Dreams of Mist is part 2 of 6 in an unnamed fanfic series written by Fallowheart. It follows the children of Lionstar, a character from another one of her fanfics.
A blurb: Snowpaw, Fallenpaw, and Sunpaw continue to grow as apprentices, but they all face new struggles each day. Snowpaw is haunted by ghosts who walk in his sleep. Fallenpaw's loneliness and resentment grows, and she is left wondering if she belongs anywhere. Sunpaw sees that something is wrong with his littermates, but he can't figure out what. And during it all, a mysterious young cat becomes aware of powers unlike anything ever seen before. Powers that might just save all the Clans... or destroy them.
Snowpaw stretched as he stood from his nest, yawning widely. “I’m gonna get something to eat,” he meowed.
Acornpaw lifted her head. “Can you get me a shrew?” she asked politely.
Snowpaw snorted. “Get it yourself,” he muttered.
Acornpaw’s eyes widened. “But you’re going over there anyway!” she protested.
Snowpaw made his voice high pitched as he mimicked her. “But you’re going over there anyway!” He shook his head. “If you want something, get up and get it. You have legs, use them. PineClan doesn’t house lazy cats.”
Acornpaw glared at him and stuck out her tongue. “Why are you being so mean?” she mumbled angrily.
Snowpaw ignored her as he padded out of the den. He knew he had been being rude, and as soon as he was out of Acornpaw’s line of sight, guilt flooded through him, sinking in his belly. He should apologize. He glanced over his shoulder, ready to run back and beg Acornpaw for forgiveness, but she was already deep in a conversation with Spottedpaw.
Besides, he reminded himself. Begging looks weak. And you are not weak.
Snowpaw’s heart pounded, faster and louder with every beat. Rain seemed to explode from the sky, and he was quickly drenched. “Please,” he whispered, peeking his eyes open. “Please don’t kill me.”
The tom seemed amused, grinning wider as lightning flashed above them, illuminating his dreadful face. A horrid, chilling laugh rumbled deep in the tom’s belly just as thunder crashed in the sky.
Snowpaw shook with fear. “Please,” he sobbed. “I don’t mean any harm. I just want to go home. Please, I just want to go home!”
The tom studied one of his claws. “What is your name?”
Snowpaw looked up in surprise. “Huh?”
The tabby leaned in closer, suddenly looking angry. “Your name! What is it?”
Snowpaw jumped. “Snowpaw! Snowpaw. It-it’s Snowpaw.”
The tom leaned back on his hind legs. “Snowpaw…” he murmured thoughtfully. “Not bad.”
Snowpaw didn’t understand, but he was too scared to question him. “W-what’s your name?” he stammered.
The tom looked up. “No one has spoken my name in a very long time.”
Snowpaw blinked a few times. “I’m sure it hasn’t been that long.” He just had to keep him talking. As long as he was talking, Snowpaw wasn’t dead.
The tabby drew back his lips to resemble a snarl. “Trust me, kit. It has been more moons than you could begin to wrap your tiny mind around. It has been centuries.” He breathed in. “Yes. This is the first time I have seen stars in centuries.”
Snowpaw suddenly noticed that the tom’s pelt was no more than a faint outline. He could see right through him. “Are you… dead?” he choked out.
The tom folded his tail over his front paws. “Not dead,” he answered slowly. “Just not alive.”
Snowpaw gulped. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that meant.
The tom sighed, glancing up at the stars once more. “My name is Thunder,” he finally said. “And I think you and I will be great friends.”
“Snowpaw!” Grassnose called.
Snowpaw lapped up the rest of his meal. “Yes?” he replied coolly.
Grassnose glanced at him sharply. “Attitude,” she warned. “I want you to go change the elders’ bedding.”
Snowpaw bit back a growl of frustration. He had been training for over three moons now, and Grassnose was barely letting him do anything. “Fine,” he huffed. “After I’m done with that, are there any other useless chores you want me to do?”
Grassnose didn’t even blink. “Keep this up and the answer’s yes.”
Snowpaw dropped his glare. “Sorry.”
Grassnose softened. “Listen, I like this new confidence you have,” she mewed gently. “I don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad it’s here. But you need to learn to be confident and polite, do you understand?”
Snowpaw nodded solemnly. “Yeah. Sorry again.”
Grassnose blinked warmly. “It’s okay. Now go change that bedding, and maybe I’ll take you out hunting.”
Snowpaw shuddered. He didn’t want to be Thunder’s friend. “Are you… Are you going to kill me?” he managed to ask.
Thunder narrowed his eyes and his tail curled. “I can’t kill you,” he snarled. “You’re far too valuable.”
Snowpaw felt his heartbeat quicken again. He almost asked what he meant when he said valuable, but decided he didn’t really want to know. “Okay,” he squeaked, and cleared his throat.
Thunder took in a deep breath, and closed his eyes. Snowpaw didn’t know if it was just his imagination, but he could have sworn that the storm had just worsened.
“Snowpaw!” Cherryfur greeted him happily. “What brings you here today?”
Snowpaw immediately felt at ease among the kind, relaxed elders. “Grassnose told me you needed new bedding.”
Cherryfur shook her head. “No. Get out and go train. Have fun! I don’t want you cooped up in the elders’ den all day. We can make our own nests.”
Flameleap sniffed. “Speak for yourself!”
Snowpaw started to lay out the moss. “Sorry to tell you, Cherryfur,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m staying.”
Cherryfur sighed. “Oh, fine.” As Snowpaw dragged the old moss from her nest, she mewed, “How are Sunpaw and Fallenpaw doing with their training? They don’t come to see me very much anymore.”
Snowpaw stiffened. “They’re fine.”
Thunder opened his eyes once more, and Snowpaw froze. He had never seen a cat with gray eyes before. They were almost… lifeless.
“Do you have any littermates?” Thunder asked suddenly.
Snowpaw opened and closed his mouth before speaking. “Y-yes,” he replied shakily. “I have a brother and a sister.” A pang hit his heart as he wondered if he would ever see them again. Fallenpaw, his reserved, fierce sister. And Sunpaw, his brave, perfect brother who he always had looked up to.
Thunder’s eyes lit up with interest. “A brother?”
“And a sister.”
Thunder didn’t seem to hear him. “What is your brother’s name?”
Snowpaw swallowed, and before he could stop himself, he answered. “Sunpaw. He’s really good at hunting and fighting. On his very first day, he caught a mouse! Without any training! And he beat an older apprentice in a mock battle on his first try!” He glanced around anxiously. “My sister’s name is Fallenpaw,” he added.
Again, Thunder seemed indifferent at the mention of Fallenpaw. “Sunpaw…” he murmured. “Sunpaw and Snowpaw.”
Snowpaw nodded slowly. “Yes. And Fallenpaw.”
Thunder waved his tail as if to signify he didn’t care. “Sunpaw and Snowpaw. Opposites.” He bared his teeth, and Snowpaw realized it was meant to be a smile. “You’re here,” Thunder hissed greedily. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for you.”
Snowpaw carefully placed the last of the feathers on Spruceleaf’s finished nest.
“For StarClan’s sake, Snowpaw, you’re done!” Cherryfur exclaimed. “It’s a beautiful day. Go outside!”
Snowpaw ducked his head. “Right. Of course.”
“And thank you for the nests!” Spruceleaf called after him.
Snowpaw squinted as the bright leaf-bare sunlight hit his vision. The air had a chill to it, reminding everyone that prey would be running scarce soon, and sickness was on its way.
Grassnose approached him. “Are you finished?”
Snowpaw circled her. “Uh-huh! Can we train now?”
Grassnose flicked her tail. “Of course,” she replied briskly. “We can sharpen up your hunting skills.”
Snowpaw’s heart dropped. “But I wanted to try fighting!” he argued.
Grassnose blinked. “And I’m telling you that we’re practicing hunting,” she retorted.
Snowpaw dug his claws into the ground in frustration. Why did Grassnose have to baby him? Sunpaw got to fight. Why couldn’t Snowpaw?
“Snowpaw— Snowpaw, hey!”
Snowpaw turned at his name being called just in time to see Sunpaw nearly barrel into him. “Hi, Sunpaw,” he meowed.
Sunpaw’s eyes were shining with excitement. “I just got back from battle training, and guess what! I beat Sootpaw and Birchpaw! Isn’t that so cool?”
Snowpaw forced a purr, pushing aside his jealousy. “It’s great.”
“You envy your brother,” Thunder stated plainly.
Snowpaw was taken aback. “What? No. I… I look up to him. I admire him! I--”
Thunder rolled his eyes. “Cut the mouse-dung, kit. You can tell yourself those things as many times as you want, but that will never change the fact that, deep down, you hate your brother.”
Snowpaw suddenly felt more scared than he had when he thought he was going to die. It felt so strange to have this tom see him so clearly. Was he even right? No. He wasn’t. Snowpaw did love his brother. “Stop it,” he begged.
Thunder’s eyes flashed. “Stop begging,” he snapped. “Begging is weak. Do you want to look weak?”
Snowpaw tilted his head, feeling miserable about himself. “No!”
Thunder nodded in approval. “Good.” He leaned in closer, his sour breath making Snowpaw want to gag. “I can make you great, you know. Better than your brother.”
At his words, Snowpaw expected to feel disgust. Instead, something awoke within him. A flicker of longing, so faint that the smallest puff of wind could extinguish it. “I don’t want your help,” he forced through gritted teeth, and the tiny flame inside him died away, leaving nothing but a thin trail of smoke. Panic rose like water, threatening to drown him. He wanted it back. He needed it back.
Thunder seemed to notice his hesitation. “Are you sure about your decision, kit? Do you want to spend the rest of your life as Sunpaw’s brother? Because I can make you more than that. I can help you, Snowpaw. Let me help you.” His gray eyes burned into Snowpaw eagerly.
Snowpaw let his eyes drift shut. He could see it all. He and Sunpaw, fighting side by side. He and Sunpaw, a force to be reckoned with. He would walk in step with his brother, not trailing slightly behind like he always had. They would be equals. For the first time, they would be equals.
Snowpaw had looked Thunder in the eye when he responded in a clear, sure voice.
Snowpaw curled up in his nest after the long, boring day of hunting. Annoyance still festered in his belly. Grassnose was being so unfair! He squeezed his eyes shut, willing sleep to come, tuning out the voices of his denmates.
The low growl sounded in front of Snowpaw, and he looked up. I’m not a kit, he wanted to growl back, but he swallowed the words, and replaced them with new ones.
Thunder shoved Snowpaw aside. “I told you last night: stop wasting your breath on being polite, because I don’t care. We have work to do.”
Snowpaw held his head high. It hardly crossed his mind to apologize. “I’m ready.”
The conversation was familiar at this point. It was the same one they had every night for the past three moons.
Fallenpaw crept through the pines carefully. She could smell the sweet freedom that the lake carried, and quickened her pace. A soft breeze raced through the night, ruffling her fur.
The pines opened up to reveal the lake shore, lined with pebbles that crunched under her paws. Fallenpaw stepped in the water, suppressing a squeal of shock at how cold it was. How LakeClan cats could swim in it every day, she didn’t know. But sometimes she wished she did, because sometimes the lake felt more like home than the pines did.
“Are you just going to stand there like your paws are frozen in place, or what?” Splashpaw’s mew drifted towards her as he came up beside her.
Fallenpaw glared at him. “How do you know they aren’t?” It never failed to amaze her how she never was aware of his presence until he spoke. It was almost like she didn’t see him until he wanted her to. We’re invisible. His words echoed in the back of her mind. Might as well accept that.
You might be invisible, she thought crossly. But I want to be more than just a ghost.
Splashpaw jumped into the lake, spraying Fallenpaw with icy droplets. “Get in!” he called.
Fallenpaw shook her head and dove in after him. The cold clung to her pelt, and she felt like her bones were made of icicles. She burst above the surface and took in a deep breath. “How can you swim in this and never even flinch?” she asked breathlessly.
Splashpaw’s gray eyes flashed. “I’m a natural,” he bragged.
Fallenpaw shoved him teasingly. “Shut up.”
Splashpaw flicked his tail, and water flew into her face. “You shut up.”
There was a long pause of silence, and Fallenpaw sighed. “They didn’t notice I left.”
She didn’t have to look to know that his ash-gray eyes were trained on her. “Did you actually think they would?”
Fallenpaw studied the quiet ripples of the lake and shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know. I guess I just hoped…” She let her voice trail off. She had even stepped on Snowpaw’s tail, in hopes that he would wake up, and see just from the look on her face that something wasn’t right. But he didn’t. No one did. No one ever did.
Sometimes, she wondered how she could feel so lonely when she was surrounded by so many.
Fallenpaw glanced over at Splashpaw, who was making spirals in the water with his paw. “Thank you for being my friend,” she whispered.
Splashpaw nodded, but didn’t stop making his shapes. “I don’t think either of us has a choice,” he pointed out. “If we didn’t have each other, we wouldn’t have anyone at all.”
Fallenpaw felt her heart grow heavier. Every time he spoke, it seemed to add more weight. “Yeah,” she agreed, even though she didn’t want to. She searched for something to say. “My Clan sucks.”
Splashpaw stared at her in surprise. “You think that?”
I don’t know. “Yes.”
A slow grin spread over Splashpaw’s face. “My Clan sucks too. They think they’re so great just because they can swim.”
Fallenpaw kicked the water, sending ripples over the surface, watching them grow like the anger and hurt inside her. “My Clan thinks that they’re good at everything. Hunting, fighting, making friends.” Her face twisted and her next words were spat out. “But the one thing he isn’t good at is being there for me.”
Splashpaw tipped his head. “He? Are we still talking about our Clans, Fallenpaw?”
Fallenpaw’s eyes widened. “Yes,” she insisted, even though they both knew she was talking about Sunpaw. “What do I do?” she asked helplessly.
“Nothing. There’s nothing you can do.”
Fallenpaw narrowed her eyes. “And why is that?”
“I’ve told you already. You’re invisible to them. You’re nothing. If they haven’t seen you by now, they never will.”
Fallenpaw felt tears threaten to come. She still held onto hope that Splashpaw’s words weren’t true. She still searched for a sign that her family loved her. But every time she found one, Splashpaw brushed it off.
Sometimes, she hated Splashpaw more than she hated PineClan.
“Can you teach me how to swim?” she meowed suddenly. She missed the swimming lessons he had used to give her. He didn’t do that much anymore.
Splashpaw waded into deeper waters. “Sure. Follow me.”
