Reedwing stood in the clearing, on the moor, waiting. The tall, whippy, grass swept across her flank, reminding her of him. It made her paws feel uncomfortable, seeing as she had an extra toe on all paws. Oh, how she wished her sister was still here, so they could see this sunrise together. The majestic rays of the sun projected its splendor, lighting up the moor, making the clearing a beautiful rainbow. And the fiery ball itself was surrounded by streams of color. What a beautiful sight. Tears silently slipped down the black she-cat's face. Oh Wasppaw, how I wish you could see this . . . Her cheerful sister, taken away by battle was the reason she vowed never to speak to anyone from WindClan again. And yet . . . here she was. Waiting at the border, hoping he would come.
"Reedwing!" A call alerted her. "What are you doing here? The dawn patrol will be here any moment! Get out!" She saw him, a handsome, strong golden tom with the streaks of his stripes dancing across his pelt like the sunrise's streaks. She wished to call back to him, but that would mean revealing her position.
She waved her tail, hoping to catch his attention. "Distract them," she mouthed, and prayed to StarClan he understood. If he didn't, well, there would be other times. Sunheart ran off, yowling something she couldn't hear. Then he came back, leaping down the hill. "What?" he demanded.
Reedwing wanted to leave, to let go of the shame she had carried for the past quarter-moon. What was she to do? Tell him, her mind said. Get it over with. Maybe he'll be sympathetic. "Sunheart . . . I-I don't know how this happened. Please don't get mad. But, I have your kits. I'm expecting, and you're the most likely father. I don't know how!" The golden tom reeled back, his face a mixture of shock and anger.
"Reedwing, you should've told me earlier!" he snarled.
She glared at him. "And what? Reveal it to the five Clans? Destroy our reputations? Don't you think? Telling it at the Gathering would mean exile! If not, we would be hugely dishonored. We would be outcasts in our own Clan. Nobody will trust us. We will be the subject of shame and disrespect, and nobody will care about us. Our leaders will let them attack us. This is too huge to risk.
"But . . ." she stammered. "I, uh, told Froststar."
Sunheart yowled angrily. "See? Sometimes it's best if you don't—freaking—think!" He paced back and forth. "Reedwing, how could you do this? To us? To our Clans? To everyone?"
"She was sympathetic!" she retorted. "Besides, I'm not harming you, it's me that I'm worrying about!"
The golden tabby grew more and more infuriated. "Fine! Care about yourself, just like you did all those moons, when you suggested we run away! Live our own lives! Do just that! But if you kill yourself out there, just know that I warned you, and now I won't give a damn about you! Think about that, you—"
Reedwing had enough. How dare he accuse him of being selfish! That foxheart . . . Without thinking, she threw herself on top of him. "You foxheart!" she shrieked, slicing at every part she could reach. "I risked my honor for this! I risked everything I had, put it on the line just for you! Think about it: I suggested we run away so we could be free of this! I wanted the best for us, and you say I'm selfish? That I didn't give a damn about us?" She grappled with him, struggled to reach for his neck. "Well, maybe you forgot that you killed Wasppaw!" Finally the black queen struck through the tom's chest. The feel of blood satisfied her but made her thirst for more of this darkhearted tom. She nipped at his throat. "Now you'll feel my revenge!"
Sunheart tried to reply but his chest was spouting blood, and it became impossible for him to talk. He gasped and shook and fell to ground, crying. Soon he was still, very still. Maybe too still, but still enough for Reedwing. She used to give that damn about Sunheart and their relationship, but now? Too little, too late, Sunheart.
"You can do it!" whispered Mackerelpaw, Laurelfoot's apprentice. Beside the silver-and-black tom was the medicine cat herself, trying to help deliver Reedwing's kits. Every part of the black she-cat ached; she wished Sunheart was here now. No! Don't think of him! He betrayed you! He killed Wasppaw! Still she couldn't help yearning for the golden WindClan tom. Mackerelpaw leaned in closer. "Think of your kits! Don't leave them alone!"
All Reedwing could do was yowl in response. Another spasm shook her, and it was so painful. The brown she-cat's strong voice penetrated through the haze of pain: "Here's your first kit!" A small bundle was placed beside the queen, a dark ginger she-kit. She had just enough time to purr before another wave sent her shrieking. "Here's the second one!" whispered Mackerelpaw. Reedwing felt as though the tall tom was her own son; she felt as though she should protect him after his mother, Nightfur, died. This time, a ginger tom was placed. This cycle repeated until she found five kits mewing for milk.
"One, two, three, four, five. One two three four five. Five StarClan-fricking kits!" meowed the medicine cat apprentice in awe. "Congrats, Reedwing! Who's the father?"
Reedwing hadn't thought about who she wanted as the "father." "Uh, um, Jayclaw!" She spent a lot of time with him; it only made sense. Both Mackerelpaw and Laurelfoot beamed. Mackerelpaw raced outside screaming, "Jayclaw! You're a father now!"
Jayclaw poked his head inside, a bit confused. "What?"
"Can we have a private moment?" asked Reedwing. She needed to tell Jayclaw the problem. Both Mackerelpaw and Laurelfoot nodded and exited, while leaving behind a bewildered Jayclaw. "Okay . . . so these kits aren't actually yours."
"I noticed that, genius."
"Isn't that the WindClan tom that was found dead at the River/Wind border?"
"Yeah . . ." Reedwing felt guilty about killing tom. He was actually nice, but things just weren't meant to work out for them. "Can you pretend that these kits are yours? Froststar knows, but I don't want anyone thinking I'm a traitor just because I made a simple mistake. Pretty please? This means so much to me."
Jayclaw backed away. "I don't know, Reedwing. This is also a big commitment. When they see this, the Clan's gonna assume we're mates. And that's a commitment I'm not exactly ready to make."
"Then I'll raise them alone." Reedwing knew this would be Jayclaw's weak spot. He'd always argued that both she-cat and tom were needed to make a family work.
"Oh, fine. But when, and yes, when, not if, the secret is revealed, I won't stand up for you. This is your mistake, and your mistake alone."
