Broken (Warriors fanfic) (Chapter 14 up) Submitted by Altissimo | 10 / Oct / 2009 Forums:
I also posted it on ff.net and will probably update it there more often than here. You can find it here.
Wind whipped through the trees, causing the few remaining leaves they had to rustle in the night. Cold moonlight shone down onto the floor of a large clearing where a huge amount of cats currently stood, their fur fluffed up against the chill of leaf-fall, their eyes shining in the pale moonlight. They greeted each other with mews and friendly nuzzles, all enmity forgotten as the moon shone above their heads. Five cats were standing atop a huge boulder in the center of the clearing. These five were talking quietly, their backs turned to the cats on the ground below them.
After a little while, one of them let out a loud caterwaul to quell the discussion. "Let the Gathering begin," spoke the cat. "Sootstar, would you care to begin?"
A gray tabby tom stepped forward, his muscles moving smoothly under his thin pelt. "WindClan is thriving," he began. "Despite the fact that it's leaf-bare, we are finding enough prey to feed all of us."
"Prey? That would be a good thing."
The unfamiliar voice rang out through the clearing, and the cats on the ground looked around in confusion for the speaker. Bushes rustled at the top of the slope, and before long a tabby tom had stepped into the moonlight.
More strange cats followed behind him, their claws flashing in the light. There was a faint, distasteful growling coming from the Clan cats as they looked at intruders. These were not allies.
The five Clan leaders jumped from the rock and stood there as the tabby approached. A space was cleared for them by all of the other cats. A few of the leaders were standing so close together that their pelts were brushing. All five were glaring with undisguised hostility at the tabby, although he seemed unfettered by the hatred the others were feeling toward him. He began to speak.
"My name is Slash," he explained. "My cats come from the territory beyond the highlands, where the roars of monsters ring in our ears all day and night. We have known of your presence for a while, and now we have decided to act. We are claiming your land. You have three days to leave. If you choose to stay, we will fight you, and we will win. Your territories belong to me now. This forest belongs to Slash."
An enraged yowling broke out behind the Clan leaders at these words, with many of the cats behind them thrusting themselves forward to stand beside their leaders. The cats behind the tabby - Slash, he had said his name was - made no move of any sort. They simply stood there, their eyes flashing and their claws flexing over the frosted grass. There was even a hint of amusement on the faces of some as they watched the enraged Clan cats.
"Leave?" One cry sounded out above all the rest. It was the WindClan leader, Sootstar. "Leave? How can you suggest such a thing? We've lived here all our lives. You come here without warning and suggest we leave just so you can have a little more territory?"
Several of the cats behind Slash hissed in anger, but the gray tom did not halt his speech. "You had a territory of your own, far beyond the forest. It was a place where you were able to live for many moons! Why would you rather have ours?"
Slash turned and gazed at his cats. Despite the muscles bulging under their pelts, they were thin and half-starved. Even the scrawny WindClan cats were more well-fed than Slash's cats.
"We need more," Slash growled simply. "The ranks of my cats are growing rapidly. Soon the rats of the Thunderpaths will no longer be able to sustain every cat. You have all the prey in the forest at your disposal, and you're not deserving of it. We hereby claim it for ourselves."
"What do you mean, we're not deserving?" hissed another one of the leaders, a powerful golden she-cat, as more yowls of outrage rose up around them. "We are Clan cats. We follow the warrior code and we believe in StarClan. We are much more deserving of any territory than lowlife like yourselves."
"No," Slash replied. "You do not know what it means to live life as a wild cat. You depend on the skills of your Clanmates for survival. We do not. We hunt and fight for ourselves. We are tougher and stronger than you, and only we have right to any territory, since only we know what it means to be a wild cat. You are nothing."
"That's not true," the she-cat hissed, anger visible in her bristling fur and her unsheathed claws. “We are the Clans. We follow the warrior code, and we trust in StarClan, something you do not. We are above all other cats in this world. We live in the wild, a luxury which kittypets are too stupid to agree with. We live together, companionship being something which rogues and loners lack. We train our kits in the ways of hunting and fighting. Our cats are stronger and faster than yours. You have no right to any territory.”
Slash snorted. “You think that because you agree not to kill each other, and because you all think that the spirits of your dead friends exist in the sky, you are superior?” His gaze was filled with disbelief. “I bet none of you have any experience with killing cats! We could slice you open as easily as we would a mouse.” He flicked his claws, as if slicing them down the side of an imaginary enemy. “You are weak. You do not understand what fighting for survival means.”
“We fight the other Clans when they steal our prey. We fight so that we may feed our members. How is that not fighting for survival?” growled Sootstar.
“Yours is not an individual effort. One of your cats could have lost all four of his paws and you’d still feed him. How is that fighting for survival?” Slash asked coolly.
“You wouldn’t feed a cat who’d lost his paws,” the golden she-cat spat back. “We show compassion, an emotion of which you aren’t capable.”
“You’re right,” Slash answered emotionlessly. “We don’t show compassion. And that will be your downfall when we fight.”
The golden she-cat hissed in exasperation. "Fine. Fine. We will fight for it. We will all fight. You will never take over our territory. StarClan will be on our side. They won't let us be driven out." The cats behind her yowled in approval.
"So you'd rather place your trust into the paws of imaginary spirits than in your own power? You will definitely lose. We outnumber you. We are far stronger. My cats will rule the forest. You have three days to leave before we fight you and kill every last one of your cats." Slash turned away, and with a flick of his tail the other cats followed, leaving Fourtrees and heading back to their own territory. At the top of the slope, just before he vanished into the bushes, he turned back to the cats.
"And when your Clanmates lie there dying, their last thoughts will be of hatred for you for sacrificing them to try and save your precious territories rather than thinking in the best interests of your cats. Good night, Clan cats. This will be the last battle you'll ever see."
And with that, he turned, leaving the stunned Clan cats standing in the clearing, their Gathering broken by the arrival of Slash's cats.
Above them, the full moon shone endlessly.
“Get up, Stormpaw. Beechstar’s called a meeting.”
Two green eyes snapped open, and a black-and-gray she-cat picked herself up from the moss that was strewn across the floor of the apprentices’ den. “I’ll be there in a second, Larchpaw,” she meowed groggily, and began to lick her ruffled pelt. The golden head currently poking into the ferns withdrew.
“Well, you’d better hurry up, unless you want to be left out of the battle,” Larchpaw meowed from outside the den. Stormpaw froze in her licking. The battle! She had completely forgotten. Without even bothering to finish cleaning herself, she pushed her way out of the den into the hollow.
A dark brown she-cat was standing on the branch of a large oak tree that sat at one end of the camp. Her brilliant green eyes were trained on Stormpaw as the she-cat emerged into the hollow, but as Stormpaw watched they narrowed and flickered over all the cats gathered below her. Once Stormpaw had seated herself next to Larchpaw, Beechstar cleared her throat and began to speak.
“As you all know, the battle with Slash’s cats is today,” she meowed, referring to the brown tabby that had intruded upon the Gathering three nights before and the cats that had come with him. “This will be the toughest battle we as Clan cats have ever had to face. Slash’s cats are not restricted by any sort of moral code. They can - and will - kill you.” She paused to let the words sink in as the cats below her murmured anxiously to one another. When they fell silent, she spoke again. “We have been training every cat in the Clan these past few days, but even that may not be enough to stop Slash’s cats. If we fail -” the she-cat paused to look over all the cats assembled before her - “if we fail, then the remaining SkyClan cats are going to have to leave. Daypelt will be in charge, then, as the youngest elder.” She nodded at the tortoiseshell she-cat sitting near the back of the assembled cats. “If Slash’s cats are getting the better of us, we will send a cat to warn you. You will be responsible for taking the kits and the rest of the elders out of the camp. Go for the plains beyond RiverClan territory, then see if you can head north and reach Highstones. If not, stay where you are. We will try to reach you after that, if we can.” These ominous words sent a thrill of fear through Stormpaw. She couldn’t imagine that their leader would die - the she-cat was a terrific fighter and was well-known for her skills in battle. But here she was talking as if every warrior in SkyClan would be defeated. Stormpaw swallowed nervously.
No. It won’t come to that, she told herself firmly. The Clans are going to win. They have to win.
“I am taking every warrior and apprentice in SkyClan, as well as the queens. Creampaw and Breezepaw will stay behind. Creampaw can’t very well fight with an injured leg, and Breezepaw will stay to care for her. Everybody else, come see me by the camp entrance.” The brown she-cat jumped down from the tree branch and padded over to the edge of the hollow. Instantly the warriors and apprentices padded over to her, melting away from Stormpaw to join their leader.
“Isn’t it exciting?” A voice sounded by Stormpaw’s ear, and she turned to see her denmate Robinpaw. The she-cat’s brown fur was bristling with anticipation, and her amber eyes gleamed with excitement. “Our very first battle!”
“It’s not as easy as that, though,” a warrior growled; Stormpaw looked around to see Robinpaw’s mentor, Raventail, looking down at his apprentice sternly. “This is a matter of life and death.”
Robinpaw shuffled her paws in the grass with embarrassment. “I know that,” she meowed quietly. “I just... I can’t wait until we have the chance to drive those intruders out once and for all.” Raventail’s harsh gaze softened as his apprentice spoke, and he let out a purr as she looked up at him with wide eyes.
“Come on,” he told her. “You too, Stormpaw.” He turned away, flicking his tail over Robinpaw’s pelt as he went. Stormpaw and Robinpaw exchanged a glance, before both cats bounded forward to gather by Beechstar. Stormpaw found herself standing by Larchpaw and her mother, Snowpelt; the white she-cat, noticing her arrival, bent down and licked her ears. Her gaze was shadowed with worry for her kits. Stormpaw shared her fears; after all, she, Larchpaw and Creampaw had only been made apprentices a few days before, and now they were going to fight in a battle that could potentially destroy the Clans.
“Good luck,” Snowpelt whispered. “StarClan knows you’re going to need it.” Stormpaw twitched her ears at this. Her mother was right - she and Larchpaw were going to need all the luck they could get. They hadn’t been training long enough to know any advanced battle techniques, and they were about to fight ruthless cats who had been fighting their whole lives. Her stomach twisted at the thought. What can I do, if I can’t fight them properly? I’ll die if I try.
“I’m not letting my kits go into battle.”
Stormpaw blinked. The speaker had been her father, Rowanfur. She turned to look for him and saw him facing Beechstar, his dark ginger fur bristling slightly. Beechstar looked over at Stormpaw and Larchpaw, silently assessing the strength of the two apprentices. “They’ve only been training for a few days,” Rowanfur insisted. “They wouldn’t be able to do much damage to an enemy warrior. In the thick of battle it would be difficult for them to tell which cats are Slash’s and which are Clan cats. It’d be all too easy for them to get injured...” or even killed, thought Stormpaw, finishing Rowanfur’s sentence with words he did not dare speak aloud.
“We need all the cats in the Clan at this point,” Beechstar pointed out. “They would still be able to inflict damage on the other cats, damage that would weaken them enough for our warriors to finish them off.”
“So you would rather sacrifice their lives for some wounds on the opponent?” Snowpelt put in quietly. Beechstar and Rowanfur turned to face her. Beechstar looked as if she were about to say something, but Snowpelt continued. “I’m not risking the lives of my kits for that! They can help protect the kits and elders back here.”
Beechstar stared at the white she-cat for a long moment. Finally she dipped her head. “You’re right,” she admitted. “Stormpaw and Larchpaw do not have to fight. However, they do have to help Mousefoot bring his herbs up to Fourtrees.”
“That’s fine.” Snowpelt’s voice was little more than a whisper.
“The other apprentices should already be in Mousefoot’s den,” Beechstar went on. “You can go ask to carry his herbs.” Stormpaw nodded and bounded away, Larchpaw close at her heels. In a way, she was glad that she had been freed from fighting, but at the same time she felt as if she’d let down her Clan by not fighting for them. But Rowanfur and Snowpelt wouldn’t let us go into battle, she reminded herself. I didn’t do anything wrong.
She slowed to a walk as she approached Mousefoot’s den, which was under the roots of the oak tree where Beechstar announced to the Clan. A tiny stream ran by, just beyond the tree, allowing patients easy access to drinking water. Stormpaw looked down at the roots; a large hole yawned from their base. “Mousefoot!” she called through the opening. A gray head poked out of the hole.
“Stormpaw? Larchpaw? What are you doing here?” the medicine cat asked.
“Beechstar said we need to help you carry herbs,” Larchpaw explained. Mousefoot blinked.
“Oh, in that case, come in. Be careful not to step on Creampaw, though.” Stormpaw purred with amusement, and then slipped into the darkness at the base of the oak to enter the den. It was larger than Stormpaw had originally thought. Herbs and leaves were packed into every available crevice among the walls of the den, and the air was strong with their scent. The other SkyClan apprentices were already in the den. Breezepaw was passing them leaf bundles from piles on the ground, and as Stormpaw stood there Mousefoot padded over to the pile and picked a few up in his teeth. He padded over to the apprentices and, putting the bundles on the ground so that he could talk, told them “Pick them up extremely carefully - we don’t want them splitting open before we even get to Fourtrees.” Stormpaw nodded, and reached forward to take one of them. Unable to talk, she looked over at Larchpaw before padding forward to leave the den. For the first time she noticed Creampaw; the cream-furred apprentice lay in the shadows next to the entrance of the den. Stormpaw nodded to her before she pulled herself out of the den and dropped the bundle, waiting for the other apprentices and Mousefoot to come out.
Slowly the apprentices tricked out of the den: first Larchpaw, then Robinpaw, then Rainpaw and Wildpaw, and finally Redpaw and Tigerpaw were padding out of the den, followed closely by Mousefoot. The medicine cat padded over to join the battle party. Stormpaw picked the herbs back up and went to join him.
“Are we ready?” The words were Beechstar’s. The rest of the Clan howled in approval.
“Good. Then follow me.” Beechstar leaped up and raced away through the camp entrance, the rest of the warriors at her heels. Stormpaw found herself running alongside Larchpaw; neither apprentice could speak for the herbs in their mouths, but just being next to her brother gave her renewed energy, and the she-cat did not seem to tire as the cats flew over the border and into ThunderClan territory. No cat was going to accuse them of trespassing today. The situation was too serious for fights with the other Clans.
Unaccustomed to running through the thick forests of ThunderClan territory, Stormpaw found herself tripping a lot over roots and branches. Once she almost dropped the herbs she was carrying, but she managed to grab them before they hit the ground and continued running, pushing her legs faster to keep up with the SkyClan warriors. How do ThunderClan stand it? she thought to herself. I’d go mad if I had to live under trees all the time!
Eventually the Clan slowed to a stop, above a large hollow in the center of the forest. This must be Fourtrees. Stormpaw stopped alongside Larchpaw, her legs shaking and her heart beating wildly. She was exhausted from the run, but she would fight LionClan to protect her Clan if she had to. Mousefoot turned and twitched his ears; instantly the apprentices broke away from the rest of the Clan to follow him. He padded around the edge of the hollow, to another, much smaller dip in the ground where the other medicine cats were already waiting. Their own apprentices milled around them, chatting quietly, nervous at the prospect of the battle. Mousefoot padded down to join them, and the SkyClan apprentices followed.
“Stormpaw, once the battle starts, you will stay and help me,” he meowed, looking right at the black-and-gray she-cat. Stormpaw twitched her ears in confusion, and dropped the herbs so she could explain.
“But Beechstar said I was going to go back to camp with Larchpaw.” Stormpaw tilted her head. She didn’t know a thing about herbs, and she feared that if she ever tried to help drag an injured warrior from battle that one of Slash’s cats would attack her. Mousefoot frowned as she spoke.
“Can you ask her if you can stay here to help?” he asked. Stormpaw’s whiskers twitched self-consciously.
“I-I guess so,” she stammered, and backed out of the hollow. She turned once she had left and ran over to where the Clan cats were still waiting to begin the battle. “Beechstar!” she whispered once she had drawn near to the SkyClan leader. When Beechstar turned to look at her, she mewed, “Mousefoot said I needed to stay to help him during the battle. Is that all right?” Beechstar twitched her ears; Stormpaw guessed she wasn’t happy that Mousefoot had chosen their least experienced apprentice for the battle, but she wasn’t going to contradict him.
“All right,” Beechstar conceded with a sigh. “But be careful. Slash’s cats aren’t going to avoid you because you’re not fighting. Try as much as you can to stay out of the fighting.”
Stormpaw dipped her head. “I will, Beechstar.” She turned and trotted back over to the other hollow. When Mousefoot looked up questioningly, she meowed, “Beechstar let me help you.”
Mousefoot let out a purr. “Good. Then come down here, and I’ll show you how to use these poultices..”
He never finished showing her how. A loud yowl rang out through the forest, and Stormpaw heard an familiar voice command, “SkyClan, attack!”
The rest of the leaders’ voices were lost in the yowling as the SkyClan warriors rushed forward to meet Slash’s cats. The apprentices surged up and out of the hollow to join their Clanmates in battle. All of the SkyClan apprentices went with them - except for Larchpaw. The golden tabby looked panicked.
“Stormpaw, what do I do?” he asked, his voice high-pitched and squeaky with fear. “I was supposed to be back in camp by now.”
“Stay and help!” This voice was Mousefoot’s; the gray medicine cat was looking at Larchpaw seriously. “I can’t heal all of the SkyClan warriors with Stormpaw alone. I’m going into the battle. I’m going to find our wounded warriors and bring them back here, where you can help me treat them.”
“But we don’t know what to do!” Stormpaw’s wail was so loud that it could be heard above the din of battle.
“Ask the other medicine cats for help!” Mousefoot gestured with his tail to where cats of the other four Clans were waiting, leaf bundles scattered around their paws, for their injured cats. “They’ll show you what to do. I’m leaving now.” His blue gaze met Stormpaw’s for a heartbeat, then he disappeared over the rim of the hollow.
