" You lived like a rogue. You can die like a rogue." Flashing like lightning across the clearing, Firestar flew at Tigerstar, aiming for the dark warrior's throat. With a vicious snarl, he sank his teeth deep into Tigerstar's neck. He held on while Tigerstar thrashed and staggered and finally collapsed to the ground.
Tigerstar almost thought he could hear the roar of thunder as he faded. Darkness was enveloping his vision. It was like water, flowing toward him from all sides. His consciousness ebbed and flowed in the pitch black void. He wasn't sure how long he was there before he sensed a change.
Now the darkness itself was fading. A dim glow in the corner of his awareness was growing stronger and stronger. The shapes of cats appeared all around him. They were frozen in time and blurry. They became clearer and clearer the more Tigerstar focused on them.
He was trying to figure out what in the name of StarClan was going on when a storm of yowls hit his ears.
Motionless statues just moments before, the cats were now biting and clawing each other. Tigerstar looked around, ready to leap at Firestar and the warriors of StarClan. But he wasn't fighting them anymore. Somehow he was in a different clearing, surrounded by different cats.
A very familiar cat was there, a cat he hadn't seen in seasons. His tortoiseshell pelt gleamed in the sunlight. It was Redtail.
Oh, StarClan no! Tigerstar thought, and he was suddenly furious with himself that he had called out to his warrior ancestors in fear. It didn't make sense anyway, he was supposed to be fighting them. Were there any other cats he had killed here? It was strangely terrifying to think they might have their revenge.
Tigerstar unsheathed his claws, preparing himself to face Redtail, but the small tortoiseshell tom soared over his head and onto the back of another cat.
Where am I? Tigerstar breathed in and realized that he could smell RiverClan. But there were other scents he picked up as well. Stone, fresh grass, running water. He hadn't smelled those things since he had died!
But I am dead, aren't I? he asked himself in a daze.
He sniffed again, and realized he was in the old forest. Home.
"Tigerclaw, help me!" Tigerstar was jerked out of his thoughts at the abrupt screech. He began to blindly slash at the RiverClan cats, more out of instinct than an actual understanding of what he was doing.
It wasn't long before a high pitched yowl rose into the sky. "RiverClan, retreat!" The RiverClan cats pelted away, leaping into the river without hesitation. Soon all the cats that smelled of RiverClan had fled. Tigerstar recognized many of them, although they looked much younger than he remembered. Breathing deeply, he noticed the flickering shadows of the trees at the edge of the forest.
He sat down, not daring to show any sign of how shocked he was. He wondered if this happened to all cats when they faded. His head was pounding when Redtail padded up to meet him. "You alright there, eh Tigerclaw?"
Tigerstar felt a chill course down his spine. He had lived this before- this was the moment he had killed Redtail!
Suddenly a skinny black tom ran out of the woods. "Redtail!" Ravenpaw dropped to his haunches, his entire body shaking.
"Ravenpaw, what are you doing here?" Redtail bounded past Tigerclaw and over to the trembling apprentice. "Tigerclaw told you to return to camp." Redtail's eyes were gleaming with worry, and his mew wasn't as stern as it could have been.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't," Ravenpaw panted, his eyes wide. "I had to see if you were okay. There were so many warriors."
Redtail pressed his fur against Ravenpaw's for support. "It's alright." He glanced back at Tigerstar. "Come; let us return to camp."
Tigerstar nodded absently and began the slow trek through the forest. Tigerclaw... am I Tigerclaw now? Is this really happening?
Tigerclaw followed his Clanmates (or former Clanmates? He wasn't really sure) back to camp. He observed them cautiously. What was going on? Was this some kind of test? Perhaps StarClan was mocking him.
Soon they had reached the camp. Tigerclaw stepped through the barrier and found himself surrounded by cats he hadn't seen in seasons. Mousefur, Whitestorm, Runningwind . . . He froze, trying to hide his shock. They all looked so much younger, and there was one more difference in their appearance that made Tigerclaw's fur prickle.
He had already steeled himself to their gazes, expecting them to be hostile. Instead they were looking at him with expressions of respect. Wherever he was, it was as though he had somehow travelled back in time.
"Redtail, you're back!" mewed Dustpelt, trotting up. Dustpaw now, Tigerclaw realized. "Did you scare off those fish-faces?"
"Yes," the small tortoiseshell purred, flicking his tail affectionately at his apprentice's ear. "We did." He surveyed the gathered cats for a moment. "I'll tell you about it in a moment, but first I have to bring Ravenpaw to the medicine den."
Ravenpaw was limping, leaning heavily on Redtail's side as the older warrior guided him. The young apprentice was still shaking with fear even though they had left the battle far behind. Tigerclaw's lip curled in disgust. Ravenpaw had always been a cowardly wimp.
More cats were emerging from their dens to greet the returning patrol. Too much was happening, and it took all of Tigerclaw's self-control not to turn and run from his Clanmates' inquiring faces. He ignored the rest of the cats and searched the crowd until he found Redtail padding back from the medicine den. He was expecting the tortoiseshell deputy to pounce at any moment. He dug his claws into the ground.
"Redtail, what happened?" came a she-cat's meow. Tigerclaw turned and recognized Bluestar with a jolt.
"We gave the RiverClan cats a good fight. They won't be showing their faces at Sunningrocks anytime soon." Redtail's gaze darkened, and solemnly bowing his head, he continued. "The RiverClan deputy lost his life though. We were fighting under an overhang when it collapsed. I was able to escape just in time, but Oakheart was not so lucky."
Tigerclaw looked up, curious to see Bluestar's reaction. The first time around he had thought that her grief had been entirely for Redtail, but with the knowledge that Oakheart had been the father of her kits, he wondered what her response would be.
Sure enough, her tail twitched, and when Tigerclaw looked into her eyes he could see that they were tinged with not just respect for a fallen warrior, but sadness for a lost mate. He did have to admit that she hid her grief well.
"ThunderClan is lucky that you did not meet the same fate," Bluestar mewed finally, bowing her head. "How is Ravenpaw? His wounds looked severe."
"Spottedleaf tells me that he will be fine. He was in shock, that's all." Redtail gave Tigerclaw a teasing look. "You'll be able to train him up again in a few days- don't you worry."
Tigerclaw scowled. The other cats were watching him expectantly, waiting for him to say something, but Tigerclaw sat in stony silence. They shifted uncomfortably, confused at his lack of response. In his old life he would have replied something formal, but he was still stunned by the turn of events that had led him here.
After a moment the gathered cats began to disperse. Tigerclaw was eyeing them warily when a big white tom padded up to his side.
"Have you met ThunderClan's newest apprentice yet?" asked Whitestorm.
Tigerclaw turned slowly, and his own amber eyes met green ones. It was Firestar.
The ginger tom was much smaller than Tigerclaw remembered. His pelt was now unmarked with battle scars. But his green eyes still blazed with the fire from which he had received his name. Tigerclaw dug his claws into the ground to stop himself from . . . well, he wasn't sure if wanted to run in terror or attack.
Whitestorm frowned. "Tigerclaw, are you alright?"
"Yes, fine," he growled stiffly, staring at his enemy. "Just taking in the fact that I have a new . . . Clanmate." The six moon old Firestar shuffled his paws uncomfortably, still meeting Tigerclaw's gaze.
"He kept up quite well on the way here, for a kittypet anyway," Lionheart meowed, padding up.
Tigerclaw continued to watch the ginger tom unblinkingly, barely noticing Lionheart's sudden arrival. "Did he now?"
"Indeed." Whitestorm was meowing, nodding approvingly. "It will be interesting to see how he does in his training. I wonder who his mentor will be."
Tigerclaw flattened his ears, barely suppressing a growl in his throat. The younger version of Firestar calmly faced him straight on, apparently mistaking his anger as interest. "I hope to be a great warrior one day, and I will train as hard as it takes to gain the trust of ThunderClan."
"See that you do," he replied tensely. Like this kittypet would know what it takes to be a warrior the day he left his Twoleg nest!
Firestar nodded respectfully and began to pad away, rejoining his friend. The mews of the apprentices rebounded back to Tigerclaw even through the heartbeat pounding in his ears. "Do you think he liked me?" That voice was Firestar's. No, Firepaw's, Tigerclaw corrected himself. He's not Clan leader now.
"I don't think he really likes any apprentices," mewed Graystripe/Graypaw. "I've certainly never seen him look at another cat like he did just now!" Their voices finally faded, and Tigerclaw was able to relax.
"What was that?" Lionheart asked mildly, and Tigerclaw looked away. He had been almost fond of the golden tabby warrior when he was alive, although he hadn't been too broken up when he'd died; after all, Lionheart's death was what had allowed him to become deputy.
"I just didn't think we were accepting kittypets into our ranks, that's all."
Lionheart blinked knowingly. "I was skeptical at first as well. However, I think he deserves a chance. He certainly is an exceptionally good fighter for an untrained kittypet."
"Indeed," Whitestorm meowed. "Tigerclaw, you should have seen him. He proved himself well."
Tigerclaw's tail gave a jerky flick. "Kittypets can't be warriors. We shouldn't be allowing this cat into our Clan."
Whitestorm flicked his tail awkwardly. "He's here under Bluestar's orders."
"Yes he is. And a leader's word is law, isn't it?" Tigerclaw suppressed a snarl and then loped away, anger roaring inside of him. Was this some kind of sick joke, having to live his life over and over, watching his enemies triumph again and again?
No, he snarled inwardly. I refuse to do this. I won't be a part of this test.
He didn't even care that Lionheart and Whitestorm were looking at him, confused at his fury. He didn't know them, not really. They didn't know him either. They didn't know what he was capable of. With a flick of his tail he stalked out of the camp and into the forest.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Tigerclaw crashed through the woods, only vaguely aware of his surroundings. What was he doing here? He thought over what he knew. He had seemingly been hurled back in time, to the moment before he had killed Redtail. But why?
He ran quickly, unsure of where he was going. He was surprised when he realized that he was getting tired; he hadn't been physically exhausted since he had been alive.
"Where am I?" he yowled, his voice echoing off the trees. "What have you done with me?"
He scanned the forest, sure that he had seen something. There! A shadow slipped between the trees. He was suddenly frozen in terror, stuck between fleeing and chasing after it.
After a moment's hesitation he continued to run alongside the shadow, ignoring his burning muscles telling him to stop. "Why have you done this? Don't pretend you're not there!"
A cat was following him from just a few fox-lengths away, he was sure of it. He could see its shadow flickering in and out of view, matching him step for step. He put in another burst of speed. "Coward!" At his abrupt yowl the shadow slowed to a stop; Tigerclaw skidded to a halt to avoid overshooting it.
"I'd suggest you stop yowling," a voice meowed.
"Wha-" Tigerclaw gasped, stunned speechless. He backpedaled as a shadowy cat emerged from the trees.
"You'll attract your Clanmates' attention. They might think it rather strange that you're snarling at non-existent cats."
The cat's fur was the darkest black imaginable. Tigerclaw squinted at the unknown she-cat, realizing with a pang of revulsion that he couldn't make out its facial features. Her fur wasn't just black as shadows- she was made of shadows. It was as though light was sucked out of the air by her pelt. "Who are you?" asked Tigerclaw, preparing himself for a fight. The she-cat said nothing, and began to groom one of her shadowy ears with a paw. "Is this a test?"
"Maybe," the dark cat meowed. "Or maybe not."
"What is it then?"
"It's another chance."
"A chance for what?" Tigerclaw demanded.
"I would think that would be rather obvious, Tigerclaw. You made some rather poor decisions the first time around."
Tigerclaw ignored her jibe as he took in her words. "First time . . . I get to live again?"
This cat was being unclear on purpose, Tigerclaw was sure of it. He wondered if this was how it felt when cats had visions from StarClan. He didn't have any experience with that of course, since he wasn't one of StarClan's chosen ones- he inwardly spat out the thought in disdain- but he guessed that this might be how they felt when they received omens.
"What do you mean by that?" He waited for a moment for her to answer, but none came. "Answer my question," he snarled, beginning to make his way toward the shadow cat.
"Or what? You'll kill me?" Tigerclaw stopped in his tracks. The she-cat continued. "You're getting off to a very poor start right now."
Tigerclaw glared at her, and ignoring a twinge of anxiety, sheathed his claws.
The cat took a pace forward, and Tigerclaw noted vaguely that her paws made an imprint on the ground. It was bizarre; she was a shadow, yet completely solid. "You could do things differently, you know."
Tigerclaw breathed out. Of course he would do things differently! He knew everything that was going to happen! Or what happened in his time- he supposed that Redtail being alive would change some things- but he knew almost everything about every cat from the time he spent in the Dark Forest, looking down at the Clans. The possibilities were endless! I can still rule the forest. I can still become the leader of ThunderClan, and all the Clans! Even StarClan will bow to me-
The shadowy she-cat sighed, interrupting his thoughts. "You do realize that's not the point of this, right?" Tigerclaw swiveled his head up to look at her. "I knew this would happen," she mewed. "Some cats were quite insistent on giving you this second chance- me not among them, by the way, if you haven't guessed- and I'm actually going to be quite happy to be the first one to tell them 'I told you so!'"
Tigerclaw dug his claws into the ground, wishing he could claw the insolence off the she-cat's featureless face. "Then what am I even doing here? Just send me to the Dark Forest or whatever afterlife comes after it!"
The shadowy cat stared at him for a moment. "You don't really mean that," she whispered.
"Not if you knew what would happen to you, you wouldn't. Do you have any idea where you'd end up if you were allowed to move on right now?"
Tigerclaw hesitated, a sudden fear prickling his pelt. He wasn't going to be thrown into some terrible hell because of one harsh comment, was he?
The she-cat broke the tense silence. "Thought not."
Tigerclaw pushed his anger back with a question. "So what am I doing here?"
"Telling you would defeat the purpose."
Tigerclaw scowled, once again wanting to rip out the throat of this smug shadow cat.
"There are so many things you could change in this life." The dark she-cat was still for a moment, and Tigerclaw guessed her face would have had a thoughtful expression if he could actually see it. "Like, your apprentice, for example. Maybe if you gave him a chance he'd learn a thing or two."
Tigerclaw snorted. Ravenpaw? Not likely. And he had tried last time at first, but the cat was a hopeless scaredy mouse. But then again...
If any cat could teach fighting skills, it was Tigerclaw. He was one of the greatest fighters of his time, perhaps even one of the greatest of all time. He had been feared by almost every cat in the Dark Forest. Is that what StarClan wanted, for him to use his skills to make Ravenpaw a warrior? If so, it seemed like a rather mundane reason to send him back in time...
"Of course that's not the only reason," the shadowy cat put in, apparently sensing his train of thought again. "But it's a start."
Tigerclaw contemplated it for a moment. "Fine. You can tell StarClan I'll take part in this little test."
The shadow cat turned away. "Who said I was from StarClan?"
Tigerclaw raised his head to respond, but the shadow had already begun to glide back into the woods. "Wait just a moment! What are you?"
The shadow was gone, leaving silence in her wake. Tigerclaw made an effort to smooth his fur. He shivered. There was something unnerving about the cat he had just spoken to that left him ill at ease.
He sat there for a long time. He surveyed the woods all around him; it was so familiar, so real. For the first time since he had arrived a flicker of hope blossomed in his chest. After all he'd been through, he was here, and he had a chance to set everything right. ThunderClan wouldn't be taken over by kittypets this time. ThunderClan would be the most feared Clan in all the forest with him at its head... although the strange shadow cat had clearly specified that that wasn't the 'point.' Whatever that means.
Tigerclaw shook his head to clear it. Would the shadow cat be able to stop him if he tried to lead ThunderClan? Surely there would be no point to his second life if the cat could override his free will; if she could, why bother sending him back at all?
Numbly, Tigerclaw stood up, still unsure if this was really happening. Could he truly have been given a second chance?
Tigerclaw took a deep breath, and began to make his way back to the ThunderClan camp. Whatever this was, whether he was actually here or this was just a dream, it had certainly gotten off to a very bizarre start.
Tigerclaw slipped into the camp through the gorse tunnel, his dark tabby pelt blending into the shadows. The sun was setting now, casting its pale orange light across the clearing. Countless cats were sharing tongues in the cool evening darkness. Calmer than before, he began to make his way to the warriors' den.
He hadn't walked more than three pawsteps when Darkstripe hurried over to meet him, looking concerned. "There you are, Tigerclaw! Where were you?"
"Sometimes I like to walk around outside of the camp by myself," he spat. "Or is that a problem for you?"
Darkstripe ducked his head. "Sorry, Tigerclaw. I just saw you leave and I was wondering-"
"Last time I checked you were my apprentice."
Darkstripe mumbled something that Tigerclaw couldn't make out. He pushed past him, unsure of how to react to his former underling. Darkstripe had been a worthless ally in the Dark Forest. Then he realized that if he ever wanted to lead ThunderClan again he might need the dark tom's support.
He turned back to Darkstripe, purposely lightening his gaze. "You weren't waiting the whole day for me, were you?"
"No," Darkstripe answered, a bit too hastily. Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. "I was just er, wondering... I set some prey aside, if you want it."
Tigerclaw's gaze snapped to the rabbit lying next to the warriors' den. He hadn't recognized the odd pain in his belly as hunger until that moment. He began to pad over to it, and turning back, beckoned Darkstripe with his tail. "Well? Are you coming or what?"
Darkstripe trotted after him, not quite able to hide how pleased he was at Tigerclaw's invitation to join him.
Tigerclaw stared down at the rabbit, breathing in its delicious scent. Without another heartbeat's hesitation he leaned over and took a bite. It was even better than he remembered. He chewed thoughtfully for a long time, savoring the long forgotten taste. After he had finished the rabbit, he looked up at Darkstripe, who had been silent the whole time. The dark tom lingered awkwardly, waiting for Tigerclaw to speak.
When he didn't say anything, Darkstripe glanced in the direction of the apprentices' den, curling his lip. "So our newest apprentice is settling in."
With a lash of his tail, Tigerclaw sat up.
"Can you believe it? A kittypet," Darkstripe meowed in an undertone. "Did you see what he did to Longtail's ear?"
Tigerclaw gave a tense nod. He hadn't seen Longtail up close here, but he definitely remembered the clawed ear that had marred his features. "Kittypets do not belong in our Clan."
Darkstripe nodded his head vigorously. "Exactly. I don't know what Bluestar was thinking."
"He won't last," Tigerclaw growled. "Trust me on that."
Darkstripe seemed to be waiting for him to say more, but Tigerclaw was lost in thought. The kittypet was here, only a few fox-lengths away, and Tigerclaw was sorely tempted to just walk over to the apprentices' den and murder him right then and there. A low growl rose from within his throat.
A voice interrupted his thoughts. "Tigerclaw, may I speak to you?" It was Bluestar, sitting in the entrance to her den.
Tigerclaw snorted irritably, and padded up to her. Lionheart or Whitestorm had probably blabbed about his reaction to Firepaw. He met her gaze straight in the eye, deciding that he should maintain his respectful facade for now. "Yes, Bluestar?"
"It's about Firepaw," she meowed. Tigerclaw glanced away angrily. He had hated how easily a kittypet had received a Clan name in his first life, and he hated it now. Bluestar kept going, ignoring his annoyed glance. "I've decided to place you and Lionheart in charge of his training. It will do him good to be around apprentices that aren't too far above his skill level." Tigerclaw blinked in surprise. With Redtail alive, he had expected Bluestar to give the task to her trusted deputy.
She narrowed her eyes. Tigerclaw knew that she was probably aware of his dislike of the kittypet. "I suggest you and Lionheart show him the territory tomorrow. See how he does."
"Yes, Bluestar." He dipped his head. Bluestar nodded in return, flicking her tail to dismiss him.
Tigerclaw turned and padded a few tail-lengths before he impulsively whipped back around, deciding to ask the question that had bothered him the first time around. "Why me? There are plenty of cats with no apprentice that could train him."
Bluestar tilted her head. "I need someone to push him, to test him. I know I can trust you of all cats not to show any favoritism in your assessment."
Tigerclaw nodded absently and padded away. He had originally thought she had chosen him in recognition of his warrior skills, and now hearing that it was because she had trusted his judgement, well... he wasn't sure what to think.
The camp was mostly empty now; even Darkstripe wasn't where Tigerclaw had left him. Supposing he should get some sleep, Tigerclaw pushed his way into the warriors' den. He picked his way around his old Clanmates to his familiar spot at the center of the den.
Curling up in his nest, he thought through the events of his day. The morning hadn't been great, being killed by Firestar and all, but it had brought about a new chapter to his existence. I will plan better this time, he told himself. He just had to be patient. He decided that he would try to act as normally as possible for the time being, though he knew deep down that it would be impossible. StarClan or whatever higher power that had sent him here was expecting him to do things differently and one of those things was training Ravenpaw to become a warrior. Perhaps I could use him to my advantage.
Tigerclaw snorted at the thought. He was already in a great position with his knowledge of the past; he didn't need the scrawny runt. Tigerclaw knew with certainty that if he wanted power, all he had to do was grasp it in his claws, and ThunderClan would be his once more. If he wanted to he could get rid of the kittypet. It was with that thought that he finally drifted to sleep.
The next day Tigerclaw was up at the crack of dawn. It was strange how it felt completely normal to wake up, since it had been the first time he'd slept in seasons.
He stretched out his legs one by one and then made his way out to the clearing. Lionheart was already waiting.
His old friend dipped his head. " 'Morning."
Tigerclaw jerked his head stiffly in greeting.
"I told Graypaw to join us with Firepaw in the sandy hollow," Lionheart explained, starting to go over his plan for training today. As Tigerclaw expected, Ravenpaw's shoulder still hadn't healed enough to train, so they set off without him.
Tigerclaw led the way out of the camp. They made their way to the sandy hollow, and Tigerclaw ignored Lionheart's pointed glances at him as they went. The golden tabby certainly hadn't done that the first time. Was Tigerclaw acting so obviously out of the ordinary that his Clanmates were noticing?
When they reached the hollow, Lionheart settled himself a few tail-lengths from Tigerclaw, wrapping his tail around his paws. "I was thinking we would start by showing them the RiverClan border and then taking them to the Thunderpath."
Tigerclaw grunted noncommittally; it didn't matter to him.
As the sun rose higher, Tigerclaw dug his claws into the ground. The kittypet was late, just like he'd been the first time. He grumbled inwardly. When he was an apprentice, he wouldn't have dared to be late to one of Thistleclaw's training sessions.
Finally a rustle sounded from the surrounding undergrowth. The ginger kittypet padded out to meet Tigerclaw and Lionheart, Graypaw padding along close behind.
Rising to his paws, Tigerclaw glared at Firepaw. "You're late. If you can't put in the effort to be punctual, I don't know how you think you'll survive in this Clan." He tried to put the full force of his hate toward the ginger tom into his gaze. It seemed to work; Firepaw inched backward as though hit by an invisible blow.
"Oh, don't be too harsh, Tigerclaw," Lionheart meowed, his tone lightening the mood. "Last night was a busy night. I expect they were tired."
Tigerclaw watched Firepaw, his eyes narrowed, but the apprentice seemed to have shaken off most of the hostility.
Lionheart continued. "Firepaw, since you haven't been assigned a mentor yet, Tigerclaw and I will share your training for the time being."
For some reason the kittypet seemed pleased about his temporary mentor placement. Tigerclaw recalled that Firepaw had seemed glad the first time but he hadn't expected it now as well; he'd been much clearer about his dislike of the ginger tom. But there he was, his ginger tail flicking in barely disguised happiness.
"What are we doing today?" Graypaw spoke up curiously.
Lionheart stood. "We'll be showing you our borders."
Graypaw's eyes lit up. "All of them? Will we see the-"
Tigerclaw cut him off. "Let's get on with it then, shall we?" He used his broad shoulders to push through the undergrowth at the edge of the hollow. Then he and Lionheart sprinted together in the lead, making no allowances for the young apprentices.
Walking alongside Lionheart, Tigerclaw allowed the golden tabby warrior to take charge of the tour. He felt like he was in a dream. It was strange; if he was remembering correctly, the conversation was almost the same as the first time.
They soon made it to Sunningrocks and were now walking beside the river to Fourtrees. "What is Fourtrees?" Firepaw asked, panting. Somehow the kittypet was even more annoying this time. His voice grated on Tigerclaw's ears whenever he asked a question.
Graypaw's mew echoed off the river as he answered Firepaw.
"Be quiet!" Tigerclaw snapped, remembering the apprentices' obnoxious chattering from the first time he'd lived it.
When they came upon Fourtrees, Lionheart gave Firepaw a quick explanation of the four Clans' territories. The ginger tom watched him with wide eyes, a serious expression on his face as he took it all in. "Now that you've seen why prey is so precious," Lionheart meowed, "you see why we must protect what little we have."
"But that seems foolish!" Firepaw exclaimed. "Why can't the Clans work together and share their hunting grounds, instead of fighting each other?"
Tigerclaw whipped around, feeling something snap within him. "You dare enter our Clan and the first thing you do is question our ways?" He spat wordlessly, fury rising within him. How had this cat ever become leader? "I suppose I should have expected it from a kittypet!"
Firepaw ducked his head. "I'm sorry. I just- I didn't understand." His tail trembled as Tigerclaw continued to glare at him.
Lionheart rested his tail on Tigerclaw's shoulder, warning him to stop. "Don't be too hard on him, Tigerclaw. The ways of the Clans are new to this apprentice." He turned to Firepaw. "You speak from the heart, young Firepaw. This will make you a stronger warrior one day."
Tigerclaw lashed his tail, not trusting himself to speak. After a moment Lionheart turned back to Fourtrees and explained Gatherings to the apprentices.
"Then there must be a meeting very soon?" Firepaw meowed after Lionheart mentioned the meetings taking place at the full moon.
Lionheart nodded. "Indeed there is!" He sounded impressed. Tigerclaw ignored Lionheart's speech about Gatherings, and squashed his desire to claw something by examining a blade of grass. "But you must realize that longer alliances bring more trouble than they're worth," Lionheart finished.
Firepaw was frowning in concentration. Tigerclaw guessed the kittypet couldn't understand why too much friendliness between the Clans weakened them. Or why kittypets and half-Clan cats weakened them.
Tigerclaw turned to the ginger kittypet, narrowing his eyes. "Our loyalty to our Clan is what makes us strong." Like the loyalty you showed, right Tigerclaw? He flicked his ears, ignoring the voice in his head.
Lionheart waved his tail, beckoning them onward. "Come on. Let's keep moving."
They had soon reached the ShadowClan border, and slowly approached the Thunderpath. Tigerclaw tuned out Firepaw's questions and squinted through the trees, trying to get a glimpse of the territory he once ruled. He wondered how he would deal with Brokenstar; he certainly wasn't keen to repeat what happened the first time with the ShadowClan rogues.
Firepaw was staring at the Thunderpath, his eyes wide and curious. Tigerclaw watched the ginger tom warily. This was the one cat who had destroyed his life, destroyed his Clan, and destroyed his future. If whatever higher power that governed this land thought he could make peace with him, they were wrong.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The next day Tigerclaw and Lionheart took Firepaw and their own apprentices to practice hunting. This training session was going as disastrously as the first time.
Graypaw's hunting crouch was merely passable. The gray tom's eyes were narrowed in focus; Tigerclaw doubted he would catch anything if he had to concentrate so much on maintaining the proper hunting position. Firepaw's crouch showed all the signs of an inexperienced hunter; Tigerclaw had done better himself when he was a three moon old kit.
But of all three apprentices, Ravenpaw's crouch was the worst. He stalked forward slowly and unevenly, more like a badger than a cat. Tigerclaw suppressed a growl of frustration. Did the shadow cat seriously expect him to train this mousebrained idiot? A pang of resentment flared in Tigerclaw's chest. Ravenpaw, he thought bitterly, the cat who had ruined everything. If Ravenpaw hadn't existed he wouldn't have had any problem becoming leader. But of course the little mouse-heart had gone and tattled to the kittypet.
Unable to watch anymore, Tigerclaw turned away from his apprentice, meeting Firepaw's eyes. He scraped his claws against the ground, imagining himself burying them into the kittypet's neck. If only there weren't other cats around.
"Is something wrong?" the ginger apprentice asked, looking up at Tigerclaw's murderous gaze.
"Are you deaf as well as soft? I already told you to move faster."
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Firepaw quickened his stalking.
"Not that fast!" Tigerclaw snarled. "You'll scare away all the prey from here to Fourtrees when you stumble through the undergrowth like that!"
Lionheart padded up from behind him. "His pacing will improve as time goes on, but his crouch is perfectly balanced."
Tigerclaw twitched an ear at his apprentice. "Which is better than Ravenpaw, I suppose." A flicker of a frown crossed Lionheart's face, and Tigerclaw decided to not openly insult his apprentice this time. If he got started, he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop.
Lionheart turned back to instruct Firepaw and Graypaw. Ravenpaw continued to struggle. When he got tired of watching, Tigerclaw padded up to his apprentice's side and purposely swished his tail, causing Ravenpaw to lose his balance.
"Always be aware of your surroundings," he growled. "Did you not see my approach? If I were an enemy warrior you would have been killed."
"Yes, Tigerclaw," Ravenpaw replied, miserably shuffling his paws. He kept going, his ears twisting back.
"Keep your weight balanced," Tigerclaw snapped, flicking his tail to indicate Ravenpaw's uneven gait. "You're walking like a duck!"
He realized that he had repeated what he'd said during the same training session in his first life. "Sorry Tigerclaw." Scowling, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. Ravenpaw was definitely not as afraid of him this time.
Time to fix that! He leaned over so his muzzle was next to Ravenpaw's ear. "You should be sorry," he hissed. Ravenpaw was noticeably jumpier after that.
After a while, Lionheart stood up. "Why don't you all try to hunt something for real?" he mewed cheerfully. "Ravenpaw, you look beside the Owltree. Graypaw you try that bramble patch over there. And you, Firepaw, follow that rabbit track over that rise. You may find something there."
All three apprentices nodded and left in different directions. When their pawsteps had faded, Lionheart turned to Tigerclaw. "You were rather harsh today."
They'd had a similar conversation in his previous life. Tigerclaw snorted impatiently. "Firepaw will never be a true member of ThunderClan if he retains his kittypet softness."
Lionheart calmly licked a forepaw and swiped it over his ear. "I was talking about Ravenpaw, actually."
Irritably twitching his ears, Tigerclaw turned away. He hadn't thought Lionheart had heard his ominous words. "He must learn to work past his injury, like I said." His tail flicked. He hadn't been expecting this. "Are you questioning my training methods?"
"No, I think you've taught him well," Lionheart replied mildly. Tigerclaw wasn't sure what to say to that. Was StarClan trying to confuse him right now? Or whatever higher power that had put him here? He was finding it perplexing to keep track.
Finally Tigerclaw spoke. "Don't think I don't want Ravenpaw to succeed. In order to become a warrior, a cat must be brave. His warrior training must make him strong."
Lionheart didn't respond, and they spent the rest of the time waiting in silence.
Finally, just as Tigerclaw had expected, Firepaw appeared carrying a mouse. Tigerclaw suppressed an eye roll at how pleased the ginger apprentice looked; it was almost as if he thought the act of catching a single piece of prey made him a true member of ThunderClan.
"Excellent, Firepaw." Lionheart's mew was warm with praise. "Well done."
They returned to the camp late that night, after going over several types of hunter's crouches. No matter how many times he tried, Ravenpaw's stalking was still lopsided, and Firepaw still lumbered across the clearing like some type of rabid animal. Tigerclaw was of the opinion that Firepaw's catch had been pure luck.
Now he sat among the senior warriors for an evening meal, and was trying not to claw his own ears off as Lionheart relayed the events of the training session to Bluestar. "Firepaw shows great promise," he meowed, pausing to lick his muzzle. "He has the potential to be a great warrior one day."
Bluestar nodded. "That is good to hear. Thank you, Lionheart."
"I shall have to patrol with Firepaw sometime, if he shows as much talent as you say," Redtail mewed from his spot next to Bluestar. "Who would have thought a kittypet would do so well."
Tigerclaw snorted irritably. "It is his first day of training. He is by no means a hunting expert for having caught one lone mouse."
Redtail flicked his tail teasingly against Tigerclaw's shoulder, causing him to flinch. "Ah, but nothing the apprentices do is ever enough." Beside him, Whitestorm nodded knowingly.
"I would say he improved a great deal over the course of the session," Lionheart put in.
Tigerclaw was shuddering, trying to figure out what to say to this. He took another bite out of the vole sitting in front of him.
Distancing himself from the conversation, Tigerclaw focused on chewing. The topic of the talk turned to the Gathering that had taken place the previous night, and for the first time since Tigerclaw could remember, he was glad he hadn't been chosen to attend. He wasn't sure he could have handled meeting the other Clans just yet; he was still having trouble with his own Clan.
Somehow they were talking about Firepaw again. Bluestar was mewing something to Whitestorm. Tigerclaw was unprepared when she turned her head, and nearly choked on his vole when she addressed him. "And you, Tigerclaw? What did you think of him?"
Tigerclaw waited a moment to gather his thoughts. He didn't want seem like he hated Firepaw too much; that might draw questions when the kittypet turned up dead. "His stalking leaves much room for improvement. He stomps about much too loudly. It is clear that he has no concept of silent hunting."
"He was silent enough to catch a mouse," Redtail mewed cheekily.
"He was lucky enough," Tigerclaw growled back.
Redtail scoffed. "If a cat tracked and captured three pheasants you would still find something wrong their stalking."
Deciding not to deny the truth of Redtail's words, Tigerclaw raised his head. "If I saw an apprentice catch three pheasants, I can assure you that they would not all be perfect catches." Whitestorm mewed agreement.
"That is true." Bluestar sat up, motioning with her tail that they were dismissed. "I have confidence that under your mentorship, whatever level he is at right now, his skills will improve." All five cats rose to their paws, and Lionheart looked like he was going to try to walk next to Tigerclaw, but before the golden tabby got more than a few steps, Tigerclaw swerved in the opposite direction.
Darkstripe and Longtail were muttering to each other in a secluded corner of the camp, casting dark looks at the apprentices' den. Tigerclaw knew with certainty that they were talking about the kittypet, but he didn't approach them. He had no desire to talk anymore.
Just like his first life, Firepaw had been accepted easily, like it was nothing. Sure there were still suspicions, but somehow within a day an outsider was being discussed as if he were one of them. Tasting the air, Tigerclaw could pick up the kittypet's unfamiliar scent. His fur still carried the smell of Twolegs, faded but still present.
Avoiding his Clanmates, Tigerclaw made his way to the warriors' den early that night. Settling himself in his nest, he exhaled slowly, realizing the full scope of his predicament.
He thought through the major events that would be happening soon. Yellowfang would make her appearance on ThunderClan territory in about two moons, a little later ShadowClan would chase WindClan off their territory, and then ShadowClan would attack the ThunderClan camp- although he wasn't sure if Lionheart would die this time; Redtail was still alive and the battle would probably go differently with one additional cat.
Through the gap in the warriors' den, Lionheart was watching him with narrowed eyes. Maybe it would be easier if Lionheart died, Tigerclaw mused; he was getting annoyed with the tom's persistent glances.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
The next day Tigerclaw decided to take Ravenpaw training again. Although he didn't want to, he supposed it was expected of him now, by both his Clan and the shadow cat.
Crossing the camp with his apprentice in tow, Tigerclaw dipped his head in greeting to his former murder victim. "Redtail."
"Tigerclaw." The tortoiseshell tom nodded at him in return. "The sun is already bright; the prey will be running in swarms today. Getting out early?"
Tigerclaw pointed at his apprentice with his nose. "Teaching him some fighting moves."
"Would you mind if Dustpaw and I joined you?" Redtail meowed, the small brown apprentice appearing behind him.
Tigerclaw scowled. "Until my apprentice understands that he should fight instead of running away, I doubt it will be of any use to have Dustpaw train against him." Ravenpaw fixed his eyes on the ground. "Whitestorm is doing a group hunting session with the other apprentices," he continued. "I'm sure that they would be glad to have you along."
Narrowing his eyes, Redtail dipped his head. "Very well. But certainly we should take our apprentices training together sometime."
Giving a tense nod, Tigerclaw turned back to Ravenpaw. "Come on."
He beckoned him with his tail, and not waiting to see if he was following, made his way out of camp through the gorse tunnel.
A cat suddenly appeared next to him. It wasn't Ravenpaw.
Redtail! Tigerclaw felt his fur bristle. It had all been a lie! His second chance was a dream; Redtail was about to catch him by surprise and murder him, just like Tigerclaw had done to him all those seasons ago!
Redtail brushed past, seeming confused at Tigerclaw's alarm. He glanced back at him before padding into the forest, Dustpaw at his side.
Pelt tingling, Tigerclaw flicked his ears. For a heartbeat he had been terrified that Redtail was going to kill him. Tigerclaw shook his head to clear it. That was nonsense. The tom had caught him off guard, that's all. He wasn't afraid of Redtail- he just disliked him. After all, he had killed him easily enough once already.
"What's the matter?" Ravenpaw asked, finally joining Tigerclaw outside the camp.
Tigerclaw shook himself. "Nothing." And there truly was nothing wrong, he decided- it was only a matter of time before he became leader of ThunderClan.
As he led Ravenpaw to the training hollow, he reflected on how he would go about leading his Clan.
ThunderClan would become the greatest Clan to ever live in the forest, he was sure of it. There would be no kittypets, no half-Clan cats, and certainly no soft-hearted warriors when he was leader. Once the other Clans saw his power he could surely convince them to join him, and then the forest would be his. There was only the problem of how to get the leadership in the first place.
He just needed a few more days to figure out a plan. Upon further reflection, Tigerclaw speculated that his impatience had been his downfall the first time around. If he had just better planned the moment of Redtail's murder, he wouldn't have been seen. And it hadn't even mattered; after going through all that trouble, Bluestar ended up picking Lionheart for the deputyship instead. Tigerclaw growled under his breath. That initial failure had tainted his plans for the rest of his first life.
In retrospect, he should have recognized that he wasn't Bluestar's first choice and tried to gain her trust first. Then he should have chosen an ordinary day to lure Redtail out of camp, killed him, and thrown his body into the river. After that he could have told the Clan that Redtail had tragically slipped on a rock and fallen into the river. It would have been so easy, so simple. Redtail's body would have been swept downstream, and ThunderClan would have never been the wiser.
He needed to go about this more smoothly this time. His first choice was to kill Lionheart before Redtail, making it almost certain that Bluestar would choose him to succeed Redtail when he ultimately killed him as well. But...
A second, less drastic choice popped into his head. He could just try to earn Bluestar's trust, so that when Redtail died she would pick him over Lionheart.
Why am I even bothering to think about this? Great StarClan, I should just kill Lionheart, Redtail, and Bluestar, and then volunteer to lead the Clan. But that leaves Whitestorm...
"Um, Tigerclaw?" Ravenpaw was watching him, looking concerned. "Are we going to train today?"
Tigerclaw snapped back to the present. They had arrived in the sandy hollow. "You think I've brought you here for a walk, you mousebrained idiot?" Ravenpaw shrank. "No, we certainly are training. Face me."
Ravenpaw turned to him, already trembling.
Tigerclaw crouched, narrowing his eyes to slits. "Attack me." Ravenpaw hesitated. "Hurry up, before I decide to attack first."
Racing forward in quick, tiny steps, Ravenpaw attempted to hit his shoulder with a forepaw. Rearing up on his hind legs, Tigerclaw easily batted him aside, and the apprentice fell over, stunned.
"Do you not remember any of your training?" Tigerclaw spat. It had been so long ago, but he was certain he had taught Ravenpaw some basic fighting moves by now.
"Don't talk. Attack!" Tigerclaw snarled.
Ravenpaw bounded toward him, but his reluctance was clear. Tigerclaw rolled to the right, and then leaped at the skinny black tom, who immediately gave up and allowed himself to be pinned.
Sitting up, Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. "When I feint like that, you should be doing the up claw-swipe move, not collapsing to the ground!"
"Yes, Tigerclaw," Ravenpaw replied.
The session continued, and Tigerclaw grew more and more irritated as it went on. No matter what he did, his apprentice did not put his all into fighting.
"I've told you this before. You must put all your strength behind the claw swipe!"
"You think you'll win battles like that? Again!"
"Be thankful my claws are sheathed today, or you'd be dead!" he snarled after a particularly terrible attempt.
Ravenpaw was still catching his breath when Tigerclaw noticed it.
His shadow didn't look quite right. It was perhaps a touch smaller than usual. Maybe it was just a trick of the light. He concentrated on being completely still and nearly jumped when his shadow's tail twitched. It was the blasted shadow cat!
He didn't have time to think about it as Ravenpaw struck him with a feeble paw swipe. "No!" he growled, pushing Ravenpaw to the ground. "You must strike faster or your enemies will take advantage of your weakness!"
The skinny black apprentice shook his head. "I'm not strong enough."
"Perhaps if you put in more effort you would be." Tigerclaw bared his teeth. The little whiner...
"I'm trying," the skinny black apprentice wailed. "I just can't do it!"
Tigerclaw snorted at Ravenpaw's kit-like outburst. "Then you'll die," he meowed simply. "I don't know why I bother. You're more mouse than warrior apprentice." Ravenpaw flinched, ducking his head.
The shadow was flickering across the trees. Tigerclaw was surprised Ravenpaw hadn't noticed. The apprentice was still crouching in shame. After a long time he dared to take a pawstep toward Tigerclaw. "Can you show me one more time?" Ravenpaw looked up at him, his voice small. "Maybe I'll get it..."
Tigerclaw lashed his tail impatiently, but gave a swift example of the claw swipe anyway. Ravenpaw tried replicate his movement, but toppled over instead.
Breathing out through his nose, Tigerclaw decided to move onto hunting crouches. Ravenpaw still hadn't mastered the simple exercise; perhaps if he learned stability with those it would improve his fighting skills.
As Ravenpaw waddled around the clearing in what Tigerclaw would have guessed to be an impression of a duck had he not known any better, the shadow flitted about by the edge of the trees. Why was she here? He was training Ravenpaw like she'd told him to. Gritting his teeth, he tried to ignore it, but it was getting difficult; the shadow was looming over the clearing.
"Stop." Ravenpaw looked up. "Like this," Tigerclaw growled. He crouched and began to move instinctively across the hollow, annoyed that he had to demonstrate such a simple concept. "Now do you see? Keep your balance!"
Ravenpaw stalked slower than necessary, and his left foreleg trembled, but his crouch was much improved. Nowhere near acceptable, but still, for the first time Tigerclaw felt a flicker of optimism. Perhaps with intense training Ravenpaw could pass for a warrior one day.
Then he tripped on a pebble. Tigerclaw snorted. It didn't matter if all the warriors of StarClan came down to the forest to train Ravenpaw themselves; this cat was a lost cause.
The clearing was blanketed in shadows now; if Tigerclaw hadn't known the sky was clear he would have thought a storm was coming. He squinted at the forest, and sure enough, he was able to make out the dark outline of the shadow cat. Was she going to reveal herself? He somehow knew he wasn't going to get out of talking to her.
Tigerclaw raised his tail to halt Ravenpaw's stumbling. "Stop."
"Did I get it that time?" Ravenpaw asked, his voice filled with hope.
"No. I'm done with you for today."
Ravenpaw's eyes widened. "I can do better, I promise!"
The cat shaped shadow was still there. "Leave," Tigerclaw spat. "Return to camp."
"Tigerclaw, I'm sorry-"
"Go!" With one last dejected look, Ravenpaw hurried away. Breathing out, Tigerclaw turned his full attention to the shadow.
The shade cast by the forest seemed to get smaller and smaller, and it condensed into the familiar pitch black shape of the shadow cat. She stepped out into the open, and Tigerclaw shivered, noticing for the first time that she cast no shadow of her own.
Feeling a sense of foreboding, he forced his fur to lay flat. "What is it that you want?"
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
"What is it that you want?" His mew echoed strangely across the hollow.
The shadow cat didn't respond. Instead she padded up to him and sat down, completely silent.
"You didn't answer my question," Tigerclaw growled. "Why are you here?"
The shadow cat flicked her tail. "I could ask you the same thing."
"I did what you wanted!" Tigerclaw snarled. "I was training Ravenpaw, like you told me."
"See, I told them you weren't going to understand this-"
"What do you want from me?" Tigerclaw cut in.
The shadow cat ignored his question completely. "You seem to have listened to some of what I said, since you're here." Tigerclaw snorted; like he actually cared about this self-righteous shadow spirit's advice. "Right, of course. It's all an act, as usual. Anyway," she continued after pausing for a moment, apparently listening to Tigerclaw raging at her in his head, "you trained both Firepaw and Ravenpaw the other day, and you didn't kill either of them-"
That can change, Tigerclaw thought, detecting an eye roll from the shadow cat.
"-so that was better than expected," she finished. She turned her head to face him head on. "You know, you might as well just say what you're thinking out loud. I'm going to hear it either way."
Tigerclaw growled, refusing to reply.
"Great Shadow Spirits, Tigerclaw, you have the power to change everything! And you're throwing it away- not that I'm surprised. This whole thing was a mistake."
"Tell me what the point of sending me back was then, if I'm having such trouble," Tigerclaw spat.
The shadow cat began to stride around him. "I don't think I will."
"I did what you wanted." Rage started to burn his pelt.
"And why did you do that, mmm? Fear?
"No!" he snarled.
"Whatever you say."
Tigerclaw bristled at the shadow cat's tone. "You think you can mock me?" he hissed dangerously.
The shadow cat shrugged, unaffected by his threatening gaze.
This cat, spirit or not, was insulting him. "Answer me!" Tigerclaw leaped to his paws, wanting nothing more than to tear apart her shadowy figure, limb from limb. How dare she mock him! He was Tigerstar, leader of the Dark Forest, soon to be leader of ThunderClan and all the other Clans. One day even StarClan!
But the shadow cat made no move to flee. "Oh, you're going to kill me now, are you? Go ahead. Try it."
Tigerclaw glared at her. Now that he was looking closely he could see her black pelt warping the light around her. Something about the complete and utter darkness of her fur made him uneasy; when he looked at her he felt as if he was peering into an endless void. What would happen to him if he touched the shadow? "I doubt you can be killed anyway," he grumbled, sitting down.
There was a long silence. "You know, Tigerclaw, maybe things would have gone better for you the first time if you'd gone about it the right way."
The right way? What did she mean by that?
"I shouldn't have to explain what you should be doing. Any sane cat would know, but then again, a sane cat wouldn't be here in the first place.
"Just know this." The shadow cat paused, and for the first time the teasing note left her voice. "You don't always need to make enemies. You might surprise yourself... if you just go about it the right way."
The shadowy she-cat padded away, her dark pelt becoming indistinguishable from the deep shadows of the forest.
Tigerclaw let his fur fall flat. He hoped this wasn't going to become a regular thing.
She was saying he shouldn't kill any cats, but Tigerclaw wasn't sure he would be able to stop himself even if he wanted to. How could he gain power if he didn't kill Redtail and Firepaw?
Worthless advice, he thought, turning to leave. No cat that isn't one of StarClan's chosen ones could gain power like that.
The sun slanted through the trees as Tigerclaw made his way back to camp. He continued to ponder her words as he went.
