A Dark Time
|The New Warrior||Miriam, Faith, and Hope are loners who live on the brink of ShadowClan territory. Their siblings Dapplestar and Jayclaw have found contentment in Clan life, so they decide to give it a go. But shadows lurk in the brightest places, and signs of trouble have already begun . . .|
|Morning Rain||Dapplestar is struggling to rebuild her camp after the horrible flash flood that destroyed her camp. And Froststar has already lost her ninth life, to the suspected greencough. However, Marigoldpaw senses that it is something much more sinister.|
|Coming Storms||No one has ever seen anything like this: terror among the Clans, rogues swooping in and killing a cat every quarter moon . . . No one can stop it, and the supposed heroes are no closer to solving the mystery than any other cat.|
|The Endless Night||Tansystar is wondering why StarClan is punishing all the Clans by bringing storms. Her frustration lands her in the perfect position for Jaystar to come and steal away her prey, causing a full scale war between the Clans. For days on end do they fight. After a full moon of waging war, the exhausted Clans wake up to find themselves in an endless night . . .|
|Screaming Dawn||Several moons have passed since the Clan war, but tensions have made the leaders turn their backs on one another. Now, it's up to Streamcloud and her friends to stop the rogues. However, Fierce, the only remaining rogue, has left them with one last surprise.|
|The Last Fight||A generation has passed since the battle with the rogues, and Streamcloud is now deputy, under leadership of Sycamorestar. But the mastermind of the whole previous battle will not rest until she has her revenge . . .|
Leader: Willowstar - mottled gray she-cat with amber eyes
Deputy: Leafheart - brown tom with white paws and tail tip
Medicine Cat: Addertooth - dark brown tom with long fangs and blazing amber eyes
Warriors: Cinderlight - gray-and-white she-cat with twinkling yellow eyes the color of dawn
Briarheart - brown she-cat
Ashwhisker - gray tabby tom
Sparrowflight - brown and black mottled she-cat
Applemoon - pale ginger she-cat
Paledapple - light gray tom with white flecks
Sycamoreshade - broad shouldered brown tom
Feathersky - gray-and-white tom with a fluffy tail
Brightdawn - thin-striped tabby she-cat
Cherrywhisker - bright red she-cat with white legs and tail tip
Plumleaf - smoky gray tom
Apprentices: Nettlepaw - tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat with spiky fur
Emberpaw - dark tortoiseshell tom with russet colored paws, tail, and muzzle
Queens: Freckleheart - white mottled she-cat (mother to Badgerkit, Foxkit, Hawkkit, and Wolfkit)
Lionfang - brown-and-ginger tabby she-cat (mother to Specklekit, Leafkit, and Patchkit)
Tigerstripe - dark brown she-cat
Elders: Sorrelwish - gray she-cat
Pinethorn - brown tom
Clawear - dark gray she-cat with shredded ears, formerly known as Braveclaw
Leader: Dapplestar - tortoiseshell-and white she-cat
Deputy: Ivystorm - brindled tortoiseshell she-cat
Leader: Froststar - white-and-gray tabby she-cat
Deputy: Jayclaw - gray tom
Leader: Tansystar - golden tabby she-cat
Deputy: Vixengorse - white tom with red patches
Leader: Wildstar - gray-and-white spiky-furred she-cat
Deputy: Bristlefur - black she-cat
Cats Outside the Clans:
Cedar - dark ginger tabby she-cat
Rowan - dark brown tom
Oak - ginger she-cat
Pine - brown tabby tom
Amelia - calico she-cat
Olivia - siamese kittypet
Miriam - silver tabby loner
Faith - gray kittypet
Hope - tortoiseshell-and-white loner
"Run! Far away as you can!" called Hannah to her sisters. These dogs want to kill us!" Panting for breath, she leaped up a tree and glanced at the ground. Wilma and Rhea were still on the ground! "Hurry up!" she yelled at them. "Climb the tree!" They scrambled to their paws, jumping onto the lowest branch. The dog clawed at their tails. Rhea whimpered, while Wilma yowled for the filthy dog to leave. "It's no use!" she growled. "The mange-pelt won't go back to its Twolegs! She bared her teeth at the dog. "Leave us alone!"
Hannah felt her paws slipping. She couldn't hold on! She slid out her claws but it was no use. She fell, and the dog raced over for easy prey. Hannah let out a yowl but it was too late for anyone to do anything. She fell limp and silent, with her sisters watching sadly.
"Wake up! What are you?" A cat was nudging her. Staring up, she saw a strange cat, a pure white tom with amber eyes. "I'm Icestorm," he meowed. "And I'm ShadowClan's current medicine cat. This is my apprentice Swanthorn. Swanthorn looked way younger than the old tom.
"Where-Where am I?" Hannah asked. "In ShadowClan," Swanthorn replied. "You look like you've been mangled by a half-badger, half-fox!"
Hannah glared at her. "My paws slipped. Is there any way I can get home?" Icestorm stared sadly at her. "This will be your home now. ShadowClan can protect you, no matter what. With that, he called for a cat named Ryestar. This new cat glanced at her, and mouthed words she could not understand.
"From now on, this cat shall be known as Fawnheart." Hannah, no, Fawnheart felt a sense of pride in her new name. She was named perfectly, and decided she would stay in the Clans forever. Wilma, now Peachwhisker bounded over and tackled her. "How exciting! We're warriors now!" Hannah glanced at Rhea. She was all too reluctant to claim her warrior name. But Fawnheart knew Rhea was a warrior at heart. I just hope I don't screw up in this Clan, she thought silently. But Rhea might leave. She wasn't ready to take on a warrior name . . . Maybe she'll decide Clan life isn't for her . . .
Cedar purred at Miriam. "So where is this forest you speak of?" she asked.
"It's somewhere near Twolegplace. My mother spoke of it often." Rhea had told her of all the great things in the forest.
"But beware the deadly diseases," Rhea had said. "They took my sister, and they can take you too."
Miriam shook off the thoughts. Her focus right now was to bring back food for her sisters and the rest of the rogues. Cedar, Pine, Rowan, and Oak were waiting for her. Narrowing her eyes on a shrew that darted past, she quietly crept forward and pounced on it, killing it with a swift bite tho the neck. Cedar glanced over on the alder tree beside them. A robin was perched on the branch, and Cedar leaped, grasping the tree for support. She swiped at the robin, which startled and flew into another cat's waiting paws. Miriam turned suddenly to hiss at the newcomer, when she saw the familiar glint in the cat's eyes. "Hope!" she purred. "I haven't seen you in a long time! How's the farm? How's Faith?" Hope licked her paws before answering. "She's fine. Doing okay. Who's this with you?"
Cedar stepped forward. "I'm Cedar. And you know Miriam. Want to meet some of my other friends?" Hope shifted uneasily on her paws. "Listen . . . Faith'll be getting--"
Rowan padded into the clearing. "Miriam! Is this your sister?" he purred. Miriam nodded and proceeded to take back the shrew to the little camp they had made on the brink of a marsh.
When they got back, they saw that Oak and Pine were bickering with a gray she-cat and another kittypet. "I thought I told you, she's not here!" Pine yowled. "So get off and stay off!"
"Pine. Pine. Pine!" Miriam yelled at the tom. "I'm here . . . so stop yelling your fur off at my sister."
Pine huffed. "Whatever."
Miriam set the shrew down. "This was what we got, and a robin too. Hope is a really good hunter, you know."
Pine said nothing and hungrily gulped down the whole shrew, despite his sister Oak's protest. Then he started towards the robin, but Cedar stopped him. "Hey, what were our rules? We share with our friends/siblings, we do not hog the food." Pine arched his back and hissed, but said no more. Miriam sat down at the edge of the stream that bordered the marsh.
"Are we going to explore tomorrow?" asked Faith. "I want to see the territory." Miriam glanced nervously at Rowan. They were the leaders of their group, and they didn't want to stumble across her siblings Dapplefeather and Jayclaw, so they could save some inconvenience.
"Well . . . no. There are other cats, some of which aren't so friendly. We ran into one of them, a cat named Braveclaw. She wasn't so nice."
Faith's spine fur bristled. "But we can handle them! Right, Olivia?" A calico she-cat shook her head and backed away, her collar jingling.
Miriam paused, and looked outwards. "I might introduce you to some friends of mine. They know me, and are really nice, but Jayclaw can be a bit--" She was cut off by a she-cat with menacing yellowish-green eyes, and Miriam backed away. "Who are you?"
The she-cat paused to flick her tail, with two more cats appearing behind her, a snowy-white tom and a tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat. "I am Ivystorm, and I suggest you give a good reason as to why you're on our territory."
Miriam let the fur on her spine bristle, and she arched her back, hissing. "Excuse me, but this is our home! Fallenstar said we could live here! He said so, ask Dapplefeather if you want!" The tortoiseshell she-cat shifted nervously on her paws, then stepped forward.
"I'm sorry, but Fallenstar is dead, and I have taken his place. I am now Dapplestar, and Ivystorm, I did tell you there were these cats living on the border of ShadowClan." She glared at the brindled tortoiseshell. Ivystorm said nothing, and gave a huff and stalked off.
The tom rolled his eyes. "Ivystorm! Stop being such a grumpheart!" He ran off after the she-cat.
Miriam stared at the forest. "I wonder . . . could we join? I want to see what it's like." Dapplestar shook her head. "The life of a Clan cat is much too difficult. I would never wish it upon you. You could never cope." Then she noticed the prey pile they had made.
"However much I want to spare you the pain . . ." A mischievous grin lit up her face. "Yeah, I'll add you in. But ShadowClan already has an overflow of cats. I'll have to take one of you. You look frightened," she noted, looking at the shy Olivia. "I'll take you in. You'll be safe, I promise."
She led them to the center of the ShadowClan camp. “Not all of you are going to stay here. I’ll introduce you to the other leaders at the full moon Gathering, see what they think. Ivystorm, please show them where they will stay.”
The brindled tortoiseshell popped her head out. “The prisoner’s den, I hope?” Dapplestar flattened her ears at the she-cat. “No. G-go show them, or I’m making you search the elders!” Ivystorm shrugged. “Fine. Jeez, no need to be so rude.” She stalked off and waved her tail to signal the cats to follow them.
“And here’s the elders’ den. That’s Fawnheart, Raincloud, and over there is Nettleflight, who retired due to his spine. Over there is the ancient Specklegorse, and this is where you’ll be staying. StarClan light your path bye!”
Miriam looked at the elders questioningly. “What’s up with her?” She sat down and began washing her paws, glancing at the speckled sandy tom, who had graying patches all over his body, and was snoring. “Someone please tell me about Ivystorm.”
Fawnheart shrugged. “It’s no big deal. Everyone respects her. She’s the deputy of ShadowClan; she has highest command second only to Dapplestar and maybe the medicine cat. But she’s Slashscar’s daughter, and you know how that gray-and-white she-cat is.”
Rowan spoke up. “So what about Slashscar?” Fawnheart hissed at him, “Better to stay innocent than to know the things Slashscar has done to this forest.”
Dapplestar came in. “It is time for the full moon Gathering. Fawnheart and Nettleflight are coming. Nettleflight shall be supported by Fawnheart. Ivystorm, Splashstorm, Owlpaw, Pearstripe, Dawnwhisker, Volestrike, and Rustlefern are coming. And you guys are coming too.
“This is the Gathering. The five Clans come together every full moon to share news and to list the names of the fallen at the Battle of the Rogues,” explained Dapplestar. She licked her paw, then continued. “The leaders of the Clans are Willowstar, Tansystar, Froststar, and Wildstar, to ThunderClan, WindClan, RiverClan, and SkyClan respectively. Now hush, I must take my place on the Great Rock.”
Miriam watched as the RiverClan leader, Froststar, stepped forward. “Our fallen are Reedflight, Mallowpaw, Vixenleap, and Songwhisper.” She watched, and was bored of, the leaders listing the cats who died fighting some other cats.
“And we have new cats. Cats who may be of addition to the Clans.” Dapplestar’s voice rang clearly in the grove. The RiverClan leader, Froststar, bared her teeth. “No. RiverClan doesn’t need to be weakened by kittypets.” Pine leapt to his feet. “We catch our food on our own! Our mothers did as well! We don’t need no stinking Twoleg! We—” He was cut off by a glare from Dapplestar.
Wildstar shrugged. “They could be of great use, although they aren’t of warrior age and don’t have Clan skills.” Jayclaw shrugged dismissively. “We could let them in as apprentices. Train them the way of the Clans, and . . . yeah.”
The five leaders started discussing and arguing among themselves, and the rest of the cats were left to chat quietly and gossip.
“Did you hear that Yarrowpaw found himself a mate? I think it’s Primrosepaw.”
“No way, it has got to be Berrypaw, have you seen the way he looks at her?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s Flypaw, and I bet you ten rabbits that it’s her.”
“Why y’all gossiping about mates? You’re too young to be thinking about them!” said a tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat, causing the apprentices to give her a death glare.
The leaders finally stopped arguing and settled down. Froststar began forward, but Willowstar stopped her. “We have reached our decision. The loners and kittypet,” she said, spitting kittypet out like it was a disease, “will be divided among the four—”
“Five,” snarled Wildstar.
“Five Clans. The silver tabby and the tortoiseshell are coming with me to ThunderClan. The dark brown and the ginger are going to WindClan. The other tortoiseshell and the gray are going to RiverClan. The dark ginger and the brown are going to SkyClan. And the cream is going to ShadowClan. Proceed to your respective Clans. The Gathering is at an end!”
“So what’s your name?” asked the tortoiseshell Miriam saw earlier. “I’m Amelia, and I live past that rock these cats are always talking about. But I came here to get a taste of adventure.”
“I’m Miriam, and I live near the marshes of ShadowClan.”
“Oh, so you know Dapplestar?”
“She’s my sister.”
“Really? No way! Hey, wait for us!” The two sped off after the warriors of ThunderClan. They stepped into the clearing that housed the camp. It was beautifully decorated, and there were dens all around. “Which is which?” Miriam meowed.
