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Enemies in the Shadows is a fanfic written by Emberpaw (Emberfang). It was started on December 5, 2015.

Prologue Edit

The moon shined into the clearing. Blood stained the ground and formed in pools. In the center of the clearing, a group of ragged-furred cats stood defiantly, their eyes gleaming with hatred. The cats that sat around them stank of blood and fear as they turned their eyes towards a large gray tom that stood before them.

The gray tom hissed at the group of cats in the middle of the clearing. “I can’t believe a Clan cat could be capable of such a treacherous act!”

The largest cat of the group, a muscular tortoiseshell tom, curled his lip in contempt and sneered, “Well, I can’t believe that any cat would listen and obey orders from such a feeble, crowfood-eating pile of fox-dung!” The other cats gasped in shock as the tom hurled insults at the most respected cat in the Clan.

“If you have nothing more to say,” mewed the muscular, gray tom, seemingly oblivious to the other cat’s barrage of insults, “then I now condemn you and your friends to exile. From now on, any one of you caught in our territory have my permission to kill you.”

The tom could barely suppress his laughter at the cat’s speech. “When one of your warriors meet one of my group, we’ll see who’ll kill who,” spat the tom.

“Enough talk. Get out of my territory now,” snarled the gray tom.

As the group of cats limped to the camp exit, the tortoiseshell tom turned to glare at the cats he was about to abandon. “You better remember this, Stonestar,” he mewed to the gray tom, “because I’ll be back.” With his final threats spoken, he and his cats shambled away, leaving the cats of their Clan behind him.

AllegiancesEdit

ShadowClan

Leader: Jumpstar – Black-and-brown tom

Deputy: Marshflame – Gray tom with yellow eyes

Medicine Cat: Puddlespots – Gray tom with white patches

Warriors

Crowtalon – Black tom with long, curled claws, Apprentice: Tanglepaw

Mossberry – Tortoiseshell she-cat

Lizardpelt – Brown-and-white tabby tom

Pinebranch – Black-and-brown tom with green eyes

Mistfire – Gray she-cat with shredded ears

Creekshade – Black-and-white tom, Apprentice: Runningpaw

Flametooth- Ginger-and-white tom, Apprentice: Podpaw

Applepool – Cream-colored she-cat with blue eyes

Newtstripe – Brown tabby she-cat

Blackwhisker – White tom with black muzzle

Rainblossom: Silver she-cat with green eyes

Swallowsong: Brown-and-white she-cat, Apprentice: Driftpaw

Oakclaw – Jet-black tom

Hollybird – Tabby-and-white she-cat

Apprentices:

Runningpaw- Gray-and-brown tom

Tanglepaw – Orange tabby tom with amber eyes

Podpaw – Dappled gray tom with striped legs

Driftpaw – Golden brown she-cat

Queens:

Bloomflower - Tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat, kits: Lightningkit and Dawnkit

Nightberry - Black she-cat with green eyes, kits: Darkkit and Poppykit

Elders:

Scorchstorm – Bright ginger tom with yellow eyes

Thornstripe – Black tabby tom

Goldenwind – Golden she-cat with white patches

ThunderClan

Leader: Palestar – Large silver tom

Deputy: Hawkeyes – Brown tom with piercing yellow eyes

Medicine Cat: Dapplelight – Tortoiseshell she-cat with black patches, Apprentice: Spikepelt

RiverClan

Leader: Brightstar – White she-cat with yellow eyes

Deputy: Splinterfang – Yellow tabby tom

Medicine Cat: Bluenose – Blue-gray tom

WindClan

Flightstar: Black-and-white tom

Deputy: Hareclaw – Red tom with amber eyes

Medicine Cat: Sparrowfoot – Pale brown tabby she-cat

Chapter 1Edit

“Catch the ball, Lightningkit!”

Lightningkit heard the squeal of his sister, Dawnkit, as she threw the ball of moss in his direction. Wiggling his haunches, he leaped up into the air and caught the ball with his claws. Lightningkit heard a gasp of admiration from the nursery, and as he turned around, he spotted the black pelt of Darkkit, the tortoiseshell fur of Poppykit and their gaping jaws as they saw him catch the ball.

The two kits rushed over to him and bounced up and down and asked, “Can we play? Pleeease?” Lightningkit’s whiskers twitched with amusement. How could he say no? “Okay,” he said, “Darkkit, you can be on my team, and Poppykit? You can go on Dawnkit’s team.”

As the kits rushed over to their sides, Lightningkit heard the brambles near the entrance of the ShadowClan camp rustle, and he saw a familiar gray-and-white shape pad out.

“Hey, Puddlespots is back from the Moonstone!” Dawnkit exclaimed.

“Hi, Puddlespots!” Darkkit mewed, “What happened at the Moonstone? Did you dream?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I can’t wait to go to the Moonstone when I’m done my apprenticeship!” he babbled on.

“Sorry, kits,” Puddlespots meowed, “I have to go pick some herbs for my store. If,” he added, “there’s any left. I wouldn’t be surprised since it’s leaf-bare; y’can’t expect plants to grow in this cold.” With his words spoken, Puddlespots rushed off to his den to count his herbs.

“I’m getting bored!” squeaked Poppykit suddenly, “And cold! I’m going back to the nursery.” Lightningkit noticed her nose turning pale, and her fur shivering. He suddenly felt how cold he was. Lightningkit fluffed up his black-and-white fur. “How about we all go to the nursery to warm up?” he suggested. Darkkit and Poppykit pelted towards the nursery without hesitation, but he saw the brown shape of Dawnkit hesitating near the entrance. “Hey, Lightningkit!” she called. “Do you smell something…weird?”

“Weird?” Lightningkit sniffed the air. “What are you talking abo-”

Then he smelled it.

The scent of blood.

Chapter 2Edit

Dawnkit pricked her ears as the entrance brambles rustled. Heartbeats later, a patrol bursted into the ShadowClan camp

Dawnkit’s eyes widened. Applepool, Mossberry, Creekshade and his apprentice, Runningpaw, stood at the camp entrance, covered in wounds and smelling of blood and rat-scent. She heard her Clanmates gasp in shock and horror as they stared at the battered patrol.

Jumpstar, alerted by the noise, bounded from his den into the clearing. “What happened?” he gasped. “Rats attacked us,” Applepool hissed with fury.

“Rats did this?” Jumpstar gaped with surprise. Dawnkit understood his confusion; the hunters had never been attacked by prey.

“What are you waiting for?!” Nightberry yowled. “Fetch Puddlespots!” she yowled at the leader. Dawnkit knew that she was yelling at her leader just because her mate was injured.

Lightningkit shifted his paws nervously. “Um… Puddlespots is out fetching herbs,” he stammered.

“I know what to do.” Dawnkit did a small jump in surprise. Looking behind her, she saw Driftpaw standing behind her. Dawnkit remembered Driftpaw telling her that she had trained as a medicine cat before becoming a warrior apprentice. Without hesitation, Driftpaw rushed into Puddlespots’ den. Dawnkit wondered what herbs Driftpaw would find. No plants grew in leaf-bare, and Puddlespots himself said that his stock was low.

She could tell that Jumpstar was thinking the same by seeing the worry in his eyes. “Crowtalon, go fetch Puddlespots!” Jumpstar ordered. The black tom sprinted out the entrance at his leader’s order.

Nightberry sprinted over to her mate, Creekshade, and began to lick his fur vigorously. “Are you hurt?” she fretted. Creekshade flattened his ears in embarrassment as his mate fussed over him. I don’t know what’s harder for him, Dawnkit thought in amusement. Having to fight the rats or being fussed over by his mate in front of the entire camp!

Dawnkit turned her head towards the nursery as a familiar scent touched her nostrils. Bloomflower, her mother, was sniffing her daughter’s fur. “Are you okay?” the tortoiseshell mewed. She was saved from having to reply when Lightningkit padded over. “Relax, Mom,” he mewed. “We’re okay!” “Whew!” Bloomflower sighed in relief. “When I smelled blood, I thought you two were hurt in another one of your adventures!”

Driftpaw returned from the medicine cat den, holding a few wrinkled herbs in her jaws. She beckoned for the injured warriors to come closer for treatment. “Stay still while I put this cobweb on…” she mewed softly to her brother, Runningpaw.

Suddenly Marshflame’s ears twitched and he turned his eyes to the entrance. A few heartbeats later, Crowtalon and Puddlespots rushed into camp, Puddlespots holding a few chervil roots in his jaws.

“Thank StarClan you’re here!” Jumpstar exclaimed. “Driftpaw needs help to treat the warriors.”

As Puddlespots rushed to help his former apprentice, Crowtalon shredded the ground with his claws. “Jumpstar, you need to hear what I need to say!” he mewed. Jumpstar leaned forward, his ears pricked with interest. Dawnkit found herself anticipating the black warrior’s announcement.

“ThunderClan has invaded!” he yowled.

Chapter 3Edit

ShadowClan gasped. Marshflame and Nightberry leaped to their paws in fury. The claws of Mossberry and Hollybird were unsheathed. Everyone’s pelt was bristling in anger. Only Jumpstar, Puddlespots, the elders, and a few other cats were remaining calm. Lightningkit felt his own black-and-white fur fluff up in anger. In the tension of the moment, he no longer felt the chill of leaf-bare. Instead, the heat of battle warmed up his body.

“Where were the scents?” asked Jumpstar.

“Near the Thunderpath,” Crowtalon responded. “There was fresh-kill with their scent on it.”

Pinebranch, Lightningkit and Dawnkit’s father and Jumpstar’s brother, spoke. “They might’ve found the Thunderpath tunnel,” he muttered.

The Thunderpath tunnel was a secret tunnel under the Thunderpath, surrounded by grass and brambles. It was one of the many secrets of ShadowClan’s territory. If ThunderClan find out about it…, Lightningkit thought. He didn’t want do finish the thought.

Pinebranch’s words had obviously awoken the same thoughts in his Clanmates. “They can attack us through the tunnel!” Lizardpelt shrieked. The Clan gasped in shock and fear.

“Now, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Puddlespots interrupted the Clan’s outburst. “Just because they were near the Thunderpath doesn’t mean that they found the tunnel. All of you know how well hidden it is.”

“Yes,” Jumpstar acknowledged the medicine cat’s words. “But they’ve still stolen prey from us. It’s leaf-bare, and we have none to spare. I’ll take it up at the next Gathering. But no one is to mention this before then. You all know what Palestar would do.”

“So no attack?” Mistfire asked. “Is that a good idea? They’ll keep stealing if we don’t stop them.” Lightningkit winced as she challenged her leader, until he reminded himself that Jumpstar should be used to the she-cat’s challenges. She had been the leader’s apprentice, after all.

“No attack,” Jumpstar confirmed. “ThunderClan would see it as an unprovoked attack, and, if we brought up the prey-stealing, they would just deny it. Palestar’s would never admit that his warriors broke the code, even if they broke it in front of his eyes. Besides, Puddlespots is low on his herb stock. If we had injuries, how would they be healed?” Mistfire reluctantly agreed with a nod.

“Also, I wanted to do something else today, other than an attack,” announced Jumpstar. “Today, we have an important event to carry out. Today, two of our kits have reached the age of six moons and are ready to be apprenticed.”

He means us! Lightningkit realized.

“Dawnkit, Lightningkit, step forward,” Jumpstar ordered. The two kits padded forward to face the ShadowClan leader.

“Dawnpaw, your mentor will be Hollybird.” Hollybird padded forward to touched noses with Dawnpaw. “Don’t worry,” Lightningkit heard the tabby-and-white she-cat mew. “You’ll be a great apprentice.”

“Hollybird, you are a loyal and dedicated member of ShadowClan. Teach all you know with Dawnpaw.” Hollybird dipped her head. “I’ll do my best,” Hollybird promised.

“Lightningpaw,” Jumpstar mewed. “You will be apprenticed to Blackwhisker.”

Lightningpaw shuffled forward, his fur tingling with nervousness and excitement, as he went to touch his mentor’s muzzle. “You’ll be great,” Blackwhisker promised, his blue eyes glittering with happiness as his apprentice touched noses with him.

“Blackwhisker, you’re an amazing hunter and fighter. Teach your apprentice to follow your pawsteps,” Jumpstar meowed, finishing the ceremony.

Lightningkit’s head felt light with joy as his Clanmates called him and his sister their new names.

Lightningpaw! Dawnpaw!

Chapter 4 Edit

“Congratulations! You’re an apprentice now!” said Podpaw as he greeted the new apprentices, Dawnpaw and Lightningpaw. “It’s great being an apprentice!; you get to patrol, hunt, fight for your Clan, train for battle, did I mention that you can hunt now? Oh, yeah, you also get to go on patrols, have battle training, go to Gatherings…”

Dawnpaw had only been listening with half an ear until Podpaw had brought up Gatherings. Gatherings!, Dawnpaw thought excitedly. I get to go to Gatherings! Dawnpaw had always wondered how life was outside the borders of ShadowClan; what did ThunderClan do all day? How did RiverClan hunt for fish? How could WindClan run so fast?

Lightningpaw was clearly thinking across different lines. Dawnpaw noted how her brother’s yellow eyes shone at the mention of fighting and battle training. Dawnpaw remembered with a wince how easily Lightningpaw had pinned her on the ground whenever they play-fought, and how he had won with ease against Darkkit and Poppykit – both who were only one moon younger than him – when they had fought him two-on-one. He’ll be a great fighter, Dawnpaw reflected, admiring her brother’s skill in battle.

“Anyways.” Tanglepaw interrupted Dawnpaw’s thoughts. “Let me show you where you two are going to sleep.” He guided the two new apprentices into the den, which was a large, hollow boulder surrounded by bushes. Dawnpaw recognized the large, curved roof of the den from when she and Lightningpaw had once snuck into the den at night when they had been kits. In the middle of the den, there were six nests lined with moss, leaves, and grass. Tanglepaw flicked his bright orange tail towards two nests near the edge of the den. “Those two are yours,” said Tanglepaw before heading to a nest closer to the middle of the den.

“Who do those two nests belong to?” asked Lightningpaw, prodding Podpaw’s shoulder with his paw. He was talking about two nests near the center off the den. The scent of the cat sthat slept in there was stale; Dawnpaw could only smell a small whiff of the scent that was in the nests.

Podpaw turned around to look at the two nests, then looked at Lightningpaw with a cold stare. “Those belong to Driftpaw and Runningpaw,” he responded stiffly, before turning his back pointedly to Lightningpaw and heading over to his own nest. Dawnpaw was confused at how different his behavior was from his jolly personality when he had greeted Lightningpaw and Dawnpaw to the apprentice’s den.

Lightningpaw blinked, his eyes glittering with hurt. “What did I do?” he wondered. Dawnpaw thought she knew the answer. “He must be sad that his brother is hurt.,” she answered. Runningpaw, Podpaw’s brother, had been ambushed by rats when he had been on patrol. “After all, Runningpaw was his brother. They did everything together.”

“I guess.” Lightningpaw still looked hurt, but he didn’t seem as sad as he had been a few moments ago. He curled his tail over his eyes. “Good night, Dawnpaw,” he mewed.

“Good night, Lightningpaw,” Dawnpaw purred

++++++++++++++++++++

“WAKE UP!”

Dawnpaw blinked open her eyes, still sticky with sleep. She stood up on her paws, her legs trembling slightly. She felt as though she had gotten no sleep. She padded slowly out of the den. Outside, she saw an furious glare from Hollybird, her mentor.

“There you are,” Hollybird mewed irritably. “Where’ve you been? I was calling for you for hours! Lightningpaw’s already out with his mentor, and he left while you were sleeping.”

Dawnpaw was stung by her mentor’s fury. “I’m sorry, but-”

“Don’t worry, Dawnpaw.” Dawnpaw jumped at a voice behind her. Turning around, she saw Flametooth behind her, smiling and his eyes glittering with what seemed to be amusement. “I remember when Hollybird was first apprenticed; she nearly slept the whole day away!”

Dawnpaw giggled, forgetting her mentor’s anger. She could hardly imagine Hollybird, one of them Clan’s strictest warriors, sleeping through the whole day. Behind her, Hollybird was glaring angrily at Flametooth but made no attempt to deny his comment.

“Anyways,” Flametooth meowed, clearly ignoring Hollybird’s furious stare,”I was just going to take Podpaw out for a hunting lesson. Do you mind if we join you?”

Hollybird was just about to open her jaws for a retort, but she clearly thought better of it. Dawnpaw suspected that she didn’t complain because Marshflame was nearby, listening to the conversation. “Fine.” Hollybird’s forehead was furrowed in a scowl, but she lead the three cats outside the thorn barrier.

Chapter 5Edit

“What can you smell?”

Dawnpaw gazed around the pine forest. She could hear a lot – singing birds, chirping crickets, croaking frogs – but Hollybird had asked what she could smellNot sure if I can smell much in here.

Next to her, Podpaw was twitching his ears as though he could hear a piece of prey in every direction. Hollybird scowled. “You must be able to smell something.”

I can smell the damp wet forest, that’s for sure.

“Don’t stress her.” That was Flametooth. He turned his head to Dawnpaw. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. “It’s always hard the first time.”

Dawnpaw shifted her paws in embarrassment and annoyance. She was hoping that she would be able to please her mentor without Flametooth’s help.

“I can smell some frogs,” mewed Dawnpaw uncertainly, half-guessing.

“Good! Very good!” Dawnpaw’s pelt felt warm when her mentor praised her, melting the frosty air of leaf-bare.

But Dawnpaw smelled something else. She heard some twitching sounds and a meaty scent. Mouse! The elders loved the juicy, warm taste of mouse. This rodent would make a tasty treat for the elders. Dawnpaw pinpointed the creature by sound. The mouse was plump. It was hiding under in a small patch of withered flowers, nibbling a tiny seed that it held in its paws. Perfect! The mouse was plump for so late in leaf-bare. Dawnpaw itched to leap and kill it on the spot, but she knew it would do no good.

In a flash, she recalled how she had seen the apprentices practice their hunting crouches when she had been a kit. Slowly, she ducked low and moved quietly towards her prey. Hollybird’s eyes gleamed in surprise when she saw Dawnpaw stalking the mouse. Slowly… Slowly… NOW!

Dawnpaw leaped forwards onto the mouse. It turned around, eyes bright with terror, but it knew it was as good as dead. Crunch! Dawnpaw bit down on the mouse’s neck. She carried it back to her mentor, whose eyes gleamed with happiness.

“I knew you could do it!” Hollybird mewed in triumph. Flametooth’s ears twitched in surprise. “That’s a plump creature for so cold in leaf-bare!” he exclaimed.

Podpaw’s claws ripped at the ground. “Can I try now?” he asked.

“No,” Hollybird replied. “We’re all cold, and I don’t hear anymore prey around here. They’re must be deep in their burrows by now. Let’s go back to camp.”

++++++++++++++++++++

When Dawnpaw reached camp, she knew there was something wrong. Everyone was in the middle of the clearing, their heads bowed in grief. The scent of death reached Dawnpaw’s nostrils. Dawnpaw rushed into the clearing.

“What happened?” Podpaw gasped.

Creekshade lifted his head. “Runningpaw died,” he croaked.

“NO!” Podpaw collapsed onto the ground. Puddlespots rushed over, holding some herbs in his jaws. Dawnpaw stared in disbelief at the gray-and-brown body that lay in the clearing. Runningpaw’s pelt was splotched with blood, his amber eyes blank, staring at nothing, his tail limp.

“He died from his wounds.” Jumpstar meowed. “He was weakened by his wounds. He could barely walk, let alone survive a day in the cold.”

Dawnpaw shambled over to her brother, Lightningpaw. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” Lightningpaw mewed weakly. Dawnpaw couldn’t believe it either. Runningpaw’s gone forever.

Marshflame lifted his head weakly. “We will sit vigil for him tonight. No one in ShadowClan will ever forget him.” Murmurs of grief and agreement were spoken. The elders carried out Runningpaw’s body for the vigil. ShadowClan gathered in the clearing to share tongues with their dead Clanmate for the last time.

Chapter 6 Edit

Lightningpaw blinked, his eyes sticky with sleep. At first he wondered why he wasn’t curled up in the apprentices’ den. Then he felt something soft tickling his cheek. It was a piece of gray-and-brown fur. Then he remembered. Runningpaw’s gone.

The black-and-white apprentice felt grief and guilt welling up in his throat; grief for his lost friend, and guilt for sleeping during the vigil. His gaze darted around, looking to see if anyone caught him dozing. To his horror, Jumpstar was watching him from the entrance of his den. But his eyes weren’t glittering with fury, or shining with anger. Instead, the black-and-brown leader’s eyes shone with sympathy.

He bounded towards Lightningpaw, who seemed to be trying to shrink into his pelt. “Don’t worry,” the leader soothed. “We all do it sometimes.” He broke off, his eyes glittering with mischief. “I believe your father did it quite a few times as well.”

Pinebranch padded towards the ShadowClan leader. “Now, now,” he purred. “I believe you’re forgetting how many times you slept during a vigil.

Lightningpaw twitched his whiskers. He padded away, leaving the two brothers to squabble with each other. His gaze lit up when he spotted his mentor, Blackwhisker, padding towards him. “Come on,” he urged. “Me and you are going to join Oakclaw’s border patrol.” Without waiting for a reply, Blackwhisker bounded over to the camp entrance where Oakclaw was waiting.

Lightningpaw was about to join him when he heard a pattering of tiny pawsteps heading towards him. Without warning, he felt a large shape crash into his side, nearly knocking him over. He turned to see what had bowled into him. He saw Darkkit and Poppykit bouncing up and down next to him, clearly unfazed by their collision with the apprentice.

“Lightningpaw, can I come hunting with you?” asked Darkkit. “I really want to hunt!”

“Me too!” squeaked Poppykit. “How will we ever hunt if no one teaches us?”

Lightningpaw’s whiskers twitched. “Don’t worry; I’ll teach you two how to hunt when I get back from the patrol.”

“Awwwww!” Darkkit whined. “You’ll be on patrol forever!

“Sorry, kits, I have to go,” Lightningpaw apologized. He couldn’t help but notice how Oakclaw was glaring at him in annoyance. He rushed over to meet the black warrior before the kits could pester him with anymore questions.

“Finally!” Oakclaw exclaimed. “All the prey’s probably dead by now.”

“At least then they’re going to be easier to catch,” Swallowsong pointed out. “Now, are you going to lead this patrol, or sit here and talk the whole day?”

+++++++++++++

Lightningpaw twitched his nose. A few tail-lengths in front of him was a lizard, basking in a patch of weak sunlight. Lightningpaw’s yellow eyes gleamed. It would give the kits something to eat. The lizard looked like it would make a decent treat for Darkkit and Poppykit. Lightningpaw crouched down and slowly started to stalk the lizard.

Even though he had made no sound, the lizard started move from its spot on the sunny patch of ground. Lightningpaw wiggled his haunches to leap for the lizard. The black-and-white apprentice leaped. The lizard started to scramble away, but it was too late. Lightningpaw landed and finished off the lizard with a killing bite to the neck.

Holding the lizard proudly in his jaws, he walked back to a patch of grass where he had buried a frog that he had found in the marshes. But when he reached the patch of grass, he knew something was wrong.

A strange scent – similar to ShadowClan’s – hung in the air. In the place where he had buried his prey stood a hole. And around the hole was patches of red tortoiseshell fur. Lightningpaw didn’t need to even think about what had happened. The answer was obvious. Someone stole my prey!

Lightningpaw flexed his claws in and out. Whoever stole my prey is going to pay for it.

Chapter 7 Edit

“Ugh.”

Driftpaw wrinkled her nose as the vile scent of mouse bile entered her nostrils. She was clearing out the elders’ den because Thornstripe had insisted that the den hadn’t been cleaned in days. If it had been any other day, she would’ve came up with an excuse not to do it. But today was the Gathering, and if she didn’t do as Thornstripe asked, he would’ve told Marshflame about it for sure, and then she would become the last cat the deputy and leader would choose to go to the Gathering. Driftpaw would rather eat fox-dung than miss a Gathering. Okay, maybe not…

“Are ye done yet? That foul stuff’s getting in my fur,” Thornstripe complained. “In my day, I would’ve had chores over and done with in a heartbeat.”

Driftpaw was about to spit out a reply when Goldenwind broke in. “Thornstripe, the only reason why you had things over and done with within moments is because you did a sloppy job at it!” Goldenwind teased. “You would fill up the elders’ nests with ragged, damp moss and call it a job well done!”

Thornstripe was opening his jaws to reply when Scorchstorm cut him off. “This young’un’s doing a better job at this than you were doing,” he croaked. “You’re lucky to be an elder now than to be one when you were an apprentice!”

Driftpaw felt heartened by Scorchstorm and Goldenwind’s support. The golden-brown apprentice continued to check the elders’ for fleas until she was done. The Gathering better be worth this, she thought.

++++++++++++++++++++

It was well past sunhigh when Driftpaw had finished, or at least Driftpaw thought that it was past sunhigh. Driftpaw could barely make out the sun beneath the thick, snowy clouds in the leaf-bare skies. In the snowy-and-muddy clearing, Marshflame was sorting out the patrols.

“Okay, we’ll have to hunt before all the snow brings the frogs and mice to their hiding spots. Rainblossom, you’ll take a hunting patrol to the Old Pine. Take… Let see… Take Swallowsong, Driftpaw, and Newtstripe.

Driftpaw rushed over to Rainblossom, the patrol leader. Driftpaw felt like the prospect of hunting was a blessings from StarClan after having to clean out the elders’ den. Newtstripe and Swallowsong followed the eager apprentice more slowly.

“Okay,” Rainblossom declared. “Let’s go.”

+++++++++++++++++

Driftpaw stared in disappointment at what the patrol had caught. They had only managed to catch a skinny rat, a bony mouse, and a bitter toad. Well, what did you expect for so late in leaf-bare? she scolded herself. A plump frog?

The rest of the patrol looked just as disappointed.

“That won’t feed the Clan,” murmured Newtstripe.

“That’s barely enough for just the kits,” agreed Rainblossom sadly.

“At least we caught something!” Swallowsong exclaimed. “This is probably the best haul of the day. We should be lucky to have so much prey in leaf-bare!” Rainblossom just grunted in reply.

“Whatever,” Rainblossom said. “Newtstripe, you can lead the patrol back home. I’ll stay here for a bit.”

Newtstripe’s eyes widened in surprise, but the brown tabby didn’t question the warrior’s order. She turned towards the camp trail and started walking towards the ShadowClan camp.

“Wait,” Swallowsong mewed. “What are we going to say to Jumpstar and Marshflame about Rainblossom? They’ll have our pelts for bedding if we tell them!”

Newtstripe shrugged.”We’ll just tell them that she wanted to go off by herself for a bit. They have to listen to that.”

Driftpaw was less sure. She could be injured, or be freezing to death, or- Driftpaw shook off her thoughts. Rainblossom was strong enough to take care of herself. She wasn’t some sort of soft-hearted kittypet, feeding on brown slop.

But Driftpaw wasn’t able to dismiss Jumpstar’s anger as easily.

“WHAT?!”

Jumpstar looked furious. “I can’t believe that you would let one of your Clanmates go off by herself! We need as many warriors as we can get, and one of them could be injured or freezing out there! You-”

“Jumpstar!” Marshflame interrupted. “I think you’re taking this the wrong way. Rainblossom is a strong cat; she can take care of herself.”

Just then, a silver flash appeared behind the bramble barrier. Heartbeats later, Rainblossom emerged. “Looking for me?” she asked slyly.

“Rainblossom,” Jumpstar growled. “Where have you been?”

“I was just looking for some extra prey,” she replied. “But they were down in their homes.”

“I’ll let it slip this time,” Jumpstar growled. “But it better not happen again.”

Rainblossom stared at her paws. “Yes, Jumpstar.”

“Good,” he mewed, his tone softening. “Go eat something and rest. You might need energy for the Gathering.”

Driftpaw rushed out of Jumpstar’s den and hurried to the fresh-kill pile. On the heap was a bony sparrow and a few stringy frogs. She picked up a frog and headed over to where Lightningpaw and Dawnpaw were eating.

“Hi, Driftpaw!” greeted Dawnpaw. “Lightningpaw, could you cut out that sniffing noise? I’m trying to eat here!”

Lightningpaw was sitting up and sniffing at the air. Finally, he laid down on the ground. resting his head on his paws.

“I knew I could smell it,” Lightningpaw growled.