Stormpaw looked at Larchpaw. Her brother was shaking uncontrollably, his eyes wild with fear. “Larchpaw, this isn’t like you!” Stormpaw hissed. “Whatever happened to your courage? If you can’t be brave, then I can’t, either!” Even as she spoke, Stormpaw felt panic bubbling up inside her, threatening to overwhelm her. She took a deep breath to calm herself and looked Larchpaw in this eyes. “Calm down.”
“You’re right.” The tom stopped shaking, and his fur gradually began to lie flat. “You’re right. I’m overreacting.” He licked his ruffled pelt with swift, rapid strokes. Stormpaw let out a sigh of relief.
“It’s going to be fine,” she reassured him. “I’m sure Beechstar and the other leaders are going to drive him out before long.”
“Yeah,” Larchpaw agreed. “Slash’s cats won’t beat us. StarClan won’t allow it.” Stormpaw smiled, glad that her brother was starting to get some of his old spirit back. She turned away from him, searching out the other medicine cats in the hollow. When the fighting had started, the medicine cats themselves had gone off in search of their wounded, but a few apprentices remained in the hollow.
“Hey!” Stormpaw called out. The apprentices turned to face her. Suddenly feeling self-conscious in front of these apprentices from other Clans, Stormpaw’s throat went dry and she found herself unable to speak.
“Are any of you medicine cats?” The voice was Larchpaw’s. “Or their apprentices?” Stormpaw ran her tail along his flank, grateful that he had come to her rescue.
“I am.” A small light brown tabby tom stepped forward. His amber eyes blinked warmly at the SkyClan apprentices. “I’m Trailpaw of WindClan.”
“Trailpaw... uh... would you mind showing us how to use the herbs?” Trailpaw’s ears flicked as Stormpaw spoke, and she wasn’t surprised at what he said next.
“Did your medicine cat not teach you?”
“He didn’t get time,” Stormpaw explained quietly. “We have all the herbs here, but he went into the battle before he could show us how.”
“Okay, then.” Trailpaw padded over, leaving his own Clan’s herbs behind him. He tore open one of the leaf bundles with his teeth; inside there were a bunch of different leaves, all tumbled together, and some cobwebs as well. He sniffed the leaves. “Goldenrod and marigold,” he mumbled, more to himself than to the SkyClan apprentices. “Good choice. Here, one of you chew these into a poultice.” Stormpaw stepped forward and took the leaves in her jaws. They tasted horrible, but she continued chewing them, determined to do anything to support her Clan. While she was chewing, Trailpaw had taken some of the cobwebs on his paws and was explaining their purpose. “You take these and stick them onto the wounds; they stop the bleeding. I’m not going to show you how, because otherwise the strands would stick to your fur, but...”
His speech was interrupted as the bushes at the top of the slope rustled wildly and Mousefoot leapt in, his fur bristling and his eyes fearful. Stormpaw was so surprised that she gagged on the leaves she was chewing. Behind him, a familiar brown she-cat limped into the hollow, blood flowing from a gash on her side...
Oh, StarClan, no! Not Beechstar!
Trailpaw shot them an alarmed glance. “That’s your leader, isn’t it? Here - spit out the poultice, quickly!” Stormpaw spat the half-chewed leaves onto the remainder of the leaf bundle they had been carried in, and Larchpaw quickly cleared a space where she could lie down. Trailpaw began spreading the cobwebs he held in his paws across Beechstar’s flank. He looked up. “Get me some more cobwebs!” he hissed. Stormpaw spun around and reached for one of the leaf bundles. She tore it open with a claw and scooped the cobwebs out with her paw. She held her paw out to Trailpaw, who took the cobwebs without a word and placed them on Beechstar.
Another cry rang out and a ginger tabby she-cat burst through, supporting a black tom, who was bleeding heavily from one shoulder. Trailpaw, upon catching a whiff of the cats’ scent, gasped.
“Sunstripe and Crowpelt! I have to help my Clanmates. Here - come over and hold the cobwebs on, and when it stops bleeding, put the poultice on!” Larchpaw hurried around to Trailpaw’s side and pressed his striped paws onto Beechstar’s flank. Trailpaw turned around and went off to help his Clanmate. Stormpaw began chewing the leaves again, desperately trying to finish chewing them all the way. It wasn’t long before Larchpaw looked up.
“It’s stopped bleeding!” he called. Stormpaw rushed over, the leaves still in her mouth, and after Larchpaw pulled the cobwebs off she spat them onto her paws and began pressing them into Beechstar’s wound. The brown she-cat let out a sigh of relief as the leaves’ healing juices began to take effect.
“I think I can go back now,” she meowed, and stood up unsteadily. Stormpaw and Larchpaw exchanged a worried glance. Stormpaw wasn’t too sure she was ready to go back to the battle. Neither cat dared voice their opinion, though, and as Beechstar limped off to the edge of the hollow, her limp become less and less noticeable as she approached the bushes - but then Mousefoot nearly pushed her aside as he flew into the hollow, in more of a panic than he had been when he came back with the injured Beechstar, if that was possible.
“I can’t get all the injured cats back in time,” he gasped. “There are too many of them... and too many of Slash’s cats. Beechstar, you have to help me!” His voice rose to a wail as he spoke. “If we don’t get these cats back here quickly, they’re going to die. ”
“Which cats are injured that badly?” Beechstar whispered, so softly that Stormpaw wondered if she had heard.
“Brownclaw, Aspenpelt, Tigerpaw, Rowanfur...” Stormpaw gasped when she heard Mousefoot’s voice say the name of her father. Rowanfur! He - he can’t die. He just can’t! “Beechstar, we need your help!”
Beechstar shuffled her paws uneasily. She looked less like the leader now and more like a worried apprentice. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be in this wounded state, though,” she pointed out awkwardly.
“But you’re a good fighter, Beechstar, and you could hold off any cats who try to attack you on your way back here.”
Beechstar straightened up and dipped her head toward the gray medicine cat. “True,” she replied. “I’ll come with you.”
The two cats left the hollow, leaving Stormpaw and Larchpaw alone with the other apprentices and the herbs that Mousefoot had left. Stormpaw and Larchpaw exchanged an uneasy glance at sat down to wait.
It was not long before there was a rustling in the bushes and a gray pelt - Mousefoot’s - appeared, accompanied by a dark ginger tom.
“Tigerpaw!” Larchpaw gasped. The small ginger apprentice was bleeding heavily from several wounds. Blood trickled from his mouth and his eyes were half-closed.
“Clear a place for him,” Mousefoot commanded. Stormpaw and Larchpaw moved the bundles of herbs away, revealing a soft part of the forest floor covered by a layer of leaves. Tigerpaw sank down gratefully in the spot and Mousefoot turned away, headed back to help Beechstar with the rest of the injured cats. Stormpaw looked up in alarm; upon realizing that Mousefoot was not going to return and help them she looked around frantically for a leaf bundle that had not already been opened. She found one and sliced it open; Larchpaw’s golden paw grabbed the cobwebs from the pile and pressed them onto Tigerpaw’s wounds. The ginger apprentice was not moving.
“Is he dead?” asked Stormpaw. Larchpaw laid a paw on his flank; Stormpaw could see that it was rising and falling and faintly hear his breath, but it was getting shallower and shallower as they waited, and even with the wounds being stopped up by cobweb it stopped altogether.
Larchpaw looked down at him with sadness. “He’s dead, Stormpaw.”
Stormpaw’s head spun and she sank to the ground, overcome by confusion and grief. How could this have happened? How could StarClan have let it happen? She shook her head, confused and upset.
“Stormpaw,” Larchpaw commanded, looking down at her, “get up.”
“What...?” Stormpaw muttered, unsure of what was going on. Out of habit, however, she rose to her paws.
“Stormpaw,” Larchpaw whispered seriously, “if the battle continues like this then all the warriors will be dead, and then the rogues will come after us, and they’ll kill us too. What will we do then? We have to get back to camp and warn Daypelt so that they can start leaving.”
“No,” Stormpaw protested weakly. “If we do that, then... then we’ll be abandoning our Clan... they won’t have anyone to help Mousefoot with the injures...”
“Stormpaw,” Larchpaw repeated, “if this continues there won’t be any injures. Only the bodies of dead cats. We have to warn Daypelt.”
“You can,” Stormpaw replied, “but I’m not.”
Larchpaw gazed at her for a moment. “Fine.” And he shot away, bounding over the edge of the hollow and through ThunderClan’s forest, back to familiar territory. Stormpaw gazed after him for a second, dazed. A rustle in the bushes made her jump, and Mousefoot, supporting a cat so bloody that Stormpaw couldn’t even tell who it was, came into the hollow.
“Where’s Larchpaw?” he asked as he laid the cat down in a cleared space. “Did he go into the battle?” Mousefoot’s voice was sharp.
“No,” Stormpaw responded. “He went to go warn Daypelt when Tigerpaw died. He wanted me to come with him... but...”
“Tigerpaw died?” Mousefoot’s blue eyes were filled with horror.
Stormpaw dropped her head sadly. “Yes,” she whispered.
“If this keeps up much longer, Larchpaw will have been smart to run away,” Mousefoot meowed darkly. “I saw that Brownclaw was dead on the ground, and Aspenpelt was struggling to fight off another cat, but she was so injured that I don’t think she was going to survive. And Rowanfur here...” He leaned down to sniff the now-unconscious warrior, who Stormpaw recognized with a horrible jolt as Rowanfur. “... is dead now.”
“What?” Stormpaw screeched, horrified. She backed away from the bloody body of her father. Mousefoot looked up at her with grief in his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, Stormpaw,” he whispered.
“No - oh, no! Rowanfur! Rowanfur!” Stormpaw cried, and backed away further. I’m not letting that happen to anyone else! she thought. And she sprang away over the edge of the hollow, following Larchpaw’s trail despite Mousefoot’s cry for her to stop.
She flew through the forest, running as if all of StarClan were beside her, and out onto the open moorland - the land she was familiar with. She collapsed when she reached the camp entrance, and Daypelt and Larchpaw came out to see her.
“Stormpaw? What’s wrong?” Daypelt asked. “What’s going on at the battle?”
“Losing!” Stormpaw spat, too exhausted to say any more. “Losing!” she repeated. “They’ve... killed... so... many... cats!” She almost felt like she was going to vomit after saying that. “Rowanfur’s... dead!”
“No! Oh, no! Oh, StarClan, no!” Larchpaw cried, sinking to the ground, his eyes wide and horrified. “How could StarClan have let this happen? We’re going to have to leave!”
Daypelt looked down at Larchpaw sternly. “You said that already,” she muttered. “We’re not leaving until Beechstar says we should.”
“Beechstar’s going to die if the battle keeps up!” Larchpaw’s voice was a high-pitched squeal.
“Mousefoot... agrees!” Stormpaw hissed.
Daypelt’s eyes widened. “Okay, then. We’re leaving,” she told them, and shot back in through the entrance of camp, leaving the ferns trembling in her wake. Stormpaw simply lay there, attempting to get her breath back. A rustle in the grass and the pounding of paws made Stormpaw look up: three shapes, one red, one tortoiseshell and one gray, were silhouetted against the horizon, and heading rapidly toward them. Stormpaw saw Larchpaw scramble to his paws; she quickly followed suit. No matter how exhausted she was, she would fight any of Slash’s cats to protect her camp if she had to.
But as the shapes drew closer, she realized it was no more than Redpaw, Wildpaw and Rainpaw.
“What’s going on?” asked Larchpaw.
“We saw you leaving and we thought to follow you.” Redpaw was the speaker, and he did not seem nearly as tired as Stormpaw felt.
“Why?” asked Stormpaw. “Shouldn’t... shouldn’t you be fighting off Slash’s cats?”
All three apprentices exchanged a dark glance. Stormpaw was confused. What had happened at the battle that she had missed?
“Stormpaw, when we left we hardly saw a single warrior that wasn’t fatally injured from any of the Clans. They’ve won, Stormpaw. Slash’s cats have won, and they’re probably coming to take our territory as we speak.”
Stormpaw took a step back, her ears flat against her head. “No,” she whispered in horror. “No. That - they - they wouldn’t...”
“Stormpaw, the whole reason they decided to fight us in the first place was for our territory,” Wildpaw told her. “It would be pretty mouse-brained of them to kill us all and then not try to take the territory, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose,” Stormpaw conceded. Her mind was whirling right now, and she could hardly think straight. One thought kept repeating itself in her head: If Slash and his cats were coming to take over the camp...
“We’ve got to get out of here!” she screeched wildly. She turned and ran into the camp; she saw a flash of golden fur out of the corner of her eye as Larchpaw followed suit. When she burst through the ferns surrounding the hollow, she saw that Daypelt was already gathering the elders and the kits for leaving. She looked up in surprise when Stormpaw burst through.
“Are they here yet? Do we have to leave?” she asked.
“No,” replied Larchpaw, “not yet. But Redpaw and Wildpaw think that they’re coming onto our territory right now.”
“Redpaw and Wildpaw? More cats are alive?” She looked up with the faintest hint of hope in her light blue eyes.
“No, Daypelt,” Stormpaw replied. “It’s only me, Larchpaw, Redpaw, Wildpaw and Rainpaw.”
“Well,” hissed Daypelt, “that’s going to have to do. Come on; we’re leaving.”
“Now?” Stormpaw couldn’t help but utter the word.
“Yes, now,” Daypelt responded. “If we don’t leave now, Slash’s cats will catch up to us before we even get out of the camp.”
“If they’re coming in the first place,” Stormpaw muttered darkly.
“For the time being, it’s better to believe that they are.” The speaker was not Daypelt, but one of the two other elders in the Clan; Duskcloud. The dark golden she-cat was looking down at Stormpaw with knowledge in her eyes. “If we wait around for Slash’s cats to show up, we’ll never be able to get out of camp in time. It’s better to get a head start on them.”
“Duskcloud’s right,” Daypelt put in, nodding. “We’re going to have to leave now.”
“O-okay,” Stormpaw agreed, a bit shaken up - here she was being asked to leave the home she had lived in all her life, and for what? The life of a rogue, presumably. With Beechstar and Runningleap - the Clan deputy - probably dead by now, how could they call themselves a Clan?
Stormpaw shivered. I shouldn’t think about that right now, she told herself. I need to focus on helping get my Clanmates out of here.
“Creampaw and Breezepaw have already left,” Daypelt told her. “Creampaw’s injured leg makes it hard for her to walk, so we sent them away ahead of time - and we’ll catch up with them when we leave camp.”
“Okay,” Stormpaw meowed. “Then... we leave, I suppose?” She turned around without waiting for an answer and headed toward the camp entrance.
“No - wait!” Daypelt called. “This way,” she explained. “We’re taking the back entrance.”
“You mean going through the stream by the Talloak?” Stormpaw asked. The small stream that ran by the oak where Beechstar made her announcements and Mousefoot had his den carved a small path through the ferns that encircled the camp.
“Yes,” Daypelt replied. “Creampaw and Breezepaw have already left that way. Come on.”
Taking one last glance at the camp that she had lived in for so long - she didn’t want to forget this place, didn’t want to forget that she had actually had a home before Slash’s cats invaded - she turned and followed Daypelt out of the camp.
The stream was freezing, and Stormpaw felt as if her paws were about to fall off. Despite the fact that it was the middle of leaf-bare, there had been little rain recently, and the stream was easy enough to walk through. But that didn’t stop it from being wet; soon her paws were soaked and she was shivering. She followed Daypelt as the tortoiseshell elder climbed out of the stream, heralding two tiny kits - Iceriver’s kits, she realized with a pang; only two moons old - between her black paws. The kits were mewling in protest as Daypelt nudged them along with her nose.
“Why can’t we go back to camp?” the smaller of the two - Morningkit - was complaining. “Why do we have to leave? Where’s Iceriver?”
“Iceriver’s not here,” Daypelt cooed gently. “She... you won’t be seeing her again.”
“Why not?” the other kit, a pale tabby tom, whined. “Why couldn’t she come with us?”
Stormpaw felt a wave of pity for the tortoiseshell elder, having to explain to these kits that Iceriver was dead.
“You’ll see her again, I’m sure,” Daypelt meowed, trying to reassure these kits. “You can’t see her now, but... one day you will, I promise.”
“But I want to see her now!” Morningkit’s plaintive mew made Stormpaw flinch with sorrow. She did not envy Daypelt right now.
Daypelt was saved from having to say anymore as a loud yowl sounded behind them. Three cats burst through the ferns that surrounded the camp, their pelts rippling with muscle. Daypelt attempted to hurry the kits along, and Stormpaw ran ahead, her black-and-gray fur bristling, but the cats easily caught up to them. One of them attacked Daypelt, the other went for Duskcloud and then Stormpaw found herself facing down a huge tabby tom.
“Don’t kill me!” she shrieked with fear, backing away from the tom.
“Oh, I wouldn’t bother with a scrap of fur like you,” the tom purred. Stormpaw, insulted, bristled out all her fur in an attempt to make herself appear bigger.
“Ha! Look at that,” the tom laughed. “This kit’s trying to be brave.” He raised one paw, claws unsheathed, and swatted Stormpaw aside like a piece of moss. Stormpaw scrambled to her paws and glanced around wildly. The tom was attacking Nightstorm, the third SkyClan elder, and the other two elders were fighting off their attackers. Larchpaw, Rainpaw and the other apprentices were telling the kits to run away while they attacked the intruders; the kits, however, did not seem to grasp how important it was that they get away.
“Just go!” Stormpaw hissed, pushing her way between Larchpaw and Morningkit. “You attack the intruders! I’ll get the kits and Creampaw and Breezepaw out of here.”
Larchpaw milled around, uncertainty in his amber gaze. “I don’t want to leave you alone here,” he meowed. “Will you be all right?”
