Chapter 1: Prologue
It was nearly moonhigh by the time Cinderpelt realized she could delay no longer. Much as she dreaded sleeping and perhaps receiving no guidance at all, she knew--even if Firestar had not told her in so many words--that by the next time the moon was as high as it was now, ThunderClan would have a new deputy, and her leader was counting on her to help him pick one.
It hurt her to think of Graystripe now, hurt so much to consider that he must be dead--but had he not been, surely StarClan would have spoken to her, insisted ThunderClan remain effectively deputyless until he could return to them. She, alongside Brambleclaw and Sandstorm, had managed in the past few sunrises to convince Firestar that it was time to move on, time to accept his longtime friend’s death. At first, she’d worried that Brambleclaw’s insistence on a new deputy was motivated by ambition as strong as his father’s had once been--but then she’d reminded herself that he’d had no apprentice, and could not be named deputy at all. No, it was sheer loyalty and dedication to the wellbeing of his Clan that motivated Brambleclaw; she regretted ever doubting him as she had, and regretted causing his own former mentor to doubt him as well.
Sighing to herself, the medicine cat spun to return to her den, realizing now that the stars and the moon above truly held no answers for her. She was no stranger to the grief Firestar felt; Graystripe had been her brother’s mentor, a permanent fixture in her young life despite his flakiness at times, and there was a coldness in her stomach to think of him dead. Still, life had to go on. Tomorrow they would sit vigil for him and grieve his loss; tonight, she had to decide what advice she would give to Firestar.
As she entered her den and moved back towards her nest in the corner, her gaze darted to the empty nest beside it even without her meaning to. The den was so much lonelier now. All she could hope for at this point was a dream from StarClan to help her advise her leader--but she could not help but think that her apprentice would have had more luck in that area.
But she had no apprentice--not anymore. ThunderClan's other medicine cat had left her post some time ago, and not only that, she had left the Clan entirely; she had gone to WindClan to be with her mate as a warrior. She had even forsaken her old name willingly at her new leader's insistence, so determined was she to be with the cat she loved.
Cinderpelt knew well enough even just by observing her Clanmates how powerful a motivator love could be--she didn't blame the other she-cat, not really, but the decision had still disappointed her. At least she's happy. That's what matters, she reminded herself, a sigh escaping her as she circled her nest. Flopping down finally and heavily, she put her paws over her nose and closed her eyes, waiting for sleep to take her.
She didn’t wait long. Next she knew, she was opening her eyes to a rather disorienting view--ThunderClan’s camp stretched out below her, as if she was a bird, looking down upon it and riding the wind above. Curious, she tested the theory and tried to swoop down--joy surging unbidden in her chest as it worked, and she dove gracefully downwards for a closer view. She had to admit--important dream or not, the experience was exhilarating.
Though she felt almost as if she had no body at all, still a part of her felt -- or thought it felt -- her eyes widen as she took in a notable change to the landscape of ThunderClan’s ravine camp. Instead of the high stone walls that protected them, the barriers surrounding the camp were made of thick, tangled brambles; as she pitched over to look closer, swinging around to the other side of the walls to peer curiously at them, she noted the distinctive shape of the thorns that poked out of the tangled brambles. They were like claws, curved and sharp, lining the walls and protecting the cats within. Shock hit her as she processed what she was seeing, and then, just as quickly as the dream had come, it was gone, and she blinked awake in her nest, surprise still coursing through her in the waking world.
Hurrying out of her den--noting idly, but not truly considering, the fact that the moon still shone overhead, though lower now--she pushed her way into Firestar’s den, her fur standing on end as she stumbled through the entrance and came to a stop just inside. “Firestar!” she mewed urgently, as loudly as she could manage, and she heard Sandstorm grumble as the two started to stir. “Firestar!” she repeated, moving closer.
“What is it?” the flame-colored tom replied with a yawn. He blinked sleepily at her--then shook himself and rose quickly to his paws when he seemed to notice her expression. “Cinderpelt?”
“StarClan sent me a dream,” she explained, feeling a bit silly as the shock and urgency that had come with her sudden awakening began to fade--of course this could have waited for the morning. Still, she was already here…
“What did they say?” Sandstorm mumbled, not bothering to rise as her mate had. (Perhaps another medicine cat might have insisted she leave before the sign was discussed, but Cinderpelt trusted the other ThunderClan cat more than well enough to not be bothered by her presence.)
Quickly, Cinderpelt explained her dream and what she was certain it had meant. She saw Firestar’s eyes widen in the darkness, though Sandstorm’s expression did not change.
“Are you sure?” Firestar murmured with an uncertain flick of his tail.
“Completely,” she told him with a nod. “StarClan is not often wrong.”
“I trust in you as much as I do StarClan,” he admitted, and there was something in his gaze that gave her pause--perhaps, she thought, related to the quest he had undergone so many moons ago, seemingly against StarClan’s own wishes. “If you’re certain, I believe you.”
She nodded again, forcing her fur to lay flatter than it had been. StarClan had spoken; ThunderClan would be in good paws.
In the back of her mind, some oft-ignored part of her wondered why she had never seen Graystripe at any of her half moon meetings, but she pushed the thought away.
The stars had just begun to appear in the darkening sky when Firestar announced that the Clan would be recognizing Graystripe’s passing. Many of their Clanmates seemed stricken by the news--as if, like Firestar, they had not truly accepted the deputy’s loss until confronted with it outright. Tonight, they would mourn him at his vigil, even if there was no body to be buried; as Cinderpelt looked up at the sky above, she noticed one particularly bright star, shining down upon the camp. StarClan--and Graystripe--must have approved of ThunderClan’s choice.
After ThunderClan had been given ample time to sit and process the news and murmur among each other--or else sit in silence and grieve for a lost Clanmate--Firestar had approached the Highledge again. As Cinderpelt watched, he clambered back up atop it, turning his sweeping gaze out at the Clan, still gathered below him in the darkening clearing.
“Cats of ThunderClan,” he meowed, and despite the strength of his voice, Cinderpelt could hear him struggling to keep it even in his grief. “We all mourn Graystripe, but before we sit vigil for him tonight, I have an important announcement to make.” Lowering his head briefly and taking a deep and visible breath, he cleared his throat softly before he went on. “ThunderClan must appoint a new deputy, and StarClan has sent Cinderpelt a sign. Their choice of deputy is clear.”
Sounds of muted surprise rippled through the gathered cats; it was not often that StarClan themselves became involved in the choice of a new deputy, although in this case Cinderpelt was grateful for their guidance--as it had helped to convince Firestar once and for all that this was the right decision. The cat Firestar named would know, above all else, that StarClan truly approved of their leadership. Cinderpelt glanced over at her littermates, gathered together near the thorn bush that sheltered the warriors’ den. Brackenfur stood tallest of the three of them, and briefly the medicine cat mourned for the fact that he would not be named deputy today. He’d always been the closest of her siblings to her in their youth (especially as Brightheart and Thornclaw had been apprenticed later on account of their injuries at the ShadowClan camp); no cat could deny he would be an excellent choice for deputy, brave and strong and selfless as he was, but alas. Perhaps his time would come another day. She knew, either way, that he would not mind not being chosen--it was likely the idea of deputyship had not even crossed his mind.
Turning her attention back to Firestar, she blinked as she watched him straighten up to stand even taller. “I say these words before StarClan, and before the spirit of Graystripe, so that they may hear and approve my choice,” he called. “The new deputy of ThunderClan will be Thornclaw.”
Nearly three moons had passed since Leafpelt had joined WindClan to be with him, and Crowstorm’s happiness had not waned since. Still, today that joy was slightly tempered only by the maelstrom of feelings swirling within him--he felt completely battered by the sheer anxiety and worry he was currently struggling with as he paced the camp, sending frequent glances towards the nursery. The gorse bush covering it completely blocked his view, but he knew that Leafpelt was in there now… and, against all logic, his whole body was trembling with worry. Barkface had sent him away, telling him that he and the queens had it handled, but still he wished he could have stayed, could have been there for his mate. Her occasional pained cries echoed in the camp, and his heart ached each time he heard one. Was she okay? Were the kits okay? Would someone tell him if they weren’t? He didn’t know--and, though he was overjoyed to be a father, he was nonetheless terrified of all the things that could be going wrong.
As he turned a circle in the camp, he stopped suddenly as another cat appeared before him, blocking his path with an unimpressed expression on her face. “Crowstorm,” Nightcloud mewed, voice exasperated. “You’re helping no one by pacing like this. If you aren’t careful, you’re going to wear down the grass we sleep on, if you don’t wear your paws out first.”
She flicked an ear at him, extending one forepaw to give him a weak shove. “Sit down. You can worry without being on your paws.”
