Fanfic by Briarpaw
Blurb: Reedkit, son of Mistshade and Tawnyclaw, seems like a feeble tom who would just fade into the background. But that is soon proven to be false, when he uncovers great secrets that would've engulfed the whole of RiverClan.
(Other links: Wattpad Link: https://www.wattpad.com/story/268126226-the-bird%27s-fall
Fanfiction Net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13873030/1/The-Bird-s-Fall)
A silver tabby was trembling. A small silver kit was mewling at her belly.
Her soft, grieving amber eyes were misty, but when the hazy eyes found the kit, they refocused. Rapid breathing slowed, and the silver tabby queen sank back in her moss-lined nest. The moss was brought by her son, Sparrowkit. Although he was only a kit, he was eager to act older than he actually was.
The silver queen's daughter, Sunkit, didn't try. She was shivering in the corner, but it wasn't from to cold.
Mistshade curled in her nest, shaking her head. She couldn't comfort Sunkit, when she was still grieving.
Two golden shapes were sleeping in their own nests now; they were too big to share nests.
But the silver kit was still small enough to share her nest, and to share his warmth.
The soft rustling of leaves woke his every instinct. He placed his paw carefully in the grass, careful not to alert anything.
The hooting of owl made his ears stick up, listening for any danger ahead. A white paw rustled the ferns, and, knowing his sneaking would not do him any more good, the cat crouched, barely breathing, sinking low and low until his belly touched the soft, muddy ground under the wide patch of bracken.
“I got you,” purred a voice in Reedkit’s ear.
Reedkit glanced at Tawnyclaw. “Aw,” he whined. “I almost got you!”
“But you didn’t,” scolded his father, his tawny pelt bristling. His amber eyes gleamed in the night, and Reedkit felt proud this cat was his father. “Now, go back to the nursery.”
“Not fair!” muttered Reedkit, hanging by his scruff.
“It is so fair,” replied Tawnyclaw, amusement to be found easily in his tone.
“No, it’s not,” Reedkit protested, squirming. “Sunpaw and Sparrowpaw are apprentices!”
“They were born four moons before you,” replied Tawnyclaw. “That is the only and single reason they are apprentices, and were, for one and a half moon and you, still have two and a half moons left.
Reedkit slumped. “So not true,” he whispered. “There aren’t any kits for me to play with!”
“There’s Creamkit and Honeykit.”
“They don’t understand me,” replied Reedkit.
“Then you’re too brilliant for them,” replied Tawnyclaw.
“Now go to sleep.” Tawnyclaw stopped, and laid Reedkit down gently.
I totally won’t, Reedkit thought, scrunching up his face. Tawnyclaw left quickly, and, with moonlight shining into the nursery, Reedkit cautiously padded to Mistshade’s nest. Trembling, he tucked himself in the moss-covered nest, and curled next to his mother.
Mistshade twitched, but that was all.
There was no nest more mossier, softer, and warmer than this one.
Reedkit shuffled in his sleep. Sunlight seemed to be grazing his eyes, and a soft giggle was what woke him.
The giggle was made right by his ear. “Creamkit,” he growled, struggling onto his paws.
A cream colored she-cat with bright blue eyes was sitting next to him, purring with amusement.
“Hi,” she purred. “It’s my day!”
“What day?” asked Reedkit gruffly.
Creamkit opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a high-pitched shriek.
A golden tabby she-kit was lying in the far corner of the nursery, wailing. Her amber eyes jerked open.
“No!” she screeched. “My apprentice ceremony was interrupted by badgers, and Silverstar just died!”
“What…” Reedkit stared at Honeykit in horror.
“Don’t mind her,” mewed Creamkit, looking bored. “She does that every night.”
“Why didn’t I hear her, then?”
Creamkit snickered, her blue eyes twinkling. “You sleep through everything, Reedkit,” she told him. “Mind you, you’d sleep through a badger attack! Even when it’s about to kill you.”
“So not true,” retorted Reedkit.
“Yes true,” answered Creamkit. “As I was saying,” she began again, clearing her throat, and lifting her chin haughtily, “Honeykit and I are being apprenticed today.”
Reedkit’s jaw fell.
“Yes, true!” Creamkit purred, bouncing around. “I’ve been itching to tell you.”
Reedkit slumped in his nest, and pointedly turned away from her.
“What is it?” meowed Creamkit impatiently. She sounded suddenly so apprentice-like.
“You wake up too early,” snapped Reedkit. “It’s not my fault I want to sleep.”
The feisty Creamkit said nothing. When Reedkit looked back, he could see the she-kit was curled up in her own, soft, comfortable moss-lined nest. Hmph. Sorry.
Mistshade glanced at Reedkit. “Are you sure?” she meowed briskly. “It’s your friend’s ceremony.”
“No thank you,” snapped Reedkit.
Mistshade shrugged. “I’m going,” she told him, and padded off.
A few seconds later, more pawsteps were heard and Lynxpaw’s voice asked, “Creamkit and Honeykit’s ceremony, Reedkit. They’re your friends.”
Lynxpaw huffed. “Fine, then.” She stalked away, and Reedkit rested his head on his white paws.
But curiosity eventually got better of the small silver tabby kit. He crawled to the opening, and peeked outside. He could see Creamkit and Honeykit standing proudly, with Silverstar.
“From this day forward, until she has earned her warrior name, this apprentice will be called Creampaw. Stormsky, you have proved yourself as an honorary, loyal warrior. I will trust you to teach Creampaw well.”
Eyes shining, Creampaw leaned forward to touch noses with her newly named mentor.
The gray she-cat’s blue eyes were bright as well as she met noses with Creampaw.
“From this day forward,” repeated Silverstar, gazing down at Honeykit, “until she has earned her warrior name, this apprentice will be called Honeypaw. Acornsquirrel, you are young, but you have gone through grief and happiness, and I trust you will make a fine mentor for Honeypaw.”
Acornsquirrel’s brown eyes were shining and Honeypaw’s amber eyes were, too.
Jealousy sprouting in his heart, Reedkit squirmed back, and tried to rest. He was alone in the nursery, with only Mistshade and the some other expectant queens.
Mistshade was sharing a squirrel with Tawnyclaw, and Reedkit was biting in his first prey ever. He’d resisted prey for moons, but when he saw Creampaw and Honeypaw eating prey, caught by themselves, he just had to.
Exactly twelve days after Creampaw and Honeypaw’s apprentice ceremony, Stormkit was born to Brightmist, and soon there was Dewkit. Mistykit and Rainingkit were born a week later, to Snowheart, and Reedkit felt bored by their childish games.
“Ooh!” shouted Rainingkit, her dark blue eyes gleaming with interest. “Roll it to me!”
Dewkit tossed the ball, and Rainingkit leaped, catching the moss ball in her soft paws.
“Wow!” Her sister awed. Mistykit snatched the ball from her, and threw it to Reedkit.
“Aw!” Rainingkit muttered, dismay clear in her eyes.
Without saying anything, Reedkit rolled the moss ball back.
“Are you playing with us?” Mistykit asked, eyes glowing.
Rainingkit snorted. “You must be in love with him,” she teased. She fluffed out her gray pelt as Mistykit pelted the moss ball at her.
Creampaw was padding by, and her chin was raised up high in the air haughtily. “Are you playing moss ball,” she asked, in a peculiar accent.
“Say -ball?” corrected Dewkit.
Rainingkit rolled her eyes.
Creampaw shrugged. “Whatever,” she mewed carelessly. “Anyway, Reedkit, are you enjoying the shrew?” She was still enjoying the weird accent.
“No,” muttered Reedkit.
The taste of shrew was disgusting; it tasted of fur.
“It tastes of fur.”
“It has fur, fish-brain. Of course it tastes of fur.” Creampaw sniffed. “Today Stormsky, Honeypaw, Acornsquirrel, and I went on a patrol together. Fascinating how it was put that way, isn’t it? Tansyflight was very kind.”
“Drop the strange thing, Creampaw,” meowed Oakpaw, looking amused.
Creampaw whirled around, her ears flattening. “Oh. It’s you.” Her ears stood up again, but her creamy fur was still bristling slightly.
“Silverstar said she’d personally organize patrols if you talked too much with Honeypaw.”
Creampaw sniffed. “Mind your own business,” she snapped.
Oakpaw shrugged, and turned away.
Mistykit sighed. “Creampaw, so what happened?”
“We met an enemy patrol. ShadowClan. This apprentice named Mousepaw and Sunpaw growled at each other, and Ratpaw had an ear torn. Already! Sunpaw said she heard from Mousepaw that Ratpaw’s ear was from cuffs from his mentor.
“His mentor wasn’t that bad, I think,” continued Creampaw. “Ratpaw was just so a fish-brain.”
“Yippee,” interrupted a golden tabby she-cat sharply.
“Sunpaw!” exclaimed Creampaw, wincing.
“Where’s Sparrowpaw, anyway?” Sunpaw replied. “Mistshade’s looking for him. He had his assessment today, after all.”
“And you?” chirped Dewkit.
Sunpaw stared sharply at him. “No.”
Dewkit shrank back. “Okay.”
“I’m going to train.” Sunpaw whirled around.
Her golden pelt shone in the sunlight.
“What happened with her?” whispered Dewkit to Rainingkit.
“Maybe she was too bad at training only Sparrowpaw had the assessment,” whispered Rainingkit, purring amusement. The kits always teased Sunpaw; she was a nasty little apprentice who was so fun to tease. She never knew the kits giggled about her behind her back.
Rainingkit raised her head. “When are you going to be apprenticed, Reedkit?” she mewed.
Stormkit rolled his eyes. “Like, duh! Three days later.”
Rainingkit’s eyes grew large. “Wow!”
Mistykit sighed. “Oh, wow,” she sighed.
Lynxpaw peeked in. “Hi, kits!” she meowed. “I’m having my warrior ceremony tomorrow.” Her eyes gleamed with triumph. “I am so, so excited.” She purred. “Isn’t it so nice Eaglepaw postponed his ceremony for me?”
Rainingkit rolled her eyes. “Yeah,” she muttered. “Lynxpaw, go away.”
Lynxpaw purred. It seemed nothing would disturb her today. “Sure, Rainingkit. But tomorrow, you’ll no longer be calling me ‘Lynxpaw’.”
Lynxpaw was having her ceremony tomorrow? Reedkit didn’t even remember when Lynxpaw and Eaglepaw were new apprentices. He probably wasn’t born then.
Yawning, and then stretching, he padded out of the nursery.
“Where’re you going?” meowed Mistykit quickly.
Ignoring her calls, Reedkit walked stubbornly away. He wanted to see where Mistshade was.
“Mistshade?” he called out anxiously.
Nobody answered. He rolled his tiny little neck sideways to see if he could spot a silver pelt, or maybe, a tawny one.
Instead, a gray and white pelt appeared out of the blue.
“Reedkit?” Ottersnow asked.
Reedkit flinched. “Ah! Ottersnow?”
“Who’re you looking for?”
Ottersnow hesitated. “She’s over there,” she meowed slowly, flicking her tail. “But… she probably won’t pay attention to you.”
Ottersnow sighed. “She just won’t,” she murmured. “Now go. She’s busy.”
Reedkit scowled. Pretending to pad back to the nursery, he slipped into the long, growing ferns and waited until Ottersnow went back to the medicine den.
He waited a few more seconds, and dove to the next bush, and so on.
But when Reedkit reached the place where Ottersnow had pointed, there was only a gray she-cat there.
“Who are you?”
The she-cat lifted her head. “You’re Reedkit, yes? Mistshade’s?” A flash of regret seemed to flicker in her dark blue eyes.
“I’m Slatefoot,” the she-cat mewed. “What are you doing out of the nursery?”
“I’m looking for Mistshade. Ottersnow said she was here.”
Slatefoot cocked her head. “No, she’s not. She’s on patrol.”
“But…” Reedkit stared at Slatefoot. But Mistshade should be in the nursery! She shouldn’t be on patrol already!
Slatefoot winced. “I’m sure she thought you could manage on your own,” she suggested kindly.
Reedkit didn’t reply. She went away? She went and left me!
Stumbling, he retreated back to the nursery, feeling rather quite dazed.
Mistykit and Rainingkit scampered next to him, excited to know what happened. “What happened?” Mistykit chirped. Rainingkit stared at him with glowing blue eyes.
“I wanted to find Ottersnow,” Reedkit lied, feeling hot under his pelt.
Mistykit nodded. “What did she say?”
“Oh. Um, I wanted to find Sunpaw?s?”
“Why Sunpaw?” asked Rainingkit.
“Because she’s my sister, like it or not.”
“Why not Sparrowpaw?” asked Mistykit crossly.
“Oh, shut up, Mistykit,” scolded Rainingkit. “You’re taking it too far.”
“Taking what too far?” Reedkit and Stormkit mewed.
Rainingkit stood in front of her sister defensively. “Nothing,” she snapped. “Why do you care what Mistykit thinks?”
Stormkit shrugged. “Okay, then. If you’ve got anything to say… you know where to come.” He flicked his dark gray tail.
Dewkit stared at his friend. “That was cool,” he muttered.
Rainingkit sighed. “I’m a hopeless romantic,” she mewed.
“What does that mean?” The light gray tomkit wondered.
“It means that I love it when cats say these romantic stuff. Unfortunately, Stormkit and Mistykit’s story is a sad ending.” Sighing, she gazed at the dark gray figure in the best.
The dark cream kit was cocking her head. “What…?” Mistykit mewed. “I don’t know what you’re saying.
Rainingkit sighed. “You’re so lucky you get to experience these things,” she awed.
Dewkit hesitated. “Uh, if you think of anything to say, you can tell me.”
The pale gray she-kit blinked at the tom for a second. Then a loud purr filled the whole nursery. “Oh, you’re so funny! Sure, thanks, Dewkit.”
The nursery wasn’t always boring.
Reedkit watched Dewkit stare after Rainingkit, looking very embarrassed.
Lynxfoot purred at Reedkit. “Hi, Reedkit,” she mewed. “Don’t worry, you’ll be a ‘paw soon.”
“Thanks,” meowed Reedkit grudgingly.
Mistykit, Rainingkit, Stormkit, and Dewkit were playing moss ball again, and Reedkit was watching the sky rain.
“It’s raining,” remarked Reedkit.
“Yes,” agreed Lynxfoot. “It was a real shame. I wished everything to be perfect on my warrior ceremony day. But you can’t have everything, and I should be happy I got my name.”
“Come on, Lynxfoot,” mewed Eagleshade. “We’d better tell Mapleflight we passed, or she’ll wonder why we didn’t tell her.”
Reedkit just watched silently and the two, newly named warriors padded to the elders’ den.
He wondered how Creampaw and Honeypaw’s training was going. The last time he had seen Stormsky and Acornsquirrel, they seemed pretty happy.
“Where’s Mistshade?” asked Stormkit’s voice. “I haven’t seen her in ages!”
Rainingkit sat up. “You’re right,” she mewed.
“Hey, Reedkit!” called Mistykit eagerly. “Where’s Mistshade?”
“I don’t know,” mumbled Reedkit. Inwardly, he thought Mistshade had gone on patrol, bored of nursery life.
Why couldn’t she just stay put for just six moons? Was that too much to ask for?
He turned his head to see Brightmist, Snowheart, and Minnowdawn. They would probably stay in the nursery for their kits.
Envy pricked his heart. Why did he have to have Mistshade as his mother, and not someone else?
“Reedkit, come and play if you’re going to be a grouch all day!” yelled Rainingkit.
Slowly, he turned to have a moss ball whack his face. “Ow!”
He blinked his shock away, and there were four, small, innocent kits, grinning and purring at him.
Nursery life really wasn’t that bad.
“Reedkit, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect it with your life?”
“From this day forward, until he has earned his warrior name, this apprentice will be called Reedpaw.”
Silverstar’s dark blue eyes grazed Reedpaw.
“Whitepetal, you have proved yourself loyal and strong. You will mentor Reedpaw.”
The newly named silver apprentice looked up at the white tabby warrior. Whitepetal’s hazel eyes were bright as she leaned forward to touch her nose with his.
Reedpaw could see Creampaw and Honeypaw cheering, with Lynxfoot. He swallowed. He was a real apprentice now.
He met Mistykit’s eye. The dark cream she-cat’s wide pale blue eyes and her shivering form made him remember his days in the nursery. Lovely days. But now he’d train.
Rainingkit was swishing her tail over Mistykit’s flank, as if to comfort her. Reedpaw never fully realized the reason for Mistykit’s uneasiness around him. He still didn’t, and, whatever it was, he hoped Mistykit would be comforted by Stormkit.
“Hi, Reedpaw,” meowed a voice by Reedpaw’s ear.
It was Whitepetal. Her hazel eyes were glowing with pride and pleasure.
Reedpaw dipped his head politely, but his eyes darted around the clearing. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Whitepetal. It was true she was a loyal, dedicated warrior. But he wanted to see Mistshade and Tawnyclaw. They should show approval.
But Mistshade was nowhere to be in sight, and Tawnyclaw was calmly licking his paw, talking with Tansyflight.
Feeling disoriented about his parents’ lack of interest, Reedpaw looked back at Whitepetal. “Is something the matter?” she mewed.
“No,” Reedpaw replied.
Whitepetal hesitated. “Very well.” She led Reedpaw out of camp, and Reedpaw quietly followed. “We’ll explore the territory today,” she meowed.
Whitepetal led Reedpaw along the borders, and once, Reedpaw saw Eagleshade and Lynxfoot. They were patrolling the ShadowClan border together.
“So, this is it,” meowed Whitepetal. “Did you like it?”
“Yeah.” Reedpaw tried to look enthusiastic. “It was amazing.”
Whitepetal snorted. “Of course.” She lowered her voice. “I know you’re think of Mistshade.”
“Yes, I know. You couldn’t be any clearer.” Whitepetal gazed at Reedpaw. “It’s not that Mistshade doesn’t care for you,” she started slowly.”
“What?” Reedpaw honestly didn’t know what to say.
“My mother died when I was young,” started Whitepetal.
Reedpaw patiently blinked at his mentor.
“She was an old queen when she died. When Minnownose went to StarClan, I was left. Alone. My father had died about two, or three moons after I was born, and I was left in the nursery.
“I know how it is to feel like no one cares about you. But mother aren’t the only cats who can love you, Reedpaw. Silverbrook – Silverstar – cared for me, and I thought of her as a sister.” Whitepetal fixed Reedpaw with a stern stare.
Reedpaw stared at his white paws. “Okay.”
Whitepetal nodded. Her creamy, thick pelt was ruffled. “It’s dark,” she meowed, although the sun was still high and shining. “We should get back. Eagleshade’s patrol must have returned. Do you fancy shrews? They’re my favorite.”
“No, not really.”
“Then you must try a fish,” Whitepetal responded. “Your tongue must be adapted to fish already.”
Reedpaw managed a purr.
Rosepaw, who was slightly older than Creampaw and Honeypaw, had caught a minnow. “Hi,” she meowed, her dark ginger pelt smooth and sleek. She must’ve given it a good grooming. “I caught a minnow. Would you like to share it?” Her eyes gleamed with friendliness.
“Sure,” muttered Reedpaw, surprised by her hospitality.
He sat down, and took a bite of the minnow. The cool, fishy scent rang his ears, and he loved the fresh taste. “Wow,” he murmured.
“You’ve been missing out on great things, right?” asked Rosepaw, her eyes glittering.
“Honestly, minnows are my favorite.” Rosepaw took a big bite. “Yum.”
Reedpaw nodded. “They are delicious.”
“Who’s your mentor?”
Rosepaw purred. “Leafsplash,” she mewed.
“Really? But she was only recently made warrior.”
“Yes, but Silverstar said Leafsplash would be a good fit for me,” Rosepaw answered.
“Yeah, you do talk much.”
Rosepaw rolled her eyes. “I’m finishing the minnow,” she declared, and chomped the rest.
“Don’t worry. Lynxfoot has a trout. Maybe she’ll share it.”
“Nah. I’m going to catch one tomorrow.”
Rosepaw’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “Let’s see if you will,” she mewed simply, but Reedpaw didn’t miss the look of amusement in the older apprentice’s eyes.
The next day, Whitepetal took Reedpaw out for hunting, but not fishing.
“You’ll master land-hunting first,” Whitepetal meowed. “The streams might get polluted anytime, so the other mentors and I decided we’d teach you apprentices land-hunting. We have some woodland territory, too. We could start with that. I’ll show you.”
The white tabby she-cat clumsily crouched. Her crouch was clumsier at first, but her eyes focused, and her muscles tensed. She leapt and sprang, unsheathing her claws and spiking them in the green grass.
She was silent. A moment later, she submerged, her claw hooking a small shrew. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “You try it.”
Reedpaw blinked. “Okay.”
He scouted the area for some shrews. “I can’t find any prey,” he confessed.
Whitepetal didn’t reply; she simply looked around. “There,” she hissed. “By the broken bark. You see that? It’s trying to eat something. Maybe a seed. Go. Do what I did.”
Silently nodding, Reedpaw set one paw on the grass. The grass rustled, and Reedpaw wanted to smack himself.
Remembering kithood, when he would follow Tawnyclaw, trying to make no sound, Reedpaw set the other paw on the ferns. The ferns didn’t whisper anything, and the shrew stayed, nibbling on a pale brown seed.
Swallowing nervously, the silver apprentice took a running leap. He could practically see the shrew’s black eyes popping, and its tiny paws raised, and its hind legs pumping.
Reedpaw sensed he was going too far. Pulling himself back, he aimed his claws a bit further than where the shrew was.
When he landed, he felt a strange sensation at his claws. He wouldn’t exactly call it pleasant, but it was satisfying, as it showed he had caught the shrew.
“Kill it,” called Whitepetal. “It might still be squirming. If you’re unlucky, it’ll escape.”
And it almost was. Reedpaw quickly swept a paw over the shrew. Feeling the hard shock, Reedpaw was sure the shrew was dead.
“Sorry, Shrew,” he mumbled.
“Great job,” complimented Whitepetal, padding over to him. “First catch on your second day! I caught my first on my twelfth.” She purred at Reedpaw, and Reedpaw felt pride puffing out his chest.
“When can I hunt fish?”
Whitepetal’s eyes gleamed mischievously, and Reedpaw realized her gleam was alike Rosepaw’s. “If you catch ten land prey by the day after tomorrow,” she meowed.
Reedpaw nodded, feeling confident. He could, right?
“Don’t eat it,” Whitepetal earned. “Put it by the reeds, so no one will take it.”
“Okay.” Reedpaw picked his small shrew up, padded to a nearby pond, and dropped it in the tall reeds.
“Do you accept the challenge?” questioned Whitepetal.
“Sure! One question, though,” Reedpaw meowed.
“Spit it,” Whitepetal mewed.
“Are you related to Rosepaw? Like, her mother?”
Whitepetal gazed blankly at him. “No,” she said slowly, realization spreading across her face. She began to purr. “She’s my sister, Reedpaw. Are we that similar?”
“Your gleams in your eyes were really similar,” replied Reedpaw.
The white tabby cat nodded, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “Then be sure to tell Rosepaw this,” she mewed. “And tell me what she said, and how she reacted.”
“Okay,” Reedpaw meowed.
“Then good luck,” Whitepetal mewed. “I think I’ll leave you to hunt. When you’re tired, call me. I’ll be talking with Leafsplash.”
“What about Rosepaw?”
“Leafsplash wanted to assess how she was doing.”
“Then shouldn’t she watch?”
“Rosepaw’s practicing on her own first,” Whitepetal responded.
“Okay. What will we do when I’m tired?”
Whitepetal let out a mrrow of amusement. “When you’re tired of hunting, we might do some hunting. When you’re tired, we’ll go back to camp.”
Reedpaw nodded eagerly. This was only his second day, but he was loving every single second of it.
Reedpaw’s bright green eyes glowed as his white paw submerged with a flopping minnow in its grasp.
“Amazing,” complimented Rosepaw. “But I got a trout.” She proudly thrust a trout at Reedpaw’s nose. The fishy scent made Reedpaw’s mouth water, and before he could bite, Rosepaw pulled it away. “But it’s mine.” Her eyes glowed, and it reminded Reedpaw once more of her sister, Whitepetal. It was amazing how the two sisters could be so alike.
Rosepaw had reacted the same way Whitepetal had when he told her about Whitepetal and Rosepaw’s similarities. She didn’t like it when Reedpaw confessed Whitepetal had reacted the same way.
The dark ginger apprentice was now Reedpaw’s best friend. He had made up with Creampaw and Honeypaw, and often talked with Creampaw. Since he wasn’t that close with Honeypaw to begin with, he wasn’t exactly best friends with the golden she-cat.
“Amazing catch, Rosepaw,” mewed Leafsplash, her leafy eyes softening at the sight of the trout. She was usually a very stern mentor, but Rosepaw had been so excellent that her sternness was almost gone.
Since Whitepetal and Leafsplash were rather very close friends, Rosepaw and Reedpaw got to train together often.
There was times when Stormsky and Acornsquirrel would join them with their own apprentices. Reedpaw marveled that Rosepaw could get along so well with any apprentices. Creampaw and Honeypaw were inseperable with her, and Rosepaw got along together with toms like Orangepaw, as well.
Orangepaw was so grouchy, nobody liked him very much, but Rosepaw was friendly with him.
“She’s brilliant,” Honeypaw mewed to him. Her eyes were fixed on the gently flowing stream water, but her mouth was moving, and she was clearly addressing Reedpaw.
Reedpaw turned away from his catch, laid it in the ground next to him, and glanced at her. “Who? Rosepaw?”
“Yes,” Honeypaw replied. “Do you like her?”
“What?” Reedpaw blinked. “She’s my friend. Would I hate her?”
Honeypaw blinked, her golden cheeks blushing. “Oh,” she murmured, looking embarrassed. “I mean, you have to have a mate one day, right?”
Realizing what Honeypaw meant, Reedpaw slowly backed away from her, feeling hot under his pelt. “No! I mean, not now, I won’t be thinking about that now. I’ve just trained for a half moon.”
“A bit more,” Honeypaw answered, “since Creampaw and I recently passed our first moon.”
She seemed rather absent, and Reedpaw decided to tease her a bit. “Well, if you’ll try to tease me about my friend, I’ll tease you about Ripplepaw.”
Honeypaw whirled around, her dark amber eyes narrowing. “You wouldn’t dare!” she exclaimed, and splashed him.
“Honeypaw,” warned Acornsquirrel. Her brown eyes were light and good-natured, but her tail was flicking impatiently.
At the sight of her light brown mentor, Honeypaw turned away sheepishly. “Sorry, Acornsquirrel.” She went back to fishing her fish, and Reedpaw thought Honeypaw and his conversation had ended now.
“But really, Reedpaw.”
“Stop it, Honeypaw,” Reedpaw insisted. “Or I’ll keep talking about Ripplepaw.”
Honeypaw hesitated, looking lost for words. Finally, letting out a friendly snort, she mewed, “You’ve changed. When we were in the nursery, you were always the quiet little kit. You’ve gotten bolder. And that’s a compliment; don’t look around nervously.”
Reedpaw nodded, thinking about Mistshade. He did see her, yes. But she didn’t seem very glad to see him.
Tawnyclaw was more closed about his emotions towards Reedpaw. Both were bad. Mistshade expressed her dislike of having someone to care to twenty four hours a day, and Tawnyclaw hardly revealed anything. It was harsh, but like Whitepetal had said on one of his earlier days, Reedpaw had made friends and was comforted by them.
“Brightmist will be glad to get out of the nursery,” mewed Creampaw. The cream she-cat had grown bigger. “She’s been complaining about how Stormkit’s fidgeting.”
“Would you believe me if I said he were named after me, for his fidgetiness?” interrupted Stormsky, her dark blue eyes sparkling.
“Oh, come on,” meowed Creampaw. “I’ll hardly believe you fidgeted as much as him.”
Stormsky’s eyes glittered. “Brightmist told me she was reminded of me whining to go out when I was only three days old.”
Creampaw sighed dramatically. “I didn’t see Stormkit fidgeting actually, but if he’s anything like you when he grows, I’ll say, he’d be a fine warrior.”
Stormsky purred. “Now get back to your hunting.”
“Come on, Stormsky. I caught two minnows yesterday. Can’t you just excuse me…?”
“Nope.” Stormsky stood back, surveying the water. “There are many fish to catch.”
Sighing, Creampaw smacked the clear water.
“Hey!” exclaimed Honeypaw. “My fish just escaped.”
Creampaw rolled her eyes. “I’ll fish from the upper stream, then,” she replied, and stalked away.
“She’s grumpy,” mewed Stormsky, looking amused. “You have to excuse her.”
“Okay,” shrugged Reedpaw.
“Could you move a bit?” Rosepaw asked, glancing at him. “We should probably fish separately.”
Reedpaw nodded. “Good idea,” he meowed. Honeypaw had already moved downstream, and there was enough room for twenty RiverClan warriors between them.
He moved towards the upper part, and immediately saw a blue fish floating. Reedpaw swept his paw and the blue fish flopped into the reeds. It was dead.
Whitepetal peered at the reeds. “Amazing catch, Reedpaw.” She sniffed at it, and then pulled back, a disgusted look upon her face. “This smells salty!” she exclaimed. Wrinkling her nose, she peered at Reedpaw’s catch. “This is blue, and it’s not like any fish I’ve seen before. Leafsplash! Have you seen anything like this?”
The gray and white she-cat padded towards the fish. “The stench!” she exclaimed. “No. Maybe you could ask the elders. They might’ve heard stories of this.”
Reedpaw gazed at the fish. “Okay.” He leaned forward to hold the fish in his mouth.
“No, wait! You should wrap it in ferns first,” mewed Rosepaw, poking her nose in. “Ew, it smells like rats!”
“That’s harsh,” retorted Reedpaw.
Rosepaw rolled her eyes. “Don’t feel sad for a stinky fish.”
“It smells fishy, that’s all,” Reedpaw mewed.
Rosepaw stared at him in disbelief. “You’re crazy,” she decided finally. “Well, I’m going.”
Reedpaw nodded. He rolled the stinking fish in the ferns, and when he thought the stench must’ve wore off, he picked up the fish along with a few ferns. The fish’s taste wormed its way into Reedpaw’s mouth. He almost spit it out; the taste was disgusting and disgusting only.
“Reedpaw?” An elderly she-cat raised her head.
“Hi, Fernshine,” Reedpaw mewed.
Fernshine was Mistshade’s mother, and Reedpaw had visited her a few times for stories. The pale gray mottled she-cat glanced at Reedpaw. “What have you got there?” she asked, her green eyes widening. “That smells disgusting.”
“Uh, yes,” Reedpaw mewed embarrassedly. “Fernshine, did you see this fish anywhere?” He dropped the fish by Fernshine’s nest.
“Yuck,” mewed Fernshine. “Well, this isn’t any freshwater fish I’ve seen in my life. I think that’s something different from somewhere different.”
Reedpaw cocked his head. “Can you guess any more?”
Fernshine sniffed. “Eck. No, sorry, Reedpaw. Maybe you can ask Rushwater when he wakes.” She nudged a snoring tom.
The tom was a silverish gray and white cat with a white tail tip. Reedpaw hadn’t seen him before.
Fernshine purred. “You’ve never seen him?” she asked. “That’s understandable. He’s been travelling and never stayed long in RiverClan. Silverstar respected her brother’s son’s wishes and let him. He’s learned a lot. I think he may know. But don’t disturb him now. He’s recently retired without a ceremony.” Her eyes rounded with pity. “I pity him, actually. Rushwater’s never had much friends.”
Reedpaw nodded, glancing swiftly at the gray and white tom. He seemed weary, suddenly.
He thanked StarClan he was here in RiverClan, safely, with friends.
Sparrowpaw’s amber eyes shone as he stood in front of his mother. Mistshade’s dark amber eyes were pride and equally shining as she stood in front of her son.
“Amazing,” she purred, with every syllable filled with love and affection. “I’m so proud of you, Sparrowpaw.”
Tawnyclaw was watching, his tawny golden pelt bouncing off sunlight the same way his son’s pelt was.
Reedpaw was surprised by Sparrowpaw, Sunpaw, Mistshade, and Tawnyclaw’s similarity. He absently looked down at his silver tabby pelt. It was like Mistshade’s. But maybe it was paler. Reedpaw blinked his green eyes. They were like Tawnyclaw’s, but maybe they were darker.
Uncertainty gripped his heart and refused to let go.
“I hear from Cloudstream you’re doing well,” meowed Tawnyclaw. His eyes were bright. “She’s a respected warrior, and I will expect you to do well.”
Sparrowpaw puffed out his chest. “Yeah,” he meowed, his eyes glittering. “I’ll be a better warrior than her.”
Mistshade purred. “Of course you will!”
Reedpaw turned around to seek Cloudstream. For a split second he wished to seek her out and tell her of her apprentice’s ambitions. But she would probably just think of it proudly.
The fluffy white she-cat was sharing a squirrel with a gray she-cat.
“Um, hi, Cloudstream.”
The white tabby looked up. “Reedpaw, right?” she asked, her eyes kind and gentle.
“Yes. Um, is Sparrowpaw doing well?”
A purr rose to Cloudstream’s throat. “Did Mistshade send you? Then tell her it’s fine if she comes repeatedly to check on Sparrowpaw’s progress.”
Reedpaw blinked. “Er, no. I was just interested myself.”
Cloudstream’s aqua eyes widened. “Oh, really?” she asked. “Okay, then.”
Reedpaw felt a gaze burning into his pelt. While Cloudstream was explaining about Sparrowpaw’s progress, he glanced sideways and saw the gray she-cat staring at him, her dark blue eyes grazing his fur.
Slowly, the gray she-cat met his gaze. She dipped her head.
Slatefoot, she said. Wasn’t the gray she-cat Slatefoot? The one who had so kindly informed him that Mistshade had left Reedpaw?
“This is Slatefoot,” meowed Cloudstream, apparently guessing that Reedpaw’s attention had diverted to the ‘strange’ gray she-cat. “She’s my friend. Have you met her before?”
“No,” Reedpaw meowed. Saying he met her once would only bring misunderstanding.
Disappointment seemed to have flashed in Slatefoot’s eyes, but Reedpaw decided he’d imagined it.
“Oh. That’s understandable.” The atmosphere seemed to have turned heavy and full with grief.
Slatefoot had turned away, her whole body stiff, and Cloudstream’s blue eyes were somber.
“Reedpaw, how’s your training going?”
“Very well,” mewed Reedpaw, not really knowing what he was answering. He was trying to figure out why the two she-cats had turned somber.
Cloudstream nodded. “Maybe you should tell Mistshade that,” she suggested.
Reedpaw swallowed the urge to shout, She won’t care! She never cares! But, thinking he should act happy, he nodded, trying to stop his fur from bristling angrily. “Oh, yes, great idea,” he mewed politely.
Reedpaw tried to ignore Cloudstream’s sympathetic gaze. It seemed to say that she knew how Reedpaw was feeling, and that he didn’t need to hide things. Since Whitepetal knew, Reedpaw could guess the whole Clan knew.
But still, he thought. Conceal things.
He walked until the dark air finally lifted. The replacement was joy and happiness for Sparrowpaw.
Reedpaw turned his gaze to see Sunpaw, the golden tabby she-apprentice, staring enviously at her brother. Her claws were scraping the ground; her tail was flicking impatiently…
And most of all, Sunpaw’s amber eyes were dark and horrible.
But her anger and fury faded, and was soon replaced with sadness and self-hatred.
Why can’t I be more like Sparrowpaw? her eyes seemed to meow.
Reedpaw wanted to sit beside his older sister and comfort her. I know. I know how you feel.
But expecting Sunpaw’s disgusted response, he just passed her.
Reedpaw’s green eyes found a brown squirrel. The tufty squirrel seemed like a good last meal before the great Gathering.
Rosepaw acted like it was no big deal, but in truth, she was bouncing all day for the Gathering. “Oh, the Gathering is amazing,” she exclaimed to Reedpaw. “I have a friend, Daisypaw. She’s ShadowClan, but she’s amazing. She changed my perspective of ShadowClan cats, you know.”
“Do you think I’ll make any friends?” asked Reedpaw, almost fearfully.
“Of course you will,” reassured Rosepaw coolly. Her green eyes were full of confidence as she gazed at her friend. “Take confidence, Reedpaw. That’s the only think you lack. Well, you lack bounciness too. Bubbliness and brightness would be an amazing…”
“I get it, Rosepaw,” purred Reedpaw, feeling some of his nervousness melt away. He carried the squirrel to his usual spot and began pulling at its fur.
“Oh, no,” Rosepaw meowed, clucking her tongue at the way Reedpaw was eating. “Not like that. You shouldn’t pull the fur away. Eat the tufts. They’re rather enjoyable.” Her eyes gleamed with mischievousness.
Reedpaw glanced doubtfully at the messy tufts of fur. “Are you sure? It’s not you playing pranks?”
The dark ginger apprentice swished her tail. “Why would you think that?” she exclaimed, in mock-surprise.
“Yeah, my bad, since you’re always truthful.”
“Ooh, I take back what I said. You are confident! So eat it. Confidently. Are you scared? Is the great Reedstar scared?”
“Don’t do that,” scolded Reedpaw, and took a big bite, swallowing fur.
Squirrel fur was unlike his fur. Reedpaw’s silver fur sometimes caught in his throat while he was grooming, but it wasn’t like suffocating. The squirrel’s fur tufts choked him.
He spat it out. “You tried to kill me!”
Rosepaw’s eyes widened. “You choked?” she choked out. “Oh, StarClan, I didn’t mean that. We do eat fur.”
“No, we don’t,” interrupted a golden apprentice. His amber eyes were shining with confidence and smugness.
Rosepaw gawked at Sparrowpaw. “Really?” she asked. Her voice had gotten rather thin.
Sparrowpaw glanced at Rosepaw. Although Rosepaw was older than him, he didn’t resist the chance to gloat. “Yes,” he meowed. “Normally, you claw out the squirrel’s messy tufts.” He stole a glance, a distasteful one, at the tufty squirrel. “That would make anyone choke. Even me.”
“Oh!” The distress in Rosepaw’s voice was so real, Reedpaw couldn’t figure out if it were true or not.
“I might show you how to properly eat prey.”
Reedpaw fully expected Rosepaw to decline haughtily. But to his surprise, the dark ginger she-cat got to her paws, and exclaimed, “Oh, yes, please!”
Sparrowpaw seemed unsurprised. Almost lazily, he padded to where he was eating a bird. “This, I caught,” he meowed. “Birds are rather rare in RiverClan territory, since it’s mostly mud and water. Marshes are excellent hunting ground, but we must learn to hunt woodland prey as well, yes?”
Rosepaw nodded eagerly.
“We have faced many troubles because we could not adapt in new territory. Of course, there was the problem in not having any territory at all, but that is another matter. There is always the solution of taking it forcefully.”
Reedpaw, who was listening without any prejudice or expectations, could easily fish out the harshness, ambition, and ruthlessness in his brother’s speech, but Rosepaw didn’t seem to.
Her green eyes were bright, as if she were actually learning something from the supposed fraud.
But, Reedpaw supposed, he had to give credit to Sparrowpaw for awing Rosepaw. He wondered if Sparrowpaw like Rosepaw back.
Sparrowpaw was still deep in his lecture when Tansyflight called all cats who were going to the Gathering.
When Rosepaw looked at him expectantly, and a little hopefully, Sparrowpaw shook his head solemnly. “No. I shall not be going on this moonlight Gathering.”
Rosepaw’s mouth fell open. “What? No!”
Anyone would think Sparrowpaw was planning on sacrificing himself.
“I’m deeply sorry,” meowed Sparrowpaw.
In Reedpaw’s eyes, Sparrowpaw was just playing. Acting a show.
But Rosepaw sighed. “Oh, okay. Maybe I should… I could… stay back with you.”
“That would,” replied Sparrowpaw, “indeed be grateful.”
“Come on!” called a white tom.
Rosepaw glanced at him. “Um…”
“Just come on, Rosepaw,” snapped Reedpaw. “Aren’t you going to see your friend Daisypaw?”
Rosepaw stuttered. “She might’ve not come…”
“Rosepaw,” called a tortoiseshell. “Come on.”
Rosepaw sighed. “I’ll see you later, then,” she mewed to Sparrowpaw, and called, “Coming, Windfeather!”
“Surely,” Rosepaw muttered, as they were hopping along the white, wide, steppingstones, “you could’ve waited?”
“Tell Tansyflight that,” interrupted Whitepaw.
Rosepaw sighed. “Yeah, sure.” Her ears drooping, she jumped past the remaining steppingstones.
Reedpaw turned his head and saw a great, big, rotting, fallen tree. The elders had said it had begun rotting years ago, and, at the same time, Twolegs came and made stepping-stones. Some Twoleg kits came and played, but it was very rare, and they began using them.
He sat in a corner. Rosepaw was nowhere to be seen, and Sunpaw was sitting in the darkest corner. Still, her golden pelt shone in the moonlight.
Mistshade had stayed; Reedpaw assumed it was volunteer.
“Reedpaw. You’re alone.”
Reedpaw whirled around to see the gray she-cat who seemed ever so interested in him.
“Slatefoot. Why do you keep coming?”
Slatefoot’s blue eyes darkened. “Because,” she started. There was a sudden yowl from above and, the gray startled warrior, sat back, looking almost relieved she wouldn’t have to tell.
Reedpaw soon forgot about Slatefoot as he listened in wonder as the leaders spoke and reported.
“RiverClan has been thriving,” announced Silverstar. Her dark eyes gleamed under the moonlight-filled sky. Her voice was stronger than ever; confident and clear. “We have three new apprentices; Creampaw, Honeypaw, and Reedpaw.”
As the cats yowled the new apprentices’ names, Reedpaw felt pride bubbling from inside him.
Since Creampaw and Honeypaw had not attended the last Gathering, for they were too young, this was the first time they presented themselves to the others. Reedpaw saw the cream apprentice scurry to a black and white she-cat, probably boasting.
Honeypaw was talking with a ginger and white tabby eagerly.
“Shush,” warned Cloudstream. Her white fluffy pelt and gray stripes were fluffed out.
“Shush!” Cloudstream replied, flicking her tail. “Listen.”
The SkyClan leader, Dapplestar, was facing the crowd of cats, her dark green eyes hard. “We suspect our fellow Clans of stealing prey.” Her eyes found Silverstar’s. “We found… fishy scents.”
Silverstar snarled. “And so you suspect us?” she hissed, her voice low but firm.
“I didn’t say that.”
“But it’s obvious you meant that,” snapped Silverstar, her dark eyes blazing with fury.
“It’s you who jumped to conclusions,” answered Dapplestar, keeping her grace.
Silverstar snorted. “Then,” she meowed, her voice calmer, “since you didn’t say we were the thieves, I won’t take special care to stopping my warriors.”
Dapplestar scowled. “Very well,” she meowed, displeasure clear in her tone.
“She’s a great leader,” whispered a voice.
It was Sunpaw, her amber eyes gleaming with admiration and respect. “I really want to be like her.”
“Yeah, she’s great,” mumbled Reedpaw. Privately, he thought Sparrowpaw had the better chance of being deputy or leader.
“I don’t want to be deputy or leader,” mewed Sunpaw hurriedly. “I just want to be respected.”
Reedpaw nodded slowly. “Yeah, you could be that.”
Sunpaw gave a little snort, and turned away. Reedpaw was slightly hopeful that Sunpaw might be warming up to him.
“Oh my StarClan,” whispered a cat beside him.
A pale gray she-cat with white specks was staring up at Dapplestar.
“Why?” a voice asked from the pale gray she-cat.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Fluffypaw,” replied the fluffy white she-cat. “I’ll be a warrior a few days later.”
“I’m Breezepaw.” Breezepaw observed the she-cat. “Well, I just thought it was a pity Graystar backed off.”
Fluffypaw snorted. “Yeah.”
Hesitating, Breezepaw meowed, “Lilywillow told me this apprentice Cloudpaw almost drowned in the Moonpool.”
“That’s my brother you’re talking about,” snapped Fluffypaw.
Breezepaw blinked. “I was going to say it’s a relief he didn’t die.” She rolled her eyes and sat back. “What’s your name?” she asked Reedpaw.
Startled by Breezepaw’s friendliness towards him, Reedpaw stared at her for seconds. Looking unsettled by Reedpaw’s gawking, Breezepaw looked away. “Er, sorry! I mean, I’m Reedpaw from RiverClan.”
“Are you WindClan?”
“Yup. Lovely WindClan.”
“Oh. Okay.” Reedpaw nodded awkwardly. Breezepaw seemed not to care that their Clan leaders were arguing. “Er… how is it?”
Breezepaw purred. “Lovely,” she replied. “Oh, oh, there’s Eaglestar!”
The gray ThunderClan leader stood, his eyes gleaming. “We found evidence,” he snarled, “that WindClan is stealing our prey.”
Graystar stood up, her eyes blazing with fury. “What? Our prey is being stolen, by RiverClan!”
“Nonsense!” hissed Silverstar, standing up as well.
All three leaders’ pelts were bristling. Everyone looked dangerous, and it intimidated Reedpaw.
Breezepaw was already fluffing out her pelt, her ears flat, and her fur bristling.
“Stop!” yowled a voice.
It was Dapplestar. The pale brown dappled leader looked up at the sky. “The moon is covered with clouds.”
Dark clouds were drifting in front of the moon, drowning out and slurping the bright moonlight.
Hissing, Silverstar sat down, but her tail was slashing the air violently.
“Very well,” snapped Eaglestar, “but WindClan should remember crossing borders will not be appreciated. At all.”
“Of course,” Graystar meowed heavily.
Reedpaw’s first Gathering ended like that, with the clouds covering the moon.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Rosepaw softly. “I know it wasn’t the most pleasant thing.”
“It’s okay. I knew there weren’t only enemies.”
A silver she-cat was sitting by the willows, biting a small minnow, what presumably she had caught.
She pretended to not notice a small silver tom staring at her, his eyes narrowed. The tom looked just like her. His silver pelt reflected hers, but she’d never properly seen him in the eye since the fire.
Mistshade knew Fernshine liked Reedpaw. Her mother would one day confront her. But not today.
The gray she-cat was approaching Reedpaw kindly. Mistshade didn’t care. Fernshine could be trusted, anyway.
“Come,” she heard Fernshine mew softly.
Then she came. The gray she-cat padded towards them.
Slatefoot was a danger to them all. Her fur bristled at the thought of her.
“Fernshine, you know she’s watching.”
“But I don’t care,” the elder replied stubbornly, her green eyes shining with the look of stubbornness.
“I do,” Mistshade wanted to say. But she didn’t.
And she let Reedpaw be polluted, looking away, and never looking back.
Reedpaw glanced at Fernshine and Slatefoot. They looked rather similar, but Reedpaw couldn’t place a paw on why. Were they family, maybe? Slatefoot’s mother or father could be Fernshine’s littermate.
“Fernshine,” Slatefoot mewed. “Do you think it’s wise for Silverstar to declare an open challenge to the Clans?”
“We would’ve looked weak if she didn’t,” Fernshine replied sternly. “I believe Silverstar had made the wisest decision.”
Slatefoot sighed. “But I saw Maplestar,” she meowed, looking frustrated. “She was standing in the shadows, her amber eyes glittering with venom. I know she’ll use this to her advantage.”
“That ShadowClan leader is old and weak. She can’t do anything.”
“But most likely her successor will continue,” snapped Slatefoot, her eyes rounding. “Ivyheart probably will.”
Fernshine sighed. “I hope she will not. She’s a smart, young she-cat, and I wouldn’t put it pass her to poison us.”
“Surely she won’t!”
“Maybe she will,” Fernshine replied tartly. “She once outsmarted a fox, you know. If one can outsmart a fox, you can believe she’s more sly than a fox.”
“Er, of course.”
Fernshine rolled her eyes. “Do you remember when Mistshade and you were kits? You used to debate whether Tawnyclaw would be a good warrior or not.”
Slatefoot winced, her gaze landing on Reedpaw for a split second. “Yes,” she meowed. “I remember that. And, maybe now, you should go back?”
Fernshine narrowed her eyes. “Yes, I shall,” she snapped.
“What did she mean?” Reedpaw asked.
Slatefoot stared at him. “What does what mean?” she asked slowly.
Reedpaw had a feeling that Slatefoot knew what Reedpaw meant; she just didn’t want to talk about it.
Should he push her, and find out things that were hidden deep within her heart? Something she never wished to revive again?
But Reedpaw wanted to desperately to know.
“What are you hiding?” he asked, his voice trembling.
Slatefoot shook her head pointedly. “Nothing.”
“Yes, you are!”
Sighing the gray she-cat faced Reedpaw. “If I tell you,” she breathed, “you must promise never, never ever to tell your mother.”
“I… Why not?”
“She’d be angry. This is a memory.”
“Well, can I tell Fernshine?”
“Just not Tawnyclaw or Mistshade.”
“All right,” mewed Reedpaw doubtfully. “What is it?”
Slatefoot took a deep breath, trembling. “You know Sparrowpaw and Sunpaw. Right?”
“Yes, I do. They’re brilliant apprentices.”
“But… But there were two more kits in the litter.”
Reedpaw’s ears perked up. “Really?”
“Squirrelkit and Sagekit,” whispered Slatefoot. Her breathing was getting fast. “They were wonderful little creatures.”
“And?” Somehow, Reedpaw didn’t want to hear more. This story was going to be a dreadful ending, he knew.
“Squirrelkit was lovely. She would always prance and yowl. Sagekit liked mysteries and adventures. Sunkit liked lying in the sun and resting. Sparrowkit liked to be brave, and to act brave, to… flaunt.” Slatefoot shivered. “One day, when they were so little, Sagekit decided to sneak out and swim in the stream. She’d heard of stories of the amazing stream.
“Squirrelkit was afraid of the consequences, though she was tempted by the adventure itself. Sunkit didn’t like it. They didn’t wake up Sparrowkit.
“Eventually, Squirrelkit and Sagekit set off together, leaving Sunkit to wander in camp, anxiously staring at where they stood moments ago.
“Sunkit was afraid for her sisters, and decided to find them. And she, she went missing as well.”
“Sunpaw got lost?” Reedpaw asked.
“Yes. One of our elders, Applestream, had seen Sunkit. She realized Sunkit was wandering outside camp. She was very old; her sense weren’t that clear. But anyway, she informed Mistshade and Tawnyclaw.
“There was a search party, and I was in it. My party found Squirrelkit shivering in a mud pool. We found Sunkit, wandering around ferns. Thankfully, they weren’t dead.
“But Sagekit! Oh, the poor kit had drowned. She’d gone to the furthest stream, and we didn’t think she would’ve gone there. We wasted all our time looking at the nearby streams.”
Slatefoot’s voice thickened with grief.
“Squirrelkit died shortly after.”
Slatefoot’s voice broke, and Reedpaw stared at his paws. Poor Squirrelkit and Sagekit! They were just adventurous; they didn’t deserve to die.
His heart tugged with grief and sympathy.
“Sunkit,” continued Slatefoot, her voice quivering, “took full blame. She thought she should’ve told Mistshade. Sunkit wanted to name Squirrelkit and Sagekit. She called them Squirrelpaw and Sagepaw on her apprentice ceremony day, I heard it. Although I was never again allowed close to them again, I knew it, and I heard it. I’m sure she’ll name Squirrelkit and Sagekit when she gets her name.”
Reedpaw hesitated. “But,” he began slowly, “what does this have to do with you?”
Slatefoot raised her head. Her eyes met Reedpaw’s, and she whispered softly, “Reedpaw, Mistshade is my sister.”
Sparrowpaw twitched his tail impatiently. “So, Sunpaw,” he snapped. “Today is my ceremony?”
Sunpaw’s dark amber eyes darkened. “Congratulations,” she hissed. “Is this what you want?”
Reedpaw could imagine Sunpaw thinking about Squirrelkit and Sagekit.
“Yes!” Sparrowpaw boasted. “I’m so good, I’m apprenticed moons before!”
“No,” corrected Sunpaw, her eyes darkening even more, “you’re just being apprenticed at the right time. You’re just not waiting for me.”
Sparrowpaw shrugged. “Sorry,” he meowed.
“Sparrowpaw,” called Cloudstream. “It’s time for you to come.”
Sparrowpaw didn’t glance at his sister again as he proudly trotted next to his mentor.
Sunpaw crouched on the grass, her fur bristling.
“I’m sorry,” murmured Reedpaw.
Ever since Slatefoot’s story, Reedpaw had found it easier to sympathize with Sunpaw. Even though Sunpaw would always hiss at him, Reedpaw wanted to get to know her better.
“For what?” snapped Sunpaw.
“Sparrowpaw getting his name first.”
“I suppose so,” Sunpaw replied haughtily.
Reedpaw nodded. “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
Sunpaw glanced at Reedpaw’s left. “I see your friend is getting her name, too,” she mewed.
“Rosepaw?” Reedpaw turned to see Rosepaw staring at Sparrowpaw.
“We’re getting our names! Together!” she whispered.
Shatteredclaw glanced at them. “Get a move on, Rosepaw.”
Rosepaw nodded. “Sure!”
Reedpaw glanced around. Creampaw and Honeypaw were huddled up together, gazing at Sparrowpaw and Rosepaw. Stormsky and Acornsquirrel were watching them good-humoredly.
He spotted a white cat sitting in a dark corner, with Slatefoot next to her.
“Concentrate!” hissed Sunpaw. Her eyes were fixed on her brother.
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I name you Sparrowheart.” Silverstar gazed at the newly named warrior.
“Rosepaw, do you…”
“Sparrowheart!” Sunpaw was muttering furiously beside Reedpaw. She was whispering so loudly and furiously that Reedpaw could hardly concentrate. “Dumb, dumb name! I doubt Silverstar would’ve named me Sunheart!” A low growl rose deep within her throat. “Sparrowheart! It’s preposterous!”
“I think it rather suits him,” mewed Reedpaw frankly.
“Sparrowheart! Roseleap! Sparrowheart! Roseleap!”
Reedpaw quickly caught on. “Sparrowheart! Roseleap!”
Roseleap leaped down to greet Reedpaw. “Oh, Reedpaw!” she exclaimed. “This is brilliant, right?”
Whitepetal padded towards her, her eyes warm. “Minnownose would be proud of you.”
A thought flashed in Reedpaw’s mind. “Wait! You said Minnownose died after you were born, Whitepetal. But Roseleap’s younger than you, and she’s your sister. What’s that?”
“She died two moons after,” Whitepetal mewed. “Did I mess that up? I don’t remember. Anyway, Roseleap’s birth was the critical part of her death. She was already dying, but… We were relieved Roseleap survived.”
Roseleap was quiet. “I’m always sad after that,” she mewed finally.
“No, it’s okay.
“Sunpaw!” exclaimed Sparrowheart, bounding towards them. His golden pelt was smooth and sleek, and his amber eyes were glowing.
Sunpaw and Sparrowheart looked alike, but Sunpaw looked dark, while Sparrowheart was shining.
“You look the opposite of your name!” he exclaimed.
“Well, you do, too. Sparrows are brown and white, not golden,” Sunpaw spat.
Sparrowheart shrugged. “I don’t mind,” he meowed.
“He is like, so cool,” swooned Roseleap.
“Ah, yes,” mumbled Reedpaw, hardly daring to disagree with the dark ginger she-cat.
Roseleap leaped towards the golden warrior, her eyes shining. “I could make your nest for you in our new den!”
“No thank you. I can make my own.” Sparrowheart nodded politely and padded away.
“He wasn’t stiff and cold, though,” offered Reedpaw hesitantly.
“No, he wasn’t,” agreed Sunpaw dryly. “Surprise.”
Roseleap sighed. “I don’t know. I think I’m going to sleep.”
“Nuh-huh, sister,” interrupted Whitepetal sternly. “You’ve got a patrol this afternoon.”
“Eh. Wake me up.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Aw, Whitepetal!” Roseleap whined.
“Sorry, Roseleap. But you’re a warrior now.”
“I hate Sparrowpaw. I mean Sparrowheart,” meowed Sunpaw decisively after Roseleap left.
“Because I hate him. He’s so full of himself, Reedpaw. And I can’t get why Silverstar made him a warrior before me.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m just as good as him!”
Reedpaw stayed silent as Sunpaw ranted on.
“I mean, really! He’s my littermate, and there’s no reason he’d be better!” fumed Sunpaw angrily. “I can’t believe I’m stuck being an apprentice with you while he gets to be a great warrior! It’ll be ages until I’ll get out of this den!”
“I don’t care, Reedpaw.”
“You should,” Reedpaw mewed forcefully.
He didn’t know where that came from. Normally, he’d just pass. But now? He was just lecturing Sunpaw on what was right.
Sunpaw turned her head. Her dark amber eyes were sparking interest. Slowly, she meowed, “You’re not so boring after all. You’ve got some fire, Reedpaw.” She dipped her head, her eyes never leaving Reedpaw’s, but still. She dipped her head in a sign of respect.
Then she left.
“You’ve earned her respect,” a voice mewed softly.
“Thanks, er… Slatefoot!”
“You’ve been avoiding me. Why not now?”
“Because I can’t keep on ignoring you forever. I chose to tell you it, and I must deal with the consequences. I can only hope you won’t judge me for it.”
“Why should I?” Defensiveness rose and bubbled in Reedpaw, and he blurted out, “It was not your fault Squirrelkit and Sagekit were dumb! It’s their fault they died!”
“Don’t say that. The reason I’m saying this is because… I didn’t tell you at first. Because I was afraid. But please, promise me you won’t.”
Reedpaw blinked at her. “I will if you confess you murdered them,” he mewed, trying to lift the heavy atmosphere.
“I am, though.”
“I didn’t murder them. But I might as well did. Mistshade had left me in charge of her kits while she slept.”
