Wavesplash's one-shot for @Waspwing's contest on Wattpad. The prompt was: "Write about a naive, young apprentice encountering a deceased friend that tricks said apprentice into believing they are from StarClan, when the truth is much more sinister."
“Come on, Poppykit!” Streampaw flicked his tail impatiently, glaring at the little white kit. “We have to go now, before Dawnfire sees us and makes a fuss!”
Poppykit glanced back at the nursery, where her littermates, Breezekit and Acornkit, lay curled at her mother’s belly, sleeping peacefully. Her spot next to them looked warm and cozy, perfect for sleeping. But Streampaw loomed just outside the nursery entrance, huge and full of excitement and danger, the kind of fun adventure Brackenflower never wanted her to have, the kind Breezekit and Acornkit never wanted to participate in, the kind none of the other apprentices would take a kit along. But Streampaw and her secret friend Leafpaw, who didn’t live in SkyClan, were happy to have her company on their adventures, and she was happy to go. It was fun, better than anything the other kits did.
Poppykit lifted her tail and followed Streampaw out of the nursery, out of camp, through some of the thinner trees, and finally at an area of the gorge about two cat-lengths across, much narrower then the main part of the gorge, but still quite wide. Here, Leafpaw was waiting, swishing her tail and grinning. “Hi!”
“Hi!” Poppykit replied happily.
Leafpaw raised her tail, blinking at Streampaw. “Today I thought we’d try jumping. Won’t it be fun? It’ll feel like you’re flying.”
“Sounds awesome,” Streampaw replied, flicking his ears in excitement. “Let’s go.”
Leafpaw flicked her tail. “I’ll go first,” she meowed, backing up, running forward, and effortlessly sailing across the gorge. She waved her tail brightly to the cats on the other side. “Streampaw, you’re next!”
Streampaw grinned confidently at me. “Beat this!” He backed up and got a running start like Leafpaw had done, leaping across the gorge… and falling short, a fox-length from the edge. He screamed, falling and clawing at the air, and Poppykit screamed alongside him.
“Poppypaw! Poppypaw, wake up. Tigerfrost wants us on the dawn patrol today.”
I sit up, blinking sleepily and stretching. Weak dawn sunlight streamed through the entrance of the apprentices’ den, which was partly blocked by the stocky, broad-shouldered form of my grumpy and impatient mentor, Firestorm. He flicks his tail impatiently, almost reminding me of Streampaw all those moons ago.
I give my rumpled chest fur a couple licks and heave myself from my nest, yawning. “Coming!”
Dawnberry greets us cheerfully when we arrive. Her name is fitting – she didn’t mind getting up early, unlike most cats. Also on the patrol are Gingerpaw and her mentor, Aspenbreeze.
Firestorm flicks his tail impatiently. “Ready to go?”
I nod, swishing my tail excitedly, the cold air in her fur waking up her senses. Beside me, Aspenbreeze looks like he is going to fall asleep on the spot, but he sets off at a surprisingly swift pace – probably wanted to get back to his nest as soon as possible. He has always been a cat who rewards himself at the end of a challenge, like the time when he fought rogues and ate a plump, juicy squirrel all by himself to celebrate. He’s hilarious, but he doesn’t mean to be. It’s all I can do to keep from laughing.
Instead, I walk with Firestorm and the patrol to the desired hunting spot, where Dawnberry tells us to split up so we can catch more prey. We’re all at least a little experienced and we’ll be fine, she says.
We all believed her, without a thought. Dawnberry is cheerful and optimistic and confident. But it was early morning, and SkyClan had been at peace for moons.
I pad off into the trees, making small talk with the territory for a while before the big event, yet I don’t know it yet. I catch a squirrel and a mouse, burying them under the roots of a large maple, so I know where they are when I come back to them.
Little do I know, I won’t be the one fetching my prey today.
I am chasing another squirrel, nice and plump. It will make a good meal for Willowleaf, she loves squirrel, and Applekit and Rainkit are always happy with a good squirrel. It’s plump and perfect and looks amazing. The only problem is, it’s just out of my reach! It runs as if it knows what I’m getting at and knows exactly now to stay just out of my grasp. It’s all a game to this squirrel, and I wonder if I’m not the first cat it’s fooled this way. But what am I thinking? Squirrels aren’t smart enough for that. It must be just a lucky coincidence for the little squirrel.
The squirrel leaps into some bushes and I keep running. I know it will emerge into a tiny clearing just by the gorge, where Streampaw and I used to meet with Leafpaw. I need to catch it before it veers off the edge, because if it survives I won’t get to it in time, and if it dies it won’t be fresh-kill. Cutting it off before the edge is my only hope.
There’s a squeal from the other side and the squirrel’s skittering paw steps go silent. Someone else has killed it.
I slow to a walk, panting from the run, and push through the bushes. I hope it’s not a rogue tresspassing on my territory, for then I will have to fight it. After chasing the squirrel all this way, I’m not in the best shape, plus I’m only an apprentice.
I flatten my ears and push through the bushes, coming out headfirst with my eyes warily wide.
The cat I see on the other side is not a rogue or a cat I need to fight off, but they’re not exactly my Clanmate. He blinks expectantly at me, the squirrel lying dead at his paws. “Poppypaw!”
