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This is a fanfic created by Heart That Shines Like a Hobbit's, or Hobbitheart.  

Allegiances Edit

ThunderClan <p class="MsoNormal">Leader: Foxstar-reddish-brown tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Deputy: Jumpfoot-white and ginger spotted she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Medicine Cat: Smokestep-black tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Warriors <p class="MsoNormal">Bouldertail-brown tabby tom with one white paw and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Russetclaw-reddish-brown tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Havenpelt-tortoiseshell she-cat with yellow eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Owlfrost-black she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Halffoot-white tom with only half of his back foot and green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Brightcloud-white and gold patched she-cat with brown eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Littletail-small brown tabby tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Apprentices: <p class="MsoNormal">Ravenpaw-black she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Duskpaw-light brown tabby she-cat with brown eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Sandpaw-yellow tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Snakepaw- honey-brown tabby she-cat with white paws and green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Queens: <p class="MsoNormal">Ashfern-gray she-cat with blue eyes, mother to Larchkit and Yellowkit <p class="MsoNormal">Bluepelt-blue-gray she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Elders: <p class="MsoNormal">Winterbreeze-black and gray tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Tornclaw-brown tabby she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">  <p class="MsoNormal">ShadowClan <p class="MsoNormal">Leader: Scorchstar-brown tabby tom with a scarred pelt and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Deputy: Firstclaw-brown tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Medicine Cat: Secondshine-golden she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Warriors: <p class="MsoNormal">Shadetooth-reddish brown she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Frogfang-gray tabby tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Stormwhisker-black she-cat with long whiskers and blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Ratbelly-brown tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Lichenfur-tortoiseshell tabby she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Weedfoot-golden tabby tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Sorrelfrost-brown and white striped she0cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Mudwing-brown tabby tom with black paws and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Apprentices: <p class="MsoNormal">Olivepaw-dark brown she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Thistlepaw-silver tabby tom with a black muzzle and blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Pinepaw-brown tabby she-cat with a white tail and paws and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Shredpaw-brown tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Raggedpaw- long-legged dark hazel-and-black she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Queens: <p class="MsoNormal">Owltooth-black she-cat with amber eyes, mother of Tallkit and Toadkit <p class="MsoNormal">Elders: <p class="MsoNormal">Spidertail-black tom with yellow eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Antclaw-brown tabby tom with black paws and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">  <p class="MsoNormal">WindClan <p class="MsoNormal">Leader: Slatestar-dark gray she-cat with a white belly and paws and blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Deputy: Cloudtooth-white tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Medicine Cat: Morningdawn-golden tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Warriors: <p class="MsoNormal">Kestrelspots-brown tabby tom with white spots and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Crowleaf-black tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Swiftrunner-brown and white patched tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Rabbitfur-golden brown she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Ferntail-toirtoiseshell she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Runningcloud-reddish-brown tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Mothfire-silver she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Longwillow-black tabby tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Apprentices: <p class="MsoNormal">Sootpaw-dark gray she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Harepaw-white tabby tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Palepaw-sandy-colored she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Amberpaw-light brown tabby tom with a ginger tail and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Queens: <p class="MsoNormal">Spottedtail-spotted ginger and white she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Whitepelt-white she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Elders: <p class="MsoNormal">Echosky-blue-gray tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">  <p class="MsoNormal">RiverClan <p class="MsoNormal">Leader: Eveningstar-silver she-cat with a black muzzle and blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Deputy: Pebblecloud-dark gray tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Medicine Cat: Feathershade-golden tabby she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Warriors: <p class="MsoNormal">Reedtooth-brown tabby tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Heatherstorm-golden-brown she-cat with brown paws and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Mintleaf-gray she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Meadowflame- long-haired ash-spotted silver she-cat with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Roseflower-black she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Breezesky-dark gray tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Willowfrost-tortoiseshell she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Troutclaw-brown tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Jayheart-gray tabby tom with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Kindspirit-golden she-cat with brown paws and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Apprentices: <p class="MsoNormal">Dovepaw-tan she-cat with white legs and green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Flowerpaw-silver gray she-cat with a fluffy tail and green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Stormypaw-blue-gray tom with yellow eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Queens: <p class="MsoNormal">Rushpelt-light brown tabby she-cat with amber eyes, mother to Thornkit and Hazelkit <p class="MsoNormal">Elders: <p class="MsoNormal">Mudtail-brown tabby tom with black paws and muzzle and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">  <p class="MsoNormal">Loners: <p class="MsoNormal">Shadow-black tom with brown eyes <p class="MsoNormal">  <p class="MsoNormal">Tribe of Rushing Water <p class="MsoNormal">Stoneteller-golden tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Prey Hunters: <p class="MsoNormal">Frost on Grass in Morning (Frost)-silver tabby she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Leaf That Glides in Wind (Leaf)-silver she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Shadow of Large Tree (Shadow)-dark gray tom with green eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Fire That Startles the Weak (Fire)-orange tabby tom with yellow eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Cave Guards: <p class="MsoNormal">Storm in Dark Sky (Storm)-dark gray tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Flower That Grows on Mountain (Flower)-white she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Hawk That Soars in Sky (Hawk)-brown tabby tom with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Night That Holds Star (Night)-black tom with yellow eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Flight of Small Bird (Flight)-golden tabby she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Kit Mothers: <p class="MsoNormal">Smoke That Dances in Breeze (Smoke)-dark gray she-cat with green eyes (three older kits) <p class="MsoNormal">Snow That Melts in Heat (Snow)-white tabby she-cat with blue eyes (four younger kits) <p class="MsoNormal">To-Bes: <p class="MsoNormal">Star in Evening Sky (Star)-silver tabby she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">River That Flows Through Mountain (River)-blue-gray she-cat with blue eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Sun on Winter Horizon (Sun)-golden tabby tom with a brown muzzle and amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Elders: <p class="MsoNormal">Heather That Blooms in Season (Heather)-golden tabby she-cat with amber eyes <p class="MsoNormal">Stone Jutting Through Grass (Stone)-gray tabby tom with black paws and blue eyes

Prologue Edit

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.5in;line-height:200%">It all began with the creation of the Great Stick. In the Underground Forest, from a Dark Moonstone long forgotten, the rogue and former leader of ShadowClan, Darkfire, forged in secret, a stick, to control the Clans. And into this Stick he poured all his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate every cat. One stick to rule them all. One by one, the free cats of the forest fell to the power of the Stick. But there were some who resisted. A last alliance of the Clans marched against the rogues Darkfire had assembled, and at Four Trees, they fought for the freedom of the Clans. Victory was near, but the power of the Stick could not be undone. It was in this moment, when all hope had faded, that Snakestep, deputy of ShadowClan, fought alongside his father, Owlstar. And Darkfire, enemy of the free cats of the Clans, was defeated. The Stick passed to ShadowClan, to Snakestep (who became Snakestar upon his father’s death in battle). He had this one chance to destroy evil forever, but the hearts of cats are easily corrupted. He hid the Stick, to use for ShadowClan’s glory. But the Stick of power has a will of its own. It betrayed Snakestar to his death. In the dead of night, a group of rogues left living launched an attack of their own against the Clans. Snakestar, and all who knew of the stick’s location died. Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for many seasons, the Stick passed out of all knowledge, hidden where Snakestar left it, deep in the woods. Until, when chance came, the Stick ensnared a new bearer. The Stick came to the kittypet, Precious, who took it to her home in the Twoleg place. The Stick gave to Precious unnatural long life, and her Twolegs, seeing the wretched, ugly creature she became, cast her out. For seasons the Stick poisoned her mind; and in the gloom of the cave the Precious took refuge in, it waited. Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumor grew of shadows, there were whispers of a nameless fear, and the Stick of Power persevered. Its time had now come. It abandoned Precious. But then something happened that the Stick did not intend. It was picked up by a young kittypet-turned-warrior named Jayheart, who was on a warrior mission for his Clan. For the time has come when the outcasts will shape the outcome of all….


Chapter 1 Edit

The forest was quiet, almost too quiet. The grass should have been covered in dew; but it wasn’t. The moon had never shone so brightly in all of its time, and the stars glowed in a way that they had never glowed before. And Jayheart found himself standing in these surreal surroundings when he should have been sleeping back in his nest. And yet, he felt no fear or curiosity. There was just peace.

“Greetings, young one.” Someone spoke into the darkness, from everywhere and nowhere. The voice was achingly familiar, and Jayheart spun around, trying to find the shape of his beloved mentor.

“Grayfire?” He whispered, his call loud in the calm of his dream. Some might have criticized him for his weakness…but he couldn’t tamper down his hope.

It was only a few heartbeats, but it felt like eternity before the elderly tom materialized beside his former apprentice; Jayheart felt joy swell in his heart. “I’ve missed you,” he said without prelude, padding forward. The two touched noses, and he drank in the comforting scent. Grayfire had been like a father to the young warrior, and a fox had taken his life far too soon.

Grayfire dipped his head. “Life is short. Do not grieve for me.” His voice carried warmth, even in the gentle chiding. It was so familiar, though, that Jayheart could not help but finish his thought.

“I have to live in the moment. I know that, I really do.” He hesitated. His head might know…

“But?”

“But my heart hasn’t gotten the message yet,” He finished sheepishly. Grayfire purred, and Jayheart knew that he’d been forgiven. The interaction reminded him so much of his days as a kittypet-turned-RiverClan apprentice, and he felt his heart crack just a bit. But he shook the feeling away—this reunion would not be spoiled by sadness.