Crowstorm let out a snort of half-annoyance, half-amusement as he sat down, grateful at least for the brief distraction from his rising panic. He was thankful that his and Nightcloud's friendship, though it had seemed rocky at first, was now for the most part back to the way it had been before Leafpelt had come to WindClan. (Unfortunately, she still didn’t seem to like Leafpelt much, but some things couldn’t be helped.)
“That’s easy for you to say,” he grumbled at her, scuffing his paws on the grass below. “You’re not the one whose kits are being born as we speak!”
Nightcloud’s expression was cool as she stared back at him, her gaze unwavering even as he met it with a half-hearted glare. “Maybe not,” she meowed. “But you’re also not the one giving birth. If any cat has right to be panicked like this, it’s Leafpelt, and last I heard she was taking it fairly well, all things considered!”
That was one of the nicest things Crowstorm had heard Nightcloud say about his mate, and he blinked at her for a moment, almost at a loss for words. “Well,” he finally managed to reply. “Okay, but--I’m allowed to be worried!”
“I never said you weren’t,” Nightcloud said with a shrug, then licked a paw, moving it up to wash her ears nonchalantly.
“But--” Before Crowstorm could try and snap something else at her--anything to get his mind off of what was happening--Barkface’s call of his name from the nursery made him snap to attention, turning without another thought of Nightcloud and sprinting past her. “Barkface! Are the kits okay? Is Leafpelt okay?” he gasped, skidding to a stop just a mouse-length away from barreling straight into the medicine cat.
“Leafpelt is fine,” Barkface meowed, and his tone seemed careful. “And there are two healthy kits.”
Crowstorm’s relief was short-lived as he considered the words. “Two?” he echoed. “I thought you said there were at least three, maybe four coming?” A heavy weight was beginning to settle in his chest even as he spoke.
“I’m sorry,” Barkface sighed, expression sympathetic. “Something went wrong during kitting. The third kit didn’t make it.”
Crowstorm gaped at him, unable to reply.
“Leafpelt is waiting for you inside,” Barkface continued softly, and, startled by the words back into reality, Crowstorm pushed quickly past him into the nursery, ducking down under the gorse bush. The den was empty save for Leafpelt and their kits--he supposed the other queens had left while Nightcloud was distracting him, wanting to give the two new parents some privacy.
“Leafpelt,” he gasped as he rushed to her side, crouching down to cover her head with frantic licks. “Oh, Leafpelt, I was so worried!”
A weak purr came from his mate as she gently lifted a paw to push him away. “I’m alright,” she murmured. “I’m sorry for worrying you.”
As Crowstorm blinked back at her, his gaze flitted to the kits at her belly--two of them wriggling and nursing strongly, and the third, the biggest of the kits, laying still and silent beside them. His heart ached to think of the child he’d never know, and with a soft noise of grief, he reached out with a paw to draw the kit closer, licking its tiny golden fur and crouching down further to curl himself around it.
“He was a tom kit,” Leafpelt told him softly. “He--He got stuck during kitting--I was swelling too much… It’s a wonder Barkface was able to save even my life. I’m so sorry, Crowstorm.”
Crowstorm shook his head before he rested his muzzle on the tiny scrap of fur. “Don’t be,” he whispered. “It’s not your fault. I…” His ears lay flat against his head as he drew back to touch his nose to the little tom’s own still one. “I’m sorry I’ll never get to meet you, my son.” His gaze rose to meet Leafpelt’s again. “Does he… does he have a name?”
“No,” she replied, the sorrow in her own eyes matching Crowstorm’s own. “I was waiting for you until we named them.”
“Then…” He stood up slightly, half-crouching over his son and thinking of Eaglepaw, the older brother he’d never met. “Can we name him Eaglekit?”
“That’s a lovely name,” Leafpelt mewed. “May it serve him well in--” Her voice broke and she faltered before she went on. “...In StarClan.”
Crowstorm swallowed heavily before he looked at the other two kits. “Yes,” he agreed. “And the others?” He dared not move from where he stood, paws still wrapped around the son he had lost.
“I was thinking Jaykit, maybe, for the tom,” she answered, touching the smallest kit, a blue-gray and white tabby, with her nose. “It was one of the names we talked about before, and it seems fitting…”
“I love it,” Crowstorm told her, trying his best to purr to show his approval--though the sound came out stuttering and weak, as hers had before. “What about Hollykit, for the other kit? That one’s fur is as dark as holly leaves.”
“It suits her,” Leafpelt agreed, using her tail to draw the kits closer to her belly as they wriggled, their mews high pitched and needy.
“I…” Crowstorm finally rose fully to his paws now, glancing down at Eaglekit’s unmoving form. “I’ll … go talk to the elders. About -- about Eaglekit. And I’ll ask Whitetail if she can watch the other two, if you want, while …” He trailed off, a deep sadness settling over him as the gravity of the situation seemed to finally hit him.
Slowly, he raised his head to meet Leafpelt’s gaze, the silence in the den palpable. Her own eyes were dark with grief as she stared back at him, and for a moment, neither of them spoke.
“Thank you,” she said at last, lowering her head to return her attention to their remaining two kits. “Please do.”
He nodded in spite of himself--knowing she would not see it--and gently picked up Eaglekit in his mouth, turning and pushing his way back out into camp.
Goodbye, Eaglekit, he thought as he stood tall despite the pitying stares his Clanmates were now giving him--Barkface had likely let them know by now what had happened, and those who hadn’t heard could surely see the kit in his grip had gone to StarClan. As he paused where he stood, not wanting to approach the elders about burying the kit--not wanting to make it feel even more real--Nightcloud and Ashfoot both rushed to his side.
“I’m sorry, Crowstorm,” Nightcloud managed, voice trembling slightly. He shook his head and said nothing, Eaglekit’s body preventing it, but shot her a look, hoping she knew not to feel guilty for distracting him earlier. There was nothing she could have done, anyway.
As his mother pressed her nose into the fur on his shoulder comfortingly, purring to try and soothe him, Crowstorm drew in a shaky breath through his nose, doing his best to steady his shaking paws. It was alright. He was alright. He would be the best father he could be for his remaining two kits, in spite of everything. And no matter what happened--no matter what StarClan threw at him next--he wouldn’t lose these kits like he had lost Stormfur or Eaglekit.
He wouldn’t let anything happen to Hollykit or Jaykit, not while he still had breath in his body.