The silver tom stared up. Stormkit and Dewkit were standing proudly, their eyes gleaming with anticipations.
Two sisters were whispering to each other, their tails curled crossly around their paws.
"We can wait a few days, right?" Mistykit mewed encouragingly.
"No," Rainingkit mewed crossly, her tail flicking. "I wish I could go up there. Can't we beg Silverstar?"
"Snowheart wouldn't allow it," replied Mistykit evenly.
"Brightmist and Minnowdawn are happy to leave the nursery," Rainingkit mumbled.
"She's different," Mistykit answered. "And I like it. I like that my mother still wants me."
"I didn't mean it like that," Rainingkit protested mildly.
"Quiet," whispered Acornsquirrel. Her brown eyes were fixed on the leader's den. "I wonder why she's not coming out. It's time soon."
Brightmist and Minnowdawn were whispering to each other, both of them eyeing Silverstar's den.
"Why isn't she coming out?" asked Reedpaw curiously.
"Maybe someone requested a private meeting wit him," mewed Whitepetal. "I don't know. This never happened before, I think."
A few minutes later, a golden tomcat exited the den, followed by a pale silver she-cat.
"Sparrowheart," Reedpaw heard Sunpaw growl.
"It's okay," he mewed.
Sunpaw glanced at him. "He's always up to no good," she mumbled, her tail pressed against the ground. "He always wanted to do the right thing. But his right thing isn't the right thing we think of. Do you understand?"
"He's a good warrior," Reedpaw replied evenly. "I haven't seen a side I hate of him yet."
Sunpaw rolled her eyes. "Of course you haven't."
"Sunpaw!" exclaimed Sparrowheart, padding towards her. "Why do you look cross."
Sunpaw looked away.
"We were so close," Sparrowheart sighed, his eyes rounding. "What's the matter? Is it because I got my name first? I could tell Silverstar–"
"What did you tell her just now?" hissed Sunpaw. "I'm sure it wasn't about my ceremony."
"In fact it was!" Sparrowheart replied. When Sunpaw snorted, he meowed, "Okay, it wasn't, but I definitely complimented you." His amber eyes glittered. "I was telling her about ShadowClan's threat." His gaze flitted to Eagleshade, who was sitting with Lynxfoot.
"What about Eagleshade?" Reedpaw asked.
Sparrowheart seemed surprised Reedpaw had noticed it. He eyed Reedpaw more carefully, with more respect than Reedpaw had ever seen in his gaze that was headed to him. "Ah. You've seen?" he murmured softly.
His voice chilled Reedpaw's bones.
"He," Sparrowheart started, his voice slow and almost lazy.
"Stop," hissed a gray mottled she-cat.
Stormsky stared at Stormkit and Dewkit.
"Ah. New apprentices," Sparrowheart mewed with relish.
Sunpaw gave a loud snort, but quieted down when Stormsky frowned at her.
"Stormkit, Dewkit. Do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect it with your life?" Silverstar asked. Her gaze seemed distracted and wild, but the excited tomkits didn't realize.
"I do," Stormkit announced, his voice strong and clear.
"I do," whispered Dewkit, his voice quivering with anticipation.
"Then until you receive your warrior name, you will be called Stormpaw, and Dewpaw," Silverstar meowed hurriedly. She blinked. "Cherryfern, step forward. You have been a valuable member to the Clan, and you deserve an apprentice. You will mentor Stormpaw."
The silver tabby gazed at her, looking confused. "Silverstar," she whispered, "you said Sorrelfrost would mentor Stormpaw."
"Oh, yes. I'm sorry. Cherryfern, you will mentor Dewpaw."
Cherryfern nodded, and Dewpaw and she touched noses.
"Sorrelfrost. You have proved yourself a loyal member of the Clan. You will mentor Stormpaw."
The silver and white she-cat nodded and touched noses with her new apprentice.
"Stormpaw! Stormpaw! Dewpaw! Dewpaw!" Cats chanted.
While he was chanting his former denmates' new names, Reedpaw noticed Mistykit and Rainingkit were cheering, too, apparently going over their former displeasure.
"You're okay with them being apprentices, now?" he asked Rainingkit.
Rainingkit shrugged. "It's better to be happy for them," she replied.
Mistykit craned her neck. "Right," she agreed. "Just like I – we – were happy for you when you became an apprentice."
He gazed up at Stormpaw and Dewpaw. They seemed very eager.
"We can explore the territory, maybe," Cherryfern was saying to Sorrelfrost.
"That's nice," agreed Sorrelfrost. "We'll explore the territory, first," she told Stormpaw.
"Okay! With Dewpaw?"
"Yes," Cherryfern answered.
"Great!" chirped Dewpaw happily. "Let's go!"
"Come, Reedpaw," Whitepetal called. "We'll go to the training land."
He felt Mistykit and Rainingkit staring at him with envy. His pelt pricked, and he quickly padded to the training marshes.
Whitepetal purred. "We'll do some fighting today."
Reedpaw brightened. The only time he had done fighting was two moons ago. He'd messed up so badly Whitepetal decided it would be best if they focused on hunting first.
"Do you think I'm ready?" he asked fearfully.
"Of course you are," answered Whitepetal warmly. "If you do just as well as you are in hunting, you'll be the best warrior yet."
Reedpaw was warmed. "Thanks."
"Come on. Creampaw and Honeypaw will be training with you."
She led Reedpaw to the training marshes, and Reedpaw silently readied himself.
Reedpaw panted, his paws barely not slipping. "What do you think happened to Silverstar?"
"I'd expect the news Sparrowheart told him," Whitepetal replied. "I don't know what."
It was amazing how Whitepetal didn't seem any much disturbed by the fighting. Reedpaw was out of breath and thought he was going to die anytime soon.
"You can do it," hissed Whitepetal, as she crouched.
Breathing heavily, Reedpaw steadied himself and his paws. They were trembling.
Whitepetal flicked her tail, and Reedpaw leapt.
He soared in the air. His eyes were fixed on Whitepetal's pelt. Suddenly, he knew this time he would fail again. The reason he was failing; Whitepetal could predict what he would do.
So, Reedpaw quickly twisted his body so he would land on Whitepetal's left, not right.
Shock passed the white she-cat's eyes, and Reedpaw, regaining his balance quickly, attacked.
It took him only a few swift moves for him to disarm Whitepetal.
"Let me go," Whitepetal purred, shaking her shoulders.
Reedpaw jumped away. "Did I do well?" he asked anxiously.
"More than well!" Whitepetal told him. "You did great, Reedpaw. I'm sure Mistshade and Tawnyclaw will be proud."
Reedpaw blinked at her. "Yeah."
"Slatefoot and Roseleap would be delight," Whitepetal added. "Maybe you could tell Sunpaw, and Creampaw and Honeypaw as well."
"I disarmed you," Reedpaw whispered. "It's amazing."
"You did," agreed Whitepetal. "Good job."
"We must return to camp, now," she added quickly, after scanning the sky. "It's getting dark."
Reedpaw followed his white mentor back to camp, where Creampaw and Oakpaw were sharing a squirrel.
"Hi!" Creampaw greeted him, chewing.
Oakpaw flicked his tail in greeting.
Reedpaw nodded at them friendlily. There was Honeypaw and Ripplepaw a few tail-lengths away.
"D'you know Oakpaw's getting his ceremony soon?" called Creampaw proudly.
"Ripplepaw, too," added Honeypaw, looking up from her prey.
"Me too," added a voice. It was Brindlepaw.
Reedpaw had hardly noticed her before. The brindled brown she-cat was so quiet.
"Oh, yes, Brindlepaw's first," Ripplepaw meowed. "We forgot."
"Obviously," replied Brindlepaw good-humoredly.
"So," Creampaw meowed. "Brindlepaw! What do you want your name to be?"
Brindlepaw cocked her head. "I haven't thought about that," she mewed truthfully. "But I'd like Brindlecloud or Brindlefern, maybe. They sound nice. But I'm fine with even Brindlestink!" She purred.
"Great," Oakpaw mewed. "I'd probably exile myself from the Clan if Silverstar named me Oakscar."
"Don't let Yellowscar hear you," warned Creampaw.
"I'd just like some valiant name," Oakpaw replied.
"Yeah, understood." Creampaw licked a paw. "Reedpaw! What would be your name?"
"I don't know. Reedfur?"
"Hey, that's so plain," Honeypaw interrupted. "How about Reedi'msonice?"
"Great choice," laughed Creampaw.
"Eh... Reedtail?" shrugged Reedpaw. "What about you, Creampaw?"
"I'd like my suffix and Honeypaw's suffix the same," Creampaw replied eagerly.
"Yes!" Honeypaw agreed.
"We're planning on asking Silverstar," added Creampaw.
"Good for you," Reedpaw mewed.
"What did you do today, anyway?" asked Ripplepaw to Reedpaw. "Oakpaw and I went hunting."
"Reedpaw, Creampaw, and I trained fighting!" Honeypaw told him. "Stormsky and Acornsquirrel let us off early, but Whitepetal and Reedpaw stayed to train more." She glanced at him. "Are you good at it, now?"
"Better, for sure," Creampaw snickered. "Sorry, Reedpaw."
Reedpaw shrugged. "It's okay. It was fun. I beat Whitepetal! For the first time."
Oakpaw's eyes widened. "Really?" he asked. "I thought you were terrible at fighting."
"He matured, evidently," spat Sunpaw.
Sunpaw carried on looking away.
"She's creepy," whispered Ripplepaw, his eyes showing disdain. "She's not very skilled at training, anyway."
If Sunpaw heard it – Reedpaw was sure she had, her fur was bristling – she had chosen to ignore it. She had matured, too, if she did.
Brindlepaw hesitated. "I went on a border patrol," she began hesitantly. "We saw ShadowClan cats. I recognized a lot of cats. There was Splashheart and Cinderfern. They were all really... just, they were treating me like an enemy. I know it's natural, but that was really... bad."
"I hope I never have to experience something like that," groaned Oakpaw.
"Yeah. When I tried to talk to them, they ignored me and talked about their sister."
"Sister? I never heard Cinderfern had a sister," Ripplepaw mewed. "Greengrass mentioned her, saying she was a good cat."
Brindlepaw shrugged. "They greeted me when I was at my first Gathering. But I'm sure I cam move on, now."
Reedpaw was amazed at how easily Brindlepaw seemed to be able to move on. He probably would take much more time to move on from old friends.
Creampaw yawned. "Ottersnow and Silverstar were having a conversation today," she mewed. "I think Ottersnow saw something bad while she went to the Moonpool. They're probably discussing it."
"What do you think it is?" asked Oakpaw.
"No idea," replied Creampaw, "but I'm guessing it's really serious."
Brindlepaw's eyes were round. "Do you think it might be about a battle?" she asked.
"I hope not," Ripplepaw meowed grimly.
"If a battle occurs, we're doomed," Honeypaw chimed in, her eyes dark.
But Reedapw didn't realize why. "Why? RiverClan's strong."
"But it would ruin everything," Sunpaw meowed. She was the only one who heard him. She glared at him. "Don't you understand? Everything. We've had good times with the other Clans for countless moons. If a battle occurs, we throw away everything.
"Our alliance with the Clans has helped us in the past. I would trust it would help us again. But if it falls, we fall. And so will they. It is most likely all Clans would dissolve. After all, five Clans belong by the lake, with StarClan overhead us."
Reedpaw's green eyes searched the long blades of grass. He tried to divert his thoughts away from a soft rustling behind him.
It's not a snake, he told himself. It's just the breeze. Or my ears going wacky. Ooh, maybe I'll have to retire!
He tried to purr. In spite of the spooky scenes, Reedpaw tried to stay positive.
Whitepetal had left Reedpaw entirely alone to hunt in the dead of night; it was a ritual, she'd said, for apprentices when they'd reached their third moon and a half of training.
"Half-assessment", she'd called it.
Creampaw and Honeypaw had returned about two weeks before, shivering. Honeypaw seemed genuinely spooked, and she didn't want to talk about it. But Creampaw seemed to have enjoyed the scary expedition.
He stopped talking, and eyed a swift movement. Placing one paw in front of the other, he prepared to leap.
With a surprising leap, he landed on the patch of grass, his claws scraping earth.
"Ah," he mumbled.
Retreating to the river, he focused on the flowing streams of water. There was slight movement that made the waters ripple; he could catch it.
Breathing softly, he leaned back, hoping his shadow wouldn't cast over the stream. And he lashed out a paw.
In an instant, a fish fell onto the side, flopping madly.
"Yes!" Reedpaw murmured.
Shivering, he decided to end this half-assessment quickly. The night was cold and Reedpaw didn't want to stay out.
He quickly padded back to camp, his jaws clamped on the fish. The familiar scent flooded through his mouth.
He glanced around. Nobody was watching. Reedpaw quickly sat down and chewed the fish. The fishy scent was relaxing and even comforting. Swallowing the last bite, he padded to the apprentices' den.
"You've come back?" murmured a voice sleepily.
It was Creampaw, her eyes barely open.
"Did you eat your catch?"
"Um, how did you know?"
Amusement seeped through Creampaw's voice as she responded. "Because I did, too."
Whitepetal's eyes grazed over Reedpaw. "You ate your catch?" Her voice was high.
Whitepetal sighed, and sat down, her tail curled neatly around her paws.
"How," she mewed, "are all apprentices the same? I at mine, too." Her eyes softened.
"Oh!" That was an unexpected reply.
"All apprentices seemingly do," continued the white warrior cheerfully, her eyes bright with amusement. "My mother told me she did, too. It must be some kind of trait of RiverClan cats. I like it. Well, then, Reedpaw. Do you want a day off?" Her eyes twinkled. "I want one," she mewed softly. "And I'm sure you'll enjoy a day with your friends. Stormsky, Acornsquirrel, Cherryfern, Sorrelfrost and all the others and I arranged for this day to be a day to relax and play like kits. Enjoy the day. I hope you're fine with it."
"Of course I am!" exclaimed Reedpaw, unable to hide his delight. Even though he liked and enjoyed training, and he liked Whitepetal, it couldn't top the joy of playing with cats his age. It was just a pity Roseleap was now a warrior.
Whitepetal purred. 'I knew you'd like it," she meowed. "Enjoy your day. Mentors are taking a day off, too."
"I knew you wouldn't agree to it without a catch!"
"A good catch," sighed Whitepetal wistfully. "Since you completed your half-assessment, I figure you'll be mature enough to handle the Whitepetal-free-day." She dipped her head. "I'll see you tomorrow. You can manage without me?"
Excitedly, Reedpaw turned around and raced towards the apprentices' den.
Only Sunpaw was there.
"Reedpaw!" called Ripplepaw. He, Oakpaw, and Stormpaw was huddled around.
"Hi! Where are Creampaw and Honeypaw? What about Sunpaw? And Brindlepaw?"
"Sunpaw said she'll just sleep," Oakpaw replied, "and Creampaw and Honeypaw are out there somewhere. We need to find them. For Brindlepaw, she said she'll just rest."
"Oh, and Dewpaw?"
"He wanted to train."
"Didn't Cherryfern disagree?"
"Nah. She said she was glad her apprentice was the only one who wanted to train, and that the others were play-loving."
Reedpaw nodded. "Okay, then."
"Let's go," called Stormpaw happily.
He followed the dark gray cat out and looked up at the sky. The sky was pale and bright, with the day young.
"D'you know where we might find Creampaw?" Ripplepaw asked Oakpaw, amusement in his voice.
"I think I might," Oakpaw mewed seriously. "Follow me."
And he started padding left, his ears twitching. He led them to a clearing Reedpaw had never seen before. It was unlike any territory he'd seen in RiverClan.
"It's woodland," Stormpaw exclaimed.
"Have you ever hunted in woodland before?" asked Reedpaw.
"No, not yet," sighed Stormpaw. "Sorrelfrost and Cherryfern think it's best if we learn to be RiverClan cats. Have you swum before?"
Reedpaw realized he hadn't, and, feeling hot under his pelt, he replied, "No, not yet. Whitepetal wants be to focus on warrior stuff."
"Yeah. What if you fall in a flooding river? Surviving is a warrior thing." Stormpaw meowed proudly, lifting his tail. "Dewpaw and I learned swimming two days ago. Dewpaw almost drowned, but I swam!" He imitated swimming, his eyes gleaming. "It was awesome, I promise you!"
Stormpaw continued, looked prouder than ever. "Dewpaw's horrible at training, but I'm great!"
Hearing Stormpaw, Oakpaw turned back, his brown ears twitching with amusement. "Don't let Sorrelfrost hear you," he warned. "She hates boasting, you know that?"
"That's natural," Stormpaw replied. "But she won't hear me. Where's Creampaw?"
"She should be here somewhere, if I'm right," Oakpaw replied, looking back and forth.
Reedpaw noticed his eyes rounding with anxiety, and his shoulders hunching. But what he didn't notice was a cream-colored she-cat pouncing on the brown tom.
"Got you!" she cried triumphantly. "C'mon, Honeypaw. What're you waiting for?"
"This!" shrieked a voice, and Ripplepaw toppled and fell.
"Ouch," he muttered, craning his neck to see the golden apprentice shining with pride. "Good job, Honeypaw," he mewed weakly.
The she-cat puffed out her chest, and meowed, "Thanks. It's the day off, so Creampaw thought we should play a prank on you two."
"What about us?" protested Reedpaw jokingly.
"Maybe we can get Rainingkit or Mistykit to leap on you," replied Creampaw, her eyes sparkling.
Blinking, Reedpaw realized it was time Rainingkit and Mistykit would be apprenticed, and Snowheart to come out of the nursery. It was strange; he could still recall the memory of the pale gray and snowy she-cat ducking into the den, asking, "Would I have to stay here forever?" anxiously, and taking her place in a soft moss nest.
She'd grown to love living in there with her kits. Still, the pale gray kit and dark cream and white kit had grown to itch for the outdoors.
While he was daydreaming about the first arrival of the last kits remaining in the nursery, Creampaw had taken the chance to leap on him.
"You toms never learn," she sighed.
"Well, I do," Stormpaw exclaimed, swiftly ducking so Honeypaw would miss him.
"You're an exception," agreed Honeypaw.
"No, he's not," Creampaw meowed happily, and Honeypaw yowled, "No one escapes my pounce!" and pounced on Stormpaw.
"Yeah, toms never learn," Oakpaw meowed, twitching his whiskers.
After spending all day with his fellow apprentices, Reedpaw was exhausted. With Creampaw's pranks, Oakpaw's amused meows, Ripplepaw's jokes, Honeypaw's purrs, and Stormpaw's prideful boasting, Reedpaw could not find one ounce of time to feel bored.
He only wondered what part he was in the group.
Sunpaw’s golden pelt was shining in the sun. She was sunning herself in the best spot for sunning. It was a place Reedpaw thought only he knew. Swallowing, he glanced away.
Mistypaw and Rainingpaw, the two new apprentices of RiverClan, were excitedly murmuring about.
Sighing, the silver apprentice peeked in the warriors’ den. “Hi, Brindlepelt,” he meowed.
Brindlepelt stirred. “Hmm?” she mumbled sleepily.
“Do you know where Whitepetal is?”
“I expect she’s out hunting with Roseleap. I heard her talking about it,” yawned Brindlepelt. “Now let me go to sleep. I stayed up all night. My vigil. So leave.”
Reedpaw quietly slid out. His eyes found to camp entrance, and he felt his paws tugging to get out.
Yesterday had been a wondrous day for him. He couldn’t get out of the happiness he’d experienced, and he couldn’t go back to training so easily. He forced his paws to go back to the den, but quickly stopped himself. If Whitepetal and Roseleap were out, why couldn’t he?
Feeling broad, he stepped forward, out to camp.
“Where’re you going?” hissed a voice.
Reedpaw whirled back to see Lynxfoot scowling. “I asked you – where’re you going?”
“I’m going out.”
The white cat sniffed in disdain. “Alone?”
“Why? Can’t I?”
“Well, you can. But…” She hesitated. “I just thought that it’s not wise. Yesterday Eagleshade and his patrol saw a trace of fox.” She shivered. “You should be careful.”
Reedpaw hesitated. “But Whitepetal and Roseleap are away, as well.”
“But they’re warriors,” insisted Lynxfoot. “Why don’t I come with you.”
“Er… okay?” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. A statement Reedpaw couldn’t dare disagree with.
“Good,” Lynxfoot meowed. “It’s dangerous out there.”
Reedpaw nodded. “I’m sure.”
The white she-cat looked rather proud, and she padded to the camp entrance. “You know,” she started, “one day I saw a chocolate cat.” She leapt across the stream surrounding the camp, and Reedpaw followed.
“Yes, it’s body was… it’s so hard to say. It was shade of brown I’ve never seen. Er… dark brown. I mean, I’ve heard from the elders that there was a chocolate warrior long long ago, but…” She shrugged. “One time, Eaglepaw spread word that Fernshine’s sister was a chocolate cat.”
“Fernshine tried to murder him, that’s what.”
Lynxfoot padded on, twitching her whiskers. “Do you want to hunt?” she asked.
“No, I was just thinking of walking,” Reedpaw replied.
“Oh? All right. Do you mind if I hunt?”
“Sure. Why not?”
Lynxfoot nodded. “Shush,” she hissed, and crouched. Her eyes swept the area, and tensed suddenly. She leapt, her hind legs springing with so much force she almost slipped. But as her claws unsheathed, her body relaxed and regained balance, and Lynxfoot landed softly on the marshy ground.
“Mm,” she muttered.
“Maybe we should go towards the half-bridge,” suggested Reedpaw.
“I hope there aren’t any Twolegs,” meowed Lynxfoot suspiciously.
“That’s a good place to hunt,” Reedpaw replied.
“Okay, then. Lead the way.”
Awkwardly, Reedpaw scurried towards the half-bridge. “Here we are,” he mewed quickly.
Lynxfoot surveyed the area. “This is a good place,” she agreed. “There aren’t any boats.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s strange, but good for us. I’m going to hunt some fish. Fish is best; don’t you agree?”
“I really like fish,” Reedpaw agreed.
“I love trout,” Lynxfoot continued, focusing on the water, “I’m good at catching it, too. Look!” She was loud, but she had caught the flopping fish.
“Wow!” he exclaimed.
Lynxfoot looked smug. “Yeah.”
A cream she-cat and golden she-cat walked by in chorus. “Hi, Reedpaw,” Honeypaw mewed coolly. “You’ll be saying good-bye to Sunpaw now.”
“Why?” A chill ran through Reedpaw’s spine. Was Sunpaw exiled?
“She’s going to be a warrior now,” Creampaw answered calmly.
“Apparently Fawnheart gave her an assessment today. She just gave me the news.”
“Wow,” sighed Mistypaw wistfully. “It must be great to be a warrior.”
Reedpaw nodded. “Sunpaw’s gone through a lot,” he mewed seriously. “She deserves it.”
Creampaw glanced at him doubtfully. She opened her mouth, but, after hesitating a little bit, she just turned away, shaking her head.
“What?” he demanded.
“I mean, she’s just not my type.”
“She’s my type,” snapped Reedpaw. “Sunpaw’s a good friend, Creampaw.”
“If you say so.” Creampaw sighed. “It’s getting cold now, don’t you think?” she asked Honeypaw.
“Yes,” Honeypaw agreed. “It’s already leaf-fall to my pelt.”
“Mine, too,” sighed Creampaw.
Reedpaw ignored the rest of Creampaw and Honeypaw’s conversation, and set off the find Sunpaw.
He found her in the sunning spot.
The golden she-cat lifted her head lazily. “Yes?”
“I hear you’re going to be a warrior.”
Sunpaw shuffled to her paws, and raised her head. “Yes, I will.” There was unmistakable pride in her voice. “Silverstar called Fawnheart and I. She asked Fawnheart if I was ready, and Fawnheart said she’d give me an assessment. And I passed.”
Sunpaw looked up at Reedpaw. “Thank you. You’re literally the only one who’s by my side.” She gave a tiny snort.
“Sure thing,” murmured Reedpaw numbly.
“It’s tomorrow,” continued the golden she-cat, raising her head to look up at the sky.
The afternoon sky was almost iridescent; its blue hue was slightly purple, with a pink and orange shade clouding the west side of the sky.
Reedpaw marveled at how one sky could be so… much.
His heart always flipped when he thought that the world was much more than he knew.
Then he looked down at the grass. It would be barren, empty of ferns and bracken when leaf-bare came. The muddy land would be cold as ice, and kits would huddle in the nursery, and warriors and apprentices would try to break the ice for fish. Even then, the fish would be swimming in the deepest parts of the stream, and only warriors with their longer paws would be able to fish.
He shivered at the thought. He was glad he was born in mid-newleaf. He liked newleaf; everything was new and live again.
“Reedpaw,” Sunpaw was saying softly, when Reedpaw regained focus. “I want to be someone who… who can be remembered when I die. Do you think that’s possible?”
“Of course. You’re a great cat.”
“But I’m not like them.” The discouragement in Sunpaw’s voice broke Reedpaw, and he was sure Mistshade would be even more broken. “I’m not like Silverstar, who’s wise and loyal. Not Tansyflight, who’s good-natured and brave. I’m just a tag-along, annoying sister of brave and loyal Sparrowheart…” She broke off with a shiver. “That title’s always followed me around…”
Her eyes rounded as she leaned closer. “I don’t know if I should tell you this,” she breathed, “but you’re the only one I’m close to now.”
“Don’t say that. What about Mistshade? Tawnyclaw?”
“I’ve seen how they treat you. How I treated you. And… I know that’s wrong.” She looked away. Reedpaw knew how hard it must be for Sunpaw to confess she was wrong. “And that just changed my whole perspective. Mistshade wants another Sparrowheart, and although Tawnyclaw’s warmer, I just know he doesn’t like me. Sunpaw, who I am.” Her voice quivered, but it never broke, and she carried on, her voice barely hanging on, fragile like thin ice. “I wished I could be like Sparrowheart. Because I love Mistshade and Tawnyclaw. But if they don’t like me, I shouldn’t like them.” She heaved a breath.
Reedpaw licked Sunpaw’s ear tenderly, and was shocked that Sunpaw didn’t bat him away.
The golden she-cat looked away, her paws shuffling. “There are some apprentices who want only to be the best warrior, and choose not to be seen, like… Dewpaw, or Whitepaw. You know them. You don’t really know they exist, but one day, they’re above you.” She shivered, and her dark amber eyes glowed as she continued. “I had two littermates, Reedpaw.”
Reedpaw opened his eyes, pricking his ears.
“Yes, I did. But they died. They were Squirrelkit and Sagekit, and their deaths… They were all my fault. I… I called them Squirrelpaw and Sagepaw, because I was so sorry! So sorry that they couldn’t receive full names, all because of me…. I wondered if I should present them with names when Sparrowheart became a warrior. But he never cared for them, and I wished for my sisters to be warriors with me.” Sunpaw looked away. “I’m thinking that’s foolish. Is it?” She raised her head.
When Reedpaw met Sunpaw’s eyes, he instinctively knew she was shrouding something. That… that she wanted encouragement that what she was doing… was right.
He’d give it to her.
“Of course not!” he exclaimed, taking care to make his voice sound enthusiastic and sure. “That’s a great… thing to do. You should keep doing it.”
“You think so?” Sunpaw brightened. “Thank you.”
Reedpaw wondered if he should tell Sunpaw that he’d heard from Slatefoot it first, but disagreed upon it. It would, somehow, make matters bad.
“Do you mind if I go now?”
“Oh, I don’t.”
“Bye, then! Sunpaw won’t see you tomorrow, but Sunsomething will! I would’ve liked Sunheart, but it suddenly doesn’t appeal very much now…. Maybe it’s Sparrowheart. What about Sunsong or Sunbright? Sunleap, Sunbird, Sunfeather, Sunwing, Sunfrost, Sunfern, anything’s fine.”
After watching Sunpaw happily race away, Reedpaw was proud; his sister had come a long way. He didn’t know exactly how, but he was sure she did.
His heart was flopping as he watched Sunpaw step forward, her pelt rippling.
“Then by the powers of StarClan,” Silverstar was meowing.
She looked more collected than the day before, when she had been meowing busily with Ottersnow, with a scowl and frown on both their faces.
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I name you Sundawn.”
A surprised expression appeared on the newly named golden tabby’s face. It quickly turned to pleasure, and then delight. She dipped her head, her amber eyes shining and glowing in every way possible. Reedpaw wondered if he would look the same when he would be named.
“Sundawn! Sundawn!” he yowled out.
Fawnheart, Mistshade, Tawnyclaw and Sparrowheart were the only others who cried out enthusiastically, but Sundawn didn’t seem to care very much.
“Yowl!” hissed Reedpaw furiously.
Even if Sundawn didn’t care, or didn’t here, he was disappointed that Creampaw, Honeypaw, Oakpaw, Ripplepaw, Whitepaw, Stormpaw, Dewpaw, including other warriors like Roseleap, Whitepetal, and Brindlepelt wouldn’t spare one moment, one cry to make Sundawn feel happy at her great moment.
Flinching, Creampaw and Honeypaw turned around. “Okay,” Honeypaw murmured guiltily.
“Sundawn!” they cheered.
“I didn’t know you’d cheer,” she mewed, leaping down.
“We didn’t,” Creampaw mewed blankly.
Sundawn narrowed her eyes.
“But Reedpaw made us,” Honeypaw meowed quickly. “I don’t regret it.”
“Thanks,” snarled Sundawn, her fur bristling angrily. “It’s great to see that I only have supporters, and which of 75% is a lot of garbage!”
She whirled around. But Reedpaw saw her tail lower and droop, and her ears folded with shame.
“Sundawn!” he heard Mistshade exclaim.
“Thanks, Mistshade,” Sundawn mewed in a hollow voice.
“Do not worry, Sister,” meowed Sparrowheart valiantly.
“Sorry I didn’t cheer,” added a dark ginger she-cat, appearing out of nowhere. Roseleap was eyeing Sparrowheart nervously. She was obviously saying that just to look good in front of him.
Sundawn spat in disgust. “I have no idea how you like Sparrowheart so much. He only likes himself. I suggest you give up swiftly.”
Sparrowheart raised his head. “How dare you say that?” he asked, in an overly exaggerated manner. “Roseleap is a dear friend of mine, and nothing less.”
“Nothing less,” Reedpaw heard his friend whisper. The gleam in her eyes had not faded, but they hadn’t brightened, either. She took several steps back. Away from the golden tom who’d left a wound on her heart.
“Are you okay?” he asked, slipping towards the dark ginger she-cat.
Roseleap nodded, her gaze blank. “Yeah. It was just… nothing I haven’t expected, of course, but…”
“Yeah, I know.” He didn’t know, but he pretended to, for his friend. Sometimes you had to lie. It was a white lie that made the dark ginger cat feel much better.
“Thanks, Reedpaw. You always make everyone feel better.”
“That’s a relief, then.”
Her heart is yet fragile
Easy to break, and easy to lose
Not yet broken, but soon to be cracked
The lovely thing is nothing to reuse
“Roseleap, do you like Sparrowheart? Romantically?”
The word stung his throat. It was… rather a yucky word for him yet. Every time he saw Lynxfoot and Eagleshade together… Let’s just say it wasn’t the most pleasant thing Reedpaw had ever seen.
“Er…” Roseleap looked uncomfortable. “I dunno, Reedpaw. I’m still a young cat.”
“That’s good. Because I can be friends with you for a long time, without you mooning over…” Reedpaw shivered mockingly.
Roseleap purred. “You’re literally my best friend,” she replied proudly. “And I hope you always will be.”
“I hope so,” Reedpaw mumbled. He glanced at Sundawn. “I feel sorry for her. But I should feel sorry for myself. Because she gets love, and I don’t.”
“Silly, she gets Mistshade and Tawnyclaw’s, sure, and maybe Sparrowheart. But you’ve got us!”
“Yeah. She doesn’t have friends. Us. That’s the part where I just feel so sorry.”
Roseleap blinked. “She was unlikable, to be fair,” she offered. “I mean, you know my mother and father died after I was born, right? So I was traumatized, and I tried to cry and swat them away whenever anyone came near me. Naturally everyone, including Whitekit, and Lynxkit and Eaglekit hated me. I tried to congratulate Lynxpaw and Eaglepaw but they just said, Why’re you so nice now? I mean, my point is, that you should act nice if you want to gain a nice reputation and get some nice friends.” She shrugged. “Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Reedpaw meowed, trying not to laugh.
Roseleap sighed. “Sundawn’s name is beautiful, don’t you think?” she asked. “I like my name, too. I’d assume that Whitepaw will get his name soon. He’s a quiet apprentice, but one to look up to, I guess. I was never that type.”
Reedpaw silently agreed.
“It’s like apprentices are swarming out of the den now,” Roseleap meowed. “Lynxfoot and Eagleshade, then me, and Brindlepelt, and now Whitepaw! Oakpaw and Ripplepaw will get warrior-ed soon, followed by Honeypaw and Creampaw a few moons later.”
Reedpaw blinked, feeling dazed.
“Soon after you’ll be a warrior, and there’ll only be Stormpaw, Dewpaw, Mistypaw, and Rainingpaw. Possibly Yellowbird’s kits would add to the apprentices… right? She’s close to kitting, anyway.” Roseleap sighed. “Wow. The Clan is sure moving fast. I might be an elder before I know it!” She gave a tiny purr. “Oh, and I forgot Orangepaw! He’s going to be an elder with Whitepaw, I think. Yes, yes.”
Roseleap nodded, her ginger ears twitching.
“You know a lot,” remarked Reedpaw.
“Nah. This is just memorizing my Clanmates,” Roseleap mewed fondly.
The feeling was hollow.
Reedpaw hadn’t fully acknowledged what Roseleap had meant when she said that the Clan was moving fast.
But now, now that Splashfall had chosen to retire… His chest heaved at the thought of another cat joining Fernshine and Rushwater.
Maybe all cats got dry when they left the warriors’ den. Fernshine was rather dry, and Rushwater was nothing but dry.
He wouldn’t like to see Splashfall retire. Splashfall had been a bright she-cat, a loyal member. She’d apparently mentored Mistshade, so Mistshade had introduced Reedpaw once to the dark gray she-cat when he was a little kit.
“Silverrocks,” she used to say mysteriously. “That’s where the border between StarClan and the Dark Forest is. They meet. Solitarily, the Dark Forest cats see StarClan cats. Their former, good or evil, loves are on the other side. The other side of the unseen barrier.
“They sit on Silverrocks. The silver rocks gleam in the starlight. The starlight that comes from the StarClan side. Dark shadows loom over the Dark Forest side, but StarClan starlight is enough for both of them to see clearly. See each other.”
Splashfall’s voice always shook at this.
“The Silverrocks helps to communicate. Legend says, at every blue moon, the Silverrocks shift to make way. But somehow, villains don’t see that. Only those who deserve to see sees.
“And I hope to see the Silverrocks one day.”
“But you won’t go to the Dark Forest.”
A scared look flitted across Splashfall’s face. “Who knows?” she asked softly. “But… but if I see, it means that all is well.”
Her story of Silverrocks always ended like this.
Splashfall was a kind cat who told stories, even though she wasn’t an elder, to kits, and she was kind. That was important.
A lump in his throat grew.
“The Clans is moving fast,” he whispered.
Reedpaw glanced at the elders’ den. He could see Fernshine, napping, and Splashfall, gazing up at the sky.
“Ah, Reedpaw,” purred a silky voice.
A shiver went up his spine. “Sparrowheart?” he meowed, hardly believing.
“Yes, me,” replied Sparrowheart. His amber eyes were glowing. “I know you think it is a shame that Splashfall, the lovely warrior, retired. Is that true?”
“Yes, it is. She was a good warrior.” Reedpaw tried to louden his voice.
Sparrowheart purred. “I understand you perfectly,” he mewed. “I, for one, had experienced Splashfall’s enchanting stories when I was a young kit. Have you listened to her story about the Silverrocks? When I was young, it was my dream to stand and let my pelt shine with the starlight. But now my dream has changed.” His eyes glittered, somehow ominously, and he didn’t end his sentence.
“Er… you wouldn’t want to see the starlight?”
“Starlight is beautiful,” responded Sparrowheart. “It was indeed my dream to stand with the dark ones and talk. But not now. It would be best… if I didn’t engage.”
“Oh, that’s it.” Reedpaw relaxed.
“Have you listened about Yellow Sky?”
“Yellowsky? Who’s that?”
“No. It was Splashfall’s story about the Sky That Turned Yellow.”
“Er… would you like to retire already, Sparrowheart?” Reedpaw asked awkwardly.
Sparrowheart let out a loud purr. “No! I’m just recalling Splashfall’s stories that rang my heart. Would you like to hear?”
“Sure.” He liked stories.
“It was a day in RiverClan. The stream was flowing, and fish were swimming, waiting to be caught. It was dawn, and the sky was pink. Cats marveled at how beautiful and pinkish the sky was; it was a beautiful hue, a beautiful shade, a beautiful sight.
“At sun-high, the sky was a brilliant color. Pale blue. The pale sky covered the cats warmly, inviting them to relax.
“But then, when the sky should’ve been brilliant blue, pale but deep, beautiful but hideous, lovely… The sky turned yellow.
“It happened in an instant. Yellow clouds covered the whole area. The usual sky, when its blue hue surrounded everyone, at the close ending of the beautiful day… the sky turned yellow.
“Roars rolled in the sky. Lights screamed.
“And it all ended.
“But a terrible thing happened that day. Many cats died, including our fellow friend Whitepaw’s father’s father, Brackenfang. A sad story for us all.
“Remember, my friend. Bad, ominous things happen when yellow skies come. They have been rather common these days… But it’s when the sky turns completely yellow. Not just a simple, pale yellowish hue. It when the sky turns dangerous.” Sparrowheart raised his head. “Amazing story, eh?”
It’s not Splashfall’s story, is it? The words lingered on Reedpaw’s tongue. His heart was beating fast, feeling ominous and dark.
It seemed like a warning.
Roars of terror.
Screams of light.
His heart clutched at the thought, and when he raised his head, he found that Sparrowheart was gazing at him, his amber eyes clear and bright.
Reedpaw watched his former denmates, looking prideful. His heart skipped a beat as he thought of his own ceremony, which was only a few moons away.
“You’ll get your own name if you train hard,” he heard Cherryfern mew softly to Dewpaw.
Dewpaw brightened, his ears perking up. “Of course!”
Cherryfern’s soft bribing never got old. Sorrelfrost was watching Cherryfern with an amused look on her face. “That is right,” she hissed to Stormpaw.
Stormpaw nodded eagerly. “Their names are so pretty.”
“Not as mine,” mewed Sundawn slyly.
She’d done an effort on trying to be friendlier, and it worked on Stormpaw and Dewpaw, since they were more open. But Mistykit and Rainingkit seemed suspicious, and Creampaw refused to let Sundawn into her heart. She just didn’t want to admit she was wrong, Reedpaw assumed.
Oakpaw, Ripplepaw, and Honeypaw were making an effort to look like they accepted her.
That was good.
“Yeah, your name is pretty,” Stormpaw agreed. “What do you think my name will be? Stormfoot? Stormstripe? Stormclaw? Stormfang? Stormpelt?” He looked up at Sundawn for suggestions.
“Stormquestion,” Sundawn offered.
Sundawn purred. “You’ll get a great name.”
“Whitewind!” cheered Oakpaw. “And Orangefeather! StarClan, you guys are so lucky! Your names are amazing, too!”
“Thanks,” Whitewind meowed proudly;.
Suddenly, Whitewind and Orangefeather seemed… more mature.
Whitewind was gripping the marshy grounds firmly and sturdily with his one black paw and other three white ones.
Orangefeather’s orangey pelt wasn’t ruffled or messy at all. In fact, it was sleek and shiny, and his expression was confident as well.
Reedpaw wondered if he would look like that if he was presented his new name.
“It’s amazing, huh?” asked Orangefeather cheerily, and immediately, his mature air vanished.
“Yeah, you’re great,” Reedpaw meowed, trying to keep his tone bright and enthusiastic.
“I want to be a warrior!” whined Stormpaw.
“Me too!” sighed Dewpaw.
“Like we don’t?” retorted Rainingpaw.
“Then train,” Cherryfern meowed sternly. “Whining and sighing won’t get you anywhere.”
“That’s right,” chimed in Sorrelfrost.
Dewpaw gave another huge sigh. “Okay, Cherryfern.”
Quietly, Reedpaw slipped away from the congratulating mob. He gazed at the apprentices’ den. Whitewind and Orangefeather’s nests were already removed.
The whole den seemed hollow. There were now only seven nests, when there used to be about ten. He hadn’t liked it when they all squeezed together, but he disliked it even more when the nests were removed.
“C’mon, Reedpaw! Er, Cherryfern? Sorrelfrost? Have you seen Reedpaw?”
“He was right here,” Cherryfern mewed. “He must’ve went. Maybe the apprentices’ den?”
“Hmm. Thanks. We’re on patrol.”
“Oh? Along what border, may I ask?” Sorrelfrost asked.
“Along the ShadowClan one,” Whitepetal meowed seriously. “We’ve gotten recent threats from that one, and Silverstar stationed more patrols. I hope she won’t get too paranoid and leave camp unguarded.”
“Still, the two streams might be enough,” Sorrelfrost offered.
“That’s true, but you don’t know what sly ShadowClan will do. To be fair, all Clans are sly. But ShadowClan! I hate ShadowClan.”
“Peace, young one,” imitated Cherryfern. “That’s what my mother used to say when I got angry.”
“Ah, yes. I heard that every second of my life,” chimed in Sorrelfrost.
“Oh? I think I remember Wrentail saying that. Well, I’d better get going. You suggested the apprentices’ den?”
“Yes,” Cherryfern replied.
“I’m here,” Reedpaw called dryly, poking his head out of the apprentices’ den.
Whitepetal brightened. “Oh, there you are!” she exclaimed. “We’re going along the ShadowClan border.” Her hazel eyes hardened. “They’re sly, so keep care.”
“Okay,” Reedpaw mewed. “It’s likely we’ll see a patrol, right?”
Whitepetal glanced at him. “Why, yes,” she agreed. “Why did you think that? Or, rather,” she corrected herself, interest sparking in her gaze, “how did you know that?”
“Because RiverClan cats have been patrolling that are recently. ShadowClan cats aren’t blind, nor deaf. They must’ve noticed us. So naturally, I thought they might want to post extra patrols, too. They might think we’ll want to invade.”
“That’s not true. Ottersnow had a dream, and Sparrowheart apparently scented some cats past our border.”
“But there may be misunderstandings,” pointed out Reedpaw evenly.
“You are right,” Whitepetal mewed, “but sometimes the other side doesn’t think like that.” She narrowed her eyes. “Let’s go. We’re with Sparrowheart, Shatteredclaw, and Swiftclaw.”
“All S’s,” remarked Reedpaw.
Whitepetal blinked in amusement. “You’re right.” She turned away. “They might be waiting by the camp entrance,” she continued. “C’mon.”
And the three S’s were indeed waiting by the camp entrance.
Impatient Swiftclaw had already crossed the stream, and Sparrowheart and Shatteredclaw were waiting.
“Finally!” Swiftclaw exclaimed. “Come quick. The day’s young, but it’ll get old.”
“Keep even pace,” called Whitepetal, jumping across the stream.
“Yes,” called the black and dappled she-cat hastily.
The white she-cat rolled her eyes. “Wait,” she corrected herself.
“Fine!” Swiftclaw stopped in her tracks.
“You really are fast, aren’t you?” Sparrowheart asked, a trace of admire in his voice.
Swiftclaw glanced at him. “Why, thank you. No one’s ever said that before.” She gazed at Whitepetal sternly, her yellow eyes glowing with meaning.
“Just because I haven’t said that doesn’t mean I don’t think that,” mewed Whitepetal hastily.
“Thank you, old friend,” muttered Swiftclaw.
Whitepetal glanced back at Reedpaw. “If Swiftclaw wasn’t to be swift, let’s be swift.” She quickened her pace, and Reedpaw followed her example.
“You’re so nice,” purred Swiftclaw.
“Ugh,” muttered Shatteredclaw from behind. “This is why you should never ever be on the same patrol with Swiftclaw and Whitepetal. Remember that, Sparrowheart, and when Tansyflight says you’re in with them, say you want to see Ottersnow because you think you’re going to die.”
“Ah,” Sparrowheart mewed, sounding amused.
Swiftclaw glanced at the dark pines. “We’re here.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “There comes a patrol,” she hissed softly.
A shady ShadowClan patrol stalked towards them. There were two blue-gray cats, one tawny, and the other snowy white.
“Don’t cross the border,” hissed one.
Swiftclaw bared her fangs at the blue-gray she-cat. “I think I should be the one saying that… to you.”
The she-cat cocked her head, sneering. “Typical RiverClan cats. Too lazy, so they copy everything. You copied our fighting technique moons ago; we haven’t forgotten.”
Shatteredclaw jumped in, snarling. “Cinderjaw,” he hissed. “You always thought ShadowClan was the best.”
“Because it is!” another blue-gray cat exclaimed indignantly. Her blue eyes were shining with frustration and anxiety. This cat seemed bluer than Cinderjaw.
“Shut it, Juniperfrost,” snapped a tawny she-cat.
“I don’t know why’re you’re saying that,” argued Juniperfrost crossly. “Honestly, Tinyoak…”
Tinyoak narrowed her eyes. “We don’t need to fight,” she insisted.
“You just snapped at me! Besides, Tinyoak, you’re so naïve!”
“Don’t call me naïve,” muttered the tawny-colored she-cat.
Reedpaw didn’t know whether to feel amused that these fully grown, mature cats were arguing about a simple thing, or feel troubled that this was growing.
Sparrowheart was standing back, his eyes scanning the arguing cats.
“You all are standing on the border,” he mewed finally.
Nobody heard him.
“That’s obnoxious!” Whitepetal was snapping. “Ugh!”
The tawny ShadowClan warrior narrowed her eyes. “You’re obnoxious,” she hissed. “RiverClan is trying to take our territory!”
“Us?” exclaimed Whitepetal, her voice an octave higher than usual. “You ShadowClan are leaving scent marks inside our territory! There’s the cat who spotted it for the first time here! Sparrowheart, say something!”
Sparrowheart stepped forward. “It’s amazing how you ShadowClan cats will never admit you did wrong,” he meowed silkily. “Now, lots have seen the evidence. Lynxfoot, Whitewind, Roseleap, and Windfeather have all seen your filthy rats and scented your scents. Yes, I forgot Eagleshade and our deputy, Tansyflight.”
Cinderjaw’s slightly crooked jaw twisted into a sneer. “Eagleshade?” she asked softly. Her eyes gleamed with menace, and Reedpaw’s heart twisted at the thought of Sparrowheart perhaps giving up their weakness, whatever that was. “Well, tell him the whole of ShadowClan says hello.”
Juniperfrost tilted her head, for once not looking any anxious or frustrated. She seemed greatly amused.
“No, they won’t, Cinderjaw. Yes, me.”
Cinderjaw twisted her head to see. “Ah, speak of the devil.”
Eagleshade twisted his way out of the small bushes. “Everyone’s here. Hi, Cinderjaw. You might not want to see me, though. Oh, Juniperfrost. You’ve gotten… bluer. That’s a compliment. Oh, Tinyoak, you’re still tiny. And why, Splashheart! Where were you? Did you go somewhere where it snows in greenleaf? I mena, your pelt! So white! Snow white.”
“It’s almost leaf-fall, idiot,” hissed Splashheart. “And who are you to taunt us? You’re much younger than us.”
“Which means you’ll die earlier than me.”
“Not if I kill you,” snarled Cinderjaw nastily.
Sparrowheart sighed. “Are you a murderer?”
Reedpaw couldn’t figure out what was going on. Why were Cinderjaw and Juniperfrost laughing at Eagleshade? He hadn’t done anything wrong, had he?
“Let’s go,” spat Swiftclaw. She glared at Cinderjaw. “Some cats just aren’t worth your times.”
“Says you,” snarled Splashheart, her eyes narrowing.
“Yes, says Swiftclaw,” Whitepetal hissed. Her fur was bristling; she looked as twice her normal size. “And so do I.”
The ShadowClan cats sneered, and turned back.
Reedpaw saw Cinderjaw slap her tail against the ground where Swiftclaw stood seconds ago. He shivered at the aggressiveness, which could, he assumed, be viewed by loyalty by some. Maybe Sparrowheart.
“Those idiots!” fumed Swiftclaw.
“You were wrong,” Shatteredclaw meowed. “Cinderjaw… You shouldn’t really touch her.”
“Yeah? She shouldn’t’ve touched me!” Swiftclaw exclaimed.
“She shouldn’t have touched me,” repeated Eagleshade darkly.
“What were you doing? Were you trying to see your mother or something?” snapped Whitepetal, turning her gaze to him.
“No,” Eagleshade spat. “I was just wandering around.”
The white she-cat snorted, and rolled her eyes.
“Seriously,” muttered Shatteredclaw, glancing at the young warrior with an obvious look of displeasure.
“Honestly, Shatteredclaw,” hissed Swiftclaw. Reedpaw stared at them, curiosity bubbling inside him.“You of all cats should understand Eagleshade’s decision… Remember Night…?” She trailed off as she noticed Reedpaw looking.
Shatteredclaw swept his tail across the ground dismissively. “That’s that, and this is this.”
“Wonderful logic,” Swiftclaw meowed sarcastically.
Whitepetal turned away from both of the cats, and faced Reedpaw firmly. Today,” she started, “we’ll try to swim.”
“You? Swim?” repeated Swiftclaw. A surprised look passed her face, and her yellow eyes narrowed with suspicion. “That’s interesting.”
“I can’t keep on avoiding water forever,” retorted Whitepetal. “I fell in the water yesterday. I almost drowned.”
“Nice story. You should definitely teach your poor apprentice how to swim. Or he’ll drown, just because he had a mentor like you, who…” Swiftclaw shrugged.
Whitepetal sighed. “That’s nothing,” she meowed dismissively. “We’ll try first in shallow waters. Is that good with you?” She peered at Reedpaw curiously.
“Sure.” His heart was thumping wildly.
“We’ll just go to camp. Okay? Good?” asked Swiftclaw.
Whitepetal nodded, and Swiftclaw led Sparrowheart and Shatteredclaw away.
“Let’s go,” Reedpaw breathed.
Whitepetal nodded briskly, and started back towards camp. But still, she stopped. They were near camp; Reedpaw could scent warmth.
“Come, Reedpaw. We’ll try to wade.”
She led Reedpaw to a shallow pool.
“Dip your paws in,” she instructed. “If it’s cold, wait. Wait until the coldness fades.”
Trembling, half with anticipation, and half with fear, Reedpaw sank his paws into the cool water.
A cool sensation spread into his body, from his forepaws to his pricking ears.
“So far, so good,” breathed Whitepetal. She seemed more nervous than Reedpaw was. She sank into the pool, and lowered herself. “Lower yourself deeper. Crouch. Fold your legs until your paws don’t touch the ground.”
Reedpaw slowly crouched, his legs folding until he could feel the sandy ground anymore.
Panicking, he splashed, and splashed, gulping water, until he finally regained balance.
“Don’t panic,” Whitepetal continued. “Even if you don’t touch the ground, relax, and lift your chin. C’mon, try. And when you think you’re going to sink, gently straighten your legs, raise your chin so you don’t drown, and let yourself sink enough. This water is shallow, so you won’t drown until you panic or purposely die.”
The silver tom, taking a deep breath, lowered himself. His paws left the sand, and he relaxed.
The tension in his shoulders faded, and his fur plastered to his pelt, Reedpaw floated.
He was lifted. The water lifted him, and excitement bubbled within him.
“You’re floating!” exclaimed Whitepetal. “Good, good. Don’t do anything. Just float. Now, slowly move your paws. Front, then back. Carefully. Don’t splash too much, or you’ll sink. Relax and move.”
How is relaxing and moving at the same time possible? wondered Reedpaw, but he tried to do it, anyway.
Taking deep breaths, he slowly closed his eyes, and paddled. It was like walking. The water was… somehow thicker than how it was on ground.
The splashes were rather inspiring; his heartbeat slowed and relaxed.
“You’re doing great,” Whitepetal called.
Reedpaw cautiously tipped his head to one side, trying to see her.
Whitepetal’s white shape was stiff, and her hazel eyes were wide. “I mean,” she fumbled. “I’m just…”
“Why aren’t you swimming?”
Whitepetal blinked. “I really can’t,” she muttered.
“Why not?” It seemed wrong to pry.
“There was… something,” confessed Whitepetal, and Reedpaw was surprised that she’d give up so soon. “When I was an apprentice. Young little Whitepaw was so naïve. She thought she could wade into the deepest waters when she’d only practiced for a week. So, alone, she snuck out at night, and she waded into the cold, dark waters.
“I got scared, Reedpaw. But I continued, because my pride was too strong for my good. And finally, my paws lost ground, and I began to swim.
“It was nice, at first. But I was cold, and I was getting tired. But the lake was too big, and I couldn’t figure out where was shore. The water was dark and moody; I couldn’t see underwater. And I had floated and swam away from RiverClan. There would be no Clan to save me now.”
“So what happened?” Reedpaw wanted to know.
“I lost consciousness,” Whitepetal replied, her voice throaty and choking. “The next thing I knew, I was in ThunderClan territory, and a kind white medicine cat with gray speckles was treating me. She’d lost her mentor a few days ago. He was apparently too tired by treating greencough patients. He’d wandered out and never came back. Lilywillow, that was her name, assumed he drowned.
“I liked her. Her story was full of grief, but she treated me. Lilywillow told me her mentor had an omen and quickly named her. The next day he died.” Whitepetal gave a shudder. “I still remember that.”
Reedpaw closed his eyes.
“It became a trauma for me, though. Even though nice cats helped me…. I remember this one cat. Lightflare, I think. She was very kind to me. She was quiet, but she still helped me. Those two ThunderClan cats hold special places in my heart.”
Reedpaw’s throat throbbed. “I can’t believe you went through all that,” he murmured.
Whitepetal turned her gaze on him. “But I have to get out of that memory someday,” she mewed.
“It’s great Lightflare and Lilywillow helped you.”
“But we’re enemies now,” warned Whitepetal. “I see Lightflare at Gatherings. We just… politely say hello. I wish there was more friendship.” She sank back. “And Lilywillow? Ottersnow just sometimes says she asks about me. Like, once.” She shrugged. “I guess I don’t really mind that much, though. I have friends inside the Clan, like Cherryfern and Sorrelfrost. That’s enough for me.”
How come every cat didn’t really care about friendships outside Clans breaking so easily?
The fragile relationships were to be treasured. If he had a relationship like that, he would treasure it more than anything. It was a good source out, to be free of expectations.
Instead, he just dunked his head.
Blinking open his eyes, he could relax , half-floating underwater.
Reedpaw didn’t like WindClan.
“You smell disgusting!” exclaimed one. She looked like a kit, with kit fluff.
“Yeah,” agreed her orange and white sister.
“I’m Amberpaw, and she’s Orangepaw,” the gray and brown tabby replied simply. Her eyes glittered. “And you? Obviously, you’re a moron in RiverClan, but besides that…” She giggled mischievously.
Reedpaw remembered his thoughts about these sort of friends.
“Where are your parents?”
“Our mother is back in camp,” mewed Orangepaw. Pride began creeping into her tone as she as she declared, “And our father’s up there!” She batted one paw toward the tree branches.
“There’s only Graystar there.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Amberpaw. “He’s our father.”
Reedpaw sniffed. “Fine.”
“He’ll announce our apprenticeship tonight,” Orangepaw informed him.
Orangepaw was definitely friendlier than her sister. Orangepaw craned her neck to gaze at the medicine cats. “Y’know,” she meowed, “That medicine cat, Magpiefeather, is our father’s sister’s kit.” She grinned, shifting proudly.
Her family tree was rather powerful.
“Thanks,” Amberpaw exclaimed. “There’s this Honeykit. She’s younger than us, but I think she’s going to be Magpiefeather’s apprentice! In fact, she’s our father’s sister’s kit’s kit.” She raised an eyebrow. “Cindershine’s.”
Ah. So she’s bragging.
“Do you know Whitepetal?”
“Er… I’ve seen him when we were kits,” Orangepaw replied helpfully. “He came in our camp to demand some help.”
“Ah. Then maybe Sundawn? Maybe Sparrowheart.”
“Oh, Sparrowheart!” exclaimed Amberpaw. “Yes, we know him! He’s already real famous.”
Amberpaw blinked. “We saw him while our mentors were showing us territory.”
“But you couldn’t have met him.”
“Maybe he swam. Froststorm tried to drive him away, but he just calmly jumped into the water.”
Orangepaw shrugged. “Later we saw some wet prey. Maybe it was an act of apology. It sort of stank of SkyClan, though.”
Reedpaw froze. What?
That was definitely a big puzzle piece. A piece of a puzzle he hadn’t started yet; and did not know it existed.
Amberpaw glanced left. “Ooh, there’re some SkyClan cats.”
“I want to see ThunderClan cats,” objected Orangepaw.
“Then let’s go separate ways,” decided Amberpaw.
“But Lightleaf told us to stay together!” protested Orangepaw.
“Who cares?” Amberpaw replied. “I don’t want to see ThunderClan, just like you aren’t interested in SkyClan. Right?”
Orangepaw sighed. “Fine,” she muttered.
“Can I go with you?” asked Reedpaw.
Orangepaw glanced back, her ears twitching suspiciously. “Okay,” she meowed. “But Lightleaf and Amberpaw aren’t going to like it.”
Reedpaw barely surpressed the urge to mew, Who cares? to the overly cautious she-apprentice.
He just flicked his ears in acknowledgement.