Fallenpaw trailed after him, struggling to keep her head above the surface. She liked swimming, but she hated getting the lake water in her eyes. It burned.
Splashpaw noticed. “Just relax,” he advised. “You’ll stay afloat, I swear.”
Fallenpaw let her paws lift off the murky bottom, and her muscles relaxed ever so slightly. She giggled a little as she paddled. Swimming was like magic to her. She liked to imagine she was flying.
She let the water wash over the top of her head, she let herself disappear under the surface. The magic of the lake fizzed through her entire body, and she let her eyes fly open. When she looked up, she could see the moon and the stars, distorted under the blanket of ripples.
The sky looked so imperfect from this view, and it was the most beautiful sight that Fallenpaw had ever seen. She took in a deep breath, letting the beauty of everything fill her.
But it wasn’t beauty that filled her-- it was water.
Fallenpaw burst upward, heaving up water. Never doing that again, she thought to herself.
Splashpaw looked over his shoulder, startled. “What happened?”
Fallenpaw rolled her eyes. She could have drowned there--granted, she was the one who decided to breathe underwater and she hadn’t come close to drowning--and he wouldn’t have noticed. “Nothing,” she lied, brushing past him. “Mouse-brain.”
“Fish-breath,” Splashpaw threw back at her playfully.
Fallenpaw laughed, and tried to come up with another insult. “Uhh… Dung-eater!”
“Ew!” Splashpaw cried. “Hare-brain!”
Fallenpaw splashed him with her tail. “I already used mouse-brain,” she teased. “So hare-brain doesn’t count.”
Splashpaw shook water off his whiskers. “Whatever. C’mon, let’s swim.”
“Yeah!” Fallenpaw bounded ahead, water spraying behind her, splattering down like glittering raindrops under the dying moon.
When Fallenpaw returned to the camp, her fur was still damp. She found herself almost hoping that someone would find out where she was every night. Feathersong, maybe? Or Lionstar? Perhaps Shadowpool would notice.
But Shadowpool and Feathersong were on a dawn patrol, and Lionstar was in his den.
That left her putting all her hope in her brothers, which meant she was doomed.
Why am I wishing to get in trouble? she wondered.
Sunpaw stirred as Fallenpaw crept back to her nest. “Fallenpaw?”
Fallenpaw felt her hopes lift. “Yeah?”
“Where were you?”
This was it. This was the moment she had been waiting for. Now all she had to do was tell the truth. That was all she had to do. It was so simple.
“Dirtplace.” The lie slipped out before she could stop it, and Fallenpaw flinched. Why was it so hard for her to tell the truth?
Sunpaw eyed her. “Are you sure?” It was like he knew something was wrong, but was scared to say it.
“Yes,” Fallenpaw choked out. She moved towards her nest, hardly aware of her own actions. She was just so, so tired.
“Fallenpaw?” a voice hissed next to her, and she sighed in annoyance.
“What, Sunpaw--” It wasn’t Sunpaw. It was Acornpaw. “Oh,” Fallenpaw murmured. “Hi, Acornpaw.”
Acornpaw’s yellow eyes darted around worriedly. “Are you really okay?” she whispered. “I… I don’t know, Fallenpaw. You seem different lately. I know what a hurting cat feels like, I’ve been that cat before. You can tell me if anything’s wrong, you know.”
For a heartbeat, Fallenpaw nearly told Acornpaw everything. About her loneliness, feeling forgotten, about Splashpaw, about the lake. Almost. The words were right there. If she could just let her wall crack a little, they would pour out.
But her wall didn’t crack. It just built a little taller.
“I’m fine,” Fallenpaw growled, turning her back to Acornpaw.
After all, it was just one more lie. After the amount she had already told, what harm could just one more do?
Sunpaw hopped on his paws eagerly. Duskrunner had woken him up that morning to tell him that he and Shadowpool were taking him and Fallenpaw out hunting. It was a bit like an assessment, Duskrunner had told him. So he had to try his hardest.
I always try my hardest, Sunpaw thought proudly. He couldn’t wait to go hunting with his sister. For the past three moons, she had been acting distant, so he was excited to do something fun with her. Maybe we can be close again, like we used to be.
The thought filled him with happiness, and he padded over to Fallenpaw’s nest. “Wake up,” he hissed, prodding her with his paw. “We’re going hunting.”
Fallenpaw rolled over. “It’s too early,” she mumbled.
Sunpaw glanced outside. The sun was already high in the sky. “No it’s not.”
Fallenpaw groaned. “I’m tired,” she complained. “Go without me. Bring Snowpaw, or Hazelpaw!”
Sunpaw’s heart dropped slightly. “But Shadowpool wants you to--”
Fallenpaw cut him off with a sharp sigh and stood up, shaking leaves off of her pelt. “Fine,” she snapped, and stormed out of the den.
Sunpaw stared after her in confusion. Why were there leaves in her pelt? PineClan territory was a pine forest. Plus, he knew for a fact that Spottedpaw and Sootpaw had just cleaned the nests. Something wasn’t right. “Fallenpaw--!” he started to call after her, but she was already gone. He chased after her. “Fallenpaw, wait up! I’m worried about you!”
Fallenpaw shot him a glare over her shoulder. “Why?” she spat.
Sunpaw tilted his head. “What do you mean, why? You’re my sister!”
Fallenpaw opened her mouth, but suddenly she drew back and a guarded look crossed over her face. “Right,” she murmured. “I’m sorry I snapped.”
Sunpaw stared at her expectantly. “Well? Are you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“What’s bothering you!”
“Nothing’s bothering me!”
Sunpaw growled in frustration. “I’m just trying to help you!”
Fallenpaw lashed her tail. “I don’t need help!” She spun around. “Just go hunting without me.”
Sunpaw gaped at her. “No!” he called. “C’mon, Fallenpaw!”
“What in the name of StarClan is going on?”
Both Sunpaw and Fallenpaw froze, and Sunpaw flattened his ears. “Nothing, Feathersong.”
Feathersong snorted. “I don’t believe that for a heartbeat.” She shook her head. “You’re supposed to be littermates. You aren’t supposed to be fighting!”
Fallenpaw hung her head. “Sorry.”
Feathersong gave them both a stern look. “I’m not angry,” she meowed. “But I expect better from my kits. Now, then. Duskrunner and Shadowpool are waiting for you, so run along. We’ll continue this discussion another time.”
Sunpaw pressed against his mother’s side before walking away. He could hear Fallenpaw’s soft pawsteps not far behind him, so he knew that at least they were going hunting together. He exhaled heavily. Why was she making everything so difficult lately? He only wanted to help, and she started yelling at him! And now Feathersong was disappointed in them and it was all her fault.
Duskrunner pricked his ears as Sunpaw got closer, and Shadowpool padded over to greet Fallenpaw.
“Are you two ready?” Duskrunner asked.
“I’m ready,” Sunpaw replied, a bit of an edge to his voice. I don’t know if Fallenpaw is ready, but I am.
Duskrunner nodded. “Good.” He turned and started towards the forest. “Remember, this is an assessment on your hunting skills so far. You and Fallenpaw can choose to work together, or you can work separately. Whatever you decide, you both must catch at least three pieces of prey in order to pass.”
Sunpaw gulped. Three pieces of prey at the start of leaf-bare? That was impossible!
“Duskrunner and I will be watching you, but we will not be helping or interacting with you,” Shadowpool added. “Chances are, you will not even see us.”
Sunpaw felt a flutter of excitement in his belly. He couldn’t wait to prove himself even more than he already had to his mentor. “Can we start?” he asked eagerly. He looked to Fallenpaw to see if she was as excited as he was, but she just seemed bored and distracted. A little tired even. He wondered why. Sunpaw thought about asking her, but quickly was reminded of what happened just moments earlier when he expressed concern for her, and decided to just keep his mouth shut.
Shadowpool blinked. “Yes. You may begin.”
“Good luck,” Duskrunner mewed.
Sunpaw bounded deeper into the forest, keeping his steps light and quiet. He glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see his sister on his tail, but found that she was dragging along far behind. He nearly called out to her, but clamped his mouth shut. He couldn’t scare off any prey. Instead, he widened his eyes and gestured to her to move faster, but Fallenpaw barely seemed to notice.
Sunpaw rolled his eyes. He knew they could easily pass the assessment if they worked as a team, but Fallenpaw wasn’t going to be much help while she was acting so strange. Whatever. If she wanted to be this way, he would be more efficient without her. Turning his attention back to the forest, Sunpaw trotted along, pushing away the feeling that he had done something wrong by leaving Fallenpaw behind. You can lead a stubborn elder to water, he reminded himself. But you can’t make them drink. He had tried twice now to offer comfort to his sister, but he couldn’t help her if she didn’t want to be helped. He still didn’t even know what was wrong!
A soft rustling in the bushes called for Sunpaw’s attention. He tensed his muscles, afraid to even breathe. Tasting the air, he caught a strong scent of rabbit. Another pang of regret hit him. Rabbits were far easier to catch with two cats instead of one.
Sunpaw looked around. He could trace a bit of Fallenpaw’s familiar scent, but he could tell she was far back. He couldn’t even see her.
He remembered when they were kits, and how he and Fallenpaw and Snowpaw had been a team. They once had pulled a prank on the warriors, and Fallenpaw had been the mastermind behind the whole plan.
I have an idea, she whispered, her eyes shining. But it might get us in trouble.
Will Lionstar be mad at us? Snowkit fretted.
I don’t know, Fallenkit admitted. But it will be worth it. Trust me.
What’s your plan? Sunkit had been the one to ask.
And she had brought them closer and told them: they would steal the feathers from the senior warriors’ nests and add them to Feathersong’s. Fallenkit had led the three of them across the camp as fast as their tiny legs could carry them, and they managed to steal every single feather from Shadowpool’s nest, giggling the whole way. They had meant to prank all of the senior warriors, but the three kits could only carry so many feathers.
Besides, Fallenkit reasoned. Shadowpool is the strictest, so she’s the funniest to prank.
Sunkit and Snowkit both agreed. Fallenkit was too bossy to argue with anyways.
They had been caught, of course. It was quite obvious that they were up to no good as they were spotted racing out of the warriors den with a mouthful of feathers each. But after Lionstar and Feathersong were done scolding them, Fallenkit had announced a new plan with twinkling eyes.
Sunpaw’s tail drooped. Fallenpaw had once been so happy and confident. What happened?
He didn’t know. He didn’t know what it was that caused such a drastic change in his sister, but what he did know was that whatever she might claim, she wasn’t fine.
And Fallenpaw was more important than some hunting assessment.
Sunpaw turned away from the bush, hearing his rabbit scamper in the opposite direction. He followed Fallenpaw’s scent trail a little ways further, in the direction of the LakeClan border before finally catching a glimpse of her gray tabby fur among the pines. She seemed to be drifting aimlessly. What on earth is she doing? Sunpaw wondered, and called out to her. “Fallenpaw!”
Fallenpaw stiffened at his voice, her eyes narrowing. “Go away!” she yowled.
Sunpaw ran over to her. Instead of fighting him, she just sat down and began tracing lines in the dirt with her tail.
“Fallenpaw,” Sunpaw began. “You can tell me anything, you know. I’m your brother.”
“I know,” Fallenpaw replied, her voice tight.
Sunpaw waited for her to speak, but she let the silence hang in the air. “What’s wrong?” he pressed. “And don’t tell me you’re fine, because you aren’t. You’re supposed to be hunting, and instead you’re sitting on the LakeClan border making shapes in the dirt.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be hunting, too?” Fallenpaw retorted. “And yet, you’re sitting on the LakeClan border, trying to talk to your sister who doesn’t want to talk.”
Sunpaw noticed how she ignored his question. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he insisted.
Fallenpaw snarled. “Nothing is wrong,” she hissed. “Great StarClan.”
Sunpaw nodded like he believed her, but he knew for a fact she was lying to his face. If she really was fine, she would have laughed at him for being so worried and said something like, “Geez, Sunpaw! I’m just tired. Stop worrying about me and go pass your assessment before you turn into Snowpaw.” And then the two of them would have purred at her joke, and he would have convinced her to hunt with him and they would have caught enough to feed the entire Clan.
Sunpaw missed the old Fallenpaw fiercely. He missed the sister he had once been so close with.
He told Fallenpaw that he believed her, and wondered how they had gotten to this point, where they communicated through lies, one after another. Then he left her at the LakeClan border, and raced back to camp to tell Lionstar that something was wrong with Fallenpaw. He knew she would hate him for it, but it felt like the right thing to do.
“Breezekit, hurry or we’re leaving without you!”
Starkit felt her sister’s hind paws kick into her ribs, but didn’t make a sound. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter to block out the sunlight.
“Starkit, why don’t you play with the other kits.”
Starkit sighed at her mother’s suggestion. She didn’t open her eyes still, because if she did then she knew the colors and the lights would stay with her and she wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. “But I’m tired,” she mumbled.
Wren nudged her with her nose. “You were tired yesterday,” she murmured. “Fallowleap and Poppymoon say it isn’t healthy for a kit to be stuck inside all day.”
If Starkit’s eyes were open, she would have rolled them. Wren quoted Fallowleap and Poppymoon so much that it seemed like she thought their words had come directly from StarClan. “I’ll play later,” she insisted.
Wren shifted, and Starkit could feel embarrassment sparking off of her pelt. She’s probably making sure that Fallowleap and Poppymoon aren’t watching. “Come on, sweetest. Open your eyes. You can’t hide from the world forever, or you’ll never get the chance to live.”
A feather brushed against Starkit’s nose, and she sneezed, her eyes flying open. Mouse-dung, she cursed to herself. Now she had to go play.
Poppymoon beamed from across the nursery. “There you are,” she cooed. “Look at those beautiful eyes!”
Wren seemed pleased. “Now run along,” she mewed. “Go find Breezekit and Littlekit. I’m sure they would love to include you in their game.”
Starkit stood up grudgingly, cold air rushing towards her. Her soft kitten fur did little to protect her from the leaf-bare weather. But she was up, so she pushed the thoughts of the warm feathers and moss lining her nest and stumbled out of the nursery.
Breezekit and Littlekit were just outside, pushing a pinecone around with Fallowleap’s kits, Robinkit, Blackkit, and Frogkit. Starkit stood up straighter, tried to look confident--not weird and awkward--and marched over to the other kits.
“Hi,” she squeaked.