“I’ll be fine,” Stormpaw hissed. “Just help the elders!” She turned without bothering to listen to Larchpaw’s response and looked around at the kits. “Follow me,” she whispered, and began to run away, but she was called back by Breezepaw; the pale tom was standing by Creampaw, doubt clouding his gaze.
“How are we supposed to go fast with Creampaw injured?” he inquired. Creampaw ducked her head; Stormpaw could tell that her sister was embarrassed that she had to be treated this way.
“I have an idea,” she meowed. “She can get on your back, Breezepaw.” Breezepaw’s blue eyes lit up in surprise.
“What? But...” he began, and then trailed off. “It might work,” he conceded eventually. “Climb on my back.” He crouched down, and Creampaw managed to haul herself onto his back. Stormpaw could see that Breezepaw was narrowing his eyes in pain, but he did not complain as he stood up, wobbling as he tried to find his balance with the much smaller she-cat on his back.
“Come on, then,” Stormpaw hissed, and began walking away at a brisk pace - the fastest she could manage without causing Breezepaw too much trouble. The sounds of the fight still echoed behind them.
And when they were within sight of the far border of SkyClan territory, a flash of fur out of the corner of Stormpaw’s eye made her turn and look; it was the other four apprentices, heading toward them with their fur bristling with fear and their eyes wide. Stormpaw, upon seeing them so distraught, instinctively began to bristle out her fur.
“What happened?” she whispered.
“They got the elders,” Rainpaw replied. He was sporting a claw wound in one ear; blood dripped down his shoulders and stained the springy grass below his paws. “The intruders got the elders, and Daypelt told us to run away and come find you.”
“Well, I can see why!” Creampaw put in. “SkyClan’s going to be destroyed if we don’t get out of here!”
Stormpaw and Larchpaw exchanged a dark glance. Creampaw was right: they had to get out of here, and fast. “Come on!” she hissed, turning away from the apprentices and heading back to the front of the bedraggled group. The other four apprentices followed her up. Stormpaw saw Wildpaw turn around to look behind them.
“They’re gaining on us!” she screeched, her tortoiseshell fur spiky with fear. “We have to go!” She shot forward, leaving a stunned Stormpaw in her wake. The dark-colored she-cat shook her head to clear it and ran forward, trusting the other apprentices to help the kits and Creampaw and Breezepaw behind them.
The faintest of scents reached her nose, and Stormpaw stopped in surprise and smelled the air. It was SkyClan scent. This must be the border.
“I guess they only ever check the borders with the other Clans,” she commented, noting how stale and old the scent was.
“There isn’t any need for them to check borders here,” Redpaw told her. “After all, it’s not like cats come here often.”
“Well,” she meowed, stepping over the scentline, “we’re officially out of SkyClan territory.” She turned around to see how far away the intruders were. To her surprise, they were standing several fox-lengths off, looking at the fleeing cats hostilely.
“Leave them!” she heard one of the cats command sharply. “They’re only kits. They’ll starve to death out there in no time.” And with that, all three cats turned and headed back, deeper into the forest.
Stormpaw stared after them, hardly believing what she was seeing. She was looking out across the SkyClan border, and the three rogues that had attacked them were heading back into the heart of Clan territory. The world spun before her eyes and she sank to the ground, unable to tell what was real anymore. She was vaguely aware of Larchpaw’s golden head swimming around in front of her face; then a paw clouted the side of her head and it cleared. Larchpaw was meowing in her face.
“Stormpaw,” he hissed, “get up. We have to go.”
Still dazed, Stormpaw rose to her paws and turned around to face the other apprentices.
“Now that we’re out of SkyClan territory and can no longer go back, we have to find somewhere else to go,” Rainpaw was saying. “Beechstar said to head for the plains beyond RiverClan territory, so maybe we should do that first.”
“I can walk now,” Creampaw added. The cream-colored she-cat was currently resting on the ground, her leg stuck out awkwardly to her side. Breezepaw was inspecting it. “At the very least, I don’t need Breezepaw to carry me anymore.”
“All right,” Rainpaw meowed. “Then let’s go.” He turned away and headed to the front of the bedraggled group, then flicked his tail behind him for the rest of the SkyClan cats to follow. Stormpaw nudged the anxious kits ahead of her, then followed the older apprentice as he led the way past SkyClan territory.
It was slow going. They could only move as fast as Creampaw could walk, which was not very fast, even with Breezepaw supporting her. The kits were exhausted as well, first from running across the territory to avoid Slash’s cats, and now from having to walk across the unfamiliar territory to get to the fields where they would probably end up making their home.
“I’m hungry!” Morningkit wailed. Her bright blue eyes were round as she looked up at Stormpaw. “I want some fresh-kill!”
“We can’t hunt right now,” Stormpaw told the kit, even though her own stomach was rumbling with hunger. They had to get out of here first, had to get out and figure out where they were going.
Ahead of her, Rainpaw stopped walking; he turned around to fact the cats behind him. “I smell RiverClan scent,” he told them. “I think there are RiverClan cats around here.” The SkyClan cats were near the border with RiverClan now, but they weren’t planning to cross the border anytime soon - there might be some of Slash’s cats around to attack them again.
“Are you sure it’s not just the border?” called Wildpaw.
Rainpaw shook his head. “No,” he responded. “I can smell fresh RiverClan scent. Let’s follow it; the RiverClan cats might have already settled down somewhere, and we might be able to make a camp nearby.” He stood with his nose outstretched, sniffing the air, and then set off along a path that veered slightly off the course they had been following. It led into some woodland that edged the RiverClan border, but did not appear to double back into the territory; Stormpaw thought they must have moved on. They still pushed through the woodland, following the scent into the forest. The scent grew stronger as the patrol of cats - if you could call it that - approached a bramble bush.
“There’s a RiverClan cat in there,” Redpaw hissed from behind her.
“Let me see.” Larchpaw shouldered his way to the front of the patrol and into the bramble bush before Stormpaw could object. A loud mewling rose up from within the bush. Larchpaw said something to the kit, but his voice was too low for Stormpaw to make out what it was. The kit said something in reply, and Larchpaw spat at the kit - this time Stormpaw could hear what the apprentice was saying: “Tell me where your Clanmates are, kit, or we’ll take you back to SkyClan with us!”
“I don’t think your brother needs to be so harsh,” Wildpaw murmured to her.
“Neither do I.” Stormpaw sighed, her breath ruffling her whiskers. Sometimes she wished her brother wasn’t so impatient and grouchy. “He can’t help it, though.”
The kit squealed its reply loud enough for Stormpaw to hear: “They went that way!”
“Well, come on, then,” Larchpaw replied. The bramble bush rustled as he emerged, carrying the kit, a ginger tabby she-cat, in his jaws.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to take me to SkyClan?” the kit mewed, worry in her mew.
“You can’t very well go after RiverClan on your own,” Larchpaw growled, dropping her so he could speak. “We’ll find your Clanmates and then you can join them. Which way did you say they went?” The kit pointed with a paw, and Larchpaw scooped her up again and began to head through the forest, at the head of the patrol now. Rainpaw and Redpaw exchanged an anxious glance before following the golden tabby through the forest. They were still following the scent trail, which grew stronger as they approached the edge of the trees. Stormpaw emerged from the forest behind Breezepaw and Creampaw to see that the fields stretched away into the distance, so far that she could not see the ends. Here and there a Twoleg nest or a patch of woodland dotted the otherwise endless expanse, but for the most part it was completely clear. A gust of wind buffeted her fur, nearly carrying her off her paws. Is this how WindClan feel? she wondered. This is amazing! She looked around the fields, her breath taken away by the beauty of the landscape.
Then something caught her eye: a patch of color, too large to be a flower field. She bounded forward to Larchpaw, who was surveying the field, and nudged him, pointing with her muzzle to the splash of color. “Look,” she meowed. “Do you think those are cats?
“They must be,” Larchpaw breathed. “I suppose we should go see if they’re the Clan patrols, huh?” Without waiting for an answer he bounded out across the fields, the kit swinging in jaws.
“Larchpaw, wait for me!” Stormpaw yowled, and sprung after him, aware that the rest of SkyClan were streaming after her. They headed across the fields, right toward the splash of color, and they were right in believing that it was Clan cats: the mingled scents of RiverClan, WindClan and ThunderClan came from the place where the cats were gathered. The SkyClan patrol slowed to a walk as they approached the other Clans.
“Are you from SkyClan?” asked a dark gray tom. He looked about as old as Rainpaw; Stormpaw guessed he was an apprentice.
“Yes,” Rainpaw responded. “We fled the battle in order to avoid losing every cat we had. Now we just have a pawful of apprentices and kits.” Stormpaw looked at him in surprise; the tom was usually proud and would be unwilling to admit that SkyClan was weak. But this is too serious to be worrying about that. The future of all five Clans is at stake.
To her shock, the gray tom nodded. “That’s about all we have, too. RiverClan, WindClan and ThunderClan. You’re not the only Clan to have lost its cats.” His eyes darkened with sadness as he spoke. “Kits and apprentices are all we have left now.”
“And we’re going to be responsible for putting the Clans back together,” Stormpaw murmured, her vision going dizzy. Apprentices and kits are supposed to be the future of the Clans.
StarClan, why did you let this happen?
"Who's your leader?" asked the gray tom as the SkyClan cats settled down around them. "I'm the leader of ThunderClan. My name's Cloudpaw."
Stormpaw and Creampaw exchanged an uncomfortable glance. They hadn't yet decided on a leader for SkyClan. "We don't have one yet," Stormpaw replied awkwardly, looking over at the dark gray tom. His eyes widened as she spoke. "We just got here and we haven't really had time to decide.
"Well, you'd better decide soon," Cloudpaw replied, "or some cat might take advantage of your weakness." His blue eyes showed no indication that he and his Clan would be the ones to do so, but his expression showed that he thought one of the other Clans might. Stormpaw bristled with anger. Surely no cat would be mouse-brained enough to do that, not when all the Clans were facing the same problems? They had lost all their warriors to a battle with rogues: they couldn't attack the others now and risk losing the Clans forever! But not every cat thinks that way, she told herself. It would be just like one of the other Clans to attempt to steal our territory when we're leaderless.
"Rainpaw," she meowed, turning to the dark gray tom, "Cloudpaw's right. We do need a leader. And I think you'd make a good one."
Rainpaw's eyes widened as she spoke. "What? Me?"
"Yes," agreed Redpaw, looking at his brother. "I think you'd make a great leader. You led us here, and you took charge over all the SkyClan cats. You should be our leader."
"I agree," Wildpaw put in. "Rainpaw, you should be our leader."
Rainpaw looked flustered, his blue eyes troubled. "Thanks for your support," he meowed, "but I'm not sure I'd make such a good -"
"Nonsense, you'd do fine," Breezepaw put in. "I agree with the other cats that you should be our leader." His blue eyes glowed as he spoke.
Rainpaw looked around at the cats gathered around him and loudly meowed "This isn't the place to decide." He turned away from the cats and walked off. The rest of the SkyClan patrol followed him as he padded toward another part of the fields. He sat down and wrapped his tail around his paws once they were out of earshot of the other Clans and asked "So you think I'd make a good leader?"
"I know you would," Redpaw murmured. "You led us here, and you've certainly got the leadership skills that you would need to be leader."
"I think we all agree that you should be the leader of SkyClan, Rainpaw," Breezepaw meowed. Rainpaw ducked his head as the medicine cat apprentice spoke.
"Not every cat agrees," he murmured. "Larchpaw hasn't agreed yet."
"That's because he's not here, mouse-brain," Wildpaw murmured. "He went to go take that kit he foound back to RiverClan, remember?"
"I'll go get him," Stormpaw mewed. She sprang up and trotted off, her mind buzzing with thoughts. We might actually survive. We might actually be able to restore these broken Clans... even if all we have to work with are apprentices and kits. It could work! She smiled to herself as she headed back over to where the other Clan patrols had gathered. There was a new scent in the air as she approached; taking a sniff she realized it was a Clan scent, although not one that she had smelled before. But the only Clan that hadn't been there before was ShadowClan; it must be ShadowClan scent she was smelling. She followed Larchpaw's scent trail over to a group of cats that smelled like fish. Larchpaw was talking with one of the apprentices; as she approached she began to make out the words.
"How did your kit end up separated from your Clan in the first place?" he was asking. The cat he was talking to, a small tortoiseshell tom, twitched his ears.
"StarClan knows," the tom muttered. "We went around the bramble bush, and I suppose Ivykit wanted to go through for some reason and got stuck there."
"Well, don't let it happen again. I have better things to do than go around rescuing trapped kits." He turned away, twitching his whiskers in barely-concealed anger, and when he saw Stormpaw standing there he meowed "Come on, Stormpaw, let's go back to SkyClan." He padded past Stormpaw, but before she followed she looked over at the tortoiseshell, who was looking at her in confusion. She shrugged and followed Larchpaw over to where the SkyClan cats were waiting a short distance away.
"What's going on?" asked Larchpaw as they approached.
"We were waiting for you," Creampaw replied. "We need you to agree that Rainpaw should be our leader in order for him to agree to be leader."
Larchpaw looked around at the cats gathered there, and then nodded. "I do think he'd make a good leader," he meowed, without any of the usual grumpiness in his voice. Stormpaw looked at him in shock, but he didn't turn to look at her; he appeared to be serious about what he was saying.
Rainpaw dipped his head, his tail twitching. "Then by StarClan I will try to be a good leader for SkyClan. You have my word." He raised his head, his blue eyes glowing. The other cats dipped their heads in respect, Stormpaw included. Rainpaw rose to his paws and padded off. "I think we should get back to the other Clans now," he meowed over his shoulder, then continued on toward the gathering of cats. The rest of the Clan followed him over.
We wouldn't need a leader if it weren't for Slash and his cats, Stormpaw thought bitterly as she walked. They're the ones who caused this. Now we've got to survive - a pawful of half-trained apprentices and kits that have lost their parents, led by a cat who's not even a warrior!
As they approached the large throng of cats, one cat - Cloudpaw - broke away from the group and came over to meet them. "Did you decide on your leader?" he asked, looking over the group of cats.
"Yes," Rainpaw responded. "I am the leader."
"Well, we're having a meeting of leaders over there." Cloudpaw turned and pointed with his tail at where three other apprentices were leaving the gathering and heading away. "We need to decide what to do about the territories." Since no other cat is here to tell us where they should be.
"I'll come with you," Rainpaw meowed, and followed Cloudpaw over to the gathering of leaders. The rest of the SkyClan cats continued on until they reached the area where the other four Clans' apprentices and kits were waiting.
"Do you think Rainpaw will get to choose the deputy?" Stormpaw asked Creampaw as the two sisters sat down near the edge of the gathered cats. "Or will we vote on it like we did with Rainpaw?"
"I don't know," Creampaw responded, "but if he picks the deputy, I hope he picks a good one."
Stormpaw nodded absentmindedly. She wasn't paying much attention to the other apprentice anymore; she was thinking about who Rainpaw might choose as deputy instead. Her first thought was Redpaw; the dark ginger tom was almost as good a leader as Rainpaw himself, and would certainly help to restore SkyClan in the moons to come. But he was a pacifist, and would avoid fighting if he could help it... and somehow, Stormpaw felt that this wasn't the way to go at the moment. SkyClan needed to be unafraid to fight the other Clans and prove their strength, even though they would run the risk of getting cats killed. Most young apprentices were battle-thirsty and headstrong - Stormpaw knew Larchpaw was, at least. Redpaw was the obvious choice right now, but Stormpaw was sure this would lead to problems in the future.
"Hey, the Clan leaders are coming back!" Creampaw's mew broke her out of her thoughts, and she looked up to see the five Clan leaders approaching. The cats around her were all rising to their paws and preparing to greet their leaders; Stormpaw did the same. Rainpaw padded over to where the SkyClan cats were waiting for him; his blue eyes were glowing as he approached.
"What did you decide?" asked Wildpaw.
"The territories will be over there." Rainpaw pointed with his tail toward the small forest territory they had come out of not long before; it was the largest bit of woodland around, and Stormpaw realized that that was where ThunderClan and ShadowClan were going to make their home. "ThunderClan and ShadowClan will have the depths of the forest; RiverClan will have the edge of the forest and the river that runs through it; WindClan will have the fields near ThunderClan territory and we will have the fields near RiverClan territory."
Stormpaw thought that sounded all right. Each Clan would have a good amount of space and would be living in terrain similar to where they had lived back in the old forest... before Slash had invaded.
"Are we going over there now?" asked one of the kits. Rainpaw looked over at the cat who had spoken, a golden she-cat named Yellowkit. Her eyes were tired and she looked about ready to collapse on her paws.
"No," Rainpaw decided after looking her over. "We're going to spend the night here. But first, I have one more thing to say. As leader of SkyClan, it is my job to pick a deputy." Creampaw let out a gasp and Wildpaw's ears pricked in surprise.
"Stormpaw will be deputy of SkyClan."
Stormpaw's head spun as the tabby tom spoke. Her? Deputy of SkyClan? "There has to be some mistake," she thought out loud. I'm only a three-day-old apprentice! I can't possibly be deputy of all of SkyClan...!
Rainpaw shook his head. "No mistake," he assured her. "I think you'd make the best deputy SkyClan could have right now."
"But she's such a young apprentice!" Wildpaw gasped. "She hasn't had very much experience..."
"I know that," Rainpaw responded. "I still think she'd make the best deputy right now. And I know that she hasn't had an apprentice - none of us have! She will have one of Heatherflower's kits when they're old enough to be apprentices, which isn't very long - they are approaching six moons. I know that some of you may not agree, but she is my choice for deputy, and she will remain that way. Stormpaw is deputy of SkyClan."