Sighing, Orangepaw padded over to the ThunderClan cats. “Hi,” she mewed cautiously.
A small white she-cat whipped her head back. She gazed at the small orange apprentice, and mewed quietly, “Hello.”
“What’s your name?” Orangepaw asked nervously.
“Maybe you could talk to cats your age,” mumbled Reedpaw, feeling hot under his pelt.
The white she-cat looked rather disturbed.
He looked back to see Whitepetal staring at him in horror. Her hazel eyes darted, and they met the white cat’s amber ones.
“I’m just going to um, ask something to my mentor. Be right back; wait for me!”
Reedpaw ran to Whitepetal, looking at her inquiringly. “What’s the matter?”
“She was Lightflare,” hissed Whitepetal.
“I cannot believe it. Lightflare was the one who helped me, remember?”
Reedpaw was intrigued that ThunderClan cats had helped an enemy cat, and had sort of wanted to see Lightflare and Lilywillow. But he hadn’t really meant to, if anyone could understand what that meant.
“She stared at me,” Whitepetal muttered. “That’s chilling.”
Reedpaw nodded awkwardly. “And I’ll… just go now.”
Whitepetal nodded. “Have good time with your friend…”
Reedpaw scurried back to Orangepaw, who was waiting patiently. “Hi,” he mewed breathlessly.
Orangepaw winked. “The leaders seem to be squabbling amongst themselves,” she whispered, and nodded her head towards Silverstar and Maplestar.
“You!” snarled Silverstar angrily. “First it’s WindClan, and now ShadowClan?” She whipped her head back to face ThunderClan. “Why on earth are you swimming past the lake, or walking all those pawsteps to intrude on our territory?”
Eaglestar hissed. “What nonsense! Have you eaten squirrel brains for lunch? That would explain the idiocy!”
“How dare you call me…”
Reedpaw sighed. These recent border squabbles were getting more and more frequent.
Orangepaw was staring at him. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Well, then.” Orangepaw shrugged. “Look. There’s a dark ginger cat that might be my age.”
“My age, I think,” Reedpaw corrected.
“Whatever,” Orangepaw objected. “Still, she’s an apprentice.”
“Hi!” Orangepaw’s voice was tight with anxiety.
The dark ginger she-cat turned around. Her dark green eyes were friendly, and she meowed, “Hi. I’m Quincepaw. What’s your name? You’re new, aren’t you? I’ve never seen you before.”
“Yes. I’m Orangepaw, from WindClan.”
Reedpaw blinked. “I’m Reedpaw. RiverClan.”
“Okay. I’m a ThunderClan cat. Mistfall, the deputy, is my mentor.” She grinned. “Would you like to meet Leafpaw?”
Leafpaw was a small white cat with gray mottled fur. “Hi,” she mumbled.
“Hi!” Orangepaw meowed happily.
“Leafpaw’s older than me,” Quincepaw meowed. “She’s really smart.”
“No I’m not,” Leafpaw murmured, not meeting anyone’s gaze. Her eyes were firmly fixed upon the ground.
Reedpaw could relate.
“Well, then,” began Orangepaw. “Quincepaw. That’s a great name.”
“Thanks! I love your name too,” gushed Quincepaw. “Who’re your parents? Mine are Feathernose and Whiskerpelt.”
“Mine are Lightleaf and Graystar,” exclaimed Orangepaw. “Amberpaw loves to boast about this.”
Quincepaw raised an eyebrow. “Wow,” she purred. “That’s quite… a something.”
“That’s what Amberpaw says.”
Feeling a bit left out, Reedpaw scrunched away. It didn’t seem like Leafpaw would say anything, either. So he started to slip away quietly.
“Wait, Reedpaw!” exclaimed Quincepaw. “Who’re your parents?”
“Mistshade and Tawnyclaw.”
Recognition did not pass Quincepaw’s face. “Er, okay,” she mewed finally. “That’s good. What prey do you like most?”
“Minnows,” Reedpaw answered, knowing the only expression Quincepaw would give was an expression of disgust. And so she did.
“Ew!” she exclaimed. “Fish? Well, mine is squirrels. They’re tasty.”
Reedpaw frowned. Respect! “Squirrels are just so tufty.”
“You must have bad ones in the marsh,” Quincepaw responded. “Usually they’re the best.”
“You should honestly try minnows, though.”
“No thank you!” exclaimed Orangepaw, Quincepaw, and Leafpaw together.
Reedpaw sighed. “Your bad,” he mumbled.
“Yes, ours,” agreed Orangepaw, looking amused.
They were teasing him for sure. “Eh, yeah. I’ll just be going now.”
Only Whitepetal, Windfeather, Sundawn, Dewpaw, and Cherryfern were here, with the deputy Tansyflight and Silverstar.
He wandered next to Dewpaw. He wasn’t exactly friends with him, but they did know each other. “Hi, Dewpaw.”
Dewpaw glanced back. “Oh, hi, Reedpaw! I haven’t found anyone friendly, so I was just waiting. I’m so glad to see you.”
Reedpaw nodded. “Me too.”
“I thought you were talking with a group.”
“They didn’t like fish.”
Dewpaw purred. “Well, nice reason.”
“Cats of all Clans!” A familiar yowl rang out in the dark clearing. It was Silverstar, her eyes blazing with resentment. She glanced at the other leaders. “I will like to speak first tonight…?”
Eaglestar dipped his head, and so did the others.
“RiverClan is thriving. Still we have noticed some scents that are clearly not ours.”
“Not as fishy?” hissed a voice from Reedpaw’s right, and realized there was the fluffy white she-cat – Fluffypaw.
“Yes, not as fishy!” snapped Dewpaw.
The she-cat whipped her head. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Um, hi, Fluffypaw,” meowed Reedpaw quickly.
Fluffypaw tipped her head to one side. Her blue eyes flashed with recognition, and she mewed, “I’m not Fluffypaw anymore. I’m Fluffytail.”
“Oh! Nice name.”
Fluffytail shook her fluffy tail. “Everyone’s been saying that. Isn’t it sort of funny?”
Privately, Reedpaw did think so. But instead, he mewed, “No. It’s good.”
“Don’t insult our Clan,” warned Dewpaw.
Looking amused, Fluffytail looked back. “Sure.”
“So I advise you all to take special care,” meowed Silverstar firmly. “We have three new warriors; Roseleap, Sparrowheart, and Sundawn.” She sat back while the other chanted names. Luckily, they seemed to be truly happy for the newly named warriors.
Eaglestar stepped forward. “Like RiverClan, we’ve found clear traces of other Clans.” He hissed. “Specifically ShadowClan and SkyClan.” He lowered his voice. “I have permitted my cats to… do anything in order to capture the cat that has intruded. Beware. Besides that, our Clan is thriving. Specklepelt has retired to the elders’ den.” He sat back, nodding his head briskly.
Dapplestar raised her head high. “SkyClan does not want to cause war!” she yowled into the night sky. “Why do you think we would want needless bloodshed?”
“My mother’s amazing, isn’t she?” asked Fluffytail proudly.
“Silverstar’s logical, too,” Reedpaw meowed.
“Yes, I’m sure she is.”
“Think, my friends. Other than my defense to your ridiculous accusations, I report SkyClan is well. But it is suspicious. ThunderClan; why are you crossing borders? There are so many scents, mingled with RiverClan. I suspect they’re swimming.” Dapplestar frowned. “So many things do not make sense; we must not jump to conclusions.”
Silverstar raised her head. “It’s rather hard!”
“If SkyClan is finished,” meowed Maplestar silkily, “I shall start my report. We have scented other Clans, like the others, and I will assume everyone knows that. We have new kits in the Clan, Graykit, Willowkit, and Blackkit.”
Cats murmured congratulations.
“We also have a new warrior. Bramblebush.”
“Bramblebush!” shouted out a few voices.
Maplestar shrugged, and sat down, as if she could not care less. A dark brown cat hunched his shoulders, and a gray-and-white she-cat licked his shoulder reassuringly.
Graystar stood up. “Enough!” he ordered. “WindClan is thriving.” His blue eyes were hard, and it seemed as if he was determined not to bring up the invadings of the other Clans. “We have two new apprentices, Amberpaw and Orangepaw.”
“Amberpaw! Orangepaw!” Reedpaw chanted absently.
“We have three newmade warriors, Marigoldheart, Chivefang, and Fernsnow.”
“Marigoldheart! Chivefang! Fernsnow!”
Did RiverClan have new warriors? Yes, they did.
“We have nothing else to report,” Graystar added. “The Gathering is over.”
Reedpaw stood up, and Fluffytail bounced up, her fluffy tail bouncing with her. “Good-bye, then,” she said, almost happily. “I won’t see you for a moon.”
“Oh, yeah, bye.”
He looked around for his Clanmates saw Roseleap talking with Sparrowheart.
Sparrowheart dipped his head, stood up, and left. Roseleap’s ears drooped visibly.
“Hi, Roseleap,” he mewed uncomfortably.
She looked up. “Oh, hi, Reedpaw,” she muttered. “The recent border disputes… They’re just getting scarier and more serious, aren’t they? Sparrowheart’s been talking. He says he expects a fight soon, and I think I do, too.”
Reedpaw’s heart skipped a beat, and his pelt started pricking uneasily as he thought of a battle ahead. “Don’t thin like that,” he meowed optimistically.
“But it’s clear. Every Gathering we talk about scent marks. We’re all in an uneasy state. I’m really scared.” Roseleap’s eyes were wide. “Did you hear Dapplestar? She’s claiming she didn’t do anything, and Eaglestar and Maplestar were all pissed off by it. They’ll probably cause a battle, and those battles won’t not affect WindClan and RiverClan. ThunderClan and ShadowClan border WindClan and RiverClan. This is getting big.
“I wish everything could be rosy. That’s my dream; a big, rosy scene where Clans live; I wish that could be true, if only for a moment. My heart screams with anxiety whenever anyone rushes in camp, their eyes wide with fear and annoyance.”
“Don’t worry, Roseleap,” mumbled Reedpaw. “It’ll all be fine.”
Oakpaw raised his head from the prey pile. There was fur on his nose, and Creampaw swatted it away. “You’ve got something on your nose,” she added sheepishly. She blinked. “Is it a squirrel? Ew.”
Oakpaw looked embarrassed. “I like squirrels.”
“You won’t leave us to go to ThunderClan, will you?” asked Creampaw jokingly.
“Nah. They don’t have you.”
Creampaw blushed, her pink nose turning pinker. The darker part of her cream fur lied flat, and her shoulders shrank back, and her ears were perked up. Reedpaw could guess this meant embarrassment. “Yeah,” she muttered. She poked her nose in. “I like minnows.”
“I do, too.”
Reedpaw tried not to imitate barfing. But Ripplepaw showed no sign of even trying.
“Yuck! I’m dying!” he yowled, flopping onto the grow, his eyelids flipping lifelessly.
“That’s disgusting, Ripplepaw!” exclaimed Honeypaw, scooting away from him. “That thing with your eyes.”
Ripplepaw’s eyes blinked back to original place. “I just closed them, Honeypaw,” he replied.
“Did you?” Honeypaw asked. “I saw your whites.”
Honeypaw shrugged. “It’s all right,” she mewed.
“Creampaw!” called Stormsky. “We’re in the sun-high hunting patrol. Oh, and Honeypaw, Acornsquirrel wants to see you.”
“Oops,” muttered Honeypaw.
“Okay!” called Creampaw.
“Whitepetal?” called Reedpaw. He had enjoyed the sun shining onto his pelt, but it was getting old.
“Whitepetal? She’d went to Ottersnow last night, saying she felt sick,” Cloudstream meowed. “Mind you, she was throwing quite a fit. I’m sure it’s nothing, though. Ottersnow will have her fixed in no time.”
Still, he was worried, and he padded to the medicine den. “Hi? Ottersnow?”
The gray-and-white tabby she-cat looked out. “Oh, hi, Reedpaw. Are you sick, too? Maybe you got infected from Whitepetal.”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Reedpaw replied quickly. “I was just worried about her.”
“Oh, she’s fine,” Ottersnow replied. “She was terrible, but luckily she came to me early. If she came in the morning, I daresay she might’ve died.”
Reedpaw gulped. “Oh…” he muttered.
The gray-and-white tabby looked amused. “Don’t look like a minnow caught by a cat!” she exclaimed. She shook her pelt. “Why don’t you go see Flamepetal if you’re bored?”
“She’s a bit older than Sundawn and Sparrowheart,” Ottersnow answered. “She might talk to you.”
“Yeah… I’ll just talk to Roseleap.”
“Suit yourself. There’s Sparrowheart, talking with Flamepetal! Maybe you can join their conversation.”
“Why’re you so keen on making me talk to Flamepetal?”
“I thought you two had a lot in common,” answered Ottersnow, her tone suggesting that it was obvious.
Reedpaw blinked. “Okay.” But he didn’t walk towards them both. “Who’ll train me today, then?”
“Not Whitepetal, obviously,” mused Ottersnow. “Someone would have to step in.”
“What? Who steps in?” Roseleap, who was padding along, asked, pricking her ears.
“As Reedpaw mentors,” answered Ottersnow. “Whitepetal can’t train her today.”
“Oh. Maybe I can!” Roseleap exclaimed.
Ottersnow rolled her eyes. “Not happening. What about Slatefoot? She’s a nice cat.”
“I’ll ask her. But what about asking Silverstar?”
Ottersnow cast a nervous glance in the direction of Silverstar’s den. “I’m sure you can handle not asking Silverstar,” she mewed finally, but hesitantly. “She has a lot of her mind.”
“The recent border troubles?” guessed Roseleap.
“Exactly.” Ottersnow turned away. “See if Yellowbird needs anything.”
“Why would she?”
“She’s a queen, Reedpaw. I have to check on her regularly.”
Reedpaw nodded. “All right. Roseleap, do you want to come?”
Roseleap nodded. “All right. I hope the kits come soon. I’m bursting to see fluffy kits.”
Reedpaw led Roseleap to the nursery. “Hi, Yellowbird!” he called.
The yellow queen looked up, her blue-green eyes questioning. “Yes?” she asked.
“Ottersnow wants to know if there’s anything wrong.”
“No, nothing, yet,” Yellowbird meowed, sounding amused. “But it’ll be time soon.” She wrinkled her nose.
Reedpaw nodded, and padded out, closely followed by Roseleap.
“What now?” she asked.
“I’m going to ask Slatefoot if she can help me,” Reedpaw answered. “She’s nice. I hope she’ll say yes.”
“Ooh,” replied Roseleap, not sounding intrigued. “I’ll go with you.”
“Do you think she’s in the warriors’ den?”
“I saw her,” Roseleap answered. “She was talking with Windfeather. Apparently, Windfeather’s planning on moving to the nursery. She said she didn’t tell Shatteredlclaw, because he’d probably fuss about.” Roseleap rolled her eyes. “C’mon.”
Slatefoot and Windfeather were talking.
“It was obnoxious, rather,” Windfeather was murmuring. “Nightmist tried to shoo me away with her hind legs.”
“Has she no respect?”
“She was nice, but now she’s trying to blind me! Honestly, if she wasn’t Shatteredclaw’s sister I would’ve probably ripped her to shreds…”
“No, you couldn’t have,” Slatefoot objected, looking amused.
“Ahem,” coughed Roseleap, and Windfeather whipped her head back.
Looking faintly embarrassed she mewed, “Hi, Roseleap, and Reedpaw. Er, have you heard what I’ve just said?”
“Yeah. Who’s Nightmist? She’s not a RiverClan cat,” Roseleap meowed, sitting down, her tail flicking mischievously.
Windfeather rolled her eyes. “Shatteredclaw’s WindClan sister. She moved to WindClan because she hated it here.” She fumed.
“She’s exaggerating. But, frankly, I don’t like what she did, either,” meowed Slatefoot.
Roseleap nodded. “Why did she go?”
“She didn’t like it here,” replied Windfeather. “Honestly? I don’t really know. Just that she moved.”
Roseleap shrugged. “That’s good for me,” she replied. “Oh, yeah, and Slatefoot. Reedpaw has something to tell you.” The dark ginger she-cat pushed Reedpaw forehead, watching eagerly.
The silver tom blinked awkwardly at Slatefoot. “Er… Whitepetal’s sick,” he started, joined by several sighs of sympathy, by Windfeather and Roseleap. “So I need a temporary mentor, only for today. Silverstar’s busy, and Ottersnow advised me to ask you. Er, so, yeah. Can you um, be my mentor for today?”
It sounded so weird when he said it aloud. Can you be my mentor, Slatefoot?
Slatefoot purred. “You don’t have to sound so sorry,” she replied. “And sure. Let’s just check with Whitepetal.”
“I’m not so sure Ottersnow would let you,” Windfeather mewed.
“Then we’ll ask Ottersnow,” decided Slatefoot. “I’ll expect you in the nursery soon enough.”
Windfeather purred. “All right, then, Slatefoot.” She glanced back. “Roseleap, Reedpaw! You’re still there?”
“Yes,” Roseleap replied. “So Slatefoot will train Reedpaw today?”
“Yes, I will,” Slatefoot agreed.
“Then can I watch?” Roseleap leaned forward, her eyes grazing Slatefoot’s.
Slatefoot shrugged. “If you have nothing better to do…” she replied, her tone suggesting Roseleap to do warrior duties.
But Roseleap took no notice, and she cheerily padded off.
“She’s funny,” said Reedpaw, a defensive tone creeping up his throat.
The gray she-cat glanced at him, her dark gray ears flicking. “I never said anything about that. But it’s right; Roseleap’s an interesting cat. I like her.”
Reedpaw was somewhat relieved that Slatefoot liked Roseleap. He liked them both, very much.
“What’re we doing today?”
“I don’t know what you’ve been doing,” answered Slatefoot carefully, “and Silverstar never assigned me an apprentice. What’re you worst at, and what’re you best at?”
“I’m good at fishing,” replied Reedpaw slowly. “I’m not that good at fighting.”
“And hunting on land?” asked Slatefoot.
“Have you learned to fight in the water?”
Baffled, Reedpaw gazed at her. “No,” he mewed. “Fighting in the water? Is that possible? I mean, there’s water.”
Slatefoot let out an amused purr. “You’ve only fought on the marshes, have you? Then you’ve lived a half-life. I’ll teach you that one.”
Feeling his heart leap and twirl, Reedpaw followed Slatefoot out of camp.
She led Reedpaw to a stream, and mewed, “Here we are. It’d be nice if somebody helped us.”
Roseleap jumped in the water, splashing both Slatefoot and Reedpaw.
“Sorry!” Roseleap exclaimed. But her eyes were shining with pleasure, and Reedpaw jumped in, splashing her back. “Reedpaw!”
Slatefoot rolled her eyes. “Right. Roseleap, you know how to fight in water, yes?”
Roseleap nodded. “Yup. Are you going to teach him the Rushpaw Splash?” She cocked her head. “That’s a good technique.”
“That,” agreed Slatefoot, “And the Push-down and Release.”
Roseleap shrugged. “Should I be the opponent?” she suggested.
“That’d be good,” Slatefoot mewed. “Okay. Get up, both of you. Station yourselves properly. Dig your claws into the ground. It’s easy, since it’s shallow. Good, good. Now, Reedpaw, you have to use your weight against your opponent. I know you’re not much, compared to Roseleap, but you can surprise her.”
Reedpaw nodded. His heart beating fast, he sank down in the water. Blinking, he spotted Roseleap’s swishing paws. Reedpaw tackled it, and seeing Roseleap fall into the water, her expression surprised, he held her down.
After releasing Roseleap quickly, Reedpaw swam out to the shore. “Um…”
Spluttering, Roseleap had emerged. “That…” she panted, “was awesome. Slatefoot, you have to tell Silverstar about that. He suddenly submerged and pulled by down by my paws.”
Slatefoot’s eyes brightened. “Really?” she asked. “How did you think of that, Reedpaw?”
Embarrassed, Reedpaw looked down at his paws. “I… I was just finding a way to bring Roseleap down. She’s heavier than me, so I thought pulling her down was the only way.”
“That was good. Especially if you thought it out by yourself, Reedpaw,” Slatefoot meowed warmly. “Usually, we just use our paws the push our opponent down.”
“I’ll try that… when I’m heavier,” promised Reedpaw, feeling a little sheepish.
Slatefoot laughed. “Good idea,” she meowed. “Roseleap, could you demonstrate the Rushpaw Splash? We’ll be padding along, and you can try it. Reedpaw, try to figure out where Roseleap is, and then attack her.”
Reedpaw nodded. “Okay.”
Waving her tail happily, Roseleap jumped out of the stream. “All right,” she meowed. “I’ll make sure you won’t know a thing.” After showering them both with water, she jumped back in, splashing them again. “Sorry,” she sang. “I’ll bring somebody, because of you-know-why.” She disappeared off.
Slatefoot rolled her eyes. “Come on, Reedpaw. Keep your ears pricked for any sound… Or any trick.” Her eyes glowed mischievously.
Blinking hard, Reedpaw followed his one-time mentor. Suddenly, he heard a splash and a splutter downstream. Immediately, he whirled around.
Roseleap’s there! he thought, and tried to dash in.
But Slatefoot stopped him. “Think,” she hissed.
Baffled, Reedpaw stopped. He could hear a faint rushing of water; paws making slight splashes… But that sound was coming upstream. Why? Roseleap couldn’t have gone up that fast.
But he suddenly remembered that Roseleap had gone and got another cat. What if…
“What if it were a decoy?” he blurted out.
Surprised, Reedpaw looked around.
“They probably didn’t hear you,” whispered Slatefoot. “But be quiet from later on, okay?”
Reedpaw blinked his green eyes in a show of understanding.
“It’s a decoy…” he murmured. “You told me to attack Roseleap. Then it leads to the conclusion she’s upstream, since if she’s downstream, there’s no point in them tricking me to catch the wrong cat.” He glanced at Slatefoot, hoping to see encouragement, but Slatefoot didn’t. She just stared at him.
“All right,” Reedpaw mused. “I think I got it right. Maybe. Yeah, let’s say I have. Then I have to go upstream.”
He heard another splash downstream, and muttered, “Slatefoot, could you sneak along the bushes so the cat can’t see you, but can hear your pawsteps? I need to have that cat thinking I’m falling for the trick.”
Slatefoot’s nose twitched. “Very well.” She dove into a bramble bush. Reedpaw only noticed she was gone from the bush when a single brambleberry fell from the bush, possibly by a flick of the gray cat’s tail.
Trying to be as quiet as possible, Reedpaw lightly stepped onto the ground. He flinched as he heard the breeze rustle the leaves.
“Everything’s fine,” he muttered under his breath.
His steps eventually got faster, but the sound did not increase. He had his eyes peeled for a sign of a ginger pelt underwater.
Finally, he saw a ginger hue under the clear waters. Green eyes focused on moving.
There was the end of the stream; if Roseleap got to it, Reedpaw would have failed in his mission.
Roseleap was faster than Reedpaw, and certainly stronger; Roseleap would probably swim to shore if she noticed Reedpaw coming. So diving in and chasing her wasn’t an option.
Then, Reedpaw decided, I’ll attack her when she thinks she’s won.
He snuck over to the closest place he could go without being seen. It was still a far way until the ending. He waited until Roseleap lifted her head upwards to take a deep breath, and blinked water out of her eyes.
Just when the dark ginger she-cat closed her eyes, Reedpaw slipped in. His silver pelt would probably be camouflaged. He had to trust his chances. Since he was small, too, he might be, with a bit of luck, mistaken as a huge silver fish.
Smiling at that thought, the silver apprentice sank low. If he had to breathe, he’d do it with only his nose poking out. He quickly swam to the edge.
Roseleap kept swimming, her eyes fixed on her goal. Reedpaw only submerged for breathing twice for thirty seconds and he was proud.
Reedpaw thought it was a relief Roseleap didn’t like swimming underwater like him. It would’ve been a lot harder to hide from her then.
The dark ginger cat lifted her head, sighed, and muttered, “Finally!”
Then, she was dragged downwards.
Reedpaw tugged at her hind paws, using the move he’d used earlier. His eyes met Roseleap’s shocked dark blue ones. He almost purred – underwater. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant sight, but he was so glad. He could fight.
The silver apprentice let his friend go, and Roseleap choked. “Ew, water!” she coughed. “Great… great job anyway, Reedpaw. Oh, StarClan, I never thought you’d do that! I thought she tricked you.”
“Who’s she?” wondered Reedpaw.
“There she comes,” answered Roseleap, flicking her ear.
Reedpaw turned his head, but all he could see was water. Roseleap had dunked him.
“Sorry,” Roseleap mewed cheerily after fishing him out. “But really. There’s Slatefoot and…”
“Sundawn?” gasped Reedpaw. “I could’ve attacked Sundawn?”
“Yup. Lovely irony, huh? She thought it would be funny, too. She’s definitely warmed down a bit. I like that.”
Still gawking, Reedpaw shook water out of his pelt. “Uh, hi, Slatefoot, Sundawn.”
“I thought we tricked you,” complained Sundawn.
“But we got tricked instead,” added Roseleap.
“I thought it was Reedpaw, so I slunk down, hoping my golden pelt looked like a dark ginger one.”
“There are no dark gingers I’m close to in RiverClan! Hang on, there are not dark ginger cats in RiverClan.” Roseleap looked sullen.
“Your father was dark ginger,” mewed Slatefoot softly.
“Was he? I barely remember.”
“Kestrelfang was proud his daughter looked like him,” Slatefoot replied.
Roseleap straightened. “I’m glad I did anyone pride,” she murmured.
Sundawn gazed at them, sympathy oozing. “I’m sorry.”
Roseleap glanced back. “Thanks.”
Warmed by the two she-cats’ newfound friendship, Reedpaw stepped back.
“They’ve become friends,” murmured Slatefoot in his ear.
“They were almost enemies once. Nemesis,” Reedpaw replied. “How do you reckon that happened?”
Slatefoot let out a purr. A soft, sad purr. “It happens a lot,” she mewed in reply. “It happened with Mistshade and I. Well, backwards, but still.”
Reedpaw said nothing as he pictured Mistshade and Slatefoot being close.
“OAKTUFT! RIPPLEFACE! OAKTUFT! RIPPLEFACE!”
Creampaw dashed forward to nuzzle Oaktuft on the nose. “That is amazing,” she breathed. “Oaktuft,” she purred.
Honeypaw stepped forward more hesitantly. “I like your name,” she mewed finally. “I…” She shrank back.
“Did I do something wrong?” asked Rippleface.
Reedpaw cocked his head. Creampaw and Honeypaw had been whispering things the night before. Creampaw seemed excited, while Honeypaw seemed worried.
“No, you didn’t,” Honeypaw mumbled. Then she slipped away.
Rippleface glanced at Reedpaw. “Are you sure?” he muttered. “It sure seems like I did something wrong.”
“Inner stress?” offered Reedpaw. It was the first thing he could think of, but Rippleface seemed satisfied by the answer.
“Yeah, probably. Maybe she’s upset she’s not a warrior yet,” he mewed. His brown ears flicked. “I’m going to go check on her,” he told Reedpaw. Without bothering to look back again, he swiftly went away.
Meanwhile, Creampaw was gushing about. “You’re a warrior! I can’t wait until I am. Oh, am I bothering you? Sorry if I am.”
“No, you’re not,” Oaktuft purred.
Mimicking throwing up, Reedpaw padded away.
“Oaktuft and Rippleface,” breathed a voice in Reedpaw’s ear.
The silver cat flinched. “Sparrowheart?”
The golden tabby was standing there, his amber eyes narrowed. But Reedpaw couldn’t tell if it was by joy or meaningfulness. The warrior drew himself up to full height. “It’s interesting, isn’t it?” he asked. “Oakpaw and Ripplepaw – now Oaktuft and Rippleface.”
“Yeah, great,” mumbled Reedpaw. He was always intimidated by Sparrowheart. He assumed it was because the golden tabby got everything – skills and love – while Reedpaw got nothing.
But Reedpaw had grown some self-confidence lately, with new friends. But why was he still feeling that he was in his older brother’s shadow?
“Now, Reedpaw,” continued Sparrowheart silkily, “You will be a warrior soon as well.”
“Not that soon,” Reedpaw hurried to correct. He felt so awkward and silly.
“No. Our mother says it’s around the corner.”
“Mistshade? She knows?” asked Reedpaw.
Sparrowheart cocked his head. “Of course she does, Reedpaw. Mistshade is our mother.”
Of course you think that. You’ve received nothing than love and affection for her, thought Reedpaw bitterly. But he put on his bright smile and meowed, “Yes! So what’s your point… may I ask?”
“When you become a warrior, I want to have a talk with you.”
“Since we’ll be fellow warriors, I think I would like to talk.”
An ominous feeling creeped up Reedpaw’s spine, but he ignored it with great effort, and meowed, “Uh… That’d be… indeed nice.”
What just happened?
The dark ginger she-cat wove between Lynxfoot and Eagleshade. “You two are so lovey-dovey. Aren’t you mates yet?”
Lynxfoot rolled her eyes, and cuffed Roseleap’s ear. “Shut up, Roseleap, before I do,” she threatened.
“Why? That’s true.”
“Ooh, are you proposing?” crooned Roseleap. Then she took a step back. Then another.
Reedpaw ducked into the berry bush. This seemed like a moment he couldn’t touch.
Things were definitely changing. He didn’t like change. He liked things the way it was.
Whitepetal was finally better. Although the white she-cat had insisted she was fine now, Ottersnow wouldn’t let Whitepetal leave, and the white warrior eventually gave up, and thanked Slatefoot for offering to take up the mentoring.
Slatefoot told Reedpaw it was a pleasure training him, and Reedpaw replicated the feeling. He learned a lot of things with her, and she was a good teacher.
“So, was she a good teacher?” asked Whitepetal.
“Better than me?”
“Of course not.”
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic,” teased the white she-cat, flicking her tail.
“I am,” insisted Reedpaw cheerfully.
Whitepetal shrugged. “Slatefoot told me she’s done things done in the water. She was kind to do that. Do you have anything you want to do?”
“Er…” To be frank, Reedpaw wanted to train in the water, like how they’d done with Roseleap and Sundawn and Slatefoot. But knowing Whitepetal had a slight trauma with water, he instead answered, “Land-fighting, maybe. I mean, it’s more likely that we’re going to fight on land than water…” He realized he was being way too much obvious.
“You don’t have to lie,” Whitepetal meowed softly. “Now, let’s see if I can do anything for you.” More brightly, she headed to the training marshes.
When they arrived by the marshes, Whitepetal immediately whirled around. “We might have to fight on another Clan’s territory. Try to stalk and surprise me.”
“But still, RiverClan are not cheaters. We will most likely fight in our territory. Since marshes are the majority of our territory, you’ll try to hide here.”
“But, Whitepetal!” Reedpaw tried to protest.
“No. It’s possible. There are plenty of places to hide.”
“But not enough if you’ll walk in the center.”
“You’ll find away. You’re my apprentice, aren’t you? I trust you, Reedpaw.” And the white she-cat nodded, and walked out to the watery clearing.
The silver apprentice crouched. As long as he had to do this, he was determined to do this right.
He shrank his body as small as possible.
“If I notice you, I’ll tell you,” Whitepetal mewed. “You’ll be a warrior soon; I can’t let any fault.”
Reedpaw didn’t reply.
“Good.” Satisfaction had smeared into Whitepetal’s voice.
Reedpaw, taking a shaky breath, he stepped forward.
Whitepetal had crouched low, too. He narrowed his eyes. She was in the center, but Reedpaw thought he was fast enough. Taking a few more steps, Reedpaw readied himself to spring.
But just as his hind legs kicked off, Whitepetal whirled around, her hazel eyes flashing. She sprang back, and Reedpaw landed on his stomach in the mud.
“You need to be more quiet,” Whitepetal scolded, after Reedpaw clumsily got to his paws. “You were, to be fair, but some cats can hear it. Let me demonstrate.” She padded to the tall grass and sank low. “See if you can hear me,” she called. “And try to guess where I am after a few seconds.”
There was only some soft rustling in the far side of left. Reedpaw heard mud grumble and he leapt towards it, his paws shifting weight.
But there was nothing; only a faint pawstep.
Reedpaw turned around to see white tufts of fur leaping towards him.
With total instinct, and with nothing else, Reedpaw flew into the air. He could see Whitepetal’s white pelt rippling, and her ears perk up, and her head turning. He twisted his body so he would land facing Whitepetal. His paws skidded to a halt.
Hazel eyes were staring at Reedpaw’s own green ones. He trembled slightly.
“You always cease to surprise me,” Whitepetal mewed, her pale pink nose twitching. “Honestly, Reedpaw, we might have to talk soon, and Silverstar might have to wonder what she should name you.”
Reedpaw gulped, taking in rapid breaths. Does Whitepetal really think that? “Are your proud of me?” he asked, his eyes flickering with fear for the answer that was yet to come.
“Oh, of course I am, Reedpaw,” Whitepetal purred. “You’re the best apprentice any warrior could wish to have.” Her eyes glittered with unmistakable pride.
“Thank you…” mumbled Reedpaw, feeling hot under his pelt.
“Maybe we’ll be done with fighting for today,” Whitepetal continued. “You’re obviously better at it now.”
“I’m not better than you!”
“Oh, I was talking about your last scores. You were, admittedly, terrible the first time, remember? You’ve improved a lot.” Whitepetal’s eyes were warm as she added, “I must remember to thank Slatefoot later. Was she a good mentor?”
“I have no idea why Silverstar won’t give her a proper apprentice,” continued Whitepetal, wrinkling her nose. “I think there’s Mistshade involved…? But who knows, maybe this is all my imagination.”
Reedpaw relaxed. He was worried Whitepetal might guess all the… family trouble. He had known Whitepetal knew some, but still, he wouldn’t want her to know so closely… and to know Reedpaw disliked Mistshade horribly now.
“Now, Reedpaw. I’ll give you an… no, just a not-proper assessment. It’s just an assessment to see how you’re going, not to test if you’re ready to become a warrior, so relax.”
Reedpaw’s green eyes flickered uneasily, but he nodded. His paws suddenly seemed slippery, and the hairs in his neck stood stiffly, and his heart seemed to jump up to his throat, and his stomach to ache.
“I’ll be watching you,” Whitepetal promised.
The silver apprentice’s pale, barely recognizable speckles of fur stood up. His eyes narrowed, and he crouched down. Reedpaw couldn’t stop his heart from thundering madly, but he could control how he assessed. Right?
Right, Reedpaw thought decisively. He suddenly felt nauseous.
He placed one paw in front of his other, and Reedpaw suddenly knew what to do.
Reedpaw stepped lightly forward. Reedstep! he thought joyfully, but it was mostly to clear the doom in his head.
“Good, good,” murmured Whitepetal softly.
Her voice encouraged Reedpaw to go on. Who cared if he messed this up? Him, but no one else. This wasn’t a real assessment, anyway.
Reedpaw’s pawsteps turned lighter, brighter, and quicker.
His tail lowered, and his ears perked up. Reedpaw looked like a warrior.
He sank low, so the leafy plants would hide him. His green eyes flashed, and his lip curled in satisfaction. There was a faint sound of the silver tom’s claws unsheathing.
And the mud shifted, and the silver cat leapt. His hind legs kicked off neatly; mud didn’t spurt everywhere, and nor did his paws slip in the slippery mud. It was a perfect spring, something Reedpaw would remember.
His paws outstretched, his claws glinting in the sunlight.
The prey, the squeaking mouse, was dead.
Reedpaw looked up, looking faintly embarrassed. “Um, I’ll get more,” he murmured through his mouse.
“No,” Whitepetal meowed. Her eyes were round and wide, and her mouth was open. “Reedpaw, I think you may be a SkyClan cat.”
Reedpaw stiffened. “Er… why?”
“Your springs and leaps – They’re admirable, Reedpaw.”
There was unmistakable respect in Whitepetal’s eyes. Reedpaw felt slightly uncomfortable.
Whitepetal purred. “Next time,” she meowed, her voice quivering slightly, “We’ll try the water.”
Reedpaw moved closer to her. “It’s okay. It’ll be all right.”
Whitepetal met his gaze gratefully. “Thank you, Reedpaw,” she murmured.
Oaktuft wrinkled his nose at Reedpaw. His dark ears flicked as he laid down the squirrel. “Why don’t you share my mouse?” he offered friendlily.
“Oh. Thanks.” Reedpaw settled down to, and he blurted out, “Do you like Creampaw?”
The brown cat grinned sheepishly. “Is it that obvious?” he asked.
“Well, my friend,” Oaktuft meowed, “don’t tell.”
“Huh? But everyone knows.”
Oaktuft shrugged. “I don’t want cats whispering about it. Rippleface already is, the cocky cat!” He rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to tease him back about Honeypaw but he always leaves. Reedpaw, you won’t, right?”
Reedpaw nodded. “I won’t,” he promised, barely keeping himself from purring out loud.
“There’s Roseleap,” mewed Oaktuft. “Do you think Sparrowheart likes her?”
Do we have to talk about this?
“I think he likes her, to be honest,” Oaktuft meowed. “Creampaw’s been analyzing these things recently. I heard Sparrowheart loved Flamepetal once.”
Somehow, the idea of Sparrowheart loving anybody gave off a strange vibe; it was wrong, like the idea of bees hating honey, or Creampaw despising Oaktuft.
“But one thing that’s clear is that,” a cheerful, friendly voice interrupted. A cream tail brushed the ground. “That Lynxfoot and Eagleshade are a thing. Hey, Oaktuft, is it right Eagleshade came from ShadowClan as an apprentice?”
To Reedpaw, her question just seemed like an excuse to talk to him.
“Yes, that’s right. With the coming troubles with ShadowClan, Silverstar’s been talking to him a lot. He seemed really troubled; he didn’t want to betray his old Clan, but RiverClan is his Clan now. I pity him; I wouldn’t want to be in his paws right now,” Oaktuft meowed enthusiastically.
Leaving the two to gossip, Reedpaw stood up to pad towards Lynxfoot. “Hi, Lynxfoot,” he mewed.
Lynxfoot blinked at him. “Hello, Reedpaw. Did you know there’ll be three extra queens in the nursery?”
“No… Who? I know Windfeather.”
“So you do! Well, the other is Cloudstream, and then…” She took a deep breath, her wide eyes glittering. “Me!”
Reedpaw gave a startled jolt. “What?” he gasped.
Lynxfoot purred, the sound coming deep within her throat, vibrating happiness. “Lovely, right? I just asked Ottersnow and she said she’d kill me if I didn’t move.”
“But she’s caring, deep within her heart… Nobody knows how deep,” joked Lynxfoot.
Reedpaw smiled. “I’m happy for you, Lynxfoot. They’re Eagleshade’s, right?”
“Yes,” Lynxfoot purred. “Thanks, Reedpaw. Could you tell Cloudstream that Ottersnow told her if she doesn’t move she’ll die? She told me to pass on the message, but I don’t see her anywhere.”
“Thanks, Reedpaw.” Lynxfoot grinned widely at him, and turned back, her tail high up in the air.
Things were definitely changing. Lynxfoot would never be the same. He felt unfair resentment towards Lynxfoot’s yet to be born kits. Lynxfoot was his friend.
A chilling feeling dashed up his spine. Rainingpaw and Mistypaw would change one day. Would he have any friends left?
Trying to think positively (It’ll be moons before that happens!), Reedpaw moved to find Slatefoot. Whitepetal and Slatefoot were currently the ones he could trust to confess his secrets. His dark, unfair secrets.
“Slatefoot?” he whispered, gently prodding the gray she-cat awkae.
“Hello… Reedpaw?” Slatefoot sat up. “What is it? Did you come to fish, and I was on your way?”
“No, not that,” Reedpaw answered, flustered. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
Slatefoot’s eyebrows moved up. “Well?” she mewed. Her voice was quiet and soothing.
“I feel like everything’s changing,” started Reedpaw hesitantly. His heart pounded in his throat, and came a nervous and anxious feeling that Slatefoot would feel lowly of him after hearing of his dark thoughts. But he carried on. “Lynxfoot’s going to have kits. She was my friend. Creampaw, Honeypaw, and Roseleap’s all in love.” He felt his voice tremble. “Oaktuft and Rippleface were my friends. But I feel like they’re all drifting away. But… I feel angry. Disappointed. Resentment. I’m not supposed to feel this way. This is… bad.” He struggled with his words. “They won’t care about me. They’ll have their family to care about, and they can’t spare time for me.”
Slatefoot was quiet after the outbreak. Feeling hot and embarrassed, Reedpaw lowered his head and stared at his paws. Why did I say that? he thought regretfully.
“I understand, Reedpaw,” Slatefoot meowed finally. “I get it. But those friends will spare time for you. No, they won’ t spare time. They will have time for you, and want time for you.” She raised her gaze. “You’re a likable cat. You have many friends. Almost all cats your age like you very much; don’t you feel that? They love you. Stormpaw, Dewpaw, Mistypaw, and Rainingpaw are your friends, and Roseleap and Creampaw will always be close to you. They will never leave you.”
The sunny day was fit for Creampaw and Honeypaw’s warrior ceremony. Their mother, Hawkfern, was busily telling them she was so proud of them.
“Thanks, Hawkfern!” exclaimed Creampaw, her eyes glinting.
Rippleface was talking with Honeypaw. Honeypaw’s amber eyes were filled with anticipation. “I was just… worried. You were a warrior.”
“But it’s fine now.”
“Let all cats who can fish gather around!” yowled a voice. Silverstar was standing, her paws firmly rooted on the higher ground, and her dark eyes gleaming. They definitely had a shaky edge to it, but she still stood strong, and Reedpaw admired her for that. “Today is a day when we must greet two new warriors,” she meowed, raising her head to the sky. “Creampaw, Honeypaw, step forward.” She adverted her gaze to Stormsky and Acornsquirrel. “Stormsky, has Creampaw trained well to learn the ways of a warrior?”
The dark gray she-cat nodded, her eyes full of pride for her apprentice. “She has.”
“Acornsquirrel, has Honeypaw trained well to learn the ways of a warrior?”
“She has,” meowed the brown she-cat, her chest puffed out proudly.
“Then by the powers of StarClan, Creampaw, from this moment you will be called Creamfrost. And Honeypaw, from this moment, you will be called Honeyfawn.”
Creamfrost and Honeyfawn’s eyes met.
“CREAMFROST! CREAMFROST! HONEYFAWN! HONEYFAWN!” Reedpaw yowled, together with many, joyous cats.
Silverstar nodded, and stepped back.
Stormsky touched noses with Creamfrost. “I’m proud of you, Creamfrost. I truly am.”
Creamfrost’s pink nose twitched. “All thanks to you,” she purred. “You were a great mentor, Stormsky, and I’ll always remember that.”
Stormsky’s white ears flicked in acknowledgement.
Meanwhile, Acornsquirrel was nodding happily to Honeyfawn. “I know you’ll serve your Clan well.”
“I will, with the skills you taught me!” exclaimed Honeyfawn, her amber eyes shining. “I love my suffix. I know I wanted mine to be the same with Creamfrost… It’s just amazing.” she added.
“That would be,” agreed Acornsquirrel. “It suits you. Don’t you dare act cocky in front of me!”
“Oh, but I will! I’m a warrior now, Acornsquirrel, don’t boss me around!”
“Ooh, yes, Stormsky, don’t!” exclaimed Creamfrost. “I don’t have to listen anymore.”
“You normally didn’t,” Stormsky corrected her.
“That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?” Creamfrost asked, raising her eyebrows in a sarcastic way.
Stormsky purred. “Yes, you listened half my orders.”
“You got me there!”
Tearing his eyes away from the happy moment, Reedpaw glanced at Whitepetal. “Don’t boss me around when I’m a warrior.”
Whitepetal whisked her tail. “Let’s talk when you actually are,” she mewed teasingly. “You don’t act so cocky around me: Hey, Whitepetal! Go and fetch my fish, won’t you?”
“You know I’d never do that.”
“I do.” Whitepetal faced him warmly. “You’re the best apprentice any mentor could wish for, I stand by my word. Now, let’s go train in the water.”
Reedpaw was excited to have a water-session with Whitepetal. “You’ll be fine,” he meowed softly.
“Yes, I will,” murmured the white she-cat. Her gray-tipped tail flicked. “You can go congratulate your friends, and I’ll meet you a few minutes later, okay?”
Reedpaw padded towards Creamfrost and Honeyfawn. “Hi, guys!” he greeted.
Creamfrost whirled around. “Oh, Reedpaw! Amazing name, huh?” she gloated. Then she got a slightly nostalgic look in her eyes, and she mewed softly, “It seems only yesterday I woke up to tell I was going to be no longer a kit, but an apprentice. And now I’m telling you I’m a warrior.”
Reedpaw remembered that day, too. He remembered feeling disappointed Mistshade didn’t try harder to get him out.
Swallowing, Reedpaw meowed happily, “I’m really happy for you, Creampaw. I mean Creamfrost.”
She purred. “I get why you’re confused,” she mewed cheerily. “My name’s Creamfrost.”
“Honeyfawn,” added Reedpaw hurriedly, meeting Honeyfawn’s amber gaze. “Your name’s awesome.”
Honeyfawn raised an eyebrow. “Why, thank you,” she mewed. “When will be your…?” She sounded cooler than before.
“A few days later,” answered Reedpaw.
“I’ll be looking forward to it,” cheered the two sisters.
“Psst,” meowed a voice regally.
Reedpaw blinked and turned back. It was a golden tabby. His amber eyes were bright and cheery, but Reedpaw could sense darkness and a whirlpool of feelings behind them.
“Hello, Reedpaw,” meowed Sparrowheart.
“Let us go talk in somewhere private.” Sparrowheart, without waiting for Reedpaw, whisked away, and Reedpaw hurriedly followed, his silver fur bristling with ideas of which might happen. He unsheathed and sheathed his claws repeatedly. Anything could happen. He had to remember that.
The handsome golden tabby tom stopped. His amber eyes grazed Reedpaw harshly. “You’re grown,” he meowed.
There was no admiration, only cold analyzing. Reedpaw could swear Sparrowheart was warmer before.
“Almost as big as me… But not. You won’t outgrow me.” He raised his head. Sparrowheart resembled Silverstar this morning, when she named Creamfrost and Honeyfawn. “Now, I would like to survey your training process.”
“You’re not my mentor.” Reedpaw could say that now. He was rather proud of himself.
Sparrowheart let out a deep purr which only lasted half a second. “But I’m your brother,” he corrected. “Brothers stick with each other.”
Reedpaw hesitated. “Do they?”
“Yes, they do. They’re just like siblings, littermates, like Sundawn and I. Only… we’ve drifted away. I’m afraid she’s been envious of me ever since I received my name first, with darling Roseleap.”
“Um, about that, Sparrowheart,” started Reedpaw nervously.
Sparrowheart tipped his head to one side. “Yes? About Sundawn?”
“No, Roseleap. Do you like her?”
“She’s a dear cat.”
“No, not like that. Do you love her? In a way Mistshade loves Tawnyclaw, and Tawnyclaw loves Mistshade?”
“That is yet unclear.”
“Then… Then what about Flamepetal? I heard from somebody you loved her once.”
“That was a naïve version of me,” Sparrowheart answered, his whisker twitching. “And please do stop asking private questions.”
Reedpaw flushed, but he retorted, “That’s what you’ve been doing. Prying my training…”
“Oh? That’s not exactly private,” Sparrowheart meowed, in a clearly mocking tone.
Reedpaw lowered his gaze. “Okay, fine. So what’s your point? My training? Ask Whitepetal, then.”
Sparrowheart flicked his tail crossly. “I want to talk to you,” he meowed quietly. “We can share things from each other.”
Reedpaw nodded. “Very well, if you wish.”
The day after Sparrowheart told Reedpaw once more that he wanted to talk to him, Reedpaw found that Sparrowheart had grand plans, somewhere in his mind, for RiverClan. He didn’t like Eagleshade, and when Reedpaw cautiously asked him, rather off-handedly, if Eagleshade was his friend, Sparrowheart muttered he was ShadowClan.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” he mumbled to himself.
“Hey, Reedpaw!” called Whitepetal brightly. “Let’s go swim.”
“Oh! Okay!” Reedpaw bounded toward the white she-cat.
“I thought we might try the lake with the other apprentices,” Whitepetal continued. “It’s deeper than what you know, so I thought we might need some more cats.”
Reedpaw then spotted Rainingpaw and her mentor, Starlingsnow, with Mistypaw and her mentor, Fallowstep.
“Hey, Reedpaw,” meowed Fallowstep. Her eyes were bright and friendly. “I saw Whitewind and Brindlepelt looking for you earlier.”
“Oh! I’ll see him later. Thanks, Fallowstep.”
“Sure thing. Mistypaw, this is our fourth time in the water,” Fallowstep continued, her eyes bright with amusement. “We have to do good, you know that, right?”
Mistypaw’s tail stood up. “Of course,” she meowed quickly.
“You’ve been doing well, Rainingpaw,” mewed Starlingsnow admiringly. “I’m pleased.”
Rainingpaw’s whiskers twitched with pleasure. “Thank you!”
“Reedpaw’s been doing well,” meowed Whitepetal. “Today, we’ll be having a race.” Her eyes glittered. “This was an activity we did when we were apprentices. Cherryfern, Sorrelfrost, and I always tried to beat each other.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that too,” interrupted Starlingsnow. “But suddenly we didn’t do it.”
Fallowstep sighed. “I loved doing it. Then Splashfall stopped doing that. It was a shame.”
“Yes; Lightbriar told me it was because one apprentice almost drowned doing it. She didn’t tell me who it was, though,” Starlingsnow added.
“And now the tradition’s back. Silverstar requested it today; she told us she thought there was a lack of competition.” Whitepetal’s hazel eyes darkened.
“It’s because of the upcoming battle, isn’t it?” mewed Rainingpaw, her whiskers quivering.
Reedpaw thought Rainingpaw expressed her emotions quite well with her whiskers.
“Maybe,” admitted Whitepetal. “But let’s not focus on that now. Rainingpaw, Mistypaw, Reedpaw, let’s go to the lake.”
“I love the lake,” Reedpaw heard Mistypaw mew to her sister, and then Rainingpaw mew back, “But you didn’t go there yet!” then Mistypaw retorting, “Yes, but I can feel it in my bones!”
“You like the lake?” he asked, slowing down.
Mistypaw nodded. Reedpaw noticed there wasn’t a familiar warm glow in her eyes like a few moons ago. It was strange, but also rather very comfortable. “It makes be feel shiny,” she answered.
“I’d like to see the lake,” agreed Rainingpaw, her dark blue eyes getting a wistful look. “It sounds amazing.”
Reedpaw had gotten glimpses of the lake, and he quite liked it. “Yeah, it does,” he agreed.
“We’re almost there,” called Fallowstep. Her pale brown tail flicked, and three she-cats went through the bushes.
When the silver-and-white tabby she-cat disappeared, Reedpaw dove through to follow her. Then there they were; Whitepetal and Fallowstep staring proudly at the lake, and Starlingsnow hurrying to catch up.
“This is amazing, isn’t it?” murmured Whitepetal.
“It is,” agreed Reedpaw, his eyes wide.
Mistypaw let out a sigh. “This tops Yellowbird’s kits!” she exclaimed softly to Rainingpaw, and Rainingpaw let out a purr of agreement.
“Surely,” the gray she-apprentice meowed. “Larchkit, Featherkit, and Stonekit were definitely cute, but this is beautiful.” Rainingpaw sighed, and her cream-furred sister purred. “I love it!” she exclaimed.
Starlingsnow glanced back. “Come closer,” she beckoned to them. “It’s time you see the lake.” Her green eyes gleamed.
Taking a trembling step forward, Reedpaw blinked opened his eyes.
The golden, radiant sun was shining upon the water, making it glitter. Water was rippling gently, its slow tides slapping the shore.
It was, in fact, unlike anything Reedpaw had ever seen. His silver pelt rippled, and he felt feeling surge through him.
“This is amazing,” he breathed.
“It is, isn’t it?” Whitepetal mewed softly, her voice mingled with fear and nostalgia.
“Come,” called Fallowstep, taking a step forward.
Starlingsnow followed, closely followed by the two apprentices, Rainingpaw and Mistypaw.
Whitepetal hesitated, her white paw hovering in the air.
“Go on, Whitepetal,” encouraged Reedpaw. “You can do it.”
Whitepetal gazed gratefully at him. “I have to do it,” she murmured. “Yes, thank you.” The white she-cat padded along, and her silver apprentice followed.
I hope she overcomes her fears, Reedpaw thought.
Starlingsnow dipped both her paws in the lapping water. “Come in!” she called, and Fallowstep nodding, jumping in and splashing Starlingsnow. “It’s not deep yet.”
Mistypaw and Rainingpaw leapt in, both splashing the other.
Carefully, Reedpaw dipped one white paw in. “Oh…” he murmured softly, feeling the cold water lap at his paws.
“Do you like it?” asked Whitepetal, with a nervous tinge in her tone.
“Yes,” Reedpaw answered softly. “I love it.”
Rainingpaw and Mistypaw were already playing in the water, dunking the other and splashing.
“Stop playing, now,” instructed Fallowstep. “Stand up straight, Mistypaw.” Rainingpaw and Mistypaw both straightened simultaneously.
Starlingsnow took a step back, and her white chest fur was now drenched with water. “Take one tiny step back,” she instructed. “You are smaller than us, which means you can’t go deeper than us.”
“Come,” Whitepetal mewed, and she lowered her body and disappeared into the water, with her neck and head sticking out of the rippling water.
Reedpaw nodded eagerly, and felt his silver fur slowly soak the water. The cool water chilled and exhilarated his body.
Whitepetal stood, and half-swam and half-padded to where Fallowstep and Starlingsnow were waiting, with their apprentices.
Rainingpaw squealed, and splashed Reedpaw. Mistypaw giggled, and she dove into the water, and soon, Rainingpaw let out a startled yelp, and she disappeared in. Reedpaw could see bubbles gurgling in the surface.
When Rainingpaw emerged, she was panting, totally soaked. Then she fell sideways, onto Mistypaw, and now it was the cream she-cat’s turn to be drenched.
“Stop it, you two,” called Fallowstep sternly, but her eyes were twinkling with laughter.
Starlingsnow rolled her eyes. “Come up,” she called. “Good, good. Now, you all know how to swim, right?”
Reedpaw saw Whitepetal’s hazel eyes flash with anxiety, and he worried, for a split second, if Whitepetal remembered how to swim. But his worries vanished as Whitepetal nodded, and swam out as if they had planned this all. Reedpaw could feel Whitepetal’s paws pushing away water, and the water lapped at his chest. He dug in his claws in the ground.
Nodding, Fallowstep mewed, “Just as Whitepetal just demonstrated ever so kindly for us, you should swim out gently at first. The lake is not the sun-drown place, a place of legend. They say there, the currents change frequently, going almost to drown us all. The lake is calm and sturdy. But still, you never know what is going to happen. Go slowly. Calmly. Pad as if this is just an evening walk.”
Starlingsnow slowly swam out, her paws stroking the water rhythmically.
“Just like that. Now, Mistypaw, you try it.”
Looking anxious, the cream-colored apprentice took a deep breath. Reedpaw could see her neck craning, and her paws lapping almost manically.
“No! Stop!” called Fallowstep.
Eyes wide, Mistypaw stopped flailing her paws. She raised her head, in an attempt to breathe, as her body was sucked into the dark depths.
“Not like that,” snapped Fallowstep, as she quickly submerged, and emerged again, gripping the frenzied Mistypaw’s scruff.
Fallowstep’s eyes were equally wide, and she mewed, her voice quivering, “Never do that again!”
Mistypaw nodded fearfully. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Now, Starlingsnow and Whitepetal had swam back. “What’s wrong?” the silver-and-white tabby she-cat asked, her ears flat.
“Mistypaw almost drowned!” spat the pale brown cat.
Whitepetal’s eyes widened. “How?” she asked.
“She swam frenziedly. If she kept on like that, she’d get out of breath quickly and sink. So I told her to stop, and she completely stopped!” Fallowstep snapped.
“…Why don’t you instruct Reedpaw,” meowed Whitepetal slowly, “and I help Mistypaw?”
Mistypaw looked cross, but Fallowstep nodded. “Try your best,” she muttered.
The white she-cat swam next to the cross apprentice, and whispered something. The cream she-cat’s ears perked up, and she murmured something back in response. Nodding encouragingly, Whitepetal slowly waded out, her tail stretching.
Taking grip on the tail, using her mouth, Mistypaw slowly followed her.
“I’m sure you can do it,” Fallowstep was meowing. “Your paws must stroke rhythmically – What’re you watching?” The pale brown she-cat looked back, and she let out a hoarse laugh. “Whitepetal has a way with apprentices. Just like how she was with you, she’s helping Mistypaw.” She shook her head. “Maybe I’m just useless with patience, but…”
Now swimming back, Mistypaw let go of the white tail and called out, “No, you’re the greatest mentor!”
“Let’s see Rainingpaw, shall we?” Starlingsnow asked, her voice full of pride.
The pale gray she-cat looked nervous, and slowly she began wading out.
“She’s good,” whispered Whitepetal to Starlingsnow, rather admiringly.
“Yes, she is, isn’t she?” asked Starlingsnow smugly. “But as Fallowstep said, you’ve done well, too.”
“You don’t know how much that means to me.”
Starlingsnow’s voice went lower, and she mewed, “Oh, yes I do.”
“Oh!” Mistypaw yelped. Her eyes had been fixed on her sister. “Rainingpaw’s going too far! I can’t see her.”
Reedpaw whirled back, and realized she was right. “She’s heading towards ThunderClan territory!” he hissed.
Starlingsnow jumped to her paws. “We need to rescue her!” she yelled, and dove in.