She said that training Ravenpaw wasn't the point, so did that mean this was a test? Was this how fate got its revenge, by throwing it in his face that Firestar would always win, even if Tigerclaw knew everything in advance? He shoved the thought away. He wouldn't fail this time.
Another mew echoed in his ears. You don't always need to make enemies. The shadow cat had said something useful. Perhaps he didn't have to think of Ravenpaw as his enemy. He could be an ally in this life. Sure the skinny black tom wasn't a good fighter, but he was friends with the kittypet, and that could surely be used to Tigerclaw's advantage.
Shouldering his way through the gorse tunnel, Tigerclaw headed back into camp and settled himself by the warriors' den.
Spottedleaf was meowing something to Firepaw. Tigerclaw's ears twitched as he rested nearby. The things he knew about his Clanmates would make their heads spin. He could change what happened since he had lived it all before. If he wanted to, he could control who lived and who died.
Then it hit him. Perhaps he could use what he knew to discredit the kittypet. He knew now that somehow the supposedly warrior code loving kittypet had been in love with the tortoiseshell medicine cat. So this time Spottedleaf would live. Tigerclaw could subtly hint to Firepaw that he should pursue a relationship with her. That would be the tricky part. After enough time the kittypet might ask her to be his mate. Tigerclaw would reveal it at a Clan meeting and the kittypet would be disgraced. Of course Bluestar wouldn't care all that much since she herself had been in a forbidden relationship, but if Firepaw looked to be disrespecting the warrior code to the rest of the Clan it might be enough to get him exiled.
Tigerclaw growled under his breath. The plan had more holes than a moldy leaf. Bluestar knew Firepaw was part of a prophecy; she wouldn't exile him that easily.
Tigerclaw snorted. He should just lure Firepaw to the forest and kill him. But with the shadow cat going on about serving his Clan the 'right way,' he was afraid of what would happen if he killed a cat. What if he was immediately thrown into some ultimate Dark Forest?
He shouldn't be feeling like this; he'd killed plenty of cats in his first life, and even in his afterlife. Killing shouldn't be a problem.
But he'd have to come up with a backup plan.
A few days later Tigerclaw was still concerned about the shadow cat's words. In spite of that fact that he had made rudimentary plans.
His first step was to begin hinting to Darkstripe that something was amiss with ThunderClan's newest apprentice. Although the dark tom was a coward and a mousebrained idiot, he was all Tigerclaw had to work with at the moment. Tigerclaw was confident that he could shape Darkstripe's view of Firepaw enough to convince him to help- although his plan to get rid of the apprentice wasn't set in stone. It would probably be best to keep Darkstripe out of the loop if he decided to go the murder route.
He anticipated that this phase wouldn't be difficult; Darkstripe already disdained the ginger tom. It was what came next that would be the hard part.
After returning to camp after a long day of training the kittypet, Tigerclaw found himself on edge. Even though he had already been out of camp today, he decided to take a walk. Hopefully the shadow cat wouldn't try to talk to him again.
"Where are you going?" Darkstripe meowed, appearing beside him.
Tigerclaw opened his mouth to ask the dark tom why he was stalking him, and then thought better of it. This was the perfect time to start his plot. "Hunting." Tigerclaw lowered his voice before adding, "Outside of camp."
Darkstripe blinked, apparently realizing that Tigerclaw wanted him to come with. "Should I get Longtail?" he asked, pointing with his tail at the young pale tabby.
Tigerclaw shook his head. He knew better than to reveal too much to Longtail this time; the tom had seemed to be a loyal follower before abandoning him.
They made their way through the woods, Darkstripe padding along like he was Tigerclaw's shadow. When they had put enough distance between themselves and the camp Tigerclaw stopped. "I wanted to discuss something with you," he began. "An issue within our Clan that I know will cause problems for seasons to come." Darkstripe leaned forward, ears pricked. "Firepaw."
"Firepaw has no place in our Clan," Darkstripe put in.
Tigerclaw gave him an approving ear flick. "ThunderClan is a Clan of warriors. The very presence of a kittypet in our midst is an insult. He makes us look weak. The lack of outcry over his acceptance into our Clan... concerns me."
"It's terrible," Darkstripe agreed. "Nobody cares at all."
Tigerclaw kept going. "Cats without warrior blood will hold ThunderClan back. They are incapable of learning our ways, and because of this, he will never become a true warrior. Firepaw is a dead weight on ThunderClan."
"He'll take all our prey during leaf-bare."
"I can tell you one thing, Darkstripe," Tigerclaw meowed after a long moment. "The kittypet won't be here come leaf-bare." Dark tabby pelt ruffling in the wind, Tigerclaw stared ominously at his former apprentice.
Darkstripe's eyes brightened. "You're going to sabotage him?"
Sighing deeply, Tigerclaw waited a few heartbeats before responding. Even though Darkstripe was sympathetic to his cause, Tigerclaw knew he couldn't seem too enthusiastic about going against his Clan leader's wishes. "It pains me to say this, but even though Bluestar is our leader, I believe that she too has fallen victim to the kittypet's manipulations. It's up to us, Darkstripe; our Clanmates are blind to his kittypet ways."
"What are we going to do?" Darkstripe asked, the eagerness in his mew clear as day.
"Wait... for now," Tigerclaw growled. "An opportunity will present itself in time."
Slitting his eyes, Darkstripe's mew gained a vicious edge. "Longtail will be pleased when the kittypet is gone."
Tigerclaw lashed his tail. "Leave Longtail out of this. This conversation stays between the two of us, understand?"
Darkstripe dipped his head. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
"Let's get on with the hunt then," Tigerclaw meowed. "I'll meet you back here soon."
"Hunting?" Darkstripe frowned. "I thought we were just out here to talk."
"We can hardly return from a walk around the forest without prey. Cats will wonder if we were talking about something."
Darkstripe straightened his shoulders. "Yes Tigerclaw, of course. We are loyal warriors. We provide for the Clan, while the kittypet takes from us." Gaining a new spring in his step, Darkstripe began to sniff the air.
"Exactly." Tigerclaw stifled the purr rising in his chest, reveling at how good it felt to have a follower again. He wondered if he would actually go through with murdering Firepaw, or just sabotage him like Darkstripe suggested. If he had to kill the kittypet this time he would, no matter what the shadow cat said...
...but it was still good to have options.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
A few days later Lionheart had Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw collect moss for the elders' den, allowing Tigerclaw a respite from the constant presence of the younger cats. Now the three apprentices were lazing about the camp, their duties complete for the day.
Naturally, Lionheart chose this peaceful time to walk up to Tigerclaw and sit down beside him. "I was thinking we should take the apprentices out for some hunting practice."
Tigerclaw nodded stiffly. He had been hoping to at least have a full day away from them, but it would seem odd if he refused. He sighed to himself. I might as well get this over with.
"Firepaw, come here," Tigerclaw meowed, flicking his tail to summon the ginger tom.
Trotting up, Firepaw gave him a questioning look. "What is it?"
"We're going on a hunting patrol," Lionheart meowed. "Fetch Graypaw and Ravenpaw, and meet us by the gorse tunnel."
Firepaw looked at them with curious green eyes, clearly waiting for them to explain further, and Tigerclaw felt a flash of irritation at the younger cat's obliviousness. "Right now- if that's alright with you."
"Yes, Tigerclaw," Firepaw replied hastily. "I'll get the others."
The five cats were soon heading into the forest together. All three apprentices chattered as they went, somehow unaware that they were loud enough to frighten all the prey off ThunderClan territory. Tigerclaw raised his tail for silence. "Have you never hunted before? Be quiet!"
The apprentices fell silent.
"Why don't we practice some hunting crouches first?" Lionheart suggested. He flicked his tail at a spot a few fox-lengths away. "That leaf is a bird. How do you approach it?"
All three apprentices hunkered down, trying out their best bird stalking crouch. Tigerclaw brushed past them and swept his tail downward, adjusting the apprentices' awkward stances.
Lionheart walked up, regarding his own apprentice. "Just a bit lower, Graypaw."
"And your paws need to be closer together; you'll never keep your balance like that," Tigerclaw added, prodding Graypaw's side with a paw. He moved on to the next cat in line. "Lower your tail, Firepaw. You're waving it for balance, not to inform the birds of your presence."
Ravenpaw glanced up at him, meeting his gaze with nervous eyes. The skinny tom immediately looked away, but it was too late. "Pay attention to the hunt," Tigerclaw spat. "If that was a real bird you would have lost it right then." Ravenpaw stared at the ground.
Observing the apprentices' postures one last time, Lionheart nodded. "Now try stalking it."
Tigerclaw stepped back and took a seat, scowling. All three cats were terrible. Firepaw showed no sign of trying to keep his steps light as he thumped across the clearing. Graypaw was swishing his tail like an enraged fox. And Ravenpaw... Tigerclaw shook his head in disguest. The tom was putting most of his weight on one side, moving in slow, erratic steps. How he thought he would catch birds like that, Tigerclaw had no idea.
"Pitiful." His growl was low enough that only Lionheart could hear him. "You would think they've never hunted in their life."
Lionheart shrugged. "To be fair, this is only the second time they've practiced bird stalking. Graypaw, don't wave your tail so much," he called to his apprentice.
But Graypaw barely made any adjustment at all.
Watching the apprentices blunder about the clearing, Tigerclaw raised his head. "Every one of you, stop!" he spat, loping over to face them. "Firepaw, you need to be lighter on your paws than that! Graypaw, you're much too slow. And Ravenpaw, I don't know what in the name of StarClan it is you're doing; you look like you've been possessed by a dying frog."
Lionheart stepped forward, shooting a concerned glance at Tigerclaw. Although he didn't seem to agree with Tigerclaw's harsh words, he apparently also thought the apprentices needed improvement.
"Come here, you three. I shall demonstrate," Lionheart meowed, dropping into a crouch. "Watch closely." He moved smoothly across the forest floor, tail swishing back and forth. "See how I'm using my tail for balance, so I'm able to tread lightly and quickly at the same time. Now you try."
Tail waving, Graypaw began to stalk forward again.
Lionheart frowned. "A bit quicker than that, Graypaw." The gray apprentice increased his pace. "Faster," Lionheart urged.
Graypaw bounded off at full speed toward the leaf. "Is this fast enough?" he called.
"I daresay it is," Lionheart meowed, whiskers twitching. Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. Why any cat would put up with their apprentice's joking was a mystery to him.
As Graypaw trotted back, Lionheart turned to Firepaw and gave him an approving nod.
"See, Firepaw's got it." Lionheart beckoned the other apprentices over to watch. "Look how he's quick on his paws, but not disturbing the forest floor."
Tigerclaw spoke up, not wanting such a poor display of hunting to be taken as a good example. "Firepaw may be fast, but he's not in control of his speed. I doubt he would be able to catch anything but the stupidest birds like that."
Firepaw stopped, ears twitching.
"He's got the technique down though," Lionheart meowed.
The apprentices went back to their hunting crouches. After a few more attempts, Ravenpaw still hadn't gotten it. Tigerclaw growled under his breath. Why the shadow cat thought this pathetic apprentice had warrior potential was beyond him. But he would still have his uses.
"Ravenpaw, you and Firepaw try that bramble thicket," Tigerclaw meowed before Lionheart could start giving orders. "Ravenpaw, you will flush out any prey there. Firepaw, catch what prey you can when Ravenpaw sends them in your direction." Narrowing his eyes, Tigerclaw managed to stifle the snarl rising in his throat. Hopefully Ravenpaw's stalking would be so horrible, he'd scatter the prey randomly and Firepaw would be unable to catch anything.
A little while later, Tigerclaw walked back to camp, carrying the results of the apprentices' hunt in his jaws. Of course when he was trying to make Firepaw look bad, Ravenpaw would choose that moment to perform adequately.
The kittypet had caught several birds, and surprisingly Ravenpaw managed to snag one as well. Their hunt had gone so well that they couldn't carry it all themselves.
Even though Ravenpaw's catch was most likely a fluke, Tigerclaw was glad. If the kittypet had to catch something, at least he was not alone in his success. A Clan cat had made those catches possible.
When they returned to camp and placed the prey on the fresh-kill pile, their Clanmates eyed them incredulously.
"You caught all this on an apprentice hunting trip?" Mousefur asked.
"It wasn't just you," Tigerclaw snapped. "Have you no appreciation for the help of your Clanmates? Without Ravenpaw, you wouldn't have caught anything!"
Firepaw ducked his head. "I was just telling her. Ravenpaw helped chase the prey in my direction."
Tigerclaw snorted. The kittypet's hunting certainly didn't have anything to do with actual talent; it was luck, that was all. The prey had been driven into his paws.
Growling under his breath, Tigerclaw picked out a vole from the fresh-kill and found a secluded spot by the warriors' den. The kittypet always received undeserved praise- it was as though his flame colored pelt blinded the other cats to his soft-hearted ways.
But not me. He won't win this time.
But not yet. There was still much left to do before the kittypet was gone.
Dustpaw was not nearly as antagonistic toward the kittypet as he'd been the first time.
Tigerclaw decided the tom might need a little 'encouragement.' He saw the perfect opportunity to do so when Dustpaw returned to camp one day carrying a rabbit, and Firepaw followed with a tiny shrew. Conveniently Longtail and Darkstripe were resting beside him, while Redtail, the only other warrior in the camp, was out of earshot.
Darkstripe was the first to notice Firepaw's return. "Look, it's the kittypet."
"There he is, providing for his Clan," Longtail drawled.
"I wonder what he brought for the fresh-kill pile," Tigerclaw growled in an undertone. "Let's see how he did, shall we?"
Darkstripe lashed his tail in undisguised glee, and the three cats began to make their way over to the apprentices.
"Good work, Dustpaw." Tigerclaw meowed, padding up. "It's always good to see an apprentice contributing their fair share." He sighed as Dustpaw puffed out his chest. "If only Firepaw showed such promise."
"I wouldn't say that's entirely fair," Darkstripe meowed. "It looks like Firepaw hunted rather well... for a kittypet."
Longtail stalked up beside him. "That shrew will be half a meal for a newly weaned kit. He must be so proud of himself."
Firepaw's ears flicked; he could hear their snickering.
Darkstripe tilted his head. "I suppose Dustpaw caught something, so the elders won't go hungry at least."
"I didn't come back empty pawed," Firepaw meowed. Perfect. They had goaded him into responding. "And I've caught more than this before. What's so great about that rabbit, anyway?"
"It's better than any prey you could hope to catch," Dustpaw jeered. "You should be glad you've got us to provide for you. You'd probably starve without us catching all your meals."
Before Firepaw could say anything, Redtail emerged from the warriors' den and loped over to his apprentice, his gaze stern. "That's no way to talk to a Clanmate. Making a good catch doesn't mean you're more important than any other cat." Dustpaw ducked his head as Redtail continued. "Go take that rabbit to the elders, and then you're going to hunt with Whitestorm and Sandpaw."
"But we were done for the day..." The protest faded from Dustpaw's eyes. "Yes, Redtail."
Darkstripe and Longtail slunk away, leaving only Redtail, Firepaw and Tigerclaw at the center of the clearing. The kittypet was watching him, defiance blazing in his eyes. "I was going back out."
"See that you do then," Tigerclaw replied coolly. "Go with Whitestorm and Sandpaw."
Firepaw nodded and padded away. Redtail watched Tigerclaw for a long moment, his eyes narrowed.
Cursing to himself, Tigerclaw was aware of Redtail's intense gaze prickling his pelt. The tortoiseshell tom had come out of nowhere. "What made you dislike Firepaw so much?"
Tigerclaw whipped his head around. "I never said that."
"You don't really need to. It's rather obvious."
Rage boiling just underneath the surface, Tigerclaw suppressed the urge to rip out the tortoiseshell tom's throat. He'd already done it once, how easy would it be to do it again? He shook himself.
Redtail was still waiting for him to reply. "I don't dislike the kittypet." I despise him. "He has lived among us for a quarter moon," he mewed out loud. "Hardly enough time to trust him as a member of our Clan."
"He shows no signs of disloyalty." Redtail's mew was mild, but Tigerclaw found himself bristling.
"I just didn't think ThunderClan would stoop low enough to train untalented, mouse-hearted, Twoleg pets, and then claim them to be loyal warriors." Furious, Tigerclaw buried his claws into the ground.
Redtail met his eyes without flinching. "Bluestar accepted him, and to me that is enough."
Shaking his head to himself as Redtail walked away, Tigerclaw breathed out through his nose. It had been stupid to snap at Redtail. He couldn't start a feud with a cat he was going to murder! Certain that he was alone now, Tigerclaw hissed. He should have been made deputy all those seasons ago, not Redtail! And now the tom was questioning him.
Why don't I just kill him already? It has to happen sometime.
No. Tigerclaw lashed his tail. As much as he wanted to act now, he had to be patient.
Just a few moons, and his plan would start in earnest. He wasn't sure of the exact details, but he knew that he could use his prior knowledge. It wasn't necessary to have supporters, although it would be useful. He just had to keep track of the days so he could predict what was coming. Yellowfang would show up in two moons. Then it would truly begin.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Nearly a moon had passed since Tigerclaw had last spoken to the shadow cat. The full moon was tonight, and this time, Tigerclaw had been one of the cats chosen for the Gathering patrol.
He looked around, noting the appearance of WindClan. ShadowClan was going to drive them from their territory in less than a moon, and they had no idea.
Darkstripe shadowed him as he walked among the crowd. Although Tigerclaw could admit that Darkstripe was useful to have around sometimes, it didn't make him any less irritating. The tom had been asking about his plan to get rid of the kittypet more and more lately, and Tigerclaw was tiring of his questions.
"Go visit those ShadowClan cats," Tigerclaw mewed, pointing with his tail at Blackfoot and Clawface. "I'll meet you later."
"Who are you going to talk to?" asked Darkstripe.
"That's none of your concern."
Darkstripe nodded and disappeared into the crowd without hesitation.
Truthfully, Tigerclaw didn't want to talk to any cat during the Gathering. He had decided it would be best to remain aloof for now, until he came up with a better plan. He wasn't willing to put anything to chance. Making his way to the back, he began to watch cats of all Clans talking and sharing news. It was relatively peaceful, especially compared to some of the other Gatherings he had seen.
Whitestorm sat down beside him. Tigerclaw flicked an ear in acknowledgement, but said nothing. Usually Whitestorm didn't talk unless he had something important to say, and Tigerclaw was fine with sitting in silence.
As he observed the crowd, Redtail caught his eye, and to Tigerclaw's annoyance began to approach him. "You're not usually one to hang back," he remarked, sitting down next to him.
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. "There is much to be learned by observing one's enemies."
"It sounds like Lionheart's wisdom is rubbing off on you," Redtail meowed.
Tigerclaw suppressed an eye roll. Lionheart wasn't that much older than him. "Have you heard anything of note?" he asked, supposing he should make conversation.
Redtail shook his head. "No. The forest is at peace."
"Not for long," Tigerclaw muttered under his breath.
Whitestorm flicked his ears. "I sense it too. There is something not quite right in the forest, but I can't put my paw on it."
Redtail frowned. "I suppose."
Darkstripe trotted up just then. "ShadowClan has new warriors."
Grunting, Tigerclaw turned back to watching the crowd of cats, while Redtail, Whitestorm and Darkstripe kept talking. Why did his Clanmates have to congregate around him on tonight of all nights? He needed to focus.
He scanned the crowd of WindClan cats and recognized Mudclaw, and remembered the time he had advised Hawkfrost from the Dark Forest in his plot to take over the Clans. Hawkfrost's scheme to take over WindClan had been one of his first ones. Tigerclaw nearly hissed out loud at the memory. Although his youngest son had shown promise, ultimately he had been unsuccessful... just like him.
Because of Brambleclaw. Tigerclaw flicked his tail bitterly. After everything he had offered his firstborn son, the cursed tom had thrown it away out of his loyalty to Firestar. The traitor.
But he doesn't exist yet, Tigerclaw realized. He could change everything now. The first time he hadn't been present during his first litter's early life, due to the fact that he had been exiled. But if he had any kits this time he would be sure to steer them toward the right path.
That was if he decided to even take a mate again. Both kits and mates were more trouble than they were worth.
"What do you think of them?" Whitestorm meowed.
"Who?" Tigerclaw tore his gaze away from the crowd.
Redtail motioned with his tail toward a cluster of warriors. "The ShadowClan cats. We were just talking about how Raggedstar died. Brokenstar has been holding onto the specifics of it very tightly."
Of course he is, since he's the one who killed him. "I would guess ShadowClan was taken by surprise when he was ambushed. They're not going to discuss a sign of weakness."
"That's what I was saying," Redtail mewed. "We just thought it was rather odd how they weren't yowling about vengeance."
Darkstripe swiveled his head abruptly. "Look who's coming," he hissed.
A group of RiverClan cats were headed their way, Stonefur at their head.
As if it wasn't enough that his Clanmates had to bother him. Suppressing a growl, Tigerclaw dipped his head. "Stonefur."
"Tigerclaw, Redtail, Whitestorm." The half-Clan tom nodded curtly. "Darkstripe," he added, almost as an afterthought. "How is prey running in ThunderClan?"
Tigerclaw flattened his ears. "Much better now that our territory is not being encroached upon."
Stonefur's eyes narrowed at Tigerclaw's veiled reference to Sunningrocks, but his Clanmate, Blackclaw, had the strongest reaction. "Sunningrocks belonged to RiverClan! You ThunderClan cats stole it-"
Darkstripe stood up, bristling. "RiverClan are the prey thieves, not ThunderClan," he sneered.
"Liar." Blackclaw lashed his tail.
Both groups tensed as cats began to look in their direction.
"That's enough, Blackclaw," Mistyfoot meowed, padding up. The blue-gray she-cat touched her tail to the black tom's shoulder, glaring at Tigerclaw. "Remember the truce."
"I think everyone would do well to remember that," Redtail meowed, shooting a stern glance at Darkstripe. He dipped his head to Mistyfoot and with that, the RiverClan cats turned and padded away.
As Stonefur and Mistyfoot disappeared into the crowd, Tigerclaw marveled at how no cat ever noticed how similar they appeared to Bluestar. He narrowed his eyes. Perhaps he could use the information to his advantage this time around.
"Was that necessary?" Redtail muttered.
Tigerclaw shrugged. "If they can't handle the truth it's not my problem." Why didn't Redtail just leave already? Great StarClan, why couldn't they all just leave? Tigerclaw had been looking forward to using the Gathering to determine his next move only to be interrupted by his Clanmates' gossiping.
A yowl interrupted the scattered conversations, and the cats turned to the Great Rock.
"Cats of all Clans, welcome to the Gathering," Bluestar addressed the crowd, and then turned her head to the other leaders. "We have plenty of time to share news tonight. Who would like to go first?"
"I will, if no cat has a problem with it," Crookedstar meowed, stepping in front of the other leaders. "This has been an eventful moon for RiverClan. We have one new warrior tonight, Silverstream." Tigerclaw's tail twitched. He had forgotten about the she-cat that had been the mother to Graystripe's half-Clan ThunderClan kits. Perhaps he could put a stop to that this time. Or maybe not. He would have to determine what course of action would make the most use of the situation.
Crookedstar had paused to allow the gathered cats to cheer, and continued to speak. Soon he was done, and Brokenstar stepped forward to share ShadowClan's news. Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes as his former Dark Forest ally spoke. He would have to tread very carefully with Brokenstar.
Tigerclaw was trying to focus on the ShadowClan leader's words when it suddenly hit him. Of course! I don't need to make enemies with everyone! I can make allies- isn't that what I did the first time?
For the first time he thought he fully understood what the shadow cat was talking about. He looked around at the cats scattered across the clearing and saw not enemies, but a sea of potential followers. If he played his moves right, they would be cheering him on when he gained control of their Clans.
Tigerclaw suppressed the purr rising in his chest. This time he would have supporters in all four Clans not just one. When he took over his followers would make it that much easier. If only he had had that epiphany before the Gathering.
Frowning, Tigerclaw licked a paw and swiped it over his ear. It probably hadn't been a good idea to exchange harsh words with the RiverClan cats. But he would have plenty of time to improve his relationship with them, and in addition to that, he had the advantage of foresight.
Just a few more moons. Firepaw would eventually be disgraced or dead. Tigerclaw would bide his time- for now. And when the moon came for him to be leader there would be no cat that could deny his true power.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Tigerclaw was still trying to keep track of how long it would be until different events. It was difficult; it had been a lifetime ago after all. He knew with certainty that any day now Firepaw would meet Yellowfang in the forest. Tigerclaw waited gleefully at the prospect. He had already planned it. He would use the chance to make Firepaw look bad to all of ThunderClan.
The kittypet would feed an enemy, and then take prey before he'd caught any for the rest of the Clan; if Tigerclaw put his mind to it, he could spread rumors about Firepaw's disloyalty this time. And then...
He shivered in anticipation. He could almost feel the pieces of his plan falling together as day by day, the time drew closer to when he could put it into action.
He was resting by himself at the edge of the camp after a long day of patrolling, when Redtail padded up. "We still haven't taken our apprentices out together."
Tigerclaw grunted noncommittally. In spite of his efforts, Ravenpaw was still terrible at everything. He would be no match for Dustpaw.
"I think some battle training will be good experience for them," Redtail continued. "What do you say?" His mew gained a teasing edge. "I bet Dustpaw would win in a mock fight."
"Don't count on it," Tigerclaw growled, mood darkening. He had no intention of spending more time than he needed to with Redtail, much less time in which Ravenpaw made him look like an incompetent moron. Snorting, Tigerclaw shook his head. Based on Ravenpaw's skill level, he would have guessed the pathetic tom was being mentored by a squirrel.
Redtail's mew brought him back to their conversation. "I am ready to take them to the sandy hollow whenever you are."
"Not today," Tigerclaw grumbled, barely able to restrain himself from lashing his tail. "Ravenpaw is hunting with Whitestorm and Firepaw at the moment."
Redtail dipped his head, beginning to pad away. "Tomorrow, then. Perhaps we can bring Firepaw as well."
Rolling his eyes, Tigerclaw turned to face away from the rest of the clearing. Redtail was becoming harder and harder to ignore, and Tigerclaw couldn't tell if the tortoiseshell deputy was mocking him or if he was just that oblivious.
Tigerclaw told himself to be patient. Redtail would be taken care of in time, but he needed to be certain of Bluestar's trust before he did anything on that front. It wouldn't do him any good to do a repeat of his first life, and get passed over for the deputyship in favor of Lionheart.
And Firepaw would be dealt with as well, although every time he even spoke to the kittypet it took all his self-control not to rip the tom's throat out right then and there.
There was one bright spot during the last moon, at least: the shadow cat, or the lack thereof. She hadn't tried to talk to him again, though at times he swore his shadow was flickering in odd ways, its movements not quite matching his own. Tigerclaw was able to ignore it most of the time, and none of his Clanmates ever noticed.
He still wasn't used to seeing Redtail walking around, and he wasn't used to seeing the rest of his Clanmates either. Two moons ago he had been a part of he ultimate battle over the fate of the Clans, and now he was just an ordinary warrior again. But somehow the loss in rank reinvigorated him.
He had a fresh start now.
The next morning he awoke to Lionheart prodding his shoulder with a forepaw. "Bluestar wants to see us." Tigerclaw nodded seriously and followed him out of the warriors' den. This was it. If he was remembering correctly, Yellowfang would be entering ThunderClan today.
Bluestar was waiting by the Highrock as Tigerclaw and Lionheart joined the group. "It is time that we investigate the lack of WindClan patrols along their border. I will be taking a patrol into WindClan territory today. Lionheart, Darkstripe, Willowpelt, Tigerclaw, you will be joining me."
Tigerclaw frowned. Lionheart hadn't gone with the first time. Perhaps it was because there was one more cat around than there had been in his first life. This wouldn't change anything, would it?
No. Lionheart's presence on the patrol shouldn't matter; he hadn't been anywhere near Firepaw the first time anyway.
Bluestar led the way out of the camp. As they headed through the woods, Tigerclaw fell back to walk alongside Darkstripe. "Today is the day."
Darkstripe blinked. "For what?"
Tigerclaw lowered his voice. "You know how we've been talking about how the kittypet won't be here forever?" Darkstripe nodded. "Well, today is when it begins."
"How do you know?" Darkstripe hissed, excitement creeping into his voice. "Are you going to-"
Tigerclaw cast him a silencing glare. "Just trust me. Follow my lead."
Eyes brightening, Darkstripe nodded.
The patrol soon entered WindClan territory, and just like before, the scent of ShadowClan overlaid WindClan.
"ShadowClan has sprayed nearly every tree," Willowpelt remarked, tail-tip twitching.
Lionheart halted by a patch of undergrowth, sniffing the air. Tigerclaw sniffed too, recognizing the scents of several ShadowClan cats he had led in the Dark Forest. The golden tabby's mew was bleak. "Something terrible is happening."
Already has happened, Tigerclaw thought. He had seen this before. Along with a sense of déjà vu, he felt a prickle of relief. If events continued to progress in the same way as his first life he would have no trouble at all. By the end of the day, the kittypet's downfall would begin.
"Their camp is up ahead." Bluestar pointed with her nose toward the familiar hollow. "Stay alert."
Tigerclaw tasted the air, picking up the scent of WindClan. They headed over the rise and then-
"They're gone," Willowpelt meowed, eyes widening with shock.
Aside from the wind whistling over the moor, the WindClan camp was silent.
Darkstripe took a tentative step forward. "What in the name of StarClan happened here?"
Bluestar warily led them into the heart of the WindClan camp. "We must be careful; ShadowClan warriors may still be about. Willowpelt, Darkstripe, search the dens for survivors."
The ThunderClan cats split up to search the camp. While Willowpelt and Darkstripe searched the dens, Tigerclaw sniffed around, trying to look surprised. Lionheart appeared at his shoulder, an uncharacteristic growl on his face. "Why would Brokenstar do this? What does he gain?"
"WindClan's hunting grounds," Tigerclaw meowed bluntly. He breathed in, recognizing quite a few cat scents that he hadn't known by name during his first life.
Bluestar was observing the camp in a daze. Strangely, she lingered at a spot near the medicine den. After a moment she shook herself, and approached the rest of the patrol, which had gathered at the center of the camp. "Have you found anything?"
"No cats, but ShadowClan scent is everywhere." Willowpelt wrinkled her nose. "And blood."
"But no bodies..." Bluestar trailed off, frowning. "WindClan must have fled."
Darkstripe swiveled his head as though he expected to see the lost WindClan cats. "Where could they have gone?"
Lionheart narrowed his eyes against the wind. "Wherever they went, it is probably a long way from here."
Finally Bluestar beckoned the patrol with her tail. "Come; we've searched as much as we can. We must return to ThunderClan territory."
As they headed back, the wind ruffled Tigerclaw's fur in the wrong direction. He quickened his pace; in addition to avoiding ShadowClan warriors, he didn't want to miss Yellowfang's chance meeting with Firepaw.
Darkstripe was trying to get his attention. "Did you know about this?" he hissed, eyes flicking back and forth. "How did you-"
Tigerclaw didn't answer the first question, and loped past Darkstripe in the middle of the second one. He let out an amused purr. If his former apprentice thought he had enough connections to have played a part in WindClan's disappearance, it was all the better for his scheme.
When they reached Fourtrees, Graypaw trotted up, just like Tigerclaw remembered.
Bluestar dipped her head. "You have a message?"
Graypaw nodded. "All is well in camp. Mousefur and Longtail are patrolling the ShadowClan border, and Runningwind and Whitestorm returned from their RiverClan border patrol. There were no signs of trespassing."
"Good," Bluestar meowed. "Thank you for the message, Graypaw."
Suppressing an eye roll, Tigerclaw loped alongside the patrol. Why had any cat found it worth the time to send the apprentice to give them that message? He had wondered about that the first time.
Graypaw fell into step beside Lionheart, and the golden tabby warrior used the moment to quiz his apprentice. "Do you scent anything?"
Taking a deep breath, Graypaw's eyes widened. "Vole. Over there." He flicked his ears toward a patch of trees.
"Then you should hunt it," Lionheart meowed, flicking his tail in the direction opposite from where Firepaw and Yellowfang would be. With a jolt, Tigerclaw realized that he had to take action. The patrol had to take the same route as before, or he'd miss his chance!
"Surely we should return to camp," Tigerclaw interrupted before Graypaw could start the hunt. "With ShadowClan up to something, we need to make sure the heart of our territory is well defended."
Bluestar flicked her tail. "ThunderClan can always use prey, and I doubt ShadowClan are lurking about our territory right at this moment. There would be some sign of them by now. Go ahead, Graypaw."
"Loop around that tree," Lionheart meowed. "Then surprise it from the other side, like we practiced the other day." Graypaw began to creep up to the tree.
Tigerclaw dug his claws into the forest floor. How were they going to interrupt the kittypet's treachery now? The place was nearby, but with Lionheart's urging they were headed in the wrong direction. I need to set them on the right path! Stiffening, Tigerclaw let out a low growl.
Bluestar glanced at him, alarmed. "What is it?"
Tigerclaw stalked forward, opening his mouth as though he had detected a foreign scent. "Can't you scent it?! A ShadowClan cat was here!" He flicked his tail across Darkstripe's flank.
After sharing a meaningful glance with Tigerclaw, Darkstripe raised his head to taste the air. "I- I smell it too."
Lionheart narrowed his eyes. "I'm not scenting it." Graypaw looked back at them, bewildered.
"Are you quite sure, Tigerclaw?" Bluestar murmured, her eyes scanning the trees. "Perhaps a breeze carried the scent."
"They were here," Tigerclaw insisted.
Bluestar sniffed once again. "Where?" she mewed, looking back and forth between Darkstripe and Tigerclaw.
"This way!" Tigerclaw plunged into the undergrowth. The patrol raced along behind him as he led them closer to the spot where the undoing of Firepaw would begin.
This was it. They would stumble across the incriminating scene any moment now. Tail bristling in anticipation, Tigerclaw kept watch for any sign of the kittypet or Yellowfang. It had been somewhere around here, right?
"Are you sure about this, Tigerclaw?" Bluestar called after him. "I'm not picking up anything out of the ordinary."
"I'm quite sure," he replied, narrowing his eyes. It didn't make sense! Firepaw had found Yellowfang here the first time, but now there was no sign of either of them. Tigerclaw let out a growl in frustration. This couldn't be happening; why was this of all things turning out differently?!
Just as he was about to give up, a yowl rang out.
"Over there," Bluestar meowed, dashing in the direction of the call. Filled with relief, Tigerclaw bounded after her. They were about to find Firepaw feeding ThunderClan prey to Yellowfang. This was it.
His plan began now. He pushed his way through the undergrowth and into the clearing.
Yellowfang and the kittypet were both there. But they weren't alone.
Bluestar took a step forward to face the third cat. "Redtail, what has happened?"
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
" Redtail, what has happened?"
Tigerclaw blinked. This made no sense.
Redtail looked up, not moving from his spot between Yellowfang and Firepaw. "This cat attacked Firepaw from out of nowhere. He managed to fend her off before I showed up." Redtail paused, casting a serious glance at the old gray she-cat. "And this isn't just any rogue. I believe that she is ShadowClan's medicine cat, although when I questioned her she refused to respond."
Tigerclaw sniffed the air. No. This can't be! There was no prey scent here at all! The kittypet wasn't giving Yellowfang prey- he hadn't gotten the chance with Redtail right next to him!
Bluestar nodded, taking a step forward to take a closer look at Yellowfang. "You're right. You have done well to fight this cat, Firepaw; she is ShadowClan's medicine cat." Bluestar turned and addressed Yellowfang directly. "Why are you on ThunderClan territory?"
Yellowfang was silent.
"Speak," Bluestar ordered. "Does your Clan know you are here?"
Finally Yellowfang answered with a hiss. "I choose to hunt alone now."
As Bluestar continued to question the old rogue, Tigerclaw felt as though the ground was falling out from underneath him. He had waited two moons for this opportunity, and now it had slipped away. I should have known!
"Come; we'll take her back to camp," Bluestar meowed. "We'll see what she has to say for herself there." Bluestar turned and with a flick her tail, began to lead the way back to camp.
Lionheart and Willowpelt took up guarding positions on either side of Yellowfang. Tigerclaw sat, numb to his surroundings, as his Clanmates moved around him to follow Bluestar back. He had wasted moons! Not days, not weeks, but two full moons! Cursing to himself, Tigerclaw turned and followed his Clanmates toward the ThunderClan camp. His lack of action, which he had been convinced was a necessary component to his plan, had all been for naught.
He narrowed his eyes at Redtail as the tortoiseshell tom joined Bluestar at the head of the patrol. As they walked, Tigerclaw could hear them mewing quietly to each other. "I only saw a few moments of their fight," Redtail was meowing, "but Firepaw held his own. He fought well."
"That is good to hear," Bluestar meowed. "I am glad that he has progressed so much since he arrived."
There was a moment of silence before Redtail spoke. "Have you decided on his mentor yet?"
"Don't tell me that you want to mentor him?" Bluestar gave Redtail a friendly tail flick.
"I wouldn't be opposed to that arrangement."
"Redtail, must I remind you that you already have an apprentice?" Bluestar's mew was lighthearted. "Besides, I already have a cat in mind."
"Of course." Redtail gave her a knowing look that made Tigerclaw want to claw his own eyes out. Blatant favoritism!
Ears flat against his head, Tigerclaw's paws began to shake. How could this have gone so wrong? Firepaw was supposed to be punished, not praised!
Darkstripe trailed along behind him, apparently having enough sense to know that something had gone wrong. "Tigerclaw?"
He didn't acknowledge his former apprentice.
"What are we going to do about the-"
He pushed ahead before Darkstripe could finish.
When they returned to camp, the cats of ThunderClan ate their evening meal. Tigerclaw sat off to the side, avoiding his Clanmates and barely able to taste the mouse he chose to eat. Darkstripe kept trying to talk to him, but Tigerclaw ignored him; the dark tom was irritatingly persistent and eventually Tigerclaw had to scare him off with a sharp hiss. It had been stupid to inform Darkstripe of anything; he was going to have to endure his pestering for moons now.
After a little while, Bluestar bounded to the top of the Highrock and called a Clan meeting.
"As most of you know already, we have a prisoner. Firepaw caught Yellowfang, the former medicine cat of ShadowClan, on our territory today. Well done, Firepaw."
Tigerclaw zoned out. This could not be happening.
The Clan meeting went similarly to the first time he'd lived it, aside from the glaring fact that Firepaw had been congratulated for capturing a prisoner by the whole Clan.
This was not what was supposed to happen! The kittypet would have caught prey for Yellowfang and taken some for himself if Redtail hadn't been there.
Ugh. I should just kill them already.
He snapped back to the present when Yellowfang and Darkstripe nearly started clawing each other. "Stop!" Bluestar yowled. "That's enough. We cannot fight amongst ourselves. There is too much at stake."
Darkstripe was looking to him, but Tigerclaw avoided his glances. He reflected how strange it was that Darkstripe and Yellowfang had almost gotten in a fight both times. Tigerclaw jerked his head in anger- at Darkstripe for being a mousebrain, at Bluestar for praising the kittypet, at Redtail for still being alive, but mostly at the kittypet for simply existing.
Bluestar was still speaking when he was able to focus again. "To speed up the training of all our young cats, I shall take on Firepaw as my own apprentice."
"Wow, what an honor!" Graypaw meowed, nudging the kittypet.
Tigerclaw grumbled, tucking his paws underneath him. He half expected the Clan to start cheering for the kittypet again, and flattened his ears to block out the noise if that happened; he didn't think he'd be able to stop himself from murdering him right there in the ThunderClan camp.
When the meeting broke up, cats began to move forward to talk to the kittypet. Tigerclaw dug his claws into the ground as cats commended him for capturing the prisoner.
Bluestar began to pad across the camp, and Tigerclaw barely had the energy to twist an ear in acknowledgement when she sat down next to him. "I am surprised you scented Yellowfang from such a long distance away. That was some good tracking you showed today."
Tigerclaw grunted. Did she think he needed praise like a lowly apprentice?
Bluestar kept going, her eyes thoughtful. "Firepaw has found his place in our Clan." Tigerclaw blinked, confused. Was she trying to think aloud or something? No conversation of this sort had happened before. Had Tigerclaw been too obvious about his fury today? "Redtail tells me that Firepaw fought well today. He owes much of his skills to your training." In his old life Tigerclaw could have thought of something formal and calm to say, but this time it was all he could do to prevent himself from lashing out. Rage was growing like a fire in his chest, threatening to explode.
"It concerns me to have an enemy within our camp, but I think we will grow to live with it for the time being," Bluestar continued. "Yellowfang is not one of us, but if Firepaw has learned to live among us for so many moons, perhaps she will as well."
Birds of a feather, aren't they? Too late, Tigerclaw realized he had spoken out loud.
Bluestar's eyes suddenly grew cold. "What do you mean by that?"
Something broke within Tigerclaw, and he could feel his facade ripping away. "Firepaw is a kittypet!" Tigerclaw snarled, shifting sideways. "He shouldn't have a place in our Clan! He doesn't have warrior blood; he never should have been accepted as a ThunderClan cat!"
"Are you suggesting that I made the wrong decision in taking him into our Clan?" Bluestar's eyes glittered dangerously.
Cats were starting to stare. Against all his instincts, Tigerclaw flattened his fur. "No."
Bluestar watched him for a long moment. "There is more to loyalty than blood, Tigerclaw," she meowed, sounding less angry than Tigerclaw would have thought. "I would think you of all cats could understand that by now." With a flick of her tail, Bluestar padded away.
Tigerclaw groaned inwardly. How in the name of StarClan was he supposed to be made deputy now? Surely Bluestar would remember this for many moons. He had never questioned her in his first life like that, ever.
That single argument might have cost me seasons!
Lionheart was giving him one of his confused looks again. Tigerclaw snorted, making his way to the warriors' den. Cowards, all of them.
His whole plot had turned into a nightmare. He had tried to do things the right way, and that strategy had failed him miserably. Not only was the kittypet not disgraced, he was more respected than he had been the first time! The shadow cat was wrong, that was the only explanation.
In retrospect, it hadn't been that great of a plan. He should have anticipated that Redtail's presence would change things. The irritating tortoiseshell would probably muck up everything he did left and right without intervention.
Only one way to solve that.
It was still light out, although just barely. Tigerclaw quietly slipped out of the warriors' den, and scanned the camp for the familiar tortoiseshell pelt. Spotting him near the elders' den, he padded over to meet him. "Redtail, would you be interested in a bit of hunting?"
Redtail dipped his head in greeting. "Are you finally looking to train our apprentices together at this time of night?"
Snorting, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes into slits, and then he opened them slightly to appear less hostile; he couldn't give any cat a reason to be suspicious when Redtail wasn't there to organize patrols in the morning. "It seems that training our apprentices is all you think about."
"Of course not," Redtail mewed, his eyes glinting with mischief. "I think about hunting sometimes as well."
For once, Tigerclaw found it easy to suppress an eye roll. In a short time, this obnoxious tom would be dead. "So are we hunting, or no?"
"Yes, I'll come with you," Redtail agreed. "Night prey will be out in droves."
This had to be done, Tigerclaw reasoned. A cat could only be pushed so much and if he didn't act soon, he knew he would kill Redtail on impulse anyway. Allowing Redtail to lead him into the woods, Tigerclaw trotted up behind him, squinting. There was something different about the forest tonight, but he couldn't quite put his paw on it.
It took him a few moments to realize what was wrong. The tortoiseshell deputy's shadow was flickering. At first he thought nothing of it, but then it began to move in unusual ways: growing and shrinking rapidly in size, tail flicks here and there that didn't match its caster's movements.
Tigerclaw scowled. Could this be some bizarre message from the shadow cat? Shaking himself, he went on. He had to do this; Redtail's presence had become too much of a nuisance to ignore.
They walked further. By now the sunlight had faded, leaving only the minuscule glow of stars. Even with good night vision, Tigerclaw navigated mostly by scent, opting to never let his eyes leave Redtail.
"Where shall we go?" Redtail mewed over his shoulder.
"Further," Tigerclaw replied. "Near Sunningrocks, perhaps?"
"Fine by me." Redtail quickened his pace. Weaving between low hanging branches and thick patches of undergrowth, Tigerclaw followed. He was careful to avoid brushing his fur against anything that would carry his scent for too long; if any cat tried to track Redtail, he wanted to be able to tell them that he'd last seen him somewhere other than the spot he killed him.
Further and further they went, Tigerclaw's heartbeat growing faster all the while. The darkness was growing more pronounced as the night went on. It made it easier to ignore the trees' shadows, which were twisting oddly.
"There it is," Redtail meowed, pointing with his muzzle at the looming shape of Sunningrocks.
Tigerclaw skidded to a halt. "You go on ahead. I'll start with some mice around here."
Redtail raised his head. "I don't smell any mice."
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes, wishing for a moment that he had actually smelled the air before he said anything. "I think you underestimate my tracking skills."
"Possibly," Redtail admitted. "You did scent Yellowfang from halfway across the territory today, and she used to be ShadowClan. They probably learn how to sneak about from the moment they're born."
"Indeed." They watched each other for an awkward heartbeat. "Shall we get on with it then?" Tigerclaw mewed finally.
Redtail nodded. "We'll meet up later."
Yes, we will, Tigerclaw thought with a growl. He waited for Redtail to start moving away, and began to follow him from a distance.
He was so focused on Redtail that he didn't notice the darkness creeping up at the edge of his vision.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Tigerclaw glided through the forest, his paws making no sound as they touched the forest floor. Step by step he made his way closer to Redtail, closer to achieving his goal... this would help him achieve his goal, right? In order to become leader, Redtail would have to die at some point. Might as well be now.
And then he'd have to deal with Lionheart and Bluestar. That was going to be a pain, but no matter. He'd know what to do when the time came.
Pushing aside his doubts, Tigerclaw slowed to a stop. Redtail had noticed a vole, and was moving toward it in slow, deliberate pawsteps. Feeling a twinge of satisfaction, Tigerclaw hid behind a clump of brambles. Redtail had no idea he was being trailed in the same way that he was stalking the vole.
Tigerclaw was so intent on his hunt that he didn't pay close attention to where he put his paws, and a twig snapped under his weight. Redtail jerked his head around, looking for the source of the noise, and Tigerclaw made himself still as stone. Finally the tortoiseshell tom turned his head back to his prey and began creeping up on it again. After a few moments, Redtail was just as focused as he'd been before.
Perfect. Tigerclaw shadowed the tortoiseshell deputy as he moved, bunched his muscles to spring and-
"Going somewhere?" A wave of ice cold fear hit Tigerclaw. The shadow cat was suddenly right next to him.
"You again!" he spat, leaping nearly a fox-length into the air.
"Yes, it's me. What's wrong; did I frighten you?" The shadow cat stepped closer in one smooth movement, and Tigerclaw backpedaled, crouching and baring his teeth. "You seem rather surprised that I'm here."
Tigerclaw let out a low growl from deep within his throat, taking another step back. "What do you want from me?"
The pitch black shadow flicked her tail. "Surely you can't think we'd just allow you to murder a cat in cold blood without intervention." Tigerclaw opened his mouth to deny her accusation before he remembered she could read his thoughts. "And don't pretend that wasn't what you were doing," the dark she-cat cut across him. "I can't believe I have to be here right now- Great Shadow Spirits, Tigerclaw, you're absolutely hopeless." She paused, tilting her head to one side. "So for some strange reason, you thought killing Redtail was going to help you? I was very clear before- you need to do things the right way."
