Breezepelt felt the chaos of the battle around him soak into his fur. He felt the screeches of the cats around his ring in his ears, and the ground felt soggy and rotten under his claws. But he only had eyes for the burly, golden tom just a tree-length away. Finally. All of this would be worth it.
He bounded down from his position at the edge of the clearing, and caught Lionblaze off-guard, knocking the large tom over and pinning him to the ground. Without hesitating, he raked his claws across his cheek.
“Breezepelt, no!” He heard Ivypool cry out near him. “Don’t do it! Please! Do you really want to destroy the Clans for Brokenstar’s sake?”
Traitor, traitor! Breezepelt thought. Antpelt’s death was for nothing! He slammed Lionblaze’s head to the ground. The ThunderClan tom gave a great shake of his shoulders, but Breezepelt managed to keep him pinned.
“This has nothing to do with Brokenstar.” Breezepelt looked up, meeting her gaze. All the pain and fury he had felt from the moment he learned the truth, it burned in his belly. “Lionblaze should never have been born. None of them should.” He flicked his lean tail back towards the still, battered body of Hollyleaf. “She’s dead. Now it’s your turn, Lionblaze.” Breezepelt tore his gaze from Ivypool before diving into Lionblaze’s throat, latching his teeth into his thick fur.
“We’re kin!” Lionblaze gasped under him. Breezepelt could have laughed. Them ?
“Never! ” He hissed in response.
Suddenly, he felt thorn-sharp claws dig into his shoulders, heaving him off of Lionblaze and pinning him to the ground on his back. To Breezepelt’s horror, it was Crowfeather .
“This has to stop!” Crowfeather shouted down at him, his blue eyes wide in shock. “I won’t let you harm a whisker on that cat!” Behind him, Breezepelt could see Lionblaze stagger to his paws. No, no! He had lost his chance! His throat tightened, and he turned his attention back to Crowfeather.
“I always knew you hated me!” He half-snarled, half-sobbed. He’d never have his revenge on the cats who ruined his life. The fury overwhelmed him as his eyes began to brim with emotion.
“I never hated you.” Crowfeather’s grip tightened on his shoulders as he gave him a small shake. His eyes were narrowed now. “That’s just what you were determined to believe. And Nightcloud encouraged you.”
Had Breezepelt’s arms not been pinned to his sides, he would have lashed out and clawed his father’s eyes out of his head.
“It’s not her fault!” He spat, trying to struggle free of his grasp. It’s not fair! How dare he accuse Nightcloud of anything ! She spent all of Breezepelt’s life making up for Crowfeather’s folly!
“No.” Crowfeather hissed. “I should have done something much earlier. But now it’s too late. You chose the Dark Forest.” Before Breezepelt could respond, Crowfeather snatched him up by his scruff and hauled him to his feet, shoving him away. “Get out of here!”
Breezepelt stared at him, eyes wide, his chest heaving. His father was finally saying what he had been waiting to hear. Finally, confirming what he had always known.
The black tom turned and darted away, disappearing into the brush and leaving his father behind him.
He raced away, tripping over roots and thick underbrush. Just the ground underneath ThunderClan paws seemed to despise him, blotting out the sky and tearing thorns through his thin pelt. His back was pressed down by low branches, and every breath was heavy with the stench of holly. He felt sure to choke before he finally burst through the treeline.
He leapt over the small creek bordering WindClan and ThunderClan, his legs finally able to fully extend as he pelted across the moor.
He stopped well short of the WindClan camp, just barely able to catch sight of the bushes that lined it. They were smudges in the distance. His sides heaved as he watched.
He wondered if his mother was okay. And what of Heathertail and Whitetail? Sedgewhisker, and her sisters? What about Ashfoot?
The camp seemed still and quiet. Breezepelt drove his claws into the soft grass, and let out a baleful wail.
What did he care, anyway? The entire moor might as well burn around him! He owed nobody anything! Least of all, WindClan!