Leader: Mudstar—mottled dark brown tabby tom
Deputy: Nightcloud—muscular black she-cat
Medicine cat(s): Barkface—short-tailed mottled brown tom
Ashfoot—gray smoke she-cat
Tornear—wiry gray tabby tom
Crowstorm—black smoke tom with white paws
Whitetail—small white she-cat
Onewhisker—brown tabby tom
Kestrelpaw—gray spotted torbie tom with white
Heatherpaw—fawn spotted tabby she-cat with white
Leafpelt—fawn-cream torbie she-cat with white, formerly ThunderClan (nursing Crowstorm’s kits: Hollykit, a black smoke tabby she-kit, and Jaykit, a blue smoke tabby tom with white)
Dewspots—gray spotted torbie she-cat (nursing Emberfoot‘s kits: Antkit, a brown tom kit with black tabby spots, Cedarkit, a dark ginger tabby tom kit, Sunkit, a predominantly ginger-and-white tortie she-kit, and Willowkit, a gray spotted tabby she-kit)
Gorsetail—pale gray-and-white tabby she-cat with blue eyes (expecting kits)
Webfoot—dark gray tabby tom
Oatwhisker—cream tabby tom
Leader: Firestar—ginger tom with white paws
Deputy: Thornclaw—golden tabby tom
Medicine cat(s): Cinderpelt—fluffy dark gray (black smoke) she-cat
Sandstorm—cream tabby she-cat
Dustpelt—dark brown tabby tom
Cloudtail—fluffy white tom with blue eyes
Brackenfur—golden tabby tom
Brambleclaw—dark brown tabby tom with amber eyes
Ashfur—gray mottled tabby tom with white markings
Sorreltail—tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat with amber eyes
Squirrelflight—ginger she-cat with a white paw and tail tip
Spiderleg—lanky black tom with amber eyes
Shrewpelt—small dark brown tom with amber eyes
Whitewing—fluffy white she-cat with green eyes
Berrypaw—fluffy cream pointed tom with half a tail
Honeypaw—predominantly red torbie she-cat
Sootpaw—predominantly gray torbie she-cat
Ferncloud—predominantly gray mottled torbie with white (nursing Rainwhisker’s kits: Icekit, a white she-kit, and Foxkit, a ginger-and-white tabby tom)
Daisy—fluffy cream pointed she-cat
Longtail—pale tabby tom with dark stripes
Mousefur—small brown she-cat
Leader: Blackstar—large white pointed tom with dark paws
Deputy: Russetfur—dark ginger she-cat
Medicine cat(s): Littlecloud—very small brown-and-white tabby tom
Oakfur—small brown tom
Snowbird—fluffy white she-cat
Toadfoot—dark brown spotted tabby tom
Applefur—brown spotted tabby she-cat
Marshwhisker—brown spotted tabby tom
Kinkfur—black smoke tabby she-cat with unkempt and tangled long fur
Ratscar—dark brown-and-white tabby tom with a long scar along his back
Whitewater—fluffy white she-cat, blind in one eye
Snakepaw—dark brown tabby tom with white paws
Ivypaw—brown torbie-and-white she-cat
Owlpaw—brown tabby tom
Tawnypelt—tortoiseshell she-cat (nursing Rowanclaw’s kits: Flamekit, a ginger kit, Goldenkit, a ginger tabby tom with dark stripes, Dawnkit, a cream tabby she-kit, and Lionkit, a golden-ginger tabby tom)
Cedarheart—dark gray tom
Tallpoppy—lanky fawn tabby she-cat
Leader: Leopardstar—spotted golden tabby she-cat
Deputy: Mistyfoot—gray-and-white she-cat with blue eyes
Medicine cat(s): Mothwing—dappled golden tabby she-cat
Blackclaw—black smoke tabby tom
Voletooth—small brown tabby tom
Mosspelt—tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat with blue eyes
Rippletail—dark gray tabby tom
Mintfur—pale gray tabby tom
Icewing—small white she-cat
Feathertail—pale gray-and-white tabby she-cat
Brook Where Small Fish Swim (Brook)—brown tabby she-cat, formerly of the Tribe of Rushing Water
Willowpaw—predominantly gray torbie she-cat with green eyes
Dapplepaw—dappled gray torbie she-cat
Otterpaw—mottled dark brown tabby she-cat
Pinepaw—sleek brown tabby she-cat
Rainpaw—mottled gray tabby tom
Dawnflower—pale tortoiseshell she-cat (nursing Rippletail’s kits: Minnowkit, a gray-and-white she-cat, and Pebblekit, a mottled gray tom)
Duskfur—dark brown torbie she-cat (nursing Voletooth’s kits: Nettlekit, a dark brown tabby tom, Robinkit, a pale torbie-and-white kit, and Copperpaw, a predominantly ginger chocolate tortie)
Graymist—pale gray tabby she-cat (expecting Reedwhisker’s kits)
Sasha—sleek pointed cream-and-brown she-cat
Swallowtail—dark brown tabby she-cat with green eyes
MAJOR CHANGES FROM CANON
- Tallstar died before he was able to make his intended change of deputy, leaving Mudclaw to become leader. He has caused surprisingly little trouble so far, all things considered, although some still worry there may be war on the horizon with the amount of veiled threats he likes to make.
- Cinderpelt's reincarnation and death plotline doesn't happen. Sorreltail's daughter is named after her brother, Sootfur, instead.
- Leafpool has joined WindClan as Leafpelt, a warrior--something Mudstar approved of not necessarily out of the goodness of his heart, but because of a desire to have some leverage over Firestar, what with his own daughter now living in WindClan.
- After Cinderpelt misinterprets the sign and has Firestar name Thornclaw as deputy, StarClan decides not to intervene further; when Hawkfrost carries out his plot, it is Thornclaw he traps, nearly killing him, though Brambleclaw frees him fast enough to save his life. He has a nasty scar on his neck from the incident.
- The Clans are fairly open to polyamorous and LGB relationships--and some mates and relationships happened differently:
-Sorreltail is in a polyamorous triad with both Brambleclaw and Squirrelflight; her kits are biologically Brambleclaw's
-Ferncloud's mate is Rainwhisker (I'm not considering word of God or the website's family trees canon here--just the books), and they have so far had one prior litter of kits, not two, of which only Shrewkit and Spiderkit survived.
-Thornclaw and Dustpelt are mates.
- Tigerkit has been named Goldenkit, after his recently passed grandmother--and he has kept his original pelt color of golden/ginger tabby.
- Stormfur replaced Feathertail in the Tribe's prophecy, and Crowpaw had feelings for him that he was never able to tell him about before he died; he asked to be named Crowstorm in honor of him. Feathertail survived, and eventually ended up romantically involved with Brook--and neither were driven from RiverClan, as Feathertail managed to keep her head and not rise to Hawkfrost's goading.
there are some other major changes--but you'll have to wait to see most of them! if you have any questions, though, feel free to ask!
Chapter 3: Bitterness
River-blue eyes glinted out from the darkness of the old cave, its ancient and weathered walls hollowed out seasons upon seasons ago. As the old cat's milky gaze peered at the cave's entrance, a flame-colored tom appeared nearly silhouetted in the gap in the stone wall, his own green eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
"Skywatcher," mewed Firestar with a respectful dip of his head, taking a few steps closer before he sat, tilting his head and staring curiously at the old cat before him. "Did you need me for something?"
Skywatcher blinked back at him owlishly, giving each of his creaking legs a long stretch in turn. "My time here isn't much longer," he grunted. "I felt I should thank you, for all you've done for us. StarClan's blessing or not, you and Sandstorm have rebuilt SkyClan."
Firestar flicked one ear as he listened, then lowered his head to lick at his chest fur briefly, seeming unwilling to take the praise. "As any cat would have done," he mewed. "We've done no more than what we should have--than what should have been done long ago. But surely that's not all you asked me here for?"
Skywatcher's eyes shone as he considered the leader that sat before him, quiet for a long moment before he shook his head. "No," he said at last. "Long ago, I met someone who gave me a message… a prophecy long foretold. I'm certain the cat she spoke of was you, Firestar." He paused to draw in a long and shaky breath, a slight wheeze audible, and lowered himself unsteadily to the ground, limbs trembling with effort suddenly.
"A message? But--from who? What is it?"
"Listen well, leader of ThunderClan and friend of SkyClan," murmured the old cat, before suddenly his voice grew louder--stronger. "
There will be Five who will hold the power of the stars in their paws."
Firestar stared at the ancient tom, ears flattening as the silence stretched on. "That's--is that all?" he managed finally. "But what does it mean? Who will they be--five who?"
"Kin of those you cherish most," Skywatcher rumbled, his gaze looking glassy now as he lowered his head. "But that is all I know. I can tell you no more." He let his chin rest on his paws as he spoke, and then, as he finished, a deep and heavy sigh escaped him, his eyes closing.
"Please--how can I--" Abruptly, Firestar's words faltered as he considered the old cat before him--not moving, not breathing. Skywatcher had gone to join StarClan. A chill passed through Firestar, even as he moved to push his nose into the SkyClanner's fur and murmur his goodbyes.
A breeze fluttered through the dark cave, ruffling the leader's fur where he stood. He swore he could hear a voice, just barely audible, whispered on the soft wind-- Farewell, Firestar. Remember this warning.
Gasping awake, Firestar's gaze darted around his den wildly for a moment--but for what he was searching, he did not know. After a few heartbeats, he felt his confusion fade some; forcing his fur to lie flat, he stood (trying to move as gently as he could to avoid disturbing Sandstorm) and shook his pelt out lightly, though he could not escape the tightness in his chest.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, Firestar pushed his way forward and out of the den, breathing shallowly as he glanced around at ThunderClan's waking camp. Perhaps it would be easier to shake off the dream had it been
that--a dream--but Firestar knew that it was anything but
that. It was a memory, words truly spoken by the old cat whose Clan he had helped rebuild, and the message had haunted him ever since. On many occasions, he'd considered bringing it to Cinderpelt, asking what she'd thought, but… every time, he'd decided it was his burden to bear--and his alone.
As the leader looked around the clearing, his gaze rested on a familiar tabby shape near the warrior's den, emerging with a great yawn. Brambleclaw. The loyal warrior had been Firestar's own apprentice, and something of a surrogate son to him considering the absence of his own father; now Brambleclaw himself had kits, newly made apprentices likely to come bounding out of their den at any moment that morning. And they were Squirrelflight's kits, too--even if not by blood, hers all the same. As Sorreltail and Squirrelflight trotted over from where they had been chatting to greet Brambleclaw, Firestar turned to stare instead at the apprentices' den, thinking of the cats who slumbered there.
Kin of those you cherish most,
he thought, frowning.
Could it be true? Could any of them be part of the Five?
He only wished he knew more. If any of Brambleclaw's children were part of the prophecy, he wasn't even certain what it would mean for them. Swallowing thickly, he finally turned to retreat back to his den for at least a while longer, needing the time to think.
Whatever fate StarClan might have had in store for those three apprentices, Firestar only hoped they would not be hurt by it.
"Jaykit! Jaykit, wake up!"
Grumbling slightly, Jaykit rolled over in his nest and shook some of the sleep from him, angling his ears towards the source of the noise. Pattering pawsteps told him his sister was approaching rather quickly, and, rather than let himself be bowled over by her, he tensed his muscles for a heartbeat, then rolled to the side--feeling the slight breeze just beside him as she pounced into the now empty nest.