An energetic she-cat bounded up in front of her. “That’s the warriors den, where the toms and she-cats without kits sleep! And over there’s the apprentices den, where we sleep. Over there is the nursery, where the queens sleep, and there’s the elders den, and the leader’s den, and the medicine cat den . . . Oh! And there’s the dirtplace, and Sunningrocks, and—”
Another she-cat cut her off. “Nettlepaw, don’t exhaust our new apprentices on the first day. I think Willowstar will do your apprentice ceremony tomorrow, all right?”
Miriam nodded and padded over to the apprentices den, feeling like she hadn’t slept for moons.
“Wake up wake up wake up Willowstar’s going to do our ceremony wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up!” Amelia was shaking her awake, and Miriam, annoyed, snapped, “Okay, okay, keep your fur on, I’m coming.” They padded out into the clearing, and Willowstar yowled, “Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highrock to hear my words!” Dozens of cats started pouring out, and they were stretching and groaning.
“These cats have shown interest in joining ThunderClan and understanding our way of life. You,” she said to Amelia, “from this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Spottedpaw. Your mentor will be Leafheart. Leafheart, your mentor was Patchmottle, and you have trained your apprentice well. You are ready for another apprentice, and I entrust Spottedpaw to you, hoping that you will transfer your courage and readiness to her.
“Miriam, from this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Streampaw. Your mentor will be Applemoon. Applemoon, I trust you to pass on all you know to this apprentice.” Applemoon nodded, and then started the cheer that soon came from the whole Clan: “Spottedpaw! Streampaw! Spottedpaw! Streampaw!” The silver tabby couldn’t have been happier.
“Okay, and . . . pounce!” whispered Applemoon as she was watching Streampaw hunt. Streampaw gathered her weight beneath her and flew into the air, landing short of the mouse she was trying to hunt just by a bit. She swiped uselessly with her paw at the scampering mouse, and groaned in disappointment.
“It’s not that bad, you just need to get the hang of it,” reassured her mentor. Streampaw had gotten better at hunting birds and squirrels, but ground prey was too hard for her to catch. Seeing the look on her face, Applemoon added, “I could have Addertooth help you. He may be a medicine cat, but he’s got the best stalking techniques in the forest.” Streampaw’s only reply was a shrug.
They padded back into camp with a thrush and a robin, and Spottedpaw and her mentor had a mouse and a rabbit. Streampaw joked, “Did you steal that from WindClan or what?” Leafheart shook his head. “No, we stole it from our cache that we had earlier in leafbare that we obviously forgot to collect.” Applemoon headbutted against the deputy and together they walked over to the fresh-kill pile.
“Well, how did training go?” asked Spottedpaw. They had been apprentices for a quarter moon and Nettlepaw and Emberpaw were training alongside them. Emberpaw was more subdued, with a stiff demeanor and a curt tone. Nettlepaw was more excitable, with high energy and she would never stop talking. Streampaw got tired of it sometimes, but given that she had only left the nursery a half moon ago, she couldn’t blame the tortoiseshell she-cat.
Willowstar was with Addertooth, discussing something. Streampaw gathered some moss for the elders, and just as she was about to drop off the moss, a gruff voice growled, “That’s too wet! Dry it out, we don’t want wet moss dripping about!”
Streampaw recoiled, obviously hurt and shocked, and a gray she-cat popped her head out. “Don’t worry about Clawear; she’s the grumpiest elder in all the forest. Besides, Pinethorn needs the water.” A huff sounded, but nothing else came out.
The tabby she-cat walked over to the fresh-kill pile to pick something out, but before she could, three kits, a black-and-white she-kit, a tortoiseshell tom-kit, and a mottled brown kit tumbled into the pile and a thrush smacked her in the head. She shook her head before growling at the kits, “Hey!” Their mother, a brown-and-ginger queen, pulled them close to her and gave each of them a quick swipe on the ear. “Don’t disrupt the fresh-kill pile; it’ll take ages for the warriors to clean it up!”
Willowstar padded over. “Don’t forget the leader and deputy,” she grumbled.” Streampaw picked out a thrush, and walked over to eat it. As she did, she wondered about her sisters, and how they were faring. “When’s the next Gathering?” she asked Willowstar.
“It’s still three quarter moons away, Streampaw! You’re too impatient.” Her warm tone contradicted her sharp words.
Streampaw looked down. “It’s important. Hope and Faith are my sisters, and Rowan, Oak, Pine, and Cedar are my friends.” She paused and feigned a look of thoughtfulness. “Even if Pine is a pain in the tail and a complete idiot at times.” That got a purr of amusement out of the leader.
Spottedpaw and Streampaw were walking with their mouths full of prey when they encountered their mentors arguing, each with their fur bristled.
“I know what’s best for my apprentice, Leafheart, so stop arguing!” hissed Applemoon as she took a swipe at the deputy’s ear. The more experienced cat sidestepped the ginger paw and batted at her flank, which she easily dodged.
“I told you, I don’t want them to learn battle moves yet!” growled Leafheart. He yowled and launched himself at the she-cat, and what happened next was a series of paws, tails, fur, claws, and fangs as each cat tried to best the other. Soon, however, Applemoon was clutching her chest and Leafheart lay ominously still, his rising flanks the only indicator that he was still alive. Deep gashes and wounds proved that both cats were seriously hurt, and it was only a matter of time before Leafheart went to walk with StarClan.
A dark brown tom pushed through the gathering crowd. “Excuse me, coming through, I have to rescue the—hey, watch it! That’s my tail you’re stepping on! Coming through, coming through!” Finally he managed to reach Leafheart and Applemoon. He draped the heavyset tom over himself and supported the stumbling she-cat as he led them to his den.
“What just happened?” asked Spottedpaw in shock. Streampaw was just as horrified and did not have a reply. No other cat stepped forward to explain; instead they all went back to their original duties, but three cats stayed behind.
“That battle between Leafheart and Applemoon—I thought that would never happen!” said a light gray tom.
“Did you see them snarling at each other before the fight?” asked a gray-and-white she-cat.
“That’s impossible—Leafheart and Applemoon love each other—they’re mates!” cried a brown tom.
Sighing, they all padded off to their respective dens: the gray tom and the she-cat off to the warriors den, and the brown tom to the elders den. Streampaw couldn’t figure out what had gotten into her and Spottedpaw’s mentors. She hoped that they wouldn’t do that again.
“Again!” The ginger she-cat’s eye showed no mercy as she gazed upon her apprentice. Streampaw was already tired from the dawn patrol, but now she was facing her mentor in mock battle, only this time the she-cat had insisted upon unsheathed claws. Willowstar had only reluctantly agreed, and demanded that she be allowed to supervise along with Cinderlight, the gray-and-white she-cat Streampaw had seen yesterday.
She had always ducked under Applemoon, but today she tried something different. Streampaw sidestepped her mentor’s swipe, then leapt the side and dove under Applemoon, who yowled with surprise. She then turned over and proceeded to rake her mentor’s flank, but the lithe she-cat was faster. They tussled for what seemed like a moon until both staggered apart, with Streampaw having wounds that stung like crazy.
“Marigold for infection, goldenrod for wounds, horsetail to stop bleeding—” The tom whipped around when he saw Streampaw. “What do you want?” he mewed gruffly. “Oh,” he noted, looking at Streampaw’s gashes. “Applemoon make you train harder than you should?”
“Yes,” Streampaw growled, lashing her tail. “I thought we were supposed to have sheathed claws!”
The tom shrugged. “That’s always bothered me too, but Applemoon’s mentor had it that way for her too, and you can’t exactly blame her. She did that with her last apprentice too. Which later ran away to a different Clan, just to escape the shock of it. I’m Addertooth, by the way. Here, put this on it.” Addertooth arranged cobwebs on Streampaw so the bleeding will stop. “You’re staying in my den until I say you can leave.”
Streampaw woke up after having a nightmare. She was running through the forest trying to catch a hare when suddenly a flash of lightning nearly fried her. Turning around, she saw glittering eyes, eyes that were willing to do whatever they could to hurt her. “Give her to us . . .” they hissed. “She will be of use.” After shrieking, she found herself once more in the medicine den, with Addertooth working on the deputy’s wounds. “How is he?” she moaned.
“Not better, not worse. He’s doing fine, but I don’t think they’re healing as well as I’d like them to. Care to help me apply this marigold poultice?” Streampaw dragged herself from bed and stumbled over to the tom’s side. She carefully spread the poultice across Leafheart’s side, and heard a barely imperceptible groan. “Is he badly hurt?” Addertooth’s reply was a grunt.
“You’re free to go, Streampaw. Take caution, though,” said Addertooth, with a hint of warmth in his eyes.
After Streampaw was dismissed, she went off to do a border patrol with Emberpaw. “Hey,” he meowed briefly. “How’re your wounds?” Streampaw shrugged; it didn’t hurt, it didn’t bother her, and it didn’t take up most of her worries. What did worry her was the way Applemoon seemed to have no look of sympathy in her eyes when anyone was hurt.
She stretched and monitored the border that they shared with ShadowClan. “You think we’re in any danger?” she asked Emberpaw’s mentor, Sparrowflight. The she-cat shook her head. “Naw, we aren’t in any danger unless we start a battle over something. Of course, both Clans have enough decency to stick to their side of the border.”
They returned with no troubling report and a fair bit of prey. Emberpaw had gotten distracted by the fact that greenleaf had many birds and squirrels running about, and so he hauled in most of the prey. “Tha’s mos’ av fe pre!” he spoke, somehow managing not to spew prey all over camp.
“Well done,” meowed the deputy. He had been released after Streampaw, and had a slight limp, but it was almost undetectable. The tom was pressing on Applemoon’s flank, which seemed slightly swollen—was she about to have kits? Leafheart answered the unspoken question. “Yes, Applemoon is expecting my kits! I’m so excited! I was so sad when Fallenflower died, but now I have a new mate. One who will stay with me forever.” Applemoon purred but had no comment.
Streampaw yawned and walked over to take care of the queens. The brown and ginger she-cat who had scolded her kits before was named Lionfang, and she purred happily at the sight of Streampaw. “Here are my kits! This is Patchkit,” she pointed to the black-and-white she-kit, “Specklekit,” to the tortoiseshell tom-kit, “and I haven’t had a name for that one.” She pointed to the mottled brown she-kit. “I was hoping you would name her.”
“Leafkit,” the silver tabby she-cat decided. “That will be her name.”
“It’s perfect,” the queen agreed. Streampaw decided that this was better than listening to the elders’ grumbling.
Streampaw fluffed out her fur. Leaf-fall was about to come, and the prey seemed to be running scarcer and scarcer each day. The days seemed to get colder and colder, and she was grateful for Spottedpaw’s body to keep her warm. Emberpaw and Nettlepaw were also snuggled up, but nobody knew what ran through her mind as she leaned against Emberpaw’s big, yet lithe structure. I feel like you are great to be around with, she thought. The two of them had grown close, and could often be seen sharing prey or requesting to go on patrols together.
“Hey, stop fidgeting and get to sleep,” muttered Nettlepaw. She wasn’t that close to Streampaw, but was friendly all the same. The energetic she-cat would sometimes bound along happily with the rest of the apprentices and then she would crash into a tree, a bramble patch, or just fall into the river after slipping on Sunningrocks, which did not make the RiverClan cats happy. Streampaw shook her head and curled up to go to sleep. No nightmares, just deep sleep awaited her when she closed her eyes. The next day, she woke up, yawning. Two moons had passed since her arrival, and Nettlepaw and Emberpaw were now eight moons old. They seemed to be getting more and more like adults each day, with Nettlepaw going for a stocky build, and Emberpaw being lithe. The tabby purred and stretched, and saw Emberpaw waking up to do the same.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highrock to hear my words,” rang Willowstar’s voice. Cats poured outside, stumbling around in a daze. “Couldn’t you have waited until we were fully awake?” grumbled Applemoon.
Willowstar lashed her tail. “This is important! You must hear this.”
Applemoon rolled her eyes yet did not retort. The tortoiseshell cleared her throat and continued. “RiverClan has declared war on us.” At once chaos spread. More cats were alert, some were even growling. “They say it’s because of Sunningrocks, but something isn’t right. I didn’t see the leader at all during the Gathering. I did announce the naming, and Rowan, Oak, Pine, and Cedar are now Rowanpaw, Oakpaw, Pinepaw, and Cedarpaw. Hope and Faith are now called Marigoldpaw and Mistpaw. Olivia is now Briarpaw. We now must turn our attention to how we are to fight RiverClan. They say they will not give up until all our warriors are incapitated.”
Streampaw looked up grimly. “And when will we start preparing?” she asked.
Willowstar gave her a look that was full of anger and determination. “Right now.”
They worked for hours and hours, with Streampaw being given Ashwhisker as a temporary mentor since Applemoon moved to the nursery. The kits, Patchkit, Specklekit, and Leafkit, were restless in not being able to learn battle moves, so the queens would often entertain them when they weren’t busy keeping up their strength.
“RiverClan will drag you nearer to the water, where they have the upper hand. Make sure you don’t let them, otherwise you’ll drown,” explained Ashwhisker. “They are sneaky, but train as if you were fighting against ShadowClan, as it will prepare you above and beyond.” Streampaw and Emberpaw were listening intently, but the younger warriors, Brightdawn, Feathersky, and Sycamoreshade, and Nettlepaw and Spottedpaw were all chatting away like Ashwhisker’s instructions weren’t as important. The gray tom growled and lashed his tail in frustration. “How in the name of StarClan are we going to be able to go up against RiverClan if you chitchat like birds?” Sycamoreshade paused, then dipped his head. “Sorry, Ashwhisker. Continue.”
So he did, and Streampaw grew weary of listening to the warrior speak of battle tactics and tail signals and how they would attack. Finally, Paledapple, who was one of the most senior warriors, gave an irritated huff. “Ashwhisker, we all respect you as a senior warrior, but could you stop being a chatterbox by going on and on and on?” The tabby looked embarrassed and licked his chest fur. Paledapple rolled his eyes and began washing his paws. “You’re all dismissed, while I try to get a word with this mouse-brain of a cat.
