RiverClan has kept its peace for countless moons. But now, that peace is shattered. Warriors are being killed off in their own territory, one by one, like prey to be caught. The Clan is terrified, and the mystery is left to four apprentices to solve. But who is the hidden assassin? Will the apprentices seek out the murderer in time? Or will RiverClan dwindle to dust to be forgotten?
CLOVERSTAR - light brown tabby she-cat; green eyes
FINCHWING - ginger tom with white paws
IVYSTRIKE - silver tabby she-cat with white splotches
APPRENTICE, RAINPAW (sleek, pale gray tom)
ASHCLOUD - sleek gray tom with dark blue eyes
CYPRESSPELT - splotchy brown-and-white tabby she-cat
APPRENTICE, SHADEPAW (dark gray she-cat with blue eyes)
DEWFALL - fluffy gray-and-white tom
RAVENSONG - sleek black she-cat with green eyes
APPRENTICE, REEDPAW (lithe brown tabby tom with lighter stripes and pale green eyes)
EMBERFIRE - dark gray tom with amber eyes
APPRENTICE, SLEETPAW (snowy-white she-cat with a silver tail and dark blue eyes)
LEAFBRIAR - brown-and-black tom with leaf-green eyes
DAWNSTORM - cream-furred she-cat
APPRENTICE, LIGHTNINGPAW (spiky-furred black tom with amber eyes)
ROBINSONG - brown tabby tom with a white chest and paws
FERNFLIGHT - small brown tabby she-cat
BLIZZARDWIND - light-furred, mottled gray tom
NEEDLEPELT - spiky-furred, dark brown tom; green eyes
SNOWFALL - pure white tom with amber eyes
SPLASHWING - pale silver tabby she-cat with bright blue eyes (mother to Robinsong's kits: Mistkit, a silver tabby she-kit with amber eyes, and Chestnutkit, a brown tabby tom-kit; fostering Rustle, a small ginger-and-white tortoiseshell she-cat with pale green eyes)
BRIGHTCLOUD - white she-cat with gray tabby splotches, expecting Emberfire's kits
DRIPFLIGHT - dappled blue-gray she-cat with white paws and dark amber eyes, expecting Snowfall's kits
HAWKSHADE - black-and-white tom with ice-blue eyes
POPPYWHISKER - dappled tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat
SOOTSTORM - jet-black tom with a white chest, pale ear-tips, and dark green eyes
ASPENSTAR - silver tom, streaked with black
CHERRYWHISKER - dark ginger she-cat with green eyes
FOXFLIGHT - reddish-brown tabby tom
APPRENTICE, BIRDPAW (mottled brown she-cat with a white chest and paws)
CLOUDBIRD - dark gray tabby tom with amber eyes
ROSEFROST - pale brown-and-white she-cat
FLAMEBREEZE - ginger she-cat with a paler chest, underbelly, and paws
APPRENTICE, ELKPAW (lithe golden-brown tom with blue eyes)
JAYHEART - gray tabby tom with dark blue eyes
WILLOWFROST - pale gray tabby she-cat
STORMFEATHER - sleek, dark gray tom; amber eyes
AMBERSTRIKE - tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat; amber eyes
MOSSCLOUD - pale gray-and-white she-cat with green eyes (mother to Jayheart's kits: Owlkit, Redkit, and Lakekit)
DUSKPELT - light brown tabby she-cat; paler chest-fur
POOLSHADE - silver tabby tom with ivy-green eyes
LARKBREEZE - smoky black she-cat
BRANCHSTAR - pale brown tabby tom with green eyes
MISTRUNNER - lithe gray tabby she-cat with white splotches
JUNIPERFALL - white she-cat with dark blue eyes
APPRENTICE, SUNPAW (thick-furred golden tabby tom)
HARESKIP - long-legged light brown tabby tom with white markings
DAWNWHISPER - pale ginger tortoiseshell she-cat with amber eyes
THRUSHFLAME - mottled russet tom with black paws
SORRELBLAZE - dark ginger-and-cream she-cat with green eyes
APPRENTICE, PEBBLEPAW (dark gray tabby tom)
WILLOWSHADE - black-and-gray she-cat with a white chest and amber eyes
BEETLEFLIGHT - dark brown tabby tom with bright yellow eyes
KESTRELFROST - brown and cream tom with white paws and amber eyes.
MINTFLOWER - sleek white she-cat with dark, mint-green eyes (mother to Thrushflame's kits: Quickkit, Frostkit, Applekit, and Eaglekit)
FLINTSTORM - tall gray tom with orange eyes
SOFTCLOUD - fluffy silver tabby she-cat with dark blue eyes
BLOSSOMSTAR - splotchy brown, orange, and white she-cat with amber eyes
SPARROWCLOUD - lithe brown tabby tom
HEATHERFOOT - cream-furred she-cat; green eyes
THISTLEBERRY - gray-and-white tabby tom with blue eyes
APPRENTICE, GORSEPAW (speckled gray tom)
LITTLEFEATHER - sleek, light brown tabby she-cat with white splotches
APPRENTICE. STORMPAW (dark gray tom)
EAGLEFLIGHT - mottled brown she-cat with a white chest, paw, and tail-tip
SHARDPELT - spiky-furred, dark gray tabby tom
DANDELIONLEAF - speckled brown she-cat with amber eyes
GRAYSTORM - very pale gray tabby tom
MOUSELEAP - pale gray she-cat with a white chest and paws (mother to Shardpelt's kits: Songkit and Birchkit)
SAGEFLOWER - white she-cat with gray flecks, expecting Thistleberry's kits
VOLETAIL - dark brown tabby tom
CHERRYDUST - dark ginger tabby she-cat
Shrieks of defiance and fury echoed through the night, shattering the quietness. The absence of moonlight signaled StarClan was displeased. Yet the battling cats below the clouded sky, in a forest-surrounded clearing, didn't back away.
In the middle of the turmoil stood a cat by their brother, huddled together for comfort. The cat lashed out at any enemy that approached. The brother did the same, a low snarl in his throat.
This was the first battle in moons, and it was ThunderClan's blame. They've been trespassing on our territory for too long, the cat thought. It's time to teach these fox-hearts a lesson!
Enveloped in their thoughts, the cat didn't notice the two battlescarred she-cats stalking towards it from either side. Pain abruptly flashed through their shoulder and they lurched back with a yelp, only to be thrust away by another ThunderClan enemy with a sharp kick to the stomach. The two warriors surrounded the cat, biting and scratching with claws unsheathed. The cat yowled in pain as they sensed blood streaming into its wide eyes.
Suddenly, the she-cats' weight disappeared. The cat stumbled to their paws, blinking blood out of their eyes, and glanced at where their ambushers had gone. To the cat's sheer surprise, their brother was battling the she-cats, a growl escaping his mouth. How can he manage both she-cats at once?
The gray tabby dodged a slash and ducked under another swipe to deliver a ferocious blow of his own. One of the she-cats screeched in blind rage and pain. The other hissed and retaliated only slightly before lunging at the pale gray tabby tom once more, eyes burning with hatred and sharp white teeth bared.
He must be even better at fighting than the cat had thought! Pride warmed their pelt.
"Thanks, Swiftpaw!" the cat gratefully called to him.
Swiftpaw glanced back, his pale gray tabby pelt hidden by the shadows. "It's - " he started, but the cat heard him cry out in pain. What happened? StarClan, please let him be fine!
A sudden thump made the cat's fur spike in fear as they raced towards their brother.
Swiftpaw was stretched on the ground, his glazed eyes wide in shock. There was a scarlet slash on his throat. Blood pooled from this wound around his neck.
"No!" the cat wailed. "How could this happen, StarClan?" The cat buried their nose in their brother's thick, striped fur. "Why did you let this happen?"
The battle continued to rage on around the cat and the lifeless body of their littermate, but the roars and howls were distant to the cat's ears.
Why? they thought in distress. This wasn't Swiftpaw's fault. It's mine. Why did I call out to him? Why did I distract him? I killed my brother!
- - -
Where am I?
It was the first thought that occurred to the cat as they stood up to find them alone in a dark, pitch-black forest. The ground was slimy and unpleasant under its paws. The air reeked of a stinky, metallic scent. Twisting tree roots threatened to trip the cat at every step.
This wasn't where the cat had finally descended into sleep, devastated. Rain had been pounding on the clearing. And while the cat didn't want to wake up cold and drenched, this forest was much worse.
They felt as if they were being watched.
Why am I here?
Then the cat remembered: the battle.
And the casualities leading to RiverClan's retreat.
Swiftpaw was dead. The realization settled in. The cat would never glimpse their brother again, or feel his warm tabby fur pressed against the cat's own pelt.
It's all my fault. Everything is my fault alone.
"It's not your fault, little one."
The cat stiffened, neck fur bristling in fear as they glanced wildly around, trying to distinguish the source of the mew.
A ghostly tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat with a scarred, nearly transparent pelt and glinting amber eyes like poisoned honey stepped into the dim light. "You must know that you aren't to blame for Swiftpaw's death.."
The cat leapt back, hissing. "Who are you? How do you know my brother's name?" they demanded suspiciously, then snapped their jaws shut, realizing what they had just given away to this stranger, who might be a ThunderClan spy, or perhaps a rogue or loner...
The strange tortoiseshell purred, an odd, rasping noise. Tail flicking, she circled the frightened cat as if it hadn't noticed the fear.
"I am Mapleshade, warrior of the Dark Forest."
The cat's fur prickled nervously. Why does her name seem familiar? Was she a hero? Or was she sent to this dark, stinky forest for her crimes?
"Why are you here?" the cat demanded, unsatisfied with the simple reply.
"To convince you Swiftpaw's death wasn't your fault," Mapleshade responded quietly, pausing to rake her sharp, hooked claws across the bark of the nearest tree. "It wasn't your fault at all. None of it was, whether you say so or not."
"But it was!" Despair threatened to shatter the cat's remaining spirit. Their voice lowered to a growl. "I was the one who distracted him. That's how he was killed by those ThunderClan fox-hearts!" The cat spat the final words out as if they tasted of rotten mouse, arching its back.
Mapleshade's amber eyes gleamed. "No." She took a pace forwards. The cat withdrawed, nearly choking on the sour stench of her warm breath as it landed on their pricked ears. "It was RiverClan's fault for leading you and your brother into battle."
"No, it was my fault. I had to be saved! I was so mousebrained, not to see those ThunderClan she-cats creeping up on me..." The cat faltered.
"Despising yourself won't earn you revenge," Mapleshade retorted sharply, her fluffy tail twitching impatiently. "I came here to help you. Accept it."
The cat was silent. "It was ThunderClan's blame - they were the cats who crossed the boundaries," they conceded with a tone of finality. "Cloverstar had to do something. Are you suggesting she should've just sat back and allowed those mousehearts to venture into our territory whenever the please?"
Mapleshade thrust her muzzle in the cat's face, a dark scowl penetrating her once-hopeful expression. "RiverClan didn't have to attack in the first place! Remember, they're the reason your brother is dead. Are you thinking of forgiving your bat-blind Clanmates after tonight?"
The cat swallowed.
"No," they whispered, extremely slowly, but with grim defeat. "Of course not."
Mapleshade purred, her golden eyes burning with a fierce, poisonous fire. "I knew I could depend on you, little one."
The cat stepped back. Why am I doing this? I'm betraying my Clan by conspiring with Mapleshade! What will my friends and family think of me? I'm a traitor! But the treacheeous words that slipped through their mouth, rather than the countless worries racing through their mind, happened to sound much darker and more ominous than the cat had once been...before Swiftpaw's death. "Tell me what to do," they requested.
Mapleshade's eyes widened, glinting with clear triumph and delight. "You're worthy of being a Dark Forest warrior after all," she sneered, then hesitated as if unwilling to speak the next words. "All right, little one. You only must promise me you will obey me at every turn before I give you your mission. You will never betray me."
Uncertainty flickered on the cat's face. Finally, they nodded reluctantly.
"I won't let you down, I promise."
Chapter One Edit
"Great catch!" Dawnstorm purred, resting her tail-tip on Lightningpaw's shoulder. He smiled gratefully at his cream-furred mentor.
Dawnstorm padded over to his catch, a plump thrush, inspecting it. "You could've waited longer before pouncing, but nice job! I think Splashwing would appreciate that piece of prey."
"Well, I'm such a amazing hunter because you're a fantastic mentor," Lightningpaw joked teasingly. "Right?"
The warrior grinned at the apprentice and said, "We should go try for another bird, all right? That's the area you need some improvement in."
"Sure," Lightningpaw replied. He clamped the thrush in his jaws and carried it over to the roots of an oak tree. There, he nestled his prey into the tangle of roots. Lightningpaw shuffled some twigs on the small heap and stepped away.
"Let's go." Dawnstorm nodded and with a great leap, she bounded off into the maze of trees, immediately out of sight.
Swerve left, leap, duck under that branch, go faster, go faster, Lightningpaw! When Lightningpaw caught up to her, he was nearly breathless.
"That was a-" Lightningpaw began.
Suddenly, Dawnstorm flicked her tail, signaling him to be quiet. He crouched down, his underbelly lightly touching the damp ferns. Then his eyes caught sight of what Dawnstorm was focusing on: a young starling pecking at a small seed in its talons, separated from the rest of the flock. His mentor's sharp green eyes seemed to say, Go get it.
Lightningpaw nodded excitedly and started stalking the unaware prey. Await your fate! He thought smugly. He slowly inched behind a small ash tree a few tail-lengths away. Lightningpaw wanted perfect timing. He started counting.
Without any warning, a loud and imposing SNAP! sounded like an alarm, scattering the birds. The starling had left the seed, half-eaten. Not like that'll feed the Clan, Lightningpaw thought angrily.
"Who did that?" He yowled, his claws sinking into the soft dirt. "Come out, whoever you are!"
The nearest bush rustled, and a leaf-and-twig-covered brown tabby emerged from it, shaking out his pelt rigorously.
"REEDPAW!" He hissed. Why did he have to ruin this?
"What-what did I do?" Reedpaw yelped, his confused green eyes avoiding his scorching gaze.
"You-" He started.
"Stop this! Lightningpaw, you're acting like a mousebrained kit!" Dawnstorm ordered with a stern look at the black apprentice.
"Alright," He muttered, feeling slightly guilty. He stalked over to Reedpaw. "What were you doing here?"
"Ravensong gave me the day off, so I went to Ivystrike and Rainpaw. They apparently needed a few herbs, so I volunteered to find some berries for them," Reedpaw explained. He hesitated, then added, "Would you like to come?"
Lightningpaw stared at Reedpaw's empty jaws. "Considering it looks like you haven't gotten anything yet, I'll help you. If it's okay with you, Dawnstorm."
"You're all good for today." Dawnstorm said. "I'll go pick up that thrush for you, okay?" Reedpaw was already vigorously nodding before Lightningpaw could move a single muscle.
"Then it's agreed. We'll meet at camp," The cream warrior called over her shoulder as she vanished into the undergrowth.
"What are you waiting for? Let's go!" Without a single warning, Reedpaw zipped away, sniffing every bush and leaf.
"Wait," Lightningpaw called. "What are we looking for?"
Reedpaw stopped. "We're supposed to find some catmint. Any ideas where those grow?"
Lightningpaw shook his head. "Nope. But they should have a really strong scent. Let's start!" He held his head high and tilted his nose in all directions before padding around the territory. He repeated this for what seemed like moons until...
"I smell it!" He exclaimed. Lightningpaw rushed over to a clump of ferns and gently parted the ferns with his paws, revealing an abundance of catmint.
"That's great! Ivystrike and Rainpaw will love this!" Reedpaw said enthusiastically. He bounced over to Lightningpaw and peered at the clump. "We should probably leave a few stems so it can grow more."
"Okay," Lightningpaw agreed, carefully pulling out the stalks of catmint they needed. By the time he finished, his jaws were full of the delicious herb. He was tempted to chew it, but he knew they desperately needed the precious juice of the catmint for saving lives.
"We should head back to camp now," Reedpaw meowed, glancing at the setting sun. "It's getting late." Lightningpaw nodded and started leading the way back to the camp.
As they headed out under the sky, their surroundings gradually changed. The pale pink, silver, and gold clouds shimmered on the river, reflecting the sunset perfectly. A flock of herons flew above, the shadows chasing the birds as they soared in the sky full of dancing flames. The cattails moved gracefully with the breeze that ruffled their fur, their motions in perfect unison. Lightningpaw sighed contentedly as he took in the beauty of RiverClan territory.
There's no other place I would rather be.
- - -
When they entered the camp, Lightningpaw rushed into the medicine den, quickly setting down the catmint. Ivystrike noticed his presence and flicked her tail in greeting.
"Looks like you found the catmint," the half-blind she-cat remarked, continuing to sort her herbs. The elderly medicine cat's gaze was trained on the pile of seeds, roots, berries, and mosses.
"Yes, we did," Lightningpaw replied. "I should get going. I'm really hungry!" Without waiting for an answer, he sprinted out into the fading sunlight.
"Come join us!" A familiar voice greeted. Lightningpaw whirled around to find the medicine cat apprentice holding out a plump carp, Reedpaw beside him.
"Sure," He said, and followed Rainpaw and Reedpaw to their favorite place: a corner of the camp tucked away in the midst of a few willows. Lightningpaw padded through the long, sweeping branches into a tiny clearing hidden enough that no one could see them, but they could see the camp.
Sleetpaw was already there, taking bites of a young perch. Her dark blue eyes spotted them coming and she stood up, smoothing out her snowy-white fur.
As the three apprentices settled down, Sleetpaw pushed the perch towards Lightningpaw. "Do you want to share?" she offered, a hopeful light in her blue eyes.
"Okay!" he answered without a thought. He sliced the fish in half; one part for him and Sleetpaw. Lightningpaw took a bite of the perch, his teeth sinking into the soft flesh. "This is great," he mumbled through a mouthful of fish. Sleetpaw nodded in agreement as they finished up their meal.