He spun on his heels with one last cry and headed away from camp, towards the Moonpool.
Breezepelt ran until his paws burned. It was all he could do.
Brokenstar is dead! He had heard the murmur of the Dark Forest warriors. They echoed in his ears. Brokenstar was dead. What was Breezepelt supposed to do now? His mentor was gone. The tom had spent time with him, trained him. Made him stronger. Better.
Breezepelt stopped when he crested the Moonpool, the stones cold beneath his sore paws.
He looked back as a light rain began to patter down around him, quickly soaking his fur and battering his wide ears.
From here, he could see most of the lake. Anyone who had ever done him wrong, all in one place. And then, a flash as lightning struck down, somewhere in the heart of ThunderClan.
Breezepelt jumped, his tail stiffening at the deafening clap and shake. Even from his distance, he saw the sparks jump and the smoke begin to rise. Maybe his wish would come true, and fire could burn the whole lakeshore down.
But the rain continued to fall, and then thin, and he watched as the moon beamed down, turning the lake silver and lining the hills of the moor. The trees of ThunderClan blanched, and the smoke dissipated to nothing but whisps.
Breezepelt continued to breathe, taking in the sight of the territories aglow.
“They won.” He murmured to himself, between small gasps.
It had all been for nothing after all. And now Breezepelt had nothing.
Then, suddenly, pale, starry figures surged towards him. Breezepelt arched his back in surprise, his claws scraping against the stone as he awaited the wave of StarClan warriors to overpower him.
They parted easily around him like a river passing a stone, never even sparing him a glance. Their scents were faint, but cool in his nose, and the brush of their fur felt like long grass in a Greenleaf breeze. They seemed to move soundlessly, paws filling the gentle divets in the stone without a sound, but their passing brought the sound of a strong moorland wind that drove through Breezepelt’s fur with a pang of familiarity.
He gazed around them as they poured past him, and dove into the Moonpool without hesitation, seeming to disappear into the water’s surface.
Eventually, the surge was over, and above him, Silverpelt glittered, silent.
Breezepelt walked shakily towards the Moonpool, which sat without a ripple on it’s shining surface. He peered cautiously into it, wiser than to get his whiskers wet.
All he saw was his own reflection peering back. Scarred, gaunt face and gleaming amber eyes.
Breezepelt turned away with a hiss, then immediately straightened, seeing a figure on the farside of the Moonpool, watching him.
He recognized the dark gray fur and lean shape, and his heart pounded. It was Ashfoot!
She seemed uninjured, sitting neatly with her tail curled around her paws. Nervous, Breezepelt skirted the edge of the Moonpool towards her. He didn’t see a lick of starlight in her fur, but there was something wrong, and his fur prickled with unease.
When he got near, Ashfoot turned and hopped up the rocks that lined the back of the Moonpool, disappearing over the other side. Breezepelt scrabbled to follow her. Why had she come all the way out here? Surely, the WindClan deputy should have been back at camp, looking over the injured.
For a brief moment, as he hurried to follow, he worried that this could be an ambush. Perhaps Ashfoot was bait to catch him. But, he supposed it would have been much easier for the nines of StarClan cats to kill him before.
It didn’t take much to heave himself over the stone. From here, he could see down into territory that no Clan cat had stepped paw in. It looked like moorland, long stretching plains that made Breezepelt’s fur itch with anticipation. He could still see Ashfoot, casually winding her way down into the untouched land. Breezepelt hopped down and began to follow.
He took his eyes off the warrior for a moment to glance back at the rocky cliff that marked the Moonstone. He wouldn’t step back in Clan territory for as long as he lived, he vowed. What would it matter? Any of those cats he cared about, would they want him back after everything that happened? Breezepelt had a hard time believing it. He wasn’t sure what Ashfoot thought of him. Perhaps his mother could forgive him. She always did, no matter what he did. Would this be different? Even if it wasn’t, he couldn’t do that to her. To force her to choose between her Clan and her son. He was hardly much of a son to her, anyway.