Littlekit turned her head. “Hi, Starkit,” she squeaked back, and Breezekit snickered.
Starkit backed up slightly. Were they making fun of her voice? “What’s so funny?” she asked nervously.
Breezekit tried to keep a straight face. “Oh, nothing,” she said non-convincingly.
Starkit blinked a few times, her belly churning. She couldn’t show her sisters how upset she was, though. “Oh, okay.” She shrugged indifferently. “What are you playing?”
Robinkit piped up with, “Pass the pinecone.” He glanced around at the other kits knowingly before turning back to her. “Do you want to play?”
Starkit burst into a smile. “Yeah!”
Littlekit and Breezekit shared an amused glance, and Starkit felt her stomach twist again.
Robinkit kicked the pinecone and it rolled to Blackkit. Blackkit looked around, as if she was unsure what to do. Frogkit dodged forward to snatch it.
Starkit jumped up. “Pass it to me!” she cried. “Blackkit!”
Blackkit’s mouth fell open, and she avoided making eye contact with Starkit before tossing the pinecone in the opposite direction, towards Littlekit. Littlekit acted like she was about to throw it in Starkit’s direction, but whipped around at the last second and passed it to Robinkit.
Starkit took in a shuddering breath. Were they purposefully keeping it away from her? This was worse than when they would simply leave her out. This time, they tricked her into thinking she was included. Starkit started to walk back to the nursery, back to Wren, caught in a daze when Breezekit’s tail hooked around her paw, and she went sprawling to the ground.
Laughter rang around her, but it wasn’t the good kind of laughter. The kits were laughing at her, not with her, and it hurt that she knew the difference when she was only three moons old.
In that horrible, humiliating moment, lying on the ground, Starkit felt something stir deep inside her. It was the slightest flicker of warm light, but if she focused hard on it, the warmth spread through her bones. It pulsed, drumming to the beat of her heart. The warmth, though, she couldn’t tell if it was comforting and safe, or hot and angry. It could go either way, which frightened Starkit. And suddenly, the more she focused on it, she had a sense of understanding. Like every living thing around her was connected. And even though her eyes were closed, she suddenly saw everything clearer than she could have imagined.
But it was only for an instant. A split second. Hardly more than a heartbeat.
“Starkit’s as blind as a bat!” Breezekit shrieked. “She can hardly see where she puts her paws!”
Breezekit’s sharp words brought Starkit back to reality. The light inside her snapped back to its original size, and she was back in the dark. She couldn’t even find it again, no matter how hard she concentrated. She wasn’t even sure that whatever happened to her actually happened in the first place.
“Look at her,” Littlekit sneered. “She’s just lying on the ground like a dead rat.”
Get up, she urged herself. Leave so they’ll stop, Starkit stood up, dirt stinging her eyes--or maybe that was just tears. She couldn’t go back to the nursery, because then Wren would ask what happened to her and Breezekit and Littlekit would get in trouble. She couldn’t find her father, because he was on a hunting patrol, and she wasn’t allowed in the forest until she was an apprentice.
That left the place she had always found comfort in when she was sad. The elders’ den.
Ignoring the other kits’ hushed giggles buzzing behind her, Starkit brushed the dust off of her white fur the best she could, and held her head high as she marched to the elders’ den.
“Starkit!” Cherryfur’s warm voice washed over Starkit, and she ran forward.
The tortoiseshell elder wrapped her tail around her and started cleaning her. “You poor thing,” she soothed. “What happened?”
Starkit shook her head. “I fell.” The unspoken words that it was Breezekit who caused her to fall hung in the air.
Cherryfur’s eyes rounded with sympathy. “You poor, poor thing.”
Starkit lifted her chin. “But I stood back up,” she pointed out.
Cherryfur purred softly. “I know you did.”
Flameleap looked up from his nest beside Cherryfur. “Do you want to hear a story?” he asked.
Starkit grinned. “Do apprentices like to brag?”
Flameleap chuckled. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He gazed at his mate. “What story should we tell her today?”
Cherryfur winked at Starkit. “Is there a story she hasn’t heard yet?”
She had a point. Starkit had heard tales of the lions and tigers and leopards that once ruled over the forest. She had been told about Turtlepelt’s adventures after the battle against the rogues. She had been painted the imagery of blizzards and floods and storms and warriors with great courage. She had heard practically everything that Cherryfur and Flameleap had to tell.
Except one thing.
“Tell me about Foxfang and Everflame,” Starkit blurted out.
Cherryfur’s breath hitched at the mention of her two lost kits. Flameleap closed his eyes.
Starkit could feel their grief, like static in the air. It swarmed around her, a thick dark storm cloud. Crackling. Electric. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You don’t have to.”
Cherryfur took a deep breath. “No, don’t be sorry. They have some great stories.” Tears welled in her eyes. “They were so, so brave.”
Flameleap nodded. “When Everflame was a kit, around your age, he found a baby squirrel that had wandered into the camp. It had a broken leg. One of the apprentices, Eelpaw, was going to kill it and give it to the queens. It would have been his to eat. But Everkit was a sensitive kit. He wouldn’t let Eelpaw kill the injured squirrel. Instead, he carried it--dragged it, really. It was almost as big as him--to the medicine den and made Softwater nurse it back to health. The warriors said he was crazy, but I was proud. I said to them, ‘That’s my son, right there. He cares about everyone, whether it’s a squirrel or a cat. He cares.’” Flameleap cleared his throat. “That was Everflame for you.”
Starkit felt bad asking them to relive the worst grief they ever felt. “You-you don’t have to continue,” she stammered.
Cherryfur smiled faintly. “No. I like thinking about the good things. Do you want to hear about the trouble Foxfang got herself into as an apprentice?”
Starkit gasped. “Yes!”
Cherryfur tipped her head thoughtfully, as if she was trying to find the memory she had buried with her daughter. “Foxfang always found one way or another to get herself into trouble,” she murmured. “But once, she had been bragging about her fighting skill, and one of the older apprentices, Nettlepaw, got jealous and called her a piece of mouse-dung.”
“Oh!” Flameleap exclaimed. “I remember this!”
Starkit leaned forward. “What happened next? Did she beat him up?”
Cherryfur snorted. “No, but that would have been less embarrassing for us. She went into the pine forest, found some actual mouse-dung, and placed it in Nettlepaw’s nest. Then when he sat down in it, she told him that he was the mouse-dung now.”
Starkit giggled. “She didn’t!”
Flameleap’s eyes widened. “Oh, trust us, she did.”
Cherryfur picked the last of the pebbles out of Starkit’s fur. “Now, then. Wren must be expecting you back for your nap right about now, won’t she?”
Starkit’s spirits fell at the thought of confronting Breezekit and Littlekit again. “Yeah, I guess,” she muttered. “Can’t I just stay here?” It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with Wren. She loved her mother. But her sisters…
Cherryfur’s whiskers twitched. “Wren will start to worry if you don’t go back to the nursery.”
That meant no. But she had a point. Starkit didn’t want to scare Wren. “Fine.” She rose to her paws. “Thanks for the stories.”
Starkit passed by where the kits were playing earlier on her way back to the nursery. She could see where the ground was smudged, and knew that must have been where she fell. She remembered the strange thing that had happened to her. The light. The warmth. She wanted it back, but she didn’t know how she even got it to come. Maybe she just had to concentrate. Squeezing her eyes shut so hard that it hurt, Starkit bent her head down, thinking as hard as she could. Come on. Come on. She tensed her muscles, rooting her tiny paws to the ground, rigid. Come on. Come on. “Come on.”
“She’s so weird.”
“What is she even doing?”
“I don’t think I want to know.”
Starkit opened her eyes, and the shapes of Littlekit, Breezekit, and Blackkit disappeared behind the nursery wall. I bet they wish Blackkit was their sister. Then they wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of me being their sister.
If she could just get that feeling back. It was something special, she could feel it. Maybe if she could get it back, she could feel normal, and the other kits would like her, and her only friends wouldn’t be the elders.
When she finally worked up the courage to enter the nursery, the other kits were asleep. Wren had waited up for her, though. Her face seemed to light up when she saw Starkit, and beckoned her over.
“How was your day so far?” she asked softly, careful not to wake Breezekit and Littlekit.
Starkit settled down against her mother. “It was good. Cherryfur and Flameleap told me stories about Everflame and Foxfang.”
Wren sighed. “Starkit…”
Starkit bristled. “They’re my friends,” she mewed defensively. “They’re nice to me.”
Wren looked a little sad. Or maybe pitiful. “I know,” she murmured. “I know. I just wish you could find some friends your age.”
Me too. “I’m going to go to sleep now.”
Wren smoothed Starkit’s fur down. “Okay. Sleep tight, Star That Shines At Night.”
Star That Shines At Night. It was Wren’s nickname for her. It made her feel special, because it was something that only they shared. Littlekit and Breezekit didn’t have tribe names.
“I love you, mama,” Starkit replied, before drifting off to sleep.
Snowpaw opened his eyes to the familiar shadows stretching on around him, tall and looming, fading into emptiness. “Thunder,” he responded curtly, biting back a sharp retort. He hated when Thunder called him kit. He wasn’t a kit. He was over half way through his training.
He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw approval glint in the massive tabby’s eyes. “Come on,” he ordered gruffly. “Let’s get going. Every moment spent not training is a moment wasting the night’s shadows.”
Snowpaw brushed past Thunder, trying to show strength without showing dominance. Strength earned him approval. Dominance gained him a punishment.
But training started the moment Snowpaw stepped in front of Thunder. He learned that the hard way, he remarked, thinking back to the first time he had met Thunder in his dreams.
Thunder had let him go that night during the storm. Feathersong and Lionstar had been worried sick when he got back to PineClan, but when they asked him where he had been, Snowpaw lied and said he wandered off and got lost on ShadeClan territory. He wasn’t sure if meeting Thunder was a bad thing or not, so he decided to keep him a secret. Besides, it wasn't like he would have to sneak out of camp to see him.
All you have to do is fall asleep, Thunder had said.
Snowpaw was fascinated. You’ll come to me in my dreams? He hadn’t even known that was possible.
Thunder grinned menacingly. No, kit, he growled, almost amused. I’ll come to you in your nightmares.
Snowpaw had been too amazed and caught up in the thought of being as good as Sunpaw to feel scared.
In his nest, Snowpaw curled up tight and tried to even his breathing. He couldn’t wait to see how Thunder would help him. He couldn’t wait to be Sunpaw’s equal.
He awoke in what seemed like nothingness. The ground beneath his paws was nothing but a dark mist. When he looked up, the sun was there, in the endless black sky, but it cast no light. It was simply there--a cold, white flame against the shadows. Snowpaw shivered. He wasn’t sure he liked it here. The empty darkness grew heavy, and seemed to close in on him. Is this what it feels like to be blind? Snowpaw wondered. Panic burst in his belly like a storm of butterflies, and he scratched his paw in an attempt to wake himself up. Nothing happened.
Suddenly, the shadowy mist pulled up from the ground, swirling in the air. Snowpaw stared in bewilderment as the mist began to form the shape of a cat. The shape heaved a silent breath, and a pair of gray eyes blinked open. The shape’s outline bristled, and slowly transformed into Thunder.
Snowpaw opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
Thunder circled him, his paws never fully touching the ground. He was like a ghost, Snowpaw realized. No, not a ghost. A shadow.
Thunder flashed him that horrible grin. “Are you ready?”
Snowpaw gulped. “Ready for what?”
“Your first battle lesson, of course.”
Snowpaw knew there were so many things that were not right about this place, this whole situation. But in that moment, his worries seemed to wash away, and all he could see was him and Sunpaw, fighting their enemies side by side. “I’m ready.”
The words had hardly left his mouth when Thunder attacked.
Snowpaw rolled out of the way just as Thunder crashed into the place he had been standing moments earlier, but he didn’t even have time to sigh with relief before the shadow was back on his paws and about to leap forward.
It was only a split-second of time, but Snowpaw noticed how Thunder’s eyes flickered in the slightest bit to the spot next to him. He was making it look like he was going to attack him head-on, but really he was thinking one step ahead. He expected Snowpaw to dodge aside again, but he was wrong.
Snowpaw ducked down as low as he could, and shot himself forward with his hind legs so he went skidding under his attacker. He angled his body slightly, so he could spring back to his paws so quickly that it would even catch Thunder by surprise.
He was so sure that he finally outsmarted his shadow mentor that it was all the more shocking when he felt a heavy paw slam down on his spine.
Snowpaw turned his head so his cheek was pressed against the ground. He snarled. “How did you do that? I was thinking one step ahead of you!”
Thunder snorted. “And I was thinking two steps ahead.” He kicked him in the ribs. “Get up. Do it again. This time I want a challenge.”
Snowpaw stood up, ignoring the throbbing pain in his side. “This time, I’ll win,” he hissed under his breath.
Thunder flicked his tail. “Kits never win. Kits only learn. And you, kit, are learning from the best.”
Snowpaw lifted his chin, his expression blank. I’m not a kit. “Why do you even care about training me anyway?”
Thunder’s eyes flashed. “Why? Do you want to stop?”
Snowpaw jumped and shook his head rapidly. “No!” he rushed to say. “No. No. I was just wondering.” Thunder never told him what he was doing there, and Snowpaw never asked. But Snowpaw was feeling confident.
Thunder studied him for a long moment, as if dating him to look away. He didn’t. “You’re here because I want you here, and that’s all you need to know.”
Snowpaw blinked. “If you find me valuable, you might want to tell me why I’m here. I could leave whenever I want, just so you know.”
Thunder seemed amused, which annoyed Snowpaw. “But could you?”
“Could I what?”
“Leave. Whenever you want.”
Snowpaw paused. Could he? He didn’t know. He never tried.
Thunder nodded, seemingly satisfied. “That’s what I thought.” He started to walk away. “Let’s go. Unless, of course, you want to try and wake up.”
Snowpaw startled once again. The thought of leaving the midnight training sessions left him panicked. “No. Of course not.”
“Good. We have work to do.”
Snowpaw ran to catch up with Thunder. “Coming.”
Snowpaw sprang up at Grassnose’s command, quick as lightning. His paws felt light with energy, and he whipped around to face his opponent.
Sunpaw was ready, but he wasn’t nearly as fast. His movements were jerky and loud, and he stumbled in surprise at Snowpaw’s agility.
I have the upper paw, Snowpaw realized happily. Sunpaw thinks he’s been training more, but Thunder has been training me every night. I’m better!
But that wasn’t what he wanted, was it?