Throat dry, Tigerclaw let out a rasping breath. "I wasn't-"
"Just stop denying it; you're wasting everyone's time here."
Tigerclaw flattened his ears, hating the shadow cat and his own lack of control in this situation. If this had been any other cat mocking him, he would have killed her right then and there, but with the shadow cat he didn't have that option. What chance could he have against some strange spirit from beyond even StarClan, that could sense his every thought?
"Is that all you think about, killing cats that get in the way of your supposed greatness?" And there she was again, reading his mind. Tigerclaw unsheathed his claws. "Let me be clear, if I wasn't clear enough before." Tigerclaw bristled at her tone; the shadow cat sounded as though she was scolding a kit. "Murdering to get what you want is not doing things the right way."
Flicking his ears, Tigerclaw looked away from the shadow cat. Why should he be concerned with doing things the right way? That hadn't gotten him anywhere, in fact he was worse off than he had been at this time in his previous life because of it.
Letting out a sigh, the shadow cat lowered her head, and Tigerclaw guessed her facial expression would have been one of exhaustion if she wasn't pure shadow. "I'm going to be honest with you right now, Tigerclaw. If you decide to kill another cat, I might not be able to stop you again."
"Might not?" Tigerclaw spat, digging his claws into the ground so he wouldn't strike at something in his fury. "But you still might. So you will stop me, most likely. Do you plan to get in the way every time I do something you don't agree with?"
"Maybe." The shadow cat shrugged. "Or maybe not. It defeats the purpose of this whole thing if you're not actually trying yourself."
Tigerclaw snorted. He was trying; the shadow cat just kept getting in his way! His training with Ravenpaw, his plan to disgrace Firepaw, his attempt to get rid of Redtail; all of those things he could have succeeded at if the shadow cat hadn't stuck her nose in them and danced around at the edge of his vision like a swarm of mosquitoes! Perhaps if he hadn't been distracted by her dark presence he could have succeeded.
The dark she-cat raised her head to the sky as if asking for wisdom from a higher power. She then turned to face him. "You can't blame me; you brought this all on yourself. You're trying to do what you want, and that's not the point."
Tigerclaw let out a low growl, not even bothering to voice his rebuttal out loud. Of course that's the point! For a spirit cat, she was frustratingly dense. Did she seriously expect him, Tigerstar, leader of ShadowClan and the Place of No Stars, and future leader of all Clans, to bow before her? The fool.
The dark she-cat sighed. "Just know this. If you try to kill some cat for the wrong reason, and I can't stop you in time..." she stopped, and Tigerclaw almost thought he saw a shiver course through her shadowy figure "You might regret it more than anything else you've ever done."
Tigerclaw's fur prickled; he felt as though it had been coated in ice. Then a rustling sound came from the undergrowth behind him. Tigerclaw twisted his ears back and opened his mouth to identify the scent.
He could hear the crackling of leaves as Redtail poked his head through the screen of undergrowth. "Tigerclaw? Was that you? I could have sworn I heard cats."
"Do you think I regularly stand in the forest in the black of night and talk to myself?" Tigerclaw sheathed his claws so he could turn around to face Redtail; they had left deep gouge marks in the ground. "I hesitate to say this out of respect to you as Clan deputy, but do you have bees in your brain?"
Whiskers twitching in amusement, Redtail looked around. "I truly did hear yowling. Perhaps it was the prey."
Tigerclaw nodded. "It must have been."
From the edge of the trees, the shadow cat was lingering. Even though Tigerclaw couldn't see her eyes, he could feel the shadow cat's glare.
He was so close. If Redtail took just one step nearer, he'd be within a range of a single leap.
But no. Tigerclaw shook himself. It would be pure idiocy to kill Redtail now, right in front of the shadow cat immediately after she'd threatened him.
"I must return to my hunt. The scent trails will be fading soon," Tigerclaw mewed curtly.
"Very well. Good hunting." With a dip of his head, Redtail went back the way from which he came.
Letting his shoulders relax, Tigerclaw glared at the shadow cat. Or where she had been before- now she was gone, and the shadows of the trees and undergrowth had returned to normal. Directing a hiss where she'd left, Tigerclaw spun around and made his way past the trees.
Deciding that Redtail would find it odd if he didn't bring anything back for the fresh-kill pile, Tigerclaw honed in on a vole. He made quick work of killing it, and then trudged back to camp, not bothering to inform Redtail of where he was going. The tom could smell; he'd figure it out.
The shadow cat's presence was beginning to irritate him. Was she just going to interrupt whenever he needed to get rid of other cats? If so, that was going to be a problem. He had to think of something. Redtail and the kittypet would both need to be taken care of sooner or later.
But he couldn't kill Redtail. Not yet. Bluestar still didn't trust him, that was why. He told himself it had absolutely nothing to do with the shadow cat's dark warning. Sure, he was reluctant to test her words, but he was most certainly not afraid of her. She was just presenting a challenge.
The moon was setting as he arrived at the camp. Tigerclaw carefully made his way around his Clanmates and curled up in his nest.
Darkstripe, who had apparently been waiting for him the whole night, sidled up to him. "What about the kittypet? I thought-"
"Not now," Tigerclaw hissed. "We need to go about this the right way. Go to sleep.
Darkstripe nodded and obediently curled up in his nest. "'Night, Tigerclaw."
Tigerclaw lay awake for a long time. Even if his course of action was a bit constrained for the time being, he could stop Redtail from altering what was supposed to happen.
As the night drew on, he tried to piece together what the shadow cat was trying to tell him. He was supposed to do things the right way. Whatever that meant, he still wasn't sure, aside from the fact that murder was not considered part of it. Of course, he was aware that murder was generally frowned upon and against the warrior code, but in practice...
He scowled, remembering the last thing the shadow cat said to him. There were apparently right and wrong reasons to kill now. So technically, if he could determine what wrong and right were for murdering purposes, he wouldn't have to deal with some terrible fate should he kill for the 'wrong reason.' This supposed 'wrong' and 'right' way made sense to him in the same simplistic way that kits thought of morals, but he brushed it aside. Cats died at the claws of others all the time. It wasn't as if warring Clans put in much effort to avoid killing their enemies.
Tigerclaw snorted; true warriors weren't afraid to kill, no matter the cause. This was going to be a hassle if he actually decided to go by the shadow cat's rules.
But it did make sense that the wrong way was to kill one's own Clanmates, Tigerclaw figured. Perhaps that was what the shadow she-cat meant. But no, that couldn't be right. StarClan had been perfectly okay with the kittypet trying to kill him, and they had been Clanmates. Was it just that different rules apply to StarClan's chosen ones?
Why should he even bother with the warrior code anymore? The archaic tenets had been made by StarClan cats, the same ones that had passed over him in favor of a kittypet.
Tigerclaw tucked his nose under his tail and closed his eyes. Whatever he did, he'd figure it out in the morning.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
The situation was salvageable. In fact, it might even turn out better than before. First he needed to speak to the kittypet. Hopefully Firepaw hadn't heard about his outburst the previous night(Tigerclaw doubted it, there had been few cats around and he was almost certain that only Bluestar had heard his exact words). It would make gaining the kittypet's trust that much easier.
Slitting his eyes against the rising sun, Tigerclaw padded up to the apprentices' den, where the kittypet was grooming himself. "Firepaw."
The kittypet looked up. "Yes, Tigerclaw?"
"Have you spoken to the rogue yet?"
Firepaw blinked. "No, I haven't. I didn't realize I was supposed to tend to her. I'll fetch her some prey right away."
Tigerclaw raised his tail to stop him. "Wait, Firepaw, a word of advice." The kittypet halted in his tracks. "You must be aware of the... opportunity ThunderClan gains from the presence of a former ShadowClan cat in our midst."
Firepaw tilted his head. "I don't understand."
"Use your brain, kittypet," Tigerclaw spat, lashing his tail in annoyance at the ginger tom's naiveté. "As much as she claims she won't betray the Clan that she is no longer a member of, Yellowfang is a well of ShadowClan secrets waiting to be tapped. But she won't reveal this information to anyone; a cat will need to gain her confidence first. She will be more likely to trust a cat who is not a full warrior." Tigerclaw paused, shooting a significant look at Firepaw. "An apprentice, perhaps."
Firepaw frowned. "And you think I could be that cat." Judging from his thoughtful expression, he wasn't as opposed to the idea as Tigerclaw thought he might. Tigerclaw supposed it made sense; the kittypet hadn't bonded with the old medicine cat yet, so he had no reason to care about her. "Do you really think she would reveal ShadowClan secrets?"
Tigerclaw lowered his voice. "In time, possibly. I would encourage you to spend some time with her, get to know her. You might just learn something."
Still looking a bit confused, Firepaw nodded. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
Tail curling up in satisfaction, Tigerclaw watched as the kittypet approached Yellowfang. Excellent. For his plan to work, he needed the Clan to notice the amount of time Firepaw spent around the former ShadowClan she-cat, so the earlier the kittypet started the better. Luckily the kittypet hadn't objected; Tigerclaw hadn't been sure what he would have done if the kittypet hadn't taken his suggestion, since there was technically no reason for him to associate with Yellowfang in this timeline.
Tigerclaw arched his back in a long stretch. He had already hunted this morning, after his troubled sleep, and he was looking forward to taking a good, long nap.
Yawning, Tigerclaw told himself that he'd think of everything soon. Because certainly there were more things he had to do: plan for the next Gathering, train Ravenpaw, avoid Redtail...
And he needed to earn Bluestar's trust again. That would be more difficult, but it was doable, given enough time. Obviously, he was not about to walk up to her and apologize; that would be a sign of weakness. Instead, he would continue to occasionally mentor the kittypet. Once Bluestar saw the close bond he'd formed with him, she would think he'd changed his mind about him. Of course, it wouldn't stay that way for long; when Tigerclaw's plan was complete, no cat would deny that the kittypet was a traitor, even Bluestar.
The only problem with this was that he'd have to spend time with the kittypet. He'd thought he'd been done with Firepaw when Bluestar had named herself his mentor, but now he would have to volunteer to train him. As much as he hated spending time around the ginger tom, it was necessary.
Noticing the kittypet attempting to make conversation with a grumpy looking Yellowfang, Tigerclaw suppressed an eye roll. From his tone of voice, Tigerclaw could tell that the kittypet was being much too friendly. The old rogue would never respond to him if he was overly kind; she was probably suspicious of his intentions right now. Finally the kittypet gave up, leaving a piece of fresh-kill in front of her before padding away. Tigerclaw shrugged; this was a reasonable start. If their friendship grew too fast, the Clan would ask questions, and Firepaw might reveal that it was all Tigerclaw's idea.
Resolving to teach Firepaw how to socialize with an enemy later, Tigerclaw began to make his way back toward the warriors' den. The ginger apprentice was even more annoying than Redtail.
As though summoned by Tigerclaw's thoughts, his former murder victim approached, tail held high. "Morning, Tigerclaw," Redtail meowed. "Ready to finish our hunting mission? Perhaps the apprentices could come along as well."
"I've just finished hunting for the morning, as a matter of fact," Tigerclaw pointed out through gritted teeth. "I can take the next RiverClan border patrol though." He knew it was a bit much to volunteer himself, but he was running out of excuses to avoid training apprentices together with Redtail.
"Oh, no, it's quite alright; you've led many border patrols over the last few days." Tigerclaw lashed his tail Redtail continued; the tom's obnoxious voice was like a claw to his ears. "I thought you deserved a break so I sent Whitestorm and Mousefur."
Tigerclaw scowled. Redtail knew that Tigerclaw didn't want to be around him, but he kept bothering him anyway. He had probably been encouraged by being asked to hunt the previous night. Tigerclaw wished he could explain that the invitation had only been a ruse to murder him; perhaps that would make the insufferable tom stop trying to be his friend.
"Now that I think about it," Redtail continued thoughtfully, "you have been hunting a great deal lately as well. Perhaps we could do some battle training with our apprentices. Ravenpaw was just telling me how he'd like to practice with Dustpaw sometime." The blasted apprentice! Tigerclaw lashed his tail, inwardly cursing the mouse-hearted tom. "Meet me in the training hollow at sunhigh." Redtail tilted his head, waiting for Tigerclaw's answer.
Tigerclaw had no choice, of course. Redtail was ThunderClan deputy, and he'd given a direct order. "Very well."
"Excellent," Redtail replied, dipping his head. "I will see you then. We shall see whose apprentice comes out on top."
When Redtail vanished through the gorse tunnel, Tigerclaw let out a wordless hiss. Fox-dung! He'd wanted to rest, not associate himself with the cat who had ruined his plan to obtain the ThunderClan leader position! And Ravenpaw, he thought with a growl. This was all Ravenpaw's doing! Tigerclaw whipped around to find the skinny black apprentice; the idiotic kit needed to be taught to keep his mouth shut- a lesson he would have done well to learn the first time. He found him curled up in a patch of sunlight, and Tigerclaw jabbed him with a forepaw.
When Ravenpaw stumbled to his paws, Tigerclaw bared his teeth, giving his apprentice the most accusatory glare he could manage. "Is my mentorship not enough for you that you had to go running to Redtail?"
To his credit Ravenpaw looked horrified. "Wha- no, I didn't-"
Tigerclaw cut him off. "I suggest you start paying attention if you ever want to be a warrior, since as of right now one of Frostfur's newborns could defeat you in battle! And think you can keep up with Redtail and Dustpaw?"
Ravenpaw ducked his head. "I just thought-"
"You thought that you might be able to get out of my training!" snarled Tigerclaw.
"Wha- no, I didn't-"
Before Ravenpaw could say anything else, Tigerclaw let out a low growl. "Well, you got your wish. We're training with Redtail and Dustpaw today at sunhigh." Tigerclaw paused, a sneer working its way across his muzzle. "You won't last one round against Dustpaw in a mock battle. Be thankful Redtail will stop the fight when you get injured."
Bowing his head, Ravenpaw looked away from him.
"Go fetch moss for the elders, then meet me in the sandy hollow."
"But- but Tigerclaw..." Ravenpaw's voice was tiny. "...sunhigh, isn't for a long time. I'll be done fetching moss for the elders long before-"
"Do as you're told, you mousehearted excuse for a cat! Get out of my sight!"
"Yes, Tigerclaw," the useless tom squeaked, scuttling away.
A shadow was rippling across the ground, and it took a few moments before Tigerclaw realized it was his own. It was on the wrong side of him relative to the sun, warping and twisting in the dawn light. Not again! The shadow cat couldn't be back so soon, could she?
Thankfully it slid away, leaving the clearing sunny and bright. Why was she bothering him now; it wasn't like he was going to kill Ravenpaw. The tom might end up being a useful follower if only he could actually hunt and fight.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
They stood, Ravenpaw on one side, Dustpaw on the other. Tigerclaw flicked his tail lightly against Ravenpaw's flank, adjusting his stance. "Lower." The skinny tom allowed his belly to brush the ground, waving his tail to balance.
Pacing across the clearing, Tigerclaw observed the two apprentices as they attempted various battle moves. Ravenpaw was doing poorly, as usual. Watching him was like watching a wingless bird attempt to fly. It was pitiful. Although Dustpaw was doing quite well, it was obvious that he was being coddled. The brown tom had shown up late, with barely an apology given. Redtail had given him a mild rebuke, and continued as though everything was normal.
Tigerclaw snorted. With as much potential as Dustpaw had, Redtail hadn't seemed too bothered by his lateness. How Redtail put up with his apprentice's disrespect so calmly was beyond him. That's what happens when apprentices lack discipline, Tigerclaw noted, nodding to himself in satisfaction. If Ravenpaw ever arrived late to a training session, Tigerclaw would have had him cleaning the elders' den every day for a moon straight. It reassured him that as terrible as Ravenpaw's warrior skills were, his apprentice was better than Redtail's in at least one thing- time management.
But Dustpaw's fighting skills... he was heads above his littermate at this point. It irritated Tigerclaw to no end. He should have received Dustpaw as an apprentice, not worthless Ravenpaw. If he'd had the chance to make Dustpaw a loyal follower in his first life, everything might have been different.
Ravenpaw was his apprentice though, both then and now. Tigerclaw could have been known for his great mentoring skills if he had been given an apprentice that wasn't a mouse-heart, but here he was now, looking like a terrible mentor due to his apprentice's incompetence.
"I think they've practiced enough, don't you?" Redtail meowed. When Tigerclaw didn't answer he seemed to take it as a sign of agreement. "Alright you two, face each other. It's time for a mock battle."
The difference between the two apprentices' expressions was like night and day. Dustpaw gained a look of solemn determination on his face, while Ravenpaw's whiskers began to twitch in pure terror. Tigerclaw gave his apprentice a fierce scowl. You'd better not make me look bad. Ravenpaw ducked his head, seeming to get the message.
Dustpaw shot Redtail a questioning glance. "Do you want us to use any particular battle moves?"
Tigerclaw shook his head before Redtail could answer. "You'll never learn how to react properly if you are restricted to only a few moves! You should know that by now! Has Redtail taught you nothing?"
Redtail caught his eye, and Tigerclaw thought he was going to disagree with him before he replied. "Tigerclaw is right. This battle will be a test of skill, not one of remembering solely how to perform battle moves." Waving his tail to indicate a spot on the ground, Redtail nodded. "Dustpaw, you start there. We need to have you two a bit further apart."
The brown tabby apprentice shuffled a few steps back. Both cats were looking rather nervous now, although since Ravenpaw looked so nervous all the time he didn't appear any different than usual.
"Begin on my mark, and when I tell you to stop, stop," Redtail mewed. "I don't want to see any injuries."
Tigerclaw snorted. Apprentices learned much faster when there was a risk of harm.
"Go!" At Redtail's call the two apprentices leaped. Dustpaw bounded forward, sailing through the air toward his littermate. Ravenpaw, on the other paw, gave a half-hearted jump to the side, and was immediately pinned down by his brother.
Redtail shared a concerned glance with Tigerclaw, and Tigerclaw responded with a shrug. His apprentice needed to pay for his lack of skill.
"Enough," Redtail meowed after letting the apprentices struggle for a few heartbeats, and Dustpaw released his hold on his denmate. "Good work, Dustpaw. You too, Ravenpaw, just be more confident."
But Redtail's praise had no affect on Ravenpaw. The skinny tom simply feinted to the side every time Dustpaw leaped, never making the first move himself, not that it would have helped; Dustpaw was much more strategic about his attacks.
"Ravenpaw, you'll never win any battles by running away!" Tigerclaw pointed out after a particularly poor match. "Idiot," Tigerclaw muttered under his breath, turning away.
Their training continued like that for some time, with Ravenpaw cowering in the dust and Dustpaw always gaining the upper paw, usually within moments.
Finally, when the sun began to slant through the trees, Redtail stood up. "I wish we could have moved onto fighting in groups, but the sun will be setting soon. We should call it a night."
Dustpaw's shoulders slumped.
Noticing the apprentice's disappointment, Tigerclaw shot him a stern glance. "Perhaps we would have been able to continue if we hadn't started late. Whose fault might that have been?"
"I wasn't that late," Dustpaw meowed, ears turning back. He corrected himself when Tigerclaw gave him a sharp glare. "It won't happen again."
It better not. It was irritating- Redtail's apprentice was making good progress with little effort, while his own apprentice's recent accomplishments included not tripping over his own tail during a hunt. Dustpaw hadn't been so nonchalant when Darkstripe had been his mentor.
"Now go," Redtail ordered. "Good job today." The two apprentices raced away toward camp.
As their pawsteps faded into the background, Tigerclaw and Redtail began to make their way back as well at a slower pace. The trees rustled in the wind, the green-leaf foliage casting deep, black shadows against the ground.
As they padded through the woods, Redtail gave Tigerclaw a teasing glance. "I hesitate to point this out Tigerclaw, but I think it's safe to say Dustpaw won the mock battle."
Loping alongside the tortoiseshell tom with his tail held high, Tigerclaw raised his head. "Even if my apprentice's fighting skills leave much to be desired, he was on time. Dustpaw should know by now that he shouldn't be late to training sessions. Ravenpaw learned that his first day."
Redtail was annoyingly unshaken by Tigerclaw's jibe. "Is that so?" His pace slowed. He brushed his ear against a fern and then sat down, wrapping his tail neatly around his paws, leaving Tigerclaw no choice but to join him.
Tigerclaw felt his anger rising. "You're much too soft on him," he growled. "Dustpaw was late. He was to be here at sunhigh."
"The sun had fallen less than a whisker length below its peak," Redtail scoffed. "I'd hardly call that late."
"At least Ravenpaw wouldn't dare to do anything but show up on time. Apprentices won't respect you unless you instill some deference into them."
Watching Tigerclaw with a thoughtful expression on his face, Redtail raised a forepaw and swiped it across his ear. "I prefer having an apprentice that doesn't fear me."
Is he serious? Tigerclaw thought with a snort. His Clanmates were fools. There was nothing wrong with having an apprentice that feared you; they might not listen to your orders otherwise. Fear was one of the foundations of respect, and that was one of the most important parts of a mentor-apprentice relationship.
"So you're alright with having an apprentice that doesn't respect you?" Tigerclaw asked.
"Oh no, Tigerclaw, Dustpaw respects me." Redtail shook his head. "Do you not see it as respect because he does not immediately snap to attention at my every command, and instead puts real thought into his training? Perhaps Ravenpaw could use that mindset. He might improve if he didn't fear your wrath should he make a mistake."
Feeling as though he had lost control of his body, Tigerclaw thrust his muzzle in Redtail's face. "Let's get one thing straight," he spat. "Don't ever tell me how to train my apprentice again."
Redtail didn't back down, his eyes betraying a flicker of fear and defiance. They stood there for a long heartbeat, before Redtail spoke. "Must I remind you that I am Clan deputy?" he mewed dangerously. "You're a loyal warrior- I've never doubted that- but your behavior recently has been out of line."
So Bluestar probably had told him about Tigerclaw's harsh words. Bristling, Tigerclaw took a step back.
"Return to camp," Redtail meowed, watching Tigerclaw with a stern expression that made his blood boil. "Go. I do not wish to fight with you."
With a flick of his tail, Tigerclaw forced his hackles flat. He couldn't start a fight with Redtail- not yet. Whipping around, he pushed his way through the undergrowth with his broad shoulders, leaving Redtail behind for now.
Oh, but it will feel so good when I get rid of you.
Redtail was a pressing problem, but Tigerclaw had other issues he needed to address, such as his plan for Firepaw and Yellowfang to become close again. This was made all the more clear when he returned to camp that night to see the kittypet talking to Yellowfang. Tigerclaw couldn't hear a single word either cat said, but their tone of voice told him all he needed to know: the kittypet was being too obvious about his overture of friendship, and the rogue was having none of it.
"Don't play nice like some kit! You're not fooling me."
As Tigerclaw padded closer, his scowl deepened. "Surely one should respect their elders, no matter their Clan," the kittypet was meowing.
Yellowfang bared her teeth at Firepaw, who didn't back down. "If you respected me you'd leave me alone!"
Waiting at the center of the clearing, Tigerclaw listened to their bickering. The kittypet was going about this all wrong. When he got the chance, Tigerclaw needed to steer him in the right direction. As if I don't have enough problems right now. He wondered if Redtail was going to tell Bluestar about their argument; if he did that would probably set Tigerclaw's plans back even further.
Lionheart settled himself next to Tigerclaw, giving him one of his concerned looks that were becoming routine in this life. "Back from training? How did Ravenpaw fare against Dustpaw? I hear they've been looking forward to training together for moons."
Tigerclaw snorted. "Poorly."
Lionheart flicked his ears. "Ravenpaw will learn. Give him time."
"I have given him time!" Tigerclaw hissed. "No matter what I show him, no matter what I tell him, all he can do is dodge! He's an embarrassment! What kind of apprentice doesn't want to fight?"
"A medicine cat apprentice?" Lionheart replied, whiskers twitching. Tigerclaw gave him a sour look, and the amused gleam in the golden tabby's eyes faded. "In all seriousness though, I think Ravenpaw could use some praise every once in a while. Try pointing out when he does something right."
Holding back a sharp comment, Tigerclaw got up. I'll do that- if Ravenpaw actually does anything right!
Lionheart was the second cat that had voiced doubts about his mentorship. Were they stupid? Ravenpaw was the problem, not him! A growl rumbled from within Tigerclaw's chest.
This hadn't happened during his first life. None of this fox-dung about him being a less than good mentor had. This is all Redtail's fault. Tigerclaw's front was cracking, and it was all he could do to keep it together.
He needed to do something. His head swiveled to Firepaw, who was now trudging away from Yellowfang toward the apprentices' den, looking defeated.
Tigerclaw blinked. He needed a distraction from his irritation with Redtail, and what better way was there to distract himself than a talk with Firepaw, the only cat who was more annoying than the unbearable tortoiseshell tom? Firepaw desperately needed some pointers on how to associate with Yellowfang anyway; he might as well.
Ravenpaw shrank back when he approached the apprentices' den, but Tigerclaw didn't acknowledge him. Instead he pushed his head inside, lowering his voice to a deep growl. "Firepaw, come here."
The ginger tom followed him out, and looked up at Tigerclaw expectantly. "What is it?"
"We're going hunting. Come." Leading the ginger tom out of the camp, Tigerclaw felt a pang of satisfaction when the kittypet didn't question him. Redtail was just walking up as they made their way through the gorse tunnel, and the tortoiseshell's eyes narrowed as he approached. Giving him a stiff nod, Tigerclaw pushed his way around him as fast as he could, just in case the tom wanted to make a comment about their fight, or worse, volunteer himself to join their hunting party.
Why does this have to be so complicated? Tigerclaw growled to himself. He had counted on the kittypet to have some basic comprehension of talking to an enemy when he'd told him to gain Yellowfang's trust. He shouldn't need to explain any of this; it was common sense.
When Tigerclaw thought he had put enough distance between himself and the camp, he slowed to a stop. "What do you think you're playing at?"
"What?" The kittypet took a step back at Tigerclaw's harsh tone.
"Do you think you can simply walk up to a cat who was taken prisoner just a day before, say a few words, and then out of the blue earn her trust?" Tigerclaw spat.
Firepaw frowned. "I thought I was doing what you wanted."
Snorting, Tigerclaw shook his head. "No, kittypet, what you're doing and what I suggested are two different things. I told you to gain the prisoner's confidence. You, on the other paw, are stumbling up to her like you want to be her friend!"
"But I..." Firepaw paused. "You said to earn her trust- to make her open to revealing things to me.
"Yes, I did," Tigerclaw meowed, his patience wearing thin. "And as I said, you are talking to her like she is one of your kittypet friends, not an enemy!"
Dusk shadows were spreading through the forest now, and the first stars of the evening were beginning to appear. "I think I understand," Firepaw mewed after a long time.
Finally. It had taken the kittypet long enough. Tigerclaw watched the Firepaw, remembering his final memory from his first existence. This was the first time they had been alone outside the camp, and Tigerclaw realized vaguely that he could take the chance to kill his enemy now, and no cat would be the wiser.
No. Tigerclaw shook himself. Cats had seen him leave the camp, and with his recent argument with Bluestar about the kittypet, and his disagreement with Redtail, both ThunderClan's leader and deputy would be suspicious at the very least.
But it was tempting though. The hate was always there, pounding through his skull like a second heartbeat.
If the kittypet died now, Tigerclaw would surely rule ThunderClan, right? The only cat standing in his way was right in front of him. He was never going to give this cat the chance to kill him- ever! But he couldn't act on it- not tonight, anyway.
Breathing in the air, Tigerclaw closed his eyes, letting the smells of the forest wash over his tongue. "What do you scent?"
The kittypet sniffed the air. "Mouse." Firepaw looked up at Tigerclaw, waiting for him to respond.
"Then catch it. We're hunting, or did you forget?"
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
It was sunhigh on the day after the disastrous training session when Tigerclaw found Whitestorm in the center of the clearing. The camp was nearly empty as most patrols had already been sent out, including one that consisted of Redtail. Tigerclaw wondered if Redtail had told Bluestar about their fight; it seemed likely since he seemed to know about the tense words Tigerclaw had shared with Bluestar. It was annoying; little things like that were setting him back.
At least Whitestorm didn't like to gossip, so Tigerclaw knew he was safe talking to him. "Good morning," Whitestorm greeted him. "Darkstripe was looking for you; he said he was looking forward to a hunting patrol."
Tigerclaw suppressed an eye roll. "Did he now?"
"Yes, he was actually complaining that you took Firepaw hunting last night instead of him." Whitestorm frowned. "Did you volunteer to patrol with him?"
Shaking his head, Tigerclaw gave a dismissive tail flick. "Not that I remember. He is hoping to get another apprentice sometime, he may have wanted to discuss it."
Whitestorm nodded, his expression surprisingly warm. "It is good that you have maintained your mentoring relationship with him, even now that he is a warrior. I hope that when Sandpaw earns her warrior name, she will feel she can ask me for advice as much as Darkstripe does with you."
Tigerclaw nodded absently. "It helps our Clan when our younger warriors look to senior ones for improvement."
"Indeed, it does." Whitestorm paused, a serious look on his face. "Speaking of young cats, I am concerned about Ravenpaw." Tigerclaw felt as though he had been hit in the belly. Where did that come from? "I certainly don't doubt you are training him as much as you can," Whitestorm added before Tigerclaw could protest. "He will just need a great deal of support to shape him into a warrior. Ravenpaw could grow into a cat ThunderClan will be proud of, a great warrior."
"He will learn," Tigerclaw meowed, feeling an unusual spark of defensiveness toward his apprentice. Unlike Firepaw, the tom was Clanborn, even if he was a mouse-heart. If there was any cat ThunderClan should be concerned about, it was the kittypet. Tigerclaw glanced around. "Where is my apprentice, anyway? I think I'll take him out for some battle training."
Whitestorm flicked his tail at a secluded corner of the camp. Tigerclaw dipped his head in farewell, and began to stalk over to Ravenpaw.
The skinny black furred mouse-heart would become a warrior. Tigerclaw knew cats were doubtful, but he'd show them, and the shadow cat. But how? He'd give Ravenpaw a somewhat normal training day to start with.
He found his apprentice settled behind the old tree stump, finishing up a vole.
"We're going to the sandy hollow. Now." Tigerclaw began to head out of the camp without checking to see if his apprentice was following.
As he walked, Tigerclaw wondered if this training session called for a change in tactics. He was brought back to his conversation with Lionheart the previous day.
Ravenpaw could use some praise every once in a while. Try pointing out when he does something right. Tigerclaw shook his head until his teeth rattled. Lionheart sincerely thought that? He almost felt bad for him- no apprentice of Lionheart's was going to be successful with that mindset. The only reason Graystripe had ended up deputy for those few seasons during Tigerclaw's first existence was the kittypet's favoritism.
Soon Tigerclaw had made it to the sandy hollow, and he dug his claws into the dusty ground, waiting for his apprentice to show up. A few moments later, Ravenpaw burst out of the surrounding bushes, panting.
But even though he was already tired, Tigerclaw knew he couldn't go easy on him. Ravenpaw would never become a warrior if he was coddled like a helpless kit. Tigerclaw decided to work on a simple battle move that Ravenpaw should have mastered by now. "Do you think you can do an up claw-swipe, or do I need to demonstrate?" Ravenpaw nodded, and Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. "Show me."
After a brief moment of hesitation, Ravenpaw stood up on his hind paws, reached out with a forepaw, hacked at the air, and then fell to the ground. Tigerclaw shook his head in disgust.
Apparently still exhausted from his trek to the training hollow, Ravenpaw breathed heavily. "I thought I had it there."
"Well you didn't! Try it again!" Ravenpaw was about to make another attempt when Tigerclaw interrupted him. "Your hind legs are splayed!" he growled, letting out an annoyed hiss. "They need to be straight!"
"Why?" Ravenpaw flopped down onto his haunches.
"Why? How dare you question me?!" Tigerclaw snarled, furious at his apprentice's disrespect. Ravenpaw would never have said anything like that during his first life. "You seem to be under the impression that this is a playfighting session! I'm your mentor; I make the rules here!" With a lash of his tail, he stepped toward Ravenpaw, and felt a twinge of satisfaction when the skinny tom shrank back. He jabbed the Ravenpaw's hind leg with a forepaw, repositioning it. "Again!"
Ravenpaw leaped higher this time, his hind paws barely left grazing the ground, but it still wasn't enough.
"Did I get it?" Ravenpaw asked.
Tigerclaw snorted dismissively. "Your forepaw needs to be higher than that! Do you think you're practicing so you can fight voles?!" Ravenpaw's face fell, his surprise apparent. The useless apprentice must have truly thought he had gotten the move right; Tigerclaw had to admit he had been close, but it would do his apprentice no good to think otherwise.
With a look of renewed determination in his eyes, Ravenpaw reared up on his hind paws, slashing at the air in one smooth motion. Tigerclaw was shocked; that was the first time his apprentice had successfully performed that move. "Do it again!" he snapped hastily. Ravenpaw was blinking, seemingly confused that he wasn't being told how terrible he was. "What are you waiting for? We don't have all night!"
"Yes, Tigerclaw," Ravenpaw rasped, rearing up again with a single raised forepaw, but this time he wobbled and fell before he could complete the cutting movement.
"No!" Tigerclaw lashed his tail. "How difficult is it to keep your balance? You're a cat, not a rabid badger!" This was hopeless. The stupid apprentice couldn't consistently perform an up claw-swipe to save his life.
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Ravenpaw proceeded to rear up on his hind legs, slash the air, and smoothly fall back to four paws. That time he had performed it perfectly, and Tigerclaw had to stop himself from letting his jaw fall open.
Perhaps he should praise him, not excessively or anything, but just a vague positive indication that he'd completed the move properly. He'd done that during Darkstripe's apprenticeship a few times; in combination with other things it had made Darkstripe completely loyal to him without question. It wouldn't be the same since Darkstripe hadn't been so consistently poor at everything, but maybe it could work with Ravenpaw.
The mouse-heart was staring at him. "What is it?"
Tigerclaw blinked slowly. It surely can't hurt to try... He cleared his throat, trying to figure out how to say it. Finally, Tigerclaw settled on a single word, one he thought wouldn't give Ravenpaw any grandiose ideas of his pitiful skills: "Right."
Ravenpaw looked dumbstruck. "I... I did it right?"
Tigerclaw snorted. It had been a mistake to say anything positive to this mouse-brain; he was obviously going to take it to mean that he had perfected the move. "What, you think you can battle now that you've performed a single passable claw swipe? Oh no, you haven't got it until I say you have." Ravenpaw was still staring. "Again!"
With new energy, Ravenpaw bounded upwards, balancing on his hind paws, and with a rapid swipe of a forepaw came back down. He looked up expectantly at Tigerclaw.
Ravenpaw had done it right again, but Tigerclaw wasn't about to say that. "Well, what are you waiting for? Again!"
Once more Ravenpaw got it. Tigerclaw could hardly believe what he was seeing. This was the most successful training session he'd had with the tom, and that included both of his lives.
Time and time again, Ravenpaw successfully completed the up claw-swipe. It wasn't perfect every time by any means- his hind paws would sometimes slip- but he was doing it. For once, Ravenpaw was learning something. As the night went on, Tigerclaw pushed Ravenpaw to repeat the move, resolving to end the training session after he replicated it correctly ten times in a row.
It took Ravenpaw until after moonhigh, but he completed the task. He could probably use it in a battle now without being immediately overpowered, although that wasn't saying much. The tom still wouldn't last long in a fight against a warrior.
Ravenpaw had crouched down, panting, when Tigerclaw raised his tail to indicate that he should stop. "We're done for the night." Turning on his heels, Tigerclaw shoved himself through the undergrowth surrounding the sandy hollow and began to head back to camp without another word. He could hear Ravenpaw scrambling to catch up.
Turning his head, Tigerclaw noticed the shadows of the forest elongating- they were much too long now, even for the angle of the moon. He knew the shadow cat was trying to tell him something, but somehow the darkness didn't seem intimidating, like it had other times. She had wanted him to train Ravenpaw, so it made sense; she was probably pleased that the useless tom had improved his skills for once.
A few moments after Tigerclaw turned back to look straight ahead, Ravenpaw appeared at his shoulder.
The skinny tom's eyes flitted about, and he seemed be preparing himself to ask something. "Tigerclaw?" He slackened his pace, waiting for a response, but Tigerclaw made no allowances for his slowness, and Ravenpaw had to hurry to catch up again. "Do you think I've got it? The up claw-swipe?"
Tigerclaw regarded his apprentice's hopeful eyes for a long moment. "It was..." he paused, looking for the right word, "adequate."
He immediately regretted his choice of phrase when Ravenpaw gained a spring in his step.
In spite of his obvious exhaustion, Ravenpaw practically skipped through the forest on the way back to camp. Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. He should have known better than to praise him; the tom might think he could coast to warriorhood now. It wouldn't do Ravenpaw any good to think he was StarClan's gift to the forest now that he'd learned one battle move.
At the edge of the camp, Tigerclaw blocked the way before Ravenpaw could bound ahead, and gave him a dark glare. "If you think you can blunder through training like you did tonight and still become a warrior, you're sorely mistaken. It takes much more than learning a single battle move."
But for once Ravenpaw didn't seem bothered by his harsh words. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
As Ravenpaw pushed past, his tail held high, Tigerclaw sighed. Maybe Ravenpaw wouldn't be so worthless after all. He will be a warrior, Tigerclaw realized, and for the first time, he believed it.
This was actually a positive development. He needed more followers, and Ravenpaw, although not the ideal choice, was as good a place to start as any.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Somehow, inexplicably, Ravenpaw was improving.
It hadn't happened overnight, but whenever Tigerclaw gave him praise(which mostly consisted of gruff nods), the young tom sat up straighter. It reminded him of how Darkstripe had been as an apprentice. Tigerclaw reveled in the power he was gaining over the young black tom.
Lionheart approached him one morning when he was taking Ravenpaw out. "Working your apprentice from dawn 'til dusk, eh?"
Tigerclaw nodded. "It is the only way he will learn."
"We could take the apprentices out for some battle training," Lionheart suggested. "What were you planning on teaching Ravenpaw today?"
"I'm thinking of starting him on some advanced pounces. They're similar to the up claw-swipe and he's managed well enough with that."
Lionheart had flicked his ears, the only visible indication of his surprise at Tigerclaw's uncharacteristically kind words toward his apprentice.
In his other tasks, Tigerclaw was progressing as well as could be expected, considering much of the plan hinged on the actions of the kittypet. Firepaw was still trying to endear himself to the rogue, and Tigerclaw could tell that their relationship was developing much as it had before; they were almost friends.
One day when Tigerclaw returned to camp, the senior warriors were gathering by the Highrock. Lionheart waved his tail to beckon Tigerclaw to join them.
Unable to pretend he hadn't noticed, Tigerclaw found himself with the rest of the senior warriors. Redtail's gaze was impassive, and he made no mention of Tigerclaw's recent fury. Tigerclaw wasn't worried about Redtail though, he was more concerned about the ThunderClan leader's response to him; having her trust him was very important to his plans. He braced himself for Bluestar's reaction to him. The last time he'd spoken to her it had been to disagree with her leadership, and he was anticipating a remark regarding his lack of respect.
Bluestar's gaze was slightly firmer than usual, but besides that she didn't seem different. "I took Firepaw hunting this morning. His skills have developed greatly since he joined ThunderClan." She paused, glancing at Tigerclaw and Lionheart. "You both have taught him well."
Tigerclaw blinked. "I'm surprised you see such potential in him. I was under the impression that he was channeling a lopsided badger whenever I trained him."
"Now, now, Tigerclaw, I know Firepaw is not perfect. Far from it; he still needs work on his pacing. But you must admit Firepaw is doing no worse than can be expected of any apprentice of ThunderClan. His skills are turning out quite well- he has you to thank for that. And it is good that he has taken responsibility for the care of Yellowfang." Bluestar dipped her head in the direction of the fallen tree, where the kittypet was talking with the elderly rogue. "I am impressed that he took the initiative."
You won't be so impressed in a few moons, Tigerclaw thought. Outwardly, he replied with a low growl. "Is that really such a good thing, for him to be associating with the rogue?"
Redtail frowned. "Are you suggesting that Firepaw might betray us?"
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes, trying to decide how to go about this without outright accusing the kittypet of disloyalty. "We should be wary of Yellowfang," he began carefully. "Firepaw is inexperienced, and he was born a kittypet. He could be manipulated into revealing ThunderClan secrets to a ShadowClan spy."
Bluestar shook her head. "While we can't dismiss the possibility of Yellowfang working as a spy, I don't think she is. ShadowClan wouldn't pick an elder of all cats for that task, and I highly doubt Firepaw or any of our apprentices have real knowledge of information that might harm ThunderClan anyway. For now, we shall wait and see how Yellowfang is recovering, and go from there." Bluestar stood up, flicking her tail to dismiss them. "Oh and Tigerclaw," she meowed before he could leave. "It's about time we give the apprentices a true test of their hunting skills. I trust you to do their assessments."
Tigerclaw blinked, dipping his head. Was it that time already? He had expected Bluestar to ask Redtail, not him, but he supposed he shouldn't be surprised. "I will see to it tomorrow."
Bluestar nodded. "Good."
Later that night, the kittypet was still talking to Yellowfang. Tigerclaw approached them, shooting a dark glance at the rogue. "Firepaw, your hunting assessment will be tomorrow. You, Graypaw and Ravenpaw will meet me at the sandy hollow at sunhigh." He flicked his tail at Firepaw, narrowing his eyes and lowering his voice. "And remember what we talked about," he growled with a sharp glance back at Yellowfang.
"Yes, Tigerclaw," the kittypet meowed, padding back to the apprentices den. "See you, Yellowfang."
When the kittypet had made his way inside, Yellowfang narrowed her eyes. "I know what you're doing."
Turning his head, Tigerclaw glared back. "And what might that be, rogue?"
"I see you talking to him," she meowed vaguely. "I can tell. It won't work."
"I don't know what you're talking about." As if you would know what I'm doing.
Yellowfang was still staring at him, and her orange eyes seemed to reflect some deeper StarClan given knowledge. "Whatever your aims, I'll never reveal ShadowClan secrets to you, or any other cat," Yellowfang snarled. "But that's not what you want anyway, is it?"
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes, making a conscious effort to prevent his fur from bristling. Can Yellowfang really tell that much?
"As if I'd want your secrets, you miserable traitor," he spat, whipping around. "You must have bees in your brain if you think I'd want anything to do with you." He loped away, nervousness crackling like sparks in his pelt.
In truth, Tigerclaw didn't care about ShadowClan secrets in the slightest since the whole point of Firepaw befriending the rogue was to make him look like a traitor. Tigerclaw knew most of everything that had happened in ShadowClan due to his time in the Dark Forest anyway. But that wasn't what worried him.
Up until this point, he had never doubted that he was the only cat communicating with some higher power. What if Yellowfang was able to sense that all was not how it seemed? She was a medicine cat; perhaps she could perceive that something about Tigerclaw was amiss, much like how medicine cats could detect if a leader had lost a life.
Another worry crossed his mind. What if Yellowfang had found out things about him through her connection with StarClan directly? He didn't even know if StarClan was aware of his previous future in this life, but if they were that could turn into a huge problem. Perhaps they shared a dream or vision with Yellowfang. Nearly hissing aloud at the thought, Tigerclaw sat down. The last thing he needed right now was the self-righteous influence of StarClan cats. He was having enough trouble controlling things as is.
What if Yellowfang voiced her suspicions? Even if cats didn't believe her, it could trigger his Clanmates to ask questions.
Tigerclaw let out a growl under his breath. After his initial plan to discredit the kittypet ended in disaster because of the presence of Redtail, he didn't want to underestimate the effect of anything, and Yellowfang's questions had the potential to become a huge problem.
Suddenly, an idea leaped into his awareness. Of course. He could discredit both Yellowfang and the kittypet at the same time! Tigerclaw had been counting the days until ShadowClan would attempt to steal Frostfur's kits. If it happened the way it had the first time, Yellowfang would chase after them, informing no one, and at that point Tigerclaw would track her and then bring back news of her betrayal to the Clan. Tigerclaw had been relying on the kittypet to defend the rogue, making himself look disloyal in the process.
However, there was a better way. If Yellowfang scented the kits being stolen and raced after them, Tigerclaw would only have to hint to Firepaw that he should follow her. Then, he would wait until Bluestar sent a battle patrol to ShadowClan. The ThunderClan cats would realize that the kittypet was with the ShadowClan medicine cat, and think that he was a traitor. Even Bluestar wouldn't accept Firepaw as a Clanmate once she believed he'd helped ShadowClan abduct the kits!
Brilliant! It was much easier than his original idea too. Of course, optimally Firepaw would have given his prey to Yellowfang when they had first met in the forest, causing him to look like a fool long ago, Tigerclaw reflected as he made his way into the warriors' den. But he was realizing now that the events had presented him with an even better opportunity. If Firepaw became as close to Yellowfang as he had originally, this was a fine opportunity indeed.
It was nearly sunhigh when Tigerclaw arrived at the sandy hollow for Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw's hunting assessments, and all three apprentices looked surprised when he sat down in front of them. Tigerclaw couldn't imagine why. Did they pay no attention at all to their surroundings? Tigerclaw hadn't been trying to sneak up on them at all, and if that was their reaction now, he knew it would be an easy task to watch them unnoticed during their assessments. Narrowing his eyes, he began his instructions without hesitation.
"Lionheart and I have spent the last few moons trying to teach you how to hunt decently." Tigerclaw suppressed a snort before he continued; none of the apprentices were particularly decent at hunting in spite of the days he'd spent training them. "Today you'll have a chance to show me how much you have learned. Each of you will take a different route and hunt as much prey as possible. And whatever you catch will be added to the supplies in the camp."
Tigerclaw paused, remembering the hunting locations he'd assigned the apprentices during his first life, when a sudden idea slid into his head. Ravenpaw didn't need to hunt at Snakerocks; there was no need to sabotage him this time. But the kittypet, however...
Shadows rippled across the clearing, but Tigerclaw ignored them. Why not? His plan of testing Firepaw's loyalty by sending him near Twolegplace hadn't worked in his first life, so it was unlikely to work now. But he could send him to Snakerocks. If the kittypet died from an adder bite, no cat could blame Tigerclaw, and life in ThunderClan would continue as normal. Tigerclaw wasn't actually doing the killing in this case, so the shadow cat couldn't fault him there. And even if the kittypet didn't die, he certainly would have a more difficult time hunting than the other apprentices and hopefully he'd do poorly.
"Ravenpaw, you will take the route through Tallpines, past the Treecut place, to the woods beyond. Perhaps you'll actually catch something with such an easy route," Tigerclaw meowed. He didn't go easy on his apprentice just because he showed a few signs of improvement. The tom was still rather bad at hunting, with occasional flashes of adequacy, and most hunting trips were an all or nothing affair, although Ravenpaw was trending toward catching prey more often than not at this point. Ravenpaw ducked his head as Tigerclaw continued. "You, Graypaw, will take the route along the stream, as far as the Thunderpath."
"Great. Wet paws for me!" Tigerclaw glared at him. The dumb apprentice had said that the first time too.
