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rocky roads and brindled paws.

Chapter Text

Leader ; Diamondstar [F] 


Deputy ; Shadeclaw [M]


Medicine Cat ; Ashheart [F]


Medicine Cat Apprentice ; N/A


Senior Warriors ; 

  • Russetwhisker [M] {{ Apprentice ; Brindlepaw }}
  • Sheephoof [M] 
  • Dusktail [F] {{ Apprentice ; Fuzzypaw }}
  • Shimmertooth [F] 
  • Mysterypelt [M]
  • Owlfeather [F]


Warriors ; 

  • Willowpelt [F]
  • Skinnyfoot [M] {{ Apprentice ; Swiftpaw }}
  • Shaggyjaw [M] 
  • Blueeye [F] {{ Apprentice ; Rockpaw }}
  • Jaggedclaw [M]
  • Stonecloud [M] 
  • Leafwhisper [F]
  • Whitesky [F]
  • Bearhowl [M] {{ Apprentice ; Whimperpaw }}
  • Badgerclaw [M]
  • Larkfur [M] {{ Apprentice ; Sunpaw }}
  • Eaglestep [M]
  • Scarletfox [F]
  • Brackenfoot [M]
  • Rabbitclaw [M]
  • Peatwhisker [F] {{ Queen }}
  • Breezetail [M] 
  • Ravenbeak [M]
  • Dustcloud [F]
  • Spottedmoon [M] 
  • Blackcloud [M]
  • Flyleaf [F]
  • Mousesnap [M]


Apprentices ; 

  • Brindlepaw [F]
  • Rockpaw [M]
  • Swiftpaw [M]
  • Whimperpaw [F]
  • Fuzzypaw [F] 
  • Sunpaw [M]


Kit's ;

  • Rabbitkit [M]
  • Mudkit [M] }


Queen's ;

  • Peatwhisker [F]


Elders ;

  • Torntalon [M] 
  • Dappledfeather [F]
  • Firefur [M]
  • Skyheart [M]


StarClan Cats ; 

  • Starrybreeze [F] {{ Queen }}
  • Whisperbreeze [F] {{ Queen }}
  • Tallkit [M] {{ Kit }}
  • Lumpkit [M] {{ Kit }}
  • Fadedkit [M] {{ Kit }}
  • Lovekit [F] {{ Kit }}
  • Ivyclaw [M] {{ Warrior }}
  • Ebonyheart [M] {{ Warrior }
  • Goldenivy [F] {{ Queen }}
  • Stormstrike [M] {{ Medicine Cat }}
  • Sunbreeze [M] {{ Warrior }}
  • Whiskerheart [M] {{ Medicine Cat }}

Mates ; 

  • Owlfeather & Mysterypelt ( Kits ; Whimperpaw, Fuzzypaw, Swiftpaw & Lovekit )
  • Dappledfeather & Firefur ( Kits ; Spottedmoon, Ashheart )
  • Blueeye & Jaggedclaw ( Kits ; Blackcloud, Flyleaf & Mousesnap )
  • Whitesky & Larkfur ( Kits ; Breezetail, Ravenbeak & Dustcloud )
  • Willowpelt & Ebonyheart ( Kits ; Brindlepaw & Rockpaw )
  • Goldenivy & Sunbreeze ( Kit ; Sunpaw )
  • Peatwhisker & Badgerclaw ( Kits ; Rabbitkit, Mudkit )
  • Whisperbreeze & Bearhowl ( Kits ; Tallkit, Lumpkit & Fadedkit )

Young Kin ; 

  • Whimperpaw, Fuzzypaw, Swiftpaw, Lovekit
  • Brindlepaw, Rockpaw
  • Rabbitkit, Mudkit

Half-Clan/Rogues/Loners/Cats swapping Clan's ;

  • Starrybreeze WindClan; transitioned into ThunderClan.
  • Goldenpaw — ThunderClan; half WindClan, half ThunderClan.

Adult Kin ; 

  • Breezetail & Ravenbeak & Dustcloud
  • Starrybreeze & Whisperbreeze & Ebonyheart
  • Torntalon & Dappledfeather
  • Stonecloud & Jaggedclaw & Leafwhisper
  • Badgerclaw & Bearhowl
  • Spottedmoon & Ashheart
  • Blackcloud, Flyleaf & Mousesnap

Sick Cats ; 

  • Spottedmoon: Still healing deadly injury.
  • Scarletfox: Still healing deadly injury.
  • Rockpaw: Minor injuries; exhaustion.
  • Owlfeather: Serious injuries.

Chapter Text

“I should have never come here,” a gray she - cat pants, shuddering once her body convulsed with yet another painful spasm. “I should have realized I was carrying kits, I should have stayed home.” A maw became parted in a soundless wail; agony clear by her twisted position.

The tom sitting beside her fiercely shook his head. “You had no idea, Willowpelt,” he argued, unsure as to how to ease her pain. They weren’t in WindClan’s familiar territory, nor were they were anywhere near it. The Tribe of Wailing Caverns was currently housing them; and their trip, albeit long, would have to be longer than it typically would be thanks Willowpelt's sudden kitting. 

His mate, blinded by agony, snarled at the tom. “Get the Iceteller!”

“He can’t come.” A second female voice sounded. Her scent, ThunderClan mixed with the Tribe’s thick, snowy scent, was strong. Yet he could smell underlying WindClan scent that would never truly leave her. She was born a WindClan cat, she would always be a WindClan cat. “But he told me to bring her these, Ebonyheart. So keep your fur on, mousebrain!” No one but his own littermate would speak to him in that tone. Though her tone was hard, her gaze glimmered with love.

Her pure black fur, identical to his own, was flecked with white spots. Their mother told them that she had named her daughter after the stars, and Silverpelt. Their father, on the other paw, had said that his daughters pelt was more unique than anything he had ever seen before. It was such a loss when she had left WindClan to go be with her mate in ThunderClan. Every day, he missed her terribly — even though he still had his other sister, Whisperbreeze, he would always miss her.

“Don’t call me a mousebrain, Starrybreeze.” Ebonyheart snapped. His patience was wearing thin, simply because he was so worried for his mate. “What will they do for her?”

Starrybreeze’s dark muzzle nosed the herbs closer to Willowpelt’s maw. “Help her milk come; help the kits come, you know. She - cat stuff,” settling down beside Willowpelt, Starrybreeze ran her tail down the kitting she-cats flank. “Don’t force it; they’ll come at their own pace.”

Before Willowpelt could spit out insults at the other she - cat, one of the Tribe’s kit mothers padded over. The creamy kit - mother set a wad of pale moss down, her dark gaze gentle. Eagerly, Willowpelt reached her head out, lapping at the moss thirstily. Creamy dipped her head, not saying a word as her tail flicked, summoning her own kit forward, whom was dragging a large stick in her teeny maw. “I brought you water, and a stick. When the kits come, you will need to bite down on the stick.” Her voice was accented, yet it still remained soft in the gathering darkness. “Fire,” she scolded, “get out of Willowpelt’s way!”

Her only kit, a bright fiery red she - cat with one white front paw, was leaning into Willowpelt’s nest. She was batting at the stray moss, her tiny claws growing closer and closer to Willowpelt’s damp nose. A wail of disappointment slipped from her maw as the kit mother picked her up, murmuring a quick apology to their visitors. 

“It’s okay, Creamy,” Willowpelt groaned, her tone managing to be fond. “She can stay — ”

“No, I’ll take her.” A young to - be answered, padding up to clustered cats. The cavern was hardly big enough for all of them. He was just made a to - be, seeing as how there was still kitten fluff around his ears. He was only a moon older than Fire, yet he acted as if he were moons older. Dislike sparked within those bright, azure hues, his tabby pelt being shaken out. “She shouldn’t be in the way, anyway.”

Fire, before her mother could reply, wriggled out from between Creamy’s paws and faced up to Slate. She was several mouse - lengths smaller than he was, yet she stood tall, and stared at him with angered mocha hues. “I don’t need you looking after me, Slate,” she snapped.

Someone needs to look after you — ”

“Yeah, but not you — ”

“Silence!” Creamy brushed her tail across her daughters maw. “Go elsewhere; this is not the time for one of your petty arguments,” she hissed. 

Aggravated, Fire stalked out with Slate following close behind her. Willowpelt rolled her eyes in amusement, then gaped in agony. Starrybreeze leaned even closer against her, urging that the kitting queen to eat more of the herbs. But she was past that point, she wouldn’t be able to stomach them. Creamy, sensing that there was nothing more that she could do, exited the tunnel with a swish of her plumy tail.

With a silent pang of amusement, Ebonyheart guessed that she was going to keep an eye on her kit and Slate — make sure that they didn't kill each other. His own relationship with Willowpelt started out like that: angry snapping, and always being annoyed with each other and hardly standing to be around each other. Look at them now! Kits on the way, and as close as ever. One day, Slate and Fire, would be closer than kits in the womb.

For hours, rain had been pounding down on the roof of the cavern. It was one of the reasons why they hadn't wanted to leave yet; for the past moon, rain had been continuously falling. The entire glacier - capped mountain was in full flood, making it far too dangerous to travel. If they were to try to leave down the path that they had taken, or any of the other paths, they would be washed away by the powerful floodwater. It’s happened before. Seasons ago, Clan and Tribe cats together out on a patrol had been washed away, presumably killed. None of them wanted to take that risk for fear of being unable to return home. 

Yet, the other problem was that the Clans back by the lake had to be suffering. Every fourth season, each Clan sent three warriors from each Clan to go visit their friends in the Tribe. After a few moons, their cats would come back and the process would repeat all over again.

But, this group would have been gone for close to two seasons. How badly were their Clans suffering because they didn't have all of their cats on hand? Though the typical Clan borders didn’t exist out here in the Tribe, Ebonyheart feared that ShadowClan would take advantage of their thinned ranks and launch another unjust attack.

As thunder crashed overhead, Willowpelt seized the stick in her mouth, a splintering noise sounding as the first kit slid out onto the moss. Starrybreeze quickly unwound herself from the trembling queen, nipping the kitting sac and licking the kits fur the wrong way. It was making an annoyed mewling noise, attempting to wriggle away from the other she - cat and closer to her mothers belly. 

“It’s a she - cat,” Starrybreeze purred, picking the kit up by her scruff and placing her down by Willowpelt’s belly as soon as she was sure that the kit was going to be fine. 

Ebonyheart nudged his sister out of the way, missing the look of amusement that she tossed him. He nosed his tiny daughter, happiness glowing within his chest. That little kit, only just born, instinctively knew to press against her mothers belly to feed. Her tiny paws were kneading Willowpelt’s thick pelt, an equally tiny purr rumbling within her chest. She was so small, so precious. And she was his daughter!

A stricken wail came from Willowpelt as her body seized up again, another soft plop sounded, and a second kit was born. Copying his sister, Ebonyheart crouched beside the kit, nipping the kitting sac and licking the kits fur the wrong way. It’s fur was damp against his tongue and it was cold, a little slimy too if he was being honest. A powerful wail split from the kits maw, causing Ebonyheart to chuckle. Already, his son was so powerful! 

Starrybreeze looked at the gathering family, dipping her head to her littermate before slipping out of the small cavern. Ebonyheart and Willowpelt were already curled up together, examining their tiny kits with curious eyes.

“One of both, just like we wanted,” Ebonyheart rasped his tongue over his mates ear.

“They’re both so beautiful.”

The she - cat, already curling up for a nice nap, looked exactly like a leopard described in the old tales. Her golden fur held light brown splotches, with darker brown spots in the middle. Her brother, on the other paw, was gray like his mother. His tabby fur was beginning to dry, ruffled up in multiple spots. As Willowpelt went to go lick his fur, he let out a growl. She stared down at him in shock, soon laughing. 

“He’s a fighter!”

“That’s my son,” Ebonyheart touched his nose to Willowpelt’s. “What do you want to name them?”

“Well . . . ” Willowpelt let her plumy tail rest on the she - cats back, frowning for a moment. “This one is Brindlekit,” her tail moved to touch her son, “and this one is Rockkit.”

“Brindlekit and Rockkit.” He stared down at them, a purr rumbling within his chest. “Beautiful. Beautiful names for beautiful kits.”

Chapter Text

“… And I had a dream about the Tribe; I had a dream that we both were there and we were hunting together in the snow and oh! Can you please tell me about them, and about everything there? Please?!” 

Brindlepaw tuned back in, a purr of affection rising in her throat at Sunkit’s words. She had long since tuned out of his long - winded one - sided explanation of his dreams, focusing more on her paws than whatever the lonesome kit was talking about. They had been close in the nursery, yes, but now she had her own responsibilities, and couldn’t afford to hang back with him. Not now, at least! She was waiting for Russetwhisker to tell her that it was time to hunt, he had promised her that by sunhigh they could go out and grab a few rabbits before battle training with Shimmertooth and Flypaw. She was far more excited for that than for listening to Sunkit.

“I’m sorry to be rude,” Brindlepaw began, touching her nose to Sunkit’s soft ear, “but I can’t spend all my time chatting with you,” she gently reminded. “I have to get to training. I’m not a kit anymore.”

Sunkit looked upset, his paws shifting. “Rabbitkit and Mudkit don’t want to play with me,” he mumbled. “They think that I’m too old to still be in there. Peatwhisker tells them to stop teasing me, but, it doesn’t do much.” He sat down, moving to put his head down on his paws. “Why couldn’t Diamondstar make me an apprentice with you and Rockpaw?” 

Her heart broke with pity for the young tom. Sunbreeze — Sunkit’s father — before he had died told Diamondstar that he didn’t want Sunkit becoming an apprentice until he was at least nine moons old. Diamondstar had been outraged of course, but respected the warriors last wishes. He had only been afraid for his son, wanting to protect him from the war that was currently brewing.

Tensions were rising between WindClan and ShadowClan, and had been for seasons now. Cinderstar and Diamondstar were at each others throats, hardly able to keep the peace at the Gathering’s, always snarling and growling veiled threats at each other. Over the past few moons, WindClan and ShadowClan had met in battle desperately; ready to kill each other to in order to stop the battles. Cinderstar wanted to expand his territory to past the lake and into WindClan’s territory, no mater what it took. No matter how much blood was shed, he was ready to sacrifice it all for his own greed.

Paws pounded outside the camp, and ThunderClan scent mingled with WindClan rolled into the camp. Larkfur, Jaggedclaw, Stonecloud, and Whitesky came barreling into camp, lips peeled back over their teeth and pacing anxiously. Behind them stood two ThunderClan cats named Cottontrail and Riverfoot, their pelts ruffled and reeking of sickness. It made Brindlepaw’s nose wrinkle.

Stonecloud’s paws thrummed over as he came over to Brindlepaw, his gray fur ruffled with anger. His yellow gaze locked onto her turquoise and he jerked his head towards her. “Go get Diamondstar; she should be in her den. Sunkit! Get back in the nursery; keep Rabbitkit and Mudkit occupied.” When Sunkit opened his mouth to protest, Stonecloud bared his teeth, having no patience for him. “Now.”

Not waiting around to see how Sunkit responded to the warriors orders, Brindlepaw took off towards Diamondstar’s den, squeezing into the entrance with ruffled fur. She could feel Diamondstar’s surprised gaze on her, and though she was embarrased, she would rather face the wrath of Diamondstar than Stonecloud. “Sorry to bother you and come in unannounced,” she apologized, “but ThunderClan cats are here, and they haven’t said why. I think they might want to talk to you,” she said nervously, her tailtip twitching. 

Brindlepaw had only been a ‘paw for about two moons or so; most of her kithood had been spent on a journey coming home from the Tribe of Wailing Caverns. Willowpelt, her mother, had been pregnant when she had traveled to the Tribe and had kitted during her stay. It had been three moons before she and her littermate Rockpaw were fit to travel, and another two spent coming home. Many times they had to stop because of the younger kits, needing to tend to their needs and Willowpelt’s drained strength before carrying on.

Diamondstar narrowed her bright yellow gaze in consideration. Grunting, the lithe silver she - cat rose to her paws, following after Brindlepaw with a blank expression. Every time Brindlepaw saw the ugly pink scar lining the width of her leaders muzzle, she was still shocked by it. Diamondstar was shorter than most WindClan cats, and she was thin, but she was strong and fit. This scar was just one of the many she bore on her pelt, but it was shocking, and must have been painful to receive. Confidently, Diamondstar moved into the camp, her gaze glinting with hostility at the ThunderClan cats. 

“What does Morningstar want from us?” She growled, her tone demanding.

Cottontrail, the long - furred, fluffy white tom with dark yellow hues stood taller with his shoulders fully set back. He dipped his broad head respectfully to Diamondstar, but he was not intimidated by her. Brindlepaw had seen him at Gathering’s before; he was a senior warrior, and he was intimidating. He may intimidate other cats, but he wasn’t easy to be intimidated.

“Morningstar needs catmint,” he answered simply, tossing a dark look at his companion when she strode forward and spoke.

“Treetail is dead, and more will follow if you do not give us some,” she pleaded. Though Brindlepaw didn’t know Riverfoot well, the she - cat seemed kind; her plain dark brown fur was spiked, and her emerald gaze was wild with desperation. She seemed kind - hearted, too trusting of her WindClan neighbors.

Whiskerheart came dashing out of the medicine den, his gaze darkened with grief. The old tom was lurching on his paws. “What? Treetail is dead?” The white - and - gray splotchy medicine cat gaped, his cerulean hues wide. “She can’t be, that’s impossible!”

Ashpaw, his apprentice, followed more slowly. Her plumy tail gently rested on her mentors shoulder, her gaze uncharacteristically sad. “StarClan calls us all eventually,” she murmured. “Can we give them catmint, Diamondstar? Please?” Her eyes, like twin emeralds, filled with the same desperation as Riverfoot’s.

Diamondstar shifted her paws, uncertainty flashing in her eyes. She shot a dark look at Ashpaw, who shrunk underneath it. “Shadeclaw!” She finally snapped out, summoning her deputy. “I need to talk to you. Skyheart, Russetwhisker and Whiskerheart; come join us.” She lashed her tail, ducking back into her den. Shadeclaw and Russetwhisker ducked out of the warriors den, hurrying after their leader, whilst Whiskerheart and Skyheart followed more slowly. Ashpaw looked uncomfortable from her silent scolding and returned to the medicine den, her tail tucked between her legs.

“Sit,” Stonecloud ordered to the two ThunderClan cats, gesturing for them to sit beside the entrance. Larkfur, Jaggedclaw and Whitesky set down their prey on the pile, sharing a long look with Stonecloud before heading back out. They were obviously upset, wanting to know what was going to happen with the ThunderClan cats, but the patrols had to continue on as normal.

Silence blanketed the camp, and seemed to last forever. The ThunderClan cats were pressed together, their pelts brushing, and Stonecloud sat nearby. His yellow eyes were narrowed to slits, watching Diamondstar’s den with an intensity that shocked Brindlepaw. She could hear the low murmur of their voices, and Whiskerheart’s pleading tone, but she couldn’t make out their exact words. 

“Rabbit - dung!” Spat a voice from the apprentices den, and Spottedpaw came stomping out, his spotted fur bristling and his tail lashing. “I overslept again! Shaggyjaw is going to kill me!” 

“He’s out on a border patrol,” Brindlepaw soothed. “He wanted you to sleep in after that late hunting patrol; you did bring back more than the warriors did, after all.” She ran her tail down his spine, smoothing down the bristled fur. He closed his eyes, groaning. “Grab a thrush or something; eat, he’ll be back.”

Spottedpaw sniffed, his tawny gaze glimmering as his eyes reopened. “Fine.” He spotted the ThunderClan cats, and then looked over at Brindlepaw with a questioning expression. “What are they doing here?” He angled his ears at them, lowering his voice.

Brindlepaw did well to follow the suit. “They want catmint,” she murmured. She could see Cottontrail’s ears prick, swiveling to their direction. “Their medicine cat already died from greencough.”

“Tough,” Spottedpaw’s voice was unsympathetic. “As long as they don’t spread it here,” he stretched, sinking his long claws into the ground. 

“Have you no empathy?” Brindlepaw pressed. “Don’t you feel bad for them since they lost their medicine cat?”

“She won’t be lost forever,” Ashpaw padded over, closing in on Spottedpaw’s other side and pressing against her littermate. Her gray paws were stained green. “Fallshine will get to see her in StarClan again, and so will Sweetpaw.” She frowned. “But you should have some empathy, Spottedpaw. You can’t be so cold all the time.”

Spottedpaw affectionately touched his maw to his sisters ear. “You got all the empathy for both of us,” he murmured, then rose to his paw as Shaggyjaw, Scarletfox and Ravenbeak came into camp, prey crammed into their jaws. 

Shaggyjaw’s eyes lit up as he spotted Spottedpaw, immediately bounding over to him after he had set his prey down. 

“I thought you were on a border patrol?” Spottedpaw queried. 

“Shadeclaw said that we have to start hunting now, so we can stock up for the rest of leaf - bare.” Shaggyjaw’s tail lashed. “We’re going out again.” 

Spottedpaw rose to his paws, stretching again. “Sounds good to me. Where will we hunt?”

“Down by the lake; just for a solo hunt before we meet back up with Leafwhisper and Blackpaw. Mousepaw will be joining us, too. Diamondstar wants him to get some experience, he’s been missing out since he sprained his paw.” Shaggyjaw began limping to the entrance, Spottedpaw waving his tail in farewell as he followed.

Just as they left, Diamondstar, Whiskerheart and the senior warriors came out of her den, looking calm and determined. The silver she - cat beckoned that Cottontrail and Riverfoot to come forward so that they were standing nose - to - nose with each other.

“I will give Morningstar and Fallshine catmint on one condition: ThunderClan forks over the territory with the stream, so that WindClan will control both sides.” Diamondstar’s voice was calm and steady, unflinching when Riverfoot bared her teeth in a angered snarl. “Remember that it is not your decision to make; it is Morningstar’s. Bring my words back to him, and tell him that I’m sorry for ThunderClan’s loss.” 

Flicking her tail, Diamondstar cut across the ThunderClan warriors protests. “Bearhowl, Brackenfoot, Mysterypelt, and Dusktail; escort our visitors out of the territory. Make sure they get back to ThunderClan territory without any problems.” 

The cats that Diamondstar summoned came shuffling forward, but Cottontrail snarled at the large escort, causing Bearhowl to growl warningly. “But we need that catmint!” Riverfoot was protesting, her voice fading away as they got farther from the camp.

Ashpaw hung her head. “Diamondstar shouldn’t have requested the territory; Morningstar will never go for it.”

“Like this?” Brindlepaw called, shoving her chest closer to the ground as Russetwhisker shook his head, growing more and more frustrated with his apprentice. 

“No! Lift your tail, and raise your chest a bit more. You can’t let it brush against the ground!” The ginger tom snapped, his bushy tail lashing. 

A growl rose inside of Brindlepaw’s throat, but she refused to let herself get too frustrated with her mentor. Letting awareness spread over her muscles, she raised herself up less then a mouse - length, bunching her muscles tighter and lifting her tail. She hesitated a brief moment, lunging at Flypaw. She landed on the other apprentices belly, playfully battering her soft fur with her paws.

“Better!” Russetwhisker yowled, looking happier. “So much better!”

“You even manage to surprise me this time,” Flypaw panted, admiration glowing within her bright cyan eyes. The older apprentice was so pretty, even as disheveled as she was. “I’ve never gotten that move down before!” The dappled - tawny she - cat confessed, looking back at Shimmertooth. 

Shimmertooth blinked, her tabby gray pelt becoming alight with sparkles in the final setting rays. “We’ll practice it tomorrow; we can spend all day working on it, if you wish. The light is dying, Russetwhisker. It’s time to get back to camp.”

Together, all four cats headed back to the direction of WindClan’s camp. Flypaw darted after a mouse that caught her attention, but otherwise, they returned with no prey other than that. As soon as they got into camp, although, Brindlepaw could taste blood in the air. Russetwhisker could scent it too, for his hackles were spiked when they squeezed inside.

“What happened?” Brindlepaw asked as she padded up to her littermate, who was pacing around his mentor, Blueeye. They were sitting in the middle of camp, Blueeye patiently watching Rockpaw’s every move.

“You know the cats that Diamondstar sent after the ThunderClan cats?” Rockpaw returned the question, his ears pricked towards the medicine den.

“Bearhowl, Brackenfoot, Mysterypelt and Dusktail?” Brindlepaw recalled, her gaze searching for the patrol. She couldn't see them anywhere.

Rockpaw’s dark gaze danced in the gathering dusk. “Well, Riverfoot and Cottontrail turned on the patrol as they left the territory! Mysterypelt got Riverfoot good, but because they were surprised, they weren’t able to protect themselves as well as they should have. Whiskerheart and Ashpaw are so angry at having to deal with wounds now. Apparently their stocks for infections and stuff are low.”

“Let all cats old enough to hunt rabbits gather here beneath me!” Diamondstar yowled as she leaped on top of a short outcrop on top of her den, her pelt bristling with anger. Once the entire Clan had gathered, which didn’t take too long, she started speaking. Her voice was tight and her tail was lashing. “Cottontrail and Riverfoot turned on the patrol when they were escorting them home,” she began, her voice an angry drawl. Everyone must know why the ThunderClan cats were there if Diamondstar wasn’t offering an explanation. “We must retaliate! We need that territory more than ever; we need the herbs that it has, and the prey that it can offer us. The senior warriors, Shadeclaw and I have discussed this: we will make our threat at dawn.”

The cats beneath her began cheering, and Diamondstar waved her tail to silence them. News must have spread of Diamondstar's demand, and of the ThunderClan cats request for herbs.