He wanted to be equal to Sunpaw, not better.
The thrill of being the best at something overtook Snowpaw, and just like that, his goals changed.
He would be better than Sunpaw at fighting. He would be the best at fighting.
And he was about to prove it.
Leaning back on his haunches, Snowpaw let his brother think he was slowing down. Sunpaw darted forward too quickly, and Snowpaw stepped to the side, dragging his tail and curling it around Sunpaw’s paw. Sunpaw stumbled, and Snowpaw pinned him down. Sunpaw’s eyes flashed, and he retaliated by shoving Snowpaw so hard that he staggered. Sunpaw used the opportunity to get back on his paws. The two brothers faced each other, circling each other slowly.
I won’t let him win this, Snowpaw thought. I want to win for once.
Sunpaw looked ready to jump right back into battle, and it dawned on Snowpaw that that was his problem. Thunder’s words echoed in his head. I was thinking two steps ahead. Sunpaw wasn’t thinking two steps ahead, or even one step. But Snowpaw could.
After a moment’s thought, Snowpaw dove forward, skidding under Sunpaw. Sunpaw yelped in shock and tripped. Snowpaw bounced back up, the rush and tension of the mock-battle fizzing around him. He felt like magic. For the first time in his life, he felt confident in himself. Not in who his father was, or his brother, but himself.
The air was fresh, the world bright, his plan clear. Nothing would stop him now.
When Sunpaw turned to face Snowpaw once more, Snowpaw was ready for him. He swung his paw like he was going to hit him in the face, leaving Sunpaw disoriented and distracted. Snowpaw latched onto Sunpaw’s shoulder, driving him towards the trees. He could see Sunpaw starting to panic, and that was when he gave one final shove, sending his brother to the ground.
For a few everlasting heartbeats, all was silent, and Snowpaw was worried he did something wrong. But then a thunderous cry broke out around the hill, and he could see Hazelpaw, Fallenpaw, Acornpaw, Grassnose, and Duskrunner cheering him on.
Grassnose was grinning so wide that Snowpaw thought her face would split in half. “You won!” she exclaimed. “You were fantastic, Snowpaw!”
I won. The words felt strange in Snowpaw’s head. He had never gotten the chance to think them before. Or say them. “I won,” he whispered. “I won!” he shrieked triumphantly. “I won!”
Hazelpaw bounded over to them. “Wow, Snowpaw!” she gasped. “That was amazing! How did you know all of that?”
Snowpaw shrugged, embarrassed. Hazelpaw was kind. And pretty. He never thought that a kind, pretty she-cat would notice him. But here he was. “It was nothing,” he mewed casually. “Just… instinct.”
Hazelpaw blinked. “Well that was some pretty great instinct you had!” She turned to Sunpaw. “You did good too, Sunpaw.”
Sunpaw nodded. “Thanks.”
Snowpaw noticed that Sunpaw was staring at him oddly, and his belly twisted. Did he suspect what was going on? No. How could he? He shook his head to clear it. “Let’s go back to camp, guys. I’m hungry.”
“Okay!” Hazelpaw agreed.
For the first time, Snowpaw took the lead. Not Sunpaw.
Fallenpaw entered the camp, head down, paws dragging. The sting of tears kept hidden was familiar, but this time it felt worse. She wondered how much longer she could keep everything inside before she would break.
“Fallenpaw, there you are!” Shadowpool cried. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Today is Spottedpaw, Sootpaw, and Birchpaw’s final assessment. They each need hunting partner, and I volunteered you to be Spottedpaw’s.”
I volunteered you. The words made her feel so… angry. Couldn’t she decide anything for herself? Why did Shadowpool have to make decisions for her?
Calm down, Fallenpaw told herself. You’re overreacting. It’s not that big of a deal. “Okay,” she choked out. “Where is she?”
Shadowpool flicked her tail. “Waiting for you at the training hill,” she meowed. “I’ll take you to her.”
Fallenpaw nodded. “Okay,” she murmured once more. She followed her mentor through the pines, feeling as if the forest was closing in on her. She resisted the urge to flinch as branches brushed up against her side, a scream clawing at her throat as she became more and more aware of the darkness around her. She missed the bright openness of the lake, and immediately was repulsed. PineClan cats didn’t swim, or eat fish, or prefer water to land. But here she was. What was wrong with her?
After what seemed like forever, they reached the training hill. Fallenpaw could tell Spottedpaw was anxious to begin her assessment. She was pacing back and forth, her face scrunched.
“There you are!” she exclaimed. “What took you so long?”
“Spottedpaw,” Stormfrost warned. “Be nice.”
Fallenpaw glanced around. “So… what do we do?” she asked.
“Help Spottedpaw out with hunting prey such as rabbits or birds,” Stormfrost replied. “Spottedpaw will take the lead, so listen to what she tells you. You are simply there to help out with catches that require more than one cat. Do you understand?”
Fallenpaw dipped her head. “Yes.”
Stormfrost eyed Spottedpaw. “You may begin.”
Spottedpaw took off running, graceful and silent. Fallenpaw stumbled after her, loud and awkward. Spottedpaw shot her a sharp glare. “Be quiet,” she hissed. “You’ll scare off all of the prey in the area!”
Fallenpaw flattened her ears in embarrassment. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
Spottedpaw leaned forward. “Huh? I couldn’t understand you.”
“I said--” Fallenpaw broke off with a sigh. It didn’t really matter. “Never mind.”
Spottedpaw tilted her head in blatant confusion. “Okay…” Her ears twitched uncomfortably. “How’s your training going?”
“What’s your favorite, hunting or fighting?”
Swimming. “I dunno.”
Spottedpaw huffed. “Listen, I’m just trying to be polite, but if you don’t want to talk…”
Fallenpaw blinked a few times. “No, I’ll talk,” she muttered.
“I… nothing.” She really had to learn how to speak clearer, she guessed. “Uh, what do you want your warrior name to be?”
A faint smile played on Spottedpaw’s lips. “Spottedgorse,” she responded, sounding so sure of herself. “After Gorsekit.”
Gorsekit. “Your sister?”
Spottedpaw nodded. “I hardly remember her, but she’s still there. Always with me. Like a shadow.”
Fallenpaw shivered. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. “Do you even remember the Great Hunger?” she asked softly, wondering if her question crossed a line. But the words were out of her mouth. It was too late to take them back.
Luckily, Spottedpaw seemed fine with the question. “A little,” she meowed. “I remember the stomach pains, and the cold. I remember that every morning, I would wake up and my eyes would be frozen shut, and Izzyheart would have to hold me closer to her until they opened. But her fur was always damp with snow and frost, so it only ever made me colder. And I remember Gorsekit’s presence, and how one day she just wasn’t there anymore. And that’s when Birchpaw suddenly was there. I asked him once if he misses Petal--that’s his birth mother--but he just laughed at me and said that we were the only family he has ever known. I think he wonders sometimes, though. I think he wonders where he came from. Anyway, Sootpaw and Birchpaw remember stuff I don’t, and I remember things that they don't. I think Acornpaw remembers the most, though.” She fell silent for a few heartbeats. “It scares me that leaf-bare is here again. I might not remember much, but from what I do remember, I know I can never go through that again.”
Fallenpaw finally lifted her gaze from the ground and looked at Spottedpaw. “I’m sorry you had to experience that.”
Spottedpaw shrugged. “Most of us had to. Just feel lucky that you didn’t.” She tasted the air. “I smell a squirrel!” she whispered eagerly, her tail shooting up in excitement. “Let’s go!”
Fallenpaw chased the tortoiseshell apprentice through the thick pines, trying her best to keep her steps light. She didn’t know how Spottedpaw managed to stay so quiet and nimble. Spottedpaw slowed to a stop effortlessly, but Fallenpaw nearly skidded past her. Spottedpaw gave her a warning look.
“Alright,” Spottedpaw mewed in a hushed voice. “I’ll catch it. You just have to keep it from running up a tree. Can you do that?”
Fallenpaw dug her claws into the soft, mushy ground. “I can.”
Spottedpaw’s eyes gleamed, and Fallenpaw could see how much she wanted to pass this assessment. “Great,” she breathed. “It’s showtime.”
Spottedpaw seemed to glide into the hunter’s crouch, her movements breezy and soft. Her paws hardly touched the ground as she flowed towards the squirrel, her muscles bunching. Fallenpaw was mesmerized. How did it look so easy? I want to be able to do that one day. No. Not one day. Now. Spottedpaw’s words rang in her head. Can you do that? They suddenly sounded like they were meant for a kit. Like she doubted her. No, not like Spottedpaw doubted her. Like she doubted herself.
“I’m no baby,” Fallenpaw growled under her breath. “So don’t treat me like one.” She wasn’t even sure who that was directed at, but she didn’t care. Sharply, she tried to leap right into the proper hunting position, just as Spottedpaw had. But it was harder than it looked. Fallenpaw almost fell on her face, and a few acorns scattered, making a noise just loud enough to send the squirrel darting up a tree.
I’m a failure. Fallenpaw’s stomach bottomed out. She was terrified to meet Spottedpaw’s eyes, but forced herself to anyway.
It was worse than she expected. Spottedpaw’s eyes were the sharpest thorns, and her nose was quivering with rage. “I gave you one job,” she yowled. “And you ruined it. I would have caught it if it weren’t for you! You might have just taken away my chance to become a warrior! Who knows if I’ll be able to catch anything else in leaf-bare!”
I liked you, Fallenpaw thought sadly. I might have considered you my friend. But I ruined that, didn’t I?
“What is going on here?” Stormfrost cried.
Fallenpaw didn’t even try to defend herself. She just let Spottedpaw tell the story.
“I was about to catch a squirrel, but Fallenpaw got in the way and tried to show off, and we lost the catch,” Spottedpaw seethed.
That wasn’t what happened. “I just…” Fallenpaw started to say, but let her voice trail off.
You just what?
It took her a moment to realize it was Stormfrost speaking to her, not her thoughts. She hung her head in shame. “Nothing,” she sighed.
Stormfrost softened. “Spottedpaw, I’ll get you a new buddy. Fallenpaw, why don’t you go back to camp and rest.”
But Fallenpaw was already turning around. She didn’t need to be asked twice.
“Spottedpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, even with the cost of your life?”
“Then from this moment forth, you will be known as Spottedfawn. StarClan honors your skill and loyalty.”
“Birchflight! Sootwing! Spottedfawn!” Fallenpaw’s voice sounded hollow as she cheered along with her Clanmates.
Lionstar jumped down from the Pine Pile and to Fallenpaw’s surprise, made his way over to her. “Fallenpaw, a word?”
Fallenpaw opened her mouth and closed it. This was it. He was going to yell at her for nearly ruining Spottedfawn’s assessment. “Sure.” She sat down next to her father.
Lionstar tipped his head. “Actually, I was thinking we could go on a walk while we talked.”
Great. She was probably in a lot of trouble, wasn’t she? “O-oh. Okay.”
Lionstar didn’t appear to be angry, though. In fact, he was quite calm as the two of them strolled through the forest. It was starting to freak Fallenpaw out.
“So,” he finally began. “Sunpaw tells me you haven’t been yourself lately.”
Anger, fierce and hot, boiled in Fallenpaw’s belly. She lashed her tail, slicing it through the air. That little traitor. “Nothing is wrong,” she snarled, taken aback by her own force.
Lionstar wasn’t offended, though. At least, he didn’t show it if he was. “I’m your father, Fallenpaw,” he murmured softly. “You can tell me if something is wrong.”
Wasn’t that what Sunpaw said to her? You can tell me anything, you know. I’m your brother.
Obviously she was failing miserably at pretending. Stay strong, she told herself. Don’t let them see you cry.
She didn’t know what it was--maybe the gentle way he said her name, or maybe just the fact that neither Sunpaw and Lionstar weren’t giving up on her--but in that moment, her walls broke down. They crumbled away, leaving nothing but her. “I’m sorry,” she gasped, and sat down right there in the middle of the pines.
Lionstar took a seat next to her. “What are you sorry about?”
Fallenpaw squeezed her eyes shut. “I don’t know. I’m just sorry.”
Fallenpaw looked up at her father. “I just… I-I feel like I don’t matter sometimes.” Stop lying. “All the time.”
Something flashed in Lionstar’s eyes. “Of course you matter,” he whispered. “You matter to me, and to Feathersong, and Sunpaw and Snowpaw, and to the entire Clan. Did you know that at your first Gathering, you wandered off and all of us were frantic with worry? I could barely think straight, and Feathersong was crying… I sent out search parties all night until they found you somewhere in the territory, kind of dazed--like you’d seen a ghost, and brought you home. All I could think the whole time I was looking for you was that I didn’t know how I could have moved on if I lost you, Fallenpaw. You’re my daughter. No one can ever replace you, and you will always matter to me. I don’t know if you remember that Gathering--”
“I do,” Fallenpaw breathed. But that was only a half-truth. She just remembered how they forgot her, and meeting Splashpaw. Not the rest. Her mind had twisted the memories so that she thought they left her, not the other way around. That night was the start of it all. Her anger and her hurt. All of it. If she had just waited for Lionstar to come get her from the crowd, maybe everything would have been different. Maybe she wouldn’t have met Splashpaw, and maybe she would still be the cheerful apprentice she had once been. She wanted to be that she-cat again. “I’m sorry,” she mewed, tears burning her eyes. This time, she let them come.
Lionstar wrapped his tail around her. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“Can we go home now?” Fallenpaw asked quietly. She was suddenly so, so tired. All she wanted to do was curl up in her nest and sleep.
“Yes.” Lionstar helped her up. “Let’s go home.”
“Lionstar told me about what you told him,” Feathersong meowed, sitting down at the foot of Fallenpaw’s nest that night.
Fallenpaw looked away. “It wasn’t personal,” she murmured. “And it wasn’t your fault. Please don’t think that.”
Feathersong smiled sadly. “I love you, you know that right? I could never forget about you because you’re a part of me. You’re my whole world.”
Fallenpaw glanced up. “What about Sunpaw and Snowpaw?”
Feathersong purred. “I love them too, of course.”
Fallenpaw grinned. “But you love me more?”
Feathersong’s whiskers twitched in amusement. “I didn’t say that.”
“But you thought it,” Fallenpaw teased. It felt good to laugh with her mother again.
Feathersong sighed. “In all seriousness, I love all of you the same. I love all of you more than you know.”
Fallenpaw felt a little lighter in her heart. “I love you, Mom.”