Suddenly, Rainpaw's ears pricked up, alert. "Is that Shadepaw I see over there?" Lightningpaw padded to the overlook of the camp entrance and there was Shadepaw, breathless and running into camp.
"Looks like she's heading here," Reedpaw said, just right before Shadepaw burst into their hideout.
Lightningpaw frowned at Shadepaw's expression, a cross between worry and uncertainty.
"Has anything happened?" Shadepaw meowed breathlessly, skidding to a halt beside Sleetpaw. "I detected a strange scent far outside of camp - fox, I think, although I can't be sure." She glanced around nervously.
Sleetpaw shook her head. "Why would you say that? There hasn't been a fox in our territory for moons. Also, you also look like you had to run around the lake five times today."
"I only went hunting. I'm fine," Shadepaw hiccuped.
Suddenly everything fell silent. Lightningpaw glanced around. "What happened?" he asked Sleetpaw, slightly confused.
Sleetpaw didn't respond. Her blue eyes widened and her gaze was fixed on a point behind Lightningpaw's shoulder.
"What happened?" Lightningpaw repeated, stronger this time. The white apprentice pointed with her tail behind him at the same point again. Lightningpaw turned to look. And he wished he didn't.
Because he saw a limp bundle of gray-and-white fur in Ravensong's jaws.
Chapter Two Edit
Sleetpaw stared in horror and shock as she watched Reedpaw and Lightningpaw gasp, darting over to the body held by Ravensong. Dewfall's horrified gaze was glazed over, his pelt cold and streaked with blood, several tufts of fur missing. Ravensong shook her head miserably, releasing the tom's limp form. "He was found outside a fox's den," she explained gravely. "There was nothing I could do for him."
Sleetpaw narrowed her dark blue eyes as the black warrior. Sounds suspicious, she mused, glancing at her friends.
Lightningpaw's fur was rumpled, eyes gleaming with terror, while Reedpaw was glancing around wildly as if expecting a fox to burst into the camp and attack. Shadepaw had stepped back, shaking her head. "No," she stammered. "This - how could this have happened? I only went away for a hunt."
Sleetpaw stepped forwards and pushed her nose into Dewfall's fur. He did indeed reek of fox. So was Ravensong telling the truth?
The apprentice turned her head, spotting Cloverstar approaching with wide green eyes, Finchwing a tail-length behind. The RiverClan leader's bright green stare flashed with fear as she saw Dewfall's blood-streaked body. "How is he dead?" the brown tabby demanded with a hiss, facing Ravensong.
The sleek black she-cat lifted her chin. "I found him by a fox's den, dead," she announced.
Finchwing twitched his tail-tip, staring at the warrior. "We haven't scented a fox in our territory for moons," he mewed with a frown.
Sleetpaw pricked her ears, waiting for more.
Ravensong shrugged, but her gaze was bright with anxiety as she glanced at Dewfall. "I could show you the fox's den," she offered defiantly. "It still stinks of fox-scent." Her nose wrinkled, her tail whisking rhythmically across the moist earth.
Lightningpaw's tail-tip brushed across Sleetpaw's hunched shoulders. "Come on," the spiky-furred black tom murmured, gesturing to Reedpaw and Shadepaw.
The four apprentices trudged towards the apprentice's den; Rainpaw remained with the leader, deputy, and Ravensong. "How could this happen?" Shadepaw repeated as she ducked through the entrance. "I smelled no fox while hunting." She was still breathless, expression uneasy and worried.
"You were hunting?" Reedpaw meowed. "Is that why you're so exhausted?"
Shadepaw nodded, sniffing. "I missed a bird and fell out of the tree." She winced as she settled into her nest, dark blue eyes round. Sleetpaw noticed her fur was plastered with mud from the fall.
The silver-and-white apprentice herself was numb with horror, unable to speak for several moments. That mange-ridden fox killed Dewfall while he was alone, she realized. Is that creature prepared to pick us off, one by one, until none of us are alive? She glanced around, seeing her fear reflected in her denmates' eyes.
Finally, Lightningpaw spoke, and his voice was taut with anger. "Cloverstar must send a patrol out to drive the fox out of our territory!"
Shadepaw's blue eyes filled with terror, though it looked slightly forced. "It wasn't a cursed fox that murdered Dewfall, mouse-brains!" she yowled.
Sleetpaw whipped around, gaping incredulously at the older apprentice. "You know what killed him? It wasn't a fox after all?"
"No, of course I don't know," Shadepaw hissed impatiently. "Ravensong must have killed Dewfall. After all, why was she alone when she discovered his dead body? There must have been plenty of time for her to ambush Dewfall, then wash the blood off her claws in the river."
There was a moment of tense silence. Given her friends' expressions, Sleetpaw guessed they hadn't thought of this possibility at all, unlike her.
"You were alone as well," Sleetpaw pointed out.
Shadepaw's midnight-blue eyes burned. "Are you suggesting that I murdered Dewfall?"
"No!" Guilt and shame pricked through Sleetpaw's pelt. She hadn't been suggesting that Shadepaw was the killer at all, but the dark gray she-cat was one of the more sensitive apprentices.
Reedpaw shook his head. "Ravensong wouldn't kill a cat," he mewed, breaking the silence. "Are there any reasons for her to?"
Shadepaw rounded on him, eyes blazing with sudden fury. "She sent you away so you wouldn't witness what she was doing. You're lucky that you had the sense not to follow her. She would have gladly killed her own apprentice, along with a fellow warrior!"
Reedpaw looked frightened and backed away, but Lightningpaw straightened, glaring at Shadepaw. "You're jumping into conclusions too quickly! I know you're upset, but this is - "
The dark gray she-cat interrupted the light brown tabby. "And you're failing to see the obvious. You're too loyal to your mentor to even pause and properly think about the situation."
The apprentices' den fell was momentarily hushed. Lightningpaw opened his jaws for what probably would have been a nasty or sarcastic retort, but Sleetpaw intervened before he and Shadepaw could begin arguing any further.
"Let's not point claws at anything or anyone in particular, for now," she meowed, dark blue eyes flashing. "But we have to find out what did this to Dewfall."
Shadepaw dug her hooked claws into the soft earth, eyes glittering. "Or who did it, and why."
Sleetpaw gave the dark gray she-cat a nod. As she studied the expressions of the other apprentices, she realized one thing was true.
Shadepaw, Lightningpaw, Reedpaw, and Sleetpaw would not stop at any obstacle ready to part them from their mission. They'd continue uncovering the clues pointed towards the murderer, tirelessly and relentlessly. The Clan might help the four apprentices; yet if they were too frightened by Dewfall's mysterious death, they wouldn't. It would be up to Sleetpaw and her friends to discover what had killed Dewfall.
Chapter Three Edit
"Let the Clan join beneath the great willow!"
Reedpaw's ears perked up as he heard his leader's call echo throughout camp. He shook out his pelt and stood up, stretching with the other apprentices. It had not been long ago when he, Lightningpaw, Shadepaw, and Sleetpaw had a talk. About Dewfall's mysterious death, he thought to himself as he padded out of the apprentice's den.
The last rays of sunlight poured down on the camp, turning everything under it red and golden. Reedpaw shivered. It looked like the camp was covered with blood. Dewfall's blood. Calm down. Don't be a whimpering kit.
He took a deep breath and sat down in the midst of RiverClan warriors, curling his striped tail over his paws. A few moments later, a cat plopped down beside him.
"Hi," Shadepaw greeted him. Her eyes were bright, but her tone betrayed her curiosity. "Cloverstar's probably going to say about..." She trailed off, a distant look in her blue gaze.
"Dewfall's death," Reedpaw finished for her. He averted his eyes from Shadepaw's anxious expression and focused on the great willow where Cloverstar was climbing up to the branch, nimbly leaping from pawholds to branches.
When she finally reached her branch, the whole of RiverClan was assembled in the clearing. Cloverstar started.
"You may have already heard or seen about what has happened today," Cloverstar mewed. Her eyes hardened, but her voice was trembling. "Dewfall is dead. He was found by Ravensong in a fox den, leading to the theory that he was killed by a fox."
A splotched brown-and-white tabby she-cat stood up, fur bristling. "What are we waiting for? The wretched fox that killed my brother is out there! How can you just let it roam free, killing our warriors as it pleases?"
"Cypresspelt." The leader said softly. "Fighting doesn't solve everything." Reedpaw thought he imagined a flash of regret and pain in her green eyes. Cypresspelt nodded grudgingly and sat down again.
"We do not know how he was killed yet. But Finchwing will manage investigation and search patrols." Cloverstar glanced around. "Does anyone have questions or information?" The warriors shook their heads.
"Then I declare this meeting is over. Senior warriors, please come to my den. We need to discuss this." With that, the RiverClan leader turned tail and padded into her den.
The Clan scattered like a colony of ants, spilling across the camp. A heartbeat later. Sleetpaw emerged, followed by Lightningpaw.
A grim look was plastered on Sleetpaw's face. "We have to find out what did this!" The white apprentice burst out, lashing her tail. "You're not going to sit back and watch, right? Because the next cat dead could be any of us." Her gaze was mysteriously fixed on Reedpaw, and he looked down at his paws.
"Okay...?" Reedpaw mumbled. "Um, then what's the plan?"
"We investigate, mousebrain." Sleetpaw said impatiently. "Is your head stuffed with feathers or something?"
"No," he said quickly, shuffling his paws sheepishly.
Shadepaw cleared her throat. "I don't want to stand here and listen to you two bicker all day like a pair of elders. Can we just get on with it?"
"Yeah," Lightningpaw agreed, digging his claws into the soft moss.
Reedpaw perked up. "We can ask Cloverstar and Finchwing if we-"
Before he finished his sentence, he found a thick gray tail slapped around his jaws, muffling his words.
"Are you serious?" Shadepaw interrupted. "They would never let us do ANYTHING because apparently we're a bunch of 'helpless kits' in their eyes. So I say we sneak off, and try to leak out some information from our Clanmates."
"Then we're not their Clanmates anymore," Reedpaw interjected. "We shouldn't lie to them about what we're doing."
"Listen," Sleetpaw hissed into his ear. "We're trying to save the Clan, not destroy it. Remember? This is all for their good. Including your mentor."
'Alright," he said reluctantly, stepping away.
"We can start by crossing off all of us," Lightningpaw meowed. "And I don't think any of the elders and queens would do that."
"The kits definitely can't do anything," Reedpaw offered, secretly hoping that someone would actually agree with him.
"Yes," Sleetpaw replied. "And Cloverstar and Finchwing."
"This will take forever," Lightningpaw said, whisking his tail back and forth. "Can we just go investigate the fox den?"
"We don't know where it is, minnow-brain." Shadepaw growled.
"Let's ask Ravensong," Reedpaw said enthusiastically. He bounded off in the direction of the warriors den, leaving his friends in a cloud of dust. What surprised him was when he reached the warriors den, Lightningpaw was already there.
"How- wait, how did you get here so quickly?" Reedpaw yelped, falling backwards.
Lightningpaw grinned at him. "Because I'm a fast runner!"
Reedpaw smiled at his friend and pushed his way under the cascading curtain of moss to a area sheltered by tall ferns.
Ravensong was inside, talking to Leafbriar. His mentor turned to him, flicking her ear in greeting. "How are you doing?" She asked. "I hope you're not too shaken up by the news, if that's what you're seeing me for."
"I'm okay," Reedpaw answered. "I just wanted to ask about the whole story."
"Why?" Leafbriar said sharply, hackles rising.
"We're just curious," Lightningpaw replied.
"Fine." Leafbriar stalked out of the den, leaving Ravensong and the four apprentices inside.
"What do you really want?" Ravensong mewed at last. Reedpaw, Shadepaw, Lightningpaw, and Sleetpaw shared a glance. Should we tell her? Reedpaw thought, uncertain.
Sleetpaw's expression said, For the sake of RiverClan, just do it.
"We want to know where the fox den is so we can take a look," Reedpaw confessed. He swept a pile of leaves together with his tail, waiting for Ravensong to say "I need to report this." But she didn't.
"It's on the edge of the stream heading out of Clan territory," the black she-cat explained. "Do you know where that is?" Shadepaw nodded.
"Thank you," Lightningpaw said to Ravensong. "We'll be going, then."
Ravensong watched them as they ducked under the hanging moss and out into the sunlight. Reedpaw thought he heard her say, "May StarClan light your path."
As they padded deeper into their territory, the apprentices kept their ears pricked and their eyes open for any signs of danger. When they reached their destination, Reedpaw sat down, panting. "That was a long trip."
"Well, look at how far we've gone," Sleetpaw meowed. "We're nearly out of RiverClan territory."
"Can we hurry up a little? It's already late sunhigh," Shadepaw asked in an annoyed tone.
"Yes, we can, Shadepaw. Don't be a grumpy badger," Lightningpaw teased lightly. He started circling the fox den, sniffing it and occasionally peering in.
"There's nothing there besides that horrible reek of the fox," he reported.
"Let's all look," Reedpaw said. They split, and scattered around the area, searching for clues without a single bit of success.
"I couldn't find anything," Shadepaw concluded when they were all too tired to go on. "Nothing. No hints, no scents, no anything. Perhaps this is the wrong den."
"I don't think so," Sleetpaw growled. "This has to be the right place."
"We should all head back. It's already dusk," Lightningpaw sighed. "The Clan will worry about us."
"Lightningpaw's right." Reedpaw supplied. "We should get some prey and sleep. Maybe we'll have better luck tomorrow." The other three apprentices nodded, and set back to camp.
But that night, no one slept soundly, for they feared their own camp and Clanmates.
Chapter Four Edit
Shadepaw was startled awake before dawn by Lightningpaw's restless shifting. The camp seemed quiet at first; then, when she pricked her ears, she noticed murmuring voices from the clearing. The dark gray she-cat glanced ar her denmates, wondering if she should wake them up, before shaking her head. She gingerly stood up and stretched, dark blue eyes gazing curiously out the entrance. Shadepaw froze as she recognized a brown tabby, a ginger tom, and silver-and-white she-cat. Cloverstar, Finchwing, and Ivystrike. I wonder what they're doing.
Shadepaw twitched her tail as she padded out of the apprentices' den and to the fresh-kill pile, where she stayed, listening to the conversation.
But she didn't go unnoticed for long.
Cloverstar paused in the middle of a sentence and glanced sternly at the fresh-kill pile. "Shadepaw, what are you doing?" she meowed, frowning at the apprentice.
Shadepaw was suddenly aware of three pairs of suspicious gazes burning into her pelt. "I - uh...I was only choosing fresh-kill to, uh..." she stammered. Her voice faltered as Finchwing gave her a hard, penetrating stare from narrowed, holly-green eyes.
"I would like to ask you why you're eavesdropping on us." The deputy, who was usually friendly and easygoing, now sounded cold and distant. "I'm afraid it would be rude." Shadepaw shivered at his dismissive tone. Dewfall's death is already affecting the Clan. Finchwing is now as hostile as any ShadowClan warrior. The dark gray she-cat looked away, unable to meet Finchwing's eyes.
They might know about how Dewfall died. The thought sent chills down Shadepaw's spine, and she glanced nervously at the leader, deputy, and medicine cat. I have to find out! She turned to Finchwing and meowed, "After Dewfall's death, I couldn't sleep. I came out here to get some fresh air."
Cloverstar and Finchwing exchanged glances, while Ivystrike's intact eye widened. Shadepaw studied the silver-and-white tabby for a moment before turning her gaze to Finchwing. The large ginger tom was whispering urgently into Cloverstar's ear.
After a moment, the brown tabby she-cat straightened and mewed something to Finchwing in a low voice. The deputy, looking disgruntled, padded away.
They don't look surprised, Shadepaw noticed as her gaze wandered over Cloverstar's pelt. So do they know something the Clan doesn't?
Shadepaw flattened her bristling fur, struggling to calm herself. Probably not. She couldn't imagine Cloverstar hiding a huge secret from RiverClan. After all, why would she? Cloverstar doesn't have any grudges against anyone in the Clan. Shadepaw's fur prickled anxiously. Does she?
"Why don't you go get some sleep?" Ivystrike suggested. "You'll need your energy for today."
Will I? Shadepaw wondered what her mentor, Cypresspelt, had planned for her today. A hunting assignment? An assessment? She turned to Ivystrike. "I'm not sleepy right now," she meowed awkwardly, daunted by the prospect of disagreeing with the medicine cat.
"You might be, later." This time it was Cloverstar who spoke.
Shadepaw shook her head. Why is she so persistent? "I won't, Cloverstar." Dipping her head, she trotted away. I wonder what they were talking about...
Shadepaw followed Cypresspelt's paw prints to the stream on RiverClan's territory, her tail flicking curiously. Her mentor had instructed her to meet her there at sunhigh today, and she was eager to find out what for.
The dark gray she-cat recognized Cypresspelt's brown-and-white tabby pelt from several tree-lengths away. Her mentor was perched on the edge of the muddy banks, in a small, bare patch of land surrounded by green shrubs and flowers of all colors. Cypresspelt's gaze was strangely distant, and her paw was wandering through the water, occasionally flashing out to catch a leaping fish, but always missing.
Shadepaw frowned. She must still be upset about Dewfall's death, the dark gray she-cat thought as she padded over. "Cypresspelt?" she asked.
The brown-and-white tabby glanced up in surprise, then smoothed her fur. "Ah, you're here," she meowed briskly, standing up and shaking out her fur. Water droplets splashed onto Shadepaw's pelt, and the dark gray she-cat cringed away.
What kind of RiverClan cat am !? she demanded to herself. Scared of water!
"So, what are we here for?" Shadepaw prompted, nudging her mentor.
Cypresspelt heaved a long sigh. "I want to test your fighting skills." Seeing Shadepaw's surprised look, she shortly explained, "Cloverstar may launch another attack on ThunderClan soon. It looks like if she agrees to it, she'll attack this moon, or the next."