“Ravenbeak, you and Breezetail will meet the pre - dawn ThunderClan patrol on the other side of the border. Tell them what is going to happen, and tell them that we will take that territory. Whitesky, Spottedpaw, Flypaw, Sheephoof, Shimmertooth, Shaggyjaw, Skinnyfoot, Skyheart, Blueeye, Mousepaw, Owlfeather, Rabbitclaw, Eaglestep, Larkfur, Leafwhisker, Blackpaw, Jaggedclaw, Russetwhisker and Brindlepaw will be standing on the other side of the bank when ThunderClan come to meet us.” 

Excitement coursed through Brindlepaw as she rose to her paws, tilting her head back in a joyful yowl. Her voice rose with the voices of the other cats chosen, and the support of their Clanmates whom would stay behind. Immediately, Russetwhisker leapt to his paws, trotting over to Brindlepaw with his bushy tail lashing in concern. 

“All of the cats chosen need to do as follows: eat, go to sleep as soon as you can, and then get herbs from Whiskerheart and Ashpaw at dawn. Every other cat will proceed as usual; I will remain in camp to preform deputy duties, and Shadeclaw will go with the battle patrol to direct them, and make sure things go smoothly.” With that, Diamondstar was finished. Her silver tail lashed and she jumped down onto the ground, mingling amongst her Clanmates and barking out orders for specific cats. 

Russetwhisker got her attention then, his tail trailing under her chin.

“Look, Brindlepaw; this is your first real battle. I don’t want you taking any risks or doing anything stupid.” He directed. “If there is another cat that is bigger than you, do not attack them. They will bat you away in a heartbeat and you will get injured. WindClan needs you now, okay?” Her mentor touched his nose to hers. “You’ll be fine, as long as you remember your training.”

The ginger tom padded away, going over to share a piece of prey and tongues with her parents. Ebonyheart and Willowpelt waved their tails at her, and Brindlepaw made a mental reminder to join them tomorrow to share tongues and news.

You got chosen for the battle?!” Rockpaw growled, turning onto Brindlepaw with wide eyes. “I’m jealous!”

Rubbing her maw against his, Brindlepaw began purring. “You’ll have your turn soon,” she promised. “Against ShadowClan, where the real enemies are!”

“Yeah, right,” he grumbled, but rubbed back against her anyway. “I’m going to go get a mouse; wanna share?”

“I don’t want you to go!” Swiftkit was wailing at Owlfeather as soon as Rockpaw was finished speaking. 

“I have to go,” Owlfeather licked Swiftkit's ears. “I’ll be back in the morning before you even knew I was gone.”

“I’ll miss you,” Fuzzykit whimpered, leaning heavily against her mothers legs.

Rockpaw parting from her side and heading over to the fresh - kill pile to grab a mouse distracted her from Owlfeather and her kits. She watched as he narrowly dodged Flypaw, who spat in shock once Rockpaw trod over her tender tailtip, but went to join her own littermates as soon as she lost sight of him in the throng of cats. Looking upset over how he had hurt Flypaw, he groaned as he sat next to Brindlepaw, setting the mouse between them.

With their pelts brushing, Rockpaw and Brindlepaw shared their mouse in silence, then moving to share tongues after until they were both drowsy. She made sure Rockpaw’s fur was finally flat and clean before deciding to move into the apprentices den, curling up in her nest with Rockpaw pressed in on one side of her, and Blackpaw on the other.

A paw jabbing in her side woke Brindlepaw.

Startled, the she - cat opened her eyes to see Spottedpaw staring down at her, his eyes like twin moons. He gestured for silence with his swiveling ears, and she rose to her paws, choosing to stretch outside as opposed in the apprentice den and wake the other apprentices. 

Flypaw, Mousepaw, and Blackpaw were already up, sitting together with their pelts brushing. They were all littermates; just a moon younger than Spottedpaw and Ashpaw. She wasn’t surprised that those four were chosen for the patrol, but she still couldn’t get over the fact that she had been chosen! She was only two moons into her apprenticeship. What made Diamondstar want to pick her?

“Eat these,” Ashpaw murmured, setting a leafwrap down in front of Brindlepaw. “These will give you strength. I suggest eating something before you go, although; it never hurts.” The she - cat flicked her tail over Brindlepaw’s ear before going to deliver more wraps to the warriors that were still waking.

Personally, Brindlepaw didn’t think that she would be able to eat. But she lapped up the bitter leaves anyway and ended up choosing a skinny pigeon from the pile. She picked it at while more warriors filed out, receiving their wraps and standing together by the entrance. 

Spottedpaw was standing beside Shaggyjaw, Flypaw beside Shimmertooth, Blackpaw beside Leafwhisper, and Mousepaw beside Skyheart. The senior warrior was murmuring in Mousepaw’s ear, his tail twitching with each word. 

Willowpelt and Ebonyheart hurried out to the patrol, wrapping their tails around Brindlepaw’s shoulders. “Good luck,” her mother breathed in her ear, gently licking the spot between her ears. 

“StarClan will be watching over you; they will bring you back.” Ebonyheart pressed against Brindlepaw’s other side, his purr loud.

“Thanks. I’m excited to participate in my first battle!” Brindlepaw leaned against her mother, reassured suddenly.

“Are you scared?” Willowpelt looked and sounded anxious.

Brindlepaw’s gaze softened. “Of course I’m scared; I’ve never been more scared in my life! But as you said, StarClan willing, I’ll come back partially unharmed.” Sliding out from between them, she touched noses with each of her parents before padding to join Russetwhisker.

The ginger tom was standing beside Eaglestep, chatting about battle techniques with the younger warrior. Both toms were clearly excited; their claws were scoring deep lines into the soft earth, and their pelts were bristling.

“Are you ready, Brindlepaw?” Russetwhisker asked once he sensed her presence. He didn’t turn to look at her.

“I’m ready.” She answered firmly. “Don’t take on anyone bigger than me; don’t take any risks, and if I need to, flank a warrior to keep myself safe.” 

Russetwhisker beamed proudly. “Good; you’ll do fine.”

“WindClan!” Shadeclaw yowled. “Are you ready?”

The gathered WindClan cats cheered, and Shadeclaw flicked his tail, letting Ravenbeak and Breezetail duck past them to intercept a ThunderClan patrol. Brindlepaw’s gaze followed the two warriors who broke off to jump over the heather, disappearing over one of the many ridges that their territories held. 

Bunching her muscles to follow the rest of her patrol, Brindlepaw kept in stride with Russetwhisker, her legs burning with the effort of keeping up with the longer - legged warrior. He kept flashing amused glances at her, and then slowed so that he could keep in time with her without having her use up all her precious strength in one go.

“We’ll sit on ThunderClan’s side of the bank before they arrive,” he explained to her, hardly breathless. “Hopefully, we can avoid major injuries, and push them back into their own territory.”

Owlfeather, whom was only a few tail - lengths ahead of them, snorted. “It’s ThunderClan’s territory we’re going to push them back into; they know it better than us. Experience shows that they’ll turn it around on us so that we’re the ones getting tripped up by the brambles, and not them,” she pointed out, not unkindly. “We have to be ready for that.”

Leafwhisper gave an amused mew. “They’ll have just as much trouble as we do,” she purred, nudging Blackpaw back into place as he stumbled.

“We can only do as much as we can,” Russetwhisker murmured, his tone silently saying that they should drop the subject. 

The entire patrol slowed as they came upon the high bank that led down to the stream, all of the WindClan cats ready to align themselves to intimidate the ThunderClan warriors. Brindlepaw enjoyed the feeling of the wind whistling through her fur, her eyes slipping shut. She could never live under the canopy of trees; she would never live well with forest prey, and with the undergrowth blocking the feeling and the scent of the wind. She would always feel trapped; unable to run through the patches of heather and peat; using each as a marker to how far she’s ran. She didn’t know how ThunderClan stood it, being kept from the sun and Silverpelt for so long. 

“Relax,” Russetwhisker whisked his tail across her flank as they leaped over the stream, climbing the bank so that they could bypass the ThunderClan scent markers. “Don’t look threatening; they’ll take that as a sign that you’re far more hostile than they are. Just stand beside Blackpaw and I, you’ll be okay.”

For a long time, the WindClan cats stood in formation; warriors standing shoulder - to - shoulder, bristling and snarling at every rustle in the ferns. They remained tense until ThunderClan came thrashing through the undergrowth, their pelts bristling and standing to face the WindClan warriors.

A warrior named Thrushwing came up to Shadeclaw, standing nose - to - nose to him. The domestic brown tom was bristling, angrily glaring at the deputy. “You can’t expect to take our territory and win,” he snarled.

Brindlepaw’s gaze slipped from warrior to warrior. She recognized Cloudsong, Moonyelp, Dogbreath, Sandpurr and Ashheart; the only warriors to come to fight.

“I think this is an ambush,” Brindlepaw hissed to Russetwhisker, who flicked his tail in acknowledgment. “Look, they only brought six warriors. Where is the rest of their patrol?” Her mentors eyes were wide as he stared at her before he pieced it all together himself. The senior warrior turned to pass it to Owlfeather, who bristled with shock before passing it down the line.

Tasting the air, Brindlepaw hesitated. She could scent more ThunderClan scent on the air, but she couldn’t figure out who was whom; each scent was jumbled and confusing, making her head begin to ache.

Shadeclaw narrowed his eyes, flattening his ears to his skull. “We need this territory; we were prepared to bargain!” 

“We got help from RiverClan,” Thrushwing spat back, and then yowled.

At once, the area exploded into shrieks and caterwauls. Russetwhisker was wrestling with Dogbreath; the two toms were rolling around in the leafmulch, their maws embedded in each others necks. Owlfeather had Ashheart already pushed back into the brambles; her forepaws lashing so quickly and startling the ThunderClan warrior. Ashheart was trying to duck and avoid the blows, but Owlfeather was fighting for her kits. Her paws were striking with a fury Brindlepaw couldn’t understand.

Brindlepaw hesitated, her body lowering to the ground, unsure of who to attack first or who to help first. WindClan were already winning; they had the ThunderClan warriors beaten back. But, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Thrushwing wriggle out from underneath Skinnyfoot, lunging up onto a low branch of a oak tree and caterwauling an awful sound.

More ThunderClan warriors burst through the undergrowth. The ThunderClan deputy, Chidingbird, lunged onto Shadeclaw, hauling him off of Sandpurr. The two deputy’s were a shrieking mass of fur, tearing pawfuls of fur out from each others pelts. 

I was right! She longed to yowl, but kept her maw shut for fear of drawing unwanted attention to herself.

Reedwind tackled Russetwhisker, holding her mentor down and digging his hindclaws into his spine. Bristling with rage, Brindlepaw lunged onto the skinny ThunderClan warriors shoulders, digging her claws deep into his pelt and tearing her claws down his spine. He screeched around a mouthful of Russetwhisker’s fur, twisting off of her mentor; tossing Brindlepaw onto the hard ground.

Grunting, Brindlepaw rose, gaping at the bloodbath unfurling. Thistledown and Lostclaw had Rabbitclaw and Blackpaw nearing the edge of the stream; both warriors were beginning to lose their balance. Runningfang, Hazelfern and Markingleaf were attacking Sheephoof, Shaggyjaw and Shimmertooth; all six of them a yowling mess. Flypaw and Mousepaw had a blood - coated warrior backing into the undergrowth, and hope blossomed in her chest again. They could win, if they just tried hard enough!

Her turquoise gaze was drawn to a gold pelt drawing around the clearing, using his stealthiest hunting crouch to move undetected. He seemed ready to jump on Spottedpaw, so Brindlepaw made sure she was faster.

Drawing her muscles underneath her, Brindlepaw pounced; landing squarely on Lionpaw’s square shoulders. The ThunderClan apprentice gasped, clearly shocked at Brindlepaw’s brazen attack.

“Don’t you touch a hair on my denmates pelt!” Brindlepaw snarled in his ear, raking her long, curved claws down his spine. 

This time, Brindlepaw was prepared when Lionpaw dropped. He rolled; aiming to crush Brindlepaw underneath him and make her lose her grasp, but she clung on, enduring the agony of Lionpaw’s greater weight. Her teeth were sunken deep into his scruff, taking hot, coppery blood in her mouth. She could hardly stand to breathe around him crushing her and his blood spurting into her maw.

Shrieking, Lionpaw struggled to throw her off; but he wasn’t able to dislodge her. Brindlepaw was still having trouble breathing, his ThunderClan stench rank in her nose and stinging. She wanted to let him fling her off, but instead, she sprang off; landing on her paws a few mousetail - lengths away. Clearly focused, she began landing sharp blows on his muzzle; aiming to nip his forelegs.

But Lionpaw was older and more experienced. He gave an enraged snarl as he drew up onto his hindpaws, exposing his soft belly. Brindlepaw took advantage of his momentary weakness, and dove; dragging her claws through his thick pelt and scoring down his flank. 

The golden apprenticed screeched in agony, rolling onto the forest floor. Leaping onto his shoulder, Brindlepaw sank her claws into his shoulder, careful to show that this was it. “Go back to your camp,” she hissed. “Our battle is over!”

As she leaned all of her weight back, Lionpaw scrambled to his paws and darted back into the thick of the battle, his tail fluffed out and streaming out behind him. She managed to beat a ThunderClan apprentice! 

Exhausted, Brindlepaw sat back on her haunches, her eyes wide with pride. WindClan were winning! ThunderClan still didn’t have enough warriors to outmatch them; now that WindClan had recovered from the surprise attack, they were ready and eagerly fighting back.

Horror replaced the exhaustion as an unfamiliar yowl caught her attention. Morningstar stood, the bushes held back by his strong shoulders, glaring at the WindClan warriors with poorly disguised fury. With a lash of his tail, he signaled that the warriors he had brought with him should stream down and join the fray.

Immediately, the tides of the battles turned in ThunderClan’s favor.

Morningstar gave a might leap, and he hauled Shadeclaw off of Chidingbird, aiding his deputy to his paws and stopping to check that he was okay before leaping back into the battle.

Gorsebriar, Tigertail, Panthershadow, Twistedfang, Hawkcloud, Barknose and Tawnypaw joined in as well, helping their Clanmates steadily push the WindClan warriors back towards the stream where they would have no choice but to either fight back, or jump.

Being faced with Hawkcloud, the she - cats face twisted into an ugly snarl, Brindlepaw began backing up; her ears flattening against her skull in fear. The ThunderClan she - cat immediately stopped when she saw how young Brindlepaw was, her face softening. “Go home, kit,” was all she said before bounding away, helping Panthershadow drive Whitesky and Leafwhisker towards the stream.

Though the two she - cats battled bravely, they were exhausted. With horrified glances, they turned and ran back down the bank, their tails streaming out behind them as they fled. Shaggyjaw joined them, Spottedpaw clutched in his maw. Her dentate was unmoving as he dangled in Shaggyjaw’s maw, weakly crying out when his mentor jostled him.

Movement caught her eyes as Shadeclaw dove towards Morningstar, his long claws scoring deep into the leaders chest. Choking, the golden tom stumbled back and collapsed, blood gushing from the wound. Within moments, he grew still; his wheezing breaths coming to an ominous end.

All cats stopped fighting once they realized what Shadeclaw had done. The deputy stood, unmoving, by Morningstar’s corpse. “WindClan, retreat,” he rasped, backing away and bounding down the bank, waiting for his Clanmates to join him.

The rest of the WindClan cats followed him, and Brindlepaw felt herself get swept up by Russetwhisker. Her mentor was half - carrying her and half - guiding her back over the stream, his pelt standing on end and eyes wild with fury.

Only one thought remained inside of Brindlepaw’s head.

We lost!

Chapter Text

“Brindlepaw!” Rockpaw came running out to meet the patrol, weaving around the edge to find his littermate. His tabby gray pelt started bristling with shock once he saw how many were injured, and how many were looking so defeated. It was evident by their dragging paws and their lowered tails that the battle had not gone in their favor. “You lost?!”

Still leaning heavily on Russetwhisker, the she - cat nodded. Her throat felt dry. “They ambushed us,” she rasped. “Twice. They brought six warriors to face us, and then they brought another patrol with more warriors when the tides turned. We were winning for a while, but they just . . . surprised us. They have undergrowth in their territory to hide in, we don’t.” She stumbled, and Russetwhisker grabbed her scruff to keep her from falling over completely. Exhaustion radiated throughout her entire body, and she longed to curl up in her nest for the next moon.

Her littermate gasped in horror as he saw Shaggyjaw and Spottedpaw. The eldest apprentice was still being carried by his mentor, with Blueeye running along side of them, keeping Spottedpaw’s long legs from bumping against the ground and jostling him. But, every time Shaggyjaw stumbled, the young apprentice weakly moaned. Blood oozed onto the ground with each step. Spottedpaw's blood just sloshed out, making Brindlepaw’s stomach churn. He seemed to be hardly breathing.

As they drew closer to the camp entrance, Whiskerheart and Ashpaw squeezed out, both yowling in shock. Immediately snapping out of it, Ashpaw pushed Blueeye away from Shaggyjaw and Spottedpaw, gaping at the state of her littermate. Her eyes were wide, maw parted. She snapped out of it again, knowing that Spottedpaw was in too much danger for her to be frozen.

“Take him straight to the medicine den; go, Shaggyjaw!” Ashpaw ordered, turning to Shadeclaw. She nosed through the deputies pelt before relaxing. “Go to the warriors den; I’ll get you later.” Raising her voice, Ashpaw addressed all of them. “Every cat with minor injuries, go to the warriors den. Anyone with a wound still bleeding, go to the medicine den. We’ll treat you according to the severity of the wounds!”

Lowering her voice, Ashpaw turned to Whiskerheart, her pelt bristling. As Brindlepaw padded inside, she could hear the apprentices words. “. . . not enough herbs to treat everyone; have to go through the territory again, see if we can find more.

“My baby!” Dappledfeather squeezed out of the elders den, lurching into the medicine den right behind Shaggyjaw. Firefur followed her, both elders horrified at the state of their son.

Subconsciously, Brindlepaw stumbled to where her parents were sharing tongues, immediately slumping down beside them. Though they appeared to be so calm, their ears were pricked; swiveled towards the entrance to the camp. They were not as distraught as the rest of their Clanmates.

Willowpelt leapt to her paws when she saw the blood on Brindlepaw’s fur, sniffing her daughters pelt. “Are you okay?” She asked. “Wounded?” Her mother began desperately searching her pelt, looking for any large wound that needed attention right away. “Where is all this blood coming from?”

Ebonyheart gently began lapping at a long claw wound on her shoulder, and Brindlepaw stirred with discomfort. “It’s already stopped bleeding,” he murmured. “You’ll be fine, just go see Ashpaw and Whiskerheart when you get a chance. Can’t afford to get an infection,” his dark gaze glinted knowingly.

Her mother began fretting, nosing Brindlepaw’s wound and rasping her tongue over her daughters ears. “Just rest now,” she urged, but Brindlepaw shook her off.

“No, no; I want to be moving.” The she - cat rose to her paws, stretching her sore muscles out. They clicked back into place, and she paused, feeling fresh blood ooze out from the wound in her shoulder. “I want to hunt.”

Respect glowed within Ebonyheart’s eyes. “Be careful,” the warrior warned. “Take Rockpaw and another apprentice with you.” His tail lashed once, and he nuzzled his daughter before heading towards Shadeclaw. The way his tail was kinked over his back let Brindlepaw know that he was going to have strong words with the deputy.

“Take it easy,” Willowpelt warned, her amber gaze flashing. She licked Brindlepaw’s ear, love warming her expression. “It was your first battle, and it was a lot, from what I've heard already. I’m serious, take it easy. Rest when you need to. No one will think any less. You’re still young enough.”

Flicking her tail and saying goodbye to her mother, Brindlepaw padded towards her littermate, brushing her pelt against his. He grimaced at the way she seemed to spread the blood on her own fur to his. “Want to go hunting?”

Rockpaw got to his paws, nodding. “Of course! Shadeclaw is sending out hunting and border patrols, so as long as we tell our mentors where we’re going, I’m sure we can go.”

“Willowpelt and Ebonyheart said that we have to take another apprentice with us,” Brindlepaw stopped her littermate from leaving. “Who do you want to take?”

“Mousepaw?” Rockpaw asked, flicking his tail to the older brown - and - cream apprentice. “The others are probably tired; plus, he’s a good hunter. He doesn't seem to be wounded too badly, either.” The gray tom padded over to him, murmuring in the older toms ear. Mousepaw nodded, finishing his mouse, and then padding over to where Brindlepaw sat. “Diamondstar is still in her den with Shadeclaw, so, he’s just going to tag along.”

Brindlepaw twitched her ear. “Fine. Go tell Blueeye, and I’ll go tell Russetwhisker.” 

Russetwhisker was sitting by the warriors den, his head tilted to the sky as he sunned himself a weak ray of sunshine. Her mentor didn’t look tired, and his fur was crusted with dried blood that he didn’t seem to have gotten around to grooming it yet. He was missing fur along his shoulders and his flanks, and he had long claw marks where the fur was missing, yet he wasn’t bleeding. One yellow eye slid open as he scented her, his gaze drawing over the wound on her shoulder. He didn't rise to his paws.

“You fought well,” he commented. “Thank you for dragging Reedwind off of me. It gave me the chance to recover, and a chance to send him squealing back to ThunderClan.”

Shyly, Brindlepaw dipped her head. “I couldn’t stand watching him rip into you,” she mewed. “It wasn’t fair. I figured that I should do something to stop it,” She licked in between her claws, pulling a stray tuft of golden fur out. It tasted strongly of ThunderClan.

“I saw your fight with Lionpaw,” Russetwhisker looked impressed. “You were fierce; you sent him back into the battle with a few wounds to remember you by. Good job, Brindlepaw,” he sat his maw down on top of her head, and Brindlepaw purred so loudly that she thought everyone in camp could hear. “Get that scratch looked at, and keep yourself out of trouble. I’ll take you for battle training tomorrow, see if we can perfect more of those moves you used. Now, why did you come over here? I know it wasn’t to check up on your dear old mentor,” the ginger tom flicked her flank, clearly waiting for her to speak up. He had a way of knowing when she wanted to ask questions and when she wanted just talk without her even saying something.

“Do you mind if Mousepaw, Rockpaw and I go hunt? We’re doing no good sitting around camp.”

“Alright; stay away from the lake. Diamondstar doesn’t want any apprentice getting too close to ShadowClan’s territory, and give them any excuse to attack us. Tell Shadeclaw where you’re going.” 

Brindlepaw nodded. “You got it. I’ll bring you back something nice,” she promised.

“Give it to Peatwhisker instead!” Russetwhisker called, and Brindlepaw waved her tail to show that she had heard.

“Stonecloud! Take Dustcloud, Ravenbeak, Breezetail and Badgerclaw to do a border patrol.” Shadeclaw ordered as he came out from Diamondstar's den. “Bearhowl, you good? Good. Take Flypaw, Dusktail, Blackpaw, and Mysterypelt to hunt. Scarletfox, I want you to lead a patrol to our border with RiverClan. Take Brackenfoot, Willowpelt, Ebonyheart and Owlfeather with you. Everyone is going to be stretched a bit thin today; many cats will be doing extra patrols!” He yowled after the retreating warriors.

Then Shadeclaw carried on once he realized that the warriors weren't listening. His tail gestured towards the apprentices. “Rabbitclaw, you and Eaglestep go find these herbs for Ashpaw and Whiskerheart.” Shadeclaw nudged the herbs in front of the warriors. “See these? Get their scent, and feel them; think you can find them?”

Rabbitclaw sniffed both, and then he nodded. “I can find them for sure,” he confirmed. His nose was twitching.

“Good, go.” Shadeclaw flicked his tail, dismissing the warriors.

Brindlepaw bounded up to the deputy, who turned to look at her with a curious expression. “Mousepaw, Rockpaw and I are going to go hunt. Not near the lake; Russetwhisker already said that we should stay away from it so that we don’t antagonize the ShadowClan cats. Can we go?”

The deputy nodded. “Be back before sunhigh. Diamondstar is going to hold a meeting, and wants to talk about what we will discuss tomorrow night at the Gathering.”

“Got it,” she flicked her tail, spotting Rockpaw pad back from talking to Blueeye. “We’re good to go!” She purred to her littermate, and he nodded.

“Just have to be back by sunhigh.”

“I wonder what Diamondstar will say . . . ?”

“I don’t know, maybe tell us that we shouldn’t say a lot about the battle?” Rockpaw gestured towards Mousepaw, bringing the brown - and - cream tom over. “That would make sense.”

Mousepaw looked curious. “Who do you think Diamondstar will pick to go to the Gathering?”

The three ‘paws squeezed out, scenting Scartletfox’s patrol. The scents were already getting stale. “We should try hunting by the RiverClan border,” she mewed. “There’s no rabbits here right now, they’re all hiding in their burrows.” Her maw was still parted, drawing the mingled scents over her scent glands, but all she could smell was her Clanmates. “And I have no clue; who will even be fit to go?” Her words were met by silence, until Rockpaw spoke.

“ThunderClan are going to be very hostile,” Rockpaw nodded. “That was a good idea Brindlepaw, let’s go. Makes sense we could find more land prey over there.”

Together, the three cats padded after Scarletfox’s patrol, and Brindlepaw was the first to catch something. She managed to creep on a skinny thrush and take it by surprise; so she had left it in an abandoned warren after sniffing it out to make absolutely sure that it was abandoned. Mousepaw managed to kill a lean mouse, and a baby rabbit. Covering their prey up to make sure predators didn’t get to it, the three apprentices carried on.

Brindlepaw’s wound was beginning to ache from the constant movement, and she stopped every couple mouse - lengths to lick at it, discomfort sparking throughout her. She could manage a hunt, though, and then she would rest.

“Let’s hunt here,” Mousepaw decided once they came to a small copse that they shared with RiverClan, noting Brindlepaw’s wound with worry sparking in his gaze. “Split up?”

“No, I want to try group hunting; Blueeye said that I . . . wasn’t too good at it.” Rockpaw looked annoyed, but he brightened up. Within another moment, his gaze darkened again. “There isn’t a lot here, I can already smell it. How about we try a little competition, since there’s no way we can do a group hunt?” 