"Oof!" Hollykit gasped, and he heard her shaking herself rather violently--probably trying to dislodge scraps of moss from her fur. "Nice dodge!"
Snorting, Jaykit sat up and yawned, flicking his tail in a half-hearted greeting. "Not hard to dodge a great lump like you," he mumbled, stretching and standing up then. "Where's Leafpelt? I didn't expect to wake up to an empty nest…"
"Out with Nightcloud or Crowstorm, I expect," Hollykit told him, tone flat. "You're up late. Gorsetail was
to be watching us, but…" She breathed out a sound of half amusement, half bitterness, and Jaykit cast his senses towards their older denmate, tilting his head as he did so. She was sleeping--and, from the feelings he caught rolling off of her, having a pretty nice dream.
He and Hollykit were no stranger to this sort of lack of consideration from the older cats in their Clan--many of them often seemed to hardly notice them unless they were directly underpaw, and even then it was usually to snap at them to bother somecat else. He supposed his parents weren't the most well-liked cats in WindClan, but he didn't really think that gave anyone an excuse. Oh well. I'll show them soon enough.
"Not like we need much watching anyway," he muttered, lashing his tail a little more angrily. "We're nearly six moons. I'd much rather be left alone than be babysat."
Hollykit gave him a gentle, playful shove that didn't even disrupt his balance, then flicked his shoulder with her long, fluffy tail. "You know there's good reason for us to be watched. Kits aren't supposed to leave the camp! That's the warrior code."
"Why should we have to follow the warrior code when we aren't warriors yet?" Jaykit countered, and Hollykit's startled breath and subsequent silence told him he'd surprised her enough that she had no words to reply with. For a moment, she stayed silent--probably considering what he'd said carefully, before she finally responded.
"Well, you might have a point," she mewed. "But that's not important right now. I came to fetch you because Sunkit and I need another kit for our team in mossball--come on!" Jaykit heard her turn and start towards the nursery's exit, but he didn't move from where he stood, frowning at her.
"Aren't we a little old for kit games?" he grumbled when she'd paused, probably to look back at him questioningly. "We're almost apprentices." Huffing out a breath, he scuffed his paws in the dirt below, hunching his shoulders almost petulantly. Why couldn't they be apprentices now, anyway?
"You're sounding awfully serious today," Hollykit meowed, her words curious. "Don't tell me you had another of your tunnel dreams? You're always so grumpy after those…"
"No!" Jaykit snapped, then lowered his voice, shaking his head. (Though the gesture might not have meant much to him, he knew well enough from his dreams that it meant a lot more to other cats--and it was sort of an oddly carried over habit, because of the curious range of body language he often exhibited in those dreams, much to his own confusion at times.
"Not this time," he continued. "I'm just sick of being treated like a kit! I want to be an apprentice already."
"We will be soon," Hollykit promised him, and he heard her shift on her paws. "But until then… don't you want to show Antkit who's boss?"
"Yeah, I guess I do," he admitted, and followed her out of the nursery.
Just outside the gorse, he scented Antkit, Willowkit, Cedarkit, and Sunkit, and murmured a sullen hello to the four of them as he trotted over beside his sister. Antkit snorted, and Jaykit felt familiar annoyance surge up within him at the usual derisiveness he felt from the other kit, biting back a snarl as he dug his claws into the grass.
"Good luck, Sunkit!" Antkit mewed innocently to his sister. "You'll really have to try your hardest with a slow slug and a blind kit on your team!"
"Oh, shut up, Antkit," Hollykit snapped before Jaykit could defend himself. "We don't
to play with you, you know. You're the one who said a game of mossball wouldn't be as fun with just you and your littermates."
Antkit didn't answer, and Jaykit, pinpointing where the mossball was by scent, darted towards it and pulled it close with his claws. "First team to miss three catches loses!" he declared, kicking the ball high into the air with one forepaw and then hitting it hard with the other, sending it hurtling in the direction of Antkit's voice. When he didn't hear the sound of claws making purchase but instead the soft thump as the ball hit the ground further away, he knew it had sailed right over the younger kit's head.
"Hey! That's not fair!" Antkit cried. "I wasn't ready!"
"Do you think enemy warriors will wait for you to be ready in a battle?" Sunkit teased him. Jaykit heard the sound of tiny paws skittering towards where the ball had landed--from the sound of them, it was Cedarkit, the smallest of the litter--and then felt the air being disturbed as the mossball whistled past him and to his left, towards Hollykit.
"Got it!" she mewed triumphantly, and Jaykit felt a thrill of pride in his sister. She made it sound so easy--not even a grunt of effort had escaped her! "Coming your way, Willowkit!" Hollykit added, and the telltale whoosh of air overhead told him the mossball had been thrown.
much louder than a mossball made Jaykit breathe out heavily in amusement, gathering that Willowkit had just gone head over paw trying to catch the ball. Before she could haul herself up, Jaykit heard--and felt--Antkit's heavy pawsteps hurtling towards where the mossball had seemingly landed, then heard him whip around and smack the ball violently towards him.
"Laugh at this, mousebrain!" snapped Antkit, but Jaykit was already moving, springing up into the air where he thought he could hear the mossball coming. As he tried to catch the thing, instead he felt it thump softly into his chest fur, and, as both he and the ball began to fall back down to the grass below, he managed to bend his neck down to snap it out of the air in his jaws.
"That doesn't count as a catch," Antkit complained, and Jaykit set the mossball down at his paws to argue with him. Before he could snap something, though, he was again interrupted, this time by a much older voice than before.
"I'd say it does," Nightcloud meowed, approaching them with that calm but quick gait of hers. "Don't be a sore loser, Antkit." Jaykit felt her eyes on him, and as he reached out instinctively with his senses--not even fully wanting to--he could feel the awkwardness at the forefront of her mind, crawling on her pelt like fleas even if she was trying not to let it show. "Hollykit, Jaykit," she mewed carefully. "Leafpelt and I were wondering if you wanted to come share a rabbit with us. We could eat together and talk about your--"
"No!" Jaykit snapped before she could finish, startling her into silence. He thought he felt Hollykit's gaze on him then, although like always, her emotions were a mystery to him. "We'll eat later. Let us finish our game." He flattened his ears at her, glaring and trying as best he could to meet where her gaze likely was, daring her to try arguing with him.
"Alright," was all Nightcloud said. "Maybe another time." Without another word, she had turned and started for the other side of camp, and Jaykit angrily pushed away the disappointment he felt from her, deciding he didn't care how she felt. She hadn't even tried to push the issue--she didn't deserve to feel sad about it!
"Was that really necessary?" Hollykit asked him in a low voice, probably trying not to let the other kits in on her own disappointment.
our mother!" Jaykit growled at her, not bothering to keep his own volume in check at all. He hoped Nightcloud had heard. He missed when she'd left them alone, and when the other queens in the nursery murmured about how much she must have disliked Leafpelt. Now she wouldn't stop bothering them! As if it wasn't annoying enough that she had the nerve to change her mind like that and be so fickle!
"Maybe not," Hollykit replied softly. Her words were careful. "But I think she wants to be."
Anger flared up in Jaykit's belly, and he squared his shoulders as he glared in the direction of his sister. "We don't need her," he hissed. "We have Leafpelt and Crowstorm. Why can't that be enough?"
Now he could feel awkwardness from the other kits, and he huffed, spinning to glare in their direction instead. Tell me I'm wrong! None of you have needed more than two parents! We didn't ask for Nightcloud to bother us! Rather than challenge him on the subject, though, Cedarkit instead spoke up--"Well, should we, um--get back to playing mossball? I think that's two misses for us…"
"I don't want to play mossball anymore," Antkit meowed loudly, and Jaykit was sure he was glaring at him. "Jaykit's ruined it with his attitude. Besides, it's not like he needs to practice anything physical, not when he's not going to be a warrior."
Jaykit bristled at that, snarling and flashing his teeth at the other kit. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Didn't you hear?" Antkit replied. "Mudstar's going to have you train under Barkface. After all, have you ever heard of a blind warrior?"
Shock coursed through Jaykit and he shook his head quickly, but failed to keep his eyes from widening in worry at the words. "That's not true!" he protested, at the same time that Hollykit chimed in with a, "Shove off, Antkit!"
"It is true," Antkit mewed seriously. Desperately, Jaykit searched for some shred of teasing in the other cat, but felt only seriousness and derisiveness from him. "Harepaw told me himself. And Mudstar's his father, so he knows these things."
Though Hollykit was speaking now, Jaykit didn't hear it--as panic bubbled up in his chest, he spun on his paws and hared towards the leader's den, anxiety crawling through his fur. Bursting in, he was relieved at least to scent Mudstar inside, though he could feel the shock and confusion rolling off the older cat at his sudden entrance.