We're going to attack ThunderClan? Shadepaw sprang to her paws. "That's great! We haven't practiced battle training for so long." Her words echoed thorugh the trees. "Where are we going to practice?"
Cypresspelt led Shadepaw to a barren stretch of land she recognized immediately: a plentiful habitat for land prey, encircled with small elder trees. Cypresspelt briefly went over the rules of battle training. "Claws sheathed, stop when I tell you to stop, keep alert at all times, keep to forest techniques."
Shadepaw nodded absentmindedly. She could smell the reek of fox lingering in the air here.
"You attack me first," Cypresspelt ordered, jerking the dark gray apprentice out of her wandering thoughts. "Remember the rules."
Shadepaw nodded again, sheathing her claws. A growl rumbled in her throat as she flung herself at her mentor, claws slashing. Cypresspelt dodged and raised a paw to slash Shadepaw's muzzle. As the dark gray she-cat glanced at it, her mentor's next move took her by surprise: she felt herself being unbalanced, and she realized that Cypresspelt had tricked her.
Cypresspelt darted over and pounced on Shadepaw, who twisted herself into a tight spiral and slipped free.
"What move was that?" the brown-and-white tabby she-cat gasped, barely twisting free to avoid Shadepaw's next strike. "I didn't teach you it." Her green eyes sparkled with both pride and suspicion.
"My friends and I made it up." Shadepaw puffed out her chest as she spoke. She feinted to the left, then darted to the right and bit down on Cypresspelt's tail. She jerked her head, sending Cypresspelt flying.
"Woah!" The brown-and-white tabby she-cat landed nimbly on her paws. "I didn't see that coming." She lunged again, her paw raking Shadepaw's face. Fortunately, her mentor's claws were sheathed and did no damage to Shadepaw's eyes and muzzle.
"Let's try that again!" Shadepaw crouched down, tail waving excitedly. She was about to spring when a cat's yowl of terror interrupted her, followed by a distinct crash.
What happened? Shadepaw's dark blue eyes widened. She glanced at Cypresspelt, wondering what she should do. "Who was that?" the sleek, dark gray apprentice asked breathlessly, her voice tight with barely suppressed worry. "What happened?"
Cypresspelt's mew was grim. "I don't know, but it doesn't matter." She raced ahead of her apprentice. "Hurry. Someone's in trouble!"
Lightningpaw nearly fell into the stream when he heard the crash. A loud crash, followed by a chilling cry suddenly cut off. And he couldn't shake off the feeling he knew who it belonged to.
"Come on!" Lightningpaw yowled at Sleetpaw. Her blue eyes were terrified as they met his. "We have to go!"
He ran, faster than he ever did and ever thought he could. His heart was threatening to rip out of his chest as his paws thrummed against the ground. Lightningpaw could hear Sleetpaw's pawsteps behind him as they leaped over logs, ducked under branches, swerved around ferns and pushed through curtains of overhanging moss.
He skidded to a halt as he stopped before the fallen shape. It was a lump of pale gray fur, lifeless and unmoving. Just like Dewfall, Lightningpaw thought with a pang of horror. He hurried over to the cat and crouched down, not believing what he was seeing.
Lightningpaw let loose a horrified wail, his roar of grief echoing around him, replaying over and over again. Why did it have to be him?
Sleetpaw trembled with shock with the sight. A tangle of fur and claws greeted her as she collapsed beside him, sobbing desperately, immediately recognizing who this was.
It was Rainpaw.
He was so tiny, his body so still. His eyes were closed, and his tail was crooked at an awkward angle.
Lightningpaw felt someone drop next to him, wracked with disbelief. Shadepaw was frozen in place, as unmoving as the gray medicine cat apprentice. Her eyes were wide, staring unblinkingly at Rainpaw.
"H-how is this possible?" She whispered, like something was caught in her throat. "He isn't dead. He's not. I refuse to believe that nonsense."
"I'm sorry, Rainpaw," Lightningpaw murmured, his voice cracking. "You didn't deserve this."
Moments later, a splotchy brown and white she-cat bent down to peer at Rainpaw. "We have to get him back to camp," Cypresspelt mewed urgently. "We can't leave him here."
Frustration bubbled to the surface, taking over his senses. "What do you know about what I think? He's my littermate, and I would never do that to him!" He spat, rage spilling into his voice.
However, Cypresspelt remained where she was, undaunted. Her eyes were clouded over with sadness and horror as she took a step forward.
"I know what you're feeling," She mewed quietly. "Dewfall - he's dead. He was my brother, and we were close. Very close. When we were apprentices, we would do everything together. Hunt together. Patrol together. Play together. But when we became warriors, he drifted away. Dewfall found a mate, and they were happy. When she died - her name was Dapplewing, Dewfall completely shattered. He was cold and emotionless. No one could make him smile. I tried. But he wouldn't respond to me.
"Now he's dead, and I'll never see him again until it's my time to join StarClan. But I never did one thing." She paused. "I never told him I cared about him. All those moons. I didn't. And I regret it. But I need to live on. So the best thing I can tell you is to move forwards, not backwards."
Lightningpaw nodded respectfully and stepped over to Rainpaw, gently setting his jaws around his scruff, lifting him. They headed back to camp in silence, each of them thinking about Cypresspelt's words.
When they set paw in camp, Fernflight gasped, scrambling to her paws.
"What happened?" She asked, hurrying over to help Lightningpaw drag his brother's body into camp.
"He fell out of a tree," Sleetpaw said grimly. "And... I'm afraid he's gone to StarClan."
"Let me go get Cloverstar." Fernflight dashed over to the leader's den. A heartbeat later, she emerged, breathless.
"I can't find her," Fernflight said. "She's probably on a patrol. Finchwing and Ivystrike aren't there either."
"We don't need them," Shadepaw said hurriedly. "Anyone is helpful." With that, she sprinted into the nursery.
Splashwing padded out while Shadepaw was quickly trying to tell the whole story on the way to their spot near the camp entrance. Splashwing nodded and approached them.
"Rainpaw needs help!" Lightningpaw burst out. "He's unconscious."
"I see," Splashwing meowed, sniffing his fur. "I don't quite believe he's dead, although he's balanced on the border between life and death."
"What are we waiting for, then?" Lightningpaw nearly shouted. "We need him to stay alive!"
"I didn't say I wasn't going to help," The queen answered wryly, getting to her paws. "Sleetpaw, get me some cobwebs on that trunk over there."
Sleetpaw rushed over to the old tree and clumsily swiped her sheathed paw over the bark, collecting most of the white strands. The white apprentice ran back to them and shook off the cobwebs - on Splashwing.
"Hey!" Splashwing protested as she scraped them off.
"Oops," Sleetpaw muttered, looking down at her paws. Lightningpaw shuffled his paws irritably. They were wasting their time doing unnecessary things! Rainpaw could even be dead by now!
"Can you stop wasting Rainpaw's chance of life, please?" He asked, annoyed.
"We're not," Sleetpaw snapped back as she plastered cobwebs on Rainpaw's flank.
"I suggest you two to stop arguing and start cooperating," Splashwing suggested reasonably.
"Fine," Lightningpaw mumbled.
Suddenly, he heard an ear-piercing screech. Lightningpaw nearly jumped out of his fur. A silver-white she-cat was pushing her way through Shadepaw and Sleetpaw, eyes wide with distress.
"Ivystrike!" He finally managed to get out. Ivystrike didn't even look at him.
"Is he okay?" She whispered, not like she wanted an answer from any of them. "Rainpaw, please be alright!" The medicine cat flung herself onto he apprentice and pressed her nose into his fur, presumably checking for his heartbeat.
Lightningpaw held his breath, waiting for Ivystrike's report. Shadepaw and Sleetpaw were waiting as well, he realized. They were just as worried as him. But he knew Rainpaw mattered the most to him.
Ivystrike unexpectedly sat up. Lightningpaw searched her expression for any hints of what she was going to say, but there was none. Instead, she stalked into her den, and dropped into her nest. Lightningpaw followed after her, surprised.
"Wait!" He thought he heard Sleetpaw yell after him, but he didn't respond. He silently creeped up to the den entrance, close enough to hear the medicine cat's grief-stricken whisper.
"It's my fault Rainpaw will never be able to walk again."
Chapter Six Edit
Sleetpaw paced in the clearing, waiting for Lightningpaw to return to her side. Her mind was whirling. What was Rainpaw doing? He must have fallen off a tree. Why else would he have -
"Sleetpaw," Lightningpaw hissed into the white she-cat's ear, breaking through her bewildered thoughts. He had just padded back to her. "We have a new suspect. They might have done this - killed Dewfall, and injured Rainpaw."
It took a moment for Sleetpaw to realize what the spiky-furred black tom was saying. Her dark blue eyes widened in horror as she stared unblinkingly into his amber eyes. "Are you...are you saying that Rainpaw is the suspect?"
Lightningpaw shook his head. "Of course not." His voice turned sharp as he snapped, "Hurry! Get Shadepaw and Reedpaw."
"I don't know where Reedpaw is! And Shadepaw..." Sleetpaw glanced over at her friend. The dark gray she-cat was crouched beside Rainpaw, her expression distressed. "She's too upset to have a conversation with us. So who's your suspect?"
"I'm not sure yet. Give me a moment to think, and bring both of them here." Lightningpaw whipped around and stalked to the corner of the clearing, lashing his tail in frustration. Sleetpaw glared after him, then marched in the opposite direction, toward Shadepaw.
"I'm here." Reedpaw's worried voice reached Sleetpaw's ears when she was a tail-length away from the dark gray she-cat. "What happened to Rainpaw?"
Sleetpaw glanced at him. "We don't know yet." Her voice was tense. She darted over to Shadepaw and poked her in the side. "Come on," the white she-cat murmured. "Lightningpaw has a new suspect."
Shadepaw sat up immediately, alert. "I'm coming. If he knows who did this, I'll shred them." Her energy suddenly returnin, she bounded over to Lightningpaw. Reedpaw followed more slowly, but Sleetpaw was the one who hesitated. She padded back over to Rainpaw and pushed her nose into his fur. "What happened to you?" she whispered.
To her astonishment, he blinked open an eye. "Sleetpaw?" His voice was hoarse and raspy.
Sleetpaw nodded, fighting back her surprise. "I'm here." She paused and then repeated, "What happened?"
"I fell off a tree." Rainpaw coughed, then closed his eyes again.
Sleetpaw struggled to stay calm as she briefly touched noses with the pale gray tom and then padded back to the corner where Lightningpaw, Shadepaw, and Reedpaw sat.
Shadepaw sprang to her paws. "Now you can tell us your suspect, can't you?" she meowed to Lightningpaw. "We'll see if it's a stupid idea or not." She to Sleetpaw. "Cryptic, vague little mousebrain," she added under her breath.
Sleetpaw suppressed a smile; the situation was too serious. "Whoever killed Dewfall couldn't have injured Rainpaw as well," she pointed out. "According to Rainpaw, he fell off a tree. It isn't like anyone pushed him, or laid a trap for him."
Reedpaw curled his tail around his paws. "Perhaps the murderer was a rogue, and he already left."
"He or she," Sleetpaw meowed darkly. "It could have been anyone. It could have been the fox, or a badger, or..." She faltered. I haven't realized how many possibilities there are.
Shadepaw didn't seem to be listening. She nudged Lightningpaw, who was sitting with his head bowed. "Well?"
"I think...I think the cat who killed Dewfall is Ivystrike," Lightningpaw confessed, then glanced around defiantly as if he were daring one of his friends to argue.
What made him say that? Sleetpaw glared at Lightningpaw. "How could the murderer be a medicine cat? For all we know, it was the fox!"
Reedpaw nodded. "I still believe the fox killed him. Didn't you notice all that fox-scent all over his fur?"
Of course I did. I'm a warrior, not a worrier! Sleetpaw gave a grumpy snort. She remembered the stink of the fox and wrinkled her nose distastefully, but she pushed the feeling away. "We need more clues," she meowed quietly. "We should investigate that stinking fox's den sometime later." The white she-cat tried to imagine an excuse to get out of camp.
Shadepaw frowned. So did Lightningpaw. Reedpaw remained expressionless, but he looked worried as well.
"What?" Sleetpaw asked them, lashing her fluffy silver tail.
"It's just that..." Shadepaw began slowly, her eyes traveling thoughtfully to the entrance of the den. "Wouldn't Cloverstar have ordered an escort for every apprentice that goes out of camp?"
"Agreed." Lightningpaw straightened, his amber eyes suddenly bright with anxiety. "After these two attacks...or Dewfall's death," he amended hastily after seeing Sleetpaw's irritated expression, "any leader would be concerned about the safety of their Clan."
"I don't care." Sleetpaw squared his shoulders. "I'm going to find out who killed Dewfall if it's the last thing I do." If the murderer is a cat, I'll track him down and shred his fur off! If it's a fox, I'm going to drive it out. Whichever works fine.
The expressions of her friends told her that they weren't as convinced.
Sleetpaw turned, hearing Reedpaw's voice behind her. The light brown tabby tom was sniffing a patch of ground, his green eyes narrowed. "I think I have a scent," he murmured, beckoning Shadepaw and Sleetpaw to come closer.
Shadepaw darted back to Reedpaw and crouched to sniff the patch of earth. She sighed. "That's my scent, mousebrain." She nudged the light brown tabby tom and hurried back to Sleetpaw's side.
"We must be near the fox den." Sleetpaw ignored the other two apprentices. "The entire place reeks of it."
The three apprentices had asked Cloverstar for permission to leave camp. Shadepaw had been against the idea, but she had tagged along, to Sleetpaw's relief. Lightningpaw had stayed behind with Rainpaw, who was faring worse than ever.
Shadepaw shrugged. "Foxes always stink. I got used to it moons ago." The sleek, dark gray she-cat yawned, revealing sharp white teeth. "To be fair, I've fought more foxes." She teasingly flicked Sleetpaw's muzzle with her tail-tip.
Sleetpaw prodded Shadepaw in the side. "Now isn't the time," the white she-cat scolded the older apprentice.
"You're not my mother." Shadepaw snorted, then paused mid-step. "Here it is." She brushed through the ferns ahead.
Sleetpaw stared at the fox den as she emerged into the clearing. How could any fox stand the smell? Trying not to breathe, she padded over. Reedpaw followed, his eyes flickering to the shadows at the edge of the clearing.
"This is where a Dewfall died." Sleetpaw traced her claw over a blood-splattered spot on the ground. The stain was still visible. She forced herself not to gag. "There must be something here..."
Without warning, claws gripped Sleetpaw's back. The white she-cat screeched as teeth met in her scruff. She lashed her silver tail, trying to dislodge the weight from her back, but the teeth were pressing into her throat, choking her. She could hear Shadepaw and Reedpaw yowling in the background, but they seemed to be caught in their own desperate fights.
Sleetpaw stared up into eyes as they bore into hers. Terror gripped her as she began to lose the battle for life. She told herself to think, but her mind was blank with horror.
This was it. She was going to die, and Shadepaw and Reedpaw would fall with her.
Before she realized what was happening, however, the weight suddenly vanished from her spine.
Sleetpaw coughed as she stood up. Shadepaw and Reedpaw were sprawled on the ground, but they scrambled up as she did. Sleetpaw glanced over her shoulder and thought she saw a shadow fleeing from the scene. Her claws itched to give chase, but she was exhausted.
Shadepaw was covered in claw marks and scratches, some of which were bleeding badly. Reedpaw looked worse; he had a gash on his leg, and he was gasping for breath.
"What - what happened?" he choked out, his breath a thin rasp.
"Someone attacked us!" Shadepaw snarled. "We let the murderers go free." Her eyes were fierce.
"We don't know if those cats were the murderer," Sleetpaw meowed carefully. "But before we give chase, we have to get Reedpaw back to camp."
The two she-cats carefully padded to Reedpaw. They half-dragged him, half-carried him toward the camp.
Shadepaw's voice was hollow with grief. "We nearly caught the murderers." She seemed unconvinced by Sleetpaw's claims that their ambusher weren't the murderer or murderers.
"Now we'll never find who they are."
Chapter Seven Edit
Reedpaw collapsed with exhaustion. His leg was exploding with fiery pain.
"I can't make it," Reedpaw groaned as he lay on the dusty ground, panting. Sleetpaw gave him a concerned look.
"Maybe we should rest here for the night." The white she-cat suggested uncertainly. "Reedpaw definitely can't go any farther. We can head to camp in the morning."
"Alright," Shadepaw agreed, plopping onto the floor herself. "Then... what about our injuries?"
Sleetpaw looked disgruntled. "Oh, fish-guts! I didn't think of that."
"I have an idea," Reedpaw said weakly, struggling to his paws but falling again. "We gather our own herbs."
"I'm not a medicine cat, Reedpaw," Shadepaw snapped. "Although... Rainpaw is." Reedpaw winced at the thought of poor Rainpaw.
"Well..." He started. "Rainpaw taught me a few basics before one day when I was bored. I think I still remember most of it."
"Go on," Shadepaw urged.
Reedpaw continued. "I think goldenrod helps. It's tall, with yellow flowers." Sleetpaw nodded. "We also need cobwebs, to plaster the wounds. And, Rainpaw said something about marigold."
"I know what that looks like." Shadepaw broke in. She leaped onto her paws and bounded away, leaving Sleetpaw and Reedpaw there.
"Do you think you can stay on your own for a while? I'm going to scout for a place that's sheltered."
"I'll be fine," Reedpaw said, flicking his tail up. Pain shot through his tail and he instantly let it fall back. Sleetpaw shot him another worried look.
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"Yes," Reedpaw answered, slightly irritated. Sleetpaw gave him a look of exasperation, then vanished into the trees.
Reedpaw sighed. How would they ever find the murderer, if there even was a murderer, when they couldn't even walk through their territory without getting attacked? He didn't know. StarClan, help us, Reedpaw thought tiredly. Tawnyfeather and Cloudstripe, please don't abandon me and Lightningpaw. We need you.
His heart ached as he thought of his parents. Why couldn't they be alive and well, and take care of him? His mind whirled as they slipped into the worst memories of his life.
