Post by phantomstar57 on Jul 29, 2016 15:03:04 GMT -5
NEW BLOOD - BORN OF SMOKE & FIRE
NEW BLOOD-Born of Smoke and Fire is COMPLETED!
The time frame of the NEW BLOOD Universe is many seasons after BRAMBLESTAR’S STORM, and well into and beyond A VISION OF SHADOWS, and BROKEN CODE so
BEWARE of spoilers!!
This story is dedicated to my Kai , the huge Maine Coon who, as the inspiration and model for Kyestorm- passed to StarClan from kidney disease. (Aug 6, 2002 - Jan 26, 2015)
As for me, many of you know me, but many may not, so visit Phantomstar’s Corner to learn more about me, and find links to my NEW BLOOD stories and one shots. NEW BLOOD-Character Page (Allegiances) is on it's own for easy access.
After the flood subsides, things return to normal for all around the Lake. Many seasons of peace pass, until disaster to her two-leg home drives Kye, a pregnant Maine Coon queen, and her mate, out into the forest, alone and unprepared. ThunderClan, after getting a message from StarClan, rescues them.
As outside danger threatens all in the form of a new invasive dangerous species, Kyestorm wonders if she and her family will be able to help defend the Clans, who saved their lives and accepted them as their own, against the growing menace? Will they drive away the danger, or be destroyed by it?
NEW BLOOD - BORN OF SMOKE & FIRE Prologue - Chapter Five
One bitter cold night, many seasons after the Great Flood, Bramblestar braved the frigid wind, and sat on Highledge, looking to StarClan for answers. His thoughts dwelled on the horrific events the Clans struggled to recover from over those seasons; the Great Battle with the Dark Forest, and terrible storm that flooded the lake and surrounding territories. Though the Clans lived in peace and prosperity since those hard seasons, this past Green Leaf, competition from other creatures, such as foxes, left the Clans battling to catch enough food, and the following Leaf Bares blew colder and snowier than in many, many seasons. Though the Clans prospered, Bramblestar felt anxiety wash over him as he surveyed the snow-covered land. This Leaf Bare brought even colder weather, with violent snowstorms that covered the territories in deep snows.
Bramblestar worried about the lack prey. After Cinderpelt and Lionblaze’s kits became warriors, and his and Squirrelflight’s’s kits anticipated apprenticing in a moon, much to his disappointment, only Lilyheart and Millie carried kits. With Millie and Graystripe in the Elder’s den, the announcement a quarter moon ago of Millie’s impeding kitting came as a shock, most of all to her and Graystripe. Millie long passed the age when queens normally kitted. Everyone protected Millie, giving her their prey, wishing so much to fill the nursery with kits come New Leaf, but Bramblestar worried.
Millie continued to fret over Briarlight, sometimes giving her prey to her daughter, taking away from her unborn kits. To add to this, he worried that they might be born before New Leaf, unlike Lilyheart’s kits, who were not due for at least two moons.
Bramblestar shifted his body on the cold rock, staring through the leafless trees at the frozen lake. His stomach twisted into knots. Strange dogs barked and howled in the distance every night, their voices sounding very different from the dogs of Two-leg origins. Their haunting cries sent cold foreboding deep into Bramblestar's soul, and on cue, one wailing howl, answered by another, echoed distantly from across the lake.
"What are those creatures? " he meowed. “Leaf Bare is taking its toll on us. We can’t lose those kits,” he mumbled to the clear. starry sky.
No answer came out of the glittering stars, but the soft fall of pawsteps in the snow caught his attention. Jayfeather approached him, nimbly climbing the icy rocks. Bramblestar eyed his Medicine cat in surprise.
"What are you doing out here. It’s beyond freezing."
"I had a vision." Jayfeather hunched down against the wind, facing his Leader. “It woke me, and I heard your plea.”
"Any word for us?" Bramblestar asked, as the bitter cold wind ruffled his short thick pelt. He shivered.
"It's rather unclear. I saw smoke and flames, kits, and a very large pregnant queen in need of help," Jayfeather grumbled. "All Firestar said was to help the giant red Queen."
"When?" Bramblestar scowled, flicking his tail, amber eyes glinting under the waning moonlight.
"I don't know." Jayfeather retorted irritably. "The vision showed patchy snow cover. Obviously late Leaf Bare or early New Leaf. This has yet to pass."
"Then when the time comes, we assist this strange queen. I’ll keep patrols alert for cries for help." Bramblestar stood up, surveying the snow-covered territory. Nother haunting howl echoed across the lake from the direction of the Horseplace. The dogs living there barked and snarled in response, and Bramblestar glanced again at Silverpelt.
"What new menace threatens us now?" Bramblestar frowned at Jayfeather "This help best come quickly! I don't like what I hear echoing across the Clans' territories."
“Nor do I. But I know it’s something dangerous, a real threat. So we will help the giant red queen.” Jayfeather turned, and carefully descended the rocky ground, then veered off to his den.
“Giant red queen?” Bramblestar muttered. “Kittypet? I hope not. They are always so helpless at first. Rogue? Mousedung! I Another Clan cat? No. No big red she-cats in other clans. Maybe some loner? How can any loner help us?”
The wind whistled over the rocks, and Bramblestar jumped down from Highledge, heading back to his den. He curled up, trying not to disturb Squirrelflight, but before he fell back to sleep, a swirl of mist and sparkles formed at the mouth of the den. He jerked his head up. A familiar red form stood before him, translucent, shimmering like Silverpelt. Squirrelflight awoke with a start, faced the apparition, A squeak of shock left her jaws.
“Firestar?” Bramblestar finally found his voice.
“Do all you can to help the giant red Queen, her mate, and her kits.” Firestar’s green eyes shone. “Through fire and smoke, new blood is born.”
“You’ll know,” Firestar answered, and vanished in a swirl of wind and snow as a bitter breeze blew into the den.
“Great StarClan!” Squirrelflight exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with annoyance. “My father hated when StarClan spoke in riddles and vagueness, but now he does the same?”
“Maybe he has no choice, but at least we have a clue what to keep alert for.” Thunderclan’s Leader shook his head, then snuggled up against his mate. “Some unknown she-cat who has or will have kits. How under StarClan can she help us?”
“Are you sure it will be a cat?” Squirrelflight scoffed.
“I don’t know, but I assume, yes, a cat.” Bramblestar gazed at his mate. “I hope so, because queen means more kits. But I can’t see how this will help us catch more prey or fight some unknown enemy.”
“Then we should all keep watch for this big red queen.” Squirrelflight yawned. “More kits is always a blessing to a Clan. My father has his reasons so we should heed his words.”
“I intend to, but, where will this queen come from, and when? It’s mid Leaf Bare.” Bramblestar lay his head down against his deputy’s flank.
“I don’t know,” she answered irritably. “Go to sleep. When Star Clan decides to send her, they will.”
“Out of fire and smoke new blood is born? Let’s hope the forest doesn’t have to burn down for her to show up.” Bramblestar heaved a huge sigh, exhaling in a grouchy growl. Visions of fire in the trees, and smoke blanketing the snowy hills, danced before his inner eye.
A screech brought Kye out of unsettling dreams, and she jerked awake, sitting up in her soft plush bed, shocked by screams of her housefolk, searing heat, and choking smoke. Sirens split the night, pummeling her tall, tufted ears, and flashing lights pierced the shadows of the dark cottage. Kye wailed in terror, and spun to face the screamer. Her gorgeous mate, an enormous black-smoke Maine Coon tom with white markings glared at her from bright golden eyes dilated with fear.
“Get up!!”he yowled.
"What’s happening?” Kye wailed, then gagged on burning smoke.
"We have to get out of here!" he commanded. "Fire!"
Something smashed into the front door, sending wood splinters into the cottage. Flames sprouted along the front window, engulfing the drapes. Kye screamed, then coughed, the air scorching her windpipe. Dread shot through her body. An apparition came through the door, hauling a huge snakelike thing that spewed water, flooding the floors, engulfing Kye’s bed.
“What’s that?” Kye yowled, scrambling away from her bed and the water, her cry cut off by coughing.
"Follow me!" her mate bellowed.
"What about our housefolk?"
“ It’s too late! Smell that?" he meowed. "They burn! We have to run! Follow me!" Her mate leaped away, rushing toward the rear of the cottage.
"Demon B! Wait!" Kye plunged after him, hindered by her swollen bellyful of kits. She raced into the small back room where her housefolk washed their removable furs, just in time to see Demon B hurl his twenty-five pounds of Maine Coon muscle at the small window. Glass shattered, shards blasting outward, and the outer screen popped out of its track, flying into the small garden below. Without further question, Kye followed him, sailing her seventeen pound red-tabby body through the gaping maw. Jagged glass teeth pulled at her long thick fur, but never touched flesh. She landed on the grass beyond the garden, following her mate, who raced for the woods. Terror pounded her heart, pumping adrenaline into her legs. She breathed deep and fast, coughing, worried for her kits.
The two Maine Coons fled, running deep into the forest. Kye raced behind her mate in witless fear, her eyes adjusting quickly to the dark. Moonlight illuminated the forest. Her paws squelched through patchy snow, and above, trees stretched naked branches into the sky. After a while, her mate slowed down, and Kye ran up his very heels. She slowed, catching her breath, trying to control her hysteria, and stopped coughing. Ahead, a building appeared out of the gloom, and Kye’s heart leaped. Housefolk! Demon B led her there, and hobbled in, where, on the cold cement floor of the deserted dilapidated structure, he collapsed. Kye saw no evidence that any housefolk lived there. Dismay overwhelmed her.
"We’re safe," Demon B murmured, and Kye skidded to a halt, then saw the gash on Demon’s chest. Two more cut a hind leg and foreleg. Blood pooled on the concrete.
"Demon B! You’re hurt! There are no housefolk here! We’re lost! Noooo!" she wailed in anguish. "HELP! HELP US!" she screamed into the night, hoping someone somewhere might hear her. Her kits kicked and tumbled, and she wailed inarticulately in abject terror.
"Don’t be afraid," a voice whispered in Kye’s ears. She stopped shrieking and opened her eyes, gasping in shock. Standing before her on the floor, a tomcat the color of flame stood before her, glittering like the stars in the skies above her. She realized she saw through his form, but his green eyes shone bright in the waning moonlight.
Who, what, are you?" Kye found her voice.
"I am Firestar of StarClan. Stay calm, beautiful Red Queen. Help comes."
"S-s-starclan?" Kye stared in awe, noticing other ghostly forms standing behind Firestar. A blue she-cat stepped forward, her blue eyes shimmering.
“Yes, we are StarClan. I am Bluestar. We’re to make sure you fulfill your destiny. Don’t fear.”
“What destiny? Are you spirits?"
"In a sense, but no time to explain. You’ll learn more over time," Firestar answered. "Help comes. When they do, tell them I sent you.”
“Tell then Blackstar also sends you, should you meet my Clan. Be strong, and shed your kittypet roots.” A large white tom with black legs stepped forward. He nodded. “You, your mate, and especially your kits, such enormous Warriors to be, are important."
"What? How? Who comes?"
"My Clan. They will help you." Firestar faded.
"No! Don't go! Please!"
"Remember, you are important to all the Clans." Firestar vanished, leaving Kye and Demon B alone.
"Did you see them?” Demon B rasped.
"Yes, but who will help us? We ran so far and the spirits are gone!” Kye wailed, then froze as a voice echoed through the woods.
"Up here. I hear them up here."
“Are you sure, Leafpool?" another voice answered with an annoyed growl.
"Yes, Jayfeather. Someone is hurt, and I know a queen in distress when I hear it"
"So do I. I just hope you are right about their location.”
"What if they are other Clan's warriors?" another voice asked.
"Don't be mouse-brained, Lionblaze. We help, and never ever leave kits in distress, born or unborn." Leafpool’s voice growled back.
Down on the slope below, the undergrowth rustled. Kye tensed, not sure what to expect, knowing wild Clan cats came to her aid instead of housefolk. She heard rumors of them, as did every cat, but she always thought them myth to scare kits. According to legend, they killed strangers! Kye gasped as her kits wrestled inside, sending bolts of pain through her abdomen. She knew stress hastened their birthing time. She thought of the starry, kind, but courageous figures she saw moments ago, and decided to put her trust in StarClan.
"Help! Help us! Pleease!" she wailed.
Four cats broke from the brush, and halted on the cement floor.
"Great StarClan!" a golden tabby tom exclaimed. "Are you sure they are cats?"
"Yes," the she-cat called Leafpool answered, after a moment of surprise. "Very large cats, and one is a very large red queen! These are the cats Firestar said to help. Come on."
Kye gaped in shock as a blind grey tomcat surged forward, gently running his muzzle over Demon B. Leafpool examined Kye with gentle paws.
"You will kit very soon!"
"Yes, in another quarter moon," Kye answered . "But it feels like now!"
"We have to get you to safety. Stress may bring on kitting. Jayfeather, how is he?"
"He lives. We need to get him to the Medicine Den, but who is going to carry him? He is enormous!"
"Mouse-brains," the forth cat meowed. "Lionblaze, you and I will carry him."
“How? Cinderheart, have you lost your mind? He is larger than a big dogfox!"
“We will figure it out.” The dark grey she-cat stood beside Demon B, who gazed at the she-cat warily. "Can you stand?"
"I think so," Demon B answered weakly, and struggling, rolled over on his stomach and pushed himself up.
"He is so tall we can almost walk under him," Cinderheart said. "What’s your name?
"I’m Warlock Demon B," Kye's mate grunted, as the two cats slipped under him and lifted him onto their backs. His hissed with pain “But Demon B is fine.”
"Mousedung!" Cinderheart grumbled "You are heavy. Why such, uh, a weird name?"
“It’s what my housefolk named me,” Demon B grunted. “My registered name is Tabbyskins Warlock Demon B.”
“Tabbyskins?” Cinderheart exclaimed with a querulous growl. “That sounds horrible. Do they skin cats?”
“No!” Demon B answered with a guffaw, which ended in a grunt of pain. “It’s the cattery name.”
“What’s a cattery?”
“It’s the place where he was born,” Kye answered. “The housefolk keep Maine Coons there and breed them. My registered name is Pangurban Madame Kye. Our housefolk adopted us from different breeders.”
“Breeders?” Cinderheart narrowed her eyes, all mirth gone from her expression. “They choose your mates? Like two-leg livestock?”
“Yes,” Kye answered, suddenly feeling embarrassed and chagrined. “Our housefolk adopted me and Demon B many suncycles apart, but over time, we became mates. They stopped us from breeding for many moons, but finally, when I matured enough, they allowed it.”
“That sounds so wrong,” Cinderheart muttered as she helped Lionblaze steady Demon B.”Do you love him?”
“Yes!” Kye cried, as her kits kicked and tumbled again. “Why wouldn’t I? We grew to love each other!”
"Who cares how they met, or what their Two-legs did. Let's move. He is bleeding all over us," Lionblaze complained.
“All right, grouchy,” Cinderheart said, and Kye relaxed. She understood nothing of why they disapproved of her housefolk and the way she met Demon B. The cats headed out of the building and into the forest. Leafpool and Jayfeather flanked their companions, steadying Demon B. Kye trotted alongside, calmer, feeling relief help arrived. Might they save her mate's life?
"I can help," she said, noticing her mate's big paws and long bottlebrush tail dragging the path.
"We have this," Leafpool assured her.
"Thank you.” Kye trotted, careful not to trip over stones and roots. “Demon B and I are grateful for your help.”
“Odd names you have. Your mate’s sounds like something evil from the Dark Forest,” Cinderheart remarked.
“He isn’t evil,” Kye retorted with a hiss, insulted anyone would think that of her huge gentle giant of a mate. “What is the Dark Forest?”
“Long sad story. Perhaps once we settle you in, someone can tell you all about it,” Leafpool answered.
“I’d like that,” Kye let her fur flatten, wanting to understand why they thought Demon B’s name so terrible.
“Good,” Leafpool replied, and halted at an overgrown dirt road. “This old Thunderpath is clear as usual, but better safe than sorry.” Kye looked back at the overgrown road, as the they moved deeper into the forest.
“Thunderpath?” Kye asked.
“Yes, where the monsters go.” Jayfeather answered. “This one never gets used, but we are always careful anyway.”
“Oh, housefolk machines. They’re scary. The flying monsters are frightful. We came here in one.”
“Dreadful! You’re so huge and unlike any cats we have ever seen,” Cinderheart spoke up. “Nobody ever spoke of enormous cats with thick long fur and gargantuan paws. You’re larger than the famed, but illusive wildcats that live far north of here. Your housefolk control your breeding. You must be a pair of pampered purebreds that never set foot outdoors.””
“We are allowed out in the garden to play and hunt. I always loved being outside,” Kye meowed. “We’re not stuck up Persians or skinny cold-intolerant Orientals.” Kye’s voice rose. “We’re Maine Coon cats.”
“Maine what?” Cinderheart asked, then grunted as Demon B’s body shifted.
“Maine Coon cats,” Kye repeated. “We’re a breed from over the Great Water, and we came over here in a flying monster to live here a suncycle ago.”
“Suncycle? Great Water? You mean the Sundrown place?” Cinderheart exclaimed.
“Yes, a suncycle, many moons, twelve moons. Our housefolk finally let us have kits and they’re due in a quarter moon! But we woke tonight to fire!” Kye yowled with grief. “Our housefolk, the cottage, everything burned! It was awful. Demon B crashed through a window to save us. And he is hurt bad, but we made it to that old building”
“The old Two-leg place,” Leafpool said, her tone turning sorrowful. “You’re kittypets.”
“Kittypets? Yes, I suppose. Why is that so sad?” Kye mumbled.
“My father was a kittypet in his youth. He died in the Great Battle. He’s still missed.”
“Firestar?” Kye’s mind jumped with insight. “A red cat appeared to us, telling us not to be afraid.”
“I told you,” Jayfeather grumbled. “I saw this.”
“How do you know that name?” Leafpool urged Kye to answer, ignoring Jayfeather’s comment.
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” Kye meowed. “When we lay, scared, after our run, he appeared to us. He said he was from StarClan, calling himself Firestar. He said we are important, and that his clan would help us. We saw others, called Bluestar, and Blackstar.”
“You’re not crazy. Firestar, my father, is now with StarClan. Bluestar was leader before Firestar. Blackstar, leader of ShadowClan, died in the massive floods many seasons ago.” Leafpool leveled her amber eyes on Kye. “You were meant to come to us.”
“Really? But. . . our housefolk, they. . .”
“Tragic,” Leafpool answered, “but you escaped because StarClan touched you. Obviously they knew tragedy would fall.”
“They couldn’t stop it?”
“No. They have no influence over Two-leg life, but, they could help you.” Leafpool answered softly. Kye fell silent, thinking about all this strange information. What did they expect of her and Demon B? She grunted as her kits tumbled vigorously inside her.
“Demon? How did you wake in time?” Kye asked.
“A dream,” he mumbled. “A bad dream filled with wild cats, fire, vicious dogs, and when I woke up, smoke filled the cottage. I heard our housefolk screaming in their sleeproom. I wanted to help but there was no time. Flames trapped them in the room, spreading so fast. We had to get out.”
Kye uttered a keen of grief for her housefolk. She loved them, but said nothing, sensing these cats did not approve of housefolk or the life she and Demon B lost in that fire. They trotted through forest. The terrain sloped downhill, and they turned slowly eastward. Ahead, Kye saw a gap in brambles at the edge of a hollow.
"There is our camp." Leafpool told her. "We are taking your mate straight to the medicine den. Someone will show you to the nursery."
“Nursery?” Kye asked, but followed the cats through the gap and into a quiet clearing.
“Yes, the den where our queens have their kits. They are well looked after,” Leafpool assured her. Kye gazed around, noting the intricately constructed nests and dens, and the cliffs that rose on the north side of the hollow. Kye glanced up, and saw dawn lightening the eastern sky, while the moon set in the west. As Leafpool led Kye across the hard ground, the camp erupted to life. Cats poured out of the dens. A long-haired cream she-cat approached, along with other cats. Kye bristled with anxiety, as they closed in around her, blocking the cream she-cat’s way. Questions bombarded her from many.
“Who are you?” A large long-haired white tom asked, looking Kye up and down.
“A huge kittypet?” Another tom scoffed. “Its still Leaf Bare! We can’t help any more kittypets!”
“Shut it,” the white tom bared his fangs at the black, long-legged tom. “My uncle was once a kittypet and a better leader the Clan has never seen! How can you even say that?”
“I was a kittypet, too. Do you think I shouldn’t be here?” A grey tom snapped at the older cat.
“Sorry Cloudtail, Stormcloud.” The tom lowered his head, chastised.
“But times are so lean! The foxes plague us,” An old sandy ginger she-cat protested, but locked eyes with Kye. “How can our warriors feed more mouths?”
“Sandstorm, you of all should understand why we should,” the white tom said softly. Sandstorm gazed at Kye, her eyes full of sorrow, and Kye knew without a doubt the she-cat lost her mate some time ago but still grieved for him.
“Hallo! I’m Hollytuft. Why do you smell like smoke?” a young black she-cat asked, distracting Kye from Sandstorm. The she-cat’s eyes met hers, wide, but inquisitive, with no hostility.
“Hallo. Uh, we escaped a fire,” Kye answered, anxiety flaring up. Her kits kicked.
“We can’t feed ourselves now,” an elderly grey tabby tom said. “And my mate has two kits, our last, and I would never to do anything to jeopardize them. But, Firestar would never turn away a cat in need. We should not either.”
“I agree, Graystripe,” the white tom said. “She is heavy with kits!”
“The other Clans will think we are weak again, Cloudtail,” the lanky black tom muttered. The white tom bristled, whirling on the speaker, but never uttered a single hiss.
“Enough, Spiderleg, Cloudtail.” A brown tabby tom strode through the crowd. They parted swiftly, showing utter respect, and the tom stepped in front of Kye, gazing up at her.
“I am Bramblestar.” The dark brown tabby tom regarded her with golden-amber eyes. “You must be the giant red queen we’ve been expecting. Greetings, and welcome to ThunderClan.”
“Thank you,” Kye responded, sensing a kind and gentle soul in the battle-scarred tom. “Are you, are you, with StarClan?”
A few cats tittered, and an apprentice guffawed.
“No,” Bramblestar answered, a chuckle in his voice. “Leaders gain star in their names when they become Leader. You will learn over time, if you stay with us.”
“Stay? As in live here? Outside?” Kye lashed her tail, and alarm flashed through her. Cramps gripped her belly, and she uttered a wail
“Oww! Oh, no! My kits!”
Before anyone responded, the cream-colored she-cat she noticed earlier marched up to Kye, feathery tail flagged, and exchanged glances with Bramblestar. He nodded.
“Hallo, Kye, I am Daisy. I’ll take you to the nursery. All the excitement is making them enter the world a bit early.” Daisy hurried forward, snapping out the order. “Clear a path!”
“Oh, no!” Kye cried, but followed Daisy to a snug den protected by woven briars. Pain wracked her body and fear for her unborn kits shot through her. “Oowwww!”
“Come!” Daisy commanded, then barked out another order to an apprentice. “Alderpaw! Stop gawking! Fetch Jayfeather!”
The young dark red tabby tom raced off. Kye staggered after Daisy, her vision blurring as she entered the dark den.
“OWWW! My kits! Oh, please! Don’t let me lose them!” Kye shrieked in dread, before she crumpled to the floor, cramps engulfing her body. “Deeemon Beeeeeeeee!”
“Kyeeeee!” She heard his answering yowl before pain, terror, and darkness overwhelmed her consciousness.
Kye slowly came out of her delirium, aware of cramps rippling her abdomen, but the pain seemed far away. She met the sightless blue eyes of Jayfeather.
“Good, you are lucid,” he said.
“How do you know?” Kye asked, astonished that he knew she opened her eyes.
“My other senses are sharper than normal, and Medicine cats are more attuned to their patients,” Jayfeather answered in curt tones, his paws gentle as he examined her belly. “You have a vigorous brood here.”
“My dam had seven of us,” Kye muttered. “Medicine cat?”
“It is what it sounds like,” Jayfeather grumbled. “If you have that many kits inside, stop pestering me and let’s get them safely into the world.”
“Let’s hope you don’t have that many!” Daisy’s voice responded with mirth and a touch of excitement. “Your first is huge.”
“Oh!” Kye struggled to lift her head, forgetting Jayfeather’s gruff comment. “I wish to see them!”
“I’ll help,” Daisy moved to Kye’s head, and offered her chest for support. Kye craned her neck to see a large bundle of damp fur. “He looks like his father!”
“Your mate has unusual color, black with white roots.” Leafpool’s voice joined the conversation as she entered the nursery. “How many?”
“One so far,” Jayfeather answered. A contraction convulsed Kye, and she wailed, but birthing the second kit hurt less than she anticipated.
“Another big tomkit!” Leafpool exclaimed “So enormous!”
“This one looks like his sire, in dark tabby!” Kye mewed, reaching over to nuzzle both kits to her belly. They mewled, then latched onto her to nurse.
“Sire?” Leafpool asked.
“Yes, sire. A kit’s father.” Kye answered, then groaned, feeling another enter the world.
“Another like your mate, but no white markings! A beautiful she-kit!” Leafpool commented, and Kye noticed the medicine cat did not lift her eyes. Leafpool freed the kit from the birthing sac and it mewed. Kye’s heart jumped, feeling love and anxiety all at once. “Another! They come so quick!”
“Such huge kits!” Another queen hissed. “She looks like a fox having foxcubs!!”
“Don’t be mousebrained, Millie!”A second queen uttered a meow of laughter. “None of them so far are that red with tabby stripes!”
“But Lilyheart! No she-cat is that large! I still say she is a fox!” Millie curled protectively around her two kits, born a couple of sunrises ago. Kye turned to face the grey queen. Sharp green eyes stared back at her, and Kye saw the older cat’s fur bristle with fear. The younger tortoiseshell queen regarded her with bright pale green eyes, and Kye noticed her swollen belly. She knew Lilyheart’s kits would enter the world by the next moon.
“Hello, Millie, Lilyheart,” Kye mewed. “I’m not a fox. I’m a Maine Coon cat. Most of us are all rather large.”
“A Maine Coon cat? That is an odd name for a type of cat,” Millie growled. “Are you one of those snooty purebred cats Two-legs cage like prisoners?”
“I suppose we are, though being a show cat can be exciting. The cages are for our protection against thieving housefolk,” Kye answered, as a shiver went through her body. “But we come from ancestors that roamed the great forests and mountains across the Great Water. We existed before any housefolk decided to make us purebred show cats.” Kye grimaced at Millie. “We aren’t weak useless creatures.”
“Well, let’s hope you aren’t a drain on the Clan, when they try to feed such huge needy cats, that birth huge needy kits.” Millie glared at her.
“How many mice will you eat being so huge?” Lilyheart asked.
“Eat mice? I have never eaten one, but I have caught them.” Kye sneezed with mirth. “If you think I am big, wait until you see my mate.” Kye’s heart leaped, and she faced Leafpool. “How is Demon B? Does he live?”
“Yes, he lives, but is gravely injured. The gash on his chest is deep, though it missed vital organs. His leg tendons were cut in one back leg and on one foreleg. He may be crippled for life.” Leafpool answered. “I am sorry. All we can do is wait.”
“I. . .” Kye groaned as another kit arrived into the world. She lifted her head, and guided the golden-brown tabby tomkit to her belly. The next two birthed quickly, and Kye nosed them both to her side. A brown tabby and white she-kit and a blue-smoke she-kit completed the large litter. The tabby and white she-kit nursed vigorously, uttering little growls. Kye eyed her feisty she-kit, then lay her head down as they nursed. “I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Nonsense,” Jayfeather snorted. “StarClan sent you to us for a reason, but like anything else, such things never go easy. But my visions were clear! Help the giant red queen, her kits, and her mate. You are a gigantic red queen with kits!”
“I suppose I am,” Kye sighed.
“Are you hungry?” Daisy asked. “You need strength with six kits to feed.”
“Yes, but. . .” Kye stammered. “What will I eat?”
“Fresh kill, like the rest of us,” Daisy answered and trotted out of the den, her tail waving with excitement. Kye thought of the mice she caught in the cottage, and wrinkled her nose. She pounced on them in fun, and killed them accidentally with her large paws without meaning to. She always felt disappointment when the mouse stopped moving. She lost interest whenever Demon B landed on one with both enormous paws and squashed it. The thought of touching it again, let alone eating it, never crossed her mind. Kye growled softly when Daisy returned with a large mouse, and placed it by Kye’s paws. Kye sniffed, repulsed by the fur.
“You expect me to eat this?” She turned her head. “It’s, it’s, nasty!”
“Kittypet foolishness! It’s the only food we have,” Daisy scowled, impatience flaring in her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Eat it,” Millie spoke up. “I remember my first time. It really is better than the stuff two-legs give us.”
As the kits nursed, hunger rumbled Kye’s belly. She sniffed the plump mouse, and fur tickled her nose. She sneezed.
“I can’t eat this! it’s like eating a toy!”
“Oh, for StarClan’s sake!” Daisy growled, and marched over to the mouse, and with a quick motion, tore the prey open. Kye stared, but as the scent of blood and fresh meat filtered up through her nostrils, some deep instinct born of her ancestors across the Great Waters bloomed within her. Her stomach snarled with hunger. She impulsively licked the mouse, and tasted the warm blood. Obeying her instinct, she nipped the prey, and salivated, her distaste forgotten. Without further thought, Kye sank her teeth into the fresh kill, tore it apart, gulping it down in three bites. She crunched the bones and all, leaving only the fur in a neat pile between her big red-cream paws.
“I could get used to that. It was good! Now I wish I had eaten every single mouse we caught in our housefolk’s place.” She purred. “I’ll learn to hunt well. I promise.”
“I shall teach you,” Another she-cat entered the den, shadowed by two young cats Kye guessed were just past six moons old. “Greetings I’m Squirrelflight, Leafpool’s sister and Bramblestar’s mate and deputy.”
“Greetings,” Kye meowed. “I’m Kye.”
“You are every bit as large as Jayfeather claimed.” Squirrelflight halted in front of her. The youngsters hovered outside, whispering between themselves in excitement. “Great StarClan! SIX kits? And so big!”
“How will they help?” One of the young cats exclaimed. “They will all eat more prey than we can hunt!”
“Hush! You’re apprentices now. Act like it.” Squirrelflight admonished the red she-cat. Kye noted with a start how much she looked like the spirit cat who guided them here
“Hello, young one,” Kye faced the apprentice. She stretched out a large tufted paw, and unsheathed her impressive cutlery. “Don’t worry. I’ll learn to hunt once I can leave the den. With these, I don’t plan to miss much prey.”
“Wow!” The youngster’s eyes widened. “You have such big feet!”
“Do you two not have anything else to do? Elders need tending?” Squirrelflight asked, hissing with annoyance. Kye watched the two apprentices bound away, and noticed sunlight touched the tops of the trees. She looked down at her kits, love filling her heart, wishing Demon B shared this moment with her.
“All went well,” Jayfeather said. “You do not need me any longer. Daisy will make sure you are taken care of.”
“Thank you,” Kye called after ThunderClan’s medicine cat. Leafpool followed, but glanced back.
“I will do my best for your mate,” She meowed and left the den. Kye groaned and lay back down.
“I’m sorry,” Millie suddenly spoke up. Kye picked up her head and met Millie’s gaze.
“Being so nasty. You just scared me. These kits are my last, and I fear they may not survive. They surprised us both, and I can’t lose them.” Millie heaved a big sigh, blinking her blue eyes. “I’m an Elder. At my age I should never have had kits, but here they are.”
“I will help you,” Kye felt sudden protectiveness of not only her kits, but the ones at Millie’s belly, and the ones inside of Lilyheart. She noted how frail the older she-cat appeared. “I won’t let anything hurt your kits or mine.”
“Thank you. We all need you. StarClan dropped you in our camp as a gift, and I see my kits that way, too,” Millie said. “But I am so afraid for them. It doesn’t help that foxes are breeding like rabbits and out-competing us all over Clan territories.”
“Foxes?” Kye reacted, anger filling her heart. All foxes she ever knew liked taking kits as prey. She growled.
“Doglike predators. They are slightly larger than the average cat, though you and your mate dwarf most. Maybe you are here to help us with this.” Millie raised her head, joy lighting up her eyes. Kye turned to see an old long-haired grey tabby tom saunter into the den. Kye noted the darker blue-grey stripe running down his back, from which smaller fading stripes streaked toward his flanks. He stopped short.
“Millie?” he yowled querulously, then narrowed his gaze at Kye.
“Graystripe! I’m here! Our kits are safe! This is Kye, the giant Red Queen of Jayfeather’s visions.”
“Hallo, Kye. Giant indeed. I have never seen so large a she-cat.” Graystripe’s expression softened. “Forgive me, but. . .”
“I know. Your kits,” Kye finished for him. “Don’t worry. I’ll treat them like my own.”
Graystripe nodded, and trotted over to Millie and sat down. Kye listened to their soft tones as they shared tongues, longing to have Demon B at her side. Daisy sat beside Kye.
“If anyone can help your mate, it will be our medicine cats. They are the best in all the clans. Have you thought of names yet?”
“Names? Uh,” Kye looked down at her nursing brood. “I never gave it any thought. Our housefolk usually give us our names.”
“Here it is different. Queens name their own kits.”
“Oh,” Kye murmured, then met Daisy’s gaze “I so want Demon B to be with me for that.”
“Maybe in a few sunrises he can visit,” Daisy said hopefully. Kye lay her head down with a sigh.
“Thanks, Daisy. Maybe so,” Kye yawned, glancing at her kits. The pile of fuzz by her belly stopped nursing and now slept. Kye sank into blissful slumber, exhausted, but feeling safe for the first time since she and Demon B escaped the flames.
“Kye?” The call dissolved her dreams, and Kye opened her eyes. Familiar golden orbs gazed down at her. Late after-sunhigh light slanted into the den.
“I can’t stay long, but the medicine cats let me come to see our kits.” Demon B sat down awkwardly, and Kye saw the gash down Demon B’s chest. Leaf poultices secured by cobweb stuck to the wound, and circled his right hind leg just below the stifle, while another wrapped his left foreleg just above the elbow.
“Oh, no, you are so hurt!” Kye exclaimed, hearing a short gasp from Lilyheart, who stared at Demon B like a moon-eyed apprentice. She blinked at the young queen. “My mate, Demon B. Meet Lilyheart and Millie.”
“Greetings,” Demon B dipped his head at the two queens, before returning his gaze to Kye. “I’ll need to go back to the Medicine cat den, but they were very pleased I could stand up. I just have to move very slow. I wanted to come and see our kits.” Demon B looked down at the pile of fur. “Six!”
“Yes, and we have to name them.”
“Yes. We have no housefolk to do it. I am sure, once upon a time, our ancestors named their own kits.”
“All right,” Demon B settled carefully on his chest, just as a cat strode into the den.
“Are you all right?” Kye recognized Leafpool’s voice. She came around to examine Demon B’s cobweb bandages.
“Yes. We are going to name our kits” Demon B answered. He winced several times, but finally settled in.
“Then do so. I’ll stay here.” Leafpool sat down. Daisy moved over to sit beside Demon B, blinking at him, eyes wide.
“Are you. . . are you. . . are you sure you’re a cat?” Daisy mewed, looking up into Demon B’s face.. “You’re so big! Why do you have such a name? Did you walk with the Dark Forest?”
“Dark what?” Demon B asked, hissing when he moved his injured foreleg.
“Great StarClan!” Millie yowled in sudden fear. “Is that why he’s so big? He’s from the Dark Forest?”
“Is that possible?” Lilyheart recoiled against the den wall.
“Mousedung!” Leafpool spat. “Listen to yourselves. Yes, he’s big, but he’s not from the Dark Forest!”
“How do you know?” Millie asked, suspicion haunting her eyes.
“They’re kittypets, like you were. Their housefolk named them.” Leafpool glared at the two she-cats. “Its not like he’s Tigerstar reborn.”
“StarClan would never have sent him here if he was. Let’s not be ridiculous.” Another voice joined the argument. Kye recognized Jayfeather’s gruff tones. “ We help the giant red queen and by helping her mate, we help her. Enough nonsense.” Jayfeather poked Kye with a paw. “Name your kits so we can get the big lunk back to the medicine den.”
“Yes,” Kye looked down at her kits, who jostled each other to nurse. Their long fur stuck out, making them look like puffballs. Kye licked the closest, a black kit with white markings in the spitting image of his sire. “This one I will call Demon, after his father.”
“You want to call him that?” Daisy asked softly.
“Of course! Demon B is a big gentle giant!” Kye snarled in sudden anger. “He’s sweet tempered, more so than I am. I will name a kit after him, and won’t suffer any more insults to my mate! ”
“Sure. Okay. Sorry,” Daisy mewed, and sat back, curling her tail around her front paws.
“Welcome to the Clan, Demonkit,” Leafpool said in firm loud tones. Kye looked at her.
“Yes, all cats are known by kit until they become apprentices. Then he will be Demonpaw until he earns his warrior name.”
“Will it be Demon still?” Kye asked.
“Yes, and if he ever became leader, he’d be Demonstar.” Leafpool snorted with mirth. “But let’s not count our prey before we catch it.”
Kye glanced down at the kit, then nodded, liking this custom of her new home. She nuzzled the second largest kit, a dark silver-tabby with black stripes, and identical white markings to his father.
“This one is Phantomkit. He resembles his father too, like a phantom copy.” Kye licked the last little tom, a golden brown tabby with stark black stripes. “My sweet little one. I call you, Gentlekit.” Kye raised her head to face Demon B. His eyes shone approval. Kye licked the dark brown tabby and white she-kit, who squalled with temper. Kye laughed.
“She is an independent spirit,” Demon B murmured. “How about Indikit?”
“Perfect,” Kye purred, then touched her nose to the silvery black kit. “This inquisitive ball of smokey fuzz is Smokekit.”
“How about Bluekit for our smallest. Our little blue one with a white undercoat like mine,” Demon B murmured. “After Bluestar.”
“I love it,” Kye meowed. Leafpool stood up.
“Welcome to the Clan, Phantomkit, Demonkit, Gentlekit, Indikit, Smokekit and Bluekit.” Leafpool nudged Demon B. “Come! You must get back. You’re bleeding again. We must change your wrappings, cobweb, and poultices.”
“Can’t I stay here?” Demon B begged.
“No. Your best chance is where we can monitor you constantly. Please Demon B, let’s go.”
“Go,” Kye urged, going against her heart. “Do as they ask. I want you to heal. And ignore the doubters. I know you’re not evil. Others will soon learn that, too.”
“All right,” Demon B agreed, and staggered after Leafpool, his bottlebrush tail dragging the ground. Kye knew how much energy he expended visiting his kits, and as much as she wanted him curled up beside her, she understood he needed to stay in the Medicine den. She lay her head down, hoping her mate healed soon. She worried. If he lived, but remained crippled, what might he contribute to the Clan? If he failed to hunt, or fight, would they drive him out? She knew the accusations of being evil cut his heart like a blade.
Kye realized she liked it here, and dreaded the idea of wandering the wilderness alone, with six kits in tow, but the idea of separating from Demon B squeezed her very soul with pain. The thought of looking for new housefolk repulsed Kye. No other housefolk could ever replace what she lost. Her heart pounded suddenly and she buried her nose in her nest, thinking the worst. What if Demon B decided to drag himself away from those who thought him a villainous cat, and died from his injuries? She trembled, and concentrated on her kits, purring to them, trying to calm herself down.
During the next quarter moon, Kye left the queen’s den while her brood slept to hone hunting skills. True to her word, Squirrelflight mentored Kye, teaching her hunting and battle techniques within the confines of the hollow. After a quarter moon of training, Squirrelflight insisted Kye receive her apprentice name.
As the morning waxed warm, with sunlight streaming into the hollow, Bramblestar stood on Highledge.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” the Leader’s command echoed under the cliffs. Squirrelflight urged Kye to the center of the gathering cats, and the Maine Coon queen sat at the base of the cliff, gazing up at Bramblestar, wondering what came next. He continued to speak, his eyes on her.
“I appoint a new apprentice today. Kye, though you still have kits in your care, you have shown great aptitude in your early training. Informally training with my deputy, and at times, me, you have shown you are ready for full apprenticeship.” Bramblestar’s voice rolled out over the hollow. “You came to us ready to bear kits, giving ThunderClan six gifts from StarClan, who has decreed we help you, your mate and kits. In training you, mentoring you, we do this to help strengthen all of us. Are you ready to continue your training?”
“Yes!” Kye answered enthusiastically, feeling eager to prove herself, and to repay this Clan for helping her in such a dire time in her life.
“Kye.” Bramblestar gazed down at her, his eyes gleaming. “From this day forth you will be known as Kyepaw, and your mentor is Squirrelflight. I know she will train you well.”
“Kyepaw! Kyepaw!” rose from many throats, and, in moments, the entire Clan joined in. Squirrelflight bumped her, green eyes sparkling with delight.
“Strange times call for strange ways,” Squirrelflight meowed. “But now, when your kits sleep, we train, full speed.”
“Of course!” Kyepaw agreed, embracing her new name, feeling acceptance. She worried for her mate, since many still distrusted him. After the Clan congratulated her, and dispersed to their duties, she growled under her breath, not understanding why her mate’s name unnerved so many.
She returned to the nursery, and forced her annoyances away when her kits mewled for their meal. She stretched out on her side and fed them, anticipating her next session with her mentor, eager to learn the trick a smaller cat might use on a larger foe. She also wanted to learn how to hunt from above in the trees. The idea fascinated her.
After sunhigh, Kyepaw’s kits slept with full bellies and Squirrelflight called her out of the nursery. Kyepaw worked hard, and to her delight, other mentor and apprentice pairs joined the session. Thornclaw and Brackenfur gave her lessons by attacking her in tandem, then Squirrelflight joined them. Kyepaw reared, spinning and lashing out with her huge paws, slapping heads, bodies and anything she found within paw’s reach.
“Watch the big belly!” Brackenfur called out a number of times. “Small warriors can get up under you! Leap and twist so they never know where you will land.”
“Don’t let them land on you back, like this!” Sparkpaw meowed, leaping on top of her. Kyepaw whirled, spinning the apprentice off of her broad back. Her long thick bushy tail lashed another warrior across the face.
“Mousedung!” Thornclaw spat. “That tail hurts!” His eyes lit up. “Use it, Kyepaw! Whip your enemy hard.”
Kyepaw panted, pushing herself hard. Fighting lessons merged into hunting techniques. Primal joy surged through her, as mentors and apprentices gazed at her with respect in their eyes at session’s end. Squirrelflight led her to the fresh kill pile.
“Here take the biggest one. You earned it. Go feed your kits. Well done today!”
“Thanks,” Kyepaw murmured, suddenly feeling exhausted, as the exhilaration of her lessons ebbed. She took a fat squirrel, and carried it to the nursery, then sprawled out beside her kits, who immediately nursed. She ate her meal, giving Millie and Lilyheart big pieces, and fell deeply asleep while her brood fed.
Kyepaw jerked awake out of a deep sleep. Early morning light filtered into the den. Millie’s kits mewed and cried, and Millie fussed and worried over them. Kyepaw yawned, and lifted her head. Millie’s kits mewled, suckling at her belly, and Kyepaw heard the distress in their little voices.
“What is wrong?” Kyepaw asked, blinking sleep from her eyes.
“It’s me and my old body! I have no milk! My kits are too young! What do I do?” Millie’s voice rose to a heartrending wail.
“Again?” Lilyheart exclaimed in alarm.
“Yes!” Millie’s anguished cry brought Graystripe and Daisy in on the run. In moments, the entire camp milled outside the nursery. Jayfeather hurried in, followed by Leafpool. Both medicine cats examined Millie, and Leapool meowed. “Someone get fresh kill immediately!”
“That won’t help!” Millie cried in distress. “I’m well-fed! My body won’t make enough milk!”
“I’ll get some. . .” Jayfeather started, but Kyepaw shook herself out of her daze, cutting him off.
“Stop fussing! I have more than enough! Bring them to me!” Kyepaw commanded.
Graystripe carried his mewling kits to Kyepaw’s belly, and placed them against her. The kits found a place to nurse and latched on with gusto. Milk flowed freely.
“Thank you,” Greystripe mewed, and Kyepaw faced him. Millie rose and lay beside Kye, grooming her kits as they fed.
“Thank you, Kyepaw, thank you,” Millie mumbled.
“Thank you, Kyepaw,” Lilyheart mewed in sad tones. “I can't help, not for another moon or more.”
“My pleasure. No reason for kits to go hungry,” Kyepaw reassured both queens.
Blossomfall entered the nursery, and dropped some fresh prey at Kyepaw’s feet, then padded to her mother, touching noses in polite greeting. The tortoiseshell she-cat gazed at the kits longingly. Kye met the gaunt she-cat’s gaze, and nodded, before pushing the mouse back at Blossomfall.
“You eat it.” Kyepaw said. “I ate very well late night.”
“You just saved my little brothers from certain death,” Blossomfall mewed, then licked Kyepaw’s head. “I don’t care what others may say. Welcome to ThunderClan, Kyepaw. May StarClan bless you and your mate for more moons than we can count.”
“Thank you,” Kyepaw murmured, as Blossomfall walked out of the nursery with the mouse. Kyepaw watched until Blossomfall met Bumblestripe outside and stood a moment, heads together. They both glanced at her, deep gratitude in their eyes, then moved off to join a patrol. Kyepaw lowered her head and groomed the nursing kits, feeling more a part of ThunderClan now, glad that someone else appreciated her mate, too.
As the days passed, Kyepaw’s body produced more than enough milk, and she nursed Millie’s kits with her own on days Millie failed to produce milk, which happened more often than not, despite the fact that both queens grew plump. Thanks to Kyepaw’s rich milk all eight the kits waxed fat and healthy. Lilyheart grew larger, waddling when she left the den for the dirtplace.
The weather continued to warm, and the last patch of snow in the camp melted into the ground. When Kyepaw’s kits turned one moon old, the trees broke bud, and creatures emerged from hibernation. Lilyheart finally went into labor one morning, and bore three kits, black Larkkit, white and gold Honeykit, and tortoiseshell Leafkit. Joy filled the camp with a full nursery.
Demon B rested in the Medicine den still healing from his injuries, but often lay out in the early leaf break sun. Kye worried at his condition. Ragged clumps of fur covered his gaunt frame, and she knew he refused food for her and their kits. He looked beaten, defeated, and depressed, and Kyepaw hated how some of the Clan still shunned him. Demon B, always careful with his huge paws and jaws, never hurt a hair on anyone, but many eyed him askance, muttering and growling as they passed.
Most of the Clan cats also gave their fresh kill to Kyepaw, Lilyheart, and Millie, and the kits thrived. The rest of the Clan however, suffered from hunger, making sure what prey they caught went to feed the two queens and elders. Even Bramblestar looked thin and tired. Kyepaw vowed to hunt well, and feed her starving mate. Those who whispered behind his back, or avoided him and refused to speak to him, knew not the damage they caused.
A half moon ago, Kyepaw learned the story of the Great Battle, and understood why everyone hated the Dark Forest. But StarClan and the Four Clans vanquished it so many seasons ago. Why did so many insist on thinking Demon B possessed any connection to that horrid place at all?
On a warm breezy morning during late New Leaf, Kyepaw followed Squirrelflight out of camp for the first time since her arrival, eager for her first real hunt. She passed the Medicine Cat den, and she scowled at her mate. Demon B lay sprawled out in the sun, fur matted and clumped, parting to show the snowy white roots in a haphazard pattern, and not with the silvery highlights that should have graced his pelt. Her own red tabby fur shone with health, with the dark red swirling stripes standing out starkly from her creamy red base color. She slowed her trot, meeting his golden gaze, and saw weariness in his eyes, and haunting hunger.
“No more giving your food to me,” Kyepaw admonished, baring the tips of her fangs. “ Eat and live, so your kits know their father.”
“I will make sure he does eat the next offering.” Leafpool walked out of the den, and raked her claws through a mat on Demon B’s haunch. He growled.
“Fluff-brain,” Leafpool growled back, and continued to gently rake his fur. “I will not be cowed by those huge feet any longer.”
“Let her do it,” Kyepaw meowed, back over her shoulder. “Or I will!”
“Okay! Do it, Leafpool,” Demon B groaned and lay flat on his side. “I don’t want her doing this. She will rip it all out!”
Briarlight dragged herself out of the Medicine den and hauled herself up on Demon B’s body. She glared at him, kneading his spine with sharp claws. Kyepaw paused, watching the crippled she-cat, admiring her pluck and determination. Briarlight gazed at Demon B with adoration, which quickly turned to dismay. She took one paw, and combed her claws through his matted fur.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Briarlight admonished the gigantic tom. She dug her claws deeper into his fur. “You’ll heal and never be as crippled as me. I’ll help groom this mess you call a coat. And stop listening to fools! Get well and PROVE how good and loyal you are. My parents and siblings already know this. So do many others.”
“For you, little Briarlight, I will,” Demon B answered, his voice soft and high-pitched. Briarlight purred with amusement.
“So big with a baby voice!” She groomed his coat with tongue and claws.
“Very common with our breed,” Demon B responded. “You did notice that about my mate, right? When she isn’t screaming, growling or snarling.”
“Yes. We all have, but everyone is afraid to ask.” Briarlight’s purrs shook with laughter, and she glanced at Kyepaw. “But yours is higher than hers!”
Kyepaw watched the exchange, and met Briarlight’s gaze, then nodded her thanks. Someone needed to convince Demon B to cease his pity party, and if anyone possessed the ability to do so, Briarlight did. Kyepaw glanced toward the nursery, and saw Millie watching anxiously, as she always did with her daughter, but in the old grey queen’s eyes, Kyepaw saw gratitude. At least Millie understood how much Demon B helped Briarlight, and vice versa.
Kyepaw never gave her voice a thought before training with Squirrelflight, who asked her with no fear. She gave the same answer Demon B offered Briarlight, and Squirrelflight merely responded “Well, only StarClan knows why such big cats must suffer such silly soft high voices. But you sure can bellow and yowl loud enough when you need to.” Kyepaw remembered the great laugh they shared over it, but never gave the issue any further consideration.
“Kyepaw? Do you want to hunt or not?” Squirrelflight’s sharp voice drifted back to Kyepaw, shaking her out of her thoughts.
“Of course!” Kyepaw yowled, and followed Squirrelflight out of the camp, and down into the forest. Kyepaw remembered her lessons, and walked on silent pads, bushy tail tucked to her body. She quelled the urge to twitch it. Leaves rustled, and she heard the chittering of foraging squirrels. Squirrelflight hung back, and vanished into the undergrowth, her pelt melting into the browns, rusts and golds of the brush A green blush of new leaves covered everything. Ahead, two squirrels raced around the base of a tree, digging in the leaf litter, chattering at each other. Kyepaw dropped to her stomach, and crawled, step by step, halting if one of them liftedits head. She watched every speck of ground for crispy leaves.
Out of her peripheral vision she spotted Squirrelflight paralleling her, heading for the other side of the tree. She kept her lessons in her mind. Concentrate! Move slowly, yet keep those hind legs tucked for the final pounce! The larger squirrel chattered at the other, and scurried toward Kyepaw, digging in the soil. Kyepaw judged the distance. The instincts of her long gone ancestors screamed in her blood, as she exploded from her crouch. The squirrel jerked its head up, but she landed her huge paws on its back, slamming it into the ground. She wasted no time delivering the kill bite to the back of the neck, then shook it for good measure. She salivated as the blood ran in her mouth, but resisted the urge to tear into the prey and gobble it up. She remembered; elders, injured Warriors, Queens and kits came first!
The other squirrel screamed on the other side of the tree before silencing abruptly. Squirrelflight trotted over from behind the tree, dragging her kill, and seeing Kyepaw, her eyes widened with pleased surprise. She let go of her prey.
“Great job!” Squirrelflight inspected the catch. “Quick kill.”
“Yes,. I landed on its back. I hope I am always so lucky,” Kyepaw meowed around her prey.
“You have learned well and have fine instincts.” Squirrelflight picked up her fresh kill. “Let’s get back to camp and feed our clan and your stubborn, starving mate.”
Kyepaw followed her mentor through the entryway. The camp appeared deserted, but Kyepaw knew everyone roamed the territory, hunting. She worried, hearing so much about the marauding foxes this past moon. They competed with the Clan for every bite of prey. Squirrelflight brought her kill to the nursery, and Kyepaw heard the excited mews of Millie, Lilyheart, and Daisy. Kyepaw marched to the Medicine den, where her mate lay. He drowsed, and she noticed his fur looked better. Briarlight slept, draped over his flank, but she woke, sniffing the air.
“I’m hungry!” She nudged Demon B. “You better eat something!”
Leafpool and Jayfeather walked out of the den.
“I smell fresh prey,” Jayfeather commented.
“Great Starclan! Look at the size of that squirrel!” Leafpool exclaimed. “You caught that? Excellent first kill!”
“Yes, and thanks” Kyepaw answered, and dropped it at Demon B’s paws. She tore off a hind leg and gave it to Jayfeather. “Please, take this. For all you have done.”
Jayfeather gratefully accepted it. Leafpool shook her head.
“I don’t need the other leg, Kyepaw. My sister has been making sure I’m fed, and though I refused many meals to feed you, I’m fine. Your mate needs this more than any of us”
“Eat!” Kyepaw faced Demon B, pushing the prey under his nose. He licked it, then leveled his haunted gaze on her.
“Give it to someone else,” he mumbled. “I am crippled. Everyone hates me. What good will I be?”
“Just stop it,” Kyepaw yowled at him, fury and sympathy flashing through her, wondering what happened in her absence to fling him back into such depression. “Would you see your kits fatherless? You don’t know that you’ll be useless! Didn’t Briarlight knock sense into your mouse-brained head? Promise me, please, that you’ll eat, exercise and get better!”
“Why?” Demon B flashed his impressive fangs. Briarlight cringed back, her eyes wide, but she stayed on Demon B’s back as he vented his despair. “So I can be a burden? I will never hunt like you just did. I can’t even fight as a warrior.”
“Maybe not now,” Kyepaw cuffed him on the head. “You always had strength! Remember when you sprained your leg and our housefolk took you to the vet?”
“Think about it, mouse-brain!” Kyepaw clicked her teeth. “You may have been slow and clumsy during that time, but, you had no trouble pinning that intruder kittypet to the ground with one paw!” Kyepaw lashed her bottlebrush tail. “And held him immobile with those claws.”
“You did that?” Briarlight found her voice. The shock and fright left her eyes, replaced by admiration. “See? Spiderleg is wrong! He will see that soon! Don’t listen to him and the other doubters!”
“Once you gain your strength back, you will find your place. You’ll earn their respect. At seven suncycles old, you should know better!” Kyepaw added, her voice calmer.
“Seven suncycles?” Leafpool asked. “You mentioned that before.”
“Yeah, she did. It means a cycle of the four seasons,” Jayfeather grumbled, then faced Demon B, sightless eyes narrowing. “You are 28 season old?? You’re older than me! Older than my mother, yet your wisdom fails you.”
“Seven suncycles is not old!” Demon B protested, then sagged. “I feel like I am fifteen suncyles old now.”
“You’re not an Elder yet!” Kyepaw spat, then mewed softly. “Please, Demon B, for me, our kits, eat!”
“Eat, Fluff-brain,” Briarlight interjected, and glared at Demon B, picking up the piece of prey Squirrelflight offered her. “I am! So must you!”
Demon B dropped his head, then gazed at Kyepaw a long moment. With a sigh, tore into the fresh kill with gusto. He crunched the bones and ate everything but the fur. Kyepaw nodded approval and rubbed her head against his, and purred. His purr answered her, and love filled her heart. She knew she needed him, as his inner strength fueled her own. She poked him with a paw.
“If someone gives you fresh kill, you eat! Understand?”
“Yes, my Queen,” Demon B answered, mirth flickering in his golden eyes. “Keep rubbing it in that you are only three suncycles old.”
“Three?” Leafpool gazed at Kyepaw. “You’re twelve seasons old? And you are having your first litter now?”
“Our breed takes that long to full mature. Sure, I could have had my first litter at 9 or 10 moons, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t full grown yet.” Kyepaw wrinkled her nose. “My kits won’t be fully grown for many, many of your seasons! To us, a season is one suncycle, a cycle of the seasons that begin with leaf bloom, oops, New Leaf.”
“Well,” Jayfeather grumbled. “I hope you keep your longevity and pass it to your kits, and eventually, to your Clan, but our life is not always easy. It is rare to reach over forty seasons. Only kittypets can grow that old.”
“I’m not an elder, and I’m not a kittypet anymore,” Demon B retorted. “I‘ll eat and get strong again.”
“Good,” Kyepaw mewed “Now I’ll feed our kits. Soon they will leave the den to play in camp and begin learning about life. I want them to know their father!”
“And I want to see you recover! If I did, so can you!” Briarlight bumped Demon B with her head. Kyepaw watched, amused, since Demon B’s head loomed over the little crippled she-cat like a legendary lion. He merely flicked his tail, and groomed the top of her head. She faced Kyepaw. “I can’t wait to play with your kits!”
“I don’t know if your kits will live as long as you,” A warrior spoke up, and Kyepaw recognized Stormcloud. “You had plenty of food and shelter as a kittypet. Like I did. I chose this life, but it’s not easy. You didn’t choose.”
“No, I didn’t.” Kyepaw felt a flash of anxiety ripple her long thick fur. “But, I’m happy here and my kits are safe. StarClan chose for us, and it’s a good choice.”
“Would you return to your two-legs if they showed up here?” Stormcloud asked. Kyepaw lowered her head, feeling grief for the loss of her housefolk.
“I, I, don’t know,” she admitted. “If they were my housefolk? Maybe, but strange two-legs? I don’t think I would.”
“Even if they cured Demon B’s handicaps?” asked a pretty ginger she-cat, who sidled up against Stormcloud.
“I, oh, I don’t know, Cherryfall.” Kyepaw gripped the ground, flexing her formidable claws, gouging the soil.
“We don’t mean to upset you, Kyepaw,” Stormcloud said, his voice soft. “Some of us, well, we would hate to see you leave us. And not all of us distrust your mate. We understand that two-legs named him, and not some minion of the Dark Forest.”
“I’m grateful, and, I don’t think I’ll leave. My housefolk died in that fire. I have no two-leg home to return to.” Kyepaw mewed. “But if. . .”
"Stay," another warrior insisted. Bumblestripe and Blossonfall joined Stormcloud and Cherryfall. Bumblestripe regarded her with a soft expression, his light green eyes in beautiful contrast with his silvery light grey base color with its jet-black stripes. "We love you as kin already. And who can dislike Demon B when Briarlight loves him so much? Our mother actually can cease her constant fretting over her, too, and I hope she does. Don't let a few foxhearts upset you or your mate."
“Stay, big red Queen,” Kyepaw recognized Purdy’s voice. He padded out of the Elder’s Den and sat beside Demon B.
“Purdy, I . . .”
“We need a youngin’ like yer kind around. Rare they are, since most purebred snooty two-leg cats ne’er step outside.” Purdy flicked an ear. “Yer different. Somethin’ runs in yer blood, a wildness two-legs didn’t breed outta yer kind.”
“I, Well. . .” Kyepaw stammered, not knowing what to say.
“Go, feed yer youngin’s,” Purdy flashed her a broad feline smile, baring the tips of his worn fangs. “Make ‘em grow strong. Now I’ll show yer mate his worth, and tell’im not t’listen to fools.”
“I will, and thank you. Demon B should love your stories,” Kyepaw replied, then spun away and trotted to the nursery, concerned how this way of life might affect her and her kits’ lifespans. Stormcloud’s admission echoed in her head, battling Purdy’s words of encouragement. Could she ever really leave her new home? As she entered, six balls of fluff attacked her, and she forgot her worry.
“Kyemama! We’re hungry!” Demonkit announced, his long tail straight up behind him. His white muzzle, throat and paws stood out in the darkness of the den. Phantomkit flanked his brother, his white markings mirroring Demonkit’s, but black tabby stripes over dark grey broke the illusion of twinning. Kyepaw purred and stretched out in her nest.
“Come and drink, my kits, but soon, you will learn to eat fresh kill.”
“I’ll be the best hunter!” Phantomkit bragged.
“No! I will be!” Demonkit argued, and Kyepaw’s purrs pulsed with laughter. The friendly rivalry between her two largest kits pleased her, since they also developed a strong bond that promised to be powerful. The six kits nursed, and Kyepaw flinched, feeling needle teeth pinching her belly. She sighed. Weaning time arrived, and with her next catch, she planned to introduce her kits to fresh kill.
“I’m glad mine don’t have their teeth yet,” Lilyheart uttered an amused purr as she nursed her young brood.
“It won’t be long,” Kyepaw retorted with a mrrrow of laughter.
“Your kits grow so big and strong!” Millie commented. “My two are so small in comparison.”
“Your kits thrive.” Kyepaw faced the old queen. “Remember, my breed produces very large kits. Don’t compare them. Greykit and Rainkit are healthy and well!”
“Yes, you are right. I keep thinking they are behind, but, they aren’t, are they,” Millie said. “And thanks to your milk! If not for you, my kits never would have made it this far. I don’t have enough milk. Not enough for only two kits! Just dreadful. I really am too old to be having kits.” Millie’s eyes widened as her kits squealed. Long-haired pale grey Rainkit wailed.
“Millieee! We hungry!”
“So sorry, my little ones,” Millie mewed. “Go to Kyemama. She will feed you.”
The two kits scurried to Kyepaw, and bravely jostled Demonkit and Indikit. Demonkit moved away, and sat down, blinking. Indikit hissed between clenched jaws, her white legs latching on to Kyepaw’s tummy.
“Stop that!” Phantomkit bopped his sister on the head with a big fuzzy white paw. “Rainkit and Greykit need to eat! Remember?”
“No! I’m not full yet!” Indikit protested. “They can wait.”
“Look at your round belly!” Phantomkit cuffed his sister on the head again. “Don’t be so selfish!”
When Indikit growled, refusing to let Greykit feed, Phantomkit pounced on her, forcing her away.
“Owww,” Kyepaw hissed, as Indikit’s teeth and claws scratched her belly. She tapped Indikit with a big paw on the kit’s exposed white belly. “Stop being such a brat and learn to share!”
“Okaaay!" Indikit wailed, and rolled over, her dark-brown tabby back visible again. Jet-black striped her head before mingling in the thick puffy fur of her rumpled back. She shook herself and pounced on Phantomkit The two wrestled on the moss bedding, and Indikit's loud squalls of rage echoed in the den. Lilyheart moved a leg, creating a barrier between them and her kits.