“Knew what?” Driftpaw asked in bewilderment.

“On Rainblossom’s fur. I can smell the scent… The scent of the cat who stole my prey!”

Chapter 8 Edit

“What?”

Dawnpaw gaped at Lightningpaw, her eyes wide open in a stare. Can’t my sister be quiet for once? thought Lightningpaw in annoyance.

“So,” began Driftpaw uncertainly. “You’re accusing Rainblossom of stealing your prey?”

Lightningpaw reflected a bit on what Driftpaw said. Could Rainblossom really have stolen my prey? The more Lightningpaw thought about it, the more confused he got. But he was sure that Rainblossom had something to do with it; he just knew it.

“I don’t think she stole my prey,” he started off uncertainly. “But I bet the fattest frog on the fresh-kill pile that she had something to do with it.” He suddenly felt how hollow his belly was. If only there was a fat frog on the pile.

“Why don’t you tell us more about your stolen prey?” suggested Dawnpaw. “Then we might be able to make some sense out of your story.”

Lightningpaw felt his whole story spilling out. When he had finished his story, the two she-cat apprentices were looking thoughtful for a few heartbeats, which, to Lightningpaw, seemed like seasons.

Finally, Driftpaw seemed to have snapped out from her pondering trance. “Well, how could Rainblossom have stolen your prey if there was red tortoiseshell fur around the hole?” she asked.

Lightningpaw felt a bit irritated by her question. “That’s why I think that she didn’t steal my prey; I just think that she’s somehow involved.”

Driftpaw was opening her mouth for another question when Marshflame, the ShadowClan deputy, bounded towards the group.

“What are you three bickering over?” he snapped, irritated. “I could hear you three squabbling even in the warriors’ den.” He didn’t wait for a response. “Hurry up. Have some rest; Jumpstar said that you three are going to go to tonight’s Gathering.”

The large, gray tom bounded away to the middle of the clearing. The three apprentices stared at each other in excitement, their discussion forgotten.

We’re going to the Gathering!

++++++++++++++++++++

Whoa.

Lightningpaw stared around the Fourtrees clearing. The clearing seemed to be filled up to its walls with cats. The forest floor looked like a sea of pelts. Am I supposed to do something? he wondered.

He suddenly felt a presence near his ear “Go talk with the other apprentices.” Lightningpaw recognized Blackwhisker’s voice. “Try to learn something about them. This is the opportunity to learn something about your enemies. Use this chance to the fullest.”

“But what if they try to do that to me?” asked Lightningpaw.

“Just ignore them. Walk off somewhere else,” came the reply.

Lightningpaw was about to ask another question, but his mentor was bounding over to a gray RiverClan tom.

Bloomflower padded over to the black-and-white apprentice. “I’ll stay close to you and Dawnpaw,” she said. Lightningpaw blinked at her gratefully.

Hmm… Lightningpaw gazed around the clearing. It took some time for him to notice a cream-colored tabby near the edge of the clearing. Recalling Blackwhisker’s advice, he bounded over to the tabby she-cat. “Hi!” he mewed. “I’m Lightningpaw!”

“Hi, Lightningpaw!” she replied. “I’m Maplepaw!” The cream she-cat suddenly looked nervous. “This is my first Gathering,” she added. “My mentor’s stuck in camp.”

Lightningpaw was about to talk more when he saw Maplepaw’s eyes glitter in fear, her gaze fixed on something behind him. “Uhh… I have to go somewhere. Um… Bye!” She dashed off, leaving a trail of fear-scent.

Lightningpaw wondered what could’ve frightened her so much. He turned around, but saw nothing but the tortoiseshell shape of Bloomflower and the brown shape of Dawnpaw.

“I wonder what scared her so much…” muttered Dawnpaw.

Lightningpaw was about to mew the same thing when a large black-and-white tom leaped onto the Great Rock. “Welcome, cats of all Clans, to the Gathering,” he said, his voice loud and booming.

A white she-cat was about to step onto the front of the rock when a large silver tom pushed her aside. Lightningpaw’s eyes opened wide; he couldn’t believe that a Clan leader would how so much disrespect to another leader, especially in front of a Gathering. Murmurs of shock and anger were heard in the clearing.

I’d like to speak first,” said the silver cat, his voice full of arrogance. “First of all, I’d like to congratulate ShadowClan for-”

Jumpstar didn’t let the leader finish his sentence. The black-and-brown tom spoke. “Actually, I’d like to congratulate ThunderClan on surviving for six moons after a forest fire ravaged their territory. Palestar, I’m surprised that you and your warriors were able to find the strength to cope with the severe damage,” he said, his voice dripping with mockery.

The other Clans sniggered. Palestar’s fur was fluffed up to make him look twice his size as he heard Jumpstar’s barely veiled insults.

Jumpstar spoke again before Palestar could make another move. “Palestar, you better back off before you dig a bigger hole for yourself to fall in,” the ShadowClan leader growled.

Growls of menace and agreement escaped the throats of the cats in the clearing below. Even the leaders had unsheathed their claws. Palestar skulked to the back of the Great Rock with the angry glares following him more closely than ever.

“So,” added Jumpstar more cheerfully. “Who would like to report second?”

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw shifted in his sleep. He glanced around. He was surrounded by towering trees and stinky, rotten ferns. He felt his pelt burning from the millions of angry, hungry glares that scorched his pelt. He felt his heart stop as a pair of sinister yellow eyes moved closer towards him.

Chapter 9 Edit

Dawnpaw glanced around her. She was in a wide, windy field. She sneezed as the scent of pollen entered her nostrils. A few fox-lengths ahead of her was a fluttering, yellow shape. A butterfly!

Dawnpaw ducked into a hunting crouch, her green eyes fixed on the fluttering yellow butterfly.  She stalked the butterfly slowly, silently moving forward, step by step. She was about to lunge onto the butterfly when she heard a sharp rustle in a patch of tall flowers behind her.

Forgetting her bright-winged prey, she twitched her ears and flicked her eyes left and right. She was able to locate the source of the sound in only a few heartbeats. She bounded forwards to investigate the sound’s source. Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes. Something was enveloping the patch of flowers like mist. Was she seeing… starlight? She shook her head, dismissing her thought; her eyes must’ve been playing tricks on her.

She squinted her eyes more. On a small patch of burrs, she could pick out a patch of gray-and-brown fur.

Hmmm… For some reason, she thought that the patch of fur should’ve triggered some sort of reaction, but she couldn’t grasp the reason why.

She thought that she suddenly remembered why when she felt a heavy weight drop onto her back. She gasped as the mass knocked all the air out of her. She was about to turn around to face her attacker when her surroundings suddenly disappeared.

Dawnpaw felt herself panicking. She flicked her eyes to look at her surroundings. She sighed in relief; she was just in the apprentices’ den, not fighting some sort of cat that weighed as much as a Twoleg.

She glanced around the den. Tanglepaw was laying on his side, his whiskers being blown ever so slightly by his faint snoring. Podpaw was making small mewling sounds in his sleep. Driftpaw was sleeping like a log and snoring loudly. She must be really tired after the Gathering, Dawnpaw guessed.

She turned to her brother, who was still asleep. Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes. Something was wrong. Her brother’s fur was bushed up, his ears twitching, and his paws jerking as though he was fighting a cat in his sleep. Dawnpaw’s eyes glittered in worry. She prodded her brother in the ribs, hoping to pull him out of his dreams and bring him back into the real world.

Lightningpaw stood up as fast as a hawk diving for a rabbit. His eyes were wide open with fear. “WHA?! WAZ ‘APPENING?!”

Dawnpaw nearly had a bout of season-long laughter at Lightningpaw’s stupid, silly words. “Calm down, Lightningpaw!” purred Dawnpaw in amusement. “It just me.” Her tone turned serious. “You looked like you were fighting in your sleep. Were you having a bad dream or something?”

Lightningpaw avoided Dawnpaw’s bright green gaze. “Uh, yeah. Bad dream,” he mumbled.

Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes. Somehow, she felt as though something darker than just a bad dream was bothering Lightningpaw. Before she could ask any more questions, Lightningpaw bounded out of the apprentices’ den. Her brother was clearly not going to answer any more questions. Dawnpaw glanced back at her denmates. They didn’t even seem to notice the racket that Lightningpaw had made. Sometimes they act like they’re deaf! she thought in amusement.

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw stretched her legs in the muddy and snowy clearing. She was enjoying the last few moments of dawn before Marshflame would be organizing the morning patrols. Her glossy fur shone in the weak sunlight that was able to penetrate the thick, snowy clouds. Jumpstar was curled up in a particularly sunny patch of grass. Applepool was sharpening her claws on a sturdy log that was propped up against the clearing walls. Lizardpelt, Crowtalon, and Oakclaw padded out of the warriors’ den.

Lizardpelt glanced at the warriors’ den, a large bramble bush that was covered in snow. “We better clean that off before everyone comes to Marshflame about leaks in the den,” he remarked.

“And how do you suggest that we do that?” snapped Oakclaw. “I’m not going to sweep that off the den with my own paws; I’ll get them completely covered in thorns!”

“Well, perhaps we could get some sort of branch, and try to sweep the snow off of the den with that?” suggested Lizardpelt.

Dawnpaw started losing interest in the conversation. She was about to give her paws another wash when a large gray tom padded out of the den. Marshflame! Dawnpaw pricked her ears, ready for the deputy’s orders. Dawnpaw rolled her eyes. Instead of starting to organize the patrols, Marshflame stuck his head back into the den to yowl a message to the sleeping warriors. “GET UP! THE PREY AIN’T GONNA CATCH ITSELF, Y’KNOW!” he yelled.

Mossberry padded sleepily out of the den, her eyes still drooping with tiredness. “Could we at least get some extra sleep?” she begged. “The den was leaking!”

Marshflame narrowed his eyes in irritation. “I’ll get someone to fix the holes,” he growled ill-temperedly. “In the meantime, I hope this’ll be able to keep you awake.” Before Mossberry asked what he meant, the gray deputy launched a massive pile of snow towards the tortoiseshell warrior. The tortoiseshell she-cat narrowed her eyes in amusement. “I’ll get you for that!” She threw a large ball of snow into the deputy’s face.

Before the gray tom could retaliate, Nightberry peeked outside of the nursery. “How did you get all that mess all over your face, O Great Deputy?” the black queen teased.

Marshflame and Mossberry gave each other a quick glance. “The ice was slippery this morning,” he replied, his voice growly.

“Marshflame!” Applepool called from her seat next to the log. “Are you going to get the patrols organized or what?”

That’s what I was thinking, Dawnpaw thought scathingly.

Marshflame shook out his pelt. “Okay, um… Let’s see… Mistfire, you take a border patrol across Thunderpath, and keep a lookout for ThunderClan cats; they might be seeking revenge after what happened at the Gathering. Take whoever you want. Applepool!” The deputy called the cream she-cat from her seat next to the claw-sharpening log. “You’ll lead another border patrol. Take… Hmm… Flametooth, Podpaw, and Rainblossom. And Mossberry, you’ll lead a hunting patrol to the Burnt Sycamore; with all of the tree’s seeds, there should be at least a few pieces of prey there. And we’ll need a few cats to clear the snow off the dens. Who would like to volunteer?”

“I heard Oakclaw, Lizardpelt, and Crowtalon talking about clearing the snow off,” piped Dawnpaw. She was itching to contribute to the Clan, especially since it was so far into leaf-bare. “Maybe you could ask them to do it?”

Marshflame narrowed his eyes in thoughtfulness. At last he nodded. “Sure thing.”

“Did someone call me?” Lizardpelt entered the camp. He was holding a skinny, curved branch in his teeth.“I was just going to ask you if you wanted to help clear the snow off the dens,” replied Marshflame. “And what in StarClan is that for?” he added.

“I heard Oakclaw, Lizardpelt, and Crowtalon talking about clearing the snow off,” piped Dawnpaw. She was itching to contribute to the Clan, especially since it was so far into leaf-bare. “Maybe you could ask them to do it?” Marshflame narrowed his eyes in thoughtfulness. At last he nodded. “Sure thing.”

“Did someone call me?” Lizardpelt entered the camp. He was holding a skinny, curved branch in his teeth.

“I was just going to ask you if you wanted to help clear the snow off the dens,” replied Marshflame. “And what in StarClan is that for?” he added.

“Oakclaw didn’t want to prick his paws while cleaning the snow off the warriors’ den, so I got a branch that we could use to wipe off the snow without having to touch the thorns!” replied Lizardpelt.

“Okay,” replied the deputy. “You, Oakclaw, and Crowtalon can get started on the dens. Hollybird and Blackwhisker, you two can get your apprentices to do some battle practice. Do it over in one of the not-so-wet places in the territory. Okay,” Marshflame finished. “Let’s get started!”

++++++++++++++++++++

“Okay,” declared Blackwhisker. “First, we’ll practice some basic defense moves. First off, the most basic move is to just raise your forepaws to block the opponent’s blow.”

“Like this!” added Hollybird. She stood on her hind paws and raised her forepaws to block the strike of an imaginary opponent.

“Let me try!” squeaked Lightningpaw. He tried to copy the moves of Hollybird. Wiggling his haunches, he stood up and raised his paws like Hollybird had done. But the moment he stood up, one of his legs trembled vigorously, and he fell onto the soft grass of the clearing.

“Ow!” yelped Lightningpaw.

Blackwhisker and Hollybird rushed to his side. “Are you okay?” questioned Blackwhisker.

“Yeah,” replied Lightningpaw, his voice tight with pain. “Totally fine. Nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong.”

“Then why do I smell blood?” rebuked Hollybird. Blood? Dawnpaw’s heart lurched. Had her brother’s fall been more painful than it seemed? “Don’t lie to us, Lightningpaw. We know you’re hurt,” added Hollybird She sniffed Lightningpaw’s body for further investigation. “He seems to have stepped on a thorn,” mewed Hollybird after a long moment. “I’m not sure if he’ll be able to continue the training session.”

“Yeah, I can!” hissed Lightningpaw. “Look!” He was about to try the defense move again, but his leg trembled and he fell on the ground again.

“You’re in no shape to continue this session,” scolded Blackwhisker sternly. “Come on, back to camp. You too, Dawnpaw,” he added. Dawnpaw’s tail drooped. So much for an awesome training session! she thought in annoyance.

++++++++++++++++++++

Puddlespots tail flicked as he was sorting herbs. Dawnpaw’s eyes widened in surprise; did the medicine cat know that she and her brother in in his den? A few moments later her theory was confirmed. Puddlespots continued sorting his herbs but asked “What do you two want?”

Dawnpaw opened her mouth to speak. “Lightningpaw stepped on a thorn,” she mewed, her voice high-pitch with worry.

Puddlespots stared at her in disbelief. “A thorn? Couldn’t you remove it yourselves?”

Dawnpaw shifted her paws. “I don’t know how,” she mumbled. Was it easy to do?

Puddlespots rolled his eyes. He grasped Lightningpaw’s paw and delicately took out the thorn with his teeth. The thorn fell out easily, the tip of it red with blood.

“There!” exclaimed Puddlespots. “It’s rather big. Also, Lightningpaw,” he added, “you’re confined to camp for the rest of the day; you got to let that wound heal.”

What?!” Lightningpaw gaped at the medicine cat in shock. “But… But…” Dawnpaw exited the den quickly before a heated argument could break out.

Dawnpaw waddled over to a shady spot in the ShadowClan clearing. She almost would’ve fell asleep if the brambles at the entrance of the camp hadn’t rustled violently all of a sudden. She stared in surprise as the patrol led by Mistfire burst into camp like a mouse being pursued by a hawk.

Mistfire opened her jaws wide to screech a warning. “INVASION!”

Chapter 10 Edit

Lightningpaw leaped to his paws. Oakclaw, Lizardpelt, and Crowtalon stared at the camp entrance where the border patrol had entered. Mistfire, Swallowsong, and Driftpaw were standing in the middle of the clearing, breathless.

“It’s ThunderClan!” gasped Swallowsong. “They’re attacking us!”

As though her words had summoned them, a flood of cats were suddenly pouring into the clearing, a silver tom at the head. Palestar! Lightningpaw recognized the muscular silver tom from the Gathering. The ThunderClan leader leaped onto the nearest cat that he could reach, Marshflame. He dug his claws into his shoulders while the gray deputy screeched in pain.

Immediately, Driftpaw lunged onto the leader’s shoulder, biting his ears and scraping her claws onto his flank.

Lightningpaw lost sight of the fighting leader, deputy, and apprentice as a small, cream colored she-cat blocked his view. Maplepaw! Lightningpaw felt uncertain for a moment; he hadn’t received any battle training for attacking moves, and his hind paw was still aching. But his uncertainty hardened into anger; ShadowClan had been attacked unjustly.

Now the attackers were going to pay.

In the blink of an eye, Lightningpaw unsheathed his claws. Swinging his forepaw, he lashed out at Maplepaw’s nose. The cream-colored tabby yowled in pain as Lightningpaw’s claws slashed the bridge of her nose. Lightningpaw kept striking at Maplepaw’s face until the cream-colored she-cat fled out the entrance, her fur catching in the brambles.

Lightningpaw’s gaze flicked around the clearing, seeking out his sister. There! She was battling a large, gray tom. She was on the gray tabby’s back, but the gray tom threw her off easily thanks to his greater size. While Dawnpaw was laying on the ground, the gray tom used the opportunity to pin Dawnpaw onto the ground.

Lightningpaw roared in fury as the tom was about to sink his teeth into his sister’s neck. As fast as a snake, he rushed over and bowled the gray tom backwards. Lightningpaw leaped onto his shoulders and started thumping his ears as hard as he could. The tabby tom yowled in agony. Dawnpaw started slashing at the tom’s belly. The large tabby tom fled, Dawnpaw hard on his heels.

Lightningpaw glanced around him. His eyes widened as he realized that almost all of ThunderClan had fled the battle; only a few still struggled on.

Suddenly, Lightningpaw felt a huge weight drop onto his back. His chest heaved as he fought for breath. His paws flailed. Turning around, he saw his opponent: a huge brown tom with piercing, yellow eyes. The large tom bared his teeth. “Say good-bye, puny kitten,” he snarled.

Lightningpaw widened his eyes in terror. Is this the end? He flailed his paws. Suddenly he felt his paw touched something. Was it…? Lizardpelt’s stick!

He gripped the branch in his paw.

It’s my last chance.

Using all his might, he swung the branch at the brown tom. He heard a loud pop and an agonized scream. Looking up, he saw the brown tom’s face; it was nearly covered completely with blood. A red stream flowed out of where one of his eyes had been. In the other eye, instead of the bloodthirst that it had been filled with moments before, now it was loaded to the brim with agony and terror. He collapsed onto the ground, gasping and wailing, his blood pooling onto the clearing.

As Lightningpaw looked around himself, he saw that every other ThunderClan cat had fled the scene except for Palestar, who Jumpstar had pinned against the muddy ground.

“Why did you do it?” the ShadowClan leader growled, his eyes filled with fury. “Why!?” He shook Palestar furiously, his claws digging into his shoulder and throat. “Why did you attack?”

The silver tom tried to speak, but instead, the only sound that came out was choking. Jumpstar walked backwards, realizing that the silver tom knew that he had lost.

The leader flailed on the ground, then lay completely still. Palestar was bleeding from his throat and shoulder. He wore several nicks in his ears, and he had an injury above his eye. He had long scars on his flank where Driftpaw had clawed him. Is he dead? wondered Lightningpaw.

Suddenly, Palestar got up. Shakily, he stared at all of the ShadowClan cats, his eyes filled with hatred. Without muttering a word he walked towards the bloody, brown tom. He grabbed the tom by the scruff, and slowly made his way to the entrance.

For a moment, the hollow was silent; everyone was in shock at what had just happened. Suddenly the brambles at the entrances rustled, and Applepool and her patrol padded into the camp.

“W…What happened?” asked Applepool shakily.

“Palestar happened.” That was Oakclaw. His ears were torn, and he was limping on his left paw. “That dung-face launched an attack on us. Can’t you smell the scents?”

Jumpstar got up from his spot next to a patch of withered flowers. “But we survived. No one died.”

“But that foul-hearted ThunderClan leader lost a life,” snarled Dawnpaw. “That snake-tongue got off more lightly than he deserves.”

“And Hawkeyes lost one of his eyes,” added Lizardpelt. Lizardpelt’s eyes flicked towards the branch. On the tip of it was the piercing, yellow eye of the brown warrior. Lizardpelt wrinkled his nose, then turned to talk to Marshflame. “I told you that that branch would be handy!” joked Lizardpelt.

“I bet that on the next Gathering, Palestar’s going to have a new deputy,” added Crowtalon. That was the ThunderClan deputy? I won against the deputy of ThunderClan? Lightningpaw couldn’t believe it.

He had really defeated the ThunderClan deputy!

Mossberry peeked into the camp. “Hey- WHOA, what happened?!”

“Never mind that,” replied Jumpstar. “Have you caught enough prey?”

Mossberry nodded vigorously. “A lot.”

Jumpstar’s eyes lightened up. “Good,” he purred. “A victory like this deserves a feast!”

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw sat in the apprentices’ den. Tanglepaw leaned forward, his eyes wide. Driftpaw and Podpaw pricked their ears. Dawnpaw’s eyes were wide in admiration. Lightningpaw was boasting about his victory against the ThunderClan deputy.

“He was about to kill me!” he announced dramtically. “But then I felt my paw touch Lizardpelt’s branch. I held it in my paw, and I swung!” The eyes of all the apprentices were wide open. Lightningpaw felt himself burst with pride. “And that was the end of Hawkeyes.”

His belly full, he curled up inside his nest. His shoulders were aching and he had a torn ear. What a day!

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes. He was in the foul forest again. He wrinkled his nose at the sickening stench of rotting ferns and dead trees. He spotted the familiar yellow eyes from his dream from yesterday. But this time, Lightningpaw could see a faint black-and-orange pelt. Before he knew it, the black-and-orange tom was standing right in front of him, his shoulders stiff and his eyes staring.

Lightningpaw felt stiff with terror. He had defeated Hawkeyes, but this cat was huge. He was almost twice his size. Lightningpaw barely managed to stutter his words. “Wh-what’s your name?” he asked, terrified.

The tall tom’s eyes gleamed with some sort of emotion. He showed his teeth as he replied. “My name…” he said in a deep voice.

“… is Ripplestar.”

Chapter 11 Edit

Dawnpaw rolled her shoulder. It was still sore after ThunderClan’s ambush, but Puddlespots said that it was healing well, despite the pain. She felt the cobweb and poultice that he had applied begin to loosen. I’ll have to ask him to make a new one for me later, she thought. She hobbled over to the fresh-kill pile where the other apprentices were resting.

Driftpaw lifted her head. “Hi, Dawnpaw,” she said as she greeted her cheerfully. “Are you feeling well?”

Dawnpaw was about to reply with a no, but she didn’t want the other apprentices to think she was weak, especially since Lightningpaw was always showing off his battle wounds, not even seeming to notice the aches and soreness that Dawnpaw was always feeling.

“Yes,” Dawnpaw lied.

Pinebranch waddled over to his kits, his eyes gleaming. “You’re feeling well, eh? How do you feel about joining my hunting patrol? The Clan needs to eat after the battle,” he added.

Dawnpaw groaned inwardly; a hunting patrol was the last thing she needed. And she hadn’t even gotten the new poultice from Puddlespots. But she couldn’t reject her father’s generous request. “Sure,” she replied. “That would be great.” Not.

++++++++++++++++++++

“Are you okay, Dawnpaw?”

Pinebranch was glancing in concern at his daughter. Dawnpaw felt her pelt burn with shame. She hadn’t caught a single piece of prey and, even worse, her shoulder wound had opened up again, and now a thin trickle of blood was leaking out of the injury.

“Yeah,” she spluttered. “Just a tiny slip that I made.”

“Yeah. A tiny slip,” scoffed Mistfire. “Like that could’ve opened your wound. Come on. We’re going back to camp. And you,” she added, “are going to see Puddlespots.”

Dawnpaw would’ve protested loudly if it hadn’t been for the gray warrior’s stern tone. If she would’ve done as much as open her jaws, the scarred warrior would probably confine her to camp for a moon and make her clean out the elders’ den. The brown apprentice ducked her head in obedience, not letting Mistfire see how inwardly frustrated she was.

Mistfire padded back to camp, her tail twitching. Pinebranch, Flametooth, Lightningpaw, and Dawnpaw followed her.

Dawnpaw felt her pelt burn even more. Every other cat in the patrol had caught a piece of prey, even if some of them were rather skinny. But Dawnpaw’s jaws were empty. Shaking off her negative thoughts, she padded towards the medicine den before Mistfire could accuse her of disobeying her orders.

She poked her head into the den, her ears tickled by the ferns that the den held for protection. In a damp corner, Puddlespots was sweeping the floor of the den with his paws, attempting to clean the dust and debris that lay on the ground.

“Puddlespots?” asked Dawnpaw.

The tail of the medicine cat twitched. “Yes?” He turned around to reveal his dusty pelt, the white splotches on his pelt darkened with dirt.

“Mistfire told me to see you,” she replied. “I think I hurt my shoulder.” She turned to show her shoulder, the trickling blood now dry.

Puddlespots narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been hunting, haven’t you? And after I told you your shoulder was healing. Did you think that it was completely perfect just because I said that it was getting better?” He shook his head wearily. “Young’uns these days,” he muttered. “No common sense at all.” He walked into a crevices inside one of the boulders that made his den. Heartbeats later, he reappeared, holding some cobweb and herbs in his jaws.

Dawnpaw wrinkled her nose. “What’s that stuff?” she asked. The medicine cat was chewing some tiny roots into a pulp.

“That’s comfrey root,” he replied. “It’ll help soothe your wound. And this,” he added, prodding a fleshy-stalked plant, “is horsetail. It’ll stop your wound from bleeding. If,” he cut off sternly, “you’ll be smart enough not to hurt your shoulder again.

“Thanks, Puddlespots,” Dawnpaw mewed hurriedly, attempting to leave the den before Puddlespots could give her a long scolding.

She flopped down in front of the apprentices’ den, exhausted by the patrol and her shoulder. She stood up and groomed her paws. She glanced around the clearing, her eyes only half-open. Darkkit and Poppykit were standing tall beside Nightberry. They were well-groomed; Darkkit’s glossy pelt was glowing faintly in the sunlight, and Poppykit’s paws weren’t caked with dirt like they usually were after the two kits play-fought. Nightberry and Creekshade stood side-by-side, their faces wearing identical expressions of pride and both their chests thrust forward.

Jumpstar bounded over from his den in the roots of an oak tree. He leaped onto the boulder which he used to call Clan meetings. He opened his jaws wide to make a loud, commanding yowl. “Everyone old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Tall Boulder!”

Most of the Clan was already outside, sharing tongues after the afternoon patrols. Only a few cats came out of the dens and into the ShadowClan clearing.

“We have a very special ceremony to carry out,” spoke Jumpstar. “Today, two ShadowClan kits have reached the age of six moons.”

Darkkit puffed out his chest when Jumpstar called his name. “Darkkit!”

The small, black kit padded forward maturely, although his eyes still held excitement and pride. He walked forward until he was standing right in front of the Tall Boulder.

“Darkkit, from now on, you will be known as Darkpaw,” said Jumpstar as he repeated the words of the sacred ceremony. “Your mentor will be Mistfire.” He beckoned for the gray she-cat to come forward with his tail. “Mistfire, you were a great apprentice for me. Teach all the enthusiasm and eagerness that you had to Darkpaw.” Mistfire dipped her head in acknowledgement before stepping forward to greet her new apprentice.

Poppykit’s eyes widened as Jumpstar called her forward. “Poppykit!”

She walked more nervously than Darkkit had, but her eyes contained the same excitement that the eyes of her brother had.

“Poppykit, from now on, you will be known as Poppypaw,” meowed Jumpstar. “Lizardpelt, you shall be Poppykit’s mentor.” The brown warrior seemed surprised, but his strides didn’t betray it one bit. “Lizardpelt, teach all of what you had learned Poppypaw.” The brown warrior stepped forward to touch noses with his new apprentice. Jumpstar bounded off the Tall Boulder, ending the meeting.

Dawnpaw rushed forward to greet the new apprentices. “Congratulations, Poppypaw and Darkpaw!” she exclaimed. “You two are apprentices now!”