Leader: Rainpaw - dark gray tabby tom with blue eyes
Deputy: Stormpaw - black-and-gray she-cat with green eyes
Medicine Cat: Breezepaw - light gray tom with blue eyes
Larchpaw - golden tabby tom with amber eyes
Creampaw - cream-colored she-cat
Redpaw - dark ginger tabby tom with green eyes
Wildpaw - tortoiseshell she-cat
Pinekit - dark gray tabby tom
Shadekit - black she-cat
Barkkit - brown tabby tom
Yellowkit - golden she-cat
Morningkit - pale tortoiseshell she-cat
Featherkit - gray tabby tom
Leader: Cloudpaw - smoky dark gray tom
Deputy: Sprucepaw - brown tabby she-cat
Medicine Cat: Specklepaw - spotted ginger she-cat
Drizzlepaw - gray tabby tom
Floodpaw - gray-and-white she-cat
Icepaw - blue-gray-and-white she-cat
Rockpaw - dark brown tabby tom
Leafpaw - light brown tabby tom
Nightkit - black-and-gray she-cat
Branchkit - dark brown tabby tom
Thistlekit - golden tabby tom
Emberkit - ginger tabby tom
Leader: Ripplepaw - black-and-ginger tabby tom
Deputy: Dawnpaw - light gray tabby she-cat
Medicine Cat: Mallowkit - tortoiseshell she-cat
Adderpaw - light brown tabby tom
Eaglepaw - golden tabby tom
Flowpaw - silver she-cat
Smokepaw - dark gray she-cat
Frostkit - tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat
Snakekit - ginger tabby tom
Thornkit - black she-cat
Spottedkit - speckled brown she-cat
Leader: Rapidpaw - dappled gray-and-white she-cat
Deputy: Duskpaw - dark golden tom
Medicine Cat: Trailpaw - light brown tabby tom
Ashpaw - gray tabby tom
Silentpaw - light gray she-cat
Lightningpaw - tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat
Birdpaw - brown tabby tom
Flowerpaw - dark tortoiseshell she-cat
Blackpaw - tortoiseshell tom with black splotches
Grasskit - pale gray-brown she-cat
Streamkit - blue-gray she-cat
Hawkkit - light brown tabby tom
Berrykit - light brown tom
Lightkit - golden she-cat
Leader: Splashpaw - tortoiseshell tom
Deputy: Reedpaw - light brown tabby tom
Medicine Cat: Foxkit - dark ginger she-cat
Moonpaw - white she-cat
Rushpaw - dark golden tom
Brookpaw - gray-black she-cat
Sparrowpaw - brown tabby tom
Mothpaw - dark gray tabby she-cat
Gorsekit - gray tabby tom
Leopardkit - tortoiseshell she-cat
Willowkit - dark gray tabby she-cat
Pebblekit - gray tom
Ivykit - ginger tabby she-cat
Stormpaw padded across the fields, her tail drooping with weariness. She had had a restless night the night before, for the bushes they slept under did not feel safe to her and she jerked awake every time there was a rustle in the branches or any other noise, afraid that it was an intruder of some sort, set on destroying what little of SkyClan was left. Then when she woke at dawn, the first thing she heard was Rainpaw telling her to get up so the Clan could go to their new territory.
"Is there even a place for camp there?" she had asked groggily when he had woken her.
"Yes," he replied. "I went to check it out last night, and there's a small hollow, filled with bushes. It would make the perfect camp, once we clear some of the undergrowth away."
Then she got up and helped the gray tom wake up the rest of the Clan, and then the small Clan was setting out across the fields, the rising sun casting pale light over the fields.
The territory that the leaders had intended for SkyClan in the meeting the day before wasn't actually so far away from where they had been sleeping, but Rainpaw wanted to set up camp and begin establishing borders that very day, so he figured it would be better to head for the camp early in the morning, so they would have the whole day to work. Stormpaw didn't know how much she would be able to help, though, given that she was still half-asleep and didn't think she would be any use on any hunting or border patrol, nor in building camp.
But she was going to have to do something.
Her muscles protested as she lengthened her stride, catching up to Rainpaw, who was leading the bedraggled group toward the fields. "Where did you decide the border would be?" she asked. "Did you even decide?"
Rainpaw twitched his whiskers. "We thought that perhaps our border with RiverClan would be the river that they will live by. It takes a sharp turn and runs right through the center of their territory, so they can have the river the same way they did in the old forest."
"Will we be able to eat fish?" Stormpaw asked. If the river was the border, that meant both Clans had access to it; RiverClan couldn't object to them taking fish.
"If you can catch them," Rainpaw responded, "and if RiverClan doesn't object. If they see us taking too many fish they might try to launch an attack on us."
"They can't do that!" Stormpaw meowed indignantly. "If the river's the border, the fish in it belong to everyone."
"You would think that," Rainpaw replied grimly. "But the river was our border with RiverClan in the old forest as well. RiverClan didn't let us take fish from it."
"That's not fair," Stormpaw muttered. "They shouldn't be allowed to do that."
"Maybe things will change in the new territories," Rainpaw mewed hopefully. "RiverClan might let us fish. If we can figure out how... I doubt they'd be very willing to teach us."
"Perhaps we should just stick with birds for now," Stormpaw suggested. "Then we can ask RiverClan whether or not we'd be allowed to fish."
"Perhaps. But that doesn't quite matter right now. We can't fish, so it would be mouse-brained to try fishing in order to feed the Clan."
"Yeah," Stormpaw agreed. "The kits need to eat soon, or they're going to starve."
"Kits and elders eat first, remember," Rainpaw reminded her. "We have six kits and no elders... we should be able to feed them fine."
"Speaking of the kits," Stormpaw meowed, "how are we going to tell them that Iceriver and Heatherflower are dead?"
Rainpaw flinched. "We... we could tell them that... that Iceriver and Heatherflower went away for a while... and when they're old enough to understand we can tell them what happened."
"Heatherflower's kits might be old enough to understand," Stormpaw put in. "They're about five and a half moons right now, aren't they?"
Rainpaw thought for a second. "They were born a few days after you opened your eyes," he meowed. "So... yes, they would be about five and a half moons."
"I think that's about old enough for them to understand," Stormpaw mused. "When we get to camp, we can tell them."
"We're nearly there, anyway." Rainpaw stopped at the top of a small rise in the fields and turned to look at his Clanmates.
"Why are we stopping?" called Creampaw.
"The camp is just below this rise," Rainpaw told them. He turned around and padded down the slope.
Early-morning sunlight picked out each of the bushes in bursts of golden flame, but it was little relief - it was the middle of leaf-bare and most of the bushes were brown and brittle.
But it was the place where SkyClan was going to make its camp.
Stormpaw overtook Rainpaw, bounding down the slope and skidding to a halt just before she would have crashed into a straggly bramble bush. The rest of the Clan followed her down and cautiously padded into the center of the hollow, looking around warily.
"This is our camp?" Larchpaw meowed in disbelief.
"I know it doesn't look like much," Breezepaw meowed, coming up behind them, "but I'm sure it'll look better once we start working on it."
"Where are the dens going to be?" called Creampaw.
"I don't know yet," Rainpaw replied. "Let's figure that out now." He looked around the camp. Stormpaw followed his gaze. The opposite side of the hollow from where they had entered had some hollows of its own, and a large boulder rose up behind them. A dark cave yawned away from them inside the boulder, hollowed out by wind and rain.
"That could be Breezepaw's den," she suggested. "The hollows would catch water for patients, and he could store his herbs in the boulder." As soon as she spoke, she caught a glimpse of pale gray fur out of the corner of her eye: the medicine cat apprentice was going to check it out.
"The nursery could be over here." Redpaw flicked his tail at a huge gorse bush near the boulder, immediately adjacent to where the land began to slope up again. "It'd be pretty well protected against wind and rain."
Rainpaw padded over to a small dip in the land, sheltered by a small clump of ferns. "This could be my den."
Stormpaw looked around. If this were going to be a permanent camp, they would need an apprentices' den, a warriors' den and an elders' den. Well, they wouldn't need an elders' den right away, since the oldest cats in their little Clan were Redpaw, Rainpaw and Wildpaw. She noticed a small bramble bush by the edge of the camp. A potential apprentices' den? She padded over to check it out and poked her head inside.
It was nice and warm inside, and the soft grass made Stormpaw want to come and lie down there, even though there wasn't any moss there yet. There didn't appear to be any other creatures hiding there, and when she sniffed the air there wasn't any scent of fox or badger.
"I found an apprentices' den!" she called, withdrawing her head from the bush.
"And I've found a warriors' den," called Wildpaw, looking at another bramble bush near the nursery. This bush was far larger than the one Stormpaw had found, and better-fitting for lots of cats.
"Well, then," replied Rainpaw, looking around at the Clan, "I guess we should begin clearing out undergrowth."
Stormpaw turned around as the rest of the apprentices passed her and padded over to the kits, who were huddled around the edge of the camp, looking around with their eyes wide.
"Are we going to live here?" asked a golden she-cat - Yellowkit.
"I don't want to live here!" Morningkit protested, her tortoiseshell fur bristling. "I want to go back to Iceriver!" She turned around, ready to flee from the new camp, but Stormpaw quickly grabbed her tail and pulled her back.
"Well, you can't," she replied bluntly. "Iceriver's gone for a while. You'll see her when you're older." Much older, Stormpaw thought. Hopefully you won't go to StarClan for a long time yet. "Instead, why don't you kits make yourselves at home here? Go help the other apprentices clear out brambles, okay?"
"I want to go to sleep," Featherkit muttered, his eyes drooping. "I just want to sleep. Do we have to help?"
"Would you rather sleep on moss or grass?" Stormpaw prompted. Featherkit shook his head.
"I don't care," he complained. "I just want to sleep." He lay down and curled himself into a ball. Stormpaw growled faintly, grabbed him by the scruff and picked him up, putting him back on his paws.
"You can sleep once the nursery's finished," she told him. "Go on, go help the other apprentices. I promise all of you can have a nice juicy mouse and you can sleep as long as you want when you're finished."
"All right, fine..." Featherkit and the other five kits padded into the camp, where they split up and started to help the other apprentices with the dens.
Stormpaw gritted her teeth. She wasn't looking forward to collecting the mice she had promised the kits. She couldn't hunt so well, anyway; she hadn't had any hunting practice, since the very day she was apprenticed was the day after the Gathering where Slash had threatened to attack the Clans. She had only had battle training.
"Stormpaw!" Larchpaw called from where he was clearing undergrowth away from the warriors' den. "Why aren't you helping?"
"I promised the kits I'd get them mice if they helped," she confessed, "but I haven't had any hunting practice, so I don't think I can fulfill that promise."
"I'll take care of it," Wildpaw meowed, padding over to her side. "Redpaw!" she called, looking over at her brother. "You up for little hunting?"
"Sure," the ginger tabby replied, "on one condition. Stormpaw, get your tail over here and help clear out the nursery. These kits are going to need to sleep as soon as possible."
"All right." Stormpaw padded over to her Clanmate's side and began to clear undergrowth away from the gorse bush. The bush looked like it would be quite spacious once all the outer branches were cleared and the others were woven in, and comfortable too with enough moss.
The Clan worked all day to clear away the undergrowth and fix the dens to make them suitable for living in. There weren't as many cats, so it was rather difficult to get all the branches cleared, but they had been working non-stop since the morning and were planning to work well into the long leaf-bare night.
The sun was setting over the horizon when Redpaw and Wildpaw returned, carrying a large amount of prey with them.
"What took you so long?" asked Stormpaw, bounding over to them as they dropped their prey in a cleared space in the center of camp.
"We have a large stash of prey out in the forest," Redpaw explained.
"And moss," Wildpaw added. "We collected a whole lot of moss and left it near the prey."
"I'll come help you get it, then," Stormpaw meowed, and followed the older apprentices out of camp.
The prey was buried at the roots of an oak tree on the edge of a small cluster of trees, and the moss was gathered in a heap next to it. Redpaw and Wildpaw began dividing the prey up between them, and Stormpaw gathered the moss into a ball and held it beneath her chin while she grabbed some more moss in her jaws. There was still a large amount of moss remaining, but they could always come back for it later. Stormpaw padded back to camp with the moss, trying desperately not to let it fall from her jaws or under her chin. She slowly picked her way down the slope that led to camp, and when she reached it she passed Redpaw and Wildpaw, who were going out for what was left of the moss. Stormpaw mumbled her thanks from around the moss before dropping it at the edge of the slope. Larchpaw looked up as she approached.
"Are any of the dens finished yet?" she asked him.
"The nursery," he replied. "It was the top priority." Stormpaw nodded in response, picked up the moss again and padded over to the nursery.
Inside, three of the kits and Creampaw were helping to weave gorse branches into the walls, so the kits wouldn't be poked when they slept. Stormpaw dropped the moss. "I've brought moss," she meowed. "Creampaw, can we spare these kits?"
The cream she-cat surveyed the den. "I think so," she answered. "I just need to finish up this bit here, and then it'll be fine."
"Then I'll start spreading out the moss," Stormpaw replied. She began to spread the moss out with her paws. "Go get something to eat," she called to the kits. "Get your littermates to eat too. Then you can come rest."
The three kits scampered out of the den, running with newfound energy as it seemed there was a chance they would be able to eat and sleep properly. When Stormpaw was done spreading the moss out, she helped Creampaw with the den walls. Just as they were fixing the last few branches, Shadekit ran into the den.
"Is it ready?" she asked breathlessly. "Can we sleep?"
Stormpaw paused for a moment to look at the den. It looked fine; there were no thorns or anything for the kits to spike themselves on in their sleep. "Go ahead," she meowed.
Instantly all the kits surged in after Shadekit and began to settle down in the moss. Stormpaw was surprised at how quickly they proceeded to fall asleep.
"It's been a rough few days," Stormpaw commented. "They must be exhausted."
"They're not the only ones." Stormpaw looked over at Creampaw when she spoke; the cream she-cat's tail was drooping and her eyes looked exhausted.
"Go get some sleep," she meowed, flicking her tail toward the nursery entrance. "I left some moss over there; you can use it to line the warrior's den."
"You sure? Shouldn't I stay and help...?"
"Creampaw, you look practically asleep on your paws! Go sleep." Stormpaw smirked. "As your deputy, I am commanding you to go get some sleep."
"Okay." Creampaw padded past her, her cream pelt brushing Stormpaw's. "Thanks," she whispered in Stormpaw's ear as she passed. Stormpaw's response was to brush her sister's ear with her tail. Then Creampaw limped from the den and headed toward the warriors' den.
The nursery looks fine, Stormpaw thought to herself once her sister had left, and the kits are all asleep. I should go help with some of the other dens. She padded out of the den, the bushes snagging her black-and-gray fur as she passed. The rest of the Clan was already sitting in the clearing, eating the prey Redpaw and Wildpaw had caught earlier.
"Are we finished with the dens?" she asked as she approached.
"Yes," Wildpaw replied, "for the most part. Now we can eat and then, finally, we can sleep."
Stormpaw nodded, and took a small starling from the pile of fresh-kill. She sat down to eat, rapidly devouring the small bird. She was hungry, and she wanted to curl up in the new warriors' den and sleep quickly. When she was finished she meowed goodnight to the other warriors and padded, her paws dragging across the frosty ground, into the den.
Someone had already spread moss out along the den floor. Stormpaw gratefully sank down onto one of the nests near the center and quickly fell asleep.
"Stormpaw, wake up."
Stormpaw raised her head groggily to see the dark gray head of Rainpaw above her. "Rainpaw...?" she grumbled sleepily. "What is it...?"
"You're the deputy now, Stormpaw," Rainpaw responded, a hint of amusement in his voice. "You should have already picked the dawn patrol out, and it's nearly dawn."
"What...?" The words took a minute for Stormpaw to register them properly, but when they did, she jumped up. "Mouse dung!" she hissed. "I completely forgot!"
"Calm down, Stormpaw, it's fine," Rainpaw replied, brushing his tail along her flank. "Come on, wake Larchpaw and we'll take the dawn patrol." He left the warriors' den, setting the branches rattling as he did so. Stormpaw turned and picked her way over several sleeping warriors until she reached Larchpaw's side; she leaned down and hissed into his ear "Larchpaw!"
The golden tabby rolled over, amber eyes wide open, and let out some unintelligible cry of shock. Stormpaw's whiskers twitched in amusement as her brother's eyes narrowed upon realizing who it was.
"What was that for?" he hissed angrily.
"Come on," Stormpaw replied simply. "Rainpaw wants us for the dawn patrol."
"Fine," Larchpaw growled. "Thanks for waking me up like that, though."
Stormpaw purred. "It was the only way to wake you up, you're such a heavy sleeper!"
Larchpaw rolled his eyes, pushed his way past Stormpaw and left the den. Stormpaw followed him out to where Rainpaw was waiting.
That's the way we used to joke, when we were kits. I wish we could joke like that all the time... but we can't. Not now. SkyClan needs me...
"If we're not back by sunhigh," Rainpaw meowed, shaking Stormpaw from her thoughts, "who do you want to take the sunhigh patrol?"
"Do we even have enough warriors for a sunhigh patrol?" asked Stormpaw. "I mean, the only other cats in there are Redpaw and Wildpaw. Creampaw can't go on any patrols right now. And what about hunting patrols?"
"All the border patrols will hunt as well," Rainpaw replied. "It's only until Creampaw recovers and Heatherflower's kits become apprentices."
"I think we're going to need more than five extra cats to carry out full-fledged patrols," Larchpaw muttered darkly, his tail twitching.
All three cats were silent for a moment until Rainpaw meowed, "Well, we're not going to get anything done by just standing here. Come on; let's go."
The three cats left camp and headed to the top of the slope. Golden light flooded the horizon, and a cold breeze swept across the land. Stormpaw shivered. What prey would be out in this weather? she thought as she fluffed up her fur. It's freezing!
"Come on," meowed Rainpaw. "We're going to mark the borders."
"All of them?" replied Stormpaw. "In one patrol?"
"Well," Rainpaw answered, "I think we're going to have to."