Reedwing tried not to bowl him down. "Okay." When the truth comes out? Mister, I can hold a secret longer than you possibly could. I already feel guilty enough! The truth will never come out. I will guarantee that. Just you see, Jayclaw. Just you see.
Jayclaw sighed. "Now that that's done, whaddya wanna name them? I mean, they can't be Nameless, No name, Void, Nothingness, and Zilch." He pointed to the silver tabby she-kit, the youngest of the group. "This reminds me of the stream that cuts through the territory. Let's name her Streamkit."
Reedwing nodded. "This ginger tom can be Flamekit. And that dark ginger she-kit is Cedarkit."
Soon her five kits were all there: Streamkit, the silver tabby she-kit. Flamekit, the ginger tom. Cedarkit, the dark ginger she-kit. Darkkit, the black tom. And Sunnykit, the golden tom. Five illegitimate kits. Five half-Clan kits. But they were her five kits, and they were five precious kits.
Reedwing looked down at her five mewling kits, from the starry pool that showed everything in the five Clans. Next to her stood her beloved Sunheart, who she had so furiously killed two moons ago. Together they saw the five kits clambering over Reedwing's limp body, the body that had been struck with greencough, healing and worsening for a while before the queen eventually succumbed to the disease.
"Can you get away from that thing?" angrily meowed Riverstar, who was guarding the pool. "You've been watching that thing ever since you got to StarClan."
"I need to see them," whispered Reedwing. "I can't leave them." Cedarkit, Flamekit, Streamkit, Darkkit, and Sunnykit all needed her. How could they survive without her? What would Jayclaw do with them now that she was gone, ripped from their lives?
"They'll manage," was all Riverstar replied.
But Reedwing wasn't done. The Clans had caused her so much pain. And now she saw what Froststar planned to do, and Jayclaw was in it. She called for her mate, her annoying, lovable Sunheart, and together they dived into the Pool, the one that allowed them to roam the mortal world. Now she would hunt down Froststar, and make sure that leader payed with her life. Just like Sunheart did. Just like she did. It was only the she-cat's turn.
"She's dead," whispered Jayclaw in shock. He couldn't believe that Reedwing would give up on her life so easily, that she would leave her kits. "Now what?" Froststar and Laurelfoot padded up to him, their faces solemn.
"Mackerelfin is already preparing the grave," Laurelfoot informed them. "Now we must decide what to do with the kits." Froststar nodded, and Jayclaw felt a sense of dread. Were they going to give the kits away? They couldn't! They were RiverClan cats through and through.
"It is for the best of the Clans," meowed Froststar, as if reading his thoughts. "One may stay here, but the others have to go. We don't have anyone able to nurse them. Only Pebblewing has milk, and she has enough for only one kit. The rest are already apprentices, and she has extra."
Jayclaw sighed, his eyes on the ground. "Well, I guess we should. Alert the rest of RiverClan, then tell them at the Gathering. But I want to decide who goes where. I was their father. I'll make the final decision."
Froststar and Laurelfoot looked at each other in dismay. "Fine," they finally said in unison.
Streampaw was waiting, along with Nettlepaw and Emberpaw, for the leader to leap onto Highledge. Specklepaw, Leafpaw, and Patchpaw were all standing with their tails wrapped around Badgerkit, Hawkkit, Foxkit, and Wolfkit. She couldn't wait to be made a warrior. Ever since she was told of how apprentices and warriors got to fight, she wanted to be a warrior. She didn't care how dangerous Clan life could be; Streampaw waited ten moons for this.
"Let all cats old enough to hunt gather for a Clan meeting!" cried Willowstar, their current leader. She seemed a bit older, and maybe had four, five lives left, as was the rumor around camp. All around, cats started to gather. The elders got up from their rocks and padded to the center. Addertooth, the medicine cat, got up from his herbs and walked over. Freckleheart sighed and padded up to the rock, where her kits were.
"These three apprentices are now ready to become warriors. Streampaw, Emberpaw, and Nettlepaw, please come up." All apprentices were next to their mentors. Streampaw's was Sycamoreshade, and she had found him to be a pleasant tom. OF course, he had his annoyances, but anyways. Moving on. The other mentors, Briarheart and Sparrowflight, waited patiently and gently urged their apprentices to go. Willowstar began the ceremony as soon as Emberpaw clambered on. "I, Willowstar, call my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as warriors in turn." All the cats in the camp were on edge, waiting happily for this moment.
"Nettlepaw, Emberpaw, and Streampaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
"I do," was the reply from all three cats.
"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you three your warrior names. Nettlepaw, from this day on you will be known as Nettleclaw. StarClan honors your bravery and courtesy, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan." The spiky furred she-cat licked the leader's shoulder. Turning to Streampaw, Willowstar continued, "Streampaw, from this day on, you will be known as Streamcloud. StarClan honors your diligence and skill, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan." Streamcloud eagerly reached out to lick the mottled she-cat's shoulder.
Finally, it was Emberpaw's turn. "Emberpaw, from this day on, you will be known as Emberlight. StarClan honors your optimism and determination and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
The noise from the crowd was jubilant and resounding. Everyone in the five Clans could hear the chanting of "Nettleclaw! Streamcloud! Emberlight! Nettleclaw! Streamcloud! Emberlight!" Suddenly, Streamcloud realized that she could do more, she had grown older. She was taller, stronger, and . . . somehow more mature. Now as the sun was preparing to start its descent, she would have to sit the silent vigil that had been in place for many, many moons. Her thoughts were interrupted by Willowstar speaking yet again.
"We aren't done yet. Four kits have reached six moons and are now ready to be apprentices. Foxkit, Hawkkit, Badgerkit, and Wolfkit, come up!" All four kits bounded up. They did not look like kits; rather, they looked similar to their parents in shape and size. Badgerkit was stocky, like Russetmask, while Foxkit was leaner, like Freckleheart. And Hawkkit and Wolfkit were taller than both their parents. Time flies, thought the silver warrior. "From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you are known as Foxpaw, Hawkpaw, Badgerpaw, and Wolfpaw. Foxpaw, your mentor will be Flashleg. He is an excellent father," the leader said, nodding to the tom's two kits, Brightdawn and Feathersky, "and I'm sure he'll be an excellent mentor as well." She turned to Hawkpaw.