Reedpaw, by entire instinct, jumped in after the tabby she-cat, and, ignoring Whitepetal’s calls, swam and swam, his heart beating madly for his friend.
The sun was shining, but it seemed so dark. Reedpaw’s heart was thundering. Rainingpaw’s figure was getting smaller, and Reedpaw couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t stopping. He could see Starlingsnow swimming, and he then regretted how reckless he was, jumping in when there was already a grown cat who could take care of the situation. But he could not have helped it.
“Reedpaw!” Starlingsnow gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“To help!” Reedpaw yelled back.
The silver tabby she-cat said nothing, but disapproving was prickling out of her like lightning.
Reedpaw ignored the clear signs, and kicked his hind legs strongly. He felt his body soar, and he was pulled to the front, passing Starlingsnow, and he stroked his pads, and swam and swam. He couldn’t let Rainingpaw reach ThunderClan territory.
Finally, he’d crossed the first half of the huge lake, and he was closer to Rainingpaw. He noticed Rainingpaw was barely swimming; she was drifting.
Feeling bemused, Reedpaw pushed off again.
The pale gray she-cat’s dark blue eyes were half closed, and her paws were limp.
“Starlingsnow!” yelled Reedpaw, frantically waving his front paws and then splashing back to stay afloat. “She’s unconscious!”
Just then, Rainingpaw coughed, water dribbling down her chin.
They were drifting closer to ThunderClan territory.
Reedpaw craned his neck, and spotted a small white she-cat walking along the shore with a gray-and-white she-cat. “Ahhhhhh!” he screamed, as he felt a wave push him and Rainingpaw towards the territory.
The two cats gave a little yelp, and the gray-and-white one peered at them. “Swimming?” she asked.
“Y… yes,” Reedpaw stammered. “We’re from RiverClan, and my friend drifted away. So I tried to rescue her, and here we are.”
The gray-and-white she-cat purred, and Reedpaw recognized the ThunderClan medicine cat, Lilywillow. “So,” Lilywillow began, her eyes grazing Reedpaw. “Where are your mentors?”
“My friend’s mentor is swimming over here,” Reedpaw replied.
“And what would be your name?” Lilywillow asked.
“Reedpaw and Rainingpaw.”
“Who’s the mentor?”
Lilywillow looked faintly embarrassed. “Your name rang a bell,” she answered softly.
“So it did,” the white cat spoke up. Her voice was smooth and quiet, and her pale yellow eyes were focused on the ground. “I believe it would be the tom’s mentor we know.” Her voice trembled a note, and Reedpaw realized this cat must be Lightflare.
“Lightflare,” he whispered under his breath. The two friends Whitepetal had made when she was stranded like this.
“I beg your pardon?” Lightflare asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, nothing,” Reedpaw meowed quickly. He glanced at Rainingpaw, who was letting out small moans. “You’re the medicine cat of ThunderClan, aren’t you?” he asked, looking at Lilywillow.
She nodded. “Yes, I am.” She looked at Rainingpaw. “Do you want me to treat her?”
“Wait!” called a voice. Starlingsnow had reached the shore and was brushing water off her pelt. “You have to ask me, first, Reedpaw. And how dare you just… swim off like that? Do you know how irresponsible that was? Whitepetal and Fallowstep and I were so surprised – Well, I don’t know about Whitepetal and Fallowstep but I’m sure they were – now, explain yourself!”
“I couldn’t help it,” murmured Reedpaw guiltily.
“Stop this, for now,” instructed Lilywillow.
Starlingsnow looked up in disbelief. “Who are you to order me around?” she snapped. “I’m scolding my apprentice and another.”
Lilywillow shook her head. “We should treat Rainingpaw first,” she replied.
“How do you know – forget it. Very well. But I must accompany. Reedpaw, go back and tell Fallowstep and Whitepetal you’re okay.”
“No he won’t,” Lightflare interrupted. “He swam all the way across the lake?” She clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “That won’t do.” Then she lowered her head, as if embarrassed.
Lilywillow nodded. “They will have to manage,” she mewed.
Starlingsnow frowned. “She isn’t much older than I am,” she muttered. “She’s obnoxious!”
The gray-and-white she-cat led the way, and Reedpaw noticed the medicine cat’s pelt was distinctively dappled.
“Starlingsnow?” he whispered.
The silver she-cat tilted her head. “Yes?”
“Will Rainingpaw be okay?”
“Of course,” assured Starlingsnow confidently. “As much as I don’t really like her, Lilywillow is a great medicine cat.”
“I heard that,” called Lilywillow.
“So you did!” exclaimed Starlingsnow.
They walked until they reached the camp. ThunderClan territory was much different than RiverClan’s, and Reedpaw marveled at every bit of it. The thick forest was covered with trees, and Reedpaw felt trapped in here. There was no fresh scent of the water, and only smells of trees striking his nose.
Reedpaw couldn’t figure out how ThunderClan cats would live here.
Then again, those cats would probably think the same in RiverClan territory.
“Here we are,” Lilywillow announced. “Let’s lay her here.”
The limp figure of the pale gray she-cat was lied gently on a bed made of soft, dry moss. It smelled of oaks and pines, and Reedpaw had to admit that it must be easier to find dry moss here than in RiverClan.
“Get out,” Lilywillow instructed. “You can rest. Starlingsnow, no, you can’t stay, either. I’ll call you when I think you’ll need to come.”
“Whenever there’s a change.”
“Then you’ll have to come every single second. Well, anyways, very well.”
Reedpaw backed out, his chest tight with worry.
“Who are you?” a sharp voice made him turn. A pale silver she-cat with blue eyes was glaring at him.
“I’m from RiverClan,” he stuttered.
“Then why are you here?” The she-cat leaned close, her breath hot on Reedpaw’s face.
“Stop it, Mistfall!” called a gray tom.
Mistfall turned back. “Eaglestar,” she murmured. “Yes?”
“Lightflare says Lilywillow is treating their companion. Therefore, they are our guests.”
“I did not know that,” Mistfall meowed politely. There was respect oozing out of her gaze, and something more.
Feeling uncomfortable, Reedpaw backed away.
“You!” The loving gaze turned ferocious.
“Leave it,” snapped Eaglestar.
Mistfall turned her gaze away, eyes burning with embarrassment.
Eaglestar jumped from the rock, and stood in front of Reedpaw. Reedpaw fluffed out his fur, feeling nervous. “Yes?” Nervously, he added, “Hello.”
The gray leader snorted. “No need for that,” he answered dismissively. “How is your friend, say?”
“Totally fine,” squeaked Reedpaw.
“When do you assume you can go?”
“Er… Ask Lilywillow.”
“So I shall.” Eaglestar nodded curtly, and began padding stiffly to the medicine den.
Shaking his pelt, Reedpaw thought, That cat was certainly scary!
“Reedpaw,” called Starlingsnow. “I think I’ll have to go back, and tell RiverClan everything is all right. Could you keep an eye on Lilywillow and Rainingpaw, and come back with her?”
“Oh, sure.” Reedpaw nodded. “I’ll take care of everything.”
Starlingsnow’s whiskers twitched in amusement. “All right, Reedpaw,” she mewed.
“Why have you come here?” Reedpaw heard a cold voice hiss. His ears perked up, and he barely noticed Starlingsnow leaving for the medicine den, perhaps to say she was going, and turned around to see what was happening.
The voice was so low, nobody else had heard. But Reedpaw had.
Eaglestar was growling at a dark gray-and-white cat. His pelt was so dark Reedpaw could hardly tell the color from black, and somehow, he resembled Eaglestar.
“I did not wish to see you either,” growled the dark cat. “But we need supplies. I’ve come to ask Lilywillow for some.”
“Go somewhere else!”
The tom stood his ground. “ThunderClan was the most closest.”
“You have RiverClan!”
Then the tom must’ve been a medicine cat from WindClan. Reedpaw watched curiously. Then why was Eaglestar so angry?
“Then should I leave?”
“Yes, you should, Magpiefeather.”
“Erm… excuse me,” coughed Reedpaw, his brains frantically trying to think of an excuse.
Eaglestar’s blue eyes flashed. “Yes?”
Magpiefeather gave a small snort, which he disregarded lightly.
“Um… Lilywillow… says… she… um… wanted to talk to you, Eaglestar… about… Rainingpaw,” Reedpaw stuttered, hoping Eaglestar would think of his stuttering as simple nervousness around him.
Thankfully, he seemed to have. He nodded, and growled. “Stay here” and padded off.
“You were lying, weren’t you?” asked Magpiefeather. His blue eyes grazed Reedpaw, and Reedpaw’s heart began fluttering like mad.
Magpiefeather nodded. “It’s a wonder that daft furball didn’t notice,” he continued.
“I’m not sure you should call a Clan leader that way... Especially one you’re not on good terms with… There could be a war.”
Magpiefeather raised an eyebrow. “Is that so. It so happens he’s unfortunately my blood. So I’m sure he’ll excuse me. That’s what he does to me, anyway. Call me names, blah.” He laughed. “I sound like a grumpy old cat, don’t I? Actually I’m just a few moons older than Lilywillow.”
Reedpaw gawked. “Ooh.” He totally forgot about Magpiefeather’s mention of Eaglestar and his shared blood. “Oh! Eaglestar’s coming!” Reedpaw hoped Lilywillow had covered for him.
“She says your friend is better, and she should rest for some time.” Scowling, the leader continued. “Somehow she heard about Magpiefeather and wants to see him. You too, apprentice. I believe Lilywillow has something to say about your friend.”
“Thank you, Eaglestar.”
Magpiefeather stared at Eaglestar. When Eaglestar met his eyes, he dipped his head and started walking.
Reedpaw quickly caught up to him, but said nothing. It seemed wrong to talk.
The dark gray cat ducked into the medicine den to see the gray-and-white she-cat busily bustling around. “Oh, hi, Magpiefeather!” exclaimed Lilywillow happily. “And Reedpaw! Rainingpaw’s fine now; with a bit of rest she’ll be as good as a mouse.
“You can go now. Maybe you can make some friends! I want to talk with Magpiefeather now, thanks. Oh, and I heard Starlingsnow had left. Can you go back to RiverClan on you own, with Rainingpaw? You don’t need anyone tagging along?”
“No, thank you,” Reedpaw answered.
“But I’m still worried…”
“I can go with them,” volunteered Magpiefeather.
Lilywillow looked relieved. “Okay, thanks. Then you can go with them until WindClan, and they’ll go the rest of the way alone. You can do that, right?”
“Great.” Lilywillow smiled. It was a busy, absent smile.
Reedpaw slipped out, and put his white ear to the moss covering the entrance. He could hear Lilywillow was mewing, “So what herb do you need?”
“Tansy and watermint,” answered Magpiefeather. “We’ll low on that.”
“So I see,” meowed Lilywillow. “Tansy… and watermint! Here you go. Now, I want to ask you something. You’re training an apprentice?”
Magpiefeather’s voice was tight as he replied. “Yes, why?”
“I just wondered. As you know, there aren’t anyone in the Clan who wants to be a medicine cat…”
“But you’re still young,” reasoned Magpiefeather warmly. “And Honeypaw’s very young as well. Well, she’s nine moons old.”
Lilywillow nodded. “I just wondered how it’s like to have a companion…” Her voice grew wistful, and Reedpaw realized he had never wondered why Lilywillow worked alone when she was a fairly young medicine cat.”
“Oh, I understand. Fernfoot died a few moons ago… I still miss her.”
“Ivyleaf was the best mentor one could have.”
Feeling he was walking on private matters, Reedpaw quickly pulled his ear away. With Starlingsnow gone and Rainingpaw sick, he didn’t have anything to do.
He eventually settled on sitting a few tail-lengths away from the medicine den, awkwardly staring at the sky ahead.
“Oh, were you here?” Lilywillow’s voice asked, cheerful, high, and surprised. “Well, Rainingpaw’s okay now. Tell your medicine cat she must rest for a short while. Magpiefeather can accompany you.” She ducked back into the den, and emerged again, with Rainingpaw.
The pale gray she-cat’s eyelids were fluttering.
“She looks weak,” Reedpaw mewed worriedly. “Are you sure she’s fine?”
“Positive. I would’ve let her rest a bit more, but I’m afraid RiverClan won’t tolerate that.”
That’s right. They’ll think ThunderClan kidnapped two apprentices on purpose, and try to start a war, Reedpaw thought darkly.
“Okay,” he meowed. “Can she walk yet?”
“She’s tried, and succeeded.”
Rainingpaw stumbled away from Lilywillow. Her legs were shaking, but she was standing. “I’m fine,” she croaked. “I just feel tired… really much. I guess that’s what you get when you swim across the lake… while you’re almost unconscious.”
Reedpaw was feeling an ache in his legs as well. “I understand,” he meowed. “We’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
The pale gray apprentice nodded, her eyes warm. “Thanks,” she mumbled, and took timid steps forward.
Magpiefeather nodded. “Good-bye,” he mewed softly, and started forward.
Feeling a gaze burning towards them, Reedpaw looked back, and saw Eaglestar staring at them. There was also Mistfall’s resentful gaze. Feeling shivers up his spine, Reedpaw quickened his pace.
“Slow down!” Rainingpaw grumbled, but Reedpaw didn’t. His pelt was pricking too much. “Reedpaw!”
“Slow down,” ordered Magpiefeather. “You both have to rest your legs.”
Reedpaw reluctantly did. “Sorry…” he murmured.
“That’s okay,” mumbled Rainingpaw weakly. “Let’s go now.”
“We’re almost out of ThunderClan territory,” Magpiefeather called. “Then we’ll get close the lake.”
“We’re not swimming…?” Rainingpaw asked faintly.
“No, we aren’t,” reassured Magpiefeather, and a look of pure relief flooded into Rainingpaw’s face. “Just walking. Relax.”
And Rainingpaw did as she were told. She was walking, and breathing more calmly. “You’re the WindClan medicine cat?” she murmured, her eyelids flickering. “I recognize you…. On my first day… I went to the WindClan border and I saw you picking herbs.” Her nose twitched. “The smell was horrible, though, and you said you had to get used to it. You were nice.”
Magpiefeather let out a rough purr. “I’m glad I’d been seen that way,” he replied. “That was me. Now come.” His blue eyes flitted to the sky. Reedpaw followed his gaze, and found that the sky was turning red, in a dreamy, beautiful sort of way. “It is getting late.”
Rainingpaw’s drooping head tilted left, and her paws bumped against the ground. “They hurt my pads…” she mumbled.
“We can ask Ottersnow,” mewed Reedpaw encouragingly. “It’ll all be fine.”
Rainingpaw’s whiskers twitched. “Thanks…”
Her voice was so lifeless Reedpaw was worried. What if Lilywillow was wrong? Maybe she was evil? Hundreds of possibilities and thoughts flashed through his head, all impossible and haunting. Rainingpaw would be fine, yes? Everyone said Lilywillow was to be trusted; even Starlingsnow! Why wouldn’t Rainingpaw be? Unless Lilywillow was lying and she was actually an evil cat, plotting to kill everyone!
No, no, calm down, Reedpaw. If Lilywillow wanted to take over, she would’ve done that already. Besides, she wouldn’t want to hurt Rainingpaw.
Shaking his head dismissively, and, for good measure, brushed his against some bracken.
Magpiefeather gazed at him, looking puzzled. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Reedpaw felt hot under his pelt. “Oh, nothing,” he mumbled. “I was just… feeling… itchy.”
“Should I get some mouse bile for you?” asked Rainingpaw, her voice full of amusement.
“That will hardly be necessary!” Magpiefeather answered contemptuously. “Young cats’ itchiness can usually be solved by what Reedpaw is doing.”
“That would’ve been useful,” mumbled Rainingpaw.
“We know now,” reasoned Reedpaw fairly. “Let’s hurry, Rainingpaw. Starlingsnow must be worrying.”
They continued walking at a fast pace when suddenly, a new scent hit Reedpaw’s nose. Wrinkling his face, Reedpaw opened his jaws and scented the air.
Rabbits! And wind! Fresh air. WindClan!
“We’re in WindClan territory, yes,” meowed Magpiefeather, “but I’ll go with you a little longer.”
“Thanks,” Reedpaw meowed.
Rainingpaw was panting by now. “My paws hurt…” she whined.
Reedpaw tried to stop himself from blurting out, Just wait! Rainingpaw, ugh, please! And he did. He just meowed, “Stay patient, Rainingpaw.”
The scent of moor flooded into Reedpaw’s mouth, and Reedpaw decided it was better than the stuffy ThunderClan scent. But it didn’t have the fresh water scent, which Reedpaw loved best out of RiverClan, excluding the cats. This WindClan scent was all land, and occasionally bracken and heather.
He shook his head. No, his home was in RiverClan. Definitely.
“Oh, hey, Magpiefeather!”
Surprised, Reedpaw lifted his head to see a gray tabby she-cat bounding towards them. Her lean legs were jumping across the moor to greet her medicine cat.
“What are you doing with them?” she asked.
“Hi, Cindershine. These are RiverClan apprentices, and I’m taking them home. Remember how I went to ThunderClan for supplies? Well, they were there, and Lilywillow suggested I take them with me.”
Cindershine’s pale blue eyes narrowed, and they were so much like Eaglestar’s, only a bit paler, Reedpaw flinched. “Lilywillow? Well, okay. Rainpaw’s sprained her paw, and Honeypaw’s uncertain. Come quick.”
When the gray tabby disappeared again, Magpiefeather explained, “She’s my sister. Cindershine. Honeypaw and Rainpaw are both her kits; she’s really protective of them. When her other kit, Oakpaw, got hurt, she fussed all night. Anyway, let’s go on.” There was definite pride in his eyes.
“Let’s go,” repeated Rainingpaw. “We’ve gone through a lot. ThunderClan… WindClan… Wonder if we’ll see Graystar since we saw Eaglestar.”
That made Reedpaw remember the odd tension between Eaglestar and Magpiefeather. “Er… can I ask you something?” he asked.
“You just did. Fire away.”
“I… Um, sorry, but… what’s the deal with Eaglestar and you?”
Magpiefeather stopped for a split second. His muscles seemed to have gone stiff, and, with his mouth open, the dark gray cat stared at him. Blinking, he meowed slowly, “I share blood.”
“He…” Magpiefeather took a deep breath, “is, unfortunately, my father.” Then he took off again, his ears flat and dark gray fur bristling.
Feeling unsettled, Reedpaw followed him, with Rainingpaw staggering up ahead. “Hold up, Rainingpaw!” he called.
Inwardly, he was thinking about what Magpiefeather had just said. Father! It must’ve been rather hard, finding that out. What would it feel like, actually having different parents, not the one who constantly gave you love?
He shivered. Still, maybe it might be nice, considering his parents. Reedpaw wondered if Tawnyclaw and Mistshade had noticed he had gone, or even worried.
“We’re almost here,” called Magpiefeather. “Considering our unruly circumstances, I don’t dare go any further. I trust you can go from here, alone?” He tipped his head to one side, expecting an answer, and Reedpaw nodded, purring.
“Thanks for bringing us here,” he meowed gratefully.
“It was my duty,” Magpiefeather answered kindly, dipping his head. He turned back and padded calmly into the moors.
Reedpaw watched the dark gray figure become smaller and smaller until it vanished, swept along to the breeze.
“Come on, Rainingpaw,” murmured Reedpaw softly. “Let’s go home.”
When Reedpaw and Rainingpaw staggered into camp, the whole of RiverClan noticed.
“Reedpaw!” shrieked Whitepetal.
“Rainingpaw!” screamed Starlingsnow.
“You’re safe!” yelled Fallowstep and Mistypaw.
“Oh!” cried the rest of the Clan.
“Are you okay?” asked Creamfrost.
“We heard you swam all across the lake!” Roseleap exclaimed, her eyes wide. “Is that true?”
“That must’ve been hard,” Honeyfawn sympathized.
“That was cool,” Rippleface exclaimed. “Like, how was it?”
“Gee, Rippleface. You should ask if he was okay, then ask that!” interrupted Oaktuft. “But we’re all dying to know that, to be honest, Reedpaw. So tell us!”
The silver apprentice blinked, uncomfortable by all the attention. “Well…” he started. His mouth was talking, focused on the questions, but his eyes weren’t. Clear green eyes were searching all around the clearing for a golden shape and a silver one. Specifically Tawnyclaw and Mistshade. They must’ve heard the commotion.
They found a tawny cat, though. His green eyes were staring at ahead, unfocused. Why wasn’t Tawnyclaw looking at him?
Vague memories of kithood flooded into Reedpaw’s heart. He was so kind and fatherly back them. Mistshade was distant, but still a mother. Why?
Resentment tore at his heart, and felt his throat close up. He felt hot water flood up his eyes, but he blinked, trying his best to push them back.
His friends were staring at him. “Are you okay?” asked Roseleap, tipping her head to one side. “You seem… like…” She didn’t finish her sentence.
“Well, well, well…”
Reedpaw winced. “Hi, Sparrowheart.” The golden tabby resembled Tawnyclaw so much it hurt.
Sparrowheart nodded. There was no haunting feel to him; only compassion and curiosity lingered. “Are you okay? I heard that you had swam to ThunderClan, all across the lake.” His amber eyes focused on him. “I expect you are tired.”
“Yes, I am,” Reedpaw admitted.
“But you did a heroic thing…” the golden tabby mused.
Suddenly, the tom was pushed out of the way, and instead replaced with a golden she-cat. Sundawn’s dark amber eyes were filled with relief and worry. “Are you okay?” she blurted. “Sorry about that, Sparrowheart. But honestly! Whitepetal and Fallowstep seemed so lost when they returned. Mistypaw! She began wailing immediately. Well, Stormpaw comforted her, and Dewpaw was silent. When Starlingsnow came back alone, we thought you two were both dead!” She stopped talking, looking a bit sheepish. “So. Are you all right? And what about Rainingpaw? She seems tired out.”
“We both are,” answered Reedpaw. “Really tired.”
Sundawn’s dark eyes were sympathetic. “I understand. Why don’t you go rest? Rainingpaw’s with Ottersnow already. She staggered there straight away.” She purred.
“Good for her. Lilywillow said she should.”
“Wait. Lilywillow?” interrupted Sparrowheart, pushing back Sundawn.
“The ThunderClan medicine cat?” asked Sparrowheart, his eyes in slits.
“Yes, why?” Reedpaw repeated.
Sparrowheart brushed the question away. “No reason,” he meowed breezily, but Reedpaw was sure he had seen the dangerous flash in his brother’s eyes.
“Um…” meowed Reedpaw nervously, unsettled, “I’m going to check on Rainingpaw now. Good-bye.”
Sparrowheart didn’t stop him, although Roseleap quickly leapt towards him, saying brightly, “I’ll go with you.”
“Me too,” Sundawn chimed in.
Baffled by his friends’ quick offer to go with him, Reedpaw slowly took a step towards the medicine den. “Come on, hurry up,” exclaimed Roseleap. Reedpaw detected a slight quiver in her voice, uneasiness and fear. But why?
As soon as they were out of Sparrowheart’s earshot, Reedpaw asked, “All right, what is it?”
He’d intended to sound bossy and demanding, sort of like Whitepetal or Sundawn; a voice that made you confess. But instead, he found that his voice was weak and curious.
“Sparrowheart’s been weird,” replied Sundawn.
There was a small croak from Roseleap, but nothing else.
“We don’t want to be near him.”
“He’s changed…” whimpered Roseleap.
“…I’m sorry, Roseleap,” meowed Reedpaw kindly. “I know how much you liked Sparrowheart.”
The dark ginger cat turned defensive. “He hasn’t done anything! Why do you feel sorry for me? Besides, we’re going to check on Rainingpaw, aren’t we?” She slapped her tail, and Reedpaw jumped back.
“Fine, fine. Let’s go,” Sundawn mewed, clearly disapproving of Roseleap’s defense.
Reedpaw quickly took the lead, and together the three cats went, towards Ottersnow’s den.
“Hi, Ottersnow!” Sundawn called.
“Hello,” came a rapid reply.
“Is everything okay?” asked Reedpaw.
“Yes, thank you for asking. Rainingpaw’s having a slight fever; she must have had a cold. So stay back; it can always turn into whitecough, then greencough.”
Reedpaw swiftly turned back. “But… but it’s greenleaf!” he protested.
“But still,” mewed Ottersnow. “It’s a good thing really. There’s prey, and she’ll have a more chance to recover.”
The silver apprentice nodded. “Okay.”
Roseleap’s blue eyes were wide. “Will she be all right?” she questioned.
“Probably,” Ottersnow replied briskly. “Nothing’s sure. Everything will be fine if she just rests. You may go now.”
Sundawn beckoned for Roseleap to follow, who looked terribly anxious. “Fever!” the dark ginger she-cat exclaimed. “Rainingpaw’s so unlucky… I hope she lives.”
“She will,” Sundawn mewed brightly. “It’s greenleaf, as Reedpaw said. She can’t die from fever and cough in greenleaf!”
Reedpaw hoped Sundawn was right. Rainingpaw couldn’t die. Was it all his fault? After all, he could’ve swam faster… brought her back sooner…
“It’s not your fault. You know that, right?” asked Roseleap.
Reedpaw flinched. “Um… oh…”
“It’s not,” Sundawn meowed forcefully. “Reedpaw, you were great. There’s nothing you could have done better.”
“Thanks, Sundawn. You too, Roseleap.”
“I’ve never heard of a cat who got whitecough in greenleaf, though,” mewed Roseleap. “But Ottersnow was right. Rainingpaw’ll probably recover. Dewpaw’s been fussing all day, actually.” She cast an amused look.
“With Stormpaw comforting Mistypaw,” mewed Sundawn, with a dreamy touch to her tone. “Now let’s go,” she added. “I’m going to down to the lake for a swim.”
“Not Reedpaw, though,” meowed Roseleap. “Right? I expect you’d be traumatized.”
“Are you going?” asked Reedpaw.
Roseleap shrugged. “I dunno yet,” she answered. “If you want me along, I’ll go.”
Sundawn smiled brightly. “I wouldn’t want to swim all alone,” she replied, almost shyly.
“Okay, I’ll go.”
“You’ll go where?” a voice interrupted him. It was a gray she-cat.
“The lake,” Sundawn answered.
A mix of fury and sorrow passed through Slatefoot’s eyes. “He’s probably had a trauma,” she meowed, her efforts to be calm clear like water. “You can’t go yet.”
“You can’t order Reedpaw around…” muttered Roseleap uncertainly. Her eyes flickered, and she said, “Reedpaw says he’s fine.”
Slatefoot didn’t say anything. “Still, I’m worried…” she murmured finally. “Cats with traumas… they last. Like Whitepetal, me…” Her eyes flashed suddenly, and her jaws clamped shut, her gaze becoming guarded.
Curiosity was burning in Roseleap’s gaze, but she didn’t question the older warrior any farther. “All righty,” she meowed brightly. “We’ll all stay here.”
“No, you can go out, if you want. I mean… it might not be a trauma.” Slatefoot shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts.
“It’s not a trauma,” Reedpaw promised.
Slatefoot nodded. “And Sundawn? I heard Mistshade talking to Tawnyclaw. She was wondering where you went. I think she wants both you and your brother there.”
Sundawn’s expression turned thick, and she nodded. “Fine.” She flicked her plumy tail at Reedpaw and Roseleap. “See you.”
“I’d better be going, as well,” mewed Slatefoot. “Happy swimming.”
“Good-bye!” called Reedpaw. He shook his silver tabby pelt.
“I hope it’s nothing,” mewed Roseleap worriedly. “I’ve never seen you being called by Mistshade; it must be very rare.” She sighed, and Reedpaw didn’t dare to correct his friend. He liked it this way, Roseleap believing Mistshade was an absent, good, but absent mother.
“Yeah…” he murmured. “Um, do you want to go to a stream? The lake’s a bit… big.”
Roseleap flashed him a playful look. “Oh, yeah? Then I guess I’ll have to push you off into the water next time I’m by you when you go near the lake! No, correct that. I’ll make sure I’ll be by you!”
“You crazy stalker!” exclaimed Reedpaw.
The dark ginger she-cat rolled her eyes. “Oh, and by the way,” she added, “you’ll be getting your name soon, right? Since you were apprenticed shortly after Creamfrost and Honeyfawn… whoa!” Her eyes got misty. It seemed just like Creamfrost before she said something about kithood. And Roseleap said exactly that. “It seems only yesterday you were kits!”
“Oh, yeah,” mewed Reedpaw. It did. He got a lump in his throat as he imagined his new name. A name that would only be for him. There would be thousands of Reedpaws, but only one Reedwhatever.
Roseleap glanced back. “Ooh, look, there’s Lynxfoot. She looks huge! Can I go talk to her? I want to ask if she’s going to be kitting any time soon?”
“No way. It hasn’t been two moons yet.”
“But a moon,” Roseleap countered. “Besides, one moon is any time soon. I’ll be right back!” She quickly dashed towards the pretty she-cat.
Reedpaw adverted his attention from the two she-cats, and leaned forward to meet his reflection.
It was different than the scrawny kit reflection he remembered seeing. His kit fluff was gone, and in the adorable kit’s place, there stood a tom – small, yet looking full-grown – with sleek silver fur and green eyes. He seemed nice. His eyes weren’t rounded with intimidation. It seemed… proud.
I feel like I can fight back Mistshade, thought Reedpaw, and felt a bitter taste as he realized he was thinking of his growth as a chance to fight his mother. No…
“I’m back!” sang Roseleap.
“Sometimes I think you should’ve been named Rosesong. But then again, you’re leaping.”
Roseleap winked. “Yup. I’m a leaping rose! Anyway, Lynxfoot said Ottersnow expects her kits to come soon, which’ll probably make at least one of them small. Like you! So Lynxfoot concluded her kits will probably come in half a moon. Isn’t it great? I’d love to see Yellowbird’s kits soon. I haven’t the chance to yet.”
“Oh. I totally forgot about that!” He vaguely remembered Rainingpaw and Mistypaw talking about Yellowbird’s kits that morning.
“Yellowbird says her kits are so bouncy she can’t take care of them! But I expect she loves them.” She glanced back. “Hey, isn’t that Minnowdawn?”
Dewpaw’s mother was talking with a ginger-and-white she-cat.
“Wonder what she’s doing with Cherryfern?” mewed Roseleap. “But I guess that’s natural, since Cherryfern is her son’s mentor. But Dewpaw’s been fine, and I haven’t seen Sorrelfrost and Brightmist talking!”
His head slowly beginning to ache from Roseleap’s never-ending chatter, Reedpaw meowed quickly, “Let’s go swim now. ‘Kay?”
“Oops. All right.” Blue eyes gleaming happily, the dark ginger she-cat started towards the entrance of camp. She jumped across the stream, and beckoned for Reedpaw to follow.
The silver tom did, and as he flew across, he looked down, meeting his rippling green eyes. I’ve grown. I’m proud I’ve grown.
Heart bursting, Reedpaw landed softly in the grass. “I’m dying for some cool water,” he meowed.
Shaking off water, Reedpaw clambered to the shore. His fur felt soggy, and his pelt seemed to have fur plastered all over it, feeling heavy.
“That was fun,” he gasped.
Roseleap smirked. “And I won,” she mewed softly. “But! I heard about your race from Mistypaw, and I thought I might do that for you.” She grinned. “We should do this more often.”
“Yeah! With more cats,” agreed Reedpaw. He gave a little yawn. “All this swimming is tiring me out.”
“It’s already dusk,” Roseleap. “Oh, StarClan! I forgot I’m on the dawn patrol.” She gave a small groan. “I should eat some prey and try to go to sleep now.” Giving a cheery smile, she mewed, “Are you staying, or will you go back with me?”
“I’ll go back. Hunt on the way.”
Reedpaw, shaking off water in his pelt again, quickly set off. His stomach was rumbling loudly, its sound like purrs.
“Rose–” he started to say, but Roseleap cut him off.
“Shh!” she hissed. Her blue eyes were fixed on a small shrew.
Reedpaw shrugged, and padded off quietly to another area. His green eyes swept across the clearing for some prey. He found a plump squirrel. He’d never seen one of those before in RiverClan!
Not thinking anything through, Reedpaw dashed forward, his paws stretching and his claws unsheathing.
He landed on the patch of grass, thudding.
“Oh! Hollymist! Look!” yelled a loud voice.
Reedpaw looked up, baffled. Who was Hollymist?
A ginger she-cat strode towards Reedpaw. She looked rather like Roseleap. “Why are you trespassing in WindClan territory?” she growled, her fur beginning to fluff up.
“Huh? Why are you trespassing?” asked Reedpaw, genuinely mystified.
Hollymist glanced back. “Well, Marigoldheart, I think this cat’s crossed it by mistake.”
The white she-cat blinked. “You’re letting him go?” There was a hint of displeasure in her tone, and Hollymist rolled her eyes.
“Yes, Marigoldheart. What do you want me to do?”
“You wouldn’t have let me off that easily if I trespassed into RiverClan.”
“You were my apprentice,” Hollymist corrected, looking annoyed. “This cat is not.” She glanced at Reedpaw. “Are you a warrior yet?” she asked.
“No, but in a few days.”
Marigoldheart snorted. “Apprentice!”
“You were an apprentice a moon ago,” snapped Hollymist.
The white she-cat thrust her head back. “Very well, Hollymist. Let’s just go, and leave this apprentice to go back to the fishy streams where he belongs.”
Hollymist shrugged. “Go back to your territory at once,” she told Reedpaw firmly.
Reedpaw nodded, and started padding back. He didn’t know he’d crossed the border, and he noticed WindClan scents were stale. “You haven’t marked your border in a few days…” he murmured.
Hollymist’s ears perked up. “Our patrol got caught up with some prey,” she meowed grudgingly.
“But if it’s a border patrol…” Reedpaw started, but Marigoldheart slapped her tail against the ground, her aqua-colored eyes blazing.
“That is none of your business!” she snarled. “If we wish to hunt, we hunt.”
Hollymist nodded curtly. “We’ll be passing by soon,” she warned.
As if I’d want to hang back! thought Reedpaw grumpily. But then, a thought flashed in his head, and he yelled out desperately, “Are Orangepaw and Amberpaw okay?”
The ginger she-cat looked back. “They are. They’re my father’s kits…” Her eyes darkened, and she whipped back without another word.
So Hollymist was Graystar’s daughter! Reedpaw shrugged.
“Hi, Reedpaw!” called the muffled voice of Roseleap. The dark ginger she-cat was carrying a shrew in her jaws, her blue eyes twinkling. “This was a good catch. It smells delicious.” She dropped the prey, and scented the air. “Yuck. WindClan! Have they passed by?”
“They did,” admitted Reedpaw. He thought about telling Roseleap that WindClan was probably suffering from hunger, since a border patrol ran off to catch one piece of prey, but he thought against it. Roseleap might tell Silverstar, and Silverstar might try to cause a battle, taking advantage of that.
Sighing, he turned towards camp. “Let’s go back,” he mewed.
“Yup!” Roseleap agreed. “It was a long day, wasn’t it?”
“You can’t imagine.”
Sparrowheart’s amber eyes were sweeping the clearing, perhaps in search for Silverstar. The silver tabby she-cat would indeed be a good resource for his ambition.
“Silverstar,” he meowed, dipping his head.
The silver she-cat turned, her fur bristling. “Oh, it’s you,” she mewed. “Why?”
“May I ask why you are here?”
Without hesitating, Silverstar answered, “To clear my head.” It seemed as if she had wanted to be asked all along. Her breaths became rapid as she continued. “It’s seems all so long ago. Fernshine was an apprentice when I became a warrior along with my siblings.”
So, she is old.
“Littletail and Breezeripple are long dead now,” Silverstar continued heavily. “Border troubles are happening more frequently. I heard from a WindClan warrior this morning, while I was here, that your brother had crossed the border.” Her eyes darkened. “It’s hard, being leader at these times… Tansyflight is thinking about retiring. But he cannot leave me now, when I need him most.”
Sparrowheart sighed, his amber eyes soft with sympathy. “I hope everything will turn out good,” he meowed. “And I am sure you will choose a good deputy for RiverClan.”
The silver tabby leader turned her gaze faraway. Sparrowheart could only hear her breathing.
Finally, she opened her mouth to talk once more. “When Tansyflight retires, I will be choosing another deputy.”
“And I have someone in mind.”
“Since ShadowClan keeps crossing borders,” Silverstar growled, “I will appoint a cat who knows best about them. WindClan has gotten better… but ShadowClan! At first they were timid. Just inside. But now? It seems as if different cats were intruding!” Silverstar’s eyes narrowed, and Sparrowheart decided it was time to retreat.
“I hope it all goes well,” he meowed. “I shall go now. Thank you.”
“Of course,” Silverstar mewed faintly.
“A cat who knows best…” he murmured, as he turned to pad back to camp. “Best about ShadowClan…”
Reedpaw leapt. He’d seen Sparrowheart pad into camp a few minutes ago, but he didn’t really care. Whatever Sparrowheart did, if he didn’t cause any trouble, it was fine.
Brightly he dropped the prey at Whitepetal’s paws. “Got it,” he mewed.
Whitepetal’s hazel eyes gleamed. “Very good,” she complimented him. “You may go and rest now. In the afternoon we’ll see swimming.”
His assessment was going well. He had done woodland hunting and fighting, and now there was swimming and fighting and hunting in the water.
Reedpaw couldn’t help himself; he was happy. He would be a warrior!
“Hi, Reedpaw!” meowed Brindlepelt.
“Long time no see!” Reedpaw exclaimed. The dark brown brindled she-cat had been busy with normal warrior duties. She wasn’t as close to Reedpaw as Roseleap, Sundawn, Creamfrost, and Honeyfawn were.
Brindlepelt nodded. “I’m wondering how you’re doing.”
“I’m doing my assessment,” answered Reedpaw, his green eyes gleaming with anticipation.
“I remember mine!” exclaimed Brindlepelt enthusiastically. “Shatteredclaw was my mentor. We did it swiftly, and I passed it in one blow! Most do, and I’m sure you’ll do, too.”
“Thanks, Brindlepelt,” mewed Reedpaw gratefully.
“No problem,” Brindlepelt answered. “I should be going. Tansyflight told me I’m in the border patrol with Eagleshade and Fallowstep, with Mistypaw.”
Reedpaw nodded as the dark brown she-cat padded away. Soon, Brindlepelt was replaced with Honeyfawn. “Hey, Reedpaw,” she mewed softly. “It’s your assessment, right?”
“That’s right,” Reedpaw answered proudly. “I’ve done woodland training so far. I think I did good on them.”
Honeyfawn’s amber eyes widened. “Really? I messed up woodland, though. I did well in the water, so I passed.” She gave a small shudder. “I hope you pass.”
“Brindlepelt said most do…” Reedpaw mewed fearfully.
Honeyfawn purred. “Most do,” she agreed. “So you’ll do fine. But I heard Splashfall had to take her assessment twice! Apparently she got caught up by a bird’s song and missed everything.”
“You heard that from Splashfall? She told you?”
“She’s not embarrassed by it anymore, I think,” Honeyfawn answered, her golden ears flicking. “Splashfall’s a respected elder now.” She smiled faintly. “I’d love to be that kind of person one day.”
“I think you will be,” Reedpaw meowed. And that was true. He did think Honeyfawn would be a cat who was respected, and kits and apprentices came to when they were bored.
Honeyfawn smiled at him. “D’you think so?” she asked. “Thanks. Oh, and by the way, Creamfrost and Roseleap are coming here soon. So don’t leave!”
With that, she quickly raced away. Reedpaw watched Honeyfawn talk with Rippleface, and wondered why Honeyfawn had to tell Reedpaw to wait.
Shrugging, he stared blankly at the stream bordering the camp and the marshes.
Reedpaw could hear the babbling of the stream, and felt relaxed. He once again thought how lucky he was to be a member of RiverClan. He could not wish for a better Clan.
“Reedpaw!” yelled a high voice. It was Creamfrost, her blue eyes wide and her cream-colored pelt ruffled. “It’s Roseleap!”
The silver apprentice shot up. “Why?”
Creamfrost huffed. “Yellowbird’s kits – Featherkit and Stonekit – they set off and Roseleap and I found them… in the stream!”
“What?” shrieked a voice. It was Slatefoot.
“Calm down…” Reedpaw heard Creamfrost mutter. The cream she-cat dashed towards Slatefoot, and whispered something in her ear.
The gray she-cat looked faintly embarrassed, and she murmured something back. Creamfrost shrugged, and dashed back towards Reedpaw. She gave a small cough, and recited, “Roseleap is in danger.”
“By catching you a giant fish!” yelled a muffled voice.
Rolling her eyes, looking exasperated, Creamfrost turned back. “I told you to wait!” she exclaimed. “Can’t you wait one measly second?”
“I did,” Roseleap answered, dropping the biggest fish Reedpaw had ever seen in his entire life. “But this trout was too heavy.”
The fish was lifeless. Its eyes were flipped out, and its yellow-and-silver scales were shining in the sunlight. It was plump, almost fat, and looked like it could feed four cats, or maybe more.
“How did you catch that?” he marveled.
Roseleap looked proud. “Creamfrost and Honeyfawn helped,” she answered modestly. “But I did the catching. This thing’s huge, and it tried to flop back in the stream after we laid it on the ground.”
“Do you want to bring this to Yellowbird?” suggested Honeyfawn timidly.
“Can her kits eat prey yet?” wondered Reedpaw.
Honeyfawn nodded. “Yellowbird didn’t think they were, but Stonekit ate it.”
Reedpaw purred. “And Featherkit and Larchkit liked them, too?”
“Oh, yes. Stonekit was intent on making them eat the minnow. That minnow was my catch,” Creamfrost interrupted, “and it was the smallest thing I’d ever seen. Even Stormsky said she’d never seen a prey smaller than this. But Stonekit, Featherkit, and Larchkit left a quarter of it! They’re so cute.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
“And you will!” A voice exclaimed. “Larchkit got caught trying to get out of camp. He says he was trying to get some marigold for Ottersnow. StarClan knows how he knew Ottersnow was short on it!” It was Oaktuft, rolling his eyes. At his brown paws was a squirming brown-and-ginger tom.
“Ottersnow told me!” he was whining.
Creamfrost laughed. “Let’s get him back. Yellowbird must be worrying.”
“Oh, she is. I’m afraid he’s in store for some serious trouble,” Oaktuft answered. “Rippleface’s gone to see her.”
Creamfrost, Oaktuft, Roseleap, and Honeyfawn immediately started towards the nursery, with Oaktuft hesitating one heartbeat to pick up Larchkit by the scruff. Not knowing exactly how they responded simultaneously, Reedpaw hurried to follow, feeling as awkward and clumsy as ever.
Brushing past the ferns covering half of the nursery’s entrance, Reedpaw heard Roseleap complain, “Someone ought to get these ferns out of the way!”
“They’re for barricading,” answered Oaktuft.
“Kits might get hurt,” muttered Roseleap.
“They don’t, so don’t worry,” called a voice.
Lynxfoot, huge as a badger, was eating a squirrel. “Eagleshade brought me this,” she explained proudly.
“Wonderful,” Honeyfawn mewed politely.
“Where’s Yellowbird?” asked Oaktuft.
“Here. Rippleface says you’ve found Larchkit?” A yellow queen with black spots was huddled in a corner. A silver tabby she-kit with a large, plumy tail was scampering all over the den, her blue eyes shining as she trampled her gray brother.
“Ow!” Stonekit muttered. His amber eyes flashed, and he leapt back on Featherkit.
“Pay attention!” hissed Creamfrost.
“Here you go, Yellowbird,” meowed Oaktuft, gesturing for the brown-and-ginger tom.
Yellowbird sighed. “I told you not to go out!” she scolded immediately, licking Larchkit’s yellow-tipped ears.
“But I wanted to get some marigold!” protested Larchkit.
“Ottersnow can do that,” Yellowbird answered.
Larchkit humphed, and turned back.
Reedpaw stayed in the nursery, watching Featherkit, Stonekit, and Larchkit play together, and occasionally leaping on Windfeather and Lynxfoot’s tails.
“Why don’t you come and play, too?” peeped Featherkit.
Roseleap, Creamfrost, Honeyfawn, and Oaktuft had already left, and Reedpaw was the only one. He was fascinated how innocent and happy kits were; it made him think of his own childhood.
When you’re innocent and young, everything seems like a possibility. Even sneaking out without your father noticing.
“Shouldn’t you be doing your assessment?” asked Cloudstream. She was larger than Lynxfoot, and Reedpaw guessed Featherkit, Stonekit, and Larchkit would soon have denmates to play with.
“Oh!” Reedpaw shot up. That thought had never crossed him.
“I was wondering why Whitepetal wasn’t calling you. I thought you had permission,” mewed Lynxfoot.
Reedpaw didn’t say anything else than Good-bye! to be polite, and raced out of the nursery, swiftly avoiding the ferns. “Whitepetal!” he yowled.
A small white she-cat looked back. “Reedpaw! I was wondering where you were.”
“You… you aren’t angry?”
“No, it’s fine. It’s only been two hours, and I figured you might want some rest. I’ve gotten someone to help with your swimming assessment. Ta-da!” Whitepetal stepped back to reveal Slatefoot. “She’s ever so kindly volunteered. You’re going to do the Rushpaw Splash and trick me.” Her hazel eyes gleamed. “But I will try to trick you as well. Go in the water.”
Reedpaw nodded, and, with a great splash, he submerged in the water. He blinked his eyes open, and he felt his eyes sting. He spotted Slatefoot’s gray form, and stuck his nose outside, feeling the fresh air lovely in his lungs.
“Shh…” he murmured to himself, feeling his paws quicken as he waded through the stream.
Slatefoot’s eyes and nose had emerged. “Quietly,” she murmured. “I trust you can do this on your own.”
Reedpaw nodded. “All right.” He lowered his face, and slowly began to swish along. Remembering the tactics Whitepetal, Starlingsnow, and Fallowstep and told him on the day of the race, he made his paws light like walking.
He could hear the faints sound of the water brushing against his paws, and swam as though he were dancing.
He could see Whitepetal padding along the shore. Reedpaw could see Whitepetal’s slim, pale white shape against the bushes downstream.
His paws stroked the water rhythmically, and Reedpaw was almost enjoying himself before he realized Slatefoot was not with him. He frantically turned himself back to see the gray she-cat was hanging back upstream. Her ears flicked and she nodded.
Reedpaw realized he hadn’t realized the whole point of this, and nodded back.
Slatefoot raised one gray paw and smashed it, her head disappearing as the white bubbles exploded into the air. Then, further upstream, there came a gasp and splashes, presumably by frantic paws.
Reedpaw faintly thought he knew what Slatefoot was trying, and he made a few, loud splashes as well, diving into the water as he did so. He kicked off, and emerged, hitting the water as hard as he could.
“What in StarClan…?” he heard a voice from upstream.
But Whitepetal was downstream! So. So she had tricked him.
Reedpaw nodded. That was what she’d done. They’d double-tricked each other!
“Whitepetal?” he murmured. He felt sorry for her suddenly; she must be very confused. But then Reedpaw remembered again she was supposed to be an enemy, and he let out a yowl and dove underwater, holding his breath.
There was another splash, and other, and the silver apprentice made a few again.
“Fine, I give up!” yowled the voice of Whitepetal. Amusement was smeared into her tone, but for some instinct, deep within his heart, Reedpaw didn’t move. His eyes were bulging, and he felt out of breath, but he stayed.
“Good job!” called Slatefoot’s voice. “You shouldn’t relax and get out. Come out now.”
Reedpaw burst out.
“I know, but I couldn’t,” gasped Reedpaw.
Slatefoot nodded. “But you did well.”
“You did,” agreed Whitepetal. “Thanks for helping, Slatefoot.”
“Anytime.” Slatefoot waved a tail and disappeared around the bushes.
Whitepetal turned back to Reedpaw. “You did excellent. I expect you must be out of breath?”
“Sort of,” the silver cat admitted.
“Then catch your breath,” instructed Whitepetal. “And then we’re going to go with hunting.”
Reedpaw sat on the shore, his tail-tip touching the water. “That was fun,” he mewed.
Whitepetal nodded. “The Rushpaw Splash was the best trick for me and my friends,” she murmured, her eyes glazing over. “Cherryfern and Sorrelfrost and I, always going out and tricking each other!”
Reedpaw had never really thought about Whitepetal’s life. He was always so focused on his; he never really thought about how his mentor’s life was before all this. She was a kit and an apprentice too. She might have had adventures.
For some reason, he felt a longing… to know. Just… know.
“Are you fine now?” Whitepetal’s voice broke the silence.
“Are you ready to hunt now?” repeated Whitepetal.
“Good.” Whitepetal shuffled into a hunting position. “As you know,” she murmured, “don’t let your shadow fall into the water. Be as swift as you can.”
“Got it.” Reedpaw leaned back. The water was shining, and he could see right through it. A small minnow was swimming. It must’ve been young; it was very slow. But nevertheless, Reedpaw readied his paw. When the minnow was at the right place, Reedpaw struck. His paws sliced through the water, and he felt his claws make contact with the minnow’s scales.
He fished the minnow out, and realized Whitepetal was watching him with newfound respect. “That was fast,” she mewed. “I sure taught you, hmm?”
Reedpaw grinned. “Yeah.”
“Well, Reedpaw. Do you think you’re worthy for the title of a warrior?” asked Whitepetal.
The silver apprentice blinked. “I,” he started slowly, racking his brain for good answers, “think I do. I’ve done well in my life. I’ve done training and everything. But even if I’m not, I’ll do my best.” He held his breath and looked up.
Whitepetal’s eyes were warm. “You’ve talked nicely,” she meowed. The white she-cat looked up at the sky, and murmured, “I’m going to tell Silverstar you’re ready, and to arrange your ceremony.”
The words didn’t exactly process well in Reedpaw’s mind. He stared at his mentor, his mouth open and eyes wide.
Whitepetal beamed. “You’re going to be a warrior, Reedpaw!” she exclaimed. “Congratulations!”
The day was cloudy. It wasn’t the most ideal day for any apprentice’s warrior ceremony, but this particular silver cat was satisfied. At least it wasn’t raining!
They could see the sun, only barely, but still. It was cool, as well, and Reedpaw thought that was a good thing, compared to the sunny, hot days when the sun sizzled him like a small shrew he found one day, in early greenleaf, by the stream, probably dead while trying to find the cool waters.
“Reedpaw!” Roseleap’s voice snapped him back to reality.
Roseleap’s bright blue eyes were shining with happiness for him. “I am so glad!” she exclaimed. “Like, really, Reedpaw? This is probably the last time I’ll call you by this name.”
Reedpaw felt himself puff up with pride. “Thanks!”
“D’you want to see Snowykit and Splashykit?” offered Honeyfawn.
“You’re to eager to see kits!” joked Reedpaw.
Honeyfawn rolled her eyes. “They’re cute,” she protested mildly.
“Yeah, they are,” Rippleface meowed.
Reedpaw bit back a reply: You two always agree with each other! Creamfrost did that for him. “You two always agree with each other!” she exclaimed exasperatedly.
“Well, you shouldn’t be the one to say that,” protested Honeyfawn. “Just look and you and Oaktuft!”
“What? Why does that…?”
“Shut up, you two,” laughed Roseleap. “Everyone knows you two pairs are just… lovebirds.”
Creamfrost growled playfully. “If I ever get my paws on you…!”
“C’mon, let’s go already,” muttered Rippleface.
“He’s right,” Honeyfawn mewed.
“Fine,” grumbled Roseleap. “You guys are so tiring to be with. If you’re with your significant other.” She purred. “Come quick. I love the two already.”
Reedpaw quickly followed Creamfrost, Honeyfawn, Rippleface, and Roseleap to the nursery. In there, Eagleshade and Lynxfoot were watching their two kits proudly while they played.
Snowykit, the snowy white she-kit, covered with thistle-fluff, rolled over to her sister.
With a squeak, Splashykit, the gray-and-white she-kit, got bumped into, clawing at the moss Reedpaw remembered Mistypaw getting.
“Not the moss!” warned Lynxfoot.
It was strange to see Lynxfoot so motherly. Lynxfoot was older than Reedpaw, but still, it seemed so strange that Lynxfoot, Reedpaw’s maybe-friend, had kits while Reedpaw was an apprentice.
“Ah!” he yelled as a snowy blur rolled into him.
“Oh, StarClan, no, Snowykit!” Lynxfoot growned, as Snowykit purred proudly. “Yes!” she mumbled.
“They’re like this already?” grunted Reedpaw.
“Yes, they’re strange,” Lynxfoot replied. “But they’re lovely.”
Reedpaw tried to smile, but Snowykit was still batting him with her paw.
“Stop it, Snowykit,” Roseleap ordered, sounding amused.
Snowykit sighed, and flopped down, with her gray-and-white sister following her.
Reedpaw struggled to his paws. “She’s lively,” he muttered.
“Yup.” Lynxfoot glanced at him. “It’s your ceremony today…?” she asked. “Sorry, I forgot.”
“Not the best day, huh?” the white she-cat asked.
“I like it. Not the best, yes, but I’m good,” Reedpaw answered.
Lynxfoot shrugged. “Not my ideal day,” she mewed. “But okay, if you’re satisfied. What are you hoping your name to be?”
Reedpaw blinked. “I don’t really know,” he confessed. “I just hope it’s something nice. I mean, I’d be fine with Reedfur, but part of me just wishes that the name I’ll carry my entire life will have some meaning, and be special to me. Does that make sense?”
“Ah! So you don’t want to be named Reedclaw or Reedshade?” meowed Rippleface.
“That’s mean!” Honeyfawn murmured.
“That was a fact.”
Reedpaw took a deep breath. “No, it’s okay,” he choked out. He felt his eyes sting a little, and refused to meet anyone’s eyes.
“Don’t…” Creamfrost hesitated. “Don’t be upset. Rippleface, can’t you shut your mouth for once?”
“Sorry,” Rippleface muttered guiltily.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Reedpaw meowed. “It’s a fact.” He felt like his throat was going to burst, and he could muster up the courage to look up.
Splashykit and Snowykit rolled towards them, and Lynxfoot quickly placed them back in their mossy nests.
“Let’s just go,” he mumbled.
“Cheer up,” mewed Roseleap, her voice quivering. “It’s your warrior ceremony today!” She glared at Rippleface. “He’s just dumb. Who cares about Tawnyclaw and Mistshade? You know, we’re here.” She tried to give him an encouraging smile, and Creamfrost hurriedly joined in.
“Yeah,” she mewed. “Reedpaw, don’t care about cats who don’t care about you. You have cats who do care about you.”
“Thanks,” Reedpaw mumbled. He tried to remember happy days.
His legs were trembling. His eyes were flickering. They were moving, too. Mostly to find a silver tabby she-cat, with her amber eyes gazing up proudly at him.
But he found no such cat.
He found a silver tabby she-cat who was muttering something under her breath. That cat’s amber eyes had mixture of something Reedpaw couldn’t identify and nothing. It was blank.
There were his friends, Creamfrost, Honeyfawn, Oaktuft, Rippleface (He was a friend, really), Roseleap, Sundawn, and Slatefoot. He could see Yellowbird’s kits scrambling out of the nursery just now, and Snowykit’s white pelt, covered with thistle-fluff, barely visible in the ferns.
Reedpaw felt his heart beating fast as he recognized Sparrowheart’s hard amber gaze. Beside him was Tawnyclaw.
No. Don’t beg for their attention.
It was a bold move.
But a good one.
Reedpaw lifted his head, and ignored them. He didn’t care if Mistshade looked at him with displeasure, or Tawnyclaw ignored him.
The chattering cats quieted down. Silverstar’s regal blue eyes were looking down at him. “I, Silverstar, leader of RiverClan, call upon my ancestors to look down on this apprentice. He has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend him to you as warriors in their turn.”
Reedpaw felt his breath catch in his throat. This was it. This was when he would become a warrior. A member who could serve his Clan properly.
“Reedpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan even at the cost of your life?”
Silverstar’s words rang in Reedpaw’s words. Heart beating faster than ever before, and breath rapid, he opened his mouth. “I do.” His voice was clear and loud, echoing across the clearing.
The silver tabby gave a small nod. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Reedpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Reedsky. StarClan honors your kindness and compassion, and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
Reedpaw’s head was spinning. What?
Reedpaw – no, Reedsky’s heart was beating so fast he could barely keep himself from falling.
He blinked open his eyes wide. Snowykit had gotten out of the nursery, with her sister Splashykit and was lying on the ground. New life.
There were his friends. Mistypaw, Stormpaw, and Dewpaw were all staring at him with shining, marveled eyes.
Sundawn, Roseleap, Oaktuft, Rippleface, Creamfrost, and Honeyfawn. He was so lucky to have them as friends.
He could see Rainingpaw and Ottersnow together, grinning at him. Rainingpaw still looked feeble.
And finally. Slatefoot and Whitepetal.
They were sitting together, both looking proud. He could not be happier. That was the greatest moment of his life, looking around at all the cats he had made friends with. Them all gazing at him proudly, happily, joyfully…
“What in StarClan–” A golden flash zipped past the marshes. It had snatched the fish he had laid on the bank of the river in a second.
Reedsky narrowed his eyes. “Who is it?” he growled. He felt his silver fur standing up, and acknowledged he must look pretty fearful. He was a warrior now!
Lost in his prideful thoughts, Reedsky didn’t pay attention to his surroundings. The shaking blades carried the thief.
Reedsky was tackled.
He felt hot breath in his ears, and he dared to look up. The gleaming eyes of Sparrowheart met his green ones.
“What do you want?”
“Why, my brother, you’ve become…guarded.”
Reedsky didn’t say anything. He felt hot under his pelt.
“Anyway, Reedsky. Nice name.”
“You didn’t compliment my name that day,” Reedsky answered thickly. “Why would you now?”