"What, the sunhigh patrol can't mark any?" Larchpaw grumbled irritably. "I would think that was what the sunhigh patrol was for...!"
"But there might not even be a sunhigh patrol," Stormpaw pointed out. "We don't have enough cats for that..." A wave of sadness swept over her as she realized that they might never have enough cats for a proper patrol.
"We will eventually," Rainpaw responded. "We'll grow in time, you'll see."
The three cats padded across the open fields as the sun's rays illuminated the land and warmed it - not much, given that it was leaf-bare, but Stormpaw at least wasn't as cold. She didn't know where Rainpaw was leading them, but as she heard the sound of rushing water she realized they were approaching RiverClan territory.
She padded up a small slope and saw a calm, clear river winding away beneath her. It was pretty wide and she didn't think she could swim across even if she tried - and then she realized it probably wasn't this wide normally, but was swollen with leaf-bare rain.
"This is the river that marks the border with RiverClan, right?" asked Stormpaw.
"Yes," Rainpaw replied. "We're going to mark this now. And that's not the only reason I brought you here, either." Before Stormpaw could ask what he meant, he signaled with his tail for her to be quiet and pricked his ears.
"Over there," he whispered in Stormpaw's ear. "It's a mouse. I know you haven't had any hunting practice, which is why I'll give you some now. Try to stalk it."
Stormpaw looked around to where Rainpaw was facing. She followed his gaze and noticed a small disturbance in the grass, then a flash of brown.
She vaguely remembered Redpaw and Wildpaw once teaching her SkyClan's stalking technique when she was still in the nursery. SkyClan cats weren't meant for stalking prey; they were meant for jumping into trees to catch squirrels and birds. Little undergrowth meant it was harder to creep up on prey, so the characteristic strong hind legs of SkyClan would be useful here, but they still relied more on prey in the trees.
What was it that Redpaw had said about stalking prey on the ground again? She couldn't remember. I should just try to be as cautious as possible.
She crept toward the mouse, moving as slowly as possible so as not to disturb the small creature. Fortunately she was downwind, so she had the advantage - for now.
Soon she was within striking distance, and the mouse hadn't moved yet. She waggled her haunches and then sprang at the mouse, her strong legs carrying her over the dewy grass.
The mouse had turned as soon as she sprang and fled instantly; her paws simply hit the ground and she stumbled.
"Fox dung!" she hissed as the mouse fled over the field. "I missed it."
"It's fine," Rainpaw assured her, although his whiskers twitched and she guessed he was disappointed that she had scared off a potential piece of prey. "I just wanted to see if you knew any stalking techniques. Once we mark the border, I'll give both of you some hunting practice."
Stormpaw flicked her ears. Rainpaw sounded so much like her former mentor, Sparrowclaw. And yet... he wasn't. He was a fellow apprentice, inexperienced and only half-trained, and here he was attempting to teach her hunting techniques. Stormpaw would admit that he was better at hunting than her, but he wasn't a warrior. He hadn't finished his training. It just didn't feel right.
"Stormpaw, what are you waiting for? Come on," Larchpaw called back over his shoulder as he and Rainpaw padded away. Stormpaw shook her head and bounded after the two toms.
The sun rose well over the horizon as the three cats followed the length of the border, first marking the border with RiverClan alongside the river and then padded along the small dip in the land that made up the WindClan border. It was past sunhigh when the three cats finally returned to camp, to be met with a frantic Wildpaw.
"Where did you go?" she asked, panic-stricken. Rainpaw looked taken aback.
"We... we went to mark the border," he responded. "I thought you knew we were leaving...?"
"I forgot to tell them," Stormpaw replied, feeling guilty. "Sorry."
Rainpaw sighed. "Well, it's done now. I'm going to take Stormpaw and Larchpaw out for hunting practice. What have you been doing?"
Wildpaw blinked. "Fixing the dens," she meowed. "Some of the branches came loose during the night."
Rainpaw nodded his approval. "Thanks for that. Now you and Redpaw can hunt if you want." Wildpaw's eyes widened as he spoke.
"But... we'd be leaving the camp unguarded if we did that," she pointed out. "Creampaw and Breezepaw can't fight, and neither can the kits."
Larchpaw snorted impatiently. "What do you expect to attack us? Hedgehogs?"
Wildpaw twitched her ears in reply. "Well... no," she mewed, "but what if a fox or a badger comes along?"
"We'll stick close enough to camp that we'll know if something attacks," Rainpaw assured her. "It'll be fine."
"If you say so." Wildpaw didn't sound convinced, but she turned and padded toward the warriors' den, calling out Redpaw's name as she went.
Stormpaw turned to leave camp, but stopped as she heard her name being called behind her. She turned around to see Breezepaw approaching her. The light gray tom was looking worried.
"Stormpaw, the kits have been pestering me, asking where Heatherflower and Iceriver are," he told her. "They don't know their mothers are dead yet, and I was wondering if you could tell them, since you were in there with them not too long ago." He twitched his ears as he spoke.
"Of course," Stormpaw replied as guilt flooded over her. She had been in the nursery not long before, but she had hardly thought about the kits that used to be her best friends since she had become an apprentice. I should have looked in on them more often.
"I'll help you," Creampaw meowed. The cream-colored apprentice was limping out from the warriors' den. Breezepaw looked worriedly at her as she approached.
"Is your leg bothering you at all?" he asked. "I haven't looked at it in a few days..."
"No, it's fine," Creampaw replied, "but I don't think I can go out on patrols for now." She narrowed her eyes as she spoke. Stormpaw realized that her sister was upset that she was unable to help the Clan, hampered by an injured leg. Creampaw had always been quite proud. Breezepaw nodded.
"Well, if I can find any herbs around here, I'll try and get you back on warrior duty as soon as possible."
Stormpaw nodded. "You can go looking right now, if you want. Do you need anyone to go with you?"
Breezepaw shook his head. "I'll be fine," he replied.
"Are you sure?" asked Stormpaw. "I wouldn't want you to run into trouble or anything..."
"No," Breezepaw responded, more firmly this time. "Thanks for the concern, though." He dipped his head to Stormpaw as he passed her, a surprising gesture to Stormpaw. She might have been named deputy of SkyClan, but that didn't mean she was already used to the position. I'm not supposed to be deputy of SkyClan, she thought. Runningleap is. I'm only an apprentice...
"Come on," Creampaw meowed, flicking Stormpaw's side with her tail and snapping her out of her thoughts. "Let's go check on the kits."
Stormpaw followed her sister into the nursery, the branches scraping against her pelt. I need to get the branches woven in, she thought. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she realized that the kits were play-fighting and tumbling all over the den. Well, I guess they have nothing better to do.
At once the kits stopped their game and crowded around the two apprentices. "Stormpaw! Creampaw!" Pinekit called. "You're back!"
"Have you brought Heatherflower with you?" asked Yellowkit worriedly.
"Or Iceriver?" called Featherkit from the back of the den.
Stormpaw and Creampaw exchanged a sorrowful glance. How were they supposed to tell these kits that their parents were never going to return to them?
I guess bluntness would be the best way.
"Yellowkit," Stormpaw responded, looking at the golden she-cat, "Heatherflower's not coming back. Neither is Iceriver."
"What?" Yellowkit wailed, her eyes widening in shock. "What do you mean by that?"
"Not coming back?" Morningkit asked, her voice high-pitched and squeaky. "Why? Why would they abandon us?"
"They didn't abandon you," Creampaw told them firmly. "They died. They're dead. They died in a battle, and so did everyone else in SkyClan except you and us."
"So... they're not coming back? Ever?" Pinekit whispered.
"Ever," Stormpaw replied, her voice choking. It had been hard enough to deal with the loss of Snowpelt and Rowanfur; Stormpaw couldn't imagine what it must feel like to have that happen to her as a kit. "You'll see them when you're in StarClan, but -"
"I want to see Iceriver now!" Morningkit wailed. She attempted to run past Stormpaw as if she were going to track down Iceriver right then and there, but Stormpaw grabbed her tail and pulled her back.
"You can't," she replied. "Just stay here, all right? We'll take care of you."
"I wanted Iceriver to take care of me," Featherkit grumbled.
"I know," Stormpaw replied, licking his head. "And I know it's hard, but you'll have to deal with it, okay?"
"How are we supposed to sleep at night if we don't have our mothers here?" Barkkit asked.
Stormpaw and Creampaw exchanged another glance. These kits wouldn't be able to last a day without their mother's fur by their side.
"I could stay with them," Creampaw suggested suddenly. "Until my leg heals, at least," she added, glancing furiously at her injured hind paw. Stormpaw opened her mouth to object, but Creampaw cut her off. "There's no real reason for you to disagree. I'll stay with the kits."
Stormpaw twitched her ears. "Fine," she replied. "It'll be good for them anyway, I think."
Creampaw nodded to her, and Stormpaw left the den, forcefully blocking out the pitiful mews of the kits as she went.
"What do you two know about hunting?"
Rainpaw was standing on the grassy moorland, wind buffeting his fur as Larchpaw and Stormpaw stood before him. He looked at the two younger apprentices quizzically as they thought about the question for a few heartbeats.
"Well," Stormpaw replied, "SkyClan cats are built for jumping, so we mostly jump into trees to catch prey, right?"
"That's right," Rainpaw replied, nodding. "Most of our prey is squirrels and birds, and we typically hunt like this..." He trailed off as he turned around and looked up into the branches of the tall tree they were currently standing below. He sank back onto his haunches and then sprang onto the branch of the tree. A small sparrow was on the tree, and as he landed on the branch it hastily took off, but he grabbed it in his claws and quickly killed it.
"I was aiming for the sparrow," he grumbled around the fresh-kill in his jaws, "but I missed. If I had aimed right, I would have gone over the branch and caught the sparrow in my mouth as I went."
"You still caught it, though," Stormpaw mumbled in awe. She hadn't seen any cat kill prey before, even with the distinguishing SkyClan leap.
"Would either of you like to try seeing if you can get up to the branch?" suggested Rainpaw as he jumped down from the tree. Stormpaw rose to her paws after he spoke and looked up. The branch looked far away from where she was standing. I'm not even sure if I'll make it, but I should probably try anyway. She put all her weight into her haunches and then kicked off the ground, sailing up toward the branch which was rapidly growing closer.
Her claws hooked onto the branch and she pulled her back claws up to reach the branch, and then she was standing on it shakily. She managed to turn around and look down at the cats standing below her.
"It's fine!" she called to Larchpaw. "It's not that hard!"
She heard Larchpaw growl, and then he leaned back and suddenly he was flying up at her - and then his paws caught the branch and then he was standing there next to her, on a tree branch dipping dangerously beneath their weight.
"That wasn't very hard," he muttered.
"No," Stormpaw agreed. Without saying anything else she jumped from the branch and hit the ground, her paws stinging from the impact.
"Well," meowed Rainpaw with a grin, "now you know how to catch prey the way SkyClan cats do."
"But what about other prey?" asked Larchpaw. "We can't live on birds and squirrels forever."
"Of course not," replied Rainpaw. "So now I'll be teaching you how to catch ground prey."
He turned around and pointed with his muzzle at a small cluster of trees visible several fox-lengths away. "You see that?" he prompted. "That's a good place for prey to gather on the ground. Do either of you know how you would stalk a mouse?"
Stormpaw and Larchpaw exchanged a glance and then shook their heads. "We've been over this already," Larchpaw growled.
"Right," Rainpaw meowed. "I was wondering if you had any ideas about how you would."
"No," Stormpaw replied, shaking her head. "I haven't a clue."
Rainpaw sighed heavily, his breath ruffling his whiskers. "Well, then," he meowed, "I guess I had better teach you."
He turned away and sniffed the air. "There's a mouse in the trees over there," he told them, gesturing with his tail. "I'm going to stalk it. Watch how I put my paws down."
He turned away and slunk slowly over the rippling grass. His paws hardly touched the ground as he followed the mouse's trail into the trees. Desperate for a better look, Stormpaw padded forward a few tail-lengths until she could see the mouse; it was nibbling on a seed, unaware of Rainpaw's presence as the blue-gray tom snuck up on it. He stopped when he was only a couple of tail-lengths from the mouse, waggled his haunches and sprang, his leap carrying him over the ground. His claws struck their target and sunk into its fur; he reached over and bit it in the throat, instantly killing it. He stood up with the freshly-killed mouse in his jaws and padded back over to the other two apprentices.
"Did you see how lightly I put my paws down?" he questioned them, dropping the mouse. "How I hardly put any weight on my feet? That's the trick to hunting mice. They can feel your pawsteps better than they can scent you. The lighter you step, the less likely it is you'll be noticed, and the easier it will be to catch the prey." He broke off, sniffing the wind. "There are still mice over there," he added. "Would either of you like to try catching one?"
"I'll try," Larchpaw meowed, stalking lightly over to the trees, setting his paws down lightly in the way Rainpaw had told them to. Stormpaw glanced at Rainpaw and then followed him over.
Stormpaw scented the air once she drew close to the trees. Sure enough, she recognized the scent of mouse: six moons of living in a Clan that had mice on its fresh-kill pile had taught her the scent, despite the fact that she had never caught a mouse - or any prey, for that matter - before then. She looked around, searching for the source of the scent. There! A mouse was scrabbling through the leaves at the base of a tree.
Remembering to keep her weight off her paws, she stalked the mouse into the trees. The wind was blowing into her face, carrying the mouse's scent with it; it had no idea she was there. She stopped a tail-length away and then leapt at the mouse.
It turned, let out a terrified squeak and ran off to a hole among the roots of the tree as Stormpaw lunged for it, and she hit the ground, half-dazed. As she collided with the forest floor a bird nearby let out a squawk and flew up; Stormpaw scrambled to her paws and jumped at it. She caught it in her paws, dropped to the ground and then killed it quickly.
"Good job!" The voice was Rainpaw's; the older apprentice was standing a few fox-lengths away, his eyes glowing with approval.
"But I missed the mouse," Stormpaw pointed out, dropping the bird.
"Doesn't matter. You caught a bird," Rainpaw responded. "You caught it with one of SkyClan's leaps, too. We're just going to have to work some on catching ground prey."
There was a shriek nearby; both cats turned to see Larchpaw holding a mouse in his jaws.
"Great!" Rainpaw meowed upon seeing his catch. "You caught it. Let's go back to camp."
"Aren't we going to catch anything else?" asked Stormpaw, surprised.
Rainpaw shook his head. "No," he answered. "I think that's good for now, and we should be getting back anyway." He padded away and picked up his mouse and the sparrow he'd caught earlier, heading for camp. Stormpaw snatched up the bird she had caught and followed him, Larchpaw on her heels.
The three cats entered the camp not long afterward. The camp was eerily quiet, and then Stormpaw realized that Redpaw and Wildpaw were still out hunting, and Creampaw and the kits were still in the nursery.
Dropping her bird on the fresh-kill pile, Stormpaw turned toward the nursery and squirmed her way in. The branches caught in her pelt as she did so, reminding her that she still needed to weave them in. I'll do that when I get out of here.
"How did Iceriver die?"
The wavering voice of a kit reached Stormpaw's ears, causing them to twitch. It was Featherkit, curled up tightly beside Creampaw. His blue eyes were large and pleading as he asked the cream-colored apprentice the question.
"She died like a warrior," Creampaw meowed. "She was fighting off a huge rogue and sent him running before she died."
Stormpaw's ears pricked. Creampaw wasn't at the battle; how would she know that?
"And Heatherflower?" Shadekit questioned.
"The same way," Creampaw answered. "She was fighting with Iceriver, actually."
Wait - she's making this up to satisfy the kits, isn't she? I'll have to thank her later.
"Stormpaw!" called Morningkit. "Have you brought Iceriver back?"
Stormpaw shook her head. "I told you, Iceriver isn't going to be coming back... I'm sorry."
Morningkit let out a wail and buried her head in her paws. Stormpaw's heart wrenched with grief. How were these kits ever going to survive?
I guess they're going to have to, Stormpaw thought sadly. Just like we did.
Stormpaw padded over the springy grass, a thrush hanging from her jaws. About a quarter moon had passed since she had caught her first prey, and since then Rainpaw had taken her, Larchpaw and, when her leg had recovered, Creampaw out for hunting practice every day. She could tell that she had improved quite a bit with the repeated lessons - she hadn't been on this patrol very long and she had already caught a thrush.
Stormpaw blinked to clear her head. Larchpaw and Rainpaw were looking back at her from a few tail-lengths away, their tails flicking impatiently. Unable to talk, Stormpaw simply bounded over to them.
"Come on," Larchpaw meowed gruffly, padding away. "We're patrolling the RiverClan border."
"Wait," Rainpaw called, and then flicked Stormpaw with his tail. "Bury the thrush," he told her. "It'll be easier to patrol when you don't have dead prey clogging up your jaws." Stormpaw blinked her thanks and trotted off. She buried the bird under a bush with spiky leaves and then returned to the other two toms. Larchpaw was pacing around, tail thrashing irritably, scenting the air every few moments.
"What's wrong?" Stormpaw asked, her fur rising.
"RiverClan scent," Larchpaw growled. "It's very strong. There must be a cat or two around here."
"This close to the border?" Stormpaw replied, astonished. "What for?"
"We have business with SkyClan."
All three cats turned to look at the source of the voice. A tortoiseshell tom was pulling himself out of the river on their side of the bank, followed by a tiny ginger she-kit. He shook his tortoiseshell fur, spraying water everywhere, and then padded over to the three SkyClan apprentices. The ginger kit held back, glancing nervously at the other apprentices.
Upon realizing that the kit was not following, the tortoiseshell turned around. "Come on," he growled, jerking his head toward the SkyClan apprentices. In a softer voice he added, "They're not going to eat you." The ginger kit blinked at the tortoiseshell and then padded quietly over, her head down.