When Mousepaw and Brindlepaw nodded in agreement, Rockpaw carried on. “Solo hunting; see whomever can catch the most before the sun is . . . almost at its peak?” 

I’ll get the most prey,” Mousepaw boasted, and Rockpaw made a noise that sounded like a mixture of a snort and a laugh.

“Yeah, okay, Mousepaw. I’ve seen your hunting recently, so, go for it.” Rockpaw meowed. Her littermates fluffy tail lashed as he set off towards the border, and Brindlepaw couldn’t help but call after him.

“Don’t cross the scent lines!”

They don’t need another battle with another Clan; this spat with ThunderClan, and their almost war with ShadowClan is enough to last them for the next few seasons. Diamondstar had to be going out of her mind with stress. How did she manage to balance it all?

“I won’t!” Rockpaw yowled over his shoulder, but Brindlepaw felt a twinge of doubt. She trusted her brother, of course, but he was reckless. He’d be so engrossed in chasing a mouse that he would accidentally cross the border, and it would be just their luck that a RiverClan patrol would come by and attack three defenseless apprentices.

Heading a little deeper into the copse, Brindlepaw parted her maw, trying to distinguish the sharp scent of RiverClan and confusing forest scents. She didn’t like being unable to scent everything and figure out what each unfamiliar scent was. Though she did relish sometimes being underneath the shade of the trees and out of the sun every once in while, but the coolness and the constant silence of the forest would spook her. Everything was too loud, too dark; too unfamiliar. 

Subconsciously, Brindlepaw drew forward in her best hunting crouch, crunching the spine of a stringy mouse in between her teeth. She set it down, scraping some dirt over it before searching around for another. The one had been apart of a family; she could tell by the faint milk - scent on it’s raged fur. She would definitely win if she caught the entire family!

After heartbeats of sniffing around, and struggling to figure out where her mouse had come from, she ended up going after a baby magpie instead. She left feathers everywhere, but buried it with her mouse, pelt spiking with concern when she scented fox. 

Padding out from the copse and taking her prey with her, Brindlepaw sat with her tail curled around her paws and her prey beside her, seeing flashes of gray and brown - and - cream through the decaying foliage. Mousepaw was a good hunter, but he was always too quick on the kill; he pounced far too soon, and he landed too hard on his front paws. It was odd for an older apprentice to act like he was so new at hunting, but he needed practice. Diamondstar would have words with him about his crouches and his pouncing soon, once she had the time to focus on her apprentice.

“Guys!” Brindlepaw yowled when they still didn’t show, and the sun climbed higher in the sky. “We have to go back to camp!”

Mousepaw was the first cat to burst through the undergrowth. The tom had a few mice clutched in his maw, and a thrush tucked under his chin, he spotted her small pile and a look of triumph appeared in his yellow gaze. “I win!” He yowled, bouncing around on his paws, dropping his prey recklessly on the ground.

“Watch it,” Brindlepaw snapped. “You’ll bruise the prey! If you want to have Torntalon, Dappledfeather and Firefur growling about how tough the meat is, then be my guest.”

Rockpaw appeared after, looking as if he were overweight with prey. The tom set his down separate from Mousepaw's and Brindlepaw's, and then disappeared back into the undergrowth to collect whatever else he had caught.

Mousepaw and Brindlepaw both shared a long glance. “Well,” she mewed, “looks like we both lost.” She rose to her paws, sneaking a glance at the sky. “We need to get going; it's nearly sunhigh.”

“Soon,” Mousepaw promised. “Look, Rockpaw is coming back now.”

Her littermate was pushing through the undergrowth again. Though he was carrying less prey, he looked confident; sure of his abilities, and ready to rub it in the other two apprentices faces. 

Cutting across her brothers words before he could even get the chance to begin boasting, Brindlepaw spoke. “Let’s get back to camp, my wound is killing me and I want to hear what Diamondstar is going to say.”

Their trip back to camp was long, and by the time they finished bringing all of the prey back, Brindlepaw was heavily limping. Exhaustion radiated through her as she sat in the medicine den, letting Ashpaw clean her wound and put herbs on it.

“It smells a little sour,” Ashpaw murmured. “No battle training tomorrow, okay? You need rest. Lionpaw gave you a nasty scratch.”

“I gave him an even nastier one,” she muttered, but remained still. The herbs stung, and her muscles tensed, but a quick scolding from Ashpaw got her through the worst of the pain. 

Checking to make sure that Diamondstar was still in discussion with Shadeclaw and her senior warriors, Brindlepaw snagged one of the plump birds that Rockpaw had caught, feeling a pang in her chest. This would be one of the last pieces of plump prey that their territory would offer them. Figuring that Sunkit would like to eat, she also snagged a mouse, feeling how warm it was. Freshly caught; it would be a good meal for the kit.

The pain that previously flared through her shoulder was quelled by the herbs, so she hurried into the nursery, squeezing inside. Peatwhisker was curled up in her nest with Mudkit and Rabbitkit nestled beside her, and Sunkit was in his own nest. Swiftkit, Fuzzykit and Whimperkit were also in their own nests, soft snores coming from Swiftkit's maw. All seven of the cats were asleep, so Brindlepaw set the thrush down beside Peatwhisker and the mouse in front of Sunkit, whom was still sleeping.

“Thank you,” Peatwhisker mouthed as she lifted her head.

Happily, Brindlepaw flicked her tail and headed out of the den. She was just in time, too; Diamondstar was jumping up and all of the WindClan cats, aside from the cats in the nursery, were gathered to hear her talk.

“Let all cats old enough to catch prey gather!” Diamondstar called as she settled on her perch, turning the cats attention to her. They were already all in the clearing, and Ashpaw and Whiskerheart had finally managed to get to all of the wounded warriors. Every cat who had participated in the battle had sticky green poultices on their fur, and they looked exhausted, but they were attentive. Both medicine cats were sitting outside of the medicine den, Ashpaw occasionally looking back in on Spottedpaw.

Diamondstar let her gaze linger on each wounded cat, and Brindlepaw shivered when Diamondstar’s gaze landed on her. 

“You all fought so well in the battle,” she began. “I wasn’t there to see each cats efforts to get the territory for our Clan, but Shadeclaw said that all of you fought like true warriors.” Her gaze then darkened. “Spottedpaw is in a lot of trouble; he sustained a wound that ripped his belly open. Ashpaw and Whiskerheart are trying very hard to keep him alive, and we all pray that StarClan will keep him with us.” 

Murmurs rippled throughout the Clan, and Brindlepaw heard Shaggyjaw say: “It’s my fault, I should have been watching him, and making sure that he was okay.”

Dappledfeather leaned against her sons mentor. “No, he’s almost a warrior. You did everything you could.”

“Brindlepaw will be excused from apprentice duties until the Gathering; I want her to attend. She, Rockpaw and Mousepaw did very well to hunt for the Clan today. They gave us lots of prey, and everyone was able to be fed. Our territory is beginning to settle into the cold claws of leaf - bare; we have to begin preparing for it. No more battles. If there are enemy warriors in our territory, chase them off. But with our feud with ShadowClan, we are not able to sustain any new wounds, or suffer any prey loss. I want everyone to keep their claws sheathed for the rest of this season unless you have no other choice.” Her gaze lingered on Sheephoof, Skyheart, Whitesky and Dustcloud, the more aggressive of their warriors. 

Shadeclaw sat up taller, looking at Diamondstar for permission to speak. After she nodded, he turned towards the warriors. “At the Gathering, we will take a small patrol. We can’t show that we are hostile, nor suffering from wounds; the other Clan’s would take that as a sign of weakness. Tonight, I want our fittest warriors going out to hunt and doing the last of the patrols. I’ll lead a border patrol, and Leafwhisper; you weren’t too hurt, right? Take a hunting patrol of any cats of your choosing when this is done. Ebonyheart, take another hunting patrol, too. We haven’t hunted with our border with ShadowClan in a while, so go there; take Willowpelt and Shimmertooth with you. We have to fatten up now so we can make it through the rest of this season.”

“Speaking of the Gathering!” Diamondstar yelped before the cats cleared out. “Say nothing of our wounded warriors, Spottedpaw, or of the battle. If Morningstar does not mention it, then we will not.” Her silver tail lashed. “Do not speak of it. There will be punishments if you do. Our apprentices are beginning to look worn, are they not? Maybe the warriors who don’t follow directions would like to be placed on apprentice duties for the next few moons.” There was a hint of a threat in her tone, though her expression remained calm.

The lithe she - cat sprang down, and she turned to disappear into her den. “Meeting dismissed, I want all cats back here by dusk.”

Immediately, the cats began chattering amongst themselves. The younger warriors were wondering who would be going to the Gathering, whilst the older ones were getting ready to go out, gathering themselves up and looking annoyed. 

Russetwhisker limped over to her. “Go rest,” he said gently. “Your wound is obviously bothering you, and you need to sleep. There was a lot of excitement these past few hours, and you didn’t sleep very long last night.” 

“I can’t train tomorrow,” she whined. “I want to, though!”

“Ashpaw and Whiskerheart both agree that you should wait until that wound heals.” Russetwhisker pointed out. He had herbs slathered across his pelt, but he still stood tall, showing no signs of pain.

“I can do simple training, though, right?”

“Check with them tomorrow. Go grab a mouse and then sleep. I won’t hear anymore of your whining!” He whisked his tail across her cheek and headed over to the nursery, swinging Sunkit away from Peatwhisker. During the meeting, Peatwhisker had crept out, whisking her tail across her kits maws as she silenced them, telling them to just listen to the older warriors.

Peatwhisker looked relieved, breaking up the scuffling amongst her own kits, and hustled them back into the nursery, promising that they could play inside.

“How about we work on your crouch, little buddy?” Russetwhisker cast an amused glance at Brindlepaw as Sunkit squealed in excitement, frisking around in front of the russet tomcat and twisting his slender kitten - soft body into a lopsided hunting crouch.

As she turned away, Russetwhisker was prodding Sunkit into the right position, talking about how important it was to keep your weight evenly distributed.

“Come share this mouse with me,” Flypaw invited. The young apprentice had only taken a bite or two out of the creature, and didn’t look to be hungry. Brindlepaw’s own stomach rumbled loudly, and she grimaced, guilty padding over to her dentate.

“I could hear your stomach from here,” Flypaw confessed. “I’m not too hungry. Blackpaw and I shared a sparrow earlier.”

Brindlepaw devoured her share of the mouse, stifling a burp. “I haven’t eaten since before the battle,” she replied. “Are you going for battle training tomorrow?” She queried. 

Flypaw nodded. “Shimmertooth is going to take Mousepaw, Blackpaw and I to see what we know already and work on it. Diamondstar and Leafwhisper are going to duck in if they can. Shadeclaw seems to want all of the warriors constantly busy with hunting.”

“He does seem to want that,” she murmured. “Maybe if I ask Russsetwhisker, he’ll let me sit in. I can’t do anything with this.” Hastily, she licked the wound, making a face at the sharp tang.

Amusement danced inside of Flypaw's gaze. “You’ll be fine.” She promised, reaching her long forelegs out in a stretch. “I think I’m going to go for a run around the territory; I could do with getting a bit warmer.” She fluffed her fur out, gaze narrowed.

“It is getting colder,” Brindlepaw growled. “Soon, snow will be all over our territory and the rabbits will be so deep in their warrens that we’ll starve.” Her nails kneaded the cool ground. “It’s leaf - bare. Leaf - fall was hard enough, everything is going to be harder now.”

Flypaw laughed. “That’s the struggles of a Clan cat,” she purred. “Well, Shimmertooth left on a patrol without me so I’m just going to go. If she comes back before me and asks where I am, tell her I’m running.” Peering into the apprentices den, Flypaw frowned. “Blackpaw! Move your lazy bones and come for a run with me!”

Snorting, Brindlepaw padded into the den as Blackpaw scrambled out, curling up into a ball in her nest. Rockpaw’s scent was stale; he hadn’t been in the nest for a long time. Since before dawn, she would guess. She wanted the comfort of her littermate beside her to help her sleep, but he had to be out with Mousepaw. The two were becoming close friends.

Curling up even tighter and resting her tail on her nose, she ignored the twinge in her shoulder and closed her eyes. She felt no warmth in her body, aside from the brief fever that was beginning to rise inside of her. Ashpaw had given her a tangy herb that was supposed to help fight the infection, but Brindlepaw knew that she had waited too long to get treated. As soon as she got some rest, she would have to go back to the medicine den and see what Ashpaw could do for her.

Shifting again so that she could stretch her shoulder out, Brindlepaw draped into Rockpaw’s nest, sighing. She remembered the journey coming back to WindClan, where she and her littermate were closer than ever. Every night, they would share their make - shift nests, pressed next together and sharing warmth. They would frisk around in front of Ebonyheart and the other warriors, ignoring Starrybreeze and Willowpelt as they chided the young kits for almost getting underneath the warriors paws.

Once they had gotten under the paws of fox, and Starrybreeze had been forced to snag the two kits and keep them from getting hurt. Willowpelt had thrown herself at the foxes, desperately attempting to protect her kits and her family. Her mothers rage - filled shrieks still rang inside of her head.

They had been so close on the journey home, but now they acted as if they were strangers. Aside from the stray hunt here and there, and maybe a training session if their mentors thought it would be a good idea, but that was really it. The days where they shared a nest and shared tongues every night were long gone.

Awkwardly rising to her paws, Brindlepaw limped outing the clearing, exhaustion rising through her with every step. She sat down beside the apprentices den, rasping her tongue over her pelt to clean the stray pieces of moss out of her fur. Each small movement sparked a twinge of pain through her, and she growled, immediately heading right into the medicine den.

“Ashpaw? Whiskerheart?” She called, getting no answer. Ashpaw's scent was stale.

Whiskerheart was getting older. The splotchy white - and - gray tom was old. Ashpaw did most of the medicinal work, and it was any day now that she was going to be made a full medicine cat. Some said that Whiskerheart was a full medicine cat back when Wiltedstar was alive, some said otherwise; long story short, he was old, and he was contemplating retiring. Diamondstar had even tried to convince him to retire to the elders den, and live out the rest of his days in peace, but Whiskerheart had refused. He said that he would go mad if he were to do that.

The medicine cats wheezing breath filled the silence of small den, and Brindlepaw padded more inside, spotting the tan apprentice. Spottedpaw’s dappled flanks were hardly moving, and she could hardly hear his breathing. In the dimness of the den, Brindlepaw could hardly see the darker brown spots on his pelt. The poor apprentice was stretched out, his pelt parted where a long, deep slash curved through his belly and up to his right shoulder.  

When Brindlepaw hesitantly sniffed his pelt, he smelled sour, and heat pulsed off of his thick fur. The only indication that Brindlepaw had to show that he was alive was the occasional twitch of his tail, and the slight gasps that came from his parted maw. Soaked moss was set by his head, but she doubted that he knew it was there.

“Worried about him?” Whiskerheart’s wheeze startled Brindlepaw. When did he wake up . . . ? “He’ll pull through.” Doubt glimmered in his milky cyan gaze, but he switched the subject. “Why did you come in?”

Deciding to go along with it, Brindlepaw gestured towards her shoulder wound. “It smells more sour than before, and it’s bothering me.” 

Whiskerheart sniffed it, and his nose wrinkled. “Follow me,” he growled, squeezing farther into the den. “I don’t want to wake him. Infection has already set in and he is very weak. He needs rest.”

Squeezing down the passage after him, Brindlepaw struggled to let her gaze adjust to the darkness of the cleft. Of all the times she had been in here, she had never noticed this area of the den. Albeit, she had never been truly injured or sick so she had never had a lot of reason to go deep into the den, but still. 

The dimness of the cleft and the sharp tang of the herbs made her uncomfortable. She didn’t quite like the confinement of the medicine den, she wanted to go back into the camp and wait for her brother to come back, but her wound needed attention. 

“Lay down,” Whiskerheart rasped. “Stretch your shoulder out. I need to get the whole wound.”

Awkwardly, Brindlepaw somehow managed to lumber down into a laying position, stretching each of her legs out and hearing the elder medicine cat shuffle around her and begin grooming her fur. Like she did with Ashpaw, she held still, gagging when he began licking the poultice into her wound. Before he had began paying attention to her wound, he had pressed his nose to her pads, grumbling something about her not having a fever.

“Who gave this to you?” Whiskerheart asked, flicking his cloudy gaze onto the apprentice. 

“Lionpaw,” she hissed out between gritted teeth. “I gave him a nice wound back, though, looks like we both got some good blows in.” She did not want to get involved in another battle again. Not for a long time.

They both stopped talking. Whiskerheart always made her uncomfortable. His milky, glazed eyes always seemed to gaze into her, almost as if he knew whatever she was thinking about. Apparently, everyone felt the same; they avoided Whiskerheart unless they had no other choice, and went straight to Ashpaw for medicinal advice. 

Only Flypaw enjoyed bringing him prey! Brindlepaw knew that Flypaw often brought Whiskerheart his meals when Ashpaw forgot or wasn’t around to, and sat through the old toms rambling stories.

“Whiskerheart, did you check on Spottedpaw?” Ashpaw stuck her head in the cleft, surprised to see Brindlepaw. “Back again? That wound has got to be troubling you.”

Brindlepaw just grunted.

“Wake Spottedpaw up. Give him some borage to ease his fever, and redo his poultice. Make sure he has a fresh coating of cobwebs, too.” Whiskerheart flicked his tail as he spoke, rising to his paws. “Get a poppy seed for Brindlepaw; she can sleep through the worst of her pain. Tonight, we’ll take turns watching over Spottedpaw; he needs to have his poultices changed every time the moon dips lower in the sky. He is in a lot of danger, still.” He squeezed out of the cleft as Ashpaw squeezed in.

“Where are you going?” Ashpaw called over her shoulder, sounding calm. If Brindlepaw were Ashpaw, and Rockpaw were Spottedpaw, Brindlepaw doubted that she would be able to stay as calm as Ashpaw did.

“To sleep. You take first watch.”

Brindlepaw managed to get to her paws, watching as Ashpaw was swallowed up by the darkness. She could hear the she - cats fur brushing the walls, and her paws grabbing herbs. “How is your wound feeling now?” The medicine cat apprentice asked, her voice sounding far away.

“Better now,” she answered. “Just stiff and sore.”

“You’ll sleep well on this poppy,” Ashpaw explained. “I won’t give you another one after this; you need to sleep and heal on your own. It’s better for you to be awake for the most of the pain and able to tell us about how it’s feeling, than for an infection to creep in when we’re not expecting it.”

The medicine cat apprentice squeezed back out of the darker end of the cleft, holding a poppyhead in her maw. She gently shook it, and a dark seed landed on the dusty ground. “Eat that,” she directed, her voice muffled.

Obediently lapping up the seed, Brindlepaw couldn’t stop herself from asking Ashpaw about Spottedpaw. “Is he going to be okay?”

Ashpaw whirled, one paw swaddled in cobwebs and herbs clutched in her maw. They tumbled back onto the floor as she paused, grief and horror tumbling around in her bright gaze. “I - I . . ” Shaking her head, she collected the herbs back up, swallowing. “Yes. I won’t let StarClan take him yet.”

Brindlepaw padded up, pressing her nose against the other she - cats shoulder. “Good luck,” she murmured, giving the medicine at apprentice some alone time to help her littermate.

Rockpaw and Mousepaw were back in camp when she came back out. Her brother was eating again, and Mousepaw was pacing around Skinnyfoot. 

“What’s going on?” Brindlepaw asked, fighting her drowsiness. 

“Ebonyheart’s patrol ran into a ShadowClan one,” Skinnyfoot answered. “These two heard yowls and Shimmerpelt shrieking, so they came back to camp first to let us know. Shadeclaw sent a patrol.” The tom looked annoyed. “He won’t let me go because I tore a claw!”

Mousepaw snorted. “I wanted to go.”

“You haven't enough battle training, and you're exhausted from this morning,” Skinnyfoot snapped.

“I could rely on instinct and the heat of the moment!”

No, it doesn’t work like that!” Staring the apprentice down, Skinnyfoot narrowed his eyes. “Go clean the elders den.”

“But I did it this morning!” 

The warrior bared his teeth. “Go do it again; make sure they’re comfy. I won’t hear your complaints, Mousepaw!”

Out of all the cats in the Clan, Skinnyfoot had the most sensitive hearing. His ears were pricked, curved towards the entrance. The whites of his eyes were showing, and he moved towards Rockpaw and Brindlepaw, herding them into the apprentice den. “In you go!” He sounded nervous.

“What’s going on?” Rockpaw gaped.

Skinnyfoot stopped. He looked weird and nervous, but Brindlepaw could smell fear rolling off of him. “Ebonyheart’s been hurt.”

Immediately, both apprentices raced for the entrance. Blood oozed from Brindlepaw’s wound, and though she felt pain beginning to return, she ignored it. Skinnyfoot was yowling, begging for them to come back, but neither answered. They could hear the patrol returning, and they wanted to meet them before they came into camp, they just needed to know that their father was okay.

“Brindlepaw, Rockpaw, no,” Scarletfox brushed in front of both of the apprentices to keep them from seeing, but she was a tiny warrior; she couldn’t block it all out nor protect them from this. Brindlepaw’s heart sank as she struggled to peer over the warriors body, horror gripping her heart in freezing claws.

She could smell the rank stench of death on the warriors pelt as he was carried closer, as well as blood and ShadowClan. Though she and Rockpaw did end up succeeding in pushing past Scarletfox to see their father, Brindlepaw didn’t have the energy to wail when she saw his body draped across Shimmerpelt and Stonecloud’s shoulders, and his tail dragging limply in the frosty dirt.

Chapter Text

The vigil for her father was long, and not to mention uncomfortable. Lying on the cold ground made her shoulder stiff, but the worst of it was the unfamiliar and daunting scent that rose from Ebonyheart’s cold pelt. Ashpaw had tried her best to disguise the sharp tang of death, but it had been impossible. Underneath the sharply sweet watermint, and the comforting scent of rosemary, Brindlepaw could still smell death. No warmth stirred underneath his dark fur, and no comfort came from his presence. This was not her father anymore; his spirit was among the stars, now. Not down in camp with them. 

Rockpaw provided the warmth and comfort that she sought, and so did her mother. Ashpaw had given Willowpelt a poppy seed to sleep through the worst of the vigil, but she had awoken around moonhigh, a keening noise leaving her maw. Her mother had thrust her muzzle back into Ebonyheart's pelt, keening desperately for him. 

Though Brindlepaw didn’t exactly remember Starrybreeze too much, she knew that she and Ebonyheart were littermates, and Ebonyheart’s other littermate, Whisperbreeze, were dead. That line of her family was gone. It was just her, Rockpaw, her mother, and Starrybreeze’s daughter. Her distant kin was apparently named ‘Goldenkit': a ThunderClan kit whom was soon going to reach her sixth moon soon. Most of her family was gone, leaving her with so little.

Dappledfeather brushed her tail down Brindlepaw’s spine once dawn came. “It’s time to take him to be buried,” the older she - cat murmured. The elder's gaze was brimming with sympathy as she touched her nose to Brindlepaw's ear, and the apprentice shifted uncomfortably. Though she enjoyed listening to Dappledfeather and her mothering words, she didn't like being treated as if she were a kit again. 

Lifting her head from Ebonyheart’s dark fur, Brindlepaw stiffly rose to her paws, stepping back dully. Her shoulder ached, and though she longed to help the elders bury him, but she didn't have the strength to do so. Rockpaw aided Willowpelt to her paws and led her to the edge of the clearing, gently rasping his tongue over the tufts of fur sticking up on her neck. Willowpelt didn't seem to know he was there. Her eyes stared dully at a rock in the dirt, and her ears were flat to her skull. 

Unable to bear seeing Firefur, Dappledfeather, and Torntalon lift Ebonyheart’s limp body onto their shoulders, the she - cat padded into the medicine den, surprised to see Diamondstar in there. Her chest felt constricted as if she were struggling to breathe, and though she wanted to go curl back into her nest, she needed treatment for her shoulder and her curiosity over Diamondstar being in the medicine den would keep her awake. 

“I ask my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice,” Diamondstar was saying, her voice soft and her gaze filled with grief. She seemed to hesitate before speaking again, her head bowing. “He has learned the Warrior Code well and given up his life in the service of his Clan. Let StarClan receive Spottedpaw as a warrior, for he deserves his new title, even in death; he shall now be known as Spottedmoon.” The WindClan leader rested her muzzle on Spottedmoon’s shoulder, and then rose to her paws.

“Thank you,” Ashpaw whispered. She looked just as grieved as her leader, but it was washed away as she spotted Brindlepaw. Her voice sounded right as she spoke, almost as if she were controlling herself. “Good morning, Brindlepaw. Do you need a new poultice for your shoulder?”

Diamondstar dipped her head in greeting to the apprentice. Her tail whisked across Brindlepaw's ear, and they held each other's gaze for a comforting moment. Brindlepaw thought she saw a spark of fear in the older leaders eyes, but it was gone too quickly for her to be sure. Diamondstar squeezed out of the den after a heartbeat, her head lowered in exhaustion and tail dragging in the dirt.

“I was also hoping for a poppy seed, too? I don’t think I could sleep on my own, even if I tried. And yeah; it is starting to smell sour.” 

Ashpaw looked sympathetic. “Of course, just hold still.” Nosing Spottedmoon’s poultice one last time, she sighed, padding into the dark cleft. “Whiskerheart doesn’t think Spottedmoon will make it through the day,” her voice was hushed, but Brindlepaw got the sense that she needed to speak to someone. “So he asked Diamondstar to make him a warrior. It’s not a ritual that’s used often; only when an apprentice is dying, and deserves to be received as a warrior in StarClan.”