“Hello!” I gasp, pulling my tail through the bushes and going to touch noses in greeting, but he pulls back. I try to ignore the hurt rising inside me. After all, we haven’t seen each other for four moons, and I was just a kit then. It’s been a while. I was half his height before, and now I’m just taller than him. I guess when you’re dead you don’t exactly grow.
“How’ve you been?” he asks in his normal affectionate yet rough voice, and I feel my hurt starting to fade, thankfully. “I missed you!”
“Great,” I reply, suddenly feeling guilty for growing and making friends and being happy in his absence. “What about you? How’s StarClan treating you?”
He flicks his tail quickly, his gaze darting to a tree behind me, then back to my face. “Good, good. Listen, there’s something I need to ask you.”
I prick my ears expectantly. “Yes?”
“Do you trust me?”
The question takes me off guard. “Well yes, I thought that was a given. I mean, we’re Clanmates. Friends.”
He takes a step closer. “Yes, but… I’ve been watching you. You never talked to Leafpaw. You strayed away from us.” He shoots a swift look over my shoulder again.
“I didn’t even see Leafpaw! She never came around!” I protested.
Streampaw frowned. “She didn’t? Sta- squirrel dung! Well, we’ll have to make up for lost time. Follow me!”
He leads me to the edge of the gorge. “I’ve been coming here regularly, trying to come to terms,” he tells me. “Turns out StarClan’s not all that great, especially for apprentices who died stupidly, but I have a few friends. Leafpaw’s been around. It’s alright.” Although he seemed to be trying to hide it, I noticed the way he lashed his tail and gritted his teeth and spiked his tail angrily when he talked about. However many good friends had his tail, there must be enough rude and terrible cats to compensate for it. He seemed different. Angrier. Like a cat who had been shielded by their mother for their entire life and realized how cruel the world was, and didn’t like it but had to deal with it. There was a new vibe about him, dangerous and fragile, like a volcano about to explode. If that was it, than I guess I was treading on thin ice that had somehow formed over the very top of the volcano, and I had to be very careful. For the first time in my life, I was scared of Streampaw, my protector and best friend.
He sits down across from me, leaving me with my back to the gorge. “There are some things we never realized, Poppypaw. StarClan isn’t the great saviors we thought they were.”
Thin ice over a volcano.
“My friends and I are planning a… a project. A revolt. A revolution. To make it better for cats like us, cats that are overlooked and looked down upon for little things. We’re pretty much powerless right now, but we mean to change that. Soon.”
The ice is cracking. Lava bubbles below my paws, warming them beyond comfort level. Cold and hot at the same time. Not something that should be mixed. This is dangerous. Very dangerous.
“I need your help, though. I’m sorry about dying and leaving you alone and Leafpaw not coming and only showing up to ask a favor of you, but it’s heartfelt. Please, Poppypaw. Join us.”
The volcano is moments away from erupting. The ice is melting, fast. It cracks and lava bubbles up between it, hot beyond anything I have ever been close to. Hotter than the forest fire that killed Breezepaw, my sister. Hotter than the sun on the hottest of greenleaf days in the hottest greenleaf of all time that Sorrelflower the elder loves to tell of. Hotter than anything, everything. There are two ways of quickly melting ice that I can take to safely. If I choose the wrong one, the lava will consume me. I will die. One will carry me to safety. But I must choose, and fast.
I make my choice. I step onto the ice.
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I have this sense of wrong, like the sense you get when you’re right about to fall. The ice cracks under my weight. Lava hotter than anything any cat has ever known splashes into my fur. Pain scorches me, the lava searing off my fur and trying its scalding-hot claws at my soft, tender, vulnerable skin.
Streampaw and someone else – Leafpaw? leap on me, tearing at my fur, biting at my skin, and I scream in both real life and my volcano fantasy. In my hazy, pain-filled, shocked state, I can’t tell which one is real.
The last of the ice melts as I crumple beneath their claws. I see now that neither paths would have been safe. I said yes, and Streampaw and his friends attacked me anyway. I fell into the lava anyway. They aren’t from StarClan after all. They never were. From the moment I met Leafpaw, back when I was a kit, they lied to me.
Then a lava wave carries me over the edge of the volcano, flinging me over the side. Streampaw shoves me over the cliff. I tumble toward the ground below.
“She said yes.”
Buzzardstar’s words hang in the balance as SkyClan’s Ancestors judge Poppypaw. The white she-cat’s form shimmers over the border. Her green eyes are closed. She is not really there.
Breezepaw, the sister lost in the fire, is there. She watches, pain filling her heart. Poppypaw meant well. She was naive and innocent. She had no idea what the Dark Forest was planning. She only wanted to help Streampaw.
She meant well.
Breezepaw closes her eyes, unable to watch as the oldest and most important leaders doom Poppypaw to eternity in the Dark Forest for being Streampaw’s friend.
Streampaw and Leafpaw and the other Dark Forest watch, their eyes gleaming hungrily from the shadows. No doubt they will use this story against the SkyClan Ancestors, another tool.
Breezepaw wanted her sister back. Poppypaw would never bribe ignorant kits and apprentices to her place with a story like that, right?
As if her sister had heard her words, Poppypaw opened her eyes, green and sparkling and shining with not only sadness and disappointment and longing, but knowledge and determination. And Breezepaw and all the other cats who knew Poppypaw knew at that moment that she truly wasn’t evil, but maybe she belonged there, because maybe, just maybe, the stupid, ignorant apprentice doomed by her friend and punished for it could make a difference.