Feathersong stood up and flicked her with her tail tip. “I love you, too. Now get some rest.”
After her mother left, Fallenpaw rested her chin on her two front paws and let her eyelids drift shut. She could feel sleep tugging at her fur when a cat cleared their throat next to her.
It was Acornpaw.
“Hi, Acornpaw,” Fallenpaw mumbled sleepily.
Acornpaw nodded. “Hi.” She circled around Fallenpaw’s nest. “So you lied to me. Something was wrong.”
“Were you eavesdropping?”
“No,” Acornpaw replied carefully. “You were just talking loud.”
“So you were listening,” Fallenpaw countered. “That was a private conversation.”
“Then next time don’t talk so loud,” Acornpaw retorted.
“Is there something you want?” Fallenpaw hissed. “Because you aren’t being very nice.”
Acornpaw shifted on her paws. “I was wondering if you wanted to hunt with me tomorrow. You only ever seem to hang out with your brothers or just by yourself, and I don’t have many friends either…”
“If you’re trying to be kind then you’re terrible at it,” Fallenpaw snapped. She immediately felt bad as Acornpaw’s tail drooped. Maybe she really was trying to be nice. “Okay. I’ll go hunting with you.”
Acornpaw brightened. “Great!” she exclaimed. “I’ll let you sleep now. That was all I wanted to ask you.”
Fallenpaw closed her eyes once more, and a thought occurred to her. She had forgotten to see Splashpaw at the lake.
The strange thing was that she couldn’t figure out if she had forgotten, or if she had chosen to forget.
Sunpaw grumbled as he shook rain off of his whiskers. “Your den is leaking,” he pointed out.
Dawnlight huffed, but Sunpaw could tell it wasn’t him she was frustrated with. It was her roof. “I know. I told Redfall to get some warriors to fix it, but he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.”
“Why don’t you ask Lionstar to fix it for you,” Sunpaw suggested as another raindrop splashed on his head. He shivered.
“But the rain is cold!” he complained. “Anyway, Lionstar likes you. I’m sure he’ll fix your den himself.”
“Hold still,” Sunpaw mimicked jokingly.
That earned him a sharp glare. “Watch your mouth,” she scolded.
Sunpaw squirmed around impatiently. “Are you done yet? It’s taking forever.”
Dawnlight barely glanced up at him. “It’s your own fault for stepping in a thorn bush,” she muttered, yanking another thorn out of his paw.
Sunpaw yelped. “Ow!”
Dawnlight dabbed it with a cobweb. “One more,” she told him. “Just hold still.”
They both shared a grin, and Sunpaw caught something spark in Dawnlight’s gaze. Grief? Longing? Love? He shook his head lightly. It didn’t matter.
“And… done!” Dawnlight cried, tugging the last thorn out and adding it to the small pile. “Here’s a tip: watch where you’re going next time you decide to race from the training hill to a thorn bush, and maybe you won’t crash into it.”
Sunpaw’s ear tips grew hot with embarrassment. “At least I won,” he mewed.
Dawnlight laughed. “Way to be positive.” She started cleaning up her supplies. “Now run along. And see if Redfall has actually done what I asked of him!”
“Will do!” Sunpaw called over his shoulder. He skipped out of the medicine den, mud splashing all over him as he stepped right into a deep puddle.
“You’re just a mess today, aren’t you?”
Sunpaw looked up. “Oh. Hi, Redfall!” This is convenient.
Redfall studied him. “First a thorn bush, then a mud puddle? This is getting comical!”
Sunpaw nodded. “Yup. I’m a mess. I know, it’s hilarious.” He fluffed his fur out against the heavy rain. “Dawnlight wants to know when you can get some warriors to fix her roof.”
Redfall’s eyes twinkled. “That’s actually what I came over to talk to you about. I spoke to Duskrunner, and he said he didn’t have anything planned for today, so I was wondering if you could do it?”
Sunpaw hesitated. Repairing a leaky den was not his idea of a day off. “Well…”
“Hazelpaw didn’t have any training today either, so you can see if she wants to help you,” Redfall added.
Redfall seemed amused. “Great. I owe you one!”
Sunpaw hardly murmured a quick goodbye before racing off to find Hazelpaw. He found the cream-furred she-cat trying to keep out of the rain in the apprentices den.
“Hey!” he greeted her, hurrying over to her.
Hazelpaw’s eyes lit up. “Hi!” She moved over a little. “Sit here. It’s actually dry!”
Sunpaw winced. “I hate to burst your bubble, but we’ve been assigned to fix Dawnlight den. It’s leaking.”
Hazelpaw’s jaw dropped. “No!”
“But…” Hazelpaw scanned the camp. “Can’t the warriors do that?”
Sunpaw shrugged. “That’s what I thought. But you have your father to blame, because it was his idea.”
Hazelpaw rolled her eyes. “I’ll get back at him for that, but later. For now we can at least save Dawnlight from being wet and miserable.” She swished her tail, and without a moment’s hesitation danced into the storm.
She was like a burst of stars. The rain hardly seemed to touch her. It was a glittering mist reflecting off her striking gaze. When it flickered over to Sunpaw, his heart skipped a beat. He didn’t know why.
Hazelpaw tilted her head at him. “Are you coming? Or do you plan on just standing there?”
Sunpaw blinked. He must have looked weird just standing there as rain poured down on him. “Er— no. I’m coming.”
Hazelpaw purred. “Okay, mouse-brain.”
The ground was just one big mess of a puddle, sloshing side to side as they walked. Hazelpaw’s fur was nearly soaked through with mud, and Sunpaw glanced down to see that he was in no better condition. I hate this stupid rain, he thought in annoyance.
Dawnlight appeared surprised as she saw them approach her den. “What are you doing back?”
Hazelpaw lifted her chin. “My father sent us to fix your den!”
Pity and amusement flashed in Dawnlight’s eyes. “Great StarClan, you’re already a mess,” she said with a small laugh. “Alright then, get to work. It shouldn’t take long.”
Hazelpaw brushed past her, already shifting brambles over to fill the gaps. “Sunpaw, get over here and help me!” she demanded.
Sunpaw shook muddy water out of his pelt and ran forward to help. “What if we used mud to make the brambles stick together?” he suggested.
Hazelpaw’s eyes lit up. “That’s a great idea! Do you think it will work?”
“Would I have suggested it if I thought it wouldn’t work?”
Hazelpaw giggled. “Good point.”
Sunpaw started gathering mud into large clumps and smearing it between the brambles when an idea struck him. Making sure Hazelpaw’s back was turned, he grabbed a pawful of mud and chucked it at her, hitting her square in the back.
Hazelpaw squealed and whipped around. “Fox-heart!” she yowled, though Sunpaw could tell she wasn’t really mad. She kicked a puddle, and mud sprayed Sunpaw, getting in his eyes. “Hey!” he protested. “No faces!” He blinked the mud out of his eyes, and jumped into the same puddle. Water exploded around them both, suspending in the air for a heartbeat before crashing down. Hazelpaw’s mouth opened in a shriek that was drowned out in a clap of thunder. Sunpaw lifted his face to the sky before meeting Hazelpaw’s bright gaze, laughing. After a moment, Hazelpaw joined in, and they were both hysterical.
“Sunpaw! Hazelpaw! What in the name of StarClan is going on?”
Sunpaw froze. It was Duskrunner. “Uh… nothing.”
Duskrunner turned to her. “What’s so funny, Hazelpaw?”
Hazelpaw unsuccessfully tried to look serious. “Oh, nothing.”
Duskrunner rolled his eyes. “You two were supposed to be helping Dawnlight, not playing.” He shook his head with an exasperated sigh. “Nevermind. You two have proven yourselves useless. Just… I’ll get Spottedfawn and Leafpelt to do it. Go wash off in the stream.”
Sunpaw was happily surprised. He and Hazelpaw got to get out of fixing the den! And they had fun while they helped… played?
Hazelpaw was struggling to contain her grin. “Let’s go,” she whispered. “Before he changes his mind.”
And then they were running.
“Race you to the stream!” Hazelpaw shouted from ahead of him.
“No fair!” Sunpaw called, picking up speed. He watched the forest go by in a jumbled blur, wind stinging his eyes. The stream was just a little further… he might be able to beat Hazelpaw!
Hazelpaw glanced over her shoulder, and Sunpaw noticed her eyes widen as she saw him catching up to her. She let out a short screech, and leaped into the stream.
“Cold!” she screamed.
Sunpaw tried to skid to a halt, but ended up just sliding into the stream as well. The frigid water rushed around him, piercing deep into his skin like a thousand claws. He gasped, but could barely make a sound.
Hazelpaw shivered, her teeth chattering. “H-hurry up-p-p,” she urged. “It-t’s-s-s... cold!”
Sunpaw sucked in a deep breath, and ducked under the water as quickly as he could. “Gah!” He turned to Hazelpaw. “Am I clean?”
Hazelpaw nodded, and sprang out of the water. “Great StarClan!” she exclaimed. “That was freezing!”
Sunpaw followed her. “All I want right now is to curl up in my warm, dry nest.”
“Ooh, that sounds good,” Hazelpaw murmured. “I would race you back to camp, but I’m too cold.”
“Good,” Sunpaw purred. “I don’t think I could even come close to winning. My bones feel frozen!”
Hazelpaw licked one paw and drew it over her ear. “I think I saw ice in that stream,” she meowed solemnly.
Sunpaw moved a little faster in an attempt to warm up. “Really?”
Hazelpaw raised one eyebrow. “Do I ever lie?”
Hazelpaw shoved him lightly. “Oh, shut up.”
Sunpaw said nothing.
“Why are you so quiet?”
“You told me to shut up,” Sunpaw told her smugly.
Hazelpaw glared at him, but after only a few moments she burst out laughing again.
“You’re terrible at staying angry,” Sunpaw teased.
Hazelpaw skipped into the camp. “No,” she argued. “I’m just terrible at staying angry at you!”
Before Sunpaw could reply, she ran off to the prey pile, where Acornpaw was waiting.
What did that mean? Sunpaw wondered. Does she like me? Like, like like me? He stuck his tongue out. Ew, gross. But he was barely convincing himself.
“Hi, Sunpaw,” Fallenpaw sang from behind him.
Sunpaw whirled around. “What do you want?” he asked. She was up to something. He could tell.
Fallenpaw shrugged. “Can’t I just kindly greet my brother?”
Sunpaw eyed her. “Knowing you, no.”
Fallenpaw leaned forward. “You like Hazelpaw, don’t you?”
Sunpaw pretended not to understand what she meant. “Yeah, she’s a good friend.”
Fallenpaw flicked him with her tail. “Not like that! I mean that you have a crush on her.”
Sunpaw looked away. “No! I don’t! That’s weird. Yuck.”
Fallenpaw stared at him doubtfully. “Liar. Acornpaw agrees. We’ve been watching you.”
“Acornpaw?!” Sunpaw backed away. “Well you’re wrong. So stop it. And you can tell Acornpaw that too.”
Fallenpaw smirked. “Oh, okay.”
“Yeah,” Sunpaw said crossly. “Okay.”
Fallenpaw just smirked again. “Whatever you say, Sunpaw. But I’m right.”
Sunpaw ignored her. I don’t like Hazelpaw. What is she talking about? She’s wrong.
“Well…” he searched for a comeback. “Well maybe you like Acornpaw!”
Fallenpaw startled. “Do not!” she argued. “And that’s not what we’re talking about!”
Fallenpaw stuck her tongue out at him. “So, you like Hazelpaw!”
“You’re wrong! I most definitely do not!” Sunpaw insisted.
Yeah. Fallenpaw is definitely wrong. So completely wrong. Wrong. Absolutely wrong.
He wondered why he couldn’t seem to believe it, though.
Mouse-dung. Maybe she’s right.
She can’t know that.
The sounds of playful laughter reached Starkit’s ears inside the comfort of the nursery. She avoided Wren’s gaze, knowing that if she looked her way, she would hear the familiar, Why don’t you play with them?
Well, Starkit thought to herself. I don’t play with them because they’re mean to me. She much preferred the elders over her sisters. The elders were kind to her, and they never failed to entertain her with stories.
Starkit pretended not to hear Poppymoon grumble in the corner, “That kit is almost five moons old. She needs to get out of the nursery.”
She felt Wren stiffen, and guilt washed over her. She didn’t want to embarrass her mother in front of the other queens.
“Starkit,” Wren whispered, almost pleadingly. “Why don’t you see what your sisters are doing?”
Starkit nodded, dread coiling in her belly. “Okay.” She saw Fallowleap and Poppymoon exchange approving looks, and guessed that she was doing something right. Besides, maybe Breezekit and Littlekit won’t be mean today. Maybe they’ll include me! She stood up, holding her head high, keeping her heart full of hope.
The laughter immediately stopped as Starkit stepped outside. All eyes flew to her, and she held their gazes. Breezekit snickered, and Littlekit joined in after a moment’s hesitation.
Starkit blinked. “Hi,” she murmured. “What are you playing?”
A snort of laughter escaped from Blackkit’s mouth, but no one said anything.
Starkit took a deep breath. “Can I play with you?” she tried asking.
Frogkit’s mouth curled upward and he looked away.
“Is she just going to stand there?” Starkit heard Robinkit whisper to Breezekit.
“Well maybe if one of you would answer me, I wouldn’t have to just stand here,” Starkit challenged.
Breezekit glanced back at the other kits. “I apologize for that kit’s rudeness,” she meowed just loud enough for Starkit to hear.
Starkit bristled. “That kit?” she cried. “I’m your sister!”
Breezekit tipped her head and studied her closely. “Are you though? Are you really?”
Starkit held her ground. “What does that even mean?” she asked.
Breezekit sniffed. “You don’t look like us, you don’t act like us, you don’t think like us--”
“So what if I’m different?” Starkit cut in. “Wren’s different! She’s from the moor! And that makes you different, too. Besides, I’d rather be myself than be like you.”
Breezekit brushed aside her words, and turned back to the others. “You know what my theory is? I think that our real sister is dead. I think that Starkit was just some replacement that a patrol found in the forest, left for dead.”
Littlekit’s eyes widened. “Breezekit—”
Breezekit lifted her tail, silencing her before continuing. “You know what I also think? I think that whatever patrol found her should have let her become crow-food.”
Starkit’s world seemed to freeze. Real sister. Left for dead. Should have let her become crow-food. She was hardly aware of the taunting laughter that swarmed her. “That’s not true,” she finally said, soft and quiet as a breath at first, but then louder. “That’s not true!”