Chancing a look down at the dying apprentice, Brindlepaw had to stifle a gasp of shock. She had just been in the den yesterday, and yet the apprentice looked worse than she could have ever imagined. Spottedmoon looked as if he truly were on the brink of death. He looked so small, even though he was stretched out so that both medicine cats could get to his wound without any hindrance. She had to lean in close to even hear him draw in a shallow, rasping breath, and she could feel the heat radiating off of him tail - lengths away. His breath and his wound smelled sour, and Brindlepaw backed away, afraid of sending him even faster towards StarClan’s hunting grounds.

“I was so sure he would pull through last night,” Ashpaw croaked as she came back out, a poultice set up on a leaf and poppy seed on her pad. “I don’t know how he could get so bad so quickly.”

“StarClan can’t take him yet. It wouldn’t be right. He didn’t even get a chance to enjoy his warrior name!” Brindlepaw remained still as the apprentice applied the sharp smelling poultice. “If anyone can save him, it’d be you.”

After Ashpaw murmured her thanks, a question rose to Brindlepaw’s maw. “Where’s Whiskerheart?”

“Looking for marigold, borage and strengthening herbs,” Ashpaw answered. “There. Now eat that poppy, and go rest. If you stay in your nest today, you should be good to go to the Gathering tonight. See me again later if it begins bothering you.”

“Brindlepaw,” Russetwhisker’s plumy tail was drawing over her flank, “it’s time to wake up.”

“Just a little while longer,” Brindlepaw groaned, burying her face underneath her forepaws. She was still drowsy from the poppy seed, and for the first time in a few moons, she slept without dreaming. 

“It’s almost time for the Gathering.” Russetwhisker breathed. “You haven’t eaten all day. You need to eat something before we go.”

Grumbling underneath her breath, the apprentice sat up, wincing when her vision blurred. “Did Spottedmoon die yet?”

Darkness clouded in Russetwhisker’s gaze. “No. He’s still clinging to life, thank StarClan. It’s a . . . mingled feeing for the Clan. They want him to hold onto life, but some want him to let go. He’s in so much pain. That battle with ThunderClan never should have happened. Diamondstar never should have demanded that stretch of territory.” The senior warrior flicked stray pieces of moss off of Brindlepaw’s pelt as he spoke, but he kept his gaze guarded from her. Frustration rose inside of her. How could he stand to not let her in? She knew she was in a fragile place at the moment, but he didn’t need to treat her as if she were too young to understand. “Come on, Shadeclaw is about to announce who is going to go and you need to eat.”

“In a moment,” Brindlepaw promised. She stretched both of her forepaws out as her mentor left, surprised to feel that her wound felt much better. There was no pain in any of her movements, and she was sure that her shoulder would hold up for the trek to the Gathering later. Gently, she began cleaning the shriveled herbs off of her wound, screwing up her face as she did so. 

Padding into the camp, she grabbed a bitter shrew from the clearing, moving to sit beside Mousepaw. The brown - and - cream tom flicked his ear to acknowledge her, but neglected to speak. He looked tired and drawn, fur fluffed up against the cold.

“Rabbit - brains!” Shadeclaw yowled, catching the Clans attention. “Listen well! I’m only going to say who is going once.”

Skyheart lashed his tail. “Well? Get on with it!” The senior warriors claws kneaded the sandy ground with excitement.

Shadeclaw snorted, but spoke anyway. “Whiskerheart and Ashpaw. Don’t you glare at me, Ashpaw; you need to go. Dappledfeather can sit in with Spottedmoon, she has enough medicinal knowledge to help her son, and your brother. Skyheart, Russetwhisker, Brindlepaw, Dusktail, Mousepaw, Skinnyfoot, Shaggyjaw, Blueeye, Rockpaw, Scarletfox, Mysterypelt, Eaglestep, Rabbitclaw, Flypaw, Breezetail, Larkfur, Leafwhisper, Jaggedclaw, Stonecloud, Bearhowl, Brackenfoot and Whitesky. Eat now; we leave soon.” With a final lash of his tail, the tom stalked back into the warriors den. 

Beside her, Mousepaw snorted. “So much for a small group,” he muttered.

Rockpaw lurched over to her, his gaze bright. All the sadness from the previous morning was gone. “We’re going to the Gathering,” he sang, his neck fur bristling with excitement. 

“Oh yeah, I forgot that this is your first one!” Brindlepaw flicked her tail across his ear, ignoring Mousepaw’s comment. Rockpaw had been unable to go to her first Gathering because he had neglected to do his apprentice chores, and Blueeye punished him by not letting him go. Rockpaw had been so upset; wailing about how it was so unfair, and how he wanted to go so badly.

Since they had come to the Clan late, Diamondstar had decided to make them apprentices later than usual. She had wanted them to learn how to adjust to Clan life, and forget how they had lived their lives as loners. Once she was sure of their loyalty, she had made them apprentices and gave them to her most trusted warriors to train. 

This was Brindlepaw’s third Gathering. Rockpaw had been in trouble to go to the first, and too ill for the second. Finally, they would be going together! That was all they both wanted.

“Did you eat enough?” He asked, gesturing towards her half - eaten shrew.

“I ate enough.” She nodded, pushing it towards him. She suddenly felt ill once she remembered her father, and she closed her eyes, wishing that she could busy herself with battle moves, or with some hunting techniques. Her shoulder would not hold for that, albeit. Even though it was feeling better, she was sure it would give out the moment she put too much strain on it. “You can have it.”

Her littermate looked delighted as he snagged the remains of the shrew, digging into it immediately. Once he was finished, they shared tongues. Brindlepaw felt closer to him than she had in a long time. Her brother’s presence was reassuring and comfortable; it killed her to know that it wouldn’t always be like this. He was going to go back to Mousepaw and forget all about her! Could her brothers friendship with Mousepaw be stronger than their kinship?

“Why haven’t we been close recently?” She asked bluntly, and felt Rockpaw pause whilst grooming her fur. “Littermates are supposed to be close, aren’t they?”

Rockpaw hesitated, and then he rested his maw on top of her head. His scent flooded over her, and she closed her eyes. “It won’t be like this forever,” he murmured. “We’re not always going to be close. There will be times when we aren’t as close, and times when we can’t be separated.” 

Brindlepaw sighed and leaned further into him. “I wish we could be like this all the time.” Her dark gaze followed Owlfeather as she touched noses with Mysterypelt, and slid into the nursery. It was time to change the subject. “How long do you think it will be until Swiftkit, Fuzzykit and Whimperkit are apprenticed?” She asked, her tailtip twitching as she deliberately changed the topic. If Rockpaw caught on, he didn’t let her know.

“Owlfeather obviously wants to return to warrior duties,” Rockpaw narrowed his eyes. “She was chosen for the patrol to control both sides of the steam, and while she was gone, I could hear them wailing for her. I’m more worried for Sunkit; Goldenivy was your first mentor, right?” 

She twitched her tail warningly, but Rockpaw didn’t pursue that topic. Goldenivy was the queen whom mothered Sunkit, and her first mentor. She had been killed by ShadowClan, and Brindlepaw missed her desperately. She had pushed her time spent as a mentor to the last moment, not wanting to give up her duties. Though Diamondstar hadn’t been happy about giving Goldenivy an apprentice, she had agreed, and it had ended with Goldenivy balancing her apprentice and her kit. When she had been called to fight against ShadowClan, she had given up her life during Sunkit’s first moon of existence. Brindlepaw still remembered watching Goldenivy walk out of the entrance, promising Brindlepaw and Sunkit that she would be back before first light.

“He should be an apprentice soon as possible. I don’t think Sunbreeze had any right asking Diamondstar to wait until he was older.” Rockpaw carried on, oblivious to Brindlepaw’s thoughts.

“We had to wait until we were old enough,” she reminded him, forcing herself to stop thinking of Goldenivy.

“That was different,” Rockpaw protested. “We were born whilst our parents were staying with the Tribe; we had to adjust to Clan life.” The tom sighed as he unwound himself from his littermate and rose to his paws. “One day, I’m going to go back.”

“Remember Fire?” Brindlepaw’s eyes narrowed with memories. “She was a sweet kit. She’s got to be a prey - hunter by now, right?”

“Maybe nearing the end of her to - be - ship?” Rockpaw stretched his long legs out. “She was pretty. I’ve never seen fur like hers before.” A dreamy look appeared in his eyes, and Brindlepaw chortled.

“You could never catch a she - cat like her! Her fire would crush you in a heartbeat. Besides, she’s head over paws for Slate. It was obvious. They might hate each other, but Fire loves him. They’re polar opposites, but don’t they say that opposites attract?” Brindlepaw got to her paws too as Shadeclaw stalked towards the entrance. 

Rockpaw growled in annoyance. “I could have a she - cat like her if I wanted! It just wouldn’t work because of the distance. I would never leave WindClan for a she - cat.”

“Good to know that you have so much Clan loyalty.” Blueeye purred, whisking her tail across her apprentices flank. She had come up to join the young apprentices during their conversation. “You’ll fall in love one day.” Brindlepaw watched as her gaze focused on Jaggedclaw, whom was showing Flypaw and Blackpaw a complicated battle move.

Blueeye and Jaggedclaw were the parents of Flypaw, Blackpaw and Mousepaw. Though Blueeye was never close with her mate, they seemed good together. He took a healthy amount of interest in his own kits, which was unusual for a tom. “Bring yourselves in under control,” he was saying, prodding Blackpaw into a firmer crouch. “Now . . . Leap!

The elder she - cat sighed. “He’s so good with them,” she murmured. “It’s too bad we won’t make it.”

“What do you mean?” Rockpaw asked, frowning.

“Jaggedclaw and I aren’t a good pairing,” Blueeye explained, her gaze wary with sadness. “We’re too different; sometimes mates don’t work out. I did my part for the Clan. I’m a warrior, an old warrior, I’ve trained apprentices, and I’ve given the Clan kits. I think I might move into the elders den as soon as you’re made a warrior,” she teased as she whisked her tail over Rockpaw’s flank. Rockpaw’s fur twitched, and his gaze gleamed with affection.

Stonecloud, whom was Jaggedclaw and Leafwhisper’s littermate, growled as he padded up to Blueeye. “Jaggedclaw is a rabbit - brain if he doesn’t love you,” he announced loudly enough for his brother to hear. “I can’t believe he would be stupid enough to let you slip from his paws.” Jaggedclaw merely twitched his ears, and Stonecloud’s eyes narrowed.

Blueeye only gave a noncommittal grunt, her tail twitching. She didn’t want to encourage their argument.

With a yowl, Shadeclaw gathered the WindClan cats. By now, dusk had begun to set and the full moon hung high in the sky, illuminating the dark camp and all the cats within it. Pelts brushed in on every side, and Brindlepaw purred with the feeling of her Clanmates pushing against her. Rockpaw had his pelt shoved up against hers, and his scent was so strong in her maw that she had to turn away to breathe fresh air. This was how a Clan was supposed to be; one singular being, no divisions between them. 

Though Brindlepaw could still see the injuries from their spat with ThunderClan, her heart broke with pity for her Clanmates. Russetwhisker still was missing pawfuls of fur from his flanks, and his skin was laced with clawmarks. Skinnyfoot had long unhealed wounds down his sides from his spat with Thrushwing. Shadeclaw might be walking proudly, but he was limping; favoring a front and back paw. Whitesky had bruises all over where her fur was missing, where tufts of it had been pulled out by cruel claws. Leafwhisper had wounds all over her shoulders and her back from Hawkcloud and Pantherpaw. Brindlepaw herself still bore her wound from Lionpaw. And Spottedmoon was dying: who knows how long he could bear to cling to life before StarClan claimed him? 

The WindClan cats proudly stalked through their territory and towards the lake. Down below the ridge, Brindlepaw could both see and scent ThunderClan cats. Though she couldn’t distinguish their singular scents, she could see Morningstar padding ahead at the front of the patrol. His large head was raised, and he looked proud; almost as if he were deliberately ignoring the WindClan cats. 

Growls rose from the throats of the WindClan cats, and Brindlepaw couldn’t help but join in as they watched the ThunderClan cats head towards the tree bridge. She couldn’t see Lionpaw’s gold pelt amongst their midst, and she was glad. She didn’t know if she could deal with him at the Gathering. 

Diamondstar flicked her tail for silence, and the patrol lapsed into an uneasy quiet. The warriors clearly wanted to yell jabs at the ThunderClan ones, but didn’t want to make their leader angry. Eaglestep and Scarletfox were shifting their paws and their tails were lashing, both clearly upset. Russetwhisker leaned over to whisper something in their ears, and they both fell still. Whitesky was glaring at them, her whiskers flicking angrily.

Side - by - side, Rockpaw and Brindlepaw exchanged uneasy glances. ThunderClan was taking their sweet time crossing the bridge; the silver moonlight caught Foxpaw’s pelt as he slowly trudged across the bark, his littermate Vixenpaw right behind him. Both were chattering away like noisy starlings, and though Brindlepaw couldn’t make out what they were saying, she could hear their voices. Impatience struck her, and she growled, scoring her long claws against the sand under her paws. 

Finally, the last ThunderClan cat jumped down onto the sand on the other bank. Diamondstar gave a warning yowl before jumping onto the tree, stalking across the smooth surface. Below her the lake rippled and shimmered dangerously, and Brindlepaw couldn’t help but shiver. Would any of their cats fall in this time, or would they all remain safe and dry?

Shadeclaw followed her, then Mysterypelt, Stonecloud, and then the medicine cats. Brindlepaw lost count as excitement swelled inside of her. As she grew closer and closer, hearing Rockpaw gasp in astonishment once they were close enough to see the island. She had to remind herself that he hadn’t seen it before. Happily, she flicked her tail over his shoulder as she jumped up after Russetwhisker, taking a moment to find her balance. 

Carefully, Brindlepaw placed her paws down on the smooth tree, wincing once it wobbled as another cat jumped on. She doubted that she would ever get used to it; it was more dangerous back when the lake was frozen solid. Colder weather was steadily approaching. Leaf - fall had just ended, and leaf - bare was just beginning. It was slowly starting to take hold, though Brindlepaw wondered if something was wrong with the weather. It was too unusual for her tastes. 

Relief filled her as she jumped down onto the opposite bank, fluffing up her fur to keep warm. Rockpaw jumped down beside her, his fur spiking and eyes bright. Blueeye flicked her tail and beckoned Rockpaw over, speaking to hm in low tones. 

“Are you ready?“ Russetwhisker asked her, and she nodded. “Good. Remember to not say anything about the battle; Diamondstar will not be pleased to hear of it.“

“I will keep my mouth shut,“ Brindlepaw promised. “The only thing I’m not too happy about is having to watch what I say around the other apprentices. It’s going to be difficult.”

Russetwhisker grunted. “Keep one eye your littermate, too; out of the two of you, I presume Rockpaw would be the one to accidentally let something slip.” The senior warrior sounded tired. “Make sure he doesn’t anger another apprentice, too, or a warrior.”

“You got it,” Brindlepaw purred. She knew how worried Russetwhisker was. He was one of Diamondstar’s most trusted warriors for a reason. “Go socialize. Go mix with the other cats.” 

Her mentor snorted. “When did you get to be the mentor?”

“Since those gray hairs appeared on your muzzle!”

“Okay, I’m serious now. Go make some friends. Stay away from any ThunderClan and ShadowClan cats, though. I don’t think you need a reminder of that; you know better.” His plumy tail whisked down her flanks as he headed towards a RiverClan elder, affectionately greeting the other tom with a dip of his head. 

She hadn’t even taken two pawsteps into the clearing before a black cat crashed into her. Yelping in shock, the WindClan apprentice recoiled backwards, curling her upper lip into a snarl. Before she could even speak, the apprentice — a ShadowClan tom, snapped at her. 

“What are you doing?” He growled, turning to face her with flat sapphire eyes. “Why did you run into me so rudely?”

“I didn’t run into you so rudely,” Brindlepaw hissed. “You ran into me.” 

The tom sniffed. “Yeah, sure. I’ll believe that when ThunderClan stops being nosy mouses.” 

“Sootpaw!” A white she - cat from ShadowClan yowled, and the tomcat before her lashed his tail. 

“Just watch where you’re going next time, or I might have to show you a lesson,” he growled as he stalked off, leaving Brindlepaw bristling with anger. 

“Are you okay?” Mousepaw was beside her, his whiskers twitching in amusement. The elder apprentice had seen her exchange with Sootpaw, and he looked all too amused. 

“Fine,” Brindlepaw snapped, immediately feeling guilty. “I’m sorry,” she groaned. “Sootpaw really got under my fur.”

“He is quite the little daft furball,” Mousepaw snorted. “I know I would sure hate to meet him in battle again.” He nosed a scar on his flank. “See this? He gave it to me a few moons prior.”

Interested, Brindlepaw drew her tail across it. It was mostly healed over, and Mousepaw didn’t lean away when she pressed her nose against it. “He gave you that?’

“Yes. He tore his claws right down my flank, and he didn’t stop. But Flypaw got him good. Flypaw kept ripping her claws through his fur and didn’t stop, not even when he screeched for mercy!”

“Telling battle tales now, are we, Mousepaw?” A pretty RiverClan apprentice purred, and Mousepaw greeted her affectionately.

“Hi, Whitepaw! This is Brindlepaw.” 

The RiverClan she - cat dipped her head. She was a creamy - white, and her tail was a pale gray. Her blue eyes were locked upon Brindlepaw’s, and a soft purr rolled inside of her throat. 

“Foxpaw, Redpaw, Doepaw! Venompaw!” Whitepaw called, and four apprentices came trotting over. Foxpaw and Redpaw from ThunderClan, Doepaw from ShadowClan, and Venompaw from RiverClan. 

Conversation immediately erupted between the cats. Whitepaw, Venompaw, Mousepaw and Redpaw were chatting about hunting techniques, whilst Foxpaw and Doepaw were turning their attention to her. Doepaw was sweet; a slight and compact young apprentice. Though she was small, Brindlepaw could see the muscles rippling beneath her pelt. The youngest amongst them, albeit, had to be Venompaw. His ears still had soft kitten fluff inside of them. Brindlepaw had the odd compulsion to groom his ears, but she chose to held back, knowing that the RiverClan apprentice would find it extraordinarily odd. 

“When did you start training, Brindlepaw?” Doepaw mewed, her white tail - tip flicking. She was a dark brown she - cat, and her eyes — her eyes were the same exact shade as the apprentice whom had knocked into her earlier! 

“About three moons ago,” Brindlepaw answered, glad to move to a conversation that could distract her from her thoughts. She didn’t want to think about that rude ShadowClan cat; not after all that had gone on, and how the war still had broken out between the two Clans. “How long for you?”

“Around the same time,” Doepaw purred. “My littermate and I are the eldest apprentices right now, aside from Snowpaw.” Her tail gestured towards Sootpaw and the snowy - white apprentice from earlier, and Brindlepaw struggled to keep herself calm. Doepaw seemed to pick up on her discomfort, for she looked amused. She leaned in close, lowering her voice. “Sootpaw got under your fur, too?”

“Yes!” Brindlepaw gasped in relief. 

Mousepaw leaned from his conversation into hers. “Sootpaw really does know how to give scathing remarks,” the WindClan tom snorted before turning back to Whitepaw. Doepaw rolled her eyes. 

“I don’t want to face him in battle,” Venompaw said nervously, and Doepaw purred.

“He’s harsh to cats he doesn’t know; those our age, or older. Younger cats, he leaves alone.” She reassured the RiverClan apprentice, flicking her tail across his ear affectionately. 

“I would hate to get into another fight with him,” Redpaw growled, his amber hues focusing upon Doepaw. “He gave Foxpaw and I a run for our prey.”

“Of course he would! He likes to take on more than he can handle.”

“I — ”

There was a yowl, and the group of the apprentices turned, looking up at the leaders, where they had come to gather. Morningstar was sitting as far away from Diamondstar as possible; there was obviously a frosty air between the two, for Rigidstar and Cinderstar looked confused. Albeit, Diamondstar was sitting far away from Cinderstar, too; the WindClan leader looked as if she was perfectly fine with being alone. 

“RiverClan would like to start,” the frail RiverClan leader called. Brindlepaw was always surprised when she heard the power that dwelled in the low tones of Rigidstar’s voice, and saw the strength that still rippled with each of her movements. When all the leaders seemed to be in agreement, Rigidstar started. “We have three new apprentices this moon,” she called, and Brindlepaw felt a rush of warmth as Venompaw sat up straighter. “Venompaw, Snakepaw, and Scalepaw!”

The clearing echoed with the sounds of all cats yowling their acceptance of the RiverClan apprentices, and Brindlepaw watched as two cats similar to the young tom near her ducked in embarrassment. 

“Otherwise, the fish in the lake is plentiful, and we’re very well off. Leaf - bare will have no bad bearing on us.”

Cinderstar curled his lip at Rigidstar as if he didn’t believe her, but he didn’t say anything.

Diamondstar padded up to the edge of her branch. “Whiskerheart has something to share before I make my report,” she purred, looking down at the elderly medicine cat. Confusion rose around the clearing, especially so from the WindClan cats.

Whiskerheart rose to his paws, his legs trembling. Ashpaw tried to support him, and he gently pushed her off, briefly touching his nose to her ear. He looked older than he did in moons. “I’ve lived as WindClan’s medicine cat for a long time,” he began, “and Ashpaw was the only cat I found worthy of being my apprentice. She has strived so hard to work for her Clan, and bring them all to the perfect health; I wish I could give her the honor of giving her her full name at the half - moon Gathering, but my time is coming. My days are coming to an end.”

Ashpaw started to make a keening noise, but Whiskerheart silenced her with a flick of his tail. “You knew this day was coming for a long time, Ashpaw. I can no longer keep up with you. I can’t take care of the Clan as well as I used to. WindClan now rests in your capable paws, Ashheart.” 

The cats below erupted in pleased purrs and cheers for Ashheart, and Brindlepaw was sure that the gray medicine cat was bursting with pride. She was worried about Spottedmoon, but the young tom would pull out of it, she was sure of it. StarClan wouldn’t take him now, not when he and his littermate had the chance to enjoy their full names together!

“A bit of good to combat the bad,” Diamondstar’s loud voice quieted the yowling. “Spottedmoon was also made a warrior. Unfortunately, we’ve also had a death; Ebonyheart was killed.” 

Though she didn’t accuse any of the ShadowClan cats, Brindlepaw could hear hisses rising around her. She flattened her ears and ducked, pushing through the groups of cats to find her littermate. His maw was bared in a snarl at a ShadowClan warrior, whom was far bigger than himself, and Brindlepaw struggled to him. 

“We need to go,” she breathed in his ear, and he threw her a dirty glance before nodding. Together, they made their way to Blueeye and Russetwhisker, who were waiting for them.

“We’re leaving,” Russetwhisker hissed, gesturing to Diamondstar. She was yowling, drawing all the WindClan cats towards her. “I knew this was going to happen; as soon as she brought up Ebonyheart, it was going to be madness. ThunderClan will think we were accusing them, and ShadowClan will think we’re also accusing them. Stay close; I don’t want to lose either of you.”

Chapter Text

Two moons passed, and Brindlepaw was sure that things were going to be okay for WindClan. The previous moon, WindClan had suffered an attack directly on their camp from ShadowClan. Though the warriors had fought bravely for their home, they only just managed to drive the invaders out. Albeit, Spottedmoon was getting better; he was able to limp out into the clearing, and he spent all his time with Dappledfeather and Firefur. His parents help him with all of his daily exercises, and Ashheart helped as much as she could. Every day he was getting better and better, and he was so thankful that he had been given a second chance. 

Sunkit, Whimperkit, Fuzzykit and Swiftkit were all apprentices now. As soon Owlfeather and Mysterypelt deemed that they were ready, Diamondstar gave Swiftpaw to Skinnyfoot, Fuzzypaw to Dusktail, Whimperpaw to Bearhowl, and Sunpaw to Larkfur. Sunpaw was old enough to be an apprentice now; he was beyond ready for it. Though his body was steadily growing bigger, he had no muscle. He had needed to become an apprentice before he grew resentful of his Clan. 

Blackcloud, Flyleaf, and Mousesnap were warriors now; Blueeye and Jaggedclaw were absolutely proud of their kits. Neither of the two warriors were together anymore. They both decided that it would be better for them to stop being mates. Not that they were to begin with. Unfortunately, albeit, Whiskerheart had passed away. It hadn’t even been a moon after that Gathering, and the old medicine cat passed away in his sleep. Ashheart had discovered him in his nest, unmoving, and the entire Clan had sat vigil for their old, deceased medicine cat. 

Diamondstar was the most effected by Whiskerheart’s death. She had sat vigil all day and night with him, and had buried him herself. Firefur, Torntalon and Dappledfeather spoke about how Diamondstar had been Diamondpaw when Whiskerheart had still been in training, and they had always been extrodinarily close. Both were old. Diamondstar was beginning to go gray around her muzzle, and now her medicine cat was dead. Shadeclaw, during the vigil, moved from her side only a few times, always offering the support that their leader needed. She was even worse for the wear because Skyheart moved to the elders den; she trained with him during the time of Wiltedstar. 

They were two moons into leaf - bare, albeit. There was no snow, nothing but the bitter chill of the air and slick rains. Though they were concerned over the weather, they were grateful that the snow was being held off. But the prey still was scarce, and the herbs beginning to wither up.

“Pick yourself up,” Russetwhisker order, his plumy tail lashing. “Attack Rockpaw again. This time, don’t let him catch you off guard.”

After Brindlepaw had gone hunting with Owlfeather, and driven off a fox towards RiverClan’s territory, she had met up with Rockpaw before hunting a bit more. They had met their mentors back at camp before going to the training plateau, and having their mentors set up mock battle simulators.