Reedkit flung the mossball at Lightningkit. It hit his brother right in the face. "I'm winning!" He squeaked playfully. "I'm the best warrior in the forest!"
"No," Lightningkit retorted, scraping the moss out of his sleek, jet-black fur. "We're only kits. Not warriors."
"Don't be a grumpy badger!" Reedkit padded over to Lightningkit to help clean up the moss. "We're going to be apprentices tomorrow!"
"I wonder who my mentor will be," Lightningkit said wonderingly. "I hope it's Tawnyfeather."
"That's never going to happen," Reedkit scolded. "Parents can't be the mentors of their kits. I don't see why not, though; they would teach us to be the best fighters and hunters in all of the Clans!"
"I would rather learn how to heal injuries," Reedkit's brother Rainkit interjected from the shade of a willow tree.
"Why would anyone want to do that?" Reedkit wrinkled his nose. "It's practically useless!"
"It's really important! We get messages and prophecies from StarClan!" Rainkit said importantly, whisking his tail back and forth. "We save lives! And make wounds not hurt anymore."
"My wounds would never hurt." Lightningkit boasted.
"You wish." Rainkit mewed defiantly. "You said Tawnyfeather is the best warrior in the forest. Ask him if his injuries hurt from the battle today with ThunderClan."
Reedkit bolted upright. "There's a battle today?" Rainkit nodded vigorously. Reedkit suddenly thought of something. "Where's Cloudstripe? Cloudstripe! Can you tell us a story about a battle you've been in?"
No answer. "Cloudstripe's not here," Rainkit meowed. "She's also in the battle." Worry began to flood into Reedkit's mind. He hoped she was alright.
None of them knew she wasn't alright.
Suddenly, a yowl of grief silenced the kits. "What happened?" Reedkit whispered hoarsely, getting to his paws.
"I don't know," Rainkit whispered back. "But I have a really bad feeling of what's going on." Reedkit did too. His heart was sinking as he realized his worst nightmare was coming true.
Reedkit, Lightningkit, and Rainkit crept quietly out of the nursery. Reedkit tentatively padded over to the Great Willow and sat down. He didn't want to hear what was coming next. But he did.
"I am deeply saddened by the results of today's battle. We lost." Reedkit couldn't hold it anymore. He turned his back to Cloverstar. But that didn't help. At all.
"Three outstanding cats were victims of ThunderClan today. Swiftpaw, and-" A loud wail erupted from somewhere in the crowd. Reedkit knew he would be the next.
"Tawnyfeather and Cloudstripe."
Reedkit screeched with grief, dropping to his paws. Why? Why did it have to be them?
He heard the shushed whispers. He felt their pitying gazes burn into his pelt. But they couldn't possibly understand what he was going through now. No one could understand. Except him, Lightningkit, and Rainkit.
On the day of their apprentice ceremony, Lightningpaw and Rainpaw were smiling. Reedpaw was not. Because the death of his parents never left his mind since that day.
Reedpaw shook that day's events out of his head. It wasn't like he could turn back time, anyways.
Shadepaw emerged, her jaw stuffed with herbs. She spit them out. "They taste like mouse bile," she said, wrinkling her nose.
A while later, Sleetpaw returned. "I think I found a good place." Sleetpaw mewed. "Reedpaw, can you walk?"
"I can," Reedpaw replied, determined.
"Let's go." Without another word, Sleetpaw padded away. Reedpaw moved with agonizing slowness.
"Wait for me!"
Soon, they arrived at the roots of a great oak next to a stream. Sleetpaw ducked her head and disappeared into the roots, Reedpaw following more slowly. Shadepaw went last.
There was plenty of space under the thick, twisting roots. Reedpaw instantly collapsed, his leg shooting sparks of pain throughout his body.
"Finally," Shadepaw gasped. "I'm tired now."
"It was worth the hike," Sleetpaw said, grooming her tangled fur. "There's shelter, water, and I swear by StarClan that I saw loads of prey above us."
"Really?" Shadepaw asked, perking up. "Let's go hunt!" She ran out of their makeshift shelter and leaped onto the oak.
Sleetpaw sighed. "There goes Shadepaw," she muttered, making nests for the three of them with moss.
Reedpaw lay down and felt his eyelids drooping. He drifted into a dreamless sleep.
However, when he woke up, he found a pair of blazing green eyes staring at him. It was Cloverstar. And she did not look happy.
Chapter Eight Edit
Shadepaw had already caught two minnows in the river by the time she returned to the shelter beneath the oak roots. It was nearly dusk, and she was already exhausted. The claw marks on her pelt had not yet faded, and they still stung painfully. She gingerly twisted her head, dropping her prey for a moment, and licked at one of the more severe wounds. Do I know who those cats were? They had smelled familiar. But I've never seen them before...
Her uneasiness grew as her nose caught a trace of Cloverstar's scent, drifting over from the direction of the great oak tree. The brown tabby she-cat would not be pleased if she found three of her apprentices missing, in such a critical situation. What if she had found Reedpaw and Sleetpaw?
Her suspicions were confirmed when she burst into the clearing with the great oak tree by the small stream. Cloverstar was standing over Reedpaw, her green eyes bright with rage. Shadepaw froze when she saw the leader towering over the light brown tabby tom. Cloverstar glanced over and stiffened as well, then stalked over to the dark gray apprentice, smoldering.
"What exactly were you three doing?" spat the leader of RiverClan, lashing her tail. "What in the name of StarClan happened to you?"
Shadepaw felt a flash of guilt as she realized how worried Cloverstar must have been about the trio of apprentices. Reedpaw was wounded badly, Sleetpaw was scratched along her neck and spine, and Shadepaw was just as scarred.
"We were..." Shadepaw faltered. She couldn't think of what to say. Should I tell the truth, or find a clever lie?
She noticed Sleetpaw glaring at her. What does she want me to do?
"We were hunting," Shadepaw finished lamely.
Sleetpaw narrowed her dark blue eyes. Reedpaw shook his head at Shadepaw, his bright green eyes flaring frantically.
"Hunting indeed." Cloverstar sounded scornful. "And would you care to explain how you got so scratched up?"
Shadepaw was speechless, her jaws moving soundlessly. "Uh..."
Cloverstar flicked her tail, still bristling with anger. "Never mind. I'll make sure you have a stern talk with your mentors when we're back in camp." She whipped around and stalked through the bushes, leaving the three apprentices gaping wide-eyed at each other.
"How did she know?" Reedpaw whispered, shifting his injured leg. "Do you think she could be the murderer?"
Shadepaw flinched. Cloverstar, the murderer? What a mousebrained thought. "I still think the cat who killed Dewfall is Ravensong."
"You're all acting like whatever killed Dewfall was a cat," Sleetpaw interjected. "That isn't necessarily true. It could have been the fox."
Shadepaw shook her head irritably. "Whatever. Let's just get back to camp. We still have Cloverstar to deal with." She sank her claws into the soft earth as she wondered what her punishment would be. Hopefully she goes easy on us this time...
"What in the name of StarClan were they thinking?"
"Cloverstar shouldn't have let them leave camp on their own."
"Looks like they've been fighting badgers all day."
"I always knew apprentices were mousebrained, but I expected better from Shadepaw."
Shadepaw stiffened as she heard the rude remark. She whirled around to face Blizzardwind, her midnight-blue eyes bright with anger. "Don't forget that you were apprentice yourself before - " she started.
The dark gray she-cat then heard Reedpaw hiss into her ear. "Don't get into pointless arguments," the light brown tabby tom murmured.
Reedpaw then automatically cringed away as Shadepaw turned her furious blue gaze on him. He stepped back with exasperation written across his face, then promptly gasped in pain as a sharpened, leafless twig raked across the severe-looking wound on his hind leg, leaving a thin trail of blood splattered across the soft, green grass.
His intentions might be good, but he is an idiot sometimes. Shadepaw helped Reedpaw stand. "Whatever. You clearly need a medicine cat. I'll find Ivystrike or Rain - "
The dark gray she-cat stopped, remembering her friend's grim fate.
"Shadepaw! Sleetpaw! Reedpaw, you're hurt!" Lightningpaw hurried over, his black fur spiked in alarm. "What happened?"
Shadepaw noticed tufts of his untidy fur were tangled with grass, and others were dripping with droplets of water. Has he been investigating Dewfall's death alone, or is something fishier going on? she wondered warily, eying her friend.
Sleetpaw was explaining their story to Lightningpaw. "And we're now here," she finished.
Lightningpaw's eyes darkened. "Well, Cloverstar certainly isn't pleased about the incident." His tone was shaep as he added, "You should have sent a messenger or something. Do you not know how worried the entire Clan was?"
"We didn't think of it." Reedpaw's voice was barely a whisper. "I guess we were too panicked."
Cloverstar, who had been speaking in an undertone to Finchwing, was now marching toward the four apprentices, ignoring Lightningpaw as she addressed Shadepaw, Sleetpaw, and Reedpaw. "I am extrmely disappointed in you. Finchwing agrees that you three must learn from your mistakes. Don't let this happen ever again. The consequences will be much more severe."
Hanging her head, Shadepaw braced herself for her punishment.
The moon lit the clearing, illuminating the slender figure of Ivystrike as she padded into the camp. Her eyes were weary from watching over Rainpaw the entire night, and she was barely keeping herself awake. I need some fresh air...and time to think.
As she squeezed through the narrow camp entrance, she glanced over her shoulder. Her one eye caught the glint of midnight-blue eyes watching her leave. Uneasiness nearly forced Ivystrike to turn back, but she relentlessly slunk into the wilderness of RiverClan territory.
Ivystrike unsheathed her claws.
Shadepaw narrowed her eyes. Ivystrike? Why is she up so late? Shadepaw had been kept awake only because of her growing annoyance about her mysterious attackers. Did the medicine cat know anything about Dewfall's death, like Lightningpaw suspected? Or was she entirely innocent of any crimes? Could she be one of the cats who attacked me?
Shadepaw hesitated, unwilling to get into further trouble. Fetching moss for the elders was enough of a punishment. But I must find out what's going on. Silently, she shifted to her paws. She thought she saw Ivystrike meet her dark blue gaze, but the medicine cat seemed to dismiss the sight.
Shadepaw crept into the night, shadowing the one-eyed RiverClan medicine cat.
Chapter Nine Edit
Unknown to Shadepaw, she was not as stealthy as she thought. Narrowed blue eyes like ice watched her slip out of camp.
The white she-cat hesitated. Should I follow her? I'll just see where she's going. Sleetpaw decided quickly.
Sleetpaw made sure that her pawsteps were light and her tail didn't brush the ground as she lightly ran across the camp.
She scurried out of the dirtplace and held her nose high in the crisp night air and sniffed, immediately recognizing the scent of two familiar cats.
Shadepaw and... Ivystrike? What was going on? What were they doing in the middle of the night? She had to find out!
Sleetpaw hurried into the trees and stopped. She crept under a spray of ferns and froze as she heard two voices bickering.
"What are you doing here?" Sleetpaw guessed it was Ivystrike, from the nervousness tinging the voice.
"You're asking what I'm doing here? Well, what did you have to do with Rainpaw?" Shadepaw demanded. Sleetpaw tensed, and then she remembered Lightningpaw's suspect: Ivystrike. But I still don't think it's the medicine cat.
"It's..." Ivystrike began, stepping backwards. "It's all my fault!" The medicine cat cried out, her eye averting Shadepaw's shocked stare.
"Wait... what do you mean?" Sleetpaw leaped out of the ferns and landed neatly on her paws. "How - what - I don't understand."
Ivystrike sighed, and she seemed to grow seasons older with her tired expression.
"I'll explain. It began like this..."
Ivystrike padded into the forest, her tail high. Cracks of sunlight poured through the openings between the majestic, towering branches above her.
She scanned the undergrowth for cobwebs, but she found none as she ventured deeper and deeper into RiverClan territory.
She jumped when she heard a sharp snap behind her. Ivystrike curiously glanced behind her, and saw a pale gray apprentice following her in the distance.
Ivystrike bit back a purr as she recognized the embarrassed look in Rainpaw's blue eyes when he looked up at her. "Rainpaw," She sighed. "For the love of StarClan, why are you following me?"
"Um..." Rainpaw mumbled quietly. "Because, uh, I thought I could help you?"
The medicine cat rolled her eye at him. "You minnow-brain. It's more like you're guarding me, than helping me when you're stealthily spying on me from a distance. I think I can manage myself."
Suddenly, his eyes clouded over with what seemed like worry. "Where are you going?" Rainpaw asked.
"The hawthorn grove. Why are you asking? You're acting like the Clans are doomed and only you know." Seeing the look on Rainpaw's face, Ivystrike took his worry seriously.
"Rainpaw... Rainpaw, is there anything wrong? Did you receive a prophecy?" Rainpaw shook his head.
"I'm okay," he muttered, looking away.
"Are you sure?" Ivystrike queried. Rainpaw nodded.
"Can I pro- I mean, come along?"
Ivystrike gave him a funny look. He really was acting up today.
"Fine," Ivystrike agreed, and then she padded in the direction of the hawthorn grove.
I wonder what's wrong, She thought silently. Rainpaw is strange today, and... what was he going to say?
He's probably worried about my safety. Anyone should. After all, it's only been three sunrises since... since Dewfall left for StarClan. Ivystrike shivered as ice slid down her spine. Or... something else.
Ivystrike pushed that thought away, and tried to make her nervous pace easygoing and calm.
As she stopped, she scanned the trees. "This is strange," she commented to Rainpaw. "There's usually a lot more cobwebs, but I haven't seen a single one this moon. Have you?"
Rainpaw shook his head, and kept on walking, his muzzle whipping around to glance nervously around their surroundings every other heartbeat.
Suddenly, a silvery web laden with dewdrops reflected the light and caught Ivystrike's eye. Instantly brightening, she padded towards the tree.
It was a young sapling by the looks of it. Ivystrike sighed with relief. That also meant that newleaf would be supplying the forest with new herbs and berries for her to collect.
Then she heard a heavy, quickening rhythm sounding breathlessly behind her. Ivystrike turned around, and saw Rainpaw flailing desperately at her. What was he doing?
By now, Rainpaw was hyperventilating, eyes wide and panting hard. Ivystrike hurried to her apprentice. "You're not okay! What do I do? StarClan, help me! Rainpaw, please tell me what's wrong!"
Of course he didn't answer.
"Just tell me!" Ivystrike shrieked at him, no longer holding onto her patience. "What. Is. Wrong?"
Rainpaw's tail flicked at the hawthorn tree with cobwebs, and then Ivystrike didn't remember anything else happening before a sickening crack rumbled beneath her paws.
The medicine cat couldn't move. Her paws were rooted to the ground like a towering oak tree. Ivystrike screamed at them to run, but they didn't budge at all.
The next thing she knew, a screeching Rainpaw bowled Ivystrike over and she lost her balance. Ivystrike crashed into ferns and bushes and twigs and roots as she tumbled head over tail into a ditch.
Pain shot into her and she stifled a yowl of pain from her scratches as Ivystrike scrambled to her paws and realized that she was surrounded by dark, twisting thorns. She shuddered and took a step back.
Her tail hit a vine, and an idea also hit her mind.
She started to climb, pushing with her paws to boost herself up the vine. If only I were a ThunderClan warrior! Her mind cried. But I have to prove that RiverClan aren't lazy fish-eaters. We are strong!
Sunlight enveloped her and Ivystrike let out a relieved sigh. She had made it!
But... wait. Where was Rainpaw?
Ivystrike sucked in a breath as she realized where he was.
Rainpaw was crushed under the tree. Ivystrike gasped in horror as she frantically attempted to drag him out.
She finally succeeded, and she fell back with a gasp for air.
The medicine cat stumbled to Rainpaw, and grasped his scruff in her jaws. She strained, and pushed, but Rainpaw was too heavy for her.
Ivystrike sighed tiredly. How could she take care of Rainpaw when she couldn't even take care of herself?
She decided that she would head back to camp first, then get help for Rainpaw.
But as she left the clearing, she caught the glint of triumphant amber eyes staring at her.
Chapter Ten Edit
"Reedpaw, wake up."
The light brown tabby tom sensed a stunning jolt of pain ripple through his leg as he heard the whisper in his ear. Groaning, he forced himself to his paws and narrowed his eyes, gazing at his surroundings. Where in the name of StarClan am I? Confused, Reedpaw turned, only to feel the pain from his wound once more. He stopped, hissing in frustration.
The hiss alarmed Reedpaw. He jumped and turned around. "Who are - "
He suddenly recognized the fluffy silver she-cat, her fur striped with streaks of white. Mother? Could this familiar face really be Cloudstripe?
But Cloudstripe was dead. Did this mean Reedpaw was in StarClan? His mother blinked warmly at him, the answer sparkling in her sky-blue eyes.
"Am I dead?" the apprentice managed to choke out.
"No, no," Cloudstripe replied. "You are not dead. It isn't your time yet." She circled Reedpaw. "I'm so proud of you. It was extremely brave of you and your friends to go to the fox's den."
Reedpaw's hopes soared. "You're a StarClan warrior, so you should know how Dewfall's murderer was!" he exclaimed. He stopped, puzzled, as Cloudstripe's eyes flashed with sorrow. "Wait...don't you?"
"Truthfully, no," she admitted with a resigned sigh. "What I do know is that it was a cat. Not a fox. Dewfall was killed in cold blood."
"A cat..." Reedpaw muttered under his breath. He raised his voice. "Then why did you come?" he asked timidly. He didn't want to sound rude, but he needed to know.
"To deliver a warning."
Frustration pricked at Reedpaw's pads, but he forced it down. "What warning?"
Cloudstripe flicked her tail. "Be alert. Never let your guard down. I know another murder has not occurred since Dewfall's. But you were, still, attacked in your own territory. It could happen again, anytime, to one of your less wary Clanmates."
Reedpaw digested it. He mumbled a few inaudible words, then searched Cloudstripe's expression for any knowing glints in her eyes. There were none.