"And finally you, Firepaw," Tigerclaw went on. "What a shame your great mentor couldn't be here today to witness your performance for herself. You will follow the trail beyond the Great Sycamore as far as Snakerocks."
Firepaw nodded vigorously.
Tigerclaw allowed his stare to bore into all three apprentices. "And remember, I shall be watching all of you."
With a flick of his tail, Tigerclaw whipped around and slid out of the sandy hollow. He peered through the bushes, getting one last look at the apprentices before he made his way into the undergrowth. He didn't need to see where they went now; he'd track them once they headed down their separate paths.
He waited in silence, and once he thought they had enough time to gain a bit of distance he set off, careful to weave his way around the undergrowth and take extra caution to not step on any twigs.
First, he started with Graypaw. He knew it would seem strange if he knew nothing of Ravenpaw's or Graypaw's hunting trips, and it became clear that he had only observed the kittypet. Breathing in the air, Tigerclaw picked out the scent of the gray apprentice and began to slip through the forest.
Soon he found him. Graypaw was stalking a water vole, his whiskers twitching. Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes as the tom crept toward his prey and leaped with a grunt. His paws scattered leaves as he grasped the vole between his claws and gave it a killing bite.
It was passable; although if Tigerclaw hadn't been assessing him he would have pointed out that he'd waited a heartbeat too long to pounce. It didn't matter too much though; Graypaw caught it, and that was what mattered in this instance. Tigerclaw wasn't very interested in how Graypaw did anyway.
Deciding he'd seen enough of Graypaw's hunting skills, Tigerclaw turned and made a long, looping path through the forest, skirting the sandy hollow again. It was Ravenpaw he was looking for now. He wondered how his apprentice would fare with this new hunting location. As long as he did better than the kittypet, Tigerclaw would be pleased.
When he found the skinny apprentice, he could also smell prey. By the scent of blood, Tigerclaw could tell that Ravenpaw had already made a kill.
Now Ravenpaw was balancing on a fallen tree trunk, sniffing. He must have detected more prey, and he leaped down and began to trot further down the path. As Ravenpaw vanished into the undergrowth, Tigerclaw padded after him. He remained hidden, weaving around Ravenpaw's path like a shadow.
The skinny black tom had spotted something. Lowering himself so that his belly brushed the forest floor, Ravenpaw made his way forward- not too fast, but not too slow. Tigerclaw held his breath.
A squirrel sat less than three fox-lengths from Ravenpaw, completely unaware that it was being stalked. It nibbled on a seed that it held in its forepaws.
Suddenly a twig snapped. Apparently startled by himself, Ravenpaw whipped around, and pounced at the retreating squirrel, hooking its tail in his claws. It wrenched itself free, but Ravenpaw sprang again, and bit down on its neck, killing it instantly.
Tigerclaw's tail curled up in surprise. As sloppy as his technique had been, his apprentice had caught prey. He resolved to not tell Bluestar of Ravenpaw's mistake, although that certainly didn't mean Ravenpaw wasn't going to get an earful about it the next time he practiced hunting. In spite of his recent improvement, he was still terribly inconsistent with his stalking.
As Ravenpaw began to bury the squirrel in a patch of dead leaves, Tigerclaw remembered how he had witnessed Firepaw visiting with one of his old kittypet friends at the assessment during his first life. Would the black and white kittypet show up this time? Narrowing his eyes, Tigerclaw crouched lower. This was almost the same spot Firepaw had talked to the kittypet, and it could appear at any moment.
Just as he predicted, a small black and white tom padded into view. Apparently noticing that something wasn't right, Ravenpaw turned his head, and although neither cat was facing him, Tigerclaw could see the exact moment the two cats spotted each other. Both cats stiffened. They stared at each other for what felt like moons, their paws frozen in place. Then the kittypet turned tail and raced off toward Twolegplace.
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes, irritation flaring. Ravenpaw should have chased after the intruder, not gawked at it! The mouse-hearted apprentice would definitely be hearing about this later.
Now it was time to see how Firepaw was doing. Tigerclaw turned, and made his way to Snakerocks as quickly as he could. The kittypet had to be there by now.
Sure enough, when Tigerclaw arrived, the ginger apprentice was sitting at the base of the sand colored rocks. Tigerclaw slipped around the edge of the clearing as the kittypet slowly took a step forward. He seemed to be very aware of the danger he was in; after every step he paused and sniffed the air. The kittypet was right to be cautious, but at the same time Tigerclaw hoped he would just start hunting normally already, and then maybe he'd let his guard down.
Firepaw was making his way up the rocks now, testing the rocks before he took each step. He pushed his head around a corner, his tail sticking out awkwardly for balance.
An adder was watching the kittypet now. Tigerclaw pricked his ears, willing the kittypet not to notice. Just a bit further...
The kittypet was focused on a mouse that was resting halfway up the mound of rocks. He clearly had no idea that an adder was lurking just mouse-lengths above his head. Keep going, kittypet.
A few more pawsteps, and Firepaw would be within striking distance. Go on, take another step. The kittypet lifted his forepaw to push himself forward. That's it, keep going. Tigerclaw's whiskers twitched in anticipation. It was happening! Any moment the kittypet would be dead!
The adder was directly in front of the kittypet now. Come on! Tigerclaw yowled inwardly. He's right there! But then the kittypet's tail fur bushed out, and he scrambled down the side of the rocks, leaving the adder behind.
So much for that. Tigerclaw sighed. For a single shining moment, he had thought his dream was going to come true, and he couldn't prevent his tail from lashing in disappointment. At least Firepaw hadn't caught the mouse.
As the kittypet gathered a few pieces of prey from the base of the rocks, Tigerclaw left for the sandy hollow, growling to himself. It had been so close- one of the many times he'd been about to achieve his goals only to have them ripped away.
Ravenpaw and Graypaw were already waiting at the training hollow when Tigerclaw returned. Soon Firepaw was there too, and Tigerclaw noted with satisfaction that the kittypet had only caught two squirrels and a finch, less than both Ravenpaw and Graypaw.
"Is that it?" he growled.
Firepaw nodded, his eyes flicking to Graypaw's and Ravenpaw's larger piles of prey.
"Let's return to camp. Take your prey. Firepaw, help Ravenpaw and Graypaw bring back the rest of their stores after you've added your fresh-kill to the pile."
While they were walking, Ravenpaw held his tail high; he clearly had no idea of his earlier wrongdoing.
Tigerclaw lowered his voice to an intimidating growl. "Ravenpaw, a word."
Firepaw and Graypaw gave Ravenpaw a worried glance before they bounded ahead, squirrels and mice dangling from their jaws. When they were gone, Tigerclaw motioned for Ravenpaw to set his cache down.
"I saw you," Tigerclaw began without preamble. "An intruder walked up to you, and instead of chasing it off, you looked at it. I couldn't tell which of you was more frightened." Spitting disdainfully, Tigerclaw lashed his tail. "Do you think you can become a warrior if you can't take on intruders?"
"I- I'm sorry, Tigerclaw. It all happened so fast- I wasn't thinking-"
"Were you ever going to inform anyone that a trespasser was within our borders?" Tigerclaw interrupted him.
"But- but you already know," stuttered Ravenpaw.
"So you weren't."
"I was going to tell you." Ravenpaw blinked miserably.
"Oh really?! Somehow, I don't agree. You were going to let it slide, and leave it for some other patrol to deal with." Ravenpaw tried to say something, but Tigerclaw kept on. "Now, the next time the kittypet trespasses, it will be emboldened to go further into ThunderClan territory because of your lack of response!"
Leaves rustled above their heads. Ravenpaw was now crouching, his whole body shaking. "I- I didn't think it was important. I suppose I thought you knew about it and you didn't seem worried, and it was just a kittypet; he didn't try to attack me or anything..." Tigerclaw frowned; the apprentice did have a point. "I don't know why I didn't tell you right away."
Tigerclaw snorted. "Next time you see an intruder tell me immediately, not when it's convenient! And you should have followed him to make sure he had truly gone."
Letting out a sigh, Tigerclaw closed his eyes. "Bluestar will not be happy to hear about your actions today. It will likely make her doubt that you're capable of becoming a warrior of ThunderClan if you are overcome by terror whenever you see an enemy." He slowly turned to face Ravenpaw directly. "Now, I don't need to tell Bluestar about this," Tigerclaw continued, his voice low and smooth. He noticed Ravenpaw's ears jerk up in surprise. "However... if I see you act like a cowardly mouse-hearted kit toward an intruder again, I will personally see to it that you never get your warrior name. Understood?"
"Yes, Tigerclaw," the skinny apprentice squeaked. "Thank you, Tigerclaw."
"Now take your prey and go."
"Yes, Tigerclaw. I'll prove I can do it, I promise. I'll be a warrior you can be proud of-"
"I'm doing you a favor," Tigerclaw snapped, whipping his tail through the dust. "Don't make me change my mind!"
Ravenpaw opened his mouth to reply before he seemed to think better of it, and he bent down to pick up his prey. He scurried off, leaving Tigerclaw alone in the woods.
Tigerclaw was alone... except for the darkening shadows all around him. He could sense it in his pelt, something was here. It was still light out, but the trees seemed to be blotting out more sun than they usually did. Tigerclaw immediately spun around, searching the foliage for the familiar dark shape of the shadow cat as the murkiness became more stifling.
Mousedung! What did she want now? Tigerclaw was in no mood to talk to her. Was the cursed she-cat always there, stalking his every move like he was prey?
Then the realization hit him like a falling tree branch. What if the shadow cat disapproved of his idea of sending the kittypet to Snakerocks to be bitten by an adder? It wouldn't make sense if she did, but by her twisted logic it was a distinct possibility. He'd had one chance, but hadn't the shadow cat said if he tried to kill again he might not get a second? What if she was on her way now, to send him to some terrible hell, worse than the Place of No Stars? Blood roared in his ears. Tigerclaw was suddenly very aware that he had no idea what the shadow cat was capable of.
Perhaps if he hurried back to camp the shadow cat wouldn't try to talk to him. Tigerclaw pelted through the forest, swerving around trees as he went. The shadowy blackness enveloped everywhere he put his paws and when he turned to look around, his shadow was also running, but it wasn't matching his movements.
Putting in a burst of speed, Tigerclaw raced toward the ThunderClan camp. If he got there before the shadow cat intercepted him she would probably go away; she'd never spoken to him in front of other cats before. It was even darker now; while it was sunny and bright above the treetops, within the forest it was gloomy and dark, like a storm was brewing.
He'd reach the ravine any moment now. Tigerclaw had just veered around a tree when the pitch black cat rose up out of the shadows in front of him. He skidded to a halt, and began to back away, his fur bristling.
"Oh, hello there Tigerclaw," the she-cat meowed, taking a step toward him. "If I didn't know any better I would have thought you were running away from me."
Tigerclaw tried not to look cowed by her sudden appearance. "What do you want?"
"Just checking in." The solid black she-cat loped over to stand next to him. "We have a lot to talk about."
Hey guys. This fic will be going on hiatus for a short while. I am so sorry to have to do this on a cliffhanger- the fact is, this is where the chapter needed to break for the narrative structure. I did not anticipate it going in this direction until I wrote it.
So here's my explanation: In addition to this story, I'm currently writing another one that needs my full attention right now, and I don't want the writing quality of Tigerclaw's Second Chance to suffer due to it being pushed off to the side. To any of you who have read my Lost Prophecy series, I told you The Lost Prophecy #2: Broken Destinies would be out in June, and I intend for that to happen. It's about halfway there, so I'm cracking down and getting it done within the next few weeks.
I have in no way given up on Tigerclaw's Second Chance and will continue it in the near future (like roughly a month, hopefully less). I really am sorry to have to do this on a cliffhanger. Thanks for your support everyone.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Tigerclaw eyed the shadow cat warily, ready to fight... or run; he wasn't sure he could take on a shadow spirit and live to tell about it. He was just being pragmatic that was all; he didn't actually fear the dark she-cat. That would be absurd. He was Tigerstar, leader of the Dark Forest.
The ethereal she-cat sighed. "You were trying to kill Firepaw again. It's as though everything I say goes in one ear and out the other. Tigerclaw, I warned you about this." She stalked a few fox-lengths to his side, circling him in a way that reminded him of a carrion bird following its dying prey.
"I never tried to kill the kittypet," Tigerclaw spat, his tail thrashing. His heart dropped even as he continued to stare at her defiantly, turning his head to meet her eyes- or at least where he thought her eyes were- as she continued to walk around him.
The she-cat's voice lowered to a dangerous hiss. "And if he'd been bitten by an adder would you have helped him?"
The only sounds Tigerclaw could hear were his own breathing and the blood pounding in his ears. This could be it.
"What's the matter?" The shadow cat took a step forward. Tigerclaw shuffled back, baring his teeth. "I did warn you, remember? I told you that you'd regret doing the wrong thing; you do regret it now, don't you?"
"I didn't kill the kittypet!" snarled Tigerclaw, but he knew they were empty words. The shadow cat had told him not to do things the wrong way; somehow, he had stumbled upon a wrong method of killing a cat by accident and was about to pay the price. He lashed his tail angrily. It wasn't fair! She had told him if he successfully killed a cat he'd face some terrible consequence, not if he tried and failed! The kittypet was still alive!
But this reasoning apparently didn't matter to the shadow cat. She began to pad toward him again, her paws making no noise as she made her way toward him, and Tigerclaw found that he was frozen in place. The shadow cat was going to send him to some terrible hell, worse than the Place of No Stars. He'd end up somewhere he'd have to endure endless pain, or he'd be reborn as a kittypet! Or worse, the shadow cat could sentence him to exist in the kittypet afterlife for all eternity. Then the worst possible outcome floated across his mind: she could destroy his very existence entirely- hadn't he done that himself, to other cats before in the Dark Forest, or at least thought he had?
It's done, Tigerclaw realized, unable to feel anything but cold fury. The she-cat took another step, jolting Tigerclaw out of his trance. This can't be how it ends! I was going to be leader! Her dark pelt seemed to ripple in the wind as she advanced on him. As she approached, Tigerclaw flexed his claws, ready to run for his life(and soul) when the shadow cat stopped abruptly.
"Oh, that's funny," she remarked, flicking her tail. Tigerclaw was caught off guard as she kept going; instead of advancing on him she stopped and tilted her head. "Ha! You thought I was here to send you to some ultimate Dark Forest?! Ha!" Tigerclaw stared at her, incredulous, blood pounding through his ears as the she-cat mrrowed with laughter. So she wasn't about to destroy his soul? "Trust me, the Shadow Spirits would not let me do that off such a half-hearted attempt," the shadow cat replied to his thoughts. "That was actually quite pitiful, Tigerclaw; you're losing your touch."
Tigerclaw bristled, and as soon as his shock wore off he unsheathed his claws. The she-cat would pay for this! No cat made him look like a fool without consequences. And the kittypet wasn't dead because Tigerclaw hadn't been trying that hard! That was why he hadn't succeeded, not because of poor planning.
"But I just did something the wrong way, didn't I?" he snarled. "And you told me to do things the right way, whatever that means."
The she-cat raised a paw, licked it with a shadowy tongue that was indistinguishable from the rest of her pelt, and then swiped her paw over her face a few times. She then sat down, neatly curling her tail over her paws. "It's actually quite sad how you don't understand when I tell you to do things the right way, although I suppose if you did you wouldn't be here."
Tigerclaw snorted. "It's all a lie isn't it; there is no right way!"
"Of course there's a right way!"
"Then aren't you going to punish me for doing something the wrong way?" Tigerclaw challenged her.
"Oh, so now you want consequences for your actions?" Tigerclaw felt his fur bristle at the shadow cat's words. Could he have changed her mind about destroying his soul? "Actually, you'll be relieved to know that's not what I needed to talk to you about," she meowed. "I'm here to tell you something. I've been talking to some cats, and for one reason or another they still think you have potential to do the right thing." Tigerclaw frowned; who were they? The shadow cat began to pace. "So I assume you're aware of some things that are about to happen."
Tigerclaw didn't dignify her remark with a response, but the memories flowed through his mind. The Gathering was in a day; Brokenstar would announce his desire to take hunting rights from the other Clans territories, and Tigerclaw appreciated that this could be an opportunity to gain respect from RiverClan cats by opposing the ShadowClan leader. Then if events went the same way as they did during his first life, Bluestar would decide to journey to the Moonstone. She would probably choose Redtail to join her this time instead of Tigerclaw, but then again...
Tigerclaw's eyes widened in spite of himself. Bluestar had lost a life in the battle with the rats! He needed to go to Highstones with her, if only to make sure they took the same path as before-
"Not so fast," the shadow cat meowed. "You must have thought of other ways to go about your second chance aside from killing."
The she-cat's statement hung in the air, and Tigerclaw scowled. Surely he needed Bluestar to die this time, and it's not as though it would be his fault. What was the shadow cat even saying?
"Think before you act," the shadow cat continued as though she was giving life changing advice. "Just because you want something doesn't mean you should take it. As I've told you many times before there is a right way and a wrong way to go about getting what you want, and quite frankly I'm getting tired of repeating myself."
"Don't you have better things to do than to interfere with my life?" Tigerclaw growled.
"Do you think I'm here by choice? If I had my way you wouldn't have gotten a second chance to begin with. You should be thankful I'm not in charge." The black she-cat stared at him, or at least looked like she was- it was difficult to tell since her features were made entirely of shadow. "Just know this: you have an important decision to make soon. Make the right one."
Tigerclaw snorted as the pitch black she-cat began to slip away, her paws parting the long blades of grass before the undergrowth righted itself again. He was certainly not changing his plans because of the shadow cat.
As she left, the shadows shrank around him until they fit the size of the trees and brush casting them. Tigerclaw exhaled, feeling his fur flatten, and began to trudge back to the ThunderClan camp. It was becoming rather bothersome that the she-cat continued to appear at random; Tigerclaw wished she would just start avoiding him if he bothered her so much. She'd be doing us both a favor, he thought, pondering why she kept showing up.
It was odd. The shadow cat had told him what to do this time, instead of hinting at it. This was a change from the usual. The next few days would be vitally important; he needed to tread carefully to turn the events of the coming days to his advantage, but he still wasn't exactly sure what he'd do.
He knew that no matter what he needed to attend the Gathering and also accompany Bluestar to the Moonstone. He would make sure she still lost a life from the rats, and as an added bonus the kittypet could be killed by the swarm as well if he played it right.
But that would be going about things the wrong way, wouldn't it? Tigerclaw let out a low growl, cursing the shadow cat's meddling. ThunderClan was doing well, and within a few seasons it would be even better with him as its leader. If only she could see that, she would understand why he did what he did, why it was so important for him to be leader, regardless of the supposed right or wrongness to it.
Once he made it to the gorse tunnel, he slid into the camp and loped across it.
It was time to tell Bluestar about the assessment, and he pushed back any thoughts of the shadow cat's advice as he made his way over to the ThunderClan leader. It seemed like forever since he had observed the apprentices hunt. He tried to put his annoyance at the back of his mind; the shadow cat was a distraction that he couldn't afford.
Bluestar stood up. "Come," she meowed. "Let us discuss the assessment in my den." She led the way inside the dimly lit cavern, parting the lichen with her tail. "How did they do?" Bluestar meowed when she sat down.
Tigerclaw settled himself to face her. "They hunted well. All three caught prey, although some caught more prey than others." Bluestar tilted her head. "Ravenpaw and Graypaw performed quite well. They caught five pieces of prey each. Firepaw, even if he did manage to catch two squirrels and a finch, was less successful in his hunt than the others." Tigerclaw launched into a description of the kittypet's hunt, making sure he sounded as neutral as possible while clearly pointing out the kittypet's flaws. "He nearly slipped from the rocks when he was stalking the mouse. I thought I was going to have to forget assessing him and save him from falling." Tigerclaw breathed out through his nose, remembering his disappointment at the kittypet's survival. "I suggest requiring additional training sessions to improve his hunting skills."
Frowning, Bluestar flicked her tail. "Are you sure you are not seeing what you wish to see, Tigerclaw? Firepaw was assigned Snakerocks as his hunting ground, a much more difficult location than the others. From your assessment it seems that he did as well as can be expected, considering he'd have to take extra care to avoid adders in addition to tracking prey."
Feeling a growl rise from deep within his chest, Tigerclaw pushed his anger away. No matter what the kittypet did, Bluestar would defend him. It was infuriating. "Indeed, he did do well in keeping away from adders," he meowed, making an effort to keep his fur flat. "However, I stand by my recommendation. I don't in any way think you are responsible for his lackluster hunting skills," Tigerclaw added quickly; he didn't want Bluestar to think he was insulting her mentoring. "It is simply a fact: Firepaw is a kittypet, and he may not have what it takes to become a warrior."
"Tigerclaw, surely you must recognize that there is more to being a warrior than having warrior blood." Sighing, Bluestar shifted her paws in clear disagreement. But Tigerclaw knew that blood was important even if Bluestar didn't, and he would have felt the same way even if he held no malice toward the kittypet. Firepaw had kittypet blood, and that meant that he simply did not possess the innate hunting instincts that ThunderClan cats were born with, just as cats outside of RiverClan weren't born with an instinctive ability to fish, or how a cat from ThunderClan, ShadowClan, or RiverClan didn't have the speed to chase rabbits across the moor like a cat from WindClan. It was only through luck, favoritism, and the stupidity of his Clanmates that had made it possible for the kittypet to become leader during Tigerclaw's first life.
Bluestar was still speaking. "However much you disagree about the prudence of accepting Firepaw into ThunderClan, I trust your judgement in this case; after all, you've spent a great deal of time trying to get to know him lately." Tigerclaw felt a simmering satisfaction at her words. She'd noticed, although if she knew the true reason why he was spending so much time with the kittypet she wouldn't be pleased. "You began his training," Bluestar continued, "so you are invested in improving his skills. If you think Firepaw needs more practice, then I see no reason why he should not get it. You will give Firepaw hunting lessons in addition to his regular training."
Tigerclaw stared at her, dumbstruck. He already spent too much time with the kittypet. But rather than argue, he dipped his head in resignation. "Of course."
"And you can tell Ravenpaw, Graypaw and Firepaw that they will be attending the Gathering tomorrow. They've earned it."
Scowling, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. None of the apprentices had done extraordinarily well. Even Ravenpaw had done better the first time in catching an adder. "Very well," he finally growled. "I shall inform them."
Bluestar dipped her head, dismissing him.
As Tigerclaw walked over to the apprentices' den, his fur rose along his spine. The full moon would rise soon. In just a short time his plan of making allies in the other Clans would begin. Although WindClan wouldn't be there, he could still talk to ShadowClan and RiverClan cats. Like Stonefur and Leopardfur. Tigerclaw lashed his tail at the memory of the previous Gathering. That had been stupid, to talk to them like that.
Blackfoot too, Tigerclaw reminded himself. The ShadowClan tom had been an ally in his first life, and Tigerclaw saw no reason why he couldn't be in this one as well. There had been times Tigerclaw had been concerned Blackfoot would try to usurp his leadership, but although Blackfoot was a skilled and powerful warrior, at heart he was a follower, and he'd only become ShadowClan's leader because the position fell into his paws. Tigerclaw would need to gain Blackfoot's trust again.
He had reached the apprentices' den, and found that Ravenpaw looking up at him nervously. "Did... did you tell Bluestar? How we did on our assessments?"
"I did," Tigerclaw meowed. He paused, staring his apprentice down, and the tom seemed to shrink. "You, Graypaw, and Firepaw will be attending the Gathering tomorrow."
Ravenpaw's tail shot straight up in the air. "Thank you, Tigerclaw!"
"It was Bluestar's choice, not mine! Do you think Bluestar would allow you to go if she knew you saw a trespasser and did nothing?" Tigerclaw was irritated at Ravenpaw's enthusiasm. If he was going to be one of his followers, he'd need to be less annoying; Darkstripe alone vexed Tigerclaw enough already.
Ravenpaw ducked his head. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
"You need to learn that just because you caught prey, that doesn't mean the hunt is over. You must always focus on improving. Do you think you can rely on scrabbling around the undergrowth to catch a squirrel like you did today? That was simply luck- you must use proper technique or you will never consistently bring back fresh-kill!"
"Now inform your denmates." Tigerclaw began to pad away before he stopped. "Oh, and by the way, tell Firepaw to see me later. I have something I must discuss with him."
Dipping his head, Ravenpaw darted away to the tree stump where Firepaw and Graypaw were waiting. He meowed something to them, causing them to bolt upright.
From his spot at the tree stump, Firepaw leaped to his paws and bounded up to Tigerclaw. "What was it you wanted to see me about?"
Lashing his tail, Tigerclaw whirled around. "Didn't Ravenpaw say I wanted to speak to you later, not immediately?" Letting out a sigh, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes cruelly. "Perhaps it will be best to get it out of the way. After your performance during the assessment, it was decided that you need additional hunting lessons."
Firepaw looked down. "Oh." He frowned, looking dejected. "I'm fine with beginning tomorrow."
"Did any cat ask you when you wanted to start?" Tigerclaw growled. "You're an apprentice; you don't get to decide your own training schedule if you haven't forgotten."
Firepaw looked like he wanted to protest before he seemed to think better of it. "When do I start then?"
"Soon," Tigerclaw replied. "I will take you hunting sometime in the next few days."
Firepaw dipped his head. "Yes, Tigerclaw." Tail dragging against the ground, Firepaw made his way back to the tree stump, where the other apprentices were waiting.
As Tigerclaw walked away he found his tail curling up in spite of himself. Soon he would truly be putting his plan in motion, and for the first time in a long while he felt a purr rumbling in his throat. No matter what the shadow cat said or wanted, he was about to start the slow process of forming alliances with the other Clans, and after that, the chipping away of the kittypet's reputation would begin.
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
The full moon hung low in the sky, its white glow casting a pale light over the forest. Tigerclaw stalked the woods at the center of the ThunderClan Gathering patrol, ignoring his Clanmates and going over his plan in his mind.
This Gathering would be an important one. Tigerclaw had resolved to begin making followers this time. It wouldn't do much at first, but a simple conversation could work wonders on influencing a cat to trust another. Over time he would build up the relationships that would help him take over the forest, and it would all begin tonight.
A shiver coursed through Tigerclaw's pelt. There were several cats he wanted to speak with, but he knew he probably wouldn't get to them all. Blackfoot would be useful, as well as Leopardfur, and maybe Stonefur and Mistyfoot too. He didn't know exactly how he'd use them yet, but anything that made him more popular in the other Clans, even befriending half-Clan cats, would be worth the trouble.
His plotting was interrupted by a tiny voice. "T-Tigerclaw?"
He looked down to see Ravenpaw looking up at him, jogging to keep up with his own long-legged strides. "What is it?"
"Do you think ShadowClan will say anything about driving WindClan out of their territory?"
Tigerclaw frowned. Ravenpaw had never asked him any questions outside their training before; he supposed it was a good thing that the skinny tom valued his opinion enough to ask. Ravenpaw skills were improving; he had the potential to become an excellent follower. Tigerclaw answered Ravenpaw's question with a low growl. "ShadowClan will most certainly say something about WindClan's disappearance."
Ravenpaw ducked his head, his tail twitching nervously. "I was thinking," he meowed, hesitating. "What if ShadowClan tries to drive us away as well?"
Tigerclaw snorted. "It will never happen. ThunderClan is strong. We're not cowards like WindClan; we would fight to the death before we allowed ourselves to be driven off by the likes of ShadowClan!" He shook his head. "The only thing ThunderClan will have to worry about is ShadowClan's incessant yowling about how they defeated WindClan."
"You seem very sure that ShadowClan is going to mention it at all." Lionheart padded up now, his golden tabby pelt silver in the moonlight. Graypaw and Firepaw bounded up from behind him, trotting over to walk next to Ravenpaw.
"ShadowClan is hardly likely to drive another Clan out of the forest without gloating about it," Tigerclaw meowed.
Lionheart flicked an ear in acknowledgement. "True."
Graypaw suddenly gave an excited bounce. "Look, it's Fourtrees! We're almost there!" He sprang into a run.
Purring, Lionheart flicked his tail. "Well I suppose we should go see if any cats have arrived at the Gathering yet," he meowed, quickening his pace to rejoin his apprentice.
Ravenpaw looked back over his shoulder at Tigerclaw before racing after Graypaw and Lionheart, but Firepaw was still there.
The kittypet moved to leave but then turned back. "Tigerclaw, I thought of something today. I've been spending a lot of time with Yellowfang lately." Tigerclaw gave him a cautious nod. "And I'm not sure she is a spy for ShadowClan." Tigerclaw froze. He needed to handle this carefully. Prod the kittypet away from trusting Yellowfang too much and he'd start avoiding her, but too little and it might cause him to question Tigerclaw's motives for initially having him befriend Yellowfang.
"Of course it is possible that she is not a spy, but it's unlikely." Tigerclaw tried to make himself sound confident, but unbothered if he was incorrect. "Remember, a spy will make you want to trust them."
"I just don't understand why ShadowClan would send an elder to spy on another Clan in the first place."
It took all of Tigerclaw's self-control to stop himself from yowling. Granted, Yellowfang wasn't actually infiltrating ThunderClan, but the kittypet didn't know that. Firepaw was tempted to actually befriend a rogue, completely disregarding his supposed loyalty to his Clan! Tigerclaw shook his head to himself.
"I wish I could keep hunting for her as much as I have been to find out more," Firepaw meowed, "but Bluestar has been giving me a lot of lessons recently."
"Perhaps if your assessment went as well as Ravenpaw's you could hunt in addition to your training," Tigerclaw replied scathingly. "But since your skills are so lacking, that won't be possible. Why don't you join your denmates? Perhaps they can show you how a real Clan cat acts at a Gathering."
Looking startled, Firepaw met his eyes for a moment and then trotted away to join his denmates. Tigerclaw wondered if he should have been so harsh, and then clawed the thought away. The kittypet was clearly torn between the loyalty for his Clan and a rogue, and Tigerclaw knew he could use that to his advantage in the future.
"Look there!" Now the apprentices were looking down at the clearing.
"Where?" The kittypet already seemed to have recovered from Tigerclaw's harsh words.
"It's Crookedstar! See? He's the light colored tabby beside the Great Rock."
"Look, it's Brokenstar!"
Tigerclaw tuned out the apprentices excited murmuring. He needed to focus.
Soon enough Bluestar gave the signal, and Tigerclaw followed his Clanmates down the side of the slope.
As the ThunderClan patrol crashed into the hollow, the sounds and scents brought Tigerclaw back to this Gathering during his first life. He had given his account of the battle with RiverClan to a small group of warriors, but this time he needed to become acquainted with some of the other Clans- not that he wasn't already, of course, but he needed to plant the idea that he was a strong and powerful warrior more deeply in the other cats' minds.
He settled on speaking with Blackfoot first. Allowing himself to fall behind Bluestar, Tigerclaw made his way over to Blackfoot, and waited for Brokenstar to leave; he didn't want to deal with the ShadowClan leader tonight. Soon Brokenstar padded toward the Great Rock, and Tigerclaw dipped his head at the large white tom. "Greetings, Blackfoot."
The large tom sat down, resting his white tail around his massive black paws. "Greetings to you as well, Tigerclaw."
Tigerclaw glanced around. "ShadowClan is hunting well, I take it?"
Blackfoot's eyes narrowed. "We are."
"But WindClan isn't pleased, most likely." Tigerclaw gave him a sly look, one that conveyed not disapproval, but respect toward another warrior's power play.
Blackfoot watched him for a moment. "They most likely are not," he meowed finally, a dark gleam in his eye. With that, Blackfoot dipped his head and retreated to a group of ShadowClan warriors Tigerclaw recognized as some of Brokenstar's closest followers; many of whom had also followed him in the Dark Forest.
It had been easy enough to gain Blackfoot's trust when he'd been allied with Brokenstar, but this time things would be different. Tigerclaw knew he would be able to mold the ShadowClan deputy into a follower, but he was under no illusions that Blackfoot would abandon Brokenstar and follow him after a single short conversation. He would need time.
Tasting the air, Tigerclaw padded away, trying to figure out who he should speak to next.
Tigerclaw flicked his ears at the sound of Ravenpaw's voice from the middle of a group of young apprentices. "Fur was flying everywhere. Blood spattered the leaves of the bramble bushes, bright red against green. I'd just fought off a huge warrior..." Tigerclaw turned his head as Ravenpaw continued, remembering how the stupid apprentice had yowled out the true story of the battle of RiverClan during his first life.
But there was no dark secret for the apprentice to out this time, and Tigerclaw found himself nodding approvingly. He was being portrayed as a skilled and powerful warrior; he couldn't object to that. He settled himself at a distance to listen. Just for a moment. Then I need to speak to some other cats. He knew from his previous life that the Gathering would begin very soon.
Ravenpaw kept going with his story as the group of apprentices leaned in to hear what he was saying. "Redtail raced past me, his mouth dripping blood and his fur torn. 'Oakheart is dead!' he howled. Then he rushed off to help Tigerclaw as he fought another warrior."
"That Ravenpaw," meowed a voice from Tigerclaw's side. He jerked his head around as Redtail slid into the empty space next to him. "One would never have thought he'd be the cat telling battle stories, eh?"
"You've done a good job with him, you know." Redtail gave him a friendly glance. Tigerclaw looked away. The tortoiseshell tom was apparently trying to rekindle their supposed friendship.
"I don't need your praise," Tigerclaw growled.
Redtail flicked his tail. "I know we've had our differences recently, but I'd like to put all that behind us. This is a dark time in the forest. ThunderClan will need to work together to thrive during what is to come."
His eyes fixed on his apprentice, Tigerclaw let out a noncommittal murmur.
"Finally," Ravenpaw called out, "Redtail dragged the wailing cat off Tigerclaw by his tail and, with the strength of the whole of TigerClan, flung him into the bushes." The surrounding cats began to call out questions to skinny apprentice.
Redtail leaned over to mew in Tigerclaw's ear. "He really does tell a good story. You didn't teach him that, did you?"
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. "Yes. Would you like for our apprentices to face off in a storytelling contest now?"
At that moment a sharp caterwaul rang out, signaling the start of the Gathering. Tigerclaw held back a groan. He had come to the Gathering to speak with cats from other Clans, and had somehow ended up sitting next to Redtail.
"Well, this is concerning," the tortoiseshell tom meowed, raising himself to his full height to peer over the crowd. "WindClan hasn't arrived."
"Did you expect them to show up after being driven off?" Tigerclaw meowed. "They're probably a long way from here."
"True, but to miss a Gathering..." Redtail trailed off, still looking around.
Murmuring was spreading through the crowd. Now that he knew what was about to happen, Tigerclaw noted the many cats' confused looks. They had apparently noticed that WindClan hadn't arrived.
"Cats of all Clans, welcome," Bluestar began. "It is true that WindClan is not present, but Brokenstar wishes to speak anyway."
The dark tabby padded to the front of the Great Rock, and as he stared down at the gathered cats, any doubts Tigerclaw had about not allying himself with the tom vanished instantly. Brokenstar was insane, and aside from that, Tigerclaw knew he needed to avoid drawing comparisons to Brokenstar's leadership this time if he wanted widespread support. He would need to take Brokenstar down somehow, before he ended up fighting the ShadowClan leader for control of all four Clans.
"Friends, I come to speak to you tonight about the needs of ShadowClan-"
As Tigerclaw expected, the long-haired tom was interrupted by loud yowls from the base of the Great Rock.
Tigerclaw listened as Brokenstar gave his speech just as he had during his first life, demanding RiverClan and ThunderClan to allow ShadowClan to hunt within their territories.
"This is outrageous!" Redtail spoke up at one point.
"Should ShadowClan be punished because our kits thrive?" Brokenstar yowled, and Tigerclaw remembered him saying the exact same thing the first time. "Do you want us to watch our young starve? You must share what you have with us."
This time, Tigerclaw took the moment of chaos to observe the outraged faces of the RiverClan cats, picking out Leopardfur's tabby pelt in the crowd. Perhaps he could make a comment to her later, convincing her that they were united in their hatred of Brokenstar. A single remark wouldn't cause her to become his follower right away, but little things like that would be useful over time. She had been easy to sway to his side during his first life, and there were other RiverClan cats too he was sure he could convince without much difficulty too.
He was so deep in thought that he missed most of what Brokenstar was saying; the tom was still talking over the yowling of the cats below. "There may come a time when you will need us to protect you."
Tigerclaw remembered his rage at Brokenstar's words during his first life. "You doubt our strength?" he hissed, digging his claws into the ground. There was no way he could ever work with this cat, but it was going to be irritating to pry the strongest ShadowClan warriors away from him.
Brokenstar kept going, and Tigerclaw pricked his ears as he began to speak about Yellowfang. "I also bring news that is important to the safety of your kits," Brokenstar meowed. "A ShadowClan cat has turned rogue and spurned the warrior code. We chased her out of our camp, but we do not know where she is now." He paused, sweeping his gaze over the crowd. "She looks a mangy old creature, but she has a bite like TigerClan." Tigerclaw glanced over at the kittypet, and realized the tom's ginger fur was bristling in horror. "She is dangerous, I warn you- do not offer shelter to her. And, until she is caught and killed, I urge you to keep a close eye on your kits."
Unbothered by his Clanmates concerned growls, Tigerclaw broke away from Redtail. He still had a few moments to talk to some other cats, but who? He peered across the hollow, spotting the RiverClan deputy, and at that moment the crowd parted slightly.
Seeing his chance, Tigerclaw padded through the cats so that he was positioned near Leopardfur. "This is an outrage." He was meowing to no cat in particular, but soon caught Leopardur's eye. "I hope your leader sees reason, but I know whatever happens, your Clan will have the strength to overcome this travesty."
"Why should you care about the problems of RiverClan, Tigerclaw?" Leopardfur asked bluntly.
"Brokenstar is an enemy to us all," Tigerclaw growled.
Leopardfur narrowed her eyes, and then gave him a tense nod before backing away to join the rest of her Clan.
Tigerclaw's fur prickled with satisfaction. It had been simple enough to effectively take over RiverClan the first time; Tigerclaw knew he could do it again if Leopardfur was in charge.
When he rejoined ThunderClan, the cats were still meowing about Yellowfang.
Darkstripe was waiting when he made his way up the side of the hollow, and he raised his tail to catch Tigerclaw's attention. "Brokenstar must have meant the rogue when he talked of the danger to our kits." Darkstripe sprinted up to Tigerclaw and fell into step beside him.
Tigerclaw gave him a small nod.
"We need to throw her out!"
Tigerclaw nodded again. "She has been a danger to our Clan since she arrived." He paused, and continued after lowering his voice. "Just like the kittypet."
Darkstripe growled his agreement, and as Tigerclaw looked away from his follower, he realized that something was wrong. Ravenpaw and Graypaw were the only two apprentices trotting along at the edge of the ThunderClan patrol, and after a quick glance Tigerclaw confirmed that Firepaw was nowhere else within the group.
Tail lashing, Tigerclaw loped up to the apprentices. "Where is Firepaw?"
Both apprentices were silent before they both called out their answers at the same time.
"He was just a few pawsteps behind us-" Graypaw mewed.
"-Maybe he went hunting," Ravenpaw added.
"Where did he go?" Tigerclaw snarled, baring his teeth. If Ravenpaw thought he could get away with lying to him, he was horribly mistaken. "Answer me!"
Ravenpaw shuffled his paws. "Ahead," he squeaked. "I... I don't know why!"
Tigerclaw let a low growl escape from his throat, but in truth he was quite pleased. The kittypet was apparently concerned enough about the rogue that he'd ran ahead to warn her. Tigerclaw wondered if this happened the first time; he'd been so focused on returning to camp to confront Yellowfang that he wouldn't have noticed if Firepaw ran off or not.
Swishing his tail in agitation, he allowed Darkstripe to catch up to him again. Even if he hadn't accomplished much in the space of a single Gathering, he could sense the seasons stretching ahead of him, and he knew that one day, all four Clans would want nothing more than to follow him.
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Darkstripe at his side, Tigerclaw hurried into the ThunderClan camp. Firepaw hadn't appeared before they had reached the gorse tunnel. It was becoming more and more clear as to where he had gone; at this point Tigerclaw was certain the kittypet had went ahead to warn Yellowfang.
Tigerclaw saw Frostfur darting away from the group toward the nursery when a sudden dark thought crossed his mind: what if the events of this timeline made it so Yellowfang ran away? He would never be able to use her to discredit the kittypet then! Quickening his stride, he hurried closer to Yellowfang's makeshift den at the fallen oak, and breathed a sigh of relief when he glimpsed Yellowfang inside. She stared out at him with narrowed orange eyes. Once again, Tigerclaw felt a prickle of worry that she could tell something wasn't quite right about him.
Trying to put his worries in the back of his mind, Tigerclaw squinted at the fallen oak. The kittypet wasn't there. Tigerclaw scowled; Firepaw must have warned Yellowfang and then hid like a coward.
The tension in the air was palpable. Most of the Clan thought Yellowfang was dangerous, and Tigerclaw wasn't inclined to convince them otherwise. However, he recognized that Bluestar hadn't approved of his actions the first time, and she was unlikely to approve of hauling Yellowfang out of her den by force this time either. Even if the old rogue looks guilty, Tigerclaw growled to himself, annoyed by Bluestar's morals. As much as he wanted to immediately walk up to Yellowfang and drag her to the center of the camp for a trial, he ignored the urge and sat down next to the Highrock. Doing something that would anger Bluestar would not help the situation, and Tigerclaw figured he could use his foreknowledge of the situation to gain some respect from his leader.
Darkstripe was still watching the old rogue, and didn't seem to notice that Tigerclaw wasn't next to him for a few moments until he turned his head. Tigerclaw motioned with his tail for Darkstripe to join him, and with a start the gray and black tom sprang over to him.
"Aren't we going to question the rogue?!" Darkstripe hissed as he bounded up.
"Not just yet." Tigerclaw was still scanning the clearing for any sign of the kittypet. "We must wait. The opportunity will arrive in time."
Darkstripe shifted his paws and craned his neck. "Hopefully she'll be gone by sunrise. Thank StarClan- what an old mange pelt she is..."
Tigerclaw didn't hear the rest of what his follower said. He had finally spotted the kittypet; the tom was just a flash of ginger fur at the edge of the clearing. Tigerclaw fixed his stare on the traitorous apprentice, and he felt a wave of grim satisfaction when the kittypet averted his eyes. Firepaw had almost certainly gone ahead to warn Yellowfang. Shaking his head to himself, Tigerclaw reflected on how absurd the situation in the forest had been during his first life to allow such a cat to become leader. The kittypet would have helped a rogue over his own Clanmates, yet somehow StarClan had chosen him!
"Tigerclaw? Did you hear me?" Darkstripe meowed. "I think Bluestar is going to call a Clan meeting."
Tigerclaw spun around and looked up. Bluestar was sitting atop the Highrock, her blue-gray fur still reflecting the silver light of the stars.
Cats were still yowling in alarm all around them.
"Silence, all of you!" Bluestar yowled, and the angry murmuring ceased.
Frostfur emerged from the nursery and rejoined the rest of the Clan at the center of the camp. "The kits are safe," she announced, and for a short moment there was a relieved silence.
"But what about Yellowfang?" came a panicked yowl. "Where is Yellowfang?" Worried meows rose up again.
Bluestar flicked her tail to silence the caterwauls. "Redtail, you checked the fallen oak. Was Yellowfang there?"
The tortoiseshell tom rose to his paws and dipped his head. "Yes, she is. Yellowfang is still here, and as Frostfur pointed out, the kits are safe in the nursery."
"Then it is safe to say that she has not tried to harm any cat during the night?" Bluestar sounded as though she was trying to calm the Clan through reason.
"She has not," Redtail confirmed.
Tigerclaw pondered the stupidity of the situation. Throughout the whole time ThunderClan had kept a prisoner in its camp, Bluestar hadn't even thought to assign Yellowfang a guard. Technically, that would have saved a lot of trouble the first time around- the guard would have followed Yellowfang when she scented Clawface stealing Frostfur's kits, and the Clan would have known the old rogue was trying to help.
"But the rogue is in our camp!" Longtail meowed. "We should at least fetch her and hear what she has to say for herself!"
"There is no need to fetch me." Spinning around with the rest of his Clanmates, Tigerclaw blinked. Yellowfang had padded out of her den, one side of her pelt still flat from sleeping on it. She looked up at Bluestar respectfully. "I will leave now, if you wish it, Bluestar."
The ThunderClan leader shook her head. "No, there is no need. You have done nothing wrong. You will be safe here." Bluestar turned back to the Clan and began to explain her plan to deal with Brokenstar. Tigerclaw allowed his mind to wander. He noticed Lionheart and Goldenflower meowing to each other, and it reminded him that Lionheart's fate would be determined in the next two days.
"I shall travel to the Moonstone tomorrow," Bluestar finished. Tigerclaw noticed the looks of awe on some of his Clanmates' faces at the mention of the Moonstone, and he had to suppress a growl. They had no idea of the true idiocy of StarClan, a group of spirits who chose a kittypet to lead ThunderClan over a Clanborn cat.
"I wish to talk with Redtail now," Bluestar meowed, and with that the meeting broke up.
Lionheart and Goldenflower were still talking to each other by the nursery, while Longtail padded up to mew something to Darkstripe. The older tom nodded in response, shooting a dark look at Yellowfang, who was padding back to the fallen oak. Tigerclaw wondered if he should say something, but decided against it. He needed to concentrate.
"Tigerclaw." Redtail's meow broke the silence. "Bluestar wants to speak with you."
Flicking his tail in acknowledgement, Tigerclaw headed over to Bluestar's den. Tigerclaw figured Bluestar was going to order him to accompany her for her journey to the Moonstone, and he couldn't help feeling surprised as well as pleased. He had half expected her to choose Lionheart this time, and had been ready to convince her to allow him to come along. He needed to do this, or Bluestar might not lose a life. Scratching his claws against the ground to announce his presence, he slid inside the den.
"Bluestar, what was it you wanted to speak to me about?"
"I need a strong warrior to accompany me to Highstones, especially since Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw will be joining us." Bluestar met his eyes. "I know you have the strength to make the journey and help keep the apprentices safe."
"Yes, Bluestar," Tigerclaw meowed.
"Very well, then. We leave at dawn." She turned to curl up in her nest before she looked up again. "Have Spottedleaf prepare some traveling herbs for you. The journey will be a long one."
Tigerclaw knew it was hopeless to protest, and besides that, he didn't want to get in an argument with Bluestar, so he dipped his head. "Yes, Bluestar."
He left Bluestar's den and began to make his way to the medicine den.
The night was fading into dawn by now, although there was still a good deal of time before the sun rose. Tigerclaw peered into the entrance of the medicine den, and at that moment his heart leaped. The kittypet was bending down to pick up his bundle of traveling herbs, and while he did so Spottedleaf leaned over to touch her nose to his cheek. Perfect! He hadn't made it a priority to make Firepaw develop feelings for the medicine cat, but it still seemed to be happening. This could be used to his advantage; the kittypet certainly wouldn't gain any allies if ThunderClan knew he was breaking the warrior code and making Spottedleaf break the medicine cat code as well!
Tigerclaw waited at the threshold of the medicine den while the kittypet and Spottedleaf meowed to each other. Then Firepaw padded out of the den, Graypaw close behind.
Tigerclaw stepped into the medicine den. "I'm here for my traveling herbs."