Jayheart found himself walking alongside his mentor in a silent forest where nothing lived or died, a place where time stood still. As they moved silently through the forest floor, he told Grayfire about the new kits in RiverClan, and how he that he might be chosen to mentor one of them. The elderly cat watched RiverClan from above, he knew, but it felt so good to tell him his thoughts and feelings that he couldn’t stop himself. Grayfire listened, and he never criticized or told him that his hopes were futile. Which was why Jayheart had always liked him. He’d been one of the first to support Jayheart’s acceptance into RiverClan, and he was always patient with the young, energetic, apprentice. Jayheart was eternally grateful to Eveningstar for giving him Grayfire as a mentor.

There was a short time of silence, before gray-furred tom spoke again. “We have more important matters to attend to.”

“Oh?” Jayheart asked, looking his mentor in the eye. His interest was roused; seeing his surrogate father had distracted him for a short time, but now he was alert.

“You have found a stick….on your warrior mission.” It wasn’t a question, and Jayheart nodded, if reluctantly. He wasn’t even sure that a stick was the correct term for it. It was harder, shinier, and it definitely wasn’t made of wood. But that wasn’t the odd thing about it. The strangest part was that there was something inside of him that wanted desperately to protect the Stick. It was why he hadn’t mentioned it when he’d returned to RiverClan a quarter moon ago and why he still didn’t really want to talk about it. The feeling puzzled him even while it was strong enough to keep him silent. Now he shook the feeling away. This was Grayfire. There wasn’t a need to protect anything from him.

“It’s….strange,” he went on after a few moments, not sure how to put into words what he’d discovered.  “It’s like there’s some kind of power attached to it. I don’t understand why. I asked Feathershade to look into it.” Understanding dawned on him, and his eyes widened. “Is that what this dream is about?”

Grayfire, however, was hesitant to answer. “I cannot say much...but all will revealed in due time.” He wouldn’t look Jayheart in the eye, and instead focused where he was putting his paws. Jayheart narrowed his own eyes. What kind of answer was that?

“You must come to Fourtrees at midnight, in three days’ time. Then the dark one will reveal what you must know.”  

“What—? At Fourtrees? The dark one?”

“That is all I can tell you, Jayheart,” Now he stopped walking and faced the confused silver warrior.

To Jayheart’s dismay, his former mentor’s outline began to fade away. “Don’t go, Grayfire! Please!”

Grayfire gave him a ghost of a smile. “Do not lose heart. You are so young…and this will not be easy.” Fear pierced Jayheart’s pelt. What did he mean, exactly? What would not be easy?

And then Jayheart blinked: He was alone, and it was dawn.

Chapter 2 Edit

Jayheart had learned the art of fishing in the river so many moons ago that it felt like a lifetime had passed since then. He’d been a scrawny young apprentice; now he was a warrior with a sleek pelt that hid hard muscle. It still surprised him to see his reflection whenever he happened to glance into the water. In his mind, he was still mischievous and juvenile, causing trouble for the senior warriors and elders. But he’d matured in the seasons since then, he thought with just a hint of regret. Many things had changed. Warriors had retired, kits had grown into apprentices, and Grayfire had died.

                “Jayheart!” A greeting spoken suddenly over his shoulder caused him to whirl around and almost fall into the river. Laughing, the she-cat reached out a paw to steady him. Her eyes sparkled.

Kindspririt. There was one thing that hadn’t changed. She was still the sweet and lively cat she’d been when they’d trained together as apprentices. Her name had been well chosen, as she had the kindest spirit Jayheart had ever encountered. In her special own way, she had welcomed Jayheart into the Clan and he would always be thankful for that.

                “I didn’t mean for you to fall in, fishbrain,” she purred as Jayheart stumbled to his paws. “I just wanted to ask if you wanted to come on a walk when you were done hunting.”

                “Sure,” Jayheart said. “It might be a bit though….I need to talk with Feathershade when I’m finished here.”

                “Feathershade?” Kindspirit flashed him a concerned look at the mention of the RiverClan medicine cat. “What’s wrong?”

                Jayheart hesitated, not sure how to explain himself. He needed to know whether StarClan had told Feathershade anything about the stick he’d found, but that was business between him and his medicine cat. It wasn’t something he wanted to tell Kindspirit if he didn’t have to. “There’s nothing wrong…I just had a weird dream,” he said at last.

                “Oh,” Kindspirit said, obviously relieved that he wasn’t physically ailing. “Well….I guess you can just come find me then. I’m going to be watching Thornkit and Hazelkit for Rushpelt. So she can go on a patrol, you know?”

                Kindspirit was the Clan’s live-in kit-watcher. She adored kits and took every opportunity to spend time with them. Whenever she found a mate, she was going to be an amazing mother, Jayheart thought as he turned back to the water. Kindspirit padded away, and Jayheart wondered vaguely whether he would ever mate. Most cats seemed to have accepted him by now, especially after his successful warrior mission, but he knew that doubt would always remain as to his loyalties. Maybe one day, they’ll fade completely, he thought with conviction as his paw slashed neatly through the water and brought up a fish with it. A neat kill, he thought with satisfaction as he bit it behind the head and picked it up in his jaw. Now for that talk with Feathershade….

Scenebreak

“Feathershade?” Jayheart called as he poked his head into the medicine cat den. The smell of dusty herbs hit his nose, and he sneezed just as Feathershade appeared.

                “Hello, Jayheart,” the young she-cat greeted him. Bits of leaves were stuck to her pelt, evidence of her hard work. She’d been young when her mentor, Milktail, had died, but she had been trained well. Every cat respected her, and she was popular among her own Clan as well as the other medicine cats.

“Hey,” he replied. “I was wondering….has StarClan said anything to you? About….you know….”

Feathershade became serious as he mentioned the Stick. “No….they haven’t, Jayheart. I’m sorry.”

Should he tell her what Grayfire had said? Or should he just meet at Four Trees, and tell her about it afterwards? It was easier to ask forgiveness than permission, after all. But was that really what he needed to do to prove his loyalty as a RiverClan warrior? Wouldn’t that just add fuel to the fire?

Before he could decide, Feathershade went on, “If they don’t speak to me soon, I think we should tell Eveningstar about it. I mean, it’s just a stick, but you’re right when you say it holds power. I can feel it, and my dreams have been troubled ever since it came to me. I don’t think it’s a good thing.”

A sudden urge to see the Stick, hold it, cherish it, swept over Jayheart without warning, and his words came out fast and urgent. “Can I see it?”

Feathershade blinked at the sudden request. “Sure, but….just be careful, Jayheart.” She turned away and began to dig around in her den, while Jayheart watched her, barely concealing his bristling pelt. Why was it taking so long, he wondered as the seconds ticked by. Had she lost it? A few more moments went by, and he heard rustling noises. But still, she did not turn around.

Suspicion bloomed in his mind. She said it had power—had she taken it for herself? Had she already told Eveningstar about it? Was she lying to him? A growl rose in his throat. No! Anger grew inside of him, and he could feel his neck fur rising. No one must know about it! It was his Stick—his and his alone. He would do whatever it took to protect it.

He was gathering his muscles for a leap onto Feathershade, to make her tell him what she’d done—the pretty little medicine cat wouldn’t even know what hit her—when she turned around, the Stick in her jaws. “Here you go,” she said, dropping it at his paws.

                The energy that had captivated him moments before died to nothing except for content as he stared at the crystallized item. It was so beautiful, and the power was invigorating. It pulsed and flowed, inviting him to come and use it.

                “You feel it, then?” Feathershade asked, her eyes disturbed as she watched Jayheart.

                “I do,” Jayheart breathed. The power was what had drawn him to the Stick in the first place, caused him to pull it out of the disgusting cave he’d found it in and create a harness for himself to carry it back to RiverClan. He still had the vine contraction, buried, where no one would find it. As if it was a secret that could never be shared without danger.

                “You cannot fall to it!” A voice said harshly in his ear, and Jayheart’s head snapped up. Grayfire? “You must stay strong.” The words were whispered this time, comforting him, as a mother would soothe her kit during the night. He closed his eyes, and he found that the Stick’s power faded into the background—it was there, but quieter and far away, like words spoken in a dream. He shook his head as if to clear it, then looked up at Feathershade.

                “You can put it away now, thanks,” he told her, stiffening his pelt as she picked it up. Despite Grayfire’s intervention, he still had to restrain himself from taking it back. “And let’s not tell Eveningstar yet. Give it a few more days. Please.”

                Feathershade tipped her head in consideration, then nodded. “All right, then. Three more days. Then we tell her.”                

Good, Jayheart thought as he padded away in search of Kindspirit. Enough time for my meeting at Fourtrees.

Chapter 3 Edit

Three days later, Jayheart found himself creeping along RiverClan territory, on his way to Four Trees. The moon was only a sliver in the sky, but that cast shadows everywhere. While glad for the protection the darkness offered, every noise made him jump, and he couldn’t help but feel like he was being watched.

Wrapped around his body, he wore the harness that he’d fashioned for himself after he’d found the Stick—he was surprised it had lasted in its hiding place for so long. Perhaps the power of the Stick had maintained it, perhaps it had just been luck. He would never know. Now he was glad, because with the vines around his body and the crystallized object hanging in front of him, his mouth was free, and he didn’t have to worry about dropping the Stick.