The seven cats padded away to get a break and practice. Streampaw found herself with Feathersky, a lanky, long-legged gray and white tom with blue eyes and a playful look to him. He meowed casually, “Care to practice that sidestep move or whatever that Ashwhisker taught us?” Streampaw nodded warily, and mewed, “Okay. Why don’t you be the ThunderClan cat and I be RiverClan?” The young warrior nodded. “Yeah, whatever. So shall I—”
The silver tabby gave him no chance. She sprang at him, trying to turn him around, but although she didn’t miscalculate the jump, he side stepped, and then he stood there. Streampaw glared at him, waiting for even the slightest twitch of the tail. She poked his nose. Batted at his chest. Tugged his ear. Yanked his tail. Stared him in the eye, and even yowled at the top of her lungs, causing the others to look at her strangely. Yet Feathersky had no reaction. The tom stood there, standing as if he was StarClan, and all the while oblivious to the world around him.
Then Streampaw saw it.
The danger Feathersky saw. Massive black-and-white creatures with snarls forever frozen in their jaws. And four kits dangling from their backs in terror. A white she-cat yowled in terror. “Badgerkit! Foxkit! Wolfkit! Hawkkit!” She paused and narrowed her eyes, then dropped to her paws and darted beneath the ugly animals, then leaped up, swiped, and landed on her paws. In an instant, two more cats began to fight, a dark russet tom and a silvery-gray she-cat with white paws and black muzzle.
The apprentices and warriors watched in horror as first the tom, then the she-cat who appeared to be her mate fell and did not get up. Finally, the staggering silver cat land a few swipes at the swaying creature, then collapsed as well and did not move. Addertooth shook his head, then checked for pulse on all three cats. The long-fanged tom took a shuddering breath, then closed all three cats’ eyes. At once wails erupted across the camp. Cats edged their way past Addertooth and the dead animals to dig their noses into the cats’ bodies. Even Addertooth did so, murmuring words Streampaw could not make out. The kits’ eyes were wide with horror, pressing close to Addertooth, who nuzzled them, eyes glazed with tears.
“That was Freckleheart and her mate Russetmask,” murmured Feathersky sorrowfully. “That silver she-cat—Goldenflash, she was my mother. And Brightdawn’s mother too. Freckleheart was Sycamoreshade’s mother, and Addertooth was Russetmask’s brother. I’m sorry, Goldenflash. You didn’t deserve this.” He turned to the gaping apprentice. “We’ll sit vigil for them, one last good-bye. Then we’ll bury them. I feel so sorry for Badgerkit, Foxkit, Wolfkit, and Hawkkit. They lost both their parents. Russetmask was such a good tom . . . so good . . . he didn’t deserve to die . . .” Streampaw left the cats to their grief.
She padded off, sat down, and began licking their paws. She remembered seeing those cats, Freckleheart in the nursery, having her name one of her kits as well as Lionfang’s. Russetmask greeting her as she joined a patrol. And Goldenflash licking a thorn wound while telling her a funny story or two. Streampaw realized that these cats deserved that good-bye from her. She walked over, and pressed her nose into the closest cat’s fur. A white she-cat. Freckleheart, the sorrowful tabby recognized. “I miss you,” she whispered. “You were so kind to me. I loved playing with your kits. Especially Foxkit.” The russet-and-brown she-cat sat with her, wailing nonstop. Oh StarClan why did you have to take these kits’ mothers? Streampaw cried to the stars above in her mind. Why did you have to take precious warriors from us when RiverClan prepares their attack?
But the stars did not answer.
Streampaw awoke to a thick blanket of snow covering the ground. “Emberpaw? Nettlepaw? Spottedpaw? Wake up!” The first one to jolt awake was the spiky-furred apprentice.
“Hey, I was having such a great dream about—whoa, what is that?” Nettlepaw swiped at the thick white cover. “Is this snow?”
The silver tabby glanced at the apprentice with shock. “You’ve never seen snow? Are you kidding me? You should’ve seen it when you were a kit!”
Nettlepaw glared at her. “And hedgehogs fly! Last leafbare it was only cold, not snowing!”
Streampaw rolled her eyes. She flicked her tail over each of the sleeping cats’ eyes until they jolted awake. “Wha—? Someone’s attacking! WindClan—oh, it’s you two,” meowed Emberpaw.
They padded off into the camp, with the two younger apprentices swiping at the snow falling down, and the queens shepherding their kits back into the nursery. “I’d never think I’d see snow,” whispered Emberpaw in awe. All four of them asked a sleepy and irritable Willowstar if they could go hunting seeing that the prey pile was largely depleted, and she finally consented.
“How hard could it be?” trilled Nettlepaw. “It would be easy as swallowing a mouse! Let’s go” And she sped off into the distance. Spottedpaw shook her head. “Oh, mouse dung.”
After searching through the thick bracken and bramble that was obstructed by a deep snowpile, they had still found nothing, and Streampaw pointed out that they had no idea where was where. “We’re lost.” Emberpaw slowly sniffed, and said that they should head in the direction of the trees, since that was the forest and they lived in the forest. But after still more tries, they ended up in the same spot for what appeared to be the hundredth time. “Mouse dung!” spat Emberpaw. “I was sure we were almost there!”
“You lost?” A small, lithe figure popped her head out of the brambles. “Hi, I’m Bramblepaw, and I think Rowanpaw, Oakpaw, and Moorpaw are behind me. But welcome to WindClan!” A darker, more heavyset cat landed in front. “Bramblepaw! We’re not supposed to welcome them, we’re supposed to chase them off!”
“But this is the WindClan/ShadowClan border!” exclaimed Bramblepaw, a light brown mottled tabby. “They don’t smell of ShadowClan, they smell of—”
“RiverClan!” interjected the heavyset cat. “They smell like fish!”
“You featherbrain, Moorpaw!” growled a ginger she-cat, who seemed familiar. Oakpaw! Streampaw realized. She’s Oakpaw, and next to her is Rowanpaw! “They smell like mice, and thrush, and squirrel! They’re ThunderClan apprentices. Let’s escort them back, or let them in—”
Moorpaw leaped on her, and together they tussled until the tom had Oakpaw underneath him, with claws unsheathed. A golden tabby cat raced out. “What did I tell you? Don’t injure your Clanmates!” Moorpaw did not apologize but said, “I think she should be exiled for saying something so featherbrained.”
“Featherbrained yourself,” retorted Oakpaw. The cat, who was a she-cat, growled, “Oh, be quiet, Oakpaw, stop dabbling in things you don’t understand. And Moorpaw, do that again and you’ll be picking ticks off the elders. For twelve moons.” The tom glared at her, then stalked away.
Streampaw backed away nervously. “Uh . . .” she mumbled, not knowing what to say. “I . . . don’t . . . I mean . . . ThunderClan . . . escort . . . what?” The tabby rolled her eyes. “Oh, here we go. I’m Tansystar, and blah blah blah blah you should know about me. Gatherings bore me, and already I have to list the names of the deceased, including my older brother Wrenstar. Gee, I wonder how not to die . . . Maybe if he didn’t stick his head into that stupid badger den, he still would’ve been alive!”
Oakpaw, who was recovering from the attack, whispered something into Tansystar’s ear. The she-cat shook her head. “Oh, fine. Escort them, give them back, whatever. Just get them out of my sight.”
The four apprentices slowly walked to the WindClan/ThunderClan border, with them slowing down so Oakpaw could keep up. “I heard that Tansystar was always a bit of a snarky, bratty, she-cat. But I never expected her to be this bad! I don’t know why she was chosen as deputy.” On and on and on the she-cat went, until Nettlepaw finally silenced her.
“You really should not be saying that on WindClan territory. Or on any other territory for that matter.”
Oakpaw shrugged. “Everyone says that. Briarfeather, Gorsestrike, Haretail, Windfur, Breezefoot. They all think she’s a piece of fox dung.” Nettlepaw looked shocked, while Spottedpaw let out a gasp.
“I especially think she’s a piece of fox dung,” continued Oakpaw. “She doesn’t seem to care about the wellbeing of the Clan and leaves it all up to Vixengorse, our deputy. She’s madly in love with Mallowwhisker, which anyone can see. But that’s not right! I can’t believe that! Well, here we are at the border. See ya.” Then she trotted off, leaving the apprentices stuck in the snow.
Emberpaw shrugged. “Let’s go.” And they did. They trekked through the snow-covered forest until a gray figure bounded out of nowhere.
“Feathersky!” Nettlepaw meowed, and touched noses with him. Emberpaw looked on with disgust, and Spottedpaw and Streampaw were flabbergasted. Nettlepaw is going to be mates with Feathersky? she thought in shock. I never knew that.
After a sharp reprimand from Willowstar and a reminder that they were to catch prey the next day, they headed off to clean the elders ticks. Clawear wouldn’t let them forget it. “In my day, apprentices did whatever they were told. No one ran off to do who knows what! Not now.” Pinethorn mainly complained about the ticks that were eating him alive, and Sorrelwish entertained them with a good story.
“Once, when we were kits, all three of us, Bravekit, Pinekit, and Sorrelkit, went out on a trip to find a badger and kill it, and maybe hunt along the way. My mother, Birchwhisker, tried to stop us, but only managed to hold Ferretkit, Aspenkit, and Sycamorekit back, and the rest of us trotted off to find that badger. Oh, of course they wondered what three kits were doing outside, but we pretended to play our kit games, and as soon as they weren’t looking, as soon as we were sure they weren’t looking, we dashed outside of camp, far into the forest. And as soon as our adventure started, we bumped into none other than Sorrelpaw, the medicine cat apprentice. I was so sure she was going to herd us back to camp.
“But no. She kept going, telling us that we would go catch that badger. After a while, we found it. We found the badger. However, it was much bigger than us, and none of us had good fighting skills. Sorrelpaw had some, but not good enough to defeat a full-grown badger. However, she did the unthinkable. She fought the badger, organizing us into groups so we could fight. Unfortunately, Sorrelpaw got gravely injured, and when we got back we were nearly too late. She was fixed up by her mentor, Wildsong.
Sorrelwish paused. “We were scolded terribly, by Birchwhisker, by Longstar, by Wildsong, by Quailpaw, Sorrelpaw’s brother, and by Nettlefrost and Ebonyfall, Sorrelpaw’s parents. I thought Longstar was going to delay our apprenticeship ceremony, but nope. We were apprenticed at the normal time, though Sorrelpaw died a few days after the initial injury. She resides in StarClan now. How do I know? I saw her, along with Birchwhisker and Quailtalon and Longstar and Wildsong. It was the most pleasant time of my life. And soon I will join them. But now is not the time to be so morbid. Clawear, why don’t you tell them your story?”
The elder hissed at her, but agreed. “All right. Well, Dewwhisker succeeded Chesnutpelt after he retired to the elders, with Maplesun dying that leaf-bare. Dewstar became the new leader, and after that Willowpaw, my apprentice, became Willowstream, and now Willowstar. I apprenticed another one after that, Frecklepaw, who was Freckleheart. Pinethorn apprenticed Lionfang, and Sorrelwish had Paledapple and Brightdawn, her own granddaughter.
“Oh, but what a hot greenleaf it was when I finally lost that battle with that fox. A vixen, no less! And so, me, Braveclaw the deputy, Braveclaw who was so utterly respected, was defeated. And blood was racing out of my ears, faster than Adderpaw and Wildsong could’ve ever patched it. Finally, they determined one thing: I had to have my ears removed. But I wanted scars of it, I said, and so they jaggedly removed them, leaving it as if they were clawed off. Which they were. I requested to retire, and Leafheart, then a fairly respected warrior, became deputy. He had Ferretstalk as his mentor, and sure was he sad after his mentor’s death.
Streampaw didn’t mind listening to the stories the elders told. Sure, they could ramble on and on and on about their accomplishments, tales, and such, but it provided a sense of calm. Soon, they retired to their own nests, with Streampaw’s eyelids snapping shut. She woke in a forest full of stars, with calm and familiarity surrounding her. A familiar shape formed in front of her, a broad-shouldered tom, with warm green eyes, whose scent carried so much memories. “Harold?” she meowed tentatively. “Is that really you? Where am I?”
The tom nuzzled her. “You’re in StarClan. And I used to be Harold, once. But now I walk these skies as Patchmottle, and I know you do not have true Clan blood. But you do not need that to become a true warrior. You only need your courage, your strength, and your faith. Let me introduce you to some friends. This,” he pointed, “is Thunderstar, founder of the great ThunderClan.” Thunderstar was a bright ginger tom with huge paws. “And that,” Patchmottle smiled, “is your aunt Peachwhisker and your other aunt Fawnheart.”
Streampaw gasped. “Is that really you, Fawnheart? I’m so sorry . . . What happened?”
Fawnheart shrugged, far from the scrawny elder she was. She was of lithe build, but her muscles rippled underneath her sleek fur. “Greencough. It takes the weakest of the Clan, but they always come back to their home: StarClan.”
The silver tabby she-cat gazed, awestruck by the number of glittery cats that surrounded her. “Who’s that?” she asked, nodding at a flame-colored tom with bright green eyes. Fawnheart stared at Thunderstar, who stared at Patchmottle. It was Peachwhisker who finally spoke. “That is a future cat, one who will soon leave his Twolegs, to become one of the greatest cats ever known. You’re not alone, Streampaw, in wanting to feel the satisfying taste of fresh-kill, the warm sun lapping at your back, or the wind ruffling your fur as you race with your littermates. There’s a bit of wild in each and every one of us, Streampaw. Each and every one of us.”
The brown-and-white tabby tom pressed his white muzzle to Streampaw’s head. “You’ll do fine. I promise. We will light your path, Streampaw. We will.”
Streampaw awoke from the enjoyable dream to a bone-chilling wail. She ran outside, and saw a familiar brown tom lying, with his throat torn out. “What happened?” she inquired frantically. Clawear, who was pressing her nose into the tom’s blood-soaked pelt, cried, “Our medicine cat is dead!” She paused, then continued, “But he wasn’t just that! My son, my beautiful son! Why did you have to die?”
The apprentice finally realized who the tom was. The dead tom was Addertooth.
“I don’t believe it.” The energetic tortoiseshell, who was always so jumpy, was quiet and solemn for the vigil. “I can’t believe it! We’re stuck without a medicine cat!”