Russetwhisker and Blueeye sat side - by - side, their tails curled around their paws and carefully watching their apprentices preform a mock battle. Brindlepaw’s head wasn’t all in it, she knew; she was tired, her head hurt, and she felt an ache in her healed - over wound. Mentally, she cursed Lionslash, but forced herself to get her head back in the game.

Rockpaw lowered himself down to the ground, a playful growl curling from his lips. Her littermate pressed his chest to the sandy flooring, and he dabbed at her nose, amusement glimmering in his eyes as she jumped backwards. 

“Come at me, Brindlepaw,” he taunted, and she still hesitated. 

“Don’t dawdle!” Russetwhiser called, and Brindlepaw flicked her ear in acknowledgement. “I don’t know how feathers got in your brain, but shake them out!” 

Frustration rose inside of Brindlepaw. She had been trying her best with her mentor, but he seemed to have little patience for her these days. He would snap quickly at her, and he would spend little time directing her. She had to pin it down to his old age; he was as old as Skyheart and Sheephoof. Soon, he would joining the elders. Her heart gave a painful pang at the thought of losing him, but she knew that it had to happen eventually. 

Peeling her lips back in a playful hiss, Brindlepaw fixed her gaze on Rockpaw’s paws, and then leapt. Her powerful hindlegs carried her right to her point: Rockpaw’s shoulders. Her littermate staggered, and his legs buckled underneath Brindlepaw’s greater weight. 

Determined to show off her skills to her mentor, Brindlepaw raked her paws down Rockpaw’s spine, listening to him howl. She sprang off of him and landed right beside him, landing a light blow to Rockpaw’s flank before springing away again.

“Don’t pull that,” Rockpaw snapped. He was weighty; he couldn’t match her speed. He whirled, and he tried to land a blow on her nose, but she darted out of the way. She could hear Rockpaw growl, and Brindlepaw realized that she had the upper paw. She dove forward, wrapping her paws around her littermates neck and pulled him down with her; feeling his chin hit the sand hard, where her head had been a moment ago.

Whilst her brother was struggling to break out of being stunned, she gently sank her teeth into his tail, and pressed her paws down on his flanks; careful to keep her claws sheathed. Rockpaw only groaned, and she moved so that she was sitting on her brother, her turquoise gaze moving to settle upon Russetwhisker. 

“Like that?” She asked innocently at Russetwhisker, hearing his huff of annoyance. 

“You did good,” Russetwhisker grunted. “I’ve never seen that neck move before.”

“Flyleaf taught it to me.” Leaping off of her brother, Brindlepaw arched her back in a luxurious stretch. She felt accomplished, and proud for showing her brother up. “Are we done now? It’s sunhigh.” 

Blueeye cut in before Russetwhisker could speak. “You both hunted well this morning, and with it still being warm, I think you both can have the rest of the day off. The Gathering is later. Shadeclaw didn’t announce who was going, right?” 

“Not until it’s almost time to go. That is his tradition.” Rockpaw stated as he sat up. “He doesn’t want us to be lazy, but I feel like being lazy. He’s made us all work so hard recently, there’s nothing to hunt out there!”

Brindlepaw headbutted her littermates flank. “Being lazy doesn’t catch any prey,” she reminded, seeing his ear twitch. “I wonder who will get to go?”

“The new warriors won’t, Spottedmoon won’t, Ashheart has to go,” Blueeye listed off, her eyes narrowing in consideration. “But it all depends on Shadeclaw and Diamondstar.” 

Russetwhisker twitched his tail, and they began heading back to camp. “I won’t be going tonight. My old bones won’t be working with me for another long trip.” He sighed. “The elders den will soon become my home.”

Brindlepaw slithered up, pressing herself against her mentor. “Not for a few moons.” She stated fiercely. “You’re not that old.”

“I was alive when Wiltedstar was leader of ThunderClan,” he reminded. “That warrants me to be as old as I say. I was the oldest apprentice then. I’m older than Diamondstar.” His whiskers twitched. 

“Can you tell us a story about Wiltedstar?” Rockpaw asked curiously, and he shied back when Blueeye tossed him a scathing look. Clearly, she did not approve of her apprentices question.

“Did Willowpelt and Ebonyheart not tell you nursery tales?” Russetwhisker sounded annoyed, and his tail lashed. 

“We weren’t in the nursery growing up,” Brindlepaw felt compelled to remind him. It took all of her strength not to flinch when she heard Ebonyheart‘s name. Her breath felt as if it were caught in her throat. “We were growing up in the Tribe with their tales, and whatever we were told before we went to sleep.”

“Right,” her mentor grunted. “Okay . . . I can tell you something.” He grew quiet, his gaze narrowing before he began to speak again. “Wiltedstar was a giant cat; almost as big as Morningstar. Golden pelt, blue eyes, truly battled - scarred. I never faced him in battle, never him. But I did face his warriors in a battle for that same stretch of territory that we fought for moons ago.” His tail lashed again. “Morningstar killed a young WindClan apprentice: Greenpaw. It was an accident — I know that now. I remember seeing Wiltedstar, though, attack Rabbitstar, and how Wiltedstar took him down as easily as if Rabbitstar were prey. I found it hard to watch; Rabbitstar was clearly out matched, and Wiltedstar ripped into him.” 

Her mentors fur was bristling as he spoke, and all four cats had come to a halt, watching as Russetwhisker struggled to explain. Though Blueeye was old, she didn’t seem to remember any of this. Her dark eyes were unreadable as she looked at Russetwhisker, listening with pricked ears.

“Wiltedstar lost that territory. RiverClan ended up coming to our aid, and I had never been so relieved to see Willowstar before. Rabbitstar had the chance to pull himself away, to where his warriors could protect him and chase ThunderClan off. We ended up owing RiverClan after, but Willowstar understood. We all were in trouble with Wiltedstar still alive.” 

Blueeye rested her tail on Russetwhisker’s flank, attempting to be reassuring, but the older warrior shook her off. “It was an awful time to live through. I’m glad that Morningstar killed Wiltedstar when he got the chance.” 

“I’m glad I wasn’t alive for that,” Blueeye confessed. “I would have never wanted to live through something so awful.”

“But we’re living through something just as bad.” Rockpaw reminded. “Cinderstar is being a total fleabag about all of this. I want the war between us and ShadowClan to stop.” 

“As do all of us,” Russetwhisker sighed. “Cinderstar seems determined to make us suffer.”

“Why?” Brindlepaw asked, her curiosity piqued.

“I don’t know. There has always been bad blood between our Clans, ever since the beginning.” Blueeye shrugged. “It will end, sooner or later.”

The four cats walked in silence as they came back to the camp. The apprentices slid in through the entrance first, with their mentors following. Sunpaw came running up to the clustered cats, touching noses with Brindlepaw immediately. 

“I caught my first mouse!” The apprentice gaped. “Larkfur showed me how to catch one and it was so amazing! It was so warm, and though I tasted blood, it tasted so warm and woody!” Sunpaw jabbered on.

Brindlepaw let him get it out of his system before answering. “That’s nice! My first catch was a shrew; it was bitter, and sinewy. I bet your mouse tasted much better.”

“I gave it to Firefur.” Sunpaw puffed his chest out proudly.

“Did you get something for Peatwhisker yet?”

Sunpaw gasped. “No, I didn’t!” He looked appalled. “Do you think she’ll be still hungry?”

“Go check,” Brindlepaw urged, purring in amusement. “She’s always hungry, especially with Mudkit and Rabbitkit.” She watched as Sunpaw sped off towards the fresh - kill pile, and she took a moment before following. There were few pieces and scraps, and she assumed that everyone else ate. Choosing a baby mouse for herself, she also grabbed a thin rabbit for Rockpaw. Her littermate was chatting away with Mousesnap, no doubt telling him about how he got the jump on her earlier that day.

“. . . And then I grabbed her flanks and pulled her down, and she just flopped,” Rockpaw was saying, his tail lashing with excitement. “She didn’t get back up after that, so the battle was mine!”

“Flyleaf used that move on me once,” Mousesnap drawled. He ran his tongue over his forepaw, sniffing disdainfully. “I didn’t let her use it again!” 

Setting down the pieces of prey, Brindlepaw decided to cut in. “I used a move Flyleaf taught me; I grabbed Rockpaw by his neck and pulled him down. He hit his chin pretty hard on the ground, and he was stunned. It worked well.” She nudged the thin rabbit closer to Rockpaw, who blinked appreciably at her. 

“. . . She also used that on me,” Mousesnap growled, tossing a nasty look at Flyleaf across the clearing. “She’s a sneaky one.” 

Rockpaw flicked his tail. “Now she’s teaching my sister to be sneaky!” He complained, but he nudged Brindlepaw happily. There was no bad blood between them.

Taking a bite of her mouse, Brindlepaw thoughtfully chewed. As she opened her mouth to say something about Flyleaf, Shadeclaw came out from the warriors den, stretching before calling the warriors around him.

“Listen up! These are the cats coming to the Gathering: Ashheart, Dusktail, Fuzzypaw, Mysterypelt, Skinnyfoot, Swiftpaw, Rockpaw, Whimperpaw, Blueeye, Jaggedclaw, Stonecloud, Leafwhisper, Whitesky, Bearhowl, Dustcloud, Mousesnap, Flyleaf, Blackcloud, Brindlepaw, Larkfur, Scarletfox, Brackenfoot, and Rabbitclaw.”

Sunpaw let out a sound of outrage as he appeared from the nursery. “I’m not going?” He gaped at the deputy, and then shrank back when Shadeclaw curled his lip. 

“You aren’t coming, and that’s that.” Shadeclaw snapped. “You will stay here.” The deputy’s tail lashed as he headed into Diamondstar’s den, his pelt bristling.

“Someone put a thistle in his nest,” Brindlepaw whispered to Rockpaw, who nodded in agreement. 

The young apprentice growled before he stalked into the apprentices den. Brindlepaw fought the urge to follow after him. The entire Clan coddled him; he deserved to go to a Gathering, to meet the other Clans! But Diamondstar was still following what Goldenivy and Sunbreeze wanted. He deserved to be a normal apprentice with normal privileges. 

“Do you think . . . Diamondstar is being a bit overbearing on Sunpaw?” Mousesnap asked, echoing what Brindlepaw was wondering. “I thought she would train him herself, with the way she’s been acting.” His tail twitched. “With her coddling him, he won’t grow well into a fine young warrior.” He stretched his long forepaws out, arching his upper body. “He’s going to be rebellious towards Larkfur sooner or later.” 

Rockpaw nodded, obviously in agreement. “I respect Diamondstar, but, the way she’s treating Sunpaw is wrong.”

“Diamondstar has her reasons.” Whitesky brushed by, dipping to touch her nose to Brindlepaw’s ear. “She will let him have more freedom soon. Just let her do it her way. She never got a chance to raise kits. In a way, Sunpaw is her kit. In a . . . weird way.” Whitesky’s tail twitched. “Things will change.”

“I hope so,” Brindlepaw murmured. “He needs to be brought up like the rest of us. How bitter will he become if he sees others getting to do what he can’t? He’s been a kit longer than we were.” She flicked her tail to Rockpaw, and her littermate nodded. 

Whitesky sighed as she sat down beside Mousesnap, Brindlepaw and Rockpaw. She urged the apprentices to eat with a flick of her ear, mulling over her words before she spoke them. “Diamondstar is a wise leader, but she was never meant to be a mother. Since Goldenivy and Sunbreeze are with StarClan now, she can guide Sunpaw to the best of her ability. Not as his mentor, but as a form of parental guidance.” 

After Whitesky‘s words sank in, all four cats lapsed into silence. Mousesnap and Whitesky began grooming each other, and Brindlepaw leaned into Rockpaw when she felt his tongue rasp over her ear. Drowsily, she briefly wondered if she had time for a quick nap, but that thought was chased out of her head when Rockpaw pulled away. 

Her brothers comforting, familiar warmth was gone as he limped across the clearing. Confused, he watched him go through hazy eyes, a stab of guilt pierced her once she saw what he was doing. 

Willowpelt had come out of the warriors den, looking dazed. Rockpaw was speaking to her in low tones, pushing the remains of a sparrow towards her so she would eat. Their mother sniffed the bird, took a few mouthfuls before pushing it away. She retreated to the edge of the clearing, and then sat with her gaze fixated on nothing. With a jolt, Brindlepaw realized that she could see every rib sticking out of her mothers pelt. 

Ever since Ebonyheart‘s death, Willowpelt hadn‘t been the same. She wasn‘t eating, hardly sleeping, and she never went out on a patrol. Shadeclaw was patient with her at first, but now the deputy was growing impatient. He tried urging the incapacitated warrior on patrols, but Willowpelt would only stare at him dully, as if she couldn‘t see him. 

Rockpaw and Brindlepaw hadn‘t just lost one parent, but two. 

Whitesky leaned over to give Brindlepaw’s ear a reassuring lick. “Things will get better,” the white she - cat promised. “Your mothers grief won‘t last forever. She just needs some time, that’s all.”

Brindlepaw wasn‘t too confident that Whitesky was right.

Rockpaw ended up coming back to them and settling down beside Brindlepaw again. Together they lay together, heads on their paws, fur brushing. Mousesnap and Whitesky drifted off, moving to chat with the other warriors. Dusk had settled around the camp, and it was one of those nights where everyone was content with gossiping in the shadows, sharing tongues, or sitting in silence. All were ready for the Gathering to begin, and waiting for Diamondstar’s next order. 

She had ended up drifting off sitting right next to her littermate, distant memories of lying together in make - shift dens before they had reached WindClan’s safe camp flooding over her. Feeling her littermate prod her, she quickly roused, seeing her Clanmates beginning to gather near the entrance.

“Thanks,” she murmured, and Rockpaw dipped his head. 

“No problem.” He breathed, heading off towards Swiftpaw. Rockpaw was far bigger than Swiftpaw, it amused Brindlepaw to see the height and size difference between the two.

Taking a spot beside Flyleaf, Brindlepaw flicked her ear in greeting. When Diamondstar led them all out towards the ridge, excitement made her neck fur begin to bristle. ThunderClan’s scent was stale, indicating that they had passed through her before the WindClan cats had. Still, without speaking, the cats ended up hurrying towards the island. When they got to the bridge, she could smell ShadowClan, ThunderClan and RiverClan. 

Hopping off the bridge, Brindlepaw quickly pushed her way through the brush and into the heart of the island. The combined scents of all four Clans immediately soothed her, and she found herself drawn towards a ThunderClan apprentice: Redpaw. Another cat was sitting right beside him, looking too small to be a regular apprentice. She had to have been just made one, judging by her darting stare and her twitching whiskers.

“This is Brindlepaw and Rockpaw of WindClan,” the ThunderClan apprentice was saying as he flicked his tail towards them as they approached. “And this is Sootpaw and Doepaw of ShadowClan.” 

Brindlepaw’s ear twitched as she realized that the two apprentices came up to join their ragtag group. She didn’t like being so close to ShadowClan cats especially with the spats that had been going on between their Clans, but this was a time for peace. She had no choice but to be civil. 

“Greetings,” was all she chose to say, dipping her head to the young golden she - cat. She couldn‘t help her strained tone; she could feel Sootpaw‘s angry gaze burning her pelt.

“I’m Goldenpaw,” the ThunderClan apprentice managed to say, and it clicked.

Rockpaw and Brindlepaw shared a glance, thinking the exact same thing. This young apprentice was their kin; their blood. Even though they would one day have to face her in battle, the Gathering was their place to act like kin. Before Brindlepaw had a chance to say something to the young ThunderClan cat, she had to quickly step out of the way to avoid being barreled over by Vixenpaw, another ThunderClan cat. 

Hostility glowed within her turquoise hues as she watched the russet she - cat bowl over her littermate. They weren’t supposed to be making friends in other Clan’s, especially with know - it - all ThunderClan cats! Still, she merely sat by as the two cats brushed muzzles, unable to help the annoyance crawling through her pelt.

She turned back to spark a conversation with her young kin, but she found that Goldenpaw was gone. Flicking her ear, Brindlepaw found herself watching as the leaders made their way to spots in the branches. Soon, someone would be yowling their heads off about how they all needed to be silent and listen to the news shared. 

“How is the prey running in WindClan?” A friendly voice asked, and Brindlepaw nearly purred in relief when she saw Whitepaw, the sweet RiverClan apprentice. It took all of her strength not to crinkle her nose at the fishy scent that flooded over her.

“Very well, thank you.” Brindlepaw purred. “And in RiverClan?”

“Well enough. The fish won’t be retreating to the depths of the lake for a while yet! This warm weather is keeping them up towards the surface.” Whitepaw sat down next to Brindlepaw, and Brindlepaw was relieved to take her mind off of her brother. 

“Did you happen to catch the stench of a fox on your territory?” She asked anxiously. “Owlfeather and I chased one onto RiverClan land this morning.”

Whitepaw’s whiskers twitched in surprise. “No,” she mewed. “We did not. I guess we’ll find it soon enough!”

“The Gathering is about to begin!” Morningstar yowled, not rising to his paws. “There will be a time to share after; tonight is warm, and it is still early. Rigidstar, would you like to go first?”

Brindlepaw watched as the RiverClan leader made her way to the edge of the branch, head and tail lifted proudly. The orange - and - white she - cat was old, and she still limped. Briefly, Brindlepaw wondered how she got the awful scar all up through her leg.

She was about to ask Whitepaw when Rigidstar started to speak. 

“Leaf - bare has been uneventful for us; Twoleg’s have stayed on their side of the river, and our borders still remain strong. Amberleap has moved into the nursery, and given us three wonderful kits; Tinykit, Stormkit, and Dapplekit.” The RiverClan leader dipped her head before backing up.

It was hardly a second later, and Cinderstar was at the top of his branch, his upper lip curled. “ShadowClan hasn’t been touched by the usual famine, nor sickness. There is nothing else to announce.” 

Cheeky rabbit! Brindlepaw thought bitterly.

“Our kits have just begun to recover from ShadowClan’s unjust attack,” Diamondstar began, and Brindlepaw could hear snarls and hisses erupt around her. Sootpaw especially was enraged; he was on his paws, lips peeled back over his sharp teeth, yowling something up at Diamondstar. 

“We have four new apprentices; Sunpaw, Swiftpaw, Whimperpaw, and Fuzzypaw. Skyheart, after many seasons of service to his Clan, has also decided to move into the elders den. He was unable to make the long trip tonight. Brindlepaw and Owlfeather also chased a fox out of the moors into RiverClan territory this morning.” Diamondstar continued, not allowing the hisses from below to cut her off. She and Cinderstar shared a nasty glance.

Swiftpaw! Whimperpaw! Fuzzypaw! Sunpaw!” Everyone but the ShadowClan cats called, and Brindlepaw made sure that her voice was the loudest. She was proud of Sunpaw, even if he couldn’t make it here tonight. She hoped that he could hear their cries back at camp.

Morningstar lazily rose to his paws. “ThunderClan has had it’s fair share of losses these past few moons; Treetail has passed on, as has our own Stripedfur, and — . . . Starrybreeze.” 

All around her, Brindlepaw could feel WindClan cats shuddering. Starrybreeze was previously one of their own. 

“Stripedfur contracted a mutated form of Greencough after kitting. She and Wolftail gifted us with five fine kits; Softkit, Nightkit, Whitekit, Winterkit, and Snowkit. They’re mourning their mother, and Wolftail is mourning his mate, but life goes on as it always does. ThunderClan also has four new apprentices: our medicine den is a bit crowded, seeing as how Sweetherb and Fallshine have taken in a new apprentice: Leafpaw. Goldenpaw, Silverpaw, and Bluepaw have begun their warrior apprenticeships. Our nursery is full, apprentices and warriors healthy. ThunderClan can ask for no more.”

Leafpaw! Goldenpaw! Silverpaw! Bluepaw!

In the midst of the Clans chanting again, Brindlepaw realized that Morningstar’s words had held a masked threat. It was clear he did not trust his ShadowClan neighbors anymore. 

After Morningstar was finished speaking, the cats in the clearing dispersed. It was almost comical how the ShadowClan and the WindClan cats refused to be near each other; both were on different sides of the clearing. ThunderClan and RiverClan were the ones in the middle, mixing with all those whom they called friends. 

“I’ll see you next moon,” Brindlepaw said as she touched her nose to Whitepaw’s ear, feeling the RiverClan’s tail whisk over her flank. 

Padding towards the other WindClan cats, Brindlepaw was surprised to feel a ShadowClan pelt brush against her own. She could smell the pinesap and the musk that came with them, and she winced, the memory of their cats flooding into their camp all too raw. 

“I have to talk to you,” Sootpaw murmured, and Brindlepaw immediately froze. 

“Me?” She hissed, flattening her ears. 

“Yes, you. Do you see me talking to anyone else?” The tom snapped. “Follow me.” 

Briskly, he headed off towards a bush, and Brindlepaw reluctantly followed. She looked around to see if anyone was looking, but to her relief, no one was. Together, they squeezed under the thorny branches and huddled too close for Brindlepaw’s comfort. She was going to speak, but he cut her off, his voice sharp.

“You have to watch out,” he cautioned. “Cinderstar is planning another attack.”

What?” Brindlepaw gaped. Her surprise ebbed quickly, replaced by suspicion. “Why would you be telling me about an attack?”

“Because its not fair to your Clan.” Sootpaw sounded urgent. “It’s unfair, and it’s unjust. Cinderstar won’t stop. He won’t listen to his senior warriors, and our deputy is encouraging it.” The apprentice shuddered. “You have to prepare your Clan!”

“Why should I believe you?” Brindlepaw growled. “I won’t believe this so easily. You’ve all turned out to be liars in the past!”

“But it’s the truth!” Sootpaw protested, distress clear in his expression. “He’s going to attack on the new moon!” 

Brindlepaw crawled into the clearing, her tail lashing with annoyance. “I’ll believe it when it happens,” she snorted. “Thanks for the warning, though!”

Three days passed, and no attack from the ShadowClan cats came. Though she told Russetwhisker about what Sootpaw had told her, and her mentor had told Shadeclaw, the deputy had gone to certain lengths to keep their camp protected. The warriors were not informed of what was going on, but, they could tell that something was up. 

“Let’s just finish up this patrol,” Larkfur was saying. The tomcat looked exhausted, and it didn’t help that Sunpaw was bouncing around like a kit at his side. “All of the borders seem quiet, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go home.”

“Can Brindlepaw, Rockpaw and I go hunting?” Sunpaw eagerly asked.

No.” Brindlepaw immediately answered. Her muscles were sore from a training session earlier with Russetwhisker and Whitesky. The two warriors had left her feeling battered, neglecting to go easy on her. “I’m ready to curl up in my nest and sleep for a moon!”

Rockpaw snorted. “It’s too dark to be hunting anyway. It’s so dark that I can’t even see my own paws.” His pelt was brushing against Brindlepaw’s, the two guiding each other across the territory that they both knew by heart. “Tomorrow, though. Before training.”

Sunpaw seemed satisfied with the answer. “Great!” The apprentice gave a little trill. “Maybe Fuzzypaw or Whimperpaw can come with us?”

“Do I smell a possibility of mates in the air?” Rockpaw teased, and Sunpaw flicked his ear uncomfortably. 

“No,” the tom shuffled his paws. “I want to be the best warrior I can be,” he declared as he straightened up. “That means no time for mates!”

“Mates can be a good thing,” Larkfur cautioned. “Mates give the Clan kits, remember. Kits bring us apprentices, and apprentices later then give us warriors. Then the cycle thus repeats.” The elder tomcat cast an amused look at his apprentice. “All young cats feel that way at least once in their lives. I did, once.”

“Did you ever have a crush on any cat?” Brindlepaw asked curiously, hardly able to make Larkfur out in the gloom.

“Once,” the tom admitted. “Once. It’s over now. Besides; I had to be a warrior. WindClan needs its finest warriors focused on the threat ShadowClan still poses.”

Larkfur was wiser than she wanted to admit. He was still young, and he still had time to find a mate of his own, but he seemed very dedicated to his Clan. Maybe when ShadowClan stopped, in the far future, he would find himself a mate.

“ShadowClan won’t ever stop.” Brindlepaw murmured. 

“Sooner or later, a new leader will rise and it will all change.” Larkfur’s voice was firm. “We must have faith that our warrior ancestors have not abandoned us.”

“Conversing about our ancestors, hm?” Scarletfox was on watch just outside of the camp. Her russet fur was just visible in the darkness. Brindlepaw thought that she could see the warriors eyes gleam. 

“Just about their plan for us,” Larkfur waved his tail. “About what they can do for us, and what we need to do to get their forgiveness.”

“Their forgiveness?” Scarletfox echoed.

“It’s like we’re being punished for something.” Sunpaw popped up. 

“Nonsense!” Scarletfox soothed, and she nervously drew her tail over her paws. She didn’t believe what she had said. “StarClan is not punishing us.” She stated firmly. “They would never turn on their living kin.”

Deciding not to get involved with the debate, Brindlepaw slipped into the camp, heading straight to the fresh - kill pile. She snagged a sinewy sparrow, and bit into it — biting back her disgust. It tasted rotten, and it didn’t take much for her to imagine that it was writhing with maggots. Swiping her tongue around her mouth to rid herself of the awful taste, Brindlepaw buried it in a corner of camp before heading towards Shadeclaw.

“What’s up?” The deputy asked when she got close, his tail curled neatly over his paws. He looked as if he were being stretched too thin, but he still greeted her warmly.

“Someone brought back a rotten sparrow,” she explained, swiping her tongue around her maw again. “I just thought I should let you know.”

Shadeclaw immediately looked concerned. “It’s still warm out; there shouldn’t be any rotten prey! Dig it back up and show me.” He commanded.

Exhaustion radiated through her as she led Shadeclaw back to the hole she had dug. Unearthing the sparrow, she shoved it towards the deputy, who cautiously sniffed at it. His nose crinkled at the sour smell, and he beckoned Ashheart over. 