Desperate, Reedpaw stared at her. "Didn't you glimpse our attackers?"
Cloudstripe shifted her paws. "I did," she mumbled. "But I don't have the slightest idea who they were. One was a dark gray tabby tom. There was also a tortoiseshell cat with a brown-and-white tabby."
"Like Cypresspelt?" Reedpaw mewed sharply.
"Yes, like Cypresspelt." His mother looked uncomfortable. She shifted, starlight glimmering in her fur. "But I can assure you who I saw was not Cypresspelt." She glanced away, looking rather affronted to be sharing these news.
Reedpaw narrowed his eyes. Why does she look so uncertain? He remembered Cloudstripe had always been confident and strong. Now, she looked like she doubted herself more than any other cat. Reedpaw frowned. "But you're a StarClan cat." He attempted, and failed, to understand how Cloudstripe could not know the murderer. "How can you not know who killed Dewfall and attacked us? Were they the same cats? Or are the situations completely seperate..." He faltered.
"Some things even StarClan cannot see," Cloudstripe murmured. She padded forward, her eyes gentle.
Reedpaw flinched away. He immediately regretted it when he saw the spark of hurt in Cloudstripe's eyes.
"Remember, there will always be light in the darkest night," Cloudstripe whispered. "There will always be hope in hopeless times. And I will be with you, always. Tawnyfeather and I are watching in the stars." Alarmed, Reedpaw realized she was fading. Her paws were transparent, and Reedpaw could see stone and moss through her fur.
"Don't go!" Reedpaw pleaded. But he realized it was no use. Cloudstripe knew nothing of the murder.
Reedpaw bolt upright in his nest, his fur spiking in alarm. Sunlight shone into his eyes, warming his pelt. The memories of his restless sleep returned to him in moments.
Reedpaw now realized how lost Reedpaw felt without his mother by his side. The battle with ThunderClan had been terrible the day when he had lost her and Tawnyfeather. The third cat who had died during the battle was an apprentice named Swiftpaw. Reedpaw didn't remember much about the young tom, but he would always remember Swiftpaw's memorable courage and quick instinct.
RiverClan and ThunderClan have been at peace since then. A chill traveled down Reedpaw's spine. But RiverClan is not faring well anymore.
How can we survive if we can't survive in our own camp?
Lightningpaw sighed. Nothing was right. Nothing was like the perfect future he had planned for himself.
Even as a kit, Lightningpaw dreamed of being the leader of RiverClan. Gazing down from the Great Willow, surveying his Clan of brave warriors.
He also had planned it out for his littermates and parents, too. Rainpaw would become his faithful medicine cat, Reedpaw would be his most trusted advisor. Tawnyfeather and Cloudstripe would help guide him to glory and victory.
Unlike what most cats thought, Lightningpaw was not completely living on the heat of battle. He had feelings.
Well, that was also part of his downfall.
His life started spiraling down the day Tawnyfeather and Cloudstripe left him and his littermates. When they were made apprentices, Rainpaw smiled. Lightningpaw also smiled, but it was forced, for the sake of Rainpaw and Reedpaw. Reedpaw, however, just let his feelings spill all over.
Then, a season after his parent's deaths, disaster struck. Dewfall was found dead, and no culprit was discovered.
Lastly, Rainpaw was now crippled for life, and well, nothing was ri-
"Lightningpaw!" A sharp voice snapped him away from his thoughts. Lightningpaw blinked, and realized Reedpaw was waving a frantic paw in his face.
"What's wrong?" Lightningpaw muttered grumpily.
Reedpaw sighed. "Look," he said impatiently. "I saw Cloudstripe." Lightningpaw's head shot up immediately.
"You... what?" Lightningpaw gasped. "Like, you mean StarClan visited you."
Reedpaw nodded. "But they don't know who murdered Dewfall, or who attacked us. They don't know anything."
"But isn't StarClan supposed to know everything?" Lightningpaw protested. Reedpaw shook his head.
He growled in frustration. "Then how do they expect us to know anything?"
Lightningpaw listened to Sleeetpaw and Shadepaw as they concluded their discovery.
"So a tree fell on Rainpaw, not Rainpaw fell off a tree," Shadepaw finished breathlessly. Sleetpaw nodded in agreement.
"I think we can take Ivystrike off the list of suspects," Sleetpaw suggested.
"Yes," Reedpaw agreed wholeheartedly. Lightningpaw silently agreed with his friends as Sleetpaw paused.
Reedpaw suddenly stood up with an urgent spark in his deep green eyes. "I forgot to tell you something," he explained hurriedly. "When Cloudstripe came to me in my dream, she said that StarClan glimpsed a dark gray tabby tom, a tortoiseshell, and a brown-and-white tabby."
Lightningpaw froze. "Isn't that... Cypresspelt?" He mewed slowly. But how could it? If Dewfall's murderer was Cypresspelt...
It couldn't. Cypresspelt was Dewfall's littermate. She would never do that. And she had already shown that she was grieving her brother's death. It didn't make sense.
He dismissed that thought from his head as quickly as he could. It wasn't possible.
"No," Reedpaw answered. "At least, according to Cloudstripe." A glint of uncertainty and sorrow flashed in his eyes, then passed in a heartbeat.
Shadepaw's blue eyes were thoughtful as she wound a strand of gray-green moss around her claws. Finally, she sighed. "I can't think of any possible explanation for any of this." She admitted, whisking her tail back and forth. "I don't know about you, but I need a break from this."
With that, she climbed to her paws, stretched gingerly, then ducked under the lichen draped opening of the apprentices' den.
"I suppose that's the end of our discussion," Sleetpaw said dryly. "I'm going." The white apprentice followed Shadepaw with light pawsteps.
Lightningpaw and Reedpaw simultaneously looked at each other. "That leaves us two here," Lightningpaw muttered.
"Maybe we can go to the elder's den for a story," Reedpaw offered hopefully.
Lightningpaw snorted. "I'm not a kit. But fine."
He stood up and made his way into the blinding sunlight. As he took in the sight of the camp, he noticed Dawnstorm and Ravensong staring at them. Lightningpaw immediately turned his face away and decided to pick a piece of prey from the fresh-kill pile behind him.
His eyes ran through his choices: a minnow, a pike, a trout, and a frog. Lightningpaw's nose wrinkled in disgust as his gaze spotted the frog. I'm definitely not getting that.
Instead, he chose the trout. Lightningpaw hastily dragged the silvery-blue fish with him into the elders' den. Inside, Reedpaw was already waiting patiently with an elderly queen.
"Welcome," Poppywhisker greeted, her tail flashing back and forth at a surprisingly fast speed, considering she was an elder. Lightningpaw nodded stiffly in return.
"Let's see... you want to hear a story, don't you?" Poppywhisker guessed.
"Yes!" Reedpaw exclaimed brightly before Lightningpaw could object. He sighed.
Poppywhisker thought for a moment. "I'll tell you about the time our border patrol defeated a whole ThunderClan battle patrol," she rasped proudly.
"Sure," Lightningpaw meowed. At least the story was going to be exciting.
The tortoiseshell-and-white queen began. "Many seasons ago, when I was a young warrior, ThunderClan came and attacked us." Her dark green eyes began to gleam with a fire.
"It was a day like every day, and we were patrolling our ThunderClan borders. Suddenly, warriors of ThunderClan surrounded us out of nowhere, and we were cornered.
"They attacked, so we had to defend ourselves, our pride, our territory, our Clan. A tom pounced on me, and I had no choice but to fight back. So I kicked up my legs, into his belly, and he ran away with a loud screech." Poppywhisker beamed.
"Then, Sootstorm-" she pointed at the snoozing black elder. "He arrived at my side, and we fended off three of those minnow-hearts. There were only two warriors and an apprentice by that time." The dark green fire intensified in her steely gaze.
"The strongest out of them stepped forward to challenge me," Poppywhisker whispered. Lightningpaw sucked in a breath. "It was the leader of ThunderClan. Thornstar." Lightningpaw stared down at his paws.Thornstar? Like, the tyrant who mercilessly killed so many of our kits and unrightfully stole our land? He couldn't process the fact that this frail queen was the one of the victims of a feared monster from wide-eyed nursery tales.
Poppywhisker continued, the leaf-green fire now raging madly in her eyes. "Before I could land a blow on that StarClan-cursed lump of frog-dung, two cats jumped at him. One was my apprentice, Larkpaw. The other was a warrior named Sorrelheart. She was my sister.
"They both leaped at Thornstar. Larkpaw in front of him, and Sorrelheart right behind him. Thornstar ducked, and-and-" She let out a strangled cry as her eyes dropped to her paws. Lightningpaw was sure he felt a stab of pity for the elder.
"Larkpaw's claws pierced Sorrelheart's throat, and... it was all over." Poppywhisker murmured in a hushed whisper. Her green gaze blazed with grief and guilt, the inferno extinguished from her eyes. Only a flicker remained of the storm.
"Sorrelheart was accidentally killed. Thornstar escaped. And... Larkpaw was convicted of murder." The pain in Poppwhisker's eyes stopped Lightningpaw from making a sarcastic comeback. He couldn't bear to think of it. Her sister and her apprentice.
"Wait." Reedpaw's voice snapped Lightningpaw from his thoughts. "Who is Larkpaw, exactly? I've never heard of her before."
Poppywhisker sighed. "Larkpaw is the forgotten sister of Cypresspelt and... Dewfall." Lightningpaw gasped, as the pieces began falling into place in front of his eyes.
"Larkpaw was furious that the previous leader decided to cast her from the Clan, so... so she swore revenge on the Clan." Lightningpaw glanced at Reedpaw. His expression was horrified.
Larkpaw was the one who had attacked Reedpaw, Shadepaw, and Sleetpaw.
As Lightningpaw bit into his trout, his stomach gave off a queasy feeling. This doesn't feel right...
Without warning, he lurched forward and collapsed on the spot. Blurry stars dotted his vision as the world tilted.
The last thing Lightningpaw saw was the glistening red deathberry tucked into the half-eaten trout.
Chapter Twelve Edit
Sleetpaw sighed as she paced across the clearing. She and her friends had accomplished almost nothing in discovering Dewfall's murderer. Tensions were running high in the Clan, and although Ivystrike was off the list of suspects -
A terrified scream rang through her ears. More caterwauling joined in as the moments passed.
Sleetpaw whirled around, her heart pounding. She gasped as she saw Lightningpaw, sprawled on the ground, foam glistening at the corners of his mouth. He evidently had collapsed - but why?
"What happened?" Sleetpaw demanded as she rushed over to stare at her friend, her fur spiking. "Who - who did this?"
"I don't know!" Reedpaw managed, evidently horrorstruck: his eyes were wild and his fur bristling. "He just collapsed!"
Shadepaw darted to Sleetpaw's side. "What - " she began. Then her gaze landed on Lightningpaw and she stared at him for a few moments, looking stunned.
Sleetpaw was dimly aware of Poppywhisker ordering, "Fetch the medicine cat."
Ivystrike. Sleetpaw knew she would be able to cure Lightningpaw. Her throat constricted and both fury and grief tightened her throat. She has to. She stared at Lightningpaw, who was now twitching violently, foam still bubbling at his mouth. Who could have done this? Who dared?
She edged closer and narrowed her eyes at Reedpaw. "Did you see anything odd - " she started, then broke off as her eyes fell on the trout lying at Lightningpaw's head, forgotten.
"Do you think someone poisoned him?" Shadepaw sounded shocked.
Sleetpaw cautiously, with one claw, rolled the deathberry onto the ground. "Who could have placed this inside the trout?" she hissed at Shadepaw. "Only a cat! Do you think some - some fox or badger could have done this?"
Shadepaw looked hurt. Sleetpaw took a deep breath to calm herself. "Sorry," she muttered.
Ivystrike burst through the camp entrance. "I heard," she panted when Sleetpaw opened her mouth to explain the half-conscious apprentice next to them.
"Someone poisoned him," Shadepaw growled.
Ivystrike's eyes widened. She dashed over to inspect the glistening red berry on the ground. "Yes, it's a deathberry," she murmured, confirming Sleetpaw's fears. "I'll - I'll fetch herbs. You should leave," she added pointedly to Shadepaw and Sleetpaw.
"No way," Shadepaw snapped.
Sleetpaw agreed, "We're staying here." If anyone thinks they'll drive me away from one of my best friends, they're wrong!
Ivystrike shrugged. "Well," she started, "if you're sure - "
"We are sure." Sleetpaw sounded sullen, even to herself. She didn't want Ivystrike to think that she was frightened and couldn't handle the situation. But I am scared.
As Ivystrike disappeared into the medicine den, Sleetpaw faced Shadepaw. "Who do you think could have poisoned him?" she murmured, gazing at Lightningpaw, who was writhing on the ground now.
"What?" Shadepaw jumped; she had been staring into the distance, distracted, but Sleetpaw's words seemed to bring her back to reality. "Oh...well, definitely a cat." She shivered "Any other creature couldn't know the uses of deathberries, could they?" Her unsheathed claws slashed deep gouges the earth.
"Right," Sleetpaw meowed. Then she hesitated. "Unless..." She faltered. "What I mean is, there is the possibility that this was an accident." She wished it could be true.
Shadepaw snorted. "Don't be stupid. Deathberries stuffed inside a trout? How can that be a coincidence?"
Ivystrike hurried out of her den, a bundle of herbs now clamped tightly between her jaws. "Yarrow," she muttered as she approached Lightningpaw. "It'll make him vomit the deathberries up." Her dark eyes glittered anxiously as if to say, hopefully.
Sleetpaw stepped back. Her paws numb, she muttered to Shadepaw, "Come on, I don't think we're needed."
"Where are we going?" Shadepaw asked.
"Away," Sleetpaw replied shortly, glancing back at the medicine cat. She didn't want to stay in the crime scene, where Ivystrike was bent over Lightningpaw, hiding him from her view.
"If you say so." Shadepaw shrugged and followed Sleetpaw into the forest.
They padded through the trees in silence for a long time. None of the she-cat uttered a word; Sleetpaw could tell Shadepaw clearly wanted to speak, but she was holding herself back.
Finally, Sleetpaw mewed, "A warrior murdered, an apprentice wounded, an apprentice poisoned. What can happen to our Clan next?"
As if to answer, a high-pitched shriek of pain echoed through the trees, abruptly cut off. Then the forest was silent once more, but it was a chilling silence.
Sleetpaw turned to Shadepaw, her blue eyes wide. "Did you hear - "
"Yes, I did." Shadepaw looked grim, her eyes narrowed and her fur bushed. "Someone's injured - or - " she stopped, then swallowed. "Let's go!"
The apprentices pelted through the marshy forest in the direction of where they thought the shriek had come from. Sleetpaw was fully aware of her pounding heart. She wondered what she and Shadepaw might find at the source of the scream. Would they discover Dewfall's murderer, ready to claim their next victim? Or had -
They skidded into a wide, familiar clearing. The stale scent of fox told Sleetpaw they had arrived at the abandoned fox's den once more.
But now, the clearing wasn't empty. A cat was stretched on the ground. Blood was already pooling around her throat, and her terrified eyes were already glazed over. There was a slash on her throat that nearly extended to her leg. The victim's black fur was stained crimson with blood.
"Ravensong?" Shadepaw whispered, slinking forward. She stopped abruptly. "Sleetpaw...look at this."
Almost reluctantly, Sleetpaw approached Ravensong, her heart still drumming against her chest. She stared at where Shadepaw was pointing at - the black warrior's paws. Sleetpaw peered closer at Ravensong's bloodstained claws and noticed clumps of stinking fur trapped beneath them. White, tortoiseshell, and brown-and-white tabby.
"Cats did this," Shadepaw snarled. Her voice clearly said, I knew it.
"Reedpaw isn't going to react so well," Sleetpaw said nervously. "Ravensong's his mentor." She shook her head and blurted, "I'll go tell the Clan. We should already have told Cloverstar - "
Shadepaw's hackles rose. "There's no need." She turned around.
The leader herself was emerging into the clearing. Her green eyes widened when she spotted Ravensong. Finchwing appeared behind Cloverstar, his expression bewildered.
"She was dead when we came," Sleetpaw explained heavily. We arrived too late. "We couldn't do anything..."
More paws pounded through the forest. Sleetpaw recognized Emberfire, Cypresspelt, Leafbriar, and Dawnstorm as they slunk into the clearing, tails lashing. The four warriors' eyes widened as they saw Ravensong on the ground, blood at her throat and pooling around her fur.
Then a more familiar cat emerged: Reedpaw, his fur bristling and his eyes round with terror.
"How did this happen?" Cloverstar demanded.
Shadepaw and Sleetpaw shrugged. Reedpaw was still staring as if petrified as if his mentor. His paws were trembling.
Finchwing pushed past Sleetpaw to inspect Ravensong, lying stiffly on the ground. "How..." he murmured.
Reedpaw padded over to Shadepaw and Sleetpaw, gazing at them. Their was the faintest hint of accusation and pleading in his wide eyes. "How did this happen?" he whispered. "You didn't - you couldn't have - "
"Of course we didn't murder Ravensong," Shadepaw grumbled impatiently. "There are better suspects than your best friends."
"Sorry," Reedpaw muttered, sounding sheepish.
"Cloverstar," Finchwing called. "Come look at this." Clearly, he, too, had discovered the fur between Ravensong's claws.
The warriors crowded around Ravensong while Cloverstar glanced at the fur and began speaking in low, urgent tones to her deputy. Finchwing nodded grimly. One of his eyes were fixed on where Sleetpaw and Shadepaw stood next to Reedpaw.
Finally, Cloverstar approached the two she-cats. "Ravensong was murdered," she began, "by a cat."
"We know," Shadepaw and Sleetpaw said together.
"I spotted the fur in Ravensong's claws," Shadepaw added, wrinkling her nose distastefully at the thought. "What a terrible scent. I don't think - "
"Look at this," Cloverstar interrupted her. She spat onto the ground a clump of snowy-white fur.