"Mudstar!" he gasped, tone accusing and frantic. "Is it true what Antkit's saying? You're going to force me to be a medicine cat?" He clawed at the stone below him, the scraping noise failing to ground him as he hoped it would.
Mudstar was silent for a moment as Jaykit waited in anticipation--then spoke, voice low and toneless. "It's not often that I find somecat barging into my den like this. Slow down, kit, and explain yourself."
Jaykit shook his head back and forth, ears flat against his skull as he tried to explain what was upsetting him so. "Antkit says the Clan's going to force me to train under Barkface--but I don't want to be a medicine cat!" he wailed, feeling all at once like a desperate and needy kit again. But he couldn't be a medicine cat--he just couldn't! "Besides, Barkface already has an apprentice!" He liked Kestrelpaw, too--he really did--but he wasn't going to be his denmate again, not if it meant having to sort out dusty herbs all day and feed ungrateful cats leaves and seeds.
"And does Antkit make decisions for WindClan?" Mudstar asked him, tone still flat.
Jaykit faltered then, uncertainty pulsing through his pelt. "I--Well, no! But…"
He trailed off, considering his leader's words more carefully. He'd caught Jaykit off guard, sure--but he hadn't said that he was wrong. Was he trying to distract him from the issue?
"You will make me a warrior apprentice!" Jaykit cried desperately, tail lashing behind him. His voice was smaller, trembling slightly in spite of his best efforts, as he went on: "Won't you?"
Though Jaykit had expected Mudstar to snap at him for his outburst, he was surprised instead to hear a rumble of amusement from the older cat before him. A storm of emotions burst forth from the leader as Jaykit reached out to feel for them--surprise, intrigue, slight annoyance, mirth, and fascination… was he
by him? As he felt for the other cat's emotions, he recoiled when they shifted suddenly, the abrupt seriousness like sharp thorns when he had expected flower petals.
He heard a slight grunt and the shifting of limbs, and then next Mudstar spoke his voice came from higher, above him--he'd stood up. "Of course I will," rumbled the leader. "WindClan cats are strong. We can't let any other Clan think that differences we're born with will stop us." Jaykit's eyes were wide and his breath caught at the words--he felt uncertain how to reply, but relieved all the same.
"The deputy before me, Deadfoot, only had use of three of his legs," Mudstar went on, and Jaykit could hear him stepping carefully closer. "Did you know that?"
"No," he replied.
Another shift of the cat before him, and then he felt a cold nose touch his forehead before it drew back and away. The gesture didn't feel affectionate so much as it did emboldening; Jaykit did his best to stand up a little straighter.
"You must let nothing hold you back, Jaykit," Mudstar meowed. "I'm counting on you to make WindClan proud." There was an almost dark edge to his words, as if in warning, though Jaykit didn't dare to feel for the older cat's true emotions to find out--it almost felt as if he was being ordered not to fail, and StarClan only knew what would happen to him if he did.
"Of course, Mudstar," he mewed, fighting to keep his fur flat.
He heard another movement in front of him and imagined Mudstar nodding. "Good," Mudstar meowed. "Now run along. Your mother must be worried about you." That was definitely an order, and with a dip of his head Jaykit spun and hurried from the den, tail held much higher than when he had entered.
Let Antkit try and mock me now! he thought. Mudstar himself is determined to see me become a warrior! Tilting his nose upwards and keeping his head high as he moved back toward the nursery, Jaykit ignored the feeling of eyes on him--his pelt crawling slightly--and stood as tall as he could as he went.
I'm going to be the best warrior WindClan's ever seen, he swore to himself. No matter what any other cat thinks!
Chapter 4: Deluge
Curled up against the warmth of her littermate and feeling rather cozy, Hollykit let herself doze in the comfortable darkness that surrounded her. This burrow, small as it was, hadn't been used since last leafbare, or so Crowstorm had told her--and since most WindClan cats preferred to sleep under the night sky in warm weather, it was a nice place to tuck themselves away for some peace and quiet when the nursery got too loud. Jaykit especially could tend to get overwhelmed by all the noise, so it was usually on his behalf that Hollykit suggested they seek out the little den, dug into the earth in a mostly overlooked corner of camp. (Jaykit had always felt at home under the earth, too; she figured that had a lot to do with his frequent dreams of a life spent at least partially in tunnels big enough for cats to dwell in.)
She drifted in and out of fleeting dreams, never truly sleeping fully but letting the quiet hum of activity--muffled by the earth around her--wash over her like a tongue lapping over her pelt. Jaykit twitched every now and then beside her; he might have truly been sleeping, perhaps dreaming of the tunnels or the river he often told her about.
Hearing--and feeling--pawsteps coming closer to their little hideout, Hollykit came back to herself somewhat, yawning widely and glancing at the burrow's entrance. It could just be a cat passing by, she supposed--but as soon as she'd thought as much, she was proven wrong, as her mother's tabby face appeared to blink down at her.
"There you two are!" mewed Leafpelt, ducking down to squeeze through the den's low entrance. "Are you planning to sleep the morning away, little ones?" Though her words were somewhat teasing, her gaze was warm, and Hollykit felt familiar comfort at her presence.
Jaykit, who had stirred beside her, rolled over and glared in Leafpelt's general direction. "What else is there for us to do? We're too old for kit games, and Antkit's litter is about as fun as burrs in your pelt anyway."
Whiskers twitching in amusement, Hollykit stretched and chimed in before her mother could reply--"I don't disagree with him about the last bit." Antkit was a bully, and any cat who'd spent more than a heartbeat around the nursery knew it, her mother included. (Leafpelt had tried before to scold the kit when she'd caught him mistreating Jaykit or Hollykit, but had been met with resistance; Antkit had refused to take orders from a cat who wasn't WindClan born. Hollykit knew, though no cat had ever spoken it directly to her, that her mother had been a rogue once, but she failed to see how that mattered if she was loyal to WindClan now.)
"Why don't you come out and share some prey with me?" Leafpelt suggested, her expression fond. As she spoke, she moved closer to touch her nose to Hollykit's head, though doing so was a lot harder now for her than it had been in the past--at six moons old, Hollykit was nearly at her full height (or so she'd been told) and only had a few more moons left of growing to do. Her mother was barely taller than her at this point.
"With Nightcloud?" Jaykit muttered sullenly, tail lashing as he sat up.
"Not this time," Leafpelt replied. "Just us."
Jaykit seemed to perk up at that, and soon enough the two were sitting with their mother a short distance away from the fresh-kill pile, sharing a raven that still felt warm. Somecat had probably caught it not too long ago; Hollykit wondered how powerful their hind legs must be, to have sprung up to grab a bird out of the air.
As they finished their quiet meal, Hollykit caught her mother's eyes raking over the two of them, clearly taking in the dirt that had accumulated on their pelts during their morning nap--and now the blood that dribbled down Jaykit's muzzle from the raven. He'd always been somewhat of a messy eater. Leafpelt's eyes were narrowed slightly as she considered them, and she drew herself up to sit a little taller with a somewhat forced looking smile.
"Come here, my precious ones," she cooed, reaching out with one foreleg to draw a surprised looking Jaykit closer to her. (He, at least, was still a fair amount smaller than Leafpelt--but then, he'd always been on the small side.) Before he could protest, she drew her tongue over the top of his head, lapping at his fur with short and deliberate strokes as he mewed in surprise.
"Mother!" Jaykit sputtered, wriggling as he tried to get away. "We're practically as big as you now--we can groom ourselves!" As he spoke, Leafpelt relaxed her forepaw's grip on him and let him struggle away, blinking amusedly at him as he shook himself and swiped his tongue self-consciously over his muzzle, at last cleaning up the blood that had stained it. Hollykit suppressed a snort as she watched him.
"Maybe you can," Leafpelt conceded, eyes twinkling. "But it sure doesn't seem like it sometimes!" Now feeling somewhat self-conscious as well, Hollykit turned to give her flank a few long licks to clear the dirt from her long fur--then froze, ears twitching, before she whipped back around to face her mother.
"Hold on," she meowed, eyes wide. "There's a reason you're fussing about how we look, isn't there?"
Leafpelt smiled back at her, moving closer and giving her an affectionate flick with her tail. "Sharp as always, Hollykit," she purred. "You always were my little thinker."
Hollykit's mouth felt dry at the confirmation. That meant--
"We're going to become apprentices!" Jaykit gasped, catching on. Hollykit glanced from him to Leafpelt and back again, waiting for her mother to deny the guess, to prove them both wrong in their assumption--but such a denial never came.
"When?" Hollykit asked breathlessly, heart fluttering in her chest. She'd known, at the back of her mind, that the day was coming soon--but that was entirely different than facing that it was happening today!