A branch cracked, and Jayheart nervously spun around. He couldn’t help but feel jumpy—what if one of his Clanmates was out and asked him what he was doing? What could he say? Would they believe him if he said he was just taking a walk? Adding to his fear were the nightmares. Ever since his dream with Grayfire, his sleep had been disturbed by a whirlwind of horrific images that he tried to get out of his head, but only found himself drowning in. There was Eveningstar, torn about by dogs and Feathershade, murdered by a cat in the night. And worst of all was the image of Kindspirit, her eyes wide opened and glazed, their cheerfulness gone. Her body was marked by gashes and scars, and it was this image that always sent Jayheart awake with a yowl. And he didn’t know why, but when he woke up, he couldn’t help but feel as if it was a warning, telling him not to go to the meeting. But there was no way he wasn’t going. Especially taking his protectiveness of the Stick into consideration. Even while he felt it, the feeling confused him to no end. He wanted answers. And if a covert meeting at Fourtrees in the darkness was the only way to do it, so be it.

A movement caught Jayheart’s eye, and his head swiveled to see the shape of a cat in the shadows. He jumped back, barely holding back a cry of surprise.

“Jayheart?” The figure walked closer, and Jayheart was relieved to recognize its form.

“Kindspirit? What are you doing here?” He asked, trying rather unsuccessfully to make his fur lie back down.

. “Taking a walk,” she answered as she walked closer, her stocky body making no sound as she approached. When she was close enough to see him, she stopped and tilted her head at him at last. There was no suspicion in her gaze as she looked into his blue eyes. That was what he liked about her; she liked to think the best about people. “What about you?”

“Just, uh, taking a walk. You know. Same as you,” Jayheart lied, knowing as he spoke that his explanation sounded utterly fake. So fake that even Kindspirit wouldn’t even believe it.

But, being Kindspirit, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t accuse him of lying or ask him why he had the Stick with him. She just watched him for a few moments before dropping her gaze. As if she was disappointed that he didn’t trust her but didn’t want to challenge him on it.

Jayheart hesitated. If it was anybody but Kindspirit, he would try to bluff his way out of this. But he knew the she-cat far better than that—she might be sweet, but she was also persistent, and if he didn’t tell her on his own terms, she’d probably follow him and find out anyways. He just wished he had more answers before he tried to explain. Why couldn’t Grayfire just have told him in the dream, instead of making him sneak around like this? Didn’t he know how guilty it made Jayheart look?

The silence stretched into awkwardness, and Jayheart was just opening his mouth to say something, anything to break it, when he realized that it wasn’t just the two of them standing there anymore. They were not alone.

“Are you meeting someone here?” Kindspirit breathed, her ears pricking warily as she sensed the newcomers’ presence. There were more than one, and their scent was unfamiliar. At least, they weren’t of the four Clans.

“Not exactly,” Jayheart muttered, taking a few steps back as the dark figures approached them. His senses were screaming, “Danger!”, and his heart rate sped up. “Run,” He told her, his voice clear even though it was barely a whisper.

And they ran. They turned on their heels and fled in the opposite direction, racing as though their lives depended on it. And Jayheart was more than fairly certain that they did. The rogues—at least, that’s what he thought they were—gave chase, and they were fast. He could hear them gaining on him, and he then knew what they needed to do.

“Draw-them-to-the-river!” He panted.

“And then what?” Kindspirit asked, gasping as she took a second to look over her shoulder. Jayheart didn’t need to turn around to know what she saw: they were close. Too close.

“Hope they can’t swim,” Jayheart replied, putting on more speed.

Moments stretched into minutes, and minutes into hours. (At least, that was what it felt like.) Kittypet, he told himself, his strength draining as he struggled to breathe evenly.

“There it is!” Kindspirit called to him, and he could hear it, bubbling and gurgling as it rushed over stones. Jayheart wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen something so welcome in his whole life.

He didn’t have much time to reflect on his gratefulness, however. The rogues had figured out their plan, and now they had begun to surround them, trying to cut off their escape. He could see now that there were nine of them, all with black pelts that gave them a definite advantage in the darkness. Their eyes were even black, with pinpricks of light in their center; looking into them was like looking into a long tunnel, with something dark and sinister waiting at the end. It was if they had no soul. Their demeanor was smooth and silent, like that of an art practiced many times before. These weren’t just rogues, Jayheart realized. They were something far more sinister and far more deadly. And they were after him for some reason. Fear spiked through him. They had to get away.

Summoning up his last scrap of energy, he bounded forward. The river was just three steps away…..then two….now one. He heard Kindspirit crash into the water, and then with a huge leap, he’d joined her.

The water was cold, sucking all of his breath from him, but Jayheart hadn’t trained as a RiverClan warrior for nothing. He forced himself to stay calm and remember everything he’d learned in training. And then, with strong, sure strokes, he began to swim away.

Chapter 4 Edit

The rogues chased them along the riverbank for quite some time, but the RiverClan cats were good swimmers, and they managed to stay ahead. Unfortunately, their pursuers didn’t seem as if they ever intended to give up, and that was what worried Jayheart. All of the skill in the world won’t do us any good if they chase us until Fourtrees. What are we going to do? Even if this Dark One is actually there, we’ll still have to fight these rogues, outnumbered. StarClan, help!

Even as he swam for his life, he was still aware of the Stick floating in front of him. His paws frantically worked to avoid being tangled in the vines he was wearing, and he hoped desperately that the Stick was alright. The thought of the precious item being damaged sent panic coursing through him.

Kindspirit gasped as a branch came hurtling down the river, almost clouting her on the head. Putting aside his worry for the Stick, he paddled faster to catch up with her.  

“Are you alright?” He asked, peering at her face in the weak moonlight as they swam side by side. She didn’t look hurt, thank StarClan. She shouldn’t even be here, Jayheart thought with a twinge of regret. She should be back, sleeping soundly in her nest in RiverClan!

“I’m fine!” She said, giving him a small smile. “Don’t worry about me. Just keep swimming!”

Why are they chasing us? Jayheart thought as he thrust his way onward. What do they want from us? Are they just troublemakers….or are they after something….like the Stick?

Even as he thought it, he knew it had to be true. There could be no other explanation. They can’t have it! It’s mine! He thought fiercely. What do you mean by that Jayheart? It’s not yours….and you know it’s nothing good. It’s brought you nothing but trouble. You don’t want it. His mental lecture was partly believed, but also partly an attempt to convince himself, because deep inside, he really did want the Stick for himself. But why? He wondered. What is so important about it?

                “Hey!” Despite his ears being half-submerged in water, he heard a yowl erupt in the darkness. It came from ThunderClan’s side of the bank, and he recognized that voice. It was Jumpfoot, the aggressive ThunderClan deputy, who’d always made Jayheart nervous. He was the kind to claw first and ask questions later. If there was anyone left to ask, that was. Now his voice sounded as wonderful to Jayheart as Eveningstar’s gentle tones.

 “What are you doing on our territory?” Jayheart heard Jumpfoot snarl at the rogues. A second later, there was a yowl and the sound of one well-muscled body hitting another.

                Seizing his opportunity, Jayheart pulled Kindspirit under the water with him. This was their chance to escape, while ThunderClan engaged the rogues in battle. Together, the two pushed their way furiously through the water. It was a quiet place to be, Jayheart reflected. Underwater, it was as if the world above didn’t exist. And if you weren’t careful, the water could claim you forever. It was a slow fade, he knew, a gradual thing that you didn’t even notice until it was too late. Grayfire had once pointed out that most of the evil in the world was that way—it started out slow and went on until you were sunk so deep that you couldn’t get out.

                After what seemed like eternity, Jayheart broke through the surface and looked around as Kindspirit came up, gasping for air. To his relief, there were no other cats in sight, and the night had regained its quiet.

                “Come on, Kindspirit,” he said, pulling himself from the river. “Let’s not swim the rest of the way. If I know ThunderClan, those rogues won’t be here anytime soon.” As he spoke, he reassured himself by running a paw over the Stick. To his amazement, the harness was still intact, and to his immense relief, the Stick was still safe.

                Kindspirit shook the water from her fur before shooting him a look. “Did you just compliment ThunderClan?”

                He grinned sheepishly. “Well….they did just save our fur.”

                “Why don’t we go back to the part where you tell me why we needed our fur saved in the first place?” She suggested, looking Jayheart in the eye. He hated when she looked at him like that, just as much as he hated the thought that he’d put his fellow Clanmate and best friend in danger.

                “I suppose I do owe you an explanation,” he admitted with a small sigh, looking up at the sky. It was almost moonhigh, he noted. “But we don’t have much time. Run with me, and I’ll tell you on the way.” He adjusted the Stick in front of him, almost unwilling to take his eyes off of it. What if he had lost it? What if it had been hurt in some way?

                “Alright,” Kindspirit said, causing him to tear his eyes from the Stick to focus them on her face, made even more beautiful by the water dripping from her fur. “But you’d better tell me everything.”

                “I will,” Jayheart promised, breaking into a run. “Everything.”

Chapter 5 Edit

Fourtrees had always been a somewhat magical place for Jayheart, lit by moonlight and filled with talking, kept sacred by the truce. He’d only seen a Gathering disrupted once, and that had felt so wrong that he knew that he would never do anything to ruin its magnificence. Now, on a regular night, it was odd to see the place so dark and quiet.