Sleetpaw stared down at it with sudden understanding. She had a silver tail...and white fur. Cloverstar must suspect her. After all, she'd found Ravensong first. To the Clan leader and deputy, everything must fit together. But it doesn't! She wished she could wail in despair.
The warriors now gathered around Cloverstar, muttering anxiously among themselves. They were shooting suspicious glances at Shadepaw and Sleetpaw.
They know Ravensong and Dewfall weren't killed by a fox now, Sleetpaw thought, shrinking back. They know it was a cat who did this.
Shadepaw was stepping back too, aware of the unfriendly, cold glances she and Sleetpaw were receiving from the warriors.
And they think we are the murderers.
Chapter Thirteen Edit
Shadepaw glanced nervously at the warriors surrounding them. The expressions on their Clanmates' faces ranged from stony stares to hostile glares. She shivered. None of those looks were good.
"Sleetpaw?" Cloverstar stepped forward. "What do you have to say about this?"
Before Shadepaw could stop herself, her jaws opened. "Nothing!" She retorted fiercely. Sleetpaw shot a startled glance at her. "Sleetpaw didn't do anything!"
"Who knows?" Finchwing hissed. "For all we know, you and Sleetpaw could be the murderers."
Shadepaw narrowed her eyes. Why was he so suspicious? But he wasn't the only one. Leafbriar and Emberfire were also looking skeptical.
"Look, Shadepaw, we don't really think you and Sleetpaw are the murderers," Dawnstorm started. Is that what you really think? "But what else could we assume from this?" She snagged a feathery clump of white fur in her claws and held it up to the fading sunlight. It did look like Sleetpaw's fur. But it isn't.
"I don't know," Shadepaw heard Sleetpaw whisper forlornly. The sleek white apprentice's clear blue gaze swam with confusion and shock.
"No one knows," Dawnstorm mewed gently.
"Then why are you accusing Sleetpaw?" Shadepaw burst out. She immediately regretted her words and wished that she could call them back.
"Shadepaw-," The warrior began.
"I will not put up with this nonsense anymore." Cloverstar interrupted coldly. "Leafbriar, Cypresspelt and Emberfire, escort them back to camp. Dawnstorm, Reedpaw, and Finchwing, come with me." With that, she stalked off.
Dawnstorm and Finchwing swiftly followed. Reedpaw threw one last desperate look at Shadepaw. "I'm sorry," she thought Reedpaw say, and then he was gone.
Less than a heartbeat later, Shadepaw felt sharp teeth close around her scruff. By the sound of a small whimper next to her, she guessed that the same was happening to Sleetpaw. But I can't let this happen to me.
"Get your teeth off of me!" She spat. Leafbriar must've been shocked, because she felt the warrior recoil. Shadepaw quickly took advantage of her chance.
She threw off the she-cat with an upwards shove. She heard the she-cat yelp, and as Shadepaw turned around, Leafbriar landed on her paws and staggered sideways. After she regained her balance, she charged at Shadepaw. The apprentice easily sidestepped, and when the warrior feinted for her muzzle and instead, rolled into a duck at her paws, Shadepaw catapulted over her and kicked out her hindpaws. She felt her claws connect with flesh and behind her, Leafbriar let out a cry of pain.
However, Shadepaw's luck was slipping away. As she whirled around, her eyes noticed that Emberfire had also joined their fight. Oh, she thought. StarClan help me! They weren't helping much. though. I have to outsmart them, she realized. But it won't be that easy. They're trained warriors, both of them. But I have to try. For Sleetpaw. For everyone.
With new determination flooding into her veins, she wriggled out the pile of claws and teeth and struck from the outside, darting back and forth to deliver a well-aimed slash every now and then. As she caught sight of Sleetpaw, however, her confidence drained away.
Sleetpaw's eyes were bright with terror and shock as she staggered from her injuries. Shadepaw gaped at the mere sight of her friend. Blood stained her once-pristinely-white fur, and crisscrossed cuts laced across her flanks. One paw was held gingerly above the ground as she limped over.
"Shadepaw, stop," she croaked softly. "It won't help. Stop trying to save me."
"I am going to try to save you until you are saved," Shadepaw returned swiftly, stubbornly planting her paws on the forest floor. "You deserve to be saved."
"You're not saving any of us," Sleetpaw hissed. "Stop being stupid. You're dooming yourself, as well as me. Please, Shadepaw. Listen to me."
"Sleetpaw's right," said a familiar voice. The surrounding bushes rustled, and a light brown tabby apprentice pushed his way out. "Just listen."
"Traitor," the dark-furred she-cat shot back at him. "Who's side are you on?" Reedpaw flinched back, hurt and shock clearly visible in his eyes. "I was wrong to think you were someone I could trust."
"What did you say?" He hissed softly. Reedpaw stalked towards Shadepaw until their muzzles nearly touched. His normally nervous green eyes burned with hot rage. "I was wrong to think I could actually trust you!" He yowled. "You're the one who doesn't understand! You don't know why I'm doing this!"
Shocked, Shadepaw took a step back from him. "Then... then why are you doing this?" She whispered. Shadepaw felt like she already had the answer to that question, but she was uncertain. Everything is uncertain. I just attacked my Clanmates, so what is going to happen to me? I was just framed for murder, so what is going to happen to me? She was already starting to regret her actions, but she couldn't go back in time to make everything right.
Silence fell upon the clearing. Not a single cat moved.
"I'm... I'm doing this for you," Reedpaw admitted. "You don't know what you're getting yourself into. If you injure Leafbriar, Cypresspelt and Emberfire even more, you probably be banished from the Clan. In fact, when Cloverstar sees this, she probably will exile you." His voice trembled like it would be blown away by the wind any time.
"Oh," Shadepaw breathed out. "I'm - I'm sorry, Reedpaw. I should have listened. I really should've."
"It's too late," Leafbriar rasped weakly. "What's done is done, and it can't be reversed. We'll have to take you two to Cloverstar."
"I can go get her," Cypresspelt volunteered, standing up. "My injuries aren't terrible."
"Then go," Shadepaw said, her voice coming out harsher than she had wanted it to. "We need to get to the medicine cats - uh, I mean medicine cat so she can check over the wounds." Guilt flooded her mind as she took note that she had been the one to inflict the wounds.
"I'll set out now," Cypresspelt answered briskly. She slipped out of the clearing, her tabby-striped tail disappearing into the trees.
Reedpaw flicked his tail at Shadepaw, concern written on his face. "You need to rest," he mewed worriedly. "Sit down."
Too exhausted to even protest, she sank down onto the leaf-littered forest floor. A few moments later, she felt the warm presence of Sleetpaw pressed up against her pelt. Shadepaw sighed. She didn't like needing help, but this would be one of the times where she had to. I've had those "times" a lot recently.
Before she knew it, Cloverstar had arrived with the whole of the Clan gathered behind her, peeking out to look at their soon-new-topic-of-gossip. Finchwing and Ivystrike stood beside her, surveying the battered cats and the bloody scene.
"Shadepaw, Sleetpaw," the RiverClan leader began. "We will carry you back to camp first... and then discuss your fate and punishment." Turning to the Clan, she ordered, "Ashcloud, Needlepelt, you'll take Sleetpaw. Ivystrike and Fernflight, you'll take Shadepaw. All clear?"
The warriors nodded fervently, and set to work. The one-eyed medicine cat circled Shadepaw, a thoughtful light in her eye. "Fernflight, I'll take her scruff and you can lift her from her hindpaws."
The younger she-cat said, "Sure," and picked up Shadepaw's hindpaws. Ivystrike bent down to grab her scruff and hoisted her into the air.
"You sure are heavy," Ivystrike mumbled through a mouthful of fur. Shadepaw growled softly. She did not like it when she was picked up, but she just had to deal with it.
They were walking on the edge of RiverClan territory when suddenly four cats burst out of the trees. Shadepaw felt Fernflight tense, and realized why; these were ShadowClan cats they were dealing with. "What are you doing here?" She mewed stiffly to the brown tabby tom, shifting uncomfortably from paw to paw.
"Oh, marking our borders," a speckled gray apprentice replied haughtily, rolling his eyes at the warrior.
The brown tabby tom whipped around to cuff the apprentice's ear. He let out a gasp of pain and Shadepaw shut her eyes to try to shut out the terrible sound. It didn't work.
"Shut your mouth, Gorsepaw," he hissed. The brown tabby then turned around to face Fernflight, Ivystrike, Ashcloud, Needlepelt, Shadepaw and Sleetpaw. "What are you doing here?" He asked, obviously trying to lighten his voice.
"None of your business, Sparrowcloud," Ivystrike snapped. "We don't have to share everything with you." Shadepaw nearly sat up with a jolt as she remembered that Sparrowcloud was the ShadowClan deputy.
"You should at least tell us why two of your apprentices are so badly injured," a mottled brown she-cat said, her voice as smooth and sweet as honey. "That's Shadepaw and Sleetpaw, right?"
"Yes," Ashcloud meowed irritably. "And we don't have to tell you, Eagleflight. It's not like ShadowClan ever told the other Clans that you were the kit of Voletail and Mistrunner." Eagleflight winced, and Shadepaw wondered how Ashcloud had known.
"If you don't want to tell us, you don't have to," a warrior Shadepaw knew as Thistleberry suggested.
"Then we'll be on our way," Ivystrike responded curtly. "May StarClan light your path."
Soon, they reached their camp. Curious gazes latched onto the parade of cats and Shadepaw looked away. She didn't want to see the disappointment and betrayal, and she didn't want her Clanmates to see the shame and regret in her eyes. It was embarrassing.
Cloverstar glared at the newly arrived warriors. "Set them down in the medicine cat den," she ordered coldly. "I need everyone out of there except Finchwing and I. Ivystrike, you can grab some prey for them and sit with us."
Fernflight muttered something inaudible, and dragged Shadepaw to the den. It was a crevice in some rocks, and the musty smell of herbs greeted them as they padded in. At last, they reached the nests for the patients. Ivystrike tapped her paw in the nests and meowed, "Leave them in the nests. Clear?" Fernflight, Needlepelt and Ashcloud nodded fervently and quickly vanished.
Shadepaw craned over Sleetpaw to see the still, curled-up form of Lightningpaw. Guilt gripped her heart. I'm sorry. This wasn't supposed to happen. Sighing, she settled back into her nest of river mosses and slender reeds.
The sound of a voice startled Shadepaw back into reality. Ivystrike dropped a minnow each into their nests. "Eat," she urged. "You'll need some strength."
"Sure," Shadepaw mumbled, stretching her muzzle forward to pick half-heartedly at the fish. Sleetpaw did the same.
More pawsteps thumped into the den, and she realized that Finchwing and Cloverstar were padding in. They sat down and watched the apprentices with an intent look on their faces.
"So... Sleetpaw and Shadepaw, I believe we have some matters to discuss. Like how Ravensong was murdered. And why you two attacked your fellow Clanmates. Ready?" Filled with dread, Shadepaw gave a tiny nod to Cloverstar.
"Don't worry. You won't be exiled, obviously. We're just here to talk about what really happened," Finchwing added.
Cloverstar started. "Sleetpaw, I'm just going to ask you directly. Did you kill Ravensong?"
"No!" Sleetpaw cried, despair etched into her eyes. "I would never do that! Please believe me. Please!"
"I do believe you, Sleetpaw," Cloverstar said. "But then who killed Ravensong? We can start with this; who has white fur?"
"Ivystrike, Sleetpaw, Robinsong, Cypresspelt, me, Snowfall, Rustle, Brightcloud, Hawkshade, Poppywhisker and Sootstorm." Finchwing recited.
"We can cross off Ivystrike and Finchwing," Sleetpaw suggested. "Rustle and the elders too."
"Agreed," Shadepaw mewed. "Also, I don't think Brightcloud could've done it either because she was in the nursery the last time I checked." Ivystrike nodded.
"Robinsong and Snowfall were helping me with herbs," the medicine cat said calmly.
"So that leaves Cypresspelt, which isn't possible because she was on a patrol with me," Cloverstar and Finchwing concluded simultaneously.
"That doesn't make sense," Sleetpaw pointed out, echoing Shadepaw's thoughts. "That doesn't leave anyone except..." Sleetpaw's eyes grew as round as the moons as she gave Shadepaw a "wait, I have an idea" look.
"It does," Sleetpaw said quietly. Cloverstar's head shot up. Finchwing leaned in, eyes sharp and alert. "Who?" He pressed.
Sleetpaw gulped. "Larkpaw."
Cloverstar's eyes widened. "Larkpaw? I thought Pebblestar banished her."
"Yes, he did," Sleetpaw snapped irritably. "He banished her but...
"She's back for revenge."
Chapter Fourteen Edit
Reedpaw padded into the apprentice's den with his stomach reeling. He was frightened that he would retch; he had witnessed Shadepaw attack her Clanmates. Everything is backwards. We were on a mission to discover the murderer, but Cloverstar and Finchwing believe Sleetpaw and Shadepaw killed Ravensong! Worry for his friends raked his light tabby pelt, and he shut his eyes, attempting to ignore the commotion in the clearing.
This wasn't meant to happen.
Paw steps sounded from the medicine den where Shadepaw and Sleetpaw had been placed. Reedpaw jumped to his paws, eyes widening in worry as he poked his head through the lichen falling across the entrance of the den. Cloverstar was padding into the camp, followed by Finchwing, Ivystrike, and finally Shadepaw and Sleetpaw. All five cats looked spooked, prompting anxious murmurs from the Clan.
Reedpaw quickly bounded into the clearing to follow the cats. "What's happening?" he asked Sleetpaw, who was nearest.
"Cloverstar is going to call a Clan meeting," the silver-tailed she-cat informed him tersely, her dark blue eyes watching the leader as she carefully ascended the willow tree. "We believe we've found the murderer of Dewfall and Ravensong."
My mentor, Reedpaw thought, a painful jolt of regret stabbing him. He and the black she-cat had never been close, but Reedpaw had always admired her and valued her thoughtfulness and intelligence.
"Who?" he demanded, willing himself to forget the memories.
Sleetpaw glanced at the great willow where Cloverstar perched like a bird, then back at Reedpaw. He was startled by the intensity in her blue eyes. "Wait for Cloverstar to announce her."
Her, Reedpaw thought, hos fur spiking in alarm as he gazed at the willow tree. A she-cat killed Dewfall and Ravensong.
"Let all cats old enough to swim gather beneath the great willow for a Clan meeting!" Cloverstar yowled.
At her summon, Reedpaw, Sleetpaw, and Shadepaw instantly scampered to settle down together in the shade of the gently swaying willow. Reedpaw's heart ached for Lightningpaw and Rainpaw, who should be among the throng of warriors that had gathered, but both had been confined to the medicine den.
One crushed by a tree.
When the Clan had gathered beneath the willow, with the three kits tussling outside of the nursery, Cloverstar's claws tightened on her branch. She announced, "We believe we've found the murderer of Dewfall and Ravensong."
Hushed murmuring rippled through the Clan. As Reedpaw glanced around the clearing, he noticed the suspicious glances several warriors shot at each other. He shuddered, desperately hoping the killer wasn't among them now.
"Larkpaw was banished by Pebblestar many seasons before." Cloverstar began, inclining her head. As she spoke, her long claws clenched tighter upon the willow branch.
Reedpaw gasped in astonishment, and several other cats called out disbelievingly.
"Larkpaw? But she was exiled!"
"How could my sister kill Dewfall?" Cypresspelt demanded angrily, her holly-green eyes blazing with fire.
Cloverstar raised her tail to silence the quarreling between the warriors. "She has returned, bitter and furious that she was singled out as a traitor to RiverClan," the brown tabby she-cat continued darkly. She ignored the stunned whispers that many exchanged, the continued briskly, "From now, every apprentice and warrior outside of camp must be accompanied by two warriors. No kits are to leave camp, and each patrol must contain a minimum of three warriors. Understood?"
Reedpaw forced a wail of frustration that threatened to escape down his throat. Fear was beginning to overwhelme him. The situation must be serious if Cloverstar was insisting upon these safety measures.
He couldn't resist a brief glance at where the kits had been tumbling over one another. Mistkit, Chestnutkit, and Rustle now were still and listening attentively, their eyes round and glittering with fear and apprehension.
"A final announcemen." Cloverstar waved her tail to silence the crowd. "Finchwing, you will take over as Reedpaw's mentor, as Ravensong is. . .gone." Reedpaw's tail curled as she spoke. Normally, he would have been delighted to be apprenticed to the deputy of RiverClan, but th emention of Ravenslng's death clouded what should be glee.
"If everything I have told you upis understood, then I declare this meeting over."
Cloverstar's stern glare found Reedpaw, Sleetpaw, and Shadepaw as they stood to depart. She gazed at the apprentices for a moment, then shook her head as if dismissing suspicious thoughts, and gingerly clambered down the willow tree.
As the Clan dispersed. Shadepaw hissed, "How will we ever find the murderer if we're supposed to leave camp with other warriors watching?"
"I don't know," Sleetpaw mewed grimly, wincing as she hobbled toward the medicine den, "but my wounds aren't helping. I should get them healed before we can continue investigating." Her silver tail disappeared with a flick as she brushed her way into the medicine den.
Reedpaw noticed Shadepaw gazing sadly at the flecks of blood scattered across the clearing Sleetpaw's wounds had caused. Awkwardly, he touched his tail-tip to dark gray she-cat's shoulder, only to have her jerk away. "I'll be resting in my nest," she meowed resolutely, and marched away.
Disturbed, Reedpaw turned away from his friend, wondering what had urged Shadepaw to attack her Clanmates so viciously, but he was interrupted by Finchwing. "Maybe you'd like to join a hunting patrol with Cypresspelt and Snowfall?" he offered sympathetically. "I know Shadepaw's decision was shocking, but regular patrols must carry on."
Reedpaw blinked. "Of course," he replied, relieved at an opportunity to think without his Clanmates gossiping like chattering birds around him. "I'd be glad to."