"Nightcloud told me halfway to sunhigh at the latest." Leafpelt's features softened as she spoke the other she-cat's name; no cat could deny the depth of feelings Leafpelt clearly had for her, just as she did for their father, Crowstorm.
"But it's nearly halfway to sunhigh already!" Hollykit protested.
Leafpelt nodded, flicking one ear as she met her gaze. "Now do you see why I'm being so fussy?" she teased, though she made no move to further try and groom the two of them--she had seemingly given up on that. Beside Hollykit, Jaykit was now frantically licking at his chest fur, expression a cross between embarrassment and anticipation; Hollykit was too stunned to groom herself further, though at least she tended to keep her pelt generally cleaner than Jaykit's anyway.
As she opened her mouth to ask Leafpelt if she knew who their mentors might be, another voice interrupted her before she could. "Kits!" It was Crowstorm, greeting muffled by the small hare in his jaws, hurrying over to the freshkill pile with Nightcloud following just behind him, carrying a catch of her own.
"Have you heard?" Crowstorm asked them excitedly once he'd deposited his catch and turned back towards them, bounding over to Leafpelt's side.
Jaykit blinked at him. "That your ears have grown as long as your tail?" he asked, voice flat.
Leafpelt gave a mrrow of laughter beside her mate, shooting him an amused look. "That's not far off yet," she mewed.
"I'd say he's nearly halfway there," Nightcloud agreed as she joined them, her own eyes bright with mirth.
"Not that!" Crowstorm purred, shaking his head. "Nightcloud says you're going to be made apprentices this morning!" He puffed out his chest as he spoke, clearly proud of the two of them, and gave them both a pleased look, though it was lost on Jaykit.
"Why does Nightcloud say it?" Jaykit grumbled. None of the adults reacted--whether they'd heard and decided to ignore it or it'd just been too low and mumbled wasn't clear.
Hollykit glanced at him and frowned; nudging him with her forepaw, she muttered back in a voice she hoped was low enough to not draw more attention to his grumpiness--"she's the deputy; she knows these things!"
"Are you excited?" Crowstorm asked them with an eager flick of his tail.
Before either of them could answer, Mudstar's voice rang out in the clearing. "Let all cats old enough to chase rabbits gather here beneath the Tallrock for a Clan meeting!"
Squeaking in surprise, Hollykit scrambled to the center of camp as quick as she could with Jaykit close behind, stopping just under the Tallrock as she'd watched Heatherpaw and her littermates do just a moon ago. Jaykit pressed up against her as the two stood and waited for their Clanmates to gather; while his face was determined and gave away no fear or trepidation, she could feel him trembling slightly.
As the rest of WindClan filed in around them, Hollykit turned her gaze upwards to rest on Mudstar. He looked incredibly imposing sat up upon the Tallrock, looking down on all of them in camp; his expression, stern as always, almost felt dismissive from this angle, as if he was above them all in more ways than one.
"Hollykit and Jaykit have reached the age of six moons and are ready to become apprentices," he announced in a loud, strong voice, clearly wasting no time. "Jaykit, from this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Jaypaw. I will be mentoring you personally." Hollykit blinked in shock and turned briefly to look at her littermate--he was sitting taller now, a slight smile on his muzzle at the announcement of his mentor. The Clan around them was murmuring amongst itself, but she couldn't make out any words--all she knew was how proud she was of her brother, for being chosen by the Clan's own leader as an apprentice. Mudstar did not come down to touch noses with Jaypaw, as she'd seen happen at the other ceremony she'd witnessed--perhaps he was waiting until after he'd announced her mentor, so he could continue projecting his voice from atop the Tallrock?
Paws tingling even as she sat, Hollykit turned her attention back fully to Mudstar again, shivering as she awaited her own renaming. "Hollykit," her leader rumbled, and she sat up straighter. "From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Hollypaw." Joy surged in her chest. Whiskers twitching and chest swelling with pride, she whirled to look at her Clanmates, wondering which of them would be named as her mentor.
"Crowstorm," Mudstar called. Hollypaw's heart sunk. "You are more than ready for your first apprentice. I know you received adequate training as my own apprentice, and expect you to pass on all that you know to Hollypaw." The Clan was silent around them--not even Leafpelt spoke--as Crowstorm moved to touch noses with his daughter. Uncertainty crawling through her fur, she did so quickly, trying to smile back at him but struggling with it.
I thought Ashfoot said kin didn't usually mentor kin? Anxiously, she glanced around her at her gathered Clanmates, hoping to catch the gaze of someone who might offer her some kind of reassurance--her eyes met Nightcloud's, who gave her an encouraging nod, but she didn't feel completely comforted. A part of her couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that maybe Mudstar had done this because there was no other WindClan cat willing to mentor her--or no other cat he wanted to force to mentor her when they didn't want to. As it was, she felt embarrassed by the choice, like somehow the world itself was trying to make her feel humiliated.
Before she could dwell on it further, Mudstar landed beside her, having jumped down from the rock while she wasn't looking; his paws thudded loudly on the grass in a sound she felt as much as heard, and she watched him touch noses with her brother with at least some degree of relief. At least he hadn't forgotten that. As Mudstar pulled back, he turned to stare out at the gathered Clan and then opened his jaws again to call out: "Jaypaw! Hollypaw!"
Following his lead, the Clan erupted in cheers of their own, though Hollypaw could have sworn they sounded somewhat half-hearted from many of them. Still, she could pick out the voices of Nightcloud, Leafpelt, and Crowstorm--and Heatherpaw and her brothers, who she spun to look at. Heatherpaw beamed at her as she cheered, and Hollypaw couldn't help but smile back then even in spite of her worries about the mentor she'd been assigned. At the very least, she was delighted to be Heatherpaw and Harepaw's denmate again. The two had always been good friends to her, and she'd missed them in the past moon.
"So!" Crowstorm meowed, and she whipped around to face him, startled by the suddenness and loudness of his voice. "What do you say I show you the territory?" His tone was cheerful enough--for Crowstorm--but his expression was unreadable.
"Did you know you'd be mentoring me?" she asked him curiously.
He blinked, looking surprised by the question, then shook his head. "No. But I'm glad to have my first apprentice--and to have the chance to see one of my kits' journey to becoming a warrior!" His voice was still warm, and though Hollypaw still wasn't certain he wasn't hiding his dismay, she decided to believe his words for her own sake if nothing else.
That’s probably all it is, she told herself, trying to not let herself worry any further. Crowstorm is overdue for his first apprentice, but Mudstar couldn’t give him Heatherpaw or Harepaw because he hadn’t proved himself loyal enough yet--not after he took a rogue as a mate. Surely Mudstar just hadn’t wanted to make Crowstorm wait too many more moons for one of Dewspots’s kits.
"Now, the territory?" Crowstorm meowed expectantly, and Hollypaw blinked.
"Oh, right! Yes! Let's go!"
Purring, Crowstorm gave her a nudge with one of his paws. "Better keep up, then. Don't think that just because you're my kit, I'm not going to train you hard! You've got to learn to run as fast as a rabbit if you want any chance of catching one!" As he turned towards the edge of camp and tensed his muscles as if about to burst into a sprint there and then, Mudstar's voice startled the both of them that time.
"Mind if we join you?"
Crowstorm glanced at him, surprise clear on his features. "Of course not," he replied, though Hollypaw thought she saw a flicker of something she couldn't read in his gaze. "I was thinking we'd run up towards the Moonpool, then move along the stream a bit."
"I've no objections to that," Mudstar grunted. "It's always good for an apprentice to see the Moonpool. It's a shame we left the tradition of Highstones visits in our old territory." His tail moved to briefly touch Jaypaw's spine as he set off walking in the direction of the camp's exit, as if to let him know they were moving; Jaypaw scowled at the gesture, but said nothing, starting off after him.
Crowstorm set off at a similar pace--a quick stride, but a stride nonetheless, and not a run as he'd clearly intended--as Hollypaw followed him. He looked awkward as he glanced at their leader and his former mentor, clearing his throat before speaking up--"I never visited."
Mudstar scoffed--if Hollypaw could see his face, she imagined she would see him rolling his eyes--and flicked his tail. "Of course," he meowed. "I'd forgotten. You spent the latter half of your apprenticeship gallivanting around on StarClan's whim… though, I suppose, WindClan is better off for it now."
Hollypaw had heard the tales from Morningflower and the other elders of the Great Journey, and how her father had been one of the original cats sent to scout out ahead by StarClan--it was still hard for her to wrap her head around the idea of her father, nearly her age once, traveling so far on StarClan's orders, but it had always awed her to think about.
Before she could fall any deeper into thought, Crowstorm's voice shook her back to reality--"Come on!" She blinked, realizing Mudstar and Jaypaw had both broken into a run once they'd made it out of camp; suddenly excited to have a chance to run on the open moors at last, no longer a kit confined to the camp, Hollypaw put on a burst of speed and hared after them, the wind on her fur warm and pleasant. Crowstorm kept stride with her as the four of them pelted across WindClan territory, the sky stretching out seemingly forever above them and the moors stretching nearly as far before them.
