Post by 👻mintedstar/fur⚰️ on Dec 13, 2019 19:51:51 GMT -5
(Banner by Sapphire!!)
This is the third and last book in the Sky of Shattered Stars trilogy! Honestly, I never expected to get this far, much less receive this reception. It's been super fun. You've all been great and I hope this story is satisfying to read. So far, I plan to write it as long as possible to tie up any loose ends, but hopefully I catch all of the ones I'm aware of. I'm excited to show you all what I have so far.
Time has run out. The group has been split into two. Lionblaze is left to guard the fracturing ThunderClan alongside Dovewing while Hollyleaf and Jayfeather must cross through unfamiliar lands in a universe haunted by fractured cats. Hollyleaf's newly awakened powers can lead them through, but there's conflict within the group as well as a conflict within Jayfeather himself which might send the whole mission falling apart. Back in the clans, Lionblaze is confronted with explaining the Banes to the clan. But now there is even more division between the clans, despite attempts between cats to bring them together. Ivypool is furious and refuses to talk to her friends or her sister, isolating herself and making a perfect target. But mysteries and two-faced beings are all around them - and not all of them are Banes. Will they stand together ... or will the land stand divided while Wickedheart reclaims his own?
Post by 👻mintedstar/fur⚰️ on Dec 13, 2019 19:52:02 GMT -5
There are places where nothing can go. There are spaces where no one can comprehend. They are the spaces behind your line of sight. They are the spaces where nothing can touch or damage or control. It is not darkness, it is not lightlessness, it is not a space full of emptiness, it is not nothing – it is Nothing.
The capital letter makes all the difference.
There is only one thing that can ever shape Nothing. And that is Chaos. It is both Nothing and not Nothing. It is the opposite and the compliment. It is a brother and a parent and a child to Nothing.
And right now, for as much of a given definition of time as ‘right now’ can be, I was having a very bad time watching it. For a given definition of watching.
The Land of Chaos drips into Nothing all the time, just like Nothing drips into the Land of Chaos. Chaos is constantly building something from Nothing and just as quickly unmaking it. It makes it a scene that is almost impossible to watch. There is no pattern, though the mind attempts in every way it knows how to create one. It will pull something from the depths of the land and try to predict whether it will last. It never does. But the length of time is true random. It will never be as you predict it – apart from the times it is. It is a rolling mass of not understanding and thus there is no way to comprehend it.
I is at the edge. There is, however, one predictable part of the whole situation.
Land never reaches me. It tosses shapes of rocks and trees and rushing streams sometimes inches from my paws, but they are never there. Never under my grasp.
I never reach for it. I never stretch out a paw to attempt to grab the moving and shaping and tearing land.
What is the point? I could be here for hours or centuries and it would make no difference. Chaos wants its way and it wants its game. All I can do is let it play itself out. Either it will destroy everything just because it can or it will make something new, something no one can predict (or maybe someone can but isn’t telling).
I watch. I wait. And I doesn’t fret or worry or grow angry. But I watch the Land of Chaos and I smile.
Nothing is exactly like it seems.
Chapter 1: Firestar
A cough wracks Ferncloud’s chest. It isn’t a thick one, but instead one that implies she is trying very hard not to make a sound. I don’t like it. It makes me feel as if I’ve failed her. I have, and I know it, but I also know I’ve failed a lot of cats and this will hardly be the last. That frightens me. I’m not the leader they need right now, and I can hardly think who is. Bramblestar is competent and I would trust him with my life, but he has been no more prepared for this than I have.
I understand his feelings. He has gathered everyone in the camp, around the scarce prey pile. I try to admire the fact that he is on the same level as the warriors, but it’s hard to appreciate such things when Ferncloud looks so weak beside me.
I’ve already realized that my desire to avoid eating has saved me and doomed her.
“Quiet!” Bramblestar’s voice is hoarse, but strong. I blink, remembering more of my days under Bluestar than anything else. Part of me even thinks in the back of my head that if this goes on much longer than I might be seeing my former mentor again – in the flesh – and I doubt she will be pleased.
I wouldn’t blame her for it either.
The gathered clanmates hush. The ones that can hush. Several, like Ferncloud, seem to be suffering from intense bellyaches, scratchy throats, and eyes which seem more bloodshot as the minutes pass. There’s little I can think to do, since there is hardly any medicine that I know of to treat such things. It seems more logical for Leafpool to take over, but that is exactly what she has already done. There were clan members who would need more tending to than others. I knew this and I felt sorry for them, but at the same time I also thought I understood.
Bramblestar glanced around. I noticed, and so did he, that several members of ThunderClan and several … non-members … were absent. There wasn’t anything to be done by that, though several cats were looking around as if they expected the wayward friends and relatives to materialize again. I couldn’t help looking toward the entrance with the same thought in mind.
“No cat is to eat the prey in camp,” said Bramblestar, his tail rising to signal silence – even though no one had been talking before he had. “Those who have must be attended to by Leafp-”
As I expected, a cat interrupted him almost at once.