To think. He had joined the Dark Forest in order to grow stronger, to become a better warrior. He believed that, for a long time. He believed he could earn his father’s love and pride. He could earn the way he looked at Lionblaze. He could earn a place in his clan. Even when the Dark Forest revealed their true intentions, Breezepelt still thought he could get away with it.
And he liked it. He liked the attention he got from Brokenstar. He liked the feeling of fighting, and winning . He liked to feel powerful. And it wasn’t harming anyone, after all. And when the truth about his father was revealed… well. Breezepelt didn’t see why someone else shouldn’t suffer for once.
But the blood… the blood… Breezepelt thought, his eyes widening, as he watched blood bubble over the lip of the Moonpool and begin to pour down the slope towards him. It was thick and hot, the stench reaching him long before it pooled around his paws, over his toes and lapping at his ankles. The force of it rocked him back, rising steadily up his forearms and pulling at him. The scent was unbearable, so powerful and overwhelming, it was all Breezepelt could do to keep breathing. It continued to rise until it was over his shoulders, pulsing against his throat and splashing up against his lips, higher, and higher, until Breezepelt’s eyes screwed shut and he dipped his nose underneath the current.
“You can stay here.” The voice shocked him, and he blinked his eyes open. The blood was gone, and Breezepelt was still staring at the ridge of the Moonpool, where the moonlight shone off the peaks. He turned to the side, and could see Ashfoot up close this time. “It’ll be tough on your own. But you’ll do fine. You’ve always made do.” The molly said, nodding to a cluster of stones a ways away on the moor.
“Ashfoot?” Breezepelt asked, because he had to. She gazed down at him with cool, green eyes. “Are you… are you dead?”
Ashfoot looked down at herself for a moment before meeting his gaze again.
“I was killed in the fight.” She admitted. Pain struck Breezepelt’s heart. He did this . “But when I tried to join my ancestors in the Moonpool, I could not finish my journey. Something is holding me back.” She looked Breezepelt over for a moment. “I think it might be you.”
Breezepelt said nothing, his throat tight and his chest aching. His fault. His fault! Not only did he get her killed, but he was stopping her from joining StarClan, too? Breezepelt had never felt more like a kit than with Ashfoot’s firm gaze staring him down.
“I’m sorry.” He barked out. I didn’t mean for you to die . He wanted to say. I just wanted everyone to suffer, like I had. If only everyone knew my pain, then maybe they could understand!
If Ashfoot was dead- then-
“Is my mother-?” Breezepelt began, his voice trembling.
“She was alive the last I saw her.” Ashfoot gave an unimpressed sniff. His apology likely didn’t mean much to her. “Walk alongside me, Breezepelt.” She instructed, and began to walk farther from the clan territories. Breezepelt hurried to obey, his heart fluttering about like a weak bird. Unlike the StarClan spirits, there was no scent or feeling that accompanied Ashfoot’s form. She seemed to truly just be a shell of herself, barely there, and trapped.
The farther they walked, the hopelessness of Breezepelt’s situation seemed to loom stronger and stronger over him. He’d never see his mother or Heathertail again. Even if they never forgave him, he’d miss his mother’s warm smile and Heathertail’s boisterous laughter. He’d miss the long runs through the heather together, and he’d miss the feeling of their pelts curled against his.
And there would be no Dark Forest to return to. No Brokenstar to teach him, to antagonize him, to push him to be stronger. He wondered how many of the others fell in the battle. What of Hawkfrost, and Tigerstar? There was no love between them, between any of them and the living cats they trained. But Breezepelt still felt an emptiness, knowing they would never be there for him again.
He would be alone.
“What made you do it? Turn against your own clan?” Ashfoot wondered as they walked. Breezepelt sucked in a heavy breath.
“They turned against me a long time ago.” He murmured, not lifting his head. His grandmother didn’t have anything to say to that in response, it seemed, as she continued to move in silence.