Emberpaw wrapped his tail around his sister, murmuring soft words that Streampaw couldn’t make out. The she-cat then responded by clawing at the ground. “Why did this have to happen! Now we have no medicine cat, and no way to heal ourselves!” wailed Nettlepaw.
The cats were huddled together in the snow, waiting for the vigil for Addertooth to be over. Willowstar was the one to speak the sacred words, since there was no medicine cat to do so. After that, some cats were quickly ushered back to their dens, such as the queens and kits, but Clawear and Pinethorn refused to leave their son behind. “We don’t care if we get sick and die,” rasped the brown tom. “At least we’ll be reunited with him.” Willowstar finally relented, and Streampaw gently placed her tail tip on Clawear’s flank.
The next day, Willowstar sent Lionfang, whose kits were already eating solid food, and her friend Cinderlight to ShadowClan to see if they could help them with the medicine cat issue.
“We helped them chase out the rogues that were threatening to destroy them. It’s not like they owe us, but they can help us with this. Remind Dapplestar of her predecessors, Fallenstar, Ripplestar, and Brightstar. Remind them that they owe us as well.” With that, the leader sent them off.
Streampaw watched the two she-cats disappear into the snowy forest, the wind tugging at their pelts. “I wonder what ShadowClan will do,” meowed the tabby. “Would it seem like them to attack us, or to leak this info to the others?” Brightdawn shook her head, her ginger fur glistening even in leafbare.
“That’s not like them,” answered the thin-striped tabby. “Sure, that sounds like Tansystar or Froststar, but Dapplestar would never betray us. Trust me.”
Streampaw relaxed at this news, and turned to see a black-and-white she-kit tugging at her tail. “Badgerkit!” she gasped. “What are you doing out of the nursery? It’s too cold for you—even I’m freezing my tail off!” The she-kit didn’t take her eyes off the silver she-cat in front of her.
“Why did Freckleheart have to die?” asked Badgerkit after a while. “Why did she and Russetmask have to die?” Streampaw could see that the she-kit was still mourning, but her voice was firm and level. The apprentice sighed. “I don’t have all the answers. Sometime’s that’s just fate. But she died protecting you, Badgerkit. I know the Clan will remember her for moons to come. Now, what would you like to do?” Badgerkit perked up. “Let’s go hear one of the elder’s stories!”
And so they did. Brightdawn accompanied them, and so did Wolfkit, a tiny tortoiseshell she-kit. Only Sorrelwish was there, and she was not in the mood for stories. “I’ve got better things to do right now,” she growled. “Why don’t you listen to the queens?”
Applemoon was willing to entertain them. “So, I’ll tell you the stories of Hollystar, Brindlestar, Blossomstar, Flightstar, Ryestar, Sweetstar, Brightstar, Sleekstar, and Ripplestar. The previous leaders of ShadowClan. “Shadowstar, the jet black founder of the Clan, appointed her kin, Sun Shadow, as her deputy. Unfortunately, he died as deputy, so the next deputy was Raven Pelt, who became Ravenstar. The deputy he appointed was a she-cat by the name of Hollystripe. Hollystripe became Hollystar, and she appointed Ivybriar as her deputy. Then Ivybriar retired, and Brindledawn was appointed next. Brindledawn became Brindlestar, and she appointed Blossomfeather, who became Blossomstar. Blossomstar had Flightsong as deputy, who became Flightstar.
“And Flightstar went on to appoint her best warrior Ryepelt as deputy. He became Ryestar, and he appointed his mate Sweetdapple as deputy, who became Sweetstar. Sweetstar appointed Brightsnow, who appointed Sleekfur, and then appointed Rippleheart. Ripplestar appointed Fallenstreak, who in turn appointed Dapplefeather.”
On and on the she-cat went about the great tales of the cats, especially how Brightstar was destined to become the cat to save from the rogues. “And I knew Rhea, personally. I hope to wreak revenge on her memory any way I can. She’s dead, by the way. Killed by none other than Brightstar, and if she doesn’t reside in the Dark Forest . . .” Applemoon slid out her claws. “There will be no justice.”
Her voice grew deeper and angrier and more menacing as she said, “I will hunt down every last of her children and forever remove them from the forest to ensure that they will do no damage to our society.” Then she straightened up. “Well, I’m sure your mentors would like to take you on patrol. Go on, now.”
Streampaw quickly dipped her head, then ran outside, beckoning her friends over. “Hey, psst!” She waved her tail impatiently. “Let’s go on a patrol, because I need to tell you something and it’s urgent.”
Two cats came out yawning, one a broad shouldered brown tom, the other a gray tom with a fluffy tail. “Could you have waited until we were more awake?” grumbled the gray tom.
“And maybe have thought of our time span?” growled the other warrior. “It’s almost sundown, so we’ll have less time to patrol the borders and look for food.”
The silver tabby swiped at him. “Don’t. Think. About. That.” And with that she ran off into the white-blanketed world.
She found herself at the edge of the ThunderClan border, where they brushed against ShadowClan’s border. Soon the day would come when she would receive her full warrior name but today wasn’t that day. Staring at the murky swamps and fresh pine scent tickled her nose, but it felt like . . . home. Something that had never crossed her mind before. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” A warm voice, one that sounded like pure honey, fell on Streampaw’s ear. Soft and melodious, the tom stepped beside the sleek-furred apprentice. “I know we have a duty to ThunderClan first, but, wouldn’t it be nice to just . . . escape the feelings of being a warrior-in-training?” Emberpaw’s broad, plumy fox tail wrapped around Streampaw’s back and paws.
The silver she-cat did not say anything, but waited. Waited for the patrol that was sent to return and bring help. “I want to be able to help my Clan,” she mewed finally. But how can I when I know my destiny isn’t that of a medicine cat?”
Emberpaw gazed at her. “Sometimes you never know, Streampaw. Sometimes you never know.”
Upon returning home with a shrew and a toad that everybody found disgusting, (“We can’t eat that!” yowled Briarheart), they were greeted with the news. Until somebody found out who was to be the medicine cat, they could do nothing about it. Briarpaw, the medicine apprentice back in ShadowClan, was being left alone so Splashstorm could come help.
“A medicine cat needs to be picked, but it is based on the will of StarClan entirely,” the she-cat growled, her blue eyes surveying the gathered cats. She lashed her black striped tail. “And that’s final. You’re all dismissed.”
Nettlepaw was the first to bound up to them. “Where were you?” she shrilled. “We were worried sick! I thought you were dead! Tell me where you were! I can’t believe you two would run off like that! Were there any . . . interactions?” Her green eyes flashed with mischief.
“Nettlepaw! You’re too young for that!” scolded Briarheart, a sturdy brown she-cat with white flecks. She swiped her black tipped tail in disapproval. “Where did you get such knowledge?”
Sycamoreshade pretended to look innocent, while his sisters Badgerkit and Foxkit started laughing and rolling on the ground. The warrior shook her head, and trotted off, herding the two she-kits back to the nursery, where their brothers were waiting for the gossip.
“Where—Where am I?” Streampaw had fallen asleep, only to have woken up to a dark, swamp forest. Shadows of mist enveloped her. A bright figure padded up to her. “Rhea!” she gasped, aware of the fact that her mother lived in this dreary place. “What in the name of StarClan are you doing here?”
Her mother, a well-muscled she-cat, turned around and hissed at her. “StarClan! Those soft-hearted fools. They know nothing about true power, and strength, and glory.” More figures, though slightly paler, surrounded her, their hissing and growling growing louder by the minute.
A yellow she-cat with black stripes strutted up to them. “What is the point of strength if you can’t use it? Those StarClan cats? They don’t know how to use strength. They know nothing. But here, in the Dark Forest, we teach those who have potential. And you have potential.”
Streampaw backed away. “I-I don’t know you guys. And I have no interest in being here. Do you hear me? None.” “But—” A copper-colored tom was about to object when the green-eyed apprentice cut him off. “I’m done with you. You hear me? I’m done.”
As she ran away, she could hear a tom yell, “Go after her, Tom! Get her!” With a panic, she ran faster, realizing that was Shredtail, one of the meaner ShadowClan warriors she encountered. Along with his mate Sparrowfeather, he was a bully, stealing prey from them and wounding them. In fact, that was how Rowan and Oak’s littermate Holly died. Their mother, Willow, gave birth to them. For some reason, Shredtail came over, attacking Willow first, then fatally wounding Holly, who at the time didn’t even have a name.
Go go go! her mind screeched, and with all her might she sprinted and she jerked awake. “Aah!” she shrieked.
Immediately Emberpaw and Nettlepaw jumped up, nearly hitting their heads on the roof of the den. “What the—Streampaw, you scared the fox dung out of us!” breathed Nettlepaw. “Don’t ever do that again!”
“Sorry,” Streampaw muttered. She sat down and began licking her white paws. Couldn’t she sleep without any nightmares waking her up?
Streampaw darted between the bushes, and clamped onto the thrush. It tried to take off, but soon Sycamoreshade bit down on its neck, and it stopped struggling. Sycamoreshade was helping Streampaw with her hunting, because Ashwhisker was on border patrol. “Nice catch, Streampaw,” noted the tom. She nodded and wove around the bracken, trying to see if she could spot anything else. “Mouse dung, there’s nothing else!” she muttered. “If only the prey wasn’t hiding so much.”
The tom only glanced at her with a look of agreement and stood up suddenly. “Prey,” he mouthed, and flitted through the bracken, Streampaw scurrying after him. Suddenly the world didn’t seem so bad after all.
Streampaw watched the four kits scurry out of the nursery. “Congratulations!” she squealed. “You waited six long moons and now you get to be apprentices!”
The oldest of the group, Badgerkit, turned around. “But Russetmask and Freckleheart aren’t here to see us!” she wailed.
“No worries. They’ll be watching you from StarClan. I’m sure they’ll be very proud.”
The kits nodded, and then ran off. Another moon had passed, and had arrived. She still had a twinge of sadness when she thought about Spottedpaw’s switch.
“I’ll miss you,” she had said.
“I’m not going to StarClan,” she scoffed. “You’ll see me every day.”
“But you won’t receive my name with me. You won’t hunt with me. You’ll be more distant.”
“You know StarClan chose me for this purpose, Streampaw. I must be the new medicine cat. Besides, I get to do things you warriors never see or know of. So don’t feel bad. You’ll do fine.”
“All right.” The tabby licked her friend’s shoulder, then waved her tail goodbye as Spottedpaw left with Splashstorm. “StarClan light your path, Spottedpaw.”
Her face must’ve been highly evident, because Leafheart wrapped his tail around her. “I know it feels hard to lose a friend to a different duty. I was friends with Addertooth, but I lost him. But just so you know, she’ll still be friends with you.
Now, back to the present day. She knew that Spottedpaw was destined to become a medicine cat, but it still hurt to be separated from her friend, even if it wasn’t that major. I wonder how the others are doing, she thought. Do they still remember me, like Oakpaw and Rowanpaw? Or have they already forgotten me? The apprentice pushed away those thoughts. She would see her favorite kits become apprentices! Willowstar leapt upon the Highrock and yowled, “Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here for a Clan meeting!” Turning towards the kits, she waited until everyone had gathered, and continued. “These kits have reached the age of six moons, and are ready to be apprenticed.
“Badgerkit, from this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Badgerpaw. Your mentor will be Paledapple. Paledapple, I know you are loyal and courageous. I trust you to pass on those traits to young Badgerpaw.” She then beckoned forward Wolfkit, the next oldest of the group.
“Wolfkit, from this moment on, you will be known as Wolfpaw. Your mentor will be Olivehunt. Olivehunt, you were trained by your mother, Ferretstalk. You are one of the most respected of our warriors, and I hope you train Wolfpaw to someday become like that.” Olivehunt, a tortoiseshell tom, dipped his head and touched nose with the energetic apprentice.
Next up was Foxkit. The she-cat’s violet eyes were glistening as Willowstar motioned for her to come forward. “Foxkit, from this moment on, you will be known as Foxpaw. Your mentor will be Flashleg. Flashleg, you were a good father to both Brightdawn and Feathersky, and I expect you to pass on your skills to Foxpaw here.”
Finally, it was Hawkkit’s turn. Streampaw felt closer to him than any other kit; she named him and helped him get over his greencough bout. I’m so happy for him, she thought. He deserves this. “Hawkkit, from this moment on, you will be known as Hawkpaw. Your mentor will be Feathersky. Feathersky, I know you are young, but you are ready for your first apprentice. You will show him how to be brave and kind.”
Streampaw, Spottedpaw, Nettlepaw, and Emberpaw cheered for the newly named apprentices. “Badgerpaw! Hawkpaw! Foxpaw! Wolfpaw!” The older apprentices, Streampaw and Spottedpaw, ran up to them. “You’re apprentices! Congrats!” It was a mess of fur and tails and paws, and Streampaw found herself struggling to get out. “Dude, let me through.”
Finally, they broke apart, and Streampaw went off to complete an assessment. She met up with Ashwhisker, who nodded towards the forest. “First things first, you need to bring back at least five pieces of prey. I’ve sent out senior warriors to watch you, to make sure you don’t cheat. Go.”
The tabby nodded, and darted off through the trees. “Five pieces,” she murmured, over and over. “Five pieces.” A shrew caught her attention, and she nimbly ran between two oaks. Faster and faster she ran, until the shrew stopped. Creeping slowly, then faster, she pounced. The shrew was unaware, and she bit down on it. “One prey down, four to go.” She turned around, and a thrush was waiting for her.
After she caught the thrush, Streampaw searched the trees and the undergrowth for more prey. She jabbed out at random in frustration, when suddenly she felt blood and flesh. Looking down, Streampaw saw that she pierced the chest of a squirrel. “Perfect,” she whispered, and buried it in her stash.
“Well done, Streampaw,” a voice called out. Startled, Streampaw whirled around to see where the voice was coming from. “Ashwhisker!” she cried. “But I haven’t completed the assessment!”
“This will have to do. The Gathering is tonight, and Willowstar has declared that you will go, along with Lionfang, Emberpaw, Pinethorn, and Paledapple. Now prepare yourself. You can take a piece from the prey pile when you get back.”