"She is the only one of your kits that has a very loud voice!" Millie sneezed her amusement.
"It’s as if she got all of the lung power," Lilyheart commented.
"It happens," Kyepaw replied with a chuckle in her purr. “Once in a while, one or two of us gets a big mouth. Phantomkit can compete with her when he wishes, but he only uses his strident voice when he has to. Indikit is just a brat.”
“She will be pawful, even for your huge ones,” Millie mewled with laughter, laying next to Kyepaw, grooming her kits as they fed. “If she channels that wild side, she will be a fine warrior one day.”
“Not if I flatten her out first!” Kyepaw bared her fangs. “She will . . .” A commotion erupted out in camp, whipping Kyepaw’s head around as cat screeching filled the air.
“Foxes!” Leafpool’s wail echoed across the clearing. “Demon B! Briarlight! Get inside now!”
“They will not get past me!” Demon B’s snarl reverberated off the cliffs.
“ThunderClan warriors!!! Attack!” Bramblestar’s yowl followed. “They’re running for the queen’s den! Head them off!”
Fear, then rage flashed though Kyepaw, and her maternal instincts rose up with tornadic fury.
“They dare think they can eat our kits?” Kyepaw hissed with wrath. “Not while I breathe!” Kyepaw jumped up, shaking the kits free, ignoring their protests, and leaped for the entrance.
“No!” Millie wailed in sheer terror. “Come back!”
“Kyepaw, NO! ” Daisy shrieked, ranging herself in front of Millie. Kyepaw turned, and hissed at the eight kits.
“Go to Millie and Daisy! NOW!” The wall of fluff scurried back to Daisy’s flank, and eight pais of bright blue eyes peered back at her. Lilyheart’s kits fussed, sensing danger, fueling Kyepaw’s outrage. Kyepaw faced out at the camp, hesitating for a breath, before maternal fury overwhelmed her, flooding her body with adrenaline.
“NOBODY hurts our kits or my friends!” she snarled, and plunged forward, her long pelt bristling. Briars on the roof of the den ripped wads of her fur out, but she cared not.
“Kyepaw! No! Let the us take care of this!” Kyepaw caught a glimpse of Poppyfrost, a tortoiseshell warrior, who ran at the oncoming threat and the nursery.
“Nothing threatens our kits! I’ll rip them apart!” Kyepaw screeched, racing past her new friend, as two red doglike creatures raced toward the den. The largest ignored the two warriors on his heels, his eyes fixated on the queen’s den. The second stumbled, but followed, despite the two bleeding warriors, Berrynose and Spiderleg, hanging off of its body. A third, smaller than the others, battled two other warriors, yapping and growling by the camp entrance, where Bramblestar stood, battling another young fox.
The fifth fox, a smaller vixen, darted toward the medicine den. Kyepaw saw Demon B stretched out in front of the medicine cat’s den, bristling so he looked twice his already impressive size, and he completely blocked the entrance. His staccato growl echoed across the camp, and with one lightning swipe of his enormous healthy paw, he slapped the little vixen across the hollow, scouring her pelt with deep gashes. The vixen rolled over several times, laying sprawled on the ground, stunned. Bumblestripe, Blossomfall and Cherryfall blocked the Elder’s den, creating a fearsome display of fang and claw.
Pride filled Kyepaw for that split second, then she returned her attention forward, dashing at the menace heading straight for her. In a micromoment, she sized up the enemy, and realized the red dog-fox stood taller than she did, but lacked the sharp claws and weight of her kind. Kyepaw shrieked, and launched herself at the dog-fox. Its yellow eyes widened, showing whites, but before it changed course, Kyepaw smashed into it, and extended her massive claws, latching onto her enemy. She bowled the fox over, and pounced, slashing, driven by raging maternal instincts. Her claws ripped open its face, drawing blood that poured from deep slashes. One claw tore an eye. Ruddy fur flew in every direction.
Kyepaw spared one glance for the other fox, satisfied that the warriors chasing her foe turned to the other adult fox, which five warriors now attacked, slashing into its thick fur, drawing blood. Kyepaw renewed her attack, her massive forepaws blurs as she pummeled her enemy. She extended her claws fully, rending and tearing at her enemy, holding back nothing. Blood spattered the fox and Kyepaw’s bristling fur. She tore without mercy into the fox’s belly and flanks, furrowing deep gashes into its flesh.
“Leave us alone, and never ever attack our kits again!” she shrieked. The fox rolled over, and drew its legs beneath it, and with a shrill yap, fled Kyepaw’s onslaught. Its mate and half grown pup wiggled free of enraged warriors and escaped out of the camp entrance. The vixen Demon B flung across the camp staggered to her feet and vanished through a small gap in the thorn barrier. Kyepaw slapped the dog fox one last blow before it bounded away, leaving deep gashes on its rump. Kyepaw stood, framed by brambles and thorns, heaving for breath, wrath pounding through her entire body. She barely heard the cheerful meowing behind her, until her heart rate dropped. She turned back into camp, walked over to her mate and sat down, regaining her breath.
“Great Starclan!” Lionblaze exclaimed, as cats crowded Kyepaw. “You beat him witless!”
“Fine battle!” Cinderheart added. “I had my doubts about you. Too big to move quick, I thought. Wrong!”
“Excellent job!” Poppyfrost exclaimed, her eyes gleaming. “I always wondered how a big soft kittypet might fight! I’m impressed.”
“Fine work, youngin!” Purdy’s voice called out, as he squeezed between Cherryfall and Blossomfall. “Kits’ll hear this story fer many seasons!”
“I only thought to protect the kits,” Kyepaw stammered, surprised by the admiration her adopted Clan showed her. Daisy and Millie peered out of the Queen’s den, and clustered at their feet, the eight kits sat, eyes wide with wonder. Beyond them, Lilyheart’s wide eyes glinted in the dark den.
“Squirrelflight taught you well,” Demon B meowed, pride ringing in his voice.
“You were magnificent!” Briarlight clambered on Demon B’s back. “Kyepaw is a warrior! You too, Demon B! I saw what you did!”
“She had moves I never taught her!” Squirrelflight retorted, but Kyepaw heard the delight in her mentor’s tone. “Demon B is as powerful as a badger! Amazing move!”
“Great battle,” Bramblestar meowed, and he walked up to Kyepaw. In his eyes Kyepaw saw admiration and gratitude. “Well done to all. Kyepaw, you have shown yourself a worthy warrior, and your injured mate used his advantages to help protect the medicine den and our precious medicine cats. Deeds that shall not go unrewarded.”
Bramblestar turned, and trotted up the cliff to Highledge. Warriors milled, mewling and muttering with excitement, many glancing at the large log marked with memorials to fallen warriors. Kyepaw learned the tales of the Great Battle, heard how they almost lost the stick in the Great Flood, and the memorial meant more to her with each passing day. She vowed to defend her Clan and honor their memories by always fighting with all the strength she possessed. She heard Bramblestar’s paws land on Highledge. ThunderClan’s leader faced the expectant growing crowd, and uttered the command.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out over the camp. “We gain new Warriors this day!”
“Come on.” A cat bumped Kyepaw. She turned, meeting Cinderheart’s amber eyes. Excitement danced in their depth, and Kyepaw saw it mirrored in every pair of eyes. She followed the throng of cats, glancing at the nursery, where Millie and Daisy sat just outside the entrance. The eight kits, sat in front, wide-eyed and obedient. Even Indikit sat rooted to the ground, not moving or fidgeting. She stared at Kyepaw, her blue-green eyes wide with shock and wonder.
“Your kits are so fluffy and adorable,” Poppyfrost mewed, and Kyepaw heard the delight and longing in her voice.
“You’ve had kits?”
“Oh yes, I have, and long for more. Lilyheart is lucky. Millie and Graystripe did not expect them, but they are a blessing from StarClan, as are yours!” Poppyfrost regarded Kyepaw with solemn green eyes. “We’re all hungry all the time thanks to those foxes. Hungry bodies can’t produce kits.”
“Then you keep your prey, mouse-brain, and stop giving your share to me.” Kyepaw gently cuffed Poppyfrost. “I hope you do have kits soon.”
“Me, too. . .” Poppyfrost paused. “It begins!”
“Today we name two new warriors.” Bramblestar’s voice thundered, shattering the conversation. Kyepaw shook herself and hurried to the base of the leader’s rock, joining her mate, who lay between Jayfeather and Leafpool. “Two former kittypets displayed courage and bravery and helped their Clan this day. If any cat disagrees, please say so now, or forever keep your jaws shut!” Bramblestar's golden-amber gaze swept over the gathered clan “Kyepaw! You and your mate have proven your courage and loyalty in the face of grave dangers. I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon this apprentice and her mate. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warriors in their turn”
Kyepaw trembled in spite of herself. She felt acceptance wash over her, and knew her home lay here in this hollow.
“Kyepaw,” Bramblestar continued. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” Kyepaw answered without hesitation. She stood, pride and astonishment causing every hair on her long thick pelt to rise. She flagged her bottlebrush tail high over her back
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Kyestorm. From this moment you will be known as Kyestorm, a cyclone that fights for and protects the Clan! Welcome to ThunderClan new Warrior!”
“Kyestorm! Kyestorm! Kyestorm!” erupted from many throats.
“Thank you, Bramblestar!” Kyestorm sat down, and glanced at her mate, who lay beside her, still healing from his wounds. Blood seeped from the injury on his foreleg, but he ignored it. Demon B purred raggedly, looking worriedly around at the throng of cats.
“Demon B!” Bramblestar called out, and with a flick of his tail, indicated that Demon B remain prone. Demon B gazed up at Bramblestar. His golden eyes blazed, and though his wound bled, he struggled to sit up. Leafpool moved, but Demon B shook his head vigorously. Bramblestar continued. “Though you have not apprenticed, in the light of special circumstances, you have earned this. Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan even at the cost of your life?”
“Yes, I do!” Demon B rumbled, flicking his thick bushy tail.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name, Demonstone. From this moment you will be known as Demonstone. I give you this name in recognition of your courage, in making yourself a barrier to protect the Medicine cats and den, despite your own injuries. You have shown your warrior spirit, strong and solid like stone. You have shown you have no connection to the Dark Forest. If Briarlight shows no fear, and only love for this injured warrior, then none shall fear him, except our enemies! Welcome to ThunderClan new warrior!”
“Demonstone! Demonstone! Demonstone!” The cries echoed in the camp. Kyestorm watched every pair of eyes, and saw acceptance. Warriors crowded Demonstone, gently bumping him or cuffing him, all eager to fight beside him in some future battle. Many witnessed the enemy vixen’s unceremonious exit from the camp. Kyestorm’s heart swelled with pride and gratitude that her adopted Clan finally accepted her mate.
“ThunderClan honors your bravery and dedication. We welcome you both as full members to ThunderClan.” Bramblestar jumped down to where Kyestorm and Demonstone rested. He touched his head to Demonstone’s, who licked his shoulder, then with his tail, Bramblestar beckoned to Kyestorm. She stared for a moment, before she realized she needed to lay down for Bramblestar to complete the ceremony. She dropped to her chest, and Bramblestar rested his head on hers. She impulsively licked his shoulder.
“Thank you for what you did this day,” he whispered, then raised his voice. “ Soon, in five moons, we shall have new apprentices!” Bramblestar nodded towards the queen’s den. “ThunderClan recovers. We will meet any challenges ahead.”
Warriors meowed and yowled in agreement. Bramblestar stood up, and gazed at Kyestorm, his features breaking into a feline smile.
“Go to your kits. There is good reason why we sacrificed meals to you. And all should know what you did for Millie’s kits as well. By offering them your milk when she dried up, you saved their lives. I know you’ll take good care of them all.”
“I will,” Kyestorm nodded and turned away, hurrying back to her kits. She paused and looked back, worried for her mate, but Demonstone stood up, and hobbled back to the Medicine den. Warriors and apprentices alike assisted him, meowing all at once, asking him to tell the tale of the vanquished young vixen. Leafpool and Jayfeather swarmed all over him, replacing the cobweb, making sure the wound sealed. Demonstone stretched out, and Briarlight draped over him, purring. Kyestorm walked into the nursery, and the kits pounced on her.
“I am so thankful for your mate,” Millie meowed. “Briarlight does love him like a big brother. I don’t worry about her as much with him there.”
“He won’t let anything happen to her,” Kyestorm said. “And she gets exercise pulling herself off and on him all day.”
“I saw everything, Kyemama!” Phantomkit squeaked in excitement. “Demonpoppa was so brave, too!”
“We grow and be strong like you,” Demonkit added.
“I slap foxes! Slash and do the same!” Indikit exclaimed, pouncing on an imaginary enemy.
“Yes, my sweet kits. You’re the Maine Coons of ThunderClan,” Kyestorm mewed at them, laughter shaking her voice. “Come and eat. Grow strong. Greykit and Rainkit, you, too.”
“Kyestorm,” Daisy murmured Kyestorm’s new name. “A great warrior name. Will you really fight?”
“Of course she will,” Lilyheart scoffed. “Why wouldn’t she?”
“She’s a kittypet, like me. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t,” Daisy retorted with a hiss.
“I will fight. Foxes are too brave these days.” Kyestorm growled. “Invading our camp is just unacceptable.”
“They are too brazen,” Millie shifted nervously. “ We head into Green Leaf soon, and prey should be plentiful, but Leaf Fall and Leaf Bare come so fast and seem way too long.”
“We’ll be apprentices then!” Phantomkit sat down, facing Kyestorm, intelligence flaring in his blue eyes, which glittered with flecks of sea-green. “They won’t get us!”
“Never! They won’t get any kit, ever! Not on my watch,” Kyestorm bared her teeth and hissed. Rage flashed through her. “Next time, I will kill them!”
Her denmates purred approval and Kyestorm saw the hope shining in their eyes. A flicker of alarm rippled her fur, as she realized what she just claimed. She nosed all the kits to her belly, and as the adrenaline ebbed from her body, weariness invaded every muscle. She heard Millie’s purring as she washed each kit. Daisy fussed with bedding and Lilyheart purred raggedly to her new kits. Fears crept in to replace Kyestorm’s bravado. What have I done, she thought, what have I promised? She shivered, trying to purge the anxiety from her body and mind before she sat vigil that evening.
On the evening of the Fox Battle, Kyestorm walked out of the nursery. She waved her tail at Demonstone, and he got to his feet. He limped after her, joining her at the entrance of the hollow, sitting beside a clump of thick, tall ferns. They sat down, bodies touching, facing out toward the forest. They said nothing.
“Demonstone! Kyestorm? ” Leapool’s voice called out. “What are you doing?”
“We sit vigil, as all new warriors must,” Demonstone meowed back, his high voice dropping as he added. “Don’t try to stop me.”
“Kyestorm, the kits.” Leafpool hurried over on silent paws, not wanting to disturb the camp.
“They are fully fed, and can wait until sunrise for their next meal. Millie and Daisy will keep them snug and warm.” Kyestorm raised her voice. “It is my duty as a new warrior to sit vigil! I won’t be given exception.”
“Nor I,” Demonstone agreed, laying on his chest and settling in.
“Let them perform their duty,” Kyestorm recognized Bramblestar’s voice, and saw the Clan leader trotting toward them. “I see we won’t be able to talk them out of this.” Bramblestar halted, the three-quarter moon shining in his golden-amber eyes, as he gazed pointedly at Demonstone. “New warrior, if you start to feel badly, you must retreat to the medicine den. Is that clear? Your duty will still be fulfilled.”
“Yes, Bramblestar,” Demonstone nodded.
“Good. Carry on,” Bramblestar said and sauntered back to his den. Kyestorm watched a moment, then turned her senses out at the forest. She heard nocturnal prey scurrying through the brush. Moonlight streamed past New Leaf growth, and refracted off the lake, sparkling like Silverpelt above. Kyestorm looked up, listening to the muted sounds of the sleeping camp, then glanced at her mate.
“We did well today, and showed ThunderClan we belong. Do you think we filled our destiny yet?”
“I don’t know,” Demonstone murmured, his gold eyes peering into the brush. “I don’t feel I earned my warrior name. I didn’t even apprentice.”
“Don’t doubt yourself,” Kyestorm retorted irritably. “As hurt as you are, you sent that little she-fox rolling like a stone across the camp! Cats noticed!”
“Was that our destiny?” Demonstone asked, his black-smoke fur bristling briefly. “It can’t be that easy.”
“Why not?” Kyestorm asked. “It. . . .”
A faint haunting howl echoed over the lake from well beyond the Horseplace, answered by another, dissolving the conversation. Answering barks resounded from the Horseplace, as the resident canines uttered defiance. Kyestorm shivered and met Demonstone’s golden gaze. She knew that howl, knew it to the bottom of her soul, and in Demonstone’s eyes, she saw recognition. The source of that howl did not belong here in the land beyond the Great Water.
“That is our destiny,” Demonstone rumbled, a growl deep in his chest. “They should not be here, yet they are. They are the reason our housefolk forced us indoors at our old home.”
“How did they get here?” Kyestorm asked, a growl lowering her voice. “If they are male and female, and mate, they endanger us all!”
“Do you know what the creature is that howls like that?” Branblestar’s low voice startled Kyestorm. She whirled to face the ThunderClan leader. His eyes met hers and she saw deep concern glimmering in their depths, and the sure knowledge that she and Demonstone knew the answer. Demonstone hissed in the direction of the Horseplace.
“Yes,” Kyestorm answered. “If our destiny is to help you battle this creature, then Jayfeather was right. It won’t be easy.”
“Why? Is it a dog? If so what kind?” Bramblestar asked.
“It’s not a dog at all, but a wild canine. Our housefolk called them Coyotes.” Demonstone answered, still growling. “Cunning and ruthless, they run in organized packs.”
“”They will be worse than any foxes,” Kyestorm added, her fur bristling with fear.
“How can we defeat them?” Bramblestar asked, and Kyestorm heard dread for the Clans in his tone. “I’ve never heard of such beasts.”
“Demonstone and I will not be enough. Our kits grow fast, but it will take all the Clans to fight together, but if the pack grows too large, they can drive us out, or worse, eat us all.” Kyestorm lashed her tail and uttered a fearful wail. “That is our destiny! To battle them with the Clans, to drive them out!”
“How can I help?” Demonstone muttered. “Slinging a little fox away is one thing, but Coyotes get larger, often to more than twice my size! They gather in winter to hunt, but otherwise hunt alone or in pairs. It will take me in full health to battle one of those wild canines.”
“If this is so, we have time before Leaf Bare to get your kits trained, and warn the Clans of the danger. We will do so at the next Gathering. I am sure others have heard that howl.” Bramblestar bristled. “Don’t fear. You have ThunderClan behind you, and we know how valuable you will be come next Leaf Bare. Kyestorm, you will come to the next Gathering. We need to convince the Clans danger comes.”
“I will do my best,” Kyestorm purred, trying to stifle her fears. She turned to Demonstone as Bramblestar returned his den.
“We do have knowledge of this enemy,” he said softly. “I hope it is enough.”
“Me, too,” Kyestorm mewed. She and Demonstone finished their vigil in silence. As the sun rose, slanting warm rays into the hollow, Kyestorm stood up. Demonstone rose to his feet, slowly, with a few hissing grunts. Squirrelflight trotted past them on her way out on a hunting patrol. Her two kits flanked her. Alderpaw, the young tom that resembled Bramblestar in red, gave them a feline grin, but Kyestorm noticed something in the youngster's demeanor. His fur bristled with frustration and anxiety. In contrast, Sparkpaw, the bright red she-cat, nodded at them, her whole being full of pride and accomplishment.
“Hallo, new warriors,” Squirrelflight hailed them, waving her tail in their direction. “You are relieved of duty. Go and rest.”
Kyestorm nodded her head, and walked toward the nursery. She eyed Demonstone, noticing his stubborn leg wound leaked fluid, caking the black fur on his leg, which split to reveal the pristine white roots.
“Go to see Leafpool,” she meowed.
“Yes, my Queen,” he mewed, a rumbled of amusement in his voice. “Go see our kits. They must be hungry.”
“Of course,” Kyestorm laughed, watching him limp into the medicine den. Jayfeather’s grumbling echoed to her ears , but she only caught a few words, like “mouse-brain” and “fluff-head.” Kyestorm halted outside the nursery on a sunlit patch of new grass, and lay down.
“Come kits! Time for breakfast!” she called.
“Kyemama!!!!!” Phantomkit and Demonkit bounced out of the nursery in tandem, followed by Indikit, Smokekit, Greykit, and Bluekit. Gentlekit trailed them, walking slowly, his tail up over his back like a curved branch. Rainkit followed Gentlekit, blue eyes full of hope.
“Come. Time for breakfast.” All eight kits rushed to Kyestorm and found their place to nurse. Millie shuffled out, followed by Daisy.
“Sorry, Kyestorm,” Millie mewed. “My milk supply is dried up completely.”
“No matter,” Kyestorm met Millie’s gaze as the kits fed. “I have plenty and they are ready for fresh kill now. Little kit teeth are sharp!”
“Demonstone!” Daisy exclaimed, and Kyestorm turned her head. The giant black smoke Maine Coon tom hobbled over to the sunny spot, with Briarlight riding his back, and gently stretched his considerable bulk out. Briarlight maneuvered herself so she hung onto Demonstone’s shoulders.
“I am cleared for playing with my kits,” Demonstone purred. “Jayfeather fussed, but realized the vigil did no damage.”
“I am so excited to play with them!” Briarlight squeaked in delight. Her sky blue eyes shimmered with joy. Kyestorm looked the little she-cat over, noticing the bulk to her forequarter muscles.
Demonpoppa! Briarlight!” Phantomkit left his spot at Kyestorm’s belly and scampered to his sire. Demonkit followed, squeaking in delight. Indikit ran over, and skidded to a halt, smashing into her brothers.
“Move outta my way!” she squalled and swatted Phantomkit, who raised his paw to slap back, but Kyestorm stopped his action with a low rumble deep in her chest.
“What did I tell all of you about treating you siblings?”
“Indikit,” Demonstone growled, but his eyes danced with mirth. Indikit whirled to face her father, and her eyes widened with alarm. “Don’t react with anger when what happened was your fault!”
“Sorry Demonpoppa! Sorry!”
“It’s not me you should apologize to,” Demonstone admonished her. Indikit turned to her brothers.
“Sorry,” she mewled, her eyes glinting.
“You don’t mean it,” her golden brown tabby brother remarked, his gaze deep with inner knowledge. “You shouldn’t be so bratty.”
“Quiet, Gentlekit,” Indikit snapped with sudden irritable temper. “You think you know everything.”
“I don’t,” Gentlekit purred. “But someday I will know a lot because I’m gonna be a Medicine Cat like Jayfeather!”
“I’m gonna be a warrior!” Rainkit cried.
“Me, too,” Indikit mewed, and jumped to pounce on her own long tail. “I’m going to be a powerful warrior!”
“If you live long enough!” Smokekit laughed, jumping high onto her father’s back. She balanced on long legs. “Someone is gonna flatten you because you’re such a smartbutt!”
“It won’t be you!” Indikit retorted, her eyes twinkling. Smokekit dismissed her sister and leaned into Briarlight with a purr.
“Glad to see you!”
“Me too!” Phantomkit joined his sister, and in moments the eight kits all greeted Briarlight and Demonstone. Kyestorm relaxed, glad her kits returned to normal bantering. Indikit’s temper worried her, and she glanced at Bluekit, who struggled to join Smokekit on Demonstone’s back.
“How did we give birth to two kits with such differences in leg length?” Kyestorm snorted, flicking her long bottelbrush tail. “Smokekit is so tall and Bluekit looks almost stunted.”
“I don’t know,” Demonstone shook his head, his gold eyes shining with delight as Greykit and Rainkit climbed up his flank. “Where did Indikit’s temper come from?”
“StarClan only knows,” Kyestorm sighed, then tensed as Indikit slapped Rainkit off of her father’s flank. Rainkit jumped again, but Indikit barred her way, rump wiggling, tail straight up.
“Indikit!” Kyestorm hissed the warning. “Don’t be so rough!”
“No, Kyestorm,” Millie interjected. Kyestorm glanced at Millie, who lay next to Daisy in the sunny spot. “Let them play as they would with their own littermates. Your kits try to be so gentle with mine. Only Indikit disobeys that rule of yours. I want them to grow strong and competing with your behemoths will make them strong!” Millie glared at Demonkit and Phantomkit. “Play hard with Rainkit and Greykit so they get strong and become great warriors!”
“Kyemama?” Phantomkit queried.
“She’s right!” Briarlight interjected. “Look what climbing on your mate has done for me! As long as they keep claws sheathed, they’ll make Greykit and Rainkit strong!”
“I’m gonna be the strongest little warrior ever!” Greykit announced.
“No, I am!” Rainkit retorted, sitting beside Greykit on Demonstone’s flank.
“I’ll be a medicine cat,” Gentlekit insisted.
“All right. But you still need to train so you can defend yourself and the Medicine den one day. You heard her, my kits.” Kyestorm answered. “You need not be gentle, but do not hurt anyone on purpose.”
“Yes, Kyemama!” Demonkit and Phantomkit answered, and in moments, the eight kits rolled, leaped, and climbed all over Demonstone. Briarlight joined in the fun, balancing on one foreleg to engage the kits with the other. Kyestorm shook her head, and the remnants of her ruff flared out, framing her face in ragged spikes. Daisy mewled with mirth.
“You’re shedding in huge clumps! If you keep doing so you’ll look like a shorthair.”
“It’s common for us to shed so much for Green Leaf. We almost look shorthaired,” Kyestorm returned the laugh. “But we rarely shed our tails and britches and the ruff never goes away completely.”
A tuft of red fur drifted on the breeze. Greykit spotted it and leaped from Demonstone’s back, and caught it. He tumbled down Demonstone’s side and landed with a thud on the bare ground. Before Millie moved a muscle in alarm, Greykit leaped up, the hair caught in one paw.
“I caught a leaping fox!”
“Great move, little one,” Bramblestar’s voice turned Kyestorm’s head. His amber eyes twinkled. Berrynose and Birchfall grinned. Brackenfur followed with his patrol, adding prey to the freshkill pile.
All eight kits froze, staring wide eyed at ThunderClan’s leader.
“Wow!” erupted from Phantomkit.
“Carry on, kits. I expect new apprentices in five moons!” Bramblestar gave Kyestorm a wink, and headed toward his den.
“We’ll be ready!” Demonkit called after him. Bramblestar flicked his tail in acknowledgment. Kyestorm gazed at her brood with pride while they tumbled and pounced around their father.
“They are such big balls of fuzz,” Briarlight mewed. “Why don’t they have big huge bushy tails like you?”
“They will,” Kyestorm assured her. “At about five to six moons, when they lose their milk teeth, the tail inflates. But they will be ruffless wonders for a few more moons after that.”
“That’s funny,” Briarlight replied, clicking her teeth at Bluekit, who tried sneaking up on her from behind Demonstone’s haunch. “They will need all that fur if we have a Leaf Bare as bad as the last.”
“No worries,” Kyestorm chuckled deep in her chest. “By Leaf Bare, they will look like us, full tail, ruff and britches but they will be lanky and leggy for a good twelve moons after that, until they finally fill out their frames.”
“If they grow as large as you,” Blossonfall said, joining the group, a large mouse dangling from her jaws. “They will be formidable warriors. But for now, they must learn to eat fresh kill.”
“Kits!” Kyestorm called. All eight stopped playing and gazed at her. “Blossomfall brought you prey. Come see.”
Phantomkit led the eight kits to the tortoiseshell and white she-cat, who placed the mouse on the ground. All the kits stared at the prey.
“What do we do with it?” Gentlekit asked, and Indikit prodded the mouse with a paw. The prey suddenly jerked, and rolled over.
“Its trying to get away!” Demonkit squeaked, and leaped on the incapacitated mouse.
Phantomkit joined him and both grabbed the mouse, playing tug-o-war.
“I wanna play!” Indikit squealed and joined her brothers. She tried to rip it free of their jaws. Smokekit and Bluekit rushed forward, each taking hold of a leg. Greykit and Rainkit grabbed the long tail. They growled, mewed and squeaked in excitement. Gentlekit sat, watching with interest.
“Why not play, too?” Kyestorm asked her sweet-tempered kit.
“No room for me,” Gentlekit purred. “I’d rather go see what Jayfeather is doing.”
“Really?” Kyestorm eyed her golden brown tabby son. “But you must learn to eat fresh kill. In a moon or so I won’t have any more milk.”
“I know,” Gentlekit answered. “I’ll learn to hunt.”
Kyestorm looked at her other kits, who tore the prey into pieces, and merrily ran around the camp with them. Phantomkit ate his, then chased his siblings. Rainkit raced ahead of his milk brother, a piece of the prey in his teeth.
“If you don’t eat yours I’ll eat it!” he mewed.
Kyestorm uttered a meow of laughter. “He’s such a little glutton.”
“Well, well, do I hear right?” Jayfeather joined the group, sitting behind Briarlight. He glared at the youngsters with sightless blue eyes. “A kit wants to take my job?”
“I’ll learn,” Gentlekit braved Jayfeather’s stern gaze, rising to greet the Medicine cat with a touch to the nose. Jayfeather’s expression turned to delight.
“You are way too friendly for your own good! Do you promise to behave if I allow you into the Medicine den?”
“Of course,” Gentlekit answered, his tail flopping to and fro in his only display of underlying delight. Kyestorm stared in shock as Jayfeather led Gentlekit to the Medicine den. Gentlekit listened with rapt attention.
“He has great promise,” Leafpool commented, sitting beside Demonstone.
“He already seems more mature than his siblings, even Phantomkit, who is so smart, but, mischievous and naughty as any kit.” Kyestorm replied, twitching her tail. Red and cream tufts floated on the breeze. “He insists he sees star cats in his dreams.”
“He does?” Leafpool straightened. “He must be attuned to StarClan! How long has he said this?”
“He couldn’t have been even a moon old the first time he woke from a dream and said he was in StarClan.”
“Really? What did he see?” Leafpool asked.
“Cold, snow and a old rumpled grey she-cat who speaks to him.”
“Yellowfang?” Leafpool snorted. “I’m very surprised Gentlekit sees StarClan in his dreams, but all that shows is his enormous potential to be one of our finest medicine cats.”
“He does have the right temperament,” Kyestorm muttered with a wry grin, exposing the tips of her fangs.
“Yes, and I feel we may need all the medicine cats we can get,” Leafpool answered, a troubled look in her eyes, before she suddenly turned cheerful. “Your little one fears little, and I think he’ll be as good a taskmaker as Jayfeather someday.” Leafpool giggled like an apprentice. “I’d love to see someone match my son paw to paw in that respect.”
“Me, too” Millie mewed, and the entire group enjoyed a hearty laugh.
As the day passed sunhigh, the kits ran out of fuel. They toddled over, took a meal and promptly fell asleep in a huge ball of fuzz. Gentlekit returned, wobbling with fatigue, but his eyes full of joy. He fed, and promptly fell asleep, while chattering on about what they learned under Jayfeather’s watch. Daisy, Lilyheart, and Millie snoozed, as did Demonstone. Briarlight gazed at Kyestorm through half closed eyes.
“I heard you may go to the next Gathering,” she murmured.
“Yes, I am supposed to go.” Kyestorm yawned. “But I am so tired today, I might ask to stay here.”
“You MUST go. The Clans must meet you.” Briarlight insisted, conviction sharpening er meow.
“Why?” Kyestorm met Briarlight’s sky-blue gaze.
“It’s news! If you go, then the other Clan Leaders can’t accuse Bramblestar of lying or hiding secrets.” Briarlight glanced at the pile of sleeping kits. “Take a good nap! Then you won’t be tired.”
“You have a good point. I must anyway, since Bramblestar wants me there.” Kyestorm yawned and stretched, then lay her head down. The sun warmed her thick pelt, and before she knew it she slumbered, romping in sunlit greenleaf ,with her kits, mate, and Clanmates..
That evening, the full moon sent golden silver light streaming into the hollow. Silverpelt glittered above, as Clan members readied to travel to the Gathering. Moonlight reflected off the lake in shimmers of bright silver which sparkled between the trees. Not a single cloud marred the night sky, and Kyestorm knew StarClan approved of her decision to go. Her kits slept in the nursery, tuckered out by vigorous play before the evening meal. With full bellies and exhausted bodies, they snuggled between Daisy and Millie, safe and secure.
“Don’t worry, Kyestorm,” Cloudtail meowed. “Your kits will be safe.”
“I know,” Kyestorm met Cloudtail’s blue eyes. Brightheart’s copper eye shone.
“We will protect them with our lives,” she added. Kyestorm impulsively reached forward and licked both warriors on the head.
“Thank you. I know they will be safe.”
“Kyestorm?” Leafpool called out. Kyestorm whirled to face the pale brown tabby she-cat. Leafpool’s amber eyes glinted with suppressed excitement. “Are you ready?”
“Of course!” Kyestorm pushed down her anxieties, and trotted to join the throng of cats at the entrance. They parted, allowing her to take a place behind Bramblestar and Squirrelflight, who led the group down toward the lake. She heard the excited murmuring of the apprentices, and glanced back. The large tom, Alderpaw, looked more and more like Bramblestar, in a dark red tabby coat, every passing sunrise, and possessed the same gentle, caring soul. His sister’s pelt gleamed bright red even in the night, but the moon cast a silvery sheen to it. Sparkpaw put Kyestorm in mind of StarClan’s Firestar, her grandfather. She looked just like the fire-pelted apparition that appeared to her and demon. The two apprentices walked close together, excited, yet ready to protect each other and their Clanmates at the drop of a leaf.
Since that day she showed them the extent of her paw grip, they often came to visit the kits, and with permission from their mentors, asked for strength training that everyone knew Kyestorm excelled at. She came to adore them almost as much as her own kits. Friendships sprang up between Sparkpaw and Demonkit, and Alderpaw and Gentlekit. Kyestorm glanced at Alderpaw, noticing his nervous demeanor. She wondered why the youngster always looked steeped in anxiety, frustration or hesitancy, the total opposite of his brash, sometimes overconfident sister. She caught Leafpool eyeing the young apprentice, and confusion filled her, with a touch of concern. Might Leafpool disapprove of Gentlekit’s friendship with Alderpaw?
As the Clan moved along the lake edge, passing by WindClan territory. Kyestorm glanced up at the windswept moorland, forgetting her musings. WindClan warriors ran down the slope, and slowing down, allowed ThunderClan to pass, but their voices carried to her ears loud and cclear.
“So we get to see the mighty red warrior?” one of them scoffed. “The one that made the foxes come to our territory?”
“Furzepelt, enough,” a brown tabby tom admonished. “We should be so lucky to have such a warrior.”
“I know, Onestar,” the grey and white she-cat replied. “Not fair ThunderClan gets such.”
Kyestorm strained to hear more, but nothing but mumbling and hissing reached her tall ears, as Bramblestar picked up the pace.
“They sound angry,” Kyestorm said to Leafpool, who walked beside her.
“They are all a bit grumpy,” Leafpool tried to keep the mirth from her voice, and Kyestorm raised her brows.
“Why? Prey has been running very well!”
“For us,” Thornclaw joined the conversation, his bright yellow eyes full of humor. “Since you put the fear of StarClan in those foxes, they avoid our territory, and have invaded other territories. ShadowClan and WindClan in particular. They seem not to like RiverClan’s lands much, but a few have been seen there.”
“They leave us alone,” Bumblestripe added. “So ShadowClan and WindClan think it’s our fault.”
“Will there be trouble tonight?” Kyestorm asked, appalled she might be the cause of any strife.
“Maybe,” Bumblestripe answered, a ripple lifting his silver tabby pelt. The moonlight illuminated the tom’s silver grey base coat, which contracted starkly with his black stripes. Kyestorm scowled inwardly. Dovewing’s a fool, she thought, he’s a handsome, sweet tom. She knew the tales of their pairing and break up, and disapproved of Dovewing’s choices. Bumblestripe met Kyestorm’s gaze. “Rowanstar has some sense, but he’s too full of ShadowClan pride.”
“Onestar used to be so amicable, until he became Clan Leader. He’s a big grouch now.” Squirrelflight added, glancing backward. “Don’t worry about it. If they act like fools I am certain StarClan will let them know it.”
The cats trotted along the shore, and a thrill shot through Kyestorm when she saw the island. To her left, the land rose up and Kyestorm scented the Horseplace. The ground turned marshy and her paws squelched in the shoreline mud. The others moved further upland, but Kyestorm merrily slogged through it. Mischief rose up in her, and she swung her massive paws, slinging mud in the air. Her Clanmates all protested with meows, hisses and squalls. She bared the tips of her fangs in a grin.
“Come, Kyestorm,” Bramblestar said sternly, but Kyestorm heard a chuckle in his voice. “Stop behaving like a kit.”
“Sorry,” she purred. “I love playing in water, and especially snow! Oh, I love snow.”
“Fluff-brain,” Bumblestripe meowed, his eyes slits. Kyestorm heard the guffaw rumble his voice. “Snow means bad Leaf Bare.”
“Great StarClan,” Thornclaw muttered. “Then why did you end up with ThunderClan?”
“Maybe to teach you all some new things,” Kyestorm mewed with good nature. A wave of feline laugher ran through the Clan. “And prey hides in the snow. They think they are safe. Easier to catch with these.” Kyestorm flicked a muddy forepaw forward and spread her long toes exposing impressive claws.
“Are all Maine Coons so goofy?” Cherryfall giggled, the tips of her fangs visible. “Do you behave like kits all your lives?”
“Yes!” Kyestorm answered and bounced forward, flagging her bottlebrush tail, glancing back at Cherryfall and Bumblestripe. Mucky water flew skyward, sparkling in the moonlight. By time the Clan reached the fallen tree trunk, everyone meowed and chattered with good humor and anticipation. Kyestorm followed her Clanmates over the tree trunk, amused at the fear of the water so many showed. Mistystar and RiverClan waited under the Great Oak Tree. Mistystar raised her tail in greeting.
“Hallo, Kyestorm! Glad to finally meet you!”
“Hallo!” Kyestorm stopped under the grand old tree, touching noses with RiverClan’s leader. In Mistystar, she saw StarClan’s Bluestar, and felt drawn to her. Miststar touched Kyestorm with her bushy tail.
“I see you enjoy water games.”
“I do,” Kyestorm answered, and shook her coat. Mistystar stood firm with nary a flinch.
“Maybe you can learn to fish,” Mistystar quipped.
“Yeeuck,” Bumblestripe yowled in disgust. “Never.”
“I love fish!” Kyestorm said. “Its tasty!”
“Ugh,” Thornclaw laughed, slapping her with his tail. “StarClan should have sent you to RiverClan!”
“I’ll eat anything I can catch,” Kyestorm chittered a laugh.
“I see you’ve met the giant kittypet,” someone said, as WindClan joined the Gathering. shattering the banter. Mistystar only glared at the WindClan deputy, her blue eyes sparking with annoyance. She nodded to Onestar, who stared at Kyestorm, and she felt a mix of embarrassment and indignation. Rowanstar appeared out of the marsh and led his Clan onto the Island, silencing further retort from Harespring. With his arrival, the Clan Leaders all jumped into the old tree with their deputies.
“I’ll start since we have big news,” Bramblestar began.
“We know about your new kittypets,” Onestar interrupted, gazing down at Kyestorm. Kyestorm met his gaze, dipping her head respectfully but refused to look away. Onestar shifted on his branch, lashing his tail, but said nothing.
“They are kittypets no longer. Kyestorm here is a warrior now, earning that by her actions the day foxes invaded our camp to steal our kits!” Bramblestar paused, letting the gasp of dismay ripple around the throng of cats. “Her mate, though injured, smote the young vixen cub, and Kyestorm, by herself, drove the big dogfox out of camp saving many from injury and kept ThunderClan kits safe.”
“Kits?” Mistystar spoke up, The moonlight shimmered her blue-grey pelt in silver. She raised her feathery tail. “Do they thrive?”
“Yes, and Kyestorm had six upon arrival to ThunderClan. Kyestorm’s milk saved Millie’s two kits from starvation since her milk supply kept disappearing, and dried up completely a number of sunrises ago. Lilyheart had her kits, three of them. But we will have eight new apprentices in five moons.” Bramblestar answered. “Alderpaw and Sparkpaw apprenticed before Kyestorm joined us.”
Happy meowing echoed under the trees. The cries of Alderpaw and Sparkpaw reverberated under the trees and over the lake. As quiet settled over the Clans, Mistystar rose, balancing gracefully on her chosen branch. Kyestorm watched nervously, glancing at the bright full moon.
“RiverClan is well fed now that the ice melted and allowed us to fish, and we’ve not had much trouble from foxes. No kits yet, but we are hoping very soon!”
“No fox likes fishing or swimming,” someone quipped. Laughter rippled around the island, as Onestar rose to speak.
“Windclan is holding its own, but prey is still light. Our fox problems are still with us.” Murmurs of sympathy rolled through the gathered cats. Onestar continued. “But we’re strong and soon we’ll have those foxes driven out.”
“Nobody mentions the strange howling.” Rowanstar rose, his tail flicking to and fro. “Our patrols have seen strange tracks on our territory. Looks like we may have a dog problem.”
“Are you sure they’re just dog tracks?” Bramblestar faced the ruffled ShadowClan leader. “We have heard the howling. But Kyestorm here knows what it is. They are called coyotes, a wild canine from over the Great Water that somehow has reached our territories.”
“So?” Onestar sniped. “We can all handle dogs.”
“These are not two-leg dogs. They are wild canines, bigger than foxes. They are organized and in Leaf Bare hunt in packs. If they do this and they grow in numbers they can, not only drive us from our homes, but eat us, too.” Bramblestar retorted, and Kyestorm saw a flare of anger in his amber-gold eyes. “This is a time when the Clans must come together!”
“How? Why?” Rowanstar hissed. “There is no enemy to fight yet.”
“Not yet,” Bramblestar warned. “But there will be. Accept Kyestorm, her mate and kits, since without a doubt, they will help us all win this fight.”
“They are all in ThunderClan,” Onestar grumbled. “What good does that do us?”
“StarClan has not made that clear yet,” Bramblestar answered. “But one thing is certain. Kyestorm and her growing kits are important to all of us, not just ThunderClan. Please keep open minds and remember the code!”
The full moon blazed in the night sky, as if approving his words. Kyestorm relaxed, not wishing to anger the other Clan Leaders, even if she wanted to bop two of them on the head with both paws. Mistystar stood up.
“We’ve heard the howling close by, and it’s only the Horseplace dogs that keep them away. For now. When Leaf Bare comes it might be different. We must not forget!” Mistystar raised her voice. “Under StarClan, four Clans will be One, to preserve the Four.”
“There is nothing to fight,” Rowanstar spat with annoyance. “ThunderClan is always meddling! We are fine, and train to battle the menace ourselves when the time comes. We don’t need help from big clumsy kittypets.”
“Then you’re a fool!” Kyestorm jumped forward, standing below Rowanstar, her coat bristling. His eyes widened briefly before he scowled at her.
“You dare be disrespectful?” He crept down his branch, eyes blazing.
“Forgive me, Rowanstar, but these are no ordinary dogs!” Kyestorm meowed firmly, her heart hammering in her chest as she faced the angry ShadowClan leader. “My mate and I know of them. You will need our help if these coyotes band into a pack come Bare Leaf.”
“It isn't even Green Leaf yet,” Rowanstar hissed. “This seems another attempt at ThunderClan to meddle in our affairs! All you have done, Kittypet, is chase foxes into our territory!"
“I didn’t, I mean, our kits . . .” Kyestorm stammered. Rowanstar glared at her. Kyestorm glanced at Tawnypelt, Bramblestar’s sister. The tortoiseshell she-cat just flicked her tail in sympathy, but said nothing.
“You come here and think you can tell us how we fight threats?” Rowanstar stood up on his branch. “Then disrespect me?”
“Rowanstar,” Bramblestar growled. “She’s new to our ways, but she is right. These coyotes will endanger us all and we need to be prepared to assist one another.”
“I remember the code, even if I was dragged into agreeing,” Rowanstar snapped. “ShadowClan will be ready for whatever comes.”
“As will WindClan,” Onestar yowled. “We have foxes driving out rabbits and denning in the burrows thanks to your new pet, Bramblestar.”
Many WindClan and ShadowClan cats yowled agreement. Arguments broke out between visiting cats. The jovial atmosphere evaporated like a puff of mist in a breeze. The mingled cats broke up into tight Clan groups.
“What fools,” Mistystar spat with frustration. “You believe you can handle these unknown canines alone? Foxes will seem like mouse play in comparison.”
“We can!” ShadowClan’s leader snarled the answer. “We don’t need your giant kittypet!”
“I am not a kittypet! When those coyotes attack your camps in search of food, you’ll be begging for my help!” Kyestorm snarled, her temper rising. She bristled until she appeared twice her size, causing both Clan Leaders to step backward on their branches. “You think I’m fat and weak and not a warrior?” Kyestorm flexed one of her massive forepaws, and her wicked pale-colored claws gleamed under the moonlight. “Do you want to test that theory?”
“Don’t temp me, big ball of fur,” Rowanstar hissed, arching his back, stepping forward to the end of his branch. He jumped down, marching up to her.
“Rowanstar! Don’t!” Bramblestar yowled.
“Don’t what? Teach a kittypet a lesson?” he sneered, and with a lightening strike of his paw, struck at Kyestorm’s face. His claws scratched her chin as she yanked her head back in alarm. Sudden outrage flooded her, and she reacted without thinking.
“Don’t scratch me!” She leaped forward, and flicked out one muddy paw, catching Rowanstar on the head. She sheathed her claws at the last moment, but the thump sounded loud in the silent clearing. The ShadowClan leader staggered sideways, blinking furiously before leveling his yellow eyes on her.
“So you dare attack a Clan leader?” Rowanstar snarled, and gathered his hind legs beneath him. His claws kneaded the ground in warning. Kyestorm crouched, ready for the attack. She waited, not caring if she embarrassed him by soundly beating his obnoxious butt in front of everyone.
Distant thunder rumbled, startling the Gathering. All arguing ceased, and Rowanstar turned his head. Kyestorm jerked her head up, and gasped in horror. Clouds banked in the west, and a few wisps drifted over the moon. In a few more moments, thicker clouds reached for the moon touching the bottom rim. All bravado drained from the Maine Coon queen, replaced by dread and dismay at her own behavior.
“StarClan is angry! It’s all my fault! I’m sorry, Rowanstar!” Kyestorm wailed, and bolted. She flew over the tree trunk, and onto the lake shore, squalling like a scared kit.
“Kyestorm, wait!” Bramblestar called after her, but she ran toward ThunderClan territory, her strong long legs carrying her with great speed over the terrain. She cut corners, and plowed through the marshes, spattering herself with mud and muck. She shunned the curve of dry shoreline, sending up sprays of water as she raced through the shallows and under the broken half bridge.
She skimmed along the WindClan shoreline, pebbles, sand and water flying up in her wake. She cleared the stream mouth in three leaps, and pounded up into ThunderClan land. She barreled through the entrance, skidding to a halt in front of her startled mate. Cats peered out of their dens, afraid to approach her, but she ignored them all. She buried her head in Demonstone’s ruff and collapsed to her belly.
“I angered StarClan! Ohhh noooo!” Kyestorm wailed hysterically. “I’m never ever going back there again!!”
“What happened?” Demonstone asked. Briarlight and Jayfeather peered out of the medicine den. They slowly walked over to her and Demonstone. She spilled her story.
“Rowanstar is a fool,” Jayfeather snapped. “StarClan should have let you slap him senseless.”
“Don’t fret, Kyestorm,”Leafpool meowed, running into camp and coming up to her. “StarClan wasn’t angry with you, but at Onestar and Rowanstar who started the strife. The fools reject you, which I’m certain displeased StarClan as well.”
“I slapped a Clan leader!” Kyestorm wailed. “StarClan was mad! I am never going to another Gathering ever again if those two are there, and they always are. NEVER!”
True to her word, Kyestorm refused to attend any further Gatherings. In the days and moons that followed, her Clanmates continued to comfort her, reminding her how ornery Onestar and Rowanstar always behaved. She soon understood that perhaps, Onestar and Rowanstar angered StarClan more than her actions, but she wished never to attend another Gathering. Her temper simmered, and she knew if she met them again, and received the same treatment, she might commit an atrocity to regret for the rest of her life. She also wished to never ever anger those starry cats who counted on her, who saved her, who gave her and Demonstone a new home.
Green Leaf waxed warm, and prey ran well inside ThunderClan territory. One sun-drenched morning, as Kyestorm engaged her and Millie’s four-moon-old kits in rough play, Demonstone dragged large stones of all sizes in a heap at the bottom of the cliff. He carefully placed them several fox-lengths away from a large flat rock he moved there two moons ago for Briarlight. Kyestorm sat down and watched, pride filling her to the tips of her thick long pelt.
Her and Millie’s kits developed into fine young cats over the last moon. Demonstone healed, and though he never ran and leaped in hunting or border patrols, he found a new calling, once his wounds turned to scars. With his great strength, he assisted Brackenfur in shoring up all the nests and the entrance barrier, pulling big vines and branches no other cat dared tackle. The giant Maine Coon tom moved a big stone to the growing pile, placing it in one of the ever growing stacks. The kits sat beside her, tilting their heads.
“What’s Demonpoppa doing?” Phantomkit asked, then pricked his ears, his sea-green eyes widening with insight. “I’ll help!”
“No. Sit your big butt down.” Kyestorm grabbed him by the scruff. “Watch and learn how smart your father is.”
Demonstone paused his work, and lifted his head when Briarlight appeared at the entrance to the Medicine cat den.
“I’m ready!” she called out. Demonstone trotted over to the little she-cat, his gait rolling and pitching like a two-leg boat out on the wind-tossed lake. He halted and lowered himself to his chest, allowing her to pull herself onto his back. He stood up and she gripped his neck with strong forelegs, her atrophied rear limbs draped on either side of Demonstone’s body.
Briarlight! Be careful!” Millie’s voice echoed through the camp as she raced across the hollow from the entrance to Demonstone, leaving her patrolmates frowning at her. Millie saw none of it. Her voice rose, as she skidded to a stop beside the huge tom. “Why must you stray from safety? This new obsession of yours is dangerous.”
“She’s safe,” Demonstone answered. “ I won’t let anything hurt her.”
“I’m fine, Millie.” Briarlight faced her mother, her sky-blue eyes darkening with sudden annoyance.
“The rocks can crush the rest of you!” Millie danced in place with anxiety. Kyestorm growled deep in her chest, annoyed that Millie relapsed into old habits.
“Demonstone made sure my workplace is out of the way!” Briarlight’s voice rose. “STOP BABYING ME! I finally have a great task to do for our Clan! Don’t ever take that from me! I won’t let you! Leave me alone!” She raised a front paw and tapped Demonstone. “Bring me to my rock!”
“Of course,” Demonstone moved off, leveling his golden eyes on Millie. “Stop worrying so much. Do you think I would allow anything to harm her? ”
“No, but, it’s still so dangerous away from the Medicine den,” Millie mewled miserably.
“So I might get a bit dirty or wet,” Briarlight snapped. “I’m stronger now than ever before. Let me do my work! Stop obsessing over me, please!”
Millie gaped at them, while Demonstone carried Briarlight across the hollow. Blossomfall popped out of the warrior den, her eyes wide with suppressed shock and mirth. She raced past Kyestorm, mrrows of laughter bursting from clenched jaws, and disappeared down into the training ring. There her hysterical guffaws pealed over the camp. Kyestorm looked at Millie, who lowered her head, and shuffled toward the Elder’s den. Rainkit jumped up and ran after her.
“Millie! Don’t be sad. Briarlight is safe.” He stopped in front of her, feathery tail raised. She mumbled something, then walked away. Rainkit’s tail sagged, and he returned to Kyestorm’s side, confusion in his green eyes. His long pale grey fur with darker blue-grey stripes bristled with emotion.
“Are you all right?” Kyestorm asked the kit.
“Yes, but, she told me I don’t need her anymore and to leave her alone. If I have problems she said to see you, Kyemama. Why does she worry so much about Briarlight?” Rainkit glanced at his older sister. “Jayfeather says she’s healthier than ever. Why doesn’t Millie love me and Greykit anymore?”
“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Kyestorm said, licking Rainkit’s head. “I think Millie is just confused and scared. She thinks something awful is going to happen to Briarlight because she can’t run away from danger.”
“But Demonpoppa wouldn’t let anything hurt her,” Rainkit mewed. “Millie once loved me and Greykit. Why did that change? It won’t change with you, will it?”
“Never. Millie still does love you, little one, in her own way. She just gets tunnel-sighted and can’t see or feel past her silly fears. Don’t let it bother you,” Kyestorm murmured, her heart breaking for the kit. She licked his ear. “Just know I love you just as much as my own kits and I always will. Never forget that.”
“I won’t, Kyemama, my mama!” His tail rose above his back, and he ran off to find his brother. Kyestorm wondered why Millie feared so much again for Briarlight, and her lapse into old behavior baffled Kyestorm. Briarlight possessed more protection from her Clan, and developed more physical strength since Demonstone healed and joined Clan activity. Kyestorm glanced after Rainkit, hoping he never grew to resent Millie or Briarlight. Kyestorm rumbled deep in her chest, and muttered, “not on my watch.”
Movement attracted her attention, and she saw Graystripe emerge from the Elder’s den. Millie pressed herself against him. He licked her head, murmuring to her in comforting tones. Kyestorm’s rumble turned to a low growl.
“Coddling her,” she grumbled under her breath. “Leaving me to clean up the emotional mess for those sweet kits.”
“Kyemama! Please let me help Brairlight now?” Demonkit asked, breaking Kyestorm’s thoughts. He held up a big forepaw, and Kyestorm noted how much it resembled her hosuefolk’s hand covering called a mitten. “She thinks my extra toes are so helpful in her weaving. ”
“Go, but stay out of the adults’ way. I know you’ve grown, but one of those big rocks can still hurt you.” Kyestorm nodded, thankful for the distraction.
“Yes, Kyemama! I’ll be careful,” Demonkit mewed in his high singsong voice, and raced over to Briarlight, who greeted him enthusiastically. Together they sat on the slab and wove anything Demonstone asked them for. Kyestorm shifted her forepaws in delight, watching her kit use his dexterous paws to enhance Briarlight’s work. All the dens showed the improvements created over the last moon, which everyone noticed, especially on rainy stormy days, when the new walls kept everyone snug and dry. Why did Millie not feel pride, instead of throttling anxiety over her daughter?
“Kyemama, why can’t I help Demonpoppa? Demonkit is always helping Briarlight!” Phantomkit asked boldly, his sea-green eyes full of indignation. Kyestorm glanced at her mate, and her annoyance turned to joy, so grateful of the strong bond which sprouted between her mate and the seasoned warrior Brackenfur over the last couple moons. The gigantic Maine Coon tom discovered he loved building and constructing, and won over Brackenfur the day he secured the biggest framing branch anyone ever used in a den. He also taught little Briarlight how to weave, and she improved on his techniques.
Demonkit found he enjoyed helping her, and used his nimble paws to help her. She, worked diligently, creating rope, patches and ribbons. Demonkit chattered with her, and her eyes sparkled as bright as the sky with delight. Sparkpaw often indulged Demonkit’s search for the right grasses for weaving, taking the kit on grass hunting forays.
“All right,” Kyestorm mewed. “Go. If he says yes, you may help, but if he says no, you come back here immediately.”
“Yes, Kyemama! Thank you!” Phantomkit raced over to his father, and Demonstone eyed his son, before nodding and pointing with his huge bushy tail. Phantomkit, his eyes alight, merrily helped move long woven vines alongside Brackenfur. Kyestorm uttered a mew of surprise, noting her son stood taller than the old warrior. Brackenfur noticed as well, glancing at her with a pleased expression, nodding his approval. Kyestorm turned, catching motion at the entrance, and spotted Sparkpaw trotting over to Demonkit with a bundle of grasses she obviously plucked from the lake edge.
“Ah thank you,”Briarlight praised her. “This is perfect stuff.”
“Welcome,” Sparkpaw laid the grass at Demonkit’s paws, then glanced at Demonl kit. “Need more?’
“Not now,” Demonkit mewed. “Won’t you get in trouble doing this for me?”
“No,” Sparkpaw answered, a twinkle in her eyes. “It’s my turn to help the elders and do stuff around camp. This is part of that. Stop worrying.”
Kyestorm watched the exchange and twitched her tail, surprised the apprentice even gave the kit time of day, but a friendship sprouted two moons ago, and only grew as Demonkit matured. Excited kit voices attracted Kyestorm’s attention, and she glanced over at the nursery, where Lilyheart lay with her three moon old kits, who wrestled and played on the grass. Two orphaned half-moon old kits nursed at Lilyheart’s belly, and Kyestorm flicked her ears, recalling recent events.
Alderpaw, who suddenly turned medicine cat apprentice a half moon after that gathering Kyestorm attended, found the kits near the end of his mysterious quest a quarter moon ago. Driven by some prophecy about finding something hidden in shadow that will clear the sky, Alderpaw and Sandstorm dashed off on some quest. Grief rose up in Kyestorm’s heart. Sandstorm never returned home from the journey, and Kyestorm wished she volunteered to go, in Sandstorm’s place, but her kits held her firmly in camp.
Though she had questions like everyone else, Kyestorm cared more for the kits than some weird prophecy. Kyestorm remembered how much she wanted to take care of those poor babies when Alderpaw brought them to the nursery. Her heart leaped, wishing she curled around those kits instead of Lilyheart, but her milk stopped flowing a good half-moon ago. Rumor circulated that ShadowClan demanded to take one, and Kyestorm bristled, feeling protective of the kits. She cared not about Needlepaw’s part in finding them, and wanted the kits to stay in ThunderClan, and struggled to get over her aversion to gatherings. The next one determined the kits’ futures, but Kyestorm thought about her last Gathering, and shrank back from the idea.
“Brackenfur!” Demonstone called out, distracting Kyestorm from the kits. The golden-brown tabby tom turned from weaving vines and grass ropes into the warrior’s den wall, then muttered to Phantomkit, who diligently obeyed, continuing the weave all around the den.
“What under StarClan are you doing now, you big gooffball?” Brackenfur meowed, and trotted over to Demonstone, tail aloft with anticipation.
“Watch and learn,” Demonstone chattered his teeth cheerfully. Phantomkit stood beside his father, his long tail aloft in joy.
“Get on with it,” Brackenfur mewed, slapping Demonstone on the shoulder, drawing Kyestorm’s attention. “Why the pile of big rocks?”
“We can use these as anchors for all the dens. As long as they are flattish and not round, we can use them to anchor vines and long briars my son and Briarlight are weaving. Then we can anchor the big logs and actually strengthen the roofing. We may be able to keep water from flowing under the walls in big storms.” Demonstone flipped a large rock over toward the Elder’s den. “We start there.”
“Splendid idea, if we can do that,” Brackenfur exclaimed, then eyed the rock pile. “I can’t move those!”
“No, but I will, and my sons will be able to soon enough,” Demonstone purred with mirth. “I already gathered the thick heavy vines. Once I get the stones over there, we can, not only strengthen the Elder Den, and roof it well, we can enlarge it. Same with the warrior den. If you think it’s crowded now with me in there, wait until Kyestorm joins us after our kits apprentice! And, when my kits earn their warrior names. . . ”
“Ugh! Let’s do it,” Brackenfur agreed, and motioned with his tail. Mousewhisker joined him, eyes alight with excitement, his grey and white pelt rippling. In moments, construction began, and Kyestorm watched with pride. Demonstone and Phantomkit dug trenches around each den, and filled them with stones, then, with the larger rocks, created a barrier to any flowing water. They moved the bramble walls out, and tied each section together, until the warrior den doubled in size.
“I get it now!” Mousewhisker exclaimed. “What a great idea! Great StarClan! We were fools to ever think you had anything to do with the Dark Forest! Where did you learn all this?”
“Watching my housefolk,” Demonstone answered. “When we lived across the Great Water, they built a cottage there in the woods. They didn’t like that I was underfoot all the time, but it fascinated me.”
“We’ll have the best dens in all the Clans,” Brackenfur meowed, full of energy and anticipation. As the builders dove into their work, Kyestorm heard pawsteps behind her.
“Since he healed, and started working with Brackenfur, he is a new cat.” Kyestorm recognized Bramblestar’s voice. She faced the ThunderClan leader.
“You gave him the perfect warrior name that day,” Kyestorm said. “And Briarlight is a new cat as well. She and Demonkit have created wonderful bracings and windbreaks with what they can do.”
“I saw in him great strength, inner and outer, when he tossed that little vixen like we toss mice.” Bramblestar nodded. “I never imagined this though, nor what he’s done for little Briarlight,” Bramblestar chuckled, before leveling his amber gold gaze on her. “Do you think he’d make it to a Gathering?”
“I don’t know,” Kyestorm recoiled inwardly, but did not move a muscle. “He certainly isn’t as hot-headed as I can be, and the journey there should not bother him. He limps but he can move fast when he needs to. Why?”
“Because when your kits apprentice, I want all of you at that Gathering,” Bramblestar answered. “Green Leaf has brought much complacency, and to ShadowClan and WindClan arrogance. I have heard the coyotes again. Two, perhaps three. Sometimes my fellow Clan leaders have no foresight.”
“I can’t,” Kyestorm mumbled. “I want to, since I’d love to fight for those orphans for us, but. . .”
“There is nothing you can do for them,” Bramblestar said, his tone sharp, before he continued in a softer voice. “I know you want to protect those kits, but it’s a tricky issue. And tempers will be short I am sure. You need not attend, but the moon after, I want you there.”
“I don’t know. . . “ Kyestorm hesitated, taken aback by his initial curtness, but quickly accepted the excuse not to attend the next Gathering. Violetkit’s sweet face floated in her inner vision, and Kyestorm’s material instincts battled with her aversions. She struggled not to yowl her torment.
“Demonstone is your strength, Kyestorm. If they dare ridicule you again, one soft growl and raised mane from that giant of a cat might silence those two fools. The mere sight of the eight of you might keep them utterly silent, since your kits will be bigger than many warriors by then. Leaf Fall will be on us, and no doubts, the coyotes will make themselves known. Think about it. StarClan’s anger that last Gathering you attended was not your doing.” Bramblestar said sternly. “Rowanstar was disrespectful to you, me, and StarClan by his actions. StarClan chose you, remember?”