“Jayheart!” Kindspirit hissed. “Look at that!” She motioned with her tail, and his eyes followed the movement and widened at what they saw. The “Dark One” may have been there, he or she may not, but Jayheart couldn’t tell, because four cats had gathered in the clearing. Two of them were staring distrustfully at one another, one of them was pacing, and a black tom sat still, apparently at peace with his surroundings. Their scents were mixed—ShadowClan, ThunderClan, WindClan. And one scent that he did not recognize. Jayheart’s heartbeat quickened. What were these other cats doing here? Was this an ambush? Had they escaped the rogues only to be attacked here as well? Besides him, Kindspirit stiffened.

“What’s going on here, Jay?” She asked, her fur rising. He noticed her claws sliding out. Jayheart stroked his tail along her back, trying to calm her down.

“This can’t be right. Grayfire said there was only supposed to be one,” he said, deciding that appearing unthreatening might be his best chance. He cringed at the thought of what some of the other warriors, like Meadowflame or Breezesky might say, but he didn’t see any advantage to fighting if it wasn’t necessary.

Nevertheless, he wished he hadn’t spoken as he found the gazes of all the cats fixed on him. After moons of being singled out as the “kittypet”, he’d come to loathe being the center of attention; the multiple pairs of eyes on him had always seemed to stare right through him to his very soul. Yet, he was grateful that in this case, they only stared. No one made any move to leap at him, and he let himself relax just a bit.

“Is that him?” One of them, a brown and white patched tom with blue eyes, asked. He was small, but carried himself in such a way that left no doubt as to his power.

Kindspirit wasn’t daunted however. She strode forward, looking every cat in the eye. “Jayheart’s here to meet the ‘Dark One’.” Kindspirit said. “I’m gonna guess that’s you.”

Jayheart turned his head to see who she was referring to—it was the small black tom, sitting with his tail curled around his paws. He looked so serene and peaceful, like a presence that simply was and is. But Jayheart could sense something darker and deeper beneath it. Whoever this cat was, he was powerful. No one could doubt that.

“Are you?” Jayheart asked him, padding closer. “The Dark One, I mean.”

The tom in question dipped his head at the silver warrior. “I am the one your ancestors spoke of,” he replied. “And you must be Jayheart.” His voice, though quiet, carried power and authority that Jayheart hadn’t known any cat that wasn’t a Clan leader or deputy could possess.

“Grayfire sent me here to meet a loner?” He asked, confused.

The tom shrugged. “If a loner is the only one who can answer your questions, would you still listen?” This question wasn’t directed just at Jayheart, but to the other cats in the clearing as well. The cat who had been pacing, Firstclaw, who Jayheart knew from Gatherings as the ShadowClan deputy, shook his head.

“But why a loner, of all cats? Why any cat? Why could StarClan not have just told us whatever it is that we need to know themselves?”

The Dark One shrugged. “I expect there are many things you’ll discover with time.”

“That doesn’t explain much why the rest of them are here,” Kindspirit pointed out, using her tail to motion towards the other three toms. “Grayfire didn’t talk about any of them.”

There was a silence for a moment, as the toms all stared at the she-cat. Jayheart had to admire her. She might be sweet and charming, but she had her own kind of strength. Firstclaw finally spoke up. “I received a dream from one of our former leader, Cinderstar. He told me to meet this “Dark One” here, and listen to what he had to say.”

The tom from WindClan nodded. “It was the same for me.”

Everyone looked at the last cat, a brown tabby tom with one white paw. He shrugged in agreement. “Redwhisker didn’t tell me we were meeting cats from other Clans, though,” he growled, looking pointedly at the WindClan tom. “Especially not WindClan filth.”

Jayheart sighed. WindClan and ThunderClan had been having disputes over their borders for the past several moons. Things had gotten so heated that their last Gathering had been disbanded early by StarClan’s anger. There was tension in the air as the brown and white tom stared at his tabby enemy, and for a few heartbeats, Jayheart thought a fight would break out. But as the seconds passed, nothing happened as the WindClan cat appeared to have more restraint his woodland adversary.

A silence descended upon them all as the “Dark One” focused his attention on the Stick that Jayheart wore around his neck. The RiverClan warrior felt his neck fur rise as the black tom asked, “Why did you bring that?”

“I…I felt that it was the right thing to do. This concerns it, right?” Jayhearts decision to sneak into Feathershade’s den and steal the Stick hadn’t been an easy one. Part of him had wanted to keep the Stick safe and sound. But at the same time, he felt like it would be wrong to go to a meeting about it without bringing the object of discussion.

“It does, and your choice was a wise one.”

“What is it?” The brown and white tom asked, his ears perking up.

Jayheart felt a rush of protectiveness, but he pushed it down as the Dark One answered, “It is the Stick of Power. Created by Darkfire, the most vile of cats to ever walk among the Clans.”

“That,” Firstclaw drew back in wonder, “was his legendary weapon of evil? A stick?”

“It was created from a Dark Moonstone, hidden deep in a forest of evil, and it carries more power to do evil than any cat could even imagine.”

“There were rumors…..” Firstclaw trailed off as he strode closer and closer to Jayheart, his eyes filled with a hunger that made Jayheart back away. “But no one knew for sure…” Firstclaw continued to approach, and Jayheart found himself with against a rock with nowhere to go. And still, Firstclaw bore down on him, closer and closer.

“Firstclaw!” The loner’s words appeared to snap the deputy out of his reverie, and he shook his head as if to clear it.

“So, why are we here, then? What are we supposed to do with this?” These words were spoken impatiently by the ThunderClan tom. “Destroy it?”

“You all could have kept your noses out of this if that was all,” Kindspirit pointed out. “No need for all of this secrecy and sneaking about.”

“It must be destroyed,” the tom said, speaking above their arguing. “But not here with anything that we possess, and not now. No, that Stick must be destroyed by the Dark Moonstone from whence it came.” He turned his gaze to Jayheart. “One of you must do this.”

Chapter 6 Edit

“What?” Shocked cries erupted from the Clan cats, but Kindspirit’s was probably the loudest. “Jayheart can’t go around running around, doing stuff like that. What’s his Clan going to think? Nothin’ good, I promise you that.”

Jayheart had to agree. Once a kittypet, always a kittypet, his Clan was sure to say. And besides, even the thought of destroying the Stick made him feel like a traitor.

“Why can’t we just destroy it now? Crack it in half or something?” the ThunderClan tom shouted.

The black tom waited until the uproar died down before he tried to speak. “That isn’t how it’s power works, Bouldertail. Its power can only be undone in the place where it was created.” He thought for a moment, before adding, “StarClan has brought you together for this purpose.”

“How do you even know StarClan? You’re a loner,” Jayheart asked, curious.

“I was raised on stories of these Clans, young one,” he replied.

	“Your parents

were Clan cats?”

The loner dipped his head. “You could say that. I am Shadow. I have traveled far and wide, and whatever the five of you decide, I am willing to assist you as a guide.”

Firstclaw looked sharply at Shadow, distrust evident in his gaze. “How can we trust you? You’re a loner who seems to know much about our ways. Too much.” He raised his voice. “If you ask me, this cat is nothing but trouble.”

“Whether or not you trust me is your choice,” Shadow said, not even twitching a whisker as Firstclaw’s hostile tone. Jayheart was intrigued by the level of calm and restraint that Shadow showed.

“Are you not listening to what he says?” The WindClan warrior leapt to his feet. “We must put our prejudice aside; it must be destroyed! And if StarClan has called us all here, then one of us must be the cat to do it.”

“Is that what you think, Swiftrunner?” Bouldertail challenged. “I’ll bet you think you’re the one to do it, too. Just like WindClan, always trying to be in charge.”

“More like it’s ThunderClan who always wants to take the lead in everything,” Kindspirit whispered in Jayheart’s ear, and he would have liked to agree, but his attention was solely fixed on the Stick. It was thrumming and pulsing with energy, and it lured Jayheart in, promised him a place, if only he would stop these maniacs. Destroying the Stick was so drastic; that surely couldn’t be what they were here for. No, what they needed was to decide how best to use it. And if Jayheart would just listen, the Stick would tell him. Tell him how to take charge, lead these cats from their hopeless path.

Meanwhile, Swiftrunner narrowed his eyes, but he didn’t say anything in retaliation. Firstclaw was shouting, and Bouldertail began to yowl back. But Jayheart couldn’t hear any of that. All he could hear were the whispers of fire that called him, begging him to come, submerge himself in its power.

But he couldn’t. He knew that even as he wanted to give in so badly. Jayheart hadn’t been called to give in to the Stick. This thing was evil, and it needed to be destroyed. And even as it whispered its evil, Jayheart knew what he had been summoned to do. He wished with all his heart that it wasn’t true, and he tried to fight it at first, convince himself that he wasn’t the one to bear this thing and destroy it. But who better? He’d already been bearing it for a while, and if what Shadow said was true, then this thing would cause the bearers’ destruction little by little. It was already causing him to stumble. No, Grayfire had brought him here to bear this burden. What role the other cats played, he didn’t know. But he knew what he had been called to do.

“I will take it!” He shouted above the arguing. “I will take the Stick and destroy it.”

Nobody heard him at first, so he said it again, louder now. This time, Kindspirit heard him.

“Quiet! Jayheart’s telling us something,” she yowled, and Jayheart shot her a grateful glance.

“I said, that I’ll take the Stick to the Dark Moonstone. I’ll destroy it.”

He had been looking at his paws when he said this, now he lifted his head, noting the reactions of the others. Shadow was nodding slowly, a new respect in his eyes. Firstclaw looked taken aback, and Kindspirit was frowning.