Poppypaw’s eyes shined. “I can’t wait to go out on patrols!” she squeaked enthusiastically. “Are they fun?”

Darkpaw’s whiskers twitched excitedly. “I bet they are!” he replied. “We can patrol the borders and hunt!”

Lightningpaw padded over to the three apprentices. “Do you want me to you your new nests?” he offered.

“Sure thing!” replied Darkpaw gratefully. “Where are they?”

Lightningpaw led them into the boulder that was the den. “You two can take these two nests,” he said, flicking his tail to two empty nests. Dawnpaw could tell by his dark eyes that he was remembering Runningpaw when he looked at the nests.

Darkpaw flopped down onto his new nest, completely worn out. Poppypaw did the same. Dawnpaw’s pelt tingled with excitement.

I have new denmates!

Chapter 12 Edit

Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes. Ripplestar stood in front of him, his teeth bared and claws unsheathed. Even though he was just supposed to be training him, he seemed like a real enemy, with his wild eyes and his sharp fangs. Lightningpaw flicked his eyes towards the dark leader’s shoulders, then turned his gaze to a nearby black-and-white rock. If, he wondered, I could jump onto that rock, then bounce off and leap onto his shoulders… He crouched into a leaping position before he could hesitate any further.

Ripplestar stared at him, his gaze clouded with confusion. Got you! thought Lightningpaw, satisfied with his clever plan. An instant before Lightningpaw could attack the leader, Ripplestar’s eyes widened in understanding of the apprentice’s plan. But it was too late.

Lightningpaw dropped onto the black-and-orange cat’s shoulders, his claws curling into Ripplestar’s thick fur. The dark cat yowled as he drove his claws in deeper into his skin. Lightningpaw felt his claws scrape the Ripplestar’s bones. The leader dropped onto the floor of the gloomy forest. Lightningpaw smirked in satisfaction as the leader admitted defeat. But the moment he loosened his grip, Ripplestar started struggling like a lion in a fox trap.

Lightningpaw felt Ripplestar throw him into the trunk of a dead oak tree. Lightningpaw groaned as he hit the thick trunk. Ripplestar had him pinned onto the roots in an instant. He bared his teeth. “Never release the enemy until he’s dead,” spat Ripplestar. “That’s the first thing you should’ve learned before you became an apprentice. Once the enemy’s gone, he’ll never come back.”

Lightningpaw felt baffled. “Isn’t killing against the code?” the apprentice questioned.

“The code!” he sneered. “The lives of true warriors aren’t bound by the code. They do what they please.” He shook his claws deeper into Lightningpaw’s fur, some black-and-white tufts catching in between his claws. “You’ll do that again,” growled Ripplestar deeply. Lightningpaw felt his rotten breath on his fur. Ripplestar released the apprentice from his spot in the oak roots. “And you’ll do it better!”

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw groaned. His shoulders ached where Ripplestar had scored his claws, and his back ached from Ripplestar throwing him into the oak tree. He got up groggily, his wounds burning. He gave himself a quick grooming. I hope no one sees me like this! he thought. He hobbled out of the den. Outside, Darkpaw and Poppypaw were pestering their mentors.

“Can we go hunting?” asked Darkpaw

“No!” said Poppypaw. “I want to go on patrol!”

Mistfire rolled her eyes. “If you want to go anywhere at all, you’ll have to keep your mouths shut,” she snapped.

The tails of the two apprentices drooped. They padded up to the Tall Boulder and gave themselves a grooming. Their ears flicked up as an outburst of coughing exploded from Jumpstar’s den.

“What was that?” asked Darkpaw.

“That was a flying hedgehog,” snapped Lizardpelt. “What do you think it was? Lightningpaw!” he said. “Get Puddlespots. Now.

Eyes wide, Lightningpaw rushed to the medicine den. In the center of the den, Puddlespots was sleeping in a nest of shaggy, dusty moss. Lightningpaw prodded his shoulder. “Puddlespots!” he hissed. The medicine cat continued snoring. “Puddlespots?” repeated Lightningpaw.

Puddlespots let out a loud yawn. He stood up, clumps of moss and dirt sticking to his pelt. “What is it?” he replied.

“It’s Jumpstar,” mewed Lightningpaw, his voice quiet. “I think he’s sick.”

The medicine cat yawned. “Okay, then,” he said. “It’s probably just a chill. I think I’ll go check on him.” He took a few leaves in his jaws, and he rushed out the den. Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes. Something told him that Puddlespots wasn’t telling the whole truth. Why so urgent if it’s just a chill? he questioned. Lightningpaw shook his head. Whatever it was, Puddlespots could fix it; he had been a good medicine cat for moons, and that wasn’t going to change now.

He padded out of the den. Looking around, he noted that the clearing seemed more crowded than before. Many cats were sharing tongues or chatting in small groups, but most of the Clan seemed to be keeping an ear on Jumpstar.

“Have you heard the noise he’s making with his coughs?” said Flametooth to Hollybird. “It must be bad,” she replied. “I wonder how it could’ve developed without anyone noticing.”

Flametooth shrugged. “Maybe his den has a leak?” he suggested. Hollybird seemed skeptical. “Maybe,” she said doubtfully.

Marshflame was calling the cats who were going to go on patrol. “Hollybird, take Dawnpaw, Applepool, and Nightberry on a hunting patrol near one of the marshes. Mistfire, Lizardpelt, take your apprentices on a tour around the territory. And Swallowsong, take Driftpaw, Blackwhisker and Lightningpaw on a border patrol around the ThunderClan border, and watch out for ThunderClan.” Swallowsong nodded seriously. Lightningpaw followed after the patrol as they rushed outside of the camp.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw bounded clumsily after the patrol, hindered by his wounds from his fight with Ripplestar. He stumbled drowsily as he tried to catch up to the patrol.

“Honestly, Lightningpaw,” snapped Swallowsong. “Anyone would think that you’ve stayed up all night training!” Maybe that’s what I did, thought Lightningpaw sarcastically.

“You’ll notify every ThunderClan patrol that we’re coming,” added Blackwhisker. “You should already be awake. We have borders to mark!” He bounded away, heading to the first marker. Lightningpaw followed him with numb paws.

Blackwhisker signaled to him with his tail. Lightningpaw stopped just in time to avoid crashing into his mentor.

“Shhhhhhhhh,” whispered Blackwhisker, his voice tense. “A patrol is near. Don’t even move a hair on your pelt.”

Soon enough, a patrol came by the marker. They sniffed the air vigorously. A few heartbeats later, they curled their lips in contempt. A brown tom lashed his tail. “Come on, little ShadowClan kitties,” he sneered. “Why don’t you stop playing hide-and-seek and come on out?”

Suddenly, Swallowsong and Driftpaw appeared by Lightningpaw’s side. “If I were you, Hickoryheart,” snarled Swallowsong, “I’d get my tail back to my own side of the border before one of our apprentices poke your eyes out.” Lightningpaw shifted his feet as Swallowsong mentioned his attack on Hawkeyes.

The brown tom neared closer to the border. “He would, huh?” Hickoryheart spat. “I’d like to see him try.”

Driftpaw sniffed. “I suppose you would be more easily convinced if you had seen him do it himself,” she replied. “Too bad you weren’t there. Maybe you would’ve seen it if you hadn’t been running with your tail between your legs.” Hickoryheart snarled angrily, but he made no attempt to counter the apprentice’s comeback. “Good one, Driftpaw,” Lightningpaw whispered to the golden-brown apprentice. Driftpaw flicked her ear in acknowledgement.

“Well, then?” snarled a white tom. “Why don’t you refresh your markers with your pathetic stench before we see you off?”

Blackwhisker stepped forward and sprayed his scent on the marker, a small shrub. The patrol sprayed their scent all over it until the smell was overwhelming. “Was that good enough?” snickered Blackwhisker.

The white tom wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, it was,” he growled. “Now get out!”

The patrol walked over to the next marker. “They made a pretty bad fail back there, didn’t they,” remarked Driftpaw. Swallowsong twitched her whiskers. “Yeah,” she replied. “I suppose they did.”

Chapter 13 Edit

Dawnpaw rolled onto her back lazily. She glanced around the sun-lit clearing through half-open eyes. Lightningpaw and Poppypaw were bickering good naturedly over a frog. Thornstripe was telling a story to Hollybird’s half-moon old kits, Leafkit and Goldenkit. Dawnpaw sneezed loudly as a tall, pollen-heavy flower tickled her nose.

Creekshade twitched his whiskers. “Can’t Applepool take you out for hunting or something?” he teased as the brown apprentice groomed her ears drowsily. Applepool was covering for Hollybird as Dawnpaw’s mentor since the tabby-and-white cat had given birth to Flametooth’s kits.

Dawnpaw yawned. “Okay,” she replied. “I’ll go fetch her.”

Dawnpaw shot off to the warriors’ den. She nearly crashed into Puddlespots, who was carrying herbs in his jaws. Ever since Jumpstar had developed greencough two sunrise ago, the gray-and-white tom had been treating the leader endlessly. From the rumors she had heard, Puddlespots’ catmint stock was low. Dawnpaw’s eyes darkened as she thought of what might happen to Jumpstar if the medicine cat had no catmint available. She sprinted forward, catching up to the white-patched tom.

“Is he going to be alright?” Dawnpaw asked anxiously. She knew that Puddlespots didn’t need her to clarify who she meant by “he.”

Puddlespots frowned. “He’s not doing well at the moment, and he’s not getting better,” he muttered in reply. “I’m low on catmint. Pinebranch is sitting with him right now.” His mood suddenly seemed to have lifted. “Could you and Applepool go fetch herbs for me, perhaps?” he meowed brightly. “I haven’t been able to fetch any herbs myself; I’ve been too busy with Jumpstar.”

Dawnpaw sighed wearily. She was supposed to go hunting, and now she had to go find some herbs! “Fine, okay, I guess.” She continued on her way to the warriors’ den. She peeked into the large bramble bush that was the warriors’ den. She squeaked as she stepped onto a sharp, well-hidden thorn embedded in the muddy ground.

“Applepool?” Dawnpaw gazed around under the bush, searching for the creamy pelt of her mentor. She spotted a bundle of pale fur in the back of the thorny bush. She trod quietly to the back of the den to wake up her mentor, being careful not to arouse any warriors and not to step on any stray tails. Dawnpaw prodded the shoulder of her mentor. “Applepool!” she hissed more loudly.

Applepool didn’t reply at first; then, slowly, she rolled over to reveal a snow-white belly. She opened her jaws wide as she yawned noisily. She shook her head vigorously as if to wake herself up. “Hmmph, that was a great dream I was having,” the warrior grumbled under her breath. She sighed as if dismissing the pleasant dream.  “Well, I’m awake now. What do you want?”

Dawnpaw wished a hole would appear in front of her and swallow her whole. Great way to start the conversation! she thought. “Puddlespots asked if you and me could go fetch some herbs for him; Jumpstar needs them right now; he’s really sick.”

Applepool yawned again. “Come on; let’s go look for some herbs.” She bounded out from under the den, some of her fur catching in the thorns of the bramble bush. Sighing wearily, Dawnpaw followed on heavy paws.

++++++++++++++++++++

Applepool snuffled the air loudly. Dawnpaw twitched her whiskers at her mentor’s enthusiasm. She gazed around the wet, damp pine forest. In the roots of a tall pine, Dawnpaw could see a large spider web, woven between two long roots. She ran over to it and swiped the cobweb off the roots with her front paw. She glanced back at her mentor. “Hey, look, I found something!”

Applepool turned towards her. “Ah, very good!” she purred. “That’ll help with any wounds that we come across.” Dawnpaw basked in her mentor’s praise. She was about to dart off in search of more webs when Applepool hissed a warning to her. “Don’t move…” she hissed quietly.

Dawnpaw tipped her head in confusion. “Why?” she asked. “Just get back here!” came the sharp reply. Dawnpaw came obediently to her mentor’s side.

“We have to get out of here as soon as possible,” Applepool hissed. Dawnpaw was still perplexed for the reason of her mentor’s actions. She sniffed the air, searching for scents. Suddenly, a foul scent hit her nostrils. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a dark red shape pad out from behind a tree.

Applepool stared right at the red tom, her eyes as wide as moons. “Y-you!” she gasped. “You came back!”

The tortoiseshell tom curled his lip. “Of course I did,” he purred in a silky voice. “Did you really think I would leave just because an idiotic leader told me to?” He shook his head. “Of course not,” he snarled. “And I’m back. And I’m not afraid to kill.”

Dawnpaw stared back at the tom. What did he mean by “I’m not afraid to kill”? Was he going to kill the two she-cats?

Applepool snarled in reply. “And I’m not afraid to kill either. You remember very well that everyone in ShadowClan has the permission to kill you or your friends. So that’s what I intend to do: kill you.”

The tom laughed darkly. “Kill me?” he echoed in dark amusement. “I’d like to see you - any of you – try.” With that, he ran off into the dark, wet pine forest.

Dawnpaw looked at her mentor, bewildered. “Who was that?” she yelped.

Applepool stared into the place where he had disappeared to. “That,” she replied, her voice full of hatred,”is a traitor and an exiled murderer.”

“A traitor?” Dawnpaw repeated, shocked. “Exiled? Why? Wh-wh-what?” Dawnpaw felt a million thoughts rushing through her head, but she couldn’t put any of them into words.

“The reason why,” Applepool replied,” is something you’ll find out another day.” She picked up her herbs, a bundle of feverfew flowers, in her jaws. “Come on!” she urged. “We have to bring these herbs back to a very sick leader!”

Chapter 14 Edit

Dawnpaw followed Applepool into camp holding a bundle of dry herbs and cobwebs in her jaws. She broke off and headed towards the medicine cat’s den. Inside, Puddlespots seemed to be teaching Goldenkit about herbs.

“…And this one is horsetail,” he meowed, prodding the stem of a prickly plant. Applepool coughed slightly. “Puddlespots, we have something for you!” she growled, her voice sharp with annoyance. Puddlespots turned to look at his sister. “Ah, there you two are!” he exclaimed. “Come on, I have to take these to Jumpstar immediately!” He snatched up their herbs in his jaws and sprinted quickly towards the tree where Jumpstar’s den was located.

“You’re welcome!” Applepool yelled after him. Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes. Her mentor wasn’t usually this bad-tempered. Dawnpaw wondered if it was because they had spotted an intruder while collecting herbs. But why would Applepool be so jumpy over a trespasser? Dawnpaw felt like Applepool knew more about the intruder than she was letting on.

Applepool bounded across the damp clearing to meet Marshflame, who was grooming his ears. “Marshflame!” she hissed urgently. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Marshflame’s amber eyes gleamed faintly with interest. “What? Is it urgent?”

“Very,” she replied, her voice tense.

“All right.” The deputy sat down, his eyes sharp. “What’s the problem?”

Applepool’s eyes darted around. “Uh, can we go somewhere more… private?”

Marshflame’s tail twitched. “Okay,” he mewed, eyes narrowed.

Both Applepool and Marshflame padded to the edge of the clearing. Dawnpaw resisted the urge to follow them; she knew that the conversation wasn’t for all ears. Dawnpaw wandered towards the fresh-kill pile. She snatched a toad off the pile and settled down next to Lightningpaw, who had a small pigeon in front of him.

Dawnpaw tried to start a conversation. “So… how’s it going?” she attempted poorly.

Lightningpaw’s mind seemed to be on something else. “Do you know what’s going on over there?” he asked, nodding to where Applepool and Marshflame were sitting. The gray deputy seemed to be deep in thought, but both cats had a sense of seriousness around them.

Dawnpaw began to explain what had happened while she had been searching for herbs with Applepool. Lightningpaw stood silently for a few heartbeats, lost in thought. Then, his eyes flashed.

“I realized something!” he exclaimed. “That cat had red tortoiseshell fur, and he’s a rogue!” Dawnpaw stared at her brother, dumbfounded. What was he trying to tell her?

“Don’t you see?” he questioned, his voice excited. “He must’ve stolen my prey! It was leaf-bare, so he must’ve stolen it because he was hungry! Only evil, lazy rogues do things like that.”

Dawnpaw rolled her eyes, irritated. “Can’t we just forget about the prey?” she snapped.

Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes. “Only evil cats steal prey,” he insisted. “To me, that cat sounds like bad news.”

Dawnpaw snorted. What theories her brother could come up with! She curled her tail in annoyance. “Well, if you think that that one prey-stealer is going to cause so much trouble, then why don’t you take it up with Jumpstar or Marshflame?” she challenged.

Lightningpaw sniffed. “Maybe I will,” he retorted.

Dawnpaw purred. “Sure, do it. Let’s see how ridiculous your theory is.”

Lightningpaw rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t actually going to,” he protested. “I just meant that I really think that that cat is going to cause some trouble. I feel it in my stomach.”

Dawnpaw sniffed. “Last time you let your stomach do the thinking, you ended up with a bellyache and you missed a Clan Meeting.”

“Whatever,” he mewed, shrugging.

Suddenly, Applepool bounded over to the two arguing apprentices. “Maybe if you two could stop fighting, we could go for a battle training session?” she suggested.

Both apprentices sprang up, fully awake. “Sure!” they exclaimed at the same time.

Applepool narrowed her eyes. “We’ll wait for you at the damp clearing near the Burnt Sycamore,” she replied.

Lightningpaw’s excitement seemed like it couldn’t be contained in his own four paws. “Come on!” he squealed. “Let’s go!”

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw shifted her paws on the damp ground of the clearing. Mistfire was demonstrating the hind leg slash to the apprentices on Blackwhisker. The gray she-cat lashed out at Blackwhisker’s hind leg, causing the black-and-white tom’s leg to buckle, making him drop onto the ground with a thump. Dawnpaw’s eyes widened. “Do you all think you can do that?” asked Mistfire.

Tanglepaw’s tail whipped in anticipation. “Yes!” he yelped.

Lizardpelt twitched his whiskers. “Okay, Podpaw, you’re going to work with Dawnpaw. Lightningpaw, you’ll be with Poppypaw, and Tanglepaw, you’re going to be with Driftpaw.”

“And remember to keep your claws sheathed!” reminded Applepool. “This isn’t a battle!”

Podpaw and Dawnpaw kept their eyes on each other, fur bristling, ears flattened. Suddenly, Dawnpaw struck at Podpaw’s hind limb. The gray tom crumpled onto the ground. He rolled over and leaped to his paws. He retaliated with fierce blows to Dawnpaw’s muzzle. Dawnpaw dropped onto the ground and lashed out at Podpaw’s pale belly with her legs. Podpaw stumbled onto the ground with an oof. Dawnpaw was on him in an instant, pinning the dappled apprentice onto the muddy clearing. He thrashed under the brown she-cat, but he couldn’t throw her off. Dawnpaw grinned. “Give in?” she asked.

Podpaw let his body go limp. Dawnpaw loosened her grip. Suddenly, Podpaw bursted upwards, throwing Dawnpaw off balance. He pinned her onto the ground. “Look who’s losing now,” he purred, letting Dawnpaw get back up.

Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes playfully. “That was just once,” she teased him. “Who says I won’t win next time?”

Podpaw was about to mew a reply when a loud, booming sound echoed across the damp clearing. Lightningpaw pricked his ears. “What was that?” he asked.

Swallowsong glanced around the clearing. “I don’t see anything,” she responded uncertainly.

Suddenly, Applepool glanced towards the sky. Dawnpaw widened her eyes. A large brown hawk was swooping towards the clearing, its talons stretched and beak wide open, prepared to dive for one of the cats. “Hawk!” screeched Dawnpaw. “Hide!”

Tanglepaw and Dawnpaw rushed into a bush. Driftpaw and Lightningpaw bounded into an abandoned fox den. Every cat had found a hiding spot in the clearing; there was no way the dangerous predator could get at them. Despite that, the hawk still descended into the clearing, still determined to get some prey. Dawnpaw held her breath, her mind racing with fear. She sighed in relief as the hawk headed away from the bush she was cowering in.

Suddenly, the hawk made a sharp turn to the Burnt Sycamore. It attacked a small gray bundle in the scorched tree. Dawnpaw gasped. A cat was hiding in the tree. It was…

“Podpaw!” shrilled Driftpaw.

Podpaw snarled, slashing fiercely at the hawk, but the hawk still wasn’t disheartened. It struck furiously at the small apprentice. Podpaw finally gave up, giving in to the cruel talons of the cruel talons of the predator. Flametooth exploded out of his hiding spot and attempted to pursuit the hawk, but it was no use. The cruel bird flew away, carrying the limp shape of Podpaw in its talons.

Chapter 15 Edit

Lightningpaw tail twitched, keeping his eyes on his opponent. He was fighting one of the cats of the damp, rotting forest, Silvermask, an ancient ShadowClan deputy. Lightningpaw dived under the dark gray tom and slashed his claws across his belly. Silvermask screeched as the black-and-white tom scored his hooked claws across his stomach, creating jagged marks. The former deputy narrowed his eyes, the small beads of green gleaming like emeralds against the dark stripe on his face. The dark gray tom aimed a kick at his face, claws extended.

Lightningpaw gasped as the tom’s outstretched claws made scars on the bridge of his nose, nearly slashing out his yellow eyes. I could’ve been blinded! thought Lightningpaw, dazed with shock. He prepared to retaliate with chomp to the dark tom’s tail when Ripplestar interrupted.

“You fight like a kittypet,” spat the black-and-orange leader who was watching the battle. “You won’t ever be a warrior at this rate. Keep practicing, and don’t stop!” Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes in concentration, and leaped again onto the dark tom.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw groggily opened his eyes. One of the things he could see was Dawnpaw’s brown pelt and sharp green eyes. “Are you okay? Where did those awful scars come from? You have to see Puddlespots this instant!” fretted Lightningpaw’s sister.

Lightningpaw batted the brown cat away. “I’m fine,” he protested. “It’s just a small scrape.”

“Just a scrape?” echoed Dawnpaw disbelievingly. “Even a blind toad could see that it’s not ‘Just a scrape’!”

Lightningpaw left the den before Dawnpaw could give him another scolding. He gave himself a quick grooming, wiping the scar on his nose that Silvermask gave him. A sharp stab of pain made the black-and-white tom wince.

He gave up on cleaning himself and headed towards the fresh-kill pile, picking a small lizard off of the pile. He peeled off the skin, the least appetizing part of the small reptile, and started feasting on the meat. He finished up his meal quickly, but the small lizard did little to satisfy his hunger. He wished to get another piece of prey, but he knew too well that it would be against the warrior code to take any more.

A rustle near the thorny camp entrance caught his attention. He wondered if he should call an alarm to wake the Clan, but he decided against it; the noise was too quiet for a full attack patrol. He stalked quietly towards the bramble bush that guarded the entrance, hoping to witness the cat who was trying to sneak out of camp.

He widened his eyes. It’s Rainblossom! The silver she-cat was obviously trying to sneak out of camp unnoticed. The memory of the mysterious rogue scent on her fur flashed in his head. He rushed towards her, attempting to catch up to the silver she-cat.

“Hi, Rainblossom,” meowed Lightningpaw nonchalantly, hoping he didn’t sound too awkward. “Where are you going?”

Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes. Had he imagined it, or did Rainblossom’s eyes flash with panic for a heartbeat? He thought he could also detect a sense of nervousness around her.

“I was just going out for a quick morning hunt,” she replied coolly.

“Care if I join you?” asked Lightningpaw.

Rainblossom’s eyes narrowed, gleaming with suspicion. But the wary glitter in her eyes disappeared so quickly that Lightningpaw wondered if he imagined it. “Sure,” she answered warily.

Lightningpaw followed her closely. If she tries to pull something off, thought Lightningpaw, then I’ll be right behind her, watching her every move.

+++++++++++++++++++

Rainblossom sniffed the air, searching for scents. Suddenly, she pricked her ears. “I smell a scent trail,” she warned. “How about we split up? Then we’ll have a better chance to get some prey.”

Lightningpaw twitched his whiskers. He felt as though Rainblossom was deliberately trying to split them up. If she think she can just get rid of me, thought Lightningpaw, she’s going to have another think coming!

He pretended to leave Rainblossom behind to track the scent trail. After Rainblossom disappeared into a large area of marsh grass, Lightningpaw quietly followed the she-cat. The she-cat took many turns, and even rolled in patches of wet grass to hide her scent. Whatever she was doing, she didn’t want to be found.

Suddenly, she took a large sniff in the air; Lightningpaw wondered if she could smell his scent. However, she bounded over into a large thicket; Lightningpaw debated whether he should follow, but he decided against it; he would probably cause too much noise. Instead, he walked quietly around the clearing, trying to sniff for scents.

He didn’t even need a heartbeat to detect a strong reek. He guessed it was the stench of rogues. Suddenly, he stopped pacing. If he could smell the scent, then Rainblossom definitely could too. If she knew that they were here, then that must mean that she met up with them deliberately!

He wondered if he should stay and investigate more, or turn back. The thicket’s bushes rattled slightly, as if it was reminding him that Rainblossom wouldn’t be in the thick undergrowth forever. He turned tail and rushed back, leaving Rainblossom and the rogues behind him.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw rushed back to camp holding a lizard in his jaws. Rainblossom followed him, a starling held tight in her mouth. The she-cat didn’t even seem to suspect that the apprentice followed her into the thicket. Lightningpaw decided to tell the news to Jumpstar before the silver cat could get any suspicions.

He rushed towards the fresh-kill pile and deposited his prey. As soon as he was done, he bounded towards Jumpstar’s den as quickly as he could. He nearly tumbled paws over tail into the ShadowClan leader’s den. Puddlespots, who was guarding the den of the sick leader, blocked him with his shoulders. “You can’t go in,” hissed the gray-and-white tom. “Jumpstar is fatally sick; I can’t afford to get you sick too.”

Lightningpaw shifted his paws in agitation. “It’s important!”

“It’ll have to wait,” responded the medicine cat grimly.

Lightningpaw stormed away, frustration fueling his paws. He laid down in his nest in the apprentices’ den. As soon as his body touched the soft green moss and grass that lined his nest, he realized how exhausted he was after tracking Rainblossom and hunting. He curled up in his soft nest, tucking his paws under his belly, and covering his eyes with his tail. Slowly, he drifted off into a silent, peaceful sleep.

Chapter 16 Edit

The ShadowClan clearing was filled with the scent of pine needles and snowmelt. Two small shapes, Leafkit and Goldenkit, were standing in the damp, muddy, pine-needle covered hollow. Dawnpaw watched in anticipation as Jumpstar announced the ancient words of the apprentice ceremony. The eyes of the kits shone with excitement as he appointed their mentors: Oakclaw became the mentor to Leafpaw, and Goldenpaw earned the position of medicine cat apprentice, and became apprentice to Puddlespots.

Dawnpaw shook out her pelt as Jumpstar dismissed the Clan. Her fur sprayed new-leaf rainwater all onto her nearby Clanmates; she heard an annoyed hiss from Pinebranch, and her fur warmed up in embarrassment.

She walked over to the side of the clearing and began to clean her fur, her tongue licking a wound that she had earned in an old battle with ThunderClan. Why am I even grooming myself if I’m just going to get rained on anyways? a voice in her head told her in a voice of piercing scorn.

She walked over to Hollybird. She was relieved that Goldenpaw and Leafpaw were apprenticed now; while her temporary mentor, Applepool, hadn’t been a bad mentor, she was much more used to Hollybird’s sharpness. “So, what are we going to do today?” she asked, restlessness building up in her. She hadn’t been in camp all day, and she wished she could get the cold, wet feeling of a damp pelt away from her.

Hollybird twitched her ears. “Well, Blackwhisker and I have considered putting you and Lightningpaw through your first assessments.”

Dawnpaw gasped in surprise. An assessment was the first step to becoming a warrior, the thing Dawnpaw wanted to become most. “Do you really mean it?” Dawnpaw stared at her mentor, gaping with her green eyes wide open.

Hollybird snorted irritably. “Of course not!” she snorted sarcastically. “Definitely not! Obviously. I don’t speak for the pleasure of hearing my own voice.”

Dawnpaw purred and twitched her whiskers. I remember why I missed you as my mentor now!

++++++++++++++++++++

“So!” announced Blackwhisker loudly. Dawnpaw rolled her eyes. I thought in a hunting assessment, you weren’tsupposed to scare the prey away!

“As you know, you’re taking your first assessment. It’s simple: choose a small area, and hunt in there until it’s sundown. We’ll be surveying you and assessing your hunting techniques. Remember,” he added dramatically, “if you don’t do a good job, it may take you longer to become a warrior.”