Sparrowheart blinked. “I could not find the time. You ignored me, my dear brother.”
Reedsky whirled around on Sparrowheart. Seeing the lithe tom, Reedsky, admittedly, got frightened. But he was determined not to serve the golden tom.
“Sparrowheart,” he growled softly. “I’m not going to listen to you anymore.”
“Aren’t you?” asked Sparrowheart lightly. “So… Would that make it that you’re disowning me?”
The laughter in his brother voice angered Reedsky. “Sparrowheart!” he snapped. “I’m not joking. I’m really done with you.”
“What makes you say that? I ought to know that before I go.”
Reedsky trembled. “I… Just… Just… You never pay attention to me.”
“I do, Reedsky.” Sparrowheart blinked at him. “Why do you think I don’t?”
Reedsky hesitated. “I…” There was no reason to say aloud. Something was wrong. He knew it. But he couldn’t say why. “Sparrowheart, you know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
Reedsky let out an angry hiss, but did nothing else. Finally, he muttered, “So what do you want? Why did you come?”
“I told you; I wanted to congratulate you. And I want to urge you to see Mistshade and Tawnyclaw again.”
“They’re no one to me now. I don’t care. They’re cats. Existing. Like cats in ShadowClan, I guess? Oh, remember Cinderjaw? Yeah, they’re like her.”
“How could you say that?” Sparrowheart narrowed his eyes. “Very well. I understand why you might think that, but still they are your parents who love you.”
“They might love you, Sparrowheart, but not me.”
“She did love you,” Sparrowheart answered. “It was several moons ago… Oh, that was harsh.” He tipped his head to one side and continued. “Do not be so harsh on them.”
“I don’t care, Sparrowheart. Just leave that topic.”
The golden tabby hesitated. “Very well. If you wish. But I want you to talk to them.”
The silver warrior groaned. “You’re not leaving the topic!” he exclaimed.
“I don’t wish for you to think of them as parents or whatever,” pressed on Sparrowheart.
Reedsky hesitated. “Did they say they wanted this?”
“Oh, yes,” Sparrowheart answered. “Do come. We all miss you. Sundawn, Mistshade, Tawnyclaw, and I will all be there. Let’s all talk.”
The silver cat was tempted. He really wanted to be a part of the family truly…
Sparrowheart beamed. “You thought well. Oh, and Reedsky.” His amber eyes flashed. “If everything goes well… You have to talk to me again. I’m doing this for the family.”
If everything goes well.
The golden tom was staring at him. His green eyes were full of puzzlement. “What?” Tawnyclaw repeated. “Sparrowheart told you to meet us here?”
“Yeah. He didn’t say anything to you?” Reedsky narrowed his eyes.
“He said something about meeting a special guest,” Tawnyclaw answered. “But I didn’t imagine it’ll be you.”
“Trust me. I don’t like it either, but Sparrowheart said you wanted to see me.”
Tawnyclaw hesitated, but finally said nothing. He just sat down, wrapped his tail neatly around his white paws, and stared at the sky, his gaze blank.
A while later a silver tabby she-cat poked her head into the bushes. “What?” she breathed.
“Hi. Disgusted to see me?” Reedsky asked bravely.
He was trying to act like this, but he was finding it so hard to snap and snarl and laugh at his mother.
“Why…” Mistshade stopped. “Whatever. Where is Sparrowheart?” Pride shone in her eyes. “I heard he wanted to see me.”
“No, he wanted you to see me,” Reedsky corrected.
Mistshade’s face fell horribly. “No,” she muttered. “He knows what happened to me.”
“What happened?” snapped Reedsky sharply.
“None of your business,” Mistshade replied.
“Oh, StarClan. What are you two doing here?” a new voice cried.
A golden tabby she-cat was standing there, her long fur gleaming in the sunlight, and her dark amber eyes even darker with dismay.
“I thought I was going to see Tawnyclaw!” Sundawn muttered. “I didn’t want to see you two together!”
“Sparrowheart set us up?” asked Tawnyclaw suspiciously.
“Well, Mistshade? How do you feel about that?” murmured Reedsky softly.
No cat heard. They just kept on trying to keep track of what was happening. “So…?” Tawnyclaw asked.
“Obviously Sparrowheart did this,” Sundawn mewed.
“He’s not that vile!” Mistshade protested.
Happy to see the family together.
“Why… Why would you fight in such place?” asked a trembling voice.
Reedsky whirled back to find the sleek golden tom standing by the bushes. “You!” he snarled. “You said you told them!”
Sparrowheart stood his ground calmly, his tail swishing gently over the grass. “I wanted you to come here… to talk.” His amber eyes showed concern and warmth. “For the family.”
“I have no family!” spat Reedsky, all bitterness in his heart spilling out like a volcano.
Sundawn’s dark eyes blazed angrily. “How dare you do this? You’re no brother of mine anymore! And you two! How can you call yourself parents? Reedsky thinks Whitepetal or Slatefoot more of a mother than you! And you? What have you done? Just stand by and watch, yes? Dirty bystander!”
“Now let’s not be so harsh,” Tawnyclaw meowed guiltily.
“Harsh!” Sundawn muttered, but she sat down.
“We raised you,” Mistshade hissed. “And you repay us like that?”
“Oh, you raised me,” Reedsky mumbled.
Mistshade turned her scorching gaze on Reedsky. “And you’re my son! How can you think of your mentor or that she-cat as your mother?”
When Reedsky did not reply, Mistshade let out a hiss. “Answer!”
Reedsky shuddered. “Okay, Mistshade. You said it. I’ll answer.” He felt his throat burning, but he couldn’t stop. “Why would I think of my mentor or your sister as my mother, much more than you? Well, let’s think.” Tears were threatening to flood his eyes and face. “Because you’ve never treated me that way. You were always absent. You didn’t really care. You never groomed me properly, nor did you come to my ceremonies. Did you chant my name? I don’t think so. Did you congratulate me? No, you did not. And you want to claim the title as my mother? What, do you think I’m going to go good now?
“I guess it’s better than coming up to me when I’m deputy or something. But yes, Mistshade. I feel nothing for you. Just what I feel for any of my Clanmates. Maybe even less. I told Sparrowheart yesterday. I want to tell you this. What I feel for you is what I feel for the ShadowClan warriors. I couldn’t care less about you. I like my friends better.”
The silver she-cat stood there, open-mouthed.
“She… killed… your sisters!” Mistshade finally snarled.
“I know what you’re talking about,” Reedsky countered, his heart thundering. “I know about Squirrelkit and Sagekit. You know what? I don’t care. Yes, I feel sorry for them. That doesn’t justify you at all, and…” His voice cracked and broke.
Tawnyclaw flashed an anxious look. “Now, let’s not go into…”
“Let him,” Mistshade hissed. “Let’s see how cruel he can be.”
“I see you’re no mother of mine,” Reedsky croaked. “It wasn’t Slatefoot’s fault. It was the kits’ fault. They were young, I understand. You can’t blame anyone for the accident.”
Reedsky could feel the tension in the air. The atmosphere was practically cracking and sizzling.
“She was devastated,” Tawnyclaw meowed calmly. “Let’s not… be so…”
“Be so what? Well, let Mistshade be that,” Sundawn snapped. “I can’t believe you’re sticking up for her! That makes you the same cat as she is!”
The tawny cat shifted uncomfortably. “She’s a good cat.”
“Not to Reedsky,” Sundawn argued.
“Quiet now. I want to know what Reedsky knows about them.”
“Them? Squirrelkit and Sagekit? I know you left them to Slatefoot. I know they left on their own. I know Sunkit tried to follow them. I know Sparrowkit didn’t. I know Sunkit was found. I know Applestream knew they were missing. I know Squirrelkit and Sagekit drowned. I know.”
Mistshade paled. “How?”
“Slatefoot told me.”
“She’s a traitor.”
“No, she’s not!” Reedsky exclaimed. “Why? The past is the past, you can’t say… anything else. What, did you want her to say Squirrelkit and Sagekit are secretly what, Brindlepelt and Roseleap just to make you feel better?”
The silver she-cat arched her body. “I don’t want her to talk about it! It’s a sad past. I don’t want to remember it.”
Reedsky trembled. “I don’t get it. I don’t get why you didn’t care for me, when you always liked Sparrowheart and Sundawn, Why?” He raised his green eyes, blinking the liquid out of them.
Mistshade was shaking as well. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she meowed stubbornly.
Reedsky didn’t get it. Why not? “Then,” he mewed, feeling his whole body shake with grief and sadness and fury, “I will hate you forever. I gave you a chance to defend yourself. You didn’t take it? Do you have anything to protest?”
Mistshade tilted her head. “I have Sundawn and Sparrowheart. I don’t need you.”
That pierced Reedsky like a sharp needle.
Sundawn rose to her paws. “No,” she meowed calmly. “You only have Sparrowheart.”
She then stalked away, kicking leaves towards the direction of her mother.
Mistshade stared at where Sundawn sat heartbeats ago, looking dazed.
Now you know how that feels. To have someone leave you.
Reedsky wanted to spit that to Mistshade’s face. She deserved it.
But he didn’t do it.
He couldn’t do it.
A deep shudder ran through his body, and he rose to leave, too.
“Oh, no you don’t,” snarled Mistshade, and she dashed away to the bushes.
Reedsky blinked. Huh?
“She wanted to leave earlier than you,” Tawnyclaw meowed softly.
The silver tom whirled around. Green eyes met green, and Reedsky could recognize regret and longing in his eyes. “What do you want?”
“I know you rejected Mistshade. Did you reject me, as well?”
“You never stopped her. You know what I went through.”
“I didn’t, exactly.”
“But you never played the role of a father properly.”
Tawnyclaw was silent for a moment. He muttered, finally, “But I didn’t play the role of a father properly to Sundawn and Sparrowheart, either. Does that make it any better?”
“It makes it better than Mistshade.”
The golden-tawny tom blinked. “That’s good. I want to make up with you, Reedsky.”
Reedsky was tempted. But he couldn’t be. He couldn’t let his hopes up and let them fall – again. “And what makes you think you can do that?”
“I don’t. I’ll plead for you to accept my apology.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll give up, fair and square.”
Reedsky hesitated. “Why have you left me alone?”
“I didn’t know how to become a father. It’s my first time being the cat who cares. I’ve always been the cat who’s cared for,” Tawnyclaw answered.
The tawny tabby cat’s green eyes’ flare faded. The silver tom sighed. “I’ve always wanted your attention,” he murmured. “Can you promise you’ll be there for me?”
“I’ll try. And I will.”
“That’s all I want. Try to be a cat I care about, please. I don’t want to have no parents.”
Tawnyclaw nodded. “I know,” he murmured. “I understand. I’m sorry.”
The breeze was rustling the leaves. Reedsky could see the prey pile higher than he had ever seen. He had been born in greenleaf, and that was probably why he loved greenleaf best. He loved playing with his nursery friends. It was warm and bright as well.
“Reedsky!” called Tansyflight. “You’re on patrol today, with Eagleshade, Sundawn, and Creamfrost.”
“Oh, okay,” mewed Reedsky. “Who’s leading it?”
Tansyflight’s amber eyes gleamed. “You.”
“Me?” repeated Reedsky, startled. “But I’m just a new warrior!”
“We agreed it would be good to have some experience,” Tansyflight answered. “Do you disagree?”
“No, I don’t,” murmured Reedsky, his head spinning with the new responsibility. “
The ginger-and-brown tom was watching Reedsky, looking amused. “Don’t be so troubled. It’s nothing.”
You’re the deputy.
Reedsky nodded reluctantly, and asked, “What patrol?”
“The evening patrol,” Tansyflight responded. “Good?”
“Reedsky!” called a voice.
Reedsky tilted his head to see Tawnyclaw. “Oh, hi,” he mewed cheerfully.
“Do you want to share a minnow with me?”
After finishing the minnow Reedsky stood up and padded towards Sundawn. “Sundawn,” he meowed. “Are you still angry? About them?”
“I am,” Sundawn mewed curtly.
“But Tawnyclaw’s better.”
“Maybe. Let’s see.” Sundawn sighed and squirmed. “Please, you know. I just can’t forget the eyes. The eyes that stared for love. Honestly, Reedsky, I don’t know how you can.”
“Just giving a chance,” mumbled Reedsky.
“I hope it goes well. Just don’t give a chance to Mistshade. If you do, I won’t believe that you’re the same cat than the cat I knew for a year.”
Reedsky smiled faintly. “I won’t,” he replied. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.”
“Then don’t want to,” Sundawn mewed.
Reedsky shrugged, and turned to get a rest in his nest.
The moss nest was freshly renewed, assumably by the apprentices. Reedsky was glad he didn’t have to do those tasks anymore.
He curled up in his moss nest and closed his eyes. He was drifting off to sleep when a voice hissed softly in his ear. “Hello, Reedsky.”
Reedsky felt his fur stand up. “Sparrowheart?” he asked.
The golden tom sitting in the den’s corner, eyeing him. “You’re good with Tawnyclaw now,” he mewed brightly. “All thanks to me?”
Reedsky shrugged. “I guess,” he replied, sitting up.
“Are you, by any chance, uncomfortable around me?”
Reedsky almost flinched. “Of course not,” he fumbled. He didn’t exactly feel the best around Sparrowheart, but there was no reason yet he should actively look out for him.
“That’s good.” There was pure relief in the golden tabby’s voice. “I don’t want you to take precaution? I mean, I’m really nothing.”
Reedsky squirmed. “Of course…” he murmured, and an awkward silence continued. Maybe it wasn’t awkward to Sparrowheart; he seemed to be thinking about other things. “I’m going to sleep, now.”
It was strange, really. Sparrowheart was very nice to him afterwards. He offered him nice prey, and he left Reedsky alone for the most time.
The silver warrior was relieved. He was glad Sparrowheart didn’t intrude in his life anymore.
But he also wondered what made this thing happen. When he asked Sundawn, she replied, “Who knows? Honestly, Reedsky, I think it’s better if you don’t think about it.”
Reedsky agreed. But he couldn’t.
“Hi, Reedsky,” mewed Roseleap happily. “Did you see Snowykit and Splashykit? They’re so cute. Can you believe they’re already scrambling around camp?”
“Well, it has been half a moon,” mumbled Reedsky. To be entirely honest, he couldn’t care less about Lynxfoot’s kits.
The dark ginger she-cat rolled her eyes. “You don’t care. Well, I hope you’ll care about Stormpaw and Dewpaw’s ceremony…?”
Roseleap rolled her eyes. “Where were you for the last two days? They’ve been bragging for eons. Brightmist and Minnowdawn are trying to calm them down.”
“Oh!” Reedsky smiled.
Whitepetal padded towards them. “Hi! Today’s Stormpaw and Dewpaw’s ceremony.”
“We were just talking about that!” exclaimed Roseleap. “Are they still fussing?”
“They are indeed! Dewpaw calmed down a bit, but Stormpaw’s still jumping around like a fish out of the water. You know Rainingpaw isn’t better yet, and Ottersnow’s insisting to keep her?”
“Oh, yes,” Reedsky mewed.
“Well, guess if Mistypaw’s by her sister’s side or Stormpaw’s side.”
Reedsky realized that Mistypaw’s slight crush for him was now over. It was over a long time ago, but it didn’t hit him in the head until now.
“Her sister?” Roseleap guessed.
“I hope she’s by Rainingpaw,” Reedsky mewed.
“Right you are. Stormpaw’s flying around camp.” Whitepetal rolled her eyes, ruffling her pelt.
“When do you think Rainingpaw can get back to her training? She must be cross that she can’t train and must be stuck inside camp,” meowed Reedsky.
“Ottersnow says she’s better, but she’s still weak.” Whitepetal sighed. “Starlingsnow’s horribly upset.”
“I’ll say!” Roseleap exclaimed. “I’d be upset if my apprentice was sick and stuck in the medicine den for a moon! I feel sorry for Rainingpaw. She should get out and train and play like Mistypaw. Oh! Do you think Mistypaw will get her name faster than Rainingpaw? It happened with Sparrowheart and Sundawn. Right?”
Whitepetal blinked. “Yes, it did,” she admitted. “But Mistypaw might want to postpone her ceremony for her sister. That happens.”
“Rainingpaw’ll be upset in any way,” Reedsky objected. “I mean, we all know her. She’ll be cross that Mistypaw got her name faster, and she’ll cross if Mistypaw postpones her ceremony for her.”
“Something will have to happen!” Her dark ginger fur fluffed up.
“Don’t get so excited,” Whitepetal meowed. “Come on. Let’s go. It’s so nice the Clan is growing.”
Roseleap exchanged glances with Reedsky. “I hope Tansyflight won’t retire,” she mewed quietly. “And other warriors. If he does, RiverClan will be in chaos.”
Reedsky agreed, but he didn’t show it. “Don’t say that,” he protested mildly, and focused on his walking pads.
Stormpaw and Dewpaw were waiting by the rock, muttering excitedly to each other.
Reedsky could see Brightmist and Minnowdawn by their sons, too.
“Why isn’t Silverstar coming out?” Roseleap hissed to Whitepetal.
“Maybe she’s talking with someone,” Whitepetal answered. “Just wait.”
Roseleap grunted. “Stormpaw’s hopping around like a fish. I hope she comes out soon.”
But she didn’t. Silverstar didn’t come out until ten thousand heartbeats at least.
And when she did, the silver tabby cat was looking weary. And a golden tom followed after her, his amber eyes dark and gleaming.
“Why’s Sparrowheart…?” Roseleap asked, a tint of fear in her voice.
Reedsky said nothing. Why was Sparrowheart there? What was he up to? Why did Silverstar seem in a such bad mood? What was happening?
Silverstar didn’t say anything special. She just jumped up to the rock, and looked down. “Stormpaw. Do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
Stormpaw raised his head proudly. “I do.”
The silver tabby she-cat nodded. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you our warrior name. Stormpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Stormflight. StarClan honors your strength and loyalty, and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
Stormflight’s chest puffed out, and Silverstar’s dark blue gaze moved on to his brother, Dewpaw. “Dewpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan even at the cost of your life?”
Dewpaw’s eyes flickered nervously. “I do!”
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Dewpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Dewheart. StarClan honors your compassion and loyalty, and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
It was time to chant their names. And Reedsky was glad to do so.
Seeing the proud look in their faces – Everything seemed so worthwhile. Reedsky raised his head, and raised his voice as well. Everything seemed so bright.
Chapter Twenty One
“Sylfen!” hissed a voice in the darkest night. The stars were struggling to show themselves under that veil of darkness, faintly flickering. The moon was tucked under the black covers, slumbering deeply. The night was black. Faint lights tinted the night sky.
And while this night was here, two Twolegs had snuck into the camp.
Of course, they didn’t know it was RiverClan camp. They just crossed a stream on one foot, and began to dig.
“Are you sure there’s treasure?” the same voice asked.
The second man, presumably Sylfen, replied, “Yes!”
The strange two men, one with a strange name, kneeled. Their clothes were now covered with mud, but they didn’t care. Sylfen brushed back his blonde hair rashly. He crumpled face, and splashed the water. “I can’t find a single jewel.”
“Maybe you heard false rumors,” spat the second one.
“Shut up, Daunte,” Sylfen snapped. “I’m sure. My brother found a gigantic ruby here, buried in the mud. Oh! Maybe it’s in the water.”
“Then it must’ve floated away,” Daunte retorted.
“No, buried in the mud in the water,” Sylfen muttered, and he splashed and dug his hands into the water.
Daunte stood up and watched his companion suspiciously.
“There’re rocks…” muttered Sylfen furiously. His eyes blazed as he continued to search for the stones.
It seemed as if the two men’s search was nothing. That there was nothing there. Sylfen and Daunte both thought that. At last, Sylfen stopped, with a final scratch upon the mud with one, single finger, and stood up.
Grunting angrily and clambering past the piles of mud and water they’d made during their hours of search, Sylfen and Daunte made their way back. They’d crossed the pine forest to this, and they were sure the smell of pines and clung to their clothes. This was unpleasant.
Sylfen was covered with mud and water. Furiously he kicked stones near some things… They looked like… almost dens. Like someone had made it on purpose.
That thought had flitted past Sylfen’s mind, but he didn’t care. Perhaps the work of children. Well, then. They would be devastated to know their works had been demolished. It was nothing to bother about.
The stones crashed into the dens, and the den’s entrance collapsed slowly. They landed into soft mud, and didn’t make a commotion. Only a soft plunk, and that was it.
Now, the two men were splashing across the stream. They were too angry to jump, if that makes any sense. But then again, they never did make any sense.
Do you ever have a feeling, ‘If I just do it some more!’ and do what you are doing for a long time? Finally you prepare to give up. But then you think, ‘Maybe this dig…? No, this!’ and you exhaust yourself and nothing happens?
I’ll say something similar happened to Sylfen and Daunte. But this time, it’s different.
When Sylfen’s finger brushed the mud, it took away one, tiny bit of level of the barrier, protecting our lovely jewel.
And Sylfen left. He didn’t see, and couldn’t, a small, ruby glint. A blood-red glint in the mud, silently sparking for someone to find it.
When Reedsky awoke, he found he couldn’t see light. He wondered if it was still night, but he could feel his tail, which he had left outside the den for reasons, warm. If it were night, it would be cold.
He blinked, and tried to see.
Reedsky could see cats. Because the warriors’ den was crowded (With the added two, Stormflight and Dewheart, Reedsky could hardly breathe), Reedsky decided to leave one half of his body out in the clearing. He’d preferred to put his nose away from them, but he couldn’t stand the cold night air, occasional winds blasting into his face.
Then he heard some muffled voices.
“Huh? Hey, Rainingpaw, look!”
“What is it?”
“There’s a tail!”
“Eh. But why’s the entrance… Oh StarClan!” Rainingpaw gasped.
Mistypaw sucked in air as well. “Is that caved in?”
Rainingpaw clucked her tongue. “I think so!” Her voice was slightly exhilarated. “Maybe we should get… er, Tansyflight?”
“Tansyflight might be tired,” Mistypaw objected. “How about Silverstar?”
“Are you mad? Silverstar?” Rainingpaw squeaked. “Let’s just ask the elders.”
Reedsky decided he should speak up now. “Hi!” he yowled.
“What in StarClan–” he heard a cat in the den mutter.
“Did you hear that?” Mistypaw asked.
“Some muffled voice,” Rainingpaw answered. “Who do you reckon that is?”
“Reedsky!” called Reedsky, straining his neck around.
“Weedmy?” Reedsky heard Rainingpaw repeat. “Who’s Weedmy?”
“Er… maybe it was Weedeye?” suggested Mistypaw mildly.
“Do we have a Weedeye in RiverClan?” asked Rainingpaw doubtfully.
“Oh, wait, it must mean Reedsky!” Mistypaw exclaimed.
Rainingpaw laughed. “How could we not know that?” she scolded herself. “Well, then, Reedsky. If it really is you, know that we’re going for help! And if it’s someone else… Well, tell us when we get you out.”
Then the two sisters padded away, and Reedsky was left in the darkness.
Wondering what in StarClan happened, Reedsky called out, “Hey? Anyone awake?”
“I am now,” mumbled a voice.
“Yup. And I think Blossompool is, too.”
“Oh, sorry, Blossompool.”
There was a single grunt from the old warrior, and Reedsky glanced back.
“Rainingpaw and Mistypaw has gone to get help,” he reported.
“Rainingpaw?” repeated Roseleap doubtfully. “Why’s she out there?”
Reedsky tried to shrug. “Maybe Ottersnow gave her a break.”
“That must be it. Well, I guess we’ll have to wait. Ouch, Blossompool! Please don’t scuffle.”
“I didn’t fight,” grumbled the old she-cat.
“You’re kicking my hind legs, and that means fight to me, Blossompool,” muttered Roseleap.
Reedsky struggled to stay calm. What had happened? Was it some sort of rockfall. Luckily, the things had not crushed his body. Shivering with the thought that he might have never woken up again if the things fell towards him… Reedsky flicked his tail to touch the things.
Cold, hard material met Reedsky’s tail.
Stones. Rocks. And moss.
Perhaps the den had fallen? Yes, that must be it. But why?
He pondered about that until he saw loud voices outside their den.
“The den has fallen!” gasped Silverstar.
“Why did it fall?” wailed Lynxfoot.
“Whoa!” squeaked Snowykit.
“Whoa!” squeaked another voice. Reedsky assumed it was Snowykit’s sister, Splashykit.
“Not whoa!” scolded Lynxfoot. “Are all the warriors in there? And what is that gray thing?”
“That’s a silver tail,” mewed Windfeather calmly. “Who has a silver tail?”
“Mistshade?” guessed Cloudstream.
“Oh, and Starlingsnow,” added Tansyflight.
Reedsky scowled. He flicked his tail angrily.
“Does that mean it’s right?” asked Snowykit. “Hi, Starlingsnow!”
“I’m not Starlingsnow!” Reedsky yelled. “I’m Reedsky!”
“What? Weedeye? We have no Weedeye here,” Silverstar meowed.
“Maybe it’s a rogue who tried to make the den crash,” suggested Windfeather.
Reedsky grunted. “Hmph.”
“Oh, you fish-brains!” exclaimed Lynxfoot. “Oh, sorry, Silverstar, Tansyflight. Yes, you too, Snowykit. Everyone. It’s Reedsky.”
There was silence. “Is it?” mewed Tansyflight carefully.
“I think it’s a yes,” chirped Snowykit.
Lynxfoot sighed. “But that doesn’t matter right now. We have to figure out how we’ll move this.”
Silverstar sighed. “All our best workers are there,” she murmured. “We have queens, elders, and kits here. Tansyflight and I would be the only ones who could do it. I would, but that will not help greatly.”
“It would help, though,” Windfeather soothed. “Please, Silverstar.”
Silverstar’s eyes flickered uneasily. “We’ll have to try.”
“Oh!” It was Lynxfoot’s startled cry.
Reedsky wondered if a fox had barged into camp, or Snowykit was missing.
“Why’s Sparrowheart there?”
Reedsky’s eyes widened.
“Sparrowheart!” he heard Silverstar meow commandingly.
“Oh, Silverstar,” Reedsky heard a faint mew.
“Why are you out here?” Silverstar asked.
“I was out catching prey. What happened?”
But Silverstar didn’t let him off the hook that easily. “We don’t know when exactly this den fell, but we assume it was at night. When did you go out? At dawn?”
Sparrowheart gave a small purr. “Dawn, Silverstar. I heard the dawn patrol get out and I followed them.”
“The dawn patrol!” Cloudstream exclaimed. “That’s it. They can help.”
Reedsky rolled his eyes.
“When do you think they’ll come back?” asked Mistypaw’s voice fearfully. “It’s not dawn.”
“But it’s morning,” mewed Silverstar firmly. “They’ll come back soon.”
“Of course they will,” meowed Sparrowheart.
“We have to be here in the dark?” Blossompool complained.
“Yes,” Roseleap mewed. “So wait, Blossompool.”
Reedsky could hear faint murmuring outside, and after a short while, a ray of light shone into the den.
“They must’ve removed the rocks!” exclaimed Roseleap happily.
“In my opinion, it would’ve been better to remove the first layer, then the second, and then the third, not just doing one rock,” Blossompool grumbled.
“If you say so, Blossompool. Do you want to get outside by this hole and help?” Roseleap asked.
Blossompool grunted unhappily.
“Who’re helping?” asked a voice, deep within the den.
“Sparrowheart, Tansyflight, Silverstar, Mistypaw, and Rainingpaw are probably helping,” replied
Reedsky. “And the dawn patrol. But I don’t know
who is. There’re the queens and elders there, too.”
“The dawn patrol? That’s Creamfrost, Shatteredclaw,
Acornsquirrel, and Breezestrike,” the voice meowed.
“Then they must be helping. Er… are you Sundawn?”
Reedsky raised his head. “I can’t stand,” he muttered. He flicked his tail annoyedly.
“Reedsky – stop that. You’re hitting me,” muttered Mistypaw’s voice.
“Sorry,” Reedsky called, imagining the dark cream apprentice frowning. “I’m just really uncomfortable.”
“I can imagine.”
Reedsky sighed. A while later two other rays of sunlight began spilling in, and he could see faint outlines of his denmates.
“Can anyone climb out of this?” called Silverstar.
“There aren’t many small cats,” meowed Honeyfawn. “Maybe I can? Reedsky could, for sure, though.”
“I’m stuck here,” Reedsky heaved.
“Oh, right.” Sounding embarrassed, Honeyfawn fell silent for some seconds. Then she bustled around, and finally she came close. “Okay, Reedsky. I might fall on you, so brace yourself.” And the golden she-cat leapt.
Reedsky could hear her paws scrabble in the stones, and he tensed.
But Honeyfawn twisted her body upwards and escaped the den. “Okay, I’m up here. Whoa, the sun feels so good.” Sounding slightly embarrassed, she added, “I’ll try to get you all out of there quick.”
Reedsky could hear the cats talking while they worked more clearly now. Several more stones fell out of the way, and more cats could squirm out and help.
Soon, there was only Blossompool and Stoneflame. Blossompool had refused to go out, claiming she was too old for that, and Stoneflame had sprained his paw. He hadn’t gone to Ottersnow; he’d tried to hide it, saying his sister would’ve kept him in the medicine den for two days.
“We’ll have the last stones away soon!” he heard Snowykit chirp excitedly. “Lynxfoot, can I go in there?”
“Be quick, then. And don’t bother Blossompool, Stoneflame, or Reedsky. Got it?”
“Quick as a snail,” sang Snowykit, and a white ball of thistle fluff flew into the den, shrieking, “CANNONBALL!”
Reedsky winced as she landed on him. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “But whoa, this is dark!”
“How are you going to get out, kit?” asked Stoneflame.
The tiny ball of fluff froze. Her green eyes were wide, and they blinked two times. “I didn’t think that,” she mewed quietly. “But it’s okay. I said I’d be quick as a snail. I’ll wait.” Snowykit bounced around the den. “Ooh! This is so cool! I can’t believe I’ll be here one day.”
Reedsky tried to smile. But he couldn’t. Snowykit was already heavy.
She and I are only a year apart in age, and so different! I don’t think I was like that, he thought, somehow wistfully.
“Well, do that,” Blossompool sighed.
“This rock is too heavy!” Reedsky heard Tansyflight meow.
“We can’t give up,” insisted Tawnyclaw. “My son’s in there.”
“We won’t,” promised Silverstar. “But our cats need to rest.”
A growl was rising in Tawnyclaw’s throat. “Then you’ll leave them in the dark, with stones pressing under one’s pelt?”
Silverstar and Tansyflight both gave tiny sounds of awkwardness, but Mistshade’s voice broke the silence. “But it’s true,” she pointed out. “We all need to rest.”
Tawnyclaw fell silent. “Aren’t you a least bit worried?”
“I am,” Mistshade snapped. “But he’s going to be fine. Look at Snowykit. She’s in there, and you can hear her playing. If a young kit like that can do that, surely a grown warrior can, too?”
Reedsky wanted to vanish on the spot. The snowy kit was gazing at him, her pale eyes wide. “Huh?” she mumbled. “Who was that?”
“She’s my mother,” answered Reedsky.
Snowykit blinked. “My mother’s not like that,” she chirped.
It was like she’d cast claws against Reedsky’s chest. The truth was always painful.
“But really,” Snowykit mewed. “When are we getting out of here?”
“After those cats get a break,” muttered Stoneflame.
“And when is that?”
“No idea,” snapped Blossompool. “So quiet down, kit.”
Snowykit sniffed. “You’re exactly like Mapleflight. Are you an elder?”
Reedsky expected Blossompool to flare up, but the dappled-with-white she-cat just sighed. “Maybe. I’m thinking of that.”
The silver warrior’s jaw dropped.
The snowy white she-kit didn’t look surprised, though. She just hopped onto Blossompool and mewed, “Yes! Then you’ll tell stories? Like Splashfall?”
The dark brown dappled she-cat blinked. “Perhaps.”
Blossompool and Mapleflight were the main cats who complained, with Rippleface. But why would the grumpy she-cat agree to tell a story to Snowykit?”
“But I shall not.”
That’s more like it for Blossompool.
“Blossompool!” whined Snowykit. “Please…!”
The dappled she-cat sighed. “Very well. Listen carefully. Splashfall’s stories, perhaps? About the Silverrocks.”
Snowykit shook her head. “I heard that.”
Blossompool frowned. “Did you hear about the Red Cat with Black Spots and Green Paws?”
“One day, in the deepest night of greenleaf, there was a cat. A cat gleaming red, its dark eyes shining. Its red pelt was spotted with black spots; spots so black you could mistake it as the night sky splashed on it.
“Its lower body was green. With black stripes, the cat’s green paws stepped lightly on the riverbank.
“It looked up lightly at a tree. Then it looked down at the ground. There were some vines. Not grape vines, Snowykit. Just vines. Plain old vines. The cat sighed, his dark eyes even darker.
“‘It is time, I suppose,’ it murmured, its eyes gleaming brightly. Looking almost exhilarated about what it was planning to do, the strange-colored cat sat down, its reddish tail with a green-and-black tail-tip wrapped neatly around its paws, beautifully placed.
“Taking a deep breath, the cat added to itself, ‘It has been years. This vine needs a counterpart.’”
Reedsky noticed Snowykit’s pale green eyes bright and wide with interest.
“And the cat’s sides heaved, and it fell. Across the vines neatly it remained. Its sides heaved for a few more seconds. And with faint, calm breaths, and with a beautiful smile, a calm, peaceful smile on its face, the cat stopped breathing.
“There was only the night and clouds to mourn his silent death. But perhaps not.
“Maybe they didn’t have to mourn. Maybe they had to celebrate. Celebrate a new birth of a new beginning.”
Snowykit gasped, looking half-scared and half-excited. “And?” she breathed.
“The cat’s body slowly started to dissolve. Like water and like wind and dust, the cat’s form started to fade. Shimmering, its dark red fur and black spots began to take a round shape and glisten with water. Then the cat’s tail and paws, now looking like a green shell with black stripes streaked across it, began to wrap itself around the red shape.
“But do not mourn. The strange new thing began to multiply. It was new life for the cats who were starving and dying in greenleaf, named waterfruit.”
Blossompool finished with that, and when she noticed Snowykit staring, with her jaw wide open, she meowed crossly, “If it wasn’t good, go to Splashfall!”
“No, it was great. What’s the cat’s name?”
The dark brown dappled she-cat blinked. “I’ve never thought about that. What do you think it is?”
“It’s not my responsibility to make the cat a name. The cat probably has a name. I can’t make it myself.”
“But it won’t tell us.”
“Why doesn’t the story tell us the cat’s gender?” complained Snowykit.
Blossompool scowled. “Just make it a gender and a name,” she snapped.
“All right, then. If you insist. I think… she-cat. With… Squirrelberry?”
Reedsky was actually impressed with Snowykit’s naming. “You could be a leader,” he mewed. “Snowystar!”
Snowykit’s eyes gleamed. “Yeah! Snowystar!”
Reedsky sat more comfortably, waiting for the cats to get their rest.
“Reedsky! We’re moving the rocks again!” It was some time after Blossompool’s story about the strange cat and waterfruit.
The silver tom blinked. “Okay, thanks.”
Snowykit bounced around. “Yay! Do you think Splashykit is missing me?” she asked Reedsky.
“She will,” Reedsky meowed.
And a few minutes later, rocks rolled out of the way, leaving sunlight to stream in, and leaving Reedsky free.
Chapter Twenty Two
Night was dark. Night was ruthless. Night was for sleep. Someone didn’t know that.
A soft voice mewed in Reedsky’s ear. Surprised, the silver speckled tom flicked his ears and raised his head.
“It’s midnight. Wake up.”
Reedsky narrowed his eyes. “Excuse me? Midnight? Have I heard you wrong?”
“Midnight,” repeated the voice.
“Sparrowheart, please. Why would I wake up in midnight?” Reedsky asked, hoping his voice would sound braver than he actually felt.
“How did you know it was me?”
You’re the only one to talk about these obnoxious requests.
“I just had a feeling.”
“Are we that close?”
Sparrowheart laughed. “Let’s just go.”
Reluctantly Reedsky stood up, and followed his brother out of the warriors’ den. They had fixed the den swiftly; piling some rocks, moss, and mud over the damaged parts.
“But what is it?” he asked, feeling his voice quiver slightly with fear.
The golden tabby tom turned to him. “It’s a little nighttime adventure,” he answered brightly.
“Come on, you’ll love it.” His tone was so light and playful, Reedsky couldn’t possibly bring himself to believe that this tom was doing something dangerous and wrong.
“All right, then.”
An odd feeling was somersaulting in Reedsky’s stomach, but he ignored it.
Sparrowheart glanced at the camp entrance. “There’s Stormsky and Whitewind standing guard…” he muttered. “Why’re there two?”
“Because of the border troubles. You never know when they’ll strike,” Reedsky answered, almost automatically.
“I know that,” muttered Sparrowheart. “But very well. We’ll have to go out the back way.”
Reedsky was puzzled. “Why?”
“Why are we going the back way?”
“Because we don’t want to be seen by Stormsky and Whitewind,” answered Sparrowheart, rolling his eyes. “Do we?”
“Uh, we don’t?”
“Of course we don’t,” replied Sparrowheart dismissively. He glanced at Reedsky. “Can I trust you?”
Reedsky was taken aback at that sudden, abrupt question, and he stumbled. “Oh… Um, it depends on what you will do.”
“That’s not an answer.” Sparrowheart’s amber eyes suddenly softened. “Reedsky, you’re my family. I want to trust you, but… Things are difficult. It’s not an utopia like we all want.”
Reedsky sighed. “I understand,” he murmured, guilt crashing into him. Of course Sparrowheart wanted to be able to trust him. He did, too.
But he thought of his friends. He could trust Roseleap without having to ask her this. He knew Sundawn would be there for him. He knew Oaktuft would help him. He knew Creamfrost would have his back. He knew Honeyfawn would comfort him. He knew despite his words, Rippleface would be quick to defend him. He just knew that. Reedsky didn’t need any confirmation from them. It was just a feeling he had.
“Oh! Yes, sorry. Er, yes, you can trust me.”
Sparrowheart looked relieved. “That’s good.”
Reedsky couldn’t get an ominous feeling out of his head, though. “Well, then… Where’s the back entrance?”
“Here. Follow me.” Sparrowheart vanished behind the bushes, and Reedsky hesitantly followed.
Brushing aside dead leaves and pointy twigs, Reedsky followed Sparrowheart to a narrow place where there were berry bushes and fallen twigs lying around. There were some stones, too, between blueberry bushes, leading to a small stream.
“Cross this and you’re out of camp,” Sparrowheart whispered.
Sparrowheart stepped lightly onto the stones. The stones wobbled, but the golden tabby jumped away from it and gracefully landed on the other, and so on.
“Come. What are you waiting for?”
“Quickly… move quickly…” muttered Reedsky, his heart flopping like a fish out of the water. And he leapt.
When his paws made contact with the hard, dark stone, Reedsky found they were not as light or graceful as Sparrowheart’s had been. They shook madly, and when the terrified silver warrior jumped away, the paws slipped. He landed in the grass. “I’ll just walk in the grass.”
“Very well. Jump, now,” Sparrowheart grunted.
Reedsky nodded, and leapt. The bank was slippery.
“Let’s go.” Sparrowheart glanced at the dark nighttime forest, and shook his head slightly. “No. Today’s just… a test.”
Without looking back, he meowed, “Reedsky, follow me. I want to introduce you to a friend.”
Reedsky felt his stomach tumble with fright. What friend? An enemy cat? But then, who?
Sparrowheart crossed the territory swiftly, not looking back once. “Quickly. She is by the small fall.”
Quickly indeed they went.
Finally, when they reached the small fall, a place where the water fell, they found a pale gray tabby she-cat with pale blue eyes waiting for them. She had her tail wrapped neatly around her paws. She didn’t look scared, but she had a quiet manner to her.
“Greetings,” Sparrowheart meowed.
The pale gray tabby raised her head, and dipped it. “You’re here earlier than I imagined,” she mewed quietly.
Reedsky was amazed by her tone. It was so quiet. Quiet was the only thing existing in that voice. It was so different from the Clan she-cats he knew.
“Wish here is a loner,” meowed Sparrowheart. “I met her a few moons ago. She has been very… ah, helpful.”
Wish’s expression was guarded and calm. “I escaped from the Barepelts,” she mewed. “I know things.”
Reedsky nodded stiffly. “And the Barepelts are Twolegs?”
“The two-legged bare-pelted, no-furred creatures? Then yes,” Wish answered. She tipped her head to one side. “So, Sparrowheart? What do you want?”
“I want you to tell Reedsky about… your life.”
Wish’s lip curled upwards slightly. “I would’ve asked you why,” she murmured. “Well, Reedsky, you said?”
“Yes,” Reedsky meowed.
“Well, then, Reedsky. I was a cat for my housefolk. They called me wish. I knew their names. They were two elderly women; sisters, apparently. Amy and Alice. I liked them. They were kind to me.
“But one day they left. They put me in a gray carrier bag and put me outside with all their other things. Men came by and collected them. One tried to lift me, then dropped me, crying out. Its yowl was so loud everyone came. They comforted the Barepelt, and another came. She had yellow fur on top of her head. I could tell she was a person like Amy and Alice.
“But she made a mistake of sticking her finger in the bag. I bristled. I opened my jaws. And I bit her.
“Perhaps I bit her too harshly. She dropped me, just like the other Barepelt. I could see my teeth marks. They were red against her pale pelt.
“Her eyes narrowed, and she left me in a raspberry bush.” Wish finished her story like that, her whiskers twitching. “You can’t trust Barepelts.”
“Is that what you mean to say?”
“I have more,” Wish answered simply. “I escaped. I clawed my way out. It was hard. But it was possible. The hatch wasn’t shut tightly, you see.” The pale gray tabby she-cat locked her gaze. “I went to the place where all loners end up. The Abandoned Twolegplace. I call it the Barepeltplace, though.” She shrugged. “Well, all I want to say is – what you’ll hear now is important.”
Reedsky flicked an ear. “Yes?”
“You see, the loners there are all aggressive. Sometimes rogues stop by too. I assume you’ll meet them, too. Well, those rogues and loners always feast on the weaker ones. I, myself, was a weaker one.” She sighed. “I had to become a strong loner she-cat.
“Being a she-cat is hard itself. You’ll be discriminated against sometimes by stupid toms.” Wish’s eyes softened and she mewed quietly, “And one day a group of loners and rogues came to me. They said I must stop my doing at once. How dare I act as a strong cat when I was just a weakling?” For a moment her eyes flared angrily. “I had to escape. Just then, your companion here rescued me.” The gray tabby dipped her head again. “And I will forever be grateful.”
Her story had ended.
Sparrowheart smiled, though Reedsky could recognize a hint of displeasure in one corner of his mouth. “Thank you. You may go now.”
Wish nodded. “I bid you good luck.” And then the pale gray tabby she-cat vanished into the holly bushes.
“How was Wish?” Sparrowheart asked.
“I think she was nice. But you rescued her?”
“Yes. I was passing by.”
“Where was she?”
Sparrowheart sighed. “It doesn’t matter right now. Are you well enough to meet another friend?”
“Well, I think so,” Reedsky mewed carefully. After meeting Wish, Reedsky’s guard had been lowered but he was more nervous. Wish was a loner, and she could be dangerous if she wished. Right now she appeared as a calm, quiet she-cat who seemed rather helpful. But who knew?
The golden tom nodded. “Good,” he meowed. “Let’s go. I didn’t want to disappoint this cat. She’s by the ShadowClan border. I won’t take you where she actually lives today.”
“Then where does she live?”
“Beyond where the Clans live,” Sparrowheart answered simply.
Maybe this is a lie. But Reedsky preferred not to think so. It was easier when you decided to ignore your heart.
They both quickened their pace. The dark sky, once full of clouds, was now clearing. The cool breeze, fit for a greenleaf night, was blowing, pushing away clouds to reveal the bright gleaming yellow moon.
“This is not good. Light is not good tonight,” muttered Sparrowheart darkly.
“We’re here,” Sparrowheart answered, ignoring Reedsky. “Can you see?”
Reedsky peered at where Sparrowheart was pointing with his tail. There was nothing.
“There’s–” He began to say, but he was interrupted by a sharp slash in his ear. “Ow!”
“He’s weak,” a female voice meowed smugly.
Reedsky whirled around, silver fur bristling and ears flattened. He saw a flame-colored she-cat with glittering green eyes.
“I am not weak,” he growled.
“The fact that you had to say that makes you weak,” she replied coolly.
This cat was definitely getting on Reedsky’s nerves.
“Well, forget that. Who are you?” He was definitely bolder, too.
But this cat was not Wish. Her green eyes flashed. “I don’t have to tell you.”
“This is Spark,” Sparrowheart interrupted. “She’s another friend.”
“No, not like Wish,” Spark sneered. She raised her head proudly. “I’m not a loner. I am a rogue.”
Reedsky froze. “Really?” he asked.
“Of course. Why would I lie?”
“Aha… That’s true.”
Spark tossed her head. “Then, Sparrowheart? What do you want?”
“I want to tell Reedsky your story.”
Spark’s eyes gleamed. “Are you sure?” she hissed. “This naïve Clan cat can’t handle this.”
“I can!” snapped Reedsky indignantly.
The ginger she-cat laughed. “Let’s see!”
Reedsky stood his ground bravely.
“Well, then. My story starts here. My mother, Luna, was a kittypet. She’d gotten lost. My father helped her. I was their only kit.
“Luna and Tom, yes, that was my father’s name, wanted me to learn to live in the wild. We were rogues, after all. Luna and Tom could’ve died any second. They trained me to live in the wild without them. I enjoyed it. The wild was interesting. It had no rules to bind me and choke me. I felt they were better than Luna and Tom. I left them. I didn’t look back once.” Spark’s green eyes glimmered with something Reedsky thought was grief and regret. But that light disappeared as fast as it came. “I think my decision was well made.
“But living a rogue’s life is tiring. I did want to settle down, but I didn’t dare go back to my parents. I didn’t know where they were, and I did not want to face their wrath.” Spark’s body shook. “I went to the Clans. Naturally.”
“Where did you go?” whispered Reedsky, fearing what would happen in Spark’s story.
“I went to the pine trees. They were ShadowClan. They chased me away, but I gave one of them an injury they will never forget.” She narrowed her eyes. “I pride myself that I scared them. Then I went to the moors. A scrawny little cat spotted me. I think her name was Fernpaw? Well. She brought back other cats, other scrawny cats! I still remember what they said.
“‘Ah! Marigoldpaw!’ That white cat must’ve been hunting nearby. She came immediately. ‘Bring Hollymist!’ she’d said. And they came. I ran.” Spark’s eyes glowed. “The Clans are evil. They never give a chance.”
“We do!” Reedsky protested.
Spark tilted her head. “We do!” she mimicked. “Well, silver warrior. The Clans have a vile side you’ll never know.”
Spark and Sparrowheart’s eyes met for a second. “That’s enough,” mewed Sparrowheart. “Reedsky, we must go back.”
His heart flopping, Reedsky followed Sparrowheart. “Why are you friends with them?” he asked. “They’re so creepy.”
Sparrowheart tilted his head. “Are they? Are you not a warrior, then?”
“I hoped you were,” Sparrowheart continued sadly. “Alas…”
Reedsky squirmed. “Well, then, I’m not scared.”
“You can continue this? Wish and Spark are good she-cats. They aren’t aggressive.”
“But she’s so… edgy?”
“She’s gone through a lot.”
“I guess I have to excuse that,” Reedsky murmured. He raised his head. “It was… a lot.”
“I assume it was.”
Reedsky could barely keep awake that next day. Whitepetal scolded if he was an apprentice. He’d missed the fish Slatefoot had drove into his paws. He’d said ‘yes’ to Creamfrost jokingly asking if she should leave RiverClan. Today was simply a mess.
“Are you okay?” Sundawn asked cautiously. Her dark amber eyes stared unblinkingly into Reedsky’s. “I’m honestly really worried.”
“I’m fine,” Reedsky mumbled. “I didn’t sleep well yesterday, that’s all.”
Sundawn nodded. “You’re on the dawn patrol,” she added. “Tansyflight told me to pass that on to you. Maybe you’ve got… some… thing after you got trapped in the rocks?”
“Uh… no, I don’t think so. That’s some time ago, after all,” Reedsky answered uncomfortably.
Sundawn shrugged. “If you think you’re fine, I guess you’re fine,” she mewed uncertainly. “Do you want to hunt?”
“No thanks. I’ll just drive everything away.”
The long-furred golden she-cat laughed. “All right, then.”
Thoughts about the night’s detour swarmed in Reedsky’s head. Wish’s story, Spark’s tale… Everything was so confusing. They seemed about… the coldness of reality.
Spark’s story was very disturbing. How could the Clans do that? Reedsky trusted that if Spark had come to RiverClan, Silverstar would’ve gladly invited her in.
Maybe I should suggest that, Reedsky thought. Suggest Spark to join RiverClan.
His trail of thoughts was broken by Oaktuft. “Uh, Reedsky?”
“Oh, hi, Oaktuft.”
“Creamfrost told me about what you said about her leaving RiverClan?”
Reedsky laughed uncomfortably. “Oh, that… I was thinking about other things. I didn’t pay attention to what she was saying.”
The dark brown cat nodded. “Should I tell that to her?” he suggested.
“Is Creamfrost still cross about that?” Reedsky asked wryly.
“Unfortunately, she is.”
“Then please do.”
Oaktuft nodded. “You might want to apologize later.”
Reedsky blinked. “Okay.”
Where would Sparrowheart take him today? Ominous feelings flooded Reedsky’s mind, but he couldn’t help being curious. Wish and Spark’s stories intrigued him. Unknown stories with unknown pasts.
A flash of golden flitted past him. And it stopped. Sparrowheart’s amber eyes stared into him. “Tonight is the Gathering!” he hissed urgently.
Chapter Twenty Three
“Sundawn, Sparrowheart, Reedsky, Brindlepelt, Stormflight, Dewheart, Fallowstep, and Mistypaw,” called Tansyflight. “Are you all good?”
Sparrowheart narrowed his eyes, but said nothing.
“Yes,” Fallowstep nodded.
Silverstar stood up. “We leave now,” she meowed.
Tansyflight glanced at her, looking startled. “But why? It’s only dusk.”
“Didn’t you see?” asked Silverstar. “WindClan was practically begging us to attack. They were by the lake in our side, and they said they weren’t breaking any rules.” Her fur bristled. “I think we might have a fight waiting for us.”
Tansyflight nodded. “Very well, Silverstar.”
Splashfall stood up. “Can Fernshine and I go?” she asked.
Silverstar glanced at the elder, looking surprised. “Of course.”
“Wait!” called Blossompool. “Before we go…” Her eyes met Silverstar’s.
“Is that what you really want?” asked Silverstar worriedly. “You’re still a good warrior.”
“No. Most my age are elders. My kit has kits,” Blossompool insisted.
The silver tabby leader nodded. “Stand forward, Blossompool,” she whispered.
The dark brown dappled she-cat did so, her eyes flickering with bitter sadness.
“Blossompool,” Silverstar began, “is it your wish to give up the role of a warrior and go to join the elders?”
The old she-cat looked up. “It is.”
“Your Clan honors you and all the service you have given us,” continued Silverstar. “I call upon StarClan to give you many seasons of rest.” She laid her tail across Blossompool’s shoulders, and the dark brown she-cat bowed her head, and stepped back to join where Splashfall and Fernshine stood, just outside the elders’ den.
The Clan was growing, and Reedsky was sure of that. It was moving.
“We’re glad to have you here,” rasped Mapleflight. The orange-and-brown she-cat blinked one cloudy eye.
“Thank you,” Blossompool purred.
“She’s gone!” mumbled Snowykit, looking disappointed. “Now she’s going to talk with them all day!”
“No, she won’t. And she deserves some rest,” Lynxfoot whispered softly to her daughter, and the snowy white she-kit shrugged and sat back to face her gray-and-white sister, whose thistle fluffed fur was soaked somehow.
Splashfall glanced at Fernshine. “The elders’ den is getting crowded,” she joked.
Fernshine nodded. “Indeed it is!”
Silverstar watched Splashfall and Fernshine talk for a few seconds, and declared, “Ready yourselves. We leave at once.”
Reedsky scrambled to his feet. He avoided Sparrowheart, who was gazing at him, and instead headed towards Sundawn.
“Sundawn!” he exclaimed.
The golden she-cat blinked at him. “Yeah, Reedsky?” she asked. “What’s up?”
“Since we’re going to the Gathering together, I just thought I should talk,” Reedsky answered.
“True,” Sundawn replied. “Well! Are you excited? I want to see Mousenose. He’s my friend.” She cleared her throat quickly. “Anyway, do you have any friends you want to see there?”
“I haven’t gone to Gatherings lately,” replied Reedsky. “I actually would just like my name announced. Though I do want to see Orangepaw and Amberpaw.”
“Oh! You mean the WindClan leader’s kits?” asked Sundawn. “I’ve seen them… But I won’t spoil their names. I saw them on patrol a few days ago.”
Reedsky grinned. “I’m looking forward to their names.”
“They were great!” Sundawn cheered. She glanced over Reedsky’s back, and added, “There’s Sparrowheart, trying to catch my eye. No doubt he’s going to say some nonsense. Excuse me.”
And when the golden she-cat went to talk to her brother, Reedsky saw Sparrowheart shook his head. He could recognize one word: Reedsky.
“Reedsky, come here. Sparrowheart says he wants to talk to you. But by the looks of it, you might have to talk while walking. We’re going now.”
The silver tom scrambled to his paws. “All right. Uh, Sparrowheart…?”
Sparrowheart nodded. “Today’s gone,” he meowed solemnly. “We’ll meet him tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Reedsky was actually relieved. He didn’t want to see this new rogue.
“Let’s go, Reedsky. I want to hear your thoughts on Wish and Spark.
“Wish and Spark? I told you. They were fine.” Reedsky nervously glanced back, worrying if anyone heard them. “Quiet down, won’t you?”
“Don’t worry. They won’t hear,” Sparrowheart meowed dismissively.
“If you say so…”
So not true!
“Reedsky, Sparrowheart, hurry up!” called Brindlepelt.
“Let’s quicken our paces,” mewed Sparrowheart calmly.
Doubtfully Reedsky followed the RiverClan crowd towards the bridge. They spotted WindClan cats waiting there, and recognized the white she-cat, Marigoldheart.
It seemed that she did, too. She thrust her head back, and faced him with a challenging glare.
“And what is happening here?” Silverstar’s voice rang out.
A pale cream-and-white she-cat stepped up. “We’re not crossing your border,” she replied. “We’re resting.”
“On the way to the Gathering? Why, you don’t have to come here.”
The she-cat’s green eyes narrowed. “Graystar wanted us to talk to you,” she admitted finally. “We’ve scented you in our borders.”
“Lies,” spat Silverstar.
“We are not lying,” insisted the pale warrior.
“Lightleaf, are you sure?” Tansyflight asked.
“Yes. I scented them myself. All cats in this patrol have.” She whisked her tail over the cats by her side. “Cindershine, Marigoldheart and Fernsnow. There are plenty more.”
Lightleaf raised her head challengingly. “Do you have any protests?”
“Yes, we do,” Silverstar replied. “How do we know we’re not lying?”
“And how do we know you’re not lying?” asked Cindershine.
“I don’t know why we are getting challenged,” interrupted Tansyflight quickly. “Let’s just go to the Gathering.”
Lightleaf and the others’ eyes were guarded. “No. We refuse to let you go unless you give yourselves up.”
“We did not cross your border!” hissed Fallowstep. “Quit this nonsense!”
Sparrowheart was looking around nervously.
Reedsky wanted to step up. “Let’s stop this…” he croaked.
Lightleaf glanced at him. “We can’t,” she meowed.
The cream-and-white she-cat tossed her head. “Are you refusing to admit?”
“Wait!” cried Reedsky desperately. “What if that cat acted alone? And that cat is… is not here?”
Tansyflight nodded. “Yes, that’s possible. So let’s not fight.”
Fernsnow stepped back. “That’s true,” she mewed quietly to the gray tabby next to her.
Cindershine tipped her head.
Sundawn was nodding, too. “You don’t know for sure,” she chimed in.
The pale cream-and-white she-cat and the silver tabby faced each other. “Then is it settled?” asked Silverstar fairly.
Lightleaf narrowed her eyes. “It is, for now,” she mewed finally. “But promise me you will question your warriors.”
“I can’t say I suspect they are criminals,” Silverstar replied.
Lightleaf’s eyes flared. “Then you expect us to just let you go?”
“What do you suggest I do?”
“Question them! If they aren’t guilty they’ll be fine.”
Silverstar was silent for a moment. Then she raised her head, and focused her dark blue eyes on Lightleaf’s dark green ones. “Very well,” she meowed. “But remember this. We won’t tell you unless you come.”
Tansyflight’s eyes widened, as if he didn’t understand. Reedsky felt the same way. Why was Silverstar bargaining about this?
“And why is that?”
Silverstar didn’t reply. She just whirled around, leaving Tansyflight to beckon to follow her.
The WindClan cats stared at her. As Reedsky passed Lightleaf, she hissed, “Tell your leader this isn’t over. If she won’t tell us before we go, we will go.”
The rest of the cats gave him dirty looks. Cindershine sneered, and Marigoldheart spat at him. Fernsnow glanced at him, looking angry.
“They don’t have a right to do that!” muttered Sundawn in Reedsky’s ear, falling back. “They’re obnoxious.”
“Silverstar,” Reedsky heard Tansyflight ask, “why did you say that?”
“Say you won’t tell them unless they came.”
“I didn’t want to tell them. They were rude and obnoxious; I don’t know why Graystar did that. As a result… I would be rude and obnoxious too.” Silverstar’s dark blue eyes gleamed with satisfaction.