.- - -
The forest was eerily quiet, but alive with the enticing scents of prey. Reedpaw sighed as he padded silently after Cypresspelt, followed closely by Snowfall. The light brown-and-white tabby seemed distracted; she frequently bounded through clumps of bracken and thorns, snagging her fur on the sharp branches of bushes.
"Will you shut it?" Snowfall grumbled to her once as she frightened off a mouse he was stalking.
She's in shock, Reedpaw thought in sympathy, frustrated with the white tom and his bluntness. She must not have expected her sister to be a murderer.
As the patrol passed the roaring river still empty-pawed, Reedpaw's eyes caught a flash of silver scales against sunlight. Swiftly, he extended a forepaw to flick the minnow into the air. Pleased with himself, he leaned forward to catch it between his jaws.
When his paws slipped on the slick stone, thoughts of catching the tiny minnow for his Clan still raced through his mind.
He careened into the water with a shriek of surprise and dismay, the minnow suddenly forgotten.
His head was forced underwater by a merciless tide, and his paddling paws churned uselessly against the current. "Help!" he tried to yowl, but a stream of bubbles gushed from his mouth instead.
Cypresspelt and Snowfall were leaning over the riverbank, screeching to him as they carefully dangled a long, spindly branch over the edge. Reedpaw realized even they couldn't conquer the rushing river right now. Desperately, he stretched his neck toward the surface, his paws propelling him upward.
Gasping and spluttering, his head exploded through. He attempted to struggle towards the spindly branch, but he quickly realized the river was carrying him downstream, away from his stricken Clanmates. He could spot them racing after him as his head plunged underwater. His lungs screamed for breath, and his paws were growing exhausted. His thick, sleek fur drifted around him, dragging him down.
Cypresspelt was screaming inaudible words from the bank, her green eyes wide and panicked, while Snowfall had stopped and was wildly contemplating the surroundings.
"Tree, Reedpaw!" Cypresspelt howled, motioning with her tail.
Reedpaw turned just in time to see a fallen tree looming before him. If he had heard Cypresspelt a moment later, his head would have been crushed. Quickly, he extended his claws to grip the tree, then hauled himself onto the mossy trunk. For several long moments, he huddled there, shivering and staring in disbelief at the river he had nearly been swept away by.
The silence was broken by Cypresspelt's sigh of relief. Reedpaw's senses sharpened as he returned to the ground panting heavily and uncontrollably retching up water he'd swallowed, grateful to StarClan for sparing him, but stunned by the uncharacteristic ferocity of the river.
Before he could recover himself and apologize to the warriors for his recklessness, an unfamiliar, but chilling voice spoke.
"Are you looking for someone?"
A small tabby she-cat had materialized behind the patrol, unnoticed by Reedpaw. A dark gray-and-white tom stood behind her, his ears torn savagely, as if by foxes; his pelt was nearly translucent.
Both cats were leering mockingly at Reedpaw, who was dripping and exhausted, Cypresspelt, who appeared slightly battered from Shadepaw's assault, and Snowfall, who seemed simply stunned, though not injured.
To his horror, Reedpaw distinguished a familiar dank, stinking scent belonging to both cats, like contaminated water. His eyes widened and his claws curled around the earth.
Ravensong has snagged fur between her claws.
"L-Larkpaw?" Cypresspelt stammered.
"It's me, dear sister." The brown-and-white tabby she-cat displayed her sharp white teeth. "Yes, I've returned for revenge on your precious Clan." She padded closer to circle her sister. "But you already know this, don't you?"
Snowfall bared his teeth in a hostile snarl as he stepped in front of the senior warrior. "Why did you kill Dewfall and Ravensong?' he roared, his fur bushed out and golden eyes blazing with defiant fire. Reedpaw understood his fury upon seeing the she-cat who had killed two or his friends.
"You're a murderer!" Snowfall accused her boldly, thrusting his muzzle in her face. "I remember why Pebblestar banished you: you murdered Sorrelheart, Poppywhisker's sister!" His muzzle curled back as he exposed his teeth,
Although Larkpaw was much smaller than the large white tom, she remained undaunted, but there was a slight quaver in her voice as she spoke.
"My claws were directed at the tyrannical ThunderClan leader Thornstar, not Sorrelheart, who simply leaped in front of me. Pebblestar had no right to exile me for an accidental murder." Moons of bitterness lingered in her words, but her eyes hardened.
"As for the recent deaths, I didn't kill both of your worthless warriors." Gleeful menace edged her tone. "Ravensong was my victim, but my brother. . .I'm afraid you'll have to look within your Clan."
With a growl of rage, Snowfall whipped around and hurled himself at Larkpaw. To Reedpaw's dismay, she merely sidestepped to evade his frenzied attack. Oh, no. What if she kills us all here? Icy terror coused through his blood. I have to help him!
Cypresspelt was now moving simultaneously - instead of leaping for Larkpaw, she cannoned toward the dark gray-and-white tom, barelling into him and forcing him to the ground, where he writhed like a snake.
Reedpaw jumped forward to slash at Larkpaw, but his heavy paw barely grazed her pelt. The Dark Forest she-cat turned, her eyes smoldering with fire, as she glared at Reedpaw. When she sprang, Reedpaw was too exhausted to even writhe beneath her painful grip. Her hooked claws pierced Reedpaw's sides, and warm blood trickled into his tabby fur. As Larkpaw's claws raked over his neck, white-hot pain seared through him.
Then Larkpaw was suddenly wrenched away from the battered apprentice. Snowfall and the dark gray-and-white tom were wrestling on the ground, while Cypresspelt and Larkpaw now circled each other.
Both she-cats moved warily, but neither attacked. Reedpaw could only drag himself to the opposing side of the clearing, blood welling from the slash on his neck and the scratches on his sides. Flinching, he was helpless as he watched the battle through a haze if pain.
The Dark Forest tom was pinning Snowfall to the ground, while Larkpaw exchanged inaudible words with Cypresspelt.
After a agonizingly long moment of near silence, with Snowfall floundering on the ground, Larkpaw darted forward, as quick as a snake, and clamped her teeth tightly around her sister's throat.
Horror forced Reedpaw to his paws. As if his wounds had never been inflicted, he dashed past Larkpaw, his claws slashing across Larkpaw's spine as he did. But it was no use; as Snowfall yowled helplessly beneath the paws of the Dark Forest tom, Cypresspelt shrieked in agony. She was attempting to shake the smaller she-cat off, but Larkpaw refused to release her hold on Cypresspelt's throat. The Dark Forest she-cat's eyes gleamed with vicious rage.
Reedpaw, in a final fruitless effort to save Cypresspelt, leaped onto Larkpaw's back. The brown-and-white tabby twisted her head to hiss threateningly at him, allowing Cypresspelt to escape. Relief, rather than pain, swept through Reedpaw's mind as he was flung to the ground.
He lay sprawled there for a couple of minutes before finally dragging himself into a sitting position. To his suspicion, Larkpaw and he gray-and-white tom both lurked at a corner of the clearing, but he was more concerned about Cypresspelt and Snowfall,
Snowfall was groaning, crumpled on the ground with blood welling from his injuries. He was breathing irregularly, to Reedpaw's alarm, but he was alive.
But when Reedpaw turned to Cypresspelt, he realized Larkpaw's sister was in a far more serious state than the long-furred white tom. She was hardly breathing at all, and her green eyes were glazing over.
"No!" Reedpaw screeched, his claws tearing at the ground. "She can't be dying. You can't be dying," he gasped, turning her over, only to find blood pulsing steadily from the ferocious gash on her thirst.
"Tell me what to do," he pleaded. He turned, searching the clearing for resources he could use to stop the bleeding. He located moss in the ground and clawed it up, attempting to place it over the gash on Cypresspelt's throat.
"I can fetch Ivystrike," Reedpaw panted, his breath quickening as the moss turned red with Cypresspelt's blood. "Or the nearest medicine cat. . .Foxflight, Heatherfoot, Juniperfall. . ." His voices faltered into silence.
I can't do anything. Stinging tears welled up in Reedpaw's eyes, but he blinked them away and clenched his jaw. He sighed, wishing he were the cat to hold life and death in his paws.
StarClan will come for her now.
"Tell. . .Larkpaw. . ." Cypresspelt rasped, her distorted voice thoroughly chilling Reedpaw. Then her head fell back, and she didn't speak or move again.
Cypresspelt was dead.
Reedpaw's own blood mingled with Cypresspelt's, spreading across the clearing. Reedpaw imagined a river of scarlet blood roaring through the Clan territories, carrying loyal, innocent warriors away with its red tide. . .
"Our work here is finished," Larkpaw, sounding rather satisfied, said. Reedpaw barely heard her, his green eyes staring into Cypresspelt's blank, unseeing ones.
"We must return to the Dark Forest now," agreed the other warrior in a deep rumble.
The Dark Forest warriors disappeared into the shadows of the forest beyond RiverClan territory, their paw steps echoing on the smooth stone.
Larkpaw never glanced back.
Chapter Fifteen Edit
(Bonus chapter from Larkpaw's POV)
Larkpaw stopped as soon as she was well-concealed in the shadows of the looming trees. "That went absolutely well," she mewed, lazily drawing her tongue over her wounds. "My cowardly sister is dead."
The gray-and-white warrior's head angled down to look at the small brown-and-white tabby. "But I wanted to kill that apprentice."
"Shut up," Larkpaw snapped at Stormwind. "I purposefully let him escape alive, and I don't need to tell you why."
Stormwind muttered something inaudible and turned away from Larkpaw. "So now what do we do?" He said gruffly.
Larkpaw rolled her eyes and thought, He really is a mousebrained idiot. "We locate the rest of our group. Where are Hailfoot and Aspenbreeze?"
"Over here." Larkpaw jumped at the chillingly unnatural voice. A once-beautiful tortoiseshell she-cat stepped delicately out of the bushes. She may look weak, but her claws are deadly. It was proved on that fateful day.
Following was a ragged gray tabby tom, scarred with the unhealed marks of battle. Suddenly, the Dark Forest warrior reeled over and let out a pained hiss. His tongue flickered over a oozing gash and flinched away from the ugly wound.
Feeling utterly disgusted, Larkpaw stalked towards him until their noses were touching. Hailfoot stumbled back, but it was too late. Her claws cut through flesh and fresh blood spurted out like a fountain from his muzzle. "Never show weakness," she snarled menacingly into his ear. "It is not welcome here."
The trembling Dark Forest cat stood up and nodded fearfully. Larkpaw showed her teeth in satisfaction and whipped away from Hailfoot. "Where is that stinking WindClan cat?"
"Hunting," Aspenbreeze answered immediately, flicking her tail at a pale blue butterfly.
"What did you say?" Larkpaw growled. "Hunting? Those two are likely to get reinforcements and track us down! It's not safe to go out alone with all of those RiverClan patrols!"
Aspenbreeze tilted her chin. "It wasn't my idea," she retorted defiantly. "Blame Kestrelfrost."
"Fine." Larkpaw snorted. Her gaze burned through their expressions and drank in their fear. Hailfoot and Stormwind appeared nervous, but Aspenbreeze was... too arrogant and threatening to her leadership position. Someday she would find a way to get rid of the she-cat, but she had more pressing matters to think about. Mapleshade would be delighted that they had killed a cat, but there weren't enough cats dying. They needed more.
The brown-and-white tabby's head whipped right as her ears caught a rustling sound. A brown-and-cream warrior bounded out of the bushes with two rabbits and a shrew dangling from his jaws. With a thud, the prey dropped to the leaf-littered ground and Kestrelfrost beamed like he had taken over the Clans. "Come and eat," he offered.
Larkpaw rolled her green eyes. Kestrelfrost was their newest recruit; a young WindClan warrior who was their spy in the Clan's camp. However, he was also extremely ignorant, and full of Clan notions that involved peace and friendship. Larkpaw grimaced at the painful reminder of her exile. I've learned the hard way that no such thing exists.
"Fine," Larkpaw snapped, snatching the fatter rabbit from the pile. "Be quick, because we need to go to the Dark Forest again tonight."
"Again?" Kestrelfrost let out a kit-like whine. "We went there last night! And all of the nights before that!"
"I don't want to hear your complaining," Larkpaw growled, shoving her muzzle into Kestrelfrost's face. "Otherwise you might find your throat slit the next morning."
"I-I won't anymore," the poor warrior stammered. "I promise I won't."
"Good." Famished, Larkpaw bent down to rip a chunk out of the rabbit. She savored the warmly rich meat as she gulped it down in a few bites. When she raised her head, however, she found that the rest of the cats were staring petrified at her. "What are you looking at?" She hissed. "Eat!"
"Oh... uh, okay," Kestrelfrost stammered, immediately stooping down to devour the shrew as fast as he could. The Dark Forest cats quickly followed, and soon, they were set to go.
Letting out a massive yawn, Larkpaw stretched and crouched down. Hailfoot hesitated, and then started to speak. "Don't you think it's a bit early right now? It's only what, dusk?
Fury surging through her, Larkpaw shot up from her previous resting positon and slid out her claws. She held them out, and in the dying sunlight it appeared that they were stained with scarlet blood. Hailfoot backed away and flashed a desperate glance at his companions as if he was pleading them to help him. That won't work, my dear. Just stay there and accept you're a clueless idiot.
"Hailfoot, are you so ignorant you can't tell when you shouldn't talk?" She hissed, rage and frustration flowing off of her like heat waves.
Why was it so hard to deal with these mousebrained cats? She should've declined the offer to work with the infamous Mapleshade to wreak vengeance on RiverClan, but now she was stuck with these blockheads. I think I would've survived fine by myself doing this, Larkpaw thought crossly. They just slow me down... so why did Mapleshade want me to help her? She has her own little pawn to play in the Clan. She doesn't even need me, so... why? Doubt flickered in her mind, and then Larkpaw pushed it away with every scrap of mental force she had. There had to be a reason, right? But she wasn't feeling sure at all.
- - -
"Larkpaw, from this moment you will be known as Larkfire. StarClan honors your bravery and spirit, and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan," Pebblestar finished proudly.
"Dewfall! Cypresspelt! Larkfire! Dewfall! Cypresspelt! Larkfire!" The chant of the Clan rang through the jubilant blue skies, and Larkfire's heart exploded with excitement and joy as a familiar face appeared in front of her.
Purring, Poppywhisker beamed at her former apprentice. "You've done it!" She whispered excitedly. "I'm so proud of you, Larkfire. You've surpassed all of my expectations, and I don't know what else to say." The older she-cat smiled.
"I'm honored," she responded. "And thank you, Poppywhisker. You're a great mentor!"
"Glad to hear that!" The tortoiseshell she-cat mewed warmly, flicking her tail across Larkfire's shoulder. "You were a great apprentice." With a quick glance at the crowd of enthusiastic RiverClan cats surrounding them, she let out an amused laugh, eyes twinkling. "I should go now. Your fans are waiting to see you!"
Larkfire blushed. "Okay," she replied. As Poppywhisker padded out of the circle of warriors, a tide of cats rushed over to her, eager to congratulate her.
Two tiny she-kits, one white and one gray, bounced around her excitedly. "I wanna be like you!" The gray one chirped, tail waving at Larkfire. She recognized her as Shadekit, a three-week old kit who was already up and annoying the older warriors. Next to her was a week-old kit, Sleetkit. She appeared more composed than the former, but her blue eyes gleamed with awe and energy."You actually beat Thornstar with Sorrelheart!" She mewed admiringly, staring up at her.
Behind the kits, Sorrelheart smiled kindly. "It was a pleasure seeing that look on his face when you pushed him into the stream and the fish all attacked him."
Larkfire grinned proudly. "No problem, Sorrelheart."
Turning to the assorted warriors around her, she felt powerful. Loved. Respected. Everything she wanted to be. Everything she was supposed to be. Everything she needed to be.
Suddenly, an indistinct yet terribly familiar voice cut through her thoughts. Larkfire frowned.
"Lark...can you hear...I'm waiting for you...come on, sister..."
Startled, Larkpaw blinked open her eyes. Broken starlight flowed into her view, and she heard the faint stir of the breeze around her pelt, ruffling her tangled fur. Beside her was a figure who looked identical to herself, but the warrior was... glowing, with bright stars and silver moonlight in her pelt. With a pang of realization, she recognized the cat's solemn gaze.
Those shining green eyes belonged to Cypresspelt.
"Greetings, Larkpaw," her sister said quietly.
Silence. A pause.
"Cypresspelt," Larkpaw returned stiffly. Her throat couldn't quite get the word out. She has a warrior name. I don't. She stole it from me! I deserved it more than she ever did!
The brown-and-white tabby sighed softly. "I'm sorry, Larkpaw. Pebblestar shouldn't have banished you. But you know Dewfall and I tried our best to save you."
"I didn't need saving," Larkpaw mewed, her voice cracking with the lie she was telling. She remembered that day. Only Poppywhisker, Dewfall, and Cypresspelt had stood by her side, defending her like true warriors.
Cypresspelt met her eyes, forest-green against leaf-green. "Larkpaw, you know you did." The smaller she-cat flinched. "But that still doesn't explain why you've been working with Mapleshade. Why, though?"
Larkpaw faltered. "Why do you want to know?" She mumbled incoherently.
"Why do I want to know?" Cypresspelt demanded sharply, anger suddenly flaring up in her green eyes. "This is something that could change the Clans forever! Mapleshade has tried to destroy the Clans before, and this is the closest she's come to so far! Did you know that, Larkpaw? Did you?"
A dull ache pulsed in her heart. She's just as fierce and determined as when we were apprentices... still so loyal, still so brave. I... I wish I didn't have to leave.
A single thought lingered in her mind. What if... what if Pebblestar never banished me? What if Sorrelheart never died? What if that battle never existed?
"I didn't know that," Larkpaw whispered quietly, regretting everything she had done for the first time.
