sorry,” he murmured. Bending down he grasped the scruff of her neck and pulled her to her paws.
“It’s okay,” Sari whispered. “We just got a bit carried away. That’s all.” Bramble nodded.
“Yeah,” he echoed. “That’s all.” The truth was he had wanted to hurt her. He had wanted to hurt his best friend.
“Let’s just go home,” Sari croaked. Bramble led her down the dark alleyway. Water splashed under his paws. It had been raining all day and all night. He led her behind a dark, towering building and over some bags of rubbish. They came to a dry place with an overhanging roof to shelter them from the rain. Something shuffled in a dark corner. Bramble and Sari stiffened. A small white she-cat with muddy paws stepped out. It was only Evie.
“What happened?” she gasped. Bramble shook his head and curled up in a dark corner.
“Nothing,” he meowed. He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. He could hear every word Evie was saying to Sari.
“You shouldn’t go out with him alone,” Evie was murmuring. “He could really hurt you. Like he did to Raven.”
“No,” Sari protested. “I’ll do what I want. And don’t you remember; Bramble only did what he did to Raven because Raven was trying to hurt him.”
That’s right Sari.
Bramble stiffened. Just go away Hutch. He closed his eyes and blocked Hutch out.