Tansyflight broke into a harsh laugh. “That’s like you, Silverstar.”
“It’s still light out,” mewed Brindlepelt. “Won’t we be too early?”
“Maybe we could swim,” suggested Sparrowheart.
“That would slow us down,” agreed Stormflight timidly.
“Then it’s settled,” Silverstar mewed. “Although, do we have to do this?”
“No,” Sparrowheart meowed, “but this is a chance.”
“Chance for what?” Sundawn asked suspiciously.
“A chance to swim to the island.”
Silverstar laughed. “We won’t be able to try this again. All right, then.” The silver tabby she-cat looked happier than Reedsky had ever seen her. The leader jumped into the water.
“Can we go?” asked Sundawn.
“Yes,” Tansyflight replied with a small smile, diving in himself.
“They look childish,” Sparrowheart muttered under his breath.
Reedsky blinked. “You were the one who suggested this.”
“But them being like this was not what I expected,” answered Sparrowheart. Then he took a running leap, and dove into the water, quickly catching up to Silverstar.
Rolling his eyes exasperatedly, Reedsky followed into the lake. The lake water was cool. He remembered Rainingpaw, and wondered if Rainingpaw was entirely okay now.
“What in StarClan–” It was Silverstar’s cry. She was frantically waving her legs to regain balance, but she was caught off guard, by whatever.
“Silverstar! Are you all right?” cried out Sparrowheart suddenly.
Silverstar went in the water, and soon she emerged, looking soaked. “Who kicked me in the leg?” she demanded. “Was it you?”
Sparrowheart looked genuinely surprised. “No! It wasn’t meet. Maybe it were fish tickling your paws?”
“Maybe,” grunted the silver tabby. “Something kicked my leg, and I believe that was why I lost balance.”
The golden tabby looked away dismissively. “Let’s go. Quickly. I’ll submerge. I like doing that.”
Reedsky floated along, thinking about the Gathering he was attending in moons. Maybe not moons. But he would love to see Orangepaw and Amberpaw. Not Amberpaw. She was rude. But Orangepaw!
He knew the orange she-cat wouldn’t have heard kindly about him recently. After all, Reedsky had just bickered with her mother.
But he trusted Orangepaw to figure out the truth. She wouldn’t believe that Reedsky was a bad cat, would she?
No, she’d not.
By the time he’d reached this conclusion, he felt a strange tug at his leg. No, not a tug. It was like someone was squeezing him in the leg.
Slightly panicking, he tried to paddle.
Then what was the squeezing?
Trying to forget that, he carried on paddling.
The strange squeeze tightened, and he felt his leg somehow… sizzling.
And finally, the squeeze was gone. But it was worse. His leg felt numb. He couldn’t paddle.
When the squeeze reached his other leg, Reedsky could not do anything to stop it.
He cried out, in pure desperation, “Help!”
There was another tight squeeze, so tight Reedsky almost passed out, and then it was gone.
After a second or so, Sparrowheart, who was a few tail-lengths away, emerged. “What is it?” he asked.
“My leg feels numb!”
Silverstar swam over to him. “It’ll be fine. Relax,” she soothed. “Just float.”
Sparrowheart floated next to them. “We should move before the others see us,” he meowed.
“Reedsky is first,” Tansyflight meowed.
Stormflight splashed over to them. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I will be,” Reedsky mewed. He slowly swished his legs. “Yup, I’m fine.”
Sparrowheart narrowed his eyes. “Let’s go,” he muttered, somewhat grumpily.
Reedsky quickly paddled himself to the island. There was a feeling, a nasty feeling in his heart, something he couldn’t tell exactly what.
“We’re here,” Silverstar meowed, shaking water off her pelt.
“We’re here early,” remarked Dewheart. “I’m glad we are, though.”
Sundawn craned her neck. “Isn’t that ShadowClan?” she asked quickly.
“No, I think that’s WindClan,” countered Stormflight.
“No, it’s ThunderClan!” Brindlepelt chimed in.
“It doesn’t matter which Clan it is,” Tansyflight interrupted sternly. “Remember we are not friendly with the other Clans. Behave yourselves.”
Sundawn looked guilty. “Sorry,” she murmured.
“Let’s take our seats,” Tansyflight replied.
Silverstar jumped onto her branch, raised her head, and sat there stiffly. Reedsky was amazed at how sturdy and regal the silver RiverClan leader was.
“RiverClan is here early,” a taunting voice meowed.
“SkyClan,” hissed Mistypaw. “That’s Dapplestar!”
That was Dapplestar indeed. The tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat was striding along the bridge, finally setting foot on the island. “You are here earlier than I thought. Really, though, I thought you would come latest, since you’re lazy fish-eaters.”
“That’s lovely,” Silverstar answered coolly. Reedsky was sure anger was flaring, ready to pop up and blaze.
Dapplestar thrust her head back. “The clouds are clearing,” she meowed, clearing her throat. “The moonshine will be clear.”
It was true. The heavy, white clouds were starting to clear, and the sky proved to be a beautiful navy, and the creamy moon shining brightly, gently touching the white patches of Dapplestar, and the darker stripes on Silverstar’s back.
“There’s ShadowClan!” exclaimed Sundawn. “I want to talk to them.”
But Sundawn didn’t seem to hear this question. She simply ducked away into the ShadowClan crowd.
“Where’s Sundawn?” asked Fallowstep.
“She’s among the ShadowClan cats to talk.”
Fallowstep frowned. “She really shouldn’t,” she murmured. “This is a dangerous time.”
“I’m sure she can manage herself,” Reedsky replied awkwardly.
Fallowstep shrugged. “Sure.” The pale brown she-cat trotted away.
“Cats of all Clans,” yowled out a voice, and Reedsky jerked his head up. It was Dapplestar. “I want to tell you. Who crossed the borders? I know all the Clans are having these problems. I cannot figure out why. Did you all plan this?” Her gaze raked them all. “Tell me and I will forgive you. ThunderClan or ShadowClan – who crossed the border?”
No cat stood up.
Dapplestar’s eyes blazed. “Very well. If you will not step up, I will give my cats permission to kill.”
“Isn’t she going a little too far with that?” asked Mistypaw nervously. “Permission to kill? She’s completely ignoring the warrior code!”
“I know,” Reedsky murmured nervously. “What’s Dapplestar doing?”
“Dapplestar. If you kill any of my cats I will declare war on you,” Eaglestar snarled.
Maplestar nodded viciously.
“Your words do not change my mind.”
Silverstar stood up. “If Dapplestar declares that… So will I.” She thrust her head back. “But I will give more mercy. I will give the trespassing cat one chance to defend themselves. I will let them go. But my cats will capture the cat and bring them to our camp. If they protest… Anything will happen.”
“You’re all being so rash!” hissed Graystar. “The cats who trespassed – don’t you feel any guilt? Give yourselves up! RiverClan scent is strong.” He whipped his gaze.
Sparrowheart was muttering something under his breath. His gaze sparked with determination and regret, and he stood up.
“What are you doing?” hissed Mistypaw.
“I trespassed,” Sparrowheart announced.
Gasps and murmurs sounded.
Silverstar stared at her warrior, looking blank.
“You did?” Graystar asked.
“Yes, I did.”
Everyone was gawking.
“Sit down!” barked Silverstar. “Sparrowheart, you should have talked to me before this.” Her slightly panicked gaze swept across the clearing. “Let’s start the Gathering. I shall start first.”
The cats grumbled, but quieted.
“We have three new warriors, followed by our two warriors from last moon. Reedsky, Stormflight, and Dewheart!”
Reedsky hoped cats would cheer. In this tension, he was worried none would. But thankfully, he could hear some familiar voices.
“Reedsky! Reedsky! Stormflight! Stormflight! Dewheart! Dewheart!” They were followed by a chorus of yowls.
Reedsky’s chest puffed out proudly.
As Silverstar sat down, Graystar stood. “WindClan is thriving,” he announced. “We have two new warriors, Orangeberry and Amberfrost.”
Reedsky’s ears flicked. “Orangeberry! Orangeberry! Amberfrost! Amberfrost!”
He searched for Orangeberry and Amberfrost in the WindClan crowd, and found them.
The orange she-cat with gray ears and gray paws met Reedsky’s eye and flicked her gray-tipped tail cheerfully.
Reedsky met Amberfrost’s eye too, by mistake, and expected the ginger-and-cream she-cat to ignore him. But she simply smiled at him friendlily.
The silver warrior caught Lightleaf gazing at her daughters proudly.
He didn’t dare finish the sentence. He shouldn’t hang on the past so much.
Orangeberry ducked into the crowd and emerged next to Reedsky, her gray ears flicking excitedly. “This is amazing, huh?” she asked. “Reedsky! That’s an amazing name.”
“Yours, too,” beamed Reedsky. He noticed Fallowstep looking warily at him, and ignored her gaze.
“Amberfrost says her name’s the best,” Orangeberry continued. “But you have to excuse her.” She cocked her head and continued, “Anyway, did you sense the tension around here?”
“I hope it doesn’t last long.”
“It’s ThunderClan that keeps leaving scents. Well, RiverClan, mostly… But I hope you won’t, now, since Sparrowheart gave himself up.”
“I don’t think he really did it,” mewed Reedsky quietly.
Orangeberry faced him with a puzzled look. “He said so himself,” she mewed.
“But maybe he was lying to stop the quarrels.”
The orange she-cat stared at Sparrowheart for a while, and then replied, “Maybe. He’s made things harder for him at any rate.” She shrugged. “Ooh, is that your sister?” She nudged her head towards Sundawn’s head.
“Uh… yes. Why?”
“I want to see her,” Orangeberry answered.
“I saw her once?” Orangeberry asked. “I just.” She grinned. “D’you want to come?”
“Didn’t you hang out with your sister?”
Orangeberry shrugged. “I did,” she admitted, “but not now. Amberfrost’s more interested in… everything else?”
“Oh.” Reedsky subconsciously glanced at Sparrowheart. The golden tom was staring up at Silverstar, his eyes fixed. He could notice cats whispering.
Orangeberry’s gray ears flicked. “Look. It’s Dapplestar. She’s been aggressive and civil these days.” She snorted with laughter. “Just see how she said she’d allow her warriors to kill!” She shivered. “I’d hate to be ThunderClan or ShadowClan right now.”
“I’d hate to be,” Reedsky agreed. “Imagine what Dapplestar will show up with at the next Gathering. Perhaps she’ll show a ShadowClan warrior as an example of what will happen if we disobey.”
“That’s tyranny.” Orangeberry’s tone was light, but her eyes were dark. “I really hope this ends soon. I mean, I thought it would at first. Lightleaf told us it would, too. But it’s not true.”
“It’s not true,” sighed Reedsky.
“Why’re you repeating after me?” laughed Orangberry tightly.
“Sorry. I was just thinking.”
And Reedsky really was. Was Sparrowheart really lying? He hoped so. Although he was getting nervous around him, Sparrowheart seemed like a good cat. It would crush everyone to see the golden tabby tom turn out to be a traitor to his Clan.
But Wish and Spark and the last rogue! How did they know Sparrowheart?
Heart heavy with questions and secrets, Reedsky turned around.
“Where’re you going?”
“Uh, I want to talk with Mistypaw.”
Orangeberry shrugged. “All right. I’ll go talk with Sundawn.”
Reedsky quickly waved his white-tipped tail as a farewell gesture, and moved towards Sparrowheart. “Sparrowheart?” he asked.
The golden tabby turned. “Oh. Reedsky.” His gaze was misty.
“Are you all right? That wasn’t true…?”
“Of course it wasn’t true, Reedsky!” exclaimed Sparrowheart. “You didn’t think that, right?”
“No, I didn’t,” Reedsky mewed quickly. “I just wanted… confirmation.”
“That’s good. For a moment I was afraid you thought I was a traitor to RiverClan.” Amber eyes flickered uneasily, and Reedsky felt guilty.
“I’m so sorry, Sparrowheart. I didn’t mean that!”
Sparrowheart hesitated, and finally meowed, “I know you didn’t.”
But, Reedsky thought, as he stared blankly ahead, if Sparrowheart didn’t cross the border, who did? Who crossed borders and left scents in the other Clans? Is this ever going to end?
Chapter Twenty Four
The rain was trickling on Reedsky’s head. The drops gently drummed the ground, giving a sound effect.
“This is Ice.”
The white-and-gray she-cat raised her head. Reedsky noticed a gray M-like mark on her forehead. “This is Ice,” she repeated. She thrust his head back. “Aren’t you going to meet Hark today? I thought he was due yesterday.”
Sparrowheart nodded. “He was. I decided to follow our schedule.”
“Didn’t like crossing me?”
“You could say that.”
A pale smile flickered at Ice’s lips. “Smart, eh?”
She and Sparrowheart began talking in low voices, and Reedsky let his thoughts flow back to when they went back to RiverClan camp. Reedsky was asking Sundawn about her friend, Mousenose, when they heard Silverstar ask, in a voice full of rage, “Did you really cross the borders? Did you? And you kept quiet?”
“Please calm down, Silverstar. And no, of course I didn’t. I just wanted to calm the situation.”
The silver tabby she-cat took a deep breath. “Very well. Sparrowheart, I really do believe you. But you do realize you’ve made a difficult situation for yourself? The other cats will spit at you and snarl, without knowing anything. That was a valiant sacrifice you did for your Clan, but I’m afraid that wasn’t smart.” Her dark blue eyes flickered. “The others might make me exile you. It has happened before; exiling a traitor. I know and the Clan knows you aren’t, but will the other Clans believe it?”
“No, they will not,” Sparrowheart meowed calmly. His voice was level, ringing around the clearing. “If they make you exile me, exile me. I made this sacrifice; who says I can’t make another?”
“NO!” shrieked a voice.
“Mistshade…” Reedsky heard Sundawn murmur.
Sundawn’s dark amber eyes immediately flew to Mistshade’s quivering form, and Reedsky’s green ones followed Sundawn’s gaze as well.
The long-furred silver tabby she-cat was shaking with fear. “He can’t be exiled,” she croaked.
There were murmurs of sympathy all around the clearing. Swiftclaw, Shatteredclaw, and Stormsky were staring at Mistshade with worried looks in their eyes, and Minnowdawn padded over to Mistshade and licked her head worriedly, with Tawnyclaw murmuring something in the silver she-cat’s ears.
“It’ll be hard for her if Sparrowheart gets exiled,” Sundawn mumbled.
“It won’t be hard for her if I get exiled,” Reedsky hissed.
“Are you cross about that?” Sundawn asked. “I get you are.” She sighed. “It’s just strange, trying to sympathize with you. I do, but Mistshade is always nice to me.”
Reedsky sighed. “I understand. It’ll be hard hating someone who’s shown only kindness to you.”
Sundawn blinked sympathetically. “Sorry,” she mewed. She glanced back at her mother. “I feel sorry for Mistshade, though. She’ll feel devastated her son might be exiled.”
Anger bubbled inside the silver warrior’s heart, but he decided to shut up about that.
“Reedsky. Reedsky! Reedsky!”
Reedsky whirled around to face Sparrowheart gazing at him, a hint of furiousness in his amber eyes.
But the white-and-gray she-cat laughed, her dark blue eyes gleaming with laughter. “He’s interesting,” she mewed. “Anyway. Is tomorrow Bracken?”
“No. We decided to end with you.”
Ice’s eyebrows went up. “You don’t mean that?”
“We’ll meet him today,” admitted Sparrowheart.
Ice snorted. “Say so,” she meowed. “Well, then?”
“Tell him your story.”
“Why, I’d tell him that without being asked!” she exclaimed cheerfully. Her eyes flashed with sudden cruelty. “My sister and I were rogues from the beginning. Probably different from the other weaklings you’ve met. They’re probably all kittypets. Well, Bracken, Cherry, and I were different. We were raised together in a rogue group.”
“The Bracken I’ll meet?” Reedsky asked.
Ice frowned. “Yes. Don’t interrupt. Well, Cherry was my sister. Snowy, my mother, died from kitbirth and Bracken’s mother left the group before Bracken could talk. We were all raised by Breeze, a she-cat with a kit called Daisy. Daisy was like our sister.
“‘Bracken?’ mewed Cherry one day, her dark tabby pelt bristling. ‘Did you see a white cat yesterday, while you were out with me?’ But Bracken shook his head. ‘No.’
“But Cherry was worried. One day she set out without Bracken or I. And you know what happened? She was killed by a tortoiseshell-and-white cat with yellow eyes.
“How I know that? Because Cherry’s dying cries reached my ears. Those ears which were pricked for hunting. I raced towards the flailing sounds, and realized my sister was dying.
“A tortoiseshell was watching by the bushes. Its yellow eyes were shining. I remember its pelt. Orange and black with a white underbelly and legs. Then the cat said, ‘My name is Ivypelt. Remember me.”
“Ivypelt!” exclaimed Reedsky. “She’s a SkyClan cat.”
“Is she? Well, Ivypelt laughed and turned away. I can’t believe she went like that after killing Cherry.” Ice snorted.
Reedsky still had questions. “But how did you know Ivypelt killed your sister?”
Ice ignored him. “When Ivypelt vanished, I quickly tended to my sister. Cherry was bleeding hard, and I wondered if I should get Bracken, Daisy, and Breeze. But since we were a rogue group, I didn’t think I could find them fast enough.
“‘Cherry,’ I whispered softly into her ear, ‘are you fine?’ Of course she wasn’t. ‘No. Please…’ ‘Who killed you?’ I snarled. ‘Yellow eyes. Tortoiseshell.’ That was almost it. Then she gasped, ‘Thank you, everyone.’ That was it.” Ice’s eyes flashed. “My sister died like that. I will say that’s why Bracken and I turned this way.” Her breathing was rapid, and her dark blue eyes wild and wide.
Sparrowheart was watching Reedsky curiously.
“What about Breeze and Daisy?”
Ice shrugged. “I don’t know. I found Bracken and left.” A small part of her lip rose. “They’ll probably fine. I don’t care. What’s important is that what Sparrowheart, you are going to do.”
The golden tabby blinked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The white-and-gray cat laughed, her deep blue eyes glittering with amusement. “I don’t, either. You’ll let me join?”
Sparrowheart gave one jerk of his head. “Of course.”
“Good. When will you go see Bracken? I’m getting tired of this.”
“If you wish,” Sparrowheart replied. “What will you do now?”
“Do you have to ask? What I always do.” A treacherous look rose upon Ice’s cold face, and she turned away.
After watching Ice disappear into the shadows, Sparrowheart turned to him. “What did you think of her?”
“She was… well, impressive?” Reedsky fumbled.
Sparrowheart laughed. “Creepy?”
“She gave off strange vibes,” admitted Reedsky.
“You’ll get stranger ones from her brother.”
“Bracken?” Reedsky asked nervously. “Is he the one in Ice’s story? About her dead sister?”
“Yes, the one Ice claims is her brother.”
“Technically he is not. Only Cherry is Ice’s sibling.”
Reedsky shrugged. “Well…”
Sparrowheart continued. “Let’s go see Bracken.”
“Wait. What’s that about Ice saying… weird stuff?” Reedsky asked timidly.
“That’s nothing.” Sparrowheart’s voice was so sharp Reedsky didn’t dare argue.
Something’s going on.
“Bracken stays close to Ice,” meowed Sparrowheart. “I believe it’s because of the Cherry incident.”
Reedsky followed Sparrowheart, to a shady area where willow trees drooped over them gloomily. The wind whistled in their ears.
“He’s around here somewhere.”
“He sure is,” mewed a gloomy voice.
Sparrowheart didn’t make one startled move. He simply turned his head back to meet a pale brown tabby tom staring at him. “He sure is,” he repeated. “I see you’ve brought a friend like you said.”
“That’s right,” agreed Sparrowheart.
“Well, then. He must’ve heard it from Ice.”
“Yes, he has,” Sparrowheart answered, looking faintly amused. “But what I’m saying is – tell him about the Clans.”
Bracken’s eyes sparked. “The newer story?”
“And about Hark, if you please,” Sparrowheart added.
The light brown tabby laughed. “That is pleasant to tell.” He turned his icy green gaze to Reedsky. “What’s your name?”
“Reedsky,” whispered Reedsky, finding that his voice was hoarse and full of fear.
Bracken seemed to like that. His bracken-green gaze gazed longingly into the horizon and he slowly opened his mouth. His story mesmerized Reedsky more than any other rogue’s story had.
“After Cherry died, Ice and I had nowhere to go. Yes, the rogue group, but we weren’t ready to face them. Breeze and Daisy were softer than we were, and we knew they wouldn’t take the news well. We didn’t want to handle it, naturally. So we ran. They probably think we’re dead.
“Ice suggested we take revenge on the tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat who killed Cherry. I agreed. We didn’t have anything better to do.” A smirk misted into Bracken’s eyes. “Ivypelt was hard to find and harder to kill. She always went with a group of cats, which Ice and I later learned were called patrols.
“Ivypelt never strayed off alone, so no one knows why she was the day Cherry was killed. Ice guessed she was with a patrol, too, but it’s still suspicious.
“Anyhow, we reached where Ivypelt lived. Into the SkyClan camp. It was a strange land. The tortoiseshell-and-white’s eyes were gazing deeply into where we hid. Those yellow eyes seemed to penetrate everything.” Bracken’s voice hardened. “I admit I liked that. You need intimidation. But Cherry was my sister, and I wouldn’t let anything higher than that fact and the fact that she was killed brutally by Ivypelt.
“Ice and I asked around and learned, by a gray tabby loner, that warriors weren’t allowed to kill. In self-defense, yes, if it’s an accident. But not if you do it on purpose.” Bracken’s eyes gleamed. “Ice and I decided we should reveal Ivypelt’s doings to her Clan. That cat would not be able to survive outside of SkyClan.
“We didn’t have evidence, though. Sadly, that was what caused SkyClan to believe their traitor Ivypelt was telling the truth: She hadn’t killed a loner! SkyClan did things to us.” Bracken flicked his pale, clawed off ear. “You may not see, but I have a scar on my stomach. That is the doing of SkyClan. The Clans.”
Reedsky took a deep breath. Bracken’s story was extremely unnerving, but he had to try and calm himself. Firstly, SkyClan could’ve though Ivypelt was telling the truth, and that dispute and broken into a full-fledged fight. Second, SkyClan wasn’t RiverClan. Third, Bracken could be lying.
“Don’t look so disturbed!” laughed Bracken. He seemed to be enjoying this. “I have a second story! This is about Hark. I hope this will calm your mind. This shows a better side to the Clans.”
The silver warrior faced Bracken, but quickly lowered his gaze. “Okay. Tell me.”
“Hark was formerly a Clan cat called Darkheather. He was caught trying to kill, on a border patrol, a cat who wasn’t trespassing, and another who had killed his mother and taunted him about it. Once the patrol dragged him back to camp, the leader was going just exile him for a moon. But what happened? Why, he went haywire, broke out of camp, and promised never to return. And I’m going to tell you something at this point. The second cat Darkheather killed? I told you the cat killed his mother and taunted him about it. That was a RiverClan cat. Oh, don’t look so unsettled. That was about two years ago, when you weren’t even born. I heard the cat’s dead now.” Bracken laughed.
But Reedsky couldn’t laugh along with Bracken. Sparrowheart made a pretty successful attempt, but he couldn’t. His heart lurched.
“He now lives alone after changing his name to Hark. That wimpy cat is scared of his haywire-ness and doesn’t talk much. Poor cat. I don’t know why we know him. But still, he knows about the Clans, and that helps. Isn’t it great he’s not from your Clan? He’s from ShadowClan; Cinderwhatever’s brother.”
Reedsky bit his lip. “Is that true?” he asked Sparrowheart.
Sparrowheart shrugged. “Bracken’s telling the truth from what I know. But again, he might be lying.”
“But never accuse me that. You won’t live to say another word.”
Reedsky gulped. Oh, why, oh why did I agree to come?
Bracken looked satisfied. His bracken-green eyes were glittering with satisfaction and his sleek brown fur was laid back.
“He looks well-fed, for a rogue,” mumbled Reedsky, into Sparrowheart’s ear.
Reedsky didn’t know Bracken’s hearing was better than any cat in the Clans. “For a rogue? Does that mean you’re better than me?” he asked sharply, and Reedsky flinched.
“No! I’m sorry!”
“That’s better,” Bracken meowed smugly.
The silver tom sighed. This was going nowhere. “It’s getting late,” he mumbled timidly. “Shouldn’t we go back now?” He turned to Sparrowheart pleadingly.
“I suppose so,” replied the golden striped tom. “Bracken, I must say farewell.”
The pale brown tabby nodded. “Very well.” He faced Reedsky. “I’ll be looking forward to see you, too.”
But he didn’t say anything. He just turned away, and began padding away. Reedsky wasn’t used to taking the lead, but this time he did.
What if the Clan knew about this? He had to cut this.
“Sparrowheart.” This came out sterner than he had ever spoken before.
The golden tabby tom looked genuinely surprised. Reedsky hadn’t seen an expression this genuine on Sparrowheart’s face for a long time. They always looked rather faked and exaggerated.
Reedsky hesitated. “This is the last, right?”
Sparrowheart’s face fell. “Oh, well. If you want it like that… Since you already heard about Hark, I suppose that can be managed. I had such great adventures planned out.”
Reedsky squirmed uncomfortably.
“But I understand. Then… could I ask one more of this?”
Reedsky frowned. “All right.”
“Good!” Sparrowheart seemed pleased.
“Just that,” promised Sparrowheart.
Reedsky couldn’t get the golden tabby’s sly face out of his mind.
The ginger-and-brown tom stood impatiently by camp. This was a rare thing, for the deputy to stand guard the camp entrance. But dangerous situations called for rare measures. Tansyflight blinked away tiredness, trying to keep his eyelids drooping.
“Tansyflight!” he scolded himself, in a higher voice than usual. “Stay awake!”
“Sure,” he grumbled back.
He heard a panicked gasp and some rustling just outside camp, and Tansyflight’s yellow eyes narrowed. He wished he’d brought anyone with him, in case there were intruders. Tansyflight cleared his throat, ready to yowl out.
But there was nothing.
Tansyflight sighed. Maybe nothing was going to happen tonight.
When Reedsky was returning with Sparrowheart a few days earlier, after their meeting with Bracken, he’d heard a high voice say, “Tansyflight! Stay awake!” and then Tansyflight’s voice reply, “Sure.”
Sparrowheart’s amber eyes had flashed, and Reedsky had panicked, letting out a gasp. Sparrowheart pinned him down, make the bush leaves rustle. “Quiet,” he snarled.
Reedsky shook his head at the chilling thought.
“What? Excuse me?” Snowykit squealed. “You think I should swim! Yes! Disobey Lynxfoot!”
The silver tom jerked back to reality. “Uh, what, Snowykit?”
Snowykit beamed at him. The moon and a half old she-kit was already happy and bouncing around camp.
“No, no, no,” meowed Reedsky quickly. “You shouldn’t.”
Snowykit’s face fell. “Aww…”
“But did you know?” she continued, after some silence. “Splashykit and I dipped our paws in the stream yesterday.”
“Does Lynxfoot know?”
“No, of course not!” Snowykit laughed. She cocked her head. “Oh, look. I think Roseleap’s lookin’ for you.”
Reedsky turned to see the dark ginger she-cat looking around.
“How do you know she’s looking for me?”
“Because I heard her ask Sundawn if she saw you. Then Whitepetal, and Slatefoot. Obviously…”
“Oh, all right. Thanks.” Reedsky stood up, and started towards Roseleap. “Roseleap!”
The dark ginger she-cat turned, her blue eyes sparking. “Reedsky!” she exclaimed. “Tansyflight said he heard something suspicious. Well, I overheard him talking to Silverstar. But… do you know what that means?”
“No?” Reedsky replied nervously.
“We’re going to have war. I always thought we were, but…” Roseleap let out a gasp. “Silverstar and Tansyflight are talking about it!”
The dark ginger she-cat’s blue eyes were filled with emotion – anticipation, anxiety, fear…
Reedsky gulped nervously. “Roseleap?” he asked.
Roseleap blinked at him. “Yeah?”
“Do you really think there’s going to be a battle?”
“It will be strange if there isn’t one,” replied Roseleap, frowning. “Don’t you think? Yesterday I saw Sparrowheart report more scents. I couldn’t scent it, but Sparrowheart was so intent that he did.”
Reedsky swallowed. “You couldn’t find a scent?” he asked hoarsely.
Roseleap cocked her head. “Yes. But to be fair, I was never a scenter.” She laughed. “Yeah, it’s strange Slatefoot couldn’t scent it either, but if Sparrowheart says he scented, he scented!”
Reedsky wasn’t as confident in Sparrowheart’s loyalty as Roseleap. He was loyal, but maybe…
The night was cool, and the breeze was gently blowing into the den. It was almost leaf-fall, according to Ottersnow, but it seemed like greenleaf to any other cat. They always swam and splashed in the cold water, with an exception of Silverstar, Ottersnow, and Rainingpaw. Rainingpaw was still complaining she felt sick, so Starlingsnow decided to put off her training until she was entirely fine.
A golden shape started to stand up, and his paws lightly touched the ground as he made his way.
A silver cat began to mumble. “Hmm…?”
“It’s the last one.”
The silver warrior shot up, his green eyes gleaming. “Oh, really?”
“I’m disappointed you’re so happy to hear that.”
Reedsky hesitated. “Oh, well…” he murmured. “Just…” He shrugged. “Let’s go.”
Sparrowheart nodded, and he led the way out of camp, like they always did. Reedsky’s heart was flipping; finally he’d have no secrets to keep.
Reedsky had expected to see some more rogues. Even though Sparrowheart had talked like he wasn’t going to anymore, there wasn’t anything more to do, was there?
But strangely, Sparrowheart made his way to the ShadowClan border. Nervously, Reedsky had tried to ask Sparrowheart what he was planning. But when he approached the golden tabby, he saw that the tom’s amber eyes were filled with vileness Reedsky never saw on anyone’s face.
Heart twisting, Reedsky slowly followed Sparrowheart. This was wrong. So wrong.
“Here we are…”
They were standing by the ShadowClan border. Just inches away from the stinking scent marks…
“Follow me,” ordered Sparrowheart, and he leaped over the border.
Reedsky stood there for a moment, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. He crossed the border! “You crossed the border!” he squeaked out. His voice was tiny and helpless.
The golden tabby stared at him, his once-warm amber eyes now cold and merciless. “So? Would you like to go back? Feel free to.” But Reedsky couldn’t. Sparrowheart would take vengeance one day.
“I… I… No. It’s all right,” Reedsky croaked. Feeling his legs quiver, Reedsky jumped, almost crashing into the ground.
“Why jump? There’s no stream,” snorted Sparrowheart.
The mocking tone was so hard to bear. Remembering Mistshade, and how he had grown from wailing for her attention, Reedsky gritted his teeth and stood up. “Lead the way,” he meowed coolly.
Sparrowheart seemed to want to say something, but just shrugged and carried on.
The silver warrior blinked away tears threatening to flood.
When they reached the pine trees just outside the ShadowClan camp, Sparrowheart hissed, “Now they’ll come.”
Reedsky froze. Who’ll come?
He found soon enough. Dark shapes began to emerge from the shadows. Reedsky could recognize Ice, Bracken, and one strange dark brown tabby cat. But Reedsky didn’t dare ask who he was.
“Greetings, Ice, Bracken, and Dust,” meowed Sparrowheart coolly.
Ice laughed. A quiet, high-pitched but haunting laugh rang throughout the pine woods.
“Quiet!” The dark brown tabby hissed.
“Don’t tell my sister what to do,” snarled Bracken.
Ice let out a snort of laughter, and turned her blue gaze to Sparrowheart’s. “Is it time yet?” she sang. “I believe what we did was satisfying for you.”
“Yes, it was. Nice job on the scents.”
The white-and-gray she-cat smiled smugly. “WindClan scents were the least stinky,” she commented. “I feel sorry for Dust. He had to do ShadowClan.”
“The most work,” the dark brown tabby spat. “They probably didn’t even notice you and Bracken’s work!”
“Yes, you’re the greatest, Dust,” soothed Sparrowheart convincingly.
Dust snorted. “Am I? I’ll be glad to see ShadowClan fall, Sparrowheart. Make this work.”
“We’re ready, aren’t we?”
Reedsky felt himself shrink as he watched the angry, bitter, and haunted rogues talk to each other.
When Dust’s cold brown gaze landed on Reedsky, he felt petrified. “Didn’t you say you told him all your stories?” he asked lightly.
Ice snickered. “Do you want to?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “How funny.”
Reedsky breathed heavily. “Yes,” he whispered.
“Have you been told mine? Mine would’ve been more interesting than anyone’s. Oh. Did you hear Wish’s?”
Dust spat on the ground. “Sparrowheart…”
Sparrowheart shrugged apologetically. “Would you like to tell?”
“There’s no time,” growled Bracken.
“Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll tell this short, cat. My mother and father were both housecats. But when my mother learned she was going to have kits, she decided to leave, because she knew her kits would be taken from her, like her sister’s had been.
“After she kitted, she stayed low for a long time. She tried going back to our father but he didn’t recognize her as his former mate or us, as his kits. He disowned us, to put it simply.
“My mother didn’t have enough resources to keep us alive, but she was still satisfied with her choice to leave her housefolk. One day, she went to hunt. She saw some squirrels crowded around some pine trees, and she went there, leaving her kits tucked safely nearby.
“She caught a squirrel, and was about to hunt another, when a sharp voice stopped her. It was a ShadowClan patrol. They ordered her to leave. She would have, if they didn’t demand her squirrel as well. She refused to, and they killed her.
“I was only five moons old. My sister and I waited for our mother for a long time, but finally we had to acknowledge she was never coming back.
“From that day when we realized we were alone in the world, I began to take care of my family. But a five-moon-old kit cannot do anything much. My sister, Fly, starved to death and then I was alone. Entirely alone without anyone.
“The Clans aren’t to be trusted. They are greedy, selfish, and unkind. ShadowClan killed my mother in newleaf because they couldn’t afford a single squirrel. They didn’t give her a chance to talk her way out. So they killed her.” Dust’s voice was shaking.
Reedsky took an uncertain step back. “I’m sorry…”
“Who are you to feel sorry for me?” laughed Dust coldly.
The silver speckled tom blinked. “I’m sorry…” he repeated.
This time the dark tabby tom ignored him. “When will we start the attack on ShadowClan?”
“You three will take the side bordering ThunderClan,” instructed Sparrowheart. “Your right. Reedsky and I will take RiverClan’s side.”
Ice gazed at Reedsky doubtfully. “Are you sure he’s fit to carry out our plans?” she asked.
“Sure,” Sparrowheart insisted. “He’s my brother.”
Ice shrugged. “Your loss,” she mewed, glancing at her brother and Dust. “Come.”
Reedsky let Sparrowheart lead him back to RiverClan’s border. “What are you planning, Sparrowheart?” he croaked. “Whatever it is, please stop it. Please, I’m begging you.”
“I don’t listen to begs, Reedsky,” Sparrowheart meowed. He turned to Reedsky, his amber eyes glimmering with some emotion Reedsky couldn’t recognize. “Don’t you see? Don’t you see what will happen to us if this plan works? I’m tired to all this border trouble, and I stood up to stop it. I’ve got rogues to work for me. By creating all this bickering –”
“Create all this bickering?” gasped Reedsky. He didn’t believe it, but Sparrowheart had confessed this himself. “What do you mean, create?” He felt his throat ache.
Sparrowheart stood tall. “Can’t you see? We can unite the Clans, and everything will be more peaceful!”
“No,” Reedsky whispered. This will only cause more battles, fights, and deaths…
The golden tabby turned away. “But you have to help me. You promised to help me on this.”
Reedsky lowered his gaze. “I won’t tell,” he murmured. “But I won’t cooperate anymore.”
Reedsky hesitated. “After this,” he agreed finally.
He quietly followed Sparrowheart.
If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I’ll do my job so well Sparrowheart will never ask for my help again.
Chapter Twenty Five
Reedsky carefully picked up a rat. It tasted foul in his mouth. He dropped it in front of Sparrowheart. “Happy?”
“No,” meowed Sparrowheart slyly. “Just one last thing… Dip it in this.” He flicked his tail towards a small puddle nearby. The water filled in it looked thick and disgusting.
“What is it?” asked Reedsky tenderly. “Can I touch it?”
“No!” snarled Sparrowheart. “Just do it.”
“Will it kill?” asked Reedsky, standing his ground bravely.
Sparrowheart shook his head. “It won’t kill,” he replied.
Reedsky bit his lip. “Then what will it do?”
“Just a simple stomachache.”
“Just do it, Reedsky.”
Helplessly, the silver warrior did as he were told. “But why would you do this?”
“Just do it, Reedsky.”
Reedsky scowled. “I won’t,” he mewed.
Sparrowheart’s amber eyes flashed. “Reedsky. If you don’t, I’ll tell the Clan.”
The silver warrior straightened. “Tell RiverClan what?”
“That you are a conspirator,” Sparrowheart replied softly.
Reedsky’s heart thudded. “But… But there’s more to it!” he protested meekly. “I didn’t know…”
Sparrowheart shrugged. “I’m certain they won’t care,” he laughed.
Reedsky took troubling, deep breaths. Oh, how much Sparrowheart had fallen! “Sparrowheart… There’s one last chance to redeem yourself. Please take it.”
“Reedsky, do you think I haven’t come to this choice before? I always said no. I have great plans for the Clans, and I’m certain they’ll work.” The golden tabby tom raised his head proudly. “Even if you don’t like how I’m making them come true, I promise you’ll like what happens. Peace! Didn’t you love peace?”
“What you’re doing is not…” Reedsky stopped. “All right.” He dipped the rat’s tail slightly in the foul puddle.
“Deeper. They won’t give the same effect.”
Trembling, Reedsky sunk the rat. “Satisfied?”
“Very,” smiled Sparrowheart. “Now, I’ve got some mice caught. Divide the rat in three parts.”
“How? I can’t do that without my paws getting that foul thing,” Reedsky whispered.
“Are you a coward?”
“That liquid can harm cats,” Reedsky muttered. But he unsheathed his claws and cut them into three anyway. “So? What now?”
“I’ll slice open these mice and you can put the parts in.”
This is disgusting. But Reedsky did as he were told. He couldn’t imagine what would happen when Sparrowheart revealed what Reedsky had did. Meeting rogues would get him a bad reputation… All his friends would leave him.
After they’d finished the gruesome task, Sparrowheart led Reedsky back to where they had met Ice, Bracken, and Dust.
The white-and-gray she-cat, pale brown tabby tom, and the dark brown tabby were all there, waiting. “We’ve got those prey,” meowed Bracken. He raised an eyebrow. “Squirrels, as you ordered.”
Dust snorted. “They’re disgusting-looking squirrels,” he hissed. “What the ShadowClan cats get from defending these, I will never know.”
Sparrowheart shrugged. “Yes. Well, where are they?”
Ice stood up and moved right. A few whiskers away from where she’d sat, there were two dead squirrels. “Lookin’ tasty, hmm?” she meowed, cold laughter in her mew.
“They do. They’re take the bait,” murmured Sparrowheart, his amber eyes gleaming with anticipation. “It’s unfolding. My plan’s unfolding. Soon, everything will be as planned.”
Bracken rolled his eyes. “Let’s get going,” he snapped. “Who’ll carry it to ShadowClan camp?”
“May I do the honors?” asked Ice, taking a swift glance at the squirrels. “I know where to lay them.”
“Everyone knows!” spat Dust. “Then, Sparrowheart? One from your group, now.”
“Reedsky,” meowed Sparrowheart in a heartbeat.
“Scared?” the dark brown tom sneered.
“You wish, Dust. I’m merely sending Reedsky to give him more experience,” Sparrowheart replied coolly.
Dust shrugged. “All right. So it’s Ice and Reedsky going?” he meowed. “Do it quick.”
“Quicker than you can imagine,” replied Ice, thrusting back her head. Her cold blue gaze landed on Reedsky. “Ready?” she asked menacingly.
Even years later, even at his deathbed, Reedsky was proud of what he had done.
Reedsky raised his head, meeting Ice’s dark gaze. And he nodded. He was standing tall, with his sleek fur laid back calmly. “Of course,” he meowed, in a clear and steady voice.
It might not be much to some cats, but it was so much for Reedsky. The fact he had somehow appeared strong to the rogues made him feel proud.
Ice blinked at him for a heartbeat, and nodded briskly. Reedsky hurriedly followed her.
“This is the ShadowClan camp entrance,” hissed Ice. “Well, the back, I suppose. Follow me.”
The white she-cat crept into the camp. She hissed at Reedsky to tell him who these cats were. So far Reedsky knew that Cinderjaw was standing guard, and where the dens were placed.
“That’s the prey pile,” whispered Ice.
The ShadowClan prey pile was at the very back of camp, while RiverClan’s was at the very center.
“Got your three rats?” asked the white-and-gray rogue.
Ice dropped five tainted squirrels into the prey pile, began placing them at the center, front, left, right, and bottom. “That should do it,” she mewed. “Okay, where’re your rats?”
The silver speckled warrior dropped his poisoned rats onto the prey pile. Ice nodded, and tossed them about.
“Er… it’s still prey,” Reedsky started nervously, but shut his mouth at the cold glare Ice gave him.
After sorting the three rats, Ice whirled around. “Let’s go,” she hissed, her blue eyes gleaming with malice in the dark.
Guilt tumbling inside his stomach, Reedsky followed her. For a second he thought about yelling to get caught – finish everything… But he thought against that. One day.
Even though Reedsky remembered his promise with Sparrowheart, he decided: For the greater good.
When Reedsky opened his eyes the next day, he was startled to see a golden shape in front of him.
“What, Sparrowheart?” he spat.
The golden shape stopped in its tracks, looking startled. “Sparrowheart?” the voice asked, sounding amused. Reedsky quickly realized the voice was a female’s. “What’s up with you today?”
Reedsky blinked. “Sorry, Sundawn.”
Sundawn grinned. “I’m going hunting with Roseleap and Brindlepelt today,” she mewed. “What’ve you planned for yourself today? Talking secretly with Sparrowheart?”
Reedsky reddened, and shuffled his white paws. “Did I do that?” he mumbled.
“Every day!” exclaimed Sundawn. “Well, not, but I know you two have been up to something. If it were only Sparrowheart, I’d think he was out planning something foul. But since he’s with you, I trust you guys’ll be talking about some decent ones. I’m glad you’re friends with Sparrowheart, Reedsky. I know I don’t like him, but you know.” She smiled. “I like him to be happy.”
The silver tom smiled. “Yeah.”
“Ottersnow!” Reedsky heard Lynxfoot gasp. “It’s Cloudstream.”
The gray-and-white medicine cat whipped her head back. “Cloudstream?” Alarm flashed in her eyes. “What about Cloudstream?”
Lynxfoot’s eyes were wide and full of fear. “She says she’s started kitting!”
Ottersnow dashed past Lynxfoot and disappeared into the nursery. Lynxfoot gasped, and sank to the ground.
“Are you okay?” asked Reedsky.
“I just remembered my own,” replied Lynxfoot. “Cloudstream seemed so much in pain. Just… nothing, I guess. Mine was fluent. Remember? It ended in just a few hours.”
That’s fluent? “Well, yeah.”
“But…” Lynxfoot sighed. “It’s nothing. I’d better get back to Snowykit and Splashykit.”
When Reedsky started to follow, Lynxfoot shook her head. “No. You’ll not be allowed. Ottersnow probably threw the kits out. Yellowbird will attend, since she’s an experienced queen, and Larchkit might try to help. Oh well. Do you want to come and calm them? I know Snowykit and Splashykit both love you.”
“Bye, Reedsky!” called Sundawn. She was at the camp entrance with Roseleap and Brindlepelt. “Is Cloudstream really kitting?”
“Tell her I wish her luck!” Roseleap yelled.
Reedsky followed Lynxfoot to the nursery. But before they reached it, an ear-splitting scream escaped the den.
“That’s Cloudstream,” whispered Lynxfoot. “I see Ottersnow hasn’t got Snowykit and Splashykit out of the den yet. Wait here.”
Reedsky peered into the nursery anxiously as Lynxfoot hurried in the get her kits away from the nursery. “Come along,” the she-cat whispered.
Another one of Cloudstream’s screams drowned out Lynxfoot’s soothing words.
Splashykit froze on the spot, and began to cry out.
“No!” whimpered Lynxfoot, looking back and forth between Cloudstream and Splashykit.
“Get Snowykit out first,” suggested Yellowbird in a low voice. “Can you help Featherkit and Stonekit out, as well?”
Lynxfoot nodded fearfully. “Will Cloudstream be fine?”
Yellowbird managed a painful smile. “You know how it is,” she murmured. “Now get the kits away.”
A look of fear and horror froze on her face, Snowykit walked out of the nursery. Looking dazed, she plopped down into the ferns. Featherkit and Stonekit were shivering. They followed Snowykit out, and sighed in relief.
But that relief was short-lived as Cloudstream let out another wail. “No!” she screeched, her voice hoarse already.
“Get a stick!” hissed Ottersnow, her eyes flashing dangerously.
“Get a stick!” Yellowbird repeated.
“Get a stick!” Lynxfoot cried.
“Get a stick,” murmured Reedsky. “Get a stick!” He dashed away in search of a sturdy stick. He assumed the stick was to bite on. But he couldn’t find a stick suitable for the job. “Mistshade!” he yelled.
The long-furred silver she-cat was resting in the sunshine. She raised her head, almost lazily, and meowed, “What?”
“Get a stick!”
“Stick? For your playing? No thank you,” snorted Mistshade. “Have you seen Sparrowheart?”
Fury boiled inside Reedsky. “Get a stick, Mistshade! This isn’t about me. This is for Cloudstream! Didn’t you hear those screams she let out? Quickly! You’ll know what she needs.”
The silver tabby got to her paws, narrowing her eyes. “I’ll find one and give it to Cloudstream myself.”
Reedsky growled, but said nothing else.
As if she’d done it hundreds of times, Mistshade slowly walked over to where Sparrowheart and Reedsky had escaped over so many times. Her amber eyes scanned the soil, and she picked up a small branch. She ignored Reedsky standing there, and haughtily marched over to the nursery.
Angered by Mistshade’s slowness, Reedsky dashed past her and next to Lynxfoot. “Mistshade’s coming.”
Lynxfoot hardly looked as him as she yelled into the nursery, “Mistshade’s coming with a stick!”
“Mistshade’s coming with a stick,” whispered Yellowbird comfortingly.
Cloudstream let out a small moan in reply. She twisted her body, and gasped. A spasm gripped her, and she yowled.
Finally the silver tabby she-cat arrived. Her amber eyes widened when she saw Cloudstream in there, with Ottersnow. “He was telling the truth?” she murmured disbelievingly.
“Of course he was!” squealed Snowykit. “Who’re you?”
Mistshade’s gaze touched the snowy white she-kit, and she cringed. “Blah!” Snowykit muttered, looking slightly flustered, and stuck her face to the ferns.
“Here you go, Cloudstream,” called Mistshade softly as she tossed the branch into the nursery.
“Thanks,” gasped Cloudstream as she groaned again.
“Bite onto this,” instructed Ottersnow. “Quickly.”
Cloudstream opened her trembling jaws and bit onto it.
There was a small whimper from behind Reedsky, and he turned. It was Snowykit whimpering. “Splashykit’s hid,” she mewed, “and Featherkit and Stonekit…” She shivered. “I hate this!”
“It’ll end in a few seconds,” Reedsky murmured. “Don’t worry.”
Reedsky crouched outside the nursery, his whole body tense as he listened to Cloudstream’s screams and Ottersnow’s sharp orders. Larchkit raced out a few minutes later, and meowed, “Ottersnow says everyone should clear away.”
“Where should the kits go?” asked Featherkit crossly, staring at her brother. “The elders’ den? The medicine den? Only you likes it.”
“Like it,” corrected Stonekit.
Featherkit shrugged. “Yeah, what you said.”
Larchkit shrugged. “You can go play anywhere. Ottersnow said it didn’t matter.”
“Won’t you come?” asked Featherkit.
The brown-and-ginger kit blinked. “No, I have to help.”
“He’s intent on helping,” whispered a voice that made Reedsky jump with surprise.
“Yippee,” Roseleap beamed. “Brindlepelt, Sundawn, and I were worried about Cloudstream. D’you think she’ll care for some prey? We all didn’t know if a queen can eat prey while kitting.”
“I’ll ask.” Reedsky didn’t think Cloudstream would be able to eat Roseleap’s shrew, but he asked anyway. “Ottersnow? Can Cloudstream eat now?”
Ottersnow faced him sharply. “Her first kit is almost out. Cloudstream, do you think you can let go of the branch yet?”
The white she-cat opened her jaws and let the branch go. Her flanks were heaving, but she croaked, “I’m fine. If you have prey, of course I’ll eat it.”
“You don’t have to,” interrupted Roseleap, poking her dark ginger head in. “It’s a shrew.”
“Shrew. I love shrew,” panted Cloudstream. “Come on. I can eat it.”
Roseleap glanced at Ottersnow for help. When the gray-and-white she-cat said nothing, she gently laid the shrew next to Cloudstream. “Here you go,” she murmured.
She turned away, and whispered, “That’s awful. She looks like she’s dying. I hope it ends soon. Ottersnow? How many kits do you think there are?”
“Swallow gently… calmly… Oh, I think maybe two. More than one, at least,” Ottersnow answered. “And now clear away! I want only Yellowbird and Larchkit in here with Cloudstream and me.”
Reedsky nodded, and quickly ducked out of the nursery.
Roseleap shook her head. “I hope she survives.”
“Survive? Of course she’ll survive.” Reedsky blinked at her questioningly.
“There’re cats who don’t,” muttered Roseleap.
“You heard that from Splashfall?”
“No, Mapleflight,” replied Roseleap. Roseleap’s voice quivered. “She told me my mother had been weakened by my birth. Mapleflight said Silverstar’s mother died while giving birth, too.”
“It’s okay, Roseleap.”
The dark ginger she-cat nodded. “I’m just worried. You know I thought the same stuff when Yellowbird and Lynxfoot gave birth? I was especially worried about Lynxfoot.” She sighed.
Another shriek rang in the clearing, and Roseleap winced.
“Mistlekit and Tigerkit!” announced Ottersnow triumphantly. Her eyes were gleaming proudly. “Cloudstream’s still in there. Rowanfoot – do you want to check on her?”
A dark brown tom with dark ginger paws stood up. “Of course.” He blinked anxiously.
Reedsky heard Rowanfoot had been on a patrol, and involved in a border fight so didn’t know Cloudstream had been kitting.
“Tansyflight, Larchkit refuses to move. Could you get him? I’m pretty sure he’ll listen to you,” Ottersnow continued instructively. “Yellowbird’s there comforting Cloudstream; I have no idea if Larchkit’s staying by his patient’s side or his mother’s.”
Tansyflight nodded, and hurried away.
“Okay, cats. Show’s over,” grumbled Ottersnow. She was about to vanish into the medicine den when a panicked yowl broke into camp.
Rowanfoot turned abruptly. “He’s the ShadowClan cat who tried to cross the border!” he hissed.
“He is!” Swiftclaw exclaimed. “What’s he doing here?”
“Please help,” gasped the ShadowClan tom helplessly.
“Pinetalon?” asked Silverstar, raising an eyebrow. “What are you doing here?”
“Shall I chase him off?” snarled Swiftclaw, unsheathing her claws.
“Wait,” advised Rustpelt.
“What’s your business here?” asked Fernshine.
Pinetalon gasped. “ShadowClan’s medicine cat is dying.”
Immediately, Silverstar stood up. “Pondstep is dying?” she asked, in a surprised tone.
“Yes! Pondstep ate a mouse, and soon after…” Pinetalon broke off. The once-ferocious warrior looked weaker than ever.
“Is any other cat sick?”
“Dawnflight ate a squirrel and fell sick, too. She might die if you don’t help.” Pinetalon coughed.
“Ottersnow, take Pinetalon and treat him,” ordered Silverstar briskly. Her dark eyes were calculating. “Fernshine, Splashfall?” she addressed the two elders. “Do you know if ShadowClan has any young kits, or kits who’re almost ready to become apprentices?”
Fernshine blinked. “They have a two-moon-old kit,” she responded. “Dusklight’s. Only one.”
“Then we’ll have to help,” Silverstar decided dismissively.
While all this was happening, Reedsky had turned to face Sparrowheart in dismay. Amber eyes met green eyes, and Sparrowheart gave him a hard look that clearly meant to stay quiet.
Reedsky was scared. Dying! Pondstep, the only medicine cat, dying! Had Sparrowheart thought of this possibility?
Well, even if he had, he’d probably dismissed it coolly. No, maybe liked it! Sparrowheart wanted to take over the Clans. However much Sparrowheart wanted to defend his schemes, he could not deny his ways would hurt and kill and destroy.
Swallowing, Reedsky pondered if he should spill everything.
But remembering the look Sparrowheart gave him, and everything he did…
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.
“I don’t know how many more cats have been infected,” whispered Pinetalon fearfully. “There are cats who shared prey!”
Just then, another ShadowClan cat burst into RiverClan camp. Silverstar scowled, but Sundawn brightened. “Mousenose!” she cried out, and looked around, looking flustered.
The cat called Mousenose blinked at Sundawn. “Silverstar!” he gasped. “Please help. Since Pinetalon hadn’t returned yet, we thought maybe he failed.”
“He came here three minutes ago!” snapped Silverstar.
“Cats are dying,” Mousenose pleaded. “Please. My brother is dying.”
Silverstar sighed. “I was going to,” she replied. “Stormsky, Whitepetal, Reedsky, Eagleshade, and Sundawn, go with Ottersnow. If Pinetalon is fine, Pinetalon and Mousenose will show the way.” She raised an eyebrow. “Good?”
“Good,” squeaked Sundawn.
Stormsky stood up, along with Whitepetal. “Follow me. Pinetalon! Are you fit to come?”
Pinetalon nodded. “Yes!”
“Then Ottersnow, please come here with Pinetalon. Mousenose, lead the way.”
Sundawn dashed to the front. “Brr, it’s cold, isn’t it?” she laughed awkwardly.
“It’s greenleaf, Sundawn,” mewed Whitepetal quietly.
“Oh. Then it’s hot.”
Whitepetal laughed. She winked at Reedsky, and went to talk with Stormsky, who was padding along, watching Mousenose interestedly. Soon, Ottersnow joined their talk.
“Reedsky?” Eagleshade asked.
“Oh, hey, Eagleshade.”
The black tom frowned. “I don’t know why Silverstar picked me,” he started. “She knows I was born in ShadowClan. Why do you think she did? It’s so cruel.”
“Do you miss your family in ShadowClan?”
Eagleshade stopped abruptly. “I do, but…”
“Maybe Silverstar saw through that,” mewed Reedsky softly. “Right?”
“Right.” Eagleshade let out a laugh. “You’re really good at comforting cats. Did you know that?”
“We’re here!” announced Mousenose. “Come quickly.”
The pale brown tabby led them to ShadowClan’s camp – one Reedsky was too familiar with.
Mousenose and Pinetalon’s breathing got rapid as they approached the prey pile. “There,” Mousenose hissed. He raised his head and flicked his tail towards a small den. “That’s the medicine den.” He stared hopefully at Ottersnow.
The small she-cat nodded. “Keep away from prey,” she warned. “You said mice and squirrels? Who’s sick so far?”
“Pondstep, Dawnflight, Ratwhisker, and Tinyoak,” answered Mousenose anxiously.
Ottersnow nodded. “Only four? Then tell your cats not to eat anything just yet.”
She disappeared into the ShadowClan medicine den, and Mousenose looked nervously around. “Er… sit down,” he offered.
“Is Smudgekit and Dusklight okay?” asked Pinetalon.
“As far as I know,” replied Mousenose. “Should I check?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Er, I’d like someone to come with me.”
“I will,” Sundawn interrupted. “I want to see your nursery. Ours is probably better.”
Mousenose grinned. “Probably.”
When Sundawn and Mousenose disappeared into the nursery, Stormsky mewed, “Do you think we should go back? We won’t be needed, anyway. If so, someone should get Sundawn.”
“One should leave behind for Ottersnow,” replied Whitepetal fairly. “Don’t you think?”
“That’s true. Should we leave Sundawn, then?”
Whitepetal’s lip tugged, with a beginning of a smile.
“Yes, you’re right,” smiled the dark gray she-cat. Stormsky let out a snort of laughter, and meowed, “Then we’ll leave one more cat. How about Eagleshade?”
Eagleshade nodded nervously. “Can’t you leave one more behind?”
“Hmm?” Stormsky let out a doubtful sound.
“I’ll stay,” volunteered Reedsky helpfully.
Whitepetal laughed. “It’s only Stormsky and me going back?” she asked. “Well, that’s cheerful. That’s fine, right?” Whitepetal looked around. “Be back before it’s dark. Especially you, Eagleshade. I’ll bet Snowykit’s screaming for you.”
The black dappled tom grinned. “She always does.”
Stormsky shrugged. “All right, then. Don’t eat anything strange. I hope this strange prey doesn’t spread into our land.”
The two she-cats left ShadowClan territory, and Eagleshade mewed quietly, “I want to see my mother. Will you come with me?”
“Sure.” Reedsky followed Eagleshade to a big den, which he knew was the warriors’ den. The fact reminded him of Ice and the chilling things he helped. No.
“Berrywillow!” Eagleshade called. A small black she-cat with white splotches in her body turned, her leaf-green eyes wide.
“Eagle…?” she stuttered. She stood up, and stumbled towards him.
“Berrywillow,” Eagleshade repeated.