Dawnpaw twitched her ears nervously. Nice! Thanks for keeping our spirits up!

“Anyways,” Hollybird continued. “we’ll be choosing where you’ll be hunting. Dawnpaw, you’ll hunt inbetween the thicket near the edge of the territory and near the bare patch of land near the Carrionplace.” Dawnpaw nodded and rushed over to the thicket, her paws spraying out dirt behind her.

She reached the thicket in a matter of heartbeats. She sniffed the damp air loudly, trying to pick up a prey-scent. The birds chirped quietly and the frogs’ croaking sounded. Dawnpaw pinpointed the location of one of the frogs; it was hiding in a muddy patch of ground near the thicket.

Dawnpaw stalked the frog quietly. She twitched her ear in irritation as the frog leaped more and more out of her reach. Giving up on the stalking, she gave chase. The frog’s hopping sped up. Dawnpaw screeched and leapt for the frog. Her teeth closed around its neck, and she heard the satisfying sound of the crunch of bone as she captured her target. I hope Hollybird didn’t see that! she thought nervously, thinking of what her mentor would say if she had seen her messy catch. She shook her head, dismissing the thoughts. She scratched a hole in the muddy ground, thanking StarClan for the prey. She bounded off, looking for new prey.

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw held her head up high. She had caught another few pieces of prey: a starling, another frog, and a lizard. She had caught so much that she needed her tabby-and-white mentor to carry a few pieces of fresh-kill. Her neck ached as she padded back to camp with the heavy pieces of prey. At least new-leaf is finally here,she thought gratefully, trying to take her mind off of her aching muscles.

Bloomflower and Pinebranch greeted the two apprentices with surprise. “I’m so proud of you both!” purred Bloomflower, nuzzling each apprentice in turn. Pinebranch licked Dawnpaw’s ear. “Look at you! You’re such a great hunter!” he praised. Dawnpaw flushed with pride and embarrassment. “And the elders will be happy to have that,” exclaimed the brown-and-black tom, nodding to Lightningpaw’s mouse. He ducked his head, his yellow eyes shining. They deposited their prey on the growing fresh-kill pile. “It’s going to be a good new-leaf,” remarked Dawnpaw, feeling satisfied at the large amounts of prey that had been caught by ShadowClan’s powerful warriors.

“Everyone old enough to catch their own prey gather below the Tall Boulder for a meeting!”

Dawnpaw leapt into the air at Jumpstar’s sudden announcement. The leader sounded and seemed better: his fur wasn’t clumpy and ragged, and his eyes shone with slight health improvement. His legs were holding him up sturdily and his tail swished in excitement. “Good thing he’s recovering,” Dawnpaw murmured to herself quietly, pleased at the ShadowClan leader’s improvement.

Tanglepaw and Driftpaw stood tall beneath the Tall Boulder, their chests puffed up with pride. Their mentors, Swallowsong and Crowtalon, seemed almost as excited and proud as their energetic apprentices. Jumpstar bounded down to meet the apprentices. Their eyes grew wide with awe as their leader approached them.

“I, Jumpstar, leader of ShadowClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as warriors in their turn,” declared the brown-and-black tom.

“Driftpaw and Tanglepaw,” he mewed, “do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your lives?”

“I do,” replied both apprentices. No cat could’ve doubted how much they meant their oath.

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior names. Driftpaw and Tanglepaw, from this moment you will be known as Driftblaze and Tanglethorn. StarClan honors your determination and skill, and we welcome you both as a full warriors of ShadowClan.”

“Driftblaze, Tanglethorn!” cheered Dawnpaw whole-heartedly. She was proud of her former denmates. She gazed wistfully up at the sky, wondering if Driftpaw’s deceased littermates, Runningpaw and Podpaw, were watching their sister’s warrior ceremony. Driftblaze’s eyes stared up at the sky as though she were thinking of the same thoughts.

Dawnpaw reflected on how much stronger ShadowClan had become. Jumpstar had recovered, two new warriors, four new apprentices…

Soon, ShadowClan will be unstoppable! thought Dawnpaw.

Chapter 17 Edit

Lightningpaw stretched in the clearing. He purred as he felt the new-leaf sun heat up his black-and-white fur. He was pleased with himself for being able to pin down Silvermask in his most recent training session in the shady forest. He shuddered, still disturbed at the lack of moonlight in the damp, frightening woods. He felt guilty for going to the dark and eerie woodland for most of his nights when he should’ve been resting and having normal dreams like his denmates. Why should you feel guilty? purred a voice that sounded like claws scraping against a stone. Lightningpaw nearly leaped out of his fur when he heard a distorted version of Ripplestar’s mew in his brain. You have nothing to be ashamed about! You’re just trying to be the best and most loyal warrior you could be! continued the creaky voice.

Lightningpaw shook out his fur, trying to dismiss the voice’s creepy echoes. He could still sense a silent presence walking alongside him as he headed towards the fresh-kill pile. He picked a snake off of the tall mound of food. He dragged the serpent over to the apprentice’s den, often tripping over the reptile’s lengthy scale-covered body. He dropped the long-bodied creature onto the floor of the den. Leafpaw, Poppypaw, and Darkpaw stared at the apprentice. Lightningpaw was more freaked out by the strange feeling of the snake touching him than the wide-eyed stares of his denmates.

“Anyone want some?” offered Lightningpaw.

“Me!” exclaimed the three young cats at the same time. Lightningpaw ripped of a mouthful from the long, scaly reptile, savoring the juicy flesh. He heard Poppypaw’s contented purr as she bit off a chunk of flavorful flesh. “Maybe Jumpstar will make ThunderClan give us Snakerocks in revenge for attacking us!” mewed Poppypaw brightly.

Lightningpaw nudged her affectionately. “Palestar’s probably going to make us fight for every single mouse-step,” teased Lightningpaw.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did that, that idiotic brute,” snarled Poppypaw, her breath smelling of snake meat.

“I’d love to tear off every single hair from his pelt,” growled Darkpaw, tearing off grass from Poppypaw’s nest in his anger.

“Hey, that’s my nest that you’re tearing up!” snapped Poppypaw, her voice light with amusement.

“Oops, sorry,” muttered Darkpaw, shuffling his paws as he realized that he ruined his littermate’s nest.

Lightningpaw twitched his whiskers, amused. “Would you like me to come with you later to collect some bedding?” asked Lightningpaw, looking at Poppypaw.

“Sure!” purred the tortoiseshell apprentice.

+++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningpaw gazed around Fourtrees. “Wow, there’s sure a lot of cats here,” he remarked, gazing in awe at the cat-filled clearing. The four legendary oaks stood majestically in the center of the ancient clearing.

Poppypaw was even more wonderstruck. Lightningpaw recalled that she had never been to a full-moon Gathering. The biggest meetings she ever attended were the Clan meetings Jumpstar had summoned. She gazed around, green eyes wide. “Do you want me to guide you?” offered Lightningpaw.

Poppypaw looked for her mentor, Lizardpelt. He was discussing news with a RiverClan warrior. “I… trout… leaped… caught…” Lightningpaw heard small bits of their conversation. He flicked his ears, not paying much attention. “Yes, please,” replied Poppypaw gratefully.

Lightningpaw wandered over to meet a WindClan apprentice he had met at a previous Gathering: Rushpaw. Lightningpaw could hear the gray tabby boasting to Maplepaw about how quickly he had caught a hare while out on the moor with his mentor. “Hey, Rushpaw!” greeted Lightningpaw.

“Oh, hey,” purred the WindClan apprentice. “Who’s your friend over there?” he asked, pointing his tail towards Poppypaw.

“That’s Poppypaw. It’s her first Gathering.”

“Oh, cool!”

He was about to talk some more when a RiverClan cat whispered in his ear, “Hey, have you seen any ThunderClan cats?”

Lightningpaw stared around the Fourtrees hollow. Have I see any? He could see similar expressions of confusion on the cats around him. He peeked over a few heads, but he still couldn’t spot any familiar ThunderClan cats.

“Eh, I guess they’re not here,” concluded the RiverClan she-cat.

Once she and Rushpaw had left, Poppypaw hissed in Lightningpaw’s ear. “Maybe Palestar’s invading our territory while we’re just standing here talking!”

Lightningpaw froze in fear for a moment. Coud ThunderClan really be doing that? Surely not even ThunderClan could stoop that low? But he doubted Palestar had any standards. He felt panic building up inside of him. He went to warn Jumpstar, but Brightstar had already begun the Gathering.

“Cats of all Clans!” she announced. “ThunderClan is taking too long to arrive to this Gathering. I assume the other leaders agree?” Flightstar and Jumpstar nodded their approval. “Then this Gathering shall continue on without ThunderClan.”

A WindClan cat protested, “Surely all four Clans should be here?” Another cat – the apprentice’s mentor, Lightningpaw guessed – smelling of moorland cuffed the cat with a sharp strike to his ear. The apprentice grew silent.

“Anyways,” continued Jumpstar, ignoring the apprentice’s interruption, “ShadowClan shall report first.”

Lightningpaw was half-asleep during the announcements, only picking up minor news such as a fox on WindClan’s land and good fishing for RiverClan. Finally after what seemed like moons, Flightstar dismissed the Gathering.

“Wow,” snorted Pinebranch, clearly as bored as Lightningpaw. “The most eventful thing that happened this Gathering was probably that a dead fish was clogging one of RiverClan’s streams.” Lightningpaw definitely agreed with his father. He felt half-asleep on his paws, only really feeling Poppypaw’s presence next to him as he padded back to camp. He plopped onto his nest, relishing the soft marsh grass and green, tender moss.

“So? What happened?” pestered Leafpaw excitedly.

Lightningpaw yawned loudly, already curling up into his soft, mossy nest. “Poppypaw can tell you. Or Darkpaw.” He didn’t hear Leafpaw’s response, but he could tell that he was disappointed. After a few moments, he heard faint snoring filling the apprentices’ den.

He felt as though he had only gotten a few heartbeats of rest when he heard a faint noise in the distance. “Leafpaw, stop making so much noise…” mumbled Lightningpaw.

“But I didn’t do anything!” replied Leafpaw. He sounded almost as sleepy as Lightningpaw himself.

Lightningpaw rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Yeah, like I’ll believe you. Stop making that noise.”

“I didn’t, I swear by StarClan!” snapped Leafpaw irritably.

“Then what was-“ Lightningpaw was cut off by a loud stampeding noise near the entrance of camp. He caught a loud rustling noise as the brambles near the camp’s entrance were disturbed. He leaped to his paws as he heard Newtstripe called an alarm.

“It’s ThunderClan!” shrieked Leafpaw. “Come on, we have to go fight!”

Lightningpaw burst out of the den, but instead of a sea of enemies surrounding him, there was a rattled-looking group of cats inside of the camp. Lightningpaw narrowed his eyes in confusion as he recognized the cat in the lead of the group.

“Brightstar?”

Chapter 18 Edit

Lightningpaw stared in shock at the ragged, bleeding RiverClan warriors. He felt even more stupefied by the fact that there were elders and kits amongst the group. Whatever ShadowClan’s fishy neighbors were at their camp for, it was definitely not for battle.

“Brightstar.” Jumpstar addressed the white she-cat calmly. “Greetings. May I ask why you’ve decided that it was a good idea to bring your Clan into our camp?” Although his voice was confident, his eyes betrayed his shock.

“Jumpstar,” returned Brightstar, her voice raspy. “We’ve come with very bad news. Our camp has been invaded by ThunderClan, and we ask tha-“ The leader was cut off by the sounds of outrage and shock.

“ThunderClan!” snarled Lizardpelt. “I should’ve known!”

“We should’ve killed Palestar instead of letting him live and escape!” hissed Mossberry.

Bloomflower and Pinebranch rushed over to their kits, standing next to them protectively.

“Hey, you don’t have to protect us!” whined Dawnpaw. “We’re apprentices!” Lightningpaw nodded. “Yeah, we’re old enough to fight!”

Bloomflower shook her head. “Those are strong warriors, and hungry cats can be unpredictable.”

Lightningpaw was about to protest when Jumpstar raised his tail commandingly for silence. “Allow Brightstar to speak.” He nodded respectfully towards to RiverClan she-cat. Brightstar’s eyes gleamed with appreciation. “As I was saying, we’ve been driven out of our camp, and we ask for ShadowClan to give us shelter.” Her plead was immediately met with fury.

“Why should we give up our territory for cats who couldn’t even defend theirs?” questioned Crowtalon. “Yeah, find your own land!” agreed Rainblossom.

Jumpstar commanded, “Silence!” However, the clearing was still filled with outraged murmurs and loud protests. “SILENCE!” roared the ShadowClan leader. The clearing was then instantly silent. Many pairs of wide, dazed eyes stared at Jumpstar. Lightningpaw felt like he had just been thrusted into freezing water. Even when he had seen the ShadowClan leader get angry, he had never seen him that angry. Even the RiverClan cats seemed shocked to their bones.

“There’s been four Clans in the forest for as long as any cat can remember. That never has and never will change. Would you want ShadowClan to be remember as the Clan responsible for the exile of many innocent cats? Brightstar,” he added, addressing the RiverClan leader, “I allow your cats to stay here for up to two moons.” And what happens after two moons? wondered Lightningpaw. He didn’t want to imagine. He had known the forest as having four Clans for all his life. If RiverClan had left, everything he would’ve known would’ve changed. The RiverClan leader’s eyes glimmered with relief. “RiverClan will forever be in your debt, Jumpstar,” she thanked him.

The RiverClan cats slowly moved around camp, trying to find suitable sleeping places. Lightningpaw wrinkled his nose. Even though the RiverClan cats’ pelts were stained with blood, they still carried their fishy, unpleasant scent. He walked over to pick up a piece of fresh-kill from the prey mound when Pinebranch.

“Hey, we have to feed our hungry guests first!” he said in a stern yet teasing voice.

“But-“

“No ‘buts’. If you want to make yourself useful, ask Marshflame if you can go on a hunting patrol.”

“Okay.”

Lightningpaw walked over to the ShadowClan deputy. “Marshflame, is there a hunting patrol that I can go with? Please?” Marshflame twitched his whiskers. “Well, I was considering sending a hunting patrol to the Carrionplace so that we would have a good stock of food for our guests…”

“So does that mean I can join? Does it?”

Marshflame rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay. Go get Oakclaw, Crowtalon, Rainblossom, Dawnpaw, Blackwhisker, and Hollybird, and I’ll lead them to the Carrionplace.” Lightningpaw gathered the cats, and then Marshflame led the warriors out of the camp.

++++++++++++++++++++

“Alright,” announced Marshflame. “Now that we’re all here and,” – he shot a sharp glance and Dawnpaw, who was investigating piles of carrion – “hopefully all paying attention, it’s time to begin the hunt. Choose another warrior to hunt with, and I’ll tell you the instructions, and then we’ll hunt!”

Lightningpaw leaped over to meet his mentor, Blackwhisker. Dawnpaw did the same with her mentor, Hollybird. Lightningpaw looked around to see Oakclaw and Marshflame, Crowtalon and Rainblossom, and Dawnpaw and her mentor standing in pairs.

“All right, here’s the boundaries. Don’t go past the big monster circle,” the deputy flicked his tail towards a big, black object on the bottom of monsters that Lightningpaw recognized from the warriors’ and elders’ descriptions, “that wall of bags of carrion,” he nodded to a large, stinky wall of carrion in the distance, “and the sleeping monster over there.”

Monster?! Lightningpaw looked over his shoulder fearfully. He saw a large, brightly-colored beast laying on its fat, pitch-black paws. However, a monster’s bright eyes that the elders spoke of were dull. Well, duh! It’s sleeping, you frog-brain! Lightningpaw scolded himself for being frightened of a sleeping monster.

“Okay. You may begin the hunt,” meowed the ShadowClan deputy.

Blackwhisker nodded towards a twitching pile of carrion. “Come on,” he hissed. “I can hear some rats moving inside.”

Lightningpaw felt a shudder crawl down his spine. The damp, reeking ground beneath his paws was disgusting enough; he didn’t want to imagine what it was like to go carrion-diving for prey. Pushing aside his disgust, he slowly began to stalk up to the pile of garbage. Okay, there’s definitely prey in there thought Lightningpaw, staring in disgust at a slimy line left in the ground, probably a mark left by a rat dragging it tail through the mud. He looked up ahead and saw a small tail peeping out from under a smelly pile of trash. Overexcited and trying to contain his energy, he stalked the concealed rat, his paws shaking in excitement. When there were only a few frog-lengths between Lightningpaw and his target, he leaped. He flinched initially as he felt the rat’s slimy fur touch his claws and its eerie, high-pitch squeal, but he forced himself to lock his teeth into the prey’s neck and deliver the killing bite. Soon, the rat stopped squirming and went limp.

Satisfied with his catch, he walked over to a spiky tuft of grass. Suddenly, he felt a jolt of pain in his shoulder. He looked at it and was shocked to see a deep wound, a small stream of blood exiting from it. He licked at it fiercely and hoped that Blackwhisker wouldn’t send him back to camp because of it.

He was about to return to hunting when he heard Marshflame call his name. “Lightningpaw!” he shouted.

“What?” he asked, bounding up to the gray tom.

“You’ll have to go back to camp,” he replied, looking at his shoulder wound.

“But it’s just a little-“

“You’re going back to camp.”

“Bu-“

Now.

Lightningpaw sighed. “Fine.” He went back to the tuft of grass where he had buried his prey. He unearthed it and held it in his fangs. When he returned to camp, he dropped his rat onto the fresh-kill pile and headed towards Puddlespots’ den.

“Lightningpaw,” greeted Puddlespots, his eyes dark.

“H-Hi, Puddlespots,” replied Lightningpaw, unnerved by the medicine cat’s odd expression.

“You’ve got a rat bite, don’tcha?”

“Uh-huh.” He revealed his shoulder, showing his wound, crusted with dried blood, a small trickle still escaping from the wound.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” He began chewing a root Lightningpaw identified as burdock. He chewed it up into a poultice and licked it onto his shoulder. Then, he bound the wound with strong cobweb.

“Oh, yeah, I have a piece of advice for you,” added Puddlespots, his eyes growing darker.

“What is it?” replied the apprentice, the medicine cat’s seriousness really beginning to freak him out.

The medicine cat looked at Lightningpaw. “If you keep training with him… Let’s just say you going to have a bad time.” Puddlespots then left the cave without another word.

Chapter 19 Edit

Dawnpaw wrinkled her nose at the fishy scents of the RiverClan cats in the muddy ShadowClan clearing. Since there weren’t enough usable sleeping place outside of the dens, Masrhflame told some of the RiverClan apprentices to sleep in the ShadowClan apprentices’ den last night. Just because it’s the deputy’s decision, though, doesn’t I have to like it! She gave herself a quick grooming, licking off flecks of dirt and moss from her pelt. After a while, Hollybird walked up to her, whiskers twitching.

“Are you going to waste this great day by licking your fur?” asked Hollybird. “Don’t you think it’s about time for some training?”

Dawnpaw yawned. “Okay.”

Hollybird twitched her whiskers. “I hope you’re not too tired for a hunting patrol,” she remarked.

Dawnpaw yawned again. “Why would you think I would be tired?”

Hollybird rolled her eyes. “Whatever, let’s just go already.”

Dawnpaw was following her mentor to the exit of camp when she paused mid-step. “Wait, are any RiverClan cats coming with us?” she asked. She didn’t want them to scare away any prey with their huge clumsy paws and their plump, fish-filled bellies and, more importantly, she didn’t want to miss any prey in front of them. It would’ve been so embarrassing.

Hollybird wrinkled her nose. “I guess you should ask Marshflame.” It was clear that she didn’t want them in the patrol, let alone inside their camps walls.

Dawnpaw reluctantly walked towards the ShadowClan deputy, who was talking with Mossberry. “Hey, Marshflame, are any RiverClan cats coming on patrol with Hollybird and I?”

Marshflame twitched his whiskers thoughtfully. After several moments, he spoke: “Well, I suppose a few could come along, since they’re going to be here for a while.”

Dawnpaw padded towards a tall silver warrior and a smaller brown tom sitting next to him – likely the warrior’s apprentice, Dawnpaw guessed.

Dawnpaw asked the warrior shyly, “Hey, do you two minds coming with my mentor and I? We could use some extra paws with us, and…” Dawnpaw awkwardly shifted her paws. She stopped mid-speech as she tried to brainstorm rapidly on a way to invite the cats to explore the territory without having to offend them. “…we could show you the good places to hunt…?” she finished awkwardly, hoping that her idea was good enough.

The taller tom shrugged. “Sure, why not?” he mewed cheerfully. “C’mon, Hollowpaw, we have to go on patrol!”

The brown tom sprang onto his paws immediately. “Oh! We’re going on patrol! I can’t wait to hunt, explore, look at the territory-“

“And scare all the prey within millions of tree-lengths away with your chatter before we even start patrolling?” added the tall warrior sternly.

“Yeah! W-wait…” The brown tom stopped talking when he realized what his mentor had said. “Oh… S-sorry…,” he apologized awkwardly.

Dawnpaw twitched her whiskers. It was good that she had some helping paws, bad that they’d probably scare away all the prey!

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw’s ears ached. She thought that Hollowpaw had been chatty, but it was nothing compared to Darkpaw. He had been boasting nearly all the way to the hunting spot. “I bet I’ll be able to catch at least four pieces of prey!” he had meowed.

I doubt he’ll be able to stay true to his promise, thought Dawnpaw, amused. Now that the patrol was at the hunting spot – a damp spot in the pine forest – they decided to split up.

“How about Driftblaze takes Bumbletail and Hollowpaw, Mistfire’ll go with Darkpaw, and I’ll take Dawnpaw?” suggested Hollybird. The rest of the patrol nodded in agreement; there wasn’t really any reason to disagree with the tabby-and-white warrior, anyways.

Hollybird beckoned for Dawnpaw to follow her through the thick, sap-scented trunks of pine trees. They were at a tall patch of grass when Hollybird signaled for Dawnpaw to stop. “There’s a frog in there,” she hissed, flicking her ear towards a small, brown lump in the green-and-yellow blades of moist grass. Drops of dew from sunrise clung onto the tips of the tall plants. Dawnpaw slowly made her way behind the frog, cutting off any escape routes. Dawnpaw twitched an ear, indicating that she was ready. The frog, startled by Dawnpaw’s minute movement, leaped out of the grass in surprise. It continued to hop rapidly towards a small nearby pond. Hollybird, who was closer, cut it off and swatted it away. The stunned amphibian landed at Dawnpaw’s paws. Before she could even think, she swopped towards its neck and delivered the killing bite. She felt its life slowly fading out of its body. Thank you, StarClan, for this prey, Dawnpaw thought silently.

Hollybird approached her from the edge of the pond. “Good catch!” she purred, shaking out one of her feet that had accidentally been plunged into the pond. Dawnpaw flattened her ears as some droplets of pond water flied onto her pelt. She fluffed out her brown fur.

Hollybird then mewed, “Why don’t we split up so that we can catch more prey? We’ll need some extra prey for our guests.” Had Dawnpaw imagined it, or did a note of irritation creep into her voice as she said the word guests?

“Sure,” Dawnpaw purred.

Dawnpaw headed further into the forest as she heard a squeak of a mouse. She spotted it, nibbling a small blade of grass. She slowly crept towards it as she heard a loud rustling in the bushes. A few heartbeats later, a brown blur burst out and snatched the mouse.

Hollowpaw!

“Why’d you do that?” snapped Dawnpaw, furious. “I was just about to catch it when you exploded out of the bushes and scared every living creature away!”

Hollowpaw shuffled his paws. “Well, I’m sorry but-“

“’Sorry’ fills no bellies,” she retorted, quoting something Hollybird had told her when she had accidentally frightened off a pigeon she had been chasing.

She was about to give Hollowpaw another earful when she spotted a long shape slowly creeping towards Hollowpaw.

“SNAKE!” Dawnpaw screeched.

Hollowpaw leaped forward and looked around. “I… don’t see one.”

“You can thank me later.” Dawnpaw spit out the long-bodied reptile she had just caught onto the ground. Hollowpaw seemed horrified.

“Whoa… I guess I own you thanks,” he stuttered, seeming shocked.

Dawnpaw rolled her eyes. “No problem, you’re lucky I decided to save you.”

Hollowpaw shrugged. “I guess it’s back to camp.”

Dawnpaw rolled her eyes again. He almost got bit by a snake. Does he get fazed by anything?

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw returned to camp, mouth full with her snake. Hollybird was carrying two frogs, Driftblaze held a pigeon and mouse, Bumbletail had three small fish, and Hollowpaw had three plump mice. Mistfire and Darkpaw returned early when Darkpaw had stubbed his paw and he could barely walk on his front foot.

Dawnpaw twitched her whiskers. “Your hunting skills are a lot better than I thought they would be,” she mewed teasingly to Hollowpaw

“I just have a good mentor,” he replied modestly.

“I just am a good mentor,” purred Bumbletaail. His comment caused the two apprentices to burst into laughter.

“Want some snake?” offered Dawnpaw.

The two RiverClan cats looked at each other. “N-no, thanks,” declined Bumbletail.

“I prefer fish,” mewed Hollowpaw.

Dawnpaw shrugged. “Okay.” She brought the snake over to Lightningpaw and Poppypaw. Poppypaw was cleaning Lightningpaw’s shoulder wound. She had been taking care of him almost all day.

Poppypaw licked her lips. “Is that for us?” she asked. Dawnpaw nodded. Poppypaw immediately started wolfing down the snake. Lightningpaw ate much more slowly, as though he had no appetite. Is he sick? she wondered.

Dawnpaw dismissed the thought and tried to push it to the back of her head by recalling that day’s memories. Hmm… Maybe having the RiverClan cats around won’t be so bad.

Chapter 20 Edit

Dawnpaw followed Hollybird through the deep pine forest. She and Lightningpaw were nearly done with their apprenticeship. Only a few more days, and they would both be fully-fledged warriors! As Dawnpaw thought of this, she was filled with confidence, excitement, and determination. She took a few more steps until she was at a bare, damp, grassy piece of land. Although it had no official name, Dawnpaw liked to call this place the “Shadow Field” because, during sunny days, early dawns, or cloudless dusks, the trees surrounding the clearing would cast tall, dark, eerie shadows onto the bright, grassy clearing. She looked to Blackwhisker and Hollybird for instructions, like she had done thousands of times before.

Hollybird twitched an ear as though dismissing a flea. “Alright,” she mewed. “You two are going to sniff out any scents you can smell in the clearing. Don’t leave anything unspoken of.” Blackwhisker nodded. “Remember,” he added seriously, “failing to notice the scent of an enemy invasion, a loose dog, or a rampaging will be the difference between life and death for you and possibly your Clan.”

Dawnpaw nodded seriously. Hollybird nodded at her to begin sniffing out any odd scents. Dawnpaw sniffed the air warily. Aside from the usual damp and sweet scents of the marshes and pine forest, she could smell a very faint trace of badger, the odor of a recent ShadowClan patrol as well as another strange, fresh scent. Dawnpaw sniffed the air again. The scent seemed so familiar. It was like a mixture of rogue and ShadowClan.

“I can smell stale badger,” Dawnpaw reported, “a patrol that just passed by, and fresh rogue scent.”

Hollybird growled. “Rogues,” she spat. “Always messing around in our territory.” Blackwhisker shrugged. “Maybe we could try to defeat them peacefully?” he suggested. Hollybird snorted. “What kind of rogue would give up without a fight?”

Lightningpaw sniffed the air. “I can smell badger, too,” he remarked. “I think it was here around two days ago?”

Blackwhisker sniffed. “It’s definitely stale,” he agreed, “but the badger might still be around. I’ll tell Marshflame to tell the patrols to keep a lookout for one.”

Hollybird nodded. “I’d say you two passed this test. Now, it’s onto the fighting test.” Dawnpaw noticed that Lightningpaw’s eyes lightened at the thought of the fighting test. Dawnpaw was slightly unnerved at her brother’s readiness to fight. You’re worrying over nothing! she scolded herself. Almost every apprentice dreams of being a fighter! Yet she was still wary of her brother’s love for battle. She realized how different Blackwhisker and Lightningpaw were from each other; Blackwhisker was always trying to find a peaceful solution while Lightningpaw was quick to unsheathe his claws.