“I will never forget,” Kyestorm mewed, her stomach twisting into knots.
“Good. In two moons, I expect you to attend with your newly apprenticed kits and your mate.” Bramblestar turned and hailed Brackenfur and Demonstone. Kyestorm watched as Demonstone nodded his head. Kyestorm looked down at the ground, knowing she will eventually have to show up at a Gathering again. The next one promised to be dreadful, dealing with the orphaned kits’ futures, and Kyestorm shivered, deciding her Clan leader knew best. She shook herself.
“Don’t worry, Kyemama. We won’t let anyone disrespect you,” Smokekit’s soft voice interjected. Kyestorm faced her young daughter, pride welling up. Smokekit stood so tall, and lanky, putting her in mind of Spiderleg, but the resemblance ended there. Her broad chest, long graceful body and thick muscles promised a swift very strong warrior to come. Silvery highlights colored her ruff, belly and tail fur. Bluekit stood beside her sister, shorter in stature, yet very broad-chested, stout, and agile, sporting the same silvery highlighting with a bluish sheen.
“We won’t let them disrespect you, Kyemama,” Greykit looked at her with shimmering blue eyes, his dark grey pelt gleaming silvery blue in the sunlight.
“Never,” Rainkit concurred, his blue eyes glittering. His long, light-grey pelt rippled down his back.
“If they do, they’ll have to deal with me, too!” Indikit joined the group, her green eyes shining defiance. Greykit and Rainkit flanked her. Kyestorm noticed Indikit’s long strong legs, large head, and very broad chest, and knew Indikit already vied with Demonkit and Phantomkit for sheer size. Indikit’s demeanor and body language screamed all warrior, and Kyestorm knew one day, her largest daughter promised to fulfil that destiny. Indikit held Kyestorm’s gaze. “We love you, Kyemama! I’ll slap Rowanstar for you, if he’s mean to you again!”
“No need, Indikit! No fighting at Gatherings, ” Kyestorm admonished gently. “I know, my kits, that you will defend me. I just want your first Gathering to go much better than mine,” Kyestrom meowed.
“It will,” Indikit stated, before cuffing Greykit. “Race you to the training area and back!”
The five kits darted away, mewing and laughing with joy. Kyestorm felt her heart tighten in dismay, knowing her kits grew so quickly. She inhaled a sharp little gasp, realizing she indeed, thought of Greykit and Rainkit as her own. If Millie thought likewise, it explained her woebegone state. Kyestorm shook her head. No, Millie reacted that way only when Briarlight chastised her, which happened because of the she-cat’s attachment to Demonstone. Millie made her choice when she left the nursery a moons ago to return to the Elders’ den, shortly after Demonstone showed Briarlight his weaving techniques. She recalled Lilyheart’s utter astonishment and now Lilyheart eyed Millie with exasperation. Kyestorm jumped to her feet, not wishing to go back to the nursery, and wanting to expel sudden excess anxiety. She saw Squirrelflight organizing a patrol.
“May I join a you? Need an extra body?” she asked, trotting up to ThunderClan’s deputy, wanting to take her mind off her concerns.
“Certainly,” Squirrelflight motioned with her tail. Thornclaw, Bumblestripe, and Spiderleg joined Squirrelflight, and gazed at Kyestorm, their eyes blinking a silent greeting. Kyestorm dropped her eyes, surprised by Spiderleg’s lack of animosity. Squirrelflight continued. “We’ll hunt, but we also check the WindClan border today.”
“All right,” Kyestorm agreed, and followed the three warriors out of the camp. They headed north, toward the old Twoleg place, alert for prey. A breeze rustled leaves in the trees, creating moving lacy patterns on the ground. Kyestorm drank in the scents of soil, leaves, and the ever present lake. The sun warmed her back, as they headed up hill and crossed the disused thunderpath to the northern border. She glanced though the trees at the old Twoleg place, remembering vividly when she and Demonstone arrived in ThunderClan territory, and silently thanked StarClan for their guidance that terrifying night. Kyestorm scented Whitewing’s patrol, which headed west toward ShadowClan’s border. She blinked, thinking about how much she loved Cloudtail and his daughter, and of course, Brightheart, who never attended gatherings either. Kyestorm growled at herself. I don’t have any reason not to attend like she does, she railed at herself. I am just being selfish, she thought.
“Kyestorm?” Squirrelflight’s query shattered her musing. She looked up.
“Sorry, just thinking.” Kyestorm answered, trotting to catch up to her patrolmates, as they curved eastward toward the border with WindClan. Seeing the deputy reminded her of Alderpaw.
"How is your son?" Kyestorm asked softly, feeling sympathy for the young medicine cat, who fretted over Violetkit ,since the kit might be handed over to ShadowClan next Gathering. Kyestorm shuddered, glad her aversion to gatherings would shield her from that unpleasant event. As much as she wanted to argue in Violetkit’s behalf, the memories of her only Gathering filled her heart with horror. Not my business, she told herself, while her heart broke over what those two kits faced. She dreaded when she must go in two moons, then pushed her apprehension down as sadness welled up suddenly. Everyone still grieved the loss of Sandstorm, and Kyestorm wondered what secret mission demanded such a loss from her Clan.
"He is fine," Squirrelflight answered abruptly, and her tail lashed. Curiosity pushed away Kyestorm's grief, and questions bombarded Kyestorm's mind, but she asked nothing further. She wondered about this new prophecy, and why even the medicine cats kept silent on the matter. How much did Gentlekit know, if anything? She exhaled, deciding to avert those thoughts, and glanced upward, catching a spot of gold. A few leaves waved bright yellow in the noonhigh sun.
“Look, leaves are turning already.” she announced.
“They shouldn’t be! Not for another moon!” Thornclaw exclaimed in dismay. “If so, it foretells a bad cold Leaf Bare.”
“Not a good sign,” Spiderleg grumbled, and slowed his pace until he walked beside Kyestorm. “I am sorry.”
“For?” Kyestorm met the black tom’s solemn gaze.
“My brother is right. I was an idiot to treat you, and especially your mate, with such hostility. Demonstone is fantastic, as are you.” Spiderleg frisked briefly like a kit on his long legs. “I wish I was there when you smacked Rowanstar. Birchfall said it was epic.”
“It was wrong of me,” Kyestorm said softly, lowering her head, feeling shame flash through her long pelt.
“Oh, please,” Spiderleg snorted. “Clan leaders are not StarClan. Rowanstar is just too full of himself. If he’d have challenged you, no doubts you’d have whipped his scrawny butt.”
“I might have.” Kyestorm allowed herself a sneeze of mirth, then sobered. “But StarClan really was upset. I should never disrespect a Clan leader.”
“Don’t feel like that,” Spiderleg meowed. “StarClan was angry with Rowanstar and his attitude, not you. Sometimes they do need a bite in the tail.”
“Maybe, but it’s not my place,” Kyestorm argued “Maybe if I was a deputy or another Clan leader. . .”
“What would you do if you caught him trespassing and he refused to leave and also refused to see Bramblestar? And claimed he was on his own territory?” Spiderleg asked.
“Challenge him of course,” Kyestorm answered without hesitation.
“And if he accepted and attacked you?”
“Of course I’d thrash him.” Kyestorm flicked her tail.
“Then you just answered your own question,” Spiderleg laughed and thumped her with his tail. “The only Clan Leader you never think about trouncing is your own. Remember, at the Gathering, you did not start the strife. You only tried to make him see reason.”
“Thank you for the support,” Kyestorm said, nodding at the rangy black warrior.
“He’s right,” Thornclaw added, as they approached the border. “Don’t forget, we all have your back, always.”
“Yes, we do,” Bumblestripe said, coming up alongside Kyestorm as Thornclaw and Spiderleg surged ahead. “Blossomfall and I am so grateful for what you did for our little brothers.”
“I did what any queen would do,” Kyestorm mewed.
“Not all queens are so giving or accepting.” Bumblestripe touched his tail to her back. “One of the best examples of that was Lizardstripe of ShadowClan, who resented the kit Raggedstar gave her to raise many many seasons ago. That kit was Brokenstar.”
“Mousedung,” Kyestorm muttered, remembering Clan history well from days well-spent with the Elders. “I could never ever refuse to help a kit!”
“Such a queen is invaluable,” Bumblestripe said. “If not for you, my own mother’s neglect of herself because of her obsession with our invalid sister might have killed Rainkit and Greykit, and nothing rends a Clan’s collective heart than the death of kits.”
“She neglected herself?” Kyestorm stared, baffled even further by Millie’s actions.
“Yes, giving prey she needed to Briarlight. She didn’t need to do so since Blossomfall and I provided for our sister.” Bumblestripe scowled, a rare expression on his handsome features. “We do love her, but, we do resent our mother for the treatment we received afer Briarlight’s accident.”
“I did notice tension between Blossomfall and Millie,” Kyestorm admitted. “I never wanted to butt in to another’s business.”
“Our mother treated Blossomfall terribly after Briarlight was injured. She ignored me, too. Our mentors helped us, but it does hurt when a mother ignores her kits at any age. Blossomfall was deeply hurt, and our mother seems not to care even now.”
“So her milk drying up was partially her fault? Not just age?” Kyestorm replied, simmering outrage knotting her stomach. “Why has she left the nursery?”
“Yes. As for laving the nursery, I guess she thinks her job is done since Rainkit and Greykit are fully weaned, and you watch over them. She returned to fretting and hovering over Briarlight again.” Bumblestripe’s scowl suddenly turned to a smirk. “But she is suffering some consequences of conduct.”
“Well, Rainkit and Greykit view you more as their mother than her, and, get this, Briarlight is so infatuated with her new big “brother” that she is actually annoyed now with our mother’s obsessive attentions.” Bumblestripe mrrowed with laughter. “I am sure you’ve noticed the relationship. He is wonderful with her and never coddles her like Mother does. He gives her tasks, and she feels helpful for the first time since she got hurt. Her lungs are stronger and she can move better than ever. Not to mention how well she and Demonkit work together.”
“Yes, they do. I have, and that explains what happened this morning!” Kyestorm meowed, feeling a mix of guilt and mirth. “Millie came over and fussed over Briarlight when she pulled herself on Demonstone’s back to go to her workrock. Briarlight yowled “STOP BABYING ME”, then told her to “leave me alone,” and went with Demonstone. I thought Blossomfall was going to blow apart with laughter.”
“Yes, I saw her in the training area, laughing so hard she just rolled around in the dust. Briarlight’s heath has improved so much. Her lungs are stronger and she can move better than ever. I can’t understand why Mother won’t relax. When Briarlight saw how Demonstone weaves briars and brambles to protect our camp, she asked Demonkit to get tall grasses for her, which of course he did, then she worked for a whole day weaving them, then showed her efforts to Demonstone.”
“Yes, I remember that. She found her purpose, and everyone will appreciate their weaving skill when Leaf Bare brings those cold winds. I remember the day Demonkit first asked if he could search for grasses for Briarlight.” Kyestorm nodded. “I took him outside camp that day. I trust him now to go alone, as long as he does not stray too far.”
“Blossomfall watches out for him, too. That is how I knew of it.” Bumblestripe replied.
“I wish Millie would see how it’s helped her daughter and given her health and strength. Instead she continues to fret whenever Briarlight leaves the medicine den.” Kyestorm clicked her teeth. “Does she really think anything is going to get past my mate, or Demonkit, to get to her daughter?”
“Your sons are enormous already. With them and Demonstone with her. Briarlight is completely safe. Millie used to be much worse,” Bumblestripe said. “I know she loves Graystripe and he loves her, but she has to get over this fearful obsession. It almost killed Rainkit and Greykit. It’s completely understandable why they look more to you than her.”
“They do love their father very much. He spends time with them, and look to Demonstone as an Uncle and not their father.” Kyestorm flattened her ears. “I never intended to steal the love of her kits so much that they think I’m their mother.”
“Of course not, but who fed them, nourished them when they needed it? Once they gained their milk teeth she spent less and less with them in the nursery did she not? The only comforting tongue they will remember is yours.” Bumblestripe uttered a snarl of annoyance. “If she really cared for them as much as she does Briarlight, she’d never have left the nursery! You haven’t!”
“I should not until the kits apprentice and go to the apprentice den. I don’t understand why she left. Daisy, Lilyheart and I have never been cross with her at all.” Kyestorm flicked her tail. “But she did, and the kits come to me and sleep with my kits. They have for almost two moons now.”
“Don’t fret over it. One day, she will regret her actions. I just hope she comes to grips with her emotions soon, and lets all her kits know she cares, like you do.” Bumblestripe eyed her askance. “Maybe you should speak to her?”
“I’ve tried asking her why she won’t come back to the nursery. She won’t talk about any of it except to thank me profusely for giving her kits what she couldn’t. Graystripe just says to let it go. Today she said something to Rainkit when he tried to comfort her after Briarlight yelled at her. He looked confused, and hurt. He asked me if I would stop loving him like she did, and went to the Medicine den to be with Gentlekit.” Kyestorm growled her frustrations, then gave Bumblestripe a quick smile. “But all the kits know love, and always will, from me.”
“They know the truth, and that is all we can ask. Secrets and lies hurt more. They all are such marvelous kits. I so wish to have kits, but, well, can’t seem to keep a mate,” Bumblestripe lamented.
“Not your fault!” Kyestorm exclaimed, and blurted, “if I wasn’t already mated, I’d choose you and keep you. You’re a handsome, smart, and sweet tom!”
“Really?” Bumblestripe brightened, then his eyes widened. “No, Kyestorm! Don’t even say that! Demonstone would just smash me to bloody bits! He’s the only cat I know who can throw rocks!”
“Don’t worry!” Kyestorm mrrowed with mirth. “I have no intention of leaving Demonstone. I’m just saying, if she-cats ignore you, it is their loss.”
Maybe,” Bumblestripe flattened his ears, turning serious. “I can’t believe they want to give one of the orphan kits to ShadowClan.”
“Nor I,” Kyestorm growled, feeling some courage flash through her. “Maybe I should go to the next gathering fight for the kits.”
“You would do that?” Bumblestripe meowed, astonishment coloring his tons.
“No, you should not,” Squirrelflight yowled, stopping the patrol, and glared at Kyestorm. “This will be difficult enough without a kit-obsessed, hot-head like you there. Now let’s concentrate on our tasks.”
The patrol moved again, and Squirrellflight marched in front, tail lashing. Kyestorm glanced at Bumblestripe, feeling like a fool.
“Don’t let her get to you,” Bumblestripe mewed softly. “This whole thing has the leaders on edge.”
“I don’t really want to go anyway,” Kyestorm grumbled.
A large rabbit startled the patrol, evaporating the conversation, and fled its hiding spot, racing for a burrow just inside the ThunderClan line. Kyestorm reacted without thought, her anger, frustrations and anxiety funneling into her actions. She launched herself after it, and drawing her hind legs at the last moment, she pounced, her toes spread, claws glinting in the sun. She flattened the shocked rabbit, sinking her claws into the prey. It uttered a deafening squeal, but Kyestorm delivered the kill bite swiftly, then stopped, wondering why nobody congratulated her on a swift catch. A stir of annoyance swirled in her guts at the thought Squirrelflight’s anger with her still festered. Kyestorm glanced at her patrol, who looked past her with narrowed eyes. She turned her head in time to see a WindClan patrol appear out of the brush lining the opposite bank of stream which marked the border.
“Stealing our prey?” A red-brown tabby and white tom sneered. Two she-cats flanked him, bristling with hostility. A young black tom with white splashed across his chest hung back, and Kyestorm recognized Slightfoot.
“Not so, Harespring,” Thornclaw replied calmly, while Kyestorm fumed with indignation. “The rabbit and its burrow are on our territory.”
“Rabbits are not ThunderClan prey,” one of the she-cats hissed. Kyestorm recognized gray and white Furzepelt, and growled, baring the tips of her fangs, waiting for the opportunity to slap that bossy she-cat silly.
“Why not?” Thornclaw asked quietly. “If they run our land, we’ll eat them. We have kits to feed, so all prey running in our territory is fair game.”
“That rabbit ran onto your territory from ours. You’re stealing it,” Furzepelt insisted.
“No we aren’t,” Spiderleg growled, narrowing his eyes.
“The burrow is on our territory. We didn’t steal anything!” Squirrelflight came to Thornclaw’s’s side, green eyes spitting with anger.
“Yes, you are!” Harespring stepped forward across the stream.
“Kyestorm caught it fair,” Spiderleg growled, his long black tail puffing in anger.
“Give it back!” a black she-cat hissed.
“Harespring, Breezepelt! Furrzepelt! Slightfoot! Get back on your own territory!” Thornclaw snarled. “You trespass!”
“The rabbit is ours and your kittypet stole it!” Harespring hissed, ready to spring on Thornclaw.
“You will pay!” Furzepelt screeched, landing beside the WindClan deputy.
“STOP!” Kyestorm yowled, her temper exploding. Slightfoot shrank back. She stood tall on tiptoe, towering over the WindClan cats. “I caught this fairly, on ThunderClan land and the burrow is right there, well within our territory! it’s obvious we stole nothing.” Kyestorm pointed her tail at the burrow. “Do you call me a liar?” She minced forward, her high voice dropping to a menacing growl. She swiped a huge paw under Harespring’s muzzle, dagger claws flashing in the dappled sunlight, and, sheathing her claws at the last second, smacked Furzepelt on the side of the head
Harespring’s eyes widened, showing the whites as he hastily backed up into the stream, stepping into the deeper water. He yowled with surprise, and sprang in the air, splashing water all over his Clanmates, and landed on the far shore. Nightcloud followed, shaking herself, and glared at Kyestorm. Furzepelt staggered across the brook, shaking her head, obviously stunned. Of Slightfoot, she saw nothing. Harespring bared his teeth, lashing his tail.
“We’re reporting to Onestar about this!” Harespring snarled over her shoulder.
“Fine,” Thornclaw hitched his shoulders, gold eyes gleaming. “Just warn him not to start a war over your lies.”
Harespring and his patrol disappeared, and Kyestorm caught her breath, flattening her fur. She faced Thornclaw.
“Sorry,” she mewed. “I hate being accused of lying.”
“No matter,” Thornclaw replied, delight dancing in his eyes. “I see where Indikit gets her temper, though yours takes a while to simmer.”
“Yes, it does,” Kyestorm deflated completely, her tail drooping to touch the ground. “I hope I didn’t start a war.”
“You didn’t, and if WindClan is foolish about this, I am certain any quarrel they bring will be squashed quickly.” Thornclaw uttered a mewl of laughter. “Did you see Harespring’s eyes when you flashed your claws under his nose? And Furzepelt may not remember our encounter at all, you hit her so hard. Slightfoot probably wet himself!”
“Yes, but. . .” Kyestorm stuttered.
“Great catch and defense!” Squirrelflight thumped Kyestorm with her tail, all anger and annoyance gone, then marked the boundary. “Pick up your prey and let’s get it back to camp.”
“Why were they so ridiculous?” Kyestorm asked, picking up the rabbit, copying Squirrelflight, marking a stone just downstream. “It’s foolishness like that which makes me so angry!”
“Harespring is a mouse-brained piece of foxdung,” Squirrelflight spat, in a another swift change of mood. “I’ll never understand why Onestar chose him. I don’t blame you for being angry, Kyestorm.”
“I don’t go to Gatherings so I don’t upset StarClan. Maybe I shouldn’t patrol anymore,” Kyestorm muttered.
“Nonesense!” Squirrelflight snorted, putting Kyestorm in mind of Jayfeather. “You should knock sense into those mushroom-heads with those big paws. It’s not your fault that foxes avoid our territory completely since you joined our patrols. It’s something the other Clans should covet and admire!”
“Is there not a way to chase the foxes away from all Clans?”
“Not really, unless every Clan had a cat like you,” Squirrelflight answered. “But at this rate, with their petty kittypet prejudices, they may never ever be lucky enough to gain what we have. Their fault, Kyestorm, not yours. And I think that is what StarClan is mad about. The other leaders reject you, except Mistystar, who has half a brain!”
“I suppose you are right,” Kyestorm relaxed, her angst replaced by the exhilaration of defending herself, her prey and her Clan.
“You acted perfectly,” Squirrelflight assured her. “And we spilled not a drop of blood.”
“Good. I enjoy patrols,” Kyestorm replied. She followed them into camp, and placed the big rabbit on the fresh kill pile. Her kits swarmed around her, bouncing with excitement, questions bombarding her ears.
“Kyemama! How’d you catch it?” Phantomkit asked, in strident tones he now used more often.
“I want to go hunting, too!” Demonkit meowed, his voice as high pitched as his father’s.
“Ohhhh! I want to hunt on the open moors!” Smokekit squealed. “It sound sso fun! To run and leap without worrying about brush and trees!”
“We didn’t run the moors,” Kyestorm retorted, flattening her ears, feeling a stab of angst in the pit of her stomach. Why did Smokekit care about running WindClan territory?
“You got a rabbit!” Smokekit mewled. “They run the moors! I know the tales!”
“I wanna go hunting, toooo!” Bluekit demanded.
“Me, too! When can we go?” Indikit demanded, her green eyes shining. “When?”
“You’ll apprentice soon enough,” Kyestorm admonished her noisy brood. “Enjoy being kits!”
“We may have to apprentice them at five moons,” Bramblestar commented, coming up beside Kyestorm. “Even little Bluekit is almost as large as our smallest warrior.”
“No,” Kyestorm shook her head. “Their brains have to catch up with their bodies.”
Bramblestar burst out in laughter, before eyeing Phantomkit.
“That young one is ready. Smart, strong, and fast,” he commented. “As is Demonkit. Gentlekit already spends more time in the medicine den than the nursery.”
“Smokekit grows so tall and graceful, while Bluekit is short, yet swift,” Kyestorm sighed. “I wish they could stay babies forever.”
“Greykit, Rainkit, and Indikit have formed quite the alliance. I never expected Rainkit to match Indikit for temper and mischievousness.” Bramblestar meowed. “They all will be fine warriors in their good time.”
“Yes,” Kyestorm agreed, then decided to brave the Clan Leader’s possible anger. “Must I go to the Gathering when they apprentice?”
“Yes,” Bramblestar answered without a speck of annoyance. Understanding shimmered in his amber gaze. “Remember, all eight kits will be there, and Demonstone already agreed. He is more than strong enough to make the journey. Your Clan will be there to have your back, and remember, Mistystar is on your side as well.”
“All right,” Kyestorm lowered her head, angst twisting her stomach. As Bramblestar trotted away, she sat, trying to conjure up any excuse not to go to that Gathering. She knew the medicine cats and Gentlekit would never allow her to lie, and she shuddered at the thought of injuring herself just to stay behind. She sighed. No, she thought, I will have to do this, for my kits, for my Clan.
Post by phantomstar57 on Jul 29, 2016 15:41:04 GMT -5
NEW BLOOD - BORN OF SMOKE & FIRE
Chapters Six - Nine
CHAPTER SIX: APPRENTICES
Sunrise brought gray skies and cool misty rain the day Kyestorm’s kits turned six moons old. Kyestorm awoke to a breeze rustling the leafy roof of the nursery. She felt a paw digging into her back, and slapped her tail over the offender’s flank.
“Demonkit, must you fling that monstrous body all over the nest?” Kyestorm growled. Demonkit rolled over and sprawled over Phantomkit, who woke up with a start. He shook his head, then looked at Kyestorm, and excitement chased the sleep from his sea-green eyes. His bushy tail slapped his siblings.
“Kyemama! We apprentice today!”
“Yes, you do,” Kyestorm yawned, listening to the soft rainfall. She felt so snug and warm she wished to stay put. Phantomkit pounced on her, and she grunted, his enormous paws punching air from her lungs.
“Get up!” he meowed with excitement. Kyestorm rolled onto her chest, eyeing her gargantuan son. He stood almost her height, and outweighed many of the warriors in camp. Demonkit matched him, and Indikit trailed her two big brothers, but surpassed her other three siblings. Smokekit stood as tall as Demonkit and Phantomkit, but her lanky body weighed much less. Gentlekit took after his father, with a powerfully muscled body, and Kyestorm saw him in her own body during kithood. Little Bluekit weighed almost as much as Smokekit, but promised to stay short and stocky, but even she dwarfed Greykit and Rainkit in height and weight.
Kyestorm yawned again, wondering if the weather might delay the apprentice ceremony. She scowled at her huge kits, and hoped not. They hogged the entire nursery now! Lilyheart lay in her nest, with five moon old Larkkit, Leaflit and Honeykit, whose tails and legs mixed with her kits’ giant paws and bushy tails. Twigkit huddled against Lilyheart, sleeping on her belly to avoid all the flailing limbs. Anger flared briefly in Kyestorm’s gut, thinking about how ShadowClan took Violetkit, and ThunderClan seemed fine with it. She growled, still simmering over the whole deal, and the desire to slap Rowanstar returned in a rush.
She uttered a grumble, happy she did not attend that last Gathering. She might have gone beyond flattening him, and caused a huge rift between the Clans, but the sadness lingering in Twigkit’s eyes cut her to the heart. She shook out her thickening pelt, composing herself. Today belonged to her kits, and they needed to move to the apprentice’s den a moon ago. Poor Daisy snoozed in her nest against the back wall, the only place free of blooming bushy tails, long bodies and legs, and monstrous paws. Daisy opened an eye.
“Special day,” she mewed. “Even though there is not much room in here, I’ll miss you all.” Daisy sighed. “And nobody else is expecting kits.”
“Give it a few moons,” Kyestorm quipped. “Cherryfall and Stormcloud have been making moon eyes at each other since I arrived.”
“Poppyfrost has gained weight, and I know she and Berrynose want more kits,” Lilyheart added. “So does Blossomfall.”
“They’d best wait until New Leaf. As much as I don’t like to see the nursery empty, it’s better if we have no kits to raise during Leaf Bare.” Daisy lifted her head. “I think you’re right, too. Hard Leaf Bare is ahead.”
“And if I have more kits, this nursery will be too small,” Kyestorm meowed. “You should get Demonstone and Brackenfur to enlarge it before New Leaf. They’ll listen to you.”
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” Bramblestar’s yowl interrupted the conversation, and reverberated through camp.
“Kyemama! it’s time!” Greykit pounced on Indikit. “Get up! Bramblestar is calling a meeting!”
In a flurry of huge clumsy paws, long bushy tails, and big bodies, the kits all leaped up and hastily groomed themselves again. They raced out into the hollow, and sat, grooming themselves and each other in attempts to be presentable. Kyestorm followed, yawning, then saw Demonstone sitting at the base of the rocks, his golden eyes alight with pride. Briarlight clung to his back, her sky-blue eyes bright under the gloomy skies. Bramblestar stood on Highledge. Kyestorm walked to the center of the gathering, and sat behind their kits, joy filling her heart. She forgot her lingering concerns and anxieties.
Dovewng and Ivypool trotted out of the Warrior’s den, followed by Bumblestripe, who moved to sit near Kyestorm, using her bulk to block his view of Dovewing. Kyestorm shook her head, feeling sorrow for both of them, though she still thought Dovewing foolish for rejecting Bumblestripe as a mate. She sympathized with Dovewing, understanding what the she-cat lost once the Great Battle ended, but how many seasons must pass before she recovered from that?
Kyestorm shifted her forepaws impatiently as the last of the Clan shuffled out into the mist. Graystripe ambled out of the Elder’s den with Millie, braving the cool early Leaf Fall drizzle. Lilyheart sat with her excited kits in the nursery door, who watched with bright eyes beside Snowbush. Twigkit huddled against Lilyheart, her eyes wide, and Kyestorm shivered, battling with herself not to go comfort the kit. She returned her attention to her kits. In moments everyone gathered, ignoring the light misty rain, and drifting leaves.
“Good. Everyone is present for this special morning! I appoint eight new apprentices today. Demonkit, Phantomkit, Gentlekit, Smokekit, Bluekit, Indikit, Greykit and Rainkit, please come forward! You are ready for full apprenticeship now.” Bramblestar’s voice rolled out over the hollow. “Are you ready to begin your training?”
“Yes!” All eight kits answered in unison.
“Phantomkit.” Bramblestar gazed down at him, his eyes gleaming. “From this day forth you will be known as Phantompaw, and your mentor is Lionblaze. I know he will train you well.”
“Phantompaw! Phantompaw!” rose from many throats, and, in moments, the entire Clan joined in. Squirrelflight bumped Kyestorm, green eyes sparkling with delight.
“So exciting! Eight apprentices!” Squirrelflight meowed. “I do hope I mentor one of these youngsters, but even if not, I know they will train well.”
“Me, too. You were great with me,” Kyestorm agreed, then silenced as the ceremony continued for the other kits
“Demonkit.” Bramblestar shifted his gaze. “From this day forth you will be known as Demonpaw, and your mentor is Berrynose. I know he will train you well.”
“Demonpaw! Demonpaw!” rose from all throats, and Kyestorm heard Sparkpaw’s voice above the rest. She glanced at the apprentice, who stared at Demonpaw, her eyes shining. Kyestorm purred with amusement. The six moon age difference seemed less cavernous now.
“Indikit.” Bramblestar nodded at her, his eyes sparkling. “From this day forth you will be known as Indipaw, and your mentor is Thornclaw. I know he will train you well.”
“Indipaw! Indipaw!” Bramblestar silenced the cheers with a tail flick.
“Smokekit.” Bramblestar meowed. “From this day forth you will be known as Smokepaw, and your mentor is Cloudtail. I know he will train you well.”
“Smokepaw! Smokepaw!” The Clan meowed enthusiastically.
“Bluekit.” Bramblestar looked down at him, his eyes shining. “From this day forth you will be known as Bluepaw, and your mentor is Whitewing. I know she will train you well.”
“Bluepaw! Bluepaw!” The Clan yowled. Kyestorm watched Greykit fidget, then jump when Bramblestar finally called his name.
“Greykit.” Bramblestar gazed down at him. “From this day forth you will be known as Greypaw, and your mentor is Birchfall. I know she will train you well.”
“Greypaw! Greypaw!” The Clan meowed enthusiastically, and Millie beamed with rare pride, her head lying on Graystripe’s shoulder, but her eyes met Kyestorm’s. Kyestorm saw the silent thank you shining there.
“Rainkit.” Bramblestar looked at the small tom. “From this day forth you will be known as Rainpaw, and your mentor is Hollytuft. I know she will train you well.”
“Rainpaw! Rainpaw!” The Clan meowed enthusiastically, as Rainpaw sat beside Hollytuft.
“Gentlekit,” Bramblestar said, his voice rising. “From this day forth you will be known as Gentlepaw, and, since you are already training as a Medicine cat, your mentor is Jayfeather. I know he will continue to train you well.”
“Gentlepaw! Gentlepaw!” The Clan meowed enthusiastically. Bramblestar leveled his gaze of Gentlepaw, and Kyestorm felt a lump in her throat. He saved Littlecloud’s life, she thought with exasperation. He should be rewarded! She bristled as Gentlepaw accepted admonishments from his leader and mentors.
“Gentlepaw, though I don’t condone kits sneaking out of camp, in your case, punishment is waived, since following them, and assisting Alderpaw and Leafpool, saved Littlecloud’s life.” Branmblestar regarded the huge brown tabby apprentice. Gentlepaw met his leader’s gaze with confidence, and not one speck of guilt. “But I don’t want every kit thinking sneaking off on wild notions is proper behavior.”
“Gentlepaw,” Jayfeather’s voice rumbled. “Do you understand why we put you on punishment duty?”
“Yes,” Gentlepaw answered stoically. “But I’d do it again to save Littlecloud. We learned a new technique, even if by accident.”
“Yes, you did, though it may not work with all patients,” Leafpool added. “You could have broken his frail ribs.”
“I know.” Gentlepaw dipped his head, canting back his ears. “But I just knew by feel when to stop.”
“Do understand that ShadowClan may be a bit upset with you, despite saving Littlecloud’s life.” Bramblestar’s voice rumbled with warning. “Please be on your best behavior at the next Gathering.”
“I promise,” Gentlepaw replied. Bramblestar held his gaze for a few heartbeats before looking over the gathered Clan.
“I am so pleased we have eight new apprentices this day!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out. “Now we shall add a new warrior to our ranks and welcome our new medicine cat! Sparkpaw, please come forward.” Bramblestar waited for the excited apprentice to step forth, then his voice rolled on. “I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon this young apprentice. She has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you as a warriors in their turn”
Kyestorm trembled in spite of herself. She remembered her own ceremony as if it occurred yesterday, and she felt proud of her mentor’s kits. Kyestorm glanced at Squirrelflight, who sat stoic and calm, but her eyes sparkled with suppressed pride. She met Lilyheart's gaze, amused at the disappointment and longing in five moon old Larkkit's, Honeykit's and Leafkit's eyes. Twigkit’s expression changed from ambivalence to awe and wonder.
“Sparkpaw,” Bramblestar continued. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” the flaming red tabby she-cat answered without hesitation.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Sparkp . . . "
A loud grumble erupted from Alderheart, and Kyestorm turned a startled look on him. Behind Alderheart, Gentlepaw blinked in approval. Bramblestar gazed at his son, amber eyes glittering with annoyance. Alderheart met his father’s gaze.
“Please, as we discussed?”
“I never agreed,” Bramblestar retorted, and Sparkpaw stared in confusion. “She shouldn’t have to bear the burden of living up to his legacy. She must walk her own path.”
“It’s not a burden but an honor,” Alderheart argued in soft mews, glancing back once at Gentlepaw, causing Kyestorm to wonder what her son’s role in this might be. Alderheart continued his voice steadying. “She’ll always run her own way.”
Bramblestar shifted his gaze on his daughter, and she raised shining green eyes to him. The annoyance left his features, and he flicked his tail in capitulation. He nodded at Alderheart in silent acknowledgment.
“Sparkpaw, does it bother you that you look just like your grandsire?” Bramblestar asked, shifting a forepaw, peering intently down at her.
“No! Why would it?” she answered without hesitation. “I’m proud, but know I’m not him.”
“Good.” Bramblestar said then raised his voice. “Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Sparkfire. From this moment you will be known as Sparkfire! Welcome to ThunderClan, new Warrior!”
“ThunderClan honors your bravery and dedication.” Bramblestar leaped down to the new warrior, pride sparkling his amber eyes.” We welcome you as a full member to ThunderClan.” He laid his chin on his kit's head, who licked his shoulder in return.
"I also welcome Alderheart to the rank of full medicine cat since his second visit to the Moonpool half a moon ago," Bramblestar announced proudly.
"Alderheart! Alderheart! Alderheart!" rang off the cliffs.
Alderheart sat quiet, but confident, a far cry form the indecisive apprentice Kyestorm remembered upon arriving here. His role in the events of the past number of moons impressed everyone. Cats yowled, meowed and purred approval, and he looked relieved and pleased.
“ThunderClan prspers! We grow strong to handle the challenges ahead. We shall have great news to bring to the Gathering in a quarter moon!" Bramblestar looked over the gathered Clan. The drizzle turned to a gentle rain. “Our fresh kill pile is large, our camp protected by new barriers, and we should take this rainy day to relax. Squirrelflight, please organize a rotation of sentries for the day. I think we all deserve a day of rest.”
“I want to train!” Phantompaw blurted out. “Can we? Please?”
“Me, too!” Demonpaw and Indipaw echoed him, while Smokepaw, Bluepaw and Greypaw bounced in place, yowling, "Yes, please?”
“That will be up to your mentors,” Bramblestar chuckled. Berrynose, Whitewing, Cloudtail, Birchfall, Lionblaze, Hollytuft, and Thornclaw glanced at Bramblestar, then at each other. Lionblaze grinned, baring the tips of his fangs.
“I’m game. Rain makes for slick conditions. Perhaps perfect for training eager apprentices?” he drawled. “Ready?”
“Yes!” Phantompaw reared up like a horse, balancing on his hind legs, his bottlebrush tail, almost fully developed, lashed with excitement. “Yes! I’m ready!”
“Same here,” Thornclaw glanced at Indikit. “Eager to train, young scamp?”
“Yes!” Indipaw bounced stiff-legged, her bushy tail straight up.
“Oh, yes! Yes!” Greypaw frisked, and ran up to his mother, pawing her shoulder, delight shivering his stout body. “Isn’t it great, Millie? I’m gonna train today! it’s so exciting!”
“Yes,” Millie answered, her mood shifting in a heartbeat. Her voice grew harsh. “Go, and act like the apprentice you are and not a silly kit!”
Greypaw stood rooted to the damp ground, tail drooping, eyes widening in utter embarrassment and dismay. Kyestorm gaped for a heartbeat in disbelief, before outrage exploded from her insides like a lightning strike. She leaped forward, raising a paw, toes spread, above Millie’s head. She trembled with the effort not to strike, but bared every tooth.
“Never, ever speak to Greypaw like that! How dare you ruin his special day!”
“How dare I? He’s my kit! I’ll speak to him any way I want. How dare you tell me how to raise my kits!” Millie braved Kyestorm’s wrath, inflaming the Maine Coon queen’s fury.
“Raise your kits? You did no such thing! I’m their milk-mother!” Kyestorm snapped her teeth, her voice bellowing like a wildcat, high and sweet no longer. “All you’ve done these last several moons is obsess over Briarlight, who has never been safer and stronger thanks to MY mate!” Kyestorm minced on tiptoe, her one paw still in the air. “If not for me, your kits would have died! I’ve been more a mother to them than you!”
“That is not fair!” Millie wailed. “My milk dried up!”
“So?” Kyestorm thundered. “You still could have continued to groom them, love them, long after they weaned. Instead you left the nursery and went back to the Elder’s den! ! You should never, ever, reject your kits or treat them badly, ever!”
“Kyestorm, please! STOP!” Graystripe stood up, back arched.
“And YOU! Allowing Millie to continue this behavior when she has other kits! Coddling her! I will not STAND to see Rainpaw and Greypaw treated with such disrespect, and lack of love!” Kyestorm faced Millie. “You should be happy for him, not annoyed!”
A touch on Kyestorm’s flank startled her, and she leaped sideways with a hiss. Blossomfall stood, tail down, eyes wide and solemn. Kyestorm’s rage drained out of her toes, and she stared at her friend. Out of her peripheral vision, she saw all the apprentices and mentors gaping in disbelief. Greypaw sat beside Birchfall, eyes woebegone, and Birchfall glared at Millie in disapproval. Lilyheart stared, tips of her fangs bared, pelt bristling with outrage. Larkkit, Honeykit and Leafkit gaped, eyes wide as they pressed between their parents. Twigkit hid behind Lilyheart.
“Thank you,” Blossomfall mewed softly. “She needed to hear that, but it may be too late for her. I wish I had a milk-mother that stood up for me as you have my brothers. Maybe the Dark Forest wouldn’t have lured me so easily.” Blossomfall gazed at her parents. “Mother, I wish you remembered you have other kits besides our sister. I understand it’s too late for me, but please don’t make the same mistake with Greypaw and Rainpaw.”
Millie stood, in silence, then leaned into Graystripe and closed her eyes. Her body trembled. Graystripe flattened his fur, and licked Millie’s head.
“You’re right, Kyestorm. But I am not sure she can help herself. I know things of her life nobody else does, and understand why she has these fears. Thank you for looking after my sons. Please continue to watch over them,” Graystripe mewed in a whisper. He looked up at Bramblestar, who wore a stunned expression.
“I am so tired,” Millie mewled in shaking tones.
“Your Clan honors you and all the service you have given us,” Bramblestar assured her. Bramblestar stepped down the rocks, and stood beside Millie, laying his tail across her shoulders. Purdy stepped forward, greeting the old she-cat, giving Kyestorm a glance.
“Stop frettin’, Millie. Yer youngin’ is in good paws,” Purdy purred, giving Kyestorm a wink. “I’ll tell stories to keep yer mind off o’ her.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyestorm walked up to Millie, and laid her thick furry tail over the old she-cat’s back. “I just lose my mind when kits are involved. I think I understand you better. But know that Briarlight is safe and happy. You can rest easy and enjoy time with Graystripe. And I’ll always love Greykit, oops, Greypaw and Rainpaw as my own, but they, nor I, will never forget who their mother is.”
“Thank you,” Millie whispered, and sagged against Graystripe. He nodded, then lead her to the snug warm Elder’s den. Kyestorm inhaled sharply, seeing two shimmering red shapes weave around Graystripe, and she glanced up at Bramblestar who stared, eyes squinting. She knew he saw the same. One starry red shape turned, green eyes blinking once, as he nodded to both Kyestorm and Bramblestar, before fading away. Bramblestar slowly nodded at Kyestorm, and with Squirrelflight, disappeared into their den.
“Are we going to train?” Phantompaw asked in a squeak belying his size. She stifled a yawn. Kyestorm faced the group of new apprentices and mentors.
“I am sorry to upset your wonderful day.” She dropped her head, her fur flat.
“No matter. Something long overdue I think. That is why my grandfather and grandmother made themselves seen,” Lionblaze said. “Millie’s job raising kits is done. Hopefully she’ll be happier when she truly sees how safe and useful her daughter is. Let’s get to some serious training!”
“Come, let’s go,” Thornclaw said, and lead the group down to the training grounds. Kyestorm watched, then yawned. She noticed Sparkfire talking to Demonpaw, and purred, approving her warrior name and her choice of companions, but her stomach twisted into a sudden knot, as she trotted to the warrior’s den to join her mate.
In a half moon, the next Gathering loomed. She looked toward the Elder’s den, and mumbled, “Firestar, please give me the wisdom not to make a fool of myself and smack a Clan Leader again at the Gathering, especially if they mention Violetkit!”
She thought she heard a soft chuckle in her ear, but saw nothing as she entered the enlarged den, found her mate, and curled up beside him. She listened to the wind, and the light drip of rain on the leafy roof. She snuggled against Demonstone, pride in him infusing her with joy. Not a drop of water seeped past the well-woven roof, attesting to the builders’ skills. She drifted off to sleep, knowing ThunderClan possessed the best dens in all the clans.
To Kyestorm’s dismay, that half moon flew by like frightened sparrows, and the dreaded evening arrived. The full moon shone in clear skies, and a cold wind whistled through the forest, ripping down leaves from trees readying for Leaf Bare slumber. Kyestorm sat outside the warrior’s den, waiting, as excited Clan members gathered, ready to brave the brisk chilly night to attend the Gathering. Demonstone joined her, and she inhaled deeply.
“Why did you agree to go?” Kyestorm asked, letting her thickening ruff mantle. Her breath condensed in the cold air before the breeze whisked it away. “You could have easily said you can’t make such a journey.”
“I’ll never lie about things like that,” Demonstone answered, his own thick silvery ruff fluffing against the wind. “I look forward to this. Don’t fret.”
“Come, let’s move,” Bramblestar commanded, and led his clanmates out of the hollow. Squirrelflight trotted beside her mate, and glanced back at Kyestorm.
“It shall be a great gathering,” she insisted. “Every clan has apprentices this moon. Concentrate on that.”
“I’ll try,” Kyestorm mewed, staying beside her mate, who loped along, swaying from side to side like a log floating downstream in rough water. They reached the lake shore, and Kyestorm uttered a mew of surprise when ice crackled beneath her paws. Frost coated the ground, looking like snow cover.
“Ice?” Spiderleg muttered. “Not good. It’s too early.”
“It’s going to be a wicked Leaf Bare,” Kyestorm remarked, glancing at the lanky black tom. “Your fur is getting thick. You look almost normal.”
“Oh, funny, coming from a giant red puffball,” Spiderleg retorted, a chuckle in his voice. “Even your big ears are so fuzzy you look like a rabbit!”
“Ha!” Kyestorm mrrrowed. “Let WindClan mistake me for one! Especially that mouse-brain, Harespring.”
“Kyemama!” Smokepaw exclaimed. “What would you do?””
“She’d smush him under those enormous things she calls paws!” Spiderleg replied with a humorous snort, as the clan traversed the shoreline along WindClan territory. He glanced up the windswept hill. He blinked a grin, baring the tips of his fangs. “I’m just teasing, Smokepaw. Don’t look so shocked. Your mother and I have an understanding.”
“Oh, here they come,” Kyestorm growled, her laughter stuffed back down her throat. She spied Onestar leading WindClan down the hill, with Harespring at his side. “Yes, Spiderleg, I’d love to flatten that fool.”
“Who? The red tabby tom?” Demonstone asked, alert, his black smoke coat rising. He lashed his tail.
“No, the brown and white one. The red tabby is Onestar. Harespring is his deputy. Look at Furzepelt! Prancing like I never knocked her brain loose,” Kyestorm answered, her voice dropping to a growl.
“Oh my, that was funny!” Spiderleg’s guffaw tempered Kyestorm’s rising aggression. His voice rose with mirth. “I bet she had a headache for days!”
Everyone around them laughed, and Bramblestar quickened the pace. They skirted the water, and this time Kyestorm avoided the marshes and sandy shallows. She knew her kits well, and nobody needed a drenching from six sets of huge wet paws when they followed her into the muck. She traversed close enough to crackle freezing water beneath her well-insulated paws and her kits followed suit. The crunch of ice, amplified by feet larger than Kyestorm’s, echoed across the lake.
“Crazy goofy Maine Coons,” Spiderleg guffawed. “Lucky are you with all that fur around your toes.”
“Something I wish I had,” Bumblestripe said, staying well up on shore. “I hate cold wet paws.”
“Most of us do,” Berrynose meowed, as the Clan neared the tree bridge. Kyestorm watched, amused, as her clanmates crossed, wary as ever, of the water below. Demonstone moved cautiously but with confidence, his thick muscular legs keeping him steady. Kyestorm followed her kits and their mentors, not surprised when every one of her kits frolicked across the log, startling and shocking their mentors.
Demonpaw and Phantompaw raced along the trunk, leaving Berrynose and Lionblaze glancing at each other in disbelief. Smokepaw danced across on nimble long legs, while Cloudtail hung back, grumbling. Bluepaw trotted quickly, looking down into the cold water with no fear. Whitewing flattened her ears, waiting for the apprentice to jump free before walking across. Indipaw pranced along, batting at old branch nubs, and Thornclaw looked back at Kyestorm.
“Your kits are insane,” he grumbled, before walking across. Kyestorm noticed WindClan closing in on the marsh.
“Go,” Kyestorm urged Gentlepaw, Rainpaw and Greypaw. Gentlepaw walked confidently, encouraging his milk brothers. They followed, along with Jayfeather, Alderheart, and Leafpool. Kyestorm crossed, followed by Squirrelflight and Bramblestar. Mistystar stood below the Great Tree with her clanmates, and her feathery tail rose in greeting.
“Hallo! Oh my, Kyestorm! Your kits are big and beautiful. Glad to see you all!”
“Hallo!” Bramblestar called out, and Kyestorm saw Rowanstar under the tree several fox lengths away from Mistystar. Kyestorm bristled involuntarily, glancing at the ShadowClan leader. She saw a challenge lurking in his eyes, and growled under her breath. She moved over beside her mate, who sat next to Brackenfur. Her kits lined up in front of her with their mentors, as Onestar led WindClan across the fallen tree.
Onestar scowled at ThunderClan. His eyes roved over Kyestorm, Demonstone, and the kits, his expression softened, becoming thoughtful. Kyestorm noticed his eyes rested on Smokepaw, who stood tall and proud, her vivid golden eyes braving the Clan leaders scrutiny. He nodded at her, jumping up into the Great Tree. The other leaders followed suit.
“Greetings to all,” Bramblestar called out. “I am excited to announce new apprentices. As you see, we have eight this moon! Please welcome Demonpaw, Phantompaw, Indipaw, Smokepaw, Bluepaw, Rainpaw, and Greypaw! And of course, our medicine cat apprentice, Gentlepaw.”
Joyous congratulations and greetings rippled around the Gathering, but Rowwanstar glowered. Bramblestar continued. “We are in debt to Kyestorm, for birthing her kits with ThunderClan, raising them as Clan, and saving the lives of Greypaw and Rainpaw, by becoming their milk-mother. Lilyheart’s kits will apprentice next moon!”
“Kyestorm we know,” Onestar said gruffly. “Who is the huge tom beside her?”
“Please welcome Demonstone, Kyestorm’s mate.” Bramblestar stood up on his branch with excitement. “He . . .” Bramblestar paused when Brackenfur stood, and waved his tail, eyes bright. “Please, Warrior. Speak!”
“I wish to speak on behalf of Demonstone, for despite his injuries and kittypet past, he has become a huge asset to our Clan. There has never been such a builder of barriers and dens as he.” Brackenfur’s golden brown tabby coat rippled with his conviction. “His strength and abilities in fortifying our dens and barrier has just been phenomenal. I want to formally welcome him into the Clans. Demonstone?”
“Greetings,” Demonstone stood up. His long black smoke fur ruffled in the cold breeze. Kyestorm felt pride as her mate moved to stand beside Brackenfur, dwarfing the old warrior. His bright gold eyes shone as he respectfully nodded to each Clan Leader. “I am happy to be here, and to finally meet other Clans.”
Surprised muttering and cheers went up from the gathered cats. Brackenfur stepped back, and Demonstone returned to Kyestorm’s side. Bramblestar waved his tail.
“We have a new warrior as well, Sparkfire. Alderheart is now a full medicine cat.” Bramblestar finished, and Kyestorm swelled with pride as Squirrelflight and Bramblestar’s kits stepped forward. Both sported their father’s broad shoulders, but only Alderheart’s eyes shone the same color as his father’s, while Sparkfire’s eyes gleamed jade green. Both stood proud and quiet, but Kyestorm sensed their excitement and joy. Alderheart quietly left his sister’s side to join the medicine cats.
Kyestorm saw envy in the eyes of many ShadowClan cats, and she hoped Rowanstar did not make a fuss when Gentlepaw joined the medicine cats! Eye contact between Sparkfire and Demonpaw distracted her, and she purred. Bramblestar continued, his voice full of pride and love. “Prey runs well despite the cold, and, we are ready for Leaf Bare. We also hope for more kits next New Leaf. That is the news from ThunderClan. I hope everyone else has good news to share.” Bramblestar sat down.
“We, too, have two apprentices this moon!” Mistystar announced. “Come forward Silverpaw and Troutpaw!”
Two silver-white long-haired cats stepped forward, a she-cat and a tom. Black tipped their long hairs, giving it the customary sparkle Kyestorm remembered in fellow Maine Coons colored shaded-silver, a pigment lighter than the smoke she knew so well. The young tom’s coat darkened more around his legs, face and tail and along his back, while the she-cat’s pelt glistened lighter, with just a blush of shadings in those same areas. Kyestorm heard someone inhale sharply and glanced to her side. Bluepaw’s blue eyes locked onto the RiverClan apprentices. She slapped her kit with a big bushy tail.
“What, Kyemama? They have such pretty coats!” Bluepaw hissed in annoyance, then raised her voice to join others. “Silverpaw! Troutpaw!”
“We, too, have apprentices this moon,” Rowanstar announced. “Snowpaw, Beepaw, and Pinepaw. And Puddlepaw is training to be a medicine cat. Littlecloud finally has an apprentice.”
The entire Gathering cheered their names, and Onestar rose to his feet.
“We also have a new apprentice, Fernpaw. We also have new warriors, Slightfoot, Feathershine, Hootflight, and Oatclaw!” The five stepped forward, and Kyestorm raised her voice with the others in congratulations. The young brown she-cat stood proud, yet quiet, her green eyes shining.
Three of the new warriors nodded politely. Kyestorm recognized Slightfoot as Harespring’s former apprentice, and tried not to scowl at the black tom. He glanced at her, an apology in his eyes, and Kyestorm flashed him a feline smile, feeling mollified. She returned the nod to grey tabby Feathershine, and dark gray Hootflight. The fourth new warrior, a pale brown tabby with jet-black stripes stepped forward. His white paws quivered with the effort to keep still, and Kyestorm relaxed. The cries died down, and Rowanstar stood up. Kyestorm’s body tensed, and she lashed her tail.
“Nobody mentioned the coyotes. The howling still continues, yet nothing has happened. Perhaps this nonsense about four Clans will be one shall never be needed.”
“You can’t know that,” Kyestorm blurted out. “Blackstar said to tell your Clan he sent us, too. He was there when we saw Firestar. Why would he care about enormous warriors to be if you all didn’t need us one day?”
“You saw Blackstar?” Rowanstar stared, taken aback, then he scowled. “And you wait six moons to tell me this?”
“I had forgotten in all the chaos,” Kyestorm answered, braving Rowanstar’s blazing yellow eyes. His ginger coat bristled.
“How convenient,” he growled. “You lie now just to make yourself look good.”
“She does not lie,” Demonstone surged forward, and stood, coat flat, gold eyes calm, and held his bottlebrush tail over his back. “Please, Clan Leader, my mate speaks the truth. We did see Blackstar, a huge white tom with black feet and yellow eyes. We come on his behalf as well as other members of StarClan.”
Kyestorm held her breath, proud of her mate, relieved he came to this Gathering to buffer her temper. Rowanstar stared, his fur flattening, his eyes roving over Demonstone’s enormous form, then sat down.
“Very well,” he grumbled. “But we have seen no coyotes or strange wild dogs. They do not pass the horseplace. We have kits on the way. Tawnypelt and I. ShadowClan prospers, with many kits and apprentices.” Rowanstar’s voice rang with pride. “And we will get them through leaf bare with no problems.”
“Congratulations! A reason to enjoy this Gathering, for who knows what Leaf Bare may bring,” Onestar spoke up, his golden-copper eyes calm, yet Kyestorm saw a spark of concern flash in them. “If all news has been shared, let’s mingle and enjoy.”
“I concur,” Branblestar said, glancing at Onestar with a befuddled expression.
“I don’t! This queen and her kits are just kittypets! Weak and fluffy. Drive them out!” Harespring yowled.
“I’ll show you weak and fluffy, mouse-brain!” Kyestorm hissed. Harespring glared at Kyestorm, and she growled, daring him with her eyes to start something. How she wanted to flatten that arrogant tom into a pile of lifeless fur, and she knew how to do so without spilling a drop of blood.
He accepted her unspoken challenge, and leaped at her. She rushed to meet him, rearing up as he tried to slash her throat. His claws came away only with hunks of red hair from her ample ruff. She struck him, one paw on his face, the other on his shoulder, and slammed him to the frozen frosty ground. She held firm, even as he twisted under her grasp. His rear claws pummeled her flank, but she moved aside, and his flailing claws caught just more thick red fur. She held his face to the ground, clawtips just pricking past his pelt to his skin. He struggled to curl his hind feet around to rip her body, but his claws only swished through cold air. She pushed down with a firm grip, flexing her claws and toes.
“Oww! You’re pushing a rock in my eye!” he hissed. “Sand’s going up my nose!”
“Give me an excuse to squash your pathetic skull, you mouse-brained lump of crow food!” Kyestorm snarled. She caught movement to her right, and glared at Furzepelt, who crouched, ready to pounce. “Want some of this? I’ll rattle your brain so hard you’ll need someone to help you find fresh kill for the rest of your life.”
Harespring yowled in pain, and he went limp. Only his tail twitched and slapped the hard ground. Furzepelt’s eyes widened and she slunk behind another warrior.
“Stop,” Onestar commanded. “Kyestorm, please, let him up. Harespring! Don’t make me sorry about my choice of deputy.”
Kyestorm sprang back as the battle haze fled her mind, and she released Harespring. He scurried over to sit under the Great Oak Tree, shaking his head. Horrified, Kyestorm looked up at the moon, which shone bright in clear skies. Silverpelt sparkled. Kyestorm stared in stupefied amazement.
“StarClan isn’t angry with me?” she finally managed to squeak.
“No, nor am I.” Onestar broke the tension with a rare hearty mroow of laughter. Someone else tittered.
“Wish I had done that,” another cat meowed. Kyestorm tried to locate the speaker but laughter met her quest. Even Rowanstar looked amused, and Tawnypelt purred with mirth. A feline grin of pure delight spread over Mistystar’s face. Kyestorm looked at Bramblestar, who looked ready to roll off his branch, his body shook so much with suppressed laughter. Demonstone appeared ready to pop with pride, and all eight kits gaped in pleased surprise. Harespring shook himself, and groomed his face, looking at the ground. He glanced Kyestorm’s way and she saw pure hatred in his eyes. She responded with a growl, matching his glare, her loathing of him burning hot in her guts, but she looked away, satisfied with smushing his head into the dirt.
“You have a way of getting the point across,” Brackenfur bumped her with his head. “That was splendid!”
“Well done,” whispered a dark gray tom, walking past her without looking her in the face. “I’ve wanted to do that for many seasons.”
Oatclaw sauntered past, then paused, glancing at her. His green eyes danced with delight.
“I agree, and Crowfeather should be deputy instead of Harespring,” the young warrior mewed just above a whisper. “Glad to finally meet you, Kyestorm. I’m Oatclaw.”
“Glad to meet you, too. Congrats on making warrior.” Kyestorm answered, as Smokepaw stepped up beside her. She boldly greeted the tall tom.
“Hallo! I'm Smokepaw!”
“Hallo, Smokepaw!” Oatclaw’s feature broke into a broad feline grin.
“Do you hunt the moors?” Smokepaw asked enthusiastically.
“Of course!” Oatclaw answered, as Smokepaw came alongside him. Kyestorm noticed how much taller Smokepaw stood than the young warrior. He looked up at her dark face, his whole demeanor one of sudden eager infatuation. “Maybe one day I can get Onestar to let us run together.”
“That would be great!” Smokepaw mrrrowed, her bottlebrush tail high above her back. The two moved off into the crowd of cats. Unlike Kyestorm’s last Gathering, cats mingled, purring and mrrowing in good spirits, sharing tongues, and Kyestorm calmed down. Most other cats eagerly greeted her and her family. A young apprentice from ShadowClan stalked proudly up to her. His long white pelt puffed against the wind, and Kyestorm noted the black patches on the apprentice’s tail, head, and ears.
“Hallo! I’m Snowpaw.” His gaze fell on Indipaw, and his yellow eyes widened briefly. “Who’s your daughter?”
“I’m Indipaw,” Kyestorm’s temperamental kit stepped forward, and to her shock, Kyestorm saw not a shred of animosity. Indipaw’s green eyes shone with interest. Snowpaw looked up at Indipaw, and like Oatclaw, only blinked, then purred delight. The two moved off, chattering like sparrows.
Bluepaw moved off and stood near Mistystar, engaging the RiverClan leader in conversation. Silverpaw and Troutpaw joined her. In moments, Kyestorm lost sight of all her kits as Greypaw, Demonpaw and Phantompaw vanished into the Gathering, greeting everyone enthusiastically. Kyestorm scanned the Gathering, noting Alderheart with the medicine cats. A white she-cat walked past him, head turned away in obvious rebuff, and Kyestorm did not miss the slight sag of Alderheart’s ears.
“Needletail, what is your problem? Your Clan got what it wanted,” Kyestorm grumbled, fuming until Gentlepaw located the Medicine cats and joined them, blocking her view of the ShadowClan warrior. She paused, watching Gentlepaw hover around Littlecloud, then the medicine cats drew in a close circle, blocking her view.
The moon filled the island with silver light, and to Kyestorm’s relief, not one cat mentioned the orphaned kits. Cold winds blowing across the lake sang in the trees, and nobody complained, not even Harespring, who joined Onestar on a lower branch in the Great Tree. Kyestorm pointedly ignored the WindClan deputy, but saw Onestar’s eyes following Smokepaw around the Gathering. Kyestorm twitched her tail, and walked over to the Great Tree.
“You seem interested in my daughter,” Kyestorm commented, ignoring a growl from Harespring.
“She is magnificent,” Onestar answered. Kyestorm gaped at him in shock, but before she protested, he continued with a rare smile. “I’m not interested that way, Kyestorm.” He laughed, short and harsh. “No. I’m way too old for one so young and energetic. But I can’t help but notice her long tall body. She has your powerful build, but, it is obvious she is fast and agile, too.”
“She will fill out more,” Kyestorm said, as a pang shot through her body. “Why do you care?”
“I’m surprised I do,” Onestar muttered. “But I can’t help thinking how perfect she’d be as a WindClan warrior one day.”
“But she is ThunderClan,” Kyestorm meowed, recalling Smokepaw’s fascination with the moors. She also recalled StarClan’s words, ‘Remember, you are important to all the Clans. Anxiety rippled through her as she realized what those words might finally mean.
“Yes, she is,” Onestar replied. “But, despite taboos against it, cats often change Clans, and for good reason. It helps us stay strong as blood mingles. But many of us dislike it when it occurs. I am one who feels that way, however, for your daughter, I’d make an exception.”
“Seriously?” Harepsring suddenly snarled. “I don’t want any of her ilk in our Clan!”
“Then you are a mouse-brained fool,” Onestar spat at his deputy. “If you can’t see the new blood that will make us stronger, I chose a fluff-head for a deputy.”
Harespring lowered his head, but said nothing. His pelt bristled, and his claws shot in and out, kneading the bark in obvious outrage. Kyestorm involuntarily unsheathed her claws, then, with strength of will, drew them in, and smoothed her fur.
“I am flattered, Onestar, but the choice will be Smokepaw’s,” Kyestorm said, and retreated, fearing what her daughter’s choice might be. Kyestorm eyed Harespring a moment, but turned away before their eyes met. Kyestorm wanted no further animosity to develop during this Gathering just because she and Harespring despised each other.
Everyone moved with freedom and no fear, and even Rowanstar looked content, though he scowled on occasion. Kyestorm saw nothing of what annoyed him, but felt relief she no longer wanted to slam him into the dirt. Because of the jovial atmosphere, the Gathering broke up later than usual, and all friends old and new, said their farewells while the moon hung low over the lake.
Kyestorm trotted along with her Clan, her eyelids drooping, wanting to curl up in her nest. Her kits chattered with excitement, and all Indipaw spoke of was her new friend, Snowpaw. Smokepaw meowed on about her new friend, Oatclaw, and how he promised to show her the moors one day. Bluepaw wanted to learn to fish like Mistystar, Troutpaw and Silverpaw, but Kyestorm understood that desire. She always wished to fish the lake for tasty little fish, but refrained from it since her Clamates so abhorred the idea. Greypaw, Rainpaw, Demonpaw and Phantompaw rambled on and on about future training, and meeting their new friends again next Gathering for friendly competitions. Gentlepaw grilled Leafpool and Jayfeather about the Moonpool, wanting to know why they did not take him there yet.
“When you’re ready for your warrior name,” Jayfeather answered curtly. “You’ll go.”
“But Alderheart went up before then,” Gentlepaw protested.
“Special circumstances as you well know,” Jayfeather snapped. “Your turn will come.”