"Why are you here?" Larchpaw muttered. "What business do you have with SkyClan?" The tortoiseshell snorted and tossed his head.
"I'll discuss that with your leader and medicine cat, if you don't mind," he meowed curtly. Stormpaw's ears pricked at his statement.
"Why do you want to talk to Breezepaw?" she asked, tilting her head. The tortoiseshell turned his icy gaze on her.
"I will discuss that with your leader and medicine cat," he replied coolly.
"Larchpaw," Stormpaw hissed, "go get Breezepaw." Larchpaw swept his head around to glare at her instead, before trotting off in the direction of camp.
"She is not your medicine cat, is she?" asked the tortoiseshell.
Stormpaw bristled and drew herself up. "I am the deputy," she told him. "I think I have as much a right to hear what you have to say as Rainpaw. And, if you don't mind my asking, who are you?"
The tortoiseshell blinked. "Sorry for not introducing myself sooner," he meowed. "I am Splashpaw, the leader of RiverClan. This is Foxkit, our medicine cat."
"Why do you have a kit as your medicine cat?" Stormpaw asked. "Are your warriors unable to take care of themselves?"
Splashpaw hissed, his fur standing on end. "I'll have you know, RiverClan warriors are perfectly fine on on their own!" he yowled. Foxkit shrank back, looking terrified.
"Stormpaw," Rainpaw whispered, "that was uncalled for. Apologize!"
Stormpaw blinked. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't mean it like that..."
"Fine, then," Splashpaw meowed, his fur falling flat. Foxkit looked relieved. "Just don't insinuate that we can't survive."
Any reply Stormpaw may have had was cut off by footsteps behind them; Stormpaw turned to see Larchpaw and Breezepaw approaching.
"You wished to speak with me?" Breezepaw meowed politely.
"Yes," Splashpaw replied. "For the past quarter moon, Foxkit here has been acting as our medicine cat. She was interested in herbs and continually visited Swiftsplash before the battle which destroyed the Clans. We figured that her knowledge of herbs was enough to see us through."
"But it wasn't, was it?" Breezepaw murmured. "Or else you wouldn't be here, right?"
"Right," Splashpaw echoed, dipping his head. "Recently, one of our patrols had a spat with a couple of rats. Sparrowpaw was injured, and we believe the wound is infected."
"An infected rat bite?" Breezepaw cut in. "That would be... burdock root, I believe."
Splashpaw blinked and was silent for a heartbeat. He looked over at Foxkit. "Do you know what burdock looks like?" he asked. Foxkit shook her head.
"I can find you some," Breezepaw offered. He padded off, scenting the ground.
"Wait!" Stormpaw called after him. Breezepaw stopped and raised his head.
"If they don't have burdock, I should probably help them out, don't you think? I'm not bound to Clan rivalries." He lowered his head and began scenting the ground again.
Stormpaw sighed. "But that doesn't mean we have to help the enemy," she murmured. Rainpaw touched her side with his tail.
"No," he meowed, "but I believe it's the right thing to do."
"How can the right thing be helping the other Clans?" Stormpaw hissed. "We go to war with them!" She lashed her tail angrily.
"If Trailpaw hadn't helped us, where would we be now?" The speaker this time was not Rainpaw, but rather Larchpaw; the golden tom's eyes were somber. "He showed us how to use the herbs, remember?"
Stormpaw blinked. She hadn't thought of that. But even knowing that the WindClan apprentice was willing to help two complete strangers didn't change the fact that she felt it inherently wrong to help the other Clans.
"Here!" Breezepaw's voice broke her out of her thoughts. He dropped a bunch of plant roots on the ground. "Enough burdock to treat the wound."
Splashpaw dipped his head once more. "Thank you," he meowed, "but before I leave, I have another matter I wish to speak about." Breezepaw nodded, inviting Splashpaw to speak.
"When Sparrowpaw was injured," Splashpaw began, "and Foxkit did not know the treatment, we realized that perhaps relying on a kit who did not know all the herbs was a bad idea. And so, I conferred with my deputy, and we decided that we would... that we would turn to SkyClan for help." He narrowed his eyes as he spoke the last few words; Stormpaw realized that she wouldn't be happy about having to turn to a rival Clan for help, either. "My deputy and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we brought Foxkit here, so that she may be the apprentice of Breezepaw until she has learned enough to return to RiverClan."
Stormpaw blinked, looking from Splashpaw to Foxkit. The kit was shivering, looking wide-eyed up at the SkyClan apprentices with fear in her eyes.
"I don't see why that would be a problem," Rainpaw meowed, "since I think Breezepaw would benefit from training an apprentice."
"What would you do if your cats were injured, though?" Larchpaw pointed out. "Would you come to us every time?"
Splashpaw straightened up, his eyes flashing. Stormpaw guessed Larchpaw had hit a nerve. "No," the tortoiseshell answered. "Before the battle, Swiftsplash gave us all a few lessons on the herbs. After all, we had no medicine cat apprentice that could help during the battle, so we had to know the basics. I daresay our combined knowledge would be enough to treat any injures."
"Do you know how to use the burdock?" Breezepaw asked, tilting his head.
"You apply it, right? Chew it up and put it on the wound?"
Breezepaw nodded. "Yes."
"All right, then," Splashpaw meowed. "I should be getting back to my Clan. Please -" he narrowed his eyes menacingly - "don't let any harm come to Foxkit. For the sake of my Clan."
Rainpaw laughed. "We won't, trust us," he answered, grinning. "We don't eat kits. Come on, Foxkit; we should be getting back."
The four SkyClan apprentices and the RiverClan kit padded away from the river. Stormpaw cast a glance over her shoulder; Splashpaw was swimming back across the river, his tortoiseshell fur drenched. How do RiverClan stand water? she wondered. I would not want to be a RiverClan cat.
It was well past sunhigh when the cats returned to the camp. The four apprentices entered the camp swiftly, but Foxkit hesitated.
"What's wrong, Foxkit?" asked Stormpaw.
"They're not going to like me, are they?" Foxkit mewed, her eyes wide. "Your Clanmates, I mean?"
Stormpaw paused. She hadn't thought of how the other cats would react, but if Larchpaw was fine with it, she figured the rest of the Clan would be, too.
"Well, they're not going to drive you out," she reassured the kit. "Rainpaw's fine with it - no cat would disobey him."
"Well, if you're sure..." Foxkit still sounded worried, but she padded past Stormpaw and into the camp.
Rainpaw was already standing on the hill at the far end of the hollow, which had been unofficially established as the place Rainpaw made his announcements from - the Tallhill. He was calling the summons as Stormpaw padded forward. The other three SkyClan apprentices, as well as all the kits, left the dens to gather beneath the Tallhill.
"During our patrol," Rainpaw meowed, "we ran into RiverClan's leader, Splashpaw. He has requested that, for the welfare of his Clan, we allow Breezepaw to train the future RiverClan medicine cat, Foxkit."
"Why would we allow a RiverClan kit in our Clan?" Wildpaw called. "Can they not train Foxkit themselves?"
Rainpaw dipped his head to his sister. "I understand your concerns, but Splashpaw has told us that one of his warriors was injured and Foxkit did not know the cure. He feels that it's a better idea to have a medicine cat from another Clan train Foxkit. If any of you disapprove, speak up now."
There was silence.
"If that is all, then I suppose the necessary ceremony must be performed." Rainpaw jumped down from the Tallhill and padded over to Foxkit. "Foxkit, from this day forward you will be known as Foxpaw." Chants of "Foxpaw! Foxpaw!" broke out as soon as he spoke the words, but he quickly raised his tail and the cheering quieted. "Breezepaw, you are SkyClan's faithful medicine cat, and I trust that you will be able to teach Foxpaw the ways of the herbs."
Breezepaw nodded. "I will do my best, Rainpaw."
"If that is all," Rainpaw finished, "Foxpaw, welcome to SkyClan."
Rain pelted the moorland, slicking Stormpaw's fur to her already-drenched body as she padded over the slick grass, her paws sinking into mud with every step. The kits racing ahead of her seemed unbothered by it; even when Featherkit slipped and got covered in mud he sprang back to his paws, shook his pelt and then bounded after the other kits.
"Is this a herb?" called Shadekit over the wind. Breezepaw and Foxpaw padded over to sniff it; after a heartbeat Breezepaw shook his head.
"It's just gorse," he told the she-cat discouragingly. "The only thing it's good for is cutting your pelt up."
Stormpaw, the two medicine cats, and all the SkyClan kits were out on a patrol, both to find herbs and see if they could pick any prey up. Stormpaw had doubted that the kits and the medicine cats would be able to find anything; she had caught a few pieces of prey, and through teamwork a few of the kits had managed to catch a squirrel, but the rain had started shortly after that and all the prey had retreated to their burrows. The prey is sensible, Stormpaw thought as she slogged through another puddle. We should be tucked into our dens too.
"Are we even going to find anything in this weather?" Stormpaw grumbled, flicking mud off her paws. "I would think the herbs would rot if you left them out like this!"
"We could dry them in the sun," Foxpaw suggested, looking up with bright eyes. Water streamed from her ginger fur; Stormpaw felt jealous that her pelt didn't hold water and wished the same was true of her own soaked fur.
Breezepaw shook his head. "We could," he answered, "but it's going to be too long before it stops raining, and they would rot faster. Stormpaw's right; we should wait until it's sunny out."
Thank StarClan! Any more water in her fur and she would turn into a fish. She turned away, first checking to make sure Breezepaw, Foxpaw and the kits were following, before bounding back in the direction of camp.
"Stormpaw?" Rainpaw padded from the camp entrance as she approached, his hears pricked with surprise. "What are you doing back so early?"
"The rain stopped us." Stormpaw padded into camp and under one of the unused gorse bushes; she shook her fur out before sitting down to lick the mud from her paws. "You can't get herbs very well when it's raining," she told Rainpaw. "They don't get to dry out and they end up rotting."
"You certainly know a lot about medicine for a warrior," Rainpaw meowed with amusement, padding over to her. "Are you thinking of becoming Breezepaw's apprentice?"
Stormpaw looked up from her licking. "Don't be silly," she meowed jokingly. "He's already got an apprentice. And besides, if I wanted to be a medicine cat apprentice, I would have said something to Mousefoot or Breezepaw by now!"
Rainpaw rolled his eyes and padded away, grumbling about the mud in his paws as he left. Stormpaw got up and followed him to the entrance of his den.
"Rainpaw," she meowed, "I have to talk to you."
Rainpaw turned and sat down, sheltered slightly by the branches of his den so that the rain didn't drip onto him. The den wasn't quite big enough for two cats, so Stormpaw stood outside, not wanting to sit down and get even more mud in her pelt. "What is it?" asked Rainpaw, tipping his head to one side.
"It's Heatherflower's kits," Stormpaw began. "They're almost ready to be apprentices. Today when we were on patrol a few of her kits caught a squirrel." She blinked as she realized that the patrol had forgotten the prey, buried on the moorland. "W-We forgot to bring the prey back," she stammered.
Rainpaw flicked his tail. "You can take a patrol to go recover it after this conversation's over. So you think the kits should be apprenticed?"
"They're not that much younger than me or Foxpaw, really," Stormpaw told him. "They don't have to be exactly six moons to be apprenticed - they just need to be around that age, right?"
Rainpaw nodded. "I think you're right, yes," he meowed, mulling it over. "We'll have the ceremony tomorrow." Stormpaw nodded her approval and turned to leave.
"Wait," Rainpaw called softly. Stormpaw turned around, tilting her head. What else did the SkyClan leader have to say?
"You'll be one of the mentors," Rainpaw told her. "We agreed on this when you became deputy. Which kit do you want to mentor?"
Stormpaw felt her fur grow hot. She didn't want to play favorites here; she'd rather Rainpaw keep it a surprise. "It doesn't matter to me," she responded.
Rainpaw nodded. "Alright, then," he meowed. "Off you go." He smiled good-naturedly as he flicked his tail, an indication that he wanted Stormpaw to leave. Stormpaw rolled her eyes and left the den.
"Cats of SkyClan! Gather here beneath the Tallhill for a Clan meeting."
Stormpaw couldn't help but grin as the cats of SkyClan emerged from their dens, heading toward the Tallhill where Rainpaw made his announcements. She purred as Heatherflower's kits tumbled from the nursery, their pelts dusty and unkempt. Upon spotting them, Creampaw rushed over and began licking them fiercely. The kits and Creampaw had developed a close bond when Creampaw had stayed with them in the nursery, despite the fact that Creampaw wasn't even a moon older than them. Well, it was good that they had a mother figure, at least; they were going to need someone to turn to if their own mothers were never going to return.
"Pinekit," Rainpaw meowed, beckoning the dark gray tom forward. He broke away from Creampaw's fierce licking and padded forward, his head and tail held high. "From this day forward, you will be known as Pinepaw. I will be Pinepaw's mentor."
Murmurs went up around the crowd, and Rainpaw flicked his ear self-consciously. "I know that it's probably better for the other warriors to get apprentices, rather than me," he added, "but I became leader without ever having an apprentice, and I would have needed one to become deputy. Just taking Stormpaw, Larchpaw and Creampaw out for training isn't quite enough." Stormpaw felt the familiar rush of embarrassment that she should be in the position of deputy when she was such a young, inexperienced apprentice, and it intensified as Wildpaw and Redpaw turned to look at her. She twitched her whiskers, unsure of how to act.
"Yellowkit," Rainpaw called, breaking the silence and relieving Stormpaw. The small golden kit stepped forward, shaking nervously. "Yellowkit, from this day forward you will be known as Yellowpaw." The newly-named Yellowpaw looked up at Rainpaw, eyes wide, as Rainpaw blinked down at her. "Your mentor will be Redpaw."
Phew, thought Stormpaw. Redpaw was a good choice for deputy; perhaps having an apprentice would enable him to become deputy later on. But that would only happen if something happened to me or Rainpaw. She shuddered at the thought; the warrior code said she was supposed to protect her Clan with her life if necessary, but at the same time she didn't want anything to happen to her or Rainpaw. Let's just hope it doesn't.
"Shadekit," Rainpaw called. The black she-kit padded forward, copying her brother. Her green eyes were shining as she looked up at the leader. "Shadekit, from this day forward you will be known as Shadepaw. Your mentor will be -"
"Wait!" called Shadepaw. Rainpaw stopped mid-sentence, his blue eyes wide with surprise. Stormpaw flicked her tail impatiently. What was so important that Shadepaw had to interrupt the ceremony?
"I want to be Breezepaw's apprentice," Shadepaw meowed, casting a glance over at the pale medicine cat. Foxpaw flattened her ears. "I want to be a medicine cat!"
Rainpaw shook his head; Shadepaw flattened her ears in distress. "Sorry, Shadepaw," Rainpaw answered, "but Foxpaw's already Breezepaw's apprentice."
"I know that," Shadepaw spat, her tail bristling. "But she's just a RiverClan kit! Why can't he have an apprentice in SkyClan too?"
Foxpaw hissed, baring her teeth. Breezepaw touched his tail to her side, looking worried. Rainpaw shook his head again.
"Not only would that be too much for one cat - and one who is not fully trained, at that - to handle, but SkyClan needs warriors far more desperately than it needs medicine cats. Breezepaw's not going to die for a long time yet, but we only have a pawful of warriors and few apprentices. I'm sorry, Shadepaw," he added as the young apprentice hissed in annoyance, "but that's the way it has to be. If Foxpaw goes back to RiverClan, and if we're lucky enough to have enough warriors that we can spare one, maybe you can talk to Breezepaw. But for now..." He broke off and looked directly at Stormpaw. "Stormpaw will be your mentor."
Stormpaw's heart sank. Mentoring an apprentice at her young age was going to be difficult enough as it was, without the apprentice in question being upset over not getting to be a medicine cat. Whatever, she thought. I can't really refuse her. She stepped forward, her paws heavy, and gently touched noses with her new apprentice. Shadepaw's eyes were smoldering angrily. Not that I can blame her, but I hope she doesn't stay like this. Then the touch was gone, and Shadepaw was retreating into the small crowd.
"Barkkit," Rainpaw called, addressing the last of the four kits. The tabby kit rushed forward, excitement in his amber eyes, and he flicked his tail restlessly as Rainpaw continued. "From this day forward, you will be known as Barkpaw. Wildpaw will be your mentor." The tortoiseshell apprentice stepped forward and touched noses; almost immediately Barkpaw began pacing in circles around his mentor, his whiskers twitching.
"What are we going to do today, Wildpaw? Hunting? Battle practice?" He hardly waited for an answer before he bounded away, almost leaving the camp before Wildpaw called him back, purring.
"Just wait and see," she meowed, turning away as Barkpaw followed, bouncing around. Realizing she needed to talk to her own apprentice, Stormpaw quickly jerked her head back to the crowd; Shadepaw was standing there, looking sullen.
"I wanted to be a medicine cat," she muttered. Stormpaw sighed.
"I know," she replied, locking gazes with the younger she-cat. "But there's nothing we can do about that right now. So instead of being so upset, can you try to make the best of it? For the sake of the Clan," she added quickly as Shadepaw glared at her.
"Fine," Shadepaw meowed grudgingly. "But I'm not going to like it."
"I know," Stormpaw said again. "I'll do all I can to make your apprenticeship make up for not getting to be a medicine cat, I promise."
Shadepaw looked up, sighing. "All right," she murmured. "So what are we doing today?"
Stormpaw twitched her whiskers. This was certainly going to be an interesting apprenticeship.
Stormpaw padded over the rippling grass, her ears alert for any sounds at all, her nose scenting for prey. The smell of a squirrel reached her nose, and she looked around for the source - there! A bundle of gray fur was hopping across the field. Stormpaw crouched down and stalked forward, preparing to leap, when a flash of black fur cut across her path. The squirrel looked up, alarmed, and began to run away.
"Shadepaw!" Stormpaw called, looking after her apprentice. "What are you doing? I told you to watch me, not to go after the squirrel yourself!"