“So,” said Blackwhisker, “for this part of the assessment, you two will fight each other, and Hollybird and I will observe your technique and strategy.”

Lightningpaw and Dawnpaw began to circle around each other, waiting for the other to make the first move. Suddenly, Lightningpaw sprang forward, claws extended, teeth bared. Dawnpaw dodged to the side and let Lightningpaw crash into the grass. Taking advantage of his brief vulnerability, Dawnpaw leapt onto him and grabbed him by the shoulders. However, Lightningpaw threw her off and scored his paws across her back. Dawnpaw, enraged, faked an attack to one side. Lightningpaw fell for it, and Dawnpaw landed a strike onto his jaw. He fell onto the ground with an oof and laid there for a couple moments. Dawnpaw was about to land another attack when Lightningpaw suddenly burst into action. He thrashed his paws wildly and kicked out with his back paws. Dawnpaw was caught off-guard and tumbled backwards. Lightningpaw leapt onto her and pinned her down, paws on her neck.

“Okay, you two can stop,” mewed Hollybird.

“Good work!” Blackwhisker purred to both of them. “Lightningpaw,” mewed the black-and-white warrior to his apprentice. “You should work on trying not to fall for feints and dodges.” “And you, Dawnpaw,” added Hollybird, ”you should remember to keep your guards up no matter what, even if you think you defeated your opponent.” Dawnpaw nodded.

“Alright!” declared Blackwhisker. “Just the hunting test left, and you two are going to become warriors!”

Dawnpaw’s tail twitched wildly and her eyes widened. I’m finally going to become a warrior!

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnpaw came back to camp holding three frogs in her mouth. She and Lightningpaw had caught so much; she caught three frogs, one toad, and a mouse, while her brother hunted one large crow, two shrews, and a pigeon. Dawnpaw puffed out her chest when she had returned to camp with her impressive haul.

Bloomflower and Pinebranch rushed over to greet their kits, licking them lovingly all over. Lightningpaw ducked away, embarrassed. Dawnpaw couldn’t help doing the same.

“I’m so proud of you!” purred Bloomflower, nuzzling them.

“Good job,” added Pinebranch proudly, licking Dawnpaw on the ears.

Dawnpaw ducked away, before remembering that she was lucky to have such affectionate parents. There’s probably one cat out there who doesn’t really have the greatest parents.

“Why are you hiding?” teased Pinebranch. “Do you want to look messy for your ceremony? You’re probably dirty from hunting all day!”

Dawnpaw rolled her eyes. “I can wash later!”

“Really?” asked Bloomflower skeptically, nodding to Jumpstar, who was bounding up to the Tall Boulder.

“Oh!” exclaimed Lightningpaw. Dawnpaw gaped before immediately beginning to give herself a quick grooming.

“All cats old enough to hunt gather beneath the Tall Boulder!” he commanded.

Many cats were already washing in the clearing. Dawnpaw shifted her paws nervously as many eyes were set onto her and Lightningpaw.

“Today, as you may know, two of our apprentices passed their final assessments, and they’ve proved themselves to be truly dedicated and loyal to ShadowClan. Now, they will earn their status as a full warrior of ShadowClan.” Jumpstar stopped for a few moments before announcing, “Lightningpaw!”

Lightningpaw walked forward excitedly, but he tried hard not to sprint up to Jumpstar like an overexcited kit. Dawnpaw remembered wistfully long ago when she and her brother had been made apprentices and Lightningpaw had shuffled forward awkwardly to meet Jumpstar; now, he walked with confidence and self-control. So much has changed since then, thought Dawnpaw nostalgically.

“Lightningpaw,” Jumpstar declared, “do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?”

“I do,” replied Lightningpaw seriously.

“Then,” Jumpstar announced, “by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Lightningpaw, from now on you will be known as Lightingstorm. StarClan honors your skill in battle and your perseverance, and we welcome you as a full member of ShadowClan.”

As Lightningstorm leaned forward to lick Jumpstar, Dawnpaw felt anticipation building up inside of her. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!

“Dawnpaw.”

This is it.

Dawnpaw walked forward to meet Jumpstar, her head held up high.

“Do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?”

“I do,” replied Dawnpaw. She knew that she meant what she was promising to Jumpstar and her Clan.

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Dawnpaw, from now on you will be known as Dawnwind. StarClan honors your curiosity and enthusiasm, and we welcome you as a full member of ShadowClan.”

The next thing Dawnwind heard was the cheering of cats calling her name, just like when she had been made an apprentice all those moons ago.

Lightningstorm! Dawnwind!

As she was congratulated by her friends and family, Dawnwind thought that that moment was the happiest of her life.

Chapter 21 Edit

Lightningstorm! Dawnwind!

Lightningstorm held his chin up high as he heard his Clan call his name. He saw Poppypaw run over to him to congratulate him. “Good job, Lightningstorm!” she purred, nuzzling her head against his neck. Lightningstorm flushed in embarrassment, and he heard several of his Clanmates purring and snorting in amusement. He could also hear the sound of many voices congratulating his sister, too. However, he saw two familiar pelts pushing through the crowd of cats.

He purred as he saw Pinebranch and Bloomflower rushing towards him and his sister. He felt Pinebranch licking his head proudly. “Congratulations!” he mewed in his deep voice. Bloomflower licked Lightningstorm’s head. “We’re so proud of you,” she purred. Pinebranch gave a tiny nod in agreement, although his eyes showed his fierce pride and joy for his two kits.

“Wow!” Leafpaw exclaimed, gazing at the two new warriors in awe. “I can’t believe that you two are warriors already!” His sister, Goldenpaw, gaped in admiration at the two newly-appointed warriors.

“Congratulations!” Lightningstorm heard Hollybird congratulate her former apprentice. Blackwhisker, Lightningstorm’s own mentor, came over to Lightningstorm. “I’m so happy that you’re a warrior!” he purred.

“I couldn’t have done it without your training,” thanked Lightningstorm. And I couldn’t have done it without Ripplestar’s training, either, Lightningstorm thought silently. He could’ve sworn that he felt a ghostly spirit next to him, looking at him with fierce yellow eyes that blazed though his back.

Once everyone had left to their nests, the sun was already setting in the horizon. “Well, you’ll have to start your vigils soon,” remarked Marshflame to the two siblings. “Maybe you two should grab something to eat so you don’t starve through the night.” Lightningstorm didn’t hesitate in following the deputy’s advice; he couldn’t recall eating anything that day since morning. He fetched a plump rat for him and his sister to share. He devoured his share, and Dawnwind did the same with her portion. Lightningstorm licked his lips, trying to savor the last of the juicy taste of the fresh-kill. By the time they had both washed themselves and eaten, it was well past dusk.

Dawnwind yawned. “Well, I suppose we should start the vigil.” Lightningstorm nodded in agreement, but was finding it hard to stay awake even though the vigil hadn’t even started.

They both positioned themselves in the middle of camp, keeping their eyes open for danger. He could see Creekshade heading to the dirtplace, and the rising and lowering flanks of sleeping cats, but there wasn’t much activity outside of that. Lightningstorm felt his eyelids drooping as he began to go into a deep sleep. But suddenly, before he could begin to doze, he heard a quiet rustling noise as well as some unfamiliar voices beyond the camp walls.

“They’re sleeping.” Lightningstorm heard the hiss of an unknown she-cat.

“Dawnwind,” Lightningstorm whispered.

“Perfect. Go around the camp, attack from all sides,” whispered the commanding voice of a tom.

“What?” his sister replied.

He heard a different, unfamiliar voice of a whimpering tom. “Won’t it hurt to go through all those rocks and thorns?”

“We’re being attacked!” he hissed.

“Really?” she exclaimed.

“Yeah, we have to warn the Clan!”

But it was too late. Cats with a foreign scent were attempting to break down the camp walls. It wouldn’t be long before they made it into the heart of the camp.

“WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!” screeched Dawnwind at the top of her lungs.

Dazed warriors and apprentices stumbled out of their dens, but their eyes widened and fur bushed out when they saw the attackers. Some of the mysterious foes had already made it through the camp walls and launched themselves onto the ShadowClan and RiverClan warriors. Soon after, a flood of foul-scenting rogues were streaming into camp. Lightningstorm sniffed the air; the rogues smelt vaguely of ShadowClan scent.

Lightningstorm felt claws dig into his shoulders as a burly, scarred, red tom launched himself onto the black-and-white warrior. Remembering Ripplestar’s training, he rolled onto his side and attempted to wriggle out of the tom’s grip. Lightningstorm was able to get out, but not unscathed; he felt stinging marks on his shoulders, and a lost patch of fur which the rogue had torn off of the back of his neck. Lightningstorm felt as though the tom was familiar. Suddenly, he remembered long ago when he was an apprentice and his prey had been stolen. He remembered all his bitterness and fury. He remembered his words as he promised revenge on the cat that had stolen what he had worked for:

Whoever stole my prey is going to pay for it.

Lightningstorm curled back his lip and bared his teeth. Claws extended, ears flat, fur spiked, he threw himself towards the prey-stealing tom at full force. The red tom stumbled backwards, but quickly regained balance. The tom attacked Lightningstorm with a slash to his shoulder. Lightningstorm hissed as the tom drew blood. He retaliated with a blow to the red tom’s jaw. As the rogue fell over, Lightningstorm leaped onto the rogue and dug his claws into the tom’s shoulders. The tom screeched and Lightningstorm thumped his enemy’s ears with curled, unsheathed claws. The tom tried to throw Lightningstorm off, and he succeeded. The tom sprinted away into the crowd of combatting cats.

He heard a yowl of pain, and Lightningstorm looked behind him to see Rainblossom pinned down by a brown she-cat with dark paws. Lightningstorm rushed over towards the battling she-cats, and he suddenly noticed that Rainblossom’s claws were sheathed. Lightningstorm narrowed his eyes, but then pulled the brown she-cat off of his Clanmate. Rainblossom immediately rushed back into the heart of the fight.

While Lightningstorm watched Rainblossom flee, the she-cat took advantage of his temporary lack of attention and leaped onto his shoulders and bit tight onto Lightningstorm’s ear. He roared in pain and fury and threw the she-cat off. He scored his claws across her stomach and she yowled. In a final attempt to win, she knocked Lightningstorm over and pinned him down. Swiftly, she swung in to deliver a killing bite. Lightningstorm was struck by panic and thrashed under her paws, trying to free himself. Fortunately, the lighter she-cat was thrown off and rolled to the side, and Lightningstorm rushed back into the heart of the battle.

He could see Tanglethorn being targeted by two vicious looking rogues, and one of them pounced onto his shoulders and pulled him backwards while the other slashed at Tanglethorn’s exposed belly as he screamed in agony.

Lightningstorm bounded over and chomped forcefully onto the enemy’s tail. The rogue, a white tom, howled in pain and threw a kick backwards into Lightningstorm’s muzzle. The ShadowClan warrior stumbled a few steps backward and the white tom took advantage of his brief weakness. He lunged for Lightningstorm’s face and scored claws across Lightningstorm’s cheek. He hissed in outrage and he sliced his claws on the rogue’s nose, but the blow ended up hitting nothing but air. The tom kept lunging and attacking Lightningstorm, and Lightningstorm felt like he wanted nothing more than to just collapse onto the ground.

“Retreat!”

Lightningstorm suddenly heard the yowl of an unfamiliar voice. He turned around to see the red tortoiseshell tom leading the band of rogues out of the camp. The rogues followed him swiftly without hesitation while the ShadowClan and RiverClan cats hissed and yowled behind them.

Lightningstorm looked around camp wearily. He saw his former mentor, Blackwhisker, dragging an unfamiliar and unconscious RiverClan warrior towards Puddlespots and Goldenpaw, who were gathering cobwebs and herbs. He spotted Creekshade being supported by his mate, Nightberry, as they both limped to the medicine den. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mossberry grooming the wounds of the ShadowClan deputy, Marshflame. Lightningstorm could only watch in horror as the life of his Clanmates were bleeding out of their bodies.

He saw Rainblossom looking at the camp with narrowed eyes, and he noticed that Rainblossom had made it through the battle without a scratch. He had an ominous feeling that this wasn’t the end of the fight with the rogues, and that they might have a spy inside the ShadowClan camp walls.

We survived this battle, but how long will we be able to put up with this?

Chapter 22 Edit

Dawnwind was shaken down to her bones. She was shocked at the sudden attack, and she felt like her body hurt less than her heart when she saw the life of her Clanmates bleeding out onto the ground. It was all she could do to lick her wounds that felt like burning fire. Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t seen her brother or parents since the battle had ended. She slowly felt panic building up in her, which fueled her need to see her relatives. She looked around in the clearing. Were her parents laying in the clearing and sharing tongues? She took a quick look around the hollow. Nothing. She took another quick sweep desperately. Still nothing.

She peeked into the warriors’ den. Perhaps her brother was taking a quick nap, exhausted after the fight? But the only resting warrior she saw was Blackwhisker, completely spent after helping carry the wounded cats to the medicine den. Dawnwind just hoped that her parents and brother weren’t one of those cats.

But she had to begin being real with herself. If they weren’t in the clearing or the warriors’ den, there was only one other place they were likely to be.

Wounded in the medicine den.

She rushed over to the den as fast as her paws could carry her, all her earlier tiredness forgotten. She burst in to see a horrific sight. Her parents were on their side, bleeding onto the ground, their body covered with cobwebs and poultices. Lightningstorm wasn’t exactly much better; he was missing many patches of fur on his head, shoulder, and flank. He was bleeding from a deep slash on his head, and the net of cobwebs patched onto it couldn’t completely stop the rapid flow of blood pulsing out of it. Puddlespots seemed depleted of energy even though he hadn’t even been in the battle. His apprentice, Goldenpaw, seemed overwhelmed by the amount of casualties from the fight.

“Can I do anything to help?” offered Dawnwind, wishing to do something to put her family out of their pain.

Puddlespots looked thoughtful for a moment. At last, he said, “You can help me by finding some herbs; most of the ones we had were used up or unusable. We’ll need some chervil, cobwebs, and some horsetail, please. Be as quick as you can!”

With the herbs in mind, Dawnwind rushed out of the den and through the camp entrance. She recognized the large fern-like leaves of chervil and picked some up by her mouth. She could smell its sweet, pleasant scent, although the large, floppy leaves were partially blocking her view. Next, she found some cobwebs inside of a hollow pine tree trunk. After quite a bit of searching, she finally found the last plant that Puddlespots had asked for: some prickly stems of horsetail.

By the time she had collecting all the supplies, she couldn’t even breathe through her mouth; she was now breathing rapidly through her nose. She sprinted back to camp as fast as she could and spat out the herbs and cobwebs onto the ground. Goldenpaw was starting at her in awe. “Wow, that was really fast!” she admired. Now Dawnwind was panting for breath now that she wasn’t confined to breathing through her nose. “I think I’ll go hunting,” declared Dawnwind, wishing to catch some prey for her wounded family.

She decided to hunt on the outskirts of the Carrionplace to have the best chance of catching her mother’s favorite treat: rat. The favorite food of her brother and father, snake, was also rather common in the area. She tasted the air to figure out if any potential meals were near.

“Smell anything?” asked Applepool. She had offered to hunt with her since she was one of the only cats in the Clan who had made it out of the battle with only a few minor injuries, the others being a RiverClan tom and Rainblossom, who had finished the battle mysteriously without any wounds.

Dawnwind sniffed again. She picked up a slight whiff of snake in a nearby patch of grass. She hissed the word “Snake!” to Applepool, and she flicked her tail towards a piece of bare land with small tufts of grass sticking out of the earth.

Applepool nodded and began to sneak up behind it. She began to leap at it. She pinned one of her front paws on the snake’s neck. The snake hissed in panic and bared its teeth, but it couldn’t move with Applepool’s paw on its neck. She delivered the killing bite to its neck and the snake made one last spasm and stopped moving.

Dawnwind purred. “Good catch!” she mewed.

Applepool licked her paws. “It was nothing.”

Dawnwind tasted the air again for some more prey. She heard the grass behind her rustle, and, without thinking, she turned around and leapt for whatever was behind her. She clamped her teeth onto the neck of a mouse. She picked it up and walked back to Applepool.

“I think we have enough to go back to camp now,” she mewed.

Applepool shrugged. “Eh, okay.”

They walked back to camp and dropped their prey onto the pile. Dawnwind brought back Applepool’s snake to the medicine den where her family was resting. She dropped the snake onto the ground.

“Are they okay?” she mewed to Puddlespots.

He shrugged. “They look okay, but Pinebranch is in pretty bad shape.”

Dawnwind looked over at her father. He was twitching in his sleep. One of his wounds was covered with cobwebs, but pus was oozing from underneath. Several scabs were forming all across his pelt, and he had a bad looking scratch over his left eye.

“Will he be okay?” she fretted.

The medicine cat shrugged. “I won’t promise anything.”

Dawnwind stumbled back to her nest. She didn’t even feel hungry. All she wanted to do was curl up and sleep and forget all about the battle.

But she knew that the fight wasn’t over. She knew the rogues wouldn’t just give up after a single loss.

Chapter 23 Edit

Dawnwind stared around Fourtrees. The clearing was bustling with cats of all different colors and Clans. The sacred full moon was shining down upon the four Clans. The legendary oaks stood proudly in the center of the clearing, looming over the Great Rock. This was Dawnwind’s first Gathering as a fully-fledged warrior of ShadowClan.

She felt a sharp pang of pity and sadness for her brother, who also became a warrior but was fatally wounded in a deadly battle with rogues, and her father, who was also suffering from many injuries, and, according to Goldenpaw, Puddlespots’ apprentice, a minor infection. Her mother, Bloomflower, had recovered from the injuries from the fight, but she wasn’t healed enough that she could go on the long walk to Fourtrees. Despite all this, Dawnwind tried her hardest not to show her inner sadness for her kin.

“This is only my second Gathering,” squeaked Hollowpaw, a RiverClan apprentice, who was standing beside her.

“I wonder what Palestar will say about driving you all out,” growled Dawnwind. About one moon ago, Brightstar, the leader of RiverClan, brought her cats to ShadowClan after ThunderClan drove them out of their territory.

Dawnwind saw Tanglethorn and Driftblaze a few tail-lengths away, having a conversation with a WindClan warrior. She spotted Rainblossom at the edge of the clearing engaging in conversation with Crowtalon.

Dawnwind narrowed her eyes. Long ago when Lightningstorm – Lightningpaw back then – had accused Rainblossom of siding with the cat who had stolen his prey, Dawnwind dismissed his absurd declaration. She wasn’t so sure of her decision now, especially after the silver cat had suspiciously made it through the battle with the rogues without a scratch.

It likely wouldn’t take long for the other Clans to guess that something was up between RiverClan and ThunderClan, Dawnwind speculated, although they would likely guess it was another skirmish over Sunningrocks, a piece of land that was often disputed over. Not too far away, she spotted a RiverClan warrior named Troutwhisker shooting a glance of hatred towards a ThunderClan cat a few tail-lengths away from him; the forest cat retaliated by baring her teeth. Dawnwind worriedly twitched her whiskers as she looked up and saw a cloud pass over the bright moon.

“So!” Dawnwind jumped when she suddenly heard a purr behind her. She turned and saw the familiar face of Hollynose, a WindClan she-cat she had met at a past Gathering. “I heard that you’ve got a different name now.”

“That’s right,” Dawnwind boasted, puffing out her chest. “I’m Dawnwind now!”

“Congratulations!” Hollynose said warmly, nuzzling the new warrior.

“Did I hear that someone became a warrior?” Mapleheart, one of Lightningstorm’s friends from ThunderClan, padded over. She had also gained her warrior status a quarter moon earlier, or so Dawnwind had heard when she was on a border patrol. Her cream fur seemed to gleam as the moon radiated overhead.

“Yep! My new name’s Dawnwind!”

Mapleheart purred. “That’s a nice name. You deserve it.” The ThunderClan she-cat looked around the clearing. Dawnwind thought she saw her nose wrinkle slightly as she noticed Hollowpaw sitting near the she-cats. Dawnwind noticed that although ThunderClan and RiverClan were shooting dirty glances at each other, they didn’t outright acknowledge the recent battle that had happened between them.

After a quick moment of silence, Mapleheart quickly scanned the hollow and asked, “Where’s Lightningstorm? It doesn’t look like he’s here.”

Dawnwind’s heart skipped a beat. She didn’t want to give away that he had been wounded and that there had been a recent battle against some very violent rogues. However, the other Clans might’ve already guessed something was up when they saw the scratches and the lost fur of the ShadowClan and RiverClan cats. Still, Dawnwind thought to herself. Better safe than sorry, right?

“He got a thorn in his pad,” Dawnwind lied, hoping that she sounded convincing enough.

Hollynose and Mapleheart seemed to buy the excuse. Hollynose was about to meow something, but she was cut off by Flightstar who was standing on top of the Great Rock.

“Cats of all Clans, silence!” he commanded. “The full moon Gathering has begun. Jumpstar shall give his news first.” Flightstar nodded to Jumpstar for him to begin speaking.

Jumpstar cleared his throat. “All has been well for ShadowClan. We chased off a fox that was lingering on one of our borders, and we now have two new warriors: Lightningstorm and Dawnwind!”

“Lightningstorm! Dawnwind!” The names of the two siblings rang throughout the Fourtrees hollow. Dawnwind lifted up her chin and puffed out her chest, proud of her newly-gained status. Next to her, Mossberry gave her a friendly nudge.

Palestar rise to his paws and padded to the front of the Great Rock. His silver pelt shone in the moonlight. “ThunderClan is flourishing,” he announced. “We have plenty of prey, and one of our queens gave birth to one strong kit.” Murmurs of congratulations floated around the hollow. Kits were good news for every Clan. “Our borders are secure and safe from enemies and filthy creatures.”

Oh, so RiverClan is a bunch of filthy creatures? She felt Hollowpaw’s fur bristle and she heard a small growl rising in his throat. “Don’t,” whispered his mentor, Bumbletail. Hollowpaw’s hackles lowered, but his eyes still were glinting with anger.

Flightstar spoke after the ThunderClan leader. “WindClan is thriving as well. Our fresh-kill pile is always full, and one of our queens is expecting. Dawnwind twitched her whiskers with worry. ShadowClan seemed to be the only one without more young cats in their Clan. How was ShadowClan supposed to thrive without new kits?

Brightstar was the last leader to give news. “RiverClan has something to tell all the Clans.” Dawnwind could already guess what it was, looking at the RiverClan leader’s cold eyes that stared at the ThunderClan cats like a ray of sun setting fire to a leaf. “ThunderClan has driven us out of our territory!”

Shock rippled throughout WindClan, the only Clan who hadn’t heard of the horrific news. ThunderClan cats snarled viciously at the RiverClan leader and the RiverClan cats. Mapleheart hissed furiously at Brightstar, and the white she-cat returned her show of anger with a stare of fire that could burn through the thickest of pine trees.

Palestar watched all the action with cold eyes. “Territory belongs to cats strong enough to claim and defend it!”

Dawnwind felt like ripping out the throat of the disgusting snake-heart right there and then. But not here, she told herself, trying to control her fury. Not under the full moon. Only someone who has fallen as low as Palestar himself would do that.

Flightstar bared his teeth at Palestar. “There should always be four territories. Only a foul thief would ever steal something they’re not worthy of.”

Palestar sneered at the black-and-white leader. “I’m worthy of it if I can take it. Only the strong are worthy.”

Dawnwind gasped, and so did many other cats. How could any cat have such a view of things? The only thing Palestar’s worthy of is nothing, thought Dawnwind darkly. “What kind of monster is he?” growled Creekshade. Even Mapleheart seemed disgusted at Palestar. Good, thought Dawnwind in satisfaction. Not even Palestar’s own Clanmates want him.

“Wait!” Bluenose, the RiverClan medicine cat, was staring up at the moon. Dark clouds were passing over it like a heavy smoke in a forest fire. The bright moon that was glowing fully a few moments prior had been reduced to barely anything more than a weak glimmer; barely noticeable, like a star in daylight.

“StarClan is angry!” Hollynose breathed, staring up at the blackening sky; it now looked like a load of black ashes was thrown up to the skies, blotting out the moon, stars, everything.

“Everyone, stop!” Jumpstar called for silence, glaring down at everyone. “StarClan is angry. This Gathering is over.” He leaped of the rock, his pelt fluffed up from the argument. He beckoned with his tail for his Clan to follow. Dawnwind took one last look at the now pitch-black sky. Palestar did all this. Dawnwind flashed a last look at the vicious leader. He was leading his Clan back to their forest land. His arrogance showed in the way he walked, the way he held his tail overconfidently, the way his eyes gleamed with scorn.

You think you can keep doing what you want without punishment. But you’re wrong. ShadowClan, my Clan, is going to make you regret anything you ever did.

Chapter 24 Edit

Lightningstorm was dreaming.

He was in the dark forest of rotting undergrowth and trees of unfathomable height. The familiar yellow eyes of Ripplestar gleamed. His orange patches seemed bright compared to his gloomy surroundings. The shady woodland provided the perfect camouflage for the former ShadowClan leader’s mostly black pelt. Silvermask’s piercing green eyes glinted in the shadows.

Ripplestar hissed. “You’ve been neglecting your training ever since you fought those rogues,” he snarled, baring his teeth.

Lightningstorm unsheathed his claws in annoyance. Why was the shadowy warrior so obsessed with training? “I had no choice,” defended the black-and-white tom. “I was healing from the fight!” Silvermask hissed. “Healing!” he hissed, eyes glittering with contempt.

Suddenly, pain flashed through him. Ripplestar had slashed his claws across Lightningstorm’s cheek. Lightningstorm took a step back and wiped the blood off of his cheek with his paw while warily keeping an eye on Ripplestar. “You don’t heal by resting, you heal by working!” The tom was about to strike his claws again at Lightningstorm, but fortunately, Lightningstorm was ready and dodged the blow.

Ripplestar’s eyes glittered with satisfaction. “That was better. But you still have much to work on.” He launched himself onto Lightningstorm and kicked his back with unsheathed back claws. Lightningstorm yowled as the dark tom clawed off large amounts of fur from his back. Lightningstorm rolled over and tried to crush Ripplestar under his weight. He gave a smirk of satisfaction when he heard Ripplestar gasp as he was winded. His grip loosened, and Lightningstorm seized the opportunity to break free of his enemy’s control.

He faced the powerful cat and launched himself at Ripplestar. He slammed into him and Ripplestar stumbled back a few steps. Lightningstorm knocked him down with a hefty strike to his flank, and the leader fell over. Lightningstorm pinned the leader to the ground and set his paw on his throat. Lightningstorm felt Ripplestar’s struggles weaken, and Lightningstorm lifted his paw, knowing that Ripplestar recognized that he had been beaten.

Ripplestar got up and shook out the dirt and sand from his pelt. “Good job, but don’t assume that you’re a better fighter than me.” Lightningstorm caught his eye and he saw an ominous glint in its depths, filled with something more than the anger of defeat.

It was filled with something more than just plain malice. Something more ominous.

++++++++++++++++++++

“Lightningstorm, are you listening or what?”

“What?” Lightningstorm was still half-asleep since he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night. Ripplestar and Silvermask were keeping on his toes with training and fights until sunrise. Lightningstorm felt grateful for the fact that most of his wounds had already turned into scabs and that the bleeding had stopped so that his Clanmates wouldn’t suspect something suspicious. He just hoped that Puddlespots wouldn’t notice. He had only recently let him leave the medicine den, and it was a decision he had made with much reluctance. It likely wouldn’t take him much to confine him back to the den.

“Lightningstorm!”

Lightningstorm looked around the clearing and felt frustration. He had dozed off again! He turned and saw Lizardpelt staring at him with annoyance in his eyes. “I asked you if you could help me train the apprentices!” Lightningstorm shrugged. “Okay.”

Lizardpelt flicked his tail. “Okay, then come with me, Oakclaw, and Mistfire.” He bounded towards the exit where the two warriors were waiting with Leafpaw, Poppypaw, and Darkpaw. Lightningstorm followed them through the pine forest, fatigue slowing his paws and dulling his senses.

When he came to the clearing, he saw Lizardpelt demonstrating a battle move. “So you grab their tail with your teeth,” he instructed, his voice muffled as he clamped his jaws on Oakclaw’s tail, “and you yank it as hard as you can!” He swung his head, and Oakclaw toppled over and fell with an oof. Mistfire made a quiet snort of amusement, and Lightningstorm resisted the urge to laugh.