And just like that, a fire ignited within her, hot and angry. It burst into life so quickly that Starkit gasped. She had felt this before. Only then, it had been nothing more than a tiny light, so small that she could just barely locate it. This time, it wasn’t just a flicker of light. It was a strong flame, burning through her blood. The world around her was new and clear and bright—so bright that it hurt her head. She could see things… lines, connections… she didn’t know. It all happened too fast.
The fire crackled through her, and her head snapped back at the force of it all. But with that rush of sudden heat came a chill, and Starkit was pulled back to reality. She staggered on her paws, feeling faint. What in the name of StarClan just happened?
A sharp wail broke into Starkit’s thoughts, and she looked over to see all of the kits huddled around Breezekit, who’s eyes were squeezed shut.
“My eyes!” she shrieked. “There’s sand in my eyes!”
Creeksplash came hurrying over. “What happened?” he demanded.
Littlekit circled Breezekit anxiously. “The sand… it just flew up out of nowhere!” she breathed.
Blackkit seemed dazed. “It was all so quick,” she agreed.
“I guess someone kicked it,” Robinkit mewed. “But I didn’t see who.”
“Neither did I,” Frogkit mumbled.
“Starkit!” Breezekit screeched. “It was Starkit! I know it was!”
Starkit shrank back. “No, it wasn’t me!” she protested. It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be… right? She swallowed back tears. “I want Wren,” she choked out before running back to the nursery.
Wren looked up as Starkit dashed into the nursery, barely in time to register her entry before Starkit crashed into her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, startled. “Starkit?”
Starkit sobbed into her mothers fur. “They hate me,” she wailed. “They hate me, Mama!”
She felt Wren smooth her fur down with her tail. “Shhh,” she soothed. “They don’t hate you, darling. They’re just jealous.”
Starkit blinked up at her mother through her tears. “Jealous of what?”
Wren smiled faintly. “Well, of how wonderful you are, of course!”
Starkit scowled. “And?”
Wren pressed her nose into her fur. “And of your beautiful eyes. No one else in the Clan has gray eyes.”
Starkit thought back to what she said to Breezekit earlier. I’d rather be myself than be like you. She puffed out her chest. She had meant that. She liked being unique… she just wished that being different didn’t mean having no friends.
Wren tilted her head thoughtfully. “I have a secret to tell you,” she murmured. “But you can’t tell your sisters.”
Starkit sat up straight. “What is it?”
Wren leaned closer, and whispered in her ear, “You’re my favorite, Starkit. I know mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I love you to the moon and to the stars and back again. You’re my special kit, Star That Shines At Night.”
Starkit’s heart swelled with joy and she stared at her mother with wide eyes. “Really?” she breathed.
Wren nodded. “Really.”
Starkit squirmed closer to her mother’s side until she got comfortable. Closing her eyes, she found herself suddenly tired, and drifted off to sleep.
She felt a small tug on her fur, a puff of wind, maybe, and opened her eyes to find herself in complete darkness. A low whimper rumbled in Starkit’s throat. Where am I? “Hello?” she called softly, flinching at how her voice echoed.
Starkit gasped and whipped around. A massive tabby tom was looming over her. He had gray eyes, just like her, and brown fur that seemed to flicker in and out of view, like it didn’t really exist. There was something about him that pulled her towards him. It was like a strange energy force inside them both, and it terrified Starkit. As she subconsciously drew closer to the tabby, his pelt pulsed and grew brighter and seemingly more solid.
Starkit let out a shuddering breath to keep herself from screaming. Fear built up inside her, rooting her paws to the ground. Wren. I want Wren. Please. Wake up. Wake up, she thought to herself.
The tom blinked at her. “Don’t be scared,” he meowed coolly. “I don’t bite.”
Starkit looked up at him. “Who are you?”
“My name,” the tom said, “is Thunder.” He laughed at the petrified look on Starkit’s face. “I won’t hurt you.”
Starkit blinked. “Promise?” she asked timidly.
Thunder bent down to her level. “I promise,” he mewed, and Starkit found herself believing him. “I want to be your friend.”
Starkit tipped her head, hardly believing it was true. “You want to be my friend?” No one had ever said that to her before.
Thunder smiled gently. “Of course I do.”
Starkit felt herself relaxing slightly. “Well, my name is Starkit,” she told him. “My mother calls me Star That Shines At Night, though.”
Thunder nodded slowly. “It’s nice to meet you, Starkit.” His eyes rounded. “When I first saw you, you seemed quite sad. Is something wrong?”
Starkit shrugged, not expecting to tell him, but then she felt that pull of energy once more, and the words seemed to fall out of her mouth. “My sisters were mean to me,” she murmured. “They always are.”
Thunder perked his ears. “You have sisters?” he pressed.
Starkit nodded. “Two. Breezekit and Littlekit.”
Thunder’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “I had a brother once,” he meowed. “We didn’t get along well either.” He glanced at her. “What did your sisters do?”
There it was again. The pull, like he was easing the words out of her. “They taunted me. It made me mad, and—” Starkit clamped her jaw shut. She couldn’t tell him about the strange feeling, and the sand.
“And I got this weird feeling, and suddenly sand flew into Breezekit’s eyes.” Starkit groaned. Why did she tell him?
Interest sparked in Thunder’s gaze. “Did you make the sand move?”
Starkit’s eyes widened as he spoke what she hadn’t dared to think. “No! Maybe! I… I don’t know!”
Thunder sighed before speaking again, as if he was carefully choosing his next words. “Did you feel like… like you could see the connections of everything and anything, if that makes any sense?”
Starkit froze. How did he know?
It was like he read her mind. “Because, Starkit, I am like you.”
Starkit gaped at him. “You feel it too sometimes?” she asked in awe.
Thunder chuckled. “I feel it all the time. I know how to control it.” Something gleamed in his expression. “I can teach you how to as well.”
“Really?” This was more than she could have ever hoped!
Thunder purred, but it sounded more like a growl. “I can, but another time. For now, I think it’s time to wake up.”
Almost on cue, Starkit could hear Wren calling to her in the back of her mind, tugging her back to the waking world.
“Okay,” she chirped. “It was nice meeting you, Thunder.” She made sure to remember her manners, like Wren would want.
Thunder started to fade into the shadows. “Goodbye, Starkit.”
“Look at her, talking in her sleep!”
Starkit opened her eyes to see Littlekit leaning over her. She resisted the urge to hiss at her.
“What a weirdo,” Breezekit sneered.
“Hey!” Wren scolded. “Enough, both of you. You’re sisters. You’re supposed to get along!”
Littlekit flattened her ears. “I’m sorry.”
Starkit scowled. No you’re not.
Wren shook her head disapprovingly. “It’s not me you should be apologizing to. Now say sorry to Starkit.”
Breezekit shuffled on her paws. “Sorry, Starkit.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Littlekit mumbled.
Starkit didn’t meet their gazes. “It’s fine,” she responded, not really caring. They were only apologizing because Wren was making them. For the first time, though, it didn’t bother her like it usually did. Because now, she thought with pride, I have a friend.
“Good to see you, kit.”
Not a kit. Same greeting, same unspoken response. The nights were always predictable at this point.
Thunder sat patiently across from Snowpaw. “How has your training been going?”
Snowpaw felt pride warm him as he thought of his success in the past moon. “It’s been great,” he replied eagerly. “I’m going to be earning my name soon. I usually catch one thing each hunting session, and it’s leaf-bare! I mean, Sunpaw always catches multiple things, but that’s not the point. I’m getting better. And I’m really good at fighting, thanks to you. I think one day I might be better than Sunpaw.”
Thunder grinned. “Better… than… Sunpaw,” he meowed slowly. “Better… than… Sunpaw.”
“Yes.” Snowpaw let a small smile escape. He never thought in all his life that he would be able to say that.
Thunder lifted one paw and studied his claws. “But… I thought you wanted to be equal to Sunpaw, not better than him.”
Snowpaw was left speechless.
“Does that mean,” Thunder tipped his head, “that our priorities have changed? Our goals that we are working towards?” It almost sounded like he was urging him on.
Thunder’s gray eyes seemed to glow. “And what is our new goal, kit?”
Snowpaw thought back to his father, how he stood strong and tall, and how everyone in the Clan looked up to him. How know one underestimated him, and how every single cat in all the Clans respected him. “I want to be the leader of PineClan.”
Thunder’s eyes shone with approval. “Well then,” he said. “Let’s make that happen.”
“Hey, Snowpaw!” Hazelpaw mewed cheerfully.
Snowpaw looked up from his mouse. “Hi.”
“So… Dawnlight is treating Mousefoot’s infected paw, but she ran out of marigold and asked me to get some for her. She said I can take someone with me if I want.”
Snowpaw blinked, wondering what exactly was going on. “Sunpaw’s eating with Fallenpaw over there if you’re looking for him,” he mumbled.
Hazelpaw purred. “I’m not asking you where Sunpaw is,” she said with a laugh. “I’m asking you to come with me to get the marigold!”
Snowpaw’s ears burned. She was choosing him over Sunpaw? “Er— okay.”
Hazelpaw beamed, her green eyes bright. “Awesome! Let’s go now so we can avoid the storm.” She glanced up at the sky, and Snowpaw did the same. There were dark clouds rolling in from the moor.
Snowpaw finished the last of his mouse quickly. “Alright, I’m ready.”
Hazelpaw skipped a little. “Is mouse your favorite food?”
Hazelpaw looked embarrassed. “Nothing. I just noticed that you always seem to be eating mice.”
“Oh, you noticed that?” Snowpaw hardly realized that he was doing that himself. “No, mice aren’t my favorite. They just always seem to be there, so that’s what I eat.”
Hazelpaw trotted slightly ahead of him. “That’s… smart, I guess. What is your favorite food, then?”
He almost answered, Vole, because that was the truth, but then he remembered that vole was also Sunpaw’s favorite, and he didn’t need another thing to attach him to Sunpaw. “Sparrows.” He didn’t really like sparrows, but they weren’t caught often so it wasn’t like he would have to actually eat them. It was a safe answer.
“Well,” Hazelpaw chirped, “my favorite food is squirrel.”
Snowpaw realized that she was trying to keep having a conversation with him, so he should probably try to contribute. “Squirrels are good,” he agreed. He searched for something to keep the conversation going. “I mean, they’re good to eat, but not good to catch,” he joked. “I’m not very good at catching squirrels. Sunpaw is, but not me.”
Hazelpaw slowed so Snowpaw could catch up. “Why do you do that?”
“Put yourself down.” Hazelpaw’s pelt brushed against his. “You’re good at plenty of things. Sunpaw has his strengths, and so do you.” She glanced over at him quickly. “I don’t like it when you make it seem like you aren’t good at anything, because that’s not true.”
Snowpaw studied the ground, angry with himself. He wasn’t trying to make himself seem sad. He wanted to look cool and funny in front of Hazelpaw. “I don’t know.”
“Well stop,” Hazelpaw told him. “I think you’re fine just the way you are, whether you’re good at hunting squirrels or not.”
Snowpaw suddenly became aware of how close she was standing to him, and how keen she was to compliment him. Does Hazelpaw… like me? Before he could consider it more, the sky exploded in a fury of thunder and rain.
“Oh!” Hazelpaw shrieked. “Snowpaw, quick! Get under that tree!”
Snowpaw dodged under the nearest pine tree, pulling Hazelpaw under the long branches. “When do you think the storm will pass?” he whispered.
Hazelpaw shivered as a harsh wind blew past them. “Soon, hopefully.”
Rain dripped down Snowpaw’s face, clouding his vision. He shook his head and blinked water out of his eyes. “Mouse-dung,” he muttered under his breath.
“Did I just hear Snowpaw curse?!” Hazelpaw exclaimed in mocking disbelief.
“You would too if you were cold, soaking wet, and had water in your eyes,” Snowpaw pointed out. “And all of the apprentices say that. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Hazelpaw shrugged. “Yeah, I guess, but you didn’t used to say things like that. You’ve changed. You used to be… I don’t know. Quieter, nicer. Now you’re negative all the time, and you try to impress others by acting like someone you aren’t.”
Snowpaw felt a rush of annoyance. “It’s called growing up,” he snapped. “I’m not a kit.” Though the words weren’t being said to Thunder, and it felt good to finally say them.
Hazelpaw took a step back. “There’s a difference between growing up and changing who you are,” she mewed. “And maybe I liked who you were.” She lifted her tail and whipped around, bounding away from him.
Snowpaw stared after her. This is who I am now, he thought. It’s not changing myself, it’s becoming myself. Still, he couldn’t ignore the twinge of guilt he felt, and the longing to call out, I’m sorry! He didn’t mean to push Hazelpaw away, he just didn’t want her to see him as the shy apprentice who was stuck in his brother’s shadow.
“That’s your problem. You can’t stop feeling guilty,” a voice growled from behind him.
Snowpaw jumped around in surprise. “Thunder?” he hissed. “What are you doing here! I’m not dreaming, and I?” He glanced around nervously, making sure Hazelpaw wasn’t hanging around anywhere. He liked having Thunder teach him, but he was almost positive that no one else would think the same way.
Thunder took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. “No. You’re not.” But he didn’t elaborate further. He opened his eyes, narrowed them, and continued speaking. “You’ve improved since I met you, kit, but some weaknesses still remain. The biggest one is your guilt. You feel it for almost no reason at all, and then fall to the ground and beg for forgiveness at any chance you get. It’s getting old, and it makes you look weak.”
Snowpaw looked away. “Sorry.”
Thunder snorted. “See? You did it again. If you want me to save you from being weak, you’ll have to stop apologizing for being strong.”
Snowpaw held his gaze evenly, and swallowed the I’m sorry that threatened to be said. “Okay,” he gritted out.
Thunder started to walk away, fading as he got farther, but turned around at the last moment. “Another tip. That she-cat you were with… Nut… foot—”
“Hazelpaw,” Snowpaw corrected.
“Same difference.” Thunder waved his tail dismissively. “She’s only an obstacle, a distraction, in the way of your success. It’s better for everyone if you leave her behind.”
Snowpaw shook his head. No, he wanted to say. Hazelpaw was his first friend that wasn’t a family member, and if he was being honest, he didn’t mind her company. He liked her. He just hoped he didn’t ruin things when he snapped at her.
Thunder glared at him in disgust. “If you want to ruin everything you have going for you for some she-cat, go ahead. Just know it’s a mistake.”
