"May StarClan light your path, Doefire and Vixenflame."
I stared at the bodies. They had been assigned to a hunting patrol earlier today. Now they're gone.
"May you find good hunting, swift running, and shelter where you sleep."
The cats around me began dipping their heads. I hastily imitated them. I didn't want to mess up an important ceremony.
Lightningpaw nudged me. "Larchpaw, what do you think killed them?"
Of course, the other apprentices were talking through the ceremony.
But I'm curious as well. The Clan's been talking about it all day. They had been hunting deep within ThunderClan territory, where no fox or badger had been seen for moons. There was no strange scent where they had been killed either, and it'd be hard to cleanly kill two well-trained warriors.
So we're scared.
"I have no idea," I respond. Of course, I have a million theories. Rogues? ShadowClan? A traitor in our own Clan? It's much easier to just say you're confused. Especially around the obnoxious apprentices. Lightningpaw, Leafpaw, Dewpaw, and Nightpaw. Four annoyances in the shape of my littermates. Well, two littermates and two other kits. But they're essentially my littermates, being so close to Leafpaw and Lightningpaw.
"Leafpaw and I think it's each other. That would be so interesting! Rivals, engaged in a fatal battle..."
Lightningpaw has always gotten excited over strange things. She was practically squealing with joy when a patrol reported trespassers. She loves anything that breaks the monotony of Clan life, no matter how terrible.
"Dewpaw thinks it was a fox. BORING. Foxes kill cats all the time. Rivals inside the Clan killing each other has never happened before!"
She also has problems with taking things seriously. Dewpaw is less annoying than the rest, but he's not very significant. I don't remember him every doing anything remotely noteworthy. I usually forget he's there.
"Nightpaw says it has to be rogues. That would be cool! But not as cool as my idea. Plus, how would they get in? We have to go on boring old border patrol EVERY. OTHER. SECOND."
Nightpaw is odd. She won't eat squirrels, says they're too fluffy. She rarely actually hunts on hunting patrols, preferring to spend the time complaining about the mud on her paws or the heat. The older cats are always furious with her. So am I.
"Come on, you must have at least one idea!" Lightningpaw immediately realized how loudly she had said that and shut her mouth. Thankfully, her outburst earned her a couple of glares from the older cats, causing her to sit down and shut up.
This allowed me to return to pondering the deaths anxiously.
The thing that bothered me was that nobody knew who or what killed them. The murderer could come back, and I could be next. Or any of the other cats in the Clan, of course. But I was more worried about me.
The vigil continued and the mood was far from peaceful.
It was dawn. Finally. I was exhausted. For once, so were the other apprentices. Leafpaw and Lightningpaw were a lot less chatty than their normal selves, but Nightpaw was complaining even more. Oh well.
Earlier Lakestar called a Clan meeting. All training is canceled today, and all cats must be in a patrol of at least three, including one warrior. That's good for us. I guess. It's not good for the camp-wide panic. The kits refuse to come out of the nursery. Leafpaw ate about half the fresh-kill pile. I can't blame her. But if I tried that I'd get yelled at. The warriors love Leafpaw. Excellent hunter, excellent fighter, enthusiastic, obedient... Ha. They don't know that she's only a good hunter because she digs up MY caches of prey. They don't know how she mocks them when only Lightningpaw and I are around. They don't know how many times she's taken an extra squirrel late at night.
I finally noticed Lightningpaw was next to me when she nudged me and meowed something in my ear. "Look, Creekfeather's slipping out alone. Let's follow her!"
There's no way to stop Lightningpaw when she has an idea, so I might as well follow her. It would mean we're not breaking Lakestar's rules. If we're murdered, at least Lightningpaw will be dead.
I followed Lightningpaw out to the dirtplace. Everyone was too caught up in their panic to notice us. For once, everyone freaking out was useful. I followed her out a gap in the brambles, and we were outside camp.