“Yes, Jayfeather,” Gentlepaw capitulated.
“See?” Kyestorm recognized Bramblestar’s voice. “Not all Gatherings are so terrible. In fact, this one went very, very well!”
“Yes, but now I fear I’m going to lose a daughter or two to other Clans. Isn’t that discouraged?” Kyestorm asked.
“Normally, yes, and, once everyone is home, any budding inter-Clan relationships will be quite discouraged.” Bramblestar leveled his golden-amber gaze on Kyestorm. “But, if what StarClan said to me and Jayfeather is truth, that out of fire and smoke new blood is born, we may lose a kit or two of yours to other Clans for seasons to come.”
“That upsets me so much,” Kyestorm mewed. “I can’t imagine being hostile to any of my kits during patrols should they belong to other Clans! Yet I will be expected to do so?”
“Yes, I am afraid so,” Bramblestar said, his voice gentle with understanding. “Just remember, that no matter what others may say, some kin ties can never be broken, and shouldn’t.”
Bramblestar trotted on ahead. Kyestorm moved along, taking pleasure in the crunching ice under her paws. Lake water lapped the shore, freezing with each wave. The ice patches grew larger and the crunch turned to loud cracking.
“I am so glad I am strong again and came to this.” Demonstone’s voice broker her thoughts. She glanced at him, admiring the muscles rippling under his black smoke coat. “Brackenfur and I gave suggestions to many on how to strengthen dens.” His eyes twinkled. “We start work on the nursery tomorrow. Daisy insists it needs enlarging.”
“It does. I know everyone just loved you.” Kyestorm rubbed her head against his shoulder. “Everything would have been perfect except for Harespring.”
“Ignore the little fluff brain,” Demonstone laughed. “Oh, you were magnificent, pushing his obnoxious face into the freezing sand. That is going to hurt for a good moon. He’s just lucky I didn’t do it!”
“I don’t trust him,” Kyestorm growled, then purred. “You’d have crushed his puny skull.”
“I don’t think Onestar even trusts the little foxheart after this evening, but for now, we all have to deal with the little piece of crow-food.” Demonstone quickened his odd rolling trot. “Come, let’s get to the camp. Tomorrow I want to start making bigger windbreaks for our dens, and start work on the nursery. I fear this Leaf Bare will be wicked harsh.”
“Yes, I feel the same way.” Kyestorm agreed, as they crossed the stream into ThunderClan territory. “The air smells more like our old home. Like snow.”
“Not so.” Demonstone took a deep breath, curling his lip to catch all information. “Snows will be here very soon.”
“That is too early,” Berrynose chimed in. “Its barely mid Leaf Fall.”
“Where we come from, it’s not uncommon,” Demonstone said, his tone turning serious. “Clouds hide the moon now, and it’s not because of StarClan. The weather changes. We have a lot of work to do.”
“And the wind is cold tonight. Lake water freezes,” Kyestorm added. “We may see snow tonight!”
“I hope Rowanstar allows Crowfrost to use the techniques we told him about. I think everyone will need the extra shelter,” Demonstone said.
“Tawnypelt looked fascinated when I told Crowfrost what we’ve done.” Brackenfur piped up, his eyes shining with delight. “If she agrees, Rowanstar will, too. He can be prideful and stubborn, but he’s not stupid.”
“True,” Kyestorm admitted, following Brackenfur through the entrance of camp. “He’s not a bad cat, though something at the Gathering annoyed him.”
“You didn’t see?” Poppyfrost said, coming up behind Kyestorm as she entered the Warrior’s den with Berrynose.
“No,” Kyestorm murmured. Warmth enveloped her, and she squinted to find her nest. She dropped into it and curled up, bushy tail over her nose. She pushed her back into Demonstone’s.
“Indipaw and Snowpaw, were, uh, very friendly,” Poppyfrost answered, curling up beside Berrynose.
“So?” Kyestorm yawned, then popped open an eye. “How friendly?”
“They made moon eyes at each other all night!” Poppyfrost’s purr quivered with laughter. “This may be a mixed Clan pairing nobody can break apart. Rowanstar looked so upset with the obvious.”
“Will they be exiled?” Kyestorm abruptly raised her head.
“If Snowpaw came here, no. Bramblestar would never do that. Rowanstar would be a fool if he did so with Indipaw,” Berrynose commented. “That apprentice is already a fine fighter.”
“She trains so hard and so well, any Clan would be utterly stupid to reject her,” Thornclaw spoke up. “If I were Rowanstar I’d be praying to StarClan that Indipaw and Snowpaw choose ShadowClan. I know one thing, if they wanted to stay here, they would be most welcome. Indipaw will be a powerful, very smart, if temperamental fighter. A true asset to any clan. She already can kick my old body around the arena. I am finding it difficult to find new ways to improve her skills. Just don’t tell her that!”
“Maybe it is time her father joins her training,” Demonstone spoke up. “And Spiderleg, too. Two total opposites in warrior types.”
“No, I will,” Kyestorm said. “Me and Spiderleg. You have important work to do, Demonstone. Leaf Bare is almost here.”
“I think you both have bees in your brains,” Berrynose commented. “It never snows this early, not even last Leaf Bare, which was bad.”
“Oh, stop arguing. Go to sleep,” Blossomfall growled. “Sunrise will be here all too fast!”
“All right, but Demonstone and I are right. Snow flies soon!” Kyestorm retorted, then dropped her head to her nest, covering her face with her ample tail. As her eyes closed, and her mind drifted, a cry from the sentry broke into her slumber.
“Snow!” She recognized Molewhisker’s voice. “It's snowing!”
She tucked up her paws, and buried her nose in her tail. The wind whistled over the den, and cold seeped through the few gaps the builders missed.
“Told you,” she mumbled, “we Maine Coons know snow!”
Muttering rippled around the den, but nobody moved to look outside. Kyestorm’s delight turned to concern. The coyotes so far, stayed clear of the Clans and the Lake, but once the two-legs vanished completely for the cold seasons, which might be sooner now with the arrival of the first snow, those creatures certainly would invade looking for food. Kyestorm shivered, knowing the first test of her destiny lurked, waiting for the time to strike.
Kyestorm snuggled in the warrior’s den, as sunrise slanted light into camp. A cold wind blew, roaring in the trees, and Kyestorm twitched her ears. She looked past her denmates, and beyond the den’s entrance, at the sparkling snow covered the hollow. Kyestorm purred, satisfied her prediction proved correct. In the last moon since the Gathering, after those first flurries, two late Leaf Fall snowfalls buried the lake and Clan territories. The lake surface froze early, thawed and froze again a quarter moon later, before staying frozen the last half moon. Kyestorm listened to the wind, her desire to hunt and run in the snow battling her wish to stay warm in the den. She thought of the battle with the rogues that attempted to take out the Clans before the snow flew, and inhaled with pride and satisfaction.
She recalled that day, cool and clear, when Kyestorm, with Indipaw and her mentor Thornclaw, lead a patrol along ShadowClan’s border. They met a ShadowClan patrol lead by Tigerheart, and polite insults and banter ensued, before screeches of war erupted from WindClan territory. Smokepaw darted toward the fray without thought, and her outraged shrieks rose above the rest. Without thought Kyestorm and her patrol raced for battlesite. Kyestorm knew her daughter protected her new beau, Oatclaw. Indipaw plunged ahead fearing for her sister whose enraged screams echoed out over the lake. Her strident cry of defiance brought all patrols to WindClan’s aid. RiverClan raced around the lake, as Bluepaw and her Clanmates responded to her sister’s wail. Snowpaw defiantly followed Indipaw, and his patrol followed reluctantly. Smokepaw’s second yowl of rage echoed across the land, spurring Kyestorm for more speed. Kyestorm remembered the kits in that camp and leaped after her daughter, voice raised in wildcat yowls of outrage.
They burst onto the scene, just at the border between WindClan and ThunderClan to see a large group of rogues, whom she later learned tracked Alderheart’s trail home from the abandoned SkyClan gorge, attacking relentlessly and with not a shred of honor. Kyestorm bellowed like a wild cat of myth. The rogues paused, and all gaped for one shocked moment at Kyestorm and her enraged daughters, before they fought back. The battle ended swiftly once ThunderClan warriors, along with Phantompaw and Demonpaw, dropped into the fight. Bluepaw arrived with her mentor and patrol. Alderheart, still an apprentice at the time, recognized the leader, Darktail, and pointed him out with a tail gesture. Kyestorm smirked, eyes closing briefly at the pleasing memory.
The rogues barely knew what slashed into their midst. Blood and fur flew from under wicked huge paws. Bluepaw drowned one in the lake, while Phantompaw smashed Darktail against a tree trunk snapping his neck like a twig. Demonpaw and Berrynose disposed of a large tom, perhaps the second in command, saving Furzepelt’s life. Indipaw ripped another, who dare touch Snowpaw, into rags. Smokepaw leaped on another’s back, slashing both flanks and sinking her teeth into the rogue’s neck. She crushed him under her weight on top of a stone, and broke his back. The battle ended before it barely started, and the remainder fled, lucky to escape with their lives. They scattered, abandoning whatever diabolical plan Darktail chained them with.
A few cats in WindClan grew ill, but with quick thinking and proper treatment everyone recovered. Kyestorm and her kin never caught the illness, and she surmised somehow the quick intervention by her and her kits put up a barrier to the mysterious sickness from vaccinations she received moons and moons ago. Kyestorm growled deep in her chest, wondering what might have happened if she and her kits never came to the Clans. She also breifly wondered about this mysterious SkyClan, why the leaders never spoke of them, and what happened to them. Gentleoak obviously knew more than he let on, but she vowed not to pry or break his confidence. Somehow, the problem fell to Alderheart to solve. A shadow blocked the entrance, and Kyestorm blinked.
“Come on, lazy tails!” Squirrelflight meowed. “We need to hunt and patrol.”
Growling and groaning filled the spacious warm den. Kyestorm raised her head and yawned, and reluctantly uncurled her body. She stood up, and shook herself. Beside her, Demonstone did likewise, and Spiderleg guffawed as he stretched his lean body.
“You both look like two-leg sheep you’re so woolly!”
“They make me look downright shorthaired,” Cloudtail remarked with sneeze of mirth.
“Funny,” Kyestorm grinned, baring the tips of her fangs. “You just envy our warm coats!”
“That’s no lie,” Brackenfur commented, as the warriors exited the den into chest-deep snow. Out in camp, Squirrelflight organized the patrols. Demonstone and Brackenfur hurried to work, checking dens for wind damage, breaking trails through the snow. Briarlight’s rock lay buried, and Kyestorm knew she stayed in the medicine cat’s den, playing with Twigkit. Larkkit, Honeykit and Leafkit apprenticed last moon. Lilyheart stayed in the nursery for Twigkit’s sake, but the little one spent a lot of time with Briarlight. Kyestorm flicked her tail, wondering if Twigkit might choose to be a medicine cat upon apprenticing. Maybe ShadowClan took the wrong kit, she mused, ThunderClan has four medicine cats already!
“Come, Kyestorm, Lionblaze, Phantompaw, Berrynose, and Demonpaw. Check the ShadowClan border, mark it well, and hunt.” Squirrelflight frowned. “Prey is hiding. The snow spooked them all.”
“We’ll bring back something,” Lionblaze said.
“I think this might be time to try our aerial stalking skills.” Kyestorm exclaimed. “I’ve wanted to try that for moons.”
“We patrol the border first, then scale the larger trees and give it a try,” Lionblaze said, and led the group westward toward ShadowClan’s border.
“Hunting in this snow will be difficult,” Berrynose said with a grunt, falling behind his apprentice, allowing big Demonpaw to break a trail. “We stand out like flames in the dark in all this white.”
“Cloudtail should be very successful in these conditions,” Kyestorm remarked.
“He’s not in our patrol today.” Lionblaze grumbled, and allowed the apprentices to pass him to break trail in the snow. Demonpaw and Phantompaw plowed ahead, flanking Kyestorm, leaping and rolling in the snow like kits. Kyestorm watched, trembling all over, resisting the urge to do likewise, until an idea struck her. She jumped forward and rolled, then scrambled to her feet. She refrained from shaking herself.
“What under StarClan are you doing?” Lionblaze yowled.
“Old trick we used at our home across the Great Water! The snow sticks and we have camouflage!” Kyestorm answered, noting how the snow sparkled on Demonpaw and Phantompaw. “Don’t shake it off.”
“I’m not doing that,” Berrynose muttered with a shiver.
“Nor I,” Lionblaze narrowed his eyes. “I’d freeze even in my thickened fur.”
“In our old home we’d burrow under the snow and wait to ambush each other and mice.” Kyestorm eyed the two older warriors. “I may try that later, but today I want to try our ambushing from the trees technique.”
“I do, too,” Lionblaze agreed, as they broke into a small clearing. The wind buffeted them, and Kyestorm crouched.
“I love the snow, but I hate the wind,” she growled, as the patrol reached the border. The brook flowed, but ice rimmed the rocks and formed a crust on back eddies. Lionblaze and Berrynose marked the border, moving slowly downstream. Kyestorm followed enforcing the marks and adding ones in between. Demonpaw and Phantompaw added their own marks. The patrol reached the lake shore, and Lionblaze halted, ears up. Kyestorm jerked her head alert as distant yipping echoed over the frozen lake.
“The coyotes,” she muttered. “They sound closer than RiverClan.”
“I hope ShadowClan is alert,” Berrynose said. “Let’s hunt.”
“Okay,” Kyestorm agreed. “I want to use the big trees near the Ancient oak.”
“Good idea,” Lionblaze said. “Time to see if we can bring home some fresh kill today.”
The patrol trotted along the shore, and at the Ancient Oak, headed into the trees. Kyestorm glanced up, and chose a low limb on a large oak. With her tail she motioned to her kits.
“Remember your training,” she meowed. “Roll again and get fully camouflaged.”
“Yes, Kyemama,” Both apprentices obeyed.
“Never tried this for hunting before,” Lionblaze commented.
“We must try.” Kyestorm insisted. “Might be easier in these conditions to drop on a rabbit or squirrel from above than chase it through the snows. There is not a lot of brush cover now.”
“True,” Lionblaze nodded. “Let’s give it a try.”
In silence, Kyestorm, the apprentices, and their mentors leaped into the low branches of the large trees surrounding the Ancient Oak. She crouched, watching the forest floor. The sun crept up into the zenith, and as it reached sunhigh, Kyestorm shifted her front paws, ready to give it up. She barely inhaled to call to her clanmates when a small group of deer moved to graze below the trees. Kyestorm forced herself not to start with surprise. Such small deer! They stood no taller than a medium-sized two-leg dog! She salivated, recalling her days living across the Great Water when her housefolk hunted deer, and shared the bounty with her and Demonstone. Never in her wildest dreams did she expect to taste venison again, until this moment, as several specimens of a small species of deer foraged under the trees. She twitched the tip of her tail, and moving slowly, glanced at Lionblaze, indicating her intent. He stared back in astonishment, eyes wide. Kyestorm ignored his reaction, and concentrated on the little group, targeting a small doe who walked with a very slight limp.
The prey sidled under Kyestorm’s branch, stepping through the snow on spindly legs, standing slightly taller than a big dogfox. Kyestorm made her decision, and without a single sound, dropped from her branch. The doe leaped at the last moment, but not before Kyestorm landed on the deer’s rump. She dug her claws into the doe’s pelt, and her weight drove te doe’s rump into the snow. The deer struggled to rise
“Demonpaw! Phantompaw! Assistance!” she yowled. Kyestorm hung on, riding the doe that weighed only a bit more than Demonstone. Lionblaze leaped from his tree branch and closed from the front, while Demonpaw and Phantompaw closed in from either side. Berrynose joined Lionblaze in a frontal attack of flying claws. The doe bleated, kicking out with a foreleg, striking Lionblaze on the shoulder. He grunted, but never stopped the attack. Kyestorm dropped her hind feet to the ground and leaped forward on the doe’s back, and the prey’s front legs buckled. Snow flew in every direction as they dropped the deer, and Phantompaw delivered the killing bite with his huge jaws.
“Great StarClan!” Berrynose exclaimed. “We caught a Roe deer! They are usually so fast and too large for us! I can’t recall anyone catching one of these! What made you even think to try?”
“I have never seen so small a deer!” Kyestorm panted, catching her breath. Excitement and anticipation flashed through her. “The buck was large, almost 3 times the size of my mate, but many of the does were not much bigger than that large dogfox I beat the pelt off of. All I could think of was eating venison again!”
“Impressive!” Lionblaze gazed down at the prey. “We will use this technique again for certain! This will feed the whole Clan! Let’s get this back to camp!”
“Toss it over my back, and steady it. I’ll carry this like you and Cinderheart brought Demonstone into camp.” Kyestorm lay down, and waited while her patrolmates pulled and dragged the doe over her back. She stood up, and Phantompaw and Demonpaw crawled under the prey, joining her. Berrynose and Lionblaze steadied it from either side as they moved through the snow. As they climbed the slope to the entrance, Kyestorm stopped.
“Fresh kill! Lionblaze’s patrol brought home HUGE fresh kill!” the sentry yowled with excitement. Kyestorm recognized Dewnose’s voice, and she grabbed the doe by the back of the head. She dragged the body through the entrance while her patrolmates pushed. Cats swarmed around them, meowing and yowling in amazement. Demonstone pushed forward, his eyes gleaming.
“Such a small deer! I never thought I’d eat venison again!” he meowed with delight. He grabbed a foreleg, then using all the strength in his massive musculature, hauled backwards. They dragged the prey to the center of the camp, just as Bramblestar returned with his patrol, empty-jawed and looking tired. Demonstone trotted to the medicine cat den, and Kyestorm knew he fetched Briarlight.
“What under StarClan is going on?” Bramblestar demanded, but gaped in shock when cats parted to allow him through. “A Roe deer? How? It wasn’t crow-food, was it?”
“No!” Berrynose answered, his stub tail shaking with delight. “Our patrol caught it. It was Kyestorm’s idea to use our tree technique to hunt and it worked! Kyestorm dropped on this doe and held it down! Lionblaze and I attacked from the front and our apprentices from the side, and Demonpaw delivered the kill bite!”
“The kill was quick and efficient,” Lionblaze added. “I’m still shocked we caught a deer! But Kyestorm seemed so excited. She said she’d never seen such small deer before and wanted to taste venison again!”
“Well done!” Bramblestar meowed, pride ringing in his voice. He gazed pointedly at Kyestorm. “I’ve never regretted taking you and your mate in, and you’ve paid us back with more than I ever expected. We’ll all feast before it freezes!” Bramblestar tapped a haunch. “Take this to the Elder’s den.”
”No. I’m thinkin’ we feast t’gether, like lions o’ ancient times!” Purdy strolled out of the Elder’s den, eyes alert, nose twitching. Graystripe and Millie followed. “Fine catch, youngin’! I knew yer instincts ran true.”
“Amazing. This will feed all of us today!” Leafpool said, as the medicine cats joined the crowd around the prey. Jayfeather sniffed the air with deep appreciation and surprise, while Alderheart stared, as if not believing his own senses. Gentlepaw trailed, eyes wide with awe. Demonstone strode back into the crowd, Briarlight on his back. The entire Clan gathered around the fresh kill, and Bramblestar stood, while everyone sat down.
“This is a new experience for me,” he meowed. “That big gull we caught seasons ago we just tore up and gave to clanmates was one of the larger prey we’ve ever caught. We had enough for everyone to have meal, but this is truly a gift.” Bramblestar looked skyward, “We thank StarClan for this abundance of food, and for the cat and her kin who think outside Clan convention, who caught this meal for her clan. Elders first, kits, then the medicine cats and Briarlight, then we all feed. There is more than enough for all of us.” Bramblestar turned to Kyestorm. “You take my place, and the first meal, Warrior, for without your extraordinary thinking, we’d not have this bounty.”
Kyestorm obeyed her Clan leader, and settled in by the doe’s belly. She tore it open with one pass of a large forepaw, and the scent and taste of venison filled her senses. She ripped off chunks and gulped them down, before slowing down to savor the venison. Her clanmates settled around her. Apprentices carried large portions to the Elders, Medicine cats, Twigkit, Briarlight and Daisy, before taking their own meals. Good-natured banter echoed in the hollow even as jaws tore meat off of the enormous fresh kill.
The entire Clan hung in camp that afternoon, taking bites from the enormous fresh kill when trips to the dirt place made more room in bulging stomachs. As the sun sank in the western sky, the satiated Clan pulled even more meat from the carcass, until only skin and bone littered the ground. Kyestrom sprawled on patch of ground swept clean of snow by the wind, crunching on a rib bone. Demonstone stretched out beside her, doing likewise. Demonpaw, Phantompaw, Smokepaw, Gentlepaw, Bluepaw, and Indipaw copied their parents, breaking off small bones, giving them to clanmates, then snapped off larger pieces for themselves.
“This is a feast I will never forget,” Brackenfur sat down next to Demonstone. “I’ve never ever cracked bone larger than a rabbit leg before. The marrow is delicious!”
“Aye!” Purdy called from just outside the Elder’s den. “Tis feastin’ fit fer kings! Or queens. Great red queen, I hope yer prowess brings more deer meat o’r Leaf Bare.”
A cheer went up from the entire Clan, and Bramblestar returned to the fresh kill, and nibbled the last scraps of meat from bone. He took a leg bone and chewed, then gripped it with his forepaws and pulled. Kyestorm rose and joined him.
“The legs are thick. But maybe we can break it.” Kyestorm chewed, but even she failed to crack it. Demonstone waltzed over, and tried. The sound of his teeth scraping bone echoed in the silent camp as every cat watched. He grasped it, and yanked to and fro, then slipped in the snow. He fell to his chest, and the long bone struck a rock. The crackle reverberated through the hollow. Demonstone jumped to his feet, spraying snow everywhere, his golden eyes gleaming. He reared and pounced, landing on the bone, each paw on either side of the round rock, which stuck out of the ground. The long bone snapped in two, sending splinters skyward.
“Well done!” Bramblestar exclaimed. “Come on all. We can break all the bones this way and marrow for all!”
All the warriors gathered, taking turns using the rock to shatter bones. Laughter, yowling and purring filled the camp, and by time the moon rose, only the fur and skin remained of the little doe. Berrynose and Thornclaw trotted to the entrance, taking up sentry duty. All the apprentices dragged the deerskin out of camp, leaving it down by the lake shore, by the stream. Kyestorm listened to them chatter and mew with happiness, and wanted to be there when WindClan patrols discovered it. She eagerly awaited the next Gathering, knowing Onestar would mention it. The apprentices returned, led by Demonpaw, Greypaw,and Larkpaw, meowing and laughing as they retired to the Apprentice den, and Kyestorm shook with mirth. Those silly youngsters not only left it right on the stream bank, but marked it as ThunderClan property. Kyestorm, her belly full, drifted off to sleep, and dreamed of shocked WindClan patrols as they discovered the impossible item.
“INDIPAW!” The screech jerked Kyestorm out of her dreams. She and her fellow warriors jumped up, and scurried out of the den. The moon hung low in the western sky, and Kyestorm blinked, feeling disoriented.
“ShadowClan intruder!” Birchfall’s voice echoed in the hollow. He stood by the entrance, bristling with indignation. Indipaw launched herself out of the apprentice’s den, followed by her siblings, and fellow apprentices. She stood, poised for action, legs trembling. Kyestorm sensed a high level of anxiety from her daughter.
“HELP! HELP, INDIPAW!” the desperate shrieking drew closer. Kyestorm trotted up beside Indipaw, hearing someone pelting headlong up the slope from the lake. Twigs snapped, rocks bounced, and ice crackled under the paws of the incoming cat.
“Snowpaw! Are the rogues back?” Indipaw responded, running to the entrance just as Snowpaw barreled in, shoving her body between a bristling Birchfall and the wild-eyed terrorized apprentice. “Please, Birchfall! Don’t attack! He’s alone!”
Screeching of cats echoed across the lake, followed by howling and yelping. Kyestorm’s heart leaped into her throat. No, not rogues! Coyotes! Bramblestar leaped down from his den, Squirrelflight at his heels.
“What under StarClan is going on out here?”
“Please! Bramblestar! Kyestorm! Indipaw! Please help us!” Snowpaw yowled in misery. “Coyotes attacked! My Clan’s in danger! Warriors are hurt and dying! Please come! They’re destroying us!”
“You ran instead of staying to fight?” Thornclaw asked, his voice soft, taking the sting out of the question.
“Someone had to!” Snowpaw wailed in anguish. “I think they killed my sister! Please! Help us! I don’t care what our leader thinks. We’ll all die if you don’t help!”
“Warriors!” Bramblestar’s yowl reverberated off the cliff. “We fight to help ShadowClan! Two Clans will be ONE!”
He leaped forward. Kyestorm followed, as did all the warriors. Snowpaw surged to the front, leading them down the slope to the lakeshore. Indipaw followed on his heels. Kyestorm raced alongside Bramblestar as they skirted the shoreline, cutting across the ice at the mouth of the stream into ShadowClan territory. The desperate screeching of cats and the sharp yelps of the invaders filled the air.
In Indipaw’s demeanor Kyestorm saw deep angst. Her daughter deeply cared for the ShadowClan apprentice and he reciprocated the feelings, their bond blossoming since that Gathering where they met. In Kyestorm’s eyes, the apprentice was kin. Kyestorm laid back her ears, asking her legs for more speed.
“Hurry!” Snowpaw wailed. “Tawnypelt’s kits!”
Anger erupted from Kyestorm’s gut, choking out her own anxiety. She surged ahead of Bramblestar, flanking Indipaw as the warriors of ThunderClan charged into ShadowClan’s camp. Kyestorm’s heart skipped a beat as the scene spread out before her.
Three coyotes, two adults and a half grown pup, ravaged the camp. Warriors clawed and tore at the canines, slowing them down. Kyestorm saw one young apprentice lying a fox length away, bleeding and recognized Pinepaw. Warriors ranged in front of the nursery and Elder’s den, as the yellow-eyed canines snapped at them, trying to get the terrified kits and helpless queens. Rowanstar fought like a tornado with claws, and Tawnypelt stood just inside, striking at any muzzle that neared the entrance. The big male coyote reached its head forward, braving Tawnypelt’s wails and claws and grabbed a two moon old kit. Kyestorm’s rage exploded in a haze of red.
“NOOOO! DROP THAT KIT!” she bellowed, her voice loud and booming, and she plunged at the male coyote. She launched herself at him, hearing nothing but her own blood roaring in her ears, and landed on the coyote’s face. Kyestorm sank her monstrous claws into his head and slashed in a fury. He howled and dropped the kit, who shrieked in terror. Snowpaw grabbed the kit, and returned him to the nursery. Kyestorm caught movement out of her peripheral vision and saw Phantompaw, Demonpaw and Bramblestar rushing the coyote from the side. They slammed the male coyote into the ground with such force it yelped in sudden fear. Squirrelflight joined them, spitting and clawing in wrath. Kyestorm hung on and furiously ripped its ears and face. The coyote scrambled to his feet and bolted, trying to shake Kyestorm free. She let go and dropped to the bloody, churned up snow. The coyote raced out of camp, sporting ripped ears, one clawed eye, furrowed bloody face, and many deep slashes on his flanks and belly.
Kyestorm panted, catching her breath as Indipaw, Snowpaw, and Smokepaw attacked the female, along with Thornclaw, Spiderleg and Bumblestripe. Bluepaw, Greypaw, and Brackenfur attacked the half grown pup along with Gentlepaw, who looked nothing like his name implied. His deep bellowing yowl of rage echoed through the camp. His amber eyes burned with fury. The female leaped up, and followed her mate, yelping as if the hounds of hell nipped her tail. The pup rolled over, his body covered in wounds, and flew after its parents, kiyiing his terror to the moon.
All the warriors stopped, and faced ShadowClan, most of whom lay injured. Rowanstar stood in front of the nursery, gold eyes wide, heaving for air, bite marks riddling his shoulders. Kyestorm realized in a flash of horror Rowanstar lost a life protecting his kits and mate. Tawnypelt moaned, and Kyestorm’s heart broke, until the three kits wobbled out and pressed against their mother, unhurt. The one the coyote grabbed sat, wet with drool with a few chunks of missing pelt, but no wounds. Bramblestar hurried to his sister’s side, and Tawnypelt leaned into him, holding a foreleg clear of the ground. Kyestorm thought she saw Violetkit huddled at the back of the den. The remaining elders crept out of their den past Crowfrost, Tigerheart, and Scorchfur. Rowanstar shivered, then leveled his gaze on Snowpaw. The blood-spattered apprentice dipped his head.
“You ran away, not from fear, but to bring help,” Rowanstar murmured, his voice hoarse.
“Yes. I knew Indipaw would help, and if she did, so would her mother and siblings, and all of ThunderClan.” Snowpaw answered. Indipaw sat beside him, and licked blood from his fur. Rowanstar turned and gazed at Kyestorm.
“You saved my family, my clan, by agreeing to come with our apprentice,” Rowanstar nodded. “This night, like the night the rogues attacked, our Clans truly became one. I shall not forget this.”
“I could never refuse to help,” Kyestorm mewed, and glanced around. Snowpaw’s sister, Pinepaw, lay silent, and two older apprentices lay sprawled near the elder’s den. An Elder lay prone just outside the den, eyes unseeing, teeth bared in fury. Their mangled bodies drew a keen out of Kyestorm. A white she-cat lay nearby, struggling to her feet, and Kyestorm recognized Needletail. Alderheart hurried to her side. Gentlepaw raced over to the medicine cat den as Puddlepaw sagged to the ground. Behind him, inside, Littlecloud lay, eyes wild, and he panted, his breath harsh and ragged. Beepaw tried calming him despite her own injuries by sharing tongues, and Kyestorm felt fondness for Snowpaw’s little chubby sister. Kyestorm inhaled sharply, seeing a shimmer appear beside Rowanstar. The StarClan cat turned piercing gold eyes to her, and nodded. Rowanstar glanced at the starry apparition, and dipped his head in acknowledgment.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner.” Kyestorm mewed, and Blackstar’s form glittered, his body becoming translucent. Gasps and startled meows went up from the battle weary cats.
“Don’t be,” Rowanstar sat down, his body trembling.
“They died with honor and your arrival prevented them from becoming Coyote food.” Blackstar argued. “You have passed the second test of your destiny, and you honor me by what you did here this night.”
Blackstar’s form swirled and he vanished. Rowanstar stared for a long time at the empty air.
“Kyestorm, I wish I’d listened to you that long ago Gathering. I’m happy you’re on our side. Snowpaw, I am sorry about your sister. She defended me with everything she had while I lost a life.”
“She’s alive!” Gentlepaw’s meowed, joy in his voice, his cry breaking the sad moment. Kyestorm looked at her son, and noticed Littlecloud, who now stood outside the medicine cat den, his breathing easier. Puddlepaw, and Gentlepaw worked on Pinepaw. Gentlepaw skillfully performed every action Littlecloud rasped out, sometimes starting a needed task before instructions came. Gentlepaw left Pinepaw in Puddlepaw’s care and stalked to Littlecloud, ordering him to lie prone. To Kyestorm’s surprise, the frail elder obeyed and Gentlepaw ran deft, skilled paws over the old cat’s chest, kneading and pushing. She thought she saw his claws unsheath, but realized she witnessed flashing sparks, part of some innate skill her son possessed which caused the wizened old ShadowClan medicine cat to cling to life, but Kyestorm worried if he would make it through Leaf Bare. She searched the camp and saw Leafpool attending other injured, paying no mind to Gentlepaw.
The little black she-cat moaned, bringing Kyestorm back from her thoughts. Snowpaw raced to his sister’s side. Indipaw followed. Rowanstar bowed his head, and Kyestorm sensed his relief.
“Will they come back?” one of the kits asked in a small squeak. Kyestorm walked over to the kits, and licked their heads.
“We won’t allow it. My daughter, Indipaw, if she wished, can stay here and make sure of it. If it is ok with Bramblestar and Rowanstar.” Kyestorm paused, as Leafpool walk up to her.
“I’ll stay, too” she meowed. “So many are injured. And if those beasts return, I’ll fight beside my sister. Gentlepaw and Alderheart say they will stay, too. Littlecloud and Puddlepaw need all the help we can offer.”
“Agreed,” Bramblestar said. “I’ll leave a few warriors who wish to stay, behind.”
“Thank you,” Rowanstar sagged to the ground. Kyestorm watched the medicine cats work on Pinepaw and the other injured warriors, amazed at how much her son knew in the ways of medicine cats. With his huge paws, which like Demonpaw’s, possessed an extra toe, he wrapped cobwebs and leaf polices with thin vines and woven grasses with leaves for wound coverings. He executed every task gently, but with expert motions. His treatment on Littlecloud still mystified her, but Leafpool obviously knew of it, and tended to her patients, leaving Gentlepaw on his own. Kyestorm realized Gentlepaw’s first trip to the Moonpool might be very soon.
Sudden pawfalls echoed in camp, and Kyestorm whirled, bristling, ready to attack, until Mistystar and a large patrol of RiverClan’s best warriors burst into view. They stopped short, and Mistystar gaped.
“We’re too late!” Mistystar glanced at Kyestorm, and took in the scene. “How did you get here so quickly?”
“Snowpaw alerted us and we came at his request. If not for him, we’d have gotten here way too late,” Bramblestar answered. “We were all dead asleep, stuffed to our teeth in deer meat.”
“Deer meat?” Mistystar questioned, then uttered a mewl of laughter. “You seriously are not telling me you caught a deer?”
“That is news for the next Gathering,” Bramblestar responded with a wry smile, baring one upper fang. “I hope Mothwing or Willowshine accompanied you. So many are injured here.”
“Of course.” Mistystar motioned with her tail. Willowshine and Mothwing hurried out of the group, and joined the other medicine cats. Gentlepaw carried Pinepaw to the medicine cat den, and helped move many wounded to the medicine cat den. The RiverClan medicine cats met him, eyes blinking a greeting.
“My little kit has turned into a wonderful medicine cat. He knows so much.” Kyestorm said.
“He does indeed and from what Willowshine says, he has a sharper, closer contact with StarClan than she does.” Mistystar tilted her head. “Where is WindClan? Didn’t they come to help?”
“I don’t think they know,” Kyestorm said, just as noise erupted on the lakeshore. Onestar raced into camp, flanked by a large patrol. Harespring hung close to Onestar’s side, eyes baleful.
“Mouse dung! Are we too late? We heard the battle cries, the howls, and came to offer aid.” Onestar gazed at Kyestorm. “How did you get here so quickly?”
“Snowpaw ran for help and came to us,” Kyestorm answered. “We arrived just in time to save the kits. Rowanstar lost a life. How can we fight these creatures if it takes so long for us to get to the battle area?”
“I don’t know,” Onestar said. “Maybe we ought to create a battle plan or system by which we can drive these beasts out for good.”
“And perhaps, agree on a type of alarm system. A certain cry or screech that will carry across the lake and alert all of us trouble is brewing. Instead of one sentry, perhaps rotate two or three, so the creatures can’t sneak attack,” Bramblestar said. “I think we have a lot to discuss at the next Gathering. This threat we can’t fight alone.”
The four Clan leaders gazed at each, other and slowly nodded. Kyestorm eyed Harespring, whose ears flattened, and she knew he disagreed with his leader. She walled calmly over to Onestar, pointedly ignoring his deputy.
“If we can imitate the coyote howl and add a screech to it, that might work,” she suggested. Onestar nodded thoughtfully, but Harespring’s pelt rose.
“Nonsense,” he growled. ‘Why are we even here? The battle is over.”
“So what?” Kyestorm turned and snarled. “ShadowClan still needs help! I assume one of your medicine cats is here, too? Even an apprentice?”
“Not all of us have more than one apprentice,” Harespring retorted. Onestar scowled, and raising a paw, slapped his deputy on the head.
“Flea-brain,” Onestar snapped. “This is serious. Try to forget your grudges for a while, will you? You’re a deputy! Act like it!”
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, glaring briefly at Kyestorm, then sagged. Kyestorm growled deep in her chest, knowing their hostility only intensified. She trembled with the desire to flatten him to the snow and shove his pompous face into the ice. With force of will she turned away from him, and looked over the carnage the coyotes brought to ShadowClan. Her anger faded, replaced by worry, grief and the desire to assist. She forced down her annoyance with Harespring, and joined her Clanmates in helping ShadowClan recover from the horrendous attack. She called to her sons.
“Yes, Kyemama?” they answered, hurrying to her. Lionblaze trailed them, intrigued.
“Come. We hunt. Roe deer roam all the territories. We must find at least a fawn.” Kyestorm ordered.
“I’ll assist,” Lionblaze said, his eyes alight. Kyestorm regarded him, amused. Her clanmates acquired a sudden taste for venison. “Please, Kyestorm. Lead on!”
Kyestorm led her small patrol out of camp, and with a flick of her tail, let Bramblestar know her intent, then trotted up into the pines. He nodded his approval. They traveled for a while until she spied a large old pine with sweeping lower branches.
“Up there,” she commanded. Her sons leaped up into the tree. Demonpaw scurried up quickly, while his bulkier brother slipped a few times.
“That’s what you get for being such a glutton,” Demonpaw quipped. Phantompaw’s sea-green eyes flashed, and he only bared the tips of his fangs at his brother, then settled in his chosen branch. Lionblaze climbed nimbly up and selected a branch, then froze in place. Kyestorm followed, and settled on the branch, close to the trunk, thankful her two behemoth sons quieted and concentrated on their task. She settled in for a good wait, hoping all prey did not flee the territory because of the battle. The moon sank to touch the horizon, and dawn light brightened the eastern sky. She glanced backward, stung by pride. Both her enormous sons stayed still, eyes watching the forest. Lionblaze lay still, his eyes slits. Patiently, the patrol waited, and time passed.
Kyestorm shifted her weight, ready to try another tactic, when a small group of animals moved into the area below the tree. Kyestorm nearly mewed out loud in pleased delight. These creatures stood even smaller than the roe deer! Tiny little deer, not much larger than her mate, walked with hesitation across the forest floor, staying under pines with low branches for cover and food. Kyestorm’s mouth watered. The little herd pawed the snow, then reached up to eat the pine needles and cones in the branches below. Kyestorm froze, not daring to blink, until the little buck, larger than the does, walked underneath her branch. She dove out of the tree in silence. Her sons and Lionblaze copied her. She landed on the tiny buck, held it down when it collapsed under her weight. It flailed its legs wildly, but with a quick bite to the throat she killed the prey. She glanced at her sons. Demonpaw straddled his catch, a small doe, holding it by the back of the neck, where it bled from a kill bite. Phantompaw sat on his, where the doe lay on the snow, neck broken.
Lionblaze landed on a doe, but she thrashed and struggled, bleating in terror. Though big for a Clan warrior, Lionblaze lacked the weight to drive the prey into a quick demise. She kicked him in the shoulder with a foreleg, then scrambled to her feet, and attempted to leap away. He jumped for her, and caught her rear leg in his claws, just as Demonpaw darted forward and with his front polydactyl paws, grabbed the other rear leg. Lionblaze surged forward and leaped on the doe’s back. She staggered under him, falling to her knees, and Lionblaze grabbed her by the throat and dispatched her. He sagged on the prey, panting with exertion, but his eyes blazed with jubilation.
“Thanks!” he said to Demonpaw.
“Excellent!” Kyestorm meowed, and waved her tail in salute. “Let’s get this fresh kill to ShadowClan.”
As Kyestorm and her hunting party entered camp, dragging their bounty, all turned to them, some bristling, some ready to bolt, until they saw the fresh kill.
“Muntjac deer?” Mistystar exclaimed. “They’re so fast! How’d you catch them?”
“Well done!” Bramblestar called out, forestalling Kyestorm’s reply. She dragged the prey to the center of camp, and looked at Rowanstar.
“This should help you all regain strength.” she said quietly, and stepped back. Demonpaw, Phantompaw and Lionblaze likewise, though Demonpaw gazed wistfully at the fresh kill.
“Two-leg pig,” Demnopaw guffawed. Phantompaw only lashed his tail, and hitched his shoulders in a shrug, but his sea-green gaze never left the prey.
ShadowClan warriors descended on the fresh kill, tearing it in pieces to give to injured warriors, elders and Tawnypelt and her kits. Rowanstar staggered to the fresh kill, and stared at it a long moment, then looked at Kyestorm.
“Many thanks, and well done, Warrior.” Rowanstar gazed a moment at her, respect shining in his eyes, and took a chunk of meat, then gestured with his tail. “Take some yourself.”
“Thank you, Rowanstar,” Kyestorm replied, and took a tiny bite.
“Come on,” Rowanstar scoffed. “There is plenty here for everyone.” He glanced at Onestar and Mistystar. “Including all of you.”
“Many thanks,” Mistystar dipped her head. “We feasted earlier this night and are full of fish, but I wish to try deer meat!”
“As do I,” Onestar said, moving to another deer. Everyone ate a generous chunk, though ThunderClan cats took less, still full from the big meal earlier that night. When everyone ate their fill, Bramblestar stood up from his place beside Tawnypelt. The kits slept beside their mother, who drowsed with a full belly. She looked up.
“Must you leave?” she asked.
“Yes. But I will leave warriors and our medicine cats here to help until you no longer need them. We must take our leave. Sunrise is near and we need to return to our camp. Next Gathering is a moon away. We must find a way to alert each other before this ever happens to any of us again.” Bramblestar turned to Kyestorm. “I imagine Indipaw is staying? With Gentlepaw?”
“Yes, along with Phantompaw, Greypaw and Alderheart.”
“I need a few warriors to stay, and help in case those beasts return,’ Bramblestar yowled the command. “Who will stay?”
“I will,” Lionblaze stepped up. Birchfall moved next to Lionblaze.
“I will, too.” Thornclaw said, glancing at Indipaw.
“I will,” Dovewing stood beside Birchfall, glancing at Tigerheart. Kyestorm noticed the look that passed between the injured ShadowClan warrior and Dovewing. Both looked woebegone. The answer to why Dovewing rejected Bumblestripe stood now before her eyes. Perhaps, Kyestorm thought, this wasn’t a bad thing, if only cats would get over their mixed clan prejudice.
“I’ll stay,” Spiderleg walked up to Kyestorm. “Someone has to watch that temperamental daughter of yours.”
“Good,” Bramblestar nodded approval, then met the glances of his fellow Clan leaders. “Until next Gathering?”
“Yes,” Rowanstar responded.
“Of course,” Mistystar meowed.
“WindClan will be there,” Onestar said.
“Until then.” Bramblestar moved off, and Kyestorm followed, glancing backward. She spotted Indipaw, Snowpaw, Demonpaw, and Phantompaw examining the coyote tracks. drinking in the scents. Other warriors joined them, and learned the odor of the enemy. Kyestorm watched a moment, as Phantompaw and Demonpaw gestured with paw and tail, and she knew they suggested using vines, large stones, and briars to reinforce the camp, and to set up barriers on trails leading into the camp. She nodded with pride and approval, as her sons used their father’s knowledge and skill to fortify ShadowClan’s camp.
“They’ll be fine,” Kyestorm recognized Dovewing’s voice. “Your sons and daughters are apprentices in name only. They’ll handle this well. They’re already fine warriors.”
“Don’t worry, Kyemama,” Bluepaw trotted up to her. “We’ll be fine. All of us are learning what those coyotes smell like. We could track them to their den!”
“Don’t even consider that!” Kyestorm meowed in alarm. “Not until we know more! Promise you and your siblings will obey this!”
“We promise,” Bluepaw agreed, and turned back to the knot of warriors and apprentices. Troutpaw and his sister Silverpaw welcomed Bluepaw with raised tails, and delighted expressions. Indipaw and Snowpaw appeared glued to each other’s sides, tails up, fur flat. Cats usually gave Indipaw space and respect, as she hated being touched and she often refused sharing tongues because of it. In the apprentice’s den, Indipaw slept alone, and nobody dared snuggling up to her for warmth. Now Snowpaw pressed against her, rubbed against her, licked her face or head, oblivious to Indipaw’s eccentricities. Kyestorm uttered a sighing growl, then turned to follow her Clan back to ThunderClan territory, knowing deep in her heart she might lose her temperamental daughter to ShadowClan, and the thought convulsed her guts with despair. Hatred for those coyotes flared, then simmered. Somewhere in her mind rested a solution, born of her knowledge of housefolk and life outside the clans, but the more she pondered, she discovered no solutions, only a deep burning anger.
“Those beasts will pay,” she growled under her breath, as she returned to the Warrior’s den. Her clanmates all dropped into their nests, and nobody engaged in the normal pre-sleep chatter. Kyestorm wished her clanmates good sleep, and curled up next to Demonstone. He tilted his head, nudging her with a paw.
“For what?” Demonstone asked in a whisper, his gold eyes full of questions.
“For everything,” Kyestorm hissed, then recounted the battle to her mate. “We may lose our daughters to other clans. I can’t deal with the idea of meeting them in border skirmishes or worse, once this coyote menace is over.”
“We knew this day might come,” Demonstone answered, a tremor in his voice. “But we raised them well. Our bonds are strong. We’ll handle this as it comes.”
“I hope so,” Kyestorm bowed her head. “I don’t think Demonpaw and Phantompaw realize what is happening. How will they handle it? I never want to see my kits battling each other.”
“We’ll figure it all out,” Demonstone murmured and licked her head. Kyestorm rested her head on her paws, and despite her angst, drifted off to sleep. She twitched and mewed, her dreams filled with menacing yellow eyes and long-snouted faces that morphed into the beloved faces of her kits, who faced off, tearing into one another, drawing blood, and wailing insults, ignoring her cries and pleas to remember their kinship and bonds of love.
The moon rose in clear cold skies, sending silver-gold light into the hollow. Frigid air blew over the lake, sending small snow twisters over snow-covered ice. Kyestorm shivered, her thick coat billowing out to block the wind, as her and Thornclaw’s patrol brought in a Roe fawn fresh kill. Over the last moon, the technique of dropping from the trees worked as a very efficient strategy for hunting the swift wary creatures, keeping the Clan fed during the harsh Leaf Bare, where tracking and stalking in the unusually deep snows proved quite difficult.
“Well done!” Bramblestar called out, returning with his patrol, who, with Phantompaw and Lionblaze, carried home a small young yearling Roe deer.
“This tree diving technique works great for hunting,” Bramblestar said. “I am concerned that it is getting harder to find these creatures. They used to be everywhere.”
“Any scent of other predators that might be hunting out territory?” Demonstone asked, coming up alongside Kyestorm. “Are we making them more skittish?”
“No, I don’t think so, but this prey roams well beyond our territories,” Bramblestar replied, halting to allow his patrol to place their fresh kill in the center of camp by the rounded rock where they ate the first venison meal. “I have no doubts coyotes might hunt these creatures, too. Another reason to deal with them. They compete with us for those deer.”
“It never mattered before, but now that we can catch them, the competition is a problem. We have a lot to discuss at tonight’s Gathering,” Squirrelflight said. “The howls have begun again just past the horseplace. I don’t like it at all.”
“Certainly we hurt them bad enough that they won’t return,” Kyestorm said, her fur bristling. “They didn’t get anyone that night as a meal!”
“Maybe not, but will it prevent them from trying in other territories?” ThunderClan’s deputy glanced worriedly eastward. “They can come in from any direction.”
“Then we will prepare,” Kyestorm said firmly. “Our tree diving technique should work great in battling them. Their only real weapons are those long jaws and big teeth!”
“I can climb well enough now,” Demonstone growled. “Let me drop on a few of them. They’ll not dare trouble us any more.”
“Such optimists, but I am glad you’ll be able to join us in battle, Demonstone,” Squirrelflight sighed. “Let’s eat. The Gathering is at moonhigh.”
Kyestorm eyed Demonstone, realizing how much he developed his own special skills over the moons. Climbing rocks and logs in his work increased his musculature, and she knew he gained weight since the night of the fire. He might not run fast, but in close quarters, Demonstone battled with the best. As large and heavy as a big male badger, he possessed many fighting techniques reminiscent of that enemy. She imagined his bulk landing on a coyote head, smashing it to the ground. He padded over, in his rocking gait, carrying Briarlight with ease.
Kyestorm joined the Clan as they milled around the Feasting Rock, awaiting Bramblestar’s first tearing open of the prey, a new tradition born of the size of the meals these creatures supplied. The Elders crowded the entrance of the Elder’s den, eagerly awaiting their share, but unwilling to brave the bitter winds. Briarlight rode Demonstone’s back, sliding off at her place by the bulging stone. Kyestorm noted her muscular forequarters and thick healthy coat. She glanced around, and all of her clanmates, including the Elders, brimmed with health and vigor, thick-furred, bright-eyed, and muscular, in complete contrast to the gaunt hungry cats she met upon arriving almost eleven moons ago.
“Clanmates,” Bramblestar meowed, his voice flicking away Kyestorm’s reminiscing. “We are about to enjoy another Leaf Bare feast. We thank StarClan for this bounty, and as always, for our Clanmates sent to us by StarClan so many moons ago, who taught us to catch such prey. Let the feast begin!” Bramblestar hooked his claws into the belly of the fresh kill and tore it open. He spilled the guts and organs out onto the snow.
“Elders first!” he called out. The youngest Warriors walked forward, and took chunks of organ meats to the Elders. The apprentices came forward next. Greypaw and Rainpaw carried portions to Briarlight, who showered her younger brothers with thanks and love. Phantompaw, Indipaw, Smokepaw, Bluepaw and Demonpaw carved gargantuan hunks from the carcass, and brought them to the Elder’s den.
“Eat it all,” Phantompaw’s voice carried out of the den. “Or I’ll be back and eat it for you!”
“No need, youngin’” Purdy’s laughter followed. “I kin eat up as much o’the two o’you. Yer wastin’ yer time.”
“Oh, Purdy,” Indipaw replied, her meow shaking with mirth. “You know my brother’s a glutton!”
“Yer sibling won’t find anythin’ left to eat when we’re done,” Purdy retorted in good humor. Indipaw only laughed and left the den. Kyestorm noted with amusement how Demonpaw and Sparkfire worked together carrying a large portion, tails entwined. Graystripe flashed them a feline grin of gratitude and mirth. Kyestorm bumped Demonstone.
“Look at our son and Bramblestar’s daughter. He’s twice her size but they look so adorable together.” Kyestorm brushed his back with her tail.
“Everyone has noticed,” Demonstone purred. “And everyone, to a cat, approves.”
“Medicine cats next!” Bramblestar called out. Decreed by new ritual, the medicine cats came forward to claim their meals. Gentlepaw marched to the fresh kill, and tore off large portions, honoring his mentors as he gave the servings to them. Alderheart, Leafpool and Jayfeather thanked him. Daisy stepped forward with Cherryfall, who glanced at Stormcloud, then her Clan Leader.
“Everyone knows,” Kyestorm guffawed. “Eat for you and your kits!”
Cherryfall took a large chunk of leg meat, and hurried back to her mate. Bramblestar nodded at his warriors and apprentices. The apprentices and warriors filed past, in complete organized precision, and sliced their meals from the carcass. Paired warriors went first. Cloudtail and Brightheart took their share, followed by Lionblaze and Cinderheart, Poppyfrost and Berrynose, Whitewing and Birchfall, and Lilyheart and Snowbush. Kyestorm followed Demonstone, tearing off their portions, then Bramblestar and Squirrelflight took theirs. The rest of the warriors followed, and Kyestorm watched them file by, taking big meals, laughing and chatting, noting they walked past by seniority. Brackenfur, Thornclaw, Mousewhisker, Rosepetal, and Spiderleg lead the line, with Dovewing, Ivypool, Blossomfall, Molewhisker, and Bumblestripe, then the younger warriors; Lilyheart, Dewnose, Snowbush, Ambermoon. Hollytuft, Sorrelstripe, Fernsong and Sparkfire.
The apprentices took their meals, trying to behave as well as the older warriors, but many failed. Sparkfire scowled as Phantompaw, Smokepaw, Bluepaw, Indipaw, Rainpaw, Larkpaw, Leafpaw, Honeypaw, and Greypaw slapped at each other like kits. Demonpaw stood behind Sparkfire, glaring at his siblings. Gentlepaw took his meal and joined his mentors. Kyestorm grimaced when Phantompaw snatched the last piece of organ meat, added a huge hunk of shoulder meat, and carried the gargantuan serving to his spot beside his siblings. Feline laugher pealed from the group as the apprentices teased Phantompaw, who only grinned, baring all four fangs before wolfing down his meal.
Kyestorm knew her gigantic son planned to visit the fresh kill at least three times, depending how long the supply of meat held out. All of her offspring visited the fresh kill, tearing off every scrap of meat long after the rest of the clan lay around, half asleep with bulging bellies. She watched them carry the meat to their little circle on the other side of camp. She flicked her ears, knowing they planned something, likely some prank or contest. She dismissed the actions of greedy apprentices, and ate the last of her meat, turning her attention to the ceremonial breaking of the first bone for the delicious marrow.
Demonstone and Bramblestar performed the breakage over the Feasting Rock once the Clan licked the bones clean. Demonstone balanced himself over the first leg bone, as Bramblestar stood beside him.
“We thank StarClan for this wonderful bounty. Demonstone, proceed!”
The snap of bone echoed over camp when Demonstone broke the leg. The prior ritual repeated, as Clan members took their share of bones to crunch. Phantompaw graciously gave Purdy and the Elders chunks of large leg bones before taking one for himself. Demonstone cracked ribs bones, his favorite, while Kyestorm gnawed a foreleg fragment. The bitter wind swirled around the camp, but not one cat complained.
As Moonhigh approached, only the skin and partial skull lay near the Feasting Rock, while the Clan prepared for the Gathering. Kyestorm felt eager to be off, an attitude the complete opposite of a mere few moons ago. Bramblestar stood up and stretched, then eyed Kyestorm and Demonstone.
“You and your kits will attend,” he stated, a twinkle in his eye. Kyestorm feigned distaste before returning the grin. She danced in place as cats going to the Gathering joined her by the entrance. Thornclaw, Bumblestripe, Spiderleg, Sparkfire, Lionblaze, Cinderheart, Dovewing, Squirrelflight, Leafpool, Alderheart, Snowbush, Liliyheart, Larkpaw, Honeypaw and Leafpaw completed the party. Bramblestar gazed at Cloudtail and Brackenfur.
“ I trust you to keep things in order while we’re gone?”
“Of course,” Cloudtail glanced at Brackenfur. “We won’t fail you.”
“I know,” Bramblestar nodded and raised his voice. “Let’s move!”
Bramblestar led the procession out of camp and down the hill to the Lake. Kyestorm trotted behind him and Squirrelflight, Demonstone at her side. She heard her youngsters chattering with excitement. Indipaw wanted to see Snowpaw again. Bluepaw focused on Troutpaw. Smokepaw spoke about Oatclaw and Onestar. Phantompaw, Greypaw and the gaggle of apprentices eagerly anticipated competing with their fellow apprentices. Demonpaw trotted with Sparkfire, tails entwined, eyes only for each other and Kyestorm knew without a doubt their bond ran even deeper than the one she shared with Demonstone.
As they neared the stream mouth, Kyestorm noticed a pile of snow-covered deerskins on an open stretch of rocky beach. Pawprints crisscrossed the snows on the other side of the brook, and only two sets crossed the stream. Kyestorm bared her teeth, realizing who one set belonged to.
“Harespring dare crosses here?” She paused and sniffed the stiff hides. “These are still ours.”
“If they keep drying out like that, they may be great to line the floors of the dens with them,” Demonstone commented, then marked the snows around the hides. Kyestorm and Thornclaw followed suit. “We won’t know for certain until New Leaf.”
“Too bad we can’t let them dry in camp then,” Thornclaw commented. “But they stink.”
“That’s why we left them by the lake. That spot gets sun all day.” Indipaw spoke up, glancing back, as the group crossed the stream out of ThunderClan territory. “And we keep watch on them, too”
“Harespring doesn’t come here anymore,” Smokepaw flicked her tail, ducking her head. “He crossed over and I had to slap him. I promise I kept my claws sheathed! But now Crowfeather patrols down here. He asked us to take the skins elsewhere but I said no. They’re drying out well here. He accepted it.”
“WindClan dare not touch them,” Kyestorm added, and eyed her daughter. She decided not to pry into some mouse-brained thing her offspring conspired to carry out. As the Clan moved quickly along the lake, Kyestorm felt thankful for the windswept shoreline, which gave her and her family a break from constant trail breaking in deep snow.
“They probably are very confused by what we’re doing,” Bramblestar meowed, and increased his pace. Kyestorm looked up the hill and saw Onestar crest the open moor. Harespring appeared next. WindClan moved slow, traversing old paths refilled in with fresh snow. Kyestorm growled deep in her chest.
“One of these days, he’s going to get what he deserves,” Demonstone said quietly.
“Just because he’s awful, doesn’t mean the rest are,” Smokepaw interjected. Kyestorm eyed her daughter, and Smokepaw dropped her gaze. Kyestorm smirked, knowing Smokepaw and Oatclaw rendezvoused often near those skins.
“Will I be going to the Moonpool soon?” Gentlepaw asked, taking Kyestorm’s attention off of her daughters. She noticed how her son looked longingly up the stream toward the Moonpool, which lay high out of sight. His golden brown, black-striped coat, fluffed out by the cold, rippled down his back.
“You’d have gone already if not for these deep snows,” Jayfeather remarked with a snort. “You’re a fine medicine cat. I know it’s hard, but have patience. We’ll go soon.”
“I can break trail like my brothers and sisters do,” Gentleaw said quietly, but Kyestorm heard the edge to his voice.
“Don’t fret,” Leafpool assured him. “We can’t wait much longer, anyway. I know StarClan urges you.”
“Yes,” Gentlepaw admitted. “I want to meet them all at the Moonpool and get my warrior name.”
“Patience, my son,” Kyestorm interjected, as they traveled beneath the broken halfbridge. “Your siblings don’t have their warrior names yet.”
“True,” the tall muscular youngster capitulated. Kyestorm met his amber gaze briefly, and blinked him a silent kiss. He blinked back, trotting beside his milkbrother, his eyes full of anticipation.
Bramblestar led them across the sandy spit, then paused at the frozen marsh. Kyestorm stepped on the ice, bounced once, then nodded. Bramblestar took the lead and crossed the frozen swamp to the head of the fallen tree. Kyestorm held her head up with pride, happy her Clan leader trusted her judgement when it came to the ice. Deep instincts about such ran true in her heart and mind, and she just knew when ice posed danger or safety. She followed him and Squirrelflight, leaping up the shore onto the island.
“Hallo!” Mistystar greeted them, a look of surprise on her face. “Brave for ones who fear the water!”
“You forget,” Bramblestar guffawed, his voice full of mirth. “We have water happy Maine Coon crazies in our midst.” He sobered. “Kyestorm and her mate have uncanny knowledge and instincts about ice, and I’ve learned to trust them.”
“Crazy,” someone muttered, and Kyestorm saw Rowanstar standing below the Great Oak Tree. His eyes flashed with humor, and Kyestorm raised her tail. She noted the absence of Tawnypelt and felt a pang of concern. She glanced around at the gathering Clans, and all of them looked gaunt, though RiverClan less so. Even Beepaw looked thin. She loved her food, always reminding Kyestorm of Phantompaw in that respect.
Onestar led his Clan over the fallen tree, glancing at Bramblestar and shaking his head. The leaders sprang up into the tree, as others greeted new and old friends. Kyestorm noticed how quickly her daughters found their beaus, and Phantompaw and the apprentices found their new friends. Demonpaw walked with Sparkfire, tails tightly entwined, bodies pressed together, eyes shining, leaving no doubts in anyone’s mind about their status.
“Greetings!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out, starting the official gathering. The moon shone bright from clear skies, and not a single wisp of cloud marred the night sky. Silverpelt glittered, unusually bright, despite the full moon. Kyestorm sat down beside Demonstone, and waited, as Bramblestar continued. “ All is well in ThunderClan. Prey is running light, but we’ve been very successful in catching larger prey this Leaf Bare. No greencough, no illness. I hope all have fared well this hard season. We have a lot to discuss about the coyote threat.”
“We’re fine. Despite the cold, the fishing is good,” Mistystar said. “We’ve been supplementing with the occasional Muntjac deer that come to the stream to drink.”
“We’ve learned to ambush them at night,” Rowanstar said, “but it is very difficult. It takes a large patrol to take one down. Our kits thrive, despite the coyotes. And we’ve only seen white cough.”
“We’ve had it rough,” Onestar said, standing up. “Those deer are impossible to catch on the moors, but, someone, uh, or something, has left fresh kill just inside our territory. If not for that. . .” Onestar trailed off, eyes widening as if he knew he said too much. Kyestorm noticed the other three leaders staring at him. Mistystar and Rowanstar exchanged worried glances. Bramblestar scowled.
“Near our deerskins?” he asked, bristling. He suddenly locked eyes on Smokepaw. “What have you apprentices been up to?”
“I’m sorry!” Smokepaw jumped forward and stood before her Clan leader. Her black smoke coat remained flat, but the wind parted her fur, revealing its pure white roots. Her gold eyes locked onto her Clan leader’s amber gaze “I, well, we, have been sharing our excess. We, well, we apprentices, we’ve been giving some of our deer to Oatclaw.”
“What?” Bramblestar snarled with sudden outrage. “Are you completely fluff-headed?”
“Wait,” Onestar interrupted. “Please, don’t be angry. If not for them, many of us would have starved. Rabbits are in semi -hibernation. We’ve never seen this kind of thing. This has been a terrible Leaf Bare for us. We have failed to catch any Roe or Muntjac deer roaming our open moors. They are, as always, too fast and even if we manage to snag one, they kick and hurt us, then leap and get away. We don’t have the weight and size to take one down.”
“I concur,” Rowanstar jumped in. “Indipaw, Demonpaw, and Phantompaw have given us deer meat as well. Gentlepaw gave Puddlepaw rich organ meat for Littlecloud. Our kits would have starved because Tawnypelt’s milk failed and we have no other nursing queens. I will never forget your apprentices’ generosity and I made sure they weren’t taking away from anyone in your clan. Indipaw assured me it was extra and you had plenty. They saved the kits’ lives. Tawnypelt’s milk returned.”
“We didn’t take the meat Bluepaw, Rainpaw, and Greypaw brought,” Mistystar said. “We gave it to Tawnypelt. But we asked Bluepaw to help us hunt the Muntjac deer. Please, Bramblestar, in a Leaf Bare such as this, your apprentices helped all of us,” Mistystar’s voice sharpened. “We are still the four Clans to be one under StarClan. The coyote threat is still out there.”