“If you will have it, small one, then I will be your guide. I swear to help keep you out of harm’s way as long as it is possible for me to do so,” Shadow spoke first, to Jayheart’s relief. He could protect himself but finding his way to this Dark Moonstone was another problem entirely.

“I was called here for a reason,” Swiftrunner said slowly. “If you will have me, then I will also go. There is a safety in numbers, after all, and when all this is over, I think I will be glad.”

“A WindClan cat going where a ThunderClan cat will not?” Bouldertail muttered. “Fine. I’m coming too.”

Jayheart’s eyes found Kindspirit’s, and she gave him a small smile. “I can see there’s no talking you out of this,” she said. “You’ve got that look in your eyes that you used to get when we were apprentices. But if you’re going to go do this, then I’m comin’ with you, and there’ll be no arguin’ that.”

Jayheart had indeed opened his mouth to argue, but then he shut it. Kindspirit was his best friend, and he knew she wouldn’t take this lightly.

All eyes turned to the one cat who had not yet spoken, but Firstclaw appeared to be thinking hard. Time passed slowly, and no one said anything or moved at all, until at last he said, “I am the ShadowClan deputy. This is not an easy decision to make. But you carry the fate of us all, little one. So, if this is the will of StarClan, then ShadowClan will see it done.”

“Great. Then do we leave?” Kindspirit asked Shadow, jumping to her paws. Jayheart noticed how she (And everyone else) seemed to be looking to the loner as their leader. And even he had to admit that Shadow seemed to be the best cat for the job as well. He had experience, skill, and he knew where he was going—all excellent qualities for a leader.

Jayheart turned his attention towards Kindspirit’s question. The sky was still dark overhead, but Jayheart knew that it would be lightening soon enough. He felt restless with the anticipation of the upcoming journey, and he wouldn’t be able to wait long. That was his philosophy with dreadful things; get them done sooner rather than later. So he found himself relieved to hear Shadow’s determined answer.

“Right now.”

Chapter 7 Edit

They’d done walking. They’d done more walking. They’d climbed and slithered and leaped and scurried. And then, after they’d finished all of that, they’d continued to do even more walking. Kindspirit couldn’t imagine how big the world must be if they’d traveled this far and still hadn’t reached the Underground Forest. More than once, she thought her paws were going to fall off if she took another step. Her pelt was filthy and the pads of her paws were cracked.

But she didn't complain. That wasn't a warrior's way, and making Jayheart feel bad wasn't going to do nothing to help with his burden. And that was what she was there for, wasn't it? Kindspirit knew what she was good at, and that was taking care of Jayheart. The rest of the fellowship could fight all of the rogues between here and StarClan, but that wasn’t going to do them no good if the Stick overtook Jayheart and he died. And while Swiftrunner and Bouldertail and Firstclaw would all like to pretend that wasn't gonna happen, she knew better. The gray tom almost never ate. He barely slept. And always, he was always watching that cursed Stick. He flinched away when any cat got too close; his eyes were wary and alert. It hurt Kindspirit to see him that way. He was her best friend in all of RiverClan, and perhaps she hoped he'd be something more one day. But she didn't say anything about that either.

So, day after day, she kept on beside him, her eyes carefully surveying him. When he collapsed at night, too exhausted to hunt, she brought fresh-kill for him and made sure he kept up his strength. When he woke up, crying out from nightmares no other cat could understand, it was she who stayed awake with him until he finally fell back into restless slumber. She couldn’t say that she minded it, though. Taking care of Jayheart gave her a purpose, something to do. It kept her from feeling truly useless.

She was reminding herself of this one chilly evening, as they settled down for the night. It was moonhigh, and although there was no bedding, the entire fellowship was drooping from an exhaustion that sent them almost immediately into a deep sleep. Even Jayheart, to Kindspirit’s relief. His breathing was steady and his body was relaxed, both good signs. Kindspirit herself would have liked nothing better than to spiral off into dreams, and although her body was exerted, she couldn’t sleep. No amount of restless tossing and turning or thinking about Jayheart’s kind blue eyes would change that.

Giving up, she got to her feet and looked around. Shadow was on watch that night, his figure like a guardian over them all. Jayheart had tried to be leader at the beginning of their quest, but it became soon apparent that he wasn't cut out for the job. Resisting the power of the Stick drained most of his energy as it was, and besides, Shadow was much more experienced. After about half a moon of traveling, he wisely gave all of the decision making to Shadow and just focused on putting one paw in front of the other. He worried about appearing weak, she knew, and she couldn't blame him. But in her mind, he was all the stronger for giving up control instead of fighting for it.

Shadow didn’t turn his head when she came to sit beside him, and he didn’t ask any questions neither. So, Kindspirit did likewise, and they sat in silence for a long time, staring out over the SIlverpelt, each thinking their own private thoughts.

But after a while had passed and when it was almost someone elses’ turn to take the watch, Shadow turned to her and said unexpectedly. “Do not give up hope,” he told her. “These things take time.”

“What are you talkin' about?” Kindspirit asked, confused.

“Love. It takes a long time for someone to realize that they’re loved. Sometimes it takes even longer for them to act upon it. But in the meantime, do not lose hope.”

“Y-you know?” Kindspirit whispered, her heart thumping. “Can you tell that easy?” She’d worked so hard to hide it, spent moons trying to express her feelings. Seasons of her life had been spent failing to tell him. How could it be that one loner could see through her guard?

Shadow shook his head. “It was just an observation. And even if the others did know—which I doubt, as we all have our own troubles—it is no shameful thing to love another.”

“I s'ppose not,” she sighed. “But still. Jayheart doesn't like me in that way. Never has, and StarClan alone knows if he ever will.”

“I thought the same thing, little one,” Shadow said softly.

Kindspirit looked up at the black tom inquiringly, and he gave a small smile. “She was a WindClan warrior, and I was just a loner. It never should have worked. She had everything, and I had nothing.”

“What 'appened?” Kindpspirit asked, realizing that nothing good could be waiting at the end of the tale.

“She died in childbirth. One of her friends knew I was the father and passed on the news.”

“T'was kind of him.”

“If by kind you mean he attacked me and blamed me for the death of the she-cat he longed to mate, then yes, I suppose it was very kind of him.”

Kindspirit had nothing to say to that. Indeed, she'd never had to put up with the prejudice that Shadow and even Jayheart had dealt with. She was a Clan cat; her position was secured by birth. But yet, from the moment she met Jayheart, she wondered if he was the lucky one. Because he had been given the ability to change who he was and who he would become,

Kindspirit was about to try and say something comforting—though speaking words of wisdom had never been her strong suit—when she spotted something, a pair of yellow eyes, glinting in the darkness. 

Chapter 8 Edit

“There!” She gasped, flicking her tail. “Over there! I see something!”

“I see it,” Shadow hissed. “Rogues.” Kindspirit slowly turned her head, only to find that there were more glowing eyes in the shrubbery around them. We’re surrounded.

Shadow was just issuing a warning yowl when the first pelt crashed into him. Heartbeats later, a pair of claws met Kindspirit head-on. As she battled the rogue back, she could hear the rest of the Fellowship coming to their aid.  

In the days since their departure, Jayheart and Kindspirit had told the black tom about the cats who had attacked them on their way to Four Trees. They have a council of nine former warriors that are strong enough in their evil that the Dark Forest cats can talk to them, she remembered as she slashed the nose of a foul-smelling tom. She didn’t waste her concentration counting, but it seemed as though there were nine or so fighting them now. They are the deadliest cats you will ever meet, she recalled Shadow's words. They trained by evil and they live by evil, assassins in the night.

Claws raked her ears, and Kindspirit let out a fierce yowl. But it was nothing compared to the cry that erupted moments later. Kindspirit knew that sound and it was all she could do to make herself fight the enemy in front of her, when all she wanted to do was rush back and help Jayheart.

Her anger gave her strength, as she kicked and scratched and clawed and whirled. That's for Jayheart! And for RiverClan! And for the Warrior Code! Rage blinded her to anything and everything that stood in her way. She was a whirlwind, and nothing could last against her. At that moment, it felt as though even StarClan was fighting with her.

“Kindspirit! Kindspirit, they’re gone!” A voice sounded from far away. At least it sounded like it was from a distance. But as the adrenaline stopped pulsing, she realized that it was Swiftrunner, shouting in her ear and holding her back; she’d been prepared to chase the rogues into the forest.

“Jayheart!” She pulled away from the WindClan warrior and dashed over to where Shadow and Firstclaw were bending over the pale gray tom. Her heart pounding as the stench of blood overpowered her senses.

She pushed her way through and found herself staring down at an ugly gash in Jayheart’s shoulder; she could see the pool of red on the ground below. It was then that Kindspirit realized with a jolt that dawn had arrived.

She tried to remember the herbs that Milktail put on her after a battle, her mind spinning. Yarrow? No, that ain't it, you mousebrain…and catnip's for that blasted greencough….

“He needs marigold,” Shadow said, his voice as steady as ever. “And something to stop the bleeding.” He turned to Kindspirit. “Take Bouldertail with you and look for some cobwebs.”

She wasted no time, and simply whisked into the forest, not caring whether or not the ThunderClan warrior was with her or not. Oh, StarClan. You gotta let Jayheart pull through. 'S all dependin' on him, ya see.  If he was resting in RiverClan, an injury like this wouldn’t be a problem. But out the in wild, where they had to keep moving for fear of being attacked? It could be lethal if it got infected.