"Hawkpaw, your mentor will be Feathersky. Though he is young, I am sure he will provide you with all the training needed to become a warrior. Badgerpaw, your mentor will be Paledapple. I know he is a competent tom with all the skills needed to give you a good training." Finally her gaze fixed on young Wolfpaw.
"Wolfpaw. Your mentor will be . . ." She seemed lost for words, searching for the perfect mentor for Wolfpaw. Streamcloud knew instantly that it was going to be a challenge. The young tortoiseshell was introverted and rarely spoke, yet he was stubborn and impulsive. He was a troublemaker without ever having to speak, and was the silent leader. If untrained he could become a threat to the five Clans. "Olivehunt," decided Willowstar." Wolfpaw recoiled, hissing slightly. Olivehunt was the strictest cat in the five Clans, and everybody knew she did not like feisty apprentices. However, she could mold Wolfpaw into a respectable warrior.
Olivehunt padded up to the young apprentice, her brown-and-black pelt glittering in the moonlight. The tortoiseshell tom flinched away. "I don't want you," he stated. Everyone gasped, and he turned to the crowd, defiant. "I don't want you!" he repeated. "You'd brainwash me into being nice! I don't want that." With that, he leaped off Highledge, running into the forest. Willowstar looked shocked, while both Olivehunt and Freckleheart were furious.
"I'll get him, Willowstar," muttered the brown she-cat under her breath, and sped off into the forest after her son. Olivehunt nodded to her leader and ran off after Freckleheart.
Streamcloud glanced at her friends, then at Wolfpaw's siblings. All six of them looked stunned, as if they couldn't believe what was happening. Well, she guessed none of them knew what was happening. Their brother/a newly-made apprentice had just run off, and everyone panicked. Or had panicked. Nope, they were still panicking. Finally Willowstar jerked from her stupor. "Um . . . the sun's setting. Warriors, please make your way over to the edge of camp for your silent vigil."
All three cats walked slowly to the clearing just outside of camp, as the glow of the dying sun highlighted features every cat was bound to notice: Streamcloud's white stripe that parted her face, Nettleclaw's spiky fur, and Emberlight's russet paws and muzzle. The silver tabby knew she wasn't supposed to speak, but she felt the urge to. "Before we start," she whispered, so only the other two could hear her. "I feel like . . . it's been a long yet short time since we were kits. It was twelve moons ago, but I remember everything like yesterday . . ." She trailed off. Remembering something about other kits . . . different kits. Not one of them was a tortoiseshell, and she remembered a figure, black, but comforting . . . and that figure lying on the ground, reeking of something horrible. "Anyways, you know, I always thought life went by, slow as a snail. I was wrong. Everything's happened so fast. Look now."
Emberlight nodded. "Wow. Never thought about it like that. But maybe you're right. Our kithood and apprenticeship happened so fast, we're warriors in a matter of twelve moons. And we remember everything. I even remember the first thing I caught on my first assessment—grouse!"
Nettleclaw wrinkled her nose. "Ew, isn't that WindClan dung?"
Her brother looked embarrassed. "It was an accident. I've told you guys a million times!" I still don't believe it, thought Streamcloud with a purr of amusement. The brambles rustled and Leafheart stepped out.
"Reminder that this is a silent vigil. No talking," he whispered, then disappeared. All the apprentices nodded and spread out, looking and listening for any signs of danger nearby. None. Soon the moon was glittering above, a sliver of its full self. Looking up, she wondered if any other newly-made warriors were sitting vigil, watching out for their Clans. Maybe they were, but she'd never know.
Streamcloud had begun to wonder if this was over yet. The vigil seemed to drag on forever, and Nettleclaw was on the brink of falling asleep. Emberlight, on the other hand, was standing still as a tree, his face illuminated by the pale moonlight, casting shadows on the forest floor. And then, something broke the stillness of it all. Two shadows, dark and stealthy, were gliding on the ground, as if trying to sneak in the camp. She motioned for the others to see them, and the trio crept closer. Before they reached the two cats, the duo started to run, but they were not skilled enough to navigate ThunderClan territory, and resorted to climbing up a tree. These idiots forgot all cats can climb, thought Streamcloud as she dug her claws into the tree, slowly making her way up. Next to her was Emberlight, who was constantly looking down and looked fearful. Finally, they all made it up; Nettleclaw, was of course, first, seeing as she had zipped up the tree earlier.
As they stalked closer to the two cats, one of them cried, "Don't hurt us!" Nettleclaw tipped her head and meowed, "We don't want to hurt you. But you're trespassing on our territory, and we have to chase you off." The one who spoke hissed, making the silver tabby flinch.
"We want to see Froststar," the cat hissed. Moving forward thrust her features into the moonlight. "She must pay for her crime." The warrior was shocked to see that she could see through the she-cat's body.
Emberlight was intrigued. "Who are you two?" The other one, a tom with a body just as transparent as his companion, let out a hearty laugh. He stepped out into the darkness, running towards the ground with ease. The ghostly she-cat followed him.
"You and your 'two' realms. You forget that there is much more than just your StarClan and your Dark Forest. There is a place in between, and a choosing to haunt the mortal world if you wish." He ran off into the distance, cackling madly. The she-cat turned to look up at them. "Follow us. See what you have done to us, you of despicable birth."
Streamcloud backed away, spitting. The other cats surrounded her. They waited until the she-cat hissed in disgust, then ran down the tree, returning to their positions. But now several eyes blinked open. Follow us, they seemed to say. Remember us. Learn from us. Think of us. All Streamcloud could do was softly hiss and bare her teeth at them, until she made up her mind.