Bramblestar stared, teeth bared with outrage, his broad shoulders trembling and in his eyes, Kyestorm saw the battle between his good nature and the old traditions of separate Clans and the warrior code. His brown tabby coat slowly flattened, and he covered his fangs. He nodded at his apprentices, all of whom sat in a furry knot, eyes wide, but in each, soft defiance glowed, showing their Clan leader they understood the consequences, but also knew they saved lives with their actions. Alderheart and Sparkfire sat with them, bravely facing their father, and Kyestorm knew they assisted the apprentices in this plan.
“I wish you would have come to me with your plan,” Bramblestar growled at the knot of youngsters. “I probably would have agreed if you presented the arguments I just heard from my fellow Clan Leaders. Though I commend you actions, you still must suffer punishment for doing this without my permission. You will stay in camp, cleaning the Elders dens, attending the Elders meticulously, and assist Demonstone with den repair. You will assist the medicine cats with chores. No patrolling or hunting for a moon.”
“Yes, Bramblestar,” all the apprentices murmured. Bramblestar leveled his gaze on his own offspring.
“Sparkfire, you will concentrate on bringing home fresh kill for the Elders, without the help of Demonpaw and his siblings.” Bramblestar stated, and they exchanged glances of alarm. Without Demonpaw or Phantompaw or their sisters, downing even a small deer might be downright impossible for Sparkfire, forcing her to hunt smaller much more difficult prey. She lifted her head, and met her father’s eyes, and nodded. Bramblestar turned his attention to his son and Gentlepaw. “Your punishment I leave to Jayfeather and Leafpool.”
Gentlepaw and Alderheart exchanged resigned glances, offering not even one mew of dissent.
“But, we really did the right thing,” Indipaw protested. Bramblestar’s amber eyes darkened and narrowed.
“Clan Leaders,” Rowanstar’s voice broke the tension. “Bramblestar, please? I think it’s time we dealt with the inevitable. Indipaw? Please come forward. Speak now, young apprentice, if what you told Snowpaw is true.”
Kyestorm stared at her daughter, noticing Bramblestar’s surprised look. His eyes widened, then narrowed again, but he nodded at Indipaw. Indipaw stepped forward, and the entire gathering silenced until only the wind whispered in the trees.
“Speak your mind, apprentice.” Bramblestar said, his voice calm, belying his expression.
“Clan Leaders, “ Indipaw began, then paused, her green eyes wide with uncustomary nerves. Her tabby and white coat rippled down her body. Another apprentice slipped out of the crowd, joining her. Snowpaw leaned into her, entwining his black fluffy tail with her tabby bottlebrush of a tail. Kyestorm’s heart melted, and in Bramblestar’s eyes, understanding glimmered. He glanced at his sister. Tawnypelt merely blinked him a feline kiss.
Indipaw drew a deep breath and continued. “Snowpaw and I love each other. We want to be together, so one of us has to join the other’s Clan. I think of how we came to be here and just know my place is with Snowpaw, and ShadowClan. My time here after the attack proved it. If all the leaders approve, I’d like to go to ShadowClan and complete my training there, with Snowpaw’s mentor. I expect to serve out my punishment there, too”
Murmuring rippled through the Gathering, and a few cheering yowls erupted from ShadowClan cats. Rowanstar nodded, flicking his ears. Kyestorm realized they knew Indipaw well, and not only accepted her, but liked her.
“I accept, with Bramblestar’s. . . “ Rowanstar raised his voice, until Harespring jumped up and cut him off.
“No! It’s wrong! Very wrong! Mixed Clan cats are wrong!” The disgruntled WindClan deputy’s red-brown and white coat bristled all over like a hedgehog.
“Yes, we are of ThunderClan,” Bluepaw meowed firmly, her blue smoke fur puffing out revealing even more silvery highlights. Her vivid blue eyes sparkled. “But we’re Maine Coons, and we’re supposed to spread to other Clans! Firestar said so. StarClan said we’re important to all the Clans, not just one. If RiverClan will have me, I want to be with Troutpaw.”
Kyestorm glanced at her sons, and saw resignation on their faces, as if they knew all along this might occur. Kyestorm’s throat closed and she resisted the urge to wail. Onestar stood up, and Kyestorm’s heart leaped into her throat, anticipating what came next.
“Smokepaw, you are welcome in WindClan, if that is your desire. I’ll not oppose it at all, especially after what you’ve done to help my Clan during this brutal Leaf Bare. We all know about you and Oatclaw.” Onestar actually smiled, and Kyestorm saw another side to the gruff, pompous Clan Leader, something that always hid beneath a facade. Onestar’s confidence in his leadership shone through, and peeled away that old mask he erected in trying to prove himself over the seasons.
“She trespassed,” Harespring snarled. “Sneaking here to run with her consort.”
“Smokepaw!” Kyestorm exclaimed in a shocked yowl.
“What have you done?” Bramblestar glared at the young apprentice. Smokepaw shrank down onto her belly, flattening her ears.
“I’m sorry, I am, but I love the moors! Always have, and I love Oatclaw!” Smokepaw wailed like a scared kit, but her eyes glittered golden fire. “If not for that, we’d have never gotten deer meat to those who needed it!”
“She ran our territory!” Harespring glared at Onestar, protesting with a snarl. “And you never punished her! You ignore the Code. We aren’t like ThunderClan to accept every rogue and kittypet that comes along!”
“Oh, shut up, Harespring! It’s because you don’t want me to be with Oatclaw! You hate me because I run faster than you, and that I saved your Elders and other Clanmates with our spare deer meat!” Smokepaw leaped to her feet. “Because I have no problem slapping you down just like Kyemama does!”
“You break the code running our territory.” Harespring retorted, eyes blazing, but he stepped backward. He spun to face Onestar. “And you show weakness by allowing it.”
“You dare question my decisions?” Onestar stood up on his limb, claws unsheathed, tabby pelt brisling, fangs bared in fury. “Even after you ate as much of that deer meat as any of us? If Smokepaw wants to join WindClan, so be it! She has my permission, if she has Bramblestar’s. She belongs here.” Onestar growled, his voice low, his eyes spitting fire. “Perhaps it is time to relieve you of your duties?”
“You can’t,” Harespring snapped. “I‘m your deputy! I’ll be Leader of this Clan one day and things will change!” Harespring sprang at Smokepaw, landing in front of her. “And in my Clan, you’d never be!”
“I will be! Onestar said yes! You can’t stop this.” Smokepaw defied the WindClan deputy, her thick black smoke coat fluffing out. She bared her fangs, standing tall and menacing, towering over Harespring, who reared up to attack her, hatred in his eyes. Kyestorm tensed, growling, ready to kill the WindClan deputy with one blow of her paw if he so much as raked a claw in Smokepaw’s fur.
“STOP!” Onestar leaped down from his branch, dropping between Smokepaw and Harespring, his tabby coat puffed up. Harespring spun away from his leader, and dropped to the snow, teeth bared in a silent snarl of defiance. The wind suddenly roared in the trees, and Kyestorm looked up at the skies. The moon shone bright, but a wisp of cloud appeared just above the horizon. Kyestorm’s heart raced, and not one cat moved. Bramblestar, Mistystar and Rowanstar exchanged shocked glances.
“I see things clearly now. I’m not clouded by indecision, or broken old friendships anymore. This stops now! I obviously chose poorly when Ashfoot died.” Onestar roared with anger, then glared up at the moon. “Forgive me, StarClan, but this must be done now.”
“What?” Harespring’s expression changed to one of astonishment.
“I say these words before the spirits of all StarClan, before all Clan Leaders, at moonhigh, that they may hear and approve my choice!” Onestar’s voice rang over the island, rising above the wind. “Crowfeather will be the new deputy of WindClan!”
After a moment of complete silence, WindClan cats yowled their affirmation. The other Clans joined in enthusiastically.
Crowfeather walked to stand beside Onestar, his eyes wide with surprise.
“Thank you, Onestar. I will never let you down. I’ll support you, and offer advice, but never defy or usurp you.”
“You can’t do this to me! I’ve been a faithful deputy!” Harespring stepped toward Crowfeather and Onestar, and wailed, ears flat, eyes full of rage. “ Crowfeather broke the code consorting with a medicine cat! He’s not fit to be deputy!”
Before Onestar opened his mouth to reply, a gust of wind whistled through the trees, moaning in the leafless branches of the Great Oak. Kyestorm gaped, as the starry figure of a black and white tom partially solidified in front of Onestar, standing beside Smokepaw. Smokepaw started, but then stood proud, towering over the StarClan cat. He looked at her, a brief flare of delight crossing his features, before he looked at Harespring.
“Tallstar!” erupted from the throats of older cats. The starry apparition glared at Harespring. Kyestorm stared at the long-legged black and white tom. He spared her a glance, his eyes gentling for a moment, before returning his attention to Harespring.
“You defy StarClan at every turn by rejecting Smokepaw and her family. She fulfills her destiny this night under StarClan. Onestar chooses a new deputy. So be it!” Tallstar yowled at Harespring. “We want no question that we approve. The future of the Clans will NOT SUFFER for your intolerance.”
Harespring stared, his anger turning to fear, as Tallstar stepped up to him, standing nose to nose with him. Kyestorm watched with satisfaction as other starry shapes joined Tallstar, and she recognized Bluestar, Blackstar, and Firestar amongst them. Harespring shank back from the outrage blazing from their eyes.
“Forgive me,” he mewled. “I only tried to keep to the code.”
“And forgot the most recent addition,” Blackstar snarled at him. “Go back to your Clan, but realize you are no longer deputy.”
Harespring scurried to hide behind his clanmates, most of whom scowled at him. Furzepelt nodded at him, and he sat beside her. He looked at Kyestorm, and in his eyes, she saw pure hatred. Furzepelt lifted a lip, disdain in her gaze. Kyestorm’s emotions reciprocated, tumbling in her stomach. She held down a growl, and turned away from them, just as Tallstar raised his tail.
“Carry on,” Tallstar meowed, and in a swirl of stars vanished, Blackstar and his fellow StarClan mates followed, but he glanced back at Indipaw and Snowpaw, nodding before he disappeared into the wind. Silence hung over the clearing, until Rowanstar sneezed, and spoke.
“As I was going to say, I accept, with Bramblestar’s blessings, Indipaw into ShadowClan.”
“You have it, since StarClan has already blessed what will occur here this Gathering,” Branmblestar gazed at Indipaw and Snowpaw, then Smokepaw, and Bluepaw, and nodded. “May StarClan light your paths, always.”
All three apprentices ran to Kyestorm. She trembled as they crowded her. Demonstone, Phantompaw, Gentlepaw, Greypaw, Rainpaw, and Demonpaw joined her, pressing against her.,
“We love you, Kyemama,” Indipaw mewed. “But these are the lives we’re meant to live.”
“Never, ever forget how much your father, brothers, and I love you,” Kyestorm whispered. “I will never raise a claw to you in battle, never.”
“Don’t worry, Kyemama,” Smokepaw murmured. “We all decided never to hurt each other. We can pretend to be angry, but we all know it’s not for real.”
“Do your new Clans proud, and always use your heads before your claws,” Kyestorm mewed softly, her voice shaking.
“We promise,” Smokepaw meowed and licked Kyestorm’s cheek. Indipaw and Bluepaw copied their sister, before moving off to mingle with their new Clans. Kyestorm quivered as her daughters moved off to their new lives, her vision blurring. She wanted to keen her dismay to Silverpelt, but understood why she must let this play out.
“We’re still here, Kyemama,” Demonpaw murmured into her ear.
“Don’t worry,” Gentlepaw said. “All will be well.”
“I know, “ Kyestorm mewled, feeling like a helpless kit. Demonstone licked her head.
“Come, let’s enjoy this Gathering. Everyone is happy, and friendly.” he urged. Kyestorm lifted her chin, and caught a glimpse of Harespring and Furzepelt glowering at Smokepaw. Smoldering anger replaced her angst.
“If that piece of rotten crow-food and his fluffhead friend touch a hair on Smokepaw’s body I will rip them to shreds and dump their useless bodies in the lake,” she growled deep in her chest.
“Kyemama,” Phantompaw uttered a guffaw. “Do you really think they can hurt her? She’ll whip either of their sorry rumps like you did. Plus Oatclaw and Onestar will probably assist!”
“True,” Kyestorm glanced at her gargantuan son, and his sea-green eyes blazed, despite his mirth. She decided to enjoy the Gathering, and she mingled. Indipaw and Snowpaw moved around, never untwining their tails. Smokepaw hooked tails with Oatclaw, while chattering with Onestar, who wore a pleased, genuinely delighted expression. Bluepaw joined Troutpaw and Silverppaw, her blue eyes shining. Kyestorm’s despair abated as she realized the strength and depth of her daughters’ happiness, and understood she must let them go. She padded to the base of the Great Oak and stopped.
“Clan Leaders, may I speak to the Gathering?”
“Please do,” Bramblestar answered, and moved to allow her room. She gaped, until he gestured with his tail to join him on the limb. In a spray of snow, she leaped up, and stood just below Squirrelflight. Bramblestar uttered a piercing yowl and the noisy Gathering silenced. Everyone faced the Great Tree. Kyestorm stood up, balancing on the branch, tail up.
“Esteemed Clan Leaders, warriors, apprentices, elders, I say this under StarClan, so everyone hears my words. The night Demonstone and I escaped the fire, ready to bear my precious kits, I did not understand all of what StarClan wished from us.” Kyestorm’s voice strengthened, and the moon glowed. “The Maine Coons of ThunderClan are meant to be the Maine Coons of all the Clans, to help us build our strength for the battles to come. As my daughters seek their destinies, I truly hope we stay, under StarClan, four Clans as One, to preserve the Four, because I fear if we don’t, the coyote menace will destroy us.” Kyestorm finished.
A moment of quiet hung over the Gathering, then Mistystar raised her voice.
“If StarClan approves, so do I. I welcome Bluepaw into our Clan, delighted to have her here.” Mistystar’s blue eyes grew solemn. “We have to find a way to deal with the coyote problem. We must devise a call or alarm that will carry over the lake, so other clans know when trouble approaches.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Rowanstar agreed, his yellow eyes bright.
“We’ve been experimenting,” Lionblaze spoke up. “Maybe something like this.” Lionblaze pointed his muzzle at the moon and uttered a fine imitation of a coyote howl, and followed that with piercing warrior’s battle shriek.
“That might work very well,” Rowanstar spoke up. His ears twitched. “Hear how it reverberates over the lake?”
“We also have to make sure we have more than one sentry,” Bramblestar added. “We don’t want them sneaking up on any of us again.”
“They caught us by surprise,” Rowanstar admitted. “By time our sentry yowled out a warning the coyotes already plowed into camp. If it happens again, we will be better prepared.”
“We also must suspend borders once that alarm goes up so help may take the shortest route,” Mistystar added. The other three Clan leaders nodded affirmatives.
“We should run a test upon returning to our camps. Call and wait for the reply, so we are certain we will hear any Clan’s call.” Onestar suggested.
“Good idea,” Bramblestar looked up at the skies. “We should adjourn, then do this test. It grows late.”
Kyestorm noticed how low the moon hung in the western sky, and yawned. The other leaders agreed, and the Gathering broke up. Kyestorm walked with her Clan, trying not to look back, but caught sight of Indipaw, Smokepaw and Bluepaw as they left with their new Clans. They glanced back at her, reassuring her by waving their tails. She plodded along at Demonstone’s side, traversing the frozen lakeshore, listening to the discussions around her.
“Don’t be sad, Kyemama,” Kyestorm recognized Gentlepaw’s voice. She lifted her head to meet his amber gaze. “This is how it must be.”
“I know,” Kyestorm replied. “They all seem so happy, but I will always worry about them.”
“Her brothers do, too,” Gentlepaw said. “But they are where they should be.”
“You’re so wise for one so young,” Kyestorm meowed. “I know soon you’ll earn your warrior name and become a full medicine cat soon. I will miss your naming, and theirs, too.”
“You’ll miss theirs, but not mine,” Gentlepaw whispered into her ear.
“I can’t go with you to the Moonpool.” Kyestorm bit her tongue to keep her voice down, as they passed the border. She glanced at the deerskins, and the paw prints, realizing many of those prints belonged to Smokepaw.
“No, but don’t worry. You’ll see,” Gentlepaw assured her, before hurrying ahead to catch up to Leafpool and Jayfeather, as they turned away from the lake, following the trail through the snow up toward camp. Kyestorm eyed her son, wondering what he meant. As they entered camp, Birchfall and Whitewing greeted everyone enthusiastically. Kyestorm nodded, and raised her tail in greeting, but wished not to speak. She yawned.
“Forgive me, “ she meowed. “I’m just so tired and want to sleep.”
“We understand.” Whitewing nodded. “We can wait until sunrise.”
“We raised fine daughters. I am sorry we won’t see their warrior ceremonies, but we’ll see them at the gathering afterward and honor them then,” Demonstone murmured, as they ambled across camp. Demonpaw, Phantompaw, Rainpaw, and Greypaw looked subdued, and none of their normal banter filled the hollow.
“You’re right,” Kyestorm capitulated, walking into the spacious warrior den with him. “But I will worry about them.”
“Of course you will. We both will,” Demonstone purred, as she snuggled against him. “You’re their mother, and I their father. It’s only natural. But we have to let them go.”
“Yes, their destiny, I know,” Kyestorm grumbled, tucking her nose under her bushy tail. “But I don’t have to like it.”
Demonstone responded with rumbling purrs, and licked her head. She blinked, watching all her fellow warriors curl into their nests to sleep. Kyestorm heaved a huge sigh, listening as Lionblaze uttered the alarm call, and, as answering calls echoed across the lake, Kyestorm felt a stab of anxiety. She opened an eye.
“The call is working great, but, would we get to any of the other Clans in time to help? Especially WindClan.” Kyestorm fretted. “Snowpaw raced away at the very start of trouble to get help, yet Tawnypelt almost lost her kits. Rowanstar lost a life. What if we’re all asleep full of deer meat again and don’t hear the cry? Birchfall heard little that night until Snowpaw screamed Indipaw’s name.”
“We’ll always have sentries that will hear it. He said he heard some cats screaming, but didn’t think much of it. They will be always alert for it now.” Demonstone rested his head beside hers. “But I see your point. By time WindClan and RiverClan realized there was trouble, it was too late.”
“I fear it won’t be enough,” Kyestorm mumbled.
“And that is why our daughters are where they are.” Demonstone argued. “Even though they are not yet a full suncycle old, Bluepaw is almost as large as you, and Smokepaw and Indipaw already your size, and promise to grow into powerful she-cats. Indipaw will be as big as me. They will give us the time we need to reach trouble.”
“True,” Kyestorm thought about his words. “But, what if there are more coyotes next time, and . .?” Kyestorm trailed off, and Demonstone’s golden eyes clouded over with sudden concern.
“We can only do our best,” he rumbled. “The rest is in StarClan’s paws.”
Kyestorm closed her eyes, and thought of the starry cats that visited the Gathering tonight to approve Onestar’s change of deputy. She understood coyotes might not even respond to StarClan’s presence, and realized the power to ward off that danger lay in her claws, and those of her mate and offspring. She prayed to StarClan, as she drifted off to sleep, and dreamed of racing endlessly across snow and ice to assist her daughters’ Clans, while the new alarm calls shrieked over the lake, mingled with the heartrending screeches of desperate cats fighting off howling coyotes.
Half a moon later, in the warm, spacious Warrior’s den, Kyestorm rolled over, ears twitching, and snuggled back up to Demonstone. She finally accepted her daughters’ transfer to other Clans, and life returned to normal. Despite the snows, the little deer ran well, providing the Clan with big meals at least twice a moon. Kyestorm glanced out of the den at the sunrise, which brought blustery conditions, strong cold winds, and ragged clouds scudding across deep blue skies.
“I think a storm approaches,” she muttered. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“The last thing we need is more snow!” Spiderleg complained, opening one amber eye.
“I’m glad we finished much of the anchor work on the dens,” Brackenfur remarked, “I don’t know how we’d ever have competed these dens after all the snow fell.”
“I suppose we’ll have hunting patrols all day to get fresh kill before the snow flies,” Thornclaw said with a yawn.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” Bramblestar’s yowl interrupted the conversation, and reverberated through camp. Kyestorm and her fellow warriors leaped to their feet and hurried out into the cold camp. They gathered with the rest of the Clan at the foot of Highledge, where Bramblestar stood, facing the bitter breeze. Leafpaw, Honeypaw and Larkpaw sat in a clump, their eyes full of excitement and envy. Twigkit sat next to Honeypaw, longing in her eyes, and Kyestorm knew she anticipated her apprentice ceremony in a mere moon. Kyestorm watched her sons settle down blinking sleep from their eyes. All three hastily groomed themselves and each other, as they realized the importance of this moment.
“Today, we shall add new warriors to our ranks!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out. “Now Demonpaw, Phantompaw, Rainpaw, and Greypaw, please come forward.” Bramblestar waited for the excited apprentices to step forth. Bramblestar’s voice rolled on. “I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon these young apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warriors in their turn”
Kyestorm trembled with pride, though the absence of Indipaw, Smokepaw, and Bluepaw trickled disappointment into her mind and heart. Kyestorm shivered, and concentrated on her sons.
“Demonpaw,” Bramblestar continued. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” The enormous black and white tom answered, his black bushy tail sweeping snow off the rock behind him.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Demonstreak, recognizing your swiftness in mind and heart. From this moment you will be known as Demonstreak! Welcome to ThunderClan new Warrior!” Bramblestar announced, his amber eyes sparkling with delight.
“Demonstreak! Demonstreak Demonstreak!” erupted from all throats. Sparkfire sat by his side, her green eyes shining with pride, her red pelt gleaming like flame. Her tail twined his. Kyestorm drew back her lips, revealing her sharp fangs in a quick grin at the couple.
“Phantompaw,” Bramblestar leveled his gaze on the youngster. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” the gigantic, dark silver-tabby meowed, his sea-green eyes gleaming in the bright sunlight that now poured into the snowy hollow.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name, Phantomstrike, to honor your hunting skill and sharp wit. From this moment you will be known as Phantomstrike! Welcome to ThunderClan new Warrior!” Bramblestar nodded.
“Phantomstrike! Phantomstrike! Phantomstrike!” echoed through the camp.
“Greypaw,” Bramblestar looked at the grey tom. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” Greypaw answered, his blue eyes shining.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Greywind, to honor your hunting skill and swiftness. From this moment you will be known as Greywind! Welcome to ThunderClan new Warrior!”
“Greywind! Greywind! Greywind!” the Clan cheered.
“Rainpaw,” Bramblestar looked at the pale grey tabby tom. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do!” Rainpaw answered, his blue eyes full of delight.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you the warrior name Rainsleet, to honor your relentless hunting skill and agility. From this moment you will be known as Rainsleet! Welcome to ThunderClan new Warrior!”
“Rainsleet! Rainsleet! Rainsleet!” the Clan yowled approval.
Kyestorm glanced at Millie and Graystripe, pleased to see pride on both faces. She flattened her ears briefly, noting Millie’s straying gaze. Briarlight sat next to Demonstreak, her blue eyes shimmering with joy. Kyestorm felt a stab of indignation, thinking how she will miss her daughters’ warrior ceremonies, while Millie watches her sons’ with little real appreciation. She growled irritably, then pushed the emotion away, when Greywind and Rainsleet turned their excited glances to her first.
“ThunderClan honors your bravery and dedication.” Bramblestar leaped down to the new warriors, pride sparkling his amber eyes.” We welcome you as full members to ThunderClan.” He laid his chin on each of their heads, and they licked his shoulder in return. Cats yowled, meowed and purred approval.
“ThunderClan prospers! Our new warriors are powerful and strong! We shall have great news to bring to the Gathering in a half moon!’ Bramblestar looked over the gathered Clan. “We should hunt today despite our ample meal yesterday. A storm may be brewing for tomorrow, and we need to keep the fresh kill pile stocked.”
Squirrelflight organized hunting patrols, and Kyestorm waited for her assignment. Leafpool and Gentlepaw trotted over to her.
“Kyemama! Tonight I go to the Moonpool!” Gentlepaw mewed in excitement. His long bushy tail rose over his back, hooking to one side like a two-leg fishhook. “I’ll earn my warrior name and become a true medicine cat.”
“About time,” Kyestorm meowed with delight, noting a glimmer of concern in her son’s amber eyes.
“He already is,” Leafpool said. “This is just formality. Before we go, we’re off to try and collect any freeze-dried herbs we can find. Our stores are well stocked thanks to our unusually good health this Leaf Bare, but we can never be too cautious.”
“True,” Kyestorm cocked her head. “Gentlepaw? Something bothering you?’
“Just about the approaching storm,” he answered with a flick of his tail, and his eyes brightened. “I am just eager to go to the Moonpool!”
“Come, let’s move,” Leafpool ordered. “Alderheart is already out collecting any catmint he can find.”
“Happy searching,” Kyestorm said, as the medicine cats moved off toward the entrance. Squirrelflight turned to her.
“Kyestorm, go with Phantomstrike, and Spiderleg with Lionblaze’s patrol,” Squirrelflight emphasized Kyestorm’s son’s warrior name, her green eyes sparkling with delight. “Good hunting!”
“Ah, stuck with you two,” Spiderleg teased, before baring the tips of his fangs in a grin. We are the finest venison hunters in the Clan!”
“We are, though Demonstreak thinks he, Bramblestar, Birchfall and Cloudtail catch more!” Phantomstrike retorted.
“We all do well enough,” Lionblaze said. “Let’s move.”
The patrol trotted along the trails in the snow, heading down to check the deerskins. At the border they halted, and Kyestorm eyed the stiff skins, sniffing the air.
“They will reek when New Leaf arrives,” she commented. “But the sun is still drying them out.”
“I hope we can make use of them,” Lionblaze added. “Especially for the elders and queens.”
“Will we tree dive today?” Spiderleg asked.
“I think we should do that, but also have one of us hide in the snow.” Phantomstrike suggested.
“I’m not doing that,” Spiderleg shook his pelt. “I‘m getting too old to freeze in the snow.”
“I think I’ll stick to the trees,” Lionblaze agreed. “That is just cold.”
“Kyemama and I can hide in the snow and ambush the little deer,” Phantomstrike pointed to a thicket with his tail. “They eat twigs off of that bush and others like it.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s find a place where the snow is deeper,” Lionblaze said. They moved along the stream, and Kyestorm glanced across the icy water, wondering how her daughter fared. She paused, hearing a rustle in the dead brush on the opposite shore. Impulsively, she uttered the soft twittery purr she used to call her kits with.
“Smokepaw?” Kyestorm called, delight filling her heart, and she ran to the edge of the brook.
“It’s me, Kyemama!” her daughter answered, her large body breaking past the brush and snow lining the stream bank. Her golden eyes sparkled. “I’m Smokewind now!”
“A wonderful Warrior name! Onestar chose well!” Kyestorm perched on the snow and ice edging the narrow channel and stretched her head to touch noses with her daughter.
“Smokewind!” Phantomstrike meowed, coming to stand beside Kyestorm.
“Phantompaw!” Smokewind mewed in delight. “Are you a warrior yet?”
“Yes! I’m Phantomstrike now.”
“Fantastic name!” Smokewind waved her tail, ears up, whiskers forward, inhaling her brother’s scent. A black tom and a black she-cat flanked Smokewind. They glared at Kyestorm and Phantomstrike, but said nothing.
“Are you all safe?” Kyestorm asked, placing one huge paw on the ice.
“Don’t think about crossing,” Nightcloud growled, hackles rising.
“We are fine,” Smokewind answered, baring the tips of her fangs. “No coyotes. No nasty rogues or foxes. One fox pair will never show itself here again after I slapped the dogfox senseless.”
“I knew you could handle foxes. You are taller than I am,” Kyestorm answered, noting how Smokewind towered over her companions. She bulked up over the last few moons, looking as strong and powerful as her brothers. “I know you’re strong, but please never be afraid to ask for help.”
“We can handle ourselves,” the black she-cat hissed. “We don’t need Thund. . .”
Smokewind whirled and cuffed her patrolmate hard on the skull. Nightcloud shook her head.
“Don’t be mouse-brained!” Smokewind snarled. “I lead this patrol. We’ll need every warrior in every clan should coyotes breed and increase their numbers! Stop quibbling!”
“Youngster too full of herself.” Nightcloud flashed Smokewind a defiant brief glare, before dipping her head. “But, you’re right.”
“Really?” the black tom muttered, causing Smokewind to bristle, and her golden eyes blazed.
“Enough!” She raised a massive paw over Breezepelt, and he dropped to a submissive crouch. Fear scent wafted off of him, and Kyestorm knew Smokewind battled over the last few moons to win respect in her new clan, and succeeded to the point she led a patrol! Pride and love swelled her whole insides. Smokewind met her gaze, her expression turning cheerful again, reciprocating the scent that swirled out on the wind from every hair on Kyestorm’s coat.
Phantomstrike stretched his head to touch noses with his sister, his scent joining with his mother’s and sister’s. Breezepelt’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Nighcloud, but she looked down at the snow. Kyestorm wondered why mother and son lacked the bond she and her kits shared. If they never possessed such, it explained some of their cantankerous nature.
“Well done, Daughter,” Kyestorm meowed. “We must move along. May StarClan light your path always.”
“Yours, too, Kyemama, and Phantomstrike!” Smokewind meowed cheerfully. “Good hunting and give my other silly brothers my love!”
“I will.” Kyestorm reluctantly turned away from the WindClan patrol, pride and longing warring within her. Phantomstrike gazed after his sister, and lashed his tail. Smokewind and her patrol disappeared up the stream, and Kyestorm’s delight in her daughter’s success won out. Even Nightcloud and Breezepelt appeared well-fed, so Smokewind succeeded in teaching her new Clan to catch the elusive deer.
“Come, Phantomstrike.” Kyestorm meowed. Phantomstrike turned away from the stream, and took his place beside Lionblaze, who gazed at them, admiration in his eyes. Kyestorm felt the irresistible desire to check up on her other daughters.
“Let’s check the ShadowClan border,” Kyestorm begged. “The little Muntjac deer like it over there better.”
“Sure,” Lionblaze shrugged, and nodded, staying on the well-broken path edging the territory. They veered off the track, and Phantomstrike broke trail as thy followed the western edge of the territory. Lionblaze, Spiderleg and Kyestorm marked the border. Kyestorm peered into the forest, flicking her ears, listening for foxes, badgers, rogue cats and coyotes. She heard and scented nothing. They reached the stream bordering ShadowClan territory, and turned down toward the lake, reinforcing the territory line, and looking out for prey. A sudden hiss halted Kyestorm.
“Who comes so close to ShadowClan land?”
“I do! Kyestorm of Thunderclan!” Kyestorm answered, a thrill shooting through her when she recognized Indipaw’s voice.
“And I, Phantomstrike of ThunderClan,” Phantomstrike added, his pelt fluffing with excitement.
“Kyemama? Phantomp. . oops, Phantomstrike?” Indipaw’s huge head broke from the brush on the other side of the stream. Her patrol materialized around her. Kyestorm recognized Snowpaw, Pinepaw and Scorchfur. Scorchfur looked annoyed, and Kyestorm knew her daughter broke protocol, and probably not for the first time. In Scorchfur’s eyes, she saw resignation as well, and wanted to mrrow with mirth. She glanced back at Lionblaze, and saw the same expression in her patrol leader’s golden eyes.
“Indipaw!” Kyestorm mewed with delight, echoed by Phantomstrike.
“I’m Indiclaw now, a warrior,” Indiclaw meowed, a ring of pride in her voice. “As are Snowsquall and Pineshadow.”
“Congratulations on becoming Warriors!” Kyestorm exclaimed, before dropping her voice. “I wish I could have been at your ceremony.”
“Me, too,” Indiclaw mewed. “Rowanstar is proud of me, and I know you and Demonpoppa are, too.”
“I sure am!” Phantomstrike added, his sea-green eyes shining.
“We all are,” Kyestorm murmured.
“I am sure at the next Gathering, he will mention ShadowClan’s new warriors.” Indiclaw waved her bushy tail. “Well met, Kyemama! Phantomstrike!”
“Stay safe, Indiclaw! You, too, Snowsquall. I expect to meet your kits next New Leaf!” Kyestorm yowled.
“Don’t rush things, Kyemama!” Indiclaw mrrowed in mirth, but Kyestorm caught a sly smile slanting Snowsquall’s eyes.
“Have you seen your sister?” Kyestorm blurted out the question.
“Yes, if you mean Bluefrost. She’s a warrior now, too.” Indiclaw puffed her long fur with pride. “We see each other almost every day on patrol. Have you seen Smokepaw?”
“Give Bluefrost my love. Smokepaw is Smokewind now, and leads a patrol,” Kyestorm meowed, wanting to touch noses with Indiclaw, but knew Indiclaw still disliked any physical contact. Her scent swirled with her love for her kit, and Indiclaw inhaled it, returning the favor, with a lash of her tail. Phantomstrike moved to the edge of the stream, head stretching toward his sister. They exchanged feline smiles and the joyous scents swirled around them.
“That is wonderful. I always knew Smokewind would run those moors!” Indiclaw glanced at her brother. “Fine warrior name, Brother!”
“Yours, too,” Phantomstrike replied.
“Take good care. Remember I love you always,” Kyestorm said, emotion filling her heart.
“I love you too, Kyemama!” Indiclaw called, then turned and vanished with her silent patrol into ShadowClan’s territory. “You, too, big brother!”
“Good hunting and stay safe!” Kyestorm called after her temperamental daughter, as she and her patrol moved off downstream.
“We will,” came a sharp yowl of reply.
“Great StarClan!” Lionblaze exclaimed. “She is bigger than you!” He glanced at Phantomstrike. “Almost your size!”
“I knew she would be. She has her father’s build and strength.” Kyestorm replied.
“But not his personality!” Spiderleg guffawed. “She’s a wild lightning strike! Someday she will be Leader.”
“Really?” Kyestorm shook her head. “She’s far too impulsive. Maybe Smokewind, or Phantomstrike, but not Indiclaw.”
“Not me.” Phantomstrike shook his head. “Demonpoppa says I am too reckless.”
“Ah, but you’re young. Your sister is the perfect ShadowClan cat, impulsive, quick-tempered and proud. And fortunately, unlike most of them, not in a bad way. She’d straighten them all out.” Lionblaze agreed with Spiderleg, then motioned with his tail. “We have some hunting to do.”
“Of course,” Kyestorm agreed, but unable to think of anything but her daughters.
Kyestorm followed her clanmates along the lakeshore. She gazed with longing across the frozen lake toward RiverClan.
“I know you want to go there, Kyemama. So do I.” Phantomstrike mewed softly. “But we’ll see her at the Gathering.”
“I know,” Kyestorm sighed, and capitulated. She eyed her gargantuan son who already stood taller than his father. His lithe long body showed his youth, but Kyestorm knew maturity would bring weight and strength to that big body. She waved her tail. “Find somewhere to burrow in the snow. We shall catch deer this day.”
“Sure,” Phantomstrike agreed and scanned the terrain. He hurried up ahead to Lionblaze and pointed out a thicket with a huge drift nearby. Lionblaze nodded.
“Fine. You two can do that. We’ll head up hill and hide in that tree.” Lionblaze pointed his tail at a gnarled oak just past the thicket. Phantomstrike agreed, and waited for Kyestorm.
“ Sounds good,” Kyestorm mewed. “Come on. Let’s get into that drift from the other side.”
Phantomstrike nodded and they broke trail to the far side of the drift. Kyestorm noticed her patrolmmates leaping into the stout oak. She and her son reached the drift and quickly burrowed into it, stopping when their muzzles barely broke the other side. Kyestorm saw the thicket, full of dead leaves, old seedpods, and twigs. She settled into a crouch, ready to spring, and waited. Phantomstrike hunched beside her, and she felt his body quivering from growing impatience. He shifted his feet several times.
“Keep still,” she whispered. The wait grew long, and trickles of snow melt seeped into her thick coat. She resisted the urge to shake herself, but knew she needed to move before her paws went numb. Sunhigh passed, and Kyestorm stifled the urge to lash her tail. Cold crept up her toes and into her paws, reaching into her lower legs, but she twitched not one muscle.
“Kyemama, look.” Phantomstrike’s voice barely reached a mumble. Kyestorm moved her eyes and saw a small herd of Muntjac deer moving to the thicket. The little herd of seven stopped and nibbled at the thickets. A small doe moved within range and Kyestorm hissed.
Phantomstrike shot out of the drift like a lightning bolt, but Kyestorm saw nothing after that, when her paws slipped on the slush under her. She flopped unceremoniously onto her chest, paws outstretched. Snow exploded in a wave ahead of her, sparkling in the after-noon-high sun. The deer scattered.
“Fox dung!” she swore in a frustrated hiss, angry she did not obey her instincts to shift her feet. She scrabbled to her paws in a spray of snow, and saw Phantomstrike grappling with the little doe, straddling it on its back like a cougar from her old home across the Great Waters. She bounded over to him, shaking her coat free of slush, and attacked from the front, braving the doe’s flailing hooves. One struck her chest while the other swished by her head. She closed swiftly and latched her claws into the deer’s neck pulling its head down, funneling her anger into every action. The doe’s legs caved, and she dropped to the snow. Phantomstrike delivered the killing bite to the throat. Kyestorm stood back.
“Well done!” she meowed.
“What happened?” Phantomstrike asked. “I thought you were right next to me.”
“I stupidly did not move my paws around, so the snow melted and turned to slippery slush! I fell on my face!” Kyestorm hissed at herself, then mrrrowed with sudden mirth. “Glad you didn’t listen to me.”
“I . . ."
“Heeeeey!” An interrupting yowl came from Lionblaze near the gnarled oak. “Assistance pleeeeease!”
Kyestorm and Phantomstrike raced over to their clanmates, to find them struggling to down a very young buck. Spiderleg rode the buck’s back while Lionblaze strove to get a hold on the buck’s neck. The feisty deer kicked and head-butted in fury, keeping Lionblaze at bay. Phantomstrike charged in from the side, and leaped, smashing his bulk into the buck’s shoulder, rolling the prey into the snow. Kyestorm closed from the opposite side, and the four hunters quickly dispatched the buck.
“Thanks!” Lionblaze sat down, catching his breath. “Two of us are not quite enough with the larger ones.”
“I caught a doe, but even I had trouble alone.” Phantomstrike purred his laughter. “Kyemama fell down! Left me to handle it alone.”
“Funny,” Kyestorm growled with good humor. “Come on. Let’s get our fresh kill home.”
Lionblaze and Phantomstrike dragged the little buck, and Kyestorm and Spiderleg hauled the doe back to camp. They passed the drift and all the evidence lay clear in the snow. Lionblaze guffawed.
“How did you fall?”
“Stupid mistake,” Kyestorm grumbled. “I kept so still I never shifted my feet as I should. The snow turned to slush and when I leaped, my feet slipped and I fell forward in a big mouse-brained furry heap.”
“I wish I’d seen that!” Spiderleg purred. “Oh mighty hunter flopping like an six-moon old apprentice!”
“Did it feel like flying?’ Lionblaze chittered. “Get enough lift to go airborne?”
“Yes!” Kyestorm exclaimed. “Up and flat on my chest, face in the snow!”
Kyestorm mrrrowed in laughter with her clanmates. The more she thought about how she must have appeared, the funnier it struck her. By time they climbed the slope to the hollow, they all laughed like silly kits.
“Great catches!” Kyestorm recognized Ivypool’s voice. “What under StarClan is so funny?”
“Me,” Kyestorm looked up at the two sentries. Ivypool purred, in response to the laughing. Her co-sentry, Poppyfrost, just stared. Kyestorm felt her features relax into a full feline smile. “It really was funny, and very stupid on my part. Thanks to my son, though, we didn’t lose the prey!”
“And I saw nothing,” Phantomstrike griped, his sea-green eyes mere slits. “Missed Kyemama’s flight into failure!”
Ivypool and Poppyfrost hurried forward to help drag the prey into camp, and the six warriors hauled it to the Feasting Rock. Bramblestar’s patrol returned, just as they dropped the fresh kill. Demonstreak carried a small fawn, hauling it to the fresh kill pill. Bramblestar hurried to the doe and buck sprawled over the Feasting Rock, delight in his expression.
“We shall feast today.” he exclaimed, then motioned to the busy medicine cats who returned from searching for herbs. They secured their finds, and Leafpool led them over.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Eat well before traveling to the Moonpool tonight,” Bramblestar said, motioning at the fresh kill with a flick of his tail. Kyestorm glanced up at the sun, which hung low over the western horizon. She knew Leafpool planned to depart shortly after moonrise.
“No need to tell us twice!” Gentlepaw meowed with eagerness. Alderheart and Jayfeather ambled up behind them.
“At this rate, I’m going to be as plump as a kittypet,” Jayfeather grumbled, but Kyestorm heard the anticipation in his gruff voice.
By sundown, the remainder of the patrols returned, and the entire Clan gathered around the Feasting Rock to enjoy another enormous meal. Bramblestar sliced open the buck, and the clan dove into the meal, following protocol. Happy meowing and chattering echoed in the hollow. Kyestorm settled beside Demonstone, enjoying a section of haunch. Once they gorged themselves on the meat, Demonstone broke the bone on the rock to access the marrow, sharing chunks with the elders. Kyestorm watched Purdy gnaw his share with worn teeth, noting the thick fur and filled out flanks on the once shabby old tom. Everyone looked as healthy and plump as a kittypet, though Kyestorm kept that thought to herself.
Kyestorm turned at Gentlepaw’s voice, and faced her son. Leafpool and Alderheart flanked him. Kyestorm glanced up and noted the half moon hanging low over the top of the cliffs, bathing the snow in silver light.
“Oh, Gentlepaw,” Kyestorm mewled with distress. “I wish I could witness your ceremony.”
“I do, too,” Gentlepaw blinked at her. “Think of me as you fall asleep tonight.” His voice dropped. “You’ll see.”
“You know I will,” Kyestorm answered, frowning briefly with confusion. She glanced up at the sky again, noting more silver lined clouds moving on the winds. “Travel safe, my son.”
“We will,” Gentlepaw assured her. “As long as things go as normal, Leafpool thinks we should be back long before the snow flies.”
“Good,” Kyestorm eyed him, seeing a flash of concern in his golden-amber eyes. She knew he sensed the far off storm, instinctively recognizing the scents on the wind as she did. “Be safe.”
“I promise,” Gentlepaw meowed.
“Come, let’s move,” Leafpool urged. “We don’t want to be late.”
“Of course,” Gentlepaw whirled, and followed his mentor out of camp. Alderheart hurried after them, leaving Jayfeather alone to sort and secure the herb stores. Kyestorm watched, wanting to follow, but her stuffed stomach rooted her to the ground. She yawned.
“Come,” Demonstone spoke up. “We are in the sentry rotation late tonight. We should rest.”
“Agreed,” Kyestorm rose, and bid her lounging clanmates a good night and retired to the Warrior’s den. She settled in next to her mate, and drowsed. Many warriors followed suit, and soon the den filled with furry bodies and the den warmed up. Kyestorm thought about her son traveling, and concern flashed through her. She soon drifted off to sleep, with him firmly in her thoughts.
Post by phantomstar57 on Jul 29, 2016 15:41:28 GMT -5
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NEW BLOOD - BORN OF SMOKE & FIRE
Chapter TEN - THIRTEEN
♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ CHAPTER TEN : BLIZZARD
Kyestorm’s dream opened up before her slumbering mind. The half moon bathed the world in silver light, as she moved out of the forest onto the open moors. Everything felt so real, as she experienced the trek through her son’s senses. Gentlepaw climbed the trail up the stony, icy path, following Leafpool and Alderheart. Kyestorm briefly wondered why Gentlepaw’s official mentor, Jayfeather, opted not to go this time. Gentlepaw flashed her a memory of the grouchy medicine’s cat’s retort to the same question posed by Leafpool.
“He’s already a medicine cat. Go in my place,” he grumbled. “You don’t need me every single half-moon do you? I have work to do.”
“He can’t admit he felt anxious to slogging through the cold snow and ice that changes the paths,” Gentlepaw explained. “I don’t blame him.”
Kyestorm merely purred understanding and focused on the event. The wind moaned over the rocks, and Gentlepaw scented the air, eyeing the clouds that gathered on the northwestern horizon. Kyestorm agreed with his uneasiness, catching the strong scent of snow on the wind. He placed judicious big paws on the path, avoiding icy rocks and snow-covered holes. Other cautious pawsteps alerted Gentlepaw and he glanced behind him, noting the hesitant steps of other medicine cats; Willowshine, Littlecloud, Puddlepaw and Kestrelflight.
Puddlepaw walked behind Littlecloud, who picked his way up the trail with shaky steps. The ancient ShadowClan medicine cat paused every few strides to shake the snow from his tiny paws, and to catch his breath. Gentlepaw worried for the wizened little tom, wondering why he made this arduous trek in the first place. After Alderheart returned from his quest, Gentlepaw helped save Littlecloud’s life as a kit, by defying his elders and pouncing on the old cat’s chest. From somewhere deep inside, he channeled his emotions, able to somehow convert the energy around him into very strong sparks that snapped from the tips of his claws zapping Littlecloud. Before anyone moved a muscle to intervene, Littlecloud’s body jerked, his heart started beating again, and he gasped for air. Kyestorm flinched at this memory, struggling to stay with Gentlepaw. She calmed, realizing Gentlepaw barely understood what occurred that day. He worked on this ability ever since, and never hid it from his mentors. They left it to him and StarClan, since they understood nothing of what he accomplished. He concentrated on his skills, finding he gained more power during storms and in very cold dry conditions.
“Sorry Kyemama,” his mindvoice whispered to her. “I was told not to tell.”
“No matter.” Kyestorm purred back, astounded at her son’s capabilities. Since that day he saved Littlecloud, he insisted the elder treat his cough aggressively. Littlecloud followed the instructions to take Gentlepaw’s own concoction of juniper berry, colts foot, and dandelion, pulling himself from the brink of death. Littlecloud recovered, but walked the thin line between life and StarClan ever since. Thankfully Puddlepaw showed interest in medicine, becoming his apprentice at his Clan leader's urging while Littlecloud lay in his deathnest.
Gentlepaw turned his attention forward, as Leafpool and Alderheart led him past the trail head into a small clearing. The Moonpool shimmered, as the wind blew snow from a drift across its glassy frozen surface. Rocky cliffs rose up behind the pool, and Gentlepaw noticed the deep snows clinging to the ledges and outcrops. Leafpool halted in a small sandy spot beneath the cliff, and faced her apprentice. The other medicine cats sat behind her and Littlecloud, watching respectfully, expressions full of delight. Gentlepaw halted and sat down in front of Leafpool, only briefly aware of Littlecloud’s raspy voice speaking to Puddlepaw, and suddenly understood why Littlecloud came to the Moonpool tonight. Leafpool raised her voice so it echoed over the Moonpool, breaking Gentlepaw’s thoughts.
“I, Leafpool, medicine cat of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice, Gentlepaw. He has trained hard to understand the ways of a medicine cat, and with your help, Gentlepaw will serve his Clan, as he has already done since kithood, for many moons.”
“Gentlepaw, do you promise to uphold the ways of a medicine cat, to stand apart from rivalry between Clans, and to protect all cats equally, even at the cost of your life?
“Yes, I do,” Gentlepaw answered, amber eyes shining, his voice soft.
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your true name as a medicine cat. Gentlepaw, from this moment, you will be known as Gentleoak. StarClan honors your intelligence, intuitiveness, empathy, stoic strength, gentle touch, and amazing skills. We welcome you as a full medicine cat of ThunderClan.”
Leafpool rested her chin on Gentleoak’s, head, and he licked her shoulder. Alderheart, Kestrelflight, Puddlepaw, Littlecloud, Mothwing and Willowshine walked up to Gentleoak.
“Only a matter of formality,” Alderheart said with a beaming feline smile. “Welcome, Gentleoak.”
“Gentleoak, we are happy to see you here this half moon,” Willowshine said.
“Greetings and welcome,” Mothwing mewed, touching his nose.
“Gentleoak, we welcome you.” Littlecloud greeted Gentleoak, stretching his muzzle up to his. Gentleoak lowered his head to touch noses. Littlecloud’s sunken eyes slanted into a smile. “You’re so opposite your sister. But we all love Indiclaw. She is a fine warrior.”
“I’m glad she is happy. My brothers and I do miss her.” Gentleoak replied, then sensed another moving up beside Littlecloud.
“I am happy you finally joined our ranks,” Puddlepaw mewed. “We’ve all known you would. I too, have received my true medicine cat name this night. I am Puddleshine.”
“I welcome you, Gentleoak,” Kestrelflight meowed, his eyes squinting into a smile. “I know you miss Smokewind, too, but she is a fine asset to WindClan. She can outrun us all, and can snatch a rabbit up before it dives into its burrow. And I don’t think I need to embellish what she has taught us in catching those fleet deer.”
“I welcome you, too.” Willowshine interjected, her eyes twinkling. “Your sister Bluefrost is a fine addition to RiverClan. She can break holes in the ice where no cat has done before. She says her father taught her to throw rocks for fun! We are in your parents’ and Clan’s debt for allowing her to join us.”
“I don’t think anyone was going to stop my sisters from following their hearts,” Gentleoak meowed, a laugh shaking his voice. The others nodded in full agreement.
“Come. Time to meet StarClan and receive your blessings.” Leafpool interrupted, and gestured at the frozen pool with her tail. “Place your paws on the ice and touch the pool with your muzzle.”
Kyestorm felt Gentleoak’s eagerness as he obeyed and stepped onto the edge of the pool. Ice crackled and tinkled, and the clear ice reflected the moonlight and starlight which filled the small gorge. He spotted Mothwing sitting beside the pool, blinking, then she yawned. Gentleoak squashed a stab of annoyance. He wondered why she still disbelieved in StarClan, especially after the events of the Last Battle with the Dark Forest which should have drilled the truth into her skull. He glanced at Puddleshine, who returned the glance, apprehension in his eyes. Gentleoak purred reassurance.
“Don’t be afraid,” he murmured, then placed his huge golden-brown paws with the black toe tufts on the ice and lay on his belly. He dropped his muzzle to the ice, and closed his eyes. His mind quickly drifted. After a moment of dark, Gentleoak’s vision cleared, and Kyestorm saw nothing of the other Medicine cats. Gentleoak stood up, glancing around, and Kyestorm felt his awe.
The Moonpool shone, released from its icy grip, reflecting Silverpelt, the half moon and hundreds of starry figures poised on the stones and craggy cliffs. Kyestorm recognized Firestar, Bluestar, Blackstar and Tallstar. Another cat joined them, a grey she-cat with a messy unkept coat and amber eyes. Gentleoak reacted with recognition, while Kyestorm stared at the she-cat’s snub-nosed face. Her mind filled with questions concerning the she-cat’s obvious Persian ancestry, which explained her unkept appearance. Kyestorm understood well how maintaining Persian coats proved utterly impossible without two-leg help. Before Kyestorm thought anything else, Firestar led the StarClan cats to Gentleoak.
“Welcome, young Medicine cat, of new blood born of fire and smoke,” Firestar said. “We’re more than thrilled to finally meet you here, and not in your dreams.”
“About time you arrived here,” the old she-cat grumbled, eyeing him. “I’m Yellowfang. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
“I’m honored, and you’re no stranger to me,” Gentleoak replied, and Kyestorm felt his stab of worry, that they may realize he carried a passenger in his mind, especially short-muzzled Yellowfang. Kyestorm, nor Gentleoak, never forgot the tales of ThunderClan’s medicine cat who served the clan before they moved to the lake so many seasoncycles ago. She gave her life for her Clan in a horrible fire. “I’ll work hard and never give you reason to doubt your trust in me, and my family.”
“I know that. Your destiny sealed itself the day I met you as a tiny kit. Just remember what I’ve told you about your abilities. Never use it for harm on another cat,” The old she-cat insisted, then gazed sharply into Gentleoak’s eyes, flicking her ears before uttering a sharp mroow of mirth.
“Carrying a visitor are we?” Yellowfang bared the tips of her yellowed eyeteeth. “I’m impressed, but not sure I like this.”
“Sorry, “ Kyestorm murmured through her son. “I, I had to see this important event in his life. Don’t be angry with us.”
“You have never disappointed us, Gentleoak.” Firestar nodded slowly. “Nor you, Kyestorm. We know he lets you see through your dreams.”
“We understand,” Bluestar spoke up, shooting a glance at Yellowfang, stopping a retort. “It only shows how powerful your mind is, Gentleoak, to allow your beloved mother to witness. Show caution in revealing this, since some may wish to use it for ambitious purposes, but this shall be a wondrous aid to healing no other medicine cat has known.”
“I would never use it or my other ability to hurt anyone,” Gentleoak assured Bluestar.
“We know,” Yellowfang said, then leveled her piercing amber gaze on him. Kyestorm felt Yellowfang’s amusement and cantankerousness flash through her. “Kyestorm is it? Haarumph. Don’t fret yourself over my ancestry. My mother consorted with a pretty boy who blessed me with this wretched pelt. If I had a coat like yours or your son’s, . . .ahhh, no use wishing. Its done and over.”
“Sorry!” Kyestorm whispered in her son’s mind. “Tell her I’m sorry.”
“No need,” Yellowfang lifted a lip, her eyes flashing with approval. “You birthed a fine medicine cat, and your kind bring good blood to our Clans. We’ve needed it for a long time. Gentleoak, use your sharp mind and wit, and follow those instincts. We will watch your path, always.”
“Do allow me to greet this new young medicine cat,” a grey she-cat stepped forward. “Greetings, Gentleoak. I’m Cinderpelt.”
“I know of you,” Gentleoak replied. “Honored to meet you.”
“Always use your intuition and gifts, for it serves all medicine cats well. In you, I sense great depth and strength. Indeed, StarClan medicine cats shall light your path.”
“Thank you. I will not disappoint you,” Gentleoak looked over the group, amazed by so many starry shapes, and sparkling colors in their twinkling eyes.
Another cat stepped forward and Gentleoak recognized Sandstorm. She blinked sparkling green eyes.
“So good to see you both again,” she said. “Thank you Kyestorm, for not interfering with the orphaned kits at the gathering. That must play out, but since you’ve already altered what would have been, by driving off those rogues, I no longer worry so much for those kits. Surprises are ahead for them, and all of you.”
“We all miss you.” Gentleoak’s voice quivered, while Kyestorm wondered, what surprises?
“As I do all of you. “ Sandstorm nodded, then backed away as a tortoiseshell she-cat padded forward.
“Greetings to both of you. I’m Spottedleaf, ThunderClan’s medicine cat before the big move to the Lake. I wanted to commend you for thinking outside the circle in your concoctions. Just remember to think them out very carefully when you do so. Welcome, young Medicine cat.” Spottedleaf suddenly looked skyward. The starry cats flickered, and Kyestorm felt a cold breeze. Firestar stood up suddenly, uneasy, and scanned the heavens. Blackstar popped in between Firestar and Sandstorm.
“Lounging and gossiping, wasting time,” he warned with a growl. “Time to go!”
“Farewell, young Medicine cats,” Talllstar flowed in behind Firestar. “Hurry now. You must return home.”
“What?” Gentleoak meowed, dismayed as they winked out, leaving the Moonpool. The water rippled. Gentleoak strained his senses, but all the starry apparitions vanished, leaving the sparkling cliffs empty. He looked down at the Moonpool, and the ripples turned to waves.
“Gentleoak! Gentleoak! Wake up! Please wake up!” Leafpool’s alarmed tones stabbed into his mind. The sparkling pool and glittering rocks disappeared, and Gentleoak woke with a start. A cold wind whistled over the rocks and above, thick clouds covered the moon. Snow blew in, pelting the medicine cats in a barrage of fine particles. Gentleoak blinked, momentarily disoriented.
“Thank StarClan!” Leafpool explained, relief in her voice. “We’ve been trying to wake you!”
“I wouldn’t wake up?” Gentleoak leaped to his feet, and his shock and dismay lashed into Kyestorm. The ice tinkled beneath his enormous paws. He looked up at the roiling grey skies. “The storm!”
“It wasn’t supposed to come until tomorrow!” Leafool exclaimed.
“It is almost tomorrow!” Kyestorm said, and Gentleoak parroted her. “A wicked Nor’easter! Get home! Fast!”
“Come on!” Leafpool yowled and Gentleoak leaped down the path, astonished at how quickly the snow piled up.
“Was I out that long?” Gentleoak asked Alderheart, who ran at his side.
“Yes,” Alderheart answered. “Everyone woke before the snow started. At first we were reluctant to wake you for fear of disrupting something, but when the snow started, we kept shouting. We could not touch you. Everyone said no to that, but Leafpool was ready to break protocol. I’m just glad you finally woke up!”
“Me, too,” Gentleoak met Alderheart’s amber eyes, and Kyestorm felt his guilt. He glanced backward, and noticed Puddleshine and Kestrelflight walking slowly beside Littlecloud. Willowshine followed close behind. ShadowClan’s aged medicine cat shivered, and Gentleoak knew without a doubt, he might not make it home. As the medicine cats stepped slowly down the path, they halted, surveying the lands between them and home. Snow swirled out of the grey skies on a ferocious wind, blanketing the territories in yet more snow. Littlecloud’s shivering increased.
“I can’t make it,” he mewled, sinking to his belly. Gentleoak rushed to his side.
“I’ll carry you,” Gentleoak dropped beside the prone tom.
“I don’t think I can get through that either,” Willowshine said, and Gentleoak spun his head around to her. She trembled, her short fur sticking out, and for the first time, Gentleoak saw age in the RiverClan medicine cat. Leafpool glanced at him, unsure of herself, as a tremor passed through her body.
“It’s so cold,” Puddleshine added, his own white, red-brown spotted pelt puffed out. “I’m really worried about Littlecloud! How can we get him home through this?”
“What can we do?” Alderheart yowled. Kestrelflight stared toward his home, before looking at Leafpool. Snow coated his mottled grey pelt, and Gentleoak saw age in the WindClan medicine cat’s face.
“We should find shelter to ride out the storm,” he suggested
Gentleoak glanced at Littlecloud’s shaking body, and he thought, if I carry him, who will break trail? He looked at his companions and realized he needed help to get Littlecloud home safe. His mind lashed out in desperation.
“INDICLAW!!! SMOKEWIND” His cry bounced Kyestorm from his consciousness, and she jerked awake, thrashing, her tail slapping Demonstone’s flank.
“Gentleoak!” she wailed.
“Kyestorm! What’s wrong?” Demonstone asked, as the entire warrior den awoke. Outside the wind screamed through the trees, and in the dim light, snow swept across the hollow.
“Look! It’s halfway up the entrance!” Spiderleg cried out, his voice full of astonishment.
“The Medicine cats!” Kyestorm scrambled to her feet. “They are still up by the Moonpool!”
“They’ll be trapped!” Brackenfur exclaimed in horror. “The moon was out earlier! All was fine when they left!”
“This is a wicked bad storm, like the nor’easters we used to know.” Demonstone stood up. “Gentlepaw may get back, but Littlecloud and Willowshine . . .”
“We have to do something!” Kyestorm yowled, and plunged out into the belly deep new snow. Warriors behind her halted at the door, chattering in distress.
“ It’s so deep!” Birchfall meowed. “How’d it get so deep so fast?”
“It’s too much! It’s too cold!” Poppyfrost wailed, and shrank back into the warm den.
“In storms like this,” Kyestorm replied. “It can fall very fast. It will be much worse by morning.”
“Follow me,” Demonstone plunged out into the camp, leaping like a two-leg’s horse, plowing a trail toward Highledge. Only Kyestorm, Demonstreak and Phantomstrike followed. He raised his muzzle to the snowy skies and bellowed. “BRAMBLESTAR!”
ThunderClan’s leader appeared at the mouth of his den, flanked by Squirrelflight. Both gaped at the howling snowstorm a long moment. Bramblestar carefully stepped down the rocks to the bottom of the cliff. Snow sprayed off the rocks, swept into the air by the wind with each step they took.
“What is wrong? Why even come out into this?” he asked.
“The Medicine cats, along with Gentleoak, are still up by the Moonpool!” Kyestorm yowled in anguish. “Littlecloud! He’s so frail!”
“They’re not back yet?” Bramblestar asked, his eyes widening in surprise, before narrowing. “How do you know?”
“I watched Gentleoak’s ceremony. He let me tag along in his mind. Please, don’t be mad at him!” Kyestorm begged. “We have to go after them.”
“The snow is already very deep.” Bramblestar gazed around camp. Elders peeked out from their den, eyes wide. Jayfeather stumbled into the snow from the Medicine den.
“Great StarClan!” His exclamation, muffled by the snowfall, barely reached Kyestorm’s ears. “The medicine cats are still up near the Moonpool. They’re having trouble.”
“Kyemama!” Phantomstrike spoke up. “We can go. We’ll get them home, all of us, you, me, Demonstreak, and Demonpoppa!”
“Intruder!” the sentry by the entrance yowled. Kyestorm recognized Cloudtail’s voice as he suddenly greeted the unseen cats. “Indiclaw! Snowsquall?”
“Hallo, Cloudtail! Kyemama! Gentleoak needs us!” Indiclaw barreled through the entrance, Snowsquall on her heels. They halted in a spray of snow. “Littlecoud is in peril! Gentleoak can’t get them home by himself!”
“We’ll help, too,” a familiar voice floated up the slope.
“Bluefrost! Troutleap!” Cloudtail yowled, as Kyestorm’s smallest daughter plowed through the entrance, dwarfing Troutleap and Snowsquall.
“Gentleoak called us!” Bluefrost meowed.
“You must go,” Jayfeather said sternly, trudging through chest deep snow. “Kyestorm, you must try and connect with Gentleoak again so you know where to go. I’ll never find my way in this storm”
“How? I was asleep when he let me in on his ceremony!” Kyestorm danced in place.
“Concentrate,”Jayfeather answered sharply. “Call out to him in your mind.”
“I’ll try,” Kyestorm stopped moving, and closed her eyes. “Gentleoak! Gentleoak, where are you?”
Silence hung over the hollow, and Kyestorm listened to the wind, but nothing else came to her mind. Fear for her son flashed through her, and she ignored the shriek of the wind.
“Gentleoak, please, tell me how to get to you,” she mewed softly.
“Kyemama! We’re here,” Gentleoak’s voice whispered in her head. She focused, straining her ears, wishing Dovewing still possessed her powers. She struggled to see what he saw, but only swirling snow filled her vision. “I can’t tell where they are. Doesn’t anyone know how to get to the Moonpool?”