The silver she-cat nodded, then picked up the prey and took it back. The commotion inside the camp was obvious: two cats were arguing over who got to eat the only thrush left in the prey pile.
“I’ll eat it!” growled Badgerpaw, her eyes gleaming fiercely. Her former littermate Specklekit had the thrush in his teeth, and was snarling.
“No, it’s mine!” That was the final blow, and Badgerpaw leaped onto the kit, and they rolled around until Streampaw got stuck in the middle. She pushed them apart, and glared sternly at them.
“Perhaps you could wait for the last patrol to come back before you start arguing about prey.” She dropped the thrush in front of them. “Two thrushes, one for each of you. Enjoy.”
“All cats who are going to the Gathering, follow me!” The cats perked up and began following the gray she-cat, their ears twitching nervously. So many things had happened over the course of these moons. What if the truce at the Gathering broke because of the tension? What if fighting broke out? What if everything went wrong? Worries flashed through Streampaw’s mind, swirling and building up inside her head until—
“Are you all right?” asked a concerned Lionfang. “You’re frozen stiff!”
The apprentice ducked her head, embarrassed. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine. I’m all right. Let’s go.” And so they did, with Willowstar in the front and the deputy Leafheart in the back.
“Ah, Willowstar, you’ve arrived!” cried out the SkyClan leader, Wildstar. “We are waiting for ShadowClan and WindClan to arrive. Streampaw settled beside a tabby tom with big green eyes. “Hello,” he mewed. “I’m Yarrowtail. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
“Yes!” she cried, astonished. “I heard about you when I first came to the Clans! Tell me more about yourself.” The tom snorted. He sat down, wrapping his tail around himself. “It wasn’t so easy for me. Hawkpaw wasn’t a good influence. She was charming, sure. But . . .” He stared down at his paws. “She was a rule-breaker. She taunted the kits. She disrespected the leader and deputy. She pulled pranks on the elders and even got one of them, Treeflight, killed. Her tongue was so dirty. But she’s gone now,” he added with a sniff.
“How are you now?”
“I’m good. I have Flystripe as a mate, and she’s had four wonderful kits: Rushkit, Willowkit, Quailkit, and Plumkit. All very healthy kits. Perhaps you’d like to see them one day?”
“When they’re old enough, sure.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“How . . . how did Hawkpaw die?” Streampaw was scared to ask the question. It was clear that it was sensitive information for Yarrowtail. Still, she had to try.
Yarrowtail glared at her, then stood up. “I don’t feel like sharing that.” He turned around. “Wait, I haven’t heard of your name.”
The apprentice dipped her head. “Streampaw. I’m Streampaw.”
The tabby sighed. “Yes. You know, Pinepaw and Cedarpaw have been wonderful additions to the Clan. Although, Pinepaw is a pain in the tail sometimes.”
“That’s what I think of him. Also he needs some grooming.”
“The Gathering has begun!” yowled a spiky-furred she-cat. “SkyClan shall start first. Since the last Gathering, Flystripe has moved into the nursery and birthed four healthy kits, two daughters, two sons.
"Cloudthorn has also passed away in his sleep. We have held vigil for him, and all the Clan mourns for his death. Your turn, Tansystar.” The moonlight shone on her, and Streampaw realized that Wildstar was more battle-scarred than the others. What happened?
The golden she-cat was checking to see if her claws were still intact, when she looked up. “Oh? Mm-kay, so, Bramblepaw and Moorpaw have become warriors. Bramblepaw is now Bramblespot, and Moorpaw is now Moorfoot. Anyways, Vixengorse has decided to retire to the elders due to his back problems, and Swifttail is now deputy.”
Dapplestar went next. “Splashstorm has decided to help another Clan. In doing so she must leave. Her apprentice, Briarpaw, is taking care of the Clan in her absence. Also, Specklegorse has unfortunately passed on to StarClan, and we wish him the best.”
Soon, it was Willowstar’s turn. “Badgerkit, Foxkit, Hawkkit, and Wolfkit are now apprentices by the names of Badgerpaw, Foxpaw, Hawkpaw, and Wolfpaw. Applemoon has also recently birthed two daughters, Flowerkit and Slashkit, who are doing fine, tended to by our new medicine cat apprentice Spottedpaw.” The cats in the clearing cheered the respective names.
Jayclaw, who was taking Froststar's place, now turned to face Willowstar. “Now, explain yourself for trying to claim Sunningrocks, when it isn't even yours!”
Willowstar growled, her hackles already rising. “It has nothing to do with Sunningrocks! And why isn't your leader here, hmm, Jayclaw?”
The deputy only looked stunned for a moment before snarling, “It is because we are starving, Willowstream! We are starving and yet you refuse to give us more land!”
“Your cats seem healthy and as plump as a kittypet!”
“Not for long!”
“I will put the needs of my clan first, Jayclaw, and don't you forget it. You will not take any of my territory, or you will regret it.”
“Fine,” snapped Jayclaw. He turned to look at Streampaw. “Hello, sister,” he grumbled. The Gathering was declared at an end.
“Not so fast, Clan cats.” A silver-and-white she-cat stepped into the clearing. In the moonlight, her face was a mixture of fury and amusement. “I hate to break it to you, but your Clan is in more than a pickle.” Streampaw’s eyes widened in horror and whispered, “Jackie? Is that you?”
All around, cats turned to stare at the horror-stricken apprentice. This is what her sister had become? Her wonderful, playful, loving, sarcastic, adorable Jackie had turned into a Clan-hating monster. Turning around, she saw that five cats had pinned down apprentices from all five Clans. A ginger tom with brown legs and tail held down Rowanpaw from WindClan. A mottled gray she-cat had a long-legged tortoiseshell she-cat from RiverClan. A heavyset dark brown tabby she-cat pinned down Briarpaw of ShadowClan, with a lithe brown-and-white she-cat placing her claws on a tom’s belly from SkyClan.
Cats began to wail for their cats. “No!” Streampaw recognized Marigoldpaw’s wail. “Lilypaw! Lilypaw! No!”
“My son! No! Treepaw, no!”
“Rowanpaw! Rowanpaw!” That was Oakpaw.
“Hawkpaw? You’re not dead?” And that was Yarrowtail.
“Briarpaw! Not my apprentice!” yowled Splashstorm.
“Hawkpaw, how could you?”
Willowstar hissed for everyone to calm down. “That’s not important!” she growled. “Look at him! Look what that tom has done to him!” Her tail lashed at a silver-blue tom with piercing blue eyes, and a fierce smile. Underneath his paws was a young, frightened apprentice.
A dark tortoiseshell. Russet paws. Russet tail. Russet muzzle.
A leg bloody and battered, torn, mauled, defeated.
It was her crush.
It was Emberpaw.
“Emberpaw!” Streampaw ran forward, adrenaline coursing through her veins. “Emberpaw!”
She felt a tugging on her from Nettlepaw. “No!” the she-cat yelled. “He’ll just injure Emberpaw again, like he did when I tried to rescue him! It’s no use!”
Streampaw tried to control her breathing. She looked up at her sister. “What have you done?!” she shrieked.
Jackie laughed menacingly. “Nothing, my dear. We have grown strong. We can take over this forest with a flick of our paws, you know. And don’t call me Jackie anymore. It’s Talon. We’ll become the strongest of the strongest. We are BloodClan.” At that moment, the silver tabby realized that around her neck was a faded yellow collar with a . . . was that a Pokeball design? And in the middle of each Pokeball extended a spike. No, not a spike. A dog tooth, wicked and sharp, extended from each of the rogue’s collars.
All around, the Clans started assembling themselves. Leaders on the outside, then the deputies, then the senior warriors from all the Clans down to the newest warriors. Inside were apprentices, queens, and elders that were allowed to go. Streampaw guessed that they would be unable to rescue Emberpaw until the rogues left, or the leaders gave the signal to attack, whichever one came first.
Talon, on the other hand, seemed to be more dismissive. “We’re not here to attack.”
“Oh no?” Tansystar, who was the closest, drew her lips back into the beginnings of a snarl.
“No. Not yet. For now, we want you to hear our deal.
“In twelve moons’ time, we will meet here again. You will decide whether you will leave the forest, or stay here. If you stay, however, you will have to face the consequences. We have many experienced cats . . . more than you could ever imagine. So, think about it! You don’t want to lose your precious cats, do you?”
With that, she swiped her tail, and all the cats that were pinning down the frightened apprentices turned around and followed their leader back home. Relieved of his guard, Emberpaw tried to stand up, but collapsed immediately. “Emberpaw!” Streampaw rushed forward and nuzzled his cheek. “Are you all right?”
He rolled his eyes. “What do you think, Streampaw? I can’t move my leg, and everything hurts!”
Splashstorm and Spottedpaw, who were struggling to get through to the injured tortoiseshell, cleared their throats. “Excuse me, but we have to get this cat treated. He’s probably lost a ton of blood by now,” sighed the black and white she-cat. Her tail swished back and forth anxiously. “Wait, there are cobwebs on here. Who did it?” The she-cat looked at her apprentice. “Did you do it?”
Spottedpaw shook her head. Splashstorm continued to question everyone around her, until they got to Pinethorn. He nodded. “My son, Addertooth taught me how to apply cobwebs to a bleeding wound. That happened when my mate got attacked by that horrible fox.” He stared off into the distance, obviously remembering his son, who was mysteriously attacked.
As Streampaw made her way back, others asked what happened. Spottedpaw, who was closest, drew back her lips and snarled, “Go away! Can’t you see that she’s tired? Ask her in the morning!” Streampaw muttered her thanks before collapsing into a nest.
She awoke in a glittery forest. “StarClan?” Then several cats came out of nowhere. A black tom, a brown tom with long fangs, and so much more cats appeared. “We are here,” the tom meowed.
“We must tell you something,” the brown tom added, and Streampaw recognized him as Addertooth. Oh, Addertooth, I wish you hadn’t died! Before he could say anything else a honey-pelted tom rolled his eyes. “Addertooth, we must introduce ourselves first! He pointed his tail to himself. I’m Honey Pelt. This is Addertooth, and your ThunderClan friends, Goldenflash, Russetmask, Freckleheart, blah blah blah. That’s Sun Shadow, that’s Dappled Pelt, that’s Lightning Tail, and that’s Nightstar.” Two more cats, a ginger tom and a light brown she-cat with ginger patches introduced themselves as Hazelstar and Daisytail respectively.
The apprentice was shivering with fear. “What do you want?” she mewed hoarsely.
“We must tell you something,” Addertooth repeated. “Beware the silver ghost, and caution of her remains.”
“What does it mean?” Streampaw wailed.
Nightstar, a black and white she-cat, thrust her muzzle in front of her. “You must rid the forest of your mother’s memory! You must find your destiny, and remember who are your allies, and who are your enemies.”
Dappled Pelt growled, “BloodClan is a threat! You must drive it out of the forest!”
All around, more and more whispers and sounds came from the cats.
“The blood of brothers will stain the river!”
“Fire alone can save us all.”
“Listen to what midnight tells you.”
“Lion and Tiger will meet, and Blood will rule the forest!”
“Beware the enemy that seems to sleep.”
Streampaw was overwhelmed. “Let me go!” she shrieked. “Let me wake up!”
Finally, after all the chaos, a small, lithe, white she-cat with eyes as green as grass stepped forward. And she stopped it all with one word: “Stop.”
She nuzzled Streampaw. “Don’t be worried. Your destiny reaches far beyond the leaves of the forest, and you will certainly dispel the rotten fruits of your Clan.” The she-cat glared at the assembled cats, as if daring them to argue. All of them stepped back, with the black tom, Sun Shadow, murmuring, “As you wish, Moth Flight.”
Moth Flight brushed her tail tip across Streampaw’s face. “You’ll do fine, Streampaw. I know you will.”
Streampaw awoke, sweat covering her. “Great StarClan . . .” she breathed, trying to take everything in. What had happened? And all those prophecies . . . fire alone could save them? Was that meant for now, or later? What did it all mean?
Streampaw hadn’t worried about the dream, because there wasn’t any time to worry. She ran around doing patrols, eating, cleaning up the elders, and battle training with Ashwhisker. Unfortunately, her questions began to haunt her, and Nettlepaw, not aware that her claws were unsheathed, had swept her claws down the back of her shoulder, causing it to sting. The she-cat winced, and was ushered over to the medicine cat den, but she soon forgot why she was there. Then she realized that Splashstorm could answer her questions.
She walked over to the medicine den, and stretched, looking for an answer to her questions. Inside, Splashstorm and Spottedpaw were huddled over a sleeping figure. “We might just have to remove his leg,” sighed Splashstorm. “It’s infected, it won’t respond to the marigold poultice, and it’s causing us to use up a lot of our feverfew.”
Streampaw gasped, then ducked back, clearly embarrassed. Spottedpaw giggled, then asked. “You need anything?”
“Yes. But I don’t know if you can explain it. Maybe Splashstorm can.” She stepped towards the white-splotched she-cat, then gasped with pain. Her shoulder! Of course! Nettlepaw had accidently cut her shoulder up while doing battle training. “Oh. I also need to get my shoulder treated. Can you call Splashstorm over? You can treat my shoulder.” The tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat nodded, then walked over to the white-splotched she-cat, and poked her.
“What do you want answered?” Splashstorm asked casually. “I mean, I can’t answer everything StarClan throws at you, but I can help direct you.”
Streampaw struggled to figure out how she should word her question. “Well . . . I had a dream. A dream from StarClan. And they said . . .” She paused as she tried to remember the prophecy. “They said, ‘Beware the silver ghost, and caution of her remains.’ What does that mean? Then so many others came afterwards . . . and then this she-cat named Moth Flight came and said, ‘Your destiny reaches far beyond the leaves of the forest, and you will certainly dispel the rotten fruits of your Clan.’ I don’t know how to take all of this in! What does it mean?”
Splashstorm seemed deep in thought, then spoke. “I was just a mere kit when rogues terrorized the five Clans. Before you ask, I am still quite young. Silver . . . there was a prophecy beforehand that spoke of something silver. ‘Bright skies will turn into sounding thunder, and the only one who shall save from the silver menace is the bright-eyed.’ The ‘silver menace,’ it turned out, was Rhea, a rogue with nothing but vengeance on her mind. She went crazy after her sister, Peachwhisker died, and managed to convince Rabbitpounce and Isabella that their hardships were the Clans’ fault.