Snowpaw glared back at him. “Can’t I have both?” he challenged.
The look on Thunder’s face answered his question. “It never works,” he growled. “Power and greatness just don’t mix with family. All it will do is tear it all apart.” He flicked his tail. “You have to pick one. And I think we both know which one you’ll be picking.”
Snowpaw wasn’t sure, but he thought he sensed fear in Thunder’s tone. Desperation, almost. Like he needed him to pick power over family and friends.
Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure if Thunder was doing this for him anymore.
Fallenpaw crouched low to the ground, her belly fur brushing against the soft layer of pine needles. Hunting on land still felt unnatural compared to swimming in the lake, but she was a PineClan cat, and she was determined to prove herself. She opened her mouth and tasted the air, scents flooding through her. The warm, sweet scent of sap, the musky, deep scent of pines… Fallenpaw concentrated harder to find the scent she was looking for. Finally, she caught the smallest trace of squirrel. Focusing on that one smell, like Shadowpool had instructed, Fallenpaw checked to make sure it was fresh. Very fresh, she decided. The tricky part is finding it. She perked her ears, listening closely for any movements. There. A few fox-lengths away, she could hear the slight nibbling of an acorn. Slinking forward, Fallenpaw hardly dared to breathe. She thought back to the disastrous incident with Spottedfawn a little over a moon ago, and kept a close eye out for any twigs.
At last, she found the squirrel with her eyes, not her ears or through scent. Just as she thought, it had its back to her as it held an acorn up to its teeth. Fallenpaw paused briefly to smile to herself. This would be easy.
She launched herself forward, and for a fleeting moment she felt like a bird, soaring through the air. When she landed nimbly, she felt the fuzzy fur of the squirrel between her paws, and swiftly bit down on its neck, feeling a life end with a simple snap.
“Woohoo! Go Fallenpaw!” Shadowpool cried, bursting forward. “That was amazing! Everything was perfect!”
Splashpaw’s unwelcome voice echoed in her uncertainties in her head. That was an easy catch. A kit could do it. She’s mocking you. She could care less about you. Fallenpaw stood up, and scraped her claws against the ground. No, she replied, stronger. It wasn’t the hardest catch, but it wasn’t easy either. I should be proud of myself, just as Shadowpool is proud of me. Ducking her head sheepishly, Fallenpaw accepted the compliment. “Aw, thanks.” She found that she could lift her chin just a bit higher, and walk with more confidence in her step every time she fought back.
Shadowpool’s tail swished. “Pick up your squirrel. I’ll take the mouse, and we’ll head back to camp.”
“Okay,” Fallenpaw meowed.
She carried her catch between her jaws, happiness making her paws feel light. She had done something good. She had the right to be proud of herself, and she was. She noticed, suddenly, that the less she met up with Splashpaw, the better she felt about herself. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen the LakeClan apprentice in quite a while.
“Fallenpaw! Did you catch that?” Acornpaw exclaimed, running over to greet her.
Fallenpaw nodded, unable to speak with prey in her mouth. She dropped the squirrel at her paws. “Uh-huh!”
Acornpaw beamed. “That’s great! You should be proud of yourself.”
Acornpaw leaned forward. “Are you going to give it to the queens and kits?”
“Oh, uh, yeah!” That wasn’t what Fallenpaw originally intended. She was going to ask Acornpaw if she wanted to share it with her. But that would sound selfish now that Acornpaw suggested giving it to others. The more Fallenpaw thought about it, the more she realized that Acornpaw always gave the prey she caught to the queens and kits, and Fallenpaw had an idea of why that was. Acornpaw’s mother, Roseberry, had starved to death when Acornpaw was just a kit, and ever since, she had been especially sensitive to hunger. She probably wants to make sure no kits will ever lose their mother to starvation like she had. The realization made Fallenpaw sad. Her friend was grieving, and she wanted to help. “After I give this to the queens, do you want to get something to eat?”
Acornpaw made a face and shrugged. “Sure, I guess?”
Fallenpaw flicked her shoulder with her tail. “Great. I’ll be right back.”
The moment she entered the nursery, she was attacked by tiny claws and high-pitched growls. She dropped the squirrel on the ground. “Alright, alright,” she said with a laugh, shaking the kits off of her. “Who wants squirrel?”
“Me!” Blackkit squeaked.
Littlekit darted to her side. “Me too!”
“Can I try it?”
“No I want to!”
Fallenpaw backed away. “Figure it out yourselves,” she purred. “I’m staying out of this.” She glanced over at Poppymoon, Fallowleap, Wren, and Starkit, who was huddled up against Wren’s side. “You all can have some too,” she offered. “There’s enough for everyone.”
Poppymoon dipped her head graciously, and rose to her paws, Fallowleap following closely behind her. Wren and Starkit hung back.
“We just ate,” Wren explained hurriedly to no one in particular.
“Don’t let Starkit have any,” Breezekit whispered loudly. Wren either didn’t hear or didn’t want to hear. Fallenpaw saw Starkit seem to deflate, and her heart broke for the tiny kit.
Fallenpaw suddenly wanted nothing more to get out of the cramped den, away from Wren’s strange family, away from the noisy, mean kits. Without another word, she slid outside, and padded off to find Acornpaw.
She spotted her friend’s orange tabby fur at the prey pile quickly, and ran over to find Acornpaw waiting for her with two shrews.
“Hi,” she mewed, sitting down across from her.
Acornpaww passed her one of the shrews. “How was the nursery? Did they like the squirrel?”
Fallenpaw thought of the odd dynamic in the nursery, how Fallowleap’s kits and two of Wren’s kits had scrambled forward, leaving just one kit behind, and how Wren seemed to isolate herself from the others, a stranger in her own home. “They liked it,” was all she said. Acornpaw liked to listen, not speak, but Fallenpaw was the same way. Wren’s problems in the nursery were not Fallenpaw’s nor Acornpaw’s concern. Whatever she had witnessed back in the nursery was not a story that needed to be retold.
Talk to her about Roseberry, a small voice in the back of Fallenpaw’s mind whispered. Ask if she’s okay. Fallenpaw sighed. These were words that did need to be spoken.
Fallenpaw took a deep breath. “I’ve noticed you like to give as much prey as you can to the queens and kits,” she said. In other words, I’ve noticed what’s going on.
Acornpaw jerked her head up. “So does any other good apprentice,” she mumbled. I’m going to pretend I don’t understand.
“You give more than other apprentices,” Fallenpaw pressed. You’re hurting. Talk to me.
Acornpaw blinked. “I like to make sure they have enough. It’s leaf-bare, after all.” Last leaf-bare, my mother died, and now I’m scared it will happen again. I can’t let it happen again. I can’t let them starve.
“The warriors will provide for them, too.” It wasn’t your fault. You are not alone.
Tears flooded Acornpaw’s yellow eyes. “But I should help, shouldn’t I?” You’re wrong. It was my fault.
“You can help,” Fallenpaw reasoned. “But don’t put it on yourself.” None of it was your fault, I promise. I’m here.
Acornpaw met her gaze. “Okay.” Her voice raised slightly higher at the end of the word, a question-- okay? which translated to You really mean it?
Fallenpaw nodded once. “Okay,” she murmured, not a question, but an answer. Yes.
Fallenpaw was drowning.
Water swarmed around her like bees, filling her nose and mouth, tossing her in every direction. Swim, her lungs screamed at her. Swim to the surface so you can breathe.
But she couldn’t move. Her limbs were frozen. Panic threatened to overtake her.
She opened her mouth to cry out for help, but all that did was let more water flood in. It tasted like bitterness, and regret, and darkness, and anger, if any of those emotions could have a taste.
And that was when the current took hold of her, and dragged her backwards, farther away from home.
Something heavy and blunt jabbed into her side, and for the first time, Fallenpaw opened her eyes.
Fallenpaw sprang up, gasping for air. “What…?”
Sunpaw was staring at her blankly. “You were dreaming.”
Fallenpaw shook her fur out, embarrassed. “Oh. What’s going on?”
Sunpaw rolled his eyes. “Don’t ask me why, but Feathersong and Lionstar want us all to go on a ‘family walk’ together.”
Fallenpaw didn’t actually mind the idea, but she laughed along with her brother. “Why?”
“Didn’t I just tell you not to ask,” Sunpaw teased. He shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that Feathersong, Lionstar, and Snowpaw are currently waiting on us because you slept in really late, so let’s go.”
Fallenpaw followed him outside. “I didn’t sleep in that late,” she protested.
Feathersong lifted her tail as she noticed them making their way over. “Look who decided to get out of her nest,” she joked.
Lionstar ruffled her fur. “Is everyone ready?”
“Why exactly are we doing this again?” Snowpaw grumbled.
Lionstar shot him a warning look. “Because your mother and I decided it would be best if we spent some time together as a family. You three are almost warriors, and we want to get some time with you before you go off finding mates and leading patrols and forgetting about your parents.”
Fallenpaw knew he was only kidding, but she sensed sadness in his words all the same. She rested her head against her father’s shoulder. “I won’t forget about you, I promise. You’re my father.”
Lionstar chuckled. “It’s hard to believe how much you all have grown. It seems like just yesterday…” His eyes wandered into the distance, and Fallenpaw wondered what he was seeing in his memories. “Just yesterday that you were kits,” he finished.
Snowpaw huffed. “I could turn right back around if you all keep being so emotional,” he said crossly.
Fallenpaw noticed Sunpaw cast a puzzled look his way.
Feathersong purred warmly. “I can feel the air changing, can’t you?” she asked. “New-leaf is on its way.”
Lionstar nodded. “I can feel it too.”
Fallenpaw’s spirits lifted. New-leaf brought the promise of good hunting, and hope for the future. When new-leaf arrived, she and her brothers would be made warriors, and they would start a new chapter of their lives. She turned to Sunpaw and Snowpaw. “What’s the first thing you’ll do when you’re made a warrior?”
Sunpaw tipped his face to the sky thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’ll probably go on as many patrols as I can until I’m allowed to lead one, and just… prove myself.”
“Prove what exactly?” Snowpaw snarled. “You’re already perfect. The perfect hunter, perfect apprentice, perfect brother, perfect son.” He spat out the last word. “And you will be the perfect warrior, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t have to prove yourself. You never have, and you never will.”
Sunpaw whipped his head towards Snowpaw, his amber eyes burning. Fallenpaw bristled as tension built up between them. She glanced anxiously over at her parents, but they were walking ahead, deep in conversation, oblivious to… whatever it was that was happening between her brothers.
Snowpaw held Sunpaw in an icy glare, but neither one of them said a word. Fallenpaw shivered.
“Guys!” she called. “Come on.” Desperation leaked into her voice, and while she hated how weak it made her sound, she needed them to know that they couldn’t fight. They were kin, all three of them, forever tied by blood. That was important. She couldn’t let their bonds break over some stupid argument. She had spent so long questioning her place in her Clan--in her family--and now that she finally felt like she belonged, she never wanted anything to ruin that. “Please.”
Snowpaw snapped his attention to her. “Tell Lionstar I’m going hunting if he asks where I am,” he meowed quietly. “I don’t feel like going on a walk right now.”
Fallenpaw’s belly twisted as Snowpaw padded away.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Sunpaw mewed. “It’s his loss if he doesn’t want to spend time with his awesome littermates.”
Fallenpaw cracked a small smile, but regret still lingered in her heart. She was always close with Sunpaw. As kits, they weren’t just littermates, they were best friends. He never failed to make her laugh, and he was the one who first noticed something was wrong when she was having a hard time. But Snowpaw… she felt disconnected with her other brother. He was always the quiet one, the shy one, always trailing a step behind the group. But recently, it seemed that he wasn’t quiet because he was shy, but because he was angry.
Sunpaw nudged her. “Let him go,” he insisted. “We need to catch up to Lionstar and Feathersong.”
Fallenpaw dipped her head. “Fine.”
Sunpaw matched his steps with hers. “Sooo,” he sighed. “I saw you eating with Acornpaw yesterday…”
Fallenpaw skidded to a halt. I take it back. He’s not my favorite brother. I hate him. “She’s my friend!” she argued.
Sunpaw grinned. “Ooooooh!” he teased. “Fallenpaw likes Acornpaw! Fallenpaw likes--”
Fallenpaw slapped her tail over his mouth. “Shut up!” she hissed. “I hate you sometimes.”
Sunpaw grinned even wider. “I know!”
Fallenpaw remembered something, a way to get back at Sunpaw. “I know you like Hazelpaw,” she whispered. “Stop pretending you don’t, because I know it’s true.”
Sunpaw’s eyes widened. “I already told you I don’t like her!”
Fallenpaw shrugged. “And I don’t believe you. A blind mouse could even see it!”
Sunpaw flattened his ears. “I’m going to stop listening to you now. La la la la Fallenpaw likes Acornpaw la la la la…”
Fallenpaw pushed him to the ground and dug her claws into his shoulder, not enough to draw blood, but enough to make it hurt. Sure enough, Sunpaw yelped.
Fallenpaw laughed. “Not until you admit you like her.”
Sunpaw tried to squirm away. “No! Let go!”
“Say it and I will.”
Fallenpaw stepped back in surprise. She hadn’t actually expected him to cave. She was going to let go anyway. “What was that?” she asked all innocently.
Sunpaw narrowed his eyes at her. “I said fine,” he growled. “I like Hazelpaw.”
Fallenpaw let out an exaggerated gasp. “You said it!”
Sunpaw shook out his pelt. “But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone. Not even Snowpaw.”
Fallenpaw looked him in the eye. “I promise.” She meant it, too.
Sunpaw started walking ahead of her. “Now you have to tell me your secret?”
Fallenpaw tilted her head. “My secret?”
Sunpaw looked back at her. “That you like Acornpaw.”
Fallenpaw shook her head, feeling pleased with herself. “Oh, no. I’m not telling you anything.”
Before Sunpaw could respond, Feathersong called from up ahead, “Sunpaw! Snowpaw! Fallenpaw! Pick up the pace!”
Fallenpaw didn’t give Sunpaw the chance to say anything else. She ran towards her mother and father as fast as she could.
So you’ve left both of your brothers behind today, Splashpaw said inside her head. Then again, they would have done the same to you.
Shut up, Fallenpaw answered, anger searing through her. She had to put an end to this, once and for all. Tonight. Yes, tonight she would rid herself of her ghosts.
A chill raced down Fallenpaw’s spine as she heard his voice, real and in person. “Uh-huh.”