“I do,” Dovewing’s soft answer started Kyestorm. She opened her eyes and looked down at the pale grey she-cat. She stood in chest deep snow, already shivering.
“No, Dovewing,you’re shivering already. Of course I know the way,” Bramblestar added, then paced. His broad shoulders and chest pushed through the deepening snows. “All right, we should get moving. Squirrelflight, you are in charge of the camp while I’m gone.”
“We can’t risk you!” Squirrelflight jumped down the last of the rocks, halting in front of him.
“Yes, we can. I can’t risk losing perhaps one of the most skilled medicine cats in Clan history in Gentleoak, nor can we lose Leafpool and Alderheart. ShadowClan can’t lose Littlecloud and Puddlepaw! WindClan can’t lose Kestrelflight and RiverClan needs Willowshine and Mothwing!” Bramblestar headed for the entrance, head low, ears flattened against the wind. “Demonstone. You and I will lead. Kyestorm, Demonstreak, Indiclaw, and Phantomstrike, flank us and take turns breaking trail. Snowsquall, please stay in Indiclaw’s wake.”
“I’m coming,” Dovewing announced, running up beside Phantomstrike.
“Me, too!” Sparkpelt insisted, following Demonstreak. Bramblestar halted, glancing backward at the stubborn, shivering she-cats.
“No. Stay here. Is that clear?” Bramblestar commanded with a growl. The she-cats stared a long moment before bowing their heads in capitulation. Greywind held his head up, braving Bramblestar’s glare.
“I’ll come,” Greywind announced, bursting from the warrior’s den, waving his fluffy tail. “I am not large, but I can withstand the cold, and I’m strong.”
“All right,” Bramblestar agreed, eyeing the young one’s broad stocky body. “Let’s go.”
Kyestorm followed him out of the camp, and turned northeast into the forest. She and Demonstone surged to the front when Bramblestar sank to his neck in a drift.
“Mousedung,” he sputtered. “How are you two not floundering like a Riverclan fish out of water?”
“These!” Kyestorm raised one massive paw, while Demonstone helped Bramblestar out of the drift. She spread her furry tufted toes. “Our housefolk used to say we have natural snowshoes!”
“Snowshoes? Shoes?” Greywind asked. “What are those, Kyemama?”
“Housefolk put stiff pelts on their feet,” Kyestorm answered, and remembered why she felt the need to keep the deerhides. “Made out of something like the deerskins. They have naked weak feet.”
“Two-legs are just utterly weird,” Bramblestar muttered, and shook his thick short pelt. “Lead on, warriors.”
Kyestorm and Demonstone stood side by side, then heaved themselves ahead, packing a path though the deepening snow. Kyestorm flattened her ears to her head, eager to help her clanmates, desperate to find her son.
“Leaving without us?” Kyestorm recognized Onestar’s voice. She spun around, and her heart jumped. Smokewind stood with him several foxlengths down the plowed trail, tall and unfazed by the snows and wind. Rowanstar and Mistystar stood behind them. Indiclaw leaped down to her Clan leader.
“Follow in my wake, please! Stay safe!” Indiclaw meowed.
“Lead on, Warrior.” Rowanstar nodded, his eyes gentle.
The group trudged though the snows, making headway up the slope toward the Moonpool. In tandem, Kyestorm and Demonstone plowed ahead, their huge paws and bodies cutting a path through the deep fluffy snow. Bramblestar trudged behind them, unable to handle the constant trailbreaking, despite his broad build. Kyestorm and Demonstone plowed ahead, breaking through a huge drift. They reached the edge of the trees, and hesitated, gazing at the white-out conditions over the open moorland.
“Keep the trees on our left,” Bramblestar said. “We should reach the stream soon.” He eyed Kyestorm and Demonstone, who both heaved for breath. “Fall back, Warriors. Demonstreak, Phantomstrike! Your turn!”
Kyestorm gratefully allowed her sons to take over. They surged to the front of the procession, and took over the lead. They broke path, lumbering like a pair of big two-leg horses. Kyestorm turned to Demonstone.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Just winded, like you. Otherwise, I am fine.”
Kyestorm moved into a brisk walk, catching her breath as she followed the group on the packed snow. Both of her sons possessed larger paws than hers, and Phantomstrike’s surpassed his father’s in size and width. The two young warriors called out to their brother, but the wind whisked the cries away, muffling every sound except the moaning roaring winds. A cough sounded behind them and Kyestorm turned her head.
“You should have stayed back at camp,” Bluefrost admonished Mistystar, causing Troutleap to gape at her brashness.
“Nonsense,” Mistystar snorted. “I’m fine. This air is just so cold, and I’m not a young kit anymore.”
“Kyeeemammmaaa!” whispered through Kyestorm’s mind. She faced forward, ears up.
“Gentleoak! Gentleoak!” she yowled into the wind.
“Here!” came the faint answer. Kyestorm focused on her inner vision and from her son’s view, she saw trees. Snow obscured landmarks, blurring distant detail, but the medicine cats hunkered in a copse of trees. She saw Littlecloud hunched with Willowshine and Puddleshine between Gentleoak and Alderheart, shivering. Kestrelflight, Mothwing, and Leafpool stood, shielding him, opposite a large rock protruding from the ground, which protected them from direct exposure to the wind. Snow coated all the medicine cats. Gentleoak and used his bushy tail to brush the snow from Littlecloud’s back, and draped it over him, trying to protect his frail form from the storm.
“They’re in a group of trees! The stream is there and the slope rises behind them.” Kyestorm surged to Bramblestar’s side. ThunderClan’s leader raised his weary head.
“I know that place.” Bramblestar glanced back at his fellow Clan leaders, then called out to Demonstreak and Phantomstrike. “We all do. Head to the stream. Follow it!”
Kyestorm swelled with pride as her youngsters churned through the snows, showing little sign of fatigue. Ahead, the brook wove through the landscape like a dark, broken ribbon. They followed it northward. The wind screamed across the open moorland, pelting them with fine snow. Everyone soon wore an mantle of white, and Snowsquall nearly vanished under the covering. Only his vivid yellow eyes gave away his position. Ahead, a shadow loomed out of the gloom, and Kyestorm recognized trees.
Upstream the brook forked, and Kyestorm knew the lower tributary led to the Moonpool. They halted at the stream bank. Kyestorm looked down at the ice, noticing the thin ribbon of open water in the center. The bank on the far side sported a wind-sculpted dune that curved over the bank like a wave. The cats moved slowly upstream, until a cluster of windswept stones broke the flat surface.
“We cross here.” Bramblestar indicated the icy boulders.
“Remember to use these, and be careful.” Kyestorm raised a large paw, extending her claws. Demonstreak led the procession along with his brother. They leaped from stone to stone with ease, purposely clawing at the ice, breaking some free. It tinkled to the frozen stream. They plunged to the other side, opening up a new trail. Bramblestar followed, scrabbling a few times on the slippery surfaces. Mistystar, Troutleap, and Bluefrost followed. Mistystar let out a yowl, as she slipped. Bluefrost shot out her head like a striking snake, and grabbed her Clan leader by the scruff, hauling her back to the top of the stone. Indiclaw landed on the rock, lending assistance in steadying Mistystar. Kyestorm noted the wide-eyed surprise on Snowsquall’s face, amused that Indiclaw continued to shock her mate.
“Mousedung, I am not as young as I used to be,” the RiverClan Leader grumbled, shaking off the enormous paw holding her. “Thank you.”
“Great catch, Warriors,” Onestar commented in a grunt, carefully joining them on the big rock. Smokewind landed behind them, her large paws nimble, her tail up and waving for balance. Kyestorm jumped up, as the procession continued to meticulously cross the stream. Demonstone leaped after her, followed by Greywind. Greywind tapped the ice, and Demonstone turned.
“Don’t risk it,” he meowed into the wind. Kyestorm watched, as Greywind leaped over the frozen expanse to the rock. Strong muscles rippled under this thick pelt, covering a stocky frame, and Kyestorm noted how much Greywind presented a bigger, more powerful version of his father. Kyestorm uttered a purr pf delight, knowing spending his kithood with her huge kits produced such strength in the young tom. She turned her attention to the front of the procession and saw her two sons steadily breaking trail along the stream, heading straight for a copse of trees.
“Halloooo Gentleoak!!” Demonstreak yowled into the winds.”Alderheart!”
“Here!” Gentleoak’s bellow drifted to them from the copse. Phantomstrike and Demonstreak increased the pace, and in a short time, reached the medicine cats. Kyestorm surged up to her sons as they headed into the little clump of trees and brush. She spotted Gentleoak first, his amber eyes glowing like beacons in the swirling grey. She barreled into the copse.
“Kyemama!” Gentleoak and Alderheart cried in unison. “Demonstreak! Phantomstrike! Bramblestar!”
“Demonpoppa, Indiclaw! Smokewind! Greywind! You all came!” Gentleoak exclaimed, and swept more snow from Littlecloud’s back. Indiclaw surged to the front, and dropped to her chest in front of Littlecloud and Puddleshine.
“Can you get on my back?” she asked Littlecloud. Suddenly Phantomstrike stood before her.
“Let me carry him. I can make the crossing carrying him.” Indiclaw bowed her head to her big brother in affirmative. Phantomstrike turned solemn sea-green eyes to Littlecloud, who gazed up, shivering violently. “Do you have the strength to cling to my neck?”
“I think so,” Littlecloud answered, and pushed himself to his feet. Ice hung from his ears and tail. He shook himself, and clambered onto Phantomstrike’s broad back. He wrapped his paws around Phantomstrike’s massive furry neck and dug in. Phantomstrike flung his enormous tail over his back, covering Littlecloud. The small tom sighed with appreciation.
“All right, we walk three abreast, and keep one of these frozen medicine cats between you.” Bramblestar took control, organizing the pairs.
“Agreed,” Onestar added. “Smokewind, take point with Kestrelflight.”
“Bluefrost, assist your sister with Willowshine,” Mistystar suggested. Bluefrost nodded, and bounded over to Indiclaw. Snowsquall and Troutleap closed in behind their mates, shielding Willowshine and Mothwing from the wind.
“Please, Phantomstrike, don’t drop Littlecloud,” Rowanstar said, then eyed his medicine cat. “Why you had to come I don’t know.”
“I’ve come for countless seasons, and never missed a trip. I wasn’t going to miss Puddleshine’s ceremony,” Littlecloud replied, his strained voice shaking with cold.
“Never,” Phantomstrike assured the ShadowClan Leader. “I have my tail pressed against him. He’s so small its like holding a kit in place!”
In moments, the leaders finished yowling out orders with flawless precision, and the feline posse set out, traveling back down the trail through the deepening snows. The wind roared across the moor, battering the feline caravan, sucking heat from their bodies. Kestrelflight walked between Smokewind and Gentleoak. Willowshine shuffled between Bluefrost and Indiclaw, with Snowsquall and Troutleap behind her, shielding Mothwing and Puddleshine who ambled between them. Mistystar and Greywind trotted on either side of Alderheart. Rowanstar trotted beside Phantomstrike, watching Littlecloud with concern. Kyestorm and Demonstone sandwiched Leafpool, who shivered violently. Bramblestar took the lead, using his broad-chested and wide-shouldered body to plow through any drifts that accumulated in the long path back to camp. Onestar traveled beside him, assisting. They moved swiftly on the downhill slope.
Bramblestar and Onestar paused on the stream bank, then leaped ahead, bounding from rock to rock, brushing fresh snow from their surfaces. Kyestorm watched nervously as Phantomstrike glided from rock to rock, every bit of his playfulness shuttered, as he carried Littlecloud safely across the stream. Kyestorm scurried across with Demonstone, relieved when everyone reached the other bank safely. They followed the trail back to the trees, and finally back into the forest. The trees broke the ferocity of the wind, and the group moved faster on the trail. Warmed by their companions, Leafpool and Willowshine stopped shivering and Kestrelflight moved with some spring in his step. Onestar stopped where the forest thinned to the east. The wind drove snow through the gap in the trees.
“We’ll go home from here.” Onestar said. “Thank you all for helping rescue our medicine cat.”
“We worked four clans as one, once again.” Bramblestar nodded. “To rescue all of our medicine cats.”
“May StarClan light your paths home!” Onestar moved off, heading down to WindClan’s camp down the hill. Smokewind waved her tail at her siblings, and followed Onestar and Kestrelflight across the moor. Onestar paused once, and waved his tail in salute, before heading down the open moors to his camp. In moments the blizzard swallowed them, and they vanished from sight. Mistystar eyed the way home dubiously, and Kyestorm saw a tremor shake the RiverClan leader’s body. She thought of the long trek down to the lake and around to get to RiverClan’s territory, and she shivered, shaking out her long thick pelt.
“Come with us. Shelter overnight,” Kyestorm blurted out the invitation.
“I shall consider it, but only if Bramblestar agrees.” Mistystar nodded, hope in her tired features, as group turned back down into the forest. The wind swirled around them, less intense.
“Of course I will allow it. I insist. We have deer meat,” Bramblestar said, and led them into camp.
“How can we resist that invitation,” Mistystar answered, her eyes lighting up. Bluefrost and Troutleap exchanged glances of anticipation, and Kyestorm eyed them with understanding. Who in their right minds would decline a deer meat meal? Bramblestar led them down to the hollow.
“Hallo! We’re back!” Bramblestar announced, forestalling the sentries’ queries. He nodded at Birchfall and Lionblaze. They dipped their heads, acknowledging all the Leaders, before gazing up at Phantomstrike and his passenger. Cats peered out of dens, but none braved the deep snows to greet the returning rescue party. Bramblestar looked up at his den, where Squirrelflight peeked down, her green eyes shining with pride and delight. Bramblestar turned to Rowanstar.
“Let Littelcloud stay in our medicine den. Jayfeather and Gentleoak will look him over. Take a meal and rest before going home.”
“Agreed,” Rowanstar nodded, and with a tail flick, told Phantomstrike to carry Littlecloud to the medicine den. Kyestorm saw Littlecloud lose his grip, just as they passed over the threshold. Jayfeather’s gruff scolding rose briefly above the wind, and Rowanstar merely lashed his tail as he allowed Littlecloud to fall on his body. Phantomstrike picked up the little medicine cat by the scruff, and carried him like a kit into the medicine den. Puddleshine, Indiclaw and Snowsquall followed.
“We’ll keep him warm,” Indiclaw’s loud imperious meow drifted on the wind.
“Your warrior name should have been Indibrat,” Jayfeather’s grouchy retort followed. “But I can’t disagree, so yes, stay with him. Snowsquall, get him some fresh kill.”
Snowsquall ran from the medicine den and, halted, scanning the camp. Kyestorm held back an amused mew. She flicked her tail at the big hump of snow hiding the feasting rock.
“Thank you, Kyemama!” Snowsquall replied in gleeful tones, his yellow eyes glittering with mischievous intent.
“Welcome, Son,” Kyestorm yowled cheerfully, watching his tail flag in answer. He dug into the snow-covered fresh kill pile and dragged out a Roe deer fawn haunch. Grasping the leg in his jaws, he pulled it across camp and into the medicine den.
“Leafpool, go get warm.” Bramblestar insisted, drawing Kyestorm’s attention. “Before Jayfeather comes after you.”
“I will, “ Leafpool answered, attention on Willowshine. “Come, get warm. Have a meal. The trek back to RiverClan will be long in this storm.”
Leafpool, Mothwing, and Willowshine trudged through the snow to the medicine den, passing Rowanstar as he exited. Rowanstar stopped in front of Bramblestar.
“I’m heading back to ShadowClan camp.” he said.
“Alone?” Kyestorm asked, exchanging glances with Bramblestar.
“Yes, I’m fine. I want to get back to Tawnypelt and the kits.” Rowanstar lifted his head, gazing toward his territory, peering through the thick snow.
“Understood,” Bramblestar meowed, and gestured at the fresh kill pile where a Muntjac deer leg stuck out of the snow. “Take some fresh kill home to them.”
“Thank you,” Rowanstar accepted, uncharacteristically gracious. He took the leg and dragged it toward the entrance. He paused. “Tell Indiclaw that she, Puddleshine, and Snowsquall may stay as long as Littlecloud needs rest. Then they may bring him home.”
“Of course,” Bramblestar dipped his head. Kyestorm wanted to squeal like a kit at the respect both leaders showed each other. She hoped this attitude prevailed over the next number of seasons. Kyestorm shook the snow from her coat, and trotted to the medicine cat den. She halted at the entrance, watching her son tend his patients with expert techniques. Jayfeather flicked an ear in her direction. Littlecloud lay between Indiclaw and Snowsquall with Puddleshine, who vigorously shared tongues, drying both medicine cats’ coat. Willowshine and Mothwing rested comfortably with Mistystar. Troutleap and Bluefrost kept them warm, sharing tongues to dry theirs coat. Littlecloud gnawed a leg bone, pulling marrow out, and nodded at Kyestorm. Everyone ate well of the deer meat.
“I don’t think anything like this has happened to us before.” Jayfeather grumbled. “Have we lost the ability to sense weather?”
“My fault,” Gentleoak mumbled. “I insisted. I wanted to go to my ceremony and didn’t want to wait another moon.”
“So you did know the risk?” Jayfeather snapped at him, then faced Leafpool. “And you allowed him to go?”
“The moon was out with clear skies.” Leafpool retorted. “I thought we had time.”
“Don’t blame Gentleoak.” Willowshine spoke up. “We went up there, too. The storm caught us all off guard.”
“He knew the risk more than the rest of us,” Jayfeather growled. “Yet he said nothing.”
“I thought we had more time, too,” Littlecloud retorted. “If Gentleoak didn’t go, would we have stayed home? I don’t think so.”
“He should’ve waited,” Jayfeather grumbled. Gentleoak flattened his ears and pelt, his shame scent filling the den.
“Stop it,” Indiclaw snarled suddenly. “Even with heightened senses, my brother could not know exactly when the storm would strike! He may think he knew, but all he felt was his intuition and nothing more. Do you really think with his medicine cat instincts and talents, he’d have risked you all just to not wait a moon? Am I right, Gentleoak?”
“Maybe,” Gentleoak mewed. “I did know the storm was coming.”
“But you did not know when!” Indiclaw snapped, her thick white ruff bristling with indignation.
“No. I did think we’d have time, but, maybe my time with StarClan was longer than I thought,” Gentleoak murmured, his bushy tail twitching.
“It was! Very long!” Leafpool yowled. “We waited, and the clouds covered the moon, and I tried to call you.” Leafpool unsheathed her claws, digging into the stone floor. “Snow started falling so I called louder. I was ready to shake you awake, something we should never do, but then you came out of your trance. But by then, the storm was in full fury.”
“That is why Blackstar and Tallstar appeared, stopped everything, and told me to go home.” Gentleoak bowed his head. “I was so excited and awed. I’m sorry.”
“He did get help,” Kyestorm reminded the disgruntled medicine cats. She leveled her gaze of Jayfeather. “Even you didn’t know they were in trouble until Gentleoak called out to me and his littermates. Everyone is safe now, and perhaps StarClan used it to remind us all why the last of the code exists.”
“I agree.” Mistystar nodded approval. Affirmative murmurs rippled around the den, The wind screamed outside in a sudden gust, and Kyestorm jerked her head up. She thought she heard howling. Her ears quivered, straining to pick up any odd sounds. She thought of the coyotes, and wondered where they holed up, and what they might do once the storm broke. She turned her head, peering past the wall of snow, and eyed the fresh kill pile, feeling apprehension, knowing coyotes likely ate deer, too. The clash between them and the Clans loomed large in the future. She sensed it with deep unwavering certainty, but not knowing the when filled her with anxiety. She suddenly felt exhausted, and wanted to sleep.
“Its all over and everyone is safe. “ Kyestorm yawned.
“Thank you for coming for us,” Willowshine replied. “You saved Littlecloud’s life, and maybe mine, too. We planned to go this moon, and none of us thought this would happen.”
“We knew a storm brewed,” Littlecloud meowed, then coughed “But it was a risk we all took. Don’t blame the apprentice, oops, I mean new medicine cat.”
“Mousedung,” Jayfeather grumbled, capitulating. “I really don’t blame him. If I thought for a moment there was such danger I’d have convinced them all to wait another moon. After all, I’m the mentor, he was the apprentice.”
“StarClan knows, bad things happen.” Leafpool added. “It could have been so much worse. Time to focus on warming up our visitors for their trip home.”
“Eat this,” Gentleoak dropped a chewed up pile of his herbs by Littlecloud’s paws. “It will help stave off white cough.”
“It tastes terrible, but it has been working well,” Littlecloud eyed Gentleoak. “But you can’t keep me alive forever.”
“I know,” Gentleoak mewed. “But I will keep trying until StarClan comes for you.”
“Come, let’s all get some rest, and thank StarClan nobody froze to death out there,” Bramblestar said. “Something tells me we’ll be literally digging out our dens come morning. Best we get back to them and stay warm.”
Mews of agreement answered him, and everyone slogged through the deep snow, bracing against the wind to return to their dens. Kyestorm followed her sons back to the warrior’s den to rest her weary body, and curled up with Demonstone, who settled in ahead of her. She snuggled against him, and trembled with a mix of anger and dread. The wind howled and moaned outside the den, and Kyestorm shivered, She soon slipped into a nightmarish slumber, filled with driving snow, running deer, and attacking howling coyotes.
Kyestorm roused herself from a vague dream, when the trickle of running water reached her ears. She opened her eyes. Bright morning light slanted into the warrior’s den, and Kyestorm caught a whiff of warm air, tinged with the scent of soil. Somewhere in the territories, the sun heated exposed ground. She untangled herself from Demonstone’s body and walked out into camp. The sun shone stark on the deep snow from a deep clear blue sky, but warmed her back. She eyed the sun, and judging its position in the sky, saw New Leaf finally arrived, if only by the clues of seasonal norms. The trees, however, disagreed, and not one bud broke, though many swelled, signaling promise of the changing season.
She located the sound of dripping water, and noted a little riverlet cascading down the rocks not far from Bramblestar’s den. At the foot of the rocks, a tiny spot of soil, leaf litter and rocks broke through the melting snows. Kyestorm stepped out into the snow, and instantly felt the change. Soft and wet, it collapsed on itself, turning to slush under her large paws.
“Ugh,” Kyestorm yowled, and flattened her ears. She hated this time of year, with the constant mud and slush. For the last several days, the sun melted snow, only to allow the cold nights to re-freeze it into hard crusted ice. Kyestorm understood the familiar cycle, though many of her Clanmates thought it utterly unusual in how long it persisted.
“We may not see the ground for another moon at this rate,” Spiderleg grumbled, shaking his paws as he stepped out into the sun-warmed slush.
“There is a spot there under Highledge. Smaller prey is reappearing,” Birchfall commented. “I love venison, but I do miss a plump squirrel, mouse, or bird!”
“We wax fat and happy,” Cherryfall added, and Kyestorm noted how everyone looked sleek and healthy, not gaunt and tattered, the way she remembered them upon arrival here almost a full suncycle ago.
“The benefits of deer meat,” Kyestorm quipped, shaking her feet.
“I hope we can catch those every Leaf Bare,” Cherryfall said, glancing at the nursery. “We’re all healthy and well fed, so, we should fill up that nursery your mate worked so hard to enlarge.”
“I hope so,” Kyestorm inhaled, catching the joyful scent Cherryfall radiated. “Are you carrying?”
“I think so!” Cherryfall mewed with excitement, then lowered her voice. “I don’t want to say just yet, until the medicine cats confirm!”
“I think Sparkfire is, too,” Kyestorm replied in a delighted whisper. “Demonstreak barely leaves her side.”
“What about you?” Cherryfall asked. “I know you want more kits. We all know!”
“Maybe.” Kyestorm flicked her tail, trying to quell her disappointment. “I don’t feel anything, though it may be too soon to tell.”
“Kyestorm,” Bramblestar’s voice interrupted. Kyestorm whirled in a spray of slush to face her Clan Leader. Bramblestar’s amber eyes twinkled with amusement, and continued. “Care to join my patrol today?”
“Yes!” Kyestorm answered. “It would be an honor and a pleasure.” She lifted her lip to expose the tips of her fangs. “I shall out hunt my son.”
“Good!” Bramblestar laughed outright. “Both of you probably need practice hunting smaller prey.” Bramblestar sobered. “We also will check the border with WindClan. Someone is threatening our deerskins.”
“Really?” Kyestorm flattened her ears, baring the tips of her fangs. “Who dares?”
“We are not fully certain.” Bramblestar heaved a deep sigh. “The most prominent scents belong to Harespring and Furzepelt. But nobody has caught them there.”
“Do they think to steal one?” Kyestorm asked.
“They’d best not,” Phantomstrike commented, coming up beside his mother. “Those belong to us!”
“Does Onestar know?” Kyestorm growled.
“I don’t know,” Bramblestar replied. “He may not, but at the next Gathering, I will bring it to his attention. But today I want to check the border thoroughly, then hunt. Though we’ve been at peace in the moons since the coyote attack, we should keep up protocol. Let’s grab some fresh kill before we go.”
“Good idea,” Kyestorm agreed, and headed to the prey resting on the Feasting Rock. A fat squirrel lay with a tiny fawn, along with several mice. “Those little deer are wasting no time trying to reproduce.”
“Smaller prey is running well,” Bramblestar said, as Squirrelflight joined him. She flashed Kyestorm a quick feline smile, and bared the tips of her fangs.
“We wax as fat as kittypets!” she commented. “I wish we hunted deer long before now, but, still, how many of us do we need, to catch one, let alone take it down?’
“You know how now,” Kyestorm remarked, taking a mouse. “Lionblaze and some of the larger warriors can take one down as long as you have a swift warrior to make the initial attack.”
“True,” Squirrelflight nodded, then snapped up a mouse, replying between her teeth. “But it’s still difficult without you, your huge sons and mate!”
“But worth the effort, and if all goes well, more huge kits will be born to the Clan,” Kyestorm retorted with a snort. “Are you patrolling ShadowClan’s border today?”
“Yes,” Squirrelflight answered, a twinkle in her green eyes. “I’ll send Indiclaw your regards.”
“Thanks.” Kyestorm chewed on her mouse. “Please don’t take her gruff attitude the wrong way. She does it only for show.”
“We know,” Thornclaw quipped, joining them. “Who in their right mind will take offense and actually fight her! We tease her and she knows, but Great StarClan, she puts on some show for her Clanmates.”
“I call her big bunny rabbit ears!” Spiderleg joined the group. “She almost breaks the facade. No worries, Kyestorm. Your daughter loves you, her father, her brothers and the rest of us.’
“Stop worrying, Kyemama.” Greywind entered the conversation. “My milk sister is a big softie inside.”
“I try not to, but, one day I know we’ll all revert to old habits of fighting over silly things. I hate the thought I may have to face my daughters someday in battle. I just can’t stand it.” Kyestorm shook herself, and swallowed the last of her mouse. “I’m ready.”
“Don’t worry about what you can’t change, Kyemama,” Gentleoak’s soft voice broke the awkward quiet moment. “New Leaf comes. Enjoy this sunny day. Should be fine hunting.”
“It will be!” Demonstone joined the group, and grabbed the little fawn. He tore a piece for himself, then thrust the remaining half at Demonstreak, who trailed him. “Give this to the Elders.”
Demonstreak took the offering and trotted through the soft snow to the elder den, where Purdy watched with interest. The elder’s voice drifted over the camp.
“Thank ye youngin” As fat n sassy as yer great huntin’ makes me, I don’t want te step’n te cold slush. Me mates here agree. We’ll feast like kings and queens.”
Kyestorm held back laughter as Graystripe and Millie helped Purdy drag the fawn chunk into the den.
“Ugh,” Phantomstrike startled her. “With only one apprentice in camp, guess who has to clean up the Elders den now?”
“The youngest warriors. Poor Twigpaw can’t do it alone,” Kyestorm mrrowed with mirth. “Don’t worry. Kits are on the way, including your brother’s.”
“That will take moons before those kits apprentice!” Phantomstrike mewled and stalked away to join Squirrelflight’s patrol. Kyestorm flagged her tail over her back, and met her mate’s gaze.
“Are you going on patrol?”
“Yes,” Demonstone answered, his eyes sparkling with anticipation. “I’m with Lionblaze’s patrol today. We’ll check the western border for rogues or other possible invaders. If any badgers live up there again, they’ll have to deal with me! And our son.”
“If they’re smart they’ll stay away,” Kyestorm licked his muzzle, pride welling up in her heart. She glanced at Demonstreak, who trotted out of the elder den, tail flagged above his back. “I’m so happy you have the strength for this.”
“I do. I’m just not the fastest runner under StarClan, but I don’t need to be.”
“He sure doesn’t,” Cinderheart quipped. “I wish I could get the hang of throwing rocks! My paws are too small.”
“It’s all in the technique,” Demonstone said. “You can still toss small pebbles accurately and scare any enemy.”
“I’m still practicing,” Bramblestar chuckled, then raised his voice. “All patrols, let’s get a tail shake! Sun-high approaches!”
Bramblestar set off, exiting the camp. Kyestorm followed, flanked by Demonstreak, who glanced at back at Sparkfire, who dutifully tended the elder’s den.
“She’ll be fine,” Kyestorm purred. “You know Bramblestar put her on that duty to keep you happy.”
“I know,” Demonstreak pranced with anxiety, before settling into a more efficient stride. “She’s not the biggest queen in the world, and I worry about her having trouble if her kits are as big as we were.”
“We have the finest medicine cats in the territories,” Greywind’s voice assured the young tom. Thornclaw, Greywind and Spiderleg trotted up behind him, and Kyestorm exchanged glances with her clanmates and milk son.
“She’ll be fine,” Kyestorm added. “We’ll all be there for her if she runs into trouble. Don’t worry and let’s concentrate on our jobs.”
“You’re right, Kyemama,” Demonstreak flicked his bushy black tail. The patrol headed northeast to the border, following well worn trails in the snow. Mud and leaves mixed with the slush. Kyestorm shook her feet.
“Must you do that?” Thornclaw complained. “I’ll need to groom for a week to get that off!”
“Sorry,” Kyestorm muttered. “I hate mud.”
“Me, too,” Demonstreak mumbled. Kyestorm glanced back at her son, noticing he copied her motions. Mud and leaf litter sprayed back across the trail and on the banks of snow to each side.
“I’ll be happy when it re-freezes,” Greywind commented, staying well ahead of his milk brother.
“I can’t wait until it all melts and New Leaf dries it all up!” Thornclaw retorted.
“Oh, great Starclan, “ Bramblestar startled them all with a hearty laugh. “You all act like you’ve never dealt with a little mud before. Focus. We start at that northernmost corner and remark the banks of the stream. Check carefully for invader scents, especially fox and coyote.”
“Sorry, Bramblestar,” Thornclaw grumbled. “But you must admit, this is one heck of a mud season with all this snow melting, freezing, thawing.”
“It’s not as bad as that flood,” the ThunderClan leader remarked, and the older warriors murmured agreement. Kyestorm nodded, barely recalling the storm that ravaged the land shortly after she and Demonstone arrived from across the Great Waters. She remembered the screaming winds, scent of the Great Water, and nonstop rains that battered the windows of the stout cottage, while she and Demonstone snuggled with their housefolk, warm, dry and safe. She eyed the deep snows which still covered the territory.
“I prefer a blizzard to what you went through,” Kyestorm mewed softly.
“I’m not certain I would,” Bramblestar commented. “At least not back then. If not for you and the venison, this Leaf Bare might have killed us all with starvation or illness. But this slush and slow melt isn’t as bad as either the storm or the blizzard itself.”
Kyestorm stared, unsure of how to respond. Bramblestar nodded, and continued forward. The patrol followed, and Kyestorm concentrated on the task before her. She scented every exposed twig, rock and log, and marked each in turn. The patrol moved downstream, and Kyestorm kept alert, hoping to meet her daughter again, but no WindClan patrol appeared. By time the sun passed sun-high, and sent long shadows across the snow, the patrol reached the mouth of the stream where the deerskins lay on the rocks. Kyestorm examined the skins while her clanmates yawned.
“They look fine, Kyemama,” Demonstreak meowed. “Time to do a little hunting.”
“Those are old tracks,” Thornclaw added.
“They could just be degraded by snow melt,” Kyestorm growled, picking up the very faint scent of Harespring.
“They’re fine,” Spiderleg said, and uttered a laugh. ‘Come on fuzzy ears. Let’s hunt. I need a meal and a good nap!”
“Young buck!” A cry from Greywind stopped all banter. “Hurry! It’s fiesty!”
Kyestorm’s clanmates whirled as one. Bramblestar led the charge up the hill, vanishing into the snowy forest. Kyestorm stood, rooted to the snow, suspicion growing fast in her mind. As much as she wished to hunt that combative buck, Harespring’s scent filled her with outrage. She circled the skins, and spotted a set of tracks heading toward the stream mouth.
“Trespasser,” she growled deep in her chest, and followed the tracks. To her disgruntlement, Harespring’s scent grew stronger. She studied the skins again, and noted one appeared missing, a fawn skin. She caught a whiff of Furzepelt and her anger bubbled to the surface.
“Cowards! Thieves! Where are you?” she snarled, coat bristling with wrath. A soft startled yowl attracted her attention and she spotted the fawn skin floating along the lake shore. The wind caught the edge of the skin, lifting it to reveal Harespring and Furzepelt racing beneath it. Kyestorm’s rage burst from every hair on her body. She crossed the stream mouth in three leaps, and pursued the robbers. She bounded across the slushy shoreline, and dashed across the frozen lake, her surefooted paws slinging slush off the ice, creating an arc sparkling in her wake. She gained on her prey, yowling, “Foxhearts! Little rat thieves! Bring that back!”
Kyestorm heaved for breath, pushing her body to its limits, driven by outrage and hate. Every leap brought her closer to the WindClan robbers, as they entered the frozen swamp bordering RiverClan lands on the other side of the half bridge. She charged past the bridge, gaining with every leap.
They suddenly veered up the lakeshore onto the hill, then turned toward RiverClan territory. Kyestorm plunged ahead, racing to cut them off, ignoring a niggling question as to why her enemies carried their stolen item to another clan’s territory. A flash of alarm ripped through her as her thundering paws hit soft ice beneath the slush a foxlength from shore. Her instincts screamed at her, and she thrust all four legs forward in an attempt to stop. Her momentum carried her ahead, and she slid along the weak ice, then broke through into a pool of thick, sticky, nasty muck.
She uttered a yowl of dismay, and tried scrambling out of the hole onto the grassy tussocks poking out of the thin snow cover, which lined the shore, but her paws and legs stuck fast, holding her in place, with mud up to her belly. She struggled against the muck, but failed. It slurped and squelched, until it held her in a firm grasp. She gasped for breath, and turned her attention shoreward.
Harespring and Furzepelt stalked toward her, eyes baleful, jaws split in pleased grimaces. She bared her teeth in fury, yanking herself against the mud, but it sucked at her body like a housefolk’s vacumcleaner. They halted on the grassy tussock at the edge of the muddy hole. She realized they planned and led her into this, trapping her like a mouse in a warrior’s jaws.
“Cowards! You can’t fight me like true warriors?” she snarled in fury, twitching her legs, trying to free herself, but the muck pulled her back, sealing her in its firm vacuum grip. Cold seeped into her paw and legs, creeping up her limbs. Harespring advanced, bristling, eyes gleaming with delight and malice.
“And you can’t wack us over with just one blow now. Yes, yes, for many sunrises we plotted and fussed with this little hole,” he sneered. “We knew those precious skins would get you to follow us. Now I’ll show you how things will be.”
“Trickery! Cowardice! You betray the warrior code of honor,” Kyestorm hissed in outrage.
“No, we rid the clans of you!” Harespring jeered, balancing on a tussock, and reached out with a forepaw. Kyestorm snapped her jaws, trying to catch his paw in her teeth. She missed, and his paw slapped down on her head, shoving her muzzle into the mud. Alarm shot through her and she jerked her head free, realizing her total vulnerability. She railed at herself, for allowing such mousebrains to trick her. Harespring smacked her head again, this time pushing her whole face in the mud, and uttered a guttural growling guffaw.
“This is for the sand in my eye!”
Kyestorm attempted to hiss, but inhaled gritty thick mud. Her entire body convulsed with terror, and something kicked in her belly, sending another wave of shock through her. Kits! That sure knowledge lanced through her, and she flung her head back, closing her eyes as Harespring’s claws raked her face. She opened her jaws and shrieked to the skies.
“DEMON BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!” She reverted to her mate’s old name, and the desperate cry reverberated across the lake, echoing in the hills.
“They’ll never get here in time,” Harespring yowled in glee, and jumped on her back. She sank deeper into the mud as he shoved her head down again with both paws. She screamed again, but her voice cut off when her head went under again. She flattened her ears, but icy muddy water trickled in anyway. Her kits kicked, reacting to the threat, and Kyestorm reared again, adrenaline giving her the strength to fight Harespring’s weight.
“Kyemamaaaaaaaaaaa!” Smokewind’s yowl echoed across the lake.
“Kyemamaaaaaaaaaaa!” The cry repeated, this time from across the swamp from RiverClan territory, and Kyestorm recognized Bluefrost’s shriek.
Kyestorm uttered an inarticulate wail, struggling to buck Harespring off her back. She felt the mud creep higher on her body with each move. Through the muck in her eyes, she spotted Smokewind racing like a deer across the lake, followed by her brothers, with ThunderClan and WindClan warriors many many foxlengths behind her. Slush and ice shards flew up behind the black smoke Maine Coon warrior, sparkling in the late after-noon-high sun.
“Kyemama! Hold on!”
“Kyemama!” She heard Bluefrost’s yowl again from inside the swampland, and saw her ripping across the tussocks, followed by Mistystar and RiverClan. From over the lake she heard Indiclaw’s answering wail. Her daughter led ShadowClan across the lake. Kyestorm felt a spark of pride in ShadowClan’s trust in Indiclaw’s instincts.
Kyeee!” Demonstone’s high pitched screech reverberated in the hills, and she saw him charging from far across the lake. Lionblaze and his patrol followed, flanking the giant Maine Coon tom, who ran with surprising speed. His claws flashed as he gripped the ice, propelling himself across the frozen surface with all the strength in his massive legs. Cats converged on the spot from all sides of the lake, but Kyestorm feared Harespring might succeed in drowning her before anyone reached them. Cold clawed up her limbs into her body, soaking past her thick fur.
“Stupid kittypet,” Harespring snarled, and shoved her head down again. She inhaled a breath, before he held her head down. Kyestorm held her breath until her body screamed, then gagged and choked, unable to muster the strength in her neck needed to shove him off. Her lungs burned, and just as she lost control, exhaling in big sloppy bubbles, the weight on her neck suddenly lifted. Snarling, screeching and hissing echoed in her clogged ears. She flung her head up, gasping and coughing, shook her head violently clearing the mud from her ears, and saw Harespring running up the hill back toward WindClan land.
Smokewind barreled across the open land, snow spraying like a huge tail in her wake, followed by Oatclaw, Demonstreak, Phantomstrike, and the rest of WindClan. Greywind led the rest of ThunderClan foxlengths behind. Harespring swerved down toward the broken bridge to evade the tall smokey black Maine Coon warrior’s charge.
“He’s mine! Help Kyemama!’ Smokewind screamed at her mate and brothers, who halted near the fencing where Furzepelt cowered. Unable to match Smokewind’s great speed, cats stopped to watch Smokewind’s fury. All four Clan leaders stared, exchanging glances, but nobody moved. Onestar glanced Smokewind, and only nodded. Kyestorm watched, with shock and deep delight, her daughter’s reactions.
Rage flamed in Smokewind’s gold eyes, as she turned on a clawtip, and charged the former WindClan deputy. She smashed into a desperate Harespring at the bridge, and before his body barely struck the wood, she snapped him up by the scruff of the neck. Without a slowdown in stride, Smokewind flew to the end of the wooden structure, massive paws pounding, dragging and bouncing Harespring on the icy wood, ignoring his screaming and hissing. She skidded to a halt on the very edge or the bridge, and, with a twist of her head, flung Harespring out onto the lake.
He screeched in terror, flying through the air, then hit the lake with a thud. His head thwacked against the hard ice beneath the slush, and he slid along the surface like fresh kill, until the slush covered him, stopping his momentum. He lay motionless. Furzepelt stood up near the fences lining the Horseplace, eyes wide in astonishment and fear. Smokewind looked back at her, fangs bared, eyes blazing, pelt bristling until she resembled a bear from the land across the Great Waters. Furzepelt dropped to the ground, in complete submission from afar. Demonstreak and Phantomstrike left the terrified Furzepelt, and headed down the hill.
“Help me.” Kyestorm gasped for air, finding it difficult as the mud sucked at her body, draining her warmth and energy. Demonstone galloped over to her, his golden eyes ablaze. Bluefrost hopped from tussock to tussock until she sat close. Demonstone reached over and grasped her by the scruff and pulled. The mud yanked back. His muscles rippled under his thick pelt as he hauled backward, and Kyestorm kicked her legs, but the muck held her in place like cement.
“Its gonna kill me!” Kyestorm wailed. “Help! My kits!”
“Kyemama, relax everything,” Bluefrost said. “ Splay your toes a few times, then paddle your feet very slowly, like you’re swimming.”
Kyestorm obeyed her daughter, and to her relief, the swimming motion and Demonstone’s strength released the mud’s hold on her with each tug he took. Indiclaw grasped her nape right beside her father, and helped to pull. Kyestorm’s skin screamed, until she felt Bluefrost’s paws pushing her from behind, and glanced backward. Bluefrost pushed, with leverage from big blue hind paws planted firmly on the tussock behind the mudhole. Troutleap nimbly jumped up beside her to help.. Phantomstrike amd Demonstreak joined their sister on the tussock, obeying her every command. Their enormous paws joined Bluefrost’s and Troutleap’s and they pushed. Demonstone and Indiclaw pulled.
Kyestorm’s forelegs broke free of the trap in a spray of muck and a resounding pop. She hooked her claws in the exposed grass clumps, and hauled herself out of the hole and lay still, gasping for air.
“Kyemama!” Indiclaw cried, Snowsquall at her side. Most of ShadowClan stood behind her. “Who did this? Who slashed you face?”
“Harespring,” Kyestorm answered in a gravelly snarl. “I hope he’s dead!”
Kyestorm staggered to her feet, and looked at the slush covered bundle of fur out on the lake. She moved slowly, to join Smokewind on the bridge and leaned her head against her daughter’s chest. Smokewind still heaved for air, trying to regain her breath. Her family and Clanmates followed.
“Thank you, thank you, my beautiful, swift, daughter.” she purred in raggedly, shivering, with mud covering everything except her back. Her tail hung limp, soaked with icy muck.
“I heard your first hiss of anger and saw you from up on the hill. I sounded the alarm call and came to you as fast as I could run. That piece of crowfood jumped off you when he saw me coming closer!” Smokewind inhaled a sobbing breath, licking the mud and blood off of Kyestorm’s face. “But I was almost too late! ”
“Come now,” Gentleoak spoke up, pushing his way forward, amber eyes stern. “We have to get Kyemama home and in the medicine den. She’s carrying kits.”
“What about him?” Oatclaw asked, eyes narrowed, as he walked up beside Smokewind. He pointed his tail at Harespring, overriding the surprised murmurs of delight at the news of Kyestorm’s pregnancy.
“I’ll take him back to camp,” Kestrelflight answered. “If he’s alive, we care for him. If he’s dead, we bury him.”
“He deserves no warrior’s vigil,” Kyestorm snarled suddenly. “He and Furzepelt tried to kill me and my kits!”
“He deserves banishment or death,” Bramblestar snapped, uncharacteristically harsh. He stepped up beside Kyestorm, and met Onestar’s gaze.
“I agree,” Onestar nodded, glancing at Smokewind. “But allow us to bring him back to camp and deal with him, and his accomplice.” Onestar raised his voice. “Furzepelt!”
The terrified she-cat crept down the slope to Onestar, shaking , ears flat, fear scent radiating from her like stench off carrion. Kyestorm growled deep in her chest, anger flaring, despite the cold which crept into her bones. Furzepelt dropped and exposed her stomach to Kyestorm and Smokewind.
“Please! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you carry kits!” Furzepelt babbled in desperation. “I’d never ever kill kits! Don’t kill me!”
“Give me good reason why not?” Smokewind stepped up to Furzepelt and planted a huge black paw on the she-cat’s belly. She spread her long toes, revealing white tufts, and unsheathed wicked claws, poking them into the she-cat’s belly. Furzepelt wet herself, and wailed.
“He was deputy! I was loyal to him, wanting to be his mate one day.” Furzepelt lost control of her bowels in terror. “I don’t now! I’m sorrrrryyyyyyyyy!”
“Ugh.” Smokewind withdrew her paw, and grimaced with loathing. “Glad you two never mated and had kits! We need warriors, not fox-hearted cowards.”
“If you are truly sorry,” Onestar growled. “Then you will not only take care of the elders for moons to come, but be at Smokewind’s beck and call for seasons to come. She meows, you leap. Understood?”
“Yes,” Furzepelt squeaked like a scared kit.
“Then get up and clean yourself,” Onestar commanded. “Get back to camp and tend the elders. Nightcloud, please escort Furzepelt to camp.”
“Yes, Onestar,” Nightcould wrinkled her nose, but walked back to WindClan camp with Furzepelt, who stopped often to groom herself. Nightcloud refused to share tongues, and waited with flattened ears, until the disheveled she-cat decided to keep walking.
“He is still alive,” Kestrelflight announced, dragging a sodden Harespring up the shore and deposited him at the edge of the bridge. Smokewind growled, her entire body trembling. Kyestorm echoed her daughter’s deep-chested rumble. “He’s out cold. I can’t in good conscience, just leave him to freeze to death.”
“If that ice cracked, he’d be just where I wanted him,” Smokewind snapped, baring her teeth. “The piece of rotten nasty stinking crow-food.”
“Sister,”Gentleoak interrupted, and a glint of humor swirled in his amber eyes. “If he does come to, he may not be the same cat he was. He may have brain damage, or physical handicaps. Those might be a punishment worse than death or banishment. Let Kestrelflight take him.” Gentleoak turned to look at Bramblestar. “If you agree?”
Bramblestar nodded, a scowl on his face. Smokewind gazed at her brother a long moment, then flattened her fur. Her tail deflated, and she looked down at her unconscious enemy.
“Fine, take him.” Smokewind curled her lip, meeting Kestrelflight’s gaze. “But if he ever speaks ill of, or tries to hurt Kyemama again, he dies.”
“Agreed,” Onestar nodded, then glanced at Crowfeather. “Escort them home and get him in the medicine den. When he wakes, he has much to answer for.”
“Yes, he does,” Crowfeather nodded, and moved off.
“If he ever is a problem ever again to you, your clanmates, or your kin,” Onestar said, leveling his gaze on Smokewind. “ He is yours to do with as you wish.”
Smokewind responded with a purr of approval. Kyestorm trembled, cold seeping into her mud-soaked fur. She moved past her daughter to the end of the broken bridge, and gave in to the impulse to violently shake out her thick fur. Yowls of surprise echoed over the lake as those closest to her moved hastily out of the rain of muck. Her thick fur stuck out in, and the breeze sliced its way past the wet clumps. She shivered, and coughed, spitting out mucous and mud.
“We gotta get you home,” Demonstone’s soft tone muttered in her ears. “Before you catch green cough.”
“Come on, Kyemama,” Phantomstrike pressed against her side. “Let’s go.”
Indiclaw dashed up to Kyestorm, uncharacteristically demonstrative, rubbing her face on Kyestorm’s and licked the furrows on her mother’s face that just missed the eyes. Kyestorm gazed at Indiclaw in surprise, but said nothing, and enjoyed the rare physical contact with her cantankerous daughter.
“I love you, Kyemama,” she mewed, then turned and returned to Rowanstar, and moved off with ShadowClan. Rowanstar caught her gaze, eyes solemn, and he nodded. Indiclaw glanced back several times, along with Snowsquall, Pineshadow, and Beeheart. Kyestorm raised her wet tail in response, then caught sight of RiverClan vanishing into the swamp. Bluefrost paused to look back, and waved her bottlebrush tail, then followed her clanmates. The Clans slowly drifted apart, going back to their camps.
Kyestorm moved toward home, pressed between her mate and son, shivering violently. Just ahead of her, Demonstreak and Sparkfire blocked most of the wind. Kyestorm moved along the lakeshore with her Clanmates. The sun balanced on the treetops, and the slush crunched underfoot as temperatures plummeted below freezing. WindClan veered off toward home, and Smokewind paused before following her clanmates. She waved her tail in a farewell before bounding up the hill toward WindClan’s camp. Kyestorm followed her clanmates across the stream, and she sighed, glad to reach ThunderClan territory. She allowed them to guide her into the medicine cat den, where Jayfeather hurried to her.
“What happened?” he asked, anger rumbling his voice. “You’re shivering terribly. We have to warm you up.”
“Harespring and Furzepelt stole one of our deerskins, and Kyemama gave chase. They trapped her in a mudhole, and tried to kill her,” Gentleoak snarled the answer, anger flashing in his amber eyes. His coat bristled, and his ruff framed his head until he looked like the ancient lions of old.
“What possessed those fools to do this?” Jayfeather growled, his expert paws going over Kyestorm’s body. "Especially when Demonstreak and Berrynose saved Furzepelt's life when rogues attacked WindClan."
“Smokewind should have killed him on the spot,” Phantomstrike ranted, and lay down beside Kyestorm, pressing against her. Demonstreak stretched out on the other side, and vigorously groomed his mother. Demonstone stood in front of her, cleaning her head, ears and sodden ruff. Sparkfire squeezed beside her mate, and groomed Kyestorm’s shoulder.
“Oh, your poor bunny ears,” Kyestorm recognized Spiderleg’s voice and opened her eyes. He stood behind Greywind and Rainsleet, who lay on their bellies, grooming Kyestorm’s chest. His amber eyes met hers, and she saw real concern shimmering in their depths. Sudden anger clouded his visage and his eyes flared golden fire. “If he’d succeeded. . .”
“He didn’t,” Kyestorm answered, comforted by the love and concern of her clanmates, all of which crowded in the medicine den. “My strength still gave me enough time to let all of you reach me, but next time he attempts something like that,” Kyestorm snarled suddenly with bubbling wrath. “He dies!”
“Indeed he will,” Bramblestar’s voice lifted her gaze as ThunderClan’s leader stood beside Spiderleg. His amber eyes blazed with indignation. “He’s lucky Smokewind got to him first. Otherwise we’d have torn him to pieces.”
“Great StarClan!” Jayfeather’s voice rang out in frustration. “Is every cat in this clan crowded in here? Get out! I need to work!”
“Regain your strength,” Bramblestar touched his muzzle to Kyestorm’s head. “And stay strong and birth those kits come Green Leaf.”
“I will,” Kyestorm purred, as Bramblestar motioned with his tail, clearing out most of her anxious clanmates. Her family moved not a muscle. Leafpool hurried forward and offered a selection of herbs. Gentleoak dropped one of his concoctions beside hers.
“Take these. We will prevent green cough, white cough, and anything else that chill and stress may bring,” he ordered. Kyestorm obediently ate the medicines, smacking her lips at the taste. Alderheart brought her water, carefully placing waterlogged, snow-covered moss between her forelegs. She gratefully took in much needed moisture.
“So we are having kits?” Demonstone asked between tongue strokes. Kyestorm nodded.
“Yes,” she murmured, before her voice rose. “I didn’t know until I was stuck in that cold mud.”
“But he didn’t,” Sparkfire spoke up. Her green eyes sparkled. “We’re having kits, too, Demonstreak and I, and so is Cherryfall. Gentleoak, Leafpool, Alderheart and Jayfeather won’t let you get sick. In Green Leaf, the nursery will be delightfully full of kits. We are all family now, as well as Clanmates.”
“Yes, we are,” Kyestorm relaxed, feeling safe and loved. She drowsed, and voices grew distant, as many tongues cleaned her pelt and stimulated her body to warmth. Her clanmates’ outrage turned to anticipation and joy, as talk of kits filled the medicine den around her. She listened to the wind whistling outside, and she wondered when the cold weather might give way to New Leaf warmth. A brief question crossed her mind, stirring up concern. Where did the coyote menace hide, and when will the attack come? She shivered, and not from cold.
“Eat this,” Poppyfrost’s voice commanded. Kyestorm looked up into her friend’s face. Poppyfrost dropped a hunk of venison by her paws. Greywind moved over to make room.
“I‘m starving!” Kyestorm exclaimed, sinking her teeth into the meat. She tore off chunks, gulping them down, feeling it replenish energies lost to the mudhole. As her belly filled, her clanmates’ chattering voices and warm raspy tongues offered comfort and security, burying her niggling anxieties.
CHAP 12: COMPLACENCY
Kyestorm sprawled out in the spacious nursery, her kits feeding at her ample belly. She yawned, and glanced outside, where warm early Green Leaf sun slanted across camp from the east. Not a flake remained of the snows which covered the territory even a mere moon ago, a half moon before she birthed this litter of kits. None suffered from Kyestorm’s cold mud bath at the paws of Harespring. Kyestorm purred with amusement.
“What is so funny, Kyemama?” Sparkfire’s soft voice startled her, and Kyestorm turned her head. Her son’s mate gazed at her, blinking lazy green eyes full of question. Her five fuzzy kits; red smoke Firekit, black and white Willowkit, ticked red and black Sunkit, silver and gold dilute tabby-tortoiseshell Shimmerkit, and black Seedkit, nursed with gusto.
“Just thinking about Harespring,” Kyestorm answered, her purr increasing as she beheld her grandkits. “Since he recovered from the head injury, he’s actually been a model warrior. I wonder if he remembers anything.”
“He got off easy if he recalls nothing,” Cherryfall retorted with a snort. Kyestorm gazed at the red tabby she-cat. Five kits nursed at her belly; dark red tabby Applekit, bright red tabby Redkit, blue-grey and white Icekit, cream Spiritkit, and black Dustkit.
“He’s terrified of Smokewind, so he must remember something,” Poppyfrost added, from the other side of Cherryfall. Kyestorm glanced around the huge nursery, noting how crowded the new den became over this New Leaf. Poppyfrost nursed a large brood of six; golden-red tabby Orangekit, tortoiseshell Hazelkit, little black Fiercekit, golden-red brown tortoiseshell Spottedkit, cream long-haired Berrykit, and tortoiseshell Poppykit.
Beside her, Blossomfall nursed her litter, Stemkit, Shellkit, Eaglekit,Plumkit, and big fluffy Nightkit, who looked just like Phantomstrike. Kyestorm purred, recalling the ruckus that broke out when she birthed the kits. She admitted a tryst with Phantomstrike, despite being mated to Thornclaw, but she loved Thornclaw. Gentleoak settled it with the sure knowledge the prophecy struck again, forcing the two together. Of the five kits, only fuzzy Nightkit belonged to Phantomstrike, and both toms accepted the issue, much to everyone’s relief.
“I hear Furzepelt avoids him, won’t be near him, and he is so befuddled,” Rosepetal chimed in. Kyestorm glanced her way. The dark cream queen met Kyestorm’s gaze, her eyes sparkling in the din light. “His apologies at the last gathering were so pathetic.”
“He remembers bits and pieces,” Sparkfire meowed. “And nobody lets him forget any detail of his atrocity. “
”I hope his memory does come back enough that he’s haunted for the rest of his miserable life,” Kyestorm growled. “I’ll never forgive that mousebrain for almost killing me and my kits.”
“We’re all grateful he didn’t succeed,” Rosepetal murmured.
“He could have killed my kits without killing me. Then I’d have killed him,” Kyestorm mumbled, staring at Rosepetal’s kits. Of the four, long fuzzy pelted kits, Blackkit stood out all in black. Petalskit sported a dilute predominantly cream tortoiseshell coat with petal-shaped white markings, but Oakkit and Duskkit, colored in golden brown tabby, told her who fathered the brood.
Kyestorm remembered Rosepetal’s birthing of her kits, and how she shrieked to StarClan as each huge kit came into the world. Gentleoak assisted Rosepetal with his usual stoic demeanor, but Kyestorm saw anxiety flicker in his calm amber eyes as he helped each kit. With his great skill he eased Rosepetal’s pain, and insisted she eat borage for milk production.
He treated each queen with the same nestside manner, his healing purr loud and deep, infusing every queen with calm and assurance. He never favored Rosepetal. Kyestorm felt pride mixed with annoyance. Not one cat lost a kit under his care, and all nursed gustily. Kyestorm met Rosepetal’s wide eyes again, and the queen shook her head in silent plea. Kyestorm flattened her ears briefly in agreement, but she hated hiding anything.
“Have you named them yet?” Sparkfire asked, her eyes lighting up, distracting Kyestorm. “We all named ours half a moon ago!”
“Yes, what are you waiting for? You must name them before their eyes open!” Cherryfall exclaimed. “You must have some idea.”
“I’m just a bit undecided. But yes, I should.” Kyestorm looked at the entrance. “Daisy?”
“Yes?” Daisy raised her head, and Kyestorm noted her two new kits, black Spiderkit and dark cream long-haired Sandkit snoozed.
“About time,” someone mewed from the back of the den. Kyestorm turned and purred at white Tinycloud, who bore her kits a quarter moon ago after arriving here with the rest of her ravaged Clan.
“ It’s time to name my kits.”
“Of course,” Daisy meowed with delight. She stood up, careful not to disturb her kits, and sauntered to the entrance. She stuck her head out, and her voice echoed across camp. Demonstone’s answer floated in on the breeze as Daisy returned to her nest.
“You could have yowled for assistance,” Kyestorm admonished her, eyeing the entrance as Rainsleet peeked in, a scowl on his features.
“I am right outside,” Alderheart added, his amber eyes gleaming, his dark red tabby fur rippling down his back. “Either I am, or Gentleoak is, at any given time. Plus we have warriors at your beck and call when we have other matters to tend to.”
“Sorry,” Daisy mewed. “I have been nurse for so long, I can’t help it!”
“We know, but you have kits now,” Kyestorm said, then nodded at Alderheart. He withdrew his head, and Kyestorm returned her attention to Rosepetal.
“Such adorable kits,” Kyestorm mewed. “They’re as fuzzy as mine.”
“Oh, we all know Phantomstrike is the father,” Cherryfall chortled. “Demonstreak is too besotted by you, Sparkfire, to even look at another she-cat.”
“True,” Kyestorm grumbled, slapping her bottlebrush tail against her nest. “But. . .”
”Hallo!” Demonstone’s high, but loud voice thundered in the den, stuffing Kyestorm’s retort back down her throat, as he strode in. He blocked all light for several seconds before laying down beside Kyestorm. She rubbed her cheek on his face.
“Time to name our kits,” Kyestorm mewed, dropping her gaze to her large litter of furry behemoths.
“Autumnkit,” Demonstone suggested, his golden eyes shining with pride and delight, as he nuzzled his red tabby daughter.
“I like it,” Kyestorm purred, then licked a golden-shaded and white kit. “What about this unusual girl?”
“She looks like my sister, Sunny Angel B, who was that rare coloration,” Demonstone answered, touching his nose to the unusually colored kit. Faint, dark tabby stripes marked her golden patches. “How about Angelkit?”
“Perfect!” Kyestorm mewed, then nuzzled a black tomkit. “Ravenkit.”
“Yes,” Demonstone agreed, then touched his nose to a pretty silver tabby shekit. “Winterkit. Her base color is so pale she looks like snow.”
“Yes, Winterkit,” Kyestorm murmured, and licked a dark red shaded she-kit. “Maplekit.”
“Yes,” Demonstone purred approval, but the other queens all inhaled sharply. Kyestorm looked up, and stared at each, wondering why they all gaped at her with wide eyes and slack jaws.
“What?” Kyestorm meowed, feeling her forehead knot into a scowl.
“Are you sure you want to name her that?” Poppyfrost asked.
“Well, it’s. . .” Poppyfrost trailed off and glanced at Cherryfall. She slanted her ears back, part in shame and fear. “You, you aren’t naming her after, after Mapleshade, are you?”
“Of course not!” Kyestorm snapped. “Back home Maples were stately gorgeous trees turning bright red, orange and gold in Leaf Fall.”
“I’m sorry. . .” Poppyfrost mewed. “It brings back some painful memories.”
“She’s not named after Mapleshade, and won’t be evil,” Kyestorm growled with annoyance.
“Sometimes we forget names don’t transfer personality,” Daisy chimed in. “Notice though, with one exception, the lack of kits named Tiger in the Clans?”
“I like the name.” Kyestorm flattened her ears into her ruff with stubborn defiance. “We’re not remembering that nasty she-cat. We’re honoring something from the land over the Great Water.”
“I like it, too,” Demonstone interjected. “Glorious red, like the trees in our old home in Leaf Fall. That is what we name her for. It is done.”
Kyestorm purred, relaxing as each queen turned their attentions to their broods. A gentle breeze wafted into the den, ruffling Kyestorm’s fur, and sighing in the woven den walls. Light filtered through slits in the lower walls as the sun rose. Thin streaks of sun beamed into the den, illuminating the queens and their kits. Kyestorm admired her mate’s handiwork as breezes filtered through the narrow openings. Demonstone licked her face, and his gold eyes glowed in the low lighting.
“We fill the Clan with our offspring, who have offspring of their own.” Demonstone spared Sparkfire, Blossonfall, and Rosepetal a feline smile, blinking slowly. Rosepetal’s eyes widened, but she said nothing. “If those coyotes do come back to pester us, we’ll be prepared.”
“Do you think so?” Kyestorm voiced her concerns.
“Of course,” Demonstone said.
“We’ve heard nothing of them at all since the howling by the horseplace in New Leaf,” Poppyfrost added. “Maybe they moved away.”
“Many think so,” Kyestorm grumbled. “But it’s foolish. They’ll come back, probably with a whole pack.”
“Prey is plentiful this Green Leaf,” Demonstone mewed. “They have no reason to come back.”
“We have so many kits.” Daisy shifted nervously, and both of her kits mewled. “What if they realize this and come for them?”
“They’ll have to go through me,” Demonstone bared his teeth, his ruff mantling. Kyestorm growled full agreement.
“What do you think of all your grandkits?” Kyestorm changed the subject, not wanting to worry about coyotes. Demonstone purred, his eyes roving Rosepetal’s and Sparkfire’s litters.
“They are all magnificent,” Demonstone replied, and laugher shook his purring. “I ‘m so sorry, mothers to my kits’ kits, to make your birthings so difficult.”