"I'm surprised to see you, Tigerclaw," Spottedleaf teased. "I wouldn't think a strong warrior like you needed traveling herbs."
Tigerclaw snorted, his whiskers twitching. "I would be fine without them," he growled, "but Bluestar insisted."
Spottedleaf let out an amused purr. "Of course." She picked up a bundle of herbs and dropped them at his paws. "Take them right before you leave."
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes as the dappled tortoiseshell she-cat padded back into the shadows. Even though she was a medicine cat, she was still pretty to look at.
Light was beginning to peek through the trees when Tigerclaw swallowed his traveling herbs in a single gulp. Licking his muzzle to get rid of the bitter taste, he rose to his paws. That was one thing he hadn't missed about life. In the Dark Forest he hadn't needed herbs to increase his stamina; one was in a constant state of being at full strength.
Three bleary eyed apprentices soon joined him, blinking.
"Have you eaten your traveling herbs?" Tigerclaw meowed.
"Yes," Graypaw replied, wrinkling his nose. "But I wish we could have had a fat, juicy mouse instead." Ravenpaw and Firepaw nodded their agreement.
Bluestar brushed past him, her tail flicking. "Redtail, I am placing you in charge of camp while I'm gone."
Redtail had apparently been standing by the Highrock. He nodded deeply, seeming to be fully aware of the dangerous position ThunderClan was in. "I will protect it with my life." Tigerclaw felt a purr rumble in his chest. Perhaps Redtail will die this time, he mused, not daring to let himself hope.
Tigerclaw glimpsed the obnoxious tortoiseshell one last time before he pushed his way into the gorse tunnel. The shadow cat's ominous words were at the forefront of his mind now. He was supposed to do the right thing, whatever it was, and his actions would determine the fate of many cats. But why should he listen to the shadow cat anyway?
Lionheart was waiting for them just outside the camp. He gave Tigerclaw one of his familiar concerned looks, and Tigerclaw flinched. Was his agitation that obvious?
After a moment, Lionheart's gaze shifted to Bluestar. "Safe journey."
Bluestar dipped her head. "Thank you. I expect I can trust you to help keep the camp safe?"
Lionheart nodded. "Always." Tigerclaw's heart pounded as the golden tabby turned to Graypaw, the gravity of the situation becoming clear. The shadow cat was right; the next day could change everything. "Remember," Lionheart meowed, dipping his head toward Graypaw as he repeated what he had said during Tigerclaw's first life. "You are almost a warrior. Don't forget what I have taught you."
"I will always remember, Lionheart," Graypaw meowed, giving his mentor's flank a nudge.
As Lionheart's golden tabby fur disappeared behind the camp wall, Tigerclaw felt a chill course through his pelt in spite of the warm weather. There was no need for the golden tabby warrior to die now that he wasn't deputy, but if events played out the same way, that would be the last time he saw Lionheart alive.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
The wind ruffled Tigerclaw's ear fur as they crossed the moor. Once they had made it to Fourtrees and entered WindClan territory, he and Bluestar had fallen into step beside one another at the head of the patrol while the three apprentices trailed behind, and Tigerclaw used the chance to think over his options.
Trying to recall the chain of events in the coming days, Tigerclaw scowled. He hadn't been paying close attention to where Lionheart had been during the first battle with ShadowClan, but the golden tabby's death had most likely hinged on him meeting several cats in quick succession. Now that another cat was in the mix, the fight had the potential to completely change. Grumbling, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. Redtail's presence might allow Lionheart to live, but it could also result in the death of other cats. He would need to tread carefully.
And the shadow cat. Great StarClan, Tigerclaw tried to forget about her warning, but it was one of the most important things he needed to take into consideration. Did the decision she spoke of have anything to do with the battle or Bluestar's trek to the Moonstone? The more he contemplated it the more convinced he was. He had to make sure Bluestar lost a life on this journey, and if his luck held out maybe the kittypet would die too. He knew the shadow cat had disapproved of his idea that ensured Bluestar death, but what was he supposed to do? The fewer lives Bluestar had the better.
Things would be different. He just had to figure out how.
He was so distracted that he didn't notice the ShadowClan scent until Bluestar mentioned it. "ShadowClan," she mewed, raising her nose to sniff the air. Tigerclaw breathed in as well, recognizing Blackfoot's scent among others. After a long moment, Bluestar shook her head. "Come. They are upwind, but if we hurry they won't detect us."
They hastened their way to the edge of the moor, leaving WindClan territory and the ShadowClan scent behind, and began to head into the wide swath of land marred with Twoleg nests.
As they walked among the Twoleg nests, Tigerclaw's pelt prickled in disgust. Had the kittypet really grown up in a place like this? The nests were stifling and cold and sterile; it made sense that Firepaw was so different from Clanborn cats after six moons in one. No wonder he wasn't fit to be leader after a kithood in that environment. An image of Pinestar flashed through Tigerclaw's mind. The traitor must have had bees in his brain to leave ThunderClan for a Twoleg! He had given up the leadership! Tigerclaw shook his head to himself. He would never give up his position as leader, never.
As they passed a fence, barking pummeled their ears. They were walking by the nest with dogs, just like they had the first time. The kittypet arched his back, while Ravenpaw backed away to hide behind Tigerclaw.
"They're tied up!" Tigerclaw snarled. The kittypet relaxed slightly, but Ravenpaw was still jumpy as they continued onward.
Soon the Thunderpath came into view; Tigerclaw could hear the shrieking of monsters in the distance as they approached. They left the Twolegplace behind them, and Ravenpaw tried to catch Tigerclaw's eye. He had no idea why. The apprentice was supposed to be paying attention to the Thunderpath, not wildly looking around.
Tigerclaw continued at the head of the group with Bluestar, but Ravenpaw kept looking at him with wide, scared eyes.
When they reached the hedge at the side of the Thunderpath, Bluestar flicked her tail for the cats stop and wait beneath it. Shoving his way under the prickly underside of the hedge, Tigerclaw settled himself at the side of the group.
Suddenly Tigerclaw felt fur brushing his side, and nearly leaped a fox-length into the air.
It was Ravenpaw. The skinny tom had pressed himself against Tigerclaw's flank, while he stared out at the Thunderpath in terror. Snarling in revulsion, Tigerclaw jerked away.
He stood up, putting a tail-length between himself and his mouse-hearted apprentice. "We'll go one at a time," he meowed. "Firepaw, you first." Hopefully the kittypet would die in his attempt.
"No, Tigerclaw. I shall go first," Bluestar meowed, dashing his plans just like she had during his first life. "Don't forget, this will be the first time of crossing for the apprentices. Let them see how it is done."
Tigerclaw reluctantly nodded agreement. Bluestar patiently waited for a lull, and then crossed the Thunderpath as easily as she had the first time.
"Firepaw, you next," Tigerclaw meowed. "Quickly now, we don't have all day."
The kittypet crouched at the edge of the path, and as soon as it was clear raced across without hesitation. Tigerclaw scowled, recalling how the kittypet had nearly been killed by a crazed monster the first time. If only that Twoleg could have showed up again, Tigerclaw thought, figuring they probably hadn't made it to the Thunderpath in the same time. The monster could have already taken this segment of the path before, or it could be on its way now.
When Firepaw reached the grassy patch of land on the other side of the Thunderpath, Tigerclaw sighed. It didn't really matter who went next now. Tigerclaw flicked his tail at Graypaw, indicating that it was his turn to cross.
Graypaw stared out at the path now, his whiskers quivering, and after a long few moments of silence, raced across.
Now it was Ravenpaw's turn. The skinny black tom had watched each of his Clanmates in wide eyed terror, and was now cowering like a kit a few tail-lengths from the path.
"Your turn." Tigerclaw peered down both sides of the Thunderpath. It was empty.
But Ravenpaw wasn't moving. Tigerclaw cursed his apprentice's timidity. During his first life Tigerclaw had ordered him to cross right after Bluestar, but now Ravenpaw seemed even more terrified after witnessing the crossing of his denmates.
"Go!" Tigerclaw ordered.
The mouse-heart shook his head no, his tail trembling.
"What are you waiting for?!" Tigerclaw snarled. "The path is empty!" Just then, the rumble of a monster began to shake the air. It grew louder and louder before it roared past, throwing dust into the air. "Get a move on before another monster comes!"
"I can't." Ravenpaw ducked his head.
Tigerclaw let out a snarl. "How do you expect to become a warrior if you can't cross a measly Thunderpath?"
"B-but the monsters, they're moving so fast," the mouse-hearted kit replied. "I don't know if I'll know when I should go!"
Tigerclaw lashed his tail. "I just told you, and you didn't listen!"
"But w-what if a monster gets here when I'm still on the path?" the pathetic tom protested. "I wouldn't know what to do..."
"Fine, we'll cross together!" Tigerclaw snorted in disgust; this cowardly cat would never last as a warrior if he was unable to cross a simple Thunderpath.
One monster passed, and then another. As soon as they were gone, Tigerclaw gave the signal with his tail, and the two cats rushed forward. Ravenpaw stuck close to him like a burr, matching Tigerclaw step for step.
It must have been difficult for the smaller apprentice to keep up with Tigerclaw's strides, because midway across, Ravenpaw stumbled.
After a moment of confusion, Tigerclaw skidded to a halt and yowled back at Ravenpaw to join him. "Come on! Move!" He felt a rush a frustration. A monster was approaching, and with a jolt he recognized it as the one that held the jeering Twoleg that had nearly killed the kittypet during his first life.
But Ravenpaw was still far behind him, still crouching and somehow frozen in terror. The monster was getting even closer now, while his idiotic apprentice was making no attempt to even move out of the way.
There was still time though. Whipping around, Tigerclaw raced to Ravenpaw's side and roughly shoved him to his paws. "Go!" he roared, and with that Ravenpaw shot ahead of him.
But the monster was only fox-lengths away now, and Ravenpaw was heading directly into its path.
No! He had spent too much time training this mouse-heart for him to die!
Hurtling forward, Tigerclaw slammed into Ravenpaw, flinging the small tom out of the way with ease, and with a mighty push of his hind legs leaped out of the path of the monster as well.
As the monster careened into the distance, Tigerclaw could see the Twoleg yowling with rage, its voice fading as it regressed further and further away.
Ravenpaw lay there on the grassy turf at the edge of the path for a long time, shaking. "T-Thank you," he gasped finally. "I w-would've died."
"Yes, you would have," Tigerclaw snapped. "When I tell you to run, run! Don't sit there like a brainless slug!"
Ravenpaw nodded vigorously, shutting his eyes.
Bluestar was eyeing Ravenpaw with concern. "Do you want to rest before we go on?"
Ravenpaw was silent, so Tigerclaw answered for him. "He's fine."
Ravenpaw nodded, his eyes still shut tight. Looking down at the small black tom for a long heartbeat, Bluestar stood up. "Let us rest for a moment," she meowed. "Then we will continue on."
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
They had soon made it to a spot to rest and hunt. It was only a short distance to Mothermouth now, and Tigerclaw began to mentally prepare himself for the trip to the Moonstone itself. There was no way in StarClan he was running away this time.
The setting sun cast long shadows across the land, and Tigerclaw watched them carefully, hoping the shadow cat didn't make an appearance. He peered at Highstones as he ate a mouse alongside the apprentices, recognizing the archway that led to the Moonstone. Soon, Bluestar would ask him and the kittypet to join her as she headed into the cave. Tigerclaw wasn't looking forward to it, but at the same time he was going to prove that he could do it this time without running away.
Soon Firepaw and Graypaw padded away by themselves, leaving Tigerclaw and Ravenpaw alone.
Tigerclaw was content to rest in silence. Unfortunately, Ravenpaw decided this was a good time to talk. "Thanks again," Ravenpaw mewed. "For saving me from that monster, I mean. I didn't mean for all that to happen. I-I just froze..." The skinny black tom began to give him a halting, stammer filled apology, which Tigerclaw tuned out.
Tigerclaw snorted. He was still annoyed that his apprentice had forced him to risk his life. But as he watched Ravenpaw now, (the black tom was nervously waiting for him to respond as though his life depended on it) Tigerclaw knew that Ravenpaw had the potential to be just as loyal of a follower as Darkstripe. And if he played his moves just right, Ravenpaw would be more useful too. Perhaps Tigerclaw could somehow convince him to betray the kittypet; it would be helpful having an additional cat to back him up. Tigerclaw frowned, intrigued at the thought. It was another idea that he could use, but he'd need to be careful to avoid causing suspicion if he decided to use Ravenpaw as his spy. While Tigerclaw had no doubt Ravenpaw would be easy to intimidate into keeping a secret, after all, in his first life he'd intimidated the apprentice into not telling anyone about a murder, he still didn't want his apprentice to suspect anything.
"Um, Tigerclaw?" Ravenpaw's soft mew interrupted his scheming.
Tigerclaw nodded gruffly, trying to figure out how to respond to Ravenpaw's apology even though he hadn't listened to half of it. He finally gave Ravenpaw a stern growl. "Throughout all your training, you've been a coward," he began bluntly. "That stops today."
The mouse-hearted apprentice lowered his gaze to the ground. "Yes, Tigerclaw," he murmured, looking downcast.
"I'm not training you to be a kittypet. I'm training you to be a warrior, and that means that you need to start acting like one."
"Yes, Tigerclaw," Ravenpaw replied, blinking.
"I expect you to cross the Thunderpath by yourself on the way home. And if you don't-" Tigerclaw paused, narrowing his eyes into slits- "you won't be coming home at all. The patrol will go ahead, and you can figure out how to cross on your own time. No more of this kittypet softness."
Ravenpaw bowed his head. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
Sensing that Ravenpaw was going to try to continue to talk, Tigerclaw cut him off before he could begin. "Now, go find your denmates," he ordered.
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Nodding, Ravenpaw scurried away. Purring, Tigerclaw drew his paw across his face to wash away the last remnants of his meal. Ravenpaw's unquestioning compliance was starting to remind him of Darkstripe. He wondered if Ravenpaw actually believed Bluestar would allow him to be left behind for refusing to cross a Thunderpath; he supposed it didn't matter as long as the tom was sufficiently terrified, but it was always convenient having a cat that trusted your every word.
Once the moon had risen above the rocks, and the blackness of the night fell around them, Bluestar raised her tail. "Come. It is time." She began to pad toward Mothermouth, and Tigerclaw fell into step beside her. He was not about to trail behind like a scaredy mouse. She stopped to address them when they reached the entrance. "Ravenpaw, Graypaw, you will guard the entrance. Firepaw, you will accompany me and Tigerclaw to the Moonstone."
The kittypet's face gained an expression of enthusiasm, and if Tigerclaw hadn't been so distracted by the fact that he was about to walk into a dark cavern to face StarClan he would have made a sharp remark about it.
But now he had no idea what was about to happen, and something about it filled him with foreboding. Tigerclaw considered declining the invitation before shoving the cowardly thought away. He was Tigerstar, leader of the Dark Forest! He could confront StarClan, hadn't he done the same many times during his first existence? And even when he had still been alive, the fools had no choice but to give him his nine lives even though they objected to the idea of his leadership! The weaklings couldn't do anything.
Bluestar padded into the cave and was swallowed by darkness. After a moment's hesitation, Tigerclaw followed her.
The darkness was all encompassing, but Bluestar steadily led the way. Tigerclaw remembered vaguely where he was from his old memories of when he had come down here.
Soon a glow began to shine through the darkness. It grew brighter and brighter, until they emerged into the large cavern that held the Moonstone. The eerie light washed over the cave, rippling like silver water. It was quiet, but at the same time Tigerclaw felt as though voices were whispering in his ears.
Pelt twitching, Tigerclaw wrapped his tail around his paws to prevent himself from moving. He wasn't going to run away this time. No, he would stay while Bluestar spoke with StarClan, even though he felt completely exposed. Even though it felt as though cats were present that shouldn't be, judging him, reading his every thought. Like the shadow cat. It wasn't like the shadow cat though; there was no proof of any cats being present aside from himself, Bluestar and Firepaw, and usually the shadow she-cat at least left an oddly shaped shadow.
He remembered the undercurrent of overwhelming terror he experienced during his nine lives ceremony... No, it hadn't been terror- it had been caution, which had been entirely justifiable given the fickleness of StarClan. Tigerclaw certainly didn't fear StarClan, after all he had even gone to war with them. Pelt still prickling in the silver light, Tigerclaw snorted. The starry spirits had the gall to disapprove of his leadership when they had chosen a treacherous kittypet to lead ThunderClan! The hypocritical traitors!
But the presence was still there, coursing through his fur and into his bones. While he could hear his heart thrumming in his ears, he was also aware of the complete silence all around him.
The kittypet gave him a confused look. Tigerclaw knew the traitorous apprentice could smell his fear scent, and he glared back at Firepaw, daring him to say something about it.
Wordlessly, Bluestar lay down beside the Moonstone and touched her nose to it. She immediately fell still.
Shuddering, Tigerclaw crouched down and rested his head on his paws. Was that how he had looked when he had received his nine lives, rigid and unmoving apart from his eyes? He rhythmically sheathed and unsheathed his claws, feeling reassured by their sharpness. The kittypet rested a few fox-lengths away. Tigerclaw ignored the tom's irritating attempts to make eye contact.
This could be a long night, Tigerclaw figured.
Noticing a dark flicker in the very corner of his vision, Tigerclaw looked up. The Moonstone's shadow was working its way along the cavern floor, dark as the blackest night even through the moonlight shining in the cave. He didn't have any time to be afraid before the darkness touched his paws, and his eyelids slowly closed as the shadow fell over him.
The sound of screeching and yowling split his ears. He opened his eyes. The Moonstone was no longer there; instead he was sitting at the edge of a ravine.
This was odd. Tigerclaw scowled; was he actually receiving a vision from StarClan for once? Perhaps, after seasons upon seasons of hating him, they had finally realized their mistake and recognized that Tigerclaw was the rightful leader of ThunderClan.
A shriek rose into the air, snapping him out of his musings. He stood up and began to approach the sound. He didn't know what possessed him to run toward the battle instead of trying to determine his next course of action. He supposed it didn't matter a whole lot; Tigerstar, leader of the Place of No Stars, and future leader of StarClan could take on any cat in a fight.
Pushing his way down the slope and through a barrier of thorns and brambles, Tigerclaw paused. Cats were grappling with each other, slashing at enemies, and fleeing for their lives all around him.
"They're back!" called a voice.
Tigerclaw glanced around wildly, taking in his surroundings. The Highrock was fox-lengths away, and the warriors' den was a bit further. He was in the ThunderClan camp.
Bluestar appeared behind him, as well as Ravenpaw, Firepaw, and Graypaw, their pelts bushed out in fear. They leaped past Tigerclaw into the battle.
Something wasn't right. The cats all around him, the ShadowClan ones anyway, were unrecognizable. Their scents, although distinctly ShadowClan, couldn't be separated into individual cats. Tigerclaw glanced around, deciding to determine the cats' identities by sight instead, but when he looked at their faces he ran up against a mental block; for the life of him, he could not put faces to names.
Tigerclaw let out a snarl. Was this supposed to be prophetic? Was StarClan or whatever higher power that had given him this dream purposely obscuring the identity of the cats he would soon fight? This was clearly the battle that was scheduled to take place in less than a day, and whoever had sent him this dream was purposely sabotaging him!
Overcome with rage, Tigerclaw began to lash out at the ShadowClan cats, only vaguely aware of what he was doing. Even looking at their pelts, his mind was sluggish, unable to remember which cats were tabby or black or white, or even their names at all. He focused solely on attacking ShadowClan. Curse you, StarClan!
Suddenly one of the faceless cats appeared in front of him and slashed its claws across his throat. Tigerclaw staggered, unable to believe what was happening. Blood was gushing from his neck and pooling at his paws. He gasped, trying to draw breath, but it was no use; he only succeeded in sending another scattering of blood droplets onto the ground.
Tigerclaw braced himself to wake up, but he didn't. He collapsed onto the ground. Looking at his paws, he would have let out a yowl of shock and rage if he had been able.
His paws were transparent. He could see the pale sandy ground through his dark brown fur, and the bizarre see-through effect was spreading further up his legs even as he watched. Tigerclaw felt a jolt of pure horror. It was how they had looked in the tiny set of moments before he'd faded from his first existence, after Firestar had landed a killing blow.
Tigerclaw tried to reach out with a paw, and found that it went straight through his Clanmates, as though they weren't there. This couldn't be! He couldn't die in a dream!
But the pain was so real.
Cats were swarming all around him, their mews echoing incoherently in his ears as the ThunderClan camp faded from his vision.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Tigerclaw's eyes snapped open just as the glow of the Moonstone dimmed. The shadow was gone, but the impenetrable darkness remained.
"Tigerclaw? Firepaw? Are you still there?" Tigerclaw felt his heart skip a beat. He wasn't dead; that was Bluestar's voice and he was inside the Moonstone cavern.
"Yes, Bluestar," Firepaw meowed when Tigerclaw didn't respond. "We're here."
"Hurry," she hissed, brushing past both. "We must return to camp."
Tigerclaw's thoughts were jumbled as they began to follow Bluestar along the winding path out of the cave. He wasn't the only cat to receive a vision of darkness tonight. He only wondered if Bluestar had received the same warning this time around as the first. Whatever she'd seen, it had made her set off through the tunnel at a near run.
They emerged into the pale light of early morning. The sun was still not up, but the sky was starting to turn gray.
Bluestar flicked her tail at Ravenpaw and Graypaw; the two apprentices leaped to their paws. "Come; we must return to camp immediately." Without another word she started to head back the way from which they'd came. Bristling, Tigerclaw bounded after her, the apprentices following close behind.
Just like the first time, Ravenpaw was falling behind. Tigerclaw turned back to yowl at him. "Keep up, Ravenpaw!" He shook his head as his apprentice raced forward, panting. Tigerclaw reflected that Ravenpaw could use some endurance training; perhaps he'd have him patrol the entire ThunderClan border at once in a few days.
They soon made it to the Thunderpath, and to Tigerclaw's relief, Ravenpaw made it across by himself. Granted, the Thunderpath was empty, but it was still a surprising improvement.
Still unable to relax, Tigerclaw tried to put the dream in the back of his mind, and instead went through his plan. In a short time, the sun would rise, and Barley would show up to idly gossip with Bluestar. Supposedly, Tigerclaw growled inwardly. Even after all these seasons he thought it was ridiculous for a loner to befriend a Clan cat. It was probably an act on Barley's part- he was most likely afraid of Clan cats taking over his barn and therefore tried to make himself look friendly and helpful. Or perhaps Barley was just stupid and had no concept of self-preservation. Either way, the result of the meeting with Barley today would be the same: he would direct Bluestar toward the swarm of rats and then she'd hopefully lose a life. Everything was going according to plan.
But as Tigerclaw thought it, he remembered the vision and growled. The dream couldn't be real. It was just StarClan trying to muck up his plans, that was all. Nothing to worry about. I can still make sure she dies, Tigerclaw thought, but with less enthusiasm than before he'd left on the journey. The dream complicated things. He could still do it though... right?
Tigerclaw remembered how he had asked Bluestar how many lives she had left after the rat attack. There would be no need for that now; he already knew she had three lives at this point, and after the rat attack she would have two. He let out a growl. Three lives stood between him and the leadership of ThunderClan... well four counting Redtail. It would be stupid not to take advantage of an opportunity to get rid of one.
The images of leaping into the fight against ShadowClan gave him pause. Tigerclaw scowled. The dream seemed to show him and the rest of the patrol returning to ThunderClan mid-battle, which would only happen if they needed to wait for Bluestar to recover from being attacked by rats. What if the dream was sent out of spite? Perhaps StarClan or the shadow cat or whatever higher power observed this place had accepted that he would try to kill Bluestar, and wanted to make Tigerclaw suffer in return for not following their idiotic rules.
But what if- Tigerclaw felt himself go rigid at the thought- what if the vision actually predicted his own death? What worried him most was that it had certainly not felt the same as when he'd died the first time... or well, the first nine times. It had felt as though he was fading.
That might have been what the shadow cat was trying to tell him. It wasn't a warning for him to save other cats, it was a warning to save himself. Perhaps not just his life, but his soul. Not necessarily, Tigerclaw told himself. That dream was sent from StarClan, or some type of higher power. It could be a trick to get him to do things the 'right' way instead of just letting him live his second chance without interference.
But was he willing to risk it? Tigerclaw lashed his tail. He had second guessed himself somewhat on the way to the Moonstone, but now he had no idea what to do. This was supposed to be a chance to whittle away at Bluestar's lives.
Bluestar was starting to glance at him occasionally, and Tigerclaw could tell she was concerned even though she hadn't said anything yet.
When a sliver of sun peeked above the horizon, Tigerclaw bristled. Squinting against the red dawn light, he nearly skidded to a halt. While the sky was the color of blood, the ground was still dark. All around him shadows were flickering and flitting about, unseen objects seemed to blot out the sun, and darkness covered the land as far as he could see.
Tigerclaw shivered as the disappointing realization fell over him. He couldn't do it. As much as he wanted to, it was clear that by ensuring Bluestar was killed by rats, he would have a very high chance of dying as well. And he would never be able to rule ThunderClan if he was dead. Tigerclaw inwardly cursed the shadow cat. The sarcastic she-cat was probably laughing to herself at the idea of forcing Tigerclaw into saving Bluestar's life instead of killing her. The shadow cat couldn't keep him from the leadership forever, but he needed a new plan- one with less risk.
The darkness was ebbing away now, but Bluestar still didn't seem to notice the strange, twisting shadows.
"Do you see that tom over there? I don't believe you two have met," Bluestar meowed, pointing with her tail. Tigerclaw suppressed a groan. Barley was padding toward them. "Greetings, Barley."
The black-and-white loner trotted up, his tail held high. "Hello!"
Tigerclaw twisted his ears back, hearing Graypaw, Ravenpaw, and the kittypet bound up.
"This is Barley," Bluestar meowed to the apprentices as they joined them. "He lives near this Twoleg nest."
"Hi! I haven't seen any of your Clan for some moons. How are you, Bluestar?"
"I'm well, thank you. And you, Barley? How's the prey been running since we last passed this way?" Tigerclaw suppressed an eye roll at the useless conversation. It was stupid; this loner was of no use to them.
"Not so bad," Barley replied. "One good thing about Twolegs- you'll always find plenty of rats nearby." The loner paused. "You seem in more of a hurry than usual. Is everything all right?"
Glaring at the loner, Tigerclaw let out a low growl. He realized what he should have done now- he should have distracted Bluestar into taking a slightly different path so they wouldn't have met this irritatingly friendly cat.
"I don't like to be away from my Clan too long," Bluestar replied, shooting a sharp glance at Tigerclaw. Clearly his agitation was more visible this time.
"As always, Bluestar, you are tied to your Clan like a queen to her kits."
Before Bluestar could reply, Tigerclaw took a step forward. "What is it you want, Barley?" he snapped.
"I just wanted to warn you that there are two dogs here now," Barley mewed, looking even more insulted at the interruption than Tigerclaw remembered. "You'd be safer going back into the cornfield instead of past the yard."
"We saw the dogs earlier," Tigerclaw responded, digging his claws into the ground. "We know they're here-"
"We are grateful to you for the warning," Bluestar meowed before he could finish. "Thank you, Barley. Until next time..."
Barley dipped his head. "Have a safe journey." Seething, Tigerclaw watched the black-and-white loner bound up the track.
"Come," Bluestar meowed, beginning to lead the apprentices of the dirt track and into the long grass.
Tigerclaw's anger dissipated in an instant. They were heading straight toward the rat track! Even though he wanted Bluestar to lose a life, he didn't want it to be at the expense of his own.
Tigerclaw followed them, trying to determine how he could stop this. "We can't trust Barley," he meowed.
Narrowing her eyes, Bluestar looked between the fence and the path. "Would you rather face those dogs?"
"They were tied up when we passed them earlier," Tigerclaw meowed, a note of desperation creeping into his voice.
"They may be untied now." Tigerclaw felt his heart drop at Bluestar's words. "We're going this way." Bluestar began to duck under the fence.
"Wait!" he snarled, hurrying to catch up. "We can't go this way!"
Bluestar turned back. "What's the matter, Tigerclaw?"
Tigerclaw snorted, his mind cycling through anything that could make her change her mind. "Barley!" he snapped. "He is a loner. He might be leading us into a trap!"
Bluestar shook her head. "What would Barley gain from that?" she meowed reasonably.
Tigerclaw lashed his tail. He couldn't answer that question, but surely blind trust in any cat outside ThunderClan was a bad thing. "We should continue on the path we were already following," he meowed. "We know the area better than this one; we've gone that way before."
Bluestar slid back to the side of the fence where Tigerclaw and the rest of the apprentices were waiting. "And what about the dogs?"
"We can avoid them if necessary- we're cats for StarClan's sake." Tigerclaw tried to make his mew sound final even though he was talking to his leader. He'd worry about gaining her respect back later; right now he needed to focus on his survival. "We can't go this way."
Bluestar met his eyes for a long moment, and Tigerclaw felt as though she was trying to read his mind. "Very well," she mewed finally. "We'll take the path through Twolegplace."
Chest aching with relief, Tigerclaw headed back toward the path, the apprentices trailing behind him and Bluestar.
They set a quick pace, and soon had passed the nest with the dogs without incident. Tigerclaw snorted when he saw the dogs asleep. Granted, the two dogs were untied, but Barley's attempt to help had been completely unnecessary.
They were making good time now. The WindClan scent line came and went, and once again they were crossing the steep moor.
Allowing the scents of WindClan territory to hit the roof of his mouth, Tigerclaw flicked his tail nervously. The bitter tang of ShadowClan was wafting through the breeze, and he was very aware that he hadn't been here at this time in his previous life. As far as he knew, ShadowClan might have hunted in WindClan territory in preparation for their invasion of ThunderClan. If they intercepted them now...
He shuddered. The patrol might end up too injured from an attack to continue right away. They would need to rest. His vision of arriving late to the battle and dying at the claws of an unknown ShadowClan warrior would come true.
Bluestar gave him a sharp glance. "Are you all right, Tigerclaw?"
Tigerclaw snorted. "Of course I'm all right!"
"Don't worry about ShadowClan warriors. You won't find any here today." A sense of déjà vu clutched Tigerclaw's chest. Bluestar had said those exact words during his first life, although then she had been gritting her teeth and limping, still in pain from the fight with the swarm of rats.
He turned his head to observe the wide open landscape. "I smell them," he growled under his breath.
"We will soon reach Fourtrees." Bluestar turned and beckoned the apprentices onward with a jerk of her chin, and then turned back to Tigerclaw. "If they are here, we can avoid them until then."
Tigerclaw wished he shared her confidence. If she was wrong, and they took too much time to get back to camp, he would end up dead.
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
They lapsed into silence as they crossed through Fourtrees, leaving the smell of ShadowClan behind. Tigerclaw let himself relax. ShadowClan obviously hadn't entered ThunderClan territory yet. It was much too early.
Glancing at him for the dozenth time since they'd reentered ThunderClan's hunting grounds, Bluestar twitched her tail. "All of you have done well." Tigerclaw bristled before he realized she was addressing the apprentices. "When we reach camp, take some fresh-kill for yourselves. You've earned it."
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. If anything the apprentices had held them back. He and Bluestar would have been in camp by now if they hadn't needed to yowl at one apprentice or another to keep up every five heartbeats.
Apparently deciding the perfect location to pick up the pace was just tree-lengths away from the camp instead of when they'd been in enemy territory, Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw sprang ahead of the group.
Their tails were disappearing into the gorse tunnel when the camp came into view. Tigerclaw breathed in, letting the forest scents wash over his tongue. He was home.
Bounding past Bluestar for the last few fox-lengths, Tigerclaw slid though the entrance and into camp. Bluestar joined him a moment later. The clearing was packed with cats sharing tongues and resting in patches of sunlight.
"Redtail, how is the camp?" Bluestar meowed as the tortoiseshell deputy trotted up.
Redtail dipped his head. "All is well. There are no signs of trespassing at any of our borders."
"Remain alert anyway." Bluestar flicked her tail. "Are there any cats not in the camp?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head. "All patrols have returned for the night. Would you like me to send another to keep an eye on the ShadowClan border?"
Tigerclaw opened his mouth to interrupt him.
Bluestar spoke first. "No. Inform every cat that they are to stay here for the time being." Tigerclaw's shoulders sagged in relief.
"Yes, Bluestar," Redtail meowed. "Although it looks like Tigerclaw wanted to volunteer for a patrol," he added, his eyes sparkling with amusement. Was the blasted tom trying to get Tigerclaw killed?
"No!" Tigerclaw snarled; he was not going to die today! If he agreed to go on patrol, with his luck he'd end up taking Graypaw, Ravenpaw, and Firepaw, then Bluestar would end up joining him, then they'd run back to camp mid-battle thereby fulfilling his vision, and then, he'd die! No- it would be even worse than death if he faded like he had in his dream!
Redtail looked like he was about to say something in response to Tigerclaw's fierce objection. Tigerclaw gritted his teeth. He needed to stay in camp at all costs, and if that meant disrespecting the idiotic tortoiseshell deputy then so be it. "Did you not hear Bluestar?" Tigerclaw thrust his muzzle in Redtail's face. "Every cat is to stay here! We must protect our camp!"
"Enough, Tigerclaw. There is no need for this." Bluestar was looking at him in confusion now; Tigerclaw wondered if she guessed by now that he'd received a dream from StarClan predicting the future- she had been watching him concernedly since they'd left the Moonstone. But he couldn't think about that. It was imperative that he stayed in camp or the vision might come true.
"We must stay in camp," Tigerclaw growled, meeting Bluestar's eyes. Vaguely aware of his Clanmates' stares, Tigerclaw pushed past them to sit by the warriors' den, not even bothering to pick up a piece of fresh-kill on the way.
He watched the camp in silence, noticing Lionheart pad up to Bluestar.
After the brief conversation, Lionheart began to head in his direction. Groaning internally, Tigerclaw shifted to make room. "How was the journey?" the golden tabby meowed.
Tigerclaw grunted. "Fine. Nothing of importance happened. ShadowClan was on WindClan territory as usual," he added at Lionheart's curious gaze.
"How did the apprentices fare?"
"They were much too slow." Tigerclaw paused, deciding whether to go on. "Firepaw especially."
Lionheart let out a low purr. "Tigerclaw, I think if Firepaw ran faster than a rabbit you'd still think he was too slow. In a battle of speed he would win against Graypaw, but I don't hear you saying anything against him."
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. "Graypaw can rely on his strength. Firepaw has no strength to speak of and is not quick enough on his paws to make up for it." He dug his claws into the ground. He needed to focus right now, not talk about the kittypet's worthless skills. The battle in which he could die could begin at any moment now. He wasn't sure how long the fighting had been going on before he'd reached the camp during his first life, so he needed to be prepared.
Bluestar seemed to have the same idea. Tail flicking in agitation, she paced back and forth by the gorse tunnel.
Suddenly Bluestar stiffened and raised her head. "ThunderClan! Enemies! Defend the camp!"
It had started. ShadowClan warriors were streaming into the camp, some through the gorse tunnel, others clawing through gaps in the wall.
Raising his head to howl a battle cry, Tigerclaw leaped to his paws, ready to slash at any ShadowClan cat that dared to trespass on the ThunderClan camp. He cursed the shadow cat as he went; any one of these cats might have been the one that killed him in his dream, and because of her meddling he couldn't take extra precautions. He could only hope to stop the onslaught of ShadowClan warriors.
The ThunderClan cats surged forward, surrounding the entrance. Tigerclaw guessed Bluestar's warning had given them an advantage compared to the first time; they ended up cornered together by the entrance. There were still many ShadowClan warriors though, and they had soon managed to slither their way into the crowd of ThunderClan warriors.
The ThunderClan cats spread out now, to avoid hitting each other as they attacked their enemies. Tigerclaw pounced at a brown ShadowClan tom, easily grasping him with his forelegs and using his hind claws to slash the warrior's vulnerable belly. The tom screeched, and Tigerclaw gave him a few more scratches to remember him by before loosening his grip.
Flicking blood from his ears, he took a moment to observe his surroundings. The battle was going well as far as Tigerclaw could see. Lionheart was next to him, grappling with a large tabby warrior. Tigerclaw caught sight of Blackfoot creeping around the thick of the fighting and wondered if he should follow.
A tortoiseshell ShadowClan warrior leaped onto his back, and all thoughts of his former ally left his mind. He rolled over, hearing a sharp yowl from the she-cat, and clawed a deep gash down her flank as she stumbled away. Such an inexperienced warrior should have known better than to try to fight him! She darted away unevenly, and as Tigerclaw watched her go he caught sight of another tortoiseshell, this one from ThunderClan.
Tigerclaw felt his heart soar as he took in the scene. Redtail was cornered by three large ShadowClan warriors. Even though Redtail was a good fighter- Tigerclaw gagged internally at the thought that he'd admitted that to himself- Redtail was no match for three cats at once.
Finally! Joy threatened to overcome him. Redtail could very possibly die now; Tigerclaw just needed to continue to pretend not to notice his Clanmate's predicament, and one of the ShadowClan cats would deliver a killing blow!
Tigerclaw feinted to the side, sending a useless ShadowClan warrior running with a single claw swipe. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Redtail dodging around the larger ShadowClan cats, expertly weaving between them. But another cat, a dark gray tom, was creeping up behind him unnoticed. Tigerclaw recognized him as one of the cats who had followed him in the Dark Forest. Tigerclaw was pleased to see that the tom had developed his specialty in sneak attacks before he died, and as he drew closer to Redtail, Tigerclaw held his breath.
Unfortunately, Lionheart noticed the warrior as well. "Redtail, behind you!"
Alerted by Lionheart's fierce battle cry, Redtail abandoned his attempts to grapple with the bigger ShadowClan warrior, and with a swift bound leaped over their heads.
Lionheart let out a piercing yowl and thundered toward the group of ShadowClan warriors, leaving Tigerclaw with no choice but to follow. Shoulder to shoulder with Lionheart now, Tigerclaw bit and hacked at enemies with practiced precision.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of claws just mouse-lengths from the golden tabby's neck.
Acting purely out of instinct, Tigerclaw reached out with his foreleg, hooking the ShadowClan warrior by the neck, and then pinned him against the ground with a single massive forepaw.
Slowly unsheathing his claws until they pricked the tom's throat, Tigerclaw bent his head to hiss into the enemy warrior's ear: "I suggest you run if you want to live." The ShadowClan tom didn't need telling twice; the heartbeat Tigerclaw let up on his grasp, the tom bolted away and raced into the forest.
Lionheart gave him a swift nod, and the realization suddenly hit him. Mouse-dung! He'd saved Lionheart! That ShadowClan cat's claws had been whiskers away from slashing open Lionheart's throat, and whether Tigerclaw had meant to or not, he'd pushed him away! The golden tabby would be his main competition for the deputyship once Redtail died, and as luck would have it a cat had tried to kill him and... Tigerclaw wanted to let out an enraged roar. He had thrown his chance away out of battling instinct!
He shook himself. He'd think about it later, when he didn't have to focus on staying alive. The clearing was thinning out now; ShadowClan would have to give up soon.
Tigerclaw shoved a cat into the path of Lionheart, who snapped at the warrior's tail to quicken his retreat. Finally, with a loud yowl, Whitestorm, Speckletail, and Goldenflower chased the last of the ShadowClan warriors from the camp.
Tigerclaw closed his eyes, and allowed his pelt to fall flat. I lived, he realized, feeling numb. It was over.
His vision hadn't come true. A burst of power swelled in his chest. He had successfully avoided dying, though it rankled him that the shadow cat had forced him to put his plans for ThunderClan's takeover in the back of his mind to do so.
Hearing a buzz in his ears, Tigerclaw glanced around the clearing. Just like his first life, blood and chunks of fur were scattered about the camp. A small group had gathered by the nursery; Tigerclaw squinted and recognized the body of Rosetail. He blinked in surprise. The she-cat had died during his first existence too. Obviously the battle had gone more similarly than he'd thought. Tigerclaw looked around, cheering slightly when he couldn't find Redtail's black and ginger pelt. Perhaps Redtail had died this time, instead of Lionheart!
"Our kits are all safe, thanks to Yellowfang." Frostfur had emerged from the nursery and addressed the crowd. Yellowfang followed a short distance behind her. "A ShadowClan warrior killed brave Rosetail and was trying to steal them from their nest, but Yellowfang fought him off."
"It was no ordinary ShadowClan warrior either." Tigerclaw flattened his ears against the kittypet's grating voice. "I saw him. It was Blackfoot."
"The ShadowClan deputy!" came Brindleface's shocked mew.
To Tigerclaw's dismay, Redtail stepped forward from the back of the group, completely unhurt. "I saw him as well," he meowed. "Blackfoot is a skilled warrior. If Yellowfang defended the kits against him, she risked her life." Redtail solemnly dipped his head to Yellowfang, who cautiously nodded in return.
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. Of course.
Murmuring spread through the clearing. Bluestar padded up to the fallen she-cat. "Now we must honor Rosetail's sacrifice," she meowed.
"Indeed," Lionheart meowed solemnly. "Rosetail died bravely, defending her Clanmates even though she was an elder, and she deserves our greatest respect." Tigerclaw reflected on the irony of the situation; the first time around the golden tabby's death had completely overshadowed Rosetail's.
Although there was a tinge of sadness in the air, it was not overwhelming like it had been during his first life... and it wasn't as if it had been too sad for Tigerclaw either time. He remembered the glorious feeling of being made deputy near this point in his first life: the cheers, the newly gained sense of power, the wide eyed respect and admiration he'd received from his Clanmates. It had been the perfect day...
But that was before. His plot to lead ThunderClan hadn't worked, but even though he was a bit behind schedule in this life he'd rule the Clans eventually. I must be patient.
The queens and elders had been cleaning Rosetail's fur. Tigerclaw watched from a distance as they dragged the formerly gossipy elder to the center of the clearing for her vigil. It was rather sad in a way, how Rosetail had never really been mentioned after she died. She was a complete nobody. Certainly, some cats probably had fond memories of the she-cat, but she wasn't truly important. When I die, Tigerclaw told himself, no cat will forget me like that. He knew he would only die after a long life as ruler of all four Clans, and after his death would become leader of StarClan. Cats of all Clans would remember his name for all of eternity.
Now that he could think about his immediate future without worrying that he'd die, he could start plotting again. But he'd have to pick up the pieces of his plan first, which was now in shambles. The kittypet still needed to be sabotaged, Redtail and Bluestar still needed to die, and the trust of RiverClan, WindClan, and ShadowClan still needed to be gained.
He snorted bitterly. He had barely made any progress in becoming leader of ThunderClan, much less the leader of all four Clans! Not only was Redtail still alive, but Bluestar still had three lives, and while he didn't care too much that Lionheart hadn't died, he was one additional cat he'd have to deal with in the future to obtain the deputyship.
He narrowed his eyes at the kittypet, who was talking to Graypaw by the apprentices' den. Ravenpaw padded up, nearly leaping out of his fur when his paw brushed against a fallen leaf.
Perhaps... Scowling, Tigerclaw rested his gaze on Ravenpaw, and then on Firepaw, the idea slowly solidifying in his head. Maybe he didn't need an entirely new plan.
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
As Tigerclaw expected, Bluestar called a Clan meeting later that night and accepted Yellowfang as a full member of ThunderClan. Besides the fact that Redtail and Lionheart had lent their support to the rogue, it went mostly the same as the first time...
Well, aside from the part when Bluestar had thanked the kittypet for going above and beyond by befriending Yellowfang when she had first joined the Clan. And the part when Redtail had chimed in to compliment Firepaw's fighting skills... And the part when the Clan had cheered his name. Hissing at the memory, Tigerclaw pushed past the prickly entrance to the warriors' den. Soon enough the Clan would realize Firepaw's traitorous ways.
ThunderClan's admiration for the kittypet wasn't going to last, and the time to put his plan into motion was now. As he loped through the camp, sharing respectful nods with his fellow senior warriors and squinting against the rising sun, Tigerclaw went over the idea one last time in his mind and then strode to the entrance to Bluestar's den.
The ThunderClan leader apparently noticed his presence through the screen of lichen. "Tigerclaw, come in."
"Bluestar." Tigerclaw slipped inside and dipped his head in greeting. Grateful that he'd recommended Firepaw to receive hunting lessons, he began to speak. "As we discussed several days ago, Firepaw needs more hunting experience if he ever hopes to become a warrior. I've been meaning to give him additional hunting lessons, but the last few days have been too busy." He paused, readying himself to ask the question. "I would like to take him hunting myself, if you'd allow me once you're done with him for the day." He studied Bluestar's expression. Hopefully his idea was so sound that she'd decide to put off whatever training she was going to do with the kittypet, and immediately send him hunting with Tigerclaw.
"It gladdens me that you've taken such a deep interest in Firepaw's training," Bluestar meowed. "However, I planned a full day of battle training for him. We may be out until sunset. Tomorrow would be better."
How irritating. Tigerclaw absolutely needed to be in the camp tomorrow. But he would think of something, some other way to get the kittypet out of camp later without drawing suspicion. "Very well. Perhaps I can hunt with him another day."
"Don't think I don't notice all you've done to help with Firepaw's training," Bluestar meowed. "And in the battle yesterday as well, your skills were an asset to our Clan. It is good that you recognized the precariousness of the situation our Clan was in; very few cats realized the danger ShadowClan presented." Her gaze bored into him, and Tigerclaw recognized that she was still trying to work out how he had seemed to have foreknowledge of the battle. She had never followed up after his furious outburst at Redtail, and Tigerclaw knew he had appeared very agitated ever since he'd been at the Moonstone.
He decided to be vague in his answer- it would make him appear modest, which Bluestar seemed to like. "I cannot take full credit for my actions, just as no other warrior can." Tigerclaw dipped his head. "StarClan has guided my paws."
Bluestar was eyeing him closely now, a curious look in her eyes. "I thank StarClan then."
Once again, Tigerclaw bowed his head, and then exited the den. Even if he had been unable to wrangle his way into a training session, it was clear that he had gained back some of Bluestar's respect he had lost recently in just a single conversation.
He trotted away, mood brightening. As well as improving his mood, the talk with Bluestar had given him an idea. The kittypet's training was going to last until sunset, right?
The dawn sun warmed his fur as Tigerclaw headed back to the warriors' den. He flicked his ears to catch Darkstripe's attention, and the dark tom leaped to his paws and followed Tigerclaw to a secluded corner of the camp. "What is it, Tigerclaw?"
Tigerclaw motioned with his tail for Darkstripe to sit down. After a quick look around to make sure they weren't being overheard, (Lionheart had just left the warriors' den but wasn't awake enough to give Tigerclaw one of his usual concerned looks) he began. "You are to hunt by the Thunderpath after sunset, near the twisted, dead tree." He let out a long sigh. "Bring Longtail with you." This was his main point of concern; he had been dead set against using Longtail in the past, but at this point he needed more cats to back up the story of what was about to happen.
"Why?" Darkstripe's eyes lit up with enthusiasm. "Is it something to do with the kittypet?"
"Let's just say that I'm going to give the kittypet a little test." Tigerclaw purred. Yes, a test is one way to put it. "You and Longtail will see how he does."
Darkstripe's tail twitched. "I thought you didn't want Longtail involved-"
"Well, I changed my mind!" Tigerclaw snarled, lashing his tail. Why was Darkstripe so obnoxious? What made the irksome tom think he could question him?