“What good will that do!” snapped Mousefur. Several cats jumped and looked in her direction. There were still several wary expressions. Most of them remembered the she-cat as having died not so long ago. But Honeyfern’s efforts to unite the clans’ opinion seemed to have some effect, because they let her speak.
“If you haven’t noticed, Brambleclaw, half of us have already become effected by whatever poison is in the prey! Those cats – those rogues! – clearly planned this and wished to weaken us! Maybe they were cats from the Place of No Stars!”
There was a stirring of cats within the crowd as they digested these words. I didn’t let any reaction cross my face, though I did notice that several cats within the crowd were similarly controlling (or not controlling) their expressions. Lionblaze looked stony. Brackenfur looked furious, pelt fluffed up in more than suspicion. His eyes held only panic.
I made a mental note to talk with him later, but Mousefur wasn’t done.
“But we don’t have to worry about death, so why are we using up our herbs and resources when we should be preparing for whatever plans are in store. And is no one going to point out that they took several of our warriors and our medicine cat!”
Bramblestar met the Elder’s eyes with his own amber gaze, though to me it was rather clear that he was searching for as many answers as he could in a short space of time. It was a thing I had learned as a leader. You had to appear like you had all the answers or the cats under you would start panicking. If you really didn’t have any ideas, you needed to find them fast. This seemed to be the route that Bramblestar took, since he said in a clear voice, “We need to have faith in our clanmates. They would not go somewhere if they could not come back to us and they would not trust the Dark Forest.”
There was a snort from Brackenfur. Brackenfur, who had seemed to like Bane. I wondered what had changed. Brackenfur pointed out, “Oh yes … because it isn’t as if these clanmates of ours are paragons of virtue.”
Bramblestar didn’t wince, but I allowed myself to shift my paws a little, uncomfortable. There were a lot of reasons that I could think of for Brackenfur’s words, but for the most part I thought they had to do with his mate. Was it possible that he had heard what Bane and the others were?
For a second, I considered whether I should tell ThunderClan who they had been hosts to for a couple of moons. But I thought better of it. Like the secret of the Three, there was a purpose for not telling his Clan. There was already wedge between many of the cats here and I didn’t want there to possibly be another reason for my cats to hate each other.
“Brackenfur,” said Bramblestar. “There is nothing we can do. A patrol has already been sent out and they have turned up no sign of them. I cannot change that, but I can look after the cats who are here. As for the use of resources …” He glanced at Ferncloud when he spoke. Like me, he’d noticed how she seemed to be holding open her mouth, rasping breaths coming from her throat. “I cannot allow this clan to suffer just to save herbs for an unforeseen danger.”
But we have seen it, haven’t we, I thought. Didn’t we just get direct information hardly a few hours ago?
But no cat drew attention to that. Much like I did, they wanted to believe that there was no harm coming on the horizon. They wanted to believe that they were coming away from the final hurdle.
“Until then, we need to send out fresh hunting parties to replace the tainted prey,” said Bramblestar, looking around.
I stepped forward. “I can volunteer,” I said softly.
Bramblestar looked surprised at the fact that a previous leader of ThunderClan was volunteering for hunting. And doing so as if I was somehow back to the warrior’s position. I held my chin out, meeting my previous deputy’s eyes. There was a depth to my gaze which couldn’t match his, and he looked away.
“Alright,” he said. “Is anyone else well enough to go?”
His eyes fell on Dovewing and then mine did as well. I was surprised that she wasn’t with her sister. But her eyes were vacant enough that she might as well have been standing in another world. Her head clearly wasn’t here, thought I had no way to guess where it truly was.
Bramblestar’s eyes visibly narrowed and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Dovewing blinked and straightened, asking, “What?”
Her voice held a small measure of defiance in it, but not enough to make it believable.
Bramblestar looked sympathetic, but not enough that he wouldn’t take the logical option. I agreed.
“You’re on a hunting patrol … with Firestar. Take whoever else wants to go.”
Then the leader of ThunderClan turned and maybe I was the only one who noticed his steps were hesitant.
Chapter 2: Hollyleaf
The ground was cold. Cold enough that it stuck to my pawpads and each step became painful as I had to walk through the equally chilly mist.
"Explain it to me again," I growled through my fangs. The pain in my paws was nothing compared to the pain I felt by leaving my clanmates behind to think StarClan knew what about Jayfeather and me.
I could hardly see my brother in this mist. I could see the outlines of two cats, a few paces to my left, but since I was in the lead I had no idea which they were. At least not until the closest one opened her mouth and I recognize Bloodclaw's voice.
"I thought it was rather simple."
Her voice was a drawl. The syllables clicked and cracked against each other like unsheathed claws against stones.
"You lead us to Rock."
I felt my tail bristling. Maybe we'd gone through this, but now that most of the plan was behind us, I couldn't actually find the patience in myself to take Bloodclaw's words. I was almost grateful when Bane cut in.
"We do not know where Rock is. I have every confidence that you can help us to him."
I couldn't help hissing, "I feel like I'm walking blind. And apparently this "power" is working, but I can't tell! At least this mist is giving me an excuse to be lost, but as soon as it clears then what?"
I could hear Bane scent the air and after a second, I was tempted to copy