It was true, wasn’t it? It felt like he had been despised the moment he was born. Nobody seemed to truly want him around. Whitetail had been stuck with him, by order of Onestar. Heathertail had hardly a choice either, being apprenticed alongside him. He imagined his clan must have loved when he was sent away into the mountains. They probably wished he had dashed himself on the rocks while he was gone.
“I wish you could have seen things differently, Breezepelt.” Ashfoot said, after the long silence.
“I didn’t mean for you to die.” He admitted, quietly. He had imagined Lionblaze, and Crowfeather, and Onestar dead. Not Ashfoot.
“But I did.” She responded, flicking her tail once in annoyance. “But perhaps it was my fault. I could have been there for you more. I could have made up for where Crowfeather failed.” Breezepelt shook his head gently.
“You were good to me. I guess I just… forgot.” The words were so sour on his tongue. Was Crowfeather right? Had he spent his life convincing himself that everyone was against him?
“If you needed to be reminded, it was your clan’s job. WindClan failed you, Breezepelt.” Ashfoot attempted to pass her cheek against Breezepelt’s, but he felt nothing next to him. “And for that I’m sorry. But never forget what shape your vengeance took.” She stepped back, and Breezepelt drank in her ghostly image. “Think of the innocent lives lost tonight. The unnecessary deaths. Don’t ever forget those.”
The words shook Breezepelt, and his shoulders trembled as his chin dropped.
“Breezepelt! ” He heard his name, softly, a distance away. He looked up at Ashfoot in confusion, and followed her gaze over his shoulder, back towards the clans.
Bounding towards them, he could see the familiar frame of his mother. As she neared, he frantically searched her pelt for a hint of starlight or translucency. Was she alive? Or was she another ghost sent to torment him?
When she slammed into him, smelling so warmly of blood and exhaustion and poultice, he knew she was alive.
Nightcloud buried her nose into his neck, purring for a few seconds, before jumping back like he had bitten her. Her ears flattened, and her tail lashed.
“Breezepelt… how could you?” She asked. Breezepelt could barely hold back from screaming.
He hadn’t meant for all of this to happen! He never wanted any of this!
“Is it over?” He asked, just to be sure. Nightcloud nodded, her expression changing from betrayal to grief.
“Firestar is dead. We lost many cats. But the fight is over.”
Firestar was dead?
Breezepelt shook his head clear. What did he care about the old ThunderClan leader? His daughter was the cause of all this mess anyway. But, Firestar … Breezepelt thought Firestar would live forever, as annoying as the ginger tom was. At least, he thought he’d outlive himself.
“Where were you going?” Nightcloud demanded. He could see the scratches down her shoulders, and blood freckled her dark cheeks. She looked exhausted. But still, she had chased him down. “Crowfeather said you ran off!”
“He told me to get out!” Breezepelt snarled.
“And now you listen to him?” She snapped back. Breezepelt pulled back a little, surprised at her violent response. Nightcloud stared him down a few seconds longer before letting out a long sigh, her ears drooping. “Breeze… why?” She asked. Pleaded.
Breezepelt sat down, heavy.
“I wanted to prove myself. I wanted WindClan to be proud of me. I wanted him to be proud of me.” He admitted, grinding his claws into the soil. “I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know what else to do. And after… after the secret came out... “ Breezepelt grit his teeth, dropping his head. “I just wanted everyone to suffer . Like we had.”
Breezepelt stared at the ground, feeling his body trembling as the truth came out. Nightcloud was quiet for a long time, until she curled her tail around Breezepelt’s forepaw.
“I’ve never suffered. Not so long as I’ve had you in my life.” Nightcloud purred softly, pushing her head under his chin and lifting him up. Her eyes grew stern afterwards. “No child of mine needs to resort to something so awful. How could anything you do feel right after training in a place like that? Alongside cats like those?” Breezepelt shook his head back and forth.