As they went, it didn't take long for Hollypaw to find herself getting tired--but she tried her best to push onward regardless, trying to ignore the steadily growing burning sensation in her chest or the aching in her limbs. At last Mudstar slowed down ahead of her, and Jaypaw effortlessly followed suit (she was certain his excellent hearing had picked up on the change in pawsteps--she'd always marvelled at her brother's perceptiveness), their little patrol slowing as they approached the top of the slope they were climbing. Hollypaw puffed for breath as they crested the hill, noting that while Jaypaw, too, was panting, neither Crowstorm or Mudstar were at all affected--they had probably gone at a slower pace than normal for their benefit, even if Crowstorm had said he wouldn't go easy on her. Hollypaw's paws tingled to imagine running even faster than they just had; what if she wasn't able to manage it? Her legs hurt enough already!
"Look," Mudstar grunted, and Hollypaw snapped to attention, watching as he nodded down the hill before them. The grassy hill gave way to bare stone, and at the bottom, she could see a sparkling pool in the center of the stone hollow, water feeding into it from a nearby cliff with a soft noise audible even from this distance.
"The Moonpool," she breathed, eyes wide.
"Can we go visit it up close?" Jaypaw asked curiously.
"Not today," Mudstar meowed. He turned to glance at each of them in turn, eyes serious. "But perhaps soon. It wouldn't be the worst idea to start taking apprentices to share tongue with StarClan again. Maybe you two will be among the first at the lake to do so."
Hollypaw's stomach fluttered at the thought. If she were to speak with StarClan, what would they say? And how many wonderful things could she learn from them? She thought of what questions she might ask them--and who she might hope to see among them. Maybe Tallstar, the leader before Mudstar, who she'd heard so much about from Morningflower? Or Gorsepaw, Morningflower's son, who had died long before she was ever born? Or perhaps Eaglekit… if even newborn kits could make it to StarClan, too, perhaps it would be nice to get to know the brother she had never met.
"Snap out of it, cloudbrain," mewed Crowstorm. His words sounded harsh, but his eyes glinted fondly as he flicked an ear at his daughter. "I know you've got a lot going on in that head of yours, but we're moving on."
Nodding, Hollypaw did her best to hurry after the three of them, relieved at the very least that they were no longer sprinting. Her whole body still ached from the earlier run.
"Keep an eye out as we move along the stream," Crowstorm told her as they walked. "This is our border with ThunderClan. It's important to know the territory, but especially the border."
Mudstar grunted with agreement. "Yes. Then you'll know if anything's out of place--or if any cat has crossed it."
"And that scent sort of like gorse bushes but worse--that's ThunderClan?" Jaypaw asked, crinkling his nose. Hollypaw tasted the air to better tell what he meant; she could smell the gorse-tinged catscent he'd pointed out, but something about it felt almost familiar to her, rather than unpleasant as she'd expected. Weird.
"Yes," Crowstorm snorted, amused. Then he faltered--Hollypaw feared briefly that she'd bump into him, but he recovered quickly enough that it didn't happen--perhaps realizing he'd answered Mudstar's apprentice before he could.
"Crowstorm would know better than any cat," Mudstar rumbled, and though it sounded like praise, something about the words gave Hollypaw pause. Was that a jab at the friends Crowstorm had made on his journey?
Crowstorm gave a low growl in response, quietly--so much so that Hollypaw doubted Mudstar had heard, as far ahead of them as he was. It was probably for the best, anyway; she didn't want her father to be punished by their leader, especially not on her first day of apprenticehood.
Nonetheless, the atmosphere felt tense as they continued on, and an uncomfortable silence fell upon them, chilling Hollypaw down to her aching toes despite the warmth of the air around her.
"I smell cats!" Jaypaw hissed suddenly, ears flattening, and Hollypaw glanced around at his words, unable to catch sight of whoever he meant. On ThunderClan's side of the stream, she saw only tall, dense forest. There were no cats in sight--at least as far as she could see.
Mudstar paused and stopped Jaypaw with his tail. "Good senses. There's a ThunderClan patrol up ahead." He turned to blink at Hollypaw and Crowstorm, as if expecting something from them.
"Can we go see?" Hollypaw ventured, shuffling her paws in place where they'd halted. "Hiding from them or leaving doesn't seem right. They should know we're here, and that we aren't scared of them." As she spoke, her words grew bolder, stronger, and she chanced a look at Mudstar directly. "Right?"
Crowstorm started to say something, but before he could get out any more than a single syllable, Mudstar had interrupted--"Very good. If anything, they should be scared of us. Why don't you lead the way, Hollypaw, and we'll follow?"
Hollypaw drew in a satisfied breath at the words, pride swelling in her chest--her Clan leader was trusting her to try and lead the way! Nodding eagerly, she scampered ahead of her Clanmates, standing as tall as she could and trying to strike an imposing figure as she stalked along the bank of the stream, head and tail held high as could be. Her eyes darted to the other side of the stream every now and again, waiting for the moment she would see the patrol--though she knew she should focus her gaze straight ahead to seem truly unbothered by their presence, she was too curious not to watch for them.
And then she saw them--four cats, two larger than the others--although barely so. The smaller cats--apprentices, she figured, by their size and the way they carried themselves, seemed to both be she-cats, one of them a thick-furred gray and white and the other a dark blue-gray tabby. Hollypaw couldn't help it--she faltered briefly in her stride to turn and fully glance at them, too curious to resist. Her gaze moved to their mentors then. One was a bulky, short-furred brown tabby with a scowling face that reminded her of Crowstorm; the other was--oh!
Hollypaw jerked almost imperceptibly in alarm at the sight she hadn't been expecting--this ginger patched cat had only one eye and one tattered ear, the other two completely torn away and scarred over in a rather intimidating manner. As she jumped in shock, Hollypaw lost her footing on the bank, her paws slipping on the wet grass. Before she could try and right herself or stumble back, she had toppled forward completely, tumbling through the air with a cry of alarm before she plunged into the cool, moving stream.
Crying out again but this time completely in vain--she saw and felt bubbles burst forth from her jaws as she wailed, spinning in the water--Hollypaw struggled to try and right herself, to do anything but flounder in panic at the abruptness of her plight. She'd never even been submerged in water all her life; this was a first for her, and perhaps a last too, as she had no idea anymore which way was up and how to find the surface. StarClan help me! she thought desperately, kicking out with her legs and trying to squint to see through the murky water. Please! Which way is up?
She wasn't sure entirely how long she kicked and struggled there, carried by the current--but before long, her struggles grew weaker as her lungs burned, eyes squeezing shut as she began to feel resigned to her fate. What a humiliating way to die, she thought pitifully, hoping that her family would not be too upset at her loss. She fought still to not suck in breath she knew she wouldn't find, but it was a losing battle--soon enough she'd be unable to stop herself, what with how badly her lungs burned already.
Then, just as abruptly as she'd plunged into the water, strong paws pushed her back out of it, shoving her rather roughly onto a hard stone and into sweet, sweet air. Gasping and shivering, Hollypaw flopped over where she'd been shoved and lay like a drenched rat on the stone, coughing and sputtering and shaking like a leaf. Her vision was blurry; even as she tried to lift her head, weak though the motion was, she couldn't make out the other dripping wet cat that crouched in front of her, try as she might. Still gasping for breath, she closed her eyes instead, laying her head back down against the rock.
"Still alive?" came an unfamiliar voice, the words accented in an odd but pleasant way. Hollypaw flicked her sodden ears, the best reply she could manage at the moment. "Good enough for me. Gosh, you really took a spill, huh?"
Gosh? Puzzled, Hollypaw pried open her eyes again to blink at the other cat, screaming at her vision to focus. It had begun to, at the very least, and as it did, she realized that the cat who'd saved her was the gray and white ThunderClan apprentice she'd seen. Trying to struggle to her paws but only managing to prop herself up weakly, Hollypaw attempted to nod at the other apprentice, gratitude heavy in her chest.
"Y-You saved my life!" she croaked, but StarClan, it sounded horrible. As she coughed again and struggled up into at least a half-crouched, half-sitting position, she caught sight of the other apprentice hurrying towards the two of them--it looked like they were on some sort of stepping stone path, halfway across the stream.
"Are you okay?" gasped the gray tabby apprentice in a high, anxious voice, and honestly, Hollypaw didn't know how to respond to that. Shaking her pelt out weakly, she looked back at the apprentice who'd rescued her, chest fluttering.
"Thank you," she rasped, and the gray and white apprentice nodded, smiling back at her.
"Ain't no thing," mewed the ThunderClan cat. "Though maybe don't do it again. Can't guarantee I'll be around to save you then."