The apprentices started practicing. Lightningstorm went with Poppypaw, and Darkpaw went with Leafpaw. Lightningstorm reared up on his hind legs and prepared to smash down onto the tortoiseshell. Poppypaw darted around him and closed her mouth on his tail. She pulled it and Lightningstorm fell over onto the grassy terrain.

Poppypaw looked at him, eyes clouded with worry. “Are you okay?”

Lightningstorm grunted and stood up. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He didn’t want to seem weak in front of Poppypaw. He shook himself out, showering particles of dirt into the air.

He took a quick glance at the other apprentices and saw that they were quickly mastering the move. Not like it was that hard to do to begin with, he said to himself in his head. He had mastered much more complex moves in his training with Ripplestar and Silvermask. The two dark toms were ruthless fighters and seemed to know every technique and the best strategies for battle.

“Okay,” Mistfire said. “Here’s a more difficult move: the half-turn belly rake.” Too easy, thought Lightningstorm. He had easily mastered the move with the help of his shadowy trainers. Leafpaw leaned forward, intrigued by this new move. Darkpaw and Poppypaw watched with less interest; it was clear that they had already practiced this move with their mentors. Mistfire demonstrated the move on Oakclaw, sliding under the tom belly and pretending to slice through it. She then rolled over and arched her back from underneath him, pushing him away and onto the ground. “Think you can do that?” asked Mistfire. Leafpaw nodded vigorously. Darkpaw snorted. “Easy,” he boasted.

Leafpaw practiced the move with Darkpaw, attempting to copy Mistfire’s moves. He darted under Darkpaw’s belly and dealt several blows to the soft flesh with sheathed paws. After that, he tried to arch his back, but Darkpaw was too large and heavy for Leafpaw to dislodge.

“You did a great job,” encouraged Leafpaw’s mentor, Oakclaw. “Perhaps you could try darting out after you’ve attacked the opponent.” Leafpaw nodded determinedly.

“I’ll try it this time.” Leafpaw went under Darkpaw and attacked him, but this time, he rushed out from under him and performed the front paw slash.

Mistfire purred. “Good job!” she congratulated.

Darkpaw grunted. “That was clever,” he admitted grudgingly. Lightningstorm twitched his whiskers; he knew how much Darkpaw resented being beaten or outsmarted.

Leafpaw ducked his head modestly. “It was Oakclaw’s idea” he mumbled, clearly not wanting to take the credit for his mentor’s suggestion.

Oakclaw purred. “It might’ve been my idea, but you did the move brilliantly, and the forepaw slashes at the end was a good touch,” he praised. Leafpaw ducked his head even lower, embarrassed by all the attention he was getting.

Lightningstorm suddenly got a thought: what if he had an apprentice? He would become more experienced, gain more patience… And you’d be able to become deputy, hissed a voice inside his head. Ripplestar! Lightningstorm’s pelt prickled slightly with wariness. Power would be only a few pawsteps away!added another familiar voice. Lightningstorm recognized it as well. Silvermask. He suddenly felt a burning sensation inside of him, like hunger. It raced through his veins like blood, motivating him, pushing him towards his goal. But it wasn’t prey that was going to satisfy this hunger.

It was power.

Chapter 25 Edit

Lightningstorm stretched in the clearing, enjoying the greenleaf sunshine. Prey had been plentiful ever since the warm season came a quarter moon ago. He was exhausted by his training session in the dark woodland that he visited in his dreams, and he carried a new scar on his shoulder from a blow dealt by Silvermask. He was fortunate enough to not have been chosen for a dawn patrol, and even luckier to not have been told to go on an early hunting patrol. That had given the opportunity to sleep in longer.

He washed himself thoroughly, wiping his paw over his ears and smoothed down tufts of spiky fur on his pelt. He hastily cleaned up recent wounds he had obtained in last night’s training, hoping that his Clanmates wouldn’t notice the wounds he had. He washed off small beads of blood still dripping from his injuries and cleaned scars until they had lost their crimson tone and had been reduced to pale pink in color. He was about to continue grooming when he heard Marshflame called his name. “Lightningstorm!” the gray tom called.

Lightningstorm stopped washing and looked at the deputy, wondering what he had to tell him. He’s not going to tell me to go see Puddlespots, is he? thought Lightningstorm worriedly. Ever since he had started his midnight battle training in the shady forest as an apprentice, the medicine cat had always acted strangely around him, narrowing his eyes suspiciously and looking at him from the corner of his eye. It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong! he thought crossly. I’m just being taught how to be a better fighter! Okay, maybe the moves he was learning were a bit on the vicious side, but he would need them in case he ever crossed paths with a badger or an exceptionally skilled rogue.

“Lightningstorm, do you mind cleaning out the elders’ den?” he asked. Lightningstorm was dismayed. That’s even worse than having to visit Puddlespots!Having to take care of the elders was often considered a punishment among warriors. What did I ever do? he wondered.

“I know you might have better things to do,” the deputy apologized – I do, Lightningstorm thought – “but there’s not many apprentices in the Clan right now, and they have to focus on their assessments right now.”

“Why can’t one of the other new warriors do it?” he complained.

“If you haven’t noticed, they’re out helping their Clan by patrolling and hunting,” he responded pointedly. “And I don’t think that you cleaning up your fur is helping the Clan much right now.”

Good point, he thought grudgingly. “Okay, I’ll do it,” he replied, sighing.

“Okay, thanks.” Marshflame walked off to the side of the clearing and began talking to Jumpstar.

Lightningstorm groaned inwardly and began dragging his paws towards the elders’ den. Might as well get it done with, he thought glumly.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningstorm was rolling out old balls of dirty moss out of camp. He walked back to the elders’ den carrying fresh bedding in his jaws. He felt like stones were glued to his paws as he walked back to the den. He wished he could be hunting or patrolling instead of cleaning out a stinky den.

“I never thought I’d see that fox-heart again,” grumbled Thornstripe, flexing his claws.

“Who?” asked Scorchstorm, his ears pricked. Lightningstorm hoped they weren’t talking about him. It was bad enough wondering what was going on in Puddlespots’ head without having to wonder what the elders thought of him.

“Reddapple, who else?” snapped the black tom.

Lightningstorm’s interest was piqued. He had never heard of this cat before. “Who’s Reddapple?” Lightninstorm asked curiously.

“The red tom who was leading the rogues,” replied Goldenwind, her golden-and-white pelt fluffed up slightly. Oh, him! He recalled in the battle when he had fought a burly red tortoiseshell tom.

“If he’s a rogue, why does he have a Clan name?” he wondered aloud as he was setting the moss into the nests. He now felt fortunate that he was asked to clean out the nests so that he could listen to what the elders knew about the rogues.

“He has a Clan name because he was a former member of ShadowClan,” replied Scorchstorm who was removing a tick from the pelt of his mate, Goldenwind.

Wait, what?! Lightningstorm stopped and stared at the bright ginger elder, jaws gaping. “Reddapple used to be a Clan cat?”

“Shhh, keep your voice down!” the elder hissed. He drew his paw over his ear. “Yes, he was a Clan cat. He led a rebellion against ShadowClan, and then he got exiled.”

“Why would he do that?” Now Lightningstorm was confused.

“StarClan knows.” Scorchstorm shrugged. “A bunch of ShadowClan cats fought with Reddapple, and, after the battle, they got exiled too.”

Lightningstorm wished he could learn more than what the elders had to tell him; he was sure that this battle had a long history behind it, longer than he could’ve possibly imagined. He returned back to replacing moss, and the elders told him no more about the mysterious rogue.

+++++++++++++++

Lightningstorm munched on a mouse he was sharing with Hollowpaw. He crunched through a bone and savored the juicy flesh. Prey was plumper than ever now that it was greenleaf in ShadowClan. Hollowpaw chewed loudly and burped. “I wonder if we’re ever going to go back to our territory,” he mewed suddenly. He seemed wistful. Lightningstorm wondered how he would feel if he ever had to live away from his dear pine forest home. It probably feels terrible, he thought sympathetically.

As Lightningstorm buried the remains of the mouse in the dirtplace, he heard Jumpstar call the summon for a Clan Meeting: “Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey come gather beneath the Clanrock!”

Lightningstorm widened his eyes. What’s the meeting about? He twitched his whiskers and bounded over to the Clanrock where he sat with the rest of the ShadowClan and RiverClan, awaiting Jumpstar’s – or Brightstar’s – news.

Jumpstar cleared his throat before starting. “Brightstar, Splinterfang, Marshflame, and I have been discussing something, and we decided that RiverClan has been staying with ShadowClan for long enough.”

Gasps echoed across the clearing. “If they’re not staying with us, where are they going to go?” demanded Blackwhisker.

Newtstripe snorted. “If you ask me, I think that they’ve been living in our camp and eating our prey for too long,” she growled. Applepool lashed her tail and nodded.

Lightningstorm fluffed out his fur in dismay. Surely no one wants RiverClan to be driven out? But the more he looked around, the more heads he saw nodding to Newtstripe’s announcement. Tanglethorn flexed his claws in and out, staring at Jumpstar as though waiting for the command to drive out RiverClan. Crowtalon lashed his tail in agreement to the brown she-cat’s statement. Bumbletail hissed to display his anger, and Hollowpaw’s eyes widened. “They’re not really going to drive us out, are they?” he fretted.

Bumbletail cuffed the apprentice’s ear gently. “Of course not, I’m sure that Brightstar would never agree to that, and Jumpstar had always treated us fairly.” But even the silver tom didn’t seem completely reassured by his own words. I wonder who he’s trying to convince: Hollowpaw or himself? Lightningstorm thought.

But there were more cats who were protesting against the choice to drive out the RiverClan cats. “They’ve proved themselves worthy of shelter here many times over!” hissed Bloomflower, baring her teeth at her Clanmates. Scorchstorm nodded. “They’ve fought on our side against the rogues, and they’ve hunted for food for our young again and again. We should be showing thanks!” the ginger elder mewed, backing up Bloomflower’s argument. An apprentice named Icepaw sighed with relief. The RiverClan she-cat had clearly been worried about the possibility of exile like the rest of RiverClan.

Lightningstorm shifted his paws uneasily. I hope this doesn’t cause a division in the Clan. One side wanted RiverClan out, while another group voted for RiverClan to stay.If it did break out into a fight, which side would he choose?

Jumpstar clearly seemed fed up with the Clan’s bickering. “Silence!” he commanded. The cats stopped arguing and looked up at Jumpstar with wide eyes. “We’re not going to drive out RiverClan,” he hissed. He was obviously angry at the Clan for their hostility towards their visitors. “They’re going home.”

Leafpaw seemed confused. “Didn’t ThunderClan take control of their territory?” he asked. His question was echoed around the clearing. “Unless they’ve found a new home outside the territories?” muttered Rainblossom darkly. The clearing went silent. The RiverClan cats swallowed nervously. They won’t leave the forest, will they? There can’t be three Clans; there has always been four, and it should stay that way! thought Lightningstorm.

Jumpstar was clearly losing his patience. “Listen to what we have to tell you!” hissed Brightstar, eyes blazing. “We haven’t even finished the meeting, but you’re already gossiping about what will happen. Our solution is much simpler.” The two Clans went silent in anticipation for Brightstar’s answer to solve RiverClan’s problems.

Brightstar leaned forward and told the Clans her idea.

“We’ve decided that we’re going fight ThunderClan and take back what belongs to RiverClan.”

Chapter 26 Edit

Dawnwind flexed her claws. ShadowClan and RiverClan were going to fight ThunderClan! Many others also seemed excited. The RiverClan cats’ eyes gleamed with hope at the thought of returning to their home of rivers and reeds. ShadowClan, however, seemed more enthusiastic about going to fight ThunderClan. “We’ll put those mouse-hearts right where they belong,” snarled Newtstripe, who, moments before, had been eager to chase out the RiverClan cats. Swallowsong lashed her tail. Flametooth unsheathed his claws. Everyone seemed to be excited for the battle. Even Dawnwind felt her fur bristle in excitement.

Jumpstar lifted his tail for silence, trying to calm the ones who were yowling enthusiastically at the news of the plan to attack. “We’re going to attack in two days at sunhigh,” he informed. “We’re going to on combat training for the next two days, and we’re going to lessen the border patrols – about one patrol per day.”

The news about the border patrols created some murmurs of worry. Flametooth asked, “But if we lower our guard on the borders, what if WindClan decides to attack us?”

Jumpstar acknowledged the question with a flick of his tail. “It’s only going to be for two days,” the black-and-brown tom reassured. “Besides, WindClan hasn’t shown any recent signs of aggression; they’re probably more worried about ThunderClan taking over their camp, anyways.”

Jumpstar and Brightstar leapt off the Clanrock, ending the Clan meeting. A crowd of cats surrounded Mrashflame who was organizing hunting and border patrols and training sessions. Some cats broke away and chatted in small groups, discussing the attack on ThunderClan. Dawnwind was about to join the crowd when she heard Brightstar call, “Dawnwind!” The brown she-cat turned around and saw the RiverClan leader approaching her, her tail waving. Dawnwind’s ears pricked. “What is it?” she asked.

“Well,” Brightstar started off, “Jumpstar noticed that your mentors didn’t take you to the Moonstone before you became warriors. Since him and I are going there right now to share with StarClan, we thought that right now would be a good time to bring you two.” Dawnwind’s eyes widened. The Moonstone!Before becoming a warrior, every apprentice had to visit the legendary, shining stone with their mentors. As much as she was excited, she felt a tiny flicker of doubt. Why was the leader of RiverClan telling her this, and not her own leader? “Where’s Jumpstar?” she asked, the hint of a challenge in her voice.

“He’s over there, telling Lightningstorm and Hollowpaw,” she responded. The white she-cat flicked her ears over to the fresh-kill pile where Jumpstar was deep in conversation with Lightningstorm and Hollowpaw. Lightningstorm tried to hide his eagerness for the adventure, but it was betrayed by his gleaming yellow eyes. Hollowpaw was even less successful at hiding his overjoy; his brown pelt was all fluffed up and his green eyes twinkled with delight.

Brightstar flicked her tail towards the medicine den. “Puddlespots and Goldenpaw are preparing the traveling herbs,” she mewed, “so you might want to pick yours up.”

Dawnwind started walking to the den, but then stopped. “Are you going to pick up your herbs?” Dawnwind questioned, looking at the RiverClan leader.

Brightstar shook her head. “A Clan leader may not eat anything before sharing with StarClan,” she explained.

Dawnwind winced inwardly. She must’ve sharpened Brightstar’s hunger even more by reminding her of her restriction to eat. She awkwardly mewed, “Oh,” and continued to walk towards Puddlespots’ den.

She peeked her head inside the den. “Hello?” She looked around the den, and she saw Goldenpaw and Puddlepots treating her father, Pinebranch, in a corner of the den. She gasped.

Pinebranch was in terrible shape; the wound on his forehead was black and red with dried blood. The scratches across his fur were oozing pus. His body was nearly completely covered in cobwebs. He stank of infection. He was as skinny as a WindClan cat; Dawnwind could see his ribs jutting out from his body. She felt Goldenpaw beside her. “He hasn’t been able to eat anything for days,” she murmured sadly. Dawnwind felt her heart skip a beat. “He’s not going to make it, is he?” she whispered softly.

Goldenpaw blinked back at her with sympathetic eyes. “We’re doing all we can,” she comforted. But it not enough, thought Dawnwind miserably.

Puddlespots wrapped his tail around her shoulders. “There’s always a small chance, a tiny glimmer of hope,” he meowed softly. “Your father was always strong. I’ve known him long enough to know that he never gives up without a fight, and this is no different.”

Dawnwind still didn’t feel relieved. She knew that Puddlespots and Goldenpaw didn’t believe that Pinebranch would make it. Herbs and rest weren’t going to make him better. They knew it. I know it. She sunk her head into her father’s pelt, something she hadn’t done since she was a kitten. She felt him purr. It wasn’t very loud, but she felt it, a faint vibration that broke the silence of the medicine den. She whispered, “I love you,” and picked up her herbs. She took a final glance at her father’s body and walked outside.

++++++++++++++++++++

Jumpstar flicked his tail. “Ready?”

Dawnwind looked at the cats going to the Moonstone: Hollowpaw, Bumbletail, Brightstar, Jumpstar, and Lightningstorm. Her whiskers twitched. I think this is the most amount of cats to go to the Moonstone at once in the history of the Clans! she thought amusedly to herself. The amusement was short-lived; the knowledge that her father was on the brink of death spoiled the excitement of the entire trip for her. Lightningstorm didn’t seem subdued at all; he clearly didn’t share the burden of knowing that their father could be making the trip to StarClan at any moment. At least if he dies, I might see him at the Moonstone,thought Dawnwind. The thought did little to comfort her.

“Okay,” Jumpstar mewed. “Let’s go.”

The two Clan leaders led the way to the Moonstone. Dawnwind accidentally tripped on a protruding stick. “Frog-dung!” she muttered to herself. She lifted the injured paw slightly off the ground. She focused her gaze back in front of her. She noticed the Jumpstar didn’t seem like his normal quiet, confident self; it was as though a dark raincloud hung over him, making his shoulders slump and his tail droop. Dawnwind suspected that it was because of Pinebranch. Dawnwind’s father was also Jumpstar’s brother. When Pinebranch departed, the ShadowClan leader would likely suffer the loss as much as her.

Stop assuming that Pinebranch is going to die! she scolded herself. There’s always a small chance, a tiny glimmer of hope. Puddlespots’ words echoed in her ears. We’re doing all we can. Goldenpaw’s voice joined in with Puddlespots’. Dawnwind felt a feeling of calm rush over her. ShadowClan couldn’t have better medicine cats than the small golden she-cat and the elderly gray-and-white tom.

Hollowpaw was jabbering like a bird. “Wow, I can’t believe that I’m almost a warrior! I wonder who I’ll see at the Moonstone! Probably a StarClan cat, or maybe I’m going to get a vision! I can’t believe I passed my assessment, though! I was trying to catch a frog, but it leaped away into a pond, so I had to swim for it-“

Bumbletail flicked the apprentice’s ear with his tail to quiet him down. “I’m glad you’re enthusiastic,” he teased good-humoredly, “but I might have to ask Brightstar to hold off your warrior ceremony if you lose your voice.”

Hollowpaw squeaked in dismay. “Sorry, I’m just so happy that you agreed to make me a warrior, I’m was so scared that you wouldn-“

“Okay, just be quiet,” huffed his mentor, more serious this time. “Or else I might really have to hold off the ceremony.” Hollowpaw closed his jaws tight, his eyes wide with apprehension. Brightstar twitched her whiskers and Dawnwind stifled a snort of laughter.

The rest of the journey was in near silence. The moon had risen into the night sky, shining over ShadowClan’s marshy territory. A chilly night breeze was blowing from the direction of WindClan’s territory. Dawnwind fluffed out her fur. The rest of the patrol did the same. Not far now, Dawnwind encouraged herself. She could see Mothermouth on the other side of the Thunderpath. Jumpstar held up his tail, signalling the patrol to stop.

“Listen,” Jumpstar ordered. “Brightstar is going to show you all how to cross the Thunderpath. So pay attention.” The ShadowClan leader nodded to Brightstar. “Okay, so you look both ways of the Thunderpath first,” Brightstar advised, “and you put your paw down on the path to see check for any vibrations made by the monsters.” The RiverClan leader looked both ways, and then set her paw down on the black path. Dawnwind wrinkled her nose as she caught a whiff of stale monster. Her attention was cut off of the path as Brightstar continued speaking.

“So if there are no signs of monsters,” the leader continued, “you just cross the path as quickly as you can.” She sprinted across the black road, kicking up dust behind her. A few moments after she had reached the other side, a large shape zoomed past. Dawnwind flinched as it blew dust and debris into her face and pelt. A monster! Shock caused her fur to fluff up and her eyes to widen. She exhale, and she suddenly realized that she had been holding her breath.

“Alright,” Jumpstar mewed, ”who’s going next?”

Hollowpaw volunteered almost instantly. “Ooh, me, me!” Dawnwind held back the urge to snort in incredulity. One day, his eagerness is going to kill him, she thought scornfully. Or maybe you’re just being cowardly, countered another voice in her head. Puddlespots’ words flashed back to her head. “Your father was always strong. I’ve known him long enough to know that he never gives up without a fight, and this is no different,” the medicine cat had said. Dawnwind suddenly felt guilty for mocking Hollowpaw. He has more courage than you – a warrior – have right now!

Jumpstar turned Dawnwind’s attention away from the voices in her head, mewing to Hollowpaw, “Okay, but you have to go with your mentor.” Hollowpaw opened his mouth to protest. “But-“

“No ‘buts’,” snapped Jumpstar in reply. “Just do as I say.”

Hollowpaw seemed mutinous, but he didn’t protest again. He stood on the edge of the Thunderpath with his mentor, Bumbletail. Hollowpaw scouted the road for monsters while Bumbletail tested the ground for vibrations. “Okay,” Hollowpaw’s mentor commanded, “go!

Hollowpaw dashed across the path, his brown fur a dark blur. Bumbletail crossed in a more controlled fashion; he trotted at a steady pace, controlling his speed, quite the contrary to Hollowpaw’s crazed dash on the path.

“I’ll go next,” announced Dawnwind suddenly. She wanted to get the crossing over with as quickly as possible. She checked for all the signs, and then jogged to the other side. That was a lot easier than I thought! “You made it!” purred Bumbletail.

Soon after, Lightningstorm crossed, followed by Jumpstar. “If we can hurry,” Jumpstar mewed, observing the moon, “we should be able to make it a bit early, and have time to catch a few bites to eat.” The ShadowClan leader was clearly pleased with their progress.

Brightstar led the rest of the way to the Moonstone. She walked at a swift pace. The stars gleamed silently overhead. Is Pinebranch up there now, watching us? She shook out her fur. Don’t think about that now.

Before long, the patrol had reached Mothermouth. Dawnwind’s eyes grew wide. The cave entrance revealed a black void inside it. It was like a huge mouth of stone. No wonder it’s called Mothermouth!

She flopped over and wearily licked her pelt. She had been unaware of how tired she had been until now. But her rest was short-lived. Jumpstar was pacing and meowed impatiently, “We should get a move on.” His mew was had an irritated edge to it. “The moon’s almost above the cavern.”

Dawnwind immediately leaped to her paws, her body suddenly full of excitement, like a kit outside on their first day of snow. “Well, what are we waiting for?” she mewed impatiently, excited as well as nervous to share dreams with StarClan.

“We were waiting for you,” Brightstar replied pointedly. Dawnwind shuffled her paws embarrassedly, wishing that she could sink into the ground, away from the leader’s scathing stare. “But since you’re ready, I suppose we can go.”

The RiverClan leader took the lead. “Don’t lose sight of us,” she warned. “Use your ears and whiskers for guidance.”

Dawnwind wandered into the pitch-black cavern. Her breathing quickened, and she followed Jumpstar’s tail-tip. The path to the Moonstone was stony, wearing out her pads. The cave suddenly opened up, the air become cooler. Dawnwind looked around but saw nothing but blackness. She could see the stars through a hole in the roof of the cave, but that was all. “What happens now?” she hissed, impatient.

Jumpstar blinked calmly. “We wait,” he answered simply.

What kind of answer is tha-

Dawnwind gasped.

The moon shined down directly through the hole of the cave, its rays lighting up the cave and an enormous rock in its center. “The Moonstone,” she breathed. The cave was suddenly well-lit, and Dawnwind could see all of her companions: Lightningstorm, Hollowpaw, Bumbletail, Brightstar, and Jumpstar.

“Sit in front of the stone and touch your nose to it,” whispered Bumbletail, nodding to the shining rock.

Dawnwind shuffled forward hesitantly, and gasped as her nose made contact with the freezing stone. Beside her, Lightningstorm leaned forward to touch the rock.

“Now what?” Dawnwind asked.

“Sleep, and StarClan will come,” replied Jumpstar. His jaws parted in a yawn; he must’ve already started to doze off. Soon after, faint snoring echoed throughout the cavern of the Moonstone.

Dawnwind closed her eyes, and plunged into the deep sleep.

She awoke with a gasp, and she was surrounded with groups of fighting cats. Next to her, an enemy was trying to sink its teeth into the neck of Icepaw, a RiverClan apprentice. But Dawnwind’s eyes sought out one cat in particular: Lightningstorm. Where is he? she thought, panicking.

Then she saw him.

He was struggling under the weight of a heavy, red tom. Lightningstorm was thrashing in an attempt to escape, but the red tom was too heavy. His enemy bared his teeth, and then sliced his claws through his neck, all the way down to his stomach. He then swooped in to crunch on his neck. The snap of bone echoed through the clearing, ringing in Dawnwind’s ears. She stared in shock as her brother laid dead on the ground, eyes wide, teeth bared. A tail-tip touched her shoulder, and she turned around to see a face she hadn’t seen since she had been an apprentice.

Runningpaw.

The brown-and-gray tom glanced at Lightningstorm’s body, and then at her, sorrow darkening his gaze. “I’m sorry, but I can’t change his destiny.”

Chapter 27 Edit

Lightningstorm looked around in the dark. The leaders had led him, Hollowpaw, Dawnwind, and Bumbletail into the cave of the Moonstone. But where’s the stone? Isn’t supposed to be super huge and really bright?

“What happens now?” demanded Dawnwind.

“We wait,” answered Jumpstar calmly.

Lightningstorm felt frustration course through him. The visit to the Moonstone was supposed to be more majestic and exhilarating than this! He scraped the stone floor in front of him, waiting for something mythical and amazing to happen. Heartbeats passed, but they felt like moons of waiting.

Suddenly, something amazing happened.

The brilliant, white moon shined through the hole in the ceiling of the cave. The ray of moonlight struck the Moonstone. It lit up the stone and the light bounced of its hard surface, illuminating the cave and making darkness disappear like brittle leaves in a fire. Lightningstorm’s eyes widened until they were as huge as lakes full of water. Wow, that was awesome! He felt as wonderstruck as an apprentice witnessing the world beyond the camp walls for the first time. Next to him, Hollowpaw let out of breath of awe.

Lightningstorm shuffled forward and touched the shining stone with his nose. The cold surface sent an icy shock throughout his body. He heard Dawnwind ask, “Now what?” Sleep, Lightningstorm thought. He had heard countless stories from the elders about what happened at the Moonstone. He tucked his paws beneath him and curled his tail around his body. Shutting his eyelids, he began to dive into a deep sleep.

He awoke in a twinkly version of ShadowClan; marshes, pine trees, and bogs were scattered across the terrain. The sky was clear, the sun shining down onto wide fields of grass, making a perfect sunning spot for a StarClan warrior. Prey was scurrying in every bush and patch of grass, tempting Lightningstorm and making his mouth water. The scent of warm prey flooded his nostrils, inviting him to hunt.

He crouched down into the ground, setting his eyes onto a plump frog. The amphibian seemed completely unaware that it was doomed to the claws of a hunter. Lightningstorm waggled his rump and pounced, his powerful leg muscles pushing him forward. The frog bunched its own legs to leap away, but Lightningstorm brought his paws onto it and crunched its spine. The creature discontinued its struggle and gave one final twitch before laying limp. Lightningstorm purred, hunger rumbling in his belly.

He unsheathed his claws to peel off the frog’s skin. He buried it, digging a hole in the ground and covering it up with moist dirt. He sank his teeth into the frog’s flesh, the meat tasting juicy and succulent in his mouth. Once his had devoured the last scrape of meat, he dug out another hole in the damp ground and hid the frog’s carcass. Thank you, StarClan, for that delicious meal! Once he buried the remains of his prey, his belly’s yowls of hunger were quieted, satisfied with his plump meal. StarClan cats are lucky; they always have it easy! He looked around the ShadowClan-like territory. Surely there must be more to this dream than just feasting on the juicy, rich prey of StarClan’s hunting grounds? Maybe I’m only going to find the StarClan cats if I search for them.Blackwhisker’s words rang in his ears: “The prey isn’t going to leap into your paws; you’re going to have to go and get it.”

He searched in the marshes, fields, and pine trees. He finally found a dark-furred tom, his green eyes gleaming in the dark. Lightningstorm recognized the tom immediately.

Pinebranch!

Lightningstorm felt sick in his stomach. His father couldn’t be dead! He can’t be!