It was unusually quiet out in the forest, probably due to the lack of patrols. A few cats were sent out hunting, and there was a dawn patrol, but other than that everyone had been in camp all day. Lakestar almost always had cats out of camp, determined that no cat would sneak into ThunderClan territory unnoticed. Which is exactly why rogues killing Doefire and Vixenflame was unlikely.
Creekfeather veered to the left and so did we. Isn't that the border behind us? No, couldn't be. I quickly realized Lightningpaw had asked me a question.
"Why do you think she's going out of ThunderClan territory? I thought we weren't supposed to do that. Oh well, it's so much more INTERESTING outside out territory. ThunderClan territory is SO boring. Trees and trees and trees. Oh, who are those other cats over there?"
I froze and spotted two battle-scarred rogues heading up to Creekfeather. "Get low and shut up," I hissed to Lightningpaw. She did so. We watched and waited. And waited. I strained to hear their low voices.
"I killed them," I heard Creekfeather say. Lightningpaw began to say something, but I nudged her.
"Good job. I knew you wouldn't disappoint." That was one of the scarred rogues. His voice was low and raspy, and it sent shivers down my spine.
I strained to hear the rest of the conversations, but their voices got even lower. I managed to pick up a bit more.
"Which one this time?" Creekfeather's voice again.
"...kill Amberleaf." The medicine cat.
More lowered voices.
"....life will be cut short...," I heard the rogue tom growl.
"...I'll do it."
Lightningpaw looked excited. I looked terrified.
Creekfeather turned away from the rogues in our direction.
I panicked, running away as quickly as possible. I attempted to make my path confusing, turning whenever possible, but this also made it slow. I gave up and ran directly to camp, running out of breath.
It had been a few sunrises since Doefire and Vixenflame were killed. Lakestar announced it was a fox, but nobody believed his story. I doubt he believed it himself.
Lightningpaw told all the other apprentices about our adventure. Leafpaw was amazed. Nightpaw complained that she wasn't included. Dewpaw didn't care. Nobody told any other cat. Luckily. Lightningpaw decided we should keep an eye on Creekfeather. That meant at least one of us was supposed to be stalking her at a time. This plan did not work so well. Nightpaw wouldn't get more than a tree-length near her. Dewpaw usually ignored Lightningpaw's orders. Leafpaw tried, but usually got distracted. I did follow her, but not too closely and more out of my own curiousity than wanting to obey my bossy littermate.
According to the reports that Lightningpaw makes us give every night, Creekfeather is... doing absolutely nothing suspicious. Lightningpaw said she saw Creekfeather eat a mouse outside of camp. Dewpaw said literally everyone does that. Dewpaw is correct. No cat cares about most rules these days. It can be rather useful when your littermates convince you to sneak out of camp.
It was my shift for what seemed like the five hundredth time. I decided to tag along on a hunting patrol Creekfeather was assigned to, hoping no-one would notice that the apprentices had been following the young warrior for the last three sunrises. The Clan weren't very observant most of the time, so that wouldn't be much of a problem. Most of the time the other apprentices' plans went right under their noses and they didn't notice.
Creekfeather was generally a pretty normal cat, which made following her boring. When the hunting patrol split up I followed the suspicious she-cat. She didn't do much, just your average cat's hunting. She unsuccessfully tried for a mouse or two before getting her claws on a squirrel. I made sure to hunt on the way as well, catching a skinny mouse and a vole.
I froze when I spotted Amberleaf picking a few herbs from a patch near the tree.
No no no no NO...
Creekfeather exchanged a friendly word with her and moved on.
Not yet. Why didn't she kill her right then and there? It would be so easy...
Great. Now I'm thinking like a murderer.
I continued tracking Creekfeather until sunhigh, when the patrol was told to return. She returned to the camp like the rest of us, carrying her catch and dropping it on the pile. My mentor Maplewhisker looked at my measly catch with disdain, but didn't say anything. I placed the prey on the fresh-kill pile and sat down for a moment. I would have to tell Lightningpaw about this later. She'd probably be rather annoyed, as always, because nothing "interesting" happened. I say that her idea of interesting is my idea of terrible.