The medicine came bounding across the clearing, blinking curiously at the deputy and the apprentice. “What’s wrong?”

“Could this be a sign?” The deputy muttered, trying to keep Brindlepaw from hearing. But her ears were sharp. 

“A sign from StarClan?” Brindlepaw echoed, and Shadeclaw tossed her a warning glance.

Ashheart nodded. “Diamondstar thought if they wouldn’t speak to her directly, or Whiskerheart, then they would speak to one of her warriors.” Cautiously, the medicine cat poked at the sparrow with a gentle paw, frowning after she rolled it. “I don’t think so — ”

The gray she - cat broke off with a gasping noise, and the fur on the back of her neck stood up. “WindClan’s core is rotten,” she hissed. “Rotten prey for rotten warriors.” Her eyes rolled into the back of her head. “They’ve turned away from StarClan’s guiding light; they’ve turned to the shadows for hope.” 

As soon as the last word left her lips, Ashheart seemed to return to normal. Her rigid limbs went lax, and her head hung before she stretched. “ — if it were a sign, it would be much clearer.” She picked up where she left off, but her tone broke when she saw the panicked expressions on Shadeclaw and Brindlepaw’s face. “What happened?”

“You had a vision,” Shadeclaw croaked. “Do you not remember? You said: ‘WindClan’s core is rotten; rotten prey for rotten warriors. They’ve turned away from StarClan’s guiding light; they’ve turned to the shadows for hope.’” Shadeclaw quoted. “StarClan spoke to you.”

Ashheart looked worried. “Does this mean that WindClan’s warriors are traitors?” She fretted, looking around at the empty clearing.

“We don’t know what it means yet.” Shadeclaw soothed. “Come; we need to speak with Diamondstar.” Turning to Brindlepaw, he spoke. “Bury that again. Tell no cat what you heard, or what you saw. Do you understand?”

Brindlepaw dipped her head. “Of course, Shadeclaw.” 

As the deputy and medicine cat hurried to Diamondstar’s den, Brindlepaw made quick work of burying the sparrow, forcing down a mouse, and slipping into the apprentice den. There was no moon in the sky tonight. Sootpaw’s words flooded over her as she settled down beside Rockpaw and Sunpaw, a shiver sliding through her. He had to be wrong, right? 

No sooner that she had drifted off into a dreamless sleep, she heard crackling along the confines of the camp, and a warning yowl from Scarletfox. 

Shrieks exploded across the camp. Brindlepaw immediately jumped to her paws, her scrabbling hindpaws immediately waking Rockpaw and Sunpaw. In turn, they woke Swiftpaw, Whimperpaw and Fuzzypaw.

“Get to your mentors!” Brindlepaw gasped to the young apprentices, flicking her tail to Rockpaw. “We need to get out there!”

Together, Rockpaw and Brindlepaw sped into the clearing, having to stop immediately because of the fighting. WindClan and ShadowClan cats were grappling all over the clearing; screeching, bloody, tearing messes of fur. Beside her, Rockpaw dove right into the fray, yowling over his shoulder; “I’m going to the nursery!

A body brushed against hers, and Brindlepaw got the same reassured feeling inside of her again.

“I told you it was going to happen,” Sootpaw snarled in her ear. “And you didn’t listen to me!”

“Why should I have believed you?” She spat, the fur along her spine bristling. “My Clanmates are going to be slaughtered by yours!” 

Without giving Sootpaw a chance to respond, Brindlepaw dove into the throngs of fighting cats. 

Blindly, Brindlepaw threw herself onto a snowy white apprentice. She didn‘t understand why she felt so betrayed; Sootpaw wasn‘t her Clanmate, and she didn‘t know him personally. Why should she feel upset over him failing to persuade his Clanmates to not attack their camp? 

“WindClan scum!“ The she - cat snarled in Brindlepaw‘s ear, snapping her back to the present. 

“Leave our camp!“ Brindlepaw snarled back, fury building inside of her. The apprentice, Snowpaw, was on top of her, claws raking down her pelt and teeth embedded in her scruff. Shrieking, Brindlepaw remembered to go limp, feeling Snowpaw tense with satisfaction. 

Immediately, Brindlepaw shot back, digging her claws into the peaty ground. Rapidly, she judged how much room she had before she whirled up on her hind paws, twisting her body in a half - flip. Snowpaw’s eyes were wide as she watched Brindlepaw leap over her and then land neatly behind her. Still eager to confuse her, Brindlepaw slid underneath the other apprentice, twisting again to wrap her paws around Snowpaw’s neck.

Remembering the move she had used upon her littermate earlier, Brindlepaw twisted her lower body out of the way before sharply yanking the apprentices head down, and bashing her chin against the hard, peaty ground. She could feel the tremors run through Snowpaw as her body collapsed, and Brindlepaw knew she had won. 

“Get out of our camp,” Brindlepaw snarled, her maw close to Snowpaw’s ear. 

To make herself clear, Brindlepaw gave a quick blow to Snowpaw’s muzzle before bounding away. Her entire body fizzed with energy she hadn’t felt earlier. Her turquoise gaze was more experienced than when they had faced off against ThunderClan. She knew when a cat was in trouble, when another needed help, and when to leave a fight alone. She saw Whitesky with her teeth in Marshclaw’s scruff, and her head whipping from side - to - side as she stunned the bigger warrior. She was far smaller than him, but her head was whipping so fast that it didn’t matter.

Diamondstar and Cinderstar were facing off; the WindClan she - cat was raised on her hind legs, firmly landing blow after blow on the ShadowClan leaders muzzle. She was too fast, too quick to duck and avoid his blows for him to catch her. Cinderstar’s lips were peeled back in rage as he kept having to drop down onto his paws to avoid her, and always being met with another hit. Even though Diamondstar was old, she was not weak.

Shadeclaw was chasing Deadtail, Blackheart and Fluffypaw out. Russetwhisker was hard on his paws, with Stonecloud following. All three toms were caterwauling something fierce. Bearhowl, Badgerclaw and Ashheart were defending the medicine den. Spottedmoon was poking his head out every so often, lashing out at anyone that managed to get through the other warriors defenses. Sunpaw, Larkfur, Eaglestep and Brackenfoot were bunched in front of the elders den, locked in an awful spat with Thunderheart, Frostscratch, Shaderunner, Patchtail, and Stormymind. Sunpaw was fighting brilliantly; his bright pelt was soaked in blood, but he fought on, refusing to let Patchtail slip past him. Rockpaw and Blueeye were in front of the nursery, both slamming their paws down on two apprentices that came running towards the den. 

Spotting Leafwhisper writhing underneath Gooseflight and Mothheart, Brindlepaw sped off towards her Clanmate. Her paws slipped in the combination of mud and blood pooled on the ground. To her horror, rain started pouring down upon the battling cats. Thunder cracked overhead as Blueeye shrieked out a cry for help, and as Brindlepaw began back - peddling towards the nursery to help Blueeye and Rockpaw, she became numb with horror. Leafwhisper was already on her paws, with Gooseflight fleeing and Mothheart pinned underneath her.

Rockpaw was facing Doepaw head on. Her littermate was twisting with her, and then there was an awful crack. Doepaw’s rain - slick body twitched in Rockpaw’s grasp, and then it fell still. 

An awful wail rose from a shadowy form in front the nursery. Sootpaw dove towards his littermates body, burying his nose into her pelt. His maw was moving, but Brindlepaw couldn’t tell what he was saying. Rockpaw looked horrified; he was backing away from the littermates towards Blueeye, shaking his head. 

“Cinderstar!” Diamondstar yowled, landing upon her paws. She was finished fighting. “Your attack was unjust!” She spat, but Cinderstar didn’t cower. He stared down at her, his face twisted with rage. “Take your dead and leave.” She harshly jerked her tail towards Doepaw’s still body. “Your second attack was truly barbaric. Going for our kits in the nursery? Trying to kill our medicine cat? Our elders?” Her voice rose in outrage. “How dare you!” It took a lot of effort for her to calm herself. “Get out. Get out of my camp.” 

The ShadowClan leader didn’t need telling twice. Fluffypaw and Sootpaw picked up Doepaw, balancing her body between them. Jayheart, a new ShadowClan warrior, hurried behind to pick up her dragging tail. 

All the invading cats filtered out through the trampled camp entrance, and Brindlepaw’s pelt bristled with shock once she saw Scarletfox. As the warrior on watch, they must have attacked her first. Ashheart was already bent over her, paws pressed firmly against her throat. attempting to stop the tide of blood that was already seeping across camp. 

Shadeclaw, whom was struggling to stay standing, gestured to Ravenbeak, Rabbitclaw, Breezetail, Skinnyfoot, and Mysterypelt to follow the ShadowClan cats out. They bore the marks of enemy claws, but they were still standing, which was a good sign. 

Even sweet Ashheart had claw marks down her side. She looked to be barely on her paws, but she was still working on Scarletfox. Skyheart was attending to cats whom weren’t as badly injured as Scarletfox, and directing cats to where they should go. His gaze was blank and he wheezed, but he wasn’t going to let his Clanmates do anything without him.

“Give the kits in the nursery thyme!” Ashheart called over her shoulder to Firefur, who nodded. “And Willowpelt poppy; only two. I don’t think she moved from the warriors den during this attack.”

Panicked about her mother all of a sudden, Brindlepaw pushed her way into the warriors den, glad to see her mothers gray pelt in the darkness. She hadn’t moved from her nest, and seemed relatively calm. Calmer than Brindlepaw would have expected her to be. Relieved, she went and touched her mothers ear with her tail before heading back out into the clearing.

Dawn was beginning to break. Hazy light was filtering through the devastated camp. The rain had eased off, leaving breaks in the clouds where sunlight was struggling to filter through. Brindlepaw was uncomfortably damp, and the rain neglected to wash away all of the blood and the fur still trapped in camp. She could hear Rabbitkit and Mudkit squeaking from the nursery, and she could hear Peatwhisker trying to calm them down. 

“If your wounds hadn’t stopped bleeding yet, then go to your dens; I will come and wake you later. But it they’re still bleeding, come to the medicine den and sit down.” She was patting at Scarletfox’s poultice, and then she turned and slipped inside the medicine den. Scarletfox most likely couldn’t be moved.

Owlfeather was another cat who lay unmoving in the clearing. Brindlepaw wasn’t sure that the senior warrior was alive, but she spotted the weak rise and fall of Owlfeather’s chest. Rather than go over to her, her paws carried her to Rockpaw, who lay stunned by the nursery. Swiftpaw was already with his mother, his paws on her shoulder, begging for her to wake up. 

Gently, she touched her nose to his shoulder, but he didn’t respond. “It’s not your fault,” she murmured, and he turned away.

“It is not your fault.” Brindlepaw said firmly. “They shouldn’t have been here to begin with; whatever happened, they’re responsible for.” 

Rockpaw didn’t answer. He just looked down at his paws, refusing to make eye contact with his littermate.

“Leave him be,” Russetwhisker whispered. “He needs some time to himself.” His plumy tail draped across her shoulders, and he led her away. “Thankfully none of us were killed.”

“But Scarletfox isn’t out of the woods, and Owlfeather doesn’t look so good. Spottedmoon is still down, too.”

“These are things that we can all work past.” Russetwhisker said firmly. “WindClan won’t be targeted by ShadowClan forever.” He sighed, and Brindlepaw saw how much fur he was missing along his shoulders. Blood was splattered across his muzzle, and there was tri - colored fur caught in his claws. “I don’t understand why they keep doing this to us,” he mumbled. “It just doesn’t make sense. If they want a war, why not pick one with ThunderClan and RIverClan?”

Brindlepaw didn’t have an answer for him.

Chapter Text

Brindlepaw’s wounds from the battle weren’t as bad as the others had suffered; she had a stinging bite on the back of her neck, and she had clawmarks down her flanks, but she was still able to hunt and move freely. Her claws stretched out without hindrance, and each muscle was sore, though tolerable. Russetwhisker had ordered her to hunt — not alone — so she had gone out with Swiftpaw and Fuzzypaw. Together, the three cats managed to bring back five mice, three rabbits, and a shrew between them. After they had come back, Sunpaw and Whimerpaw went out, and Brindlepaw was still shocked to see how much of Sunpaw’s fur was missing. He had limped out of camp determinedly, yowling to Larkfur that he would be back as soon as he caught something for Ashheart. Larkfur hadn’t looked happy, but his mentor couldn’t argue with Sunpaw. Sunpaw’s determination was going to get him in a lot of trouble some day.

Still, Rockpaw sat in front of the nursery, unmoving. Blueeye was with him when Brindlepaw had left, and right now, Brindlepaw just wanted to be surrounded by her kin. She was exhausted, aching, and ready to sleep, but she wanted Rockpaw’s pelt pressed against her own for comforting reasons. Blueeye wasn’t there anymore. The ground was still disturbed from where she had been laying.

Padding over to Rockpaw, she touched her nose to his ear, whiskers twitching when she felt the dried blood crusted in his fur. “Did you see Ashheart yet?” She asked, already knowing his answer. 

“No.” His voice rasped and caught within his throat. 

Knowing that Ashheart would never treat him whilst he was covered in blood, Brindlepaw settled down beside him and began grooming his fur. Steadily, her tongue stroked over his flanks and up his spine; licking his fur the wrong way as to warm him up. There was a breeze in camp that hadn’t been there before the brief rain. The sun had reached its peak in the sky, and shone down strongly, almost as if there hadn’t been an attack in their camp at all. Though her brother was sitting directly in a patch of sunlight, he was cold from lack of movement. 

But the camp itself was devastated. The brush that had been protecting the camp for countless moons were gone; trampled by ShadowClan and WindClan cats alike. There were still clumps of fur caught in the corners of camp, and the heather from nests were strewn carelessly across camp. Puddles were gathering in the dips of the dirt; the kits were dabbing at the surface of the water, squealing when droplets splattered their faces and whiskers. They didn’t seem to realize the severity of the situation.

Blood was splattered across the camp floor, but the earlier rain had washed most of it away. Fuzzypaw and Swiftpaw were picking at the fur clumps, murmuring amongst themselves as they worked, trying to at least make the camp a bit more clean. The pathetic prey pile was scattered across the camp as well, and though Brindlepaw didn’t want to be the one to clean up the sodden and beginning to rot prey, she knew that if no one did, she would have to be the one to do it. There was a new pile of clean, warm prey going right beside it, but it was pathetically small. It was beginning to grow smaller from the warriors passing it out, deciding who would get to eat and who would have to wait.

Within time, she managed to determine how injured he was. One of the scratches across his neck still oozed blood no matter how many times Brindlepaw lapped at it to get it to stop. He was missing fur around his front left paw, and tufts of it were missing on both flanks. His ear had a new nick in it, and he had a pulled claw, but otherwise he seemed fine. He was more battered than Brindlepaw was, and she couldn’t help but wonder whom he had encountered before he had stopped Doepaw. She wouldn’t be surprised if Ashheart kept him in the medicine den with Owlfeather, Scarletfox and Spottedmoon.

Stiffly, Rockpaw rose to his paws with Brindlepaw guiding him across camp. They both brushed inside the medicine den, seeing Ashheart tending to Scarletfox again. Spottedmoon was sitting in his nest, his tail curled neatly over his paws, passing herbs to Ashheart when she asked for them. Owlfeather was in a nest closer to the back of the den. The queen was still, but not ominously so.

“Hi, Brindlepaw, Rockpaw,” Spottedmoon waved his tail in greeting. He knocked over a pile of herbs as he did so, frowning at it before turning his attention back to the apprentices. “What troubles you?” 

“Not me,” Brindlepaw shook her head, fondness sweeping across her. Spottedmoon was so strong; he was so determined to survive, no matter what happened. Ashheart had been good to him during his stay in the den. “It’s Rockpaw. His wounds still haven’t been treated.”

“Oh!” Ashheart sounded flustered. “I’m sorry. Let me tend to it all now.” She stepped away from Scarletfox with an exhausted sigh. She pulled out the herbs to correctly treat Rockpaw, her whiskers twitching at the mess Spottedmoon created. “Any serious damage?” She asked, turning away from her littermate. 

“Just the wound on my neck,” he rasped, his tail whisking against it. “It hasn’t stopped bleeding.”

“And you didn’t come to me sooner?” Her voice was sharp, but after a moment, she sighed again. Her fur was disheveled and spiked along her spine, she was stressed and tired, but the Clan needed her. “I know what you did was rough,” Ashheart’s voice was quiet. “You went through a lot last night. But you have to move on; you can’t dwell on it forever.” She chewed up the herbs as she spoke, and then began to apply it to his neck wound. “Doepaw’s death won’t haunt you forever.”

Sensing that this was Rockpaw’s and Ashheart’s talk to have, Brindlepaw and Spottedmoon slid out of the medicine den. Together, they sat outside of the entrance, watching as warriors bustled to - and - fro. The camp was considerably neater now, but it wouldn’t be back in shape for a long time yet. 

“Were you hurt in the battle?” Brindlepaw ended up asking when the silence was to much to bear. 

“No; just a scratch or so on my nose, nothing intolerable.” The tom stretched his forepaws out, and then winced. “I wish I could have really been apart of the battle. I miss it. I’ve been sitting in the medicine den for far too long. My muscles feel weak.”

“How long does Ashheart think you’re going to be in there?”

“Another moon or so. I have to take it easy when I start training again, work up my strength and try not to exert myself, but she said I’ll be chasing rabbits across the moor in no time.” The tan tom shook his head slowly. His eyes were bright with excitement a moment before, but they dimmed. “Sometimes I feel as if I’ll never get there.”

Brindlepaw purred. “You’ve come farther than most,” she murmured, a soft sigh leaving her maw. “As Ashheart said, you’ll be chasing rabbits across the moor in no time.” 

“I want to be chasing rabbits now,” Spottedmoon grumbled stubbornly. “I fought so hard for my life, and now I feel as if I’m letting everyone down by still being unable to recover.” 

“How about I go catch you a rabbit now?” Brindlepaw asked, her gaze filled with amusement. “I can do with catching another.”

“Would you?” The toms tawny gaze lit up with excitement again. “Ashheart’s only been letting me eat birds.” The fur along his spine rippled in disgust. “I don’t think I’ll ever eat another bird in my life!”

“I’ll be back soon!” Brindlepaw yowled over her shoulder as she headed towards the camp entrance, making sure to stop and tell Shadeclaw where she was going. The deputy didn’t look too happy that she was leaving alone, but he didn’t try to stop her. All she had to do was promise that she wasn’t going to stray too close to the lake, and he had agreed. 

Figuring that she would also catch a lapwing for Willowpelt whilst she was out, Brindlepaw did well to catch a rabbit first. It was an easy kill; the tiny creature strayed out into the path, and she had absentmindedly snapped it’s neck. Swiftly burying the rabbit under the turf, she opened her maw to try and catch the scent of a lapwing, but nothing came.

Frustration built within her. She wished she hadn’t gone out earlier because now it felt tedious. But she was worried about her mother; Willowpelt still hadn’t left her nest, and she was certain that no one brought her prey. Usually, Rockpaw would, but both had been preoccupied that morning. 

Lashing her tail in annoyance, Brindlepaw stalked over the next rise, immediately lowering herself down into a hunting crouch. Determinedly, she drew forward, her gaze gleaming when she saw a lapwing. There was one out after all! Sending all of her strength to her hind legs, Brindlepaw hesitated before launching herself at the bird, her claws snagging in the wings and bringing it down. Her teeth embedded in the back of its neck, tasting the fresh scent of blood before freezing with it in her mouth.

She could hear voices!

Pricking her ears, Brindlepaw stowed the bird underneath a bush, knowing that there were no foxes on the moor at this time. Parting her maw to draw the scents over her tongue, she realized that they weren’t WindClan nor ShadowClan scents, but ThunderClan

“. . . We won’t catch anything,” one of the voices were saying. “And we can go back home soon! I’m just curious about the moor.”

“We shouldn’t be here,” a toms mew sounded wary. “It’s too quiet, and I still smell blood.” 

Blood?” The other cat, a she - cat, sounded alarmed. “It’s probably just a kill.”

“No,” the tom sounded worried. “Not animal blood. Cat blood.” 

“We should go, then.” The she - cat’s voice was high-pitched with nerves. “Cat blood never ends well, and we aren’t really trained to fight.”

Brindlepaw’s ear twitched, and she crept over the side of the rise, peering down at the two ThunderClan apprentices. One was a dappled tortoiseshell; he was the tomcat. She could tell from his young face and the way he moved. The other was a pale gray she - cat with a blue hue to her fur, lithe, but young. Both were young, new apprentices, by the looks of it. 

With a twinge of amusement, she wondered if she should leap out of her hiding place and scare them back off into their own territory. Instead, she lowered down, thinking that she was better off watching them for the moment. Would they go as far as to go to the camp, or would they turn back? 

“It’s ShadowClan scent, too: both WindClan and ShadowClan blood.” The tom shook out his pelt. “Come on, Bluepaw. Let’s go see if we can find a patrol. I want to know what happened.”

“Just because you’re a medicine cat apprentice doesn’t mean that you can go traveling all over the territories, Leafpaw!” Bluepaw hissed back, flattening her ears to her skull. “We should really go!”

Leafpaw? Bluepaw? Morningstar announced them as new apprentices at the Gathering! Brindlepaw thought, knowing that it would be useless to stay where she was. They would either scent her, or they would stumble across her sooner or later. Besides, they were trespassing! 

Two ThunderClan apprentices in WindClan territory?” Brindlepaw drawled as she padded out of the heather, careful to keep her hackles down. They wouldn’t be able to fight her. There was no need for hostility. “You two would make a good meal for our elders.” 

Bluepaw and Leafpaw both jumped, looking guilty. Bluepaw was clearly fumbling for words whilst Leafpaw drew tall, his amber gaze fierce. He was staring at Brindlepaw with his head held high. “I could smell blood,” he stated. “I wanted to see what happened.”

“No, you’re here to hunt,” Brindlepaw circled around the two of them, her gaze sharp. “I heard you two before you started to smell blood.” 

The two apprentices shared a surprised look, but didn’t speak. 

“But I won’t bring you back to camp,” she continued, pitying the two young cats. They were young, it could be forgiven. Her annoyance was piqued, albeit. Apprentices should know to respect the boundaries. “As long as you go back home. Right now.” 

Leafpaw barely let her get the words out before he was talking again. “No, I can’t sit for that.” He growled. “Ashheart must need help; I need to help her.” His amber gaze shone earnestly, and Brindlepaw took a step back, unease building inside of her. “It would be wrong of me to leave now, wouldn’t it? She must have her paws full.”

“You didn’t ask Morningstar if you could do such a thing!” Bluepaw gaped, her pelt spiking.

“Go home and tell Morningstar that I’ll be staying in WindClan to help Ashheart.” Leafpaw said firmly, and Brindlepaw finally found her tongue again.

“Hold on one heartbeat,” Brindlepaw warned. “Diamondstar didn’t agree to this, and we don’t need another mouth to feed.” After what happened, they really didn’t need another mouth; especially one from another Clan! “It would be a sign of weakness to take you in now,” she frowned. “I’m taking you both back to Morningstar.”

With a pang of resentment, she knew that she was going to have to leave her prey until she could come home. Lashing her tail, she beckoned to both apprentices, and stalked off towards ThunderClan territory. “Come on; it’s past time you two got home, and I don’t have the time to spare bringing you back.”

Resigned, both apprentices followed behind her, their heads and their tails hanging. Her luck seemed to hold out, for she could scent Sheephoof and Shaggyjaw. Altering their course so that they ran into the patrol of two, Brindlepaw immediately held her tail up so that they knew that she was aware of what was going on.

“I found two ThunderClan apprentices wandering around,” Brindlepaw murmured when she was close enough to talk to the warriors without raising her voice, gesturing to each. “One medicine cat, one warrior apprentice. Leafpaw . . . he wants to extend a helping paw to Ashheart, and stay in the camp to help with the wounded.”

“Do they know?” Shaggyjaw’s voice sharpened, his hackles were bristling.

“They can piece things together; they’re not stupid.” Brindlepaw’s tail flicked. “I was going to bring them back home, where they belong.”

“No,” Sheephoof shook his head. “We’re going back to camp. Diamondstar will want to see them.”

“I’ll meet you back in camp then, I want to go collect what I had hunted before it becomes crowfood.” Once Shaggyjaw agreed, Brindlepaw doubled back in a flat sprint and collected her lapwing and rabbit. She immediately headed back into camp with the prey in her maw, already scenting Shaggyjaw and Sheephoof. She spotted Bluepaw and Leafpaw immediately, awkwardly seated by the apprentice den, tails flicking and gazes darting all over camp. The kits were staring at them with a mixture of curiosity and hostility, daring each other to dart forward and torment the apprentices. 

Brindlepaw headed to the warriors den first, setting the rabbit down outside. With the lapwing tightly gripped in her maw, she set it down in front of her mothers nest. Hesitantly, she touched her nose to Willowpelt’s ear, startled by how cold it was. Willowpelt hadn’t left the nest in a long time, by the judge of her cool fur. There had to be drafts in the den — her mother couldn’t be this cold by simply not moving!

“I brought you lapwing, your favorite,” Brindlepaw offered, nudging the bird. Her mother didn’t look away from the den wall, her gaze blank.

Frowning, Brindlepaw tried again. “Willowpelt, you must eat something,” She urged, but her mother just turned away, putting her head down on her paws. “You can’t just not eat; I caught you a lapwing, your favorite!” She tried, distress edging her voice.

Her mother didn’t even react. She lifted her head to sniff at the prey, but pushed it away with a dainty paw. “Let Peatwhisker have it.” 

“Peatwhisker is being taken care of by the others,” Brindlepaw soothed. “I caught this just for you.” 

“I don’t want it.” Willowpelt set her head down on her paws again. “I’m not hungry.”

“Just a bite?” She pressed.