Pinebranch gazed at his son with sad eyes. “I’m sorry, Lightningstorm,” he murmured, “but it was my time to die.”

Lightningstorm bowed his head miserably. “No, it wasn’t! I could’ve stayed with you, or Puddlespots and Goldenpaw could’ve given you better treatment, or-“

Pinebranch shook his head. “Nothing could’ve changed that, Lightningstorm. Puddlespots and Goldenpaw did their best; the Clan is lucky to have such good medicine cats. RiverClan’s medicine cat helped me too. I was just beyond treatment. Besides,” he added, “I’d rather be here, away from all the battles and sickness. Being able to accept the death of a loved one is the strongest thing anyone can do.”

Lightningstorm sighed. If that’s the strongest thing anyone can do, I can’t do it.

“There’s another reason why I‘m here, too,” Pinebranch continued.

Lightningstorm’s grief was quickly swept away by curiosity. “What is it?” he asked.

Pinebranch gazed back with dark eyes. “I have a warning to give you.”

Lightningstorm shifted his paws anxiously. “A warning?”

Pinebranch nodded. “Yes, a warning,” he replied. “Don’t become so caught up in your quest to become leader that you forget why you want leadership in the first place.” Lightningstorm was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Pinebranch gazed back without giving him an answer. “I know you’ll become a great leader one day, but you must be wary of who you trust.” Lightningstorm became even more perplexed. “What-“

Before he could finish his question, he woke up in front of the Moonstone. Lightningstorm twitched his tail, frustrated. What does Pinebranch mean by “be wary of who you trust?”

Next to him, Dawnwind suddenly woke up. Her fur was on end and her eyes were wide open as though she had experienced a terrifying nightmare. Lightningstorm looked at her worriedly. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Dawnwind’s eyes glimmered with relief as she saw her brother. “Yeah, I’m okay,” she answered. She stood up and shook out her pelt, spraying particles and dust everywhere.

Lightningstorm hissed good-naturedly. “Watch it!” he snapped in mock anger. His sister’s pelt was all fluffed up once she had had a good shaking. Lightningstorm purred in amusement. “You look like a porcupine!” he teased. Even though amusement bubbled inside him, he was still confused by Pinebranch’s warning. He still didn’t understand what he meant by “be wary of who you trust”.

Who am I trusting that I should be wary of?

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningstorm returned to camp with Jumpstar, Brightstar, Bumbletail, Hollowpaw, and Dawnwind. The sun was climbing into the bright, blue sky by the time they returned. Lightningstorm caught a whiff of the smell of freshly-caught prey. He set his sights on the pile and his stomach growled. Rats!

Marshflame ran to greet the patrol returning from the Moonstone. “While you were away, I thought I would organize a hunting patrol to go to the Carrionplace,” the deputy explained.

Jumpstar nodded his thanks. “That was a good idea. I’m starving!” But instead of heading towards the freshly-stocked prey pile, he bounded up onto the Clanrock. Lightningstorm’s belly growled, but he held back the urge to snatch a rat off the pile and wolf it down. I can wait, he told himself. He wondered what Jumpstar and Brightstar had to say.

Brightstar called the announcement for a Clan Meeting. “Everyone old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Clanrock!”

Most of the Clan was already in the clearing, stretching after a nap or sharing tongues after a patrol. Mossberry peeked out of the nursery, her belly swaying beneath her. That one must be expecting! Lightningstorm thought amusedly. It was good news. ShadowClan hadn’t had new kits for a while, and with Leafpaw, Poppypaw, and Darkpaw almost done with their assessments, the Clan would be devoid of apprentices.

Poppypaw rushed to sit next to Lightningstorm. “I wonder what the meeting is about,” she mused. Lightningstorm shrugged.

Brightstar stared down at the ShadowClan and RiverClan cats. “Jumpstar and I have just visited the Moonstone, and they have bestowed wisdom upon us for the battle. And I’m pleased to say that tomorrow, we attack ThunderClan!”

Excited cheers rang out across the hollow. Tails lashed, claws ripped out grass, and teeth were bared in anticipation. Lightningstorm twitched his tail in excitement. I hope I get to fight ThunderClan! I’ll make Ripplestar proud of me!

Jumpstar purred. “But that’s tomorrow. Today, we feast!” The leaders leaped off the Clanrock and gathered around the pile. Jumpstar threw pieces of prey to everyone’s paws. Lightningstorm’s whiskers twitched with satisfaction. Everyone will eat well tonight. His eyes twinkled as Brightstar threw a juicy-looking rat to his paws. Poppypaw nudged him. “I’m assuming that you’re going to share that?” she purred.

“Of course,” replied Lightningstorm good-humoredly. He nudged the rat closer to Poppypaw. He dug his teeth into the rat and he devoured the piece of juicy flesh. At the back of his mind, Pinebranch’s warning still plagued him, but he wasn’t thinking about that now.

This is where I want to be. In ShadowClan, with my Clanmates. With Poppypaw.

Chapter 28 Edit

It’s today!

The fact that she had a chance to be in the patrol to attack ThunderClan seemed to make her muscles awaken faster and her ears to go on the alert much quicker. My body is ready! Even though she was filled with anticipation, she couldn’t help but yawn tiredly and give her ear a good scratch. Okay, now I’m ready!

She exited the warriors’ den and scanned the clearing. Some cats were already awake and were either pacing the clearing or awaiting instructions from Marshflame and Splinterfang, the RiverClan deputy. Dawnwind stretched out in the clearing, relishing the warm greenleaf sunshine that warmed her pelt. Lightningstorm came out of the warriors’ den to join her. “Are you excited?” he asked, his voice high-pitch like a kit’s. Despite his keen tone, his pelt had fresh scars on them, some still damp with blood, as though he had already fought the ThunderClan cats. Dawnwind narrowed her eyes. Should she tell Puddlespots? She decided against it. Lightningstorm would never forgive her if she made him miss what would likely be the battle of his life.

“You bet!” she responded eagerly. She shredded the grass in front on her, yanking out green blades and dirt still wet with dew. “I can’t wait to get my paws on a Thundercat!” she declared.

Lightningstorm narrowed his eyes. “I wonder if Palestar will stop setting his sights on RiverClan’ territory after we attack his Clan,” he mused.

Dawnwind stared back with wide eyes. “He has to!” If he doesn’t, though, she thought to herself darkly, ShadowClan will make him stop.

Lightningstorm shrugged. “Tabbies don’t change their stripes. I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to trust that ThunderClan tyrant.”

Dawnwind began to wash. “We’ll make sure he gets the message.” She tugged at a knot in her brown fur.

“Cats of ShadowClan and RiverClan!”

Dawnwind stopped mid-lick, her tongue still sticking out. Jumpstar had leaped onto the Clanrock, Brightstar close behind. Dawnwind rushed to the base of the Clanrock, eager to hear what they had to say. Lightningstorm and Darkpaw were seated next to her, clearly just as excited.

“Today, we attack ThunderClan!” Brightstar announced.

Cheers broke out from the ShadowClan and RiverClan cats. We’re totally going to shred those Thundercats! Dawnwind sank her claws deep into the grass. “Jumpstar and I have decided who’s going to go and fight,” continued the RiverClan leader, her white pelt shining in the sunshine. Dawnwind’s tail lashed. Please pick me! she thought despairingly.

“In my patrol,” mewed Jumpstar, “we’re going to have Bumbletail, Hollowpaw, Mistfire, Darkpaw…”

And me?

“…Swallowsong, and Flametooth.”

Dawnwind unsheathed her claws angrily. I better be in another patrol. Next to her, Darkpaw’s pelt fluffed up in happiness. Lucky little frog, she thought enviously. This would be the young tom’s second battle. And he’s not even a warrior yet!

Brightstar stepped to the front of the rock as Jumpstar leaped off and gather his patrol. Darkpaw raced towards the leader quickly, leaving dust in his wake. I hope I don’t have to put up with his bragging when he comes back.

Brightstar mewed, “In my patrol, I’m going to take Oakclaw, Leafpaw, Lizardpelt, Poppypaw, Wildwater, and Icepaw.”

And not me? Dawnwind thought in irritation. At least I might be included in the deputies’ patrols. She saw Wildwater, a ragged RiverClan tom, shambling over to Brightstar. Well, I’m glad I’m not on the same patrol as him. Wildwater always had a sharp tongue for anyone who annoyed him. From Dawnwind’s experience, he wasn’t the greatest cat to be around.

Marshflame jumped onto the Clanrock as Brightstar gathered up the rest of her patrol. “Okay, so in my patrol, it’s going to be Troutwhisker, Hollybird, Creekshade, Sparrowwhisker, Lightningstorm, and Tanglethorn.”

Dawnwind hissed angrily. Lightningstorm gets to go, but I don’t? Lightningstorm gave a small bounce of excitement. “You don’t have to look so happy!” she snapped. Lightningstorm gave her a look of sympathy. “Come on, there’s a chance that you might make it onto Splinterfang’s patrol!” he encouraged. Dawnwind glowered. I doubt it.

Splinterfang leaped onto the Clanrock. “The cats in my patrol are going to be Boulderfall, Driftblaze, Nightberry, and Talonscar.”

What?! Dawnwind’s jaw dropped in outrage; she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t been chosen to go and fight. Many unselected cats did the same, Bloomflower among them. Lightningstorm nudged her slightly. “They probably didn’t pick you because if you came, you’d be able to win the battle before anybody actually got to fight,” he joked. Dawnwind continued to scowl; she wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

“Everybody who was chosen, follow me!” declared Brightstar. She led the way out of camp, the battle patrols tagging close behind. Lightningstorm pressed his nose into his sister’s shoulder. “Bye, Dawnwind!” he mewed. “I’ll make sure I bring back some ThunderClan fur to line your nest!” he jested.

Dawnwind purred in amusement. “Bye, Lightningstorm,” she replied affectionately. “Beat the whiskers off of those Thundercats!”

Lightningstorm gave her a parting lick on the shoulder before rushing off to join the rest of Marshflame’s patrol. Puddelspots followed him, a few herbs secured in his jaws. Dawnwind gazed around the camp, wondering what to do.

“Why not some of us go on a hunting patrol?” suggested Blackwhisker, one of the experienced warriors left in camp. “I’m sure the battle patrols will appreciate a feast when they come back, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who wants a chance to stretch their claws.”

Dawnwind rumbled in approval. “I’d like to join!” she volunteered.

“Me too!” Bloomflower joined in.

“I’d like to come, too!” A young RiverClan she-cat named Frostwind chimed in.

Blackwhisker nodded. “So that makes four of us. Let’s go!”

Dawnwind began a swift trot after Blackwhisker. The black-and-white tom led the way through the forest. He led the patrol to a bog with a few sprouting pine trees littered around. “Okay, let’s split up,” Blackwhisker declared. “We’ll catch more prey and if we stick together in one big group, we’ll end up scaring all the prey away.” Dawnwind nodded. That makes sense. “May I hunt with Bloomflower?” she asked.

Blackwhisker nodded in reply. “Sure. I’ll go with Frostwind.” He beckoned to the silver-and-white she-cat with his tail and headed deeper into the pine woods. “Once you think you’ve caught enough, head back to camp!” he ordered.

Dawnwind scanned the marshes for frogs and lizards. Bloomflower did the same. “I can’t remember the last time I was able to just relax and hunt with one of my kits,” Bloomflower sighed happily. Dawnwind purred in contentment. “Me neither.” But she felt a small chasm of sadness in her heart that she would never be able to do the same with her father.

Dawnwind heard the croak of a frog nearby. She turned to her right and saw the two creatures hopping about a fox-length away. Dawnwind signaled to Bloomflower with her tail, but her mother had already detected the soon-to-be fresh-kill. She made a wide circle around to block off the frogs’ escape route. One of the frogs spotted Bloomflower and hopped in the other direction, towards Dawnwind. Dawnwind lashed her tail before leaping and landing squarely onto the frog’s neck before finishing it with a swift crunch to the neck. The other frog sprang away in a panic, but Bloomflower had repositioned herself to block off the frog’s path. She slammed a paw onto the amphibian before swooping in to bite down on the creature’s spine.

Dawnwind purred, satisfied with the catch. “This’ll make a tasty treat for the elders,” she purred.

Bloomflower nodded in agreement. “Let’s bring it back to them to them while they’re still warm,” her mother urged.

Dawnwind and Bloomflower rushed back to camp, their frogs bobbing up and down in their jaws. Dawnwind peeked into the elders’ den. The elders were huddled together, quietly discussing the battle. “Hello?” Dawnwind mewed.

Goldenwind’s ears pricked. “Dawnwind!” the golden-and-white she-cat greeted. “Come on in!” Dawnwind was warmed by the elder’s warm welcome. “Bloomflower and I caught these for you all.” Dawnwind dropped the frog at the elders’ paws. Bloomflower did the same.

Thornstripe’s tummy rumbled. “They’re very welcome,” he remarked, licking his lips greedily.

Scorchstorm butted his denmate. “They said it’s for us all, not just for you,” he pointed out. Goldenwind rolled her eyes. “Greedy old Thornstripe,” she teased.

“Well, we’ll leave you to enjoy your meal,” mewed Bloomflower. She backed away and Dawnwind followed her. “Thank you for the meal!” Scorchstorm called after them. Dawnwind wondered what to do now that she was done hunting. Only a few cats were scattered around the clearing, most of them sharing tongues. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted two shapes slinking out of camp. She recognized them in a heartbeat. Rainblossom and Crowtalon! Dawnwind’s thoughts ran rapidly throughout her brain. It was bad enough that one of her Clanmates had turned traitor, but were the rogues so appealing to her Clanmates that two of them were lured into their evil plots? Dawnwind wasted no time following her two Clanmates.

They rolled into marshes to disguise their scent and continued their quick pace. Dawnwind had nearly been noticed when she stepped on a pine twig, but when Crowtalon turned around, she dived behind a tree trunk. Eventually, they reached a thicket of pine trees far beyond the ShadowClan border. The dense growth of pine trees oozed rogue scent. They entered inside and Dawnwind waited inside a bush, waiting to see what would happen next. Eventually, Crowtalon came out and was leading a band of rogues. Dawnwind was horrified to see how many and at how powerful and muscular they were.

StarClan, no! They can’t be attacking the camp!

Chapter 29 Edit

Lightningstorm followed Marshflame’s gray pelt through the marshes and pine forest. Lightningstorm blinked, unsurprised, as the ShadowClan deputy brought his battle patrol to the Thunderpath tunnel. It was a lengthy tunnel that stretched all the way under the Thunderpath. There were two tunnels; one led to Fourtrees, another to WindClan territory. The main edge that the Thunderpath tunnels had were being able to travel across the Thunderpath without having to risk death being crushed under the gargantuan paws of a monster. Behind Marshflame’s battle patrol was the battle patrol of Splinterfang, the RiverClan deputy.

“All right,” Tanglethorn mewed gruffly, confronting the ShadowClan deputy. “What’s the plan?”

Marshflame slashed some shapes in the ground. “The plan is,” he instructed, “that we’re going to cross the Thunderpath via the tunnel, and then we’re going to invade the ThunderClan camp.” Marshflame drew a cross in the ground representing the ThunderClan camp. Behind Lightningstorm, a warrior named Boulderfall peered over his shoulder to get a better look at the deputy’s sketch. “Meanwhile, Brightstar and Jumpstar’s patrols are going to invade the RiverClan camp.” Marshflame stabbed his claw in the ground, marking the RiverClan camp. “If Palestar’s not in the ThunderClan camp, then we go force one of the Thundercats to tell us where Palestar is. The goal is to find Palestar and make it clear that RiverClan and ShadowClan is taking no more despotism from him. If he dares to pull off another crazy attack, we attack ThunderClan relentlessly until he gives it up. Sound good?”

Tanglethorn nodded, and so did Lightningstorm. “Sounds good,” his Clanmate agreed. Next to him, the rest of the patrol nodded their agreement. Lightningstorm flexed his claws at the memory of defeating the former ThunderClan deputy, Hawkeyes, when he was only an apprentice. If I could do that, I can do anything!

Marshflame headed into the Thunderpath tunnel. His head disappeared into shadow. Lightningstorm gulped nervously. He had never felt comfortable going into the underpass.. He reluctantly walked into the tunnel, aware of tetchy grunts behind him. His breathing quickened; it felt as though the walls of the tunnel were closing in on him, trapping him, swallowing him…

“Get a move on!” Hollybird snapped irritably behind him. Lightningstorm was washed over with embarrassment. I train every night in my sleep, I defeated the ThunderClan deputy when I was an apprentice, but I’m scared of a tunnel? Lightningstorm force himself to push his paws onward, guiding himself using Marshflame’s scent. Lightningstorm was relieved when he finally made it out on the other side of the tunnel. Fresh air filled his mouth. The sensation of being confined in the underground passage was long-forgotten as he inhaled the clear air, far different from the dense, warm air he was breathing in while in the Thunderpath tunnel. Behind him, the rest of the patrol emerged from the shadowy passage. Once Splinterfang, the RiverClan deputy, had counted all the cats, he nodded. “Let’s keep going,” he urged. “Before a patrol catches us.”

The yellow tom took the lead, weaving through the dense undergrowth. Lightningstorm found it hard to keep up. Once or twice he tripped on a jutting branch, and he nearly injured his paws when he stepped inside a rabbit’s burrow. He furrowed his brow. This was more challenging than he had originally thought. His companions seemed to be having the same difficulties; Hollybird hissed as she steeped on a thorn, and Sparrowwhisker, a RiverClan she-cat, cursed to herself as she got poked by a branch. I hope that the Thundercats are easier to beat than a few brambles!

Lightningstorm shook off his misgivings. Like a few branches were going to hinder their progress! He urged himself onward, ignoring the stabbing pains of thorns and setting his sights on Spinterfang’s bright yellow pelt. The RiverClan tom led the way through the undergrowth, ignoring the protruding limbs and thorns.

Eventually, Splinterfang halted so suddenly that Lightningstorm nearly crashed into him. Splinterfang looked behind him. “We’re here,” he hissed quietly. A ThunderClan sentry peered out from within the camp. His eyes widened so far that Lightningstorm could observe the whites. Hi jaws opened to call an alert, but Splinterfang cut him off. “ATTACK!” he roared.

Splinterfang burst through, followed by the rest of the patrol. He leaped onto the ThunderClan guard who Lightningstorm identified as Snowstorm, a white tom who Lightningstorm had once encountered on patrol as an apprentice. He scanned the clearing and looked around for enemies. He was surprised to see that the hollow was quite empty; only a few defenders were left to secure the camp.

Lightningstorm locked his gaze onto a tom named Hickoryheart and pounced. The burly brown tom snarled furiously and flailed wildly; Lightningstorm had to rear his head to avoid being slaughtered. He lashed out a paw, striking Hickoryheart on the nose. The ThunderClan cat yowled in fury and slammed into Lightningstorm, making him reel backwards. The tom dived forward and knocked Lightningstorm to the ground. Lightningstorm struggled to protect his exposed underbelly from Hickoryheart’s wild onslaughts.

Suddenly, Nightberry clasped onto Hickoryheart’s shoulders with sharp claws and hauled him backwards. Hickoryheart let out a mrrrrow! of surprise and pain as he tumbled backwards. Nightberry slashed her claws across his cheek while Hickoryheart struggled to escape the black she-cat’s powerful grip.

Lightningstorm was about to join her, but then he realized that almost all of the ThunderClan cats had surrendered. Most of the enemies were outnumbered two-to-one, and quite a few were pinned down. Lightningstorm gazed around the clearing. What now?

He heard the sound of spluttering and choking. He turned around, expecting to see one of his Clanmates being strangled by their opponent. Instead, he saw Splinterfang restraining Snowstorm by pinning him down by the throat. The white tom was thrashing beneath the deputy’s weight. Splinterfang dug in his claws. “Where’s Palestar?” he grilled. Snowstorm continued to pant beneath him. “Where?” Splinterfang growled, more forcefully this time. His claws were beginning to pierce the white tom’s neck fur.

Marshflame padded forward. “Hold on, Splinterfang,” he ordered. “Let him speak.” Splinterfang reluctantly lessen his force.

“He’s in the other camp!” burst out Snowstorm frantically the moment Splintefang loosened his grip, his flanks heaving for breath. He must mean the RiverClan camp.

Mapleheart looked at Splinterfang disbelievingly. “Is that why you attacked?” she breathed. “Just to find Palestar?” The she-cat was bleeding from a shoulder and blood trickled from a gouge above her eye.

Marshflame glared back. “It was his decision to attack RiverClan, so he has to understand that his Clan will pay for it.”

Mapleheart leaned closer, looking over her shoulder guiltily. “Well, most of us don’t support Palestar,” she admitted quietly. “He only has a few cats who actually agree with his actions.”

Marshflame looked thoughtful. “Well,” he mewed at last, “if you don’t want him as leader, now’s your chance to have him out.”

Hickoryheart gazed back, confused. “What do you mean?” The tom was listening to the conversation, and from the fact that he didn’t react to Mapleheart’s confession, it was quite clear that the hefty brown tom didn’t support the megalomaniac either.

“Follow me!” Marshflame yowled back excitedly. “We’re going to drive out Palestar!” He pelted out of camp. Lightningstorm shrugged to the ThunderClan cats. “Guess we follow him!

Lightningstorm sprinted out of camp, following Marshflame’s gray pelt. He halted at some stepping stones in the river. He turned back and saw all of the cats that were in the clearing were behind him, waiting. He set his gaze back on the stones. He set down one paw, then another. Soon he was already on the other bank. He purred, pleased with his quick progress. He continued to sprint through RiverClan territory. Reeds slapped against his pelt as he ran, but he didn’t care; all he wanted was to get Palestar out of the forest. Before long, he arrived in the RiverClan camp.

The fight was still ongoing. Cats fought viciously in skirmishes. The ThunderClan cats were still teaming up against ShadowClan and RiverClan. They still didn’t know that they only wanted to exile Palestar. Speaking about that autocrat… He swept the clearing with his gaze, looking for the ThunderClan leader.Where is he?

Mapleheart leaped out from behind him. “He’s over there!” she hissed. She indicated with her claws at a silver tom surrounded by a white she-cat and a black-and-brown tom. Brightstar and Jumpstar!

Jumpstar snarled, “Give in?” Palestar glared back with baleful eyes. “Never!” He lunged forward, catching Jumpstar on the ear.

Hickoryheart hissed. “Come on, let’s go fight him!” The burly tom pounced onto the leader’s tail and crunched down on it hard. Palestar screamed in rage and pain. He turned around and stared in shock at his Clanmate. “I thought I was your leader!” he hissed.

Hickoryheart glared back. “I want the best for my Clan, and right now, ThunderClan is better off without you!” He swiped at Palestar’s flank. Mapleheart joined in, crunching down on the silver tom’s ear. Palestar shrieked in pain. That’s four cats to one! There’s no way Palestar’ll win! The other ThunderClan cats soon realized that the enemy was Palestar. Most of the ThunderClan cats redirected their attention to the cruel leader. Two other forest cats continued to combat the river and marsh cats. They’re probably Palestar’s supporters, Lightningstorm thought.

All of a sudden, a black-and-white shape leaped onto Brightstar’s shoulders and hauled her backwards. Longwhisker! The ThunderClan deputy curled his lip in fury and contempt. “ShadowClan should’ve left you all to rot!” he sneered, lunging forward. “Such a weak Clan shouldn’t even exist! Palestar did the right thing when he drove you all out.”

Brightstar skillfully dodged Longwhisker’s blows. “If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!” She leaped forward, bowling into the black-and-white tom’s flank. Lightningstorm leapt in to help the RiverClan leader.

Lightningstorm hissed and dived under Longwhisker’s belly. He lashed out with his claws and darted out again. Brightstar dug her claws into Longwhisker’s shoulders and threw him down onto the grass. Lightningstorm sliced out at Longwhisker’s exposed underbelly. The ThunderClan deputy yowled for mercy. Brightstar let him go, and the treacherous cat fled. Brightstar nodded to him. “You fight well, Lightningstorm,” she acknowledged. “I’m glad to fight alongside you.” Lightningstorm nodded back.

Lightningstorm noted that the fighting had quieted down. He looked around and saw that Snowstorm, Longwhisker, and Palestar were cornered by a crowd of angry cats. Palestar’s followers!

“Monsters!” yowled Hollowpaw, lashing his tail. The RiverClan apprentice likely held a larger grudge against them than most; he was one of the cats who were chased out of their own territory on Palestar’s command. “Snake-heart!” scorned Hollybird, her eyes glinting savagely. “You brought nothing but shame to ThunderClan ever since you became leader!” hissed Hickoryheart. The three ThunderClan cats’ eyes betrayed panic as the furious group began to close in on them.

“Stop!” commanded Jumpstar. The cats turned around in surprise. “Why should we? These cats bring nothing but harm to everyone!” protested Hollybird, her bristling pelt clearly indicating that she was spoiling for a fight.

Jumpstar ignored the she-cat. He set his glare to the three cornered cats. Something glittered in his gaze as though… Lightningstorm couldn’t describe the look in his eyes. It’s as though he’s seen something like this before. Lightningstorm’s thoughts were interrupted as Jumpstar spoke to the trapped ThunderClan cats. “You’re all so rotten to the core, your Clanmates don’t even want you here,” spat Jumpstar to Longwhisker, Palestar, and Snowstorm. The ThunderClan leader snarled as Jumpstar continued. Snowstorm cowered from the furious glares of his former Clanmates and enemies. “You betrayed the way of the Clans, the traditions, and the code we held close to our hearts for so long. It would be better on all of us if we drove you three out,” Jumpstar finished.

The furious crowd yowled their agreement. “Chase them!” hissed Darkpaw excitedly. He sprang forward, the rest of the crowd behind him. They chased the three toms out of camp. Lightningstorm leaped to his paws excitedly and gave chase as well. Longwhisker tripped on a bramble, but he picked himself up and sprinted away, terror quickening his paws. He pursued the three fleeing traitors through the forest. The huge patrol only stopped until they had ran far beyond the border.

Lightningstorm limped back to camp, suddenly realizing a pain in his leg. I must’ve tripped on it as I was chasing. He shrugged. A few scratches and a limp wasn’t a big price to pay for a victory.

He returned to the RiverClan camp accompanied by Poppypaw and Darkpaw. “I’m so glad we finally drove out those snake-hearts,” she mewed excitedly, swiping at the air as though she were attacking a real cat. Lightningstorm purred. “Me too,” he agreed, flexing his claws. “ThunderClan is better off without those three.” Darkpaw puffed out his chest. “Did you see me lead the chase on them? I was like a Clan leader with all those cats following me!” His sister purred. “I’m pretty sure a Clan leader doesn’t get outsped by his Clanmates,” she teased. “I never liked that Snowstorm cat. Always too aggressive, even at Gatherings. Last time some cat teased him, he almost clawed their ears off,” she continued, suddenly changing the subject.

Lightningstorm found himself adding in his opinion. “When I was on a border patrol as an apprentice, he spent nearly all his time sniffing the markers, making sure they were in place. Sure, everyone worries about borders, but not that much.”

“And did you see how scared he was when we were all staring him down? He was practically scared out of his fur!” Darkpaw chimed in, still looking proud of himself for leading the pursuit on the three cats. “He acts all tough, but he can barely hold his ground in front of a crowd.”

Jumpstar padded up to the chattering trio. “You all fought well in the battle,” the ShadowClan leader praised. “And Darkpaw, you led the pursuit like a true leader,” he continued, singling out the black-and-gray apprentice. He bowed his head, looking at the ground, embarrassed. “I just followed my instincts, I guess,” the young tom mumbled.

Brightstar came over to join them. “Jumpstar,” she greeted. “I say it’s time we brought our cats back to camp.”

Jumpstar looked confused for a moment. “You mean the ShadowClan camp?” he questioned. “Shouldn’t you be returning to your own camp?”

“Yes,” Brightstar agreed, nodding, “but some of our Clanmates are still in your camp, and I thought it would be respectful to give each other a proper farewell, don’t you think?”

Jumpstar’s eyes glimmered with understanding. “Of course,” he purred.

Some of the ThunderClan cats listened on with worried eyes, as though they were paranoid of the two Clans coming together to create a major superpower. Jumpstar stared at the ThunderClan cats sternly. “I’m supposing you’re all going to return to your proper camp?” he inquired meaningfully. The ThunderClan listeners nodded quickly. “Of course,” one of them mewed smoothly. “Come on,” the she-cat mewed to her Clanmates. Lightningstorm recognized her as Badgerclaw. “Back to camp,” Badgerclaw ordered.