"I'm going to follow her." The others shook their head, but with a air of relenting, like they'd done this many times and they just gave up. Which they did. And they had. Okay, so she traipsed through the forest alone. Looking for two ghostly cats who wanted revenge on Froststar. Not creepy at all. One misstep, one sighting, and she would be caught. It would be all over.
The two cats didn't seem to notice as she crept behind cautiously. Slowly they made their way into the RiverClan camp. Past the sleeping guards, two cats Streamcloud didn't recognize. Past the medicine cat den, past the snoring apprentices, past the elders and queens. In the heart of the camp slept the leader, sound asleep. All three cats peered inside, though the ghosts didn't notice the ThunderClan warrior. As the she-cat raised her paw, Froststar stirred. Streamcloud's heart nearly popped out of her chest; she had to run! But it was too late. The white leader fixed her amber eyes upon Streamcloud. Instead of chasing her off or being hostile, there was a choking sound coming from her. "It-It's you? I-I thought—But it's—That's not—Jayclaw!"
Immediately a lithe gray tom burst from the warrior's den. His muzzle was flecked with gray but otherwise showed no sign of age. "What is it, Froststar?" Then he noticed the ghostly images ready to pounce on his leader. "No!" he cried, dashing forward to protect Froststar.
The she-cat laughed and snarled, "Step aside, Jayclaw. Your leader has done a great crime, one that cannot be forgiven." Streamcloud wondered what this ghost was saying. Great crime? Froststar?!
"What are you saying?" she wailed, not able to contain it any longer. "What do you mean?" Her question was not answered; instead, action took place. The she-cat brought her claws down on Froststar, who yelped and tried to fight back, yet the apparitions didn't seem to be harmed. Jayclaw tried to fight back but to no avail. However, he did nick Streamcloud's face, and nicked her hard.
But the fighting continued, and Jayclaw didn't even know he had hit her. Streamcloud tried to get out but the two grappling toms were blocking the exit, and something lashed out at her but she didn't know what was going on and her vision slowly dimmed until she was falling, falling hard.
"Hey. Wake up." Emberlight was staring over her. It was the crack of dawn—barely any orange in the sky. Streamcloud was in her original guard position. Next to her was Nettleclaw, looking on with concern. "What happened?" whispered the newly made warrior. "What's going on?"
Nettleclaw shrugged. Her eyes glistened in the mixture of sun and moonlight. The she-cat's gaze now fixed upon the forest, as if any threats were present. Nothing appeared. Nothing happened. It was as if nothing from the previous night lingered in her companions minds. Yet she still remembered the weirdness of it all. Jayclaw attacking. Froststar's look when she saw this ThunderClan warrior. It made no sense to her. She could think of no explanation. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
Paledapple, along with other members of the dawn patrol, ran down to inform them that they were relieved of their vigil and could now sleep. But Streamcloud was too curious and intrigued to even think she needed rest. Her wellbeing could come later; knowledge of what the hell just happened came first. However, Willowstar, Emberlight, and Nettleclaw all insisted she sleep so she could process everything. "Everything makes more sense when you sleep on it," insisted the leader.
But nothing really made sense. All she saw were glimpses of her past, memories in her sleep. The same black figure she'd seen and remembered, over and over again. Four other figures, probably her siblings, wrestling with her, fighting and laughing and playing. And then the scene that was most vivid, most clear in her mind. Something smelly rising from the black she-cat and smelling like despair would if it smelled. A haunting vision in her mind, wailing and two cats carrying the figure away. She had been chasing them, but she remembered nothing else.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," purred someone. Wolfpaw was standing over her, his arrogant smirk on his face. The she-cat still wanted to sleep, so she rolled over and muttered, "Go away."
"But I can't," came a mocking voice. "Because you're needed for the damn patrol." And you're needed as the claw sharpener for the Dark Forest cats, thought Streamcloud scathingly. At last she agreed to get up and join the patrol, along with Olivehunt, Wolfpaw, and Russetmask. All of them groaned when the found out Wolfpaw was there, but there was no changing the cats. Finally, after much arguing, they set out for the first of the borders: WindClan. There they bumped into a WindClan patrol, but nothing interesting happened, except for when Wolfpaw deliberately crossed the border but nobody cared because they all knew this particular apprentice's attitude. All the cats in the patrol had dealt with someone similar.
ShadowClan was uneventful, but RiverClan was definitely not. This time they ran into the RiverClan deputy, Jayclaw, who was leading a bunch of other cats Streamcloud didn't recognize, though one seemed really familiar . . .
"Hello," said Oliveheart with a clipped, curt tone. Jayclaw nodded and replied with "Hey." The two patrols were about to move on when suddenly Wolfpaw snarled and leaped for one of them. Streamcloud instinctively reached for him and caught him by the tail, trying to drag him back. "Wolfpaw, get back here," she hissed through a mouthful of fur.
"Hell no!" cried Wolfpaw. He managed to get out of Streamcloud's grip and nipped at one of the warrior's legs. Since the RiverClan cats were surprised, they didn't respond as quickly as they should've. So, of course, ThunderClan had to. They were most definitely not surprised. This was their worst nightmare: that Wolfpaw proved to be uncontrollable outside the Clan. Heck, he was uncontrollable inside the Clan. Nothing they did could restrain the wild tom.
Eventually Streamcloud found herself scratching at a cream tom, while her Clanmates were duking it out with RiverClan. It was long, exhaustive, and probably plain dumb, but at the moment she didn't care. She only knew she was protecting ThunderClan's pride. Until she got a really good glimpse of the deputy. She was shocked to see a white ring around one of his eyes, with one shredded ear. How had she not noticed that yesterday? Whatever. Then his green eyes met hers.
Cedarfrost was grappling with another tom she didn't recognize, a russet colored tom she sometimes saw at Gatherings. Not that she went to many; she never really liked associating with cats from other Clans. Another reason, well, she swore she'd never think of it again. It was too painful, too weird, too scary. What the hell, she never really was a social cat anyways.