Darkstripe shrank back. "Yes, Tigerclaw."
"Tell no one but Longtail," Tigerclaw growled. "Is that clear?!"
Darkstripe nodded; his fearful appearance reminded Tigerclaw of the dark warrior's apprentice days.
"Remember, I won't be hunting with you." Realizing that Darkstripe needed to understand what was being asked of him completely, Tigerclaw lowered his voice to a hiss. "You will hunt solely with Longtail. As far as the rest of the Clan knows, I am fast asleep in camp. Understood?"
"I think I do," Darkstripe meowed slowly, a conniving gleam flickering in his eyes. "I think I understand completely. You're going to order the kittypet to do something against the warrior code and then-"
"Obviously!" Tigerclaw spat. "Idiot! Do you want the whole Clan to hear us?! Just go!"
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Nodding importantly, Darkstripe slipped away.
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. Why was Darkstripe such a mousebrained idiot? Why do I have such terrible allies? Tigerclaw sighed. It was better than nothing.
"Come along now, you two," Lionheart meowed. "The prey won't wait all day."
They were walking alongside the stream, with Tigerclaw and Lionheart in front of the small group. Graypaw and Ravenpaw were a ways back, loafing about like a pair of stupid kits. Tigerclaw gritted his teeth. This was much different from this same hunting trip in his previous life. For one, Graypaw had been extremely subdued then, having lost his mentor the previous day, and Ravenpaw had been positively terrified. That had been the time he had sent Ravenpaw into ShadowClan territory in an attempt to sabotage him, and it had worked... although the cursed kittypet had seen around his plot and sent the mousehearted apprentice away a day later.
That won't happen this time. Loping along with confident strides, Tigerclaw recalled his plan, which depended on returning to camp in time to intercept the kittypet before he went to sleep. If Lionheart decided to drag out the hunting lesson, Tigerclaw would just feign a bellyache or come up with some other stupid excuse.
Lionheart slowed to a stop and turned to face the apprentices. "Ravenpaw, Graypaw, both of you have developed your hunting skills quite well in the last moon, so it's only fitting that we move on to some more unusual techniques." Lionheart paused, his whiskers twitching in amusement. "Now, we've talked about hunting squirrels, mice, and birds, but have you thought about how you'd hunt other prey?"
Graypaw tilted his head. "What other prey is there?"
There was a long silence. "There are... rabbits?" Ravenpaw guessed.
Lionheart shook his head. "While it is certainly true I didn't mention rabbits, I meant that as ThunderClan apprentices you are used to hunting ThunderClan prey. Have you ever wondered how the other Clans hunt?"
Graypaw shrugged. "Not really."
"Well then, you're missing out, young Graypaw! Certainly, thinking about such things will improve your understanding of your own hunting." While Lionheart seemed to be enjoying himself, Tigerclaw had to concentrate to keep his eyes from rolling out of the back of his head. "Take this stream, for instance," the golden tabby went on. "Look at it."
Lionheart gave the stream a meaningful glance, as Ravenpaw and Graypaw narrowed their eyes at the swift moving water in bewilderment.
"Are those fish?" Ravenpaw asked.
"Right you are, Ravenpaw," Lionheart replied. "How would you catch one? What would a RiverClan cat do?"
"I dunno." Graypaw frowned. "I mean, I suppose they would just try to bat them out of the water."
"Let's try it then." Rising to his paws, Lionheart began to pad over to the stream.
"Wait, what?" Graypaw mewed incredulously.
"We're fishing?!" Ravenpaw meowed, not disrespectfully but in disbelief. Secretly Tigerclaw thought he had the right idea; ThunderClan hunted forest prey and there was no use wondering how RiverClan hunted fish.
"Come on now, Graypaw," Lionheart meowed, whiskers twitching. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
Hesitantly, the gray apprentice padded to Lionheart's side. He crouched at the edge of the water and delicately swatted at the surface. In a flash of silver the fish scattered, retreating downstream. "They're gone."
"Why do you think what you tried didn't work?" Beckoning Ravenpaw with his tail, Lionheart shifted aside to give the black apprentice space to sit by the stream.
"Maybe the fish saw him," Ravenpaw suggested.
"Good observation." The skinny black tom ducked his head at Lionheart's praise. "Why don't you try? See if you can sneak up on one."
Tigerclaw noticed Ravenpaw sinking his claws into the damp sand at the edge of the stream. Ravenpaw stared at the water as the cloud of silver fish began to flit about near the shore. He waited a long time before he reached out and dipped a black paw below the surface. Just like before, the fish darted out of reach as a group.
Ravenpaw looked up, disappointed.
"What else can you try?" Lionheart asked.
"We might need to be quicker." Graypaw honed in on a single large fish and shot his paw at it. The fish flitted away.
"It's the same idea as hunting forest prey, isn't it?" Ravenpaw mewed. "You need to avoid detection, but at the same time be fast enough to catch it."
Lionheart nodded approvingly. "Keep going. See if you can catch one."
Lionheart stood back, allowing the apprentices to take turns trying more and more unusual hunting methods. Soon Graypaw and Ravenpaw were bounding back and forth along the shore, darting their paws across the water, but still no closer to catching a fish. "Ravenpaw is shaping up quite well," Lionheart remarked after a long silence.
Tigerclaw snorted. "You can tell that by seeing him play around the stream like a RiverClan kit? That hardly seems like it would show anything."
"It shows a lot." Lionheart gave him a long look. "You've mentored him well."
A yowl rose into the air. "Mousedung! Almost had it!" Graypaw leaped across the stream to try again.
"I still think this is pointless," Tigerclaw growled. He should never have suggested fishing to Lionheart; the golden tabby had clearly misinterpreted his idea. "The purpose of this was to make them develop an appreciation for ThunderClan hunting methods, not to gain an understanding of an enemy Clan."
Lionheart tilted his head. "Why do you think they can't do both?"
Shifting his paws, Tigerclaw turned back to observe the apprentices, and reflected that in spite of Lionheart's obnoxiously friendly nature, it was useful to have him alive. Perhaps Lionheart could be his deputy one day. Although that duty would probably fall to Darkstripe, having Lionheart as an option would be valuable.
Thinking back to Lionheart's praise of Ravenpaw, Tigerclaw found himself nodding. Ravenpaw was shaping up well, and it was all due to Tigerclaw's excellent mentorship. The formerly ceaselessly terrified tom wasn't afraid of fighting anymore... well, most of the time anyway; he still tended to jump out of the path of attacks rather than fight back in most training sessions. Tigerclaw watched his apprentice, recalling how he had spread rumors that Ravenpaw had betrayed ThunderClan during his first life. Ravenpaw was useful now; it would be pointless to make him appear disloyal. The kittypet however...
The plan Tigerclaw had formulated to discredit Ravenpaw during his first life was the perfect fit for his second one. After it was finished, every cat in the forest would believe Firepaw was spying for ShadowClan. It was only a matter of time.
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
This was going to be more difficult than he'd hoped since Firepaw had trained all day with Bluestar, but the plan was still possible. In a way it was better; now Tigerclaw wouldn't be associated with the kittypet at all before the events of the night.
The sun was setting, casting a warm orange glow over the clearing. Tigerclaw passed the time by staring at the camp entrance. Settled inside the warriors' den, Lionheart and Whitestorm were talking, while Redtail rested a short ways off, basking in the last rays of sun before dusk shadows worked their way into the camp. All three warriors occasionally gave him confused looks; whenever this happened Tigerclaw made an effort to appear not so focused on the gorse tunnel. Bluestar and Firepaw couldn't train all night, could they? Feeling a flash of anger, Tigerclaw grumbled to himself. He needed to sabotage the kittypet tonight because tomorrow ShadowClan was going to steal the ThunderClan kits. Hopefully.
Glancing around, he saw Spottedleaf talking with Goldenflower next to the medicine den. Ignoring the odd twinge in his chest at the sight of his former mate, (Tigerclaw figured he must have eaten a bad mouse) he studied the tortoiseshell medicine cat instead. If things went how they had the first time Spottedleaf would die, but Tigerclaw knew it might not be so simple. Besides, it wasn't necessary for Spottedleaf to die for his plan to work; it just needed to be clear that Yellowfang had ran after the ShadowClan cat that stole the kits.
But he needed to make the kittypet look like he betrayed the Clan first, and the kittypet and Bluestar were taking their time.
Ravenpaw and Graypaw were playfighting by the tree stump; after a long day of training they still somehow had a kit-like level of energy. Tigerclaw found it hard to believe that at this point in his old life, Graypaw had been one day away from earning his warrior name. The dumb tom didn't have the maturity for a warrior name yet, and had only earned it the first time by chance. Tigerclaw shook the distracting thoughts from his head. Firepaw could get back at any moment now. The first stars of the night began to flicker faintly as the sun continued to sink.
Finally a ginger head poked out of the gorse tunnel, followed closely by Bluestar. Tigerclaw made sure not to appear interested in the kittypet's sudden appearance; for his plan to work, they couldn't be seen together, or cats would start asking questions.
He still needed to get the kittypet's attention though. Turning his head, he let his gaze sweep across the camp until he met Firepaw's eyes, and then held the ginger tom's gaze. Firepaw stared, and Tigerclaw subtly jerked his head toward a secluded corner of the camp.
The kittypet slowly padded over and settled himself in front of Tigerclaw. Flicking his tail, Tigerclaw lowered his voice to a whisper. "Come with me."
Firepaw twitched his ears. "Are we hunting?"
Saying nothing, Tigerclaw dipped his head, trying to imbue the gesture with hidden meaning, and padded to the gap in the camp barrier by the nursery. He pushed his way through with his broad shoulders, and when he turned around he was pleased to see that the kittypet had followed him.
Leading the way across the territory, Tigerclaw struggled to contain his impatience. They passed the training hollow, then trotted alongside the stream and left it behind.
Once they had made it a few tree-lengths from the stream and were in an unremarkable part of the forest near the Owltree, Tigerclaw halted, turning to face the kittypet. The ginger tom watched him expectantly. It was time. "Firepaw," he began, "you were born a kittypet, but you have adapted to our Clan for the last few moons. However, there are many traditions you are still unaware of. One of these traditions- an assessment to be precise- is an important part of becoming a warrior." The kittypet sat up straighter and Tigerclaw suppressed an amused purr. "It will determine if you have what it takes to earn your warrior name. It is time, Firepaw, if you wish to be a true warrior, for you to take part in this task."
Ears pricked, Firepaw looked up at him with fiery green eyes.
Tigerclaw gave Firepaw a challenging stare. "Are you ready?"
"Come." Without another word, Tigerclaw flicked his tail for Firepaw to follow. He led him past the Owltree toward the Thunderpath.
The gray outline of the Thunderpath began to appear through the trees, and Tigerclaw sat down. Firepaw settled himself a few tail-lengths off and looked up expectantly.
"Tonight," Tigerclaw growled, indicating the stretch of land in front of him with a nod, "you will hunt in ShadowClan territory."
The kittypet tried to hide his shock, but failed. His ginger fur began to bristle along his spine, and his green eyes which had been filled with determination just moments before gained a nervous gleam. "Tigerclaw," he mewed finally. "What if ShadowClan finds me? Wouldn't that cause a war?"
"It could." Hopefully the kittypet would get caught, since if that happened it was very likely that ShadowClan would kill him. In that case ShadowClan would surely start a war with ThunderClan, but it would be worth it if the kittypet was dead. "Bring back three pieces of prey, and whatever you do, don't get caught." Tigerclaw supposed he should add that in so Firepaw didn't get too suspicious.
Firepaw nodded, and Tigerclaw shoved his way through the undergrowth, picking out the dead tree he had told Darkstripe to find, and sat beside it.
"You will cross the Thunderpath here." Tigerclaw glanced around, opening his mouth to taste the air. No sign of Darkstripe and Longtail yet, just the tang of monsters as they rumbled past just fox-lengths away. "Return on this same part of the Thunderpath."
"Did..." Firepaw paused. "Have Ravenpaw and Graypaw done their assessments yet?"
Tigerclaw whipped around. "If they have, they wouldn't have told you. Tell no one; that is of utmost importance. Speaking of it would bring dishonor to your name." Tigerclaw felt his spirits soar when Firepaw gave a stiff nod. The kittypet was buying it!
"What if ShadowClan finds me?"
"Are you afraid?"
Firepaw dug his claws into the ground and stared up at Tigerclaw with a defiant expression. He gave a tiny shake of his head.
Sounds of the forest at night permeated the air all around them. Firepaw crept forward, waited for a lull in the stream of monsters, which didn't take long since it was so late, and with one last determined glance at Tigerclaw, hurtled across the path.
Tigerclaw crouched at the edge of the Thunderpath as the moon rose, waiting for the kittypet to return. The best outcome would be for Firepaw to be captured by ShadowClan, but Tigerclaw didn't allow himself to hope. After all, in his previous life Ravenpaw of all cats had managed to trespass on ShadowClan land without being noticed, and Tigerclaw had to admit to himself that Firepaw was more competent than Ravenpaw... at least the one from his first life. Tigerclaw was making excellent progress with his apprentice this time, even though the tom was still a cowardly mouse-heart. Ravenpaw was shaping up to be a useful follower.
There was one point of concern distracting Tigerclaw at this point- where were Darkstripe and Longtail? It was long past sunset. The forest was pitch black now, and he realized that he couldn't tell if the shadows were caused by the shadow cat or if the night was particularly dark.
The breeze shifted, and Tigerclaw picked up the scent of Darkstripe and Longtail being carried in it. Finally!
He could hear bits and pieces of their mews as he crept up.
"-don't see why it had to be here." That was Longtail's voice.
"This spot always has the best hunting."
"Really? I've never noticed."
"Wait here. I'll be back." Darkstripe had apparently seen Tigerclaw's eyes glowing in the darkness, and the dark tom quickly padded toward the tree.
Tigerclaw sidled up to Darkstripe, out of view from Longtail. "What took you so long?" he hissed.
"Longtail wanted to hunt on the way," Darkstripe hissed back out of the corner of his mouth.
"Darkstripe?" Longtail called. "Who are you talking to?"
"No one!" Darkstripe raced back.
"Then why were you meowing?" Longtail trotted closer to the tree, and Tigerclaw slipped away to watch them from a few fox-lengths back.
Darkstripe lashed his tail. "I was working out my hunting strategy! Now keep still. I'm going to find a prey trail."
Tigerclaw flexed his claws. Darkstripe and Longtail had reached the tree at the perfect time; at that moment the kittypet's bright ginger fur appeared from the thick forest across the Thunderpath. Darkstripe's eyes were dark green slits as his gaze tracked the kittypet.
"What is he doing?" Longtail hissed. "Why is he on ShadowClan territory?"
"I don't know," Darkstripe meowed. "Betraying ThunderClan probably."
Carrying an assortment of prey in his jaws, Firepaw cautiously looked down both sides of the Thunderpath and then trotted across. "He has prey!" Tigerclaw had to hold back a purr at Longtail's outraged growl. "He's been hunting on their territory!" They watched as the kittypet as he adjusted the prey between his teeth and trudged past them in the direction of camp, his tail held high. "I can't believe it! That kittypet is going to cause a war. How long do you think he's been hunting on ShadowClan land?"
Darkstripe shrugged. This was going perfectly; when Tigerclaw revealed the kittypet's treachery he would have multiple cats to back him up.
Longtail was bristling. "We need to tell Bluestar about this. Come on."
Darkstripe froze, and Tigerclaw was glad; clearly Darkstripe recognized that Tigerclaw needed to handle this. "Wait, I will ask Tigerclaw. He will know what to do."
"Tigerclaw?" Longtail sounded confused, and Tigerclaw didn't blame him. The clear course of action would be to tell Bluestar; Darkstripe should have been more subtle even if Tigerclaw had hoped to talk to them first.
The dark tom spun around, and after a quick glance around raised his tail in obviously feigned surprise. "Tigerclaw, you're here," Darkstripe meowed, sounding delighted. Tigerclaw rolled his eyes at his former apprentice's stupidity; surely Longtail didn't believe that he had just randomly happened upon them. "We've just seen something!"
Tigerclaw gazed down at them, letting his expression fall into one of mild, concerned interest. "What is it?"
"The kittypet! We were just walking around the Thunderpath when we saw him running across from the ShadowClan side!"
"Really," Tigerclaw meowed, flicking his ears. Longtail was watching the exchange, looking confused.
"He's clearly spying on us," Darkstripe meowed savagely. "That was probably the traitor's plan all along! He had prey; it was probably his payment for sharing ThunderClan secrets." Tigerclaw frowned thoughtfully. "You don't believe me?"
"It's not that I don't believe you," Tigerclaw began slowly. "It is just that those are very serious accusations to make against a Clanmate."
"We both saw him in ShadowClan territory," Longtail put in.
Heaving a sigh, Tigerclaw watched Longtail as his tail gave a worried twitch. "Are you quite sure? Perhaps he doesn't know he crossed the border; he is a kittypet after all." Tigerclaw felt a mrrow of laughter tugging at his whiskers. "I will handle it, Longtail, do not worry."
Longtail seemed satisfied. He got up and turned around to go back to camp. Tigerclaw strode ahead of him so that he was in the lead, but still close enough to speak to the other two cats. They walked for a short distance before Longtail gave him a thoughtful look. "Are you going to tell Bluestar-"
"Bluestar is Firepaw's mentor," Tigerclaw growled, narrowing his eyes. "Trust me, Longtail. Tomorrow, she will certainly be informed."
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Tigerclaw barely slept that night, unable to put his plan at the back of his mind long enough to doze off. Soon, in a matter of hours, the kittypet would be disgraced. Yellowfang would as well. ThunderClan would be his for the taking.
And Frostfur's kits... well, they'd probably be fine. Tigerclaw shrugged off any worries about the kits' rescue. The important part was making the kittypet appear to be a traitor and then everything else would fall into place. He'd volunteer to lead the attack on ShadowClan if necessary, and hopefully that would make him look like a hero and increase Bluestar's respect and trust in him. Then when he sabotaged Redtail the deputyship would be his for the taking.
And even though Lionheart was still around, Tigerclaw found that he didn't mind. This time he would be deputy, not Lionheart, and the golden tabby warrior would be a useful cat to have as a supporter. Perhaps he could make Lionheart his deputy at some point. Darkstripe's stupidity might put his leadership at risk, and now that Lionheart had finally stopped looking at him strangely, the golden tabby's influence could very well strengthen his support among ThunderClan.
Tigerclaw closed his eyes. The scene burned his eyelids: himself and Lionheart, standing at the top of the Highrock as leader and deputy, looking down upon the Clan. Tigerclaw raised his head to yowl something to the gathered group of cats. Lionheart nodded supportively as the rest of ThunderClan cheered...
He was basking in the image when, as though summoned by the thought, Lionheart sat down next to him. "Did you hear the good news? Brindleface kitted last night."
Tigerclaw grunted, and then figured he should say something. "That is good to hear."
"They will make fine warriors. You should see them."
Tigerclaw nodded. There was no way he would have time for such frivolities today, when so much was at stake. "Perhaps I will later," he lied smoothly. "There is still much to be done."
"Not taking Firepaw hunting again, are you?"
Tigerclaw froze. Does he know? If Lionheart discovered that Tigerclaw had ordered Firepaw to hunt in ShadowClan territory, his plan would be ruined. "I haven't taken him hunting that often recently." He forced his pelt to lay flat. "And it is much too busy to take him today."
Thankfully Lionheart suspected nothing was amiss. "Perhaps I'll take Firepaw out then, if you're too busy."
Tigerclaw shook his head; the kittypet needed to be in camp today! "No, I've been meaning to bring him hunting," he growled through gritted teeth. "I will take him later tonight, after the reinforcements on the camp wall are complete."
Lionheart dipped his head. "Why doesn't that surprise me?" Tigerclaw stiffened; was Lionheart suspicious? But when the golden tabby continued his tone was warm. "You've taken Firepaw's training very seriously ever since he has joined us. Even after Bluestar became his mentor you still spend a great amount of time instructing him."
Tigerclaw nodded. Of course he was taking an interest in the kittypet since he had no experience living in a Clan prior to his sixth moon... or that was what Lionheart probably thought.
Tigerclaw paused. He needed to play this very carefully. What should he even say now that would make him appear supportive of the kittypet but at the same time make it so Lionheart wouldn't question him when Firepaw's reputation was ruined? He imagined some possible replies.
Indeed, I realized early on Firepaw would need a great deal of support to be successful. I only wanted ThunderClan to not be weighed down by useless warriors. Tigerclaw scowled. This was probably not the best response.
Of course I needed to spend a great deal of time instructing the kittypet, as he has no warrior blood. And still, after my best efforts his stalking is only marginally better than a squirrel's. No, that wouldn't work either.
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. Lionheart was still waiting for a response. "If things continue the way they are, Firepaw will get a warrior name soon," Tigerclaw meowed at last. It didn't bother him to say that, since things weren't actually going to continue the way they were- the kittypet was going to be permanently exiled within a day.
Lionheart nodded. "Indeed, all the apprentices have made good progress."
Tigerclaw decided to go all in with his act; it wasn't like it would matter in the long term. "Join me tonight for a training session for the apprentices. Bring Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw. Perhaps Dustpaw and Sandpaw too; all of them are very near their warrior ceremonies."
Lionheart nodded seriously. "I will ask Whitestorm and Redtail to come along, and if Bluestar consents, I would like her to join us as well. All five apprentices have made great strides in their training. They should all be assessed."
"Excellent." Tigerclaw shrugged away the mention of Redtail. Chances were the training session would never happen.
Lionheart got up to pad away, but stopped. "You know, Tigerclaw, Firepaw respects you more than almost any other cat in the Clan." Tigerclaw scoffed. "Truly, he does," Lionheart insisted. "It is good that you took such an interest in his training. When he becomes a warrior, he will have you to thank for many of his skills." Tigerclaw shifted his paws. Lionheart glanced up to see the position of the sun in the sky. "Speaking of which, I should see how Firepaw and the rest of them are doing. Perhaps I'll have Graypaw and Ravenpaw teach him how to fish before their assessment." Tigerclaw flicked his ear; Lionheart knew he had thought that whole training session had been an exercise in stupidity and had taken to mentioning it to annoy him. "Until tonight." With a friendly wink and a wave of his tail, Lionheart trotted away.
Tigerclaw watched him go. Hopefully Lionheart recognized the kittypet's lack of loyalty today, and Tigerclaw would no longer need to pretend to care about Firepaw. It was going to be nice when his Clanmates hated the kittypet just as much as he did. And once Bluestar and Redtail were out of the way, Tigerclaw would be leader, and Lionheart would be the greatest deputy ThunderClan had ever seen... well, aside from Tigerclaw himself, of course. Then with Lionheart's help, mainly the golden tom's reputation as a wise and loyal warrior, Tigerclaw would be able to take over the other Clans with little protest. He sighed; his plan was finally taking shape.
Cats continued to bustle about in the camp. Tigerclaw's attention swiveled to the far corner of the clearing, to the portion that contained the medicine den. Spottedleaf had a high chance of dying today, and Tigerclaw found himself in a dilemma. He could save Spottedleaf, and let the Clan think of him as a hero. But if he kept her alive she would be a staunch defender of the kittypet.
But there was one thing he couldn't ignore- as much of an inconvenience it would be to have a supporter of Firepaw around, it would be foolish to go without a medicine cat. If his plan came to fruition Yellowfang would be in exile from the whole forest, and where would that leave ThunderClan then? It would be a hassle to steal a medicine cat from one of the other Clans, completely ignoring the fact that Bluestar would never agree to the idea.
It was obvious what he had to do now. It wouldn't make him look heroic, but it wouldn't make him look bad either. Spottedleaf needed to live. Against his every instinct, Tigerclaw made his way to the medicine den, irritably flicking his tail as he went.
Hopefully the blasted shadow cat sees this. Maybe then she would stop bothering him about doing things the right way. If killing a Clanmate fell under the supposed 'wrong' way, then the opposite, making sure a Clanmate survived had to be 'right'... right?
Scoring his claws against the ground to announce his presence, Tigerclaw slipped inside.
The tunnel was pitch-black. "Tigerclaw? What can I do for you?" Spottedleaf's voice echoed back through the cavern.
"Do I always need a reason to visit my Clan's medicine cat?" he meowed smoothly. "Perhaps I just wanted to say hello."
"Well, that's certainly a first," Spottedleaf purred. "Knowing you, I figured you must have been on the verge of death to seek out a medicine cat. But I'm glad I was wrong." Spottedleaf's face emerged from the shadows first, followed by her tortoiseshell pelt and dappled tail that was bright orange even in the dim light. "How are the preparations going?"
"Well enough. Warriors are hunting, the apprentices are reinforcing the camp wall." Tigerclaw frowned as Spottedleaf dragged several piles of herbs into the light. "Your preparations are going well too, I expect?"
Spottedleaf nodded. "Yes, they are. I still have much to do, but Firepaw was kind enough to help me sort some herbs this morning, so that helped."
Tigerclaw snorted. Somehow every conversation today was ending up about the kittypet.
Narrowing her eyes, Spottedleaf tilted her head. "What has he done to make you dislike him so much?"
The fact that he exists is reason enough. Out loud Tigerclaw meowed: "He may look like he belongs with us, but he is a kittypet at heart. He has done many things that make it very obvious that he should not be a member of ThunderClan."
Spottedleaf picked up a leaf between her claws and sorted it into one of the piles. "Fine. Name one."
Tigerclaw scowled. There were so many instances of the kittypet's stupidity, why was he having trouble thinking of one now? This was the perfect opportunity to turn Spottedleaf against the kittypet. "He ruined Longtail's ear the very first day he arrived." Tigerclaw flicked his tail, nodding to himself. "Firepaw is lucky. If he split my ear in half I wouldn't have let him off so easily."
"Really? I'd expect a brave warrior like you would want a scar." Spottedleaf purred, flicking her tail at Tigerclaw's ear that split into a deep V shape at its tip. "You didn't seem too upset when you got that one."
Tigerclaw snorted; obviously gaining scars from battle was different than gaining one from an attacking kittypet. But perhaps Longtail's split ear hadn't been the best way to illustrate his point. Tigerclaw thought of another example, and opened his mouth to point out that the kittypet once fed a rogue before ThunderClan, but then he realized that that didn't happen this time.
Spottedleaf spoke up before he could come up with anything else. "He's really not so bad. Personally I think he will be one of the Clan's best warriors in time."
Tigerclaw grumbled under his breath. Of course she would think that.
"Have you anything else besides complaints about Firepaw?"
Bristling, Tigerclaw jerked his head.
She narrowed her eyes teasingly. "Then make yourself useful." She pushed a clump of herbs in front of his paws. "You can help separate these. Dock goes here, tansy here, mallow here." Spottedleaf motioned at the already sorted herbs with her tail.
Is she serious? He was a warrior, not a medicine cat assistant! Narrowing his eyes in distaste, he noticed how the bunch of dock leaves looked similar to a dark green leaf resting near his paw. Tigerclaw picked it up, and imagining Firepaw's face, slammed it into the pile. Spottedleaf's whiskers twitched. "It isn't necessary to be that forceful, but well done. That's right."
Tigerclaw sniffed. She was praising him as if he wanted to perform medicine cat duties. "Why is this even mixed up in the first place?"
"The apprentices helped gather them." How unsurprising. The kittypet was probably trying to impress his precious medicine cat, and somehow she was completely unbothered by the fact that he had added to her workload. "Here. Finish these." Spottedleaf swept half the unsorted pile in Tigerclaw's direction.
Rolling his eyes, Tigerclaw began to pick through the clump of leaves. Saving Spottedleaf's life wasn't supposed to involve getting roped into sorting herbs. This was demeaning, sitting around taking orders like an apprentice. He was tempted to pad away and leave Spottedleaf to possibly die, but as she began to flip her set of leaves over one by one, he shook himself. If everything went how it was supposed to, she would understand that the kittypet couldn't be trusted. And that would clear the way for her to become his trusted medicine cat when he took over the forest.
Suddenly Spottedleaf rose to her paws. "I need to put these outside to air out before the rain comes. I'll be right back." Picking up the herbs, she began to pad toward the entrance.
Tigerclaw twisted around to block her path. Spottedleaf couldn't leave now; she might end up face to face with her murderer! "Can it wait?"
"Don't worry. You'll get your chance to continue gossiping in a moment," she teased. "Feel free to stay."
"No!" Tigerclaw slithered back, shielding Spottedleaf from the entrance.
Spottedleaf dropped the herbs. "Is something the matter?"
Tigerclaw jerked his head. "Of course not! Why would anything be the matter?" He glanced around, trying to make himself appear less frantic. From Spottedleaf's frown, he could tell she wasn't convinced. "It is just that you deserve rest; you have been on your paws from dawn 'til dusk this past moon. Give me your herbs, and I will set them out to dry."
Spottedleaf gave him a jokingly impressed look. "I never thought I'd see the day that you would volunteer to perform medicine cat duties, Tigerclaw," she purred. "Why don't you take half and I'll show you how-"
"No!" Tigerclaw snarled. If Spottedleaf left the medicine den, he wouldn't be able to stop her from wandering off, and then she'd get killed just like she had the first time.
Spottedleaf narrowed her eyes. "What's gotten into you?"
A sudden yowl pierced the air. It's happening! Tigerclaw was about to run out of the den before he realized he didn't actually know when Spottedleaf had been killed the first time. Was it before or after Frostfur had called out the alarm? The medicine cat could still be in danger.
"Wait here!" Bounding out of the den and toward the center of the camp, Tigerclaw skidded to a halt.
Redtail had already begun giving orders. "Every cat, stop what you're doing! Warriors, patrol the camp boundary. Firepaw, search the apprentices' den; Graypaw, Ravenpaw, take the elders'; Dustpaw and Sandpaw, you take the warriors'."
Cats pushed past each other in their haste, their panicked meows contrasting with the deep calm before the storm. Yellowfang joined the search, and Tigerclaw prayed that she would follow the scent of her former Clanmate just like she had during his first life. Tigerclaw flattened his ears when he felt fur brush his; Spottedleaf had appeared at his shoulder. "Stay here," he growled, hoping the medicine cat would listen to him this time. He had to at least appear to be looking for the kits.
Meanwhile Redtail remained next to Frostfur while he attempted to comfort her with a calm tail flick. "Where did you last see them?"
"They were in the nursery!" the white queen meowed. "I only left them for a moment!"
Tigerclaw pretended to search for the kits, but kept his eye on the medicine den the whole time. Unfortunately, Spottedleaf had ignored his protests and slipped into the main camp. She was now padding back and forth in front of her den; Tigerclaw worried she would run off toward the back of the nursery right into Clawface's claws.
Looking away, Tigerclaw reflected that this was just as chaotic as it had been during his first life. Brindleface and Speckletail frantically raced along the edge of the camp, calling out the kits' names, while Goldenflower huddled over the remaining kits near the nursery. Firepaw ran out of the apprentices' den, meeting Graypaw halfway across the camp, and with a quick nod the two sprang back toward the apprentices' den, probably to search it again. Tigerclaw noted that Yellowfang was missing with a pang of relief.
An eerie wail ruffled his ear fur, and cats began to make their way to the origin of the sound. The fur on the back of Tigerclaw's neck stood up. Surely a cat shouldn't have died this time! Had Spottedleaf intercepted Clawface while he stole Frostfur's kits after all the trouble he went through to ensure her survival? He should have gone to the place he had found Spottedleaf the first time, not sat around and done nothing! Cursing inwardly, Tigerclaw raced toward the group of shocked cats. Pushing his way through the crowd, Tigerclaw had to prevent himself from recoiling in shock at the sight of his dead Clanmate.
There was a single bloody wound to the cat's neck. Tigerclaw stared, unable to believe what he was seeing, unable to believe that his plan had gone so wrong.
It wasn't Spottedleaf. It was Lionheart.
This wasn't supposed to happen!
"Yellowfang is gone!" The cry pierced Tigerclaw's ears, just like it had during his first life, but all he could do was stare down at Lionheart's body. How could he move on from this?
"Yellowfang has killed Lionheart and taken my kits!" Frostfur's screech cut through the air, and the queens rushed to her side to comfort her. Tigerclaw barely heard what the rest of the cats were saying; it was as though he was watching the scene from outside his body. Of all the ways he could have expected the theft of Frostfur's kits to turn out, this was at the bottom of what he would have considered the most likely possibilities.
Redtail padded up and bent down to examine Lionheart's wound; Tigerclaw was so in shock that he didn't recoil from the obnoxious tom's appearance. "He didn't stand a chance." Standing back up, Redtail shook his head. "The cat who attacked him caught him by surprise." From his spot next to Redtail, Whitestorm bowed his head solemnly. Murmurs rumbled through the clearing as thunder boomed and a claw of lightning slashed the sky.
Frostfur's wails had died down by now, and cats' mews were developing an angry edge. "Bluestar! What do you say?" Darkstripe meowed above them.
Bluestar closed her eyes as rain began to fall. She opened them, and raised her head. "If Yellowfang has killed Lionheart and stolen Frostfur's kits, she will be hunted down without mercy. But we must wait…"
Tigerclaw zoned out.
This was bad. Lionheart wasn't supposed to die. Tigerclaw hissed aloud. He'd had plans for Lionheart, and now they were ruined! It was infuriating; he had finally managed to get Lionheart to stop being suspicious of him and an hour later he died. This time Lionheart's death was of no practical use, but Tigerclaw didn't entirely understand why he was so furious. Lionheart was one of Bluestar's most trusted warriors. Chances were he would have been Bluestar's choice for deputy if Redtail died. And in the battle with ShadowClan, Tigerclaw had been enraged with himself for letting Lionheart live. Why then, did he feel as though the forest had come crashing down?
Tigerclaw flexed his claws. Of course! That was what it was! Obviously he was angry at the unpredictability of his second chance! His attention turned to thoughts of the shadow cat; he imagined sinking his claws into her black fur and demanding her to stop interfering in his life. If the shadow cat didn't exist this wouldn't have happened, since Tigerclaw would have simply killed Redtail and then, well, he wasn't entirely sure how that would have turned out, but it wouldn't have been like this…
But then wouldn't Lionheart have become deputy? Tigerclaw snorted. He probably would have eventually had to kill Lionheart himself… On second thought maybe this was all right. But he couldn't help but dislike how things were happening that were outside his control.
Tigerclaw breathed out through his nose to calm himself. This was a distraction, that was all. As thrown off as he was, Tigerclaw couldn't let Lionheart's death stop him. The plan would go on. It had to.
"Redtail, I'd like to discuss our plans with you." Bluestar's mew shook Tigerclaw out of his musings. The first time around Bluestar had immediately spoken to Firepaw, but now… Tigerclaw scowled.
Then he understood, and his pelt bristled in fury. During his first life, he had been the obvious choice to lead the patrol to track Yellowfang, and Bluestar must have been worried he would attack Yellowfang if she sent him. But with Redtail, her most trusted deputy still alive, any worries about her warriors killing Yellowfang prematurely were rendered moot. She would simply send Redtail to find Yellowfang.
For once, in spite of his anger, Tigerclaw was grateful for the change. It would make destroying the kittypet's reputation easier.
The group broke up. The elders began to drag Lionheart's body to the center of the camp. Tigerclaw's pelt prickled, and he spun around. Spottedleaf was watching him carefully. "You knew this was going to happen." Her mew wasn't a question, but a statement.
"That's absurd!" Tigerclaw snarled, avoiding her gaze. He swung his head around and lashed his tail.
Tilting her head, Spottedleaf narrowed her eyes. Though she said nothing else, Tigerclaw's fur was starting to stand up. He snorted and stalked away.
That was what he got for saving her life. He should have just let her die; it would have been simpler. Now he would have to deal with her yapping about how Firepaw was a good and loyal cat when he revealed the kittypet's treachery to the Clan. Not to mention the fact that she had guessed that something was off about Tigerclaw. He remembered his concerns he'd had about Yellowfang receiving messages from StarClan about his true reason for being here; did he have to worry about Spottedleaf being warned by StarClan as well? Swishing his tail, Tigerclaw flicked his ears. He'd worry about that later; right now, time was of the essence.
Looking around the camp, Tigerclaw took in its appearance, comparing it to the same moment in his first life. He blinked raindrops out of his eyes. Aside from the presence of Redtail and Spottedleaf, and Lionheart's body resting in the middle of the clearing, there weren't any differences, no noticeable ones anyway. It had been quite a few seasons since this originally occurred; Tigerclaw couldn't remember the exact location of every cat.
But he was encouraged when he noticed Ravenpaw huddled underneath a thicket by himself. That he remembered. The first time around Ravenpaw had gotten up around this time, and was then chased out of the nursery by Frostfur. Tigerclaw figured the queens would be kinder if Ravenpaw decided to visit now, since they didn't think the young apprentice was involved in the kits' disappearances this time around.
Not that it mattered, because Tigerclaw was going to talk to his apprentice first. There was a cat he was going to sabotage, and this time it wasn't Ravenpaw, but the mousehearted tom would certainly help.
Tigerclaw caught the skinny apprentices' eyes, and padded over to sit next to him in the shelter of the overhang. "Have you seen Firepaw?"
Ravenpaw nodded, his eyes wide. The black tom was probably in awe of his presence, Tigerclaw decided. His apprentice was shaping up well.
"I have a message for him," Tigerclaw continued. "Tell Firepaw to meet me outside the camp by the wild garlic patch." He glared at Ravenpaw to drive home his next point. "Tell no one but Firepaw. There is much I need to discuss with him."
Ravenpaw nodded. "Yes, Tigerclaw." He leaped to his paws and raced toward the apprentices' den, fluffing out his sleek black pelt against the rain.
Tigerclaw's whiskers twitched. Ravenpaw's unquestioning obedience would make him a useful follower; seeing the apprentice now, Tigerclaw almost regretted that he hadn't found a use for him during his first life.
The mouseheart hadn't even wondered why Tigerclaw hadn't asked the kittypet to join him himself. He probably thought Tigerclaw was going to question Firepaw about Yellowfang's disappearance… which he was in a way.
Now onto the next part. Tigerclaw got up, found Darkstripe inside the warriors' den, and flicked his tail. Darkstripe leaped to his paws, pushing his way out of the den and into the rain without hesitation. "Darkstripe, come here," Tigerclaw growled, leading his former apprentice out of the camp through a gap in the barrier.
Rain dripped through the trees onto Tigerclaw's fur, but he paid it no notice. He halted a sufficient distance from the camp, and turned to face his former apprentice. "Do you remember what we've discussed these last few moons?"
"Is it about the kittypet?" Darkstripe meowed.
Tigerclaw gave a small nod. "We mustn't lose sight of our goal now that it is within reach. Can I trust you?"
Darkstripe's ears flattened; he looked offended. "Of course!"
Quickly checking to make certain that no cat had followed, Tigerclaw bent his head. "Then listen. Here is what we are going to do." Tigerclaw restrained a purr; it was all too easy to get Darkstripe's full attention. "In this time of darkness, ThunderClan needs every cat's loyalty. We both know that the kittypet was close to the rogue who murdered Lionheart and helped steal ThunderClan kits. We both know that the kittypet will betray ThunderClan in a heartbeat when the opportunity arises." Tigerclaw paused dramatically, lowering his voice to a hiss. "So we will be having a bit of a discussion, to speed up that process. Now, you Darkstripe, are going to ask me a few questions…"
They waited in the patch of grass, just beyond the wild garlic patch. Any moment it would start. Tigerclaw saw a flash of ginger fur appear from behind a thicket, and then he knew- Firepaw had arrived. It was time.
Tigerclaw waited one last heartbeat to make sure the kittypet was within eavesdropping distance, then gave Darkstripe a significant look before he began. "I take it you've heard the news."
"What news?" Darkstripe recited a bit too quickly. Out of the corner of Tigerclaw's eye, Firepaw crouched half-hidden by the thicket, clearly uncertain if he should interrupt.
"How are you so uninformed in this time when the lives of ThunderClan kits hang in the balance?" Tigerclaw shook his head. "Bluestar is going to take a patrol to track Yellowfang after the rainfall ends. The rogue had better hope she can run fast, though it may not matter. Chances are she will be skulking around somewhere outside the ShadowClan camp." Tigerclaw paused, hoping that his piece of foreknowledge might help the kittypet find Yellowfang faster. The more time he was with Yellowfang, the easier it would be to find them together and make him guilty by association.
"What do you think will happen to her?" Darkstripe meowed.
Tigerclaw responded smoothly. "Without a doubt, Bluestar will kill Yellowfang when she finds her."
"She won't even..." Darkstripe paused, having apparently forgotten his line. "Ah, interrogate her first?"
"Of course not." Tigerclaw took care to keep his eyes off Firepaw's ginger fur at the edge of his vision. Hopefully the kittypet didn't notice Darkstripe's pitiful acting skills. "Bluestar is going to order any patrol she sends to kill Yellowfang without question. There is no way the rogue will get out of this alive."
Darkstripe let out a purr. "That's good."
"No cat will listen to a word Yellowfang says without proof," Tigerclaw continued. The kittypet was still crouching at the edge of the thicket. "It would be very foolish to try and talk to Bluestar right now." He held back an amused purr; if the kittypet was buying this, he was a complete idiot. "Soon the patrol will be sent," he hissed, "and Yellowfang will be dead."
A rustling of branches told him that the kittypet had raced off in the opposite direction. Perfect! Now all he needed to do was wait a bit before he pointed out that the kittypet was missing.
Darkstripe turned to look at the spot Firepaw had left behind, his eyes green slits. "Do you think it worked?"
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes, resolving to never again use Darkstripe in any plots that involved a scripted conversation. "This never happened. Understood?"
Darkstripe gave a swift nod. Wordlessly they rose to their paws and padded back to camp. Tigerclaw raised his chin to the sky, ignoring the rain splashing his face. He imagined that the lashing rain drops were sent down by StarClan to spite him, and he purred at the thought that they were helpless to stop his plans.
He barely noticed the flickering shadows that followed him.
Hey guys, thanks for all your support so far. I originally wanted to finish the first arc of this by November, but that didn't happen, so I at least wanted to get in one more chapter this month because I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. If you haven't heard of it, it's an event where you write a 50k word novel during the month of November.
Unfortunately this will affect the update schedule of some of my fics, since I cannot realistically expect to maintain quality writing in my fanfics while simultaneously writing a 50,000 word novel. Tigerclaw's Second Chance and Bluefur's Choice will start updating again in December. If you happen to follow Broken Destinies, that one will continue to update on Fridays as usual, since it's prewritten for the most part.
Anyway, thanks for all your support, and see you in a month!
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Slipping inside the camp, Tigerclaw headed to the center of the clearing, where Lionheart's body was being pelted by rain. Settling himself next to him, Tigerclaw reflected that Lionheart had definitely received a better vigil the first time he'd died. The storm was so strong that even Graypaw had retreated to shelter; in his first life the gray tom had been practically glued to the golden tabby's side in mourning. Tigerclaw glanced around, his gaze sweeping the entrance of the leader's den. He peered through the lichen; Bluestar was alone now. The rest of the cats were huddled in their dens…
Except one. "He was a fine warrior." Redtail sat down next to Lionheart.
Tigerclaw stared down at the golden tabby tom. Where was he now? Did he know the truth of Tigerclaw's second chance, or was this new life beyond the comprehension of even StarClan?
"All the apprentices will miss him." Redtail twitched his ears as a flash of lightning lit the sky. "Graypaw especially, and Firepaw."
"The kittypet…" Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes, glad Redtail had given him an easy way to switch topics. "Where did he run off to anyway?"
Redtail's ears flicked at the word kittypet, but didn't reply to Tigerclaw's jibe. "I'd guess he's sheltering in the apprentices' den, with the rest of the apprentices."
Tigerclaw shook his head, hoping his lie would be sufficiently believable. "He wasn't there the last time I checked."
As usual, Redtail seemed committed to defending the kittypet. "Probably patrolling the edge of camp." Redtail shrugged, unconcerned.
Tigerclaw snorted, blinking rain out of his eyes, and twisted his head around. Thunder rumbled. A heartbeat later lightning lit up the clearing, and then there was another growl of thunder. "No cat is out there now."
"Tigerclaw, what is making you so worried about Firepaw all of a sudden? He's probably in the dirtplace for StarClan's sake!"
Tigerclaw scoffed. "Since Yellowfang left?"
"Cats are nervous," Redtail meowed. "I can't blame any ThunderClan warrior for fearing a cat capable of taking Lionheart by surprise. We will take action soon. If Yellowfang wanted to send some cat back here after she stole the kits, or come back herself…."
"Has it not crossed your mind," Tigerclaw hissed, "that Firepaw is in on it?"
Redtail narrowed his eyes. Rain dripped from his whiskers as thunder roiled through the air. "That is a serious accusation, Tigerclaw."
"He's left the camp! Can't you see?!" Tigerclaw could hardly believe it. Redtail was being denser than he'd thought possible. "This was Firepaw's plan since the rogue got here! Gain our trust and secrets, and use it to earn a higher place in ShadowClan!"
Redtail scoffed. "Tigerclaw, you're a great warrior, but in this instance, I can safely say that you're being ridiculous."
Straightening his shoulders, Tigerclaw met Redtail's gaze head on. "Where is he then? He was with the rest of the Clan when we found Lionheart's body, but I haven't seen him since."
"Then he is most likely in the apprentices' den." Redtail's meow was irritatingly reasonable.
"Shall we find out?" Purring at the thought that he was about to prove the irksome warrior wrong, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes.
After a long moment, Redtail sighed, flicking rain from his ears. "Very well, but I still think you're being absurd."
When they reached the den, Tigerclaw hung back, ready to allow Redtail to see the kittypet's absence for himself, but Dustpaw brushed past them outside the thorn covered entrance, ready to squeeze inside.
Tigerclaw stopped him as he stood halfway through the entrance. "Where is Firepaw?" he demanded.
Dustpaw turned around and shrugged, fluffing out his fur against the rain. "I don't know. He left the den a while ago."
"Do you remember when?" Redtail asked.
"Right after Yellowfang disappeared."
Redtail frowned. "And he didn't tell you where he was going?"
Dustpaw shook his head. "No."
"Thank you, Dustpaw." Redtail flicked his tail at his apprentice in acknowledgement, and the brown tabby tom slipped inside the den. The two warriors padded away.
"See, I knew it!" Tigerclaw snarled as soon as they were out of earshot. "After all this time, Firepaw has betrayed ThunderClan!"
Redtail fell into step beside Tigerclaw, shaking his head to himself. "I cannot believe that Firepaw would leave the camp without good reason-"
Rolling his eyes, Tigerclaw turned to give the tortoiseshell deputy a furious glare. "Of course you wouldn't think he would betray ThunderClan! All every cat has ever done is praise the traitor's every pawstep!"
Frowning, Redtail didn't respond to Tigerclaw's words; he seemed to be staring into the distance. It made Tigerclaw's tail curl up in delight; the idiotic deputy thinking the kittypet turned his back on ThunderClan would only help his case, not to mention the fact that it was incredibly satisfying to prove the obnoxious tortoiseshell wrong.
"We need to inform Bluestar," Redtail meowed darkly.
Tigerclaw growled his agreement. Redtail headed toward Bluestar's den, and Tigerclaw saw his tail twitching rapidly as he went, as though the tom was unable to believe that his favorite kittypet had turned traitor.