“Because of her, all the Clan leaders alive during that time had to swear by their nine lives that they would protect the rising savior, a kit named Brightkit. Otherwise they would lose all but one of their nine lives. Harsh, yes, but Rhea was very nearly the downfall of the Clans.” She paused. “Or so Raincloud told me. He was alive during all the chaos, and somehow managed not to go crazy as well. It might seem ridiculous that one cat could’ve destroyed us all, but it’s true. Somehow Rhea had some other cats on her side, and was able to attack the root of the Clans, killing all leaders after the initial leaders, which meant five deputies had to rally their Clans and attack Rhea and her rogues.” Splashstorm sighed. She paused, licking her paw. “The prophecy tells of a ‘silver ghost.’ That might mean that Rhea’s influence is still in the forest. And ‘caution of her remains.’ I don’t know what that means.”
Streampaw lashed her tail. “But what about the other one? The one that talked about my destiny and the rotten fruit?” “Only three cats in your camp are named after fruit: Applemoon, Plumleaf, and Cherrywhisker. Though cherry is a type of tree too, so it might just be two. Anyways, only one Leaf- prefix cat is an adult, and that’s Leafheart, so . . . maybe you’ll become deputy one day? Anything else?”
Streampaw winced as some poultice was applied to her shoulder. “Will Emberpaw be okay?”
Splashstorm growled in frustration, which caused Streampaw to take a step back. “It’s too soon to tell, but his leg will have to be removed. It’ll take a few days of recovery, up to half a moon at most. I don’t know how he’ll cope.” The apprentice nodded. “Thanks. I’ll see you.”
“Okay, so today we’ll be moving into the advanced tactics,” meowed Ashwhisker. Streampaw and Spottedpaw were listening intently. “Now, if an opponent decides to do the leap-and-hold trick, chances are that they’ll be holding on real tight. It’ll be near impossible to shake them off, so what you’ll do is roll, and try to squash them. They’ll jump out of the way, most likely, so if that happens try this. Spottedpaw, do the leap and hold, but don’t unsheathe your claws.” Spottedpaw bared her teeth, and leaped onto the muscled tom. Ashwhisker rolled, with Spottedpaw jumping out of the way. Then, the tabby tom did something unexpected. Instead of getting up, he rolled towards the apprentice, who yowled and tried to jump out of the way, but tripped over the rolling cat and lost her footing, rolling for a while before coming to a stop. Fast as lightning, the gray tabby tom darted towards her, then when she reached out to strike, darted underneath her, nipped her hind legs, then darted out, put in a few blows, then darted underneath once again, but this time, pummeled her belly. “Okay, stop.”
“Whew!” Spottedpaw sighed. “I’m exhausted. How do we do that?”
“It’s all about timing. The essential thing is that you dodge your opponents blows and somehow distract him with some wounds, then dart underneath quickly so you can nip him or scratch him on his belly before he can react. Try it. Also, for this move, it’s best that you be quick, and pair it with the previous move I showed you. Roll over, squash your opponent, then do the trick. If that doesn’t work, somehow catch them off balance while on the ground, otherwise they have the upper paw.” Streampaw grabbed onto Spottedpaw, hoping she wasn’t unsheathing her claws. Spottedpaw growled and rolled over, then jumped straight up and darted in between and around her legs, causing the silver tabby to lose her balance, allowing Spottedpaw to get in a few quick blows.
However, Spottedpaw grew weary and began taking a lot of hits, and wasn’t quick enough when she went to rake Streampaw’s belly. Streampaw ended up raking Spottedpaw’s belly, and Ashwhisker told them to stop. “Never mind. Consider doing one move at a time, as we don’t want you to tire out in the middle of a battle.”
Streampaw walked over to the apprentices’ den to chat with Spottedpaw. “How you doing?”
“Not bad, not good. I’m still trying to figure out everything. Quiz me?”
“Uh, okay. What helps with infection?”
“Marigold, chervil, horsetail, and honey. Burdock root and wild garlic are used exclusively for rat bites.”
“Mm-kay. What about bellyaches?”
“Chervil, juniper berries, mallow, parsley, and watermint are all used for treating bellyaches,” recited Spottedpaw.
Spottedpaw sighed. “I remember that catmint helps with whitecough and greencough, but I forgot what herb prevents greencough in the first place.”
“Oh. What about those traveling herbs?”
Streampaw sighed. “Well, let’s see. Applemoon wants my temporary mentor to go and take me to the Great Sycamore, so I can learn how to climb. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking you too. Wanna come?”
Spottedpaw shrugged. “Eh, why not?”
The two charged out of the apprentice’s den and argued over who could climb the tree fastest. Ashwhisker, clearly annoyed, lashed his tail and told them to stop, or they wouldn’t get some prey from the fresh-kill pile later. Both apprentices stopped and listened for instructions.
“Okay, so what you do is start at the base of the tree, and leap up a little, then start climbing, your claws dug into the bark. Make sure your grip is very strong, otherwise you’d slip. Now you two try. Why don’t you climb to that first branch to the right?”
Spottedpaw started first. She stepped back, then ran, leaped onto the tree, then darted up the tree to the branch. “Did I pass?” she asked.
“You made it look easy!” replied Ashwhisker. Turning to Streampaw, he said, “Now you try.”
Streampaw hesitated, before leaping on the tree, and slowly climbing up. Her confidence in herself was shaky, but it grew as she neared the tree branch. Pausing on a nearby one, she was about to take the jump with she heard a creaking sound. Worried, she jumped off, and barely managed to get to the desired branch, her paws the only thing that kept her from slipping. “Help!” she screamed. “Help me!” Her paws were slipping. Spottedpaw reached out a paw but it was too late.
Streampaw fell down, down, down.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Streampaw cried as she plummeted from the height. Fortunately, it wasn’t very tall, so she didn’t have long to wait before she twisted around and landed on her hind paw awkwardly. “Ouch! Fox dung! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” Spottedpaw ran over.
“Are you okay?” Streampaw couldn’t see very well due to the fact that she was seeing spots, and mumbled, “Go away, Nettlepaw.”
The tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat shook her head. “I’m not Nettlepaw. I’m Spottedpaw. Come on. Let’s get you to Splashstorm.” The tabby felt herself being dragged along the ground, but had no memory of nothing else. Later she was told that she was giggling about catnip.
She woke up to screaming. “Aah! What’s going on? Where’s my leg? What’s happening?!”
Spottedpaw and Splashstorm, who had dark circles under their eyes, sighed. “It’s okay, Emberpaw,” growled the latter. “We just removed your left leg due to infection.”
Emberpaw didn’t look entirely convinced, but shifted over next to Streampaw, wincing as he did. “So, how did you get here?”
“I tried to fly.”
“I’m guessing it didn’t succeed?”
Emberpaw moved his remaining limbs. He stood up, wincing with pain, and walked around a little, before collapsing next to the silver tabby. “Ouch. Guess I better work on my walking skills.”
Streampaw sighed. “What happened to my leg?” she asked.
Spottedpaw inspected it. “Splashstorm guessed it’s just twisted, though I would say that from the way it’s taking a slow time to heal it’s probably broken.” Behind her back, Splashstorm made a ‘tsk-ing’ noise and shook her head.
Before long, the two medicine cats had her approved and let her and Emberpaw go outside to exercise their legs, though Splashstorm didn't agree that they should be walking. “Too dangerous, she sighed. “It'll do more harm than good.”
Streampaw stumbled outside, as clumsy as a badger, while Emberpaw leaped, with all the gracefulness he had before that traumatizing night. Flowerkit and Slashkit were playing happily in front of the nursery, with Tigerstripe’s newest litter, composed of Flamekit, Blossomkit, and Frostkit.
“Can you be our badger? You’re perfect, because you’re so clumsy!” mewed Flowerkit, a cream-and-white she-kit. Her sister, a gray-and-white she-kit, glared at her. So did her mom.
“Flowerkit, that’s rude. Apologize to Streampaw now.”
“It’s true!” protested Flowerkit.
“Yeesh. Sorry,” growled the she-kit. Then her expression brightened. “Can you still be our badger?”
Streampaw glanced at Emberpaw, who shrugged. “Hey. We should really take it easy, which means nothing to do with apprentices. Go ahead.”
Streampaw brought herself close to the ground. “Grr!” she growled. “I’m a big scary badger! And I’m hungry for cat meat!” All the kits squealed, and ran back to the nursery, save for Flowerkit and Slashkit.
“Flowerclaw, we must defend the nursery!” hissed Slashkit.
“On it, Slashstar.” The tiny she-kit darted up Streampaw’s back, and pummeled it with tiny paws. Soon, her sister joined her, and then the other kits did as well. Streampaw fell down, making sure she didn’t squash any of the kits, then pretended to yowl in pain.
“Curses! These mighty warriors have defeated me once ag-ow!” The she-cat collapsed. All eight kits backed away, yowling for someone. Streampaw struggled to get back on her feet, when Splashstorm arrived.
The irritated medicine cat hissed, “I should’ve known better than to let you play with the kits!” Lashing her tail, she continued. “No more physical activity for a while—not until we’re sure it’s fully healed.” Streampaw opened her mouth to argue, then thought better. “Fine,” the apprentice growled.
She was led back to the medicine cats’ den, and settled down with Emberpaw next to her. “Oh Emberpaw,” she sighed. “I wish everything bad that happened never happened. Then Addertooth would still be here, and you would still have your leg, and those poor kits wouldn’t have to watch their parents die . . .”
“And stuff wouldn’t have happened,” Emberpaw snorted. “Remember why there are Clans here in the first place? The mountains were too cold and too barren of prey so a few cats came down here and voila, Clans!” Emberpaw resumed his staring at the ceiling of the den. “But if no bad things happened, I would still have my mother,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
Streampaw perked her ears up. “What?”
“I heard something, I swear.”
“I said nothing!” Streampaw knew she was pushing it, but she wanted to find the truth. However, she didn’t dare do it, not with Emberpaw upset about his leg.
She curled up and fell into a dreamless sleep. Later, she woke up to Splashstorm massaging her leg. “Ow, ow, ow!” she yelped. She writhed away from the she-cat. The medicine cat sighed.
“You wanna heal, you let me do this.”
“Fine, fine, fine,” growled Streampaw. She winced as the black-and-white she-cat rubbed her leg, for what seemed like eternity until Splashstorm nodded. “Your leg seems like it’s healing nicely. Why don’t you ask Ashwhisker to help you with hunting?”
“As long as there are no trees involved,” meowed Streampaw. Spottedpaw, who was sorting herbs, snorted.
She trotted out of the den, a bit unsteady, but walking all right. Ashwhisker, who was sharing a thrush with Cinderlight, beckoned for Streampaw to come over, when Olivehunt and Flashleg raced in with their apprentices, panting. “Intruders!” they yelped. “Intruders at Sunningrocks!” Willowstar’s eyes hardened, and ordered several cats to go. “Flashleg, Olivehunt, Ashwhisker, Briarheart, Sparrowflight, and their respective apprentices, you go over to Sunningrocks and give RiverClan a proper clawing.
Applemoon and Tigerstripe stepped out from the nursery. “Wait,” Applemoon said. Streampaw and Emberpaw shouldn’t go. They are too weak to stand a chance in a fight. Both can’t use their legs properly.” Emberpaw glared at the queen, then bounded over and snarled. “I can fight as well as any cat with four legs. Just because I am missing one leg does not mean I am worthless.”
Applemoon curled her lip and sneered, “And what of the kittypet?” Streampaw knew the light ginger queen was provoking her, hoping to have some fighting action. Instead, the tabby turned towards her and said, “I don’t need a medicine cat to tell me I can fight. I could fight as well as anyone here.” Splashstorm nodded.
“You shouldn’t go! You’re a kittypet, and you can’t fight!” Applemoon cried. Her face looked sympathetic, but her voice was nothing short of fury and malevolence. The message was clear. Applemoon once told her that she would always help her and be kind to her, but now the secret was out: the queen would never support her. Never.
Willowstar thumped her tail. “This is nothing to be arguing over! Those cats are going, and that’s final!” With a growl she added, “My word, your orders. Now go!”
Streampaw wasn’t keen to go into battle after just a quarter moon of healing. But she fought like LionClan just to defend Sunningrocks. The tortoiseshell whose name was supposedly Lilypaw barreled into her, and Streampaw struggled to flip her. She rolled back, then used all her strength to push forward, then pummeled Lilypaw’s belly. A younger apprentice grabbed onto her, but Streampaw easily shook him off.
A blow to her ear made her wince, and she turned around and leaped onto the gray warrior. While biting into his scruff, she used her forepaws to pummel his back and flanks. He rolled and Streampaw yelped, barely avoiding being crushed. She was pinned by another cat, and raked her belly, but to no avail. All around, cats were tiring, and she couldn’t figure out who or what side. At last, the call sounded: “RiverClan, retreat!” But the she-cat wouldn’t let her go.
“Listen to me,” she hissed. “When the medicine cats leave for their half-moon meeting, meet me at Fourtrees. Sneak out of camp, and use the usual route. Bring your apprentices. All of them. Don’t tell anyone else what you are doing.” The implied or else hung in the air, but of course the mystery cat wouldn’t say so. “Now go with your Clan.”
Streampaw walked off, shivering, and she told Emberpaw the news. He replied, “Well, I don’t see how that’s going to work out. Nettlepaw has been more sluggish these days. She’s never sluggish. She’s always bouncing around the place, and she’s also very hungry.” That was true. Nettlepaw always took more of the fresh-kill pile than she should've, but they didn't care that much. Maybe she really was that hungry.
“Okay.” Streampaw didn’t see how any of this applied to anything. For all they knew, Nettlepaw had fallen head over paws for Feathersky a bit too much. “I don’t see your point?”
Emberpaw sighed and rolled his eyes. “This is serious, Streampaw. What if she’s sick? Or worse, pregnant?”
“I don’t see how being pregnant is worse than being sick.”