Shadepaw did not reply. Instead she continued after the squirrel, until it veered away from her and leaped wildly for a tree. She jumped after it, her strong SkyClan legs propelling her into the air, but the squirrel was faster; her claws only snagged its tail and she fell back, hissing in rage.
Stormpaw padded over to her, her tail stiff and upright. "What did I tell you earlier?" she asked as Shadepaw flipped over and stood up, glaring at Stormpaw.
"Well, you weren't about to catch it anytime soon, with how slow you were going!" she hissed back, her black fur bristling. "It's easier just to run at it!"
"But did you catch it?" asked Stormpaw dryly. Shadepaw shook her head.
"But I could have!" she protested angrily. "If only I had been a little faster, or jumped a little bit higher, or -" She spluttered as Stormpaw swept her tail around to cover the younger apprentice's mouth. Shadepaw glared at her.
"You weren't," Stormpaw meowed bluntly. "I was downwind from it, and I would have had it if you hadn't thought you could do a better job than me."
"You're not a true mentor," Shadepaw spat when Stormpaw moved her tail. "You're not a warrior, you're just an apprentice that's a few days older than me! I wish I had Breezepaw as my mentor!" Without giving Stormpaw a chance to respond, the black she-cat spun around and raced back to the SkyClan camp. Stormpaw stared after, hurt by Shadepaw's anger, although she wasn't about to admit it. StarClan, why did I have to get such a bad-tempered cat as my first apprentice? Sighing heavily, she followed Shadepaw back to the SkyClan camp.
When she arrived, she almost bumped into Rainpaw and Pinepaw, who were about to leave the camp on a hunting patrol. Rainpaw looked at her quizzically, his whiskers twitching, and then asked "Why did Shadepaw come back on her own?"
Stormpaw sighed, her ears falling flat against her head. "We had a falling out," she explained. "Shadepaw thinks I'm not fit to be her mentor." Looking past Rainpaw, Stormpaw saw the small black apprentice eating fresh-kill with Creampaw; as she watched, Shadepaw looked up and met her gaze, and then muttered something to Creampaw before retreating into the apprentices' den, her tail drooping. Rainpaw turned and followed her gaze, and then he looked worriedly back at Stormpaw.
"I think you're going to need to go talk to her," Rainpaw meowed, amusement in his mew. Stormpaw snorted and butted Rainpaw's shoulder with her head, glaring at him with faux annoyance. Rainpaw simply shook his head and left without responding, a slightly confused Pinepaw in tow.
Slightly cheered up, Stormpaw padded into the camp proper and over to Creampaw, who was still eating outside the warriors' den. She flicked her ears in recognition as Stormpaw padded up and sat down beside her.
"Did Shadepaw say anything about me?" she asked anxiously, more worried than she would admit about what her apprentice felt toward her.
Creampaw sighed and twitched her whiskers. "She was complaining about how you were being too harsh," meowed the cream-colored she-cat. "She -"
"But I wasn't being too harsh!" Stormpaw protested, her voice rising to a whine. "I -"
"Well, she seems to think that you were," Creampaw interrupted. "She was talking about how you were scolding her for not catching a piece of prey, how you were saying you could do so much better."
"She was exaggerating," Stormpaw hissed, frustrated. "I was stalking a squirrel, and then she came in out of nowhere and tried to catch it, but it escaped up a tree. All I was saying was that she should have been watching what I was doing instead of trying to catch it herself!"
Creampaw twitched her ears. "She was probably just upset," she meowed, defending the cat that she had looked after when she was in the nursery. "I can't say I blame her."
Stormpaw sighed. "She's acting like my not being a warrior is somehow my fault, despite the fact that none of us could do anything about what happened." She paced in a circle, agitated. "And of course I didn't pick myself as deputy, nor did I pick her as my apprentice. I feel like I'm being blamed for everything."
"You're not, Stormpaw," Creampaw meowed soothingly, resting her thick tail on Stormpaw's shoulder. "She's just sensitive and... kind of grumpy. You should try to be a bit more understanding when she gets upset."
"Maybe." Somehow Stormpaw was unconvinced. "But I'm not going to try to rearrange my entire life around this cat. If I'm unknowingly harsh at times, she's going to have to deal with it."
"Don't be too harsh," Creampaw protested, her green eyes serious. "Just be patient, all right? At least until she warms up to you."
"I don't know how long that will be," Stormpaw muttered, turning away. "She'd much rather have Breezepaw as a mentor than me."
"Once she understands that that's not going to be possible for a while, I'm sure she'll get a little less harsh toward you," Creampaw meowed. "Now you'd better go find her, before she goes to pester Breezepaw." The cream-colored she-cat's tone was lighthearted, and again Stormpaw felt cheered as she headed toward the apprentices' den.
"Shadepaw?" she called, peering inside. Unfortunately, the black apprentice wasn't in there. "Oh, no," she murmured. "Creampaw, do you know where Shadepaw went?"
Creampaw flicked her ears worriedly. "No," she meowed. "But we didn't see her when we were talking. Follow her scent." Stormpaw nodded and opened the air to scent it, and almost immediately she scented Shadepaw's familiar scent leading away from the back of the apprentices' den - she must have gone out the back so that Stormpaw and Creampaw wouldn't see her. What for, I wonder? Following her scent, she discovered that it led to the boulder where Breezepaw and Foxpaw had their den. Her heart sinking, Stormpaw padded up to the boulder.
As she approached, faint mews caught her attention; when she was able to make them out she heard "... and this herb is comfrey, right? It's used for scratches?"
"Yes," meowed Breezepaw patiently. Stormpaw could now see the pale gray medicine cat; he and Foxpaw were sorting herbs, while Shadepaw was looking on with a distinct fascination that she hadn't shown earlier, when Stormpaw had been trying to teach her how to hunt. "It's also used for..." Breezepaw's voice trailed off as he saw Stormpaw. Shadepaw turned around to see what he was looking at, and her face visibly fell.
"Oh," Shadepaw muttered, her ears flat against her head, purposefully avoiding Stormpaw's gaze.
All four cats were silent for a moment before Breezepaw meowed "Shadepaw, I'm sorry, but I think you should probably go."
Stormpaw braced herself for Shadepaw to make an angry retort, but the she-cat simply meowed "I know." and padded toward Stormpaw, still not catching her gaze.
"What's wrong?" Stormpaw asked, desperate to know what was up with her apprentice. "Did I do something wrong again?"
"No," Shadepaw grumbled. "I just wanted to be left alone. I didn't really want to talk to you right now."
Biting back anger at her apprentice, Stormpaw nodded. "I can understand. I'll leave you alone for today, but tomorrow, we're going out for battle practice, okay?"
That did not cheer Shadepaw up; if anything, she looked more despondent. "Okay," she meowed again, and turned around and went back to Breezepaw and Foxpaw. Stormpaw was about to call her back - she knew she didn't want to let Shadepaw get too involved in the study of medicine - but a touch on her shoulder stopped her; she turned to see Creampaw, looking troubled.
"Just leave her," the she-cat said. "She'll come around eventually."
Stormpaw sighed. "Thanks," she meowed. Trying her best to brighten up, she added "Do you want to go on a border patrol with me?"
Creampaw's ears pricked. "Why not?" she meowed. "I'll be right there - I have to tell someone where we're going first so they don't think our deputy got kidnapped."
Purring with amusement, Stormpaw padded toward the camp entrance as Creampaw scampered off to the warriors' den. She hadn't been gone for more than a couple of heartbeats before she returned, and the two sisters raced out of camp. The feeling of wind through her fur exhilarated Stormpaw, and for the time being she was able to put Shadepaw's anger out of her mind.
Stormpaw raced across the moorland, the wind at her back. Creampaw kept pace with her; Stormpaw thought that she must still be in pain from when her leg had been injured, but if she was she didn’t show it. The two sisters were heading to mark the borders; they were headed toward the WindClan border now. As they slowed to a walk and padded to the top of a hill, they were both surprised at what they saw: a WindClan patrol, within SkyClan borders. The two she-cats exchanged a glance and picked their way down the slope to see what was going on.
“Exactly what do you think you’re doing?” asked Creampaw as they approached the WindClan patrol - four cats. One of them, a dark golden tom, looked up.
“What does it look like we’re doing?” he asked. “We’re marking the border.”
“Inside SkyClan borders? Oh, no, you’re not.” Stormpaw took a step forward and bared her teeth.
“You’re outnumbered,” the golden tom remarked casually. “I suggest you don’t try to fight us unless you want some serious injuries.”
Stormpaw exchanged a worried glance with Creampaw. The tom was right: they were outnumbered, and outclassed. Stormpaw looked back at the patrol.
“Well, at least tell us what you’re doing on our territory,” she hissed, exasperated.
One of the cats, a small light brown tom, glared at her. “We don’t have to answer to you,” he spat. “You’re just a SkyClan cat!”
“Shut up, Hawkpaw!” The speaker, a blue-gray she-cat, clouted Hawkpaw’s head with a paw. “We are on their territory.”
“And what we want to know is why,” Creampaw added.
The golden tom rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he meowed. “You want to know why we’re trespassing on SkyClan territory? It’s because we need it, okay?”
“What?” screeched Stormpaw angrily. “What in the name of StarClan is that supposed to mean?”
The tom narrowed his eyes. “Our territory doesn’t carry enough prey to support our entire Clan,” he explained. “We need some more territory.”
“Wh - not enough prey?” Creampaw repeated.
“Your Clan’s as big as ours!” Stormpaw yowled. “There shouldn’t be any difference in prey!”
The tom sighed. “It’s leaf-bare, mousebrain,” he told her, speaking slowly and carefully, as if he thought Stormpaw were stupid. Her tail bristled angrily as the tom continued “The rabbits all go hide in the winter and we can’t catch them. We don’t have a lot of other prey options.”
“And you think we do?” Creampaw asked. “We have a few trees, and that’s it!”
“With trees come squirrels and birds,” the tom pointed out. “More prey for us.”
“But you can’t just expect to get away with stealing our territory!” Stormpaw protested. “Go to ThunderClan or something, they’re more likely to have good prey.”
Hawkpaw and the blue-gray she-cat exchanged a nervous glance while the golden tom looked down and muttered, “No.”
“And why not?” asked Creampaw angrily, taking a step forward.
Annoyed, the golden tom retorted with “Look, we don’t have to answer to you. If you want the territory that bad, you’ll fight for it.”
“No,” Stormpaw muttered, knowing well the injuries that would come from fighting a patrol that had twice as many cats. She knew that she should go get Rainpaw and her other Clanmates first. “But we’ll be back, mind you. Don’t think that you can take SkyClan’s territory that easily!” With that, she and Creampaw turned and raced back across the fields, to the camp entrance.
When they reached the camp, they found that Rainpaw and Pinepaw had not returned yet. Instead, Redpaw and Yellowpaw had just returned from gathering moss.
“Redpaw, can I talk to you for a moment?” Stormpaw asked, padding over to talk to the other warrior. Redpaw flicked his ears, signaling Stormpaw to wait a bit, and put down the moss.
“You know how to spread it out,” he meowed to Yellowpaw. “Go get started. I’ll come help you in a moment.”
Yellowpaw let out a quiet sigh and headed off to the nursery, a ball of moss in her mouth. Redpaw watched her until she was out of earshot, and then turned back to Stormpaw. “Go ahead,” he meowed, sitting down and curling his tail over his paws.
“There’s a WindClan patrol trying to mark new borders inside our scentline,” she meowed. “I wanted to drive them off, but Creampaw and I can’t do it alone; I was wondering if you would think it was a good idea to gather a larger patrol and attack.”
“You’re the deputy,” Redpaw replied calmly, flicking his ears. “It’s your choice.”
“W-well,” Stormpaw stammered nervously, not used to being put into this kind of position, “I wanted to, but I’m not sure we can afford the injures.”
“But WindClan will think we’re weak otherwise,” Creampaw put in, speaking for the first time since the conversation had started. She flexed her claws over the grass. “I say we attack.”
“That’s a good point,” Redpaw agreed, nodding.
“Before we know it, RiverClan could be trying to steal our territory next. We don’t want to appear weak, not when we’re trying to recover from the battle as it is,” Creampaw added.
“That’s good enough for me,” Stormpaw meowed. “Do you want to be part of the patrol?”
“Sure,” Redpaw responded, rising to his paws. “Let me go fetch Yellowpaw.” He padded off, and Stormpaw and Creampaw exchanged a glance.
“Who else is still in camp?” asked Stormpaw.
“Shadepaw,” Creampaw told her. “Unless she left the camp for some reason.”
“I didn’t assign any patrols for this time,” Stormpaw mused. “With luck she’s still in camp.” She padded over to the apprentices’ den and peeked inside; it was empty.
“Perhaps she’s still in Breezepaw’s den?” suggested Creampaw.
“Perhaps,” meowed Stormpaw, a sinking feeling in her stomach. She should never have let Shadepaw have her way with the medicine cat. Too much exposure to Breezepaw and Foxpaw and the young she-cat would never leave the medicine den. I’m going to have to make sure to keep up her warrior training from now on and try not to leave her alone in camp for too long. She padded over to the medicine cats’ den and called out “Shadepaw?”
“Yeah?” A dark head looked up; two green eyes glowed in the semi-darkness. “Oh. Stormpaw. What is it?” Shadepaw padded out from the den, ears flat to her head.
Anger spilling over, Stormpaw hissed “Look, Shadepaw, I’m your mentor and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now, unless you want to be gathering moss your entire apprenticeship while the rest of your siblings become warriors...”
Shadepaw’s eyes widened. “No! I -”
“Then I suggest you stop being so disrespectful!” Stormpaw closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them she continued “Now, WindClan are down at our border, trying to steal our territory. Do you want -”
“I say we fight them,” Shadepaw interrupted, baring her teeth. “What about you?”
“... I take that as a yes,” Stormpaw meowed with amusement, turning away. “Come on, then. We’re going now.”
Shadepaw trotted after her to where Creampaw, Redpaw and Yellowpaw were waiting near the entrance to camp. “Ready?” Stormpaw asked, assessing the cats. They all nodded vigorously, except for Shadepaw, who growled and flexed her claws.
“Let’s go,” Stormpaw meowed, and the five-cat patrol shot out of camp and over the moorland. Stormpaw knew there was a chance that the WindClan patrol had already returned to camp, but - no, she could see them huddled around the base of one of the trees in the territory they had annexed, watching as the blue-gray she-cat they had seen earlier attempted to climb the tree.
Letting out a fierce battle cry, Shadepaw hared down the hill toward the four WindClan cats. Inwardly cursing her headstrong apprentice but not about to let the opportunity go to waste, Stormpaw followed her, along with the other three SkyClan cats. Shadepaw bowled over the dark golden tom and began to tussle with him; Stormpaw saw no more as the blue-gray she-cat dropped onto her back from the tree. Hey - that’s our move! she thought as she tried to roll over and crush the she-cat beneath her. The she-cat squirmed out from under her and raked her claws along Stormpaw’s flank. Stormpaw hissed in response and leapt at the she-cat; she easily avoided Stormpaw’s outstretched claws and Stormpaw skidded to a halt. Teeth met in her tail; Stormpaw gave an angry yowl and tore her tail away from the jaws holding it, feeling hairs rip as she did so. She sprang into the air, not giving her opponent time to react before she dropped onto her back, the force of her fall causing the she-cat’s legs to give way. Stormpaw flipped the she-cat over with a paw and sliced down her belly; the she-cat yowled in pain.
“Get off our territory,” Stormpaw meowed, hissing in the she-cat’s face. “Or I’m going to be causing you a lot more damage than that!” She held the squirming she-cat down for another heartbeat before releasing her; the she-cat turned and fled.
“Stormpaw? Redpaw? What in the name of StarClan is going on down here?”
All the cats - WindClan and SkyClan alike - turned to face the source of the voice. Rainpaw was standing at the top of the hill, a rabbit resting at his paws. As they watched, Pinepaw appeared at the top of the hill, a sparrow in his jaws. He dropped it in surprise and looked at Rainpaw for an explanation.
“They were trying to steal our territory, Rainpaw,” Creampaw meowed, her sides bloody and heaving.
Rainpaw’s eyes narrowed. His gaze snapped to Stormpaw. “Is this true?”
Stormpaw bowed her head. “They were,” she confirmed. “I was with Creampaw - we were patrolling and found this sorry bunch of cats trying to encroach on our territory.” One of the WindClan cats hissed at her words and she turned to face them. “Well, you are a sorry bunch of cats! Trying to steal our ter -” She broke off as Rainpaw hissed sharply.
“Stormpaw, that’s enough! I’ll deal with this now.” He padded down the hill, flicking his tail to tell Pinepaw to remain at the top of the hill. He stalked forward until he was face-to-face with the dark golden tom.
“Get off our territory,” he hissed into the cat’s face. To his credit, he didn’t flinch, but his ears flattened. “You’re outnumbered even worse now. Go back to your camp.”
The tom growled in defeat. “Fine,” he muttered. “You may have beat us this time, but WindClan need more prey, and by StarClan we’re going to take it! Come on.” He gathered the other two cats and padded away. All three cats occasionally cast angry glances back at the SkyClan cats as they went.
“Whose idea was it to drive them off?” asked Rainpaw after the WindClan cats had gone. All of the other cats looked at Stormpaw, whose ears flattened. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad,” Rainpaw meowed hastily. “No, to be honest I’m kind of glad. I can’t be around to instruct you all the time; it’s good that you took charge to arrange this patrol yourself. And we can’t let SkyClan appear weak.”
Shocked that Rainpaw wasn’t angry, Stormpaw stammered, “Th-thank you, Rainpaw.”