“There!” Her eyes lit upon a patch of tightly-knit cobwebs, sparkling with morning dew. The sky, however, was a deathly grey, something Kindspirit hoped would not prove to be an omen. Working swiftly, she wound a swathe of cobwebs around her paw and began to hop back to camp. It was a long, slow process, one that did absolutely nothing for Kindspirit’s whirling emotions. Bouldertail simply followed behind her, not saying a word.

When they finally got back, she handed the cobwebs as best she could to Shadow, who was in the process of chewing up the marigold and applying it to the wound. Kindspirit watched, feeling sick as Jayheart flinched from the sting of the medicine.  She said nothing, though; Kindspirit was just glad to know that he was awake.

“There,” Shadow said, stepping away from Jayheart. Raising his voice, he said, “We must be on our way.”

Firstclaw’s head swiveled towards the loner so fast, Kindspirit was surprised his neck didn’t snap. “You must be joking!”

“Not in the slightest,” Shadow said, starting to nudge Jayheart to his feet. “The rogues will be back. We cannot afford to linger.”

“And we are vulnerable with a wounded warrior who can barely walk!”

“He can walk,” Shadow said grimly. “He has to.”

Kindspirit felt the fur on her neck rise. “How can you just—“

“It was only a matter of time before they caught up to us,” Shadow said. “Now they will be on our heels. They have retreated, but not for long. We must press on.”

 “It’s a mousebrained idea. He’s gonna kill ‘emself, and then where’re we all gonna be?” Kindspirit muttered. Shadows’ twitching ear told her that he’d heard the comment but was choosing not to react to it.

“I can walk.”

Everyone looked to the source of the voice, in time to see Jayheart pushing himself onto his feet. His eyes, though trying not to show pain, were narrowed in determination. Shadow stepped aside to let him pass, and without waiting for anyone, he set out, favoring his good shoulder as he limped along. The black loner followed him, but before he could take the lead, Firstclaw strode ahead and shouldered the skinny tom out of the way. Shadow didn’t respond; he only let the ShadowClan deputy stride ahead before falling in behind him.

Kindspirit found herself falling in next to Jayheart, steadying his good shoulder when he stumbled and running her tail soothingly along his back. There was no talking in the group, and in the silence, his every groan was painfully loud. “Don’t fret, Jay. It’ll get better, you know. Remember when you got that thorn in your paw when we were ‘pprentices together? You tried to pretend it wasn’t even there all the way back to camp, which, by the way, is loads better than what I’ve seen some of them other ‘pprentices doing. Some of ‘em go on like the worlds’ ‘bout to come to its end. But it worked then, didn’t it? Maybe that’s just what ya should try now. I’ve always liked that ‘bout you. Maybe you were a kittypet at birth, but you ain’t nothin’ but a warrior now. Anyone who says otherwise is a stupid mousebrain.” And so she went on, talking aimlessly about things in an effort to keep his mind off of the pain. Whether or not it was working, she couldn’t tell as the gray tabby didn’t even seem to acknowledge her most of the time. Always, his eyes were fixed on his paws, or, even more frequently, the Stick. Not for the first time, Kindspirit resisted the urge to grab it and crack it in two. She’d even told Shadow so once, but he’d informed her that the vessels’ power was too strong; she’d only hurt herself by trying to do so.

“I still remember the time you caught those WindClan apprentices on our territory,” she continued. The sky was darkening now, but there was no joy in it. The oppressive night seemed to close in on all sides, and she lowered her voice. Nonetheless, she was keenly aware that the other warriors were at least half-listening to her tales. “I ‘member Breezesky was about ready to attack them. But you stopped him. Said you could tell they were sick. They were almost too weaks to talk, but they said that half of WindClan was dying and some were already dead. ‘I can help you join them, if you like,’ Breezesky said. I remember that part real well, ‘cause I wanted to claw his ears into shreds. Well, actually, I always kinda have. But anyways. You had me go back and ask Feathershade—well, she was Featherpaw then—for some herbs. You gave ‘em to the apprentices and then you walked ‘em back to WindClan. Breezesky was spitting toads, but there wasn’t much he could do.” She gave a soft mrrow of laughter at the memory. “Even Eveningstar said later ‘twas the right thing to do.”

“Wait,” Swiftrunner slowed down a bit so that he was walking beside the two of them. “You were the ones who gave Mothpaw and Longpaw those herbs?”

Kindspirit shrugged. “I guess? Didn’t get their names at the time, as they were too busy hacking and gasping for breath.”

Swiftrunner shook his head in wonder, and his face lit up ever so slightly. “StarClan certainly works in mysterious ways. I always have wondered if I’d meet the ones who saved my life.” 

“Saved your life?” Jayheart barely breathed out the words, and even so, he was wincing from the effort. 

“I was one of the cats who were sick. In fact, I was almost dying,” Swiftrunner said. “Then they came back, delirious, but speaking of a couple of kind warriors who had given them the herbs. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.”

Kindspirit didn’t even know what to say. She never thought of what they’d done as saving lives or being heroic or anything like that. They’d just been doing what she thought was the right thing to do.

“Thank you,” Swiftrunner said with a respectful dip of his head. “for with that one act, you saved more cats than you will ever know.”

“We were just doing what was right. You would have done the same.” Jayheart said. That was another thing she’d always liked about Jayheart. He always seemed to know what to say.

“Perhaps,” Swiftrunner replied. “But I thank you none the less. Your names were well given.”

“Your words honor RiverClan.”

“We stop here for the night!” Firstclaw called over his shoulder, cutting their conversation off.  “Take some time to hunt if you must, but don’t stray too far.”

Jayheart narrowed his eyes in the direction of the tabby tom. “Normally, it’s Shadow that decides things like that,” he commented as Swiftrunner approached the loner in question and murmered a few words into his ear.

“Firstclaw’s just got his tail in a twist,” Kindspirit said. “Like Breezesky, he is. Maybe a bit better. Now you rest. I’ll bring you back a mouse or something.”

“I can hunt—“

“Nuh-uh. You sit on down, Jay, and rest. Were you back in RiverClan, you’d be resting as it is. So just close your mouth and lemme help.”

Jayheart shook his head in slight annoyance, but Kindspirit could tell that he was in too much pain and far too tired to truly protest the matter further. He lay down and gave Kindspirit a small smile.

“Now I’ll be back in a bit. You stay put,” she said in parting, turning to go.

“Wait,” Jayheart said softly, and Kindspirit halted. “I just wanted to thank you….for being here for me and coming with me and everything. You’re the best friend I could ever ask for. I hope you know that.”

Kindspirit’s heart leapt inside her chest; she had to struggle not to show it. But suddenly, things didn’t seem so bad. “I do, Jay. I know it.”

 She scurried away then, happier then she’d been in a moon. It was those words that would keep her going, she knew. She would remember what he said even on the darkest nights. Because if Jayheart thought she was his best friend, then the world couldn’t be completely evil. It just couldn’t be.

Chapter 9 Edit

Kindspirit’s POV

“Shadow?” Kindspirit asked one night as she stared into the darkness that threatened to swallow them whole. It was all so incredibly still, as if they’d come to some place where time ceased to exist. The others had fallen asleep quickly, exhausted by the trials that the day had brought, but Kindspirit had been far too restless. Lately, it had become somewhat a ritual for them to sit up together when the silver she-cat found herself unable to sleep. Normally they sat in absolute silence, but tonight Kindspirit found questions on her mind that she couldn’t escape anymore. During the day, she found it easy enough to push them aside; she was far too occupied with helping Jayheart. It had been a quarter moon since the attack, and his wound still looked awful. She was sure it was infected, what with the way the flesh was red and swollen and the pus that she could see oozing out of the cut. The only problem was that the herbs they found were very far and few between, and with no time to rest, they had little effect.

                Shadow didn’t say anything in response, only turned his head towards her. She’d learned to not be so unnerved by his quietness and pressed on. “What’re we gonna do about…ya know, Jay? He can’t go on like this…..he’s gonna kill ‘emself.”

                There was a silence, and the she-cat couldn’t help but notice the sudden stiffness that seized the dark figure beside her. “There is nothing more we can do,” Shadow said at last. “We cannot risk delay. We lose precious time even now. Jayheart has no choice. He must keep going.” His tone was brisk, as though he was trying to convince himself as much as Kindspirit.

                As he spoke his bitter condemnation, Kindspirit felt as if she had been stabbed in the heart with a shard of ice, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “’Ow can you say that?” She demanded, the words quiet yet harsh. “You’re sendin’ ‘im to his death, you are! And you don’t’ even care!”

                The tom’s tail lashed back and forth as he inhaled sharply. “You don’t think I know that? You don’t think with every decision, I’m aware that this all depends on me?” The tom practically spat out the words, and Kindspirit flinched back. In all of their time together, she’d never heard him speak so strongly. He’d always been so calm….so mature. It was unnerving to see that even he carried emotions.

His eyes pierced into her soul now, and there was no escape from their scrutiny. From their judgement. “You have no idea what it is like to be a leader. But I do. It means making impossible decisions. It means carrying the burden of every cat on your own shoulders. It means dying to yourself, putting your own feelings and desires aside, for the good of others. You don’t understand that, and I don’t expect you ever will. But understand this: I have feelings just as you do. Don’t you think it pierces my heart every time I listen to Jayheart groan in pain as he stumbles over the rocky ground? Every time he cries out in his restless sleep?”