As the tom flipped her over, she started pummeling at his belly, causing him to loosen his grip on her for a moment before she darted out and bit on his tail. Eventually, though, the battle stopped, bit by bit, slowly but surely. First she noticed Jayclaw had stopped. Then Maplewhisker. Then Dapplepelt. She saw a couple more ThunderClan cats than before, and noticed RiverClan had also sent reinforcements. Maplewhisker was on top of a tortoiseshell she also didn't recognize, but she did recognize the she-cat that Fernpuddle had been fighting with: Olivehunt, famed for her battle skills and sharp tongue.
"What's going on, Jayclaw?" asked Maplewhisker, still holding down the tortoiseshell.
"Let me up, you foxheart!" growled the tortoiseshell. "Let me up, or I'll beat the—" Olivehunt turned and glared at him. "Shut it, Wolfpaw!" Wolfpaw rolled his eyes and turned his stare onto RiverClan's deputy. He was staring at a tabby she-cat she also saw in the occasional Gathering. She remembered a littermate that looked exactly like that she-cat, except much tinier and of RiverClan scent but oh, she remembered glimpses of this cat. No, it couldn't be. That kit died moons ago. In fact, every single one of her siblings died. She now only had Pebblewing, who had already birthed Icethorn, her much more outgoing sister. And now? Icethorn was dead, killed by a falling tree. Her friend Cloudface? Forever forced to walk with a limp and to stay in the elders' den. Everything she had fell apart. But RiverClan itself never betrayed her, never left her. Would it?
No. She couldn't think about that. Especially not Cloudface. His face was so bright and cheerful . . . I remember his first Gathering. Forced to move to the elders a mere two moons after becoming a warrior. Icethorn dying a quarter moon afterwards. And her siblings all died two moons after they were born. She could only rely on RiverClan and Pebblewing now. But she couldn't think about that. It would only break her.
"St-Streamkit, is that you?" gasped Jayclaw. His mouth was wide open. "I-I didn't think—But how? It's not possible! I—" And then something seemed to dawn on him. Tears slipped down from the deputy's green eyes. He reached out and nuzzled the she-cat, only for the warrior to flinch away. "Who are you?" she growled. "I know you're RiverClan's deputy, but what connection do you have to me?" Jayclaw's tears did not stop.
"I am your father."
Cedarfrost couldn't believe her ears. Sure, she'd heard tales of forbidden relationship kits, like the famous Three: Hollyleaf, Lionblaze, and Jayfeather. That was all in the past now, and she heard that the only surviving relatives of the great Firestar's line were seventeen cats, half in ThunderClan, half in RiverClan, the eldest of which was Sorrelwish, descended from Sorrelstripe, a cat who was Lionblaze's daughter. So many generations had passed that even great legends' lines had faded. Tigerstar's died out twelve moons ago, with a RiverClan tom named Whiteshade. Even legendary Bluestar's faded two generations ago.
Now a new forbidden relationship stood here, and Cedarfrost still refused to believe it. Sure, maybe it happened left and right but this was Jayclaw, RiverClan's deputy. No tom or she-cat in his right mind would break the warrior code and take a mate from another Clan. That was utter madness! "That's not possible," she spoke before she could even stop herself.
Jayclaw swiveled to face her. "I'm not really her father, Cedarfrost. But I acted like one for the few moons your mother was alive."
"My mother's still alive. Pebblewing's still alive. She and RiverClan are the only things I trust." That also came out of her mouth before she could stop. A couple of cats giggled or stared on in shock.
Jayclaw sighed. "Look at me, Cedarfrost. Don't you recognize this pelt? This scent? Deep in your kithood, deep in your memory, you should recognize all this from the very beginning." Cedarfrost reached deep into her memory, to see if she could associate anybody with that voice, that pelt, that build, that scent early on. And it threw her to the past.
"They're beautiful, Reedwing!"
"I know!" Something prods her. "They're all so precious. And they're ours, Jayclaw, all ours!" They talk for a while before they brush against her. She can't quite see what they're doing, all she can see is black. "This one will be Cedarkit." So I'm Cedarkit, she thinks, not knowing what's going on.
And then she's thrown to something more, when she see's her mother's body on the ground, her stench unimaginably horrid. She asks why Mommy smells so bad if she's only sleeping, and Mackeralfin tells her "She's dead, Cedarkit." "But she'll come back?" "No, Cedarkit. She's gone, forever." That's when she starts wailing, throwing herself upon her dead mother's body. But no matter what she does, her mother doesn't wake up, doesn't respond to her daughter. Gone. Forever. Dead.
"No! Daddy! Don't let them take me! Daddy! Help!" Cedarkit can't help but watch her brother be taken away by horrible-smelling cats, screaming and wailing for Daddy to help. But Daddy only watches, tears streaming down his face. When it's all over, he collapses onto the ground, pulling her close. "They're gone," he whispers. "And I can't do anything about it." He looks her straight in the eye, while her own tears blur her vision. She can barely make out his tear-streaked face and can barely hear his choked sobs and hoarse voice. "You're all I have left, Cedarkit. I don't have anything else—or anyone else. Stay with me. Promise that. I can't lose you."
And then she's thrown to the present.
She couldn't think straight. So my mother is dead. Pebblewing isn't my mother. And my siblings aren't dead. They're out there. Cedarfrost stared at her foster father. "I . . . I don't have a mother anymore. I don't. I only have my Clan," she whispered, tears starting to form at her eyes. Her world started to break as she realizes her mother isn't Pebblewing, but instead a dead she-cat who she can barely remember. Her siblings are not dead, her world is not entirely shattered, but something has broken inside of her and she can't think straight and nothing is going right as her mind starts to spiral out of control and the world starts spinning and it's dark while she can't even stand and collapses as her world fades around her.
"Cedarfrost. Cedarfrost." A voice called out to her. Cloudface! She blinked open her eyes, to see the cheerful gray tom standing in front of her nest in the medicine cat den. "What am I doing here?" she asked. "I-All I remember was Jayclaw telling me about my mother . . . and then . . ."