Maybe I was wrong about Creekfeather... Maybe we've been tracking her for no reason this whole time.
That night, Amberleaf was found dead by the border.
Another burial. Another vigil. Another camp-wide panic.
No cat who is not on a border patrol is allowed to go within two tree-lengths of the border. There are five large border patrols a day. Sunrise, midrise, sunhigh, midset, and sunset. (He just made up the words midrise and midset.) We're completely shut off from the other Clans, but it's not like anyone would want to talk to them anyway. Everyone's too suspicious of any cat not in ThunderClan.
And that's their mistake.
No cat would ever suspect Creekfeather.
Lightningpaw insisted that we should all sneak out together.
Dewpaw ignored her.
Nightpaw complained about not wanting to leave camp.
Leafpaw was excited.
I sighed and agreed to it.
That sunhigh, Leafpaw, Lightningpaw and I snuck out of camp together, careful to avoid the huge border patrol the deputy had sent out earlier. Probably on Lakestar's orders. Volefire always obeyed Lakestar, and Lakestar always panicked whenever something remotely bad happened. He wasn't the best leader.
Lightningpaw and Leafpaw bounced ahead, not caring what they run into. As always, they were being idiotic. They'll probably run into their death at some point.
I walked behind them, looking out for any signs of another cat. If we were caught by anyone, rogue or Clan, we'd be in big trouble.
Leafpaw, Lightningpaw and I continued walking until we arrived at the border.
We stopped for a good reason.
A group of battle-scarred cats surrounded us as soon as we got close to the border.
Leafpaw shivered, glancing around the circle nervously. She stuck close to Lightningpaw, who was glaring at the rogues, claws unsheathed.
I stood there, terrified.
A cat stepped forward. I recognized them as one of the rogues that had been speaking to Creekfeather. Lightningpaw made a dash for the gap he had left, but the circle quickly closed and she stopped in her tracks, backing away to the center.
"Don't even dream of escaping. You're simply bringing your death closer."
Leafpaw nodded nervously. Lightningpaw growled, flexing her claws.
"We can easily defeat a couple of untrained kits as well." His voice sent a shiver down my spine.
"We're apprentices," Lightningpaw hissed, glaring at the older tom.
"Clan cats train their young so badly they might as well not train them at all. Now, keep quiet if you want to be of use. The other option is to be killed, so I suggest silence."
Lightningpaw nodded but kept the hostile glare in her eye.
"Take them to the camp," the rogue tom ordered, and the circle began moving forward at a slow pace.
They marched us to their camp, Leafpaw and Lightningpaw clinging together as closely as possible.
The circle stopped outside of a wall of brambles, right in front of two equally beaten up rogues. The cat who seemed to be the leader exchanged a few words with the guards, then the circle began moving again.
Leafpaw stopped short at the sight of their camp, eyes widening.
All of them muscular, all of them battle-scarred, all of them scary.
There's probably enough to face off with all four Clans at once.
ThunderClan could never survive an attack.
After standing there for a few seconds, I discovered my original thoughts about these cats were wrong. The group is about the size of a Clan, and not all of them are huge, scarred, ferocious cats. There are queens, kits and elders, all living together like a Clan. And all hungry. A queen and her kits were sharing a scrawny mouse nearby while an elder glared at them jealously.
They're trying to destroy the Clans.
They have innocent queens, kits, and elders.
They also have battle-scarred and manipulative warriors who will stop at nothing for their own gain.
The circle begins to break apart, but a few cats come even closer, ensuring we don't try to escape. We're escorted into a large den made of brambles, and I wince as the thorns around the entrance rake through my fur.
Two of the cats guard the entrance while the other two remain in the center of the den.
The walls are solid and well-made, with no way out.
This is probably the end.
One of them speaks, and I recognize the rasp.