                As he spoke, Kindspirit felt her anger diminish until it was barely visible, leaving shame in its place. She felt bad for even having spoken in the first place. “I’m right sorry,” she said after a moment. “Twasn’t my place to speak.”

                To her surprise, Shadow laughed slightly. It sounded a bit harsh, but at least he wasn’t glaring at her anymore. “Young one, it is always your place to speak. You are a member of this…..fellowship. You have just as much say in things as do Bouldertail and Firstclaw. Speak from your heart, child, for it is both noble and pure.”

                Not for the first time, Kindspirit wondered where this cats’ great wisdom came from. He was unlike any cat she’d ever met. Quiet, yet firm. Unyielding, but still kind. She’d never in a million years want to be him, but she had to admit; as much as she hated his decisions at times, she was glad that she had gotten a chance to know him. “You underestimate yerself….” She began timidly, hoping that what she was about to say was the right thing. “I s’ppose yer right when ya say I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout being a leader. But I can see ‘tis not easy. Not easy for Eveningstar….wasn’t easy for Grayfire. But ya do a real good job of it. Ya aren’t prideful an’ yeh don’t set yourself above the others. Ya don’t enjoy it, and ya know….I think that’s actually a good thing. ‘Tis the ones who crave the power that do the most damage with it. ‘S why were here now, ain’t it? Some cat loved power too much and set out to do harm with it. But you…you’re a step in the right direction, ya are. With cats like you, things like this…they might not happen again, ya know?”

                “It’s when you say such things that I know it was no accident that you followed Jayheart to Four Trees that evening,” Shadow said softly. “Your words bestow me with an honor I do not—“

                “Stuff ‘n nonsense,” Kindspirit cut in, sensing the loner on the brink of polite rejection. “Don’ make me change my mind ‘bout you, Shadow. I don’t say things ‘bout cats like that lightly. Any cat’ll tell you that. So don’t you make me wish I could take it back.”

                “Alright, I won’t,” Shadow decided. “But now, don’t you think you’d better get some sleep? We have a long day tomorrow.” It was the first time he’d ever suggested that she leave him, ever said anything, really, as to what she should and should not do regarding their night watches. But he was right; she was tired.

                “Fine then,” Kindspirit said, making her way back towards her nest. “But you’d better not sit up all night. Make Firstclaw take a patrol or somethin’. He’s real good at slithering his way out of it.” As she settled down, her heart was far lighter than it had been when she’d watched Jayheart drift away into sleep hours before. But she had to admit as she fell away into sleep, that while she’d gotten to know Shadow better, few of her questions had been answered.

When she awoke the next morning, however, she found Shadow in a considerably better mood than she had left him in the night before. His head was held high as he informed the group, “I know someplace we can hide out for a short time.”

                “I thought we just needed to press on?” Swiftrunner asked, looking confused. Jayheart, who was struggling to his feet nearby, wore a similar expression, and Kindspirit’s eyes widened.

                “We do. But I fear all haste would be in vain if we were to die on the way.”

“Where is this place?” Firstclaw asked, his eyes narrowed in obvious suspicion.

                Shadow didn’t rise to his antagonism. “It’s not far from here. If we make good time, we should get there by sunhigh.”

                Bouldertail shrugged. “I say go for it. We can’t go on like this much longer, as it is.”

                Swiftrunner dipped his head in consent as Firstclaw scowled, obviously frustrated. Kindspirit was too happy however to be annoyed at the tom. With Jayheart actually having a chance to rest, his wound would be able to heal slowly at last. As they set off, she found herself walking with a slight spring in her step. She might have imagined it, but she thought she saw Shadow’s face transform into a small smile at the sight of her in such a good mood. Jayheart too seemed to be doing a little better with the prospect of relief before him. Even the weather seemed to be in their favor; a soft breeze blew, ruffling both the grass and the branches of the trees as well as the warriors’ rather dirty and tangled fur.

                “Feels real good, don’t it?” She asked Jayheart as he limped along. On a day like this, it was almost possible to forget that they were being hunted by assassins because they possessed a weapon that could destroy their world.

                “Yeah,” he grunted, smiling ever so slightly through his pain. “It does.”

                Other than that, there wasn’t much conversation as they walked along, but at least the silence wasn’t stifling like it had been the past few days.

                “We’re getting close,” Shadow said after they’d been traveling for quite some time. Squinting, Kindspirit craned her neck to look upward. True to his word, it was about sunhigh. “But I have to tell you before we can enter.”

                “What?” Firstclaw interrupted. “What have you lead us to?” His tail lashed back and forth as he stalked closer to the black loner.

                “Someone’s got his tail in a twist,” Kindspirit muttered. In her opinion, Firstclaw was far too eager to think badly of Shadow. She supposed it had something to do about being the deputy of ShadowClan and the son of their leader.

                “It’s—“

                “Well, if it isn’t Shadow,” a voice spoke from seemingly nowhere into their midst. It wasn’t particularly welcoming or threatening, but it still sent shivers down Kindspirit’s spine.

                “It’s been a long time, brother,” it continued, and all of them but Shadow looked around warily. Whoever spoke was well hidden, however, for they could neither scent nor see him.

Their leader didn’t seem terribly disturbed by the newcomer. “Indeed it has been,” he replied instead, and his tone was neutral.

                “What brings you back?”

                “My friends and I were wondering if you could shelter us for a short time while we rest and recover our strength. We will hunt for our own food, so that you will not have to spare any of your own cats.”

                There was a short silence, and then, “Your request is reasonable. Alright, you can stay. But only as long as is necessary. I don’t want you lingering about, getting fat on our prey.”

                “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Shadow said with certainty. “Thank you, for your generosity.”

                “Where is it you have brought us?” Firstclaw hissed. “I, at least, am not taking another step until you answer me that.”

                Shadow held his angry gaze as he answered. “They are a group of cats who have helped me in many ways and I them. They are, perhaps, not as honorable as Clan cats, but if you do nothing to anger them, they will hold no grudge against you. I trust them to be fair in a matter such as this, and I ask you to trust me in this.”

                There was a contemplative silence, then, “I trust you, Shadow.” This was Jayheart, who was crouching on the ground, his eyes half shut. I’m not sure he has much of an alternative, Kindspirit thought to herself. But she couldn’t disagree with him, either.

                “Whatever you think is best,” she said, and Swiftrunner nodded in agreement.

                “You have not lead us astray thus far. I will follow you in this also.”

                For Bouldertail, the decision seemed to be slightly more difficult, but in the end, he too agreed, which left Firstclaw with nothing left to say.

                When they had all agreed on it, Shadow raised his voice. “We are ready. You can show us the way, my friend.”

Chapter 10 Edit

Kindspirit’s POV

It’d been two sunrises since their fellowship had arrived, weak and hungry, to the set of caves that these cats called home. Camouflaged well from the outside, the whole network wsa accessible only through a small opening, concealed by hanging moss and bushes. It appeared as a normal hole to an outsider, but once you clamored through, it was a whole new world. One straight passageway guarded by two strong burly cats branched off into many dens, large and small, occupied by cats of all different sizes and ages. Mothers washed their kits behind the ears, and the elderly yowled at mischievous youngsters for trying to sneak yarrow leaves into their meals. Kindspirit was surprised at how similar it was to Clan life and yet so different. Here, their guide—a cat named Smoke—explained, parents taught their children everything they needed to know, and when they reached 10 moons, they left their parents’ den and made their own.

“But don’t ya run out of caves?” Kindspirit had asked as they padded almost silently along the well-worn stone floor. She could see some cats shooting sidelong glances at them as they passed, but otherwise, they went unnoticed. Kindspirit wondered if they received visitors often or whether they just didn’t care. Beside her, Jayheart wasn’t limping nearly as badly. Perhaps the prospect of rest had given him some unknown strength.

“Nah,” Smoke had replied, looking over his shoulder at her. “This place is huge. We’ve been living here since before Raven—our oldest living cat—can remember. And besides, when a she-cat becomes mates, she moves to his cave to live with him and start a family there.”

“Do you have a leader?” Swiftrunner’s question was quiet, as if he didn’t know whether it was out of place or not. Kindspirit caught Jayheart as he tripped over a wayward stone and steadied him.

Smoke’s snort had been loud, however. “And have one cat bossing the whole of us around like he owns us? Not likely. Nah, we have six cats who work together. When one cat retires, another one’s elected to take his place.”

“That sounds complicated,” Swiftrunner had observed.

“Not at all,” Smoke’s tone was still pleasant, but Kindspirit had noticed a slight stiffness to it at this last comment. “It keeps any one cat from gaining too much power. This way, authority is distributed equally.”

“But who hunts? Who defends you all? How do parents balance training all of their kits?” Bouldertail’s questions came quickly, his tail twitching nervously as his eyes warily peered into the caves that they had been passing. Kindspirit supposed he felt awkward without the undergrowth and trees surrounding him.

“Mothers spend the first five moons with their kits in their cave. The father goes back to his duties. After the fifth month, both parents go back to their duties, and their kits accompany them. Then, at 10 moons, every kit is assigned either guarding the hunters and the cave, or they are the hunters. They are assigned to a group of cats with whom they patrol with every day for the rest of their lives. That’s the way it’s been forever, and it works well enough.” Smoke had said this last bit rather defiantly, and Shadow had smoothed his tail down his friend’s flank and said,

“No one is challenging you, my brother. We are simply curious.”