The black-and-white she-cat took a deep breath. “Is that really you, Eaglepaw… shade? I heard you got your name moons ago.”
Eagleshade nodded. “Mother.”
Reedsky slowly slipped out of the den, but he could still hear them talking.
“You’re still my little kit,” Berrywillow had mewed softly. “Why don’t we go out to talk?”
“Okay. But, Berrywillow. Did you know – did you know…” Eagleshade’s voice broke.
“What is it?”
“I have my own kits now. They’re about a moon old.”
There was silence. Reedsky expected Berrywillow to slowly take in the shocking news. “I… Really?” Berrywillow breathed. “What’re their names?”
“Snowykit and Splashykit.”
“What do they look like?”
“Snowy-white and gray-and-white.”
Reedsky looked away, wondering what he should do now.
Oh! That’s it!
The silver warrior carefully approached the prey pile. If the ShadowClan cats hadn’t messed with it, he could probably pick out the poisoned prey.
Front… bottom… left… right… Slowly, the squirrels he thought were the tainted prey were hidden in the ground. He picked out one mouse, the only remaining mouse, and dug a hole in the ground, and shoved it there.
I hope that’s the last one.
“What’re you doing?” asked a voice right behind Reedsky.
Startled, Reedsky turned. “Oh, hi?”
The she-cat frowned. “Did you dig a hole?” she accused.
Reedsky swallowed a gasp. “Er, no. What’s your name?”
“Splashheart,” answered the snowy white she-cat. Her delicate features reminded Reedsky of Snowykit. “I know you did something!”
Reedsky’s heart quickened, but he had to stand by and watch Splashheart dig up his hidden prey.
Splashheart’s bright teal eyes began to widen. “You hid our prey!” she exclaimed. She turned accusingly at him. “Why did you do that? Tell the truth and I won’t tell everyone.”
Reedsky trembled. “I thought they were poisoned,” he mumbled.
The white she-cat snorted, thrusting her head back. “And how would you know that?” she challenged. “You were trying to weaken ShadowClan, weren’t you? I wouldn’t surprised if you were actually the cat who poisoned our prey and made Pondstep die!” Her voice was so loud Reedsky was surprised no one had come yet.
Sure enough, a white-and-gray she-cat ran towards them. “Splashheart? What do you mean?” Her white and silvery gray pelt was bristling with hostility. Her long bushy tail was slapping the ground sharply.
“Drizzlebush,” Splashheart started, “this cat was hiding prey! Our prey!”
Drizzlebush’s pale blue eyes widened. She bit her lip for a second. “Really?” she asked.
Another cat raced towards them, panting. “Drizzlebush, okay, I lost you – what are you? I mean, who are you?” The dark gray tabby with soft fur and stripes narrowed her eyes. “Invasion?”
“No, Cinderfern. This cat hid our prey,” replied Drizzlebush
Cinderfern’s jaw fell, and she unsheathed her claws, snarling.
“Put away your fighting skills,” growled Reedsky. “I wasn’t doing what you think I was doing.”
“Oh, yeah? Then what was it?” laughed Splashheart. Her teal eyes narrowed. “Calling for help,” she sing-sang. “SHADOWCLAN!” she yowled.
As terror gripped him, Reedsky could clearly see the three she-cats’ eyes boring into him, as if challenging him to defend himself.
Chapter Twenty Six
Reedsky sat lifelessly by the willow tree. The stream was bubbling along gently. This was the best place to avoid taunts and complaints.
He turned his head to see camp. It was far away, but he could see Snowykit and Splashykit with Fernshine. They were probably taking a tour of camp, which he would’ve gladly joined in if it weren’t for… the incident.
Sparrowheart kept coming to say thank you: “I think you did that on purpose for me, Reedsky. Thank you.”
And Sundawn, Roseleap, Whitepetal, Slatefoot, and many others came to comfort him: “It was just an accident.”
“Don’t come here, Sparrowheart. You know what I did. Go away.”
“There’s a second plan,” continued the golden tabby, ignoring Reedsky. “I believe it could contain you. That would cause more chaos.”
Reedsky scowled. “I’m not participating!” he growled. “Okay? Whatever plan you have, do it yourself.”
“I’ve made up my mind.” Reedsky closed his eyes.
“Very well. You haven’t gone on patrol?”
“Not since ShadowClan,” Reedsky answered.
And then with that, Sparrowheart left. Reedsky rolled his eyes. Sparrowheart was after using him. Maybe using his scent to make those absurd ShadowClan cats flip with fury.
Reedsky turned back to face the stream. Couldn’t there be a way to clear up everything.
“Sparrowheart!” he hollered suddenly.
The golden tabby stopped in his tracks. “Yes?”
“When are you going?”
Sparrowheart didn’t sound suspicious at all. “Tonight. Why? Will you come?”
“If I can,” Reedsky lied. “If I can I’ll just… see you by where we always went.”
Satisfaction flooded Sparrowheart’s voice. “Good.”
After Reedsky checked that Sparrowheart was in camp, he waited a few more heartbeats, and dashed into camp, his green eyes sweeping across the clearing for Tansyflight.
The ginger-and-brown tom’s amber eyes widened in surprise. “Reedsky. What is it?”
“Who’s standing guard tonight?” Reedsky panted. “Quickly, please.”
Tansyflight blinked. “Slatefoot and Roseleap, I think.”
Reedsky sighed in relief. “D’you know where they are?”
“Roseleap’s by the ShadowClan border, and Slatefoot’s in a hunting patrol. Why?”
“I have to find them.”
Tansyflight jumped in front of Reedsky, who was readying himself to burst out of camp. His heart was thudding, and his every limb was trembling to move.
“No!” he warned. “You can’t go. Maybe Slatefoot is by the ShadowClan border. Roseleap is surely by it. You cannot be seen.”
“I won’t be seen.”
Tansyflight shook his head. “I can’t let you go, for the sake of RiverClan.”
Reedsky sighed. “All right. Tell me when they’re back, though.”
The excitement and anticipation slowly faded, and Reedsky glanced blankly towards the stream where he was before. When Roseleap and Slatefoot came back…
The dark ginger she-cat blinked. A small smile began to tug at her lips, and she broke into a large grin. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard. But why’re we doing that? I mean, theoretically, it’s the best, but why would we do that?”
The gray she-cat next to her nodded. “Roseleap’s right. There’s no apparent reason we should stop anyone who wants to get out of camp, and why one of us should stay put at the place you tell us to.”
Reedsky wondered if he should tell Roseleap and Slatefoot the truth. But it was apparent if he didn’t, they wouldn’t participate.
“Okay. Sparrowheart. That’s it.”
Roseleap paled. “What? What about Sparrowheart?”
“That’s why I want you to stand guard,” replied Reedsky.
“We can’t do that. We don’t have proof,” meowed Slatefoot.
“I’m not saying you should do anything. I just want you to stop it,” mewed Reedsky. “This is for the sake of the Clans. All the Clans! Please.”
“All right,” replied Slatefoot. “Is that why you pulled us to the stream? To prevent him from hearing?”
“Yeah. But if he did hear, we have to try again.”
Roseleap didn’t agree. “You might me lying. Oh, Reedsky, I know you didn’t, but still! How do we know?” she demanded.
“You just have to trust me.”
“Try, Roseleap. It won’t hurt,” Slatefoot mewed softly.
Roseleap sighed. “I don’t like this,” she grumbled. “But okay.”
“If it doesn’t work,” started Slatefoot, but Reedsky cut her off, looking slightly panicked.
“No. Let’s not think about that. It will work.”
Slatefoot shrugged. “If you say so,” she mewed doubtfully. “I hope you’re wrong, though, Reedsky. If you’re right, I know it’ll crush hearts.”
Mistshade. And Roseleap. Sundawn, too, I guess.
“I hope you’re wrong, Reedsky,” muttered Roseleap darkly.
Reedsky didn’t like how he still didn’t dare tell them he had helped Sparrowheart.
Night had fallen and Reedsky was hiding in the bushes. He could see Roseleap by the camp entrance. Slatefoot and he had arranged that, because they’d thought Roseleap might be a big shock if she saw Sparrowheart with the rogues.
He scanned the entrances, but spotted nothing. Nervously, he glanced over at the bushes to see Slatefoot.
The gray she-cat nodded when she met his gaze, and shook her head, and mouthed, “Do you think we should go back?”
Reedsky shook his head. No.
But throughout the whole night they saw nothing, and Slatefoot padded over to him.
“Can you see the light in the horizon?” she mewed. “We’ve waited enough. Sparrowheart’s not coming. Sleep now, Reedsky.”
Reedsky wanted to protest. Something was wrong. But what?
“Tonight?” repeated Roseleap. “No way, Reedsky. Nothing happened last night.”
“Lower your voices,” moaned Reedsky. “I think he heard us.”
“Well, you know what I think?” asked Roseleap, her voice loud and high-pitched. “I think you’re hallucinating, Reedsky. I won’t do it. You won’t get any help from Cherryfern and Dusktail, either.”
Reedsky groaned inwardly. Roseleap was right. Cherryfern and Dusktail wouldn’t help him with this crazy attempt.
He turned his gaze onto Slatefoot, who was avoiding his gaze. “Just leave for now, Reedsky. Okay?”
Reedsky dropped his gaze. “Fine.”
That night Reedsky noticed a sharp prod on his flank. “Come on,” hissed a voice.
“I saw him. Sparrowheart. You weren’t lying. Should I get Roseleap?”
Reedsky hurried outside, just in time to spot a golden shape by the ferns.
Reedsky saw Slatefoot’s eyes spark with interest.
Sparrowheart was approaching their hidden entrance and leaped over the stones nimbly.
The gray she-cat and the silver tom padded after the golden tabby. Reedsky was barely breathing.
Once or twice Sparrowheart turned back, his amber eyes flashing suspiciously. But thankfully, he seemed not to suspect any following cats.
The golden tom went to the ShadowClan border, and Reedsky saw Slatefoot’s eyes widen with shock.
“Ice! Dust! Bracken!” he called out. He sat down, his striped golden tail flicking impatiently.
Deep blue eyes glimmered from the dark. “You called? I thought everything was good. Your brother wasn’t lucky though, I think.”
Slatefoot began to bristle. “Your brother?” she mewed quietly. “What does that cat mean, Reedsky?”
“Just… ignore it for now.”
“Were you involved?” Slatefoot persisted.
“I’ll tell everything once things are cleared up,” Reedsky whispered. “Please. Stay quiet.”
The gray she-cat frowned.
“He wasn’t,” admitted Sparrowheart. “Those pesky ShadowClan cats thought he was stealing their prey. I believe he was actually trying to remove the tainted prey.”
“The prey he saw me put!” exclaimed the white-and-gray she-cat, padding out of her place. “Ah. So what did you say?”
“Where is your brother?”
“Calm, Ice.” Sparrowheart ignored Ice snorting. “I told him he could still participate.”
“And why is that? He proved he’s a traitor.”
“ShadowClan cats are wary of him. If they scent his scent inside their borders…?”
“They’ll attack,” Ice finished, with a faint but vile smile playing at her lips.
Sparrowheart nodded. “Exactly.”
Slatefoot swallowed. “Is that Sparrowheart?” she murmured, under her breath. “I can’t believe it.” She turned to Reedsky. “Is it?”
Slatefoot shivered. “Are there other accomplices?” she inquired fearfully.
“Many,” replied Reedsky gravely. “There’re lots of rogues behind him. I don’t know how he met them, but I do know they’re a team. They’re working for their own gain, but they each help. Just… It’s horrible, Slatefoot.”
The gray she-cat sighed. “Of course,” she murmured. “I suppose he had it going. He was always ambitious, but… He was a good warrior.” She raised her gaze to the night sky, rather mournfully.
“What are you doing?” questioned Reedsky.
Slatefoot didn’t look at him as she answered. “I’m mourning a true warrior of RiverClan.”
Reedsky remembered what Slatefoot said the other day. “Do you have any… conspirators who might be easy to manipulate into telling?”
“Not manipulate, but I think Wish can help,” Reedsky had replied. And here Wish was, staring at him like he was mad.
“You want me to do what?”
Reedsky squirmed uneasily. “You heard me.”
“You want me to stand surety for you? Vouch for you? Say what you say is real?” the gray tabby repeated. “You’re crazy.”
The silver tomcat sighed. “Please, Wish.”
Wish scowled. “It’s too risky,” she insisted.
“And you’re asking?” Wish whispered. She dropped her pale blue gaze and sighed. Quietly she murmured, “I’m sorry, but that was too much to take in.”
“Does that mean you won’t help?” Reedsky felt his heart sink. If Wish wouldn’t help, who would? There were only two cats whom Reedsky thought he could approach by himself: Wish and Spark. But he didn’t want to go to Spark. She was too aggressive. And if peaceful Wish didn’t want to risk it…
What am I going to do? Without a conspirator we can’t prove that Sparrowheart is guilty.
Reedsky raised his head, preparing himself for Wish’s refusal.
But instead of a flat ‘no’, a small, almost sly smile flickered on the gray tabby’s lips. “I didn’t say that,” she meowed, blinking.
Reedsky didn’t want to go inside the stuffy den where Sparrowheart, Slatefoot, and the cats whose ears had been stuffed with unreliable rumors rested. He was much safer and happier by the stream, hearing it run restlessly.
This was a good place to think, too. There were no chatters to disturb him. Only the peaceful, quiet, and rhythmic flow of the water that helped his thoughts.
Wish agreed to help about Sparrowheart. But what would happen if they proved Sparrowheart was guilty? The aftermath would be a problem. Would cats believe Reedsky, who was now thought as a prey-poisoner and stealer? Sparrowheart was always recognized as ‘noble’. Mistshade wouldn’t help. Who would? He didn’t have real proof. He couldn’t get cats to watch Sparrowheart…
“Reedsky. Are you okay?” A quiet voice interrupted Reedsky’s train of thoughts.
“Rainingpaw? Yeah, I’m fine.”
Rainingpaw’s eyes flickered. “No, you’re not,” she insisted.
“If you were going to say that, why bother to even ask?” meowed Reedsky dryly.
The pale gray she-apprentice sighed. “Argh,” she muttered. “Look, Reedsky. I’ve known you for moons. I know you wouldn’t have done that. What’s the truth?”
Reedsky avoided Rainingpaw’s gaze, and said nothing.
“Look at me.”
Reedsky fixed his gaze on the blue, clear stream.
“I’m not going to go,” snapped Rainingpaw, sounding frustrated. Then she sat down by Reedsky’s willow. “I think you suspect someone. Right?”
“Oh? Well, then, tell me more.”
“Uh-huh,” Reedsky mumbled.
Rainingpaw bit her lip. “I can help. I can! Look at me, Reedsky. Look at me! I’m useless. My ankle is sprained, Ottersnow says. Yeah, they say I’m fine. But in truth I’m not! I don’t feel comfortable on my left foot, and I feel nauseous and like I have to lie down every day. I heard Ottersnow and Larchkit talking about this strange illness. D’you know I almost died from this, one night? I’m useless now. I haven’t trained in weeks, and Mistypaw’s way ahead of me. She’s going to earn her name first. She deserves it. But do you think I like it? No, I do not.”
The gray apprentice’s flanks heaved, and her dark blue eyes were bright.
“I want to help. I’m only useful with whatever your problem is. Please, Reedsky.”
“It’ll be dangerous,” warned Reedsky.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Of course I am,” Rainingpaw answered, thrusting her head back. “Please.”
But will getting Rainingpaw and Slatefoot as witnesses help? Anyone can say I told them too. But random cats, like Shatteredclaw or Sorrelfrost won’t help me.
“What’re you planning?” Rainingpaw asked.
“I want you to hide in a place I tell you and see if anyone’s sneaking out.”
Rainingpaw raised an eyebrow. “You want me to spy?”
“Yeah, I guess. I need you to be a witness.”
“Witness!” Rainingpaw exclaimed. “Who else is a witness?”
“Oh? I can fix that. I can bring Dewheart,” Rainingpaw offered.
“That’d be… great, actually.”
“Yup!” Rainingpaw beamed.
“Do you know who’s guarding the camp entrance tonight?”
Rainingpaw nodded eagerly. “Yellowscar and Fawnheart.”
Fawnheart, Sundawn’s mentor and Yellowscar, the grumpy tomcat.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Reedsky, Rainingpaw, and Dewheart had agreed on their plan. Reedsky would wait by the ShadowClan border and Rainingpaw and Dewheart would follow Sparrowheart from their camp.
Now, the silver speckled tom was crouched by the shades, anxiously waiting for a golden tabby shape to appear. He should’ve come by now! The moon was at her peak already. There was no sign of Sparrowheart’s rogues, either.
Suddenly there was a rustling, and Reedsky’s green eyes flashed.
But that was a white cat with gray markings.
“Yes! Come quick. Your brother went to the WindClan border.”
Reedsky’s eyes widened in alarm.
“Rainingpaw sent me. Quickly!”
The silver tom followed the white-and-gray warrior to the WindClan border, out of breath.
“There. There’re some rogues, too, just like you said there’d be,” murmured Dewheart darkly. “Look, there’s Rainingpaw. Let’s go.”
Sparrowheart was talking in low voices, barely murmurs, with Dust, Bracken, and Ice. Reedsky could hear him say, “Spark, Wish, and Hark wanted to take part, and decided they’d do SkyClan with you, Ice.”
Ice snarled. “With them? No.”
“You have to. Without you, they’ll fail,” persisted Sparrowheart.
The white-and-gray she-cat sighed. “Very well. You’ll have to pay for this. And then? What about…” At that point Ice’s voice was so low Reedsky could hardly hear her at all.
Rainingpaw was staring at them, frozen, with her navy eyes wide with fear.
Dewheart looked stricken and at loss.
“Let’s go,” murmured Reedsky, after seeing Bracken and Ice head away.
The pale gray tabby and the white tom nodded, and followed Reedsky back to RiverClan camp across the secret entrance.
“I didn’t know Sparrowheart would do something like that,” whispered Rainingpaw weakly. She lifted her head to reveal her pale face. “Could I go back to Ottersnow’s den, please? I really am not feeling good. Especially after tonights detour…” She shivered. “Maybe that mouse I ate was wrong. It seemed dead for a while… eh. Bye, guys.”
Her words gave an ominous feeling to Reedsky, but he decided to ignore it.
“I’ll stay out a bit,” murmured Dewheart quietly, raising his misty green eyes to the night sky. There was a faint light in the far horizon. “To clear my head.”
“Sure,” replied Reedsky, and he padded into the den, after whispering, “Don’t stay out too late.”
Sparrowheart might come.
Reedsky kept his eyes open to check if Dewheart returned, but he never did. Not before Reedsky’s eyelids began to feel heavy and droop.
The next day, Dewheart greeted him with a concerned frown on his face.
“Sparrowheart saw me yesterday,” he meowed. “He questioned what I was doing.”
Reedsky’s jaw fell. “So what did you say?”
“I said I was clearing my head,” Dewheart answered. “Do you think that was okay?”
Why’re you asking me? Surprised by the sudden call for help, Reedsky answered, “Yes, I think so.”
The white tom looked relieved, and started licking his cream chest fur. “Thanks. I was really worried.”
“He might try to confront you,” warned Reedsky, after some thought. “So stay prepared.”
Dewheart nodded, raising his head valiantly. “I will.” He glanced back, and added, “I heard from Rainingpaw a few minutes ago that Mistypaw’s getting her name today.”
“Rainingpaw must be jealous,” commented Reedsky.
The white tom blinked. “Yeah, she is. But she’s happy for Mistypaw, too. Mistypaw says she heard in her dream she’ll be named Mistytail, but I don’t know. Mistytail’s a good name, yeah, but I think it’s kind of plain. I wouldn’t want a name like that on me or Rainingpaw. Dewtail, Rainingtail…. I know Mistypaw and Rainingpaw’s father is Dusktail, so Mistypaw might wish a Mistytail name on her…”
Rainingpaw limped towards them, looking green. “Mistytail’s elegant. My style. I like Mistytail.”
“Are you okay?” asked Reedsky, furrowing his brow. “You look terrible.”
“Minnowdawn says I does,” Rainingpaw admitted. “Dusktail pointed it out today as well. But I’m okay. Starlingsnow’s going to take me out today.”
“You look worse than before,” meowed a voice behind Reedsky bluntly.
“Sundawn,” groaned Rainingpaw, rolling her eyes. “I’m honestly fine. I just feel…” She shrugged. “I’m fine anyways.”
“And… Minnowdawn, Dusktail, and Starlingsnow all agreed? Silverstar?” Sundawn asked incredulously, her amber eyes wide.
Rainingpaw held her head high. “I insisted,” she meowed.
The long-furred golden she-cat sighed. “If you say so,” she mewed simply. “But don’t blame me if you get sick. What’re you training today, then? You must be a little rusty.”
The pale gray apprentice reddened. “That’s true,” she admitted grudgingly. “So Starlingsnow told me she’ll try me. Sort of… like an assessment. If I’m good, she’ll arrange with Silverstar for me to become a warrior with Mistypaw. If I’m not…” Her voice trailed off, ending with a slight tremble of fear. “If I’m not, I have to train more.”
“From the start?” Sundawn asked.
“No! They were generous enough. I’ll just pick up a few tactics I’m not good at and try again,” Rainingpaw replied, disgust written all over her pale gray face.
Sundawn nodded. “Good luck. I’m going hunting now.”
“Really? Let me go with you,” mewed Dewheart. “I’m starving.”
The golden she-cat started. “Oh. Oh! No, no. It’s fine,” she fumbled.
Dewheart blinked at her suspiciously. “Why? Where’re you going?”
“Um… Well, I’m going by the ShadowClan border,” started Sundawn nervously. “And if there’re two, those… nasty ShadowClan cats might… might think it’s an ambush!”
“That’s not likely,” laughed Reedsky.
Sundawn frowned. “It’s a possibility,” she retorted.
Reedsky shrugged. “Sure it is. Good hunting!”
Sundawn smiled faintly. “Thanks.”
The silver warrior watched Rainingpaw pad off, and Sundawn scramble out of camp. Soon, Dewheart went off as well, saying he was going to look for Stormflight.
Reedsky turned away. What could he do today? He hadn’t swum for a long time. The last experience he remembered was in the lake, when Rainingpaw’s illness had started. Maybe he should go to the stream and take a dip.
Yes, that’s what I’ll do.
The silver tom started towards the camp entrance when a tawny shape blocked his path.
“Where’re you going?” asked Tawnyclaw.
“Swimming,” replied Reedsky, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, good. I’ll go with you.”
Awkwardly Reedsky nodded. “All right, then.”
The father and son began out of camp, both as awkward as ever. When Reedsky thought this awkward silence would continue forever, Tawnyclaw glanced at him, and meowed, “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t be?” Reedsky was startled Tawnyclaw seemed to see straight through him.
“I mean, I know your struggles,” Tawnyclaw replied, shrugging carelessly.
What struggles? For a split second, Reedsky thought Tawnyclaw was talking about Sparrowheart.
“But I’m glad you’ve made friends with your brother. He’s going to be a good influence.”
“I’ve been friends with him for some time,” replied Reedsky, resisting the urge to use air quotes. “And… Well, we’re not that close anymore.”
Tawnyclaw blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. What troubles were you talking about originally?”
The golden tomcat looked away. “Your troubles with ShadowClan…?” he suggested half-heartedly.
“And about me being off?” asked Reedsky.
Tawnyclaw blinked. “Yes,” he admitted. “Sorry.”
Reedsky said nothing, and stared ahead. “Tawnyclaw? Do you think Sparrowheart could be evil?”
Something glittered in Tawnyclaw’s green eyes. “He’s always been ambitious,” he admitted slowly and grudgingly. “But I don’t believe he would be capable of malice.”
“Always open possibilities,” mumbled Reedsky. He raised his head. Feeling that might feel too much, he added, “For instance I’ll ask if we’ll go to the stream, although you’ll say yes.”
“Yes,” Tawnyclaw laughed.
He glanced at Tawnyclaw and meowed, “Have you talked to Mistshade?”
“Oh, your mother? Well–”
Reedsky cut him off forcefully. “No, Mistshade.”
Tawnyclaw stared blankly at him. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“She’s not my mother, Tawnyclaw.”
“What about me?”
Reedsky tried to smile.
“But you must acknowledge she is your birth mother, and… She’s gone through a lot of things. You have to excuse her, Reedsky. No, no, I’m not excusing what she did, but… Can’t you at least try?”
The silver speckled tom lowered his head. “Afraid I can’t. You must’ve gone through similar things, but you didn’t turn out like that.”
“I almost did. Well, about Mistshade, that is your choice. I only hoped you could make a close bond,” mewed Tawnyclaw, looking rather disappointed and discontented. “Do you like swimming?”
“Sure I do,” replied Reedsky. “It’s my favorite.”
Tawnyclaw nodded. “Swimming or hunting?”
“You mean hunting in the water?”
“You like woodland hunting?” Tawnyclaw sounded incredulous.
“Not that much,” admitted Reedsky. “But as I said before, swimming’s my favorite. It tops everything else.”
The tawny tom smiled. “Even me?”
Reedsky privately didn’t think they were close enough for those questions yet, but he put on his best, truthful smile, let out a couple of amused sounds, and glanced at Tawnyclaw. He was surprised to see his father have a bright look in his eyes.
His silver pelt heavy with water, Reedsky staggered the the clearing. He could see Splashfall with Mapleflight. The sleek black she-cat was entertaining the old tortoiseshell-and-brown she-cat, making the elder look amused and to whisk her orange tail back-and-forth.
“Reedsky!” called a voice.
“Oh, hey, Fernshine.” Reedsky waved his tail.
The silverish elder smiled. “What have you been doing?”
“Swimming, with Tawnyclaw,” Reedsky answered. “Do you like swimming?”
“I did, but I was horrible at it. I kept splashing cats it was impossible to lay an ambush in the water with me.”
Reedsky grinned. “Really?”
“Of course.” Fernshine tilted her head. “Did you win?”
Fernshine grinned slyly. “I thought you must’ve had a race with your father.”
Reedsky laughed. “Oh, you guessed right. I did.”
“I remember you asking me about a strange fish,” Fernshine mewed suddenly. “Moons ago. I told you to talk to Rushwater, didn’t I?”
“Oh!” The memory flashed past him like a streak of light, and Reedsky smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I did.”
Fernshine purred. “Do you know what that was?”
“No. I’m just thinking of it as a mystery.”
“Rushwater is going on his last journey,” Fernshine added. Her eyes glimmered. “Did you know? He says it’s a farewell journey.”
Reedsky’s eyes widened. “You mean… He’s going to die?”
“Rushwater is very old,” Fernshine mewed softly. “Silverstar’s going to let him leave. He should get what he wants, after all.”
“It’s really strange,” Reedsky admitted. “I can’t believe a member of RiverClan dying… Or just disappearing.”
“It will be,” murmured Fernshine. “I remember Honeyshade. She was Applestream’s, my mentor’s, mother. She was in the elders’ den while I was an apprentice, and she died. I used to go to her for stories all the time. Splashfall is Applestream’s daughter, and I’m guessing she got Honeyshade’s storytelling genes. Anyway, when I was training, Minnowpaw dashed to the training hollow, and yelled, ‘Applestream! You have to come!’ Honeyshade was dead. I had no one to go and listen for stories, and a part of my life was gone permanently.”
The silverish gray she-cat raised her head. Her green eyes were glimmering with grief for a long-lost Clanmate.
“But life goes on,” she continued. “It gets better. Come, lie down, the sun’s so warm and bright.”
Reedsky knelt down and he could see Sundawn’s golden pelt. That reminded him of Sparrowheart, and what Tawnyclaw had answered about him.
“Do you think Sparrowheart’s capable of bad things?” he blurted out.
Fernshine blinked. “No?” she replied, and let out a purr. “Why? Are you intimidated by him?”
Reedsky bristled. “No,” he muttered crossly.
The pale gray elder laughed. “Then what is it? Why’re you asking?”
“I was just curious. Tawnyclaw said he was always ambitious.”
“That’s right. But I think it’s a good kind of ambition. The ambition that’ll lead our Clan well.”
“Yeah, everyone thinks that.” Even I did. Everyone did.
What would happen if he could reveal the truth? Would everyone break? Mistshade certainly would. Fernshine would be shocked. Roseleap would be horrified. It would be pleasant for no one.
Anxiously, Reedsky stood up. “Well, Fernshine, thanks for talking with me.”
Fernshine flicked her tail. “Good-bye.”
Reedsky dragged his paws to the nursery. That was the only place he could be after… all this.
His fur was now fluffy; the sun had sucked up all the water. He felt paws scrabbling at his pelt, and he flinched. “Ah!”
“Sorry, Reedsky,” groaned a yellow queen. Yellowbird snatched Featherkit away. “Featherkit, no. I told you not to leap on cats.”
Featherkit blinked innocently. “I did nothing,” she lied.
Yellowbird rolled her eyes. “Of course you didn’t,” she grumbled. “Like I said, she’s hyped that she’s the oldest kit in the nursery. Especially that she’s passed half of her kit days now.”
Reedsky grinned. “Are the other kits fine?”
“Yup. Mistlekit’s opened her eyes already,” Stonekit mewed quickly.
“Tigerkit’s clawing at our moss!” called a voice.
It was Mistypaw. The dark cream she-cat dropped moss at Yellowbird’s paws. “Here you go, Yellowbird. I hope this is going to be my last task.”
Yellowbird smiled. “I hope so, too,” she meowed. “Get off of the moss, Stonekit…”
“Hey, Reedsky!” Cloudstream seemed to have noticed Reedsky. “Have you come to see my kits?” There was pride, pride in every molecule of the white she-cat.
“Oh, yeah! How are they?”
“They’re good. Can you believe Mistlekit’s already opening her eyes?”
“She’s so fast,” grumbled a voice from the opening of the nursery. Snowykit and Splashykit hopped inside, their eyes shining. “Guess where we were!”
“In the stream!” declared Splashykit triumphantly.
“Did Lynxfoot say you could?” Yellowbird asked.
Cloudstream rolled her eyes. “I hope you won’t be like that,” she muttered, glancing at Mistlekit.
Mistlekit grinned slyly. “I shall say nothing!” she squeaked.
“I’ll go now,” mumbled Reedsky, to no one in particular.
“Have fun!” called Yellowbird absently.
“Where’s Lynxfoot?” whined Splashykit.
The Clan was so peaceful as what it was now. Perhaps he should… Perhaps he should just leave it. After all, nothing was happening anymore. ShadowClan would eventually recover.
Trying to justify whatever action he might make, Reedsky lay down in the sunlight.
A sharp screech woke Reedsky. When he attempted to open his eyes, he found they were dry with tiredness. His sight blurred, Reedsky looked around. He saw a pale silver tabby stalking towards the camp entrance. His green gaze followed her.
“Why are you here?” Silverstar rumbled.
A tortoiseshell she-cat shivered, her yellow eyes wide. “Have you any symptoms?” The orange-and-black she-cat shivered once more. “Any symptoms of stomachaches. It’s spread to us! The same with ShadowClan!”
Reedsky’s eyes widened. No!
“At first it was WindClan,” whispered the she-cat. “But when a patrol went to visit them because of a problem… I think… that’s how we got it.”
“Then get out,” hissed Rowanfoot, jumping in front of the tortoiseshell-and-white.
The she-cat let out a pitiful wail. “Please, help. We have three sick cats.”
“What is your name?” asked Silverstar.
“Ivypelt,” panted she. “Can you help?”
“We already went to ShadowClan,” spoke up Tansyflight. “And one of our cats got framed.”
“We won’t do that!” Ivypelt whispered.
Ivypelt. Ivypelt… The name seems familiar. Oh! She’s the one who Ice and Bracken claimed killed their sister. But Ivypelt doesn’t seem like a person who would kill…
Reedsky looked back. Was Sparrowheart listening? If he was, he might tell the rogues, and… Maybe Bracken did this on purpose. Maybe the two wanted Ivypelt to end up like this.
This is so cruel.
Reedsky’s stomach churned.
“Then we shall send a patrol,” announced Silverstar. There was still a guarded look in her eyes. “We can’t promise anything.”
There was a relieved look in Ivypelt’s eyes as she nodded eagerly. “Thank you.”
“Roseleap, Stormflight, Swiftclaw, and Whitewind.”
“Oh, please, can’t I go?” blurted out Reedsky, at the same time with Sparrowheart.
Silverstar whipped her head back, her eyes narrowing. “What?” she asked. “No, not Reedsky.”
Reedsky bit his lip. “But Silverstar–”
“Sparrowheart, you can go. But Reedsky, don’t you think you’ve caused enough trouble yet?”
The silver tom bit his lip, and looked down. How dare Silverstar say that! It was Sparrowheart causing trouble, not him.
“Thank you for your generosity, Silverstar,” meowed Sparrowheart’s cool voice.
Reedsky caught Stormflight’s eye, and mouthed, “Keep an eye out.”
Stormflight blinked. After a few seconds, he repeated, “Keep an eye out?” When Reedsky nodded, he grinned and nodded his head, giving a wink which Reedsky thought was pushing it.
“Follow me, then,” Ivypelt whispered frantically. She turned and dashed out of camp, and with Silverstar’s nod, the patrol followed her.
“Reedsky,” Silverstar called. “In my den.”
Reedsky gulped. “Coming!” He scrambled past Silverstar and waited stiffly outside the den.
Silverstar looked slightly amused as she meowed, “Go in.”
When the two silver cats had taken their place, with Silverstar facing the entrance and Reedsky with his back at the entrance, the silver tabby leader opened her jaws to speak. “Why did you volunteer to go to SkyClan, Reedsky? I know you didn’t do that, but you have to acknowledge that you’re being treated as a traitor to your kind, as of now.”
Reedsky froze. “Well,” he started, racking his brain, “I wanted to help. But I swear, Silverstar, I had nothing to do with the tainted prey.”
The silver tabby nodded. “I told you I know that.” Her tail flicked impatiently. “Are you, maybe, cross I selected Sparrowheart? But he’s a loyal warrior, and deserves to be leader one day.”
Reedsky felt his breath catch in his throat. No, he’s not. He’s willing to risk everything to get what he wants. How is that proper leadership skills? Even I could do better than him.
“This conversation isn’t about your brother, though,” continued Silverstar. “This is about you having to stay low. You know what your reputation is outside RiverClan, yes?” When Reedsky nodded, she gave one brisk nod. “If you do, you must know how important it is for the safety of our Clan that you stay low. You have been doing it quite well these few days. Ivypelt seemed horrified when you spoke up.”
Reedsky frowned. “I didn’t think,” he muttered, pushing down a bubbling feeling of protestion.
“You didn’t,” Silverstar agreed, and Reedsky wanted to roll his eyes. “So do.”
“Very well, Silverstar,” Reedsky mewed grudgingly. “I’ll stay low. May I go, now?”
The silver she-cat narrowed her eyes but nodded. “Of course.”
As the silver warrior turned to leave, he couldn’t help but mutter, not in a very quiet voice, “I’ll stay as quiet as a mouse, and get eaten. I won’t help with anything, Silverstar, even if it was killing you.”
There was a sharp intake from behind him, and Reedsky knew he had triggered her. Without further ado, he hurried away.
No one could deny the satisfaction that was growing in Reedsky’s happy heart.
I’ll show them. I’ll show them! I’ll show them they’re wrong, and I’m right. I’ll show them I can do something. I’ll show them I was doing the right thing all along. I’ll show them I’m worthy.
Chapter Twenty Eight
The patrol to SkyClan came when the sun had disappeared from the sky.
“What have you been doing?” questioned Tansyflight.
“We’ve been helping SkyClan,” replied Stormflight. “Dapplestar made us. We hunted for them, with SkyClan cats watching our every move.”
Tansyflight’s amber eyes flared. “Really?”
“Really,” spat Swiftclaw.
“Like we were thieves!” Roseleap added furiously.
“We didn’t go there to work for them,” hissed Whitewind, his eyes narrowed.
“Ivypelt stood there, looking like it was all natural!” Stormflight meowed. “And then…” He broke off nervously.
“Tell them,” snapped Swiftclaw.
“Dapplestar said since we’d intruded to take their prey it was natural we had to work for them.”
“But we didn’t,” Roseleap broke in. “How could we, anyway? Dapplestar is so daft. That stupid prey of theirs would be soaked while bringing it back. And she wouldn’t think we actually crossed the other Clans carrying prey?”
Silverstar and Tansyflight were both narrowing their eyes, looking deep in thought. “Strange,” mused Tansyflight. “Did Dapplestar use Ivypelt to bring us to SkyClan?”
“Whitewind, were there sick cats?”
“There were,” the white tom nodded. “They smelled of terrible sickness.”
“Sickness?” Ottersnow repeated, padding out of her den. “SkyClan? So Dapplestar used her sick cats to make you hunt for her?”
“Seems so,” grunted Swiftclaw.
Rainingpaw followed after Ottersnow. “Really?” she asked. She padded closer to the patrol, and asked, “How many were sick?” Her eyes were flickering with fear.
Roseleap opened her mouth to reply. But then her expression crumpled and she leapt back, gasping.
The rest of the patrol flinched, and widened their eyes.
The pale gray she-cat tipped her head to one side. “Why? What is it?”
The dark ginger she-cat was shivering. “Rainingpaw…” she whispered.
“What is it?” Rainingpaw asked, more loudly.
“You have the same scent on you,” breathed Roseleap.
When Reedsky limped into the medicine den, he saw Rainingpaw sobbing on one side. She was huddled into the corner, trembling. “I’m not ready to die,” she was whispering. “I have so much ahead of me. When I was born, did you know I was going to die? Did you lay my death upon me? Please. I don’t want to die. I can’t die. I… I trained so hard. Starlingsnow said my assessment was great. She said she was going to tell Silverstar I deserved my warrior ceremony, with Mistypaw. Why did you have to take me?”
Reedsky blinked, and murmured, “Rainingpaw. You’re not dead yet. You can still live.”
The pale gray tabby flinched, her dark blue eyes full of fear. “Don’t come closer!” she shrieked.
Reedsky jumped back, surprised by her ferocity, and winced. “Ow, my foot. But Rainingpaw. It’s okay. We’ll all be there for you.”
Rainingpaw whimpered. “I’ve probably already spread the sickness,” she whispered. “Please don’t come. Please, Reedsky. You’ve always been a good friend.”
Reedsky took another step back. “All right. But will you really get your name today?”
“No. I won’t. I’m infected. Silverstar can’t risk it.”
“You never know–”
“Silverstar said so herself! It’s true, I know she’s right. She can’t risk having me in front of everyone.” Rainingpaw’s body shook and another sob escaped her throat. “I feel horrible. Why? Why? Why did I get this sickness?”
There was a sick feeling in Reedsky’s stomach. “That night. When you were by the WindClan border. Remember?”
“I told you I ate a mouse,” whispered Rainingpaw. “But I’m sure it wasn’t tainted. Dewheart took a bite, too.”
“Then the ordinary mouse had brushed the poison,” guessed Reedsky, caught up in his own inferring. “You were weak, so you got it, while Dewheart didn’t. Maybe he didn’t eat the brushed-part in the first place.”
Rainingpaw moaned. “It’s not your fault, though.”
“No, it’s not.”
“No, it’s not, I tell you it’s not! If you’re going to say that, get out!”
Reedsky felt silent. “How do you feel?” he asked tenderly after a moment.
“Bad,” Rainingpaw answered gloomily.
“You’ll be o–” Before Reedsky could finish his sentence, Ottersnow and Silverstar came in together.
“You’re here?” asked Ottersnow. “I told you you shouldn’t.” There was a cross hint in her voice.
Reedsky shook his head. “I got a thorn in my pad,” he answered.
“Well, get out, and I’ll treat you after Silverstar names Rainingpaw. Now I have to get Starlingsnow.” Ottersnow ducked out of her den.
Rainingpaw’s jaw dropped. “You’re doing it? Now? I thought…”
“You thought wrong,” Silverstar interrupted. Reedsky could detect warm emotion in the silver tabby’s tone. “Stand, Rainingpaw.”
The pale gray tabby stood up clumsily. Her breath was rapid and her eyes were bright.
“Here she is,” whispered Ottersnow.
A silver-and-white tabby she-cat was standing at the entrance, her bright green eyes brighter than ever with happiness.
“Starlingsnow,” started Silverstar. “Has this apprentice earned her name?”
The tabby nodded. “She has.”
“Then I, Silverstar, leader of RiverClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you as a warrior in her turn,” she recited. Even with only two cats in the audience, Silverstar was standing tall and proud.
“Rainingpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend your Clan even at the cost of your life?”
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Rainingpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Rainingsky. StarClan honors your bravery and loyalty and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
Subconsciously Reedsky remembered Silverstar’s words: StarClan honors your kindness and compassion. Rainingpaw’s was bravery and loyalty.
Reedsky blinked, and chanted softly, “Rainingsky, Rainingsky!”
Rainingsky beamed. “Thank you,” she whispered. There was no sign of sickness or whatsoever on her gray face.
Silverstar nodded curtly. “Watch from the den,” she ordered. “It’s your sister’s ceremony now.”
The pale gray tabby nodded. After Silverstar and Ottersnow left, she happily curled up in her nest, her eyelids fluttering.
Reedsky followed after Ottersnow. “You forgot my foot!” he called.
The gray medicine cat looked back, looking startled. “Oh, yes. Sorry, Reedsky. Wait. Is your injury a broken bone or a wound?”
“Closer to a broken bone.”
“Then comfrey,” murmured Ottersnow. She darted in her den and emerged, with a plant with large leaves and purple bell-shaped flowers hanging in her jaw.
Reedsky winced as Ottersnow dabbed the poultice on his left paw. “Careful,” he moaned.
“You’ll be okay once this is done,” answered Ottersnow briefly. She pulled away. “All right, I’m done. Don’t run today.”
“Okay,” replied Reedsky, shifting his left leg curiously.
“Don’t. Are you coming to Mistypaw’s ceremony?”
“I’ll have to make sure Rainingpaw – Rainingsky – doesn’t try to get out. Tell Mistypaw about Rainingsky, okay?”
Reedsky padded off, with a slight limp in his left leg. “Mistypaw!” he called. The dark cream apprentice was surrounded by cats. Creamfrost was beaming at her, and Minnowdawn was fussing around anxiously. Stormflight was saying something, and Oaktuft was whisking his tail.
“Mistypaw,” repeated Reedsky.
“Oh, hey, Reedsky,” smiled Mistypaw. She seemed confident. It wasn’t like her at all. “Why?”
“I’ve seen your sister,” started Reedsky. “She got her name.”
The dark cream she-cat’s jaw dropped. “Oh my StarClan,” she breathed. “Really? What’s her name?”
“Let all cats who can catch prey gather,” called Silverstar.
The squabbling didn’t lessen, but cats did gather towards where Silverstar stood.
“Silverstar’ll probably tell you,” whispered Reedsky.
Mistypaw’s eyebrows scrunched together but she nodded.
The silver tabby cleared her throat. “Today was a very sad day indeed,” she meowed. The cats quieted down immediately, and their gazes swept to the medicine den, where a pair of dark blue eyes were peaking out. “One of our beloved cats has gotten the sickness that has been threatening all five Clans. I have no doubt we are in danger, but we must not ignore our sick Clanmate.
“She has been a brave and loyal member to RiverClan, and just minutes ago, she has received her name, one she deserves. I welcome Rainingsky as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
Mistypaw’s face broke into a grin, and she yowled, “Rainingsky!” immediately.
The other cats slowly started to catch up. Dewheart was the first, and a chorus of voices joined the two cats.
“And now,” called Silverstar, “it is time for her sister to receive her name. Mistypaw, come forward.”
Mistypaw let out a startled gasp, and staggered forward, half-running, and half-crawling.
Silverstar smiled slightly. “Fallowstep, has this apprentice earned her name?”
The pale brown she-cat nodded. “She has,” she mewed quietly.
“Then I, Silverstar, leader of RiverClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look upon this apprentice. She has trained hard to learn the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to a warrior in her turn.”
Silverstar fixed her blue gaze on Mistypaw. “Mistypaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
Mistypaw raised her head. “I do.”
“Then by the powers of StarClan I give you your warrior name. Mistypaw, from this moment, you will be known as Mistybreeze. StarClan honors your kindness and loyalty and we welcome you as a full warrior of RiverClan.”
Reedsky looked back to see Rainingsky chanting. He could hear her hoarse voice over everyone’s chanting.
Dewheart was watching as well, looking ever so sorry.
Mistybreeze was blinking away tears.
The silver tom didn’t notice a dark ginger she-cat stepping into the warriors’ den. He was humming quietly to himself, thinking of what happened recently. Everything had ended in a mess.
“You all right?”
“Sure I am.” Reedsky didn’t look up.
He could hear Roseleap shifting uncomfortably. “Look. Are you mad?”
“Sure I am.”
“Then I’m sorry.” Roseleap took a breath. “I know I’ve been unfair to you. But… Just, I couldn’t believe you. Frankly, I still don’t. There’s no proof.”
Reedsky blinked, keeping his mouth shut.
“But I hate being in this tension. We were best friends.” Roseleap hesitated. “Can you forgive me?”
Reedsky didn’t turn.
Reedsky turned, and when he did, there was a bashful smile on his face. “’Course. I was just playing a joke on you. I know, sorry.”
Roseleap laughed. “Maybe I deserved it,” she admitted. “But really, Reedsky. I have my own side. You know I couldn’t really believe… what you said.”
“I know. But still.” Reedsky shrugged. “It’s all right.”
The dark ginger she-cat sighed, and curled up in her nest. “I hope the sickness doesn’t spread,” she meowed. “If Rainingpaw – Rainingsky, sorry – got it, it must’ve spread. Ottersnow must already be exhausted.” She blinked. “I think Silverstar might apprentice Larchkit early. It seems Ottersnow and she are already considering it.”
“I don’t think Yellowbird will agree to it.”
“But she’ll have to. She knows RiverClan’s desperate. I hate to say this, but…” Roseleap broke off. “We’ll need a younger cat. Who knows who’ll die? Ottersnow… Well, she needs to train a cat. Fast.”
Reedsky grudgingly nodded. “You’re right.”
Roseleap sighed. “Let’s just hope nothing’s going to happen.”
Reedsky nodded. “Please.” The danger was in front of him. But right now he was simply happy he had made up with Roseleap. Subconsciously he had been avoiding her. It wasn’t Roseleap’s fault, technically, but he was still cross she had refused stubbornly to listen to him about Sparrowheart, even when Slatefoot had tried to.
The breeze looked over the ground. Pale green grass was shaking at its arrival and the strange ‘dens’ were lowering their heads.
Satisfied, it called, “Hooo!”
The wind screamed, and the leaves rustled violently. After everything calmed down, the breeze could hear something.
“So. You saw?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Sparrowheart. Leave me alone. I want to sleep.”
A smile tugged at the breeze’s pale lips. It hadn’t seen a fight in centuries!
It swooped down and whispered into a golden tabby tom’s ear. Do it. Do it. You’re right.
“Tell me!” snarled the tabby.
“No, Sparrowheart. I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Rainingsky picked up the illness because she was there with you. Who else was there?”
“Nobody was there, and what illness?” A white tom snapped.
Sparrowheart thrust his head back, his white teeth gleaming maliciously in the dark. The breeze watched, holding its breath, hoping the fight would continue viciously.
But that did not happen. The golden tabby simple snorted, and meowed, “Very well. But I’m keeping an eye out for you.”
“I have nothing to fear,” retorted the white tom.
“Dewheart, you have to fear me.”
The breeze laughed, sending an icy chill across the clearing. That was funny. Sparrowheart and Dewheart. It was interested in how it would end.
Dewheart darted into one of the dens, while the golden tabby stared at a stream. “Reedsky… Is that you?”
Is it? Is it? sang the breeze.
“Who are you?” Sparrowheart murmured, his amber eyes fixed onto his reflection. “Who are you?”
The breeze answered. I am the breeze. I am your foe. I am your enemy’s foe. I am your friend’s foe. I am everyone’s foe.
Yes I have. I change sides. When you fall, my little bird, I’ll be the first to carry you to your enemy. When your enemy falls, my little bird, I’ll be the first to sing of your victory.
“But you haven’t changed enough.”
I always change.
“You were the weak one. You know nothing. I pity you. I will prevail.”
Is that cat the opposite of me? tinkled the breeze, swirling around the golden tabby, making the quiet, gentle stream ripple. Will you prevail, my little bird, or will you fall?
“I know you. I know everything.” The tom looked up. “I know how I will win, and I will win.”
Do you? Do you? Do you? Will you? Will the bird fly, or will the bird fall? That is the question.
The silent night sky was filled with a whistling breeze. It almost sounded as if it were happy. As if it were happy with all the dark things that surrounded the five Clans.
Chapter Twenty Nine
The sun was shining, gently watching over all the beings in the world. She blinked her golden eyes once. What is this? she thought. What is that cat doing, dressed just like me?
One of her golden, delicate locks floated towards the golden cat.
“Silverstar, do you mean Ivypelt is dead?”
The sun tipped her head. Why did he sound gleeful?
“Yes. They say so.” A silver tabby next to the golden cat blinked. “I can’t believe Dapplestar.”
“Dapplestar proved to be a cruel leader,” sighed Sparrowheart. He blinked. “I heard Tansyflight was going to retire.”
The silver she-cat frowned. “Yes. I don’t like it, but I have to respect his wishes. He’s leaving us vulnerable at a bad time… But still. He’s worked hard and deserves his rest.”
The sun frowned. A ray of sunlight whispered in Silverstar’s ear. Everything will be fine, don’t worry.
Silverstar managed a small smile as she mewed, “Don’t worry now, Sparrowheart. You know I’m thinking Eagleshade will be fit for the job. He knows about our enemy Clan, after all.”
“You mean because of his ShadowClan heritage?”
The sun listened silently.
“Yes. He’ll be great help to us.”
The sun could see the golden tabby muster a smile. She could see that he was squeezing it out. The silver tabby noticed it too, and she raised an eyebrow questioningly. “I was just worrying about him. He… has kits. Maybe it will be distracting.”
Silverstar shrugged. “My brother never was. Your father wasn’t. I’m sure it’s okay.”
“But you see him so… distracted by Snowykit and Splashykit.”
Silverstar frowned. “You act like you don’t want him to be deputy, Sparrowheart. Is that it?”
Sparrowheart opened his mouth, and stopped. “I should not say.” He blinked remorsefully. “Forget what I said, please.”
Silverstar scowled. “Tell me.”
“I can’t, Silverstar.”
The sun glanced back. The blue sky was doing nothing. Hmm. If the sky is doing nothing… She blinked. I’ll just have to watch for now.
She retreated, with her golden lock of sunlight trailing behind her.
The moon sighed. She was beautiful, wasn’t she? She glanced down at the lake, seeing her white face and elegant smile. She gave a small laugh, and thought, They are so lucky to have me in their world.
Moon, the sun always said. You shouldn’t be like that.
She always wasted the one second they crossed, when day and night met, to scold the moon.
Privately, the moon thought the sun was simply jealous. She didn’t like people who had ‘sun’ in their names.
She spotted a golden cat, and scowled. That was a golden she-cat she hated. Sundawn, she thought, repeating the name to herself. Horrid!
But as her pale ivory light reached the cat, she found this was not Sundawn. It was a short-furred tabby tom. Hmm? she thought, narrowing her eyes. What’s he doing here?
She knew his name… yes, Sparrowheart.
“Everything’s going as planned.”
“Is it?” A white-and-gray she-cat frowned.
“Ivypelt is dead.”
A brown cat inched forward. “Truly?”
“Did the sickness did it?”
“I have no idea.”
The moon gasped. Surely now Sparrowheart would attack? But the golden tabby just smiled. “I knew it. How did it go?”
“She claimed she never killed Cherry,” the dark brown cat growled.
The she-cat laughed. “Lies,” she whispered.
“Shut your mouth, Sparrowheart, or I’ll shut it for you.”
The dark brown cat shrugged. “Ivypelt said she never heard of anyone named Cherry. I told her how Cherry looked, and, well, realization dawned upon her, that’s it. She insisted she didn’t kill her, but…”
“You’re quite a criminal,” purred Ice.
The moon shivered. Her delicate hearings weren’t fit to hear this nonsense! Frantically she pulled herself away, trying to block out the terrible noise.
Something is happening here.
“Then things are happening,” concluded Ice. “Good.”
The moon shivered, and twisted away. She wasn’t going to let her beautiful eyes see this horrible sight. Her bright moonlight faded a little, letting darkness drape upon those dark beings.
Clouds didn’t like the night sky. They just didn’t. This particular cloud hated night. As he was forced through float through the dark sky, he hated that he seemed so dark. He was scared of the dark, too.
Gibberish, he thought, recalling when the sky had ordered the clouds to float around. You need to watch them? Gibberish! The sun, the moon, the breeze, everyone already is. Why do you need me?
But it was what nature did. The sky was simply following Nature’s orders.
“What do you mean?” the cloud heard a dark brown cat exclaim. He rolled his eyes. He had just seen a human say the same thing. But this was different. That human was full of despair, while this cat was full of hope and joy.
“I mean what I mean,” breathed a cream she-cat.
The cloud scowled. He hated seeing people happy. He turned away from the sight and glanced down.
There was nothing.
The cloud shrugged to himself, and let himself float away to watch other tormented things.
It was a rainy day. The dens fell and flooded and RiverClan’s leader had to assign cats to fix it.
A rain droplet fell to the ground. Oof, he thought. He could see a silver tom scowling. “What do you mean, Roseleap?”
“It means we have to fix Ottersnow’s den with Mistshade,” grunted a dark ginger she-cat.
The raindrop watched interestedly. “Darn,” muttered the silver cat. “But I guess that’ll have to do.”
Roseleap snorted. “You’re so forgiving. But all right.” She shrugged. “Let’s go and get some moss over Ottersnow’s head. I hope Rainingsky’ll be okay. I think she’s gotten better. But who knows what the rain will do?” Her blue gaze landed on the raindrop, and he flinched as she glared at him.
The raindrop sighed. Was he a nuisance? Despairingly he dug into the grass, feeling ever so lonely.
Yes, so many beings were watching over the many accidents in RiverClan. But were they accidents?
Let me tell you want happened in RiverClan for the two moons we’ve missed. Let’s see. Rainingsky’s okay now. She’s not entirely okay, but her sickness has gone. Tansyflight hasn’t retired yet. Sorrelfrost and Acornsquirrel are sick. Featherkit, Stonekit, and Larchkit has been apprenticed half a moon early.
Many things have happened. But no one is satisfied with what’s going on.
“Duskstream, Rowanfoot, Reedsky, and Oaktuft, you four are on a hunting patrol,” meowed Tansyflight.
Reedsky couldn’t help but notice that the ginger-and-brown tom looked particularly weary.
“All right,” mewed a black-and-white she-cat, padding towards them. She sighed. “You fine, Tansyflight?”
“Retire if you must,” encouraged Duskstream.
“What’s going on?” murmured Reedsky to Oaktuft.
“Duskstream’s Tansyflight’s daughter. Didn’t you know?” laughed Oaktuft.
“I didn’t mean that,” Reedsky started to say, but Oaktuft interrupted him with a dreamy, wistful look on his face. “They say Tansyflight is the best father. I’ll be one one day.”
Reedsky rolled his eyes. “The best, eh?”
“The best. We’ve already decided names.”
“Already?” laughed Reedsky.
“One,” replied Oaktuft. “Leafkit.”
“We both liked that prefix,” replied Oaktuft, shrugging.
“Let’s go,” called Duskstream, taking the lead. Rowanfoot nodded, and followed her.
Reedsky hurried to catch up, and Oaktuft followed him, dreamily murmuring something under his breath.
“Where should we try?” asked Rowanfoot, scanning the area.
“How about WindClan?” suggested Oaktuft. “I heard that since most of the cats got sick, the prey’s lounging around.”
“You mean go into their territory?” gasped Reedsky.
Oaktuft frowned. “No. The prey’s even crossing the border. It’ll be easy.”
“Okay, let’s do as Oaktuft suggested,” decided Duskstream. “Good? We have the best chance there.”
Rowanfoot and Reedsky nodded, and the four cats padded to the WindClan border.
Reedsky could sense that they were close; a breeze carrying a strong scent of an open, empty moor swept into their faces. He blinked. There were plump rabbits racing around, without any sign of fear.
“There aren’t any cats,” he mewed.
“I told you,” Oaktuft replied. “WindClan cats don’t come here. They just hunt around their camp.”
Duskstream sighed. “From a moment we haven’t gone to Gatherings,” she murmured, her yellow eyes gazing into the horizon, slinking into the wild moors. “Tansyflight wanted to check on WindClan, remember? But Silverstar didn’t want it.”
Reedsky blinked. “She said it would seem like we were nosy.”
“We didn’t go to ThunderClan and WindClan.”
“That’s a good thing,” cut off Rowanfoot. “We have to hunt. Didn’t you see how everyone looked hungry?”
“I know. I know. Mistlekit and Tigerkit won’t die, though. You’re so anxious and annoying these days. Relax,” muttered Duskstream. “Okay, Those rabbits might’ve strayed across, so try around the border. Don’t cross it, though. Let’s hunt separately, it’ll give us more of a chance.”
Reedsky nodded, and watched the black-and-white she-cat jump into the shadows. Rowanfoot shrugged. “See you back here,” he meowed, and he padded off to the opposite direction of where Duskstream went. Oaktuft blinked. Waving his tail, he padded towards Duskstream’s direction.
The silver warrior glanced at where Rowanfoot went, and walked to that direction. He glanced at the moor, and saw a small rabbit jumping around.
Hoping for it to cross the border, Reedsky crouched, his ears pricking.