“Worth it, and Gentleoak helped so much,” Sparkfire returned the purr, but Rosepetal’s eyes dilated. She flattened her ears. Demonstone rose, and went to her, then licked her head.
“My son is proud,” he whispered, and Rosepetal glared at Kyestorm. “As am I.”
“You told him?” she hissed, and silence fell over the nursery. Only the wind singing through the slots in the den walls filled the air, until Kyestorm reacted after a moment of surprise.
“I didn’t have to,” Kyestorm spat back.
“Then how would he know Gentleoak is prou. . .” Rosepetal snapped her jaws shut, eyes wide in dismay.
“We never lie to each other, and,” Demonstone paused, lowering his voice. “And it’s obvious who the father is. I asked him. He simply acknowledged the truth.”
“Gentleoak? You had kits with one of our medicine cats?” Cherryfall yowled in disbelief.
“You didn’t think!” Daisy spat. “Now Gentleoak will be demoted! How stupid! He’s the best medicine cat I’ve ever seen! Each and every one of us had the least painful birthing despite some huge kits, because of him! What have you done?”
“But Leafpool had Jayfeather, and is still a medicine cat! Both of them are great too!” Poppyfrost protested. “Maybe that rule needs some changing.”
“Bramblestar will be forced to strip Gentleoak of his duties because he has kits!” Cherryfall argued, ears flat to her skull. “It’s a conflict of interest!
“No!” Kyestorm snarled. “He shows Rosepetal no more consideration than he does the rest of us!”
“Easy for you to say,” Daisy retorted. “You’re his mother! And Sparkfire birthed his brother’s kits!”
“Did he show less care for you than Rosepetal?” Kyestorm’s voice thundered in the nursery, high and sweet no more. “He took excellent care of all of us!”
“What is going on in here?”Alderheart poked his head into the den, eyes wide. Kyestorm growled as the nursery silenced.
“Stupidity,” Kyestorm answered, glaring him. Another shadow fell into the nursery and Kyestorm recognized Bramblestar’s broad-shouldered form. The Clan Leader stuck his head in. Father and son gazed at her.
Leafstar stuck her head in, standing on Bramblestar’s other side. Kyestorm blinked, still trying to acclimate herself to the presence of the remnants of the fabled SkyClan. She purred, thrilled that Hawkwing turned out to be Twigpaw and Violetpaw’s father, showing they belonged to SkyClan. She wondered what might have happened if Twigpaw and her sister Violetpaw never snuck out to find their father, after Alderheart and Bramblestar announced the existence of SkyClan to everyone at the last Gathering.
Kyestorm smirked to herself, not shocked by the news thanks to Gentleoak, who knew and confided in her seasons ago. With the coyote menace, Bramblestar wanted no quests much to Twigpaw’s , Viloletpaw’s and Alderheart’s great disappointment. He needed all cats in camp, ready to fight, so the two apprentices took the issue into their own paws, going missing for a half moon. They brought Leafstar and the remnant of SkyClan back with them, Kyestorm thought, with a spike of alarm, only to have them face the coyote menace, instead of the rogues Kyestorm and the Clans killed and drove off many moons ago. A pale red, almost yellow, tom, Tree, accompanied them, and they called him Mediator, one good at diplomacy and settling disputes. Kyestorm learned the tom possessed talents, but nothing much better than her own mate.
“Everyone hears the screeching. What is going on?” Bramblestar glanced around. Kyestorm glared back, as all the kits nursed, nonplused by the arguing.
“Sparkfire!” Demonstreak’s voice carried into the den, as he slipped up beside Bramblestar. “Is everything all right?”
“Tell him,” Kyestorm grumbled at Rosepetal, digging her claws into her nest.
“I can’t!” she wailed, her dark cream fur bristling. One of her kits, Blackkit, mewled. Bramblestar narrowed his eyes, and Kyestorm realized he sensed the seriousness of the moment.
“No lies!” Kyestorm snarled. “I hate lies! It brings nothing but trouble! Tell him or I will!”
“Tell me what?” Bramblestar commanded, a growl rumbling his voice. His amber eyes flashed.
“My kits, well, they. . .” Rosepetal faltered, her eyes wide with dread. “Oh please! Don’t punish us!”
“I’ll have to know your crime,” Bramblestar replied, and Kyestorm saw a flicker of understanding in his eyes. “Your kits, you say? Are they by another Clan tom?”
“No,” Rosepetal mewed.
“They look like Sparkfire’s half Maine Coon kits,” Bramblestar noted, and flicked his ears. “They aren’t Phantomstrike’s?”
“No. They’re, they are Gentleoak’s,” Rosepetal admitted in a pitiful mewl.
“I knew it,” Demonstreak meowed, his voice full of joy and triumph. Kyestorm glared at her son, but he only grinned a beaming feline smile, tips of fangs bared, eyes closed.
“You had kits with our medicine cat?” Bramblestar growled sharply. “You do know that is against the code! You endangered his position.”
“Why?” Kyestorm burst out, unable to keep her feelings on the subject quiet. “This same stupid rule almost cost Leafpool her life’s work! I know the stories! The lies caused by it almost ripped the Clan apart!”
“It is law,” Bramblestar snapped at Kyestorm. She mantled her ruff, not backing down from her leader.
“Is it? Is it truly part of the Code, or is it just a long tradition?” Kyestorm lashed her tail. “Look at Jayfeather and Leafpool! Mother and son! Two of the best medicine cats in all the Clans!”
“Leafpool regained her status only because of great need,” Bramblestar argued.
“Doesn’t that prove something?” Kyestorm braved the angry glitter in Bramblestar’s eyes. “Does she favor family over any other warrior? Does Gentleoak? No! A deputy can go back to duty after her kits apprentice and even a leader can have kits with the deputy taking over until the kits apprentice! Why waste a talented medicine cat just because they have kits?”
“I agree,” Leafstar purred. “Times are changing.”
“They have a good point,” Tree said, peeking into the den.
“I think my grandfather would agree with Kyemama,” Sparkfire spoke up, her mew soft.
“What under StarClan is going on in here?” Another cat pushed past Bramblestar and Kyestorm met Squirrelflight’s sharp green eyes. “What would my father agree with?”
“That we shouldn’t waste a medicine cat’s talents just because they have kits!” Kyestorm meowed forcefully.
“What medicine cat had kits?” Squirrelflight hissed, her pelt bristling. Kyestorm sensed her sudden dismay and shame over long ago events.
“My son,”Kyestorm announced, braving the deputy’s flaring eyes. “Rosepetal’s kits are Gentleoak’s””
“What were you thinking?” Squirrelflight spat. “You repeat my sister’s mistake?”
“Didn’t you both learn?” Kyestorm spat back, hating the idea of lying to anyone. “Your sister is a fine medicine cat with two fine sons, one of which is an extraordinarily gifted medicine cat! Her daughter died a hero! But think what the lies did to all of you. I’ll not let my son suffer the same!”
“But. . .” Squirrelflight stared, until Sparkfire interrupted her.
“I agree with Kyemama,” she purred, licking one of her kit’s heads. “Firestar would agree that lies and secrets only bring pain. Leafpool had kits. She is still a medicine cat and rightly so. Maybe this tradition needs re-examination. Things are changing, beloved parents, and we’ll need to change to face the ongoing threat. The coyotes may be gone for now, but they’ll be back.”
Kyestorm purred approval and Bramblestar and Squirrelflight gaped at their daughter. Tree nodded. She noticed the entire Clan gathered behind their leader and deputy. She saw Spiderleg drop prey on the fresh kill pile, before he hurried over. Twigpaw, Alderheart’s new medicine cat apprentice, followed him. Violetpaw hurried over Another patrol returned, lead by Thornclaw and joined the knot of listening cats. The elders poked their heads out of the Elder den, ears twitching in the silence.
“You sound like your grandfather,” Bramblestar meowed with a laugh.
“I refuse to lie.” Kyestorm recognized her son’s soft voice, as Gentleoak nudged past his clanmates to enter the nursery. His amber eyes glittered with resolve, and he settled next to Rosepetal. “We may not be mates, but I refuse to let my kits grow up not knowing their father.”
“Are you willing to give up your medicine cat duties because of it?” Squirrelflight asked, her voice curt.
“No, never.” Gentleoak faced the deputy. “I’d only be a decent warrior because I’m so large. My fighting skills are, well, lacking despite training. I’m a superb medicine cat and everyone knows it. Why would I give up what StarClan chose for me to do in life?”
“It is our code,” Squirrelflight argued, lashing her tail, obviously filled with mixed emotions. “Maybe you could relinquish your duties for a while. . .”
“No,” Gentleoak retorted, baring the tips of his fangs. “Never. If you don’t want me to be your medicine cat, I can go elsewhere.”
“If you do, I go, too.” Kyestorm interjected in a forceful growl.
“But you have kits!” Kyestorm recognized Spiderleg’s voice. She peered past the throng to meet his gold gaze. The dismay dilating his eyes softened her heart.
“Sorry, my friend, but we’d go if Gentleoak does,” Kyestorm mewed, and Demonstone nodded his head.
“As would I,” Demonstreak said, his eyes on his mate. Sparkpelt raised her head, defiance in her eyes.
“I would go anywhere with you, Demonstreak,” she meowed firmly. Gasps went through the entire Clan.
“We could form our own Clan,” Demonstone rumbled. “If you reject my son, and his kits. I’m certain my daughters would join us.”
“Great StarClan,” Bramblestar erupted. “Nobody is exiling anyone! Let’s settle this now, before we go to the next Gathering. We must make a decision and be united on it. Once the kits fall asleep, I want Kyestorm, Sparkfire, Rosepetal, Blossonfall, and Poppyfrost to come out here. Daisy and Cherryfall, watch over the kits. Demonstone, alert me when the kits are asleep”
Bramblestar withdrew from the nursery. Squirrelflight followed, and Kyestorm listened to their low voices arguing back and forth, echoing in the camp beyond. Cats returned to their business, and murmurings rippled through the ranks, but no loud yowls of discord erupted from the clan.
“Don’t worry. I think we can convince all this is the right decision.” Tree said to her, pausing as he headed for the fresh kill pile.
“I hope so.” Kyestorm inhaled a deep breath, her heart racing, wondering what Bramblestar brewed in that mind of his. She worried how the Clan might react to Gentleoak’s apparent violation of the warrior code. She groomed her nursing kits, eager for them to snooze with full bellies. She glanced at Rosepetal, who avoided her gaze. Kyestorm harbored no desire to leave the Clan she loved, and prayed to StarClan that her Clan acted with common sense.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out over the camp. Kyestorm lifted her head, shaking away the fog of slumber. She gently stood up, careful not to disturb the sleeping pile of fuzz at her belly. Poppyfrost, Blossomfall, and Sparkfire did likewise, but Rosepetal stayed down. She gazed at Kyestorm with wide eyes, fear scent wafting across the nursery. One of her sleeping kits stirred and mewled.
“It’s ok,” Kyestorm purred. “Don’t scare the kits. You must come with us.”
Rosepetal slowly rose to her paws, and followed Kyestorm, Sparkfire and Poppyfrost out of the nursery. Kyestorm padded up to Demonstone and sat beside him. Sparkfire settled in next to Demonstreak, and Poppyfrost hurried over to Berrynose. Rosepetal sat next to Kyestorm eyes wide, and trembled with anxiety. Blossomfall sat with Thornclaw, eyes wide. Gentleoak ambled over, and sat behind her, ears slanted back in uncharacteristic defiance. Phantomstrike moved beside him, his sea green eyes blazing.
Bramblestar and Squirrelflight stood on Highledge, waiting for the clan to gather. Leafstar and Hawkwing sat below Highledge, nodding at Kyestorm in silent approval. Tree sayt below them, watching with interest. Kyestorm fidgeted, listening to the murmuring and muttering. In another few moments, everyone waited under Highledge in complete silence.
“I called you all here because we have a serious situation to discuss,” Bramblestar leveled his amber gaze on Gentleoak, who canted his ears further back. “I don’t wish to waste time, so I’ll just drop it on you. Our medicine cat, Gentleoak, had kits with Rosepetal.”
Gasps rippled through the Clan, but a number exchanged knowing glances.
“So? Tell us something we don’t know,” someone quipped, and Kyestorm turned to the speaker. Lionblaze and Cinderpelt sat together with their grown kits, Hollytuft, Sorrelstripe and Fernsong. Kyestorm thought back to her very first day in camp when Hollytuft asked her why she smelled like smoke. Hollytuft met her gaze and a feline smile briefly closed the black she-cat’s eyes, before she looked at Gentleoak. Kyestorm stopped herself from uttering a mew of surprise. How many she-cats found her son attractive enough to risk breaking the rules?
“I thought everyone knew,” Lilyheart exclaimed from her spot beside Snowbush. Their kits, Leafshade, Honeyfur and Larksong sat behind their mentors. Lilyheart’s uncle and aunt, Cloudtal and Brightheart, shifted uneasily, exchanging worried glances. New apprentice Twigpaw, sat beside her mentor, her eyes straying to Gentleoak.
“This is serious,” Bramblestar growled, eyeing the Clan. Then he inhaled, letting it out in a guttural sigh. “But our own history shows, that despite what tradition dictates, medicine cats who have kits of their own, can indeed, be impartial and treat all patients with equal care.” Bramblestar locked his gaze on Leafpool. She straightened, not flinching.
“She’s a wonderful medicine cat,” Lionblaze muttered.
“Yes, she is,” Bramblestar continued. “Remember this. Without Leafpool’s indiscretion so many seasons ago, we’d not have Jayfeather, who without doubt is one of the finest medicine cats the clans have ever known. Nor our fine warrior, Lionblaze. The question I pose to all of you is, do we follow tradition and demote Gentleoak to warrior, or let him continue with his medicine cat duties?”
“I say he stays as medicine cat,” Spiderleg snorted. “What else can he possibly be?”
“He broke the rule,” Berrynose protested, his long cream pelt bristling with anxiety. “The other clans will have something to say about that.”
“Mousedung,” Brackenfur swore. “If we decide not to demote him, it’s none of their business.”
“But what if this starts Clan wars?” Cloudtail asked, distress glittering in his eyes. “Its still a rule we’ve followed for countless seasons.”
“That is something we must decide,” Bramblestar said, sitting down, his amber eyes clouded. Kyestorm bristled, but before she uttered a word, Gentleoak stood up, and pushed past her, bottlebrush tail bushed out, ruff mantling. He halted under Highledge, and faced his clan.
“If you, or the other clans deny me my birthright given to me by StarClan, then I’ll leave the clans,” Gentleoak meowed sternly, his soft voice turning into a bellow of outrage, that echoed off the cliff.
“I’ll go with him!” Rainsleet interjected, coming quickly to his milk brother’s side, eyes ablaze.
“Me, too,” Greywind joined them. Kyestorm felt indignation flare within her.
“I’ll go, too, if you dare unseat Gentleoak from his position!” Kyestorm retorted, lashing her tail. “I’ll take my kits and go with my son.”
“I’ll go with them,” Demonstone rumbled, gold eyes glittering.
“Same here,” Demonstreak stood up. Sparkfire gazed at her parents, but though her green eyes widened with dismay, she nodded.
“I’ll go with my family,” Phantomstrike growled, baring his fangs. “I think Smokewind, Indiclaw, and Bluefrost will come with us, with their mates.”
“No!” Brackenfur jumped to his feet, eyes wild with angst. “You can’t leave! This is stupid! Leafpool had kits! She’s still a medicine cat!” Brackenfur looked at Demonstone, desperation on his grizzled face. “You’re here to help us all in any way possible!”
“I agree!” Thornclaw stood up, glancing at Brackenfur, then at Phantomstrike. “You can’t leave!”
“Silence!” Bramblestar commanded, the early morning sun silhouetting his body, emphasizing the Clan Leader’s broad shoulders. Kyestorm approved as Bramblestar’s voice boomed out over the camp. “Nobody is going anywhere!”
“What then?” Birchfall asked, exchanging glances with his brother. Bramblestar swept the gathered Clan with a piercing gaze, eyes glittering.
“I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, decree that Gentleoak shall NOT be stripped of his medicine cat duties, unless he shows he cannot handle them. If we all agree, then we show a united front at the next gathering several sunrises from now.” Bramblestar’s yowl rang off the rocks. “If anyone disagrees, speak now, or forever shut your jaws on this matter!”
Murmuring and grumbling rippled through the Clan but nobody offered dissension. Kyestorm noticed relief on many young she-cat’s faces, and a number of them eyed her sons with hope.
Kyestorm flattened her ears, deciding to have a talk with all of them, to encouraging them to attract Phantomstrike. Phantomstrike still rebuffed most, with very rare exception as Blossomfall proved, but still on the search for his life mate he resisted the prophecy’s drive to procreate and strengthen his Clan. Many she-cats gave up on the giant Maine Coon tom, and now, with Rosepetal’s success with Gentleoak, they all turned to the medicine cat, hope shining in their eyes. Kyestorm found this unacceptable, especially in this circumstance.
“Then it is so,” Bramblestar concluded. “Until the Gathering.”
ThunderClan’s leader leaped down from Highledge and walked up to Kyestorm and Gentleoak. Kyestorm forgot the moon-eyed she-cats.
“It’s done,” Branblestar said in a soft tone, his amber eyes troubled. “I don’t know how the other clans will react, and it may cause strife, but ThunderClan is behind you.”
“As is SkyClan,” Leafstar added. “We understand the need to adapt to change.”
“My family came here under the guidance of StarClan to help all the Clans, and we’re supposed to breed and multiply,” Gentleoak replied with a ragged purr. “The urge came over me so strong, I couldn’t deny it. Obviously, I am not exempt from this veiled decree.”
“I think we all understand,” Bramblestar agreed with a nod. “But even we’ve become complacent, because the coyotes appear to be gone.”
“Even if they are, is that any reason to strip Gentleoak of his status?” Kyestorm demanded, trying to keep her voice low and calm.
“Try not to worry until the Gathering,” Bramblestar said, and lowered his voice into a soft growl of defiance. “I refuse to lose one of the best medicine cats this Clan has even known.”
“Thank you for supporting us,” Kyestorm said, her heart fluttering with anxiety. Bramblestar dipped his head.
“You and your family have done so much for us,” he murmured. “Go. Be with your kits.”
Bramblestar turned away, heading over to Squirrelflight. Kyestorm heard them conversing as they crossed the camp, organizing new hunting and border patrols. Kyestorm returned to the nursery, and carefully curled around her sleeping kits. Silence hung over the den for many moments, and Kyestorm listened to the camp return to normal activities.
“What will happen if the other Clans’ medicine cats rebuke Gentleoak?” Sparkfire broke the quiet, her meow barely above a whisper.
“I don’t know,”Kyestorm answered. “Can they do that? Can they block him from contacting StarClan?”
“Maybe,” Poppyfrost said, twitching the tip of her tail.
“No, they can’t,” Gentleoak’s garbled voice echoed in the nursery as he poked his head in, carrying water in one of his prized two-leg pots he found during herb foraging a half moon ago. “Anyone thirsty?”
“I am! Me, too!” echoed in the den.
“Yes,”Kyestorm replied, then wrinkled her nose in a smirk, remembering how the entire Clan behaved when Gentleoak brought them into camp. They yowled, screeched and thought the two-leg camping pots held dangers worse than the Dark Forest. Gentleoak, in a fit of rare temper, brought one to the Moonpool and StarClan confirmed the pots held no danger. Kyestorm remembered explaining to the Clan the items’ purpose, and when Gentleoak and a brave Alderheart carried water, herbs, moss and even rocks in the pots, the Clan saw their usefulness.
When Gentleoak moved some of Jayfeather’s precious catmint plants to camp in the pots, and planted then in the soil near the cliffs, the Clan finally accepted them as gifts from StarClan. Gentleoak treasured his pots, and allowed no one but his clan leader, fellow medicine cats, brothers and parents to touch them.
She watched him move carefully among the queens, delivering much appreciated water.
“This is so much better than sucking moss,” Sparkfire purred.
“Are you sure they can’t block you?’ Poppyfrost asked, before she lapped up water from the pot.
“Nobody can stop me from speaking to StarClan, except StarClan, so don’t worry.” Gentleoak replied, flicking his tall furry ears. “But I would miss conversing with my fellow medicine cats from other Clans.”
“Can they shun you like that?” Rosepetal asked, her golden eyes wide with dismay. Her dark cream fur rippled down her back.
“I am not certain,” Gentleoak answered, his amber eyes solumn. “But even if we can’t speak face to face, I’m sure I can do so in dreams, like I did with Kyemama during my first trip to the Moonpool.”
Gentleoak picked up the empty pot by its metal handle, and walked out of the nursery. Rosepetal flattened her ears, gazing after him.
“I just hate that our mistake will cause strife, and hurt Gentleoak,” Rosepetal whimpered, curling protectively around her sleeping kits. “Though I’m not in love with him, I like him a lot. We’re friends, and I adore our kits.”
“Only StarClan knows why this happened,” Poppyfrost commented. “But Gentleoak has such an iron will under his quiet demeanor. It’s amazing this occurred at all.”
“I don’t know,” Rosepetal uttered a soft wail. “We went for a walk, and I wanted to help him find herbs right after he found those pots. He was so excited to use them, thrilled to find a way to not only to water Jayfeather’s catmint over by the old two-leg place, but to bring some into camp. We dug them up and placed them in the pots with water. And, it just happened. Such a perfect day, and I lost my head.”
“Well, he is a very handsome tom,” Sparkfire quipped.
“You led him on? “Kyestorm hissed in surprise.
“Yes, I did!” Rosepetal flicked her tail. “It just overwhelmed me and I couldn’t even think about what I was doing. He never refused me, not even once. I never expected kits to come of it.”
“Well, that only takes once, you know,” Poppyfrost snorted.
“I know,” Rosepetal murmured, burying her nose in the sleeping pile of fuzz at her belly. “But its like I lost all ability to reason or consider anything in those moments. I’m just so sorry it’s hurting Gentleoak.”
“I think StarClan wanted it to happen, just as it did with you, Blossomfall,” Daisy spoke up. “Gentleoak certainly knows the rules, but, according to the prophecy, he’s supposed to find a mate and have kits.”
“How?” Cherryfall retorted. “If that’s so, why did he become a Medicine cat?”
“New blood comes from Kyestorm and her kits, all of them,” Daisy explained, furrowing her forehead in concentration. “Gentleoak is her kit. Perhaps, he is meant to break the rule. And obviously, StarClan is pushing Phantomstrike, even with his stubborn ideals.”
"You all should embrace change and adapt, to keep your Clan strong," Tinycloud interjected in soft but firm tones. "Don't be so Code bound you can't be flexible and adapt."
"You are so right." Kyestorm gazed with affection at the tiny white she-cat barely a third her size. "Without that, you Clan might never have made it here."
Murmurs of agreement rippled around the nursery. Kyestorm looked at Daisy and nodded. She yawned, and laid her head down on her big paws, and peered out of the entrance. Bright sun-high light filled the camp, and kits stirred from their slumber. Kyestorm nosed her huge brood to her belly, then lay her head down, unobtrusively watching her fellow queens. Anxiety rippled her fur, and she knew the next Gathering promised to be as bad as her very first over a seasoncycle ago.
The moon shone bright across the lake as Kyestorm followed her clanmates to the Gathering. A warm gentle breeze ruffled the surface of the water, creating wavelets which sparkled in the moonlight. Kyestorm plodded along the shore, forgoing her normal antics, her heart and mind filled with anxiety. She recognized Spiderleg’s scent as he came alongside her, and slanted an ear in his direction.
“No dousing your clanmates in water this evening?” he asked. She glanced at him.
“Too worried,” Kyestorm answered the old warrior.
“Try not to worry,” Spiderleg pranced briefly on his long legs. “The moon shines so bright. Surely StarClan already knows and is not upset.”
“I hope you’re right,” Kyestorm mewed, then looked to her other side at Demonstone. He nodded, his golden eyes blazing with determination, and Kyestorm took comfort in his presence.
Phantomstrike, Demonstreak, Cloudtail, Gentleoak, Leafpool and Alderheart followed behind her. Dovewing and Ivypool trotted ahead of her with the apprentices, behind Branmblestar, Squirrelflight, Lionblaze, Bumblestripe. Leafstar, Hawkwing and Twigpaw brought up the rear.
The Clan moved along the beach past WindClan territory, and Kyestorm looked up the windswept hill. Kyestorm’s heart swelled with joy when she spotted Smokewind walking behind Onestar and Crowfeather. She towered over both of them, her keen eyes scanning the lake.
Her thick bushy tail shot up in silent greeting. Kyestorm raised her tail and waved it, then scowled suddenly as Harespring and Furzepelt shuffled into view, bringing up the rear of WindClan’s delegation. Her frown vanished when she noticed how far apart they traveled, and Harespring looked terrified, with his tail low, ears back, eyes wide. Furzepelt held her head low, eyes on Smokewind. Kyestorm wondered why Onestar brought Harespring along?
“This will be his first Gathering since your daughter threw him off that bridge,” Spiderleg commented. Kyestorm looked up, spotting the half bridge above them, and noted the immense distance.
“He’s lucky he lived,” Kyestorm growled. “He’d better not cause any trouble at this Gathering.”
“I doubt he will, especially if Smokewind is there, too,” Spiderleg snorted. “From what I hear, he wets himself if she even bares a tooth or claw at him.”
“Good,” Kyestorm flashed a toothy grin at the black warrior. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive him.”
“Smokewind hasn’t. Why should you?” Spiderleg lashed his long tail. “He must earn that if he ever does.”
“True,” Kyestorm replied, as the Clan circled the swamp. Kyestorm shivered, repulsed by the thought of playing in the mud. Since that awful day, the mud and muck filled her with revulsion. She moved up the bank, uttering a hiss as they passed the little mud hole.
“It’s not the mud’s fault,” Demonstone meowed.
“I know, and I miss playing in it, but, I just look at it and it reminds me of that dreadful feeling of being utterly stuck and that cold that soaked past my pelt, chilling me worse that the most wicked snowstorm.” Kyestorm shook herself. “I hope this fear of it goes away one day.”
“I don’t know if it will,” Demonstone replied, his tone gentle. “But just remember the evil was not in the mud but in Harespring’s heart.”
“I know, but I’ll never understand why they did that, especially after we saved Furzepelt from the rogues.” Kyestorm sighed, as Bramblestar led the Clan to the tree bridge. They crossed, one at a time, and as usual RiverClan already waited there under the Great Oak. Mistystar stood up, and Kyestorm noted she lacked her usual spring, but her eyes, as always, gleamed bright and full of good nature.
“Greetings, ThunderClan, and SlyClan,” she called out, tail high above her back. Bluefrost stood beside her, and Reedwhisker flanked the aging Clan Leader’s other flank. He flicked his tail in greeting. Kyestorm felt a pang of sorrow, realizing how much Mistystar aged since she arrived. Kyestorm blinked her eyes in a feline smile, then waved her tail at her daughter. Bluefrost waved her immense frosted silvery blue tail, her eyes full of delight. Beside her, Troutleap stood, blue eyes twinkling, and Kyestorm admired the handsome tom’s long thick coat, with its mantle of black over the white undercoat. Kyestorm flicked her tail with approval in her daughter’s choice of mates. Kyestorm trotted over to her, as Bramblestar and Leafstar met with Mistystar. Happy talk and banter echoed in the clearing under bright moonbeams. Silverpelt glittered above, and a gentle breeze sang in the boughs of trees.
“Kyemama!” Bluefrost mewed, greeting her mother with a head bump. “I have great news.”
“Bluefrost, I see you are well,” Kyestorm said, rubbing cheeks with her daughter, before acknowledging Bluefrost’s obvious excitement.
“Kyemama, what’s wrong?” Bluefrost gazed at her, a furrow of concern creasing her forehead.
“You’ll know soon enough, and it may cause strife between the clans,” Kyestorm admitted.
“What did Phantomstrike do now?” Bluefrost tilted her head, blue eyes twinkling.
“Nothing. It concerns your brother, Gentleoak.” Kyestorm glanced over where Gentleoak sat with Willowshine and Mothwing.
“Gentleoak?” Bluefrost almost yowled, but dropped her voice in time.
“Yes, but I can’t say anything more. You’ll find out very soon. What is your news?”
“I will let Mistystar tell you,” Bluefrost answered, her tail drooping. Kyestorm shook herself, and moved away, not wishing to see the questions burning in her daughter’s blue eyes. A lump formed in Kyestorm’s throat as strident greetings echoed from across the tree bridge. Kyestorm turned, watching, as both WindClan and ShadowClan trotted over, mingling as they crossed.
Kyestorm swallowed hard, knowing the news her clan brought with them would shatter the friendly atmosphere. Kestrelflight and Puddleshine joined their fellow medicine cats. Littlecloud’s absence stung her. The ancient medicine cat went to StarClan in his sleep two moons ago, despite Gentleoak’s attempts to revive him with his unique abilities. All of the medicine cats looked somber, Kyestorm realized they all already knew Gentleoak’s indiscretion, which added to the grief of losing Littlecloud.
Kyestorm moved to her customary spot as everyone gathered to listen to news from the Clan leaders. Bluefrost eyed her, flicking her tall white-tufted ears. Indiclaw and her mate Snowsquall sauntered over,with Pineshadow and Beeheart. Indiclaw glanced at her mother, green eyes full of happiness.
Onestar moved to his branch and the other four leaders jumped up to their respective limbs as one. Harespring slunk to a clump of rocks as far from Smokewind as possible, and a number of cats tittered. One laughed out loud, and the Leaders all ignored the outbursts. Smokewind stood beside Crowfeather and Oatclaw. She glanced at Kyestorm, a glint of worry in her golden eyes. Kyestorm’s heart jumped. What did she know?
“Greetings, “ Bramblestar stated, quieting the Gathering, and breaking Kyestorm’s thoughts.. “We bring some important news, thus, I’ll wait until everyone else speaks before bringing up this issue. Aside from this, our kits from Kyestorm, Poppyfrost, Cherryfall, Blossonfall's, Rosepetal, Sparkfire, and Daisy flourish, prey runs well. Our apprentices train well, and soon will be warriors. We’re strong and ready for whatever threats we may encounter.” Murmurs of delight rippled around the Clans. Bramblestar raised his head, glancing at the big bright moon, and clear skies. Silverpelt glittered. “So, before I bring our news of concern, I wish to hear news from other clans.” Bramblestar deferred to his fellow Clan Leaders. “I am grateful for ThunderClan’s hospitality, your acceptance, and we plan to stay put and help in any way we can. Dewpaw, Finpaw and Reedpaw will be warriors soon. Tinycloud’s kits prosper,” Leafstar added, and stepped back.
“Prey runs well for us,” Mistystar spoke up. “We have no new apprentices yet but Troutleap and Bluefrost are expecting kits in a couple of moons. Lakeheart's kits grow and prosper.”
Yowls of congratulation echoed across the lake and Kyestorm stared at her daughter. Bluefrost nodded, but her eyes burned with concern for her brother.
“All is well for us, too.” Onestar stood up. He gazed with pride at Smokewind. “I knew our fine warrior was gifted the moment I first saw her. Even our elders wax as fat as kits.”
“ShadowClan also prospers. Tawnypelt’s and my kits have become fine apprentices. Welcome Oakpaw, Shadepaw and Redpaw!” Rowanstar rose to his feet, pride shining in his eyes as the Clans’ gleefully cheered his kits’ names. Shadepaw looked so much like her mother, and brown tabby Oakpaw resembled his uncle, in his broad shouldered physique. Kyestorm met the gaze of Redpaw, the kit who suffered mauling by coyote jaws. The young red tabby tom stood tall and proud, well-muscled, looking very much like his father. Kyestorm blinked a feline greeting at Redpaw, who returned the gesture. Rowanstar turned, his gaze drifting to the medicine cats. Kyestorm’s stomach knotted.
“Something is amiss with the medicine cats.” Rowanstar leveled his gaze on Bramblestar. “What do you know of it?”
“It is a serious matter,” Bramblestar answered, tilting back his ears. “But also part of the prophecy that brought Kyestorm and her kits to us. I won’t have you guess since I believe all the medicine cats already know. In obeying the prophecy bequeathed to him and his kind by StarClan to multiply, Gentleoak broke the medicine cat rule. He and Rosepetal have had kits.”
Stunned silence hung over the clearing for several moments before cries of “What? How? How could he?” burst from many throats.
“He must be demoted!” Rowanstar yowled. “He can’t be a medicine cat any more.”
“This is preposterous! How could he do this?” Onestar cried. “The Code says he must not be a medicine cat any longer!”
“Yes, I can!” Gentleoak rose and strode to the center of the clearing, pelt bristling, eyes blazing, until he looked twice his impressive size. Cats backed away from his imposing figure. All the Clan Leaders stared at him. “I can do my job. I was born to it. I can always be impartial. Whatever drove me to have kits did so for a reason!”
“What could that be?” Onestar asked, his voice sharp with shock. He faced Smokewind. “Did you know?”
“I guessed, but did not know for sure,” Smokewind answered, and slanted her ears back, but did not flinch. “But I support him as a medicine cat. He shouldn’t be demoted.”
“We have discussed it as a Clan and have agreed not to demote Gentleoak,” Bramblestar retorted. “He is the best medicine cat we have ever had. Perhaps the best the Clans have ever seen. You all know it. It makes no sense to lose his skills with the dangers we face!”
“What dangers?” Rowanstar snarled. “We’ve had no trouble in seasons. Puddleshine, you must shun Gentleoak now. He cannot be a medicine cat!”
“Rowanstar, please,” Puddleshine faced his leader, his eyes pleading. “Don’t make me do this. He saved Littelecloud’s life, twice. How can you forget that?”
“Nonesense!” Indiclaw jumped in beside her brother, ruff mantling, green eyes blazing. “This is a bad rule! Is it really in the code or just some old tradition? From what I’ve learned it is just tradition! I won’t repudiate my brother!”
“Nor I,” Smokewind stepped forward to stand beside Indiclaw. Demonstreak, Sparkfire and Phantomstrike stepped up.
“Our own history shows medicine cats who have kits of their own, can be impartial and treat all patients with equal care. Look at Leafpool!” Demonstreak meowed sternly.
“She was needed, and she is a medicine cat ONLY . . “ Onestar protested. Leafpool stood up, glancing down at Puddleshine before speaking.
“You think I’m not worthy of being a medicine cat because I had kits?” Leafpool gave each leader a piercing stare of indignation.
“You’re a wonderful medicine cat,” Crowfeather interjected, giving Onestar an apologetic glance, before glaring at the other leaders. “Have we not learned anything from what happened with me and Leafpool? The lies hurt so many.”
“You dare insult our medicine cat?” Squirrelflight spat. "After she helped you after the Great Flood?"
“Remember this,” Indiclaw snapped irritably. “Without Leafpool we’d not have Jayfeather, or Lionblaze!”
All the medicine cats yowled agreement, sitting in a clump. Willowshine and Mothwing exchanged a glance.
“You can’t doubt that truth,” Willowshine said.
“Those are exceptions,” Rowanstar growled. “We can’t keep making exceptions to the code!”
“Why not?” Mistystar suddenly yowled, a snarl in her tone. “We are one Clan, to protect the Five! Kyestorm and her kits came here to strengthen us, and that means not only through their own strengths but breeding with us and passing their strengths to our Clans! Gentleoak only did as StarClan wished!”
“I can’t condone this,” Onestar grumbled.
“If you won’t accept me, I’ll leave the Clans,” Gentleoak roared with uncharacteristic anger. “I won’t stay where I’m not useful or wanted.”
“I’ll go with him,” Kyestorm spoke up, and hurried to her son’s side. Demonstone rumbled like a huge Monster, coming up beside Kyestorm. His gold eyes blazed with indignant rage.
“I won’t leave our son to go it alone out there,” he growled.
“I’ll go with my brother,” Phantomstrike snapped, his strident tones deepening. “We’ll start our own Clan!”
“I’ll go, too,” Indiclaw agreed, her strong voice carrying across the lake. Snowsquall stood beside her.
“Me, too,” he meowed.
“I go with my brother, too,” Smokewind announced, and moved to stand by Kyestorm. Oatclaw followed her in silent support.
“You have no need to go anywhere,” Bramblestar yowled with dismay. “ThunderClan is behind you, and we will not demote Gentleoak.”
“We are, completely,” Spiderleg ranged alongside Kyestorm. “Without Gentleoak, that storm would have killed Littlecloud, Leafpool, Puddleshine, Mothwing, Willowshine, and Kestrelflight! Remember, Gentleoak did not force them all to go, they decided to go to he Moonpool that night.”
“You can’t say Leafpool’s kits are mistakes,” Lionblaze joined Spiderleg, his golden coat rippling down his body. “I’m not.”
ThunderClan assembled below Bramblestar in a united front. Mistystar moved closer to Bramblestar, and her Clan followed, gathering below her. Reedwhisker stood tall, yellow eyes blazing.Leafstar glared, as she and Hawkwing gave Thunderclan their support. Her voice rang out.
“You are fools to reject him. He only does what StarClan asks of him. We need all our medicine cats! You both have his siblings in your Clans. Surely you understand things are changing.”
“I agree!” Crowfeather added, “We can’t be so bound by tradition and code we become fools, hurt by our own folly.”
Rowanstar and Onestar exchanged shocked glances, and Rowanstar shook himself, his pelt puffed with indignation.
“This is outrageous!” Rowanstar shrieked in anger. “You destroy the code! Crowfrost, Puddleshine, clanmates, with me! We’re leaving!” He glared at Indiclaw, but Kyestorm saw hurt in his eyes. “Indiclaw, stay if you wish, but don’t return to ShadowClan!”
“Please, Rowanstar, don’t,” Puddleshine mewed, refusing to leave the clump of medicine cats.
“You’re being a stubborn old fool!” Indiclaw shot back, eliciting surprised muttering from her clanmates. “We shouldn’t be fighting at all.”
“You dare?’ Rowanstar faced Indiclaw, eyes narrowed, but his voice trembled with anguish.
“I agree with Rowanstar,” Onestar hissed, anger and hurt in his eyes. ‘Smokewind, Oatclaw, don’t come back if you stay and break the code.”
“Onestar, please, don’t do this,” Smokewind replied in a mournful yowl.
“Don’t be fools!” Mistystar spat, springing down to bar their paths. “Danger lurks! We should never split!”
“Nonesense! Nothing has threatened us in seasons. Step aside!” Rowanstar snarled, advancing on the old she-cat. Mistystar bristled. Kyestorm watched in utter astonishment, and glanced at Bramblestar who watched, his expression stony, before he jumped down from his branch to stand beside Mistystar, a growl rumbling deep in his broad chest. Reedwhisker and Squirrelflight flanked them. Leafstar and Hawkwing jumped down to stand beside Squirrelflight.
Roawanstar growled, lifting a paw, claws out. Kyestorm looked up, shocked that not a single cloud dotted the sky. The moon shone blazing white and Silverpelt glittered in undulating waves. She quailed inwardly. Is this what StarClan wants?
Move aside,” Onestar snarled, unsheathing his claws.
“Stop!” Tree leaped up and dropped between the two factions. “Please, listen to reason. “Rowanstar, Onestar, do you really believe Gentleoak committed such an atrocious crime? Times are changing. New danger threatens.”
“Ge out of the way, Tree,” Rowanstar spat, raising a paw to the yellow tom. “You can’t solve this one.”
“You are all . . .” Tree paused, turning his head, as the alarm screech of desperate cats reverberated across the lake from the moorland, silencing further arguing. Every cat jerked alert. A howl echoed the cry, and, in a single moment of horror, every cat fixed trembling ears in the direction of the cry for help.
Kyestorm danced in place as all five leaders locked gazes. She wanted to bite all of them in their collective rears, but before she uttered one yowl of dissent, Onestar’s outrage evaporated, turning to desperation and shock. Rowanstar’s angry expression vanished, turning to stunned disbelief, before changing in an instant to outraged determination. Bramblestar, Leafstar, and Mistystar nodded a silent affirmative. Five voices rose as one in command, all arguments forgotten.
“Warriors! To WindClan! The enemy attacks!”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: RAID
As one, the Clan Gathering cats plowed across the tree bridge, and swarmed across the shore, racing for WindClan land. Smokewind surged ahead, and Kyestorm urged her body for more speed. She passed several cats, and sensed another behind her as they dashed into WindClan territory. Indiclaw came up beside her, and Kyestorm merely nodded. Anger filled her body. Phantomstrike leaped ahead of her, passing the five Clan Leaders, trailing his swift sister by many foxlengths. Kyestorm asked her body for more speed, and raced ahead passing everyone but Smokewind. Up the moonlit windswept moorland they raced, leaping boulders, fallen logs, forgoing the normal trails, and flowed down into WindClan’s camp.
Smokewind uttered a shrieking yowl of challenge, and plunged into the fray, where WindClan warriors desperately battled three adult coyotes that attacked the queen’s den. Crouchfoot, Slightfoot and Leaftail rode the back of one coyote, ripping fur from its back, diverting its attention. Breezepelt, Hootwhisker, and Nightcloud attacked the larger coyote, braving the huge jaws and fangs. The smallest coyote, Kyestorm recognized as the pup who accompanied his parents on the attack on ShadowClan last Leaf Bare. Gorsetail and Sedgewhisker rode the young coyote’s neck, clawing at his ears. All bore grievous bite wounds.
Cats from ThunderClan and SkyClan flowed toward WindClan camp from over the western border, responding to the universal cry for help.Hawkwing sprinted ahead of them.
“Faster!” Berrynose’s yowl rose. “We’re not gonna to get there in time!”
Answering screams echoed over the lake and Shadow Clan and River Clan responded. Kyestorm glanced backward, noting how far away Shadow Clan’s warriors raced. River Clan followed behind the Gathering cats, but hurried many fox lengths behind. A squall of rage turned her back to the fight.
Heathertail stood in the entrance of the nursery, her light brown tabby pelt slashed and bleeding. Kyestorm’s heart leaped into her throat, catching a glimpse of terrified kits’ eyes reflecting the dim light in the den.
“Kits! No!” Kyestorm shrieked, just as Smokewind slammed into one coyote, landing on its head. It yelped in shock, rearing up, trying to fling the black smoke warrior off its head. Smokewind ignored a snap of its jaws that tore into her side, and sank her foreclaws deep into the canine’s face, her weight pushing the enemy’s head to the ground. Kyestorm reached her daughter and smashed into the coyote’s shoulder. The coyote writhed under the attack as Indiclaw joined Kyestorm. Demonstreak and Phantomstrike attacked the other coyote, but Kyestorm saw little more as she used every ounce of her strength and fury on the enemy. She heard all five leaders call upon their warriors as she sank her claws into the side of the coyote’s head. Their voices roared as one command.
The Clan cats attending the Gathering arrived and joined the fight. ThunderClan cats plunged down from the ridge above camp, flinging themselves into the battle. Screeches echoed in the camp as warriors sank teeth and claw into any coyote flesh available. Out of her peripheral vision, Kyestorm saw Harespring and Furzepelt attack one of the coyote’s haunches, clawing and biting, screaming challenges. Kyestorm blinked with shocked surprise, and under her, the coyote shook its head, snapping its long jaws, ripping a hunk of hair from her chest. Kyestorm brought her mind back to the battle, renewing her assault, sinking her long claws into the coyote’s face. It yelped, trying to twist its head to grab her in its teeth.
“Duck your head, Kyestorm! Indiclaw, jump off now!” Demonstone roared the order. Kyestorm tucked her head, but left her claws latched into the enemy. She tilted her head, wondering why her mate demanded this of her, when she saw his massive paw holding a large stone. With a flick of his foreleg, Demonstone flung the rock with a snarl. It whizzed over Kyestorm’s head and struck the coyote square in the eye.
The canine uttered a screaming yelp, and rolled over. Kyestorm released her hold, in time to see her son copy his father. Demonstreak left his brother’s side, and picked up a large rock in his dexterous polydactyl paw and hurled it at the second coyote. It smacked the creature on its bloodied face, right between its eyes. The coyote uttered a howl and yelped in shock. Demonstone flung another, at the third coyote The rock bounced off the coyote’s cheek right below the ear.
“Get out of here!’ Phantomstrike snarled in a menacing hiss, and clawed the coyote’s rump. Warriors from Shadow Clan and River Clan finally arrived, and the five Clans united converged on the confused canines, forming a wall of feline rage. The coyotes bolted, confused and hurt by Demonstone’s amazing marksmanship. The giant black smoke Maine Coon continued to hurl stones, his muscular forelegs blurs and he settled on his haunches, snatching up every rock, stone and pebble within reach.
Kyestorm picked up a stone in her paw and attempted to throw it, but her rock landed only a mere squirrellength from her. She noticed many others trying the technique as the coyotes fled the camp. Rocks zinged from Demonstone’s and Demonstreak’s deft paws, pinging off the startled canines. Indiclaw and Bluefrost ripped their legs with wicked claws, joined by their mates. The wall of cats advanced, and charged, forcing the coyotes to flee. They raced across the moorland, disappearing into the scrub beyond the horseplace.
“Are you all right?” Smokewind hurried to Heathertail, and groomed her wounds. “Are the kits all right?”
“The kits are fine,” Heathertail mewled, sinking to her belly. Kestrelflight hurried over, Gentleoak at his side. The two medicine cats tended to her wounds, and Kestrelflight shook his head. Gentleoak flattened his ears, and his voice echoed in the camp.
“No, she will not die. Not on my watch.”
Kyestorm stood, fur on end, trembling with fury and terror. Crowfeather paced, eyes on the distant moor, ignoring the gash on his hip. Gentleoak yowled orders, and Jayfeather’s gruff garbled voice answered him. Kyestorm saw Jayfeather gliding into camp, carrying Gentleoak’s large pot. Water sloshed inside. Gentleoak hurried over to Jayfeather, and took his precious pot from his fellow medicine cat.
Twigpaw hurried over with the smaller pot, which brimmed with many herbs. Kyestorm recognized the comfrey, marigold, moss, and cobweb. Gentleoak took the moss and dunked it in the water, then carefully cleansed Heathertail’s wounds. He, Leafpool, and Jayfeather chewed the herbs into a poultice, and Gentleoak added some water from the pot, using a flat stone to further mix his poultices into sticky salves with deft claws.
Alderheart raced off to refill the bigger pot with water, during which time Gentleoak slathered the salve into Heathertail’s deepest wounds. When Alderheart returned, Gentleoak carefully cleaned out each wound with cold water from the pot before applying his mixture. The bleeding stopped in the treated wounds, and Gentleoak urged Heathertail to drink as much water as possible. The queen blinked and obeyed, her eyes calm, as Gentleoak attended her smaller cuts. Kestrelflight helped, his eyes full of new respect.
Beyond them, Willowshine and Mothwing worked triage, as Puddlehine hurried back and forth between them and the medicine cat den, retrieving herbs at the medicine cats’ whims. Alderheart assisted him. Her gaze strayed to Harespring, who lay in a makeshift nest, a deep gash furrowing his shoulder and flank. Furzepelt lay next to him, her face bloody from a small deep head wound. To Kyestorm’s further shock, Smokewind walked up to the injured pair, and her gold eyes glimmered with sympathy. Kyestorm flattened her ears, and growled, annoyed, feeling little empathy towards the two who tried to drown her.
“You both fought well,” the tall warrior said, flicking her thick tail. “Today you both earned your freedom back. I will see to it Onestar agrees.”
“I’m sorry,” Onestar mewed, startling Kyestorm. She jumped sideways, but stopped the hiss in her throat when she recognized the WindClan leader.
“For what?” Kyestorm asked, regaining her composure.
“For doubting your son. For even considering casting him out,” Onestar answered, flicking his tail at Heathertail, who lay calm, the worst of the danger over. Her kits peered out of the nursery. Kyestorm forgot Harespring.
“I’m sorry, too,” Rowanstar said, joining them. “He saved Heathertail from bleeding to death. We’d be fools to not allow him to do his duties as a medicine cat.”
“I’m glad you two finally came to your senses,” Mistystar said, as she, Leafstar, and Bramblestar joined them. I suggest at the next Gathering we officially amend the code.”
“Why wait?” Bramblestar snorted. “The moon still shines, and I doubt Star Clan will mind.” Bramblestar squared his broad shoulders and yowled, “I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, decree to remove the penalty from the medicine cat code, and allow them to have kits, as long as they prove they can be impartial and not show favoritism. If they fail in this, they then can no longer be medicine cats. I say this under StarClan, in so doing, on this day the five Clans are One, to preserve the Five.”
“I, Mistystar, leader of RiverClan, second this motion.” The RiverClan leader waved her plumed tail.
“I, Onestar, Leader of WindClan, agree.” Onestar turned to Rowanstar who nodded.
I, Rowanstar, Leader of ShadowClan, also agrees.” He scowled before adding, ‘But we must enforce the old code should kits or a mate interfere with their duties.” “I, Leafstar. Leader of SkyClan, agree fully.” Leafstar’s amber eyes glittered.
“Agreed,” Bramblestar said, and Onestar nodded. Mistystar slanted her ears back, but dipped her head in agreement. She glanced at the working medicine cats, then eyed Kyestorm.
“You should get tended to,” she insisted.
“I will, but there are others who need them more than I do." Kyestorm glanced at the five leaders. “I only wish we could have killed one of those beasts, and scared them away for good.”
“This is preposterous,” Onestar growled,.“It took nearly all of us to drive three of them away.”
“We can’t allow them to keep attacking our homes, our kits, our queens. We need to be on the offensive,” Bramblestar snarled, his amber eyes blazing. He raised his voice to a yowl. “Phantomstrike!”
The huge warrior stepped forward, sea-green eyes blazing. He dipped his head.
“Your idea many moons ago may be a good one after all,” Bramblestar yowled so everyone heard him. “We train, then we track these beasts to their dens and drive them out.”
Cheers and yowls of agreement erupted from the gathered Clans. Indiclaw’s eyes shone as she stood beside her brother.
“We should have done this after the attack on ShadowClan.”
“We were not prepared,” Bramblestar disagreed. “We’ll all learn to throw stones, and train in new battle techniques.”
“This could take moons,” Onestar countered, worry in his eyes.
“We need moons,” Kyestorm interjected. “Our kits are but a moon and a half old!”
“The enemy has given us no choice,” Bramblestar growled, glancing after the vanished canines, baring his teeth in a hiss. The fur bristled across his broad shoulders. “We can’t allow any further attacks.”
“We’ve bought some time tonight,” Mistystar said in soft meow.
“How will we handle this?” Rowanstar asked. “Demonstreak and Demonstone seem to be the only ones who can throw rocks.”
“I learn fast,” Indiclaw yowled, and gripped a small stone, and flung it. It struck a nearby tree, chipping off a bit of bark. “If Demonstreak can do this, so can I.”
“As will I,” Smokewind took a large pebble in her large paw, reared up on her long hindlegs, and flicked her foreleg. The little rock whizzed across the camp to strike the same tree Indiclaw hit. Kyestorm felt all eyes turn to her.
“Don’t be the only Clan Maine Coon who can’t throw rocks,” Demonstone teased. Kyestorm picked up a stone, and tossed it like a mouse. It flew high in the air, and landed a mere squirrel length from her.
“No,” Demonstone mewed with suppressed laughter. “The motion is more like striking an opponent across the face with a quick paw flick.”
“I’ll try.” Kyestorm picked up another rock, and with a growl, flicked out her leg and paw, but this time the stone hung up in her claws, and dropped half a foxlength away from her. She grumbled with frustration. “I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can,” Demonstone insisted. “Rest the stone in your claws, then when you flick, use them to help push the rock.”
“If I can learn, so can you,” Bluefrost quipped.
Kyestorm purred with capitulation, then picked up another large pebble, and cradled it in her long toes, holding it in place with her claws. She squinted at her target, and flicked out her paw, rolling the rock up to the clawtips before snapping her wrist. The stone rocketed across the camp and struck the tree trunk. Kyestorm leaped in place.
“I did it!”
“I knew you could,” Demonstone praised her before turning to Bramblestar. “You all should learn. We also should perfect battle moves that will work on coyotes. Their eyes and noses are most vulnerable, to claw or stone.”
“Agree completely.” Bramblestar nodded. “ The kits play mossball now, and they shall have a new game to begin training, a big step up from pebble batting.”
“In four and a half moons, they will barely be apprentices,” Squirrelflight protested, worry sparkling her green eyes. “It will be Leaf Fall. Do we really expect them to be ready for battle?”
“They won’t be,” Kyestorm agreed, glancing at Demonstone, who flashed his fangs in a grin. “But they will be support, throwing rocks from hidden places.”
“Hmmm.” Bramblestar glanced at his mate. “With all the kits in our nursery who carry Kyestorm and Demonstone’s blood, this may work out after all.”
“If they don’t throw stones at each other like the foolish kits they are,” Squirrelflight retorted, a sharp edge to her voice. “They could kill each other.”
“They will have supervised training for these, uh, games,” Demonstone spoke up. “One sting of a tiny pebble on the rear should teach them not to throw at each other. We all must learn this task. We may not all be as good as Demonstreak, and I are, but even if one or more are terrible at it, they will find something else they are good at, like climbing trees and dropping stuff from above.”
“That is where we come in,” Leafstar interjected. “The trees are our domain. All we need is something to carry stones with.”
“I know our Briarlight can weave something like Gentleoak’s pots,” Demonstone suggested.
“Make me a huge one,” Hawkwing insisted. “I’ll drop rocks the size of my head on those beasts. Rogues of a different sort they are.”
“I hope this doesn’t backfire on us,” Squirrelflight muttered, lashing her tail.
“It won’t,” Gentleoak said, joining the conversation.
“How can you be so sure?” Kyestorm asked.
“It’s a great idea, great tactic, and I feel it will work just fine,” Gemtleoak answered, blinking Kyestorm a feline kiss.
“I hope so. How is Heathertail?” Kyestorm changed the subject.
“She will recover. Kestrelflight is taking over her care. She is already improving.”
“Good,” Kyestorm responded, as weariness invaded her body. She wanted nothing more than to snuggle with her kits.
“ThunderClan,” Bramblestar’s voice rang out. “Our job is done. We go home.”
“SkyClan,” Leafstar waved her tail. “Our task is done.”
Mistystar and Rowanstar echoed him, and the leaders led their Clans home. Kyestorm turned and headed up out of camp. Demonstone fell in step beside her. Ahead, Onestar and Crowfeather stood, tails up in salute and thanks. Bramblestar and Leafstar dipped their heads in acknowledgment as they passed over the border into their own territory. Kyestorm trotted faster, but just before entering the trees, she glanced backward, watching her daughter and her mate settle on the far ridge above camp to watch for danger. To her utter shock, Harespring and Furzepelt joined them. She stopped the growl deep in her chest, and faced forward.
“What is it?” Spiderleg’s voice startled her.
“My daughter has apparently forgiven those two mange pelts,” Kyestorm answered,
“Word is they are changed cats,” Spiderleg snorted. “They did fight well and bear wounds for doing their duty. Something long overdue.”
“True,” Kyestorm admitted. “I shouldn’t be so judgmental, but I may never forgive them.”
“You have that right,” Demonstone added. “I may never forgive them either.”
“I’m just shocked Smokewind has. If not for her, those two would have drowned me,” Kyestorm hissed, old anger flaring. Her thick red tabby fur bristled, and she shook herself as the Clan entered camp.
The large nursery loomed ahead, and Kyestorm flattened her fur. Her kits waited. She hurried to the nursery, and slipped into the den, expecting her fellow queens to be asleep, but many pairs of bright eyes met her. Sparkfire shifted to make room for Kyestorm. Kyestorm purred to her kits, love filling her heart, replacing the anger, as she curled gently around them. Her and Sparkfire’s litters slept in a huge pile of colorful long fuzz.
“Is everything alright?” Sparkfire asked, her green eyes glinting in the dim light.
“Yes. We chased off three coyotes that attacked WindClan, and Gentleoak is still a medicine cat,” Kyestorm answered, suddenly feeling weary in every bone of her body.
“That is good news,” Rosepetal purred with relief. “How did you drive the enemy away?”
“Long story,” Kyestorm yawned. “I’m so tired. Dmonstone can tell you, but I need to sleep.”
Kyestorm laid her head down and closed her eyes, listening to her mate tell the tale. Gasps, hisses and exclamations from the queens filled her ears, but soon drifted away as she fell into dreams full of rock-throwing naughty kits.
Early Leaf Fall sun peeked over the horizon and streamed warmth and light under the canopy, and into camp. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves, and a few gold ones drifted to the ground. Kyestorm lay in front of the nursery, basking in the morning rays, overseeing the kits in their rowdy play.
The fourteen kits of Maine Coon blood took turns slinging pebbles, obeying Denmonstone’s rule to keep stone size below the size of one’s toe. Their happy meows, trills, chirps, and laughter rang under the trees, and off the cliff behind them. She glanced up, noticing the splashes of color in the leaves, and realized another bad Leaf Bare loomed ahead. She worried the kits might not be ready for the task ahead, which must be done before Leaf Bare turned to New Leaf. Sparkfire lay beside her, and flicked her tail.
“Bunch of silly fuzzheads,” she grumbled. “Hard to believe they apprentice today. Cherryfall’s, Daisy’s , Poppyfrost’s, Tinycloud’s and Blossomfall’s kits already apprenticed a quarter moon ago and are already fine young cats. I look at my kits and can’t believe they are so close in age. They still act like silly fluffheads.”
“Nightpaw may have apprenticed with his siblings,” Kyestorm quipped. “But he is a fluffhead. He’s lucky he has his father’s brains.”
“My four are no better,” Rosepetal muttered. “Blackkit thinks everything is fun and games. I don’t envy who mentors any of our kits.”
“Big fuzzbrains,” Kyestorm purred with amusement. “I told you, their kitten brains must catch up to their bodies. But my first brood did fine. If you recall they were all bee-brained until they began training, even Phantomstrike.”
“Gentleoak wasn’t,” Sparkfire countered. “He always knew his destiny.”
“True, but the rest were, even Demonstreak.” Kyestorm said, twitching her tail.
“He was just so cute and full of mischief,” Sparkfire blinked a feline smile. “He didn’t seem so bad.”
“Because you were besotted with him from the start,” Kyestorm guffawed. “By time he reached five moons we all knew you two would be mates. But he was a fluffbrain until then.”
“I admit, I was attracted to him and felt so silly attaching to a mere kit,” Sparkfire mewed, then stopped. Motion from one of the kits stopped the conversation and before Kyestorm uttered one yowl of warning, the happy playtime atmosphere evaporated.
“Ow!” Maplekit wailed, and spun to face Sunkit. A tiny pebble bounced off the base of her long plume tail. “That hurt! I’m telling Kyemama on you!”
“Sorry!” Sunkit flattened her ears, her red ticked fur fluffing. “But I only hit your big butt.”
“Sunkit,” Kyestorm growled. “No throwing stones at other kits! Or other cats!”
“I didn’t mean to,” Sunkit mewled, but mischief still danced in her gold eyes.
“Listen to Kyemama,” Sparkfire retorted, standing up and hurrying to Sunkit. She bopped the six moon old on the head, ignoring the fact Sunkit stood tall enough to look her in the eyes. “You’re apprenticing today! Act like you deserve it.”
“I’m sorry, mama,” Sunkit, dipped her head, but betrayed her defiance in a flicking tail. Kyestorm stood up, and joined Sparkpelt. She glared down at her granddaughter, and slapped her head.
“You’ll be sorry if I catch you doing that again.” Kyestorm bared her fangs. “This is an important rule, especially when you begin learning to throw larger stones.”
“Sorry, Kyemama,” Sunkit sagged, and her golden eyes widened. She looked at Maplekit. “Sorry.”
“It’s ok,” Maplekit walked over and touched noses with Sunkit, her red smoke pelt flattening. Her blue eyes slanted into a smile.
“Continue your practice, and you may make a game of it,” Kyestorm said, flicking her bushy tail. “But never forget this is serious business.”
“Yes Kyemama,” both youngsters meowed compliance, and returned to tossing pebbles at the maze of rocks and logs Demonstone set up for them to practice on. Kyestorm watched the horde of kits with pride. Blackkit helped his cousin Angelkit get a better grip on the pebbles, and Kyestorm felt a pang of nostalgia.
Angelkit looked so much like Demonstone’s sister for whom Angelkit received her name. The rare golden shaded color deepened on her maturing pelt, contrasting with her stark white legs, chest and muzzle. The young she-cat’s sky blue eyes shone clear and bright, and her gentle nature radiated from her like a beacon. Kyestorm wondered if the sweet-tempered girl might ever become a strong warrior.
All the youngsters babbled with excitement, jerking alert if they saw or heard any activity near Highledge. They kept their pelts groomed, careful as they practiced not to dirty their big tufted paws.
At Angelkit’s side, her other cousin, Shimmerkit, a white she-cat painted with smoke tabby tortoiseshell in gold and silver patches, streaked with black, showed her the tossing techniques. Kyestorm purred as the pretty youngster nailed a target on a log in demonstration. A patrol returned from hunting, distracting Kyestorm. Cloudtail led a large group of apprentices and mentors, and they placed their successful catches on the fresh kill pile. Kyestorm glanced at the gaggle of kits, and a thought occurred to her.
“Who is going to mentor these kits? I think by time this is done, every warrior will have an apprentice.”
“We will be mentoring ourselves once they apprentice,” Rosepetal answered. “But we still have enough warriors to go around.”
“I look forward to mentoring,” Kyestorm glanced toward the training grounds. “Everyone is leaning the new stone throwing techniques but not everyone can do it.”
“If even only a small group of us can do it well, it will be a huge advantage,” Sparkfire commented, and bared the tips of her fangs. “I am so happy to be one of them.”
“You have a great mentor for that,” Kyestorm mrrowed. “Demonstreak is almost as good as his father.”
An excited squeak erupted from Sunkit, and Kyestorm looked up, as Bramblestar emerged from his den. All the big kits stopped practice and gazed up with hope. Bramblestar’s amber eyes blinked in a quick smile before he raised his voice.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather here!” Bramblestar’s yowl reverberated through camp. The gaggle of youngsters gathered below Highledge, expectant and eager. Kyestorm sat down behind the kits next to Demonstone, The Clan gathered, expectant. Everyone seemed happy, even Dovewing.
To Kyestorm’s delight, she and Bumblestripe reconnected, and though not mates, they renewed their friendship. She glanced over the fourteen apprentices and their mentors, and flicked her ears. So many young apprentices graced the Clan, and the other four Clans. Hawkwing mentored Nightpaw, and Kyestorm suspected her grandson’s future lay with SkyClan. Leafstar adored him, thrilled to be a small part of Kyestorm’s deep running prophecy. She purred with amusement, thinking she indeed fulfilled her destiny by producing so many fluffhead kits over the seasons.