“That cat Brokenstar. He chased your grandfather and I and the rest of WindClan out of the old forest. We lived between Twoleg buildings. My kit starved.” Ashfoot’s voice came from his side, equally as firm. “You knew this. But still, you fought alongside him like a clanmate. Tigerstar killed my nephew, in front of us all. You trained under him.”
“I know, I know! ” Breezepelt cried. Nightcloud blinked at him, seeming surprised at his outburst. “I was- I was wrong! What was I supposed to do ?” He wailed.
“You’re strong. You didn’t need to cheat the way you did.” Nightcloud told him. “You were the only one to survive in your litter. Barkface told me you would be a strong tom because of it. I was so proud of you when you became a warrior…” She trailed off, grimacing, and looked away from him. Breezepelt watched her wordlessly. Would she tell him to leave, too? “Do you regret it?”
“I… I do.” Breezepelt swallowed thickly, inching closer to Nightcloud. He thought of the waste of it all. He didn’t get what he wanted, and he lost what he had in the first place. He regretted it more than anything. “I would take it all back if I could.”
Nightcloud seemed to brighten a bit at this, straightening and looking at him head-on again. Her gaze hadn’t gotten any warmer, but she seemed more… hopeful.
“Then, we’ll do as WindClan does. We’ll move forward. We’ll survive.” She stood, gesturing with her tail for Breezepelt to follow her. “It will be much work, to earn everyone’s faith again. But I know you can do it, my kit.” She licked him between his ears. “And you’ll do it the right way this time.”
“Of course…” Breezepelt hunched his shoulders. Shame rose like bile in his throat. His mother still loved him, through it all. But he followed her, Ashfoot jogging alongside him.
Once they rounded the Moonpool, Breezepelt took a breath as the scent of the clans blew up towards him. Though it had only been but a moment, it felt like a weight came off his shoulders. It was his home, after all. And perhaps he could fight for it, next time.
“Nightcloud! I see Nightcloud!” They looked down, Whitetail’s pristine pelt glowing in the darkness as she raced towards them. Shadows followed her, until the moonlight revealed them. It was Heathertail, and… Crowfeather. “Breezepelt is with her!” His former mentor slowed her approach, and Nightcloud and Breezepelt ran down to meet her. Ashfoot galloped effortlessly alongside him. Whitetail and Nightcloud pressed their foreheads together briefly when they reached each other.
“How could you run off like that, given the circumstance? I thought you were killed.” Whitetail chided her strongly, but let out a relieved breath. “Breezepelt? Did they run you off, too?” She turned to him. Crowfeather and Heathertail caught up, out of breath.
“No. They didn’t.” He murmured. He couldn’t bare to look Heathertail or his father in the eye, so he stared at their paws instead. “I’m coming home… to learn how to be a proper warrior.” He admitted. When he glanced up at Heathertail, she seemed relieved, her blue eyes soft.
“WindClan will have you.” Whitetail draped her tail across his shoulder. “There are repairs to be made. But we will always welcome a changed heart.”
When he looked to Crowfeather, his father was still watching with those wretched, cold eyes. But his ears drooped lightly, and he gave a gentle nod in response.
“Let’s go home.” Heathertail said, pushing past Crowfeather to bump her shoulder against Breezepelt. Crowfeather took the lead, bounding away and towards the WindClan camp. Nightcloud and Whitetail followed, and Breezepelt and Heathertail brought up the rear of the small patrol. He could see Ashfoot, loping easily alongside her son, gazing at him fondly, before she seemed to fade away.
Breezepelt let out a slight gasp. He hoped she had managed her way to StarClan, now that Breezepelt had returned to the clans.
And he could feel the brush of Heathertail’s fur as they stretched across the moorland. And she even threw her head back, letting out an exhausted, hysterical laugh as the night’s events seemed to settle. And the moon overhead beamed down on them, without a cloud in sight. And despite it all, Breezepelt finally felt like he was home.