The ThunderClan cats followed her through the RiverClan camp barrier. “Who’s going to lead the Clan?” a white-and-brown tom fretted. “What if one of the Clans attack us? We’ll be defenseless without a leader or deputy!”

The black she-cat with white stripes silenced her Clanmates with a swat of her tail. “You leave the worrying to me, Owlswoop,” Badgerclaw replied, a hint of irritation in her voice.

I wonder if she’ll be the next ThunderClan leader, Lightningstorm pondered. She seems like a strong and confident cat.

He was jerked out of his thoughts when Poppypaw nudged him.

“Come on, time to go home,” she mewed gently. She nodded towards Brightstar who was gathering up all the fighters. Puddlespots picked up his herbs and rushed over to the large patrol. Lightningstorm, too, followed the patrol out of the RiverClan camp. Lightningstorm purred as Poppypaw twined her tail with his as they followed Jumpstar and Brightstar out of camp.

Chapter 30 Edit

Lightningstorm walked back to ShadowClan campon weary legs. Even though his legs felt worn-out, he left the battle without many wounds, and so did many of the RiverClan and ShadowClan cats, likely because of the fact that they outnumbered ThunderClan two Clans to one. He hoped that the marshy and muddy ground didn’t infect his cuts. He couldn’t wait to just plop onto his nest with a juicy piece of fresh-kill. Spending more time in Puddlespots’ den – the one cat that knew of his nighttime visits with a former ShadowClan leader and deputy, Ripplestar and Silvermask – made him wince. The thought of a long, well-deserved rest at the end of the day made his paws strive forward, itching to feel the familiar and soft floor of the ShadowClan camp.

Brightstar kinked her tail, signaling for the large patrol to stop. “One patrol at a time,” she ordered, nodding at the Thunderpath tunnel. The RiverClan leader took in her patrol first. The other members in her patrol, Troutwhisker, Hollybird, Creekshade, Sparrowwhisker, Lightningstorm, and Tanglethorn, tagged along behind her. The tunnel devoured them, covering them in shadow.

After a few heartbeats, Jumpstar nodded. “I think they’re out already.” He beckoned to his patrol. “Come on,” he commanded. His patrol were close on his heels as he guided them into the underpass. Splinterfang followed him soon after, his patrol streaming out behind him.

Marshflame nodded to his patrol as he saw Splinterfang’s patrol emerge on the other side of the black, filthy-smelling road. “Let’s go!” he directed. Lightningstorm focused his eyes on Tanglethorn’s tail as he followed him into the tunnel. He held his breath, remembering the tight space the tunnel had confined him in last time he had traversed the path. Hollybird was the last cat to enter the tunnel, her tail twitching nervously. Lightningstorm trembled his whiskers in amusement. He recalled before the battle when Hollybird snapped at him to hurry up in his crossing of the tunnel. She probably hates it as much as me!

After he exited on the other side, he continued to follow Tanglethorn’s bright orange pelt. After a few heartbeats, however, Brightstar let out a loud exclamation. “We’re being attacked!” she screamed.

Lightningstorm was about to bound forward, but he heard an exclamation behind him. He rotated and saw Hollybird being smashed into by a large gray tom. She screeched as he scored claws across her cheek, drawing deep red lines in her flesh. Blood trickled freely from the slash marks.

Lightningstorm let out a battle cry and leapt forward. Sparrowwhisker was already clawing off the fur from the gray tom’s back. The thick-furred tom shrieked in pain as the brown RiverClan cat ripped off large clumps of gray fur. Lightningstorm joined in the attack, chomping down hard on the tom’s tail. Suddenly, Sparrowwhisker let out a cry. “Watch out!” she called fearfully.

Lightningstorm turned around to see a tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat charging towards him. She let out a howl as she crashed into Lightningstorm, knocking him down onto the ground. Lightningstorm huffed as he hit the ground. The impact knocked the breath out of him. The black-and-white tom let out a growl of fury as he flipped himself back onto his feet before the she-cat could score claws across his eyes. His enemy scored claws where he had been a few heartbeats prior. He shuddered as he imagined her stone-sharp claws slicing through his eyes, blinding him for life. He was finally able to get a good look at his attacker. He let out a gasp that was barely audible. His attacker looked awfully similar to his mother, Bloomflower. Too similar to simply be a coincidence. Could they be… sisters?

Before he could brainstorm any more on the subject, the tortoiseshell she-cat snarled and lunged for him again, but this time Lightningstorm was ready, and he rolled out of the way before leaping to his paws. He hissed and dived forward, clawing savagely at his opponent’s muzzle. She yowled in rage and swung a heavy blow towards his ear. The she-cat missed by a few whiskers. She letting her anger get the better of her, Lightningstorm observed in satisfaction. “Come on,” he taunted, hoping to enrage her further. “I thought rogues were supposed to be scary!”

The she-cat let out a yowl before leaping onto Lightningstorm’s back and ripping off fur in a frenzy of claws and teeth. Lightningstorm screamed in agony as the tortoiseshell she-cat hissed in his ear. “We are scary,” she drawled. Lightningstorm fought against the darkness that were covering the edges of his vision. He roared in fury as he threw his opponent off. He was about to leap for her again when Swallowsong snarled and dug her claws into his enemy’s shoulders. The she-cat yowled before toppling over. Lightningstorm rushed forward to sink his claws into her neck. Before he could swoop in to deliver a killing bite, he heard a yowl. He turned around.

You.

Reddapple was standing in the midst of the battle. Lightningstorm realized that Reddapple had pinned one of his Clanmates to the ground. Hollybird!

“No!” screamed Leafpaw, Hollybird’s son. He swung his forepaw at one of Reddapple’s Clanmates that was blocking him. “Move!” he snarled at the orange tom. He bounded towards Hollybird who was struggling under Reddapple’s claws. “Get off!” he hissed, digging his claws into Reddapple’s shoulders. The red tom threw off the apprentice, and he landed on the ground with a sickening thud.

Flametooth leaped forward and grabbed Reddapple by the scruff. “No one attacks my mate and son and gets away with it,” he growled fiercely, crunching down hard onto Reddapple’s shoulder. He shrieked as the ginger-and-white tom sank his teeth deep into his body, ripping out fur and flesh. Reddapple shook the ShadowClan tom off. He glared at the enemies and hissed, “You may have won this time, but we’re not going to lose; a force more powerful than StarClan is on our side.” Lightningstorm narrowed his eyes. Was there a cat standing behind the red tom as he said this?

Lightningstorm’s heart skipped a beat.

Two cats were standing behind Reddapple: a dark gray tom and a powerful black-and-orange cat.

Lightningstorm felt sick as Reddapple beckoned with his tail for his followers to come with him; he led the rogues towards Highstones. The two faded figures vanished.

Jumpstar wearily swept his gaze across the clearing. Puddlespots was frantically gathering cobwebs and leaves in an attempt to stop Hollybird’s bleeding. Lightningstorm recoiled at what the gray-and-white medicine cat said next:

“She’s gone.”

Flametooth wrapped his tail around his son, Leafpaw, who collapsed onto the ground and sobbed. Lightningstorm couldn’t bear to watch the broken tom grieve for his mother.

Reddapple – and they – have taken a victim.

++++++++++++++++++++

Jumpstar leaped onto the Clanrock. Many warriors were gathered around Puddlespots and Bluenose, the medicine cats of the two Clans. Goldenpaw was crouched over Hollybird’s body. Lightningstorm looked away wretchedly. He couldn’t hate himself enough for training with the cats who were helping the cat that killed his Clanmate.

“Everyone old enough to catch their own prey come gather beneath the Clanrock,” announced Jumpstar quietly. Most of the Clan was already in the clearing, either lined up in front of the medicine cats for treatment or curled up next to their fallen Clanmate.

“We have news, good and bad,” began Brightstar. “The good news is that we have driven Palestar and his two followers out of the forest, and I think it’s safe to assume they’ll leave ThunderClan – and all of the Clans – alone.” Even at the news of victory, the cheers were rather half-hearted.

“The bad news,” Jumpstar continued, “is, as you all know, one of our allies has fallen; Hollybird met her end bravely, defending her Clanmates from the rogues. ShadowClan will never forget her, and I hope RiverClan will do the same and honor the cat who died trying to win them back their rightful home.” Brightstar nodded somberly. “Even though we must depart soon, we would like to stay for the night and have one final meal with ShadowClan, as well as honor Hollybird for her courage. Jumpstar, we cannot thank you enough for the generosity of your Clan.”

Jumpstar gave her a quick nod. “Today, four cats have proved themselves worthy of their warrior names,” Jumpstar announced.

Lightningstorm pricked his ears. “A warrior ceremony!” he hissed.

Brightstar nodded to Darkpaw, Poppypaw, Leafpaw, and Hollowpaw. “Come stand beneath the Clanrock,” the white she-cat ordered.

Darkpaw exchanged an excited glance with his sister before trotting to the base of the rock. Leafpaw followed more slowly, his paws dragging in the mud. Lightningstorm felt a jolt of sympathy for the young tom.

“These four apprentices have shown outstanding bravery in today’s battle,” praised Jumpstar. “I, Jumpstar, leader of ShadowClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warrior in their turn.”

He stared down at the four young cats. “Do you four promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your lives?”

Darkpaw lifted his head. “I do,” he vowed solemnly.

“I do!” Poppypaw squeaked, but then repeated herself, this time attempting to keep her voice under control. “I do,” she mewed again.

“I do,” Leafpaw rumbled.

“I do!” mewed Hollowpaw.

“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior names. Darkpaw, from now on you will be known as Darkwater. StarClan honors your bravery and skill in battle, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan.” He moved onto Poppypaw. “Poppypaw, from now on you will be known as Poppypetal. StarClan honors your kindness and energy, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan.” He paused as Poppypetal licked his shoulder, then he looked down at Leafpaw. “Leafpaw, from now on you will be known as Leafstripe. StarClan honors your determination and thoughtfulness, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan.”

Now Brightstar was speaking. “Hollowpaw, from now on you will be known as Hollowstream. StarClan honors your enthusiasm and hunting skill, and we welcome you as a full member of RiverClan.”

“Darkwater! Poppypetal! Leafstripe! Hollowstream!” Lightningstorm cheered especially loud for Poppypetal. I’m so happy for her!

Jumpstar purred. “Let us begin the feast!”

Lightningstorm sprinted to the fresh-kill pile, but a crowd of cats were already clustered around it. Dawnwind was next to him. She rolled her eyes. “Those gluttons will strip the pile of all the good pieces!” she complained. Poppypetal purred in amusement. Lightningstorm nudged her shouldr. “Congratulations!” he purred. When the crowd had cleared, the pile was deprived of all the tasty prey, just as Dawnwind had predicted. Lightningstorm plucked a lizard off the pile and sat down next to Dawnwind, who was nibbling a squirrel. Poppypetal had gone off to eat with her brother, Darkwater, and her parents, Nightberry and Creekshade.

“Lightningstorm,” his sister hissed, glancing warily around. Lightningstorm tipped his head. Why was his sister acting so paranoid? “What is it?” he questioned quietly, aware that what he was about to hear was likely going to be confidential.

“When I was out hunting, I saw Rainblossom.”

Lightningstorm’s eyes widened. “She must’ve told the rogues to attack us after we came back from the battle!” he hissed.

Dawnwind nodded. “I even saw her leading the rogues,” she confirmed. “But it wasn’t just her,” she continued. Lightningstorm leaned forward, intrigued. Who else had betrayed ShadowClan to the rogues?

“Crowtalon was there as well,” she breathed.

Crowtalon?

Lightningstorm blinked in surprise. “Are you sure?” he checked.

Dawnwind nodded. “Sure as sure can be,” she affirmed.

Lightningstorm sighed. More spies. Just what we need.

Chapter 31 Edit

Dawnwind mumbled as she woke up. She peeked outside; it was dawn. The chilly air of leaf-fall was already present. The prey was still plump from fresh growth during greenleaf, but Dawnwind knew that full bellies would soon begin to empty as the frosty weather edged closer. She tried to sneak out of the den unnoticed, but she wasn’t able to leave without accidentally treading on the few tails. “Sorry,” she hissed to Lizardpelt who snarled in his sleep when she stepped on his tail.

Dawnwind bushed out her fur. The leaf-fall chill was much colder than she was used to. During her cathood, she had only really experienced the relatively warm seasons of newleaf and greenleaf; her season of birth, leafbare, was only a faraway memory now.

She sighed; ever since RiverClan had left, the camp seemed a lot less crowded. She missed her friends in RiverClan; even though she could go see them at Gatherings, it wasn’t the same. She hoped Hollowstream was coping well with his new warrior status. ShadowClan themselves had three new warriors: Darkwater, Poppypetal, and Leafstripe. Ever since Poppypetal and Lightningstorm had moved into the same den, they had been insufferable together; always purring and sharing tongues and whatnot. Lightningstorm had even volunteered to move his nest to the outer circle of the warriors’ den just to sleep next to his new mate. Dawnwind snorted.

She curled her tail around her paws, waiting for the others to wake up. Applepool retreated from her spot near the guard watch, her eyelids drooping. Dawnwind observed the graying whiskers that were beginning to grow on the cream she-cat’s muzzle, and she suddenly felt a pang for her former temporary mentor. She recalled her bright spirit and sharp tongue, back in the days when Dawnwind thought her Clanmate was as young as ever. She felt another hole in her heart for Hollybird, her real mentor. Her sarcastic attitude was missed by her Clanmates, Dawnwind included. But she knew Goldenpaw, Leafstripe, and Flametooth – Hollybird’s kin – would feel the loss more than any other cat in the Clan. She felt a surge of hate for the rogues, as well as for Crowtalon and Rainblossom for feeding information to the enemy without hesitation or guilt.

Marshflame emerged from the warriors’ den. The gray tom would usually begin to dish out orders in the morning, but instead he headed over to the nursery where his mate, Mossberry, was resting. The queen had moved in a few days ago, and Puddlespots predicted that they would arrive in a half-moon or so. Although Marshflame often barraged the old medicine cat with questions, Dawnwind knew the deputy’s mate was safe in the paws of the seasoned medicine cat.

Newtstripe was the next cat to enter the clearing. Dawnwind guessed that soon, cats would be waking up left and right. Not just because the sun was slowly dragging itself higher up on the horizon, but because Marshflame was particularly strict when it came to heavy sleepers. Dawnwind winced as she remembered a particular time when she was an apprentice and she had been berated and sentenced to duties in the elders’ den. The brown cat gave a slight nod to Newtstripe, who gave a flick of her tail in reply.

Marshflame padded out of the nursery, looking worried as well as uplifted. “Puddlespots says Mossberry’s doing well, but the kits may arrived sooner than predicted,” reported the deputy.

By now, most of the Clan was outside, either finishing off stale prey from last night or clustering around Marshflame. The deputy was organizing patrols quickly. Dawnwind pricked her ears.

“Driftblaze, Creekshade, Nightberry, Swallowsong.” The deputy called out the names of his Clanmates. “Check by the ThunderClan border. Make sure that they haven’t invaded our territory.” Creekshade nodded and left, his patrol trailing behind him.

“Crowtalon!” The black tom pricked his ears. Dawnwind scowled. You don’t have to act so happy about helping if you really don’t care about us.

“Take Poppypetal, Darkwater, and Leafstripe for a border patrol of beyond the Carrionplace,” the ShadowClan deputy commanded.

Dawnwind said, “May I join the patrol?”

Crowtalon turned, surprised. Dawnwind could’ve imagined it, but she thought she saw suspicion and a dangerous flame in the black tom’s gaze for a moment. She shook off the fear that flooded her veins for a moment. Lightningstorm had said that they needed to keep an eye on the spies, and Dawnwind wasn’t going to be frightened by one scary look.

“Sure,” Crowtalon grunted stiffly. “Ask Marshflame.”

Marshflame nodded his approval.

Crowtalon curled his claws into the ground. “Let’s go,” he ordered through gritted teeth.

++++++++++++++++++++

Dawnwind kept an eye on Crowtalon the entire way to the border. She didn’t pick up any peculiar behaviour, but she didn’t let down her guard. She guessed that he would eventually give something away when they approached the rogues’ camp.

Crowtalon sprayed a patch of grass. The rest of the patrol did the same, drenching the border with ShadowClan scent. “That should keep the rogues away,” Darkwater remarked confidently.

His sister, Poppypetal, snorted. “Yeah right, like they’ll stay away from our border just because of some smells,” she mewed. “They attacked our camp and our battle patrol. Why would they stop doing it just because we make our borders smellier?” Dawnwind noted that Leafstripe was staying quiet. She felt a stab of sympathy for the young warrior. His mother had been killed in the rogues’ latest attack. She also realized that Crowtalon was silent as well. She felt a rush of hate for the traitorous tom. He guiltlessly spied on his Clan of birth and willingly sided with the rogues even after they had killed one of the cats that he had grown up and lived with. She vowed to expose his and Rainblossom’s treacherous acts to the Clan. Someday…

At last, Crowtalon lashed his tail. “Let’s stop discussing about what could happen and work on what we should be doing.” He marked the border one last time before stomping away. Dawnwind suspected that he was actually just annoyed by the new warriors’ yapping, but she also wondered if he was uncomfortable that they were discussing the rogues. Maybe he knew that the rogues were going to attack soon, and Poppypetal’s remark had struck a nerve. Maybe the rogues were attacking right now! Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe this, maybe that, perhaps this, suppose that… The fact that she knew that two traitors were living inside the Clan had made her suspect everything and everyone. The more she learned about the truth, the more she questioned what she knew. Dazed, she subconsciously followed the black tom, crazy speculations racing in her brain.

She decided to sniff the air, attempting to detect any intruders. Her fur stood on end. The rogues!

She must’ve remarked it aloud, as Leafstripe lashed his tail and hissed, “Rogues!” Poppypetal sniffed the air. “I smell them, too!” she snarled. Darkwater’s fur stood on end. “What do we do?” The dark-furred tom had fought the rogues twice, so he must’ve had a good memory of their viciousness and cruelty.

Crowtalon sniffed the air. “I don’t smell anything,” he spat. “Stop letting your imaginations run wild and do the patrol!”

Dawnwind lashed her tail. She was certain that she could smell rogue scent, and she was also certain that the tom could smell the rogue scent. “Come on Crowtalon, it’s obvious that you’re the only one who can’t smell the scents,” she mewed. “Sniff the air again.”

Crowtalon’s nose twitched. “Come on!” he hissed. “It’s from over here!” The black tom was about to march off when Dawnwind headed in the other direction. “Can’t you smell that it’s over here?” Dawnwind questioned. Darkwater lashed his tail. “Yeah, it’s definitely over here,” he confirmed. The other patrol members followed Dawnwind’s lead. She smirked; the new warriors clearly seemed to follow her orders more willingly than Crowtalon’s. The spy growled, silently following Dawnwind.

Dawnwind seemed to have found a trail when she stopped. “Blood!” she cried out. Leafstripe flattened his ears. “It’s fresh-kill,” he corrected. Dawnwind scouted for more scents, but the trail had ended.

The rogues had gotten away with stealing fresh-kill.

“I’m reporting the news to Jumpstar,” she informed. If the rogues started thieving prey now, the Clan would go hungry through leaf-bare. Starvation combined with greencough was surely going to kill off some of her Clanmates. From there, the rogues would be on an easy path to victory.

She marched into camp, Leafstripe, Darkwater, Poppypetal, and Crowtalon following her silently.

“Jumpstar!” she called. The brown-and-black tom was deep in conversation with the deputy. He lifted his head. “Yes?” he replied. He was clearly unhappy that his talk had been interrupted; the two important cats were likely discussing critical issues.

“We’ve detected rogue scent inside our borders,” she announced dramatically. Did the ShadowClan leader shoot a glance at Crowtalon. The black tom was looking away, pretending to lack interest.

“And they’ve been stealing ShadowClan prey!” Darkwater added, whipping his tail back and forth.

Marshflame scowled. “Let Dawnwind share the news,” he ordered sharply, silencing the excited young tom with a glare.

Dawnwind cleared her throat. “As I was saying, the rogues were inside our borders and were stealing prey.” The rest of ShadowClan leaned forward eagerly, expecting more, and for a heartbeat, Dawnwind was tempted to rat out Crowtalon for his “poor patrol-leading” skills.

She decided against it.

The brown she-cat dipped her head. “That’s all,” she finished.

Jumpstar narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “Marshflame and I will discuss more thoroughly in my den. This meeting is over.”

The leader and deputy vanished into the shadows of his den, leaving fearful murmurs and speculations to circulate in the clearing.

Chapter 32 Edit

Lightningstorm stretched in his nest, relishing a warm beam of sunshine piercing through the cracks in the walls of the apprentices’ den. A few days prior, Lighningstorm had convinced his sister, Dawnwind, to move into the apprentices’ den with him. The idea made a lot of sense to him; with three new warriors – Poppypetal, Darkwater, and Leafstripe – in the warriors’ den, and with no apprentices’ den in the apprentices’ den, it was obvious that some cat should move into the abandoned but still perfectly good sleeping space. Aside from that, he also decided to move in there for another reason: so that he and Dawnwind could decide what they were going to do about Crowtalon and Rainblossom, two spies spying for one of ShadowClan’s deadliest enemies, a group of former Clan cats who had betrayed ShadowClan long ago. Although Lightningstorm didn’t know the entire story, he suspected that it stretched far into the past and was likely rather...complicated.

He gave a tiny jump at a wood-splintering shriek. “Mossberry must be giving birth,” he hissed to Dawnwind, whose fur was standing on end. “I guessed as much,” she remarked sarcastically.

The new kits was the best blessing ShadowClan had received so far. Ever since Hollybird had been killed by the rogues, Blackwhisker, Applepool and Puddlespots had retired to the elders’ den, and Newtstripe and Flametooth had perished to a fox attack, ShadowClan was short on fighters.

He went outside and fluffed out his black-and-white fur; he still hadn’t completely settled into the lower temperatures of leaf-fall. The ShadowClan deputy, Marshflame, was pacing around the entrance of the nursery, agitated. Aside from being the deputy of the Clan, the gray tom was also the mate of Mossberry, the queen who was giving birth. Lightningstorm went over to the prey-pile, picking off a frog caught from last evening’s hunting patrol. The amphibian was very cold and stiff, but the prey still manage to quench the rumbling hunger in his tummy, if only somewhat.

After a few moments, a patrol composed of Rainblossom, Newtstripe, and Flametooth went out to hunt. Although Lightningstorm felt the temptation to follow Rainblossom, he wanted to hear the results of the kitting. He wondered if they were going to be good; Mossberry’s shrieks were much louder than Hollybird’s during her kitting, and Puddlespots hadn’t reported for quite some time. Suddenly…

...

Silence.

Lightningstorm shifted his paws and swallowed anxiously as Marshflame worriedly peered into the medicine den. He could hear tidbits of conversation. A few moments after, the deputy came back out. Lightningstorm braced himself for horrific news, but instead, the deputy cried joyously, “Two kits!”

Lightningstorm opened his eyes, surprised. Poppypetal, who was sitting next to him, squealed excitedly. “Can we see them?” she asked.

Marshflame nodded. “Two at a time,” he warned. “Mossberry might feel overwhelmed after her kitting.”

Dawnwind nodded to Lightningstorm and Poppypetal. “You two can go first,” she offered. “I’ll visit later.”

Poppypetal gave her a quick and thankful nod, then turned to Lightningstorm. “Come on, let’s go!” she mewed, rushing over to the nursery without waiting for him. Lightningstorm felt a prick of embarrassment as most of the Clan turned to stare at him amusedly.

As he padded into the den, the air felt refreshing and chilly. Puddlespots had left, and his former apprentice, Goldenpool – who had recently received her full name – , was watching over Mossberry instead. Lightningstorm felt a small weight lift off his heart. The fully-fledged medicine cat was the only other cat in the Clan who knew of his nighttime visits to the dark, rotting forest when he trained with a former ShadowClan leader, Ripplestar, as well as another former ShadowClan deputy, Silvermask. Stop thinking about that! he scolded himself. The memories of the decomposing woodland was ruining his experience with the kits.

Tiny wails reached into his ears as he stared down at the kits. He felt pity conquer his heart as he saw helpless, furless creatures, mouths wide open, waiting for milk. He purred as one fought the other in an attempt to get the warmest spot in Mossberry’s belly. Poppypetal leaned on his shoulder, purring in amusement and adoration.

But he felt another presence behind him.

Ripplestar.

He felt a rush of fury towards the deceased ShadowClan leader. Ever since he realized that his nighttime orange-and-black mentor had been siding with the rogues – ShadowClan’s currently most powerful threat – these internal bursts of rage had become a regular, and even daily, occurrence. He decided that tonight…

He was going to do something about it.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningstorm was laying on his side, lazily sharing tongues with Poppypetal after a border patrol. The sun was setting slowly on the horizon, its fading shine turning the clouds and sky into a beautiful purple-and-orange light show. From the corner of his eye he saw his mother, Bloomflower, heading towards the medicine den. Although Puddlespots had retired, he was caring for Mossberry and the new kits, insisting that he should be in charge thanks to his experience. Lightningstorm twitched his whiskers worriedly. Bloomflower was sniffling, her pelt was tangled in various spots and her nose was streaming. He began to fret; had his mother caught greencough? What was happening? His father, Pinebranch, had already passed away; losing his other living parent would be tragic.

But he realized that his parents weren’t his only kin; the Clan Leader himself, Jumpstar, was his uncle – he was the brother of his father, Pinebranch – , and, although he still wasn’t sure, he had a weighing suspicion that Bloomflower had a sister that had joined the rogues. During the battle where Hollybird had gotten killed, he had fought a cat that was practically Bloomflower’s spitting image: same tortoiseshell patches, markings, tail length… But he knew that if it came down to it, he’d kill her; kin or not, it would mean nothing.

He padded away to the apprentices’ den where he had moved his nest, but not before leaning over to lick his mate’s ear. “Goodnight,” he purred in Poppypetal’s ear. She flicked his ear affectionately with her tail in return. “Goodnight, furball,” she rumbled softly. “Sweet dreams.”

He kneaded his bedding which he had gathered fresh from the forest that day. But despite Poppypetal’s words, he knew he wasn’t going to sleep soundly.

Why?

He had decided that tonight, he was going to stop Ripplestar.

By fighting him.

++++++++++++++++++++

Lightningstorm woke up in the stinking forest, the rotting stench rolling into him like a wave. He wrinkled his nostrils and narrowed his eyes, looking for a black-and-orange pelt in the mist. He squinted his eyes even more and spotted orange patches of fur in the distance. That’s him.

He padded slowly up to Ripplestar, flexing his claws in and out as he did so. Only when he was a few frog-lengths did the former leader turn around.

“I see that you’re back,” he rumbled ominously.

Lightningstorm snorted. “You left me no other choice, you traitor.” He stalked closer, tail lashing. “You’re the one who decided to betray your Clan and side with that crazy murderer. You liar, traitor, idiot…” He was now in Ripplestar’s face fuming hatred.

But he didn’t stay there long before being smashed in the face by a heavy blow from Ripplestar.

His body was flung across the clearing before slamming into a rotting tree. Ripplestar pounced on the vulnerable black-and-white tom and slashed through his stomach with ruthless claws. Lightningstorm screamed in pain as his blood streamed freely onto the ground. Ripplestar stepped back, but not out of pity.

“Have fun trying to explain that to your Clanmates,” he sneered, licking the blood off his claws.

Lightningstorm groaned, the life force draining out of his body. He forced his eyes shut, hoping to wake up in a better place…

His eyes shot wide open, awake in his nest. He weakly limped to the medicine den, blood still dripping from his stomach and his face. The moon was high in the sky; he hoped Goldenpool was awake. If she isn’t, this bloody stench’ll probably do the trick.

He dragged himself into the den, barely conscious. “Goldenpool?” he called faintly.

She was already out of her nest, eyes wide. “I could smell the blood from forests away. What happened?!”

Lightningstorm’s eyes began to close. “Need... help...”

Trivia Edit

  • Bloomflower was originally going to be called Owlflight, and she was going to be described as a brown-and-white she-cat with blue eyes.
  • Dawnwind's warrior name was originally going to be Dawnfire, but then Emberpaw realized that it sounded like "on fire."

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