Jayfeather's pelt spiked as he heard the familiar yowl of Tigerstar slice through the silence. He could sense the sudden terror hanging in the chilly leaf-bare air, and when he pricked his ears, he heard the senior warriors and kits alike murmuring fearfully as the Clans prepared for the reaping. Jayfeather shuddered, wondering which six of his Clanmates would be selected this season to participate in the deadly Hunger Games.
Even I can be chosen, the medicine cat reminded himself. Perhaps I should worry about myself.
A tail-tip brushed against the skinny gray tabby tom's side, and he turned to breathe in the forest-tainted scent of his sister, Hollyleaf. "Hurry," the slender she-cat meowed quietly. "The reaping is already about to begin."
For a moment, Jayfeather was impressed by his sister's calm, steady words. Then, he inhaled in her sharp fear-scent, and he realized Hollyleaf was as frightened as everyone else.
The medicine cat nodded numbly and followed Hollyleaf into the throng of gathered warriors. He settled down between his sister and Tawnypelt, tilting his muzzle attentively toward where Tigerstar sat. Jayfeather sensed the tom's glare burning into pelt, and he shifted his paws nervously. Have I been chosen?
Jayfeather glanced away. A blind medicine cat would stand no chance in the Hunger Games - if he was indeed one of the chosen, he was certain he'd be one of the first to fall. If I die, I'll die fighting! The thought wasn't a comforting or reassuring one.
He recalled the previous season's ferocious game. Leafpool is gone, like so many of my Clanmates. I must accept the truth - we could all be killed the next day. Everyone here could all be dead.
"Welcome, now that we are all here." Tigerstar's scornful words were edged with contempt. His voice jerker Jayfeather back to the present. Beside the medicine cat, Hollyleaf bristled, her thick fur prickling. Tawnypelt gazed at her father with defiance in her stare, but Jayfeather noticed her contradicting anxiety.
Jayfeather's sharp ears caught a grumble from a she-cat standing beside Tigerstar. Mapleshade. He recognized the warrior's dank, stinking stench immediately. What's she doing there, with Tigerstar?
Tigerstar continued speaking, his voice a low rumble. "As you all might know, it is time for the reaping for this leaf-bare's Hunger Games."
Jayfeather swallowed. "As if any of us don't," he remarked sarcastically, but his heart was pounding.
If Tigerstar heard the gray tabby tom over the murmuring of the assembled cats, he ignored it.
"Last night," the cruel tom started formally, "we chose this season's participants - at random, of course."
Jayfeather couldn't help but twitch his ear-tips suspiciously. His paws were ice-cold, not only because of the frost covering the ground, but from his apprehension. The gray tabby frowned at Tigerstar as he stood, blazing eyes sweeping across the shadowed clearing. "Shall we begin with WindClan first?"
Jayfeather instinctively glanced at Hollyleaf in surprise. The slender she-cat leaned closer to the medicine cat and grunted, "He normally begins with ThunderClan. I don't know what's been on his mind these few days, but I'm certain his plans aren't pleasant."
Jayfeather nodded in agreement, his unsheathed claws sinking onto the earth. It's difficult to believe that Tigerstar isn't concocting a wicked plan of his own, he mused.
Tigerstar's announcement sliced through Jayfeather's wandering thoughts. "The six WindClan tributes are Heathertail, Sedgewhisker, Sunstrike, Deadfoot, Swiftfoot, and Leaftail!"
Jayfeather watched helplessly as the six unfortunate warriors were shoved forward by a mangy Dark Forest tom, toward the base of the colossal boulder Tigerstar was perched upon. None of their friends and family dared to speak; even the bravest warrior was too daunted by Tigerstar to gather the courage to argue.
Would I speak up for my friends and family? Jayfeather found himself wondering.
Mapleshade's cold eyes swept over the petrified warriors like the a leaf-barr wind. "The fortunate RiverClan tributes are Rainflower, Icewing, Lakeheart, Appledusk, Oakheart, and Stonefur."
Five of the strong, sleek-furred warriors cringed away from the mangy Dark Forest tom - the warrior who had shoved the WindClan cats forward - and sprang to the base of the boulder. They would be a challenge if I were in the Hunger Games.
The she-cat named Icewing murmured to a brown tabby who had stood, panic rippling from her striped fur. "Don't worry, Duskfur; I'll be fine." Although her words were reassuring, her voice was hollow and despairing. Then she, too, bounded to the boulder to join her Clanmates.
Jayfeather averted his attention to Tigerstar as the Dark Forest tom rumbled, "If you're quite finished with your insolent squabbling..."
The conversation faded almost instantly. Jayfeather flinched away from Hollyleaf, aware of how easily his Clanmates had been silenced. If my Clan is this scared of Tigerstar, will we ever win the Hunger Games?
"The ShadowClan tributes will be Dawnpelt, Russetfur, Tawnypelt, Crowfrost, Flintfang, and Puddleshine!"
The muttering that had ceased moments ago bloomed again now; Bramblestar darted to his sister, his amber eyes wide with fear. "Tawnypelt, you'll be killed!" His voice was a low hiss, but Jayfeather's acute hearing caught it.
"Bramblestar, you must accept that you might never see your sister again."
Dovewing? Why would she tell Bramblestar such a cruel truth? Yet despite his pondering, Jayfeather knew Bramblestar had to live through the loss of his sister to the Hunger Games.
As Tawnypelt left Jayfeather's side and silently padded to the colossal boulder, the final name reverberated through Jayfeather's muddled thoughts. Puddleshine. The young, splotched brown-and-white tom would be the first medicine cat tribute this season. And I could be the next.
"Silence!" Tigerstar roared.