Kindspirit found it all fascinating, and she hadn’t stopped thinking about it since they’d arrived two days ago. She had never really considered there being other groups out there. She’d always thought the way the Clans lived was the right way, the only way, really. But wouldn’t these cats say the same thing? How many other groups were there, living the same way they had lived for countless seasons?

Now, movement at her paws drew her attention away from her musings and back to her recovering friend. For the first time in so long, Jayheart actually looked comfortable. An assortment of herbs, ground into a sticky paste, covered his wound, bound to his fur by a multitude of cobwebs. The rogues didn’t have a medicine cat, but there were several cats who knew a lot about the herbs in the area, and together, they had come up with a poultice for him. Aside from them, she hadn’t seen too many cats, but that might have been because she had hardly ventured outside of the cave that Jayheart had been assigned to. Shadow had told her that she was free to hunt if she liked, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave Jayheart. He might be healing, but how did she know that no cat would try and harm him? She trusted Shadow, and Shadow obviously trusted these rogues, but that didn’t mean she had to completely let down her guard, either. Until he was well enough to stay awake for a while, she decided, she would keep watch. Besides, when he was asleep, she could stare at him all she liked, and he would never suspect a thing.

She hadn’t counted on Shadow’s persistence however. When he was unable to persuade her to leave, he sent Bouldertail in all of his ThunderClan stubbornness to give it a try.

“You need to eat,” he said now, standing before her, his brown eyes boring into hers. “You’re practically wasting away.”

“Don’t you exaggerate,” Kindspirit retorted irritably, hating that he was partially right. She had become very skinny of late, something not often seen in a RiverClan cat. “I’ll be fine. When I see with my own two eyes that he’s all fine and good, then I’ll leave, and not a second before.”

Bouldertail shook his head. “But he wouldn’t want you to starve for him, would he? He’d want you to be healthy. And I’ll be with him the whole time. I’ll personally claw the ears off of any cat who steps even a mousetail in the wrong direction.”

Kindspirit narrowed her eyes. She didn’t like how he assumed to know what Jayheart would and wouldn’t want….but he wasn’t wrong….Jayheart wasn’t the kind of cat to like others to suffer for him. And she was very hungry…..but did she trust Bouldertail? He was ThunderClan and could make rather rash decisions….but as the seconds ticked by, she realized that what Clan he came from didn’t really matter so much to her anymore. She had traveled so far with him, after all. They’d even hunted together a few times, and he’d never let the group down before, so why would he now? When it came down to it, she supposed, he was as much as a Clanmate to her as Jayheart was.

“Fine.” She said at last. “But I’ll be back real quick-like, and if anything ‘appens to him, you’ll ‘ave me to answer to. An’ I promise you won’t enjoy it.” She said this last bit fiercely, her body drawn up to its rather unimpressive height.

But, Bouldertail just dipped his head and took up his position next to the gray tom. Looking back one more time to make absolutely positively sure that Jayheart was fine, Kindspirit slowly made her way out of the den.

Chapter 11 Edit

Jayheart’s POV

He was having the most wonderful dream.

His shoulder didn’t burn as if it were on fire, and he didn’t feel the exhaustion that had pressed in on all sides since the attack. Even better, he was standing by a beautiful lake, like the one back in RiverClan. Dipping his head, he lapped at the cold, clear water, relishing its taste as it slid down his throat. Never had water tasted so good in all his life. His eyes slid to his reflection on the surface of the water. He was thinner than normal, and there was a haggard look about him, but at least his eyes sparkled now. And in the bed of the river, he could see fish swimming, their rainbow scales shimmering in the sunlight. Mmmm, fish, he thought with a purr. Raising his paw, he was prepared to hook one with his claws when the wind changed, and a scent blew towards him with the breeze.

“Grayfire?”

Whirling around, Jayheart found himself face to face with his former mentor. The gray tom hadn’t changed at all since their previous visit, and now he regarded his surrogate son with a look of affection and concern in his eyes.

Jayheart rushed forward to meet him, his tail flicking happily as he touched noses with the StarClan cat. “It’s so good to see you,” he said, drinking in the scent of the cat who had helped him become everything that he was now.

“And it is good to see you, my apprentice,” Grayfire replied, a smile lighting his eyes for a moment. But then it was gone as quickly as it had come, and he mewed, “But let us not linger. There are important things we must discuss, and the night grows short.”

“It does?” Jayheart asked.

Grayfire motioned with his tail for him to sit down, but remained standing himself. “You have to be in a deep sleep for me to visit, and with your shoulder injury, your slumber has been far too restless for communication.”

“Oh.”

“My words must be few, for StarClan cannot interfere too much with your journey and your lives. But I am permitted to say this; you must let nothing stop you.”

Jayheart waited for his mentor to say more, but when he fell silent, Jayheart looked at him incredulously. “That’s it? I already knew that!”

“Do you? Do you really? Your injury is only the beginning; much more will stand in your way from now on. Cats will try to turn you back, persuade you to give up, and you must not let them. You will know hunger like you have never known before, not even during leafbare, but you must press on. The Stick will try and convince you that it is harmless—you must not believe it. You must do whatever it takes to continue.” Grayfire stopped for a minute to let his eyes bore into Jayheart’s. “This is your task. If you do not complete it, then no one will.”

There was a prolonged silence, and Jayheart could not hide the sadness or the fear in his eyes. He had spent so long trying not to think about what would lay ahead, but now he knew he must confront it and accept it. “I understand what I must do…only, Grayfire, I’m too scared to do it.”

He waited for more harsh words, but he only heard the soft purring of the gray tom.“That’s what I always liked about you,” Grayfire said softly. “You’re honest. But do you know what else drove me to ask Eveningstar if I could have the honor of being your mentor?” When Jayheart shook his head, he answered, “It was how you never gave up. When cats refused to share tongues with you because of your heritage, you did not lose hope. When the other apprentices bullied and ignored you for what you once were, you did not repay them back with the same treatment. When cats doubted your skills, you worked all the more harder to prove to them that you could do it. It is, perhaps, your best quality, and one that draws cats towards you. Do not forget it now. The task seems impossible—the Dark Moonstone may feel immeasurably far away. But you have the strength.” He stopped and gave a short meow. “Even one who was once a kittypet can change the course of the future.”

Jayheart dipped his head in part embarrassment, part respect. “I know, Grayfire. I will remember this—“ He broke off when he realized that his mentor’s figure was beginning to fade. “Don’t go!” He pleaded. “I need you.”

“I will always be with you,” Grayfire told him. And then he was gone, and Jayheart opened his eyes to find himself laying on a stone floor, surrounded by cats talking in whispers.

“He seemed much taken with you, Kindspirit.” That was Swiftrunner, Jayheart thought.

“You must be joking, Swiftrunner. I thought he was going to ask her to be his mate right there and then.” Bouldertail, he decided. “He couldn’t even hunt properly because he was too busy looking at you.”

“Stuff an’ nonsense. Both of you are makin’ this way bigger than it’s ‘posed to be. Ember is not smitten with me!”

“You ought to tell that to his face, then. He nearly had to pop his eyes back into their sockets.” Curious, Jayheart raised his head off of the ground, and they all fell silent.

“Yer awake!” Kindspirit yowled not so quietly as she rushed over to him.

He was about to reply to her when he realized that the Stick wasn’t around his neck anymore. “The Stick! Where’s the Stick?” He asked, panic rising in his chest. What if it was lost or someone had stolen it? Had one of them taken it for themselves? He felt a growl rising in his throat. If they had, it would be the last thing that they did.

“Don’t fret, Jay,” Kindspirit replied quickly. “It’s next to you, see? She flicked with her tail, and Jayheart whirled around to see it lying beside him in all of its stick-like glory. He attempted to stretch out a paw, trying to touch its bark and to stroke it soothingly, but his shoulder protested with the movement.

“Yer shoulder’s almos’ healed, Jay. Shadow reckons less than a quarter moon, and we can be on our way.”

“Good,” Jayheart replied, then instantly felt guilty. How could he even think about being happy to destroy the Stick?

“So, what’s this I hear about a tom named Ember?” He asked, trying to push his feelings out of his head.

Kindspirit stopped in her tracks, while Bouldertail and Swiftrunner were hiding sniggers. “Nothin’ that concerns you, that’s fer sure!” She replied fiercly, although Jayheart wasn’t certain whether she was referring to him or to the other two. “Wouldn’t stop bragging ‘bout how good he was at this or how wonderful all the she-cats think he was. Made it seem like it twas an honor that he was talkin’ to me at all!”

“What’d you tell him?” Jayheart asked, feeling even more amused now at the sight of his friend riled up.

“That he’s a right good cat…..’till he opens his mouth.”

Jayheart couldn’t help but join in with the two other toms at that, but Kindspirit seemed genuinely upset now. He stopped laughing.

“Come on, Kind, it’s not like toms didn’t try to flirt with you back in RiverClan.”

Kindspirit muttered something under her breath, but Jayheart didn’t catch most of it. What he did hear didn’t make any sense. But he hated to see her upset, so, instead, he reached out with his tail and stroked the fur on her back. “Why don’t you tell me what happened, from the beginning? I’m not going anywhere.” Kindspirit looked at him suspiciously, and her gaze fell on Swiftrunner and Bouldertail.

“And you can claw me if any of us laugh. I promise.”

Kindspirit gave him a long look. “Fine,” She said.

“Well,

it all got started when Bouldertail here made me go hunting for an afternoon….”

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