The tortoiseshell turned away and growled, “I knew you wouldn’t take this seriously. Well, if you’re so insistent on meeting this mystery cat, then I guess I’ll go. But Nettlepaw’s not coming.”
Streampaw sighed. “That’s never going to work! You heard me, that she-cat wants all of us! All the apprentices!”
The silver tabby groaned. “We had better take Nettlepaw now. It’s not like she’ll suddenly collapse and have kits.”
Emberpaw thrust his head in front of her. “No! I won’t risk her life! I thought you cared about her and me, but it’s obvious you don’t!” With that he stalked away.
Streampaw stared flabbergasted after him. Why did it hurt so much to be so indifferent about Nettlepaw? Sure, he should care about his sister, but honestly! Fine! Be that way! I couldn’t care less about you too. She stomped off in the opposite direction of him.
Streampaw sat at the base of the four Great Oaks at the Gathering spot. Beside her were Badgerpaw, Foxpaw, Hawkpaw, and Wolfpaw, all staring up at the trees in awe. Emberpaw and Nettlepaw were sitting a fox-length away, with Emberpaw pointedly turning away from her. Why is he so sensitive? thought Streampaw. It came back so heavily to Nettlepaw. Did he really care about his sister that much?
“So you’re here,” a mysterious voice hissed. “Just like I told you. Just like I told all of you.”
Emberpaw’s voice, cold and clear, replied, “What do you mean, all of us?”
The voice laughed. “I suppose you do not know? Very well. I will reveal myself.” A lithe she-cat popped into the clearing, her tattered fur a sign of age. Her eyes were rheumy and bloodshot, yet they held some kind of mystery. Her pelt had a hint of shine, suggesting she may have been once a beautiful she-cat. “I am Slashscar, mother to Ivystorm, spy to BloodClan.”
A new voice, a tom, rang out. “Oh. So you’re here, Emberpaw?” His emphasis on you’re made Streampaw bristle. No one was allowed to talk to Emberpaw like that, even if he was a jerk. “Hello, Father,” snarled Nettlepaw. Her voice, though wavering with tiredness, still had the tinge of resentment and anger. Emberpaw, meanwhile, had been deprived of all words. “Father?! What are you doing here?”
Streampaw, completely confused, blurted out, “Who in the name of StarClan are you?”
The tom snorted. His brown pelt stained with mud made him look completely solid, yet the slightest sliver of white shone in the moonlight. “So you don’t know who I am. Hmph. Fair enough. I am Snow That Glistens In Moonlight, otherwise known as Snow. I come from the Tribe of Gathering Storm Clouds.”
Streampaw didn’t know what to say. “You’re their father?” she shrieked. “And you didn’t even—”
“Streampaw,” Emberpaw’s voice cut across hers. “Leave. It. Now.” His tone was still angry, but slightly more of his anger was directed at Snow than it was at her.
Slashscar nodded. “You ask why I have gathered you here? I will tell you. BloodClan is the most despicable, but it’s management is more complex than you could ever imagine. It was founded by the most cunning of cats . . .”
Oakpaw and Rowanpaw stepped forward. “How many cats come from BloodClan?”
“Why do they want our territory?”
“Can’t they just live in Twolegplace?”
“Silence!” roared Snow.
Slashscar looked around. “Open your eyes, apprentices. StarClan is showing you a way out. Take the chance, or you may never leave again.”
Lilypaw of RiverClan sighed. “Tell us what is happening! We want to know!”
“Fine,” meowed the dark gray she-cat. “We have gathered you here to meet each other. Because one day, you will be the savior of the Clans. But today is not that day. And there will come a time when one of you, from every Clan, betrays the Clans.”
“Betray the Clans?” Badgerpaw growled. “Never!”
Slashscar glanced at the waning moon. “You must return to your Clans, before they realize you are gone. Your leaders, deputies, and medicine cats know, but the others—they do not.”
Streampaw nodded and beckoned the apprentices to run off, back to ThunderClan, back to her den. Luckily, the entrance guard was asleep and could be heard snoring loudly across the camp. “How in the name of StarClan am I going to sleep during that?” she muttered.
“Man, just put up with it,” sighed Nettlepaw. “I mean, I know Paledapple means well, but honestly can he tune down the snoring?”
Emberpaw snorted. “I just want to get Father’s face out of my mind. And away from her.” He glared at Streampaw.
Streampaw glared back. “I did nothing wrong,” she growled, loud enough for Nettlepaw to hear, but not Emberpaw.
Nettlepaw head butted her. “He’s always been something of a jerk. Now why don’t we actually catch some big juicy mice in our sleep?”
Streampaw sighed and slept dreamlessly.
“Duck! Swipe! Jump! Roll! Kick! No, I said kick. That was pummel. Again!” Streampaw woke to find Applemoon regulating a training session with Nettlepaw, who was trying to blink sleep from her eyes and trying to battle against Foxpaw while listening to Applemoon.
“Great StarClan!” yowled Splashstorm. “Can’t you let us sleep a little later?”
“We’re hungry!” Applemoon’s kits mewled. “Give us food!”
Nettlepaw sighed. “I’m tired! Let me go back to sleep—and get me a fish while you’re at it.”
Foxpaw winced. “What happened to claws sheathed?” she asked.
Applemoon scoffed. “You’re tired? Well wake up! In an invasion you don’t have time to wake yourself up! And this is how warriors fight, Foxpaw! You don’t pummel them with claws sheathed! That wouldn’t hurt them a bit. You claw them. With claws unsheathed. How is this so hard for you?”
Spottedpaw, who was also tired, growled, “At least feed your kits!”
“They need to know what it’s like in the middle of leaf-bare!”
“No they don’t!”
Splashstorm sighed. “Well, you can’t just neglect them! They’ll die!”
Applemoon lunged at Splashstorm, and Streampaw edged closer, hoping to hear what the queen had to say. I hope Splashstorm doesn’t get hurt, thought Streampaw. Splashstorm backed away cautiously, until she could back away no more.
“Do you think I would ever care about the well-being of my kits?” hissed the queen, loud enough for Splashstorm and Streampaw to hear, but not for anyone else. “They are useless burdens, and for the matter, I don’t care about Leafheart either! He can stay in his little fantasy, but I will never care for him.” Pressing the medicine cat against the floor, she whispered, “And don’t tell anyone else, or you’ll never see tomorrow.”
Streampaw edged away, horrified at what she saw. No way, she thought frantically. No, that was not real, Streampaw, it’s all in your head you’re not making any sense, nothing’s making any sense and it’s all a dream. Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was horrifyingly real.
Leafheart decided the daily patrols. “Olivehunt, you can lead a hunting patrol. Take Foxpaw, Streampaw, and Ashwhisker with you.” Olivehunt nodded and waved his tail over to have his cats join him.
Streampaw and Foxpaw immediately bounded over, while Ashwhisker was busy talking with Cinderlight, their tails entwined. Foxpaw had to clear her throat just to get the senior warrior over. “We’ve been waiting for you for a whole twelve moons!” she hissed. “Hurry up!”
Olivehunt cuffed her over the ear but said nothing. All four of them bounded towards the woods but slowly crouched down as they searched for prey. “I can smell rabbit!” Foxpaw squealed, then ran off farther into the woods.
Streampaw rolled her eyes and crept forward, her eyes focuses on an unsuspecting robin. At last she got close to it, and leaped. The bird startled, and managed to fly away. “Mouse dung!” she spat. Her mentor, who was close behind, purred in amusement.
“Don’t worry. It takes a bit more skill to hunt birds, since they can fly to places we cats can’t reach. You’ll get it. Look, there’s a finch.” Streampaw placed her paws on the floor as lightly as she could, creeping up very close to the finch, then launching forward and swiping at the bird.
“Ha! I got it!” she meowed. Out the corner of her eye, she saw Foxpaw and Olivehunt trotting up to them with several shrews, a rabbit, and a squirrel.
“Ooh, a finch!” purred Olivehunt. “Briarheart’s going to like that.” He picked up the finch and ran away.
“Follow him back to camp?” grumbled Foxpaw.
“Works for me,” sighed Ashwhisker. They sped off after the tortoiseshell.
Nettlepaw groaned. “I’m so bored! Why do I have to stay here?”
Splashstorm and Spottedpaw exchanged glances. “Because . . . you’re expecting. And we really need you to stay in the nursery,” stammered Splashstorm.
“Wow, I’m going to be an uncle!” meowed Emberpaw.
“Nice try, kiddo,” huffed Streampaw. Her sister, Dapplestar, had told her firsthand how painful kitting was. “It’s going to be a painful process, and besides I thought you were worried about her?”
Emberpaw shrugged. “Not anymore. She’s going to be a mom!”
“Dude, my sister gave birth to five kits. She said it hurt—a lot.”
“You’re an idiot.” Hissing, the apprentice stomped away to see if she could do any training. She bumped into a passerby, who snapped at her before turning away.
“Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!” panted Leafkit. She was prancing around the camp, squealing “Intruder!” Many cats were tripping over her tail, or over their own paws. The cat itself was trying not to trip over the mottled she-kit.
“Silly kit. I’m here to speak with your leader,” purred the cat. She looked up, and her blue eyes bore into her sister’s.
“Hey there, kiddo. Oh, is that your friend?” She nodded at Emberpaw.
“Well . . .” She didn’t know how to put it. “He’s . . . technically not my friend. It’s complicated, really.” She backed away, trying not to meet her sister’s eyes. She backed away into another she-cat’s rump, and the she-cat hissed, “Watch where you’re going. Oh hey, Dapplestar.”
Streampaw couldn’t take it anymore. She raced into the forest.
It’s too crowded. I can’t think. No one will actually listen to what I want. They’re all too busy. Why would they want to listen to me? I’m no good. Will I ever become a warrior? They think of me as a kittypet! How rude! Well, I’ll show them. I’ll show them all! Especially that no good she-cat Applemoon.
“Oof!” Streampaw bumped into a mottled gray she-cat. “Excuse me—oh.” This was the exact same she-cat that held down Lilypaw of RiverClan. “What are you doing on Clan territory?” she snarled.
The she-cat shrugged. Then she beckoned for Streampaw to follow her. The apprentice cautiously crept behind her, daring to attack at even the slightest threatening movement. Yet there were none, until she walked right into a circle of cats, all with dog-teeth-studded collars.
“Why have you brought me here?” she hissed, partly in fear, partly in anger.
The lead cat stepped forward. “Well, we need you here. You want to destroy BloodClan? So do we.”
“How can I trust you?”
The cat stepped out of the shadows. It was Talon. “Won’t you trust your own sister?”
“I can’t trust anybody here.”
“Then I’ll tell you something. BloodClan is not led by me. It is not lead by anyone here. It is lead by an unknown leader, who never comes out of the shadows. He commands, but he does not act.”
Streampaw flattened her ears. “And do you know him?”
Talon flicked her tail in frustration. She paced around the cats. “I don’t. There is a messenger, who brings news from him to me. She knows the leader. I don’t. Nobody except her knows who the leader is.”
“And who is this messenger?”
“Oh, you’ll never meet her. She comes only to me, the deputy, Nemesis, the punisher, and the overseers, some of which are here. Like Tartarus over there, or Screech.”
“Who led me here? Who are all of you? What’s going on?”
“That will have to be for another day, Streampaw. And remember—”
“Te amo, tecum ego, et non contemneris. I love you, I support you, and I will never betray you.” She walked away with a smile on her face.
“Are you sure she’s not lying?” asked Emberpaw for the tenth time.
“Really Emberpaw!” Streampaw snarled, exasperated. “I know I just made up with you, but great StarClan you’ve asked that for the tenth time already!”
Spottedpaw shrugged. “He’s got a point. There’s no real proof that she’s telling the truth. We’ll have to infiltrate BloodClan ourselves.”
“And that would be a fatal mistake,” purred a voice behind him. The three cats spun around. Talon was standing there, with the mottled she-cat, and several other cats Streampaw saw yesterday. “You can’t infiltrate, part time. You’ll have to infiltrate full time. Unless you slip away at midnight. We are so feared that no one dares attack even in the cover of night, so you would be safe anyways.”
Talon walked over to them. “You’ll need to consult with your leader. You’ll need the support of many more cats. You’ll also have to wear these uncomfortable collars!” She spat angrily into the dirt. “This digs into my neck! It’s so uncomfortable. Grrrrr . . .”
Streampaw shrunk away from the she-cat, and began to pace. She wandered around the trees, meandered by the brooks, and nearly fell into a stream before Emberpaw caught her. “You can’t drown yourself,” he purred. “That’s not the answer, mouse-brain.”
“Mouse-brain yourself,” retorted the apprentice playfully.
Streampaw sighed. “We can’t go with BloodClan full time! We’ll have to do it part time. Or one of us does it full time and checks in with us at night.”
Talon slunk up behind them, which startled the two apprentices. “Will you stop doing that?” hissed Emberpaw.
“You may want to suggest this to your leader,” whispered the silver she-cat before slipping away.
Emberpaw stretched his tail out along the rocks that lay by the stream. He whistled for a bit before murmuring, “Your sister is creepy.”
“You think I didn’t know that?”
“Of course not. But honestly . . . I feel like there’s something more to her than meets the eye.”
“You want us to WHAT?” screamed Tansystar. All five leaders had been gathered to hear what the ThunderClan apprentices and Talon had to say. But now they were muttering angrily and shaking their heads. “That’s too dangerous. Rowanpaw and Oakpaw will stay exactly where they are.”
Talon sighed in frustration. “The only way you’ll ever be able to know when and how BloodClan will strike and be prepared is to be one of them. Think I did all of this for nothing? No. They threaten and kill kittypets, they torture every rogue and loner that passes by, and they have no code of honor.”
Wildstar curled her lips. “I don’t know. This is truly dangerous. What if they find out?” Streampaw shivered. She hadn’t thought of that. What would happen if the rogues figured out the cats’ secret? Would they be tortured? Threatened? Killed? She didn’t know.
“Too risky. We will not agree to this plan,” decided Dapplestar. “For the good of my Clan, and for the good of my cats.”
“I, for one, think this is an excellent plan.” Jayclaw was on his paws. “This is exactly what we need: a taste of adventure. It’s been boring these last couple of moons. Why don’t you like it?”