Hollypaw opened her mouth to reply, but paused, glancing over at the other ThunderClanner. She'd been giving her an odd look since she'd come over--her blue eyes were wide and owlish, and Hollypaw felt her pelt crawling at the look she was giving her.
"W-What are you staring at?" she managed to choke out, hoping it sounded more indignant than it did traumatized. Self-conscious, she shook herself less weakly than before, sending droplets of stream water all around her, including on the other two apprentices. (Absently, she noticed the two adult ThunderClanners on the bank of the stream; neither of them had approached, but neither had they told their apprentices off for doing so.)
"I'm sorry!" the gray tabby mewed quickly, looking embarrassed herself. "I don't mean to stare, honest, it's just…" She trailed off then, shaking her head as if unable to finish her own sentence.
"Just what?" Hollypaw demanded, exasperated.
"You look so much like someone I know!"
At the hastily blurted out words, Hollypaw paused--sitting up straighter and giving the other cat a look she hoped conveyed the full extent of her confusion. "I do?" How similar must this ThunderClan twin of hers have looked for the other apprentice to be unable to keep from staring like that?
"Yeah, I think I see what Sootpaw means," agreed the gray and white she-cat, and Hollypaw felt even more confused. "Not pelt color wise, but in the face--"
"Hollypaw!" Her father's voice made her whirl around, relief washing over her at the familiar face. As she watched, he crossed the stepping stones effortlessly and quickly to reach her, as if it was second nature to him-- wow, she thought, embarrassed. He must be really worried.
But though Crowstorm's face was definitely worried, there was also clear annoyance in his features as he bent over her, grabbing her scruff and pulling her up until she was standing before he leaned back. "Stop chatting with ThunderClan apprentices and let's go!" her father snapped, his impatient words surprising her.
"But Crowstorm--" she tried, but he cut her off with a lash of his tail.
"No buts!" he meowed. "You need to see Barkface--who knows how much water you might have breathed in!" Before she could protest further, he had darted around the other side of her--practically shoving the ThunderClan apprentices away--to begin forcefully nudging her back along the stepping stones.
As she went, she heard an unfamiliar and exasperated voice call out from the other bank--one of the adult ThunderClanners, she guessed--" You're welcome!"
Reaching the edge of the stream and still fighting to contain her shivering, Hollypaw caught sight of Jaypaw's concerned face, peering in her direction from beside his mentor.
"Is Hollypaw okay?" she heard him murmur over the sound of her teeth chattering.
Mudstar huffed. "Besides being drenched, I'm sure she'll be fine." Then, without another word, he turned and stalked off back towards camp, not even glancing back once.
Cold shame settled like a heavy weight in Hollypaw's stomach; just moments ago, she'd been eager at the prospect of earning her leader's approval, but now she'd completely embarrassed herself. Feeling wretched, she flattened her ears against her waterlogged head and looked down at her paws, shoulder shaking now for more reasons than just her own trembling from the experience.
Crowstorm nosed at her back gently, trying to nudge her towards camp. "Come on," he told her softly. "Let's get you to Barkface."
It felt like days had passed by the time Hollypaw was finally given a chance to truly rest, although it was barely sundown. She’d trudged back to camp with the help of her father and brother, where Barkface had given her a thorough checking over--and then she’d been prescribed some odd-tasting flowers she was told were lavender and chamomile, for chills, shock, and fever prevention, but even then she hadn’t earned peace yet. For a long while after, she’d had to sit in the medicine cat’s den, checked on periodically by a worried Kestrelpaw, even though--as far as she was concerned--she was fine. Still, Barkface insisted she stay the night in his den, which was more than a little frustrating. At least Kestrelpaw was nice enough, though she’d never been quite as close to him in kithood as she had been to his siblings. It was Jaypaw who’d been closer with Kestrelpaw--though she’d never wish her ordeal today on him, whether or not it meant he’d get to spend time with his friend.
Crowstorm and Jaypaw had finally been let in to see her, and Barkface and Kestrelpaw had even left the three of them alone in the den for the time being; Barkface had taken Kestrelpaw out near the camp for some herb gathering. Leafpelt and Nightcloud had both been in earlier to check on her--Nightcloud had been able to sway Barkface to let her and Leafpelt in because of her own status--but both Crowstorm and Jaypaw had been barred until now on account of Barkface deciding they were both too ‘fussy’ to risk exacerbating Hollypaw’s shock until he was sure she wasn’t in any danger.
As Jaypaw moved to touch noses with her, Hollypaw forced out a raspy purr, wanting the both of them to know she was alright. Though Jaypaw didn’t show it as obviously as some other cats, she knew him well enough to read the clear worry on his face--at the very least, it was nice to see it soften some at her reassurance.
“Leave it to you to fall into the stream on your first day of apprenticeship,” he snorted at her. There was no real bite to his words, and Hollypaw huffed in return, cuffing him lightly over the ears.
“How else was I supposed to liven things up for you?” she sniffed. “You always act so bored by everything, I thought I’d make things more interesting.”
“Did you now?” Jaypaw muttered, rolling his eyes. (Hollypaw still found it interesting how often he made expressive gestures like that despite not being able to read them himself; she wondered how much it had to do with his dreams and how much might have just been instinctual.)
“Are you feeling any better?” Crowstorm asked, still clearly fretting.
Rather than feed into his fussiness, Hollypaw answered only briefly before trying to move on to something else--”Fine,” she mewed. “Who were those ThunderClan cats?” She’d only caught one of their names: Sootpaw, the gray tabby apprentice who’d stared at her so oddly.
Crowstorm bristled at her question. “Why is that important?” he replied stiffly.
Hollypaw frowned at him, confused and annoyed by his response. “I’m just curious!” she mewed “They thought I looked like someone they knew! Am I not allowed to wonder who in ThunderClan is my long-lost twin?” Her last sentence was meant to be sarcastic, a joke--but it fell somewhat flat, sounding nearly toneless except for the irritation in her voice.
“No, you aren’t!” Crowstorm snapped, and Hollypaw flinched in surprise. “Your loyalty should be to WindClan first!”
Eyes wide, Hollypaw felt her ears flatten as she crouched lower where she sat. Did Crowstorm really think she was disloyal? Just because she’d been curious about the cats who’d saved her? How little did he think of her for that to be enough?
Feeling downtrodden, Hollypaw said nothing--but Jaypaw jumped quickly to her defense in the wake of her silence. “Hollypaw is loyal!” he growled. “Don’t act like she isn’t!” His fur rose along his shoulders as he spoke, stepping closer to Hollypaw until the two of them stood shoulder to shoulder; he was visibly taking her side against and defending her from Crowstorm, and though she appreciated the gesture, she also didn’t like that things had come to an argument in the first place at all.
Crowstorm stared at the two of them for a long moment, his own pelt still bristling, before he seemed to sag where he stood, lowering his head and sighing heavily. “I’m sorry,” he meowed softly. “You’re right.” Hollypaw blinked at him, her own heart aching to see how dejected he looked. “I’m just worried,” her father continued. “Hollypaw, you could have drowned! ThunderClan is the least of my concerns right now.”
Frowning, Hollypaw moved closer, pressing her nose briefly into her father’s chest fur before pulling away and staring up at him. “I didn’t drown, though,” she told him, hoping her voice sounded reassuring. “I’m fine, see?”
Crowstorm nodded, pulling her forward with his forepaws and resting his chin on her head. He was trembling; Hollypaw didn’t dare move from where she sat then, her father shaking as he held her, and wondered sadly if he was thinking of Eaglekit. “I know,” Crowstorm murmured. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
A long moment passed before Crowstorm finally pulled away, and when he did, his gaze was serious as he leveled it at both of them in turn. “Actually,” he mewed, clearing his throat. “Since I have the two of you here, I have something to tell you both.”
“You do?” Hollypaw meowed, at the same time that Jaypaw asked, “What is it?”
Crowpaw nodded in acknowledgment of their curiosity, drawing in a deep breath before he spoke again: “You’re going to have younger siblings.”
Immediately Hollypaw leapt to her feet, her whole body tingling with sudden excitement. “Really?” she gasped, happiness fluttering in her chest. Younger siblings! Maybe she was a little young to have them yet, but she was more than eager to meet them nonetheless--her family was getting bigger!
“Leafpelt’s expecting kits again?” Jaypaw asked, sounding less eager than she did.
When Crowstorm was silent for a long moment, Hollypaw assumed he was put out by Jaypaw’s lack of enthusiasm and spoke up again. “That’s great!” She purred loudly, giving her father a fond blink.
But Crowstorm didn’t perk up at her show of eagerness. Slowly, deliberately, he shook his head, shuffling his paws somewhat awkwardly on the stone below. “Leafpelt isn’t expecting kits,” he murmured carefully. “Nightcloud is.”