"Do not try to escape. Even if you could escape this priso-"
Lightningpaw is trying to escape.
From what I've seen, the other cat is the raspy-voiced cat's guard. She picks up the not-quite-escapee by the scruff and brings her back.
"Bind this one," the raspy cat growled.
The guard nodded and picked up some brambles in the corner. Lightningpaw stood there, frozen in fear. A rare emotion for the immature apprentice.
Anyway, the guard patched up the small hole Lightningpaw had created in the bramble wall, then proceeded to wrap the brambles around Lightningpaw's legs and muzzle, preventing any escape. And shutting her up.
Leafpaw had been cowering in the corner the whole time, shivering with fear. Raspy-voice glared at her with disdain, then returned his gaze to Lightningpaw and I.
"As you may or may not know, I am Kestrel," Raspy-voice, or Kestrel, said in a slightly low voice. "The Order of the Claw, my group, holds you prisoner. As I was trying to say earlier, before I was rudely interrupted, you cannot escape. Don't bother trying, you'll end up like your friend over there." He gestured towards Lightningpaw with his tail. "My guard, Wolf-"
So I was right about the guard thing.
Kestrel continued to drone on about the greatness of his group. "We have your Clan outnumbered as well as outsmarted. You don't stand a chance. Well, maybe you do. If you tell us a bit."
Lightningpaw glared at Kestrel, but couldn't say anything.
"Tell us the precise location of the ThunderClan camp, as well as the guard and patrol schedule, and you might be released to die on your own," Kestrel said in his raspy voice.
I shook my head furiously as Leafpaw opened her mouth.
She ignored me.
"The ThunderClan camp is in the side of a cliff. If you aren't careful, you'll run off the edge, so make sure to look out. Lakestar has the guards switch at sunhigh, moonrise, moonhigh, and moonset. Patrols go out at sunrise, midrise, sunhigh, midset and sunset, as well as a moonhigh patrol," Leafpaw explained, still shaking.
Kestrel narrowed his eyes. "Wolf, please retrieve two servants for me. Hazel and Hawk, take these three to the prison."
The two guards, who must be Hazel and Hawk, bit through Lightningpaw's leg bindings and took us through the camp towards an even bigger den.
The prison is huge, with a tall bramble ceiling supported by sticks and walls of mud, twigs, and bramble dividing the individual prisoners. A few cats stared at us as we walked past, including the four guards and the other prisoners. I thought I recognized a former ThunderClan cat who had disappeared a moon or so ago... Who was it, Wrenstripe? There were a few other cats I didn't know, some of them scrawnier than others. I spotted a kit... or two... I think it was three. They all looked similar and probably were from the same litter.
I felt myself being shoved into a small area that stank of dirt and crowfood. My paws and muzzle were tied up with brambles and the guard (I think it was Hazel) moved on, shoving Lightningpaw into a similar prison. I noticed Leafpaw's imprisonment was slightly less harsh, and she was given the largest space. Rewards for good behavior.
Rewards for basically offering to dig ThunderClan's grave.
Hazel and Hawk left the large den, but the four prison guards stayed, keeping close watch over us. The other cats looked like they'd been here a long time, and I had a feeling we would be too. I was already getting really hungry and really annoyed with the constant staring.
It seemed like Lightningpaw was too, as she was clawing at the wall in frustration.
How is she clawing at the wall? Her legs are bound.
Once the guards finished murmuring to each other two left the den swiftly as the other two padded over to Lightningpaw, one in front of the hole in the wall and one blocking her escape another way.
I can't get stuck here.
I managed to claw off one of my leg bindings, then successfully freed the rest of my legs. Finally, I undid the brambles around my muzzle, then silently padded over to Leafpaw. For once I was glad stealth was my strong point. I was rather scrawny and not very fast, but I could sneak around silently. I bit off Leafpaw's bindings as she stared at me, wide-eyed.
One of the guards whipped around and spotted us.
Ran like we never had before.
Now I wasn't glad stealth was my strong point It was impossible to sneak through a camp full of cats.