The watching cats obeyed his command without hesitation; once again! Jayfeather winced at their quick submission. It's time for Tigerstar to announce ThunderClan's tributes... He wondered whi the chosen cats were.
"And finally for ThunderClan," Tigerstar growled. Every warrior knew that although Tigerstar despised all four Clans, he hated ThunderClan the most.
Nearly instantly, an older she-cat rushed toward the young ThunderClan warrior. "No!" she shrieked, towering over her daughter. "I will not let this happen!"
"You must." Tigerstar scowled, still standing on the huge boulder. "Unless you wish to volunteer for her."
Blossomfall shook her head at Millie. "You're an elder," she insisted forcefully. "You won't survive the Hunger Games, however hard you tried." Without waiting for an sharp retort, she bravely whipped around and shouldered past Jayfeather, heading for the boulder.
Tigerstar sneered mockingly, as if he had hoped for Blossomfall's reaction.
The previous kittypet stepped backwards, a few tail-lengths from Jayfeather. After a moment, he swallowed and maneuvered carefully through the remaining warriors in the throng, halting next to Blossomfall.
The large, soft-furred tom jerked back before dipping his head in defeat and padding up to the boulder where Tigerstar stood, leering at the mutinous-looking Clan leaders.
Jayfeather's fur prickled as he sensed Daisy's grief. The silky-furred she-cat was barely resisting the urge to surge after her kit.
"Fernsong." Tigerstar's next announcement startled Jayfeather. His brother's son, a tribute of the Hunger Games? Fernsong's such a young warrior! Then the gray tabby tom glanced away. He's above six moons old.
Jayfeather knew he wasn't safe from being one of the chosen yet - there had been a few seasons where there were more toms than she-cats, and the opposite.
The following name was much more surprising than Fernsong's.
The slender she-cat stiffened; Jayfeather could sense her sleek fur bristling, both in anger and fear. "But - " his sister began, then abruptly closed her jaws. She leaned toward Jayfeather. "You must not volunteer. A blind medicine cat wouldn't stand a chance."
How did she know? Guiltily, Jayfeather nodded and stepped back. Am I such a coward that I'm allowing my own sister to take on the Hunger Games?
Jayfeather's sister stepped past him, her sorrowful gaze burning into Jayfeather's pale gray pelt, before she turned and padded away.
"And finally..." Tigerstar's strong voice interrupted the typical commotion.
Jayfrather sprang to his paws, his fur bushing out. First Hollyleaf, and now Ivypool? Had Tigerstar selected tributes of his own choice to participate in the Hunger Games? Fury pricked at Jayfeather like brambles. If he did, why would he?
Sometimes, Jayfeather didn't particularly like Ivypool, but she was Dovewing's sister. Jayfeather glanced over at the pale gray she-cat. Her sky-blue eyes were alight with astonishment and fear for her sister. Jayfrather's hackles rose as he heard Tigerstar sneer.
"Calm down." Ivypool was approaching the outraged medicine cat, her gaze steady. "I can survive this."
Jayfeather felt a rush of uncharacteristic pity for the young she-cat. Her mother, Whitewing, had fallen victim to last season's games, and Ivypool was barely coping with the loss.
As Ivypool flicked her tail over the medicine cat's muzzle before turning to stalk toward the colossal boulder, chin raised and tail lifted high in unwavering defiance, a new, striking thought occurred to Jayfeather.
Hollyleaf and Ivypool will either become murderers - or die.
Chapter One Edit
Rain was lashing the branches above Ivypool's head, and ice-cold droplets soaked her silver-and-white tabby fur. She hadn't been able to sleep, unlike the other ThunderClan tributes. Hollyleaf was curled in a corner, occasionally twitching in her sleep. Stormcloud, Blossomfall, Mousewhisker, and Fernsong had gathered in the middle of the den and were huddled together, tails curled over their noses.
The season's Hunger Games would begin today.
I die, or my Clan's tributes all die, Ivypool thought, blinking bleariness from her dark blue eyes. She straightened to watch her five Clanmates sleep. Stormcloud, the former kittypet Frankie who had eventually joined ThunderClan. Ivypool didn't know the gray tabby tom as well as she knew Blossomfall or Mousewhisker, but she knew that although he was rather quiet and even-tempered, he was a good fighter.
Blossomfall, Ivypool's fellow Dark Forest trainee and one of her closest friends, was curled up near Stormcloud. Ivypool had known her since kithood. Jealous of Briarlight and the attention the dark brown she-cat received, Blossomfall had been recruited into the Dark Forest army, turning against them only at the final battle.
Mousewhisker: another Dark Forest trainee Ivypool knew almost as well as Blossomfall. Ivypool wasn't sure why the gray-and-white tom had been chosen by the Place of No Stars, but she was certain it wasn't a pleasant reason. Perhaps he would be a challenge in the Hunger Games. But do I really want to turn against my Clanmates?
Fernsong: one of ThunderClan's newest warriors, along with Sorrelstripe and Hollytuft. The yellow tabby tom was a very close friend of Ivypool's. He spent his spare time with her, joking and teasing. Ivypool recognized his gestures toward her, and was sure that Fernsong liked her. Would that be an advantage in the games? Perhaps Ivypool could ally herself with the young ThunderClan warrior. But what if he turned against her? Ivypool shuddered at the thought.
The final cat was Hollyleaf. Ivypool barely remembered the she-cat's sleek, night-black pelt and green eyes from her earliest days as a kit. She had heard rumors about Hollyleaf's undying loyalty to the warrior code, and her anguish when she realized her mother was Leafpool, the medicine cat of ThunderClan, and her father was Crowfeather of WindClan. She was quite quiet, like Stormcloud, but fiercer.