Hesitantly, Willowpelt raised her head again before sniffing the lapwing a second time, taking a shallow bite. She chewed, her expression showing disgust. “Share it with Rockpaw,” she pushed it away again, and this time, Brindlepaw gave up.

“As you wish,” she murmured, resting her muzzle on her mothers head. Willowpelt was just so determined to follow in Ebonyheart’s footsteps; was there any way to pull her back from the edge? But deep down, Brindlepaw knew that it was only a matter of time now before she was sitting vigil for Willowpelt, leaving her and her littermate without parents. 

Knowing that the elders also liked lapwing as well, Brindlepaw brought the bird to Dappledfeather and Firefur, whom were sunning themselves in the dying rays. Firefur’s eyes lit up at the sight of the bird, and Dappledfeather licked her lips. 

“I originally caught this for Willowpelt,” Brindlepaw confessed, her voice muffled. “But she only took a bite, and she didn’t quite want it. There’s quite a bit left, if you guys would like it?”

“Of course we would like it!” Dappledfeather said briskly. “Set it here, and then tell the other apprentices that we’re all good for night.” 

“Did anyone get to your ticks, fleas and your nests?” Though Brindlepaw had a burning curiosity of what Diamondstar would decide to do with the ThunderClan apprentices, she wanted to make sure she was all set with her duties.

“Sunpaw and Fuzzypaw got to them earlier,” Skyheart padded out of the den. The fur around his neck looked ruffled, and Brindlepaw was pained to see a long, fresh scar down his side. Clearly, the ShadowClan cats hadn’t refrained from harming their elders. Skyheart would have fought with a burning passion to protect his new denmates. But the elder was looking proud, his gaze gleaming at the lapwing. “Go. I can see that you are curious about those ThunderClan apprentices. Make sure to bring news about what happens!” 

Dipping her head respectfully, Brindlepaw headed back out into camp, feeling her belly rumble for the first time that day. There were a few stale pieces of prey on the pile, but she couldn’t eat just yet. She needed to give the rabbit to Spottedmoon still.

Going back to the rabbit still sitting outside the warriors den, Brindlepaw hurried to the medicine den. Spottedmoon was curled up at the entrance, his gaze fixated on Rockpaw and Scarletfox, whom were both fast asleep. He mouthed his thanks when Brindlepaw before him. Owlfeather was still where she was before, and Brindlepaw wasn’t sure that the warrior had moved.

Practically running back to the prey pile, she pawed through the scrawny remains, and she settled for a shrew, just barely finishing it when Diamondstar leapt up to her perch. There was no need to yowl the usual summons; everyone was already gathered, looking expectantly up at their leader. Everyone must have found out that there were two new apprentices in their camp.

“I suppose you’ve all heard about the two apprentices we’ve seemed to gain,” she began, sweeping her tail towards Leafpaw and Bluepaw. Bluepaw shrank underneath the Clans gaze, and Leafpaw didn’t react. “I suppose you all wish to know what I’ve decided to do with them for trespassing. Since they are both young, clearly still learning our ways despite growing up in a Clan,” her gaze was hard, brimming with fresh annoyance. “But, youth can be forgiven. I know we’ve all done stupid things, or are about to do stupid things, and so I can forgive what happened today.”

There was hardly a second between her words and Leafpaw’s. Clearly, the medicine cat apprentice was still learning his manners. “Are you sending us home, or are you going to let me stay to help?” The young tom flashed, and Brindlepaw just barely caught Diamondstar’s angered expression. It was gone within a heartbeat. 

“If Morningstar agrees,” Diamondstar’s voice was tight, clearly struggling with keeping her temper, “Leafpaw will be staying in our camp temporarily to work alongside of Ashheart. With Scarletfox, Spottedmoon, Owlfeather, and Rockpaw in such bad conditions, she will need help. Rabbitkit and Mudkit are clearly going to be warriors,” her voice suddenly became fond, “and there are no expectant queens, so to ask one of our own apprentices to help out would be . . . unfair, considering the entire situation with us and ShadowClan.” 

“Why should we take in another mouth to feed?” Stonecloud called, and Larkfur muttered an agreement. “Soon, the cold season will be back, and we will have kits to feed and ourselves. Who knows how long he will stay?”

“I won’t be staying for more than a moon or two,” Leafpaw said boldly. “Just until you have your apprentice and your three warriors back to normal.” The apprentices tail lashed. Bluepaw shrank even more beside him.

Stonecloud was staring directly at Leafpaw, his yellow eyes unwavering. Brindlepaw could see that his slate gray fur was rippling with unease. “What if he’s a ThunderClan spy?”

“Why would ThunderClan want to spy on us?” Peatwhisker gaped, drawing Rabbitkit and Mudkit closer to her with her tail. “Are they going to gang up on us with ShadowClan?”

“No!” Badgerclaw snorted. “Morningstar is nothing like Wiltedstar; he won’t be ganging up with Cinderstar against us. Morningstar is a good cat, he’s an honorable cat, unlike someone else we know.” He paced around his mate, nosing Peatwhisker’s cheek to quell her fears. She leaned into him, her whiskers twitching. Rabbitkit was climbing up on his fathers pelt, moving to sit on his shoulders with a wondrous expression.

“Morningstar doesn’t even know we’re here,” Bluepaw offered. “We were supposed to be out collecting herbs when Leafpaw started to smell cat blood, both WindClan and ShadowClan.”

“That’s no excuse,” Dustcloud growled. The young warrior lashed her tail. “They shouldn’t be allowed to stay, Diamondstar! You’re rewarding disobedience!”

“This is my decision!” Diamondstar yowled, silencing her warriors. “No cat in this camp is pregnant, and those two kits are clearly going to be warriors, so Ashheart needs any paws that she can get right now!” Her tone was sharp, clearly showing that it wasn’t up for debate anymore. “Russetwhisker! Take Brindlepaw, Brackenfoot and Sunpaw with you to escort Bluepaw home. Shadeclaw, send out the evening patrols. I will be accompany the patrol to ThunderClan’s camp. I must speak to Morningstar myself.” With a final lash of her tail, Diamondstar jumped down onto the camp ground, stalking towards the camp entrance. 

Brindlepaw rose to her paws, realizing that Diamondstar had chosen cats that hadn’t objected to Leafpaw staying. The cats whom weren’t hostile and had held their tongues would do good to face against Morningstar. Though the sun was beginning to dip behind the far off mountains, and a cool wind was starting to sweep through camp, Morningstar would be missing two young apprentices. With the way ShadowClan was acting, too, it would definitely sew the seeds of doubt within the ThunderClan leaders mind. 

“Are you ready?” Brindlepaw greeted Bluepaw gently. There was no need for her to be hostile. “You’ve traveled a long way for such a young apprentice.”

The she - cat bristled. “I’m not that young!”

“Your legs are still short, and you’ve kitten fluff around your ears. You’re still young.” She flicked her tail over Bluepaw’s ear. “One day, Bluepaw, you’ll be bigger.”

“Come on, Brindlepaw,” Russetwhisker growled. “I want to be back in camp before the sun sets. Stop dawdling.” Her mentor was clearly in no mood to encourage her to make friends. Something had gotten underneath her fur, but Brindlepaw didn’t know what.

Together, the band of cats set off across their territory. Brindlepaw and Sunpaw walked side - by - side, their fur barely brushing, whilst Brackenfoot flanked Bluepaw, and Russetwhisker and Diamondstar led the way to the ThunderClan border. When he padded up to the bank, he didn’t even break stride; Russetwhisker bunched his muscles underneath him and landed perfectly on the other side without losing his balance. Diamondstar went next, sailing neatly through the air and landing upon her paws. Her tail twitched, beckoning the next one over. She still managed to remain poised and sure of herself.

Brackenfoot followed. He landed lightly on his paws, and called to Sunpaw, his tone encouraging. Sunpaw looked uneasy as he backed up, and then took a running start; leaping and landing hardly on the other side. Bluepaw followed, roughly landing beside him, her legs almost giving out and sending her into the stream. When it came to Brindlepaw’s turn, she jumped, landing steadily on her paws next to Sunpaw. The rain that morning hadn’t been enough to get the water to swell, but she knew that Leafwhisper was afraid that the streams might run dry if there wasn’t rain soon. 

“I can get on by myself from here,” Bluepaw said nervously, and she saw Brackenfoot flick his ear in amusement. 

“No, I want to talk to Morningstar about Leafpaw and you.” Diamondstar growled, her tail lashing. She and Russetwhisker seemed to be in the same mood.

Bluepaw glumly followed behind the WindClan leader, her head lowered and tail dragging in the undergrowth. 

Russetwhisker snorted and stalked through the undergrowth, his head held high, tail kinked over his back. Brindlepaw was impressed by his confidence. He knew that he didn’t belong here, but he still moved as if the territory belonged to him and he knew every inch of it. She was struck by how her mentor seemed so at ease under the canopy of trees that trapped them overhead. Her own pelt pricked with discomfort and her eyes were constantly shifting at every noise. She wasn’t quite sure how ThunderClan could stand to live so far away from the sky for so long. Brindlepaw knew she would go mad if she were stuck here. 

Diamondstar led them all right up to the ThunderClan camp entrance. They were met by a warrior sitting guard, whom Brindlepaw recognized as Weedrun. The tom immediately rose to his paws, suspicion gleaming in his dark gaze.

“What are you doing here?” The tom demanded. 

“We’re here to see Morningstar; we have a runaway apprentice.” Diamondstar answered lazily. “We also . . . have to talk with him about other things. Now, if you wouldn’t mind,” she took a step towards the entrance.

Still suspicious, Weedrun stepped out of the way, flicking his tail for them all to follow. One at a time, they all squeezed through the tunnel, Brindlepaw hissing when her pelt caught on a number of things. Once she was out in the camp, she shook out her pelt, fluffing it out to make sure that no thorns got embedded in her skin.

A heavily pregnant queen was padding across the camp alongside of a tom that Brindlepaw recognized as Runningfang. Some speculated that he was going to be the leader that followed in Morningstar’s pawsteps, but Brindlepaw didn’t quite like to listen to the gossip. The queen stopped when she saw the WindClan patrol, her maw parting in surprise. Runningfang ushered her towards what Brindlepaw could only presume to be the nursery, for when she listened, she could hear the tiny wails of kits.

“Diamondstar,” the old deputy, Chidingbird, growled as he padded towards the WindClan patrol. His gaze grew even sterner when he spotted Bluepaw, whom was his daughter. “I see you’ve returned one of our apprentices, but not the other.” 

Diamondstar was as cool as ever. “That’s what I’ve come to talk to Morningstar about. Your son,” her voice was sharp, “wants to stay with us for some time. Get him.”

“Better yet, come with me.” Chidingbird flicked his tail. “Bluepaw, go to the apprentice den.” He growled. “I’ll deal with you later.” 

The apprentice flattened her ears, but slunk off to a small den regardless. A moment later, Chidingbird brought Russetwhisker and Diamondstar with him up to what looked like a rockfall leading up to what seemed to be a ledge and a den, both of them disappearing behind a curve in the rock.

“Let’s rest here,” Brackenfoot suggested. The tom led them to a quiet spot in the camp, sitting down with his tail curved over his paws. His ears were perked signifying that he was trying to listen in to the conversation in the den. Brindlepaw lay down on one side of him, whilst Sunpaw sat down on the other.

A moment later, two she - cats came padding from a cleft in the sheer rock - face. Brindlepaw hadn’t even realized that such a thing existed until they squeezed out, smelling strongly of herbs and going towards Morningstar’s den. The camp was busy with life; Brindlepaw could hear squeaks of multiple kits in the nursery, and young warriors were pacing at the opposite corners of camp, watching the WindClan warriors warily. One apprentice was sitting outside the apprentices den, her emerald gaze gleaming as she studied them. 

It took Brindlepaw a moment to realize that it was Goldenpaw. The young she - cat had her eyes narrowed, staring directly at Brindlepaw. First getting permission from Brackenfoot, Brindlepaw padded over to her. 

“Hi, Brindlepaw,” Goldenpaw greeted with a respectful dip of her head. 

“How are you?” Brindlepaw purred, sitting down before the younger apprentice. 

“Worried,” the she - cat admitted. “We’ve been looking for Bluepaw and Leafpaw all day. Is Leafpaw okay?”

“He’ll be fine with us,” Brindlepaw soothed. “Ashheart would never hurt him.”

“That’s good,” Goldenpaw breathed out in relief. 

For a moment, Brindlepaw wondered about what went through this apprentices head on a daily basis. Goldenpaw was indeed her kin; Ebonyheart was Brindlepaw’s father, but his sister, Starrybreeze, mothered Goldenpaw. Though, she didn’t know if the apprentice knew about their relationship, so she kept her maw shut about that. “You darted off so soon during the Gathering,” Brindlepaw opted for saying instead. 

Goldenpaw looked sheepish. “I had a long day beforehand,” she twitched her whiskers. “Doing a complete tour of our territory and going to the Gathering was a bit much for me.”

“It was your first Gathering, too. The first ones are always a blur,” Brindlepaw sympathized. “Who is your mentor?”


Brindlepaw immediately looked wary. Parents mentoring their kits? That wasn’t quite a good idea. They never had parents mentor their kits because of the temptation to go easy on them. Was he being a good father in doing this for his daughter? 

“Mentored by the leader himself,” Brindlepaw managed to get out. “That’s . . . eventful.” 

“It hasn’t been us one - on - one yet,” Goldenpaw admitted. “I’ve been training with the senior warriors and anyone who has the time for me. He’s a bit too busy for the likes of me.”

Something struck Brindlepaw as odd. Was Goldenpaw aware of her relation to Morningstar, or had something else happened? The WindClan apprentice bit back her frown, knowing better than to directly ask the younger apprentice. Regardless, she didn’t have time to inquire about what was going on with her distant family. Her sharp hearing detected Diamondstar and Russetwhisker coming out of Morningstar’s den.

The ThunderClan leader followed after Diamondstar, his expression flat. His pale amber hues were glimmering with unease but he still carried himself with pride. He was stunning in the dying light, looking absolutely regal and ready for anything that StarClan had to throw at him. 

“And you will personally return him in two moons time?” Sweetherb was saying, her white fur fluffed out with anxiety. 

“Of course,” Diamondstar’s voice was silky. “I will bring him back myself.” 

“Thank you,” Fallshine beckoned Sweetherb back towards the medicine den. “We appreciate it.”

“Bluepaw will be punished, won’t she?” Diamondstar pressed, her voice a bit louder than it needed to be.

Morningstar narrowed his eyes, knowing what Diamondstar was getting at. Everyone who was gathered in the camp looked up in surprise, their ears pricked and their eyes wide. “Yes, Bluepaw will be confined to camp for two moons. Leafpaw will have to endure a punishment when he gets back.”

“Good.” Diamondstar’s voice was still silky. “Thank you for allowing us to use your apprentice medicine cat.”

“Well, we certainly have one to spare,” Morningstar’s voice was tight. “Hawkcloud, Markingleaf, and Sandpurr will escort you to the border.” 

The cats that Morningstar mentioned got to their paws, coming over to the WindClan cats. Sandpurr and Hawkcloud went to stand by Brackenfoot and Sunpaw, who looked uneasy. 

“Again, thank you, Morningstar.” Russetwhisker purred in a deep voice. His eyes flashed.

The ThunderClan leader just firmly nodded. 

Saying good - bye to Goldenpaw, Brindlepaw joined her Clanmates by the ThunderClan entrance. Again, they squeezed though the tunnel, Brindlepaw cursing the tunnel out all the while. She left tufts of her pelt in the barrier, as did Russetwhisker. 

The ThunderClan cats led them to the WindClan border in silence, Hawkcloud hustling behind them whilst Sandpurr and Markingleaf flanked them. They watched the WindClan cats bound across to their side, wished them good luck, and then went on their way. 

As soon as they were out of sight of the ThunderClan cats, all of them relaxed, comfortable on the dark moor. They knew their way around without needing the sun to illuminate their way. Clouds were covering the moon currently, but none of the cats were unnerved. In fact, they were far too tired to be unnerved. 

“Looks like we earned ourself a temporary medicine cat and truce with ThunderClan for two moons,” Russetwhisker muttered, and all Diamondstar could do was nod in agreement.

Chapter Text

“Wake up,” Swiftpaw was jabbing Brindlepaw’s ribs with a deft paw. “Diamondstar wants to speak with you.”

Brindlepaw cracked one turquoise eye open, suspiciously staring at the younger apprentice. The moon was high in the sky, it’s brilliant light beaming in through the roof of the den. The black - and - white apprentice looked exhausted, supposedly from a night hunt, but he wasn’t looking as if he were going to back down.

“Why does she want me?” Brindlepaw kept her voice low, careful to not wake their denmates. Rockpaw twitched beside her, his whiskers flicking as if he were dreaming, but otherwise did not move. His breathing evened out after a moment.

“I don’t know, she didn’t tell me anything.” Swiftpaw didn’t look concerned, but Brindlepaw knew that the younger tom was burning with curiosity.

Sunpaw raised his head, his dark eyes gleaming in the moonlight. “Would you two take this outside?” He hissed, placing his head down on his paws. “You’re being too loud.” 

“I agree,” Whimperpaw sighed, her voice low. “Go outside.” 

“You go,” Swiftpaw shot a glare at Brindlepaw before curling up in his nest. “Diamondstar is waiting.” He had little patience left for her, evidently.

Upset that Swiftpaw had interrupted her dream about the juiciest mouse she had seen in moons, Brindlepaw rose to her paws and stretched. Leaf - bare had really taken a toll out on the WindClan warriors, and now that the moor was completely snowed in, not only were the WindClan cats fearing that they would miss the next Gathering, but they were beginning to starve. The rabbits and the mice were dug so deep into their own burrows and warrens that they didn’t dare peak their heads up for the starving hunters.

It wasn’t even half a moon later since the second ShadowClan attack that the snows fell. The weather was far too strange for all of the Clan cats likings; some days it was nice out, some days it was snowing, and some days it rained. Firefur liked to say that it was the warm winds from the south making the weather so odd, but Brindlepaw got the sense that it was something deeper. What was causing the odd weather fluctuations wasn’t the main concern of any cat; it was the fact that WindClan was growing weaker and weaker the longer the snow remained on the ground that made them agitated and unnerved.

Picking her way through the nests and being careful not to step on Fuzzypaw’s wildly lashing tail, Brindlepaw slipped into the camp, fluffing up her pelt against the bitter chill. Her paws sank deep into the snow and she snorted, trudging her way towards Diamondstar’s den. She could barely pick up Russetwhisker’s scent, and her whiskers twitched when she didn’t hear any voices. Were they just sitting in silence in there? 

“Good, you’ve arrived.” 

Russetwhisker’s voice was raspy as he scented her. Her mentor looked exhausted, and he smelled as if he were sick. Concern lit within her, but she didn’t comment. She knew Russetwhisker was very prideful. 

“You wanted to wake me for something?” She respectfully dipped her head to Diamondstar. The silvery - leader only eyed Brindlepaw with little regard. 

“I know it’s late, but for once it’s not snowing and I believe that you’re capable of taking care of yourself.” Russetwhisker was lying in the shadows of the den with his paws tucked under his chest and his head lowered. “Diamondstar and I have been talking,” he was wheezing, “and we want you to go into ShadowClan territory.” 

Brindlepaw froze. “Do you want me to die?” She hissed, flattening her ears in shock. She forgot for a moment that she was talking to her mentor and her leader. All respect that she had in the previous moments was gone. “Why?”

“We want you to see if they’re as bad off as we are. You’re small, you’re fast, and the snow will hide any trail that you may leave. You’d have until dawn to get this done.” Diamondstar spoke for Russetwhisker. “Consider it an early warrior assessment.”

“Why . . . why me?” 

“Because you’re young, you’re stealthy, you’re the fastest runner right now, and I know that one of the ShadowClan apprentices warned you of the previous attack.” Diamondstar’s voice was sharp, offering no argument from Brindlepaw. 

Brindlepaw’s tail lashed. “When do I go?” 

“Now. You’ve plenty of time to get in and get out.” Diamondstar flicked her tail dismissively. “Hurry.” 

“Be safe,” Russetwhisker rasped. “Come back in one piece.”

Brindlepaw flicked her ear in response, trying not to be immature as she left the den. She was terrified of going into ShadowClan territory; if they found her, they’d kill her. But, she wanted to be a warrior. If she were to do this, would Diamondstar make her a warrior sooner? She doubted it, because her battle training still had farther to go and her hunting skills needed more improvement. 

“You going somewhere?” Stonecloud was in the middle of camp, stretching. He didn’t seem bothered by the snow clumping up his fur. In fact, she could already see that his eyes were glazed. Once she got close, she could feel the heat coming off of him in waves.

“Russetwhisker said he wants me to go on an early assessment.” She replied smoothly. “Why are you awake?”

Stonecloud’s gaze flashed. “No reason.”

He must know I’m lying, Brindlepaw thought, but she dipped her head regardless to the warrior. Trudging through the snow made her pelt burn hot with embarrassment because she could feel his yellow gaze watching her as she left the camp. 

Because it was far too cold for a warrior to sit outside, Shadeclaw had said that for once they could all sleep in peace. Ashheart didn’t want any of their warriors getting sick, so she told Shadeclaw to pick and choose the nights in which someone sat out in the cold. Shadeclaw hadn’t been pleased, but Diamondstar had encouraged the decision. 

There was no one else awake, except maybe the apprentices that Swiftpaw had accidentally awoken. They wouldn’t notice her absence anyway. Rockpaw would be too deep in his sleep, and the younger apprentices weren’t too interested in her anyway. She missed the easy comfort of sharing the den with Mousesnap, Blackcloud, Flyleaf and Spottedmoon. They were too kind to the younger apprentices, and they were always more like extra - siblings than rivals. 

Sunpaw, Swiftpaw, Fuzzypaw and Whimperpaw had a closer bond. They were all going through training together, competing with each other and not with herself and Rockpaw.

Shaking the thoughts out of her head, Brindlepaw trotted through the worst of the snows on the ridges of the moor. Though she thought that the moor was bad, it turned out to be that she was wrong. There were worn tracks from other cats and various animals, so as long as she stuck to them, she wouldn’t have to go through the deep drifts. The pads of her paws were cold, and to her absolute luck, the snow was starting back up again. So much for trying to stay warm.

Deciding that it would be better to run through the WindClan territory, Brindlepaw flat out sprinted through their winding, strange territory. Though she wasn’t faster than Diamondstar yet, she was growing close; when the ground was still clear of snow, the warriors would often race against her, and she would win

Her speed came from her long legs and her lung capacity. Her legs easily would eat up the ground and she would hardly need to breathe whilst running. No one could match her, thankfully, and she was planning on keeping it that way. Every single morning, no matter the weather, she always went out for a long run — testing her limits until she was sure that she was getting even faster. Rockpaw may have bested her in the battle training, but Brindlepaw had him bested in speed. 

Diving through some of the drifts, Brindlepaw chose to cut across ThunderClan territory to slip directly into ShadowClan’s. The lake was completely frozen over, it’s surface gleaming. It almost looked sinister in the moonlight, it’s surface turned silver and sparkling. This lake had stolen many lives, both before the Clan cats had come here and after. No one was allowed on the ice anymore. More recently, a RiveClan and a WindClan apprentice had drowned during a leaf - bare before Brindlepaw had been born. All four leaders agreed that the ice needed to remain untouched by all four Clans. During her first tour of WindClan’s territory, Goldenivy had told her that sometimes during green - leaf the RiverClan cats would convince some other cats to go swim with them, but it didn’t happen as often as anyone would have liked. 

Running definitely warmed her up. Her heart was pounding and her pelt was fizzing with energy as she slowed down, crossing ShadowClan scent markers. She thought she could already smell Leaffang, Thunderheart and Mothheart, but she wasn’t sure. The sappy tang to the scents off - set her, making her unable to distinguish whom was whom. She came to a stop beside a scraggly bush, taking a moment to really take in her surroundings.

She always imagined ShadowClan territory to be decrepit and disgusting, but to be honest, she . . . didn’t mind the gloom. Though the pine trees towered high overhead, and the snowy ground was coated with a fresh dusting of pine needles, she couldn’t find anything that she found really unnerving. Though the boggy ground was a bit hard to walk on — especially with the snow covering all the signs of one — but Brindlepaw soon made a game out of it. 

The moon was her guide as she hopped around ShadowClan territory, never letting herself sit in one spot for too long. She wasn’t quite sure where the camp was, but she kept an eye out for the distinguished trails, soon opting to follow them when they all began to intermingle. The ShadowClan scents were stronger now, so Brindlepaw walked along side the trails, not wanting to mix her scent with theirs. If she were to get caught, she knew that they were going to kill her. A WindClan apprentice was something they would not tolerate. 

Eventually, the moon illuminated a shallow dip surrounded by twiggy bushes. There was a bog close - by, so Brindlepaw did well to go around it. As far as she could see, there was no warrior on guard at the entrance. She couldn’t hear anything from inside the camp, and the snow falling was a good cover to hide her if someone did come out. Her tracks were already being hidden as was her scent, and her snow - coated pelt would help her blend into her surroundings. She got as close as she dared to one of the bushes, quietly squeezing underneath the thorny branches, casting her turquoise gaze onto the camp. 

There was a small prey - pile set underneath a shallow outcrop, looking as small as the WindClan one back home. The dens had heavy coatings of snow on them, and though their camp didn’t have as much snow as the open WindClan camp, there was still quite an amount to make even ShadowClan warriors uncomfortable. 

Coughing and kitten squeals startled Brindlepaw, and though she didn’t jump, she froze up. Out of what she could only presume to be the medicine den came Daisyheart, browned herbs in her mouth. She slid into a cozy looking den, and when Brindlepaw pricked her ears, she could hear drifts of their conversation. 

“ . . . getting worse, I don’t know how to treat Flamekit anymore.”