There were definitely cats following us, but it didn't matter. They already knew the exact location of the ThunderClan camp.
I looked back and nearly stopped in shock.
The entirety of the camp, including the prisoners, queens, kits, and elders, was following us.
I ran even faster.
We finally reached the camp, about halfway between moonrise and moonhigh.
We had been trapped for an entire sunrise.
I ran into camp, Leafpaw behind me. Lakestar ran out, looking rather annoyed.
"You're on tick duty-"
"No... time...," I gasped, running out of breath. "Cats... behind me..."
There was a yowl from the outside of the camp, but it was cut short.
The entirity of the Order of the Claw padded calmly into camp. Kestrel in the lead. Wolf was right beside him, carrying the dead body of one of the guards.
Wolf dropped the body of my Clanmate on the ground.
Another loss, another one to join the ranks of the fallen.
Kestrel gazed at us steadily.
"If you leave now, no other cat will die. If you leave now, you can have your prisoners back," he rasped.
The sea of cats parted to reveal five ThunderClan cats, including Lightningpaw.
"If you give us your territory, nobody gets hurt. Your Clanmates will be released, everything will be happy. If you choose to put up a fight, we will return with equal force, and you will be eradicated," Kestrel spoke with such meaning that even I, who had been captured and questioned by him, might have agreed.
Lakestar returned his glare, motioning for Volefire and Silentpool, one of the senior warriors, to step behind him.
"I'd rather have ThunderClan eradicated then give up our territory without trying," Lakestar growled, springing at Kestrel.
I must say, that was decent. At least, for him.
Without warning, the sea of cats began flooding our camp.
The plus side of this was that Lightningpaw returned, giving us a trio, which is a lot more useful in battle.
The downside was that ThunderClan was under attack.
A dark tom leaped at us, claws unsheathed and glinting in the moonlight. He landed directly on me, which knocked the breath out of me. However, it allowed Lightningpaw and Leafpaw to scramble over him, clawing at his ears and eyes. This caused me to be even more squashed, but at least we were doing some damage to someone. Eventually, Leafpaw realized I was slowly dying from lack of air and pushed the tom off me. He managed to escape, but I'm pretty sure he didn't return to the fighting.
Once we were all free from gigantic rogues squashing us, we joined together again, looking around for attacking cats. Lakestar and Kestrel were still battling, and Kestrel seemed to be winning. Silentpool had Wolf pinned to the ground, and Volefire was fighting another cat from the Order.
Lightningpaw nudged me and pointed her muzzle towards Nightpaw and Dewpaw, who were fighting back-to-back against a larger she-cat. She began running over towards them, and I struggled to keep up.
The she-cat turned around and began swiping her massive paws at us, but Nightpaw amd Dewpaw attacked her from behind, using in a move Lightningpaw had taught us. My littermate wasn't too bad when you got to know her.
The rogue hissed and bucked, kicking Dewpaw and Nightpaw back. Leafpaw raced to help them up while Lightningpaw and I attacked her. I quickly unbalanced her by tangling up her paws and Lightningpaw went for her eyes. Suddenly, Lightningpaw dashed away.
"Follow her!" Leafpaw yowled. "We've got this!"
The look on Dewpaw and Nightpaw's faces didn't exactly confirm this statement, but I followed her anyway.
I finally caught up to Lightningpaw and spotted her crouched in the bushes by a lone grey shecat.
I watched as Lightningpaw leaped for Creekfeather, immediately grabbing the warrior's throat between her jaws. A yowl escaped the older she-cat before the crack of bone cut it short.
I heard another yowl coming ftom the center of camp. "Retreat!" It was Kestrel.
The sea of cats (that is now quite evaporated) thinned and slowly disappeared. I noticed that many of the cats looked disappointed, as if they had been promised asquirrel and recieved a shrew.
I shrugged and joined the victory yowling as Volefire tossed out prey to everyone, making sure to step around the dead bodies.