Rainpaw turned away and coughed slightly before gruffly meowing, “You go back to camp. Pinepaw and I are uninjured; we’ll stay here to mark the proper border.” He flicked his tail to signal Pinepaw to come down the hill, and added, “Pinepaw, leave your prey; someone from this patrol will get it.” He and Pinepaw padded over to the battle site while Stormpaw led the bloody, ragged patrol back to camp.
Great StarClan, we’ve been here all of a quarter moon and we already get into a battle over borders! Please don’t tell me it’s always going to be like this.
As she led the patrol into the camp, she couldn’t help but dread the days to come.
“What happened to you?” asked Breezepaw as the patrol padded back into camp, carrying Rainpaw's and Pinepaw’s fresh-kill.
“WindClan happened, that’s what,” muttered Yellowpaw. “They were within our borders.”
“What?” hissed Larchpaw. The golden tom was padding out of the warriors’ den, blinking sleep from his eyes. “They were on our territory? Are they crazy?”
“Apparently so,” Shadepaw muttered. “We had to fight them to get them to leave.”
“That explains the scratches,” Foxpaw murmured, emerging from the back of the medicine cats’ den. “What should we give them, Breezepaw? Goldenrod poultice?”
“That sounds right,” Breezepaw responded, turning back. “Do we have enough goldenrod to treat everyone?”
Foxpaw disappeared into the darkness of the den; a moment later she called back, “Yeah! Do you want me to start mixing the herbs?”
“I’ll come help you in a moment,” Breezepaw told her. Padding forward, he inspected Stormpaw’s wounds as the black-and-gray she-cat sat down to begin looking at them. “They don’t look too bad,” he meowed, to Stormpaw’s relief. “I don’t think you need much treatment; they look like they’ve stopped bleeding already. Just try not to reopen them for the next few days.”
“Will do,” Stormpaw responded between licks. “What about the others?”
“I don’t know, mousebrain, I haven’t inspected them yet.” Purring with amusement, Breezepaw padded off to inspect the rest of her patrol. As she continued licking, Stormpaw discovered that Breezepaw was right: her wounds had stopped bleeding. Rising to her paws, she followed Breezepaw over to Shadepaw; the black she-cat was growling in frustration as she pressed one paw gingerly to the ground.
“What happened?” Stormpaw asked. Both Breezepaw and Shadepaw looked up at her.
“My paw,” Shadepaw hissed. “One of those mangy WindClan cats sliced it and it’s hard for me to walk.” She looked up at Breezepaw. “What can you do for it?”
“The only thing I can do is apply the poultice,” the gray medicine cat responded. “It’s going to be a little while before you fully heal.”
“Will she still be able to train?” Stormpaw asked nervously; as annoying as her apprentice was, she still found herself a bit worried.
“In a few days,” Breezepaw responded patiently. “She’s cut it badly and it needs time to repair itself.”
Sighing with anger, Stormpaw turned away and padded back to the warriors’ den. When she was about to duck under the branches, a quiet whispering behind her stopped her; she pricked her ears to listen.
“You ask her! You’re the one that came up with the idea!”
“But you’re the one who suggested that we ask Rainpaw!”
“But you’re the one who told me that Rainpaw left!”
Stormpaw turned around to face the two remaining kits, Featherkit and Morningkit. At the sight of the SkyClan deputy, they shrunk back.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I told you she would hear us,” Morningkit whispered. “You tell her!”
“No, you tell her!”
“Look,” Stormpaw interrupted, “for StarClan’s sake, what is it?”
Both kits were silent, nudging each other as they tried to get the other to talk.
“If neither of you tells me what it is within the next five heartbeats,” Stormpaw meowed, “I’m going to leave right now.”
At this, both kits’ heads snapped up.
“- we were wondering -”
“- even though we’re not apprentices -”
“- there’s no other kits in the nursery -”
“- only two moons old -”
“- stay in the apprentices’ den -”
“- Iceriver not coming back -”
“Whoa, whoa,” Stormpaw interrupted again, “give me time to make sense of this. Are you saying you want to sleep in the apprentices’ den?”
The kits exchanged a fearful glance and then nodded.
“I don’t see why that should be a problem,” Stormpaw responded. “I’ll have to check with Rainpaw, but there’s no reason not to.”
“Thanks, Stormpaw!” The two kits darted back to the nursery. Stormpaw could hear Featherkit meow, “I told you she wouldn’t be mad!” as they went.
Purring with amusement, Stormpaw ducked into the warriors’ den to see who was still in there. Larchpaw was resting on the moss, his paws tucked over his nose; apparently he had fallen back asleep after coming to see what had happened to Stormpaw’s patrol. That’s all the cats accounted for, except - well, Wildpaw and Barkpaw. She backed out of the den and padded over to where Breezepaw and Foxpaw were treating the last cat, Yellowpaw.
“Hey, do you know where Wildpaw went?” Stormpaw asked, walking up to Breezepaw.
“I think I saw her leave camp with Barkpaw after the naming ceremony earlier,” Yellowpaw replied. “She said she was going to go do battle training or something.”
Stormpaw nodded. “Thanks, Yellowpaw.” She turned away, looking for Redpaw. The tom was heading over to the fresh-kill pile, his pelt smoothed down from licking. He didn’t seem to have sustained any serious injuries from the battle earlier. “How was the battle?” she asked as Redpaw picked a pigeon from the pile and settled down to eat it. She grabbed a mouse for herself and padded over to join him.
“Not too bad,” Redpaw meowed through the fresh-kill in his mouth. “I didn’t get injured too badly, and neither did Yellowpaw.”
“That’s good to hear,” Stormpaw responded, taking a bite from her own fresh-kill. “Speaking of which, how was your first day training Yellowpaw?”
Redpaw purred. “She’s very mischievous,” he meowed. “Quite a pawful, really. She kept chasing after birds whenever we saw them, even though all we were doing was collecting moss. But I think she might make a good warrior; she’s eager to learn and quick to react. What about Shadepaw?”
Stormpaw sighed. “She hates me,” she muttered. Redpaw looked at her in alarm, and Stormpaw quickly amended, “No - well - she doesn’t hate me, but she resents me. It’s easy to see she doesn’t respect me because I’m not a proper warrior, and because I’m her mentor and not Breezepaw.”
“She’s going to have to get used to it,” Redpaw pointed out.
“I know - that’s what I told her.” Stormpaw shook her head. “This is going to be one ridiculous apprenticeship.”
Redpaw purred. “I bet you’d rather have Yellowpaw, huh?” he asked.
“Actually, yes,” Stormpaw responded. “But I can’t do anything about that now.” Stormpaw finished her fresh-kill, and then rose to her paws. “Do you want to go on a hunting patrol with me?” she asked Redpaw, who was finishing his own fresh-kill.
“Sure,” he responded. “Just let me see if Yellowpaw can come.” He padded over to Yellowpaw, who appeared to be heading toward the empty apprentices’ den. The sun was beginning to sink; Stormpaw figured that Yellowpaw was going to try and get to sleep before her siblings came in and made a racket. Stormpaw could hear the faint mews of Redpaw and Yellowpaw, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Stormpaw, where are you going?”
Stormpaw jumped at the voice - she hadn’t heard or scented anyone approaching - and turned around to see Rainpaw and Pinepaw at the camp entrance. Rainpaw’s ears twitched with amusement.
“Hunting patrol,” Stormpaw explained. “Redpaw’s fetching Yellowpaw.”
Rainpaw nodded. “That’s fine. By the way, I’ll take the dawn patrol tomorrow. Pinepaw could use the experience. Who should I take with me?”
Slightly surprised that Rainpaw was asking her opinion when it was his patrol, Stormpaw responded, “Er... how about Larchpaw? And I’ll go with you too.”
“No, you don’t have to,” Rainpaw replied, flicking his ears. “You’ve been out three times today; StarClan knows you need some rest.”
“Er... thanks,” Stormpaw stammered, slightly embarrassed. “Um... take Creampaw too, I guess? You can try and train Creampaw and Larchpaw while you’re out; I mean, neither of them have apprentices...”
“You’re right; I will.” Rainpaw padded past Stormpaw, then turned and asked “Should I tell them?”
“I’m leaving now,” Stormpaw reminded them. “You’ll have to tell them.”
“All right.” Rainpaw nodded and padded over to the warriors’ den, meowing to Pinepaw as he went; the tabby apprentice scampered over to the fresh-kill pile instead. Stormpaw was about to head over to the apprentices’ den to look for Redpaw and Yellowpaw when she saw them padding toward her; Larchpaw was with them, as well.
“I haven’t been on a patrol all day,” Larchpaw explained. “I could use the chance to stretch my legs.”
Stormpaw flicked her ears. “Rainpaw’s looking for you,” she told him. “You’re going on the dawn patrol tomorrow.” Larchpaw turned around, looking for Rainpaw, and Stormpaw meowed, “He went to the warriors’ den.” Larchpaw instantly began padding toward the warriors’ den at the same time Rainpaw emerged from the den. The two cats shared words for a heartbeat before Larchpaw bounded back over to Stormpaw.
“All right,” he meowed, “let’s go.”
Stormpaw was about to turn around when movement caught her eye; two small shapes were hurtling across the clearing toward Rainpaw. Featherkit and Morningkit, no doubt, Stormpaw purred. She turned back to the other three cats.
“Let’s go hunting,” she meowed. She led the way out of camp, racing across the moorland.
“Whoa! Slow down,” Yellowpaw hissed from behind. Skidding to a halt, Stormpaw turned around to see Yellowpaw charging after the patrol, panting. “I was just in a battle earlier, you know!”
“I don’t want to get out there and find that all the prey’s retired for the evening,” Stormpaw explained. “We have to move.”
“Then why’d we come out so late at all?” Larchpaw growled. “Wouldn’t it be easier just to send out a patrol tomorrow morning?”
Stormpaw blinked. She hadn’t thought of that. “Y-yes,” she meowed hastily. Not wanting to be called out on the obvious mistake again, she turned away quickly. “Come on,” she muttered gruffly. “Let’s go.”
As the four cats hunted in the dusk, Stormpaw couldn’t help but feel that Rainpaw had picked the wrong cat for deputy. She didn’t know what she was doing; she didn’t know how to assign patrols properly or anything of the sort; she didn’t know how she was going to be one of the cats in control of her beloved Clan. She didn’t want to deal with this right now.
She was able to temporarily put the thought out of her head as she hunted with her Clanmates and watched Redpaw, patient as ever, teaching Yellowpaw how to utilize the SkyClan jump. But as the sky turned from rose-tinted to indigo and the four cats returned to camp, her misgivings returned as well. As she curled up in the warriors’ den, her pelt brushing Creampaw’s, she couldn’t help feel that Rainpaw had made a mistake in choosing her. Such was her last thought before she fell into a slumber.
Creampaw's cold, wet pelt pressing against hers woke Stormpaw the next morning. Hissing loudly, she leaped away and shook her pelt, glaring at Creampaw as the cream she-cat looked up at Stormpaw with tired green eyes.
"Why are you all wet?" Stormpaw asked, licking her sodden pelt.
"It's raining," Creampaw replied, shivering. "I just got back from the dawn patrol... it's pouring out there. You're lucky you didn't have to go out in that!"
Stormpaw snorted. "At least it's not snow," she meowed.
"Yeah," Creampaw agreed, grooming herself. "I'd be even colder if it was." She curled up with her back to Stormpaw. Stormpaw purred in amusement before she crawled out from underneath the branches of the warriors' den, and then instantly regretted it as her pelt was instantly soaked. Groaning in annoyance, she turned and padded to the first place she saw where she could seek refuge: Breezepaw's den.
"Unnn... Stormpaw?" Breezepaw opened his blue eyes; they were clouded with exhaustion, but as he began to comprehend the scene before him the fogginess cleared and he sat up. "What are you doing here? And why are you so wet?"
Stormpaw sighed. "It's raining," she muttered. "Creampaw came in and got me soaked, and I needed somewhere to go."
"Well, don't come in our den!" meowed another voice; Stormpaw glanced around Breezepaw to see Foxpaw, whose amber eyes were shining from the back of the den. As she watched, the young apprentice padded forward to her side, the shadows of the rain flickering on her pelt. "Don't you know what happens when herbs get wet?" asked crossly.
Taken aback by the apprentice's boldness - so unlike the scared ginger kit that had first joined SkyClan - Stormpaw blinked in shock before letting out a purr. Foxpaw huffed, indignant.
"Don't mind Foxpaw," Breezepaw meowed, rolling his eyes and sweeping his plumy tail across Foxpaw's mouth. Foxpaw spat his tail out of her jaws angrily. "She's just annoyed." Foxpaw growled quietly and stomped away into the den.
"I can see that," Stormpaw replied in amusement. "But I'll leave if you want."
"No - wait," Breezepaw protested, calling her back as the black-and-gray she-cat turned to leave. Stormpaw turned around, wondering what Breezepaw could possibly want.
"What is it?" Stormpaw asked, padding back over to him.
"I didn't want to bring this up earlier because I didn't want to overload you or Rainpaw with my concerns, but..." He trailed off.
"For StarClan's sake, what is it?" Stormpaw put in, jokingly annoyed.
"It's about the Moonstone," Breezepaw meowed finally. Stormpaw blinked. She hadn't really thought about the lack of a Moonstone before; none of the other cats had brought it up. But now that Breezepaw had mentioned it, he was right. "The medicine cats have already missed one half moon," Breezepaw continued. "I didn't say anything to you or Rainpaw because I figured you'd be busy enough with the Clan. But Rainpaw needs his nine lives, too; he can't just put this off while he waits for StarClan to show us where we can find something that works as a Moonstone in this territory."
"You're right," Stormpaw replied. "I'll have to talk to Rainpaw, but in the meantime, I suppose you and Foxpaw should take a patrol around the territory and see if you can find anything."
"Do you really think it will be here on SkyClan territory?" Foxpaw asked, her amber eyes narrowed. Stormpaw started; she hadn't noticed the small ginger cat approaching her.
"Well," Stormpaw responded, "not necessarily, but there's always a chance that it could be. Even if it's not, then it's on one of the other Clans' territory, so one of the other medicine cats could find it, right?"
"I guess," Foxpaw answered, but she didn't look convinced.
There was an awkward silence before Stormpaw added, "What if I got Rainpaw to come with you? Then you'd have a warrior in case anything happens, and he needs to find this place's Moonstone too."
"Where is he?" asked Breezepaw, pricking his ears.
"He went out on the dawn patrol," Stormpaw answered. "I assume he's back in his den by this point. Let's go find him - I'll come with you."
The three cats padded out from the den. Stormpaw regretted it again as her slightly-less-wet pelt got soaked once more. She was envious of Foxpaw as they crossed the camp; the former RiverClan apprentice was trotting ahead of her with the water streaming down her glossy ginger pelt. How in the name of StarClan do they get their pelts to shed water like that? she wondered as she flicked some mud away from between her claws. Having a pelt like that would sure be useful.
Then they were at Rainpaw's den; Stormpaw could see his dark tabby pelt through the branches of the den. "Rainpaw," she whispered, hissing through the branches. The pelt shifted and two blue eyes appeared.
"Stormpaw?" he asked. "What do you want?"
"It's not me," Stormpaw meowed awkwardly as Rainpaw pulled himself out of his den, grimacing as the rain drenched his pelt.
"Breezepaw? Foxpaw?" Rainpaw meowed in slight surprise, seeing the two medicine cats next to Stormpaw. "Did you need to talk to me?"
"Rainpaw," Breezepaw meowed politely, dipping his head. "We needed to talk to you about the Moonstone, and about your nine lives."
Rainpaw pricked his ears with interest. "Did you find a place where we can share tongues with StarClan yet?" he asked.
Breezepaw's whiskers drooped. "No," he responded, his face visibly saddened. "And that's why we were coming to talk to you - we were going to ask if you wanted to go on a patrol to search the territory for potential places to replace the Moonstone."
Rainpaw blinked, and then nodded. "I just went on the dawn patrol," he pointed out, "but I'd be willing to go again." He looked up at Stormpaw. "Are you coming with us?"
"I don't think so," Stormpaw replied. "I think this is for you and Breezepaw to do. Besides," she meowed, her pelt warming slightly under Rainpaw's dark blue gaze, "I need to stay here and assign patrols, don't I?"
"True," Rainpaw agreed, twitching his whiskers in amusement. "Okay," he meowed, turning to Breezepaw and Foxpaw, "perhaps we should check out the place where our territory touches all the others."
"Won't we get in trouble from the other Clans?" Foxpaw asked as they padded to the entrance to the camp. Then the three cats were out of earshot; if Rainpaw responded Stormpaw didn't hear what he said.
Stormpaw looked around the camp as the three cats left. The camp was starting to stir; Wildpaw emerged from the warriors' den, blinking sleep out of her eyes, and Barkpaw padded out from the apprentices' den to meet her. A cough from behind her made Stormpaw jump. Spinning around, Stormpaw saw that Shadepaw was laying outside Breezepaw's den, sheltered from the rain by ferns. The black she-cat was staring across the camp at Stormpaw.
Guilt washed over Stormpaw as she realized that she had completely forgotten about her apprentice, even though she must have passed the black she-cat on her way into Breezepaw's den earlier.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, walking over to her apprentice.
Shadepaw looked up at her. "My paw's better," she meowed weakly, "but I think I'm starting to get sick. I keep coughing." She broke off and started coughing again.
"It's probably just the cold weather and the rain," Stormpaw meowed, hoping it wasn't something more serious like whitecough or greencough. "Why don't you move into Breezepaw's den where it's warmer?"
"Okay," Shadepaw rasped, and stood up on wobbly legs and padded into the den. She curled up on the floor, not even bothering to find moss to lie on. Stormpaw twitched her ears in worry. She desperately hoped that Shadepaw wasn't infected with whitecough or greencough; an infection of one of those was the last thing her Clan needed, so soon after the rest of her Clan had been killed.
Great StarClan, Stormpaw thought, looking up at the dark, cloudy sky, please don't let Shadepaw be sick.