Cloudface shrugged. "You kind of passed out. Jayclaw had to carry you from the border to the medicine cat den. He told me you're fatter than a kittypet," he purred with amusement. Then his eyes grew serious. "Cedarfrost, what was that all about?" He limped around her as she thought about what happened. "You passed out after Jayclaw told you about your mother? What the hell, Frosty?" The ginger she-cat smiled a little bit. They had called each other by nicknames they coined. She was "Frosty." Cloudface was "Cloudy." And Icethorn was called either "Icy" or "Thorny." She couldn't remember.
"Honestly, I don't know, Cloudy," she replied with a sigh. "I just . . . thought I would always have two things to depend on: Pebblewing and RiverClan. Now I find out RiverClan has lied to me and I don't have a mother." Cloudface lashed his white tail wildly; he did so when he was frustrated or annoyed. "What now?" she grumbled.
He stuck his muzzle right in her face. "Cedarfrost, you have a mother. No, she's not your real mother, but she took care of you and acted like your mother when Reedwing died? Need I explain more?" Cedarfrost shook her head and shrank back more. "But RiverClan lied to me," she murmured.
"No one lied to you, Frosty. That's all in your head."
"I thought my world was perfect, Cloudface. Put yourself into my paws. How would it feel to think one way, then have someone turn your world upside down and reveal the truth, a truth you don't want to believe?" Cloudface sighed, then plopped himself on the floor of the den. Mackeralfin popped his head in. "Everything okay?"
"If you count being lied to that my biological mother was still alive, then no." Both toms rolled their eyes and Mackeralfin called for Pebblewing and Jayclaw. "This trout-brain still thinks she's been lied to."
"I have!" Cedarfrost leaped from her nest, sending moss everywhere. "I had two things I knew I could depend on, and now? My mother is dead and RiverClan broke our trust!" She thrashed her tail and ran for the entrance, growling back to them, "You lied to us. You deceived me. I don't feel proud to be RiverClan anymore."
Two toms leaped in front of her and tried to stop her, but she would not and could not be stopped. "I'll show you! I'll show you all!" Her face was twisted with fury as she tried to escape the grasp of the two tabbies, but eventually Froststar carried her by the scruff like a kit and carried her back to Mackeralfin's den, instructing the silver tabby to "give her poppy seeds" as she dropped the ginger off in her nest. I'm not a kit! she thought angrily.
Mackeralfin grabbed a couple of light seeds and pushed them towards her. "Eat," he ordered. "And don't try to over dose. She grumbled and licked up a few, closing her eyes and welcoming the darkness that envelops her and drags her in.
She first woke up in a dark, murky forest. Great StarClan, this stinks! As if reading her thoughts, a fiery tabby came over to greet her and muttered, "Yeah, it smells bad, but not much we can do 'bout it, eh?" He swished his tail and yelled, "'Ey, Whitefeather, this the recruit you talking about?" Whitefeather padded over and inspected her, sniffing every inch of her. Watch it! she thought. "Maybe," the cat said slowly. "But I'm not sure. What's her name?"
"What's your name, child?" asked the tabby.
"C-Cedarfrost." Whitefeather chuckled.
"Darling, don't be afraid. We'll help guide you on the path to success. I know how you feel. Those Clan cats didn't give you full disclosure. How would you like to take your revenge on them?"
The cat inched closer until the dark tabby could smell the cat's breath. "Didn't you hear me clearly?" Whitefeather snarled. "Those cats didn't tell you anything until they thought you were ready . . . how would you like to get your revenge on RiverClan, and all the Clans?" Cedarfrost thought for a while. RiverClan had never told her about her true parentage until now . . . what else were they hiding. Why did they let her believe Pebblewing was her mother, and let her go through all the pain and hurt of losing Icethorn and seeing Cloudface lose his abilities as a warrior? Her birth Clan didn't deserve her loyalty and affection. They deserved to burn, forever. And she knew just how to do it.
"Fine. But on one condition."
Whitefeather stepped back, curious. "I'm listening." The tabby she-cat grinned eagerly and leaned in to whisper in the dead cat's ear.
Wake, young warrior. A silver-and-white cat nosed her. Her tabby stripes might once have been black but now they were so faded that they were gray. Do you know who I am? Cedarfrost shook her head. "Get away from me." She tried to run, but the cat pinned her down. You can't hide from me. I know all, and I see all. "Then who are you?" I am Ivystar, master of StarClan. "StarClan doesn't have a master." Ivystar ignored her and continued. When I was Ivypool, I trained with the Dark Forest, just like you are planning to do. "I never—" I told you. I see all and know all. And training with the dark warriors of the past is dangerous. I know. They always have an ulterior motive, and they lie to you. Cedarfrost paced the endless field of stars. "Shut up. Go away. I made a deal with them. They can't hurt me." She spat at Ivystar. "I don't give a damn about your advice. We do it like I want it, either way. You can choose to help me or to step back and let my revenge come crashing down on the Clans." Cedarfrost, wait. "I'm done waiting!" She ran, as fast as she could, like the time she was fleeing from a pack of Twoleg dogs that had badly hurt Pebblewing. "Screw off, Ivystar!" The tabby ran, not knowing where she was going nor caring. Her last words as she disappeared onto the horizon were, "I don't need you! I'm fine! You don't even understand!"
"Why does she get to go and I don't?" The same she-cat was standing in front of a slightly taller, fluffier she-cat. "Dovepaw always gets more attention. She's your favorite."
"Ivypaw," said the she-cat sternly, "you know I don't pick favorites. She's just . . . special, I guess."
"But she always gets to do fun stuff! She isn't any more special than I am! She's your favorite, I know it, I know it!" The white she-cat's fur started puffing up. "Stop that right now. I don't have a favorite. You're going to stop that, or you're searching the elders for ticks. Now stop!"
Ivypaw let out a screech of anger. "Liar!" She lashed out at the she-cat's face. "You fricking liar, you do have a favorite! You just don't want to show it!" The two were locked in a tussle before a brown tabby tom picked her off and set her down. A fiery tom and another tabby were looking outside to see what the commotion was. Cats were gathered around the edge.