Pebbles scattered on the beach as Splashpaw stepped up to greet her. “Why haven’t you come to see me? I’ve come every night, waiting for you, and you haven’t shown up once.”
He sounded so sad, so lonely, that for a split second, Fallenpaw almost felt sorry for him. Then she remembered how much she hated him. She took a deep breath. “You want me to feel bad for you,” she murmured.
“I said, you want me to feel sorry for you,” Fallenpaw repeated, more forcefully. “You want me to feel… to feel worthless.” She took a step closer. “And for a while, it worked. But not anymore. I’m done.”
Splashpaw’s gray eyes flashed. “What do you mean, you’re done?”
Fallenpaw held his stare evenly, unflinching. “I mean, I’m done with your games. I’m done with you. I’m saying goodbye, Splashpaw.”
Splashpaw looked panicked. “But… but… no! Please, Fallenpaw! You’re my only friend. Don’t leave me, please!”
Rage bubbled in Fallenpaw’s belly. “Well it’s not like you ever tried to make more friends!” she exploded. “All you did was sit here with me and complain about how you’re invisible, and how no one sees you, and no one likes you, and then did everything in your power to make me feel the same way!” Tears burned her eyes, but she blinked them away. “Well guess what?” she whispered. “I’m not invisible. I’m not a ghost. I’m not a shadow. I’m Fallenpaw, daughter of Lionstar and Feathersong, sister of Sunpaw and Snowpaw, best friend of Acornpaw. I am Fallenpaw, and I am a PineClan cat through and through, and PineClan sees me, and loves me. PineClan is my home.”
Splashpaw’s breath quickened. “Fallenpaw, I can do better! I can be a good friend! I didn’t mean to hurt you!”
“Yes you did,” Fallenpaw responded coldly. “But you won’t hurt me anymore.” She calmly turned around, and slowly began to walk away.
“Fallenpaw!” Splashpaw’s desperate cries rang across the lake, like a ghost’s haunting wails. “Please! Please! Come back! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Fallenpaw stared straight ahead. She felt lighter than ever before, without his voice in her head, without his shadow on her tail. She felt like she could fly, like she was a bird. She felt free.
His pleads faded away as she got closer to home.
Starkit lifted her head to the sound of a cat entering the nursery. Ever since Fallowleap’s kits were apprenticed, the den was blissfully quiet. Breezekit and Littlekit were even tolerable.
“Kits, your father is here!” Wren exclaimed, nudging Breezekit and Littlekit awake.
Creeksplash! Starkit’s heart soared. She didn’t see her father often, as he was usually busy hunting to keep the Clan well-fed in leaf-bare, but when she did see him, it was always wonderful.
Sure enough, there was Creeksplash, standing in the nursery entrance with a plump rabbit dangling from his jaws. His brown tabby fur was sleek, and his amber eyes filled with admiration.
He looks more like Breezekit, Starkit thought in disdain. I wish he looked more like me. Unfortunately, Starkit looked nothing like either of her parents, with snowy white fur, and strange gray eyes.
“Who wants rabbit?” Creeksplash asked eagerly.
“Me!” Littlekit and Breezekit squealed, pushing Starkit aside as they scrambled out of the nest.
Creeksplash tipped his head to Starkit. “Starkit?”
Wren stared at her anxiously. Starkit noticed that, lately, her mother stared at most things anxiously. Like she was afraid of anything and everything doing something wrong.
Of course Starkit wanted the rabbit, but she wasn’t going to shove past others like some beast just to get to it. “Sure,” she mewed. “Can we all eat together? Outside?” She didn’t want to share food with just her sisters, and she hated the cramped nursery.
“I don’t see why not,” Creeksplash replied cheerily. “Wren?”
Wren dipped her head, and stood up. Starkit realized that she hadn’t seen her mother leave the nursery… ever. She wondered why that was.
“So,” Creeksplash began, sitting down at the prey pile. “How has my lovely family been?”
“Good!” Starkit answered at the same time as her sisters. And she was good. She would be apprenticed soon, something that made her belly flutter in excitement like a burst of butterflies.
Creeksplash ruffled each of their heads, and Starkit giggled. “Well, now I’m good, because you’re good.” He looked around. “Did I tell you about the shooting star I saw when I was hunting?” he whispered, leaning in closer.
Littlekit’s eyes rounded. “No.”
“Tell us!” Breezekit demanded.
Starkit tilted her head. “You saw a shooting star in the daytime?” That didn’t make sense.
Creeksplash purred. “That’s right, Starkit. It sounds impossible, but if you believe, anything can happen.”
“Just tell the story!” Littlekit whined.
“Well,” Creeksplash murmured in his story-telling voice, the voice that made Starkit hang onto every word he said. “I was stalking a mouse, trying my best to remain quiet--which, you know is no easy task for me.” He winked, and the kits laughed. Even Wren cracked a tiny smile. “The mouse was slow, but it had good hearing, like an elder! They don’t move fast, but boy do they seem to hear everything!”
It was true. Cherryfur knew all the gossip in the Clan. Once, Starkit asked her how she knew so much, and she’d replied with, “When I get bored, I listen. And I’m bored a lot.”
“I looked up into the sky, expecting to see nothing but clouds that I could count, but my eyes were greeted with something very different!”
“A shooting star!” Starkit cried. “Right?”
Creeksplash beamed. “That’s exactly right! It soared over my head like a bird. I swear, it was so big that I could see each of its points!”
“You’re lying,” Breezekit accused, but Starkit could see her amazement.
Creeksplash mocked being offended. “Me? Lying? Never! I did see that star, my kits. Clear as day… in the day! And somewhere in the sky, it’s still there, even if we can’t see it. So I want you all to close your eyes, and make a wish.”
Starkit squeezed her eyes shut. I wish for Creeksplash to bring us a squirrel instead of a rabbit next time.
“I wished for--” Littlekit started, but was cut off by Creeksplash.
“Hush! You can’t tell anyone what you wished for,” he warned, “or it won’t come true. Has no one ever told you that?”
All three of them shook their heads.
“Well now you know,” Creeksplash amended.
“Father! Tell us another story,” Breezekit begged.
Creeksplash shook his head, his eyes twinkling. “I only have one story to tell. You can get another one tomorrow, perhaps.”
“I can tell a story,” Wren chimed in. “I can tell you about the moor, and the Tribe that shares your blood.” Her expression grew wistful, like she was longing for something.
Creeksplash nodded. “Yes, that sounds like a wonderful idea!”
“I don’t really need to hear about the Tribe,” Breezekit said with a shrug. “We live in the Clans, and it’s not like we’re ever going to see the moor, so does it matter?” She didn’t say it in a mean way, just simply confused.
Littlekit shifted closer to Breezekit in unspoken agreement.
Wren let out a soft breath. “No one wants to hear it? That’s fine.”
I do, Starkit thought, but did not say. She didn’t want another thing to set her apart from her sisters. How did they not want to hear the stories, though? How did they not long to listen to the tales of the mysterious moorland, and the rolling hills that led to the crashing waves, and the wind that was strong enough to blow them off their paws? How did they not long to know more?
Creeksplash touched his nose to Wren’s ear. “You can tell me the stories if you like, love. I’ll listen.”
Wren blinked, a defeated and hurt look in her eyes that Starkit did not understand. “No,” her mother mumbled. “You’ve already heard them all.”
Her name-- or, a part of it. It poked a hole into her dreamless slumber. It shone an uncomfortable light into the warm darkness of sleep.
There it was again. It was quiet, barely louder than a breath of wind. So quiet, that she had to take a moment to consider if it was part of her dream. But that would mean that she was dreaming, and she wasn’t.
Wait. She was thinking. That meant she must be awake. Or at least half-awake.
“Star That Shines At Night.”
Was Wren talking to her? She didn’t know. She was so tired. Was Wren still saying something? Yes. She missed some of it though. She only caught the end.
Sorry for what? But she was too tired to figure it out.
Starkit felt cold as she woke up. She felt the rush of air against her fur, not the soft warmth of Wren. She felt a distinct emptiness in the nest. Her heart dropped. She knew even before she even opened her eyes that something was wrong.
“Where’s Wren?” Littlekit squeaked.
Starkit jerked her head up. Wren was gone. Gone. The events of the night came flooding back to her.
Star That Shines At Night. I’m sorry.
“Mama?” Starkit whispered to no one. “Where are you?”
Littlekit began to cry, waking Poppymoon.
“Kits?” she called sleepily, looking around. “Where’s your mother?”
Starkit took in a shaky breath, tuning out Littlekit’s answer. A deep pit filled her stomach, and tears burned her eyes. Her throat hurt from holding them back. “I want Mama.”
Breezekit turned to her, and for once didn’t snap or sneer at her. “Me too,” she mewed softly. “Where is she? She never leaves the nursery, and the scent isn’t fresh.” Panic edged her voice.
“I want Creeksplash,” Littlekit whimpered. “He’ll know what to do.”
“Creeksplash!” Poppymoon exclaimed. “Yes, I’ll go get him.” Her gaze darted to the exit and back to the kits. “Just stay put. I’m sure everything’s alright.”
Starkit studied the ground closely, fear bursting inside her. The uncertainty of it all was overwhelming. Where is Wren? The question played on repeat in her head, and she hoped with all her heart that her father had an answer.
When Creeksplash entered with Poppymoon, he hurried over to the kits and wrapped his tail around them. For a heartbeat, Starkit felt safe, but then remembered what was happening. “Where’s Wren?” she asked.
Creeksplash hesitated. “She’s fine. Don’t worry.”
Liar. Anger clouded Starkit’s thoughts. He avoided her question! She might be a kit, but she could handle the truth.
And just like that, she got her truth. It was like she popped a bubble. She didn’t know how else to describe it, but she didn’t have time to dwell. All she knew was that she could hear her father’s thoughts.
Wren. Wren, come back to us. Why did you run away, love?
Starkit jumped back, startled, and then the only thoughts in her head were her own. That wasn’t her main concern, though. She didn’t even give whatever had just happened a second thought. There was no time for things like that, not when Wren ran away.
Ran away. That was a purposeful action. A choice. Starkit didn’t know too much about running away, but she did know that when someone ran away in the middle of the night, they probably didn’t want to return.
Did she… leave me? The thought caused too much pain for her to bear, and she shoved it away with a strangled sob. “No!” She shook her head and buried it into her father’s fur. It wasn’t the same. He wasn’t Wren. Wren, her beautiful mother, who always knew how to comfort her. Was it true that Starkit might never feel her soft, crimson tail curl around her again? Or see her pale blue eyes stare into hers as she called her by her special nickname? Star That Shines At Night. No. Wren didn’t leave her. It just wasn’t true.
“When will Wren be back?” Breezekit wailed.
“I… I don’t know,” Creeksplash stammered. Starkit wondered if she was the only one who could hear the grief in his mew. “Soon, hopefully.”
I wish she was here. I wish she didn’t leave. An idea struck Starkit, and she was suddenly sure she could fix everything. “Can the star give us two wishes?”
Creeksplash looked dazed. “What?”
Starkit shrank back slightly. “The… the star. The shooting star you told us about… you said we could wish on it and I thought if I could wish for Wren to come home--”
“The star wasn’t real.” Creeksplash’s voice sounded tired and sad.
“But you said--”
“It wasn’t real.”
The star… wasn’t real? Starkit felt like her tears were choking her. Was there no way to get Wren back?
She left… she left because… she wanted to find the best piece of prey. Just for me. And it might take her a while to find, but once she does, she won’t leave again. Yes. She’ll be back soon. The lie was enough for now.
Starkit felt Creeksplash turn his head. “Poppymoon? Can you watch them for a moment?”
No. Poppymoon wasn’t Wren. Starkit didn’t want her sympathy.
And just like that, she was running.
Blindly, she darted out of camp, ignoring the cries behind her. She quickly grew exhausted, and collapsed to the ground next to a tree. Tears streamed down her face, and her whole body shook as she sobbed into the tree’s sturdy trunk.
Wren. Wren. Wren. Wren. That quickly turned into why? Why? Why?
“Why are you crying?”
Starkit gasped. She turned, expecting to see one of the warriors, but instead was greeted by the cold, gray gaze of Thunder.
“What are you doing here?” she breathed. “You were a part of my dream.”
Thunder smiled gently. “Who says that dreams can’t come true?” He nudged her to her paws. “I’ll ask again: why are you crying?”
Starkit blinked away her tears. “It’s nothing.” It’s everything.
Thunder prodded her. “Have you felt your power again?”
That wasn’t even kind of why she was crying, but it was true all the same, so she nodded. “Is there something wrong with me?”
Thunder’s eyes flashed. “No. Nothing wrong at all. Starkit, you’re extraordinary.”
I’d rather just be ordinary, Starkit thought. She knew that probably sounded selfish, but it was the truth.
“I can help you,” Thunder continued eagerly. “My offer from the last time we met still stands.”
Before Starkit could answer, there was a huge gust of wind, and suddenly another cat was standing in front of her. He had wispy black fur and the biggest blue eyes that Starkit had ever seen.
“Get out of here,” he snarled, pure hatred burning in his glare. He wasn’t talking to Starkit, though. He was talking to Thunder. “You will not go near her again, not while I’m still standing.”
Starkit wanted to run, but found herself frozen in fear. What’s happening? Both cats in front of her looked more terrified and more angry than anyone she had ever seen.
“Well then,” Thunder hissed. “I’ll just have to make sure you aren’t standing.”
The black cat shook his head. “You aren’t strong enough.”
Thunder glanced towards the PineClan camp. “I will be soon.” And just like that, he was gone. Faded away like mist.
Starkit looked over to the black tom. “W-who are you?”
“I am Sky,” he rasped. “And I will be the one to train you, not that monster.” His harsh gaze softened. “You can trust me.” He barked out a short laugh. “Just ask Dawnlight. Then again, she doesn’t like me much.”
Starkit had no idea what he was talking about, but if the medicine cat knew him, she guessed he was good. “Are you from StarClan?”
“No.” That was all he said. Nothing more.
“Oh.” She was still very confused.
Sky studied her. “You are going to be very powerful,” he murmured.
Starkit gulped. “What… What are my powers?” she whispered.
“Wrong question,” Sky said. “It’s not ‘what are my powers,’ but ‘what am I?’”
“What am I?” Starkit tried, hoping she could actually get an answer.
Sky lifted his face to the rising sun. “You, Starkit, are a seer.”