Talon rolled her eyes. “You always were such a bee-brain, Jay. It’s dangerous. Sure it is exciting, but these cats are more vicious than those horrible pack dogs, and that’s saying something.” She dug her claws into the ground. A gleam flashed through her eyes, the way it did when a plan was hatching, or she was about ready to attack.
“Each of you must send two of your best cats—the sneakiest, stealthiest, strongest, and smartest cats to BloodClan. I await your recruits, by the time it is moonhigh tomorrow.”
Streampaw paused, deep in thought. I can’t believe it! Everything could go wrong. Everything and anything. How can Jayclaw not see it? He’s so mouse-brained. The tabby was scratching at the ground, longing to go on a hunt or do an assessment.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!” yowled Willowstar. Her flecked pelt shone, and the evening light only made her look all the more intimidating. “Today, we have discussed things with Talon. She is suggesting we send two of our best cats to spy on BloodClan. I ask that you give me your answer by dawn tomorrow.”
Nettlepaw groaned. “I would love to go, but my belly is killing me! It’s wriggly all over, and I can’t stop it!” She flopped on the floor. “Why did I ever think this was such a good idea?”
“Now I see that it wasn’t,” muttered Emberpaw. “And I wasn’t the one who played hooky with Feathersky in the first place.” Everyone gasped. Feathersky turned his ice-blue eyes on the tortoiseshell. “You dare?” he snarled.
Streampaw was about to block Emberpaw, but Spottedpaw beat her to it. “I do dare,” she growled. “I dare because it was never okay to hook up with Nettlepaw in the first place. It was a stupid idea, and no one would ever agree.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m the most popular here. This will not be enough to sway Willowstar.”
Sorrelwish and Brightdawn were looking at their kin in disgust, while Sycamoreshade wrapped his tail around his siblings, looking on in horror. Badgerpaw looked indignant; Wolfpaw looked disgusted; Foxpaw looked furious; however, Hawkpaw stared up at his cousin in amusement.
“You’re a cool cat, Feathersky. Why should we have to wait for a she-cat to reach her warrior age? Why not earlier? Why later?” Muttering and angry screeches broke out.
Willowstar yowled for attention. “Because, Hawkpaw, a younger she-cat’s body is not fully equipped to have kits. Someone who goes through that could miscarry, or even die!”
“Why can’t we just force a she-cat to be our mate?”
Streampaw felt like she was being slapped in the face. She stared at Hawkpaw, aware that this was the cat she named, but not at all the curious young kit that toddled out the nursery. His reddish-brown fur shone in the sunlight, his amber eyes glittering dangerously. So much like the kit of six moons ago, yet everything about him was wrong. What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like this? I don’t understand! Why?! She stood up. “You mouse-brain! Have you ever considered our feelings? Why don’t we do the same to you, hmm? We force you to be our mate for however long we want, then if we dump you, we dump you for good. How’d you like that?”
Hawkpaw spun around, fire in his eyes. “Traitor,” he hissed. Then he reached out, claws unsheathed, and pinned her down before she could even react. “You named me, you helped me get through my parents’ death, and now you despise me?” His teeth were poised to rip through her throat and body. “You’re making the wrong move, *censored*.”
Streampaw tried to overcome the tom, as she was older and heavier than he was. At first she was able to throw him off. But Hawkpaw’s agility made it impossible to pin him down. “Can’t catch me,” he taunted, and launched off a tree to land behind her. Only to find that Willowstar was already leering over him.
“Shame on you, Hawkpaw! How dare you say we are no less than dogs? How dare you condescend us she-cats! How dare you?!” She was ready to attack, ready to strike to defend her gender, but Feathersky bowled into her. Around and around they went, teeth and claws, fur flying everywhere. Feathersky broke loose and brought his paw down on the mottled she-cat’s exposed belly. She quickly recovered and kicked out with her hind legs, snarling, biting, and hissing.
Nettlepaw held her breath. Streampaw was already agitated. Her paws itched to spring at Hawkpaw. Her teeth longed to tear through the traitor’s fur. Revenge was hers, and nothing could stop her. Pure hatred, pure love. Her love for him had turned into a burning hatred. Love gone sour. Love turned bad. Nothing would ever be the same.
A kit that toddled out the nursery, looking to her for answers, wanting a badger ride? Not anymore. He had turned into a monster, a savage, a despicable tom.
“Ready to give up?” growled the gray-and-white tom. “I can take away all nine lives from you, and I won’t regret a single killing.”
Willowstar struggled to her paws. “Never, you monster.” Yet she collapsed and did not get up again.
Emberpaw rose to his feet. His eyes turned on Feathersky and Hawkpaw. “So. Explain yourself, Feathersky. Or I could quickly kill you two. I won’t get answers, but I will be able to avenge my sister.”
The toms looked back defiantly. The warrior snarled, “Why should I have to explain myself to a half-Clan cat? You’re worthless, just as bad as a kittypet!” At once the cats in the clearing began talking among themselves.
“Half-Clan? But Ivyfur was always loyal.”
“You could never find a more loyal she-cat.”
“Remember Ivyfur’s brother? Remember Acornheart? Remember the scandal with SkyClan?”
“Oh, who could ever forget Ravendusk?”
“And remember the time she was caught nosing Addertooth?”
“How did we miss this?”
Emberpaw licked Streampaw’s ears. “Come on. I think it’s time we delve into both our histories. Maybe we can bring Spottedpaw along too.”
“It all started with my siblings’ births,” began the silver tabby. She was sucked into her own world.
“They’re beautiful, Rhea! What do we name them?” A brown tabby stood by a silver she-cat, her delicate blue eyes poised for murder.
Rhea stared at him. “We do not speak of this one,” she declared, prodding a motionless brown-and-gray tom. “He is dead; therefore, he does not deserve a name. He is not strong enough.” But he deserves a name, thinks the tom. His name will be Derek. Snapping back to reality, he looked at the silver-and-white she-cat.
“She has your silver pelt,” he noted. “Why don’t we name her after a Twoleg name, like your mother did?”
“Fine, I guess. Though those fox-hearted Twolegs don’t deserve me. What did you have in mind?”
“Jackie. Something that shows strength. A tom’s name that can be a she-cat’s name as well. You get me?”
“I get you,” purred the silver tabby. “That’s why I chose you as my mate.” She licked her mate’s fur. “Jackie it is.”
Nothing lasts forever. The tom was leading his two kits, Dapple and Jay, to the forest. “You’ll be safe,” he whispered. “Safe from Mommy’s rage, safe from anyone who tries to hurt you.” Jackie had been captured by a Twoleg and hadn’t been seen since.
“I want milk,” whimpered Jay, a gray tom. “I want Mommy!” His mew rose to a desperate wail, and his sister joined in, crying for their mother.
“Quiet!” hissed the tabby. “Do you want to be found out?”
“You’re too late,” smirked a golden tabby she-cat. “Don’t think we don’t know what’s going on outside our own borders.”Dapple and Jay backed away, fear in their eyes. The rogue stepped forward, prepared to attack this strange cat.
“Wait!” A gray tom with darker spots appeared from the trees. “He’s traveling with kits. Surely we shouldn’t harm them?”
“That’s what you say, Deerstar, but they are still trespassers and we need to drive them away.”
The tabby stepped forward. His chest was heaving. His legs were trembling. “I don’t care what your rules are, but we need shelter. We need protection. These kits’ mother has gone mad, and I need to raise them away from the violence. I . . . don’t know what to do. They already lost a sibling, and they need milk! I’m not a pregnant she-cat! I can’t give them milk!”
Deerstar looked at the golden-she-cat, who looked back at him. Together they whispered and talked, pros and cons of letting rogues in. Finally the cat known as Deerstar turned around. “We have made our decision. You and your children will stay here, and when they grow up, choose to leave or stay. Be warned, some of our Clanmates may not be happy to see you.”
Streampaw paused. “Know who that golden tabby was?”
The apprentices nodded. It was all in the back of their heads.
“Rhea is attacking! Everyone hide! Go, go, go! Evacuate! Run to the barn!” The tom grabbed Swiftkit and mumbled through a mouthful of fur to his kits, “Run for Hailey’s barn! You know the way, go!” The two frightened apprentices ran off, Dapplepaw in front, Jaypaw in back.
Brookfall, his kits’ foster mother, was struggling to keep up because of her wounded leg. Her two kits, Vixenpaw and Breezepaw tried to help. The tabby ran forward. His kits had chosen to live in different Clans and he in ThunderClan. But now was not the time to think about this.
“Hurry!” cried Tansyfoot, the deputy. “Hurry! Her rogues are coming! Go, go!”
Hordes of Clan cats ran towards the peaceful hill where Hailey and her friend Percy lived. They clawed at the door, wailing and yowling. “Goodness,” Hailey mewed. She had appeared from the side of the door, and was carrying some grass. She was a sturdy gray she-cat, and looked at the cats in surprise. “What’s brought all of you here?”
Brightstar stepped forward, her pelt dull and rumpled, not at all sleek or shiny as before. “We have escaped evil rogues threatening to take over our territory. We could not fight.”
Percy opened the door with his black paws. “Surely you could? You have some of the best trained warriors!”
The tom shivered. “No, Percy. They’ve killed the previous leaders, and took out all their remaining lives. How could we stand against rogues who could do that?”
Hailey tittered and led them into the barn. “Elders first, then queens, with or without kits. Apprentices can go next along with medicine cats. Then warriors, deputies and finally leaders. Organize yourselves! Also thank you for that hint on borage, Patchmottle. Now that I have kits, I’ll need all the food and milk I can get!”
Patchmottle nodded. He lined up with the other warriors. Pinethorn dipped his head at him, along with Specklegorse and Bristlefur. Cloudthorn and Braveclaw were chatting behind him.
Willowstar leaped onto the Great Rock. “We welcome three new apprentices: Leafpaw, Lionpaw and Applepaw!” Patchmottle sighed, already a senior warrior, and yet he was training Leafpaw! Ferretstalk glanced at him, where she was seated with Applepaw to train. “Three new warriors have been made, Russetmask, Tigerstripe, and Cinderlight.”
The tabby tom sighed and glanced at his apprentice. “You want to meet some of the other apprentices?”
“Doesn’t the warrior code state that we can’t have friendships with other Clans?”
“No, no. You’ve misunderstood. You are allowed to have friendships with the other Clans, but your loyalty must always remain with ThunderClan. Understand?”
“Yep!” He ran off to where WindClan was, and started talking to a bunch of apprentices, one of which the brown tom recognized as Swiftpaw. His brown-and-white tabby appearance would have you think they were related.
Applepaw stayed behind. “I don’t want to associate with them. They’re beneath us.” Ferretstalk looked from her to Patchmottle, concern on her face. He edged closer while paying attention to the Gathering. Deerstar had announced that Vixengorse and Breezefoot had become warriors, while Briarkit, Gorsekit, and Windkit were born to Rabbitshine. Harepaw and Swiftpaw were now apprentices, and Brookfall had retired.
As the Gathering came to an end, Applepaw stuck her tongue out at Swiftpaw and his sister Harepaw. Harepaw, a tawny she-cat looked offended and turned her back on the light ginger she-cat. “Rude!” growled Ferretstalk, and she cuffed her apprentice over the head.
“There was nothing rude about that!” sighed Applepaw, and together they bickered about it on the way back. Something is definitely off about that she-cat, worried the senior warrior, and I need to find out what it is.
“Leafheart, Lionfang, and Applemoon are now warriors! Tigerstripe has moved into the nursery and is expecting kits. Braveclaw was attacked by a fox but is now fine. She remains deputy.”
Applemoon looked like she was superior. Swifttail and Haretail walked over to congratulate the sisters, but the ginger she-cat turned her back. “You’re not as important as me,” she sniffed. He marched over. “Applemoon, that’s not how you treat other cats, WindClan or otherwise. You’re stepping over the line. I’d understand if you’re upset because they provoked you, but they did nothing! What is it with you? You do this to every other cat!” The newly-made warrior did not respond, and only looked at him with contempt and reproach.
Streampaw paused. “He never told me the rest, only something like Applemoon was rude and disrespectful of all Clans, and something like that.”
“How does that help us?” wondered Spottedpaw. “Yeah.”
“My mother was a monster. She terrorized the Clans. Maybe Applemoon is behind some of this.” Emberpaw shook his head. “That’s not possible. She can’t be.”
Streampaw glared at them. “Speak for yourself. What about your story, huh?”
The dark tortoiseshell tom looked at the setting sun. “We should probably be getting some sleep. Our mentors won’t thank us if we pass out on our patrol.”
Streampaw sank into a deep sleep, where the Dark Forest spirits terrorized her once more. Rhea loomed above her. “Don’t listen to Father,” she hissed. “He’s filled your head with these crazy tales. But he’s lying. Don’t listen to him. Listen to Mommy.”
“Why should you believe StarClan?” growled a black-striped yellow she-cat. “They imprisoned us because we were strong! They are weak, but we, we know true strength.”
“We will be strong once again!”
“We will feed off of StarClan!”
“You puny Clans and your warrior code . . . you’ll never defeat us!”
Streampaw could do nothing but cower beneath the terrifying spirits of the Dark Forest. Waiting for them to disappear. Waiting for them to vanish.
She woke up in a sweat.
“Wake up, Emberpaw, Spottedpaw. We need to talk.”
“What now?” Sycamoreshade hissed. He and Brightdawn were standing guard at the end of the gorse tunnel. “Another one of your adventures?”
Streampaw suppressed a smart remark. It was always so hard to get past Sycamoreshade, because he would always insist on going with the cat in question. She tried to slip underneath the bulky tom, but he was too quick, too smart. “You can’t get past me.”
“Will you . . . let . . . us . . . go?” growled the tabby she-cat. Emberpaw and Spottedpaw sat there, doing nothing while she tried to persuade the larger tom to move.
Sycamoreshade still would not budge. His amber eyes glared down at the apprentice, and for even a taller cat the warrior seemed tall. “No. Let me in on the secret.” He leaned closer. “Or I’ll tell Willowstar.”
Streampaw lashed out at the tom. Something inside her snapped. “There’s no reason for explanation. Why are you so nosy?”