“Good. Everyone is present for this special morning!” Bramblestar interrupted her thoughts. “I appoint fourteen more new apprentices this morning, a mere quarter moon after apprenticing nineteen previously. Leafstar apprenticed three, Tinycloud’s kits, as SkyClan grows with us. And as I did last ceremony, I must alter tradition just a bit, to save my poor vocal chords. Sunkit, Maplekit, Blackkit, Angelkit, Shimmerkit, Duskkit, Oakkit, Autummnkit, Ravenkit, Willowkit,Winterkit, Firekit, Seedkit, and Petalskit, please come forward!”
The sea of Maine Coon and half Maine Coon kits surged forward in a wave of fluff and bushy tails.
“You are all ready for full apprenticeship now.” Bramblestar’s voice rolled out over the hollow. “Are you ready to begin your training?”
“Yes!” All fourteen kits answered in unison, and Kyestorm’s mind flashed back to the day her first litter apprenticed. Excitement ruffled her pelt.
“Sunkit, Maplekit, Blackkit, Angelkit, Shimmerkit, Duskkit, Oakkit, Autumnkit, Ravenkit, Willowkit, Winterkit, Firekit, Seedkit, and Petalskit.” Bramblestar gazed down at them, his eyes gleaming. “From this day forth you will be known as Sunpaw, Maplepaw, Blackpaw, Angelpaw, Shimmerpaw, Duskpaw, Oakpaw, Autumnpaw, Ravenpaw, Willowpaw,Winterpaw, Firepaw, Seedpaw, and Petalspaw. Your mentors are; Phantomstrike for Sunpaw, Kyestorm for Maplepaw, Spiderleg for Blackpaw, Demonstone for Angelpaw, Greywind for Shimmerpaw, Birchfall for Duskpaw, Berrynose for Oakpaw, Lionblaze for Autumnpaw, Dovewing for Ravenpaw, Fernsong for Willowpaw, Squirrelflight for Winterpaw, Sparkpelt for Firepaw, Ambermoon for Seedpaw, and Dewnose for Petalspaw. I know they will train you well.”
“Sunpaw, Maplepaw, Blackpaw, Angelpaw, Shimmerpaw, Duskpaw, Oakpaw, Autumnpaw, Ravenpaw, Willowpaw,Winterpaw, Firepaw, Seedpaw, and Petalspaw,” rose from many throats, and, in moments, the entire Clan joined in. SkyClan joined the cheering as Leafstar took a seat behind Bramblestar on Highledge. The new apprentices joined their mentors, and red smoke Maplepaw sat next to Kyestorm, her blue eyes shining. Silver tabby Winterpaw sat next to Squirrelflight, gold eyes dancing with excitement. Squirrelflight bumped Kyestorm, green eyes sparkling with delight.
“So exciting! Thirty five apprentices this moon! I never recall so many at once like this!” Squirrelflight meowed. “I am thrilled to mentor one of your kits.”
“You were great with me, so I’m happy you are her mentor,” Kyestorm agreed, eyeing her daughter’s silver-white black-striped pelt she kept so pristine. “Be prepared to get dirty, my daughters.”
“I am thrilled and astounded we added thirty seven apprentices over the last two moons,” Bramblestar said, pride in his voice. “We will be prepared for the challenges ahead.”
As he stepped down from Highledge to greet all the new apprentices, Poppyfrost’s daughter, little black Fiercepaw, stood with her friend Sunpaw, between their mentors Demonstreak and Phantomstrike. Fiercepaw’s voice carried to Kyestorm, her voice high and sharp. “Glad you finally made apprentice!” she teased. “Wasn’t sure you would!”
Blackpaw, one of Gentleoak’s kits, and Spiderpaw trotted over to Sunpaw with their mentors. The older apprentices joined the group, and Kyestorm lost track as they mingled, congratulating the younger group, but she glimpsed Sunpaw and Spiderpaw exchange a quick tail twine. Squirrelflight leaped up on a rock below Highledge, and her yowl silenced the excited talk.
“Apprentices and mentors! Since we all can’t use the training grounds at once, this will be the schedule. Some groups will go on hunting forays, some on patrol, and on the grounds, battle technique training and rock slinging instruction.” Squirrelflight eyed the huge group, and shook her head. “Leafstar and Kyestorm, you’ll lead the tree technique patrol. Take with you our best tree hunters and their apprentices. out and do some tree training. Lionblaze. . .”
He voice faded as several warriors joined her with their eager apprentices. Leafstar sauntered up to her with Hawkwing, and Nightpaw. Phantomstrike and Sunpaw, along with Hollytuft and Spiderpaw, and Rainsleet with Berrypaw gathered beside Maplepaw.
“This is so exciting!” Maplepaw mewed. “We have techniques to teach,” Leafstar said, then eyed Maplepaw. “Pay attention to your mentors. This is serious business.”
“Comne, let’s move.” Kyestorm and Leafstar moved the group toward the entrance of camp away from the happy chaos. They trotted out of camp, toward the big ancient oak by the lake. As the early morning sun touched the lake surface, sparkling the wind driven wavelets, a distant call jerked Kyestorm’s head up. She trembled all over, facing north, where the cliffs north of camp rose into the forest.
“What was that, Kyemama?” Sunpaw asked, her blue eyes widening. The howl repeated, causing Kyestorm’s ears to twitch. Two different individuals , she thought.Leafstar growled deep in her chest.
“It sounds evil,” Nightpaw mewed, his sea-green eyes wide. Hawkwing ran a tail down his appremtice’s furry back in silent assurance.
“That is the enemy’s call,” Kyestorm explained.
“Coyotes?” Maplepaw meowed, fear shaking her voice. “We aren’t ready!”
“They are very far away, but I don’t like they are north of our territory,” Kyestorm growled.
“Don’t fret. You’re large and strong like me,” Phantomstrike admonished his son, then asked, “They are so far away still, so why worry?”
“Because I think ThunderClan is their next target,” Kyestorm answered, curling her lip in a snarl.
“They will attack us?” Spiderpaw exclaimed, his gold eyes dilating with dread.
“Didn’t we teach them a lesson when they attacked WindClan and ShadowClan?” Hollytuft hissed.
“They don’t understand yet that we five Clans are One, and think we are just another group to attack,” Kyestorm turned and moved toward the tree,. “Come. We train, and we train hard and well. They may not attack for many moons and when they do we’ll be ready.”
“Are we really going to wait for them?” Phantomstrike asked, his sea green eyes narrowed in controlled rage. “We have an idea where they are now.”
“I agree with you,” Kyestorm planted her big paws on the massive root of the old oak. She looked up. “Stone throwing will not be our only weapon."
“Come. We train, and we train hard and well,” Leafstar meowed, and jumped into the tree with ease. “Let’s train, and work, because the enemy is out there. We’ll take the fight to them if Bramblestar still believes we should.”
“Then we show him my idea was right all these seasons,” Phantomstrike said , then glanced at his apprentice. Before he spoke, Sunpaw leaped into the tree and bounded upward, disappearing into the colorful canopy. Phantomstrike smiled, baring the tips of his fangs. “She’s a natural. Are you sure she isn’t your long lost kit, Leafstar?”
“She isn’t, though I’d be proud if she was,” Leafstar peeked down past the waving leaves. “Hawkwing, get your rump up here with that fluffhead apprentice of yours,”
“All right, we all get up into the tree and await prey,” Kyestorm ordered. As the apprentices and their mentors hurried up into the branches, Kyestorm glanced northward. She listened to the banter above her, but worried. Please, StarClan, give us the time we need, she thought, before joining her patrol in the green, gold and tan leaves of the grand old oak.
Our Contest Winner! Created by Mintedstar/fur (Encourage Mint)
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: COUNTER ATTACK
PART ONE The wind moaned over the rocks as the Clans gathered below Highledge. Snow swirled on the cold Bare Leaf day, under roiling grey skies, blanketing the camp in white. Bramblestar and Leafstar gazed down at the Clans, and Kyestorm shivered, but not from the cold. This normal day of celebration turned solemn at the gravity of the situation ahead of everyone. The coyotes’ howling drew closer every moon, and everyone went about normal business, jumping at every rustle in the brush, trying to keep focused on the business of everyday life. Worry shone in every pair of eyes as ThunderClan’s leader drew breath.
“Today we gather to appoint many new warriors, much needed in this time of danger,” Bramblestar announced. “Under normal circumstances, naming so many warriors should be something to celebrate, but with what we face, we are all understandably nervous and anxious. Our apprentices have excelled, and today we name a historic thirty-five new warriors.” Bramblestar’s voice thundered over the wind. “I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon our apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warriors in their turn. ”
Kyestorm trembled in spite of herself. As often as she heard those words, they still held deep meaning for her.
“For the sake of my voice, I shall amend this historic ceremony, but rest assured every one of you is highly deserving. All apprentices,” Bramblestar continued. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“YES!” roared from the gathered young cats.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you your warrior names!” Bramblestar’s voice rose, reverberating under the cliffs. “From this moment, Sunpaw, you will be known as Sunflight. Maplepaw, you will be known as Maplesong. Blackpaw, you will be known as Blackhawk. Shimmerpaw, you will be known as Shimmersong. Duskpaw, you will be known as Duskstreak. Oakpaw, you will be known as Oakwood,” Bramblestar paused to draw a deep breath, then continued. “Autumnpaw,you will be known as Autumnwind. Ravenpaw, you will be known as Ravenclaw. Willowpaw, you will be known as Wiilowleaf, Winterpaw, you will be known as Wintertalon. Firepaw, you will be known as Firestrike. Seedpaw, you will be known as Seedmoon, Nightpaw, you will be known as Nightstrike, and Petalspaw will be known as Petalsglow.” Bramblestar cleared his throat, and looked out over the silent Clan. Kyestorm felt sympathy, and purred. She exchanged glances with Sparkfire and Rosepetal. Not one cat uttered a sound.
“Applepaw,” Bramblestar broke the silence. “you will be known as Appleflower. Redpaw, you will be known as Redcloud. Dustpaw, you will be known as Dustlight. Icepaw, you will be known as Icewhisper. Spiritpaw, you will be known as Spiritsong. Hazelpaw, you will be known as Hazelstream. Orangepaw, you will be known as Orangeshimmer. Fiercepaw, you will be known as Fierceheart. Spottedpaw, you will be known as Spottedblaze. Poppypaw, you will be known as Poppymoon. Berrypaw, you will be known as Berryfrost. Spiderpaw, you will be known as Spiderleap. Toadpaw, you will be known as Toadheart, and Sandpaw, you will be known as Sandpool.” Bramblestar’s voice rose, cracking only once. “Shellpaw, you will be known as Shellshine. Eaglepaw. you will be known as Eaglewing. Stempaw, you will be known as Stemtail. Plumpaw,you will be known as Plumstream. Welcome to ThunderClan new Warriors!”
Bramblestar leaped down to the base of the ledge, placing his chin on each new warrior's head. They each licked his shoulder, completing the time-honored ritual. Cheering and raucous yowling of every name echoed off the cliffs. Bramblestar bounded back up to High ledge, and waited, as Leafstar stepped forward. Her brown and cream pelt gleamed with good health, but her eyes roved the gathering, brimming with anxiety.
“Many moons ago, our esteemed medicine cat and long lost kin, Twigleaf and her sister, Violetheart, found us, brought us here, to heal, recover and grow our Clan.” Leafstar’s voice quivered as she spoke. “When traitorous Darktail and his rogues drove us from our home, I never dreamed SkyClan would survive. But here we stand, growing strong, ready to aid our fellow Clans in this time of danger, ready to fulfill our own destiny and reclaim a spot here with the other clans. To do so, we now head into danger greater than the rogues who drove us from our home in the Gorge. We are ready. Cloudpaw, Sharppaw and Rockpaw, please step forward.”
In silence, Tinycloud’s kits moved to stand below Highledge. Tinycloud and Sparrowpelt watched, pride shining in their eyes. Kyestorm glanced over SkyClan. All looked healthy now, after many moons of rest and care, sleek of coat, and though they numbered so few, they could now fill a proper camp, In Twigleaf, they now possessed another fine medicine cat to join Frecklewish and Figitflake. The future looked brighter for the Clan. Hawkwing, Plumwillow, Sagenose, Sandynose, Fallowfern, Macgyver, Harrybrook, Rabbitleap, Bellaleaf, and Blossomheart, sat behind her, watching with a mix of joy and apprehension. Plumwillow's kits, Fintail, Reedflight, and Dewfoot, all Warriors now, watched with pride in their growing clan. Leafstar's voice brought Kyestorm's attention back to the ceremony.
“I, Leafstar, leader of SkyClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon our apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warriors in their turn. ” Leafstar gazed at the SkyClan apprentices. “Do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“YES!” the three yowled in unison.
“Then by the power of StarClan, I give you your warrior names!” Leafstar’s voice sharpened, reverberating under the cliffs. “From this moment, Cloudpaw, you will be known as Cloudflight. Sharppaw, you shall be known as Sharpeye, and Rockpaw, you will be known as Rockwind. Welcome to SkyClan young warriors.”
Leafstar bounded down to meet them, completing the ceremony for her clanmates. Kyestorm glanced at Angelpaw, who sat patiently between Demonstone and Gentleoak. Kyestorm’s heart skipped a beat, noting how much she resembled Demonstone’s sister, for whom Angelpaw gained her name. Excitement danced in her light blue eyes, and Kyestorm remembered the young one just returned from a trip to the Moonpool. Bramblestar returned to Highledge.
“Last, but not least.” Bramblestar yowled as the Clan grew quiet. “Angelpaw, please step forward with both of your mentors.”
The golden-shaded Maine Coon lead Gentleoak and Demonstone to the base of the ledge. She stood, tail aloft. Gentleoak moved forward and leaped to a ledge just below Bramblestar, who nodded. The medicine cat’s soft voice rose, ringing out over the camp.
“Angelpaw, you started out as a warrior’s apprentice, but found your true calling, even as you excelled as a warrior, a hunter and den builder like our father. You completed your training as a ThunderClan medicine cat, and I am proud to announce to the Clan, your warrior name, in honor of your accomplishment. Angelpaw, you will be known as Angelglow, whose light shall help us in the moons ahead. Welcome to ThunderClan as a full medicine cat, Angelglow!”
Kyestorm joined the cheering for her daughter, but the happy ruckus died down fast. Bramblestar stood silent a moment, his broad-shouldered form silhouetted against the cloudy skies. Kyestorm waited, knowing the leaders finally decided on a course of action in a meeting a half moon ago. They kept the decision silent, and with so many new warriors joining all the clans in the last moon, she understood their reasoning to wait. Cats fidgeted, twitching tails, shifting forefeet, flicking ears, but no one spoke. Bramblestar inhaled slowly.
“ThunderClan, SkyClan, as you know the Coyote menace has moved closer every moon. The howls sound louder and more numerous, and I do not doubt they will invade our camp before the end of Leaf Bare. We all know the time has come to finally deal with this threat.” Bramblestar leveled his gaze of Phantomstrike. “We shall not sit and wait, endangering elders, queens and kits.”
Kyestorm nodded, joining the Clan in affirmative yowls. She glanced at Thornclaw and her son. The proud old warrior sat beside Phantomstrike, exchanging glances with him. Phantomstrike’s sea-green eyes widened with delight.
“We will attack them!” Phantomstrike called out, strident voice bouncing off the cliff.
“Yes, “ Bramblestar answered, a growl in his voice. “The enemy has settled just north of our territory and no doubt plans to attack us next. They will learn their mistake soon enough.”
A short sharp cry turned everyone’s head, and Kyestorm recognized Rowanstar’s voice. Two other cries echoed over the lake, as the other Clan leaders gathered on the lake shore below camp.
“The time is now,” Bramblestar told the Clan, before raising his voice. “We Gather here, Five Clans of the One. We fight this day for all of us. Keep utterly silent. Let’s move.”
With a tail flick Bramblestar beckoned his warriors to follow. Kyestorm moved, glancing back at the elders, the pregnant queens, and Daisy, who watched worry in their eyes. Purdy stood, his pelt puffed, eyes gleaming, ears canted back in an expression Kyestorm never before witnessed on the old tom's face. Kyestorm wondered at the elder's behavior. A couple of seasoned warriors stayed behind to defend the camp. Whitewing and Birchfall stood in the center of camp, tails up in salute. Jayfeather sat by the medicine cat den with Briarlight, his tail twitching, as Leafpool, Alderheart, Angelglow, and Gentleoak took up the rear of the troops, carrying bundles of herbs in Gentleoak’s precious pots.
Briarlight doled out woven pouches, made of reeds and grasses, strong and loaded with stones. SkyClan warriors took the pouches, as did many of ThunderClan’s warriors. Sunflight took one, and not a shred of mischief flickered in her eyes. Kyestorm shivered, realizing they headed into the most dangerous war of their lives.
They met with the other leaders, and in silence and nods, they formed a huge feline battalion. At their leader’s silent order, Indiclaw, Phantomstrike, Smokewind, Hawkwing, and Troutleap led the way north, leading each troop using their tracking skills to locate the enemy. They moved without voice or sound through the underbrush. Kyestorm trotted just behind Bramblestar and Squirrelflight, glancing at Demonstone beside her. His gold eyes burned, with fury and fear, and he flicked an ear.
Kyestorm inhaled deeply and faced forward, as the feline troops slid through the snowy landscape. They moved past the abandoned twoleg building, crossing the old thunderpath, and memory flooded Kyestorm. Emotion filled her, and she turned her head to Demonstone. His ears sagged, then canted back, and the thick, white, ear-tipping fluttered with the motion. She twitched her ears in response, knowing at last, they finally fulfilled the destiny written in the snow that long ago night, a fate born of the smoke and fire which drove them out into the dark, scared, cold, and hurt. Kyestorm inhaled and growled deep in her chest, determination to succeed firing through her.
They passed over ThunderClan’s northern border, heading away from twoleg territories, and Kyestorm noted with alarm the amount of coyote prints in the snow. The forest thickened, and all five leaders lashed their tails in an upward motion. All the young Maine Coon warriors excelling in aerial tactics bounded into the trees, carrying stones in their pouches. Smaller SkyClan warriors, specializing in arboreal stealth, sailed ahead in the branches, scouting for the enemy. Nightstrike followed his former mentor, carrying a big pouch of stones.
Kyestorm’s heart missed a beat, noting how much like his father Nightstrike looked, right down to the sea-green eyes. Cloudflight followed him, and Kyestorm watched the new warrior, come alongside the big half Maine Coon tom. A look and quick tailtwine between the two confirmed Kyestorm's supicions that she lost yet another kit to another Clan, even if nobody else knew it yet.
Kyestorm returned her focus to her job, and stayed on the ground, moving with Demonstone behind Bramblestar and Squirrelflight. Demonstreak, Sparkfire, Phantomstrike and Spiderleg flanked her and her mate. The snow muffled their pawsteps as they glided forward in stealth mode. She paid attention to the cats ahead of her, watching for any signals. Snow swirled thicker from the sky, and the wind moaned in the trees. A sudden flick of tails stopped her in her tracks, and she trembled, knowing the scouts located the enemy. Nobody uttered a sound and all communications came from tail signals.
Each leader split off, leading troops, and Kyestorm waited on Bramblestar’s orders. Bramblestar moved straight ahead, and his troops followed, halting behind a wall of thick brush. Kyestorm stifled a growl, as the enemy’s camp appeared through the falling snow.
Four full grown adults and four juveniles moved around in from of a small cave in a ledge sticking out of the hill ahead. Kyestorm noted the alpha female’s rounded abdomen and knew she carried pups. She glanced at Demonstone and saw her concern mirrored in his golden eyes.
Kyestorm glanced up and saw cats crouching in the surrounding trees. Leafstar’s warriors and many ThunderClan warriors sat silhouetted against the grey stormy skies. As the last cat froze against the sky, Onestar appeared at the top of the hill, flanked by Crowfeather and Harespring. Tail flicks announced when Mistystar and Rowanstar’s troops moved into position.
“Warriors attack!” Bramblestar uttered in a hiss, and plunged forward into the clearing. Kyestorm followed, then leaped ahead of her leader, along with Phantomstrike. The startled coyotes whirled around to face them, teeth bared. Mistystar, Rowanstar and Onestar led their warriors into the fray, and cats dropped out of the trees, and swarmed down the cliffs. Leafstar’s warriors hurled stones from above, and Sunflight and her patrol slung rocks with deadly precision. Stones whizzed from behind Kyestorm as Demonstone and Demonstreak snatched up the biggest rocks possible and hurled them at the enemy. Coyote yelps joined in cat screeching.
Kyestorm and Phantomstrike charged at the largest coyote, leaping for his head. A big stone flew past Kyestorm striking the male on the muzzle. That moment of distraction gave Kyestorm the advantage and she landed on the enemy’s head claws ripping furrows into his muzzle, ears and face. She ripped at him, hanging on as he shook his head and body trying to dislodge her. Phantomstrike rode his back, attacking his head from behind. The coyote snapped his jaws, striving to catch any part of her. Her red hair flew as he tore out her fur. She snarled as one bite caught her shoulder, and she dropped to the snow. The coyote snapped at her but Phantomstrike dug his claws into the canine’s head above the eyes. Kyestorm reared up, her paws blurs as she slashed the coyote’s face, aiming for his eyes.
Around her the battle raged. Cat screeching and yowling joined coyote yelping, snarling and barking. From above stones rained down on the war zone, but she barely acknowledged the rest of the war. Lionblaze joined her and Phantomstrike in battling the alpha male. They rolled around in the snow as the coyote attempted to shake them off. Squirrelflight darted in, going for the creature’s eyes. His jaws closed over her hind legs, and the crack of bone echoed over the general din, and she screamed in agony. Kyestorm shifted her position and crashed down on the coyote’s head. He released Squirrelflight, who dragged herself away, unable to move her ravaged legs. Kyestorm worried, but turned back to the fight when Gentleoak carried the injured deputy to the triage area past the wall of brush. Bumblestripe and Dovewing took Squirrelflight's place, clawing relentlessly at the beast's face. Stones bounced off the coyote’s body. Demonstone moved closer slinging rocks, pelting the coyote relentlessly. The canine rolled over on his back, kicking, and Kyestorm dove, claws out, landing on his exposed abdomen, easily evading his long legs.
She raked his underbelly, digging in fury. Fur and blood sprayed her and the snow, and his snarls and growls turned to yelps of pain and fear.
Cats clung to his body as Phantomstrike kept up the attack on the coyote’s head. Demonstone abandoned his stone throwing and darted in form the opposite side, attacking the canine’s underbelly. He joined Kyestorm in the disemboweling attempt. The coyote convulsed, and Kyestorm stumbled backward. The canine leaped up, blood flowing from his belly, head and countless gashes. He howled in sudden surrender, staggered to his feet and ran.
Kyestorm scanned the war zone, as the other coyotes followed their leader. All bore grievous wounds, and a fourth adult sported a closed eye and torn ears. The juveniles all bore ripped up faces, noses, and fur and blood littered the entire space in front of the cave. The alpha female shook off her attackers, which included Smokewind, Onestar, Harespring and Crowfeather, and followed her mate. The feline warriors renewed their onslaught, swarming around her.
Blood dripped from her swollen abdomen and Kyestorm felt a pang of concern, until she noted the wounds ran shallow and did not endanger the unborn pups.
"Why do I even care about the enemy's offspring," she growled under her breath. "they are not kits."
The female snapped at her attackers, and grabbed Onestar by the shoulders, lifting him clear of the ground. He writhed in her deadly grip, screeching.
“ONESTAR!” Kyestorm screeched, echoed by all who witnessed the grab. The coyote ran after her pack, clutching a struggling, snarling, shrieking Onestar in her jaws.
Bramblestar raised his voice.
“Warriors! Attack. We drive them out! Rescue Onestar!”
Kyestorm leaped after the enemy, hissing and screeching along with every able-bodied warrior. They chased the small pack in a wall of feline fury, driving the coyotes through the forest, breaking onto an open field, and toward a fast flowing river. Kyestorm’s heart jumped and she glanced at Phantomstrike.
“We have to save Onestar!” she cried above the din.
“I’m on it!” Smokewind yowled and chased the lagging Alpha female. At the river the coyote jumped in. Onestar turned into a slashing writing demon cat and she floundered as her packmates swam to the other side. The swift current hurled them downstream around rocks, and both fighters vanished under the surface.
The Clans followed downstream, Smokewind and Crowfeather in the lead, trailed by Harespring. They called to Onestar. Smokewind rushed into the water, then stopped, and stood chest deep in the swift current, wailing Onestar’s name. The coyote broke the surface and with difficulty, paddled to the other side where her mate dragged her out by the scruff. The icy water thundered past them, and Kyestorm's heart sank. Smokewind plodded out of the water and joined her Clanmates.
The warriors of all five clans formed a line along the river’s edge, and stood, hissing and yowling, marking the edge for all Clans, claiming it, telling the coyotes to never return. Kyestorm watched, trembling as the demoralized beaten pack vanished across the large field into the forest beyond, headed for the mountains.
“Victory is ours today. Go and never return!” Bramblestar yowled. “Warriors! Mark this boundary so they never return. Let them recoil in fear at our scents!”
Warriors answered and marked the entire area, a strong signal to the retreating coyotes to vacate the territory, and added their marks to the edge of the river, and waited, watching for Onestar, patrolling up and down the river bank for a long time, until the sky darkened, signaling the loss of daylight. The WindClan leader never reappeared. Keens of grief from WindClan rose above the roar of rushing water. Smokewind’s heartrending wail tore through Kyestorms’ soul.
“He’s gone,” Smokewind howled, as Crowfeather moved up beside her, bowing his head.”How will we sit vigil for him?”
Kyestorm padded up to her daughter, as warriors swarmed around, obeying Bramblestar’s order to remark the entire territory on this side of the river. She pressed her head against Smokewind’s neck in silent consolation. She heard paw steps in the snow, as the Clans gathered around. Indiclaw, Bluefrost, Phantomstrike, and Demonstreak all pressed around their sister, purring in ragged, sad refrain.
“We must go,” Bramblestar’s voice interrupted.
“No,” Crowfeather replied, “WindClan will stay and hold vigil. Whoever else wants to can stay.”
“Very well,” Bramblestar’s voice shook with sympathy and grief. “We sit vigil later, but we must return to tend the wounded and get them home.”
“You are right, that must be done,” Crowfeather nudged Smokewind. “Come. We will return to sit vigil tonight. We must tend our wounded.”
Smokewind merely nodded, her tail drooping, ears canted at half mast. Oatclaw rushed over to her, and pressed himself to her side in silent support. Kyestorm stepped back, meeting Smokewind’s woebegone eyes. She knew not what to say to her distraught daughter, neither did her siblings. Smokewind loved Onestar like a father, almost as much as she loved Demonstone. Kyestorm’s heart squeezed, feeling Smokewind’s anguish as if it were her own. Crowfeather moved off, following Bramblestar. Smokewind followed, flanked by her mate and siblings. Kyestorm trailed them.
Slowly the feline troops made their way back to the main battle zone, reinforcing markers. Kyestorm broke into the clearing, and stopped in dismay. She heard gasps and yowls of anguish go up around her, as the troops beheld the second huge price they paid for fighting to free themselves from the coyote threat.
Kyestorm stood, rooted to the snow, eyes on the bodies littering the battle zone. Her throat closed as she looked at a motionless black warrior.
“Oh no, Spiderleg,” she mewed, and hurried over to the inert body. Demonstone joined her. The leggy black warrior rested on his side, teeth bared, eyes wide in rage, and a deep wound punctured his neck. Coyote fur stuck in his claws and teeth, showing he fought with his last breath. Kyestorm’s throat convulsed and she keened to the stormy skies for her friend.
“Purdy???” Bramblestar called out. Kyestorm jerked her head around, and stood for a moment in utter shock, then recalled the elder’s odd behavior as they left camp. How did he leave and not be stopped by anyone? She left Spiderleg and hurried to her leader’s side. The old tabby bundle did not stir. At his cry everyone turned. “What is he doing here?”
“I came.” A cough came from the limp body, and Purdy opened one eye. Wounds ravaged his old body and his lifeblood leaked out onto the snow. “Tis a good day to die a warrior’s death, and not be a burden to ye.”
“Gentleoak!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out.
“You’re not a burden!” Kyestorm wailed. “Why did you do such a stupid stunt?”
“Me time be near,” Purdy coughed again “I trailed ye, after makin’ me last trip to de dirt place.” He gagged, blood trickling from his toothless mouth. “Gave as good as I got. StarClan calls me. Fare ye well. From StarClan I’ll watch ye,” Purdy mumbled. He shuddered once, and lay still. Kyestorm gaped in stunned disbelief. Like Spiderleg’s, his claws and what teeth remained in his jaws held hair of the enemy.
“Furzepelt!” Kyestorm recognized Harespring’s cry and whipped her head around. He rushed over to Furzepelt’s motionless form, and with a heartrending yowl, draped over her. She suddenly felt sorry for the cat who tried to kill her seasons ago. Kyestorm padded over, and stood beside her old foe.
“I’m sorry. She died with honor, a true warrior’s death,” Kyestorm murmured. Harespring lifted his head and met her gaze, eyes wide with grief.
“She did,” Harespring whispered, before baring his teeth in trembling snarl. “If those coyotes ever come back I’ll tear them to shreds for what they did to her.”
“I’ll gladly assist you,” Kyestorm mewed.
“I’m grateful for how you saved her from the rogues,” Harespring admitted, his voice trembling. “You saved us all, for if they succeeded in overrunning us like they did SkyClan, we’d all be where she is now.”
“We only did what we must,” Kyestorm mumbled.
“I am sorry for how I treated you.” Harespring raised sad eyes to hers. “I only wish she didn’t have to die now.”
“Me, too.” Kyestorm brushed his back with her tail.
“Furzepelt!” rang over the clearing, and Kyestorm recognized Smokewind’s voice. Her daughter hurried to her clamate’s side. “Oh no, oh, no. Harespring! Not fair, not fair!” Smokewind bristled with grief and rage. “If those beasts return I will kill them!”
“Furzepelt,” Harespring murmured, pushing his nose into her fur. Smokewind draped her bushy tail over Haresping’s back. Kyestorm backed away, her throat constricting. She glanced around, watching the medicine cats work, and they needed every single one.
Rowanstar and Tawnypelt hurried over to over the tattered bodies of Crowfrost and Wasptail. Rowanstar stood, shaking, badly wounded, his breathing raspy. A look passed between Rowanstar and Tigerheart, and a flash of intuition raised Kyestorm’s fur. She glanced at Dovewing, who helped Angelglow with Purdy’s body.
“Needletail!” Kyestorm recognized Violetshine’s voice. The young medicine cat hurried to Needletail’s battered silver white body. Grief clouded the black and white she-cat’s face, and she touched Needletail’s nose, before returning to her duties to tend the wounded. Leafstar stood beyond, and met Kyestorm’s gaze. Bramblestar came up alongside her, followed by Crowfeather.
“We lost many fine warriors this day.” Bramblestar finally broke the silence, and flicked his tail in the direction of the medicine cat’s triage area. “But thanks to them, many warriors will live.”
“Yes, and I am thankful Kestrelflight finally has an apprentice in one of Smokewind’s daughters,” Crowfeather said in soft tones. “She soon goes to the Moonpool. As will I.”
“You must name a deputy soon,” Bramblestar reminded him.
“I shall travel tonight with a heavy heart, and we will have a new deputy before tomorrow sunhigh.” Crowfeather glanced across the battlefield. “I already have one in mind.”
Kyestorm watched her granddaughter, Smokeheart, working beside Kestrelflight, tending the wounded. Motion turned her attention to yet another fallen warrior. Fierceheart, the tiny spunky daughter of Poppyfrost and Berrynose, writhed on the snow, with Angelglow attending her. Angelglow's golden pelt bristled, matted with the blood of the wounded. Blood stained the snow and to Kyestorm’s horror, nothing remained of the she-cat’s left foreleg but a ragged stump of blood and bone. Angelglow packed the raw wound with fresh snow, staunching the bleeding and pain. Fierceheart gasped and yowled, but obeyed Angelglow’s command to eat poppyseeds. Kyestorm suddenly recalled the dire injury to Squirrelflight during the battle.
“How is our deputy?” she asked. “Did she lose her legs, too?”
“She is alive, but her legs are broken in three places,” Bramblestar answered, his voice quivering once. “Gentleoak says he can heal it, but she may not ever be able to return to her duties. Fierceheart may not either.”
“So you, too, have to name a new deputy?” Leafstar said.
“Yes,” Bramblestar took a deep breath and lashed his tail. “Come, we all should get our wounded home. And sit vigil for all we lost.”
Kyestorm joined the throng of warriors in the triage area. Squirrelflight stubbornly pulled herself onto Bramblestar’’s back, and held tight, latching her claws into his thick pelt. Demonstone insisted on carrying Brackenfur, who sported a nasty gash on one rear leg, and a deep bite on his shoulder, but the old warrior refused, choosing to walk.
Kyestorm scanned the injured, noticing the menagerie of young warriors splinted and bandaged with cobwebs and sticks. Alderheart tended to his sister, whose chest wound leaked blood around the cobwebs. She flicked her tail, waving him away to other patients, her eyes roving the battlefield.
Before she uttered a mew of protest, he slathered one of his thick poultice concoctions on her shoulder. He picked up his precious pot, and moved on to the next warrior. Kyestorm stopped in from of Bumblestripe, who lay in a miserable heap. Cobweb and poultices covered many deep wounds on his body. He lifted his head, blinking.
“No. Its me, Kyestorm,” she answered in a soft mew, watching his eyes stray to Dovewing, who assisted other warriors, too close to Tigerheart in Kyestorm’s opinion. She stopped the growl before it rumbled her chest. “Can you get onto my back? I’ll carry you home.”
“I think so,” Bumblestripe mumbled and staggered to his feet. He reared up, then sank to his haunches with a yowl of pain. Kyestorm dropped to the snow, ignoring the stab of her own shoulder wound.
“Bumblestripe!” Kyestorm recognized Dovewing’s cry, and watched as the she-cat ran over to him. “What is it?”
“Kyestorm is going to carry me. Help me,” he mewed. Kyestorm moved sideways against his trembling forelegs. He stood up and steadied by Dovewing. She winced once, and Kyestorm saw the gash on her upper foreleg. Bumblestripe settled back in the snow with a groan.
“Are you all right?” Dovewing asked, concern in her eyes.
“I will be,” Bumblestripe retorted.
Kyestorm choked down another growl of annoyance, when Dovewing kept glancing Tigerheart’s way, even while trying to help Bumblestripe back to his feet.
“Go get that leg attended to. You’re in no shape to help here,” Kyestorm ordered. “Go. I’ll take care of Bumblestripe. He is safe with me.”
Dovewing looked at Bumblestripe. . “I’m sorry,” she meowed.
“You always are,” he mewed softly . “You should go be with him. In ShadowClan”
“Maybe, if he’ll have me.”
“Just go,” he meowed, as she ambled away.
Bumblestripe heaved a sad sigh. Kyestorm bit her tongue to stop herself from hissing, but uttered a deep-chested growl.
“Nothing to be done.” Bumblestripe grunted. “She’ll never love me the way she loves him.”
“She’s a damned mousebrained fool,” Kyestrom snapped. “You’re a handsome tom.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Bumblestripe wheezed. “You remind me of a similar conversation we had so many moons ago.”
“Don’t talk,” Kyestorm said, and her heart warmed. Yes, she thought, if not for the deep bond she shared with Demonstone, this tom suited her fine, and no doubt a couple of her kin felt likewise. “Forget Dovewing. I know a couple of young she-cats who moon eye over you all the time.”
“Who?” Bumblestripe coughed.
“If you paid any attention to those moon-eyed fluff heads . . .”
“Kyemama!” Maplesong’s cry interrupted, and the Maine Coon she-cat hurried up to her, limping, favoring a foreleg. Kyestorm met her daughter’s light blue eyes. Her dark red smoke pelt puffed out, revealing the white roots in spots where the enemy yanked out chunks of that pretty fur. Maplesong’s blue eyes widened.“Bumblestripe!”
“I’ll help,” the feisty she-cat insisted, dropped to the snow and looked at the tom with intense blue eyes.
“Get on me,” she commanded, a growl rumbling her voice. “I’ll take care of you when we get home. You don’t need Dovewing. You’ll have me.”
“Are you sure, daughter?” Kyestorm asked. “I can carry him. You’re hurt.”
“It’s nothing. I’m a warrior now, not a silly apprentice,” Maplesong retorted.
Kyestorm looked down at the snow, amused. The battle gave her daughter courage to act on her feelings, and no doubt, Bumblestripe might forget Dovewing very quickly. Kyestorm steadied Bumblestripe as he stood up and clambered onto Maplesong’s back. She steadied him as he straddled her. Quick footfalls alerted her, and she turned. Her other daughter, red tabby Autumnwind, and her granddaughter Shimmersong, rushed up.
“Bumblestripe!” they cried in unison, eyes wide with dismay. Kyestorm sneezed with mirth at moon-eyed youngsters. They crowded Maplesong, and Kyestorm’s amusement turned to concern, watching Shimmersong limp, not putting her hind foot on the ground. Blood streaked her silver white pelt, obscuring the faint gold-and-silver-striped spots. Kyestorm dropped to the snow.
“Get up,” she commanded. “Don’t argue.”
The pretty white half Maine Coon obediently climbed up on her grandmother’s back.
Autumnwind stood between them, her own wounds wrapped in cobwebs and poultices. Kyestorm glared at her.
“Go find your father and let him carry you. If you bust apart your older brother’s work he will bop your head good.”
“What is going on here?” Demonstone’s voice rumbled, and Kyestorm glanced at him, blinking a quick kiss. He dropped to the snow.
“Our stubborn kits and grandkit,” Kyestorm answered. “Carry Autumnwind. Or Gentleoak will keep her in the medicine cat den for moons.”
“Of course,” Demonstone canted back his ears, and Autumnwind climbed onto her father’s back with not a single grumble of protest.
“Hang on, Bumblestripe,” Maplesong meowed, and rose to her feet. She glanced back at him, and her feelings shone in her eyes. He smiled back, baring the tips of his fangs. Kyestorm slowly stood up, sensing Maplesong’s emotions, and her love wafted in her scent. Bumblestripe inhaled with a grunt, then his face registered the scent, and his eyes widened, before closing. Kyestorm nodded.
“Now it begins,” she purred to Demonstone.
“Maplesong,” Bumblestripe murmured. “I. . .”
”Don’t even think that,” Maplesong retorted, her voice sharp. “Forget her. My sister and cousin both like you, too, but I have always loved you! They understand that. You don’t need her.” Maplesong pointed her plume tail at Dovewing, who inexplicably turned her head to meet Bumblestripe’s gaze. She scowled, ears sinking. Maplesong reacted by canting back her ears and glaring balefully at Dovewing. Her voice rose to a storm piercing yowl. “You’re mine now, Bumblestripe. Not hers! She can go back to Tigerheart.”
“Maplesong,” Kyestorm warned, inwardly cheering her on. “Stay calm. This is no place for this behavior.”
Many paused to gaze quizzically at Maplesong and Dovewing, before continuing with the tasks at hand. Kyestorm noted she shuffled up to Tigerheart, and his expression brightened. Rowanstar sat next to them, nodding, and all three carried on a conversation Kyestorm heard only as mumbling. Rowanstar’s breath came in hitched gasps and Kyestorm felt a pang of concern.
“Yes, Kyemama,” Maplesong purred, turning Kyestorm's attention back to her daughter and Bumblestripe blinked, and lay his head on hers with a gentle sigh.
“All you needed to do was go to him,” Autumnwind interjected, and all three young she-cats giggled like silly kits. Kyestorm struggled not to laugh as a smile crossed Bumblestripe’s face.
Kyestorm listened to the light banter between the youngsters, feeling hope shine through like a ray of sun through thick storm clouds. She walked slowly, noting how many warriors carried other warriors. Phantomstrike carried Thornclaw, while Sparkfire rode Demonstreak’s back. Lionblaze and Cinderheart leaned against each other, and Cloudtail helped Brightheart onto Firestrike’s back. The strapping, red-smoke tom glanced at her, and Kyestorm felt pride in her grandson. His gold eyes shone, but in his ruff-framed face, she saw Sparkfire’s features, and he no doubt inherited Squirrelflight’s temperament through his mother. A gash sliced across one shoulder, but he obviously decided to ignore the shallow wound to assist other wounded warriors.
Her heart leaped with dismay when she caught sight of Nightstrike, who carried a mangled bloody Cloudflight. The injured Sky Clan warrior turned her head, and blinked at Kyestorm.
“Thank Star Clan,” she muttered, noticing all her wounds bore cobweb and poultice coverings. She realized they all needed to get home.
The Clans fell into formation, and headed toward home. Every single cat bore injuries, from mild scratches to deep puncture wounds and broken limbs. Kyestorm noted with pride all of her kits carried injured warrior, while bearing injuries of their own. Greywind carried his brother, and Kyestorms’ heart jumped in alarm, noting Rainsleet’s injures. Blood streaked his pelt, and many wounds crisscrossed his body, all poulticed. She stepped toward her milk sons, but others moved, blocking her way. Before she lost sight of him, Rainsleet blinked reassurances at her.
Sunflight and Blackhawk carried Purdy’s and Spiderleg’s bodies, taking up the rear of ThunderClan’s procession. Behind WindClan, Harespring carried Furzepelt’s body, helped by Smokewind. Leading ShadowClan, Tigerheart carried Crowfrost’s body, while Indiclaw carried Wapstail. Tawnypelt carried Needletail’s body, shouldering Rowanstar, who insisted in walking home. RiverClan and SkyClan carried no fallen warriors, but bore many injured.
The Clan leaders led their troops back to their territories, trudging through deepening snow, bowing heads against the rising wind. As they approached ThunderClan’s northern border, Crowfeather and Rowanstar paused. Mistystar stopped as well, but before any leader moved again, Bramblestar called out.
“Please, all may pass through ThunderClan territory to go home. Today more than ever, we Five Clans are One. We have no guarantee the enemy will never return, so we shall always be One Clan under StarClan to protect the Five.”
The Leaders nodded silent thanks, and the procession moved across the border into familiar territory. As they approached the abandoned twoleg den. WindClan veered off to the east. Crowfeather waved his tail briefly in salute. Smokewind looked back once, her gold eyes shimmering with grief, then she and her Clan vanished into the swirling snow.
ShadowClan moved away from the twoleg den, turning southwest, and Rowanstar flicked his tail in thanks. Kyestorm saw pain in his eyes and his body trembled. Foreboding washed over her. He nodded, then turned away. Indiclaw moved with strength and determination, easily carrying the body of her fallen Clanmate, with her Leader sandwiched between her and Tawnypelt. Kyestorm refrained from calling out, but Indiclaw glanced back, blinking her green eyes, and twitched her tail, worry in her eyes.
“Stubborn fool, let Indiclaw carry you,” she mumbled, as ShadowClan vanished into the swirling snows. Kyestorm growled, but let the urge to pursue them go.
Leafstar and SkyClan followed ThunderClan home, and Kyestorm knew SkyClan wanted their own territory. With everyone battle weary, and tired of fighting, the Clans surely must settle that very soon.
As they headed toward camp, passing familiar marks, Kyestorm eyed the twoleg den. Snow softened its angles, and memories of that night she and Demonstone joined the Clans flooded her mind. She looked up into the sky, letting the snow whip her face. She wondered if StarClan approved of all this, and if she fulfilled that long ago destiny. The wind moaned, and a swirl of snow spun in front of the old structure. A few snowflakes sparkled, and a whispering purr reached her ears.
“Yes, yes, prophecy fulfilled.” Sharp eyes of all shades glittered in the gloom for several heartbeats. “Yet New Blood shall always follow its destiny, strengthening the One Clan under StarClan. Never forget thy purpose.”
The eyes winked out, and the snow cloud whisked away of the rising winds. Kyestorm glanced at Demonstone, whose wide gold eyes told her he also witnessed the rare communication. She glanced around the moving troops, but of all, only Jayfeather, Gentleoak, Angelglow, Leafpool, Alderheart, Twigleaf, Violetshine, Demonstreak, Phantomstrike, Bramblestar and Leafstar gazed back at her, nodding, affirming that they witnessed the contact from StarClan. She wondered if StarClan touched the other Clans.
“I have no doubts Smokewind, Indiclaw, and Bluefrost, along with their leaders and medicine cats, saw what we did,” Demonstone purred in soft tones. “Though the menace foretold so many moons ago has been vanquished, as long as our blood runs through the Clans, we will never forget our purpose, nor let anything harm us and those we love.”
“Never,” Kyestorm agreed, and thought about all the Clan history; the violence between the Clans, the battles with Scourge and overambitious leaders, the natural disasters, and the horror of the Dark Forest. Kyestorm thought what might have been if she and her family graced the Clan’s presence in those days. Her heart back flipped with the sure knowledge her family’s presence altered what Darktail and his rogues planned to do to the Clans. She faced forward into the wind, letting the fine snow pelt her eyes, and lifted her lip in a defiant snarl. “Yes, we of New Blood defend the One Clan under StarClan, to protect the Five, forever.”
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: PEACE (Epilogue)
Kyestorm trotted across the tree bridge to the island, noting RiverClan waited there already. Demonstone moved behind her, while Birchfall carefully stepped ahead of her. She jumped down to the ground, landing beside her Clanmate. Ahead, Bramblestar strode to the Great Tree, Lionblaze at his side. Kyestorm felt a pang for all who they lost, and those who sustained grave injury. She missed Spiderleg, more than she ever thought possible, wishing to hear his “bunny ears” quip again. She shook off the melancholy emotions, wanting to enjoy this long awaited gathering.
The moon shone bright from clear skies, and Silverpelt glittered in glorious accompaniment. A cool breeze rustled the New Leaf growth in the trees, filling Kyestorm with joy. She saluted Mistystar with a tail wave. The old RiverClan leader returned the gesture, her grizzled visage breaking into a smile.
“Hallo Mistystar!” Bramblestar’s voice rang out, as he took his position in the Great Tree. Kyestorm sat with her Clan below Bramblestar, waiting as the other Clans arrived. Her heart jumped with a pang of grief when Crowstar arrived with WindClan, but she waved her tail in salutations. Smokewind followed Harespring, with Oatclaw at her flank. She raised her tail in silent greeting. Kyestorm thought about Onestar, and what he revealed to the other Leaders the Gathering before the battle. He announced that he sired Darktail, many seasons ago in a tryst with a kittypet, whom he then left behind, and admitted he feared the remnants of Darktail’s band of rogues the Clans drove off might return. Kyestorm flicked her ears, very glad Phantomstrike ended Darktail’s miserable life so many moons ago.
“If those rogues know what is best for then, they will stay away,” Kyestorm growled under her breath. Happy meows and calls broke her thoughts.
Cats greeted each other with cheerful meows and yowls as everyone took their places, eager to hear news and updates. Tigerstar lead Shadowclan into the glade, and Kyestorm lowered her head with sadness at the absence of Rowanstar. The old leader lost his last life to internal injuries suffered in the great battle shortly after they returned home. The cry for help echoed over the quiet lake that night, and all medicine cats responded. Kyestorm rushed over with Gentleoak, driven by the anguish in Indiclaw’s yowls. Nothing the medicine cats did that dreadful night helped Rowanstar, as he coughed out his last life, blood spraying the snow and staining his mouth and chest. He succumbed to the unseen injuries he suffered despite the attentions of all the Clans' medicine cats efforts. Dovewing went to ShadowClan that night, finally following her heart during her mate's time of need. She walked at Tigerstar’s side as they entered the clearing, and Kyestorm approved.
The medicine cats all gathered in a chattering group, and only Jayfeather showed signs of annoyance by canting back one ear. Bramblestar stood up and signaled for silence. The loud raucous talk dropped to a mummer.
“Greetings to all,” ThunderClan’s leader began. “I looked forward to this Gathering, the first since we vanquished the enemy. ThunderClan healed over the last few moons, and though our production of kits this New Leaf has dropped considerably, we still have joyous announcements. Maplesong and Bumblestripe are expecting kits any day, and Appleflower and Ravenclaw are havimg kits later this New Leaf.” Bramblestar glanced down at Kyestorm. “And it seems our Kyestorm is taking a break from kitting this season. Well deserved. ”
“We can’t feed many more giant fuzzheads,” someone quipped in good nature, and laughter rippled around the gathered cats. Kyestorm uttered a mewl of laughter, looking Dovewing, who sat beside her mate, happiness finally in her eyes, her belly swollen with kits. The she-cat glanced at Maplesong and nodded, at the news of Maplesong’s impending litter. Bumblestripe never glanced her way again after the battle, and their shaky relationship shattered forever that night, driving Dovewing to ShadowClan and her true love. Bumblestripe deserved a good mate, someone to love him and give him kits, and Maplesong did that and more.
“We’re doomed to feed more big fuzzballs forever,” Bramblestar chuckled, regaining Kyestorm’s attention. The clan leader nodded at Kyestorm’s black-pelted son from her 2nd litter. Ravenclaw blinked with good humor, giving his mate, red tabby Appleflower, a nudge with his enormous head. She licked the white scar running above his right eye, the only reminder of his part in the battle. Her parents, Cherryfall and Stormcloud beamed with pride and delight.
“All injured have healed, and we have mourned our fallen warriors. Fierceheart lost a limb, as most know, but as you see, she recovered, thanks to our medicine cats’ care, and she is able to perform her warrior duties.” Bramblestar nodded to the tiny, sleek, black she-cat, and she stood up on her three good legs, her black pelt broken by the white ragged scar marking her lost forleg.
Bramblestar’s expression turned solemn. “My mate Squirrelflight, was not as lucky, suffering crippling injuries to her hindquarters. She finally recovered, but she can no longer handle her deputy duties. She insists it is temporary, but she and I both know the truth. She can walk, with a serious limp and pain in both hindlegs, but running and leaping is out of the question. Our medicine cats performed a miracle to set her legs so she could walk again. Demonstone is training her to strengthen what she has, but she is confined to camp.” Bramblestar paused to let that sink in. Murmurs rippled around the Gathering, as everyone knew Squirrelflight’s temperament. Bramblestar continued. “It has been difficult on her, but I am happy she is alive to snap and complain. As many of you already know, Lionblaze is now our deputy.”
“Lionblaze! Lionblaze! Lionblaze!” roared from all throats. Bramblestar dipped his head to his new deputy. “Prey runs well, and I believe we are strong and ready to face any dangers ahead. I defer now to Tigerstar.”
“Greetings,” ShadowClan’s leader stood up. “We have kits on the way, from Snowsquall and Indiclaw. Dovewing and I also are expecting kits. We will have giant fuzzheads to feed. Prey runs well on our territory as well.” Tigerstar paused, and Kyestorm saw a flash of sadness in his eyes. Kyestorm lowered her head, missing the cranky Rowanstar. Tigerstar’s features relaxed. “Our borders are well marked and patrolled. We have, thanks to Demonstone’s teachings, fortified our camp. We will be prepared for anything.” Tigerstar sat down, “And Tawnypelt is our new deputy.”
“Tawnypelt! Tawnypelt! Tawnypelt!” Rang out in her honor, then Mistystar stood up.
“All is well in RiverClan. We did not suffer as much loss as the rest of you, but Bluefrost and Troutleap are expecting kits, along with Mintfur and Icewing. I believe prosperous times lay ahead for us. StarClan approved of our victory last Leaf Bare.” Mistystar sat down, and Leafstar rose to her feet, balancing on her branch.
“SkyClan is happy to be back, functioning as a full Clan once again, and prey runs well in our new territory. We are grateful to all of you for everything, in working out an agreement after the big battle. Tree worked out a good plan, and we are grateful for everyone’s input, and the results. Cloudflight is expecting kits by Nightstrike." Leafstar lifted her lip in a grin, glancing down at Phantomstrike, whose sea-green eyes shone with joy. “We will have our first crop of giant fuzzheads.”
Laughter met her comment as she sat down. Crowstar stood up, and Kyestorm glanced at Smokewind, who looked rather plump.
“We look forward to having more big fuzzheads as Smokewind carries her and Oatclaw’s second litter. Prey runs well, and New Leaf has been good so far. I wish to announce my choice of deputy I made the night of the battle. For those who have not heard, Harespring is our deputy. His bravery and courage as a true warrior against the enemy earned him this spot back, and he too, will fulfil his life’s destiny, stronger, older, and wiser.”
“Harespring! Harespring! Harespring” Kyestorm yowled, feeling none of her former hatred for her adversary from seasons ago. It flowed away moons ago, all water under the tree bridge now.
“I wish to honor Onestar here, as we all still miss his presence,” Crowstar said, then hesitated. Everyone gazed back in solemn silence. He lowered his head. “But I am not certain how.”
The wind gusted, roaring briefly, ruffling all pelts of many lengths and colors. Sparkling mist rolled in off the lake, spinning fast in the center of the gathering. Cats parted, forming a circle around the glittering fog.
Kyestorm uttered a soft mew, recognizing shapes materializing within the mist. Onestar took form, facing his former deputies, his face beaming a feline smile of approval. Furzepelt stood at his side, eyes on Harespring, who stared, in shock and longing. She glided to him, touching his nose, and his eyes closed, in a bittersweet feline smile. He trembled all over and Kyestorm wished she heard what she said. Her heart swelled with sympathy for him.
Many feline forms swarmed in that fog, and Kyestorm recognized Spiderleg, Purdy, Wasptail, Needletail, and all who perished that bloody snowy day. Behind them, all previous leaders of all the Clans stood, eyes shimmering in a kaleidoscope of colors. Firestar, Blackstar, Rowanstar, Tallstar, Bluestar, Leopardstar, and Skystar made the front row, with others flowing into infinity behind them. The five clan leaders exchanged shocked glances. Onestar looked up at Crowstar, then at Harespring.
“Don’t grieve for me,” he said. “I was old, and I went out as a warrior should, fighting to the bitter end. I chose well for deputy, both times, and Harespring, I always knew you had it in you. Behind that unreasonable hatred, was a good heart, and it finally shines through.”
“How can I not grieve?” Smokewind pushed forward, brazenly standing nose to nose with the scintillating apparition. “After Kyemama, Demonpoppa, and my mate, I loved you most of all.” Her voice rose to a heartrending yowl.
“Ah, my daughter of choice,” Onestar rumbled, humor in his flashing eyes. “You know I adored you, and knew you belonged with us the first night we met.” Onestar raised his eyes, sweeping his gaze over his Clan. “Don’t despair. I shall light all your paths always.”
With a head nod, he whirled and vanished into the horde of ghostly, starry felines in the mist. Smokewind yowled inarticulately, and hid her face in Oatclaw’s shoulder.
“Don fret youngin’s.” Purdy’s form solidified, and he stood, young and strong, all his white teeth gleaming. His eyes shone bright and clear. Spiderleg joined him, standing tall and young, black pelt glittering with stars. Purdy continued in a strong voice. “Me life twas long, an I nev’r regretted joinin’ the Clans. Rejoice in me life, remember me tales, but don keen. Twas a grand death to serve me clan in final battle.”
“It was,” Spiderleg interjected, eyeing Kyestorm. “My only regret is scorning our original big fuzzheads in the beginning. I will light your path always, Bunny Ears.”
“We will always miss you,” Kyestorm murmured, her throat constricting, and as Spiderleg and Purdy turned back into the starry mists, she noticed Rowanstar, Wasptail and Needletail speaking to Tawnypelt and Tigerstar. Indiclaw burst forward, touching Needletail’ nose, and the starry warrior placed a paw on Indiclaw’s swollen belly. Rowanstar came forward and touched Indiclaw's nose.
"I never regretted taking you into ShadowClan," he murmured. "I shall always light your path."
Indiclaw uttered a soft keen. Kyestorm moved over to her daughter and met Rowanstar’‘s starry gaze.
“Don’t grieve for this battle-scarred old warrior,” he said. “I went out as a warrior should, from battle wounds. The medicine cats could never have healed my internal wounds. Make sure Gentleoak knows that.”
“I’m sorry I ever disrespected you,” Kyestorm mumbled.
“Don’t be,” Rowanstar chuckled. “I deserved it and you and your daughter made me better for it all. Don’t grieve. I shall watch your paths always.”
Rowanstar joined his fellow leaders. She caught movement by the medicine cat conclave, and saw Spottedleaf’s, Littlelcloud’s and Yellowfang’s forms, and tried to spot Mothwing. Surely that disbeliever saw StarClan this night.
The StarClan warriors turned away, and the front line of star-spangled leaders stepped forward. Their bodies shimmered into translucency, and Bluestar raised her head to face Bramblestar and Mistystar. Leopardstar joined her. Skystar faced Leafstar, and and Blackstar and Rowanstar halted before Tigerstar.
“Some of us thought you could never truly do what asked,” Blackstar said. “To overcome Clan animosities proved difficult, until Indiclaw and her siblings matured. That love they had for mate and kin strengthened all of you in trying times.”
“I experienced this first hand, and learned this truth,” Rowanstar said. “You all bring strength and peace to the Clans”
“We watched as ye of new blood changed what was to be, “Tallstar stepped forward, gazing up at Crowstar, glancing at Onestar, who nodded. “Darktail and rogues like him will always be a danger, and we must prevent any from originating in our Clans, to seek sick revenge.”
A few cats gasped in confusion and shock, but all the leaders glanced at each other, knowing the full tale of Darktail’s origins. Kyestorm and Demonstone exchanged glances and Phantomstrike uttered a deep prrrt of satisfaction. His sea-green eyes blazed in the moonlight. He exchanged glances with Indiclaw, who nodded.
“Because Darktail died at the claws of you, young warrior, you not only altered what was to be,” Tallstar meowed, meeting Phantomstrike’s gaze. “You prevented grave loss, and had the strength and numbers to drive out the great danger which threatened every Clan. Never forget, that kin are important, too.”
“We watched Clans become more than just Clans, to become family,” Bluestar continued, meeting Mistystar’s gaze. “Never again shall kits be torn from their true mothers because of cross Clan affairs. The exchange of blood will keep us all strong.”
“Never again shall evil destroy our Clans,” Leopardstar cried out. “You must battle it head on, from wherever it comes, even from within.”
“And never again shall Clan reject Clan in time of need,” Skystar interjected. “What happened to SkyClan should never be repeated. SkyClan is finally home. Defend them and yourselves always.”
“New Blood binds you all, and, always, shall all Clans unite as one in times of danger, to forever protect the Five,” Firestar yowled, meeting Bramblestar’s eyes, before glancing at all the leaders. His firey orange pelt glowed. “Never forget this.”
The apparitions suddenly spun around, diving into the shimmering mist, which whisked away on a gust of wind, rolling over the lake before vanishing into Silverpelt. All the cats sat stone still, and nobody spoke or even purred. Amongst the medicine cats. Mothwing sat, eyes wide and unblinking, shock and new belief in every line of her body. Her fellow medicine cats smiled, nodding with satisfaction.
Waves lapped the shoreline, the wind rustled the grass, and moonlight bathed the island in golden silver light. In the quiet, a very distant, familiar howl whispered over the lake from the north. Kyestorm sat bolt upright, ears quivering, wondering if she really heard the faint call. Cats hissed, and stunned silence hung over the gathering for many heartbeats, and in the wind, a “never forget” moaned through the branches of the Great Tree.
“StarClan has spoken,” Bramblestar broke the quiet. “The enemy is vanquished, but not forever. New enemies may attack us at any time. We must always be ready.” He looked sharply at Kyestorm and Demostone, his daughter Sparkfire, and Demonstreak, then at his large half Maine Coon grandkits. He lifted his head, and met his sister’s gaze. Tawnypelt blinked back a feline kiss. He smiled, baring the tips of his fangs.. “New Blood does indeed bind us all, strengthening all our family ties. We will never forget, but tonight, we celebrate, in our victory, our kin, and for our future.”
Ah, this is so nice! Welcome to the new forums, New Blood! <3
Thanks so much,, Shadow!! I'm still fumbling around!
Addendum! because I lost a SAVE to a stupid glitch... Just for those who may think a Maine Coon fighting off a fox alone is far fetched check this out! Maine Coon chases off fox And my Kai was larger than this particular Coonie!
Code from the old forums. Credit to me and Brownie for the EASY TUTORIAL page for helping me configure it to here!
Feel free to ask me to change colors.
Oh wow cool! How would I transfer this? For NEW BLOOD this time maybe a dark green, blue or maybe even purple with the black framing? Font either this color green or a pale yellow green? Is that too weird? I'll still need to know how to get it in what i already posted!
Yeah, Might be a bit later though, if you didn't realize I'm Lynxjump who did this for your other one on the WCF original forums. :3
I figured it might be you. Thanks! Might be better to start fresh than try and reccode the other. I managed to actually link NEW Blood in my sig! How's that for an old she-cat who is clueless :-) I am trying to learn. . .
Yeah, Might be a bit later though, if you didn't realize I'm Lynxjump who did this for your other one on the WCF original forums. :3
I figured it might be you. Thanks! Might be better to start fresh than try and reccode the other. I managed to actually link NEW Blood in my sig! How's that for an old she-cat who is clueless :-) I am trying to learn. . .
Well, you aren't the only one who has to figure this all out. Any idea how I can post picture on this new forum?
Hey, Phantom, just incase you wanted the link, here's the achieved Greebo works: Link
Excellent! Now I can waltz over and reread it whenever I want! LOL I am sooo happy it has not been lost! And that it lives on for all Forumers new and old to enjoy! I hope that someone will do that for me should I ever have to leave here-either thru illness or worse. . .and keep NEW BLOOD alive. . .
Hum...I wonder if there's a way to do it without tinypic. I found out how to do it through add attachments, but the pictures are so small and you can only have up to three in one post.
There is a pic limit per post? I think with NEW BLOOD I had five in the 1st section one per Chapter. Maybe someone else knows how to do it. If I get a chance I'll see if i can play with it and se eif there are other options.
Post by phantomstar57 on Aug 1, 2016 15:48:48 GMT -5
Minted! You can make them bigger by clicking on the pic and dragging the corner--like so. This one can in very small but I was able to just pull the corner and enlarge it. Hmmm it did not stay that way. I have to figure out what it means by "The thread in which you are posting has no effects applied to it." I have NO idea how to"apply effects". Can't find the controls for that. Experiment here -going to try a copy and paste of a pic. Nope that does not work apparently.