"Ivypaw," began the brown tabby. "Your mother loves you very much. Don't call her a liar just because Dovepaw got to go."
"You guys suck." The silver-and-white tabby stomped off into the forest." The tabby groaned. "There she goes again, Whitewing. I told you to make more of an effort to let her go. Now she's upset again. No thanks to you."
The fiery tom stepped forward. "All right. Let's see if we can settle this. Birchfall, you can lead a patrol to find your daughter. No, Whitewing," he said as the white she-cat began to speak, "you aren't going. I'm afraid you might make things worse. How about Cinderheart, and . . . yes, Mousewhisker, you can go too."
The apprentice was stalking a mouse, and pounced, but the mouse skittered away. A dark brown tom appeared behind her. "Bad luck," meowed the tabby.
"I-Is this your field?" asked the silver-and-white she-cat.
"I come here often," replied the tabby, casually tipping his head. The tabby eyed the newcomer curiously. "This is the first time I've been here."
The tom smiled, and laid down. "Well I'm glad you've come. It gets lonely sometimes." Ivypaw and the tom conversed for a while before she tried stalking a ball of moss for practice. She missed the first two times, however, and the look of frustration on her face was great.
"Try again," were the words out of the blue-eyed tom's mouth. Finally, the white she-cat pounced squarely on the mouse, and she looked very pleased with herself. "Wow! I'll show my sister that move," she purred. As they trained more, they shared a bit more conversation, warming up to each other as time went by. By the end, Ivypaw turned her head and said she had to go.
As she padded away from the tom, he asked, "Don't you want to know my name?" She turned around, and he added, "I'm Hawkfrost." The silver she-cat turned away, satisfied, but he if he was going to tell hers. "Oh yes. It's Ivypaw," she answered.
Cedarfrost tried to run, tried to escape, but something held her back. Whenever her paws started to gain speed, there would be something restraining her, slowly but surely pulling her back, bit by bit. Eventually she was met with the faint face of Ivystar. Stop running, growled the she-cat, gritting her teeth. You'll never learn if you resist.
"I don't want to learn!" The ginger tabby started struggling even more. "I just want the truth! The revenge! I don't give a damn for this learning crap!" Ivystar walked around her, keeping that calm, unnatural patient look on her face, which just infuriated Cedarfrost even more. "Let me go," she growled. "Let me go or I swear I'll knock you into the void."
This isn't about learning or not learning. It isn't about your revenge. No, it's about making wise choices, of making ones that benefit everybody. You haven't seen the brutality of war, Cedarfrost. You haven't seen the shock and fear those cats sparked in us. You are naive, and all too soon you will realize your foolishness. Break that deal, or you'll regret it.
"No! Screw off! I'm done thinking! Those Clans deserve to die for lying! What difference does it make when you go down with them too? If I go down? If they're destroyed I'm satisfied. Thanks," she snarled, thrusting her muzzle forward and nipping at the faded StarClan cat's, "but no thanks."
Ivystar paced the clearing, waiting for the last few members of the Council to arrive. Dovewing, Tigerstar, Lionblaze, Hollyleaf, Alderheart, Sparkpelt, Twigbranch, Violetstar, and Harestar were all here. Where were the others? "They're late," she muttered, looking up as her Paw stepped up next to her. "Know where the others are?" she whispered. Hollyleaf shrugged.
"I'd say they've forgotten."
"They can't forget! This is a very important meeting."
"We have not forgotten." A white-and-ginger tom stepped into the clearing, along with a badger, a skinny, hairless cat, and a ball of light. "Someone just walks slower," he growled, glaring at the badger.
The badger snapped back in retaliation. "Is not my fault I slow. Cat does not slow to appreciate life." Before a fight could break out, Hollyleaf leaped in between them. "Don't get feisty," she warned. "This is not a time to fight. We have a problem here, one that could destroy the Clans."
All the others suddenly quieted down, as if her words had such an impact. It was true, Ivystar thought. This was a time where secrets were guarded very heavily, and suspicions were starting to split the Clans. If something like this came out, it would shatter any semblance of unity between them. Loyalties would be divided, and chaos would reign. Tensions had risen over the past moons, and they weren't about to get any better. The last five Gatherings had broken down into arguments and insults, while nothing productive was done.
"All right. Who would be most likely to leak the secret?" Fallen Leaves asked. "Cedarfrost, perhaps?" The other cats murmur their agreement, but Hollyleaf shook her head. "There may be another whose heart is darker than hers," she warned. The others shrugged, but Ivystar tried to consider who else Hollyleaf was talking of. She couldn't think of anything.
"Whatever the case, keep a look out. Meeting dismissed."
A paw poked Flamewhisker awake. "Wake up!" a voice growled. He opened his eyes to see a grumpy Whitefur poking him. "Stop," he replied. Next to him were his littermates, Thornstrike, Rainsky, and Shadetail. They all murmured "Good morning" before getting up, stretching, and heading outside the den. Blinking away the sleep, he opened his eyes up and followed them. He didn't flinch as he stepped outside; there was no bright sun to flinch at. All around the camp was bustling with activity. A gray-and-black she-cat greeted her apprentice as they bounced out. Splashstorm walked over to the newly-made elder, Houndheart, and checked out his pads. Everyone nodded to the now-most-senior warrior, Whitefur, who merely nodded back. Surely he would be made deputy if Ivystorm kicked the den.
Ivystorm was handing out the patrols as usual. He walked up to the brindled tortoiseshell and asked if he could do a hunting patrol. She let out an exasperated sigh and snarled, "I already said who's going where. You were supposed to do a border patrol, but since you asked, I guess I'll transfer." As she discussed the patrols with Whitefur, she threw a seething look at the ginger tom. "You're lucky I'm so nice. Otherwise you'd be cleaning out the elders' bedding." Flamewhisker was tempted to throw back a scorching insult before reminding himself he'd get in bigger trouble should he argue with the deputy.
"Fine. Who's leading it?"