They soon made it to the ThunderClan leader's den, and side by side, they brushed past the lichen covered entrance. Remembering at the last moment that he wasn't deputy this time, Tigerclaw lingered at the periphery, allowing Redtail to make the report. "Bluestar, I have bad news." Redtail's voice was solemn. "Firepaw has disappeared."
Bluestar jerked her head up. "Are you sure?"
"Very. He's nowhere in camp, and he's not in the apprentices' den. I've just asked Dustpaw when he left." Redtail paused. "It was right after Yellowfang vanished."
If Bluestar had been serious before, she was downright grave now. "Gather the Clan," she meowed. "I will call a Clan meeting."
Tigerclaw settled himself at the base of the Highrock as Bluestar swiftly leaped to its top. Raising her head to the sky, Bluestar called out the summons, and Tigerclaw understood why she had asked Redtail to inform the cats first; the rain muffled her voice, and it would have been near impossible to hear her from across the camp.
Cats narrowed their eyes against the gale, bristling against the damp coldness, and settled themselves in the center of the clearing.
"Cats of ThunderClan, I have terrible news," Bluestar announced once they gathered under the Highrock. Thunder crackled, and she waited a moment for it to quiet down before continuing. "It has come to my attention that Firepaw has disappeared."
Murmurs rippled through the camp immediately. "Right after Yellowfang left too," Longtail meowed. Tigerclaw pushed back a purr, pleased that his Clanmates had put it together so quickly.
Patchpelt looked up at Bluestar. "Do you think it had anything to do with Yellowfang's disappearance?"
"We can't be certain. That is why I called you all here. All we know so far is that he left soon after Yellowfang, and told no one. If you know anything- where he might have gone, or why- speak now." Murmurs flowed through the camp, mingling with the rain.
A loud yowl rang out. "I know why he left!" Longtail called. "He's a traitor! He was on ShadowClan territory last night!"
"Yes, he was." Darkstripe was staring up at Bluestar, his eyes gleaming. "He brought back a pile of fresh-kill!"
"How do you know this?" Bluestar mewed sharply.
"I saw him, that's how," Darkstripe went on. "Right by the dead tree running along the Thunderpath. He crossed back into ThunderClan territory with a mouthful of prey. Tigerclaw saw him too!" Tigerclaw nearly let out a hiss; he had been hoping to work that into the conversation more smoothly.
The clearing was silent as Bluestar narrowed her eyes. "Tigerclaw?"
Raising his head, Tigerclaw addressed Bluestar as much as the rest of the Clan. He needed to play this carefully. "I must admit, I wanted to ask him about it myself first. As much as I have opposed the kittypet in the past, I truly wanted to believe that he was loyal. It was my mentoring, after all, that allowed him to make such progress within our Clan."
"And you knew about this last night?" Bluestar's eyes were still narrowed.
"Yes." Tigerclaw bowed his head solemnly. "I planned to inform you, but as we can all see, circumstances got in the way." He waved his tail at the still form of Lionheart.
Bluestar watched him for a long moment, and then nodded, apparently satisfied with his explanation. She turned back to the Clan.
"As much as it pains me to say this, after hearing this information, it is possible that Firepaw isn't loyal to ThunderClan. Yellowfang and Firepaw may have planned the theft of the kits." Murmurs rose up, mingling with the pattering of raindrops. Tigerclaw expected meows of protest from some of the kittypet's friends, but the only inkling of objection he saw was a spark of indignation within Spottedleaf's eyes from where she sat with the elders.
"It is clear to me now," Tigerclaw meowed again, and to his satisfaction he realized he had his Clanmates' full attention, "that the kittypet made a deal with ShadowClan. I suspect it started when the rogue came into our camp."
"Traitor! Spy!" Disgruntled meowing spread through the camp.
"He's probably given all our secrets to ShadowClan already!" Halftail mewed. Next to him, Mousefur nodded in agreement.
"Firepaw was born a kittypet! He isn't bound by the warrior code," Darkstripe yowled.
"We should never have trusted him! Firepaw has made fools of us all!" Horrified yowls were spreading. Tigerclaw felt a burst of warmth in his chest. His dream was finally coming true. He shut his eyes so his Clanmates wouldn't notice the happiness within them.
"Wait just a moment!" There went Spottedleaf. Tigerclaw had been wondering when she'd speak up. "You're all forgetting something. We don't know that Firepaw left voluntarily; for all we know he was abducted as well. Firepaw could be in terrible danger right now, and you're all meowing about how he's a traitor while he's fighting for his life."
"We surely would have heard a struggle if that was the case!" Tigerclaw glared at the she-cat. I should have just let you die.
"We didn't hear a struggle when Lionheart was killed," Spottedleaf pointed out. Anxious murmurs spiraled upward, drowning out the sound of the rain. Tigerclaw couldn't think of a suitable response before Spottedleaf spoke again. "Bluestar." She turned to face the ThunderClan leader. "We should take action as soon as possible. Not just for the kits, but for Firepaw. I don't think for one moment that he had anything to do with this. He is as important to our Clan and its future as any apprentice. If he is lost, I fear the consequences could be dire."
Bluestar and Spottedleaf shared a meaningful look. While to the rest of the Clan it appeared that Spottedleaf was concerned about ShadowClan killing the kittypet as an act of war, to Tigerclaw her true meaning was clear. She was referring to the cursed 'fire alone can save our Clan' prophecy. Surely they weren't certain yet that the kittypet was the chosen one, right? How could he convince Bluestar to stop giving Firepaw the benefit of the doubt?
An idea suddenly flew into Tigerclaw's head. "Before we make up our minds, why don't we find out if Firepaw was kidnapped right now?" he growled. "Some cat should search the camp boundary for signs of a fight. If there aren't any, it will show that he followed Yellowfang of his own free will."
"And if there are?" Spottedleaf's amber eyes blazed.
"Then I agree with you that a patrol should be sent at once." Mewed agreement filled the air as Tigerclaw fixed his gaze on his former apprentice. "Darkstripe?"
Twitching his tail in acknowledgement, Darkstripe trotted to the edge of the camp. He slipped through the gap near the nursery where Lionheart's body had been found.
There was a long silence, broken only by thunder and the steady pattering of rain. Tigerclaw had to stop himself from bristling in anticipation. There weren't going to be any signs of a struggle. Soon it would be clear that the kittypet had run away on his own.
The sound of pawsteps alerted Tigerclaw to Darkstripe's return. The dark tom padded to the front of the crowd and gave Bluestar a questioning glance.
Bluestar nodded, indicating that Darkstripe should speak. "Nothing. Not so much as a misplaced leaf." He broke off as cats began to murmur darkly to each other.
For a blink Tigerclaw felt as though he could fly. Then an authoritative voice caused his joy to screech to a halt. It was Whitestorm. "Firepaw was on his way to being a fine warrior. I don't understand why he would do this."
"Not once before this instance has he made me question the trust I placed in him," Redtail added.
"Then he is obviously a skilled liar!" Tigerclaw lashed his tail, scattering raindrops, annoyed that in this universe, he had no examples of the kittypet's treachery aside from the ShadowClan trespassing incident. "He has betrayed us!"
"But to what end? What would Firepaw gain from betraying the Clan that accepted him?" Redtail meowed.
"How should I know how the mind of a traitor works?!" Tigerclaw spat back.
More murmurs rippled through the gathered cats.
Bluestar bowed her head. Finally she spoke. "We all know Firepaw was close with Yellowfang, and it looks as though they were closer than any of us thought if he was loyal enough to follow her." She paused, frowning thoughtfully. "When the rain stops, a patrol will be sent to track the kits. We will learn the truth then."
Tigerclaw raised his head boldly. "I can lead the patrol now, if you will allow me, Bluestar." Approving meows were rising up from his Clanmates. The storm was weakening now. If Bluestar knew anything she'd let him go.
"I appreciate your enthusiasm, but Redtail will lead the patrol." As Bluestar looked down on the clearing, Tigerclaw scowled. He should have known better than to push his luck like that. "In fact, the time of preparation has come. Redtail, choose the cats you will take and leave as soon as the storm clears."
Redtail gave a swift nod. Craning his neck to look over the crowd, he began to list off names. "Whitestorm, Willowpelt, Mousefur, Runningwind, Darkstripe, and…" He stopped, frowning. "Hang on. I knew something wasn't right!" Redtail spun around, looking stricken. "Where are Graypaw and Ravenpaw?"
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Before any cat could say anything, Tigerclaw edged away from the mass of panicked warriors. Cats were looking at each other in confusion, but to Tigerclaw what had happened was clear. Firepaw hadn't chased after Yellowfang straight away. He had told Ravenpaw and Graypaw first, and convinced the fools to come along.
Tigerclaw just barely suppressed a growl.
He had no choice now; he had to act alone. Nonchalantly weaving around his Clanmates, Tigerclaw made sure his face held a serious expression that didn't betray the panic fluttering in his chest. He fixed his eyes on the gap in the camp wall by the nursery.
As soon as he reached the edge of the camp, Tigerclaw turned his head to make sure he wasn't being watched. Bluestar had leaped down from the Highrock, and looked to be interrogating Dustpaw and Sandpaw, with Redtail at her side. Some cats were huddled in small groups, while others had formed a circle around Bluestar, Redtail, and the apprentices. Now that it was obvious that the situation was much bigger than originally anticipated, they would probably leave as soon as the patrol was made, which made it all the more important for Tigerclaw to escape undetected.
Darkstripe met his gaze, and Tigerclaw gave him a steely eyed stare, warning him not to follow. He slowly slipped through the space between the thorns, and the sounds of the camp disappeared behind him.
When he was sure he was out of sight, Tigerclaw broke into a full on sprint.
He knew what he had to do. He would find the kittypet before Redtail's patrol did, and rip him limb from limb. He let out a snarl. If the shadow cat was going to stop him, now would be the time.
StarClan help me-
Tigerclaw let out a snarl; he had used that saying out of instinct.
The scent trail of the kittypet mingled with the ones of Ravenpaw and Graypaw; it was clear that Firepaw had ran to his friends and convinced them to join him as soon as he'd heard Tigerclaw talking about Bluestar wanting to kill Yellowfang. And somehow, Ravenpaw had agreed to it! Tigerclaw could hardly believe his apprentice had the guts to follow Firepaw, and cursed his bad luck. Literally the single time it would have been useful for Ravenpaw to be a timid mouse-heart he decided to be brave!
The Thunderpath came into view; Tigerclaw halted, and waited for a single monster to pass by. The moment its paws blurred past he pelted across, paying no heed to the grimy water that soaked his fur. Redtail's patrol must have left by now. They could be right behind him, and the only way his plan would succeed was if he got to the kittypet first.
He'd have to kill Firepaw and make it look like he was killed by a ShadowClan patrol. How he'd get rid of Graypaw and Ravenpaw he wasn't sure yet, but he'd think of something. Then he'd probably end up in the battle with Brokenstar's warriors….
He wasn't worried that the absence of Firepaw would have any serious repercussions on the battle though. While ShadowClan put on an appearance of strength, right now it was in ruins. A takeover would be simple enough, especially with Tigerclaw there to help. In spite of his agitation, Tigerclaw suppressed a purr. It amused him that Brokenstar had such a poor hold on his Clan, especially when he had called himself the greatest leader in all the Clans back in the Dark Forest during his previous existence. When Tigerclaw ruled the forest, every warrior would obey him. Eventually he'd rule StarClan, and for good measure, the Dark Forest.
Thinking of the Dark Forest, Tigerclaw was reminded of Mapleshade. Unlike many Dark Forest cats, Tigerclaw hadn't known of Mapleshade's existence until later in life, and in his opinion, that had helped him a great deal. He didn't seek to please a manipulative she-cat; he thought for himself. Sure, she had given him suggestions over the seasons, but they were mostly just pushes in the right direction. He didn't need that now. He wondered if Mapleshade could communicate with him in this life, even if she wanted to. Not that he would want to associate with the crazed she-cat, but it was an interesting thought.
But he was getting ahead of himself- he had to kill the kittypet before worrying about taking over ShadowClan and the Place of No Stars.
The pine forest loomed above his head as he continued on. He opened his mouth to breathe in the scents of the woods. He was still on the apprentices' trail, and underneath their scents he could detect Yellowfang. Hopefully she had went the same way as she had the first time- not that Tigerclaw would know, since he hadn't been involved in the kits' rescue, but solely for the fact that neither she nor Firepaw and Graypaw had been discovered by a ShadowClan patrol then. If his luck held, they wouldn't be found this time either.
The apprentices' scents grew stronger as Tigerclaw ducked behind an oak tree. He could still hardly believe Ravenpaw had done this. The disobedient apprentice had to be nearby… Tigerclaw scanned the marshy clearing, digging his claws into the ground. There he was! Hidden by the undergrowth, the skinny black tom was sitting next to Graypaw and Firepaw. His pelt was bristling, and as usual, he looked terrified. Tigerclaw began to make his way toward him and was unsurprised when the apprentices were completely oblivious to his approach.
"Ravenpaw!" Tigerclaw spat out the name of his apprentice. "What in the name of StarClan are you doing on ShadowClan territory?!"
"Tigerclaw?" Ravenpaw spun around. "How did you find us?"
Tigerclaw stalked past his apprentice and up to the kittypet. "You!" He jabbed the kittypet's chest with a forepaw. "What do you think you're doing, bringing them out here?!"
Firepaw's eyes burned indignantly. "He didn't bring us," Graypaw protested before Firepaw could say anything. "We came with him!"
"A likely story!" Tigerclaw knew he had to play along with this performance. He cursed his lack of foresight again; he should have known the kittypet would have gone running to his two closest friends. "Cut the fox dung! You know what you did!"
"What?" Firepaw sounded puzzled.
Tigerclaw snorted. "It's all so obvious now. I should have known a kittypet could never be trusted!" He began to pace, keeping his gaze focused on Firepaw. While his hatred of Firepaw was real, the act was for Graypaw and Ravenpaw. "You thought your little plan with Yellowfang worked, didn't you? Had the whole Clan fooled?!"
"What…" Firepaw trailed off. "What are you talking about?" Graypaw and Ravenpaw were staring at him in bewilderment.
"Don't play dumb, kittypet," Tigerclaw spat, unsheathing his claws and thrusting his muzzle in Firepaw's face. "Thought you could share ThunderClan secrets with ShadowClan and get away with it? Perhaps you thought they would make you a warrior. I suppose it make sense- that's an impossible dream for a kittypet if you had to do it the right way in ThunderClan."
"What?!" Firepaw's mew was outraged now. "I'm loyal to ThunderClan! I would never betray my Clan or my Clanmates!"
"It makes even more sense that you and Yellowfang would work together so well," Tigerclaw continued, "what with you both being traitors to your Clans-"
"I'm not a traitor," Firepaw responded stubbornly.
"He's not." Graypaw padded up to stand by Firepaw's side; Ravenpaw joined him anxiously a moment later. "You've got it all wrong- we're here to help!"
Tigerclaw swung his head around to face Graypaw. "Right. You, a mouse-heart afraid of his own shadow, and a kittypet apprentice are much more suited to the task than a warrior. Of course you should disobey your leader's direct orders and find the rogue yourself!"
"But we didn't know if Yellowfang stole the kits or not!" Firepaw meowed. "We couldn't just let her die without letting her speak for herself first!"
"That is Bluestar's decision to make!" Tigerclaw spat.
"Yellowfang was here! She told us she was following the kits' scent trail. You can ask her when she comes back here with help so we can rescue them!" A note of anger had made its way into the kittypet's voice. Good.
Graypaw's tail was bristling. "It's true. I'm not sure I believe her, but-"
Tigerclaw flattened his ears. "Then why are you still here?"
Firepaw swished his tail. "I had to at least find out the truth before I just let her die!"
It was a minor miracle that no ShadowClan cat had noticed their voices yet. Focusing a glare on the kittypet, Tigerclaw felt a growl rumbling in his throat. This was a waste of time. "You two," he meowed finally, jerking his ears toward Ravenpaw and Graypaw. "Leave. Firepaw and I have much to discuss."
Neither apprentice moved. Aside from the fact that this was a flagrant show of disrespect, the whole situation was infuriating. He'd wanted to kill the kittypet, not Graypaw and Ravenpaw as well! Tigerclaw let his gaze swivel from Ravenpaw, to Graypaw, to Firepaw. Maybe Graypaw was a lost cause, but he wanted to at least avoid killing Ravenpaw; his apprentice had made so much progress it would be a shame for that to be wasted.
"Ravenpaw." Tigerclaw lowered his voice to his most terrifying growl. "I will say this one more time. Go home. Now!"
"B-but Tigerclaw," Ravenpaw meowed, his eyes wide, "we just saw Yellowfang. She didn't steal the kits, or at least that's what she said-"
"Are you questioning my orders?"
Ravenpaw gave a terrified shake of his head, although he was trembling so much it was difficult to tell whether it was a yes or a no. Tigerclaw decided to act as though it was the latter.
"If you ever wish to become a warrior, you will return to camp and inform Bluestar of where we are! Now!"
"Go." Tigerclaw glared at him. Ravenpaw stared back, the fur along his spine bristling, and for a long moment Tigerclaw thought he wasn't going to relent.
Thankfully, Ravenpaw saw sense, and backed down. "Fine. I'll- I'll tell Bluestar, and she'll send a whole group of warriors." Ravenpaw nodded, seemingly to himself, and began to hesitantly pad in the direction of ThunderClan territory. "Yes, that will help."
"Ravenpaw…" Firepaw's shoulders drooped.
"It will be okay." Ravenpaw shot an inquiring glance at Tigerclaw. He seemed to be trying to reassure Firepaw as much as himself. "I won't be long." Awkwardly, as though he expected Tigerclaw to call him back, Ravenpaw tentatively headed into the woods.
Tigerclaw nearly purred at the dismay on the two remaining apprentices' faces as the sound of trembling pawsteps disappeared behind him. "Good. Now we will have a patrol of warriors to help when Yellowfang returns to ambush us." He unsheathed his claws, observing the kittypet's reaction. "That is, of course, if we still need it."
"No, you can't!" Firepaw meowed, jumping in front of him. He obviously recognized that Tigerclaw was threatening Yellowfang's life, and Tigerclaw purred. If the kittypet attacked first it would be all too easy to explain his death. "Yellowfang said she didn't take the kits!"
"I'd hardly trust the word of a ShadowClan spy." Tigerclaw looked down at Firepaw triumphantly. He was only a tail-length away now.
"I'm not a traitor, Tigerclaw. I swear it by StarClan…" Firepaw was still talking, but Tigerclaw wasn't listening. Redtail's patrol could arrive at any moment. There might be mere heartbeats left to execute his plan.
Shadows were rising up all around him, turning the marshy ground pitch black. Darkness flooded Tigerclaw's vision. He needed to do this- the kittypet had to die. It was for the good of the forest, the good of ThunderClan… Blood pounded in his ears. Any moment now, and he'd do it. Blazing green eyes met his, challenging him. Firepaw had gone silent. Something was holding Tigerclaw back- probably the possibility that the shadow cat might destroy his very existence if he went through with this- but he wasn't going to hesitate any longer. Any moment-
The shadows suddenly evaporated as Graypaw's voice piped up. "Redtail! You're here!"
Gritting his teeth, Tigerclaw turned.
Redtail was standing shoulder to shoulder with Ravenpaw, and behind him were Whitestorm, Willowpelt, Runningwind, Darkstripe and Mousefur. "Tigerclaw?" The tortoiseshell tom's obnoxious meow rumbled in Tigerclaw's ears. "What are you doing here?"
Was this really happening? Realizing that he was shaking, Tigerclaw made an effort to flatten his fur before facing Redtail. "I thought it prudent to leave as soon as possible after the meeting," he explained, using all his self-control to sound unfazed. "Luckily enough, I found these three-" he jerked his head to indicate Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw- "lying in wait to be ambushed. The rogue told them she would come back and help them rescue the kits. It is clear that Yellowfang has filled their ears with lies." He glanced around warily. "Any moment a battle party could arrive at this spot."
"Ravenpaw tells me that Yellowfang went for help." Redtail frowned, flicking his tail in signal, and led the patrol forward so they were one group. "It is possible that she is telling the truth." Tigerclaw snorted. Redtail stared past him. "I would like to hear what Firepaw thinks."
Firepaw dipped his head. "Thank you, Redtail." His mew was edged with relief. "Yellowfang didn't steal the kits, or at least that is what she claims. She was just following their scent trail."
"And she is to return?" Redtail gazed at Firepaw, his expression unreadable.
"She should be back anytime now," Firepaw replied. He shifted his paws nervously, and gazed up at Redtail, whose eyes were carefully scrutinizing him. No cat spoke for a long time.
"What I do not understand," Redtail meowed quietly, "is why you thought it necessary to take it upon yourself to find Yellowfang." He blinked, his expression solemn.
"I thought Bluestar wouldn't listen to me…" Tigerclaw's pelt prickled with relief when the kittypet stopped there; all it would take was news of his conversation with Darkstripe and suspicions about Tigerclaw's involvement would start. "I know Yellowfang may be guilty still, but we should at least find out instead of killing her without a trial."
Closing his eyes, Redtail shook his head to himself. "Firepaw," he began, "you have lived with us for many moons, and aside from that, you are Bluestar's apprentice. You should know that she is fair. Bluestar would never kill a cat without hearing their side first. StarClan forbid, if a cat ever tried to murder her, she would hold a fair trial for her attempted killer."
That… was definitely true. Tigerclaw scowled at the memory of ThunderClan discovering his plans during his first life.
"I just thought…" Firepaw ducked his head. "I am sorry for the trouble I have caused. It's just that I've spoken with Yellowfang for moons. I thought I knew her. She may not be the most pleasant cat to be around, but I don't think she killed Lionheart or stole the kits.
Redtail sighed. Finally, he spoke. "At least this has brought about one good thing. Yellowfang will be returning to this spot, and she can tell us what happened for herself."
Firepaw met Redtail's eyes. "We can trust her." Redtail looked at him, and after a long moment gave a tiny nod.
But can we trust you? Tigerclaw wanted to growl, but kept silent. It was sinking in now. After all his seasons of plotting, he had missed his chance. This couldn't be the end of his plan, could it? No! he snarled inwardly. There must be a way! Perhaps during the battle with ShadowClan…
Yes! That was it! Tigerclaw scowled thoughtfully, reassured by the idea that was slowly taking shape. Hope wasn't lost. It would be difficult to pull off, but the kittypet certainly could still die today…
They had waited for what seemed like a moon when Yellowfang abruptly slipped out from behind the ash tree, and paused at the sight of so many cats. "Huh. The more the merrier I suppose." Tigerclaw bristled as three ShadowClan cats padded up and settled themselves next to Yellowfang. He wished he had been more familiar with what happened here the first time; right now he was going in blind.
"Yellowfang. You came back." Redtail dipped his head. "Tigerclaw was convinced you were arranging an ambush."
"Was he?" Yellowfang narrowed her eyes. "I can't say I'm surprised. Well, I assure you that we want what you want: the kits back in ThunderClan."
Whitestorm stood at Redtail's side, his muscles taut. The white warrior clearly didn't trust Yellowfang just yet. "What's in it for you?"
"I would like to know that as well," Redtail meowed, his piercing gaze resting on the ShadowClan cats.
"You are not wrong to question our motives," the skinny tom standing behind Yellowfang meowed. "But we are not here to harm you. We will help rescue your kits. In return, we want your help to get rid of Brokenstar."
Tigerclaw avoided looking at Yellowfang as Redtail interrogated her and the ShadowClan cats; the she-cat kept giving him odd glances. Redtail's fur fell flat within moments and Tigerclaw wasn't surprised. It was easy to gain such a dumb cat's trust.
"Let me introduce my old friends," Yellowfang meowed finally. "This is Ashfur…" Tigerclaw tuned out the introduction; he knew the names of these cats already. Ashfur was the skinny gray tom, Dawncloud was the small tabby, and Nightstar (well, Tigerclaw supposed he was still Nightpelt at this point) was the ragged looking black elder. He scanned the black warrior's ruffled fur. Even a lifetime later Tigerclaw was still surprised that ShadowClan had been in such terrible condition that this elder had been accepted as Clan leader.
The ShadowClan cats gave a brief explanation of ShadowClan's troubles, which Tigerclaw didn't care about. His sole focus now was on the kittypet, and what he'd need to do to ensure his death…
After coming up with a convoluted plan that involved the ShadowClan elders pretending to take Yellowfang prisoner, they crept through the forest, and hid behind a clump of toadstools. The camp was near; Tigerclaw remembered the short time he had lived here as ShadowClan leader and breathed in the familiar scents. It wasn't the same as ThunderClan territory, but this piece of pine forest brought back some of his best memories. Cats had respected and feared him in this place. I will have that again one day.
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes at Firepaw, considering whether he had underestimated the simplicity of what he was about to do. Surely it wouldn't be that difficult to push Firepaw into the path of one of Brokenstar's fiercest warriors? That was the one way to ensure no ThunderClan cat thought anything suspicious of the kittypet's death, and as a bonus Tigerclaw wasn't doing the killing himself, so it shouldn't cause issues on the shadow cat front… or so he hoped.
Ravenpaw crouched at his side; Tigerclaw could feel him shaking. He jabbed his apprentice with a paw. "Keep still!" he hissed. "All of ShadowClan will feel you through the ground with that twitching!"
Yellowfang stepped forward, and turned back to face the ThunderClan cats.
"Wait here till you hear me call," Yellowfang meowed.
"Good luck." Redtail dipped his head; Yellowfang nodded in return, and slid between the ShadowClan cats. They headed toward the camp.
The ThunderClan cats waited. The forest was completely quiet now that Ravenpaw's frightened trembling had stopped.
Yellowfang's yowl echoed.
Bounding to his paws, Redtail raised his head and let out a shrill battle cry. The others joined in, and followed Redtail's charge toward the ShadowClan camp. Tigerclaw followed them, unable to believe that he had been drawn into fighting alongside Yellowfang and the kittypet.
Tigerclaw knew he had to act fast. He shot forward, slipping around his Clanmates inside the thorn entrance tunnel, and rushed into battle next to Firepaw. When the kittypet looked like he was going to spring toward a less dangerous group of young warriors, Tigerclaw subtly blocked his path by stepping in the way. Blackfoot was a few fox-lengths in front of them. Tigerclaw could lead the kittypet to the ShadowClan deputy, as long as he stayed alert…
Tigerclaw whipped around. The kittypet was gone. He had apparently veered off into the writhing mass of battling cats. Spitting aloud, Tigerclaw craned his neck and peered over the warring cats. How had he lost Firepaw so quickly?! Tigerclaw pounded forward, swiveling his ears to listen for Firepaw's mew. Snarling, he lashed out at a ShadowClan warrior.
Tigerclaw took in the appearance of the rest of the camp as he fought.
Graypaw was in the most crowded part of the fighting. For some idiotic reason Ravenpaw was there as well. Tigerclaw winced as Ravenpaw narrowly avoided a savage blow from the warrior Clawface. If the foolish tom wasn't careful he was going to get himself killed, and Tigerclaw couldn't have that. Charging into the crowd, Tigerclaw delivered a savage bite to Clawface's flank, and the tom stumbled away.
"Thank you," Ravenpaw rasped.
"Pay attention next time!" Tigerclaw snarled. "You would have died if I hadn't been here!"
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Ravenpaw was apparently feeling brave, and raced right back into the most dangerous part of the battle. Tigerclaw didn't have time to keep saving Ravenpaw if he ended up in danger. Grumbling, Tigerclaw shook his head in disappointment. It was just one thing after another today.
Tigerclaw twitched his ears, on the verge of giving up his plan. Where was the kittypet anyway? He was answered by a yowl.
Firepaw apparently had a death wish, and had challenged Brokenstar himself. Slashing and biting at enemy warriors out of instinct, Tigerclaw watched the duel, hoping against hope that in this timeline Brokenstar would defeat the kittypet. There was nothing Tigerclaw could do but observe the fight, and hope for the best.
The kittypet was running circles around Brokenstar now, his small size giving him a temporary advantage, but it was only a matter of time before Brokenstar caught him. Sure enough, when Firepaw jumped onto Brokenstar's back and dug his claws into the ShadowClan leader's side, the older cat spun around, throwing the kittypet into the ShadowClan camp barrier. Brokenstar loomed above Firepaw, blocking his escape. Tigerclaw was transfixed; any moment Brokenstar would deliver the killing blow, but now he was growling in the kittypet's face in a low voice. Brokenstar tended to do that sometimes in The Place of No Stars, to intimidate the cat he was about to kill. Tigerclaw held his breath. Hurry up!
A blur of gray flitted across his vision. Brokenstar was still snarling something at Firepaw, but Dawncloud was stealthily creeping toward them, her eyes fixed on the ShadowClan leader. Tigerclaw buried his claws into the ground, willing Brokenstar to deliver the killing bite to Firepaw before the ShadowClan elder distracted him.
Yes! Brokenstar crouched, muscles rippling. Tigerclaw knew what was about to happen: once Brokenstar leaped it would be over. The defiant look in Firepaw's eyes wouldn't change a thing. No battle move could get him out of this.
But the pale elder began to loudly run toward Brokenstar at the last moment, diverting his attention from Firepaw. Brokenstar turned away from the kittypet, and apparently deciding that Dawncloud was a more serious threat, pounced on her instead.
Tigerclaw let out a roar. Why was it that every single time the kittypet got in danger he managed to weasel his way out of it?! Enraged, Tigerclaw bounded toward Brokenstar and wrenched him off the small ShadowClan elder. Brokenstar was going to pay for this.
Tigerclaw aimed a swipe at Brokenstar's nose, but Brokenstar had the same idea; both cats ended up a tail length apart, their claws hitting only thin air. Baring his teeth, Tigerclaw gave Brokenstar a threatening hiss.
"You think you can defeat me?" Brokenstar spat, his broken tail bristling. "Come on, now, fight me!"
Tigerclaw didn't answer like he would have in his first life; instead he copied Brokenstar's movements, pawstep by pawstep. He'd observed Brokenstar's fighting style numerous times in the Dark Forest, and even battled him himself; a win here would be reasonable if he kept his wits about him.
"What are you waiting for, Tigerclaw?" Brokenstar taunted him. Tigerclaw growled, his focus now entirely on making the ShadowClan leader pay for sparing the kittypet. He sidestepped a flurry of claws and teeth.
Brokenstar was still yowling like a lunatic. "Soon your territory will be mine! All of the forest will belong to me, and there's nothing you can do to stop it!" Tigerclaw crouched down low to the ground as they continued to circle each other. Hopefully he had never sounded like that; Brokenstar appeared insane, and on top of that was being incredibly stupid by revealing a plot to an enemy that had a chance of survival. It is a good thing you are going to die, Tigerclaw thought.
"I don't think that will happen," Tigerclaw meowed, any concerns that the shadow cat would object to his idea pushed to the wayside by cold fury.
His calm response seemed to enrage Brokenstar further. "You don't know what I'm capable of!" Brokenstar dove forward with outstretched claws; it had been his signature move in the Dark Forest.
Tigerclaw dodged it easily. "Oh, but I do know," he hissed. "And there is only room for one leader in this forest." He flashed sideways, avoiding Brokenstar's claws. "Say hello to Mapleshade for me." Lunging forward, he clamped his jaws around Brokenstar's throat, and with a sharp crack the ShadowClan leader crumpled to the ground.
Blood thundered in Tigerclaw's ears. That had been incredibly satisfying. In the back of his mind he noticed that there were no shadows rising around him, no eerie pressure on his ears. Did the shadow cat not care that he had killed someone? Perhaps her warnings had been for show. He settled himself next to Brokenstar, and waited for him to wake up so he could kill him again. Watching the half-dead ShadowClan leader, Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. How many lives did Brokenstar have at this point? He had never kept close track…
Shocked yowls rose up around him, jerking Tigerclaw out of his reverie. "Brokenstar is dead!" More caterwauls spread through the clearing, some joyous, others horrified. Tigerclaw puffed out his chest. He had caused that reaction. He had killed Brokenstar, and he would kill him again, as many times as it took for him to die permanently-
"No, he isn't! Look! It must not have been his last life!"
Tigerclaw whipped around. Brokenstar's eyes had flown open, and were watching Tigerclaw with undisguised hatred. Cursing his lack of foresight, Tigerclaw pounded toward him, ready to aim a killing blow at the ShadowClan leader's neck.
A white warrior appeared in front of him. "No, Tigerclaw!" Whitestorm meowed, sounding horrified. Tigerclaw tried to shove his way past but it was no use; Whitestorm was nearly as big as he was. "We are warriors! We don't need to kill to win our battles!"
Horrified, Tigerclaw watched Brokenstar hobble to his paws. No! He had revealed his plan- or at least the fact that he wanted to take over the forest- to the one cat who wanted the same thing!
"You haven't seen the last of me," the ShadowClan leader hissed. Staggering, Brokenstar began to rapidly limp away, his closest band of warriors following close behind.
The clearing was silent. Tigerclaw fell to his haunches, and stared blankly at nothing.
It was over. His plan had failed. Even worse, Brokenstar knew he was plotting to take over the forest, and if that wasn't enough, he knew that Tigerclaw was aware of Mapleshade's existence. He'd probably piece together that Tigerclaw knew battle techniques from the Dark Forest, and plan accordingly.
"They're gone," a ShadowClan tom mewed in disbelief.
"Is Brokenstar really dead?" came the hopeful voice of a kit.
"No, but he lost a life. I saw it," a ShadowClan warrior spoke up. "It was Tigerclaw who dealt the killing blow. He is the one who saved us."
Uncertain if this was really happening, Tigerclaw looked around. The ShadowClan cats were staring at him, their gazes filled with awe.
Meanwhile, most of the ThunderClan cats were crowding around the kits. "They're safe," Mousefur declared. Firepaw and Graypaw lifted them one by one out of their prison, a small burrow. Ravenpaw sat some ways off, his tail flicking nervously as he watched. In spite of being devastated at his plan's failure, Tigerclaw let out a tiny sigh of relief. At least he hadn't lost any followers.
Graypaw peered at the kits. "The little tabby has a nasty wound on his ear. Can you take a look, Yellowfang?"
The rogue/former ShadowClan medicine cat got to her paws and nosed the kit's torn ear. "We need to stop the bleeding."
Tigerclaw wondered where the shadow cat was right now, but the ShadowClan camp held no darkness beyond its normal gloom. Did she not care that he had killed a cat, or did it not matter since it wasn't Brokenstar's final life? Would she have swooped in if Tigerclaw had killed Brokenstar again? He had been so absorbed in his desire for vengeance that he hadn't cared about the repercussions of his actions. Tigerclaw grumbled to himself. In retrospect he probably should have saved the Mapleshade line for Brokenstar's last life, but he hadn't known how many lives Brokenstar had, and it had seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Nightpelt began to approach Redtail. Tigerclaw peered at the black tom, trying to distract himself from his failure. When he took over ShadowClan, it would be all too easy if this pitiful elder was leader. Hopefully Nightstar's leadership was as pathetic as it had been the first time.
"ShadowClan thanks you for your help, but it is time for you to go now." Nightpelt stepped forward, nodding at Redtail. "I promise you that ShadowClan will not hunt on your territory. Go in peace until the next Gathering."
"ThunderClan will do the same. Hunt in peace for one moon," Redtail meowed solemnly, and turned to Yellowfang. "What will you do now, Yellowfang? Do you wish to return with us, or stay here?"
Yellowfang raised her head, and gave her answer.
I had to break it off there or it was going to bleed over into next chapter's events. Trust me, Tigerclaw and the shadow cat are going to have a good talk. Now there's just one chapter left after this one before we get into the Fire and Ice timeline! Anyone who's also following Bluefur's Choice and are wondering about updates, I'm going to start putting out new chapters of that once the Into the Wild arc of Tigerclaw's Second Chance is complete, so very very soon.
I shouldn't be surprised. Tigerclaw fixed a death glare on Yellowfang, who for some unfathomable reason, actually decided to return to ThunderClan. He had figured Yellowfang would stay with ShadowClan this time since Spottedleaf wasn't dead.
The she-cat was earning approving gazes from the ThunderClan cats as she helped the injured kits make their way through the forest. It was ridiculous in Tigerclaw's opinion; the kits moved at a snail's pace, yet not one cat thought to pick them up. The warriors just nodded approvingly whenever Yellowfang lifted a kit that had fallen back to his paws. Tigerclaw wanted to shred the leaves at his feet, but then he'd have to explain his rage to his Clanmates, and that wasn't going to happen.
It seemed like a season later when they crossed into ThunderClan territory again. Redtail had fallen into step beside Tigerclaw, allowing Whitestorm to lead the way home.
The pale warrior's tail was twitching, a flash of white at the head of the patrol. Tigerclaw found himself even more furious with Whitestorm as they walked. Brokenstar would have been dead by now if Whitestorm hadn't gotten in the way. The white tom was too noble for his own good. How dare he stop me!
"Stop what?" Redtail tilted his head. Mouse-dung! He'd spoken aloud.
Tigerclaw lashed his tail. "Whitestorm. I was about to kill Brokenstar and he jumped in front of me before I could land the killing blow!" He hissed, flattening his ears. "Absurdity, that's what it was. Never mind that Brokenstar ran his Clan into the ground; warriors don't kill!"
"I was under the impression that you didn't care about ShadowClan's troubles."
Tigerclaw snorted. "I don't. I just thought it might be useful to stop a cat that will be a danger to all Clans if he was left alive!"
Trotting along as though he didn't have a care in the world, Redtail flicked his tail. "He will never lead ShadowClan again. I count that as a victory."
Tigerclaw breathed out through his nose. "You're a fool if you think it's that simple."
Sighing, Redtail gave Tigerclaw a long look. "You may be right," he conceded, bounding over a branch that Tigerclaw was able to step over. "But one day, ShadowClan will remember what you did, and they will remember that you showed restraint in not killing Brokenstar until he lost all nine of his lives. As much as they hate Brokenstar, I'm willing to bet there are some complicated emotions cats are having about his fate." Tigerclaw frowned. Redtail had a point. He did seem to have gained the respect of much of ShadowClan just by killing their leader once. "You did well, Tigerclaw."
But at Redtail's words, Tigerclaw felt a growl rumbling in his throat; he didn't want the stupid tortoiseshell's praise! He was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to get away from these idiotic cats, who in a former life had supported a kittypet as leader. With a snarl, Tigerclaw veered off from the group.
Redtail shot him a questioning look before he was out of sight, and Tigerclaw supposed he should say something before randomly disappearing from a patrol. "I'll be back. The scent of ShadowClan is strong here- I'm going to remark the border so ShadowClan won't be able to claim ignorance when they hunt on it."
Redtail waved his tail, acknowledging him. Tigerclaw guessed Redtail was just humoring him- the deputy was probably too trusting to think ShadowClan would actually trespass. The sound of pawsteps soon faded and Tigerclaw was left alone.
He walked through the familiar paths of the forest, breathing in the brisk leaf-fall air, taking in the scents of mulch and falling leaves. For the first time in a very long time he looked up at the stars, and reflected that he was home. Much of his existence he had been dead, unable to bask in the sun during the day or feel the moon's glow on his pelt at night. He had that back now, and he was not going to waste it. He would make himself deputy then leader of ThunderClan, and then leader of every Clan.
A jolt of anger brought him back to reality. He had failed utterly today.
There was one bright point that Tigerclaw recognized: he had killed a cat, and the cursed shadow spirit hadn't shown up to stop him. At least not yet.
But as though the very thought had summoned her, the unnatural darkness fell over the woods as he walked deeper and deeper into ThunderClan territory. Shadows lengthened, and the stars dimmed in the gloom. Cursing, Tigerclaw picked up his pace. This couldn't be happening. He resolved to keep walking when she appeared.
Tigerclaw was concentrating on putting one paw in front of the other as the shadow cat materialized out of his shadow and fell into step beside him.
"So." The eerily familiar meow rang in his ears. "It looks like your plan didn't work, doesn't it?"
Tigerclaw ignored the shadow; he could practically feel her smugness coming off in waves. But he couldn't ignore the fact that this could be the end. He had killed a cat, and if his hunch was correct, the shadow cat would sort that into one of the 'wrong' ways of going about his life. His heart beat wildly, not in fear he told himself, but in pure rage. He was the greatest warrior in all the forest, but he couldn't attack this stupid she-cat to defend himself. Perhaps if he didn't think about it, she wouldn't condemn him to eternal damnation.
As soon as the thought crossed his mind, the shadow cat let out an audible sigh. "I find it rather sad how you believe my life goal to be destroying your existence."
Isn't it? Tigerclaw thought, digging his claws into the bed of brown leaves.
"Are you that dense? No, don't answer that, of course you are." Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes, ready to respond to the shadow cat's insult when she whisked her tail around. "Great Shadow Spirits, it's as if you want to fail." The shadowy she-cat continued to follow him, merging with his own shadow.
"If you're going to kill me, you can do it without filling my ears with your nonsense first, you cowardly piece of fox dung!" Tigerclaw snarled, unhooking his hind claws from the ground. If the shadow cat attacked, he wasn't going down without a fight.
Ignoring him, she sat down, raised a paw to lick it with her shadowy tongue, and then swiped it across her ear. "Do I look like I'm going to kill you?"
"Stay away from me!" Tigerclaw pushed past her, irritation prickling his pelt.
Unfortunately, she wasn't done; moments later the gloomy dusk air condensed into shadows and rematerialized next to Tigerclaw. "Ah, if only it were that simple. Trust me, Tigerclaw, I'd love to not have to deal with you too. I'll have you know I argued very hard not to get stuck with you initially. In retrospect, I should have argued harder.
"Now, I've told you this many times and I'll tell you again, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things." She paused, tilting her head. "But remember this: sometimes there is no right way. Sometimes there is no wrong way either. You can only do what you think is right, and for the right reasons."
"Then why can't I get rid of the kittypet then?!" Tigerclaw argued.
"You don't truly believe it's okay to kill a cat," the dark she-cat meowed after a long time. Tigerclaw snorted. She was clearly trying to manipulate him. Morality stories were tales for kits. They sounded nice, but they weren't actually true.
"Maybe someday you'll understand," the shadow cat sighed. Tigerclaw rolled his eyes. "Or maybe not."
"Well, if I'm not doing things the right way, how am I supposed to know?!"
"If I told you, that would make this whole thing pointless." She turned her head upward. "Just think about what I've said, and everything will become clear. It's that simple."
Tigerclaw frowned, utterly confused. Her words tumbled senselessly in his mind. Right way, right reasons… If he was understanding her correctly, killing Brokenstar had been right, or at least not wrong. But that opened up a whole new mouse full of worms. Killing was wrong, but only if it was against Clanmates? Did it matter if it was for the betterment of his Clan? Perhaps that was why he wasn't being thrown into some dark afterlife filled with pain right now- Brokenstar's death would help ThunderClan, and therefore was considered 'right.'
Starlight began to penetrate the gloom; the shadow cat was leaving. Tigerclaw couldn't resist challenging her as she left. "Aren't you going to condemn me to some terrible fate?" he called. "After all, I did kill a cat."
She didn't turn back as her black fur began to fade into the shadows. "You're not making this easy, you know." The cat shaped shadow disappeared, leaving silence in her wake.
Once again, Tigerclaw began to trudge back to camp, bewilderment and annoyance mingling with relief at not being killed. He went over his and the shadow cat's conversation as he walked. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure of it: this supposed 'right reason' the shadow cat was speaking of was to put one's Clan first.
Tigerclaw knew he had broken the warrior code many times, but they were more guidelines than rules. However, the overarching message of the code was that a cat should do what was best for his Clan, and Tigerclaw knew that he could have led all four Clans to victory against any enemy during his first life. They would have flourished if they had just let him lead.
Tigerclaw sighed. Defending one's Clan and protecting it with one's life if necessary was the most important tenet of the warrior code, so by extension, shouldn't one be willing to take the life of another to uphold it? Technically, any action taken for the good of the Clan should fall within the first rule.
But according to the shadow cat, this was apparently not the case… or at least not all the time anyway. Tigerclaw grumbled to himself. He couldn't help but think that the shadow cat was mocking him. Surely him becoming leader was what was best for the Clan, and logically, if he had to take action that resulted in the loss of other cats, since it was for the greater good of the Clan, it should be alright. The fact that Tigerclaw would benefit was a bonus.
Scowling, he trotted past the trees as the camp barrier came into view. So killing Brokenstar was fine in this instance, but why? Was it because he wasn't a Clanmate? Was it because it hadn't been his last life? Or was it because of something else?
Tigerclaw was more confused than anything.
He slipped into camp as Redtail was speaking. "All in all, the cat we owe most is Yellowfang. She came up with the plan to get into the ShadowClan camp, and at serious risk to her life." Tigerclaw sat down next to Darkstripe; the dark tom gave him a questioning glance that Tigerclaw ignored. "Yellowfang has proven beyond a doubt that she is a trusted and valuable member of this Clan."
Bluestar was nodding from atop the Highrock. Predictably, contented murmurs were emanating from the crowd of cats settled beneath her.
Redtail was still meowing. "We wouldn't have known Yellowfang was on our side without the apprentices. While Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw acted without orders, it took great courage for them to do what they did tonight." More positive meows hit Tigerclaw's ears, and he angled them away the grating sound. "And I would be remiss not to mention Tigerclaw." Redtail purred, twitching his ears. "He fought Brokenstar himself, and won." Approving murmurs broke out, and Tigerclaw raised his chin. The deputy was apparently not going to mention Whitestorm's involvement in halting the attack, which was fine by him.
His fur prickling under Bluestar's gaze, Tigerclaw twisted his ear, irritated at her scrutiny.
"I am proud to call all of you members of my Clan." Bluestar looked down, sharing a nod with Spottedleaf, and then faced the former rogue. "And that includes you Yellowfang. I wish you to join Spottedleaf as a medicine cat of ThunderClan."
Yellowfang turned to Frostfur and nodded, and then inclined her head to Spottedleaf. "Thank you, Bluestar. ShadowClan is not the Clan I once knew. ThunderClan is my Clan now." The sky filled with the elated cheers of the ThunderClan cats. Tigerclaw glanced around, and couldn't find a single unenthusiastic face aside from Darkstripe and Longtail.
Great. Tigerclaw barely prevented his eyes from rolling out the back of his head. Now there were two medicine cats that were suspicious of his motives to deal with. And if that wasn't enough, after all he'd done, after everything he'd went through… Firepaw was still alive. The tom held his tail high as he shared a thrilled look with Yellowfang, probably overjoyed that he had a non-ThunderClanborn friend.
Bluestar glanced upward. "This is cause for celebration." Her gaze lingered on the apprentices. "Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw took part in the battle. Tell me, Redtail, did they fight well?"
"They did. And I would like to add that Lionheart spoke to me before he died," Redtail meowed, meeting Graypaw's eyes. "He believed they were ready for their warrior names, and I agree with him."
Tigerclaw stared, dumbstruck. He suddenly realized that he had been the one that put the idea of the apprentices' readiness for warriorhood in Lionheart's head. He'd been mindlessly praising the apprentices, and now it had come back to bite him. Firepaw wasn't going to die today. He was going to get his warrior name.
"And I agree as well." Bluestar gave a slight nod, and Tigerclaw watched in horror as she raised her head to look at the sky. "I, Bluestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code…" Tigerclaw couldn't listen anymore; he had to focus on not screeching in fury.