Her sister's gaze softened. "Please help save the Clans," she murmured. "If you don't, everything will fall apart, and our legacy will never be remembered by generations to come. Traditions will dwindle to dust and legends will be forgotten. Please, Larkpaw. Don't kill anymore. The Clans will forgive you if you tell them the true story."
Larkpaw let out a barely audible sigh. "So should I break away from the Dark Forest?" It sounded like a lonely kit asking if they should make a friend or not.
"Well, of course you should!" Cypresspelt meowed, eyes bright with confusion and surprise. "Why are you even asking?!"
"I'm worried about what Mapleshade might do to me," Larkpaw confessed guiltily. This is such a selfish excuse! Her better side cried. Why am I even saying this? "What if she kills me? What if she haunts me forever in my dreams? I'll go insane, and- and-"
Cypresspelt lifted her tail to muffle Larkpaw's jaws. "You don't have to leave the Dark Forest," she said comfortingly. "You can be our spy."
"Really?" Larkpaw asked. "I can do that?"
"Yes," she told her. "You can make a difference. You can save the Clans. Just think about your choices, alright?"
I can make a difference, Larkpaw thought fiercely. And I will not regret this choice. Ever.
"I'll help," the small brown-and-white tabby promised bravely.
My allegiance is to the Clans now.
Chapter Sixteen Edit
"Lightningpaw, wake up!"
The spiky-furred black tom jerked awake. "Who's there?" he snarled, his muzzle curling back. He'd been dreaming of being encouraged to eat deathberries. . .
Rainpaw poked his head into the medicine den. "Hurry. Cloverstar is gathering the Clan beneath the willow tree."
Lightningpaw leaped to his paws. I can't sleep through this. "I'm coming," he called as Rainpaw withdrew his head. "What happened?"
Rainpaw narrowed his eyes. "You'll see."
The spiky-furred black tom sighed. Rainpaw had recovered from being crushed beneath a tree, but he was crippled.
Cloverstar was perched on the willow, her ears twitching. Finchwing stood beside her, pacing along a branch.
Another murder? Fear quickened Lightningpaw's heartbeat. Who is it this time? His sharp amber eyes raked the clearing.
"Are we all here?" Cloverstar demanded tightly. "If we are. . ." Her forest-green eyes traveled to where Reedpaw stood at Ivystrike's side. Lightningpaw turned too, and gasped when he saw the apprentice.
There were slashes on the light brown tabby's neck, spine, and side, but what startled Lightningpaw was his haunted green eyes. He scrambled towards his littermate, but Ivystrike stopped him with her fierce, dark blue eye.
"Don't," she warned.
Lightningpaw dipped his head and returned to where he had been before. Dawnstorm was crouched there now,
"Reedpaw's patrol was ambushed at the river," Cloverstar acknowledged from where she stood on her willow branch.
"Of course," Dawnstorm murmured. "Of course we knew, with Reedpaw and Snowfall returning so battered. . ."
Alarm spiked through Lightningpaw as he realized his mentor had neglected to mention Cypresspelt. Does this mean. . .?
Cloverstar plowed on. "Reedpaw and Snowfall were injured, and Cypresspelt. . ."
Gasps of shock and horror. Lightningpaw closed his eyes.
He was falling into an abyss, spiraling into the shadows. Cypresspelt can't be dead. She isn't dead. He turned his head from side to side, but Cypresspelt was not there. It was as if stones were falling into his heart, turning it gray and cold and meaningless.
He tilted his head sideways and glimpsed Shadepaw. Cypresspelt was her mentor. Shadepaw's dark blue eyes weren't troubled, but steely and resolute.
"We will hold a vigil for her tonight," Cloverstar announced, "but there is more to say."
Shadepaw pricked her ears. Sleetpaw, who crouched beside her, glanced up alertly.
Reedpaw rose from where he'd been crouching and slowly padded to the willow tree. It was as if every step pained him. Lightningpaw wouldn't be surprised if this was true. Reedpaw stood there, quiet, and then spoke.
"Larkpaw murdered Cypresspelt."
Poppywhisker whimpered. The tortoiseshell she-cat, Lightningpaw recalled, had been Larkpaw's mentor. She'd hoped Cloverstar had been wrong. She'd assumed it was a trick to turn her against her apprentice.
"But," Reedpaw continued, "she told us someone within our Clan was assisting her." He paused. "Her pawn. A traitor."
Then RiverClan exploded into chaos. Lightningpaw stood in the turmoil as each and every warrior snarled accusations at each other.
"You did it!"
"No, of course not. It must have been her, it was her!"
"How dare you? How could you?"
"He was hunting when Dewfall was murdered!"
Lightningpaw gasped, astounded, as Shadepaw leaped to her paws. "Shut up!" the sleek, dark gray she-cat snarled. "Are you mice, or warriors?"
Sleetpaw jumped to her paws. "Shadepaw is right," the white she-cat declared. "Flinging accusations around isn't the solution to this problem."
Cloverstar nodded from her perch in the willow branch. "For all we now," she added, "Larkpaw could have been bluffing. Perhaps it was a scheme to scare us." But her green eyes were dark with worry.
"Why would it be?" yowled Splashwing, curling her tail around Mistkit. Chestnutkit, and Rustle crouched beside her, their eyes round with fear. "Don't you realize? A warrior among us is the traitor. They're standing with us! Listening as we screech at each other! Spying on us."
Lightningpaw had not, in fact, realized this. Suspicion tightened his throat as he glanced around at the Clan. They're standing with us. . .
"You murdered her!" Robinsong yowled suddenly. He flicked his tail at Reedpaw, his eyes blazing in anger. "Larkpaw didn't come, did she? You were on Cypresspelt's patrol and you murdered her!"
Reedpaw flinched back. "Me? But Snowfall was with me when Larkpaw came."
"You could have split up!" Robinsong retorted. He paced back and forth. "It's the only logical conclusion." He halted. "Or you and Snowfall cooperated to kill her."
"No!" Lightningpaw cried without a second thought. "Reedpaw wouldn't!" He clamped his jaws shut as Robinsong turned to hiss at him.
Fernflight was kinder. "Lightningpaw, we know Reedpaw is your littermate. But how well do you know him?"
Lightningpaw didn't know what to say. How well do I know Reedpaw?
"Well enough that I know he didn't kill Cypresspelt," Lightningpaw snarled, storming to Reedpaw's side. "You're accusing him of treason!"
Robinsong smugly nodded. His dark eyes traveled over Lightningpaw. "You could be his accomplice, too," he murmured as if to himself. "And Shadepaw and Sleetpaw are quite suspicious, too."
Lightningpaw sprang. He didn't know why, or how he decided to, but he pinned Robinsong to the clearing and spat, "Say that again."
Cloverstar leaped onto the ground. "Lightningpaw - "
The spiky-furred black tom thrust his muzzle in Robinsong's face. "Reedpaw, Shadepaw, Sleetpaw, and I didn't kill Cypresspelt!" he screeched, his frustration pouring over the brink. "Why are you accusing us?"
Robinsong clouted the side of Lightningpaw's face with unsheathed claws.
Roaring in pain, the spiky-furred black tom reeled away, scarlet blood splattering the clearing. Cloverstar hurried to him. She summoned Ivystrike with a slight flick of her tail. "Medicine den," she commanded.
Lightningpaw dipped his head and followed Ivystrike back to the medicine den. He heard Cloverstar yowl, "I declare this Clan meeting over," behind him.
Lightningpaw collapsed in his nest. "I shouldn't have." Anger quivered in his voice. "But Reedpaw didn't kill Cypresspelt!"
Ivystrike inspected the side of his face without replying. She used a paw to push cobwebs onto the slash as Rainpaw scrambled into the den. The long-furred, pale gray tom dragged his crushed leg behind him.
"Lightningpaw, you idiot!" he hissed.
Stung, Lightningpaw stared at his littermate. "I couldn't stand by and watch Robinsong accuse Reedpaw."
"You didn't need to attack him! Look at you!" he cried.
Lightningpaw sighed. "Whatever." He curled up in his nest and tucked his nose beneath his tail.
Midnight came. Lightningpaw was still awake, restless. He could hear Rainpaw and Ivystrike sleeping in their nests.
Voices in the clearing.
Perhaps he was hallucinating. Perhaps he was imagining voices because of his lack of sleep. But he was pretty sure the voices weren't an illusion.
He crept into the clearing and slinked beneath a holly bush.
Splashwing, Leafbriar, and two other cats. They others stood in a shadow, and Lightningpaw could see only their glinting eyes.
Splashwing was speaking. "Will we have to follow him?"
Leafbriar nodded gravely. "Yes. We'll have to follow his friends as well. For all we know, they could be cooperating."
Splashwing's sky-blue eyes glittered with worry. "I don't think we should, but I agree with you," she murmured. Lightningpaw crept closer.
One of the cats in the shadows spoke. "I'm sorry to say this," the cat said with a resigned sigh, "but I think we have to."
A she-cat, Lightningpaw thought.
"Have to," Splashwing sneered.
The she-cat stepped forward to stand beside Leafbriar, facing the queen defiantly. Her light brown tabby pelt was silver in the moonlight.
"Fernflight," Lightningpaw whispered as the she-cat turned.
"Yes, we have to," Fernflight snapped, but there was a tremor in her voice. "How will we be safe if we don't watch him? He could creep into the warriors' den and kill us in our sleep. Any of us."
Splashwing lashed her tail and snorted. "Where's the evidence of him being the murderer?"
They must be discussing Reedpaw. Anger spiked through Lightningpaw's pelt. Does this mean the fourth cat is...?
The other warrior standing in the shade emerged, another brown tabby just like Fernflight.
"You," Splashwing hissed, her bright blue eyes glinting in fury. "Robinsong, this was your idea, wasn't it? Spying on our Clanmates?" The queen glanced toward the nursery. "I came because you claimed this would keep my Mistkit and Chestnutkit and Rustle safe, but Reedpaw didn't murder Cypresspelt."
Robinsong! Lightningpaw stifled a gasp. Of course it's him. He started this nonsense.
"Where's the evidence?" the brown tabby tom demanded, thrusting his muzzle forward. "Can you prove Reedpaw wasn't the murderer?"
"Can you prove he was?" Splashwing retorted ferociously, arching her back with a hiss.
Fernflight leaped between the quarreling queen and warrior. "Don't," the usually quiet she-cat growled. She glared at Splashwing. "We have to act. If it turns out Reedpaw didn't kill her, we'll apologize."
Splashwing glared defiantly back, then glanced away.
"Good." Robinsong nodded in satisfaction, prowling around Splashwing, Fernflight, and Leafbriar. "Now, we'll have to keep careful watch on him all day. His friends, too, of course." There was a silky menace to his mew. "We'll catch him before long."
Splashwing began, "We - "
Robinsong twitched his tail-tip. "Yes, yes, Reedpaw might not be the murderer." The brown tabby tom sounded disinterested. "As my sister said, we will apologize."
Fernflight nodded, her eyes glinting.
Leafbriar's eyes rounded in worry. "But how will we keep close to him? He'll be on patrols where we simply can't." The dark brown-and-black tom paced around the clearing; Splashwing gave him a glare as he whisked past her.
Robinsong leaned forward. "Here's the plan," he whispered quickly and excitedly, so that Lightningpaw had to step closer. "We'll tag him when he's on his patrol, no matter how hard. We'll cover ourselves up by telling Cloverstar we'd rather hunt solo."
"But she won't allow us to." Fernflight's muzzle curled back to reveal her sharp white teeth. With sarcasm, she continued, "Perhaps you haven't noticed, but there's this new rule." She shook her head in disgust and annoyance.
Lightningpaw had heard enough. Quickly, quietly, he inched back.
And he stepped on a willow twig. The crack echoed through the clearing, a ghostly sound amidst the chirping of crickets and the murmuring of Robinsong, Fernflight, Splashwing, and Leafbriar. Lightningpaw stopped with his hind paw still crushing the twig, fear in his pounding heart. If they find me, they'll suspect me. I can't let that happen!
As Robinsong glared around the clearing and turned his back, Lightningpaw slunk back toward the medicine den, where he'd been sleeping since he'd been poisoned. He shuddered, recalling the dark scarlet berry embedded in his prey. Who poisoned me?
The murderer within us, he answered himself grimly.
He slipped into the medicine den and collapsed there, into his nest beside Rainpaw's, just as he heard Robinsong snap, "Search the clearing."
The sound of paw steps reached Lightningpaw's ears. He lay still to calm himself.
Shadepaw, Sleetpaw, Reedpaw, he thought, I suppose there's more to our adventure than it seems.
Chapter Seventeen Edit
Sleetpaw was having a nightmare. Again.
Hulking black claws would swoop down from the sky and set blood and fire on her Clanmates like ebony lightning. Cats yowled in despair, but they wouldn't stand a chance against those dark talons.
Tonight's dream was no different. Everything was still the same- cats dying, cats screaming, cats bleeding. Except the fact that she could see their faces... and they were the faces of Lightningpaw, Reedpaw, Shadepaw and Rainpaw.
It was like she was trapped in a spider web. No matter how hard she fought, she just couldn't free herself of the inky tendrils bounding her in place.
Meanwhile, the black claws were targeting Rainpaw. The gray apprentice cried out as a claw sank deep into his useless leg. The light left his once-bright blue eyes and he slumped to the ground. Shadepaw and Lightningpaw battled bravely, but Sleetpaw could do nothing but watch in horror as the dark claws ripped their bodies apart gruesomely. Reedpaw was quick and darted around as the huge talon tried to impale him. However, he was no match for six of those monstrosities.
Without warning, a brilliant flash of white blinded her senses. Sleetpaw screamed as the world around her warped and folded into nothing.
The air here was cold and reeked of rotten plants.
Wrinkling her nose, Sleetpaw's eyes searched the darkness gathering all around her. Tendrils of ravaged ivy clung to the maggot-infested wood. Mist drifted through the air like a ghost.
"Hello?" Sleetpaw stammered, feeling ice travel down her spine. "C-can anyone tell me where this StarClan-forsaken place is?" As soon as the words left her mouth, horror dawned on her.
The wet, damp air. The rotted undergrowth. The lack of stars even if the sky was dark. The eerie silence that taunted her with unspoken secrets and mute fear.
She was in the Dark Forest.
The sleek white apprentice immediately felt stupid. I'm such a mousebrain. I can be killed here at any moment!
Sleetpaw's frantic gaze darted around. She had to get out of here. Now. She couldn't die here and leave her Clan like this. "Oh, StarClan, help me," Sleepaw whispered, although her voice was hollow and her pleading was futile.
There was no point in begging. StarClan could not see into this dark, unforgiving place.
And then Sleetpaw heard voices. Two voices, to be exact.
"...can't be possible..."
"I will... just see..."
She strained her ears, silver tips arched up and pricked toward the direction of the voices. Sleetpaw could barely hear the hushed conversation. Without thinking, her paws carried her forward, gliding silently through the undergrowth.
As the cover of dried ferns and withered bushes thinned out, Sleetpaw stopped. She landed solidly onto the ground with a soft thunk, and froze. The two cats must have heard her, she was sure.
But no furious Dark Forest warriors charged out at her claws first, so Sleetpaw reluctantly decided it would be safe to continue eavesdropping on them. Soundlessly, the RiverClan apprentice crept out of her hiding spot and scooted up the hill. Her once-pristine white fur was stained with dirt and scraggly strands of gray-green moss, but she couldn’t worry about staying clean now. Sleetpaw was so vulnerable here, out in the open. She could only pray that the two cats would not catch her red-pawed like this.
Not daring to go any further, the apprentice ducked behind a small bush and poked out her head, struggling to catch a glimpse of the murmuring cats. She could only see their dark silhouettes outlined against the clouded and starless sky. One was of a hulking cat, the sides ragged with tufted fur and old scars. The smaller shape next to it on the right had a smooth, slicked-down pelt and seemed like a midget compared to the other cat.
“You cannot fail, little one.” The voice was feminine and honey-sweet, like a mother who was comforting her kits. Yet, it still rang with a kind of wrongness. “Your Swiftpaw is watching you, waiting for you to avenge him.” Sleetpaw flinched. What did this have to do with Swiftpaw? He had died in the battle against ThunderClan all those moons ago when she was still a three-moon old kit. So… what was this?
“I know,” came another small voice, reedy with a tinge of fear and uncertainty.
“You don’t sound so sure, precious,” taunted the older she-cat. “Promise me. Promise Swiftpaw. Promise that you’ll kill those fox-hearted RiverClan cats for letting him die in a worthless battle.
The smaller cat shifted uneasily, and stood still. She climbed to her paws and raised her head. The cat, for a moment, turned her head, and Sleetpaw thought her gaze was a dark, shimmering blue as their eyes met. They then both flinched, and the other cat snapped her head back to face the older warrior.
“I promise I’ll avenge you, Swiftpaw!” It echoed through the empty forest clearly, and Sleetpaw shivered. Why was that voice so familiar?
But before she could become more suspicious, the world twisted and bent, tipping her once again into an ebony-dark abyss.
Sleetpaw woke up with a start, her breathing ragged and unsteady. Bright, blinding rays of sunlight washed her surroundings with a pale glow, but the apprentice couldn't shake off the dank darkness of the night before.
Who were the two she-cats... and what were they planning? Why were they talking about Swiftpaw?
She whipped around with her snowy-white fur bristling, but drooped like a wilted flower when she realized it was only Emberfire. "I'm sorry," Sleetpaw said quietly. "I'm just..."
"Paranoid?" Her mentor finished for her. "I know. Everyone around camp, myself included, expects a dead body to appear at any moment. The murders are increasing, and we haven't really done anything about it." Sleetpaw flinched. Maybe the older RiverClan cats weren't doing anything- but she, Lightningpaw, Reedpaw, and Shadepaw had already sacrificed so much for the sake of finding the criminal. And they had found nothing at all.
"I guess." Sleetpaw rose from her nest and padded out of the apprentices den. "See you later, Emberfire." It wasn't until she stepped into the medicine cat den she registered she was shaking. Was it because of the conversation she had overheard, or Emberfire's ominous words?