Ivystorm rolled her eyes, but replied anyways, "Birdfrost. Be nice, or I'll have to refer you to Dapplestar." She must be tempting me to attack her. No other cat is so infuriating! Well, that wasn't true. Cinderstep was definitely frustrating. Oh, and Myra. He still didn't know how that crap of a she-cat ended up having an apprentice when it should've gone to someone else. Maybe it was just because he didn't belong. His ginger pelt was obvious to everyone in ShadowClan, whereas other cats had darker pelts, or a mud-streaked version of a bright pelt, such as Whitefur. He said he was originally SkyClan, but nobody believed him. His humility and equanimity, his inability to climb trees, his distaste for squirrels and thrush, and his great stalking and hiding abilities made him the ideal ShadowClan cat. Nobody thought of the quiet, thoughtful, Whitefur as SkyClan. Their boastful nature, their ability to climb trees, their love of the tree-dwelling animals. It was if as though they wanted to become birds and fly away.
Birdfrost welcomed him over. She had become something of a second mother to him ever since Owlheart's death. It still stung, but she had always talked to him about his problems, and was always there for him. "We're going to be heading over to where the Tallpines are. Lots of squirrels and blackbirds there. Maybe we'll find a toad or two." Flamewhisker smiled. His foster mother's optimism was what he loved best about her.
"Stop smiling and get on with it," growled Willowpelt. "We don't have all day." Everyone looked surprised. The tabby usually was mild-mannered, if not bright and peppy. Myra gave the ginger tom a look. "All right, who put thistles in his nest?" Nobody answered. She gave a huff and stomped off with her apprentice, Goldenpaw. Birdfrost shrugged and led the patrol into the forest.
"All I know is that someone's not getting first pick of the fresh-kill pile," she muttered, which only irritated Willowpelt more. The patrol headed off with unease in their hearts, their fur prickling at the tension in the air.
"Ouch, you're treading on my tail!"
"Why's the log so bumpy?"
"Because you're on my paw!"
"Honeypaw, don't fall into the lake."
"Myra, quit stepping on my tail."
"No, you're stepping on my tail!"
"Hey, that's my paw!"
"Quiet!" Dapplestar's annoyed voice cut through the air. "Honestly, you're no better than a pair of squabbling kits right now. Show some sense, or we're going home." This shut everyone up, but then a splash rang through the now silent scene. "What happened?" The leader's voice was level but tense. A head bobbed above the water, its brown tabby fur sleek and wet.
Then Cloverfur started whimpering. "Dapplestar . . . that's my son! Help him! He can't swim!"
Dapplestar growled loudly but reluctantly called for RiverClan to help. Two she-cats dove into the water to drag out the struggling tom, who spat out water and was shivering. He was taken back to camp to be looked over by Laurelfoot and Mackerelfin. Moving onward, they found that they were not the latest to arrive. SkyClan had not yet come, and the wild, spiky hair of Wildstar was nowhere to be seen. Sighing, he sprang over to where Streampaw was. She was hanging out with her two best friends, Nettlepaw, and Emberpaw.
"Hey, look, it's Flamepaw!" crowed Emberpaw. He was known for his excitement while his sister was more subdued. Normally, Streampaw would've bowled him over, but today she was staring at another she-cat, a dark ginger one.
Flamewhisker rolled his eyes. "I'm Flamewhisker now, you furball!" He bounded over and tackled him while the tortoiseshell pretended to struggle underneath him. "Let me up!" Eventually, Flamewhisker got up and let Emberpaw speak.
"You've gotten fatter from the last time I've seen you too!" The ginger tom rolled his eyes and made a move as if to tackle Emberpaw again. Emberpaw only bounded away before dragging his sister, Nettlepaw, over to where they were sitting.
"We got new warrior names!" he squealed. He started bounding around. "I'm Emberlight and this is Nettleclaw. Whaddya think?" Nettleclaw rolled her eyes. "I apologize for my idiot brother," she whispered. Being a warrior has made him think he's Clan leader.
He shrugged. "Don't worry. I think Myra became like that when she was made a warrior. Don't think she's gotten over it yet." Nettleclaw chuckled softly and waved him over. He happily obliged and looked up at the branches where the leaders sat. Dapplestar. Willowstar. Froststar. And Tansystar. Then he spotted a spiky figure coming in, cutting through the haze. Wildstar. He sat up straight and motioned for the others to listen; the Gathering was about to start.
"Cats of all Clans, the Gathering has begun!" Froststar shouted as soon as Wildstar joined them. They all looked at each other awkwardly, as if trying to decide who would go when. Finally Willowstar shook her head and stepped up. "ThunderClan will begin.
"Prey is fresh and running, and Lionfang has given birth to three healthy kits, Patchkit, Leafkit, and Specklekit. We also welcome three new warriors, Streamwillow, Nettleclaw, and Emberlight!" Flamewhisker cheered loudly for the three, who were standing off to the side and licking their chest fur, embarrassed. He gave them a quick nudge, and they quickly looked up, grinning sheepishly. Willowstar dipped her head and stepped back, signalling that she was done and it was another leader's turn.
This time, Dapplestar stepped up. "We have one new warrior, Flamewhisker!" Now it was his turn to duck down and pretend the crowd of cats wasn't there as they cheered his name loudly, but his friends pushed him to his paws and he tried for a confident smile that wasn't there. As the cheering died down, Dapplestar opened her mouth to say something, but she was cut off by an angry screech from a WindClan warrior. A black tom was wrestling with a mottled cream tom. Both were fighting with unsheathed claws. The deputy, a lean tom named Vixengorse, rolled his eyes and waved another cat over to help him break apart the fight.
"A-Anyways . . ." Dapplestar spoke the rest of her news, blah blah blah. He drowned out what she was saying and started focusing on a nearby patch of grass. How interesting. The way it moved in the breeze, the way they moved together . . . A sharp cuff on the ear jolted him from his thoughts. It was Myra. He looked up and immediately he sighed. "Whaddya want?" he whispered.