“You have to do something; she’s coughing so much now that she’s disturbing the other kits.” The queen sounded anxious. 

“When there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can do.” Another queen spoke. Brindlepaw recognized her voice — she was Berryheart, mate to Thunderheart. “We’ve so little herbs left, Oakrain. Skykit and Graykit are just as bad as Flamekit.” 

“It’s lucky that Ravenkit and Brownkit are the only ones who haven’t gotten ill yet. They’re still in the apprentice den, right?” It was Daisyheart again. 

“Of course.” Oakrain spoke, her voice strained. “Frogmist is still with them to keep those two calm. What happens if our babies die?” The queen sounded distressed. 

Pity struck Brindlepaw. Cinderstar had been lying when he said that they had been relatively free of sickness, but the sudden snows must have brought everything on. Whitecough was beginning to etch it’s way into the WindClan warriors life, starting with their elderly, but they were lucky that they didn’t have young kits in the nursery. Rabbitkit and Mudkit were almost six moons; if they got sick, they would be able to overcome it easily. Whereas these ShadowClan kits wouldn’t shake it and possibly could die. 

“I’ll do everything in my power to keep it from getting to that point.” Daisyheart promised. “I won’t let your kits die.” 

“How are the others?” Berryheart’s comforting voice changed the subject. 

“Fogheart is still very sick. Sagewhisker, Amberclaw, and Deadtail will make it, though. They’re still resting in my den.” Daisyheart’s voice was very serious. “I think this might be Fogheart’s last leaf - bare if things keep carrying on like this. Little herbs and little prey leaves each cat vulnerable for sickness, especially the elders.” 

The queens were silent, and a kit squeaked. There was shuffling, and then a sigh. 

“I’m going to get back to them. Come to me if there are any problems.” Daisyheart said as she slid out through the nursery opening, causing Brindlepaw to shrink back instinctively. She froze completely when her paws knocked some snow down into camp dip, quietly exhaling in relief when Daisyheart didn’t seem to notice. The medicine cat was too busy hurrying across the camp to her den. 

Brindlepaw wasn’t sure that there was much else for her to see. She supposed she could tell Diamondstar and Russetwhisker that they were suffering from a shortage of prey and herbs, as well as their warriors were falling ill and their kits were too, but she didn’t think that it was the fairest thing to do. ShadowClan were too preoccupied with themselves to launch an attack on the ever - terse WindClan warriors, and Brindlepaw wouldn’t feel right if they attacked ShadowClan during their moment of weakness — even if they did deserve the payback. 

The brindled apprentice was ever - silent as she backed out from underneath the branches, careful not to leave tufts of her fur behind. The snow was falling thickly now, so thick that Brindlepaw had to pick her way through the territory. She could barely see two mousetail - lengths ahead of her, but dawn was rapidly approaching. The sky was brimming was a majority of pinks and oranges, the colors struggling to shine through the snow - filled storm clouds. She better get out of ShadowClan territory — and fast. 

Desperate now, Brindlepaw sprinted through the rest of ShadowClan territory and through ThunderClan’s, only managing to trip once. She only slowed down when she reached WindClan territory again, relaxing enough to roll around in the snow and clear off any ShadowClan scent left on her pelt. She was already bone - weary, and she didn’t know what she was going to say to Diamondstar and Russetwhisker, but she had to think of something before she got back. 

Choosing to walk the rest of the way, Brindlepaw ignored the sounds of her Clanmates a few rises over. She took the long way back to camp, choosing to trudge through the thicker snows to waste her time. Her time was up when she got through the entrance, her gaze immediately locking onto her dozing mentor. 

“Russetwhisker,” Brindlepaw murmured as she approached him, jumping back when she realized that she had startled him. “I’ve returned.” 

“Evidently,” Russetwhiskered huffed. “Anything?” 

“They’re suffering from a shortage of prey, just like us, but otherwise that’s it.” Brindlepaw was surprised at how smoothly the lie came. Russetwhisker gave her an odd look like he didn’t believe her, but nodded. “I got right to the dip where their camp was. If Diamondstar was thinking about attacking, I think it would be unwise.” 

Russetwhisker grunted. 

“Tell her that I think we should wait. At least until the snows ease off; they were just as bad on ShadowClan territory. I almost fell into a bog at one point.” Brindlepaw continued. “Where is Diamondstar?”

“Patrolling the ShadowClan border.” Russetwhisker stiffly got to his paws. “She’ll be back soon. Anyway, we won’t be training today. I’m feeling ill, and you need to rest.” 

“But — ” 

Go rest,” Russetwhisker hissed. “Do you want your fellow apprentices to know that something is up?” When Brindlepaw shook her head, Russetwhisker looked satisfied. “Rest. That’s all that matters now.” He sat his head down on his paws, beginning to drift off again. 

Rather than go into the apprentice den, Brindlepaw went to the medicine den. She was worried about her brother. Though he was sleeping in the apprentice den, he spent his days in the medicine den under the careful eye of Ashheart. His wounds were in danger of getting infected, so Ashheart wanted to make sure that he was going to slide through without getting one. There was little room in her den, and since Spottedmoon was getting better and better, Ashheart had decided that he was going to be sleeping in the warriors den, too. He was ecstatic. Brindlepaw had never seen the young warrior in such a state before. 

Scarletfox was still in a spot of danger, for her wound refused to close. Owlfeather was getting better, but she was sleeping a lot; Ashheart said that the senior warrior had a head injury, one that she wouldn’t be able to treat was easily as she could have if it was external. Slowly, things were beginning to turn around for WindClan’s injured.

“Good morning, Brindlepaw.” Scarletfox was awake in her nest. The warrior was grooming, careful not to tug her wound open again. “Owlfeather is still sleeping.” Scarletfox flicked her ears towards the senior warrior.

“I figured.” Brindlepaw murmured. “Where is Rockpaw?” She couldn’t scent him in the den, and with a strange realization, she couldn’t scent Leafpaw either. Where had he gone?

“Hunting. Blueeye told him it was time to get back into action. Ashheart is in with her herbs, if you need her.” Scarletfox tucked her nose under her paws, signifying tat she was done speaking.

Picking past both injured warriors, Brindlepaw called out a greeting to Ashheart before slipping into the tiny cleft in the back. She could hardly see Ashheart in the low lighting, and the scent of tangy herbs was overwhelming. 

“What do you need?” Ashheart asked cheerfully. She looked better than she had in a long while. 

“I’m worried about Russetwhisker,” Brindlepaw admitted. “I think he might be getting sick.”

“His cough is returning, isn’t it?” Ashheart frowned. “Okay, thank you. Is he awake?”

“No, he’s sleeping at the edge of camp.” 

“I’ll check in on him before he goes out again.” Ashheart promised. “Do me a favor? Keep an eye on Spottedmoon, please. Make sure he doesn’t sneak out of camp!” 

“Has he been trying?” Brindlepaw asked, amused.

Dusting the herb scraps off of her paws, Ashheart nodded. “He’s grown impatient. The snow would make it harder for him to move around, and he’s still vulnerable. Please keep him occupied, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course.” Brindlepaw dipped her head. She backed out of the den, murmuring a soft goodbye to Scarletfox before she went. The warrior was already sleeping, her muzzle still tucked underneath her paws and her eyes shut. 

Easily, Brindlepaw spotted Spottedmoon out in the clearing. The young warrior was stretching, his long body looking abnormally skinny. The muscle he had built up as an apprentice was gone. Brindlepaw didn’t know how he was going to build it back up again. Was he going to have to be an apprentice again, or would he gain it back by returning directly to warrior duties? 

“You look as if you’re in thought.” Spottedmoon called. The scar that still parted his fur practically gleamed. 

“I’m thinking about how to ask you to spar with me,” Brindlepaw called back, making her way over to him. “You wanna have a go?” 

Spottedmoon frowned, looking her over completely before shrugging. “As long as it doesn’t get too out of paw. Ashheart would have my pelt if she knew that I was exhausting myself before I was ready.” 

Immediately, Brindlepaw sank down into a defensive crouch. Her muscles ached from her journey, but she was determined to show Spottedmoon up. She wasn’t just some young apprentice — she was his equal! She could handle him! 

Spottedmoon took his time drawing himself into a crouch. He was struggling to find his balance again, and Brindlepaw patiently waited for him to nod before beginning to stalk around him. His gaze was locked on her as she stalked, watching her every little movement.

“Don’t hold back,” Spottedmoon warned. “I want a fair fight.” 

“You’ve got it,” Brindlepaw purred, coming to a halt. She sized him up, locking her gaze onto his left hind leg. He was weaker there than he was anywhere else. 

Springing, Brindlepaw aimed right for his left flank, easily dodging right out of his way when Spottedmoon turned to swipe at her her. He was slow and stiff despite his stretching, and though he had seen through her bluff to target his weaker leg, he had not been ready for her to dodge so quickly out of the way. It pulled a frustrated growl from Spottedmoon’s lips as she bounded back, putting some distance between them. 

“Frustrated?” Brindlepaw teased. Spottedmoon only snorted. By his twitching whiskers and his lashing tail, Brindlepaw could tell that he was bound to be losing his patience with her. 

“Just come at me,” the warrior said, his gaze fleeting. 

This time, Brindlepaw didn’t give Spottedmoon time to finish. She darted forward, her claws sheathed, landing two sharp blows on his muzzle. He recoiled away, startled, and flailed his forepaws at her. Easily, she managed to duck out of the way, lightly nipping the tip of his tail. Spottedmoon spat at her, his paw catching her ear in a sharp blow, and sending her reeling back.

“Nice one!” Brindlepaw praised, blinking fondly at the warrior. She flicked her still - stinging ear, focusing on their spar rather than the pain.

“Thanks,” Spottedmoon puffed, clearly proud of himself. “I wanna go again. And, like I said, stop holding back!” 

“Ashheart would have my pelt if I hurt you, and then she would have yours.” Brindlepaw reminded. 

“I can take it.” Spottedmoon stood taller, his gaze dancing with excitement. “Let me have it.” 

Brindlepaw decided that she should just go for it. If Spottedmoon said that he could handle it, then he could handle it. He didn’t need her constantly asking him if he were okay or if he could still endure her attacks. 

Lowering herself down into a defensive crouch again, Brindlepaw bunched her muscles, this time springing for Spottedmoon’s bad leg. The warrior managed to dodge out of the way, but Brindlepaw was ready for him. She whirled to face him, careful to keep her claws sheathed, launching a flurry of attacks on his muzzle. 

Spottedmoon began blinking wildly, his whiskers twitching with surprise. He didn’t remain stunned for too long, for he managed to bound out of the way again, this time landing a sharp blow on her flank. She didn’t turn in time to dodge him throwing his full weight at her, bowling her over. 

Her shoulders hit the hard ground, and before she had a chance to recover, Spottedmoon was on top of her. His forepaws were pressing down against her chest, his hind paws churning her belly. She had to admit, she had underestimated him! Spottedmoon was just as strong as he was when he was still an apprentice, despite his long recovery period. 

“Okay, okay! I give up!” Brindlepaw gaped. “Stop pulling out my fur!” 

Triumphant, Spottedmoon jumped off of her. The young warrior began stretching out his hind legs again, letting them stretch until they shook. “I needed that,” he said after a moment. “Thank you.” 

“I’m glad to let you beat me up every so often.” Brindlepaw teased as she got to her paws, shaking her pelt clean.

Whilst she had been in ShadowClan territory, a majority of the snow had been shoved off into the corners of camp. Though the ground was still hard and frosty, and there was still a thin layering of snow over it, the warmth of cats paws had definitely melted it some. There were few comfortable places to sit without getting snow clumped in your belly fur, but it was an improvement from the prior morning. 

For the rest of the afternoon, Spottedmoon and Brindlepaw sparred. She managed to defeat him once or twice, but he was still stronger. She doubted that she would ever defeat him, but she’d certainly have to try!

By the time dusk came, Brindlepaw was exhausted. She shared her dinner with Rockpaw, whom wasn’t exactly back to how he used to be, but was getting there slowly. They lay in the gathering moonlight together, grooming each others fur and idly talking. They talked with Sunpaw for a while, who was buzzing with excitement over the prospect of possibly being able to go to the next Gathering. He ended up turning in early, presumably because Larkfur had pushed him harder than he had before. 

Rockpaw turned in next, saying that he was tired. Energized and wanting to completely exhaust herself before going to bed, Brindlepaw let a warrior know that she was going out for a run. For a long while she stayed away from the lake, but by moon - high, she was growing closer and closer to the lake. Her muscles were burning, and her lungs ached, but she felt absolutely exhilarated. The cool night air was keeping her from getting too warm, and the snow underpaw made her slower than she typically was, but she reveled in the challenge that it brought her. She couldn’t see the rabbit warrens underneath, but she presumed that she knew the territory well enough to not fall into one and sprain her paw. 

“I know you were in ShadowClan territory last night.” A familiar voice stoped Brindlepaw. She turned, looking towards the lake. On the narrow strip of ThunderClan territory was a dark shadow. “I recognized your scent.” 

Brindlepaw narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she sniffed.

“You can’t lie to me.” The voice belonged to Sootpaw. The apprentice was glaring at her, his gaze sharp in the darkness. “I scented you all along the camp.” 

She hesitated, knowing that it was useless to lie. “Did anyone else . . . ?” 

“No. I covered for you.” Sootpaw took a few steps closer. Brindlepaw took a step back, her whiskers twitching. “Why you were you there? Didn’t you know the dangers?”

“Of course I knew,” Brindlepaw snapped. “I wouldn’t just go in there without knowledge of what I was getting myself into. I was the only one trusted enough to do it without getting caught.”

“You were found out.” Sootpaw sniffed. “Why were you there?”

“I don’t have to tell you.”

“I’ll just have to tell Cinderstar, then.” 

Brindlepaw’s tail lashed in frustration. “Diamondstar wanted to know what was going on, see if you were vulnerable for an attack. I lied. I told her that the only thing wrong was just a simple lack of prey, and not that your warriors were growing ill.” 

He raised his head, surprised. “Wouldn’t you want to attack us after all we’ve done?” 

“I don’t want to see anyone else hurt or killed.” She murmured. “I’m done with fighting. So I lied. It wasn’t to protect your Clan, it was to protect mine.” Stubbornly, she turned away. “You should go before you leave a permanent scent - trail on ThunderClan territory.” 

“Since when are you worried?” He snapped.

“Why do you have to be so bad - tempered all the time?” She retorted.

“Since your littermate killed mine.” 

That went too far. Why was she still standing here talking to him when she could be curled in her nest and getting ready for tomorrow? Snorting, she stalked deeper into WindClan territory, hearing him follow after her. 

Wait,” Sootpaw called. “Brindlepaw, wait! I didn’t come here to fight.” 

“Then what did you come here for?” She growled, raising her hackles. “I don’t believe that you came here to check up on me.” 

For the first time, Sootpaw’s eyes glimmering with sincerity. “I came because . . . I wanted to see if you would come meet me in two days. Here, there are places to hide.” 

That threw Brindlepaw for a loop. Confused, she took a step back, frowning. A strange sense of excitement filled her, and her maw moved without her even realizing it. “Okay. Around what time?” 

“Moon - high, like right now.” 

Brindlepaw nodded. “Okay. I . . . I can do that. I should go now.” 

“Yeah, I should, too.” Sootpaw sounded awkward. Brindlepaw could feel the same feelings within herself. What was she even supposed to say? He was so hard for her to read, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to be able to read him. 

“‘Bye,” she darted away before he could say anything else, choosing to put all of her focus into her sprint across the snow. What had gotten into him. What had gotten into her? Why did she even agree to meet him? If she had any sense, she’d not go. Sootpaw was not only in a different Clan, but he was in ShadowClan. Did she have feathers in her brain? It would be impossible to maintain a friendship — relationship — with him! 

Coming to a complete halt upon the top of a rise, Brindlepaw chanced a look back. She could see Sootpaw’s silhouette illuminated by the moon, and she could feel his gaze on her pelt. She didn’t know why, but it sent chills up her spine.

The next morning, Brindlepaw was exhausted. Thankfully, Russetwhisker had let her sleep until sun - high so she had time to recover her strength, but she couldn’t deny how sore her muscles were from sparring with Spottedmoon and running around their territory for longer than she had expected. When she was finished stretching by herself, she headed out into the camp, immediately spotting Shadeclaw looking at her. The deputy didn’t look too happy. 

“Something you need?” Brindlepaw asked, ignoring the rumbling in her stomach. 

“Diamondstar wants to talk to you about what you saw in ShadowClan territory.” The deputy kept his voice low.

Ah, so that’s what he’s upset about. “Is she in her den?” She inquired, noting how her voice rasped.

The deputy stepped aside, sweeping his tail towards Diamondstar’s den. Brindlepaw felt a sense of foreboding, wondering if the leader somehow knew about her secret meeting with Sootpaw the night before and the one that was still planned, but she had to mentally reassure herself. There was no way Diamondstar would have found out! There had been no one else out on the moor with her, so no one could have told Diamondstar.

Thanking Shadeclaw, Brindlepaw announced herself before entering the Clan leaders den. She definitely noted how little Diamondstar left the comfort of her den these days; the entire Clan had come to notice it. Shadeclaw was too old to take over the leaders position, but he was still too young to retire. But the old she - cats age was catching up to her in a bad way. Her movements were constantly stiff, and she ate so little. She left her den only to make announcements or to converse with one of the younger cats, but that was becoming increasingly rarer and rarer. Some days Brindlepaw could hear the warriors talking about how Diamondstar was going out of her mind, but her loyal senior warriors always shut that talk down. Skyheart especially was losing his patience with all the younger warriors, always going off to lecture them about what respect meant. Russetwhisker was the same way, not tolerating any words being spoken out against her. The two old toms respected her far too much to let her Clan tear her apart. 

“I wanted to talk about your trip to ShadowClan.” Diamondstar’s voice was taut. She was sitting up in her nest, washing her chest. Her fur gleamed in the dim light. She looked better than she had in days. “Russetwhisker says that you gathered almost nothing?” 

“There was nothing to gather.” She didn’t want to lie to Diamondstar, but something drove her to do it. “All they have is a lack of prey, not much else.” She shrugged her shoulders, trying to look as if she were unconcerned. 

Diamondstar blinked those sharp eyes. Brindlepaw’s pelt was burning underneath the force of her gaze. “Are you sure?” 

“Certain. I was sitting underneath a bush for a long time watching the camp, and there was nothing. Aside from some usual leaf - bare coughing, nothing. All they have is a lack of prey, just like we do.” 

After a moment, Diamondstar dipped her broad silver head. Her yellow gaze still gleamed, but Brindlepaw realized that it was with acceptance rather than suspicion. “Thank you for risking yourself to do this.” She sighed. “I wanted to be able to launch an attack on ShadowClan, but it seems that it wasn’t in our future. StarClan must have another idea in mind for us.” Her eyes narrowed again. “Go check on Leafpaw; see how our ThunderClan addition is adjusting to his stay here.”

“Of course.” Brindlepaw bowed her head, backing out of the den. The sun was suddenly shining bright, but it didn’t restore any warmth that left - bare had taken away. Fluffing out her fur against the cold, she headed towards the medicine den, catching Rockpaw’s scent immediately. Her brother was inside, his head on his paws. Leafpaw was poking at wounds on his haunches. 

“You’re here today,” Brindlepaw said in surprise. 

Leafpaw raised his head. The young tom looked exhausted, but his amber hues shone bright with excitement. Though the Clan had been sacrificing their shares of the prey for Leafpaw since he was their guest, he had to be suffering just as badly. Spottedmoon, Owlfeather and Scarletfox were not out of danger yet; it was requiring both of the medicine cats attention to take care of them. Though he had to be longing to go home, back to the familiarity of his territory, WindClan desperately needed him. None of the WindClan cats would ever admit it out loud, but they did need him and they were extraordinarily grateful for the help he offered. 

But it now meant that they owed ThunderClan a favor. 

“Yeah, I actually went over into ThunderClan territory for herbs yesterday.” He stopped nosing Rockpaw’s pelt. “Ashheart was running low, so I decided that it would be a good idea to risk it.” 

How selfless can one cat be? Brindlepaw thought with an annoyed twitch of her tail.

“I’ll tell Sweetherb and Fallshine about what I’ve done when I’m back home.” He finished with a wave of his tail. “Something bothering you today?” 

“No, I just came to check on Rockpaw. When will he be able to return to apprentice duties?” She sat by her littermate, feeling his gaze linger on her fur. 

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.” He grumbled, but sat up. 

“Today, I think.” Leafpaw looked at the wounds on Rockpaw’s neck, and then nodded. “Easily. You can take everything easy. If you strain yourself, you’ll just end up back in here where you don’t want to be.” 

Rockpaw languidly stretched. Brindlepaw had to admit, he looked better than he did back when . . . well, with what happened with Doepaw. His eyes gleamed and his fur shone, and his voice was stronger. There was a lot that he and Ashheart must have spoken about in private, and whatever the already - wise medicine cat must have said to him, Brindlepaw appreciated it far more than words could ever express. 

“I’m ready to go back to it.” Rockpaw sprang upright, beginning to circle around Brindlepaw. “I’ve missed it a bit too much recently. I hate to say it but the medicine den can get boring when you’re just laying here doing nothing all the time.” 

“If you’re not interested in medicine then the den seems boring.” Leafpaw didn’t sound interested in Rockpaw’s words. “Brindlepaw, did Lionslash give you that wound on your shoulder?” 

Surprised by Leafpaw’s blunt question, she nodded. “Yes, he did. It was a wound that bothered me for a long while but it’s feeling much better now.” 

“For the sake of my Clanmate, I’m glad he gave it to you — but for the sake of my temporary home, I’m glad you survived it. Most don’t survive some of Lionslash’s wounds.” His gleamed with a teasing nature. “Of course, that’s what he likes to say. Lionslash was always a boaster, even when he was still a ‘paw. He’s leveled out now, thankfully. More like a warrior than a stubborn apprentice.”

“Sounds like someone else we know.” Rockpaw poked his head out of the medicine den, and Brindlepaw followed his gaze to Spottedmoon. Though the young warrior had never really been a boaster or smug, he did have his condescending moments that made him absolutely unbearable to be around.

“Every Clan has one of those.” Leafpaw murmured. “Foxpaw is beginning to turn out exactly like that. I’m glad to be away from the annoying furball for at least a little while. Vixenpaw, too.”

Though Rockpaw brightened at the sound of Vixenpaw’s name, Brindlepaw’s eyes narrowed. “Sunpaw will probably be like that.” She smoothly changed the subject. Rockpaw’s thoughts were successfully swayed from the cunning ThunderClan vixen. “He seems like the type.” 

“You mean that apprentice that’s always bouncing around like there’s no tomorrow?” Leafpaw asked. “I don’t think so. He’s more excitable than arrogant.” The medicine cat was cleaning up after himself now. “It’s so odd being around so many different cats in a place so like my own home. I always thought that enemy camps would be more sinister feeling and looking, but this is almost exactly like home. The kits still play, the apprentices are rowdy, the elders and senior warriors complain, and the young warriors boast. It’s not much different from what I’m used to.” He dried his paws off on the edge of Rockpaw’s nest. “We think we’re all so different, but in the end, we’re almost all exactly the same.” 

Brindlepaw and Rockpaw fell silent. “You know, you’ve got a point,” she said. “We think everyone is so different from us but to tell the truth, they’re far from such. In the end, we’re all the same underneath our pelts. It’s just scents that make us different.” 

“When did you get so wise?” It was Russetwhisker again. She briefly recalled him asking her the same question moons prior, and affectionately, she headbutted her mentor. He leaned against her for support, clearly not well. “I’ve trained you well.”

The den was cramp now with Russetwhisker inside. He was not a small cat, not by any means. His broad shoulders still remained broad, even with the true effects of leaf - bare beginning to take hold. He was beginning to grow narrow around his shoulders, hips and ribs, but he was still the same broad cat she remembered. “Blueeye wants you,” the mentor growled at Rockpaw, clearly dismissing him.

Her littermate frowned, unsure of how to take Russetwhisker’s order, but ultimately exited the den. He thanked Leafpaw before he did. Brindlepaw could tell that her littermate had become fond of the ThunderClan apprentice. It would be hard letting him go back to ThunderClan where he belonged. 

“Brindlepaw, I’ve been looking for you.” Russetwhisker turned to her now. He didn’t look happy. “You missed out on a full day of training yesterday and now you’re missing out on another one.” 

“You’re ill,” she gently reminded, but her mentors expression didn’t change. 

“Does that matter? Stop wasting your time in the medicine den and come out to train.”

“I sparred with Spottedmoon yesterday and went for a few laps around the territory last night. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss out on too much. And, besides; Diamondstar asked me to come in here and check in on Leafpaw.”

“Talk about me like I’m not here,” Leafpaw hummed, and Russetwhisker shot him a glance. Brindlepaw’s ears twitched in amusement. Her stingy mentor was bound to annoy everyone he came across. “Take it out of the den,” he continued. “No need to bother the resting patients.”

“Come on, out into camp.” Russetwhisker herded her out. She managed to flick her tail to Leafpaw as a goodbye. She hadn’t seen Scarletfox or Owlfeather in the medicine den. It had just been Leafpaw and Rockpaw when she had gone in.

As if he could read her mind, Russetwhisker spoke. “Ashheart took Scarletfox and Owlfeather out, just to get them out of the camp. They’ll be back to warriors duties soon enough. You, on the other hand, have to get serious about your training.” 

“I have been serious about my training!” Brindlepaw protested, but fell silent at the look Russetwhisker shot her. 

“You’re lacking, falling behind Rockpaw — and he’s been inside the medicine den!” Russetwhisker was limping towards the camp entrance. “Your battle training especially. You’re going to spar with Flyleaf until the day is over, no matter what. Then we’ll figure out what to do from there.” His tail lashed decisively, and all Brindlepaw could do was groan.

This was just her luck!