"Firepaw, Graypaw, Ravenpaw, do you promise to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your lives?"
"I do." At the kittypet's meow, Tigerclaw felt as though he was falling into an abyss. He didn't hear Graypaw's reply, and only just barely picked up Ravenpaw's anxious mew.
"Firepaw, from this moment you will be known as Fireheart. StarClan honors your bravery and your strength, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
Tigerclaw was boiling with rage under his pelt as Graypaw, unsurprisingly, was named Graystripe. Both he and the kittypet were sitting with the warriors now, leaving Ravenpaw alone at the front of the crowd.
"Ravenpaw," Bluestar meowed, "from this moment you will be known as Ravenwing. StarClan honors your bravery and your strength, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan." Tigerclaw scowled. Both Graystripe and the kittypet had also been praised for their bravery and strength; Bluestar apparently didn't want to bother picking a new trait to point out in Ravenwing. And Ravenwing was the oldest of the three apprentices. He should have received his name first, or at least before the blasted kittypet.
But at least he was a warrior now. Tigerclaw gave Redtail a triumphant look as cheers rose up from the crowd. This time, his apprentice had made warrior first, even though he had to admit Dustpaw probably still edged out Ravenwing on fundamental skills. Redtail shrugged, and then nodded, his whiskers twitching in amusement.
The cheers of, "Fireheart! Graystripe! Ravenwing!" eventually died down, and cats began to surge forward to congratulate the Clan's newest warriors.
As much as he wanted to avoid Fireheart, Tigerclaw knew he had to at least look pleased over the newly named warriors' accomplishments. He trudged up to Ravenwing; the skinny tom's eyes brightened at the sight of his mentor.
"Thank you." Ravenwing stared up at Tigerclaw. "You've- you've taught me so much."
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. "You should be thankful you had the chance to prove yourself in battle, or Bluestar wouldn't have thought you ready! Don't think you've learned everything just yet!"
Ravenwing looked as though he wanted to rush forward and give Tigerclaw a friendly nudge, but thankfully restrained himself.
Firepaw- no Fireheart, Tigerclaw corrected himself, only narrowly suppressing the urge to claw out the cursed tom's throat- was staring at Tigerclaw, the familiar challenging expression that had been common in his first life clear on his face. Tigerclaw had no choice but to give him a stiff nod, and Fireheart responded with one of his own.
For the first time in moons, he reflected on his second chance. Had he truly traveled back in time? What if this was all a dream, spun into existence solely for the entertainment of the shadow cat? Tigerclaw shook his head. He doubted that was true; everything he'd experienced had been so real. But even if it was a dream he wasn't going to bow to the shadow cat's every whim; he would take over the Clans if he had to claw the life from every cat that challenged him.
And if the shadow cat somehow prevented him from killing again… Well, he was going to be seriously constrained if he couldn't kill, but nothing would stop him, not the shadow cat, not Redtail, not even the kittypet. If he had to make himself leader purely through sabotage, then so be it.
Tigerclaw was ready for the challenge.
And there it is. Into the Wild is done.
This fic will continue onward into the Fire and Ice timeline soon, but I'm going to focus on Bluefur's Choice for a bit first. That fic has honestly been on the back burner for most of its run and deserves to get finished.
Until next time...
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
There had occasionally been days during Tigerclaw's second chance when he had woken up, and could imagine that nothing was going wrong, that his planning and plotting was slowly coming to fruition. That one day soon, he would be leader of ThunderClan.
The day of Fireheart's warrior vigil was not one of those days.
Dawn light filtered into the camp as Tigerclaw stared at the cursed tom, feeling ice-cold hatred course through every hair on his pelt. Shifting his weight, Tigerclaw felt his claws sink into the sandy ground. He would regroup and make a new plan, a better plan, one that would surely allow him to rule the forest, one that would get rid of the kittypet. But there was only one thing that Tigerclaw could focus on at the moment: not only was the kittypet alive and well, but he was now a warrior of ThunderClan.
Tigerclaw had settled himself at the entrance to the warriors' den shortly before dawn. The new warriors' vigils had not yet ended. He could see Ravenwing as well as Graystripe staring out into the distance, with Fireheart sitting between them.
Tigerclaw glared at the kittypet, nearly shaking with rage. Fireheart had stumbled into being fully accepted by ThunderClan just as easily the second time. And now, with the shadow cat's interference, Tigerclaw found himself unable to do anything about it.
Tigerclaw couldn't avoid noticing that while he was watching the kittypet, the kittypet was watching back. Several times Tigerclaw had turned his head to distract himself from the desire to leap to his paws and murder the traitor turned warrior right there, but when he turned back, he had often found a pair of green eyes staring back at him. It was a familiar look, the defiant stare the kittypet had often given him during his first life. It was almost as though he suspected something…
But Fireheart couldn't know Tigerclaw had set him up to appear to be a traitor, could he? Surely not; the kittypet was too stupid. Perhaps Tigerclaw was imagining it. He had to be.
That might just be the way the idiot's face rests naturally, Tigerclaw decided as he continued to glare at the kittypet.
The vigil was ending now. Redtail had apparently given the three new warriors permission to speak; Fireheart was meowing something to Redtail, who responded with a cheerful tail flick. Shifting around, Tigerclaw tried to appear as though he wasn't staring at Fireheart.
Most cats were still asleep, but some were waking; with a stretch, Whitestorm emerged from the warriors' den, mewing a greeting. Tigerclaw grunted in reply.
He was so focused on the kittypet that he barely noticed his surroundings, and a voice jerked him out of his reverie. "Tigerclaw, what will we do about the kittypet?" Darkstripe had inched his way up to Tigerclaw's shoulder. "Are we still going to get rid of-"
"Silence, you fool!" Tigerclaw hissed, quickly checking that no other cats were in the vicinity. Satisfied that no cat had heard, he turned his gaze straight ahead, hoping Darkstripe would take the hint, but the dark tom was still there. "Leave me. I need to think."
Darkstripe stayed where he was, but at least when he spoke now his mew was a whisper. "You have a plan, right?"
"Of course, I have a plan!" Tigerclaw snarled. Irritatingly, Darkstripe was still there, waiting for him to explain. "We'll discuss this later. Go hunt or something."
"Yes, Tigerclaw." Tail drooping and ears flat, Darkstripe hurried out of the camp. Fireheart, Graystripe, and Ravenwing padded into the warriors' den now, apparently having been given permission to sleep the day away.
Tigerclaw growled, scoring his claws across the sandy ground, and he was forced to accept the truth: as of now, he had no plan. For the most part, the last few moons had been wasted. Sure, he was more respected than when he'd started, but in some ways, he was worse off.
As cats began to head out on patrol, Tigerclaw took stock of his situation. From what he could tell he had several problems he would need to deal with.
Firstly, and most importantly, Fireheart. The kittypet would have been dead by now if Tigerclaw had had his way. Maybe he couldn't kill Fireheart this time, but he could still discredit him. Or sabotage him. Or frame him for eating prey before feeding the Clan or… or something. Tigerclaw lashed his tail. This would have been so much easier if he didn't have the shadow cat breathing down his neck about doing things the 'right way,' which might or might not include killing.
Second, Redtail. If only he had gotten rid of the hare-brained deputy when he'd had the chance…
And there were more complications, Spottedleaf and Brokenstar among them.
Remembering the battle with ShadowClan, Tigerclaw cursed his own lack of forethought. He should never have spoken to Brokenstar at all. Now the crazed leader knew that he was aware of Mapleshade, and that fact would surely change things. Brokenstar might be plotting with the Dark Forest right now. Perhaps they'd put it together that Tigerclaw had travelled through time. He shut his eyes, growling. Only StarClan knew- no, only the blasted Shadow Spirits knew how that worked.
His thoughts turned to the tortoiseshell medicine cat. Spottedleaf was going to be a problem. Tigerclaw had seen her casting skeptical glances his way whenever she thought he wasn't looking the previous night. She knew Tigerclaw had predicted something was going to happen when ShadowClan invaded the camp; her suspicions were likely just as strong now. And Spottedleaf wasn't the only medicine cat he needed to worry about; Yellowfang had seemed distrustful of him a few moons earlier, and if the two medicine cats ever talked…
And Tigerclaw couldn't forget about the shadow cat herself; her existence, and the fact that she was most likely going to prevent him from murdering his Clanmates, was probably the biggest complication of them all.
He needed to find a way to get Redtail and Fireheart out of the way, convince Spottedleaf and possibly Yellowfang as well that he had nothing to hide, gain followers, improve his standing among the other Clans to the point that they would accept him as their leader, actually become leader, and then take over the forest. And he had to do it all without killing.
This is going to be tricky, Tigerclaw admitted to himself.
Aside from a short stint of hunting near Snakerocks, Tigerclaw spent much of the day asleep. Late in the evening, Darkstripe returned from his hunt and crept back to his nest. Tigerclaw didn't shoo him off; he was perfectly content with the dark warrior being there as long as he didn't badger him about the kittypet.
The sun was setting when Redtail entered the warriors' den. Raising his ginger tail in greeting, the obnoxious deputy trotted up to Tigerclaw, followed by Fireheart, Graystripe, and Ravenwing.
"I'm taking these three out to check on the RiverClan border," Redtail meowed, indicating the gaggle of new warriors with a wave of his tail. "It's always good to lead the new warriors on a patrol their first day." Tigerclaw snorted at Redtail's words. Once a cat was a warrior they shouldn't need the Clan deputy to hold their paw. "You're welcome to join us." Redtail tilted his head waiting for an answer. Behind him, Ravenwing looked on hopefully.
Tigerclaw flicked his ears, trying to think of an excuse. "Perhaps tomorrow. I planned to hunt with Darkstripe tonight." From his spot nearby, Darkstripe mouthed, 'you did?'
"All right. Tomorrow, at sunhigh, we shall hunt together." Redtail brushed past him, and Tigerclaw was about to object before Redtail went on. "I'll hold you to it." He led the younger cats out of the camp, Graystripe first, and then Ravenwing, whose tail was drooping in apparent disappointment. Fireheart padded after them, but then he paused.
And there was Fireheart again, giving Tigerclaw one of those challenging glances. His green eyes met Tigerclaw's amber ones before he turned and followed Graystripe and Ravenwing through the gorse tunnel.
With a dismissive snort, Tigerclaw pointedly turned his back. The kittypet was too mousebrained to suspect anything. Wasn't he?
In the days following Ravenwing, Graystripe, and the kittypet taking their warrior names, Tigerclaw's time was filled with border patrols and hunting. It reminded him of his first life, except for the fact that he should have been the one assigning patrols, not Redtail. Unfortunately, he had been unable to renege on his promise to hunt with the insufferable deputy, but it ended up being a pleasantly short affair thanks to Ravenwing, who had somehow managed to intercept the patrol after cutting his paw on a sharp stone.
"Are you all right?" Redtail had called when the skinny tom limped into view.
Ravenwing winced. "Yes, I just cut my paw jumping over the stream. But I can still hunt," he added quickly, noticing Tigerclaw's presence.
"You mouse-brained idiot!" Tigerclaw snarled, latching onto his chance to escape from Redtail's company. "You've cut your middle toe; you'd have to hold your paw up. Maybe a cat with better balance could hunt like that, but I can hardly imagine you capable of that for more than a few moments!" He lashed his tail. "You need to see Spottedleaf and get that treated before you get an infection and have to stumble about on three paws permanently."
Redtail was looking at Tigerclaw strangely, as though he had never before seen Tigerclaw show concern for another cat's injury, which to be fair was probably true. "I thought you believed that infected wounds build character," Redtail mewed, whiskers twitching.
"When he gets an infection from letting his paw touch the ground every warrior will have to make up for one less cat for patrols," Tigerclaw growled, turning around. He beckoned with his tail for Ravenwing to follow. "Come on then, we're going back to camp."
Ravenwing nearly lost his footing. "You're… coming with me?"
"Unless you want to trip over your own paws." Tigerclaw's tail twitched against his will; it was only his hatred of Redtail that was making him do this.
"I shall wait here," Redtail mewed. He continued to look on in bewilderment as Ravenwing hobbled over, the skinny tom nearly falling flat on his face as he attempted to lean against Tigerclaw's shoulder.
Tigerclaw leaped back with a snarl. "Other side, mouse-brain! Do you think I want to spend the rest of the night washing your blood out of my fur?!" He glanced over his shoulder, hoping Redtail had not seen how tiny Ravenwing's cut was. "I will catch up to you later," he told Redtail, though he planned nothing of the sort.
They had made their way back to camp, which thankfully hadn't been too far. Ravenwing had muttered a thank you as Tigerclaw shoved him in the direction of the medicine den. Then Tigerclaw had taken a different hunting route, away from Redtail, and then brushed off the tom later, claiming that he'd scented a prey rich clearing on his way back to their meeting spot that had been too good to ignore.
Now though, it had been several days, and seeing Redtail cheerfully meowing with Bluestar, Tigerclaw grumbled to himself. The annoying tortoiseshell's presence still irked him, and he knew it was only a matter of time before Redtail tried to organize another friendly hunting trip. If only he had had his wits about him enough to take the stupid tom's life at the beginning of his second chance, at the moment he'd arrived at Sunningrocks, perhaps then he might have gotten off with a warning. But now Tigerclaw was stuck with him, since the shadow cat was so bent on him following her worthless moral code.
Intent on avoiding Redtail, Tigerclaw rose to his paws, intending to leave camp, and began to pad toward the gorse tunnel. Just then the one cat he least wanted to see appeared out of the medicine den.
Spottedleaf dipped her head toward him. "Hello, Tigerclaw."
He cautiously returned the gesture. "Spottedleaf."
"You'll be happy to know that Ravenwing's paw is fine. No lasting damage," Spottedleaf meowed before Tigerclaw could walk past.
"I guessed as much," Tigerclaw growled stiffly, "seeing as he was hunting again two nights ago."
"Yes, he didn't even need a poultice. I just had him clean it up and rest for a few hours." She narrowed her eyes, gazing at Tigerclaw for just a moment too long. "He did appreciate you helping him back to camp though."
In the face of Spottedleaf's gaze, which held some distrust along with amusement, Tigerclaw wavered between responding and ignoring her. He settled on grumbling to show he heard and then, pelt prickling, he picked up his pace to leave the medicine clearing; he was not about to purposely make conversation with the cat most suspicious of him. He wondered if she'd perhaps spoken to the kittypet; as if Tigerclaw didn't have enough cats wondering about his motives.
Of course, he was not too worried. He was Tigerstar, leader of the Dark Forest; he wouldn't be cowed by a medicine cat, much less one with secrets of her own…
He was so distracted by the thought that he hadn't noticed that instead of the gorse tunnel, his paws were bringing him to the nursery. He caught sight of Goldenflower's pale ginger coat and decided he may as well talk to her; he was too close to avoid the nursery anyway. Goldenflower was leaning toward Frostfur, and from the tone of their voices it was clear that they were mewing their goodbyes. As Frostfur padded back into the nursery, herding her four kits with her tail, she saw Tigerclaw and gave him a grateful nod before slipping inside.
Looking at his former mate, Tigerclaw raised his chin. He wasn't sure if he wanted kits again; not one of them had lived up to his greatness during his first life, but then again, now that he knew what was going to happen he could stop them from taking the wrong path.
Goldenflower spoke before he could mew a greeting. "Tigerclaw. Taking a break from patrolling the border?" She narrowed her eyes playfully. "I didn't think you were interested in goings-on in the nursery."
"I'm interested in anything that affects ThunderClan's future," he replied smoothly, settling himself next to her. "As a matter of fact, I hear that your kit is starting his apprenticeship tonight." To be accurate, it had been impossible not to; just like the first time, Longtail was strutting about the camp, telling any cat who would listen that he was going to be a mentor.
"He is." Goldenflower purred and dipped her head toward the small tom. "Swiftkit is getting much too big for the nursery."
Swiftkit glanced up at Tigerclaw, but then his gaze immediately darted away. Seeing the black-and-white tom brought back memories. Tigerclaw remembered all those seasons ago- which were technically seasons in the future now- how he had lured the pack of dogs into ThunderClan territory, how he had rejoiced at the fear he was causing the Clan that had betrayed him. He recalled when Darkstripe had given him the news that Swiftpaw had confronted the dog pack and paid for his foolishness with his life-
Watching Swiftkit bat at a clump of moss, Tigerclaw suddenly felt a strange faint prickling sensation. It was bizarre, almost as though tiny thorns were poking his chest. He shook his head, and the feeling went away.
Tearing his eyes from the kit, he turned back to Goldenflower. "Has Bluestar informed you as to who his mentor will be?"
"We discussed it this morning," Goldenflower purred. "Longtail will mentor him, as I'm sure you know. Not that I didn't already know, of course. With Longtail talking about it for three days straight, things tend to get around."
"True. Young cats should learn how to keep their mouths shut." Goldenflower's whiskers twitched; Tigerclaw wasn't sure if she was amused by him or Longtail. "You must be pleased to be able to move back into the warriors' den," he meowed before she could make a teasing remark.
Goldenflower nodded, but there was a glimmer of wistfulness in her eyes. "It will be nice, but I will miss the kits." She lowered her voice. "I worry about him sometimes. Swiftkit has always been so shy and nervous…"
"He will be fine." Tigerclaw almost added that if a coward like Ravenwing could make warrior any cat could, when a grating voice interrupted him.
"Tigerclaw, there you are!" Redtail.
Tigerclaw sighed. Shutting his eyes in a long blink, he turned his head. "Yes?"
"I'm taking a patrol along the ShadowClan border. You can join Whitestorm and myself."
"Very well." Tigerclaw dipped his head to Goldenflower in farewell. "Trust me, you will soon have a warrior worthy of TigerClan. Any kit of yours will have great potential." Without waiting for a response, he turned and began to follow Redtail and Whitestorm out of the camp. He felt Goldenflower's gaze on his back until he entered the gorse tunnel.
"High praise," Redtail mewed when they were out of earshot.
Tigerclaw snorted. Technically he had meant the TigerClan he planned to name after himself, not the ancient one. He supposed they were one in the same, strength-wise. Redtail was still watching him, but Tigerclaw didn't dignify his comment with a reply.
Finally, Redtail looked ahead. "We'll take the path around Snakerocks."
"That seems wise," Whitestorm meowed. "I take it we will start following the border at Fourtrees…"
Tigerclaw allowed Whitestorm and Redtail to take the lead, his thoughts as far from patrolling as they could be.
After a time, the two warriors swerved across a small patch of ground devoid of trees, and Tigerclaw recognized that this was his chance. "You two go on ahead. I'm going to try for a mouse in this clearing."
Redtail acknowledged him with a twitch of his ears as Tigerclaw veered off the path. Hopefully he figured Tigerclaw would catch up by the Thunderpath; he had done that several times before.
Tigerclaw pushed his way through the undergrowth, around the bushes and trees that were starting to turn orange and gold. He was deep in thought as he padded through the forest, and for once it was not about taking over the Clans.
Of course, he knew why Goldenflower had wanted to be his mate the first time around even though she had never come out and say it. Obviously, she had admired his strength and warrior skills, and thought him honorable enough to be the father of her kits. Tigerclaw admired her for many of the same reasons, even if those qualities weren't as great in her as they were in him. Although Goldenflower spent much of her time as a queen, she was a skilled and loyal warrior when she wasn't wasting time looking after mewling kits. And he couldn't forget about her wisdom and quick wit, traits she had inherited along with Lionheart, her brother. Goldenflower was one of the oldest queens, and well respected by the Clan. That made her the perfect mate for Tigerclaw, and the perfect mother for his kits.
The fact that he had been deputy at the time probably helped, but after talking to her in this timeline, Tigerclaw reflected that their interactions were generally similar. He scowled, wondering if he should even pursue her this time. Technically, he hadn't really pursued her the first time. They had just spoken to each other and hunted together more frequently, and when Goldenflower had asked him to father a litter of kits he had agreed. It had made sense at the time; after all, ThunderClan needed warriors, and what better warriors would ThunderClan be able to get than ones fathered by the greatest warrior in all the forest?
If only they'd had the sense to follow in his pawsteps… Tigerclaw shook his head angrily. If anything, kits had made his life worse, and if they ended up looking up to the kittypet this time, it wouldn't be worth it.
The kittypet. The very thought of the obnoxious tom brought Tigerclaw back to when he had confronted Fireheart before the battle with ShadowClan. He had been whisker-lengths from killing the kittypet that day when shadows had enveloped his surroundings. Why had he hesitated? In his old life he would have never wavered like that. True, he had feared the shadow cat's retribution, and perhaps rightly so- he still wasn't even certain if she could end his existence or was just bluffing all the time- but he didn't know if that was the reason.
Fur prickling, Tigerclaw shrugged the thought away. The image of Goldenflower's pale fur was flashing in front of his eyes, when suddenly, abruptly, his mind wandered to another golden she-cat.
He wondered vaguely where Sasha was right now. Most likely with her Twolegs, Tigerclaw reasoned, and with a hiss he shut the thought down. Sasha was a loner. Maybe she had lived with Twolegs for a time, but she was most certainly not a kittypet. There was no way in StarClan, the Place of No Stars, and whatever afterlife beyond that Tigerclaw would ever have taken a kittypet as his mate. He wasn't sure it would be worth it to have Sasha as his mate this time anyway, assuming he'd have to hide the relationship from ThunderClan.
Tigerclaw snorted. He was thinking much too far ahead. I'll figure that out when I get there.
For now though, he would talk to Goldenflower more. Perhaps he'd take her as his mate, perhaps not, but it would be good to keep the option open. She was a well respected warrior; her support would be a valuable asset. He imagined Goldenflower racing at his shoulder as he led his Clanmates into battle, and knew that it would certainly be useful to have her on his side. He really should strongly consider taking Goldenflower as his mate again.
For the good of TigerClan. He nodded to himself. That was definitely why.
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
Yeah, I know it's been a while. In case you're wondering, all of my stories are still going, updates are just going to be slow for now because life. I'm going to attempt to get book 3 of the Lost Prophecy series out in the next few months, but no promises. Suffering from some major writer's block on that one.
Anyway, here's Chapter 33!
That night, the almost-full moon cast a silver glow over the ThunderClan camp. Although Bluestar had yet to call out her summons, the Clan was beginning to assemble in the meeting place for Swiftkit's naming ceremony.
Goldenflower was sitting near the nursery with the young tom, doing a last second smooth-over of his fur. Swiftkit twisted his head around, though unlike many kits, did not attempt to escape his mother's cleaning. Tigerclaw met his gaze for a long moment; Swiftkit looked back with wide, scared eyes.
Tigerclaw's thoughts drifted back to when the tom had died the first time. He hadn't seen it, but he imagined Goldenflower at her son's vigil. She must have groomed him then too…
He suddenly felt a light prickle in his chest. Tigerclaw scowled; that was the second time today. He must have eaten a bad mouse.
Thankfully the feeling went away as he scanned the rest of the camp. He caught sight of the new warriors sitting at the other end of the clearing. Ravenwing saw him and gave him a tentative nod, while Graystripe's expression was dumb as usual. Fireheart's gaze flicked toward Tigerclaw and flicked away.
Tigerclaw snorted. The coward wouldn't even look at him.
A patch of brown fur caught his eye. From a few tail-lengths away, Dustpaw was staring enviously, not at Fireheart, but at Ravenwing. Tigerclaw's heart skipped a beat as he realized that he was being given another opportunity. It had been one thing for Fireheart to beat Dustpaw to warriorhood, but Ravenwing, who had a reputation for being a complete scaredy mouse, was another. The fact that Dustpaw and Ravenwing were littermates probably didn't help matters. Tigerclaw purred. Dustpaw appeared more jealous and angry with the new warriors than he had the first time, if that was even possible. That so, the young tom had yet to make any barbed comments, probably due to Redtail's insistence on respecting fellow Clanmates.
But Tigerclaw knew he could use Dustpaw's jealousy to his advantage, even with Redtail still around. Perhaps he'd turn Dustpaw to his side; the young tom would make a good follower now that he wouldn't be so fussed with opposing a cat who murdered his mentor.
Dustpaw continued to glare at the apprentices. This would be so much easier if I could just get rid of Redtail, thought Tigerclaw, as he flexed his claws, remembering the days when he would have been able to put such a plan to action without worrying about the shadow cat.
More and more cats filled the clearing. Sandpaw padded out of the apprentices' den and nudged Dustpaw forward. Redtail sat down beside Tigerclaw, apparently still under the impression that they were friends in spite of Tigerclaw's constant attempts to avoid him. "A good day for the Clan, isn't it, whenever there is an apprentice ceremony," Redtail meowed.
"I'd say it's night," Sandpaw piped up cheekily. Beside her, Dustpaw looked away from his brother for the first time since the sun went down.
"Yes, Redtail, perhaps you've been hunting too much," Dustpaw mewed as the two apprentices trotted over to join his mentor. "You're mixing up times."
"Oh hush, you two," Redtail replied. "Why are you skulking about back here, anyway? Both of you should be up front to greet your new denmate at the end of the ceremony. Go on!" He lightheartedly nudged them forward; with a groan the apprentices disappeared into the crowd.
Tigerclaw rolled his eyes; why Redtail put up with teasing from apprentices, one of whom was his kit, was beyond him.
"Ravenwing's paw is better, if you haven't heard," Redtail meowed as they left, a hint of amusement in his voice. "It was a shallow cut apparently. Spottedleaf had him clean it and sent him on his way. Didn't need a poultice or anything."
Tigerclaw stared straight ahead. "I am aware of it."
"I'm still surprised you took him back to camp. Knowing you, I was expecting you to order him to catch his usual share of prey."
Tigerclaw snorted. "If a cat can't hunt without putting his paw down, then there is no point in hunting with such an injury," he growled.
"Oh, of course." Redtail nodded knowingly, his whiskers twitching.
"Trust me, had I known he was whining about such a minor cut I would not have wasted my time," Tigerclaw growled. He hoped Redtail hadn't spoken to too many cats about his supposed concern over Ravenwing- it would hardly help him attract the type of followers he needed if he was seen as a soft-hearted. "I had planned to teach Ravenwing advanced hunting techniques before he became a warrior that would have allowed him to hunt with only three paws, but with him becoming a warrior so suddenly that was not possible."
Redtail flicked his ears. "You know, you could still teach him. Perhaps we can take Ravenwing out together in the next few days or so. I'm not opposed to helping cats sharpen their warrior skills even if they are no longer apprentices." Tigerclaw suppressed a growl of irritation; the way things were going, he was going to have to murder Redtail to get him to stop organizing friendly hunting sessions. Tigerclaw almost wished he could tell Redtail about how he had killed him during his first life; perhaps that would shut the tom up.
It was at that moment that Bluestar's voice echoed through the clearing. "It is time for a new apprentice to be made. Come forward, Swiftkit." The small tom stared at the ground as he made his way to the Highrock.
Every cat in the Clan pricked their ears, while Tigerclaw watched, slightly bored, as Swiftkit became Swiftpaw, and Longtail became his mentor. The ceremony went the same as the first time, except for the addition of Spottedleaf, Redtail, and Ravenwing adding their mews to the scattering of congratulations.
"He will do well," Redtail meowed as the meeting broke up.
Tigerclaw nodded, remembering his first life. Swiftpaw had been nervous at first, but had soon found his way. Tigerclaw remembered that both Brackenfur and Fireheart's cursed nephew had become warriors before Swiftpaw- a flagrant instance of Bluestar favoring cats who were close to the kittypet. Speaking of the kittypet, perhaps he'd stop Fireheart from bringing Cloudtail- no, he doesn't even have a name yet now, Tigerclaw corrected himself- into the forest.
Perhaps he could make certain Fireheart didn't start meeting his kittypet sister in the first place. The only problem was that he did not know with certainty when Fireheart had first started meeting with his sister. There was no way he could stop Fireheart without that knowledge, aside from following him constantly for the next two moons, and Tigerclaw knew that even if it was possible, tailing the kittypet for that long would definitely arouse suspicions.
Maybe I'll try to find the sister's nest first.
Yes, that was what he'd do. Tigerclaw glanced around; every cat was focused on Swiftpaw or in the midst of conversation. Even Spottedleaf wasn't watching Tigerclaw as she had been recently; instead, she was staring at Fireheart. This was as good a time as any. Tigerclaw began to slink out of the camp, on the alert for any cat who might question where he was going, but no cat called him back as he slipped into the gorse tunnel.
He walked in the general direction of Twolegplace, though he was uncertain where he should start. He had a vague idea of where the nests were- he had, of course, spent some time in the general area after his exile from ThunderClan during his first life- but there were countless Twoleg nests bordering ThunderClan territory. How would he determine which nest belonged to Fireheart's sister? He didn't know her scent. Sure, it would probably be similar to Fireheart's and Cloudtail's, but he doubted that would be enough to differentiate the cat in a sea of kittypets.
He was starting to doubt this sudden idea. He didn't even know what Fireheart's kittypet sister even looked like. Not that he would have minded, but he couldn't intimidate every single she-cat in Twolegplace into staying out of the forest.
The Treecut place had come into view by now. With a quick look to make sure the treecutting monsters hadn't decided to eat any trees nearby, Tigerclaw headed into the odd wooded area. He hoped no cats were watching now; it was difficult to hide in a place with no undergrowth.
Tigerclaw resolved to start at the far end of Twolegplace, and then work his way to the portion bordering Tallpines. Perhaps he wouldn't find the she-cat right then, but he would know where to start.
The pale fences bordering the various Twoleg nests were just visible as Tigerclaw padded past the trees. Clouds had covered the moon, casting the expanse of forest in shadows.
Or had they? Tigerclaw looked up; the moon, which was only stopped from being full by a tiny sliver of darkness, was glowing brightly. There were no clouds anywhere near it, yet the forest was shrouded in shadows, and it was growing darker as Tigerclaw watched.
He kept going as the trees' shadows elongated more and more, blotting out the bright silvery patches of brightness cast by the moon.
Narrowing his eyes, Tigerclaw grumbled to himself as the last of the light vanished. He knew what was coming next.
"You," he growled, as a lithe, cat shaped shadow formed in front of him. He immediately swerved and marched around the shadow cat; he was unsurprised when she materialized at his side a few tree-lengths later.
"I'm not entirely certain as to why you still think you can run from me." The shadow cat was matching him step for step, which shouldn't have been possible since Tigerclaw was so much larger. Her paws were gliding unnaturally across the forest floor.
Tigerclaw didn't slow down. He wouldn't fall for this manipulation tactic. She was trying to make him stop.
He was given no choice when she vanished from his side and appeared in front of him. "Am I not allowed to hunt without your approval?!" he snarled, skidding to a halt.
"We both know that's not what you're doing," the shadowy she-cat meowed.
Tigerclaw glared at her, tail lashing. Was stopping more kittypets from taking over ThunderClan somehow not acceptable in the shadow cat's eyes?
"No, that's not why I'm here, although I do think you're catching on a little bit. Scaring off a cat for your own aims is probably not the best way to go about your second chance." She tilted her head. "You have made progress, but it's still rather abysmal in my opinion."
Abysmal? Tigerclaw bristled. No cat dared call him abysmal!
"Yes, abysmal. I have to admit that I'm quite surprised that you have yet to murder your Clanmates, but it's obvious from what you're trying to do that you haven't progressed much from where you started. In fact, everyone has been hoping you'd be further along."
Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes. Everyone? Who was this everyone? Why were all these spirit cats against him? Did they fear his power?
The shadow cat dismissed him with a wave of her dark tail. "That isn't your concern. Anyway, they really thought you would understand more by now, though of course-" she sighed in exasperation- "I told them from the beginning that this wasn't going to work."
"Then don't bother!"
"You really are dense, aren't you? Do you think I would be here if I had a choice?" She swished her shadowy tail. "Actually, that is part of the reason why I'm here tonight. I would love not to talk to you, Tigerclaw, truly, nothing would make me happier, and as a matter of fact, I was planning on doing just that." Tigerclaw flicked his ears; he was sure he had heard her incorrectly. "No, you heard me right," she went on, once again demonstrating her mind reading skills. "You've gone as far as you can with me prodding you in the right direction, so there isn't much point in me advising you anymore… for the time being anyway. If I'm being honest, I'm having trouble determining which one of us is going to enjoy not seeing the other the most."
Tigerclaw stared at the black she-cat. This wasn't a dream, was it? After all this time wishing for the shadow cat to leave him alone, it was actually going to happen. Possibilities were opening up in front of him- of putting his idea of killing Redtail and Fireheart into action, of convincing the Clan it was an accident…
"Oh, I'll still know." She fixed her gaze on Tigerclaw's face- or at least she appeared to, it wasn't as if any cat could tell. "You must have realized I know everything you're doing, even if I'm not there." She took a step toward him. "And on that note, I am obligated, unfortunately, to tell you that you may still summon me if you so desire. In fact, I am certain this will happen."
Tigerclaw didn't back down; this worthless cat wasn't going to make him do anything. "Just stay away from me!"
"Trust me, Tigerclaw, that is fine by me. But know this: the next time we meet, you will be begging me to talk." She brushed past him, her shadowy pelt making Tigerclaw's fur stand on end; he felt as though he had been touched by ice cold static. Then, with a flick of her shadowy tail, she was gone.
The woods instantly regained its normal level of light, and the high-pitched twittering of birdsong returned; dawn wasn't far off. It took several moments for Tigerclaw to register what had happened. He stared at the spot where the shadow cat disappeared, and slowly, the chill down his spine left him.
A mixture of disbelief and jubilation rose within him. That might have been the last time he saw the shadow cat. He was never going to have to speak to the her again, because obviously, he was never going to attempt to summon her.
True, while it was concerning that she could tell if he was breaking her idiotic rules, it sounded like she would not reveal herself without him asking, and therefore that should mean that she couldn't intervene…
But maybe she can. Tigerclaw scowled. Would she be unable to step in if he put his plot into motion, or was this just her choice? Perhaps it was a trap. Perhaps she would pop up when he least expected it, catch him in the act of killing Redtail or Fireheart…
No, I cannot simply kill them, Tigerclaw reasoned. It wasn't worth the risk, not without determining whether he would survive himself.
But if this wasn't a trick, the shadow cat was an idiot. As if he'd ever want to speak with her! Tigerclaw let out a derisive snort. She was a fool if she thought he'd ever call on her.
He couldn't kill Clanmates. Or I could, he mused, but only with a good reason. The only problem was figuring out what that was. Tigerclaw turned and started padding in the opposite direction from which he'd came. He'd figure out how to deal with Fireheart's sister later. With the shadow cat gone, a whole new path was opening up in front of him.
His plan was not over. It had only just begun.
Chapter 34: Chapter 34
Tigerclaw figured that while he might not be able to kill cats, he could do other things. One of those things, which in retrospect he might have neglected a bit in his first life, was cultivating followers, specifically ones in his own Clan. He felt a burst of anger at the memory of his exile from ThunderClan all those seasons ago, when not a single cat had come to his defense.
That level of support wouldn't do in this life. He would need the backing of other ThunderClan cats when he began combining all four Clans into one or his plan would fail. While the Gathering was tonight, there was not a whole lot he could influence this time, and Tigerclaw decided to take a few moments to determine his plan of action for ThunderClan.
Studying a fallen leaf, Tigerclaw took count of his potential followers. Like during his first life, he had Darkstripe, and also Longtail somewhat, though he doubted the pale tabby would obey him without question yet. He would need to work on that, but also not reveal too much about his ideas until much later; Longtail was far too entrenched in the warrior code to support the combining of all four Clans without a great deal of convincing.
There must be other cats too. Narrowing his eyes, Tigerclaw continued to stare at the tiny leaf trapped between his claws.
Ravenwing wasn't an obvious choice based on his warrior skills, but Tigerclaw supposed it would be a waste if he didn't make the young warrior his follower. After all those moons of training it should be easy enough; Ravenwing already thought highly of him.
And then… Dustpaw. Of course. Hadn't Tigerclaw been looking for a use for the young tom's envy of the Clan's newest warriors? Now, he had it. It would be how he convinced Dustpaw to join him.
Tigerclaw scowled. Darkstripe, Longtail, Ravenwing, and Dustpaw… He could hardly have imagined having to form such a hodgepodge of followers as his main support group at this point in his second chance, but for the time being, it would have to do.
He decided to start with Ravenwing. Tigerclaw approached him later that day at sunhigh, where the skinny tom was eating a vole by the warriors' den with Graystripe and Fireheart. "Ravenwing, join me for a hunting patrol."
Ravenwing stared at him, clearly unsure if his former mentor's orders still applied. "I already hunted…"
"I didn't train you to do the least possible amount of work!" Tigerclaw snapped. "You think you can lay around the camp all day?!"
"He was hunting," Fireheart put in, indicating the overflowing fresh-kill pile with his tail. "We all were."
"We just got back," Graystripe added, and Tigerclaw felt a prickle of irritation that the gray warrior had grown bold enough to talk back to him.
"This doesn't concern you," Tigerclaw hissed, and intent on ignoring the kittypet, he turned back to Ravenwing. "Ravenwing, we are going hunting. Now."
Ignoring Ravenwing's mumbled goodbyes to his friends and Fireheart's and Graystripe's whispered outrage, Tigerclaw stalked away, wishing he were deputy. Then his orders would have some weight.
When they left through the gorse tunnel, Ravenwing looked up at Tigerclaw expectantly, and to his credit, his eyes contained none of the defiance that had been in Fireheart's and Graystripe's. "Where are we hunting?"
An idea had formed in Tigerclaw's mind. He would use praise to get Ravenwing on his side. It had worked once when Ravenwing was an apprentice, hadn't it? He'd start small, obviously, but as time went on Ravenwing would become more and more loyal. This hunt would be the first of many.
"Every warrior must know every possible hunting ground on their territory," Tigerclaw explained. "We'll take the path around the Treecutplace, near Tallpines. There is a tree that squirrels will nest in sometimes during newleaf, but I never got the chance to show you, what with you stumbling your way into getting a warrior name." He jerked his chin in the general direction of the hunting location; if he was being honest, the spot was not any more useful than any other. "Come on."
That night, as the Gathering patrol made its way to Fourtrees, Tigerclaw reflected on his previous life. This Gathering had been an important one- Bluestar had convinced the other leaders to bring WindClan home, or well, she had appeared to convince them anyway. Nightstar and Crookedstar hadn't seemed all that receptive until the end, and Tigerclaw wondered if they'd try to form an alliance like they had the first time.
Tigerclaw spotted Fireheart a short ways off and remembered his odd behavior on the way to this Gathering in his previous life. The kittypet had asked to speak with Bluestar then. In retrospect, Tigerclaw wondered if they had been talking about him.
This time, however, the tom showed no sign of trying to usher the Clan leader off to talk to alone. He did, however, continue to give Tigerclaw defiant glares whenever he passed, and Tigerclaw made sure to respond to with glares of his own.
Ravenwing kept looking back and forth between Tigerclaw and Fireheart. The mouseheart was clearly conflicted. In time, Tigerclaw knew, Ravenwing would choose him over Fireheart if it came down to it. He was already off to a good start.
The hunting trip with the cowardly warrior had gone surprisingly well. Ravenwing had managed to catch two squirrels, and both times Tigerclaw had nodded approvingly. Tigerclaw had also told him, 'Well done,' at the end of their hunt, which he had regretted instantly. He could count the number of times he had voiced his approval toward Ravenwing on his right forepaw's claws, and if he continued to acclimate Ravenwing to praise, it would only be a matter of time before the young cat expected it for simply breathing.
Redtail and Bluestar halted at the edge of the ravine, and Tigerclaw recalled the trip to Fourtrees from his first life; unlike now, it had been he, not Redtail, who had been the cat at Bluestar's side.
After a heartbeat's hesitation, Bluestar gave the signal, and Tigerclaw bounded down the slope with the rest of the Clan, allowing himself to fall to the back of the group. He had spoken to Leopardfur the first time around; perhaps he should find her here. Yes, he thought, his eyes narrowing. The sooner he got a start on convincing RiverClan cats to his side the better.
But he didn't have time to think about that. A murmur rose up as he entered the hollow, then Tigerclaw noticed the dozen pairs of eyes were staring at him. There were scattered meows of approval as he made his way toward the center of the clearing. Tigerclaw narrowed his eyes into slits, peering at the wide-eyed warriors, apprentices, and elders. It was then that Tigerclaw understood. All the cats watching him were of ShadowClan. Killing Brokenstar had apparently made him quite popular.
This was an excellent opportunity to make an impression on the Clan he would take over one day. Puffing out his chest, he padded through the crowd, acknowledging every ShadowClan cat he passed with the tiniest of nods. After meowing a greeting to a particularly awestruck tom, he sat down next to Whitestorm.
Enthralled mews were still spreading through a group of young ShadowClan apprentices. "That's him! It's Tigerclaw, the warrior who killed Brokenstar!"
Tigerclaw supposed he should recognize the young warrior's praise; these cats would one day be his followers. He gave a small, dignified nod before he turned to look up at the Great Rock, still fully aware of the various ShadowClan cats watching him.
Whitestorm caught his eye. "You certainly made an impression on them, fighting Brokenstar."
Tigerclaw grunted his agreement, though privately he reflected that the ShadowClan cats' reaction was due no thanks to Whitestorm. If only the impossibly noble white warrior had not stopped Tigerclaw from killing Brokenstar until the leader's lives had run out, Tigerclaw would have been further along in his plan to gain the trust of all four Clans, and on top of that, he wouldn't have to worry about Brokenstar informing cats of Tigerclaw's apparent knowledge of the Dark Forest.
Tigerclaw suppressed a growl. While Whitestorm was a skilled warrior and one of the most tolerable cats to be around among those who had opposed Tigerclaw in his first life, Whitestorm was so ludicrously honorable and committed to the warrior code that Tigerclaw found it hard to believe that Whitestorm wasn't acting some of the time.
Tigerclaw was distracted by the thought when Cinderfur sat down next to him; thankfully the elder didn't seem as awestruck as the rest of his Clanmates. Unfortunately, he was followed by a younger cat who Tigerclaw recognized by sight but didn't know by name. Fortunately, the tom, who was black with a white chest and paws, appeared too timid to say anything.
"Good evening," Cinderfur growled.
"Good evening to you as well. I do hope Brokenstar has not been causing you trouble," Whitestorm meowed.
"We have Tigerclaw to thank for that," Cinderfur meowed, looking old and pathetic. Tigerclaw nodded, reflecting that ShadowClan had been rather stupid in choosing elderly cats for its two most important positions. "Brokenstar's rogues haven't been scented since the battle."
"That is good to hear," Whitestorm replied.
Tigerclaw allowed his attention to wander as Cinderfur and Whitestorm talked. Even assuming Cinderfur had been made deputy in this timeline, he would probably be dead by the time Tigerclaw took control of ShadowClan anyway; the elder's support wasn't vital. The younger black-and-white cat looked vaguely familiar, but Tigerclaw could not remember where he knew him from.
His name had been Whitefur… or was it Whitecoat? Tigerclaw scowled. He felt as if he should know this cat.
I don't have time for this. I'm not about to waste a Gathering talking to elders and kits. Out loud he meowed a goodbye to Cinderfur, dipped his head respectfully, and slipped back into the crowd of cats. There was one warrior he had decided he should speak with, one he had spoken with at this Gathering during his first life.
Spotting the mottled she-cat sitting alone by the Great Rock, Tigerclaw greeted her with a nod. "Leopardfur."
"Tigerclaw," the golden tabby she-cat meowed, and added without preamble, "I hear you killed Brokenstar."
"You heard correctly." Tigerclaw settled himself next to her. News must have travelled fast.
She narrowed her eyes, and flicked her ears. "You can spare me the details. Though somehow, I doubt you wrestled Brokenstar from a group of elders and defeated him and his senior warriors single pawed, while the rest of ShadowClan looked on."
Tigerclaw rather liked this development. "And where did you hear this?" Perhaps he should find the cat telling tales portraying him in such a heroic light and attempt to recruit them as a follower.
Leopardfur jerked her head and Tigerclaw followed her gaze… to see Ravenwing surrounded by a rapt audience of RiverClan apprentices. "Then with the strength of a TigerClan warrior," Ravenwing was meowing, "Tigerclaw leaped up and sank his teeth into Brokenstar's neck. It was over. Brokenstar was dead." Meowing broke out among the RiverClan cats.
"But it wasn't his last life, was it?" called out one of the RiverClan cats.
"Didn't you hear him the first time?" called another. "Brokenstar and his warriors ran away, so he obviously has at least one life left."
"Wait, let him finish- I haven't heard the story yet."
"Well, yes, it's true Brokenstar did survive," Ravenwing admitted. "But he will never lead ShadowClan again. As soon as he woke up, every cat who had ever supported him were surrounded. Tigerclaw and Redtail led the charge of the ThunderClan and ShadowClan warriors and drove Brokenstar and his warriors out of the camp." More surprised and enthusiastic mews rose, and the younger cats began peppering Ravenwing with questions.
"I do think he made some creative edits," Leopardfur meowed. Tigerclaw pulled his gaze away from Ravenwing and back to the RiverClan deputy. "But it is true, though? Brokenstar no longer rules ShadowClan."
"Yes, it is," Tigerclaw growled, and deciding he was not about to miss the chance to take credit for ridding the forest of the worst tyrant who had ever walked its soil, went on. "I merely did what any warrior would do. Surely any cat would have done the same if given the chance to kill Brokenstar."
Redtail's irritating voice suddenly ruffled Tigerclaw's ear fur. "Ah, Tigerclaw, it's not like you to be so modest." Tigerclaw groaned internally.
He was apparently not the only cat irritated by the tom's sudden appearance. "Greetings, Redtail." Leopardfur dipped her head, the gesture looking more like a display of forced politeness than respect. Tigerclaw frowned thoughtfully. He had never actually seen the two interact before. While Leopardfur was dumb, she clearly had enough sense to be annoyed by Redtail.
"It is good to see you, Leopardfur. I hope RiverClan is doing well," Redtail meowed.
"And I hope the same is true for ThunderClan," Leopardfur replied, with the same expression as one would expect on a cat who had recently tasted crow-food.
As Redtail's and Leopardfur's conversation devolved into uninteresting pleasantries about their respective Clans, Tigerclaw was content to watch and nod occasionally when prompted. He would need to sway Leopardfur to follow him, just as he had during his first life. Despite Leopardfur's apparent self-assurance and distrust of the other Clans, it had not been too difficult to convince her to join with TigerClan. Tigerclaw was confident he could do the same this time. Not exactly the same, of course, since he was not about to share his leadership with another cat, even in name, but instead convince the other leaders to recognize him as the greater leader, the one that the forest needed.
But he'd continue building his relationship with Leopardfur later, when Redtail wasn't around. He had to spend enough time with Redtail during the rest of the moon- he was hardly going to talk with him now if he could avoid it.
"It is good to hear that RiverClan is doing well," Tigerclaw meowed, and for the second time that night he dipped his head and made his way back into the crowd of cats. He found Whitestorm again- the tom was still talking to Cinderfur and the kit- and sat down beside him.
Finally, the call for the start of the Gathering was raised- a high pitched yowl from Bluestar. Slowly, cats began to look up at the Great Rock, and Tigerclaw watched the leaders' expectantly, curious as to how the meeting would compare to the first time he'd experienced it.