Just as the rabbit sniffed at the border and raised its white paw, a smoky gray tom sprung out of nowhere and slashed at the rabbit, his eyes gleaming triumphantly. He glanced at Reedsky and flinched. “Who are you?”
Reedsky blinked. “I’d ask you the same thing. You’re trespassing on Clan territory.”
The tom snorted. “Who says it’s Clan territory?” he narrowed his eyes. “RiverClan, right?”
He trembled, then spat at the ground, as an attempt to look ferocious. “I was WindClan,” he meowed. “I have a right to hunt here.”
“You’re not a Clan cat. I haven’t seen you anywhere.”
“Just because you haven’t seen me doesn’t mean I don’t belong,” the tom snapped.
“What’s your name?”
The tom opened his mouth, and shivered. “I have a bad feeling about you, cat.”
Reedsky frowned. “Tell me,” he insisted. “What’s your name?”
The trespasser’s eyes sparked, and Reedsky noticed his eyes were multicolored; one yellow and one blue.
That’s creepy, he thought.
“Darkheather,” the tom finally admitted.
Something’s familiar about that name. But what? Reedsky racked his brain for a moment, and then he blurted out, “You’re Hark!”
Hark curled his lip into a snarl. “How do you know that?”
“He… he told me,” Reedsky meowed, trying to look brave.
“He… Sparrowheart?” Hark asked. He narrowed his eyes, and arched his back dangerously. “You’re one of them?”
Reedsky’s eyes widened. This was a moment when he had to choose. Choose! he thought anxiously. Quickly. I don’t have any time to spare.
“Lollygagging? I don’t tolerate that.” Hark looked actually dangerous now.
Reedsky gulped but held his ground. “Are you on their side?”
“I am. I won’t say I like it.”
Reedsky took a deep breath and meowed, “Will you help me?”
Hark’s eyebrows shot up. “What are you asking?”
“I want you to help me prove that Sparrowheart is guilty.”
Taking that as a sign, Reedsky continued. “I have some cats to prove. But you, who’s a conspirator, your word will be priceless. Will you help me?”
Hark smiled. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked softly. His voice was slightly trembling. “Aren’t you afraid I might tell your precious traitor?”
“I’m trusting you,” Reedsky replied simply.
Hark sighed. “Very well. Will no one harm me?”
“Of course they won’t. You’re helping them.”
“All right.” His ears pricked, and he leapt away.
Blinking, Reedsky stared at where Hark had stood seconds ago. “Reedsky? What’s up? Did some ghost take over your body?” Rowanfoot’s face swooped in in front of him. “Hey, don’t look like that. You look creepy.”
Reedsky shrugged, and tried to laugh. “It’s okay. Did you catch any prey?”
“Yup. Oaktuft was right about this area being crowded. Don’t tell Silverstar or Duskstream I stepped one pawstep outside the border.”
“Then can I tell Tansyflight?” teased Reedsky, his mouth tugging into a slight smile.
“You know what I mean,” grumbled Rowanfoot. “Anyway, I caught two rabbits and one shrew. You?”
“Er… I saw a rabbit but it pounced away. I’m not used to hunting rabbits,” added Reedsky.
Rowanfoot shrugged. “Sure. Let’s see if Duskstream and Oaktuft caught any good stuff.”
They met Duskstream and Oaktuft waiting by where they’d split. “Any luck?” asked Oaktuft miserably.
“I caught a hare and him a scrawny rabbit that ran away a few minutes ago,” Duskstream explained.
“Too bad. But better than me. I caught nothing,” Reedsky comforted.
“I caught two rabbits and a shrew,” mewed Rowanfoot smugly.
“Great!” Duskstream replied. “Come on.” She glanced warily at the border. “I think I see some WindClan cats.”
Reedsky twisted his head to see faint outlines of some cats over the moor. “Let’s go,” he agreed.
Duskstream led the patrol back to RiverClan camp, and Reedsky blankly thought about Hark. Everything would be okay. He had many witnesses. He had a former conspirator by his side. Everything would be okay.
When they entered the camp, they were met by a shocking scene.
“Silverstar, I have told you I would wait until all this is over,” a ginger-and-brown tom was meowing sternly.
The silver tabby was nodding softly, with a knowing, long-lost, empty look in her dark blue eyes. “Yes?” she murmured.
“But I can’t wait. My old bones won’t wait forever. I trust I’ve done good things for my Clan. I believe it’s time for me to have my rest. I’m sorry to say this in a time of trouble, but you’ll be better off with a younger deputy than me, a half-unwilling old one.”
Silverstar blinked. “If you say so, old friend,” she answered. She glanced back. There were cats eavesdropping on their conversation, but she didn’t say anything. She turned back to Tansyflight. “I’ll announce it to the Clan that youre reitiring.”
“Thank you for understanding.”
“It is, well, my duty.” Silverstar hesitated, and added, smiling slightly, “You’re not old, though.”
Tansyflight shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t think I’m a use to the Clan anymore.”
“You always will be.”
“Tansyflight’s retiring!” whispered a voice in Reedsky’s ear. Reedsky squirmed away.
“Yeah… Wonder who’ll be deputy next?”
“Maybe Sparrowheart?” suggested the she-cat nervously. She glanced at Reedsky, and shrugged. “No matter what you say, Sparrowheart seems like deputy material. You can’t deny that, honestly, Reedsky. I don’t know what went between you two but I think he’ll be a good deputy.”
Reedsky’s mouth twitched. “I think Eagleshade,” he admitted. “He’s older than Sparrowheart, which means he has more experience. He knows about ShadowClan, too, so I think he’ll be good help.”
Roseleap shrugged. “Hmm, you’re right. But you never know.” She turned her excited gaze to Silverstar. “Oh, look! She’s announcing! I so want to know who’ll be deputy!”
“She won’t now,” croaked a voice by their ears. Roseleap flinched with surprise.
“Oh, hey, Mapleflight. What brings you out here?”
Mapleflight frowned with displeasure. “Just,” she snapped.
Roseleap smiled. “Of course. So, what were you saying?”
“I was saying you won’t see a deputy yet. Silverstar will rightfully talk with the senior warriors and elders to choose a new deputy,” Mapleflight sniffed indignantly. “So hold your tongues.”
“Of course. Hold my tongue.” Roseleap nodded.
Mapleflight sniffed again and padded off, shaking her head and mumbling something about rude youngsters.
“She’s always like that,” mewed Roseleap. “Oh, hey, look. There’s Silverstar. Honestly, though, the whole Clan heard her and Tansyflight talking. There’s no need to waste her breath if she’s not going to announce a new deputy.”
“All cats who can fish…”
Reedsky twitched his ears. “She’s announcing. Maybe Mapleflight was wrong.”
“On this fateful day, our loyal deputy Tansyflight has decided to retire,” announced Silverstar grandly. “RiverClan is currently without a deputy, and I will announce a new one by moonrise.” She turned back. “Tansyflight. Is it your wish to give up the name of a warrior and go to join the elders?”
“It is,” the ginger-and-brown tom answered.
“Your Clan honors you and all the service you have given to us. I call upon StarClan to give you many moons of rest,” Silverstar finished, her dark eyes flickering.
Tansyflight nodded. “Thank you.”
Splashfall stood up. “You’ll have comfortable moons here,” she promised her new denmate.
Fernshine laughed, and nodded. “That’s true. No more nagging from anyone.”
“We’ll miss you,” Featherpaw exclaimed.
“Yeah,” nodded Stonepaw.
“You can always come visit,” Tansyflight suggested fondly.
The two apprentices beamed at the former deputy, and Featherpaw mewed, “Then is RiverClan without a deputy now?”
“Apparently so,” replied Tansyflight. “But it won’t be long.”
Stonepaw beamed. “I hope it’ll be me.”
“You fish-brain,” scolded Featherpaw. “Of course it won’t be you!”
“Can’t a cat dream?” muttered Stonepaw.
“Sure,” Featherpaw snorted. She glanced up at her father, and meowed confidently, “I’ll be deputy someday.” The she-cat cast a smug look at Stonepaw.
“No, I will,” retorted Stonepaw indignantly. “And I’ll have Larchpaw as my medicine cat!”
Tansyflight purred. “You’ll all be deputies and leaders.”
Featherpaw and Stonepaw’s eyes shone.
Reedsky glanced at Tansyflight, and wondered if he’d ever like to be deputy.
It had been ages since Silverstar had gone to discuss the new deputy with the senior warriors and elders, including Stormsky, Tawnyclaw, Stoneflame, Fernshine, Tansyflight, Splashfall, Mapleflight, and Slatefoot, including Ottersnow, the medicine cat.
Cats were slowly starting to forget the matters of the new deputy. Oaktuft and Rippleface had finally decided to take their apprentices out, after waiting ages for Silverstar to come.
Snowykit and Splashykit, who claimed that they couldn’t eat because of their anticipation, were now gobbling up fish.
Rushwater, who was grumbling he was dying, was now sleeping peacefully.
Everything was normal now.
Mistshade was talking with Sparrowheart and Sundawn, her amber eyes gleaming ambitiously. “Now, you two,” she was saying, “you must hope you’ll be deputy.”
Sundawn gave a small snort. “No, I won’t.” She glanced down at her paws, and added hurriedly, “Let Sparrowheart get his deserved pride.”
“That’s good,” replied Sparrowheart, with a hint of smugness in his voice. “But don’t worry, Mother. Everything will be fine.”
Mistshade blinked. “I know. You’ve always been such a loyal warrior. Silverstar has to recognize that.”
“And even if I’m not,” replied Sparrowheart, “I’ll still serve my Clan loyally.”
“Oh, my humble son!”
“That’s normal,” spat Sundawn.
“Is it?” sniffed Mistshade. “Well, Sundawn, I’ll tell you one thing. If you’re going to think that kind of humbleness and kindness is normal, you’ll never be a proper cat!”
Sundawn flinched. “Excuse me?” she asked, blinking furiously.
“I said that if you are going to think like that, you’ll never be a proper cat, never mind a proper warrior!” Mistshade repeated. “Sundawn, I don’t think I raised you that way.”
Sundawn trembled. Reedsky noticed pale transparent marks by her eyes. “Shut up,” she mustered. She raised her chin, her dark amber eyes flashing. “Of course you didn’t raise me this way. The cat I am is not a cat who was babied. Sparrowheart is, obviously, and he thinks he can do anything! I’m sick of you. Get it?”
“If you talk like that, no one will like you,” Mistshade warned.
“Oh, really? Let’s see, Mistshade,” snapped the golden she-cat. She stomped off.
“Sundawn?” asked Reedsky.
The golden she-cat whipped back. “Oh. It’s you.” She blinked embarrassedly. “You saw all that?”
“Maybe I was right to. And then again, maybe I was stupid.” Sundawn frowned. “What do you think?” She tipped her head questioningly towards Reedsky.
“It’s your choice,” answered Reedsky simply. “You’ll find out.”
Sundawn smiled faintly. “You’re right. But really, Mistshade went too far. Saying… saying what she said… I’d regret it till the day I die if I didn’t do… what I did right now today.”
“I hope you were right,” Reedsky smiled.
He glanced up, and spotted Mistshade and Sparrowheart murmuring to each other. They’re still talking, he thought, and remembered thinking about Mistshade’s reaction to Sparrowheart being evil.
A thought crossed Reedsky’s mind, but he shook his head in a helpless attempt to clear it. What if Mistshade will still stand up for Sparrowheart?
The question burned in his mind.
Just when Reedsky was about to lounge in the warriors’ den, to give up waiting for Silverstar to make her decision, he spotted a sleek black she-cat padding into his sight.
“Splashfall!” he called, but was surprised to hear a high, unlike-himself voice escape him. Reedsky cleared his throat to see if there was anything wrong with him, but found his voice was as normal as ever.
“Splashfall, what happened?” the high voice called again.
Splashfall nodded her head. “Hey, Rainingsky. Are you okay?”
Rainingsky’s pale gray face was peeking out of the medicine den. “Yeah. Well? So what happened?”
Splashfall smiled slyly. “Something happened,” she sang. “But I can tell you this.” Her blue eyes gleamed, and she mewed, “Nothing!”
The pale gray tabby dropped her head and groaned. “Come on!”
Splashfall winked, and lay down. “You’ll see soon enough.”
Splashfall was right. Soon, Silverstar and the other cats poured out of the den, and the silver tabby leader leapt onto the rock. “RiverClan!” she called.
Reedsky noticed she hadn’t called her regular speech; the silver tabby looked exhilarated to have her new deputy and her Clan steady once more.
“I say these words before StarClan, that the spirits of our ancestors may hear and approve my choice. The new deputy will be Eagleshade.”
Reedsky wasn’t surprised, but as he raised his head, a dark gray she-cat caught his eye. Why wasn’t Stormsky chosen for deputy? He shrugged and called out Eagleshade’s name.
Reedsky looked back, trying to find Sparrowheart. The golden tabby was staring at the ground, his gaze as cold as ice and hard as stone. Mistshade was staring at the rock where Silverstar stood, her gaze burning. The silver tabby went back to her son and licked his ears. Sparrowheart said nothing and did not move.
Eagleshade looked stunned. The black tom opened his mouth, and closed it again.
Snowykit and Splashykit watched, their mouths wide. “He’s the deputy!” Snowykit shrieked, finally breaking their silence.
“Yeah!” Splashykit gasped. She tackled her sister, and they started rolling around, hollering and batting each other.
“I promise I’ll be the best deputy I can be,” breathed Eagleshade, not able to erase the stunned look from his blue eyes.
Eagleshade was organizing patrols. It was his first time organizing patrols, but Reedsky thought he was rather good at it.
“This is not believable!”
Everyone in the Clan knew Mistshade and Sparrowheart were bitter about Silverstar’s choice.
“If Stormsky says nothing Sparrowheart shouldn’t too,” grumbled Roseleap.
If even the dark ginger she-cat was ready to say something against the golden tabby, things were bad for Sparrowheart.
“Well…” Reedsky mumbled, looking away. “I guess.”
“He’s irritating,” decided Roseleap. “I wasn’t so sure about it but Eagleshade’s proving to be a great deputy. Look at Snowykit and Splashykit; they’re so excited and happy. I hope Silverstar has Snowykit as my apprentice,” she added.
“He’s disappointed.” Reedsky thought about adding ‘just’, but thought that would appear as defending Sparrowheart. “He’ll cool down. He always have.”
Roseleap shrugged. “Yeah.” She glanced back. “Ooh, look, Ottersnow’s leading Sorrelfrost and Acornsquirrel out of camp. Oh, with Rainingsky. Hmm, I think they found a place for the patients to stay quarantined.”
“Ottersnow and Silverstar seemed really worried about it recently. That’s good. Rainingsky looks better, don’t you think?”
“Totally!” agreed Roseleap enthusiastically. “I hope the sickness goes away. I heard Pondstep’s sitting up again.”
Reedsky winced. “He’s not okay yet?”
Roseleap blinked. “He’s old,” she pointed out helpfully. “That might be why. He’s going to train an apprentice quick. That kit, Smudgekit?” She smiled. “Don’t worry too much. Dawnflight’s already better. If she is, Rainingsky will.”
Roseleap was right. But what would happen? Sparrowheart was enraged Silverstar didn’t pick him for deputy. Reedsky shivered as he thought of what Sparrowheart was capable of.
Suddenly too uncomfortable to properly meet Roseleap’s innocent gaze, Reedsky looked away and wondered when he would be brave enough to tell. Every time he thought about doing so, but when he stood to tell Slatefoot and Dewheart, he just couldn’t. What would the Clan think? How many hearts would be broken? What if those cats who held the broken hearts held a grudge against him? That would break Reedsky.
But again, there were sick cats. While Sparrowheart was around and trusted safe, he could do anything and get away with it. And Reedsky would be a bystander. Knowing but not telling.
It probably didn’t matter to sick cats that Sparrowheart was his brother. After all, Sundawn was his sister and Reedsky guessed she wouldn’t hesitated or ponder about this as much as him. She would’ve made a decision sooner.
But… still. Secrets. Secrets always led to pain.
Reedsky shook his head to shake off the untidy, messy feelings. This was getting him nowhere.
Someday, which hopefully would come soon, he would tell. Someday. Soon. Hopefully.
“Oh, for StarClan’s sake, shut up, Rowanfoot. I told you Cloudstream’s healthy as a Twoleg.”
“I hate you for talking like she’s a Twoleg,” Rowanfoot’s voice grumbled.
Then there came Eagleshade’s exasperated sigh. “Look, I know she’s worried because Mistlekit’s sick. I understand. But you can’t leave all your warrior duties, especially a patrol you were assigned to leading, just because Cloudstream and Mistlekit’s both sick – emotionally or physically.”
Reedsky yawned. He was lucky not to be in Rowanfoot’s patrol.
“You don’t understand. Mistlekit’s always been rather weak.”
“But there are other cats in camp. It’s not like she’s going anywhere.”
“She might go to StarClan!”
“For StarClan’s sake, Rowanfoot, I’m telling you once again and I won’t say it again. We’ll alert you immediately if something happens to Mistlekit. If she coughs we’ll send Swiftclaw. No, Whitepetal. If Mistlekit starts to do something stranger and more dangerous we’ll send Swiftclaw to get you. Good? That’s two of the fastest cats in RiverClan watching out for you and your kit. There’s Cloudstream, too. Could you please relax now?” Eagleshade stared at Rowanfoot menacingly. “I’m tired of you whining for ten minutes about how you’re so worried.”
Rowanfoot snorted. “Fine. WindClan border?”
“Yes. That’s where most of the prey lingers these days.”
“How about ShadowClan? They’re sick, too.”
“But that’s only Pondstep. The others are actually fine.”
“How do you know that?” asked Rowanfoot suspiciously.
Eagleshade scowled. “I’ll tell you when you get back from your patrol.”
“Now I’ll tell you if your patrol has more than four pieces of prey coming back,” interrupted Eagleshade grumpily. “Rowanfoot, do as you’re told.”
The dark brown tom rolled his eyes and glared down at his dark ginger paws. “Fine,” he grunted. “Promise?”
Rowanfoot’s hazel eyes flashed. “Promise.”
“Yes. Now go. You have Cherryfern, Whitewind, and Shatteredclaw.”
“Sure,” mumbled Rowanfoot. “Cherryfern! Whitewind! Shatteredclaw! Come on.”
Shatteredclaw emerged from the nursery, with a small black-and-white tomkit trailing after him, chattering endlessly.
“I’ve got to go, catch up later?” offered the brown tabby.
Owlkit frowned, looking disappointed, but his mother, Windfeather, emerged and scooped him up by his scruff. “Let’s go,” the tortoiseshell mewed, setting him back into the nursery.
The patrol disappeared out of camp, and another golden tabby followed them out as well.
When Reedsky spotted it, he sprang to his paws, his heart thumping madly. What was happening?
Please, he begged, not knowing what he was pleading for.
Ignoring Roseleap’s calls, Reedsky darted out of camp, vowing silently to himself that when he found anything more suspicious about his brother, he would tell the Clan, no matter what.
Chapter Thirty One
“No, not like that. You should place your paws more gently.”
“Like this…? Ow!”
Gentle laugher. “No, like this. See the grass barely rustling under my paws? You should place your pads so the grass will hold you. Lift you up. That’s how you stalk.”
“It’s so hard! I’ll never be able to do that.”
“I can. So can you.”
“Why am I?”
“You… you…” Silence, with only small moans of a kit trying to think of a good thing to say. “Yeah, you have amber eyes!”
“What do the color of my eyes have to do with my skill to stalk?”
“Everyone who’s a good hunter and fight has amber eyes. I think. Sunkit and Sparrowkit have amber eyes. They’re already great. So do you. So amber eyes mean you’re skilled.” The voice sounds rather triumphant for discovering this. “And I don’t. I have green eyes, not amber ones. Yeah, that’s why! So I’m going to give up.”
Just as the tiny silver kit is about to sit down and look at the greenish nursery wall, draped lightly with ivy, the voice says, “But look. Who has your green eyes? Your father. But your father’s the one you want to surprise by stalking. You say it’s hard because he’s so skilled. Hmm?” She waits a little.
“Oh. Yeah. You’re right. But…” There comes a sigh, to full of worry for a tiny kit, to full of worry for a problem as small as this. But who knows? This small problem, so small for us, may be big for anyone, not just an equally small kit.
“But…? Oh, Ree–” The cat’s voice catches in her throat, and her breath quickens. She opens her mouth to call out. “FIRE!”
Gray, silver smoke. The kit is mesmerized by the small wisps. They look like my fur. The kit reaches out. A small white paw touches the smoke, and the kit flinches away and stares at his pink pads. “Whoa…”
“Reedkit!” shrieks a panicky voice. The silver kit is scooped up by a golden cat. “Come quick.”
Since the golden cat is a kit also, she can’t help much. Although she’s apprentice-aged, she can’t do anything. She simply watches her younger brother, helpless and desperate. “Quickly!” she says, and immediately breaks out into a cough.
The loud, sick-filled voice seems to startle the kit. “Oh,” the kit squeaks and he pads towards. Still he cannot break his green eyes away from the smoke. It seems so pretty.
“MOTHER!” wails Sunkit, her amber eyes tearing up. A breeze blows towards their, and tears dribble down her pale face. She backs away, kneeling down, breathing heavily. “QUICK!”
Half-crying, Sunkit crawls away from the scene, leaving Reedkit to be. She’s trembling.
“I left him,” whispers Sunkit. She looks confused and scared.
“You left him to die?” their mother gasps.
Sunkit looks horrified as the truth of what she’s done dawns onto her. Sparrowkit, who has already escaped with his father, blinks blankly, and opens his mouth. His jaws fall.
“Oh…” Sunkit’s face falls.
“Another lost…?” Her face seems lost and hopeless.
“Oh, StarClan no,” whispered Reedsky. Spark’s green eyes were glancing at where Reedsky was hiding. He’d stalked Sparrowheart rather well, remembering some vague instructions perhaps Tawnyclaw had given him when he was a kit.
You should place your pads so the grass will hold you. Lift you up. That’s how you stalk.
He’d followed those hazy memories of instructions.
“Sparrow – oh, nothing. Well, I’ll ask you something. How’s your brother?”
“I haven’t seen him,” Spark replied, turning her bright gaze away.
“He’s out,” Sparrowheart replied simply, shrugging. “He’s no use to me anyway.”
“You’ll kill him? He knows what you’ve down,” Spark meowed coolly.
Shivers went up Reedsky’s spine as he stared at the two vicious cats.
“Maybe. Not yet.” Sparrowheart shrugged.
Reedsky swallowed, his heart thumping, barely trusting his ears.
“Shame on you,” Spark replied. “But you’ve already shamed yourself.”
“Yes,” replied Sparrowheart lightly. “So who cares? I’ve already done something. If I’m going to be punished, I won’t be punished with something light.”
“What you’ve done is light?” snorted Spark. “Hardly.”
“Yes,” repeated the golden tabby tom, looking relaxed.
“As you say,” shrugged Spark. “So let’s wrap it up.” Her green gaze flitted to where Reedsky was hiding. “You want me to wander into WindClan’s camp, give them tainted prey, and say thanks for letting me pass… and go?”
“Change it along the way.”
“Sure.” Spark smiled. “Going anytime soon?”
Sparrowheart narrowed his eyes. “Do you think I tolerate you because I must?”
“Yes. You must,” Spark clarified smugly.
Sparrowheart’s amber eyes gleamed. “For now,” he corrected, and Spark froze for a second.
“For now,” she repeated slowly. “Fine. Very well.”
“Good! I see you’ve got it.” Sparrowheart smiled and gave a small purr.
Sparrowheart turned and padded away, looking relaxed. When his faint outline disappeared into the shadows, Spark glared at the bush were Reedsky was hiding. “Come out, now,” the ginger she-cat growled. “I know you’re there, Reedpaw.”
Reedsky decided there was no use in hiding. He stood up, shaking fallen leaves from his pelt. “Yes, I’m here.”
Spark nodded. “Let’s get to the point,” she mewed, lowering her voice and stepping closer to Reedsky. “You know what he ordered me to do.”
“Are you going to stop it?”
“You can stop it.”
“He’ll kill me.”
“Are you scared?”
Spark’s expression hardened. “How dare you…” she growled.
Don’t be scared. There’s nothing to be scared of. Reedsky held up his chin.
“Tell me what’s been happening,” he meowed. “What has happened since?”
Spark frowned. “We’ve laid more prey in ShadowClan but they don’t eat anything too far away from their camp, so it’s hard to poison them. They’re the safest. RiverClan, you know, is the most dangerous.” She raised an eyebrow. “Sparrowheart and you are there.”
“I don’t work for him!” Reedsky protested.
“Will you say no to what Sparrowheart will demand of you?” Spark asked, looking rather amused.
Reedsky hesitated. Yes. Say yes. “Yes.”
“Good for you, then!”
Spark blinked at Reedsky, most fondly than she would ever stare at him in her entire life. It seemed like a wave of strange sympathy had come over her. “I feel sorry for you. You’re in a difficult place, and I admire you for holding your ground.” Then her soft look vanished, and was replaced by a frown. “So what will you do? Whether you like it or not, you must make lifechanging choices.”
Reedsky said nothing, and thought about Spark’s choice of a word: lifechanging choices. No. She had selected her words wrong. It should be a liveschanging choice. Or liveschanging choices. Whatever it was, Reedsky knew somehow the fate of the Clans was in his paws.
Why, StarClan? I thought you could control what happened to us! Why did you pick me? There must be some grand reason behind it. There are so many better choices. You could choose another villain; why did you have to choose my brother? Why did you have the choose the hero to be the villain’s younger brother, the younger brother who had always looked up to him?
While Reedsky was pondering about StarClan’s choices, and with Spark waiting patiently for him to make his answer about detailed plans, a certain golden tabby tom was making his way back to RiverClan camp.
Back then he had no special plans for tonight. None, really. Just lie down and sleep.
But when a black tom stopped him in his tracks, looking very suspicious of him, plans, well, had to change.
“Oh, hi, Eagleshade.” See, Sparrowheart did try to sort things out civilly.
Eagleshade’s lip twisted. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing. Just a nighttime walk.”
“It’s almost dawn. I don’t think so. I’ve seen Reedsky follow you out, too.”
Now, that sparked Sparrowheart’s thoughts. Where Spark was staring at… Should she live? She had, after all, betrayed him in a way. But… maybe Reedsky had changed his mind to follow him.
He could decide nothing while he knew nothing.
That was one of the wisest things Sparrowheart had done and thought.
“What is it? I demand for you to tell me.” Eagleshade stepped closer, his blue eyes cold and questioning. Any cat else would have broken under the deputy’s hard gaze.
But not Sparrowheart. He was different.
The golden tabby really did want to keep it civil. Killing Eagleshade would do him no good. It might bring him danger.
“Tell me, Sparrowheart, or I will report to Silverstar about this.”
One last attempt.
“You haven’t told Silverstar yet? Then it’s not that important, then. Eagleshade, use common sense.”
Hmm. Too offensive?
Eagleshade’s eyes flared with fury. “Sparrowheart, tell me what you’ve been doing and where you have been.” He hesitated, and opened his mouth to add something, but Sparrowheart didn’t give him a chance.”
“Do you think you’re something now, now that Silverstar’s promoted you to deputy?” Sparrowheart asked, his tone light and happy. He was already circling the black deputy.
Eagleshade frowned. “Get away. What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
And Sparrowheart lunged, faster than a jaguar.
Reedsky didn’t know, exactly, what he was going to do. But he did know that he was going to do something. Definitely.
“So,” Spark mewed, her tone skeptical. “Are you going to go out to your Clan and claim your loyal brother is in fact a traitor?”
“That seems so,” admitted Reedsky.
“You’ll be dead. If not by your Clan, by your brother! Or is it the other way around?”
While Spark was wondering what was right, Reedsky was thinking about something else. He had witnesses: Slatefoot, Rainingsky, Wish, and Dewheart… It might work. There was a possibility. RiverClan wouldn’t say their warriors would be lying, just to defend Sparrowheart?
“Spark. Can you tell the truth in front of my Clan?”
The ginger she-cat blinked at him. She opened her mouth, and closed it again. “You’re crazy,” she mewed finally. “Do you honestly think they’ll believe me? A worthless rogue?”
Reedsky noted her voice was bitter. Maybe that’s why. She’s been treating like she’s nervous.
“They’ll believe Sparrowheart over me and you. He’ll turn on me. He won’t fulfill his promise he made to me. So no, I won’t. I need him for his promise.”
Promise? “What promise?”
Spark’s green eyes flared. “That he’d make the world a better place. If I help you, he’ll turn on me. I can’t risk that. Do it on you own. I’ve done what I can.”
He’s made a promise.
“If you say so, Spark. But I will defeat Sparrowheart.”
The words sounded strange in his mouth. But he would have to get used to it.
“Good luck, then.”
Reedsky nodded, and seeing that dawn was coming, he hurriedly went back to camp, blundering over the secret entrance and not even bothering to look around and take in his surroundings. If he did, surely he would notice a pool of blood.
A shriek rang out in the clearing, and all cats simultaneously rushed out.
There she was, Lynxfoot, the pretty gray-and-white she-cat, looking lost, kneeled outside the camp.
“Don’t go out!” came a hiss from the nursery.
“What is it?”
“We want to go out, Creamfrost.”
“What is it?” whispered Reedsky to Brindlepelt.
The dark brown she-cat’s brindled face was pale with fear. “He’s dead,” she answered, her voice barely a whisper.
“Who’s dead?” Sparrowheart? Oh, no…
Brindlepelt didn’t answer. She simply stared out at the clearing, her amber eyes wide and troubled.
Reedsky could hear Lynxfoot’s sobbings. Then who died? Not…
“My deputy!” It was Silverstar’s anguished cry.
Reedsky’s heart dropped. “No…”
“Eagleshade is dead?” repeated Dusktail’s shocked voice.
“Dead,” murmured Rippleface.
“He can’t be,” whispered Whitepetal. “He’s only been deputy for a few days.”
“RiverClan is doomed.”
Nobody knew who said it, but it seemed right. Maybe RiverClan was doomed to die out.
“Don’t say that,” Reedsky managed out painfully, after a few moments.
The warriors were quiet for a moment. And Snowykit’s panicked mew screeched, “Let me out!”
“Please!” wailed Splashykit.
They can sense what’s happening, Reedsky thought.
“No,” replied Creamfrost, her voice trembling but stern. “You can’t go out.”
Snowykit breathed heavily.
“We will hold a vigil for him. He was an honorable warrior,” Silverstar told Lynxfoot gently.
Reedsky’s throat was throbbing with pain. Did Sparrowheart do this? He turned his head and accidentally met the golden tabby’s amber eye. It was glittering with malice and daring. Like it was daring Reedsky to tell the truth.
I can’t. I knew it, I can’t.
Maybe he wasn’t cut out for this. The fact that Sparrowheart was daring and vicious enough to kill Eagleshade… a friend. A cat he had grown up with? It scared Reedsky so much. That mean Sparrowheart wouldn’t hesitate to kill him, either.
I thought he was my friend.
Stormsky narrowed her eyes. “He’s dead? Then who will be deputy?”
“It’s not a time to wonder that now,” snipped Cherryfern. “Lynxfoot will hear you.”
Stormsky blinked. “You’re right. I hope she’s okay.”
Cherryfern opened her mouth, possibly to say something about how Lynxfoot wouldn’t be okay, but apparently decided against it.
“Can’t we go out?” grunted Swiftclaw.
“Quiet! They’re mourning,” snapped Brindlepelt.
“We can mourn too,” retorted Swiftclaw.
Brindlepelt rolled her eyes. “If you say so.” With a worried voice she added, “Things are going bad. Too bad.”
“Everything will be fine,” croaked Reedsky. He didn’t believe a word he’d just said.
How can I reveal him now?
“Let’s go out,” mewed Swiftclaw bluntly.
Rippleface blinked. “We can try to comfort them,” he meowed.
With murmurs of agreement, cats began pouring out of the warrior den, but Reedsky couldn’t. He was afraid to see his friend’s corpse, his friend’s death he possibly brought upon.
Maybe, if I’d told the Clan earlier, Eagleshade would’ve lived.
Grief overwhelmed him, and his sight blurred. A steaming drop of water fell down his cheek.
Snowykit was staring at the sky blankly. How could Silverstar say that? Make her an apprentice on the day her father died? On the day her father would be replaced?
The snowy-white she-cat glared at the ground. How could this happen? This mustn’t happen. Eagleshade had a whole life ahead of him. He had to see her become an apprentice. Become a warrior. She would see him become an elder, or a leader someday. She would serve under him, or help him.
What happened to the rosy future she had pictured for her and her family?
She glanced at Splashykit. The gray-and-white she-cat looked overwhelmed with grief. She was lowering her head, her gaze somber.
Snowykit couldn’t handle this. She blinked away tears as she spotted Silverstar exiting her den. She looked weary.
“Let all cats old enough to swim gather to hear my words,” she rasped.
Snowykit inched closer.
“Snowykit, Splashykit, you have reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to be apprenticed. From this day on, until you received your warrior name, you will be known as Snowypaw and Splashypaw. Your mentors will be Roseleap and Sparrowheart. I hope that your mentors will pass on all their skills onto you.”
Silverstar turned to the dark ginger she-cat and golden tabby tom. “Roseleap, Sparrowheart, you are ready to take on an apprentice. You have received excellent training from your own mentors, and you have both shown yourself to be loyal and capable. You will be the mentors of Snowypaw and Splashypaw and I expect you to pass on all your known onto your apprentices.”
Roseleap stepped forward and touched noses with Snowykit. Snowykit’s heart flipped with joy. Although she knew she couldn’t act like that, she was so excited for this day.
If only if Eagleshade were alive to see this!
“Snowypaw! Splashypaw! Snowypaw! Splashypaw!”
Reedsky watched Roseleap and Sparrowheart touch noses with their apprentices. He couldn’t help but feel slightly envious that they got apprentices.
Sparrowheart, oh, evil Sparrowheart. He got an apprentice. Reedsky eyed Silverstar warily. Padding over to Fernshine, he whispered, “Fernshine?”
Fernshine turned her head to stare at him. “Yes?”
“Did Silverstar want to make Sparrowheart deputy?
Fernshine nodded. “Yes, she did.”
“Is that why she gave Sparrowheart Splashypaw as his apprentice?”
“I assume so,” answered Fernshine darkly.
“Can she? He didn’t even train her yet.”
“That’s… a complicated area.”
Reedsky’s stomach sank.
“I think Sparrowheart would be a good choice, but… I guess he won’t be deputy in this life.”
“But there are cats like Stormsky and Tawnyclaw.”
Fernshine blinked. “We suggested them,” she answered slowly. “They’re our senior warriors, respected enough to join the discussion about our new deputy. But Silverstar told us she wished a deputy who was young.”
When Silverstar cleared her throat once more, Reedsky knew it was coming.
She seemed shaken, and her voice trembled as she spoke the words. “I say these words before StarClan…” She took in a breath. These words were too fresh to Reedsky than he preferred. He pictured the lean black tom shining with pride and shivered at the thought that Sparrowheart would be standing in Eagleshade’s place this time. His murderer.
“I say these words before StarClan, so that the spirits of our ancestors hear and approve of my choice. The new deputy will be Sparrowheart.”
Collective gasps rang out, and Breezestrike spoke up. “He’s just got an apprentice!”
“It was similar with Eagleshade, though,” snapped Mistshade defensively. “He just had Stonepaw as his apprentice.”
“That is final,” yowled Silverstar into the dark sky. “We have one ceremony left to perform today.”
Reedsky blinked. Stonepaw! The apprentice had no mentor anymore.
“Rippleface, you will be Stonepaw’s new mentor. I trust you to pass on your skills well.”
This is all chaotic. With Sparrowheart as deputy things will be horrible.
Note: Stonepaw’s mentor was Eagleshade and Featherpaw’s was Oaktuft. Sorry for any inconsistencies; very frustrating ☹
Chapter Thirty Two
“Reedsky, Snowheart, Roseleap, and Orangefeather, you can go and patrol the ShadowClan border,” meowed Sparrowheart.
“Oh, please, can’t I go too?” volunteered Sundawn eagerly.
Sparrowheart eyed his sister suspiciously. “No.”
“Sparrowheart!” pleaded Sundawn, biting her lip.
“Why are you so eager?”
“I want to help my Clan, of course!” recited the golden she-cat.
“Let her go. She can fill my place. It’s pleasing to see such an enthusiastic warrior. I’m not very comfortable with younger cats, anyway,” Snowheart called.
Sparrowheart frowned, but dipped his head. “Very well. You can go, Sundawn.”
The long-furred golden she-cat brightened almost immediately. Her dark amber eyes shone like her fluffy fur in the sunlight. “Thanks, Sparrowheart and Snowheart!” she exclaimed, and skipped towards where Reedsky, Roseleap, and Orangefeather were gathered. “The ShadowClan border, you say? Let’s go.”
Giving a huge purr, Sundawn took the lead.
“She’s strange today,” mewed Roseleap softly. “Come on, Snowypaw! We’re going on patrol!”
A snowy-white she-cat peeked out of the apprentices’ den. Her pale green eyes red and puffy, she lowered her head and padded to her mentor.
“Is she all right?”
“She’s fine when she’s learning, but suddenly she droops and is gloomy for the rest of the day. I think Snowypaw’s ashamed that she’s happy.”
“It’s been a week, though.”
“Oh, Reedsky.” And then Roseleap stared at Reedsky with a look that had a mentor’s scolding inside them. Mentoring Snowypaw changed Roseleap.
“I’m here. Where are we going?” Snowypaw rasped.
“Patrolling the ShadowClan border.”
Snowypaw nodded slightly, and when Roseleap began forward, she began to follow lifelessly.
Reedsky was worried about Snowypaw. What if she never recovered?
He was forced to stop his worries when Snowypaw spoke to him in a low, grief-stricken voice. “I’m happy. I’m happy I’m an apprentice. I’m happy Roseleap’s my mentor. I’m happy. Is that wrong? It seems so wrong, when Eagleshade’s dead and can’t enjoy life anymore.”
It took some time before Reedsky realized she was talking to him. “Oh… Well, Snowypaw, you know I knew him when your father was an apprentice? I was a kit then, but I knew he was adventurous and happy, just like you now. He’s lived a life. I know it wasn’t full, but still, he did. Don’t sacrifice your life out there because of guilt that you’re living but he’s not. It’s your turn to live your life.”
Snowypaw hesitated. “But it feels so wrong. I want to grieve for him. But… they move on so easily. It’s hard to linger,” she mewed quietly. “The Clan’s acting like nothing happened. Sparrowheart’s filling his place, Silverstar’s better now, and everyone’s okay. They act just like before my father’s death.”
“Maybe you should try that, too,” suggested Reedsky.
Snowypaw scowled. “It’s not as simple as that,” she insisted. “He’s my father. I… You wouldn’t know. But he was my father.”
“He was my father. I loved him. He was there for me.”
How could you say that, Snowypaw? I’m here for you now.
“How could he die? How could he leave me?” Snowypaw’s voice broke. “Splashypaw seems fine, too. I just…”
Hearing Snowypaw talk like that, Reedsky knew he couldn’t stay cross. “I would know. I understand. I can imagine how you feel right now. I know how you felt.” Reedsky hoped Snowypaw didn’t notice how much he tried to justify Tawnyclaw and his relationship.
It’s better now, anyway.
Snowypaw blinked. “Yeah, I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I… Thank you for listening.” She dipped her head and quickened her pace.
Reedsky followed, thinking about Sparrowheart and Eagleshade. So Sparrowheart killed his friend because… maybe Eagleshade caught him, or maybe because he wanted to be deputy.
What if he kills me, too?
“Quicken up, Reedsky!” called Roseleap. “And slow down, Sundawn!”
Sundawn looked back sheepishly. “Sorry. I like patrols.”
“You like ShadowClan patrols,” corrected the dark ginger she-cat, rolling her pale blue eyes. “I have no idea why.
Sundawn winced, but shrugged like she didn’t care. “I’m just trying to do my best,” she protested.
“Yeah, I know,” Roseleap murmured. She glanced at Snowypaw. “Snowypaw, come on. Scent markers.”
Snowypaw nodded and trailed after her mentor. “Coming!” she called. She glanced at the border and mewed fearfully, “There are a pair of eyes in the shadows.”
Roseleap sniffed doubtfully. “Really?”
But when Roseleap turned her head she stifled a gasp, and so did Reedsky. There were a pair of eyes. A pair of bright amber eyes staring at them from the darkness.
“Who’s there?” Roseleap called out.
Sundawn whipped her head back and stared at those amber eyes warily. “Come out,” she ordered.
A small pale ginger she-cat stepped out of the shadows, her large amber eyes full of fear. Her brown-tipped tail twitched anxiously as she gazed at the patrol, but she didn’t say anything.
“Who are you?” asked Roseleap.
Snowypaw inched forward and sniffed the newcomer. “She’s barely older than me!” she mewed.
The ginger she-cat blinked. “I’m Amber,” she mewed softly.
“Where are your parents?” questioned Sundawn tenderly.
“I lost my mothers.”
“Mothers?” Roseleap’s ears pricked. “What do you mean?”
Mothers? Can a cat have more than one mother? wondered Reedsky.
“Yes. I lost them while I tried hunting by myself. Help me.” Amber looked up at them, her gaze full of pleading.
“What are their names?” asked Roseleap.
“Daisy, Breeze, and Cherry,” answered Amber.
Reedsky blinked. Those names sounded familiar.
“Three she-cats had you?” asked Snowypaw. “I don’t understand.”
Amber bit her lip, looking confused. “I always had three mothers,” she answered. “Daisy was my birth mother, if that’s what you mean.”
“So Cherry and Breeze aren’t your real mothers,” concluded Sundawn.
“No!” Amber’s eyes flared. “They are.”
“Biological,” corrected Sundawn hastily. “Right?” When Amber nodded, she continued. “Are they the Sisters?”
The Sisters! They were a nursery tale; a mysterious group of she-cats. They didn’t let toms stay, only she-cats. Was it possible Amber was a part of the group?
Amber shook her head. “I don’t think we called us that way. Care to elaborate?”
“The Sisters are a group of she-cats. They don’t let toms stay,” meowed Reedsky helpfully.
“Since you don’t know your father, maybe you are,” suggested Snowypaw.
Amber shook her head. “No, then. I don’t know my father, but that’s because my father left, or died. We don’t know. But one thing’s for sure, that we don’t make toms leave.”
“Oh, okay,” mewed Snowypaw. She blinked. “I like your name.”
Amber smiled shyly. “Thank you. What’s yours?”
Amber’s jaws fell. “What… a peculiar name,” she murmured. “Snowypaw? Not just Snowy?”
“Snowypaw,” replied the snowy apprentice indignantly. “And I’ll get my warrior name – moons later, but still.”
“Warrior name?” questioned Amber, still sounding baffled.
“Yes! Like Reedsky’s. He was Reedpaw before, but now he’s Reedsky now. And Roseleap. She was Rosepaw once but now she’s Roseleap,” Snowypaw explained enthusiastically. “Aren’t I right?”
“She is,” chimed in Roseleap.
Amber’s eyes gleamed interestedly. “Wow,” she breathed.
Sundawn blinked at the rest of her patrol. “So what will we do with her? She was on our side of the border.”
Orangefeather nodded. “I think we should bring her to Silverstar and let her decide.”
Amber blinked at them. “You’ll do what?” she asked. “But I need to get back to my family!”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t break the warrior code for you,” meowed Orangefeather sternly.
Amber bit her lip. “Really?” She gazed at Sundawn. “The… warrior code?”
Sundawn shifted and didn’t reply.
“Orangefeather’s right,” decided Roseleap. “We’ll have to take you.”
“But you’ll help me find them, right?”
“We should,” Reedsky interrupted. “Silverstar will probably just tell her off.”
Roseleap nodded. “You’re right. But still we should.”
“Why? If you’re sure she will, just let me go.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s too risky. I don’t think this is a good time to break the code, anyway,” meowed Orangefeather. “There’s a crisis among us.”
“I’ll take her back,” volunteered Roseleap.
Snowypaw cocked her head. “I could,” she suggested.
“You need the experience,” answered Roseleap. “You can patrol with Sundawn, Reedsky, and Orangefeather. Come on, Amber. I’ll escort you to camp. Don’t worry, you’ll like it!”
Amber nervously followed Roseleap. She looked relieved that Orangefeather wasn’t chosen to go with her.
“With that all settled,” Sundawn meowed, “we can continue the patrol. Snowypaw, you know the scent markers.”
Snowypaw nodded nervously. “Yes!” She padded closer to the border, sniffing and frowning. “They smell stinky every time,” she grumbled, and with that she began to mark the borders.
“Sure they do,” laughed Orangefeather. “They’re ShadowClan!”
Sundawn shifted. “Since we might be short of prey,” she started, “I might hunt.”
“It’s a border patrol,” meowed Reedsky doubtfully. “We’ll be late.”
“It’s just a moment,” insisted Sundawn. “It’s leaf-bare, anyway. We just don’t know because the weather is generous this year.”
“If you say so,” meowed Orangefeather. “Everyone’s content with it, right? Sundawn is just helping, after all.”
“Sure,” Reedsky replied. “Thanks, Sundawn.” He was still suspicious why Sundawn was so eager to go to the ShadowClan border, but had decided against spying on her.
“Is that a ShadowClan scent?” meowed Snowypaw abruptly. Her nose wrinkled, and she frowned. “I think it’s too close to our border. I think they crossed it!”
Orangefeather’s eyes flashed in alarm. “Really? Where?”
“Right here,” Snowypaw meowed in reply, prodding at the place with her snowy paw.
Orangefeather took a sniff. “I’m not so sure. We haven’t renewed it in a long time. Hey, Reedsky, take a sniff.”
Reedsky blinked, after scenting it. “It’s strange,” he started slowly. “Our scents and theirs are mingled together.”
“We shouldn’t have let Sundawn go so quickly. She’s one of our best trackers.”
“That’s true. But even with Sundawn I don’t think it would’ve gone too fluently. We’ll just mark this part especially strongly and perhaps, if they did cross it, those ShadowClan warriors will know not to do it again. Even if they didn’t, it’s a good sign of proving we’re still strong,” meowed Reedsky. “What do you think?”
“Whoa,” mewed Snowypaw. “That’s a great idea. I’ll start right away.”
“Are you sure? We might be letting them go scot-free.”
“We can’t accuse random cats, though,” argued Reedsky. “It’s best to do this this way.”
“I think so, too,” piped up Snowypaw. “Roseleap told me never to rush into your decisions. You must always double-check your information before you accuse anyone or tell the authorities about your suspicions. That can easily lead to battles and perhaps war.” It was like the snowy-white she-cat was reciting the words Roseleap and lectured to her. Her pale eyes were all over the place as she struggled to remember her mentor’s every word.
Orangefeather nodded. “You two are right.” He heaved, looking slightly disappointed that no action took place. “I’m just itching for some fights. It’s been moons since there was a proper one.”
“You should be thankful.”
“Still, that’s what we’ve trained for.” After a moment’s thought, Orangefeather meowed, “Finish marking the borders. Your new scent will prove that we have fresh paws by us.”
Snowypaw beamed. “Okay!”
After the white apprentice had stepped away, her gray ears twitching and tail tipped-with-gray flicking with satisfaction, Orangefeather and Reedsky checked if she’d done it properly and nodded.
The pretty she-apprentice brightened immediately. Her expression reminded Reedsky of Lynxfoot when she was a young warrior. “Thank you!” she chirped.
Orangefeather smiled, and mewed, “We should go back now.”
Snowypaw blinked. “Is it done?” she asked, in a disappointed tone. “I didn’t think it would end so quickly.”
The orange tom nodded kindly. “Occasionally we spot some strange scents within the border and report to Silverstar or challenge them if they’re still there. Like how we handled Amber today.”
“Amber didn’t seem much like a challenge,” mumbled Snowypaw, shifting her paws embarrassedly. “I guess I should be happy nothing has happened.”
“It’s all right,” Reedsky mewed. “Everyone likes adventures.”
Orangefeather rolled his eyes. “Not me.”
“You’re a strange one, then,” Reedsky laughed.
It felt good to laugh among those whom he could trust and who trusted him.
“Everyone thinks I’m a good cat to tease,” complained Orangefeather, sounding amused. “Well, then. There’s nothing else to see or scent. Let’s go back.”
“I wouldn’t want to miss what’s happened with Amber!” chimed in Snowypaw. “Hey, do you know if Sparrowheart will be taking Splashypaw out? I want to see her train with me.”
“He’s busy, since he’s the new deputy, but I’m sure he’ll get to his apprentice,” Orangefeather meowed confidently. “Although I’m concerned that the older warriors will try to challenge him, saying he’ll have no experience involving taking charge. Still, Sparrowheart was always taking charge. He has no problem organizing stuff.”
Snowypaw frowned. “No one has the right to challenge Sparrowheart. He’s just busy! If he trained Splashypaw he’d face complaints that he’s not taking his deputy duties seriously. They’re not giving him much of a choice, are they?”
“You’re right. But warriors are always stuffy, and they forever will be.”
“Not me,” mimicked Reedsky, snickering.
“I thought you were compassionate and loyal, Reedsky. Where’s your loyalty for your friend?” muttered Orangefeather. “Well, we’d better get going now.”
Snowypaw and Reedsky both nodded, and they followed the orange tom back to RiverClan camp.
Maybe Sparrowheart will cool down.
“Oh! I forgot to ask. I’ve been dying to. Splashfall told me about the Silverrocks. She said that was in the border which bordered SkyClan and the Dark Forest. She told me the Silverrocks gleam silver because of the moonlight coming from the StarClan side! At every blue moon, the Silverrocks shift to make way, to make a passageway through the two opposite places. But only one who deserves to see sees the change… So, is it true?”
“Who knows?” asked Reedsky softly, stopping and staring up at the sky.
It was bright morning when they had left. The sun was already almost up to its peak. Were there Silverrocks up there, bordering the Light and Dark?
“We’ll never know until we die.”
Snowypaw followed Reedsky’s gaze and gazed at the sky. “I wish there were. Splashfall said it symbolized a chance for redemption.”
Redemption. Perhaps Sparrowheart will spot the Silverrocks’ shift one day and given a redemption. Perhaps one day, he will learn to feel guilty for what he’s done. Then Reedsky remembered Eagleshade’s hard corpse and shivered. But not today. Not on this life, I’m sure. He’s gone too far. He’s not feeling any remorse. Normally, fear had brought no companion. But it seemed now that fear had felt lonely. It was carrying a drop of justice.
When the patrol entered camp, they could see Silverstar exiting her den, followed closely and anxiously by Amber.
“Have they been talking all this time?” hissed Reedsky.
“It’s been an awfully long time,” agreed Orangefeather. “It’s strange. Perhaps she’ll care to explain.”
Roseleap beckoned Snowypaw to her, and, waving her tail in farewell, Snowypaw bounded to her mentor.
“Let all cats old enough to swim gather to hear my words!” Silverstar’s cry echoed around camp, and slowly cats began to gather around, muttering about what could possibly have happened.
“It’s obviously bad times,” Rushwater was groaning to Fernshine. “The leader calling Clan meetings more than thrice in a moon! You know this never happened before.”
“That’s true. But listen. Maybe it’s good news. See that there’s a young cat, apprentice-aged, by her side.”
“Hmph! It’s no good if she’s a rogue,” croaked Rushwater.
Reedsky turned to see a pale gray tabby she-cat with white tom with gray markings by her side. “Hi, Reedsky,” Rainingsky whispered, her dark cornflower-blue eyes gleaming. “I’m feeling so much better now. Ottersnow says I’ll be able to live the normal life of a warrior.” She straightened. “I hope Sorrelfrost and Acornsquirrel recovers.”
“They will,” murmured Dewheart, and Rainingsky grinned.
“Cats of RiverClan!” shouted Silverstar over the whispers of her Clan. She jumped onto a willow tree stump by her den. “Reedsky, Orangefeather, Roseleap, Snowypaw, and Sundawn found a rogue she-cat when they were out on patrol.” Her gaze swept across the clearing. “She has lost her group and I decided with Sparrowheart, that she will stay in our Clan until we find her mother.”
Amber’s ear twitched. Reedsky noticed her mouthing mothers.
“A rogue?” called out Flamepetal, narrowing her eyes. “How do we know she’s safe? Maybe she’s plotting against us.”
“Flamepetal,” snapped Slatefoot. “She’s only a young cat.”
“She could be working with those rogues, though,” chimed in Swiftclaw.
“You’re too suspicious,” chided Windfeather, frowning slightly.
“Silence!” called Silverstar. “Are there any objections?”
Flamepetal and Swiftclaw both hesitated. “Just don’t,” murmured Whitepetal, and Flamepetal nodded.
“All right. Do you think this is right?”
“We’re providing shelter for the weak. Of course it is.”
“What if she betrays us?” hissed Leafsplash, her gray ears twitching rapidly.
“We’re figure that out later,” answered Whitepetal. “Do you honestly want to kick out her just because of your suspicions that hold no ground?”
The flame-colored she-cat grunted in reply and looked away, while Swiftclaw shook her dark tabby pelt. “I don’t like her,” she muttered. “I hate rogues.”
Leafsplash rolled her eyes. “That went a bit too far, don’t you think? There have been kind rogues.”
“Most of them were trying to kill us and take over our land.”
“Not all of them.”
Reedsky let Leafsplash and Swiftclaw argue about rogues, and stared up at Amber. The pale ginger she-cat was squirming uncomfortably. Silverstar murmured something in her ear, and Amber looked around nervously. She hopped down from the willow stump and padded timidly towards Snowypaw.
The snowy apprentice was talking with Roseleap. “You can’t say that!” Roseleap was scolding. “That’s rude.”
“But they’re talking about her without knowing her properly,” retorted Snowypaw furiously. “Oh, do let me go and snap something at Swiftclaw.”
“She’s your senior warrior,” snapped Roseleap. “I appreciate you trying to defend your friend, but that’s a bad way to… oh! Hi, Amber.”
Snowypaw cringed. “Did you hear?”
Amber blinked. “Yes. Why?”
“I… No, never mind,” muttered Snowypaw, her white cheeks reddening.
The pale ginger she-cat shifted her paws. “Silverstar advised me to talk to you. I’ve got no one in this Clan, you know that.’
Snowypaw smiled at her. “Sure. Do you want to see my sister? Her name’s Splashypaw and she’s the best.”
Amber shook her head. “No, I… I really don’t.”
“Well, if you say so,” shrugged Snowypaw. “How old are you, exactly?”
“I’m seven and a half moons old,” answered the pale she-cat. “I might be older, I don’t really keep track.”
Snowypaw gaped at her. “You’re older than us! I think you’re Featherpaw and Stonepaw’s age.”
Amber gave a small laugh. “Who’s your mother?” She glanced at Roseleap, and Roseleap shook her head.
“No way. I’m her mentor.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I teach her things,” the dark ginger she-cat answered.
Amber nodded. “Is it nice? Learning stuff and teaching stuff?”
“Sure it is!” interrupted Snowypaw. “Roseleap’s the best mentor.”
The pale ginger rogue shuffled her paws. “Can you show me what you learn?”
Snowypaw glanced at Roseleap. “Can I?” she asked.
“Okay, look at me, Amber. Stand in front of me. Yeah, yeah, like that, good. I’ll attack you. Try to defend yourself. Do you consider yourself a good fighter?”
Amber opened her mouth to reply, but then her mouth turned upwards into a beginning of a smile and she answered slyly, “I won’t tell me.”
Snowypaw puffed out her chest. “Then I’ll go hard on you.”
The pale ginger she-cat fluffed out her fur warily. Her fur began to stand up as her snowy opponent began to circle her, hissing. Snowypaw started to bristle, making her twice her usual size. It was an attempt to scare Amber, but it didn’t work so easily. Amber tried to smirk.
Snowypaw frowned. She closed her eyes for a second, and Amber’s eyes sparked. Reedsky wanted to cry out. It’s dangerous!
But at that very second Snowypaw sprang for Amber. Her paws outstretched, she gripped at Amber’s pale pelt and pushed down on her, panting slightly. “Surrender!” she gasped.
Amber was tense for a while, then she relaxed, blinking with fear.
Snowypaw smiled with satisfaction, and began to climb down from Amber, saying, “See, it’s easy if you–” Her words ended in a yowl as Amber crashed down on her. Her paws and legs flailed desperately, trying to get away and startle Amber. She let out a furious yowl. When it didn’t work, she let out a wail, sniffing. Snowypaw stopped rolling for a second and started breathing hard. “I’m sorry!” she shrieked. “Ow, ow, you’re standing on my limb! I surrender! Just please let me live!”
Reedsky could see through Snowypaw’s rather lame trick, but Amber seemed to fall for it immediately. Her amber eyes rounding with sympathy, Amber stepped of her. “I’m sorry–”
Snowypaw leapt to the air. Her paw pushed Amber down and she had her claws at Amber’s throat. “Surrender,” she snarled menacingly.
“Did you keep your claws sheathed?” asked Roseleap.
“Yes,” breathed Snowypaw, not daring to take her eyes off Amber. “I told you, surrender!”
“I surrender!” Amber laughed. “Really.”
Snowypaw grinned and stepped off Amber and backed away some distance. “I’m keeping my eye on you, though,” she joked.
Amber gazed at her wistfully. “Do you do this every day?” she asked.
Snowypaw nodded. “Yes! Well, so far.”
Roseleap purred. “We’ll swim tomorrow,” she suggested.
“Oh, yes!” Snowypaw exclaimed. “Can Amber join us?”
“If she wants,” replied Roseleap. She cocked her head at Amber. “What do you think?”
Amber opened her mouth and closed it. “Of course!” she gasped out. “It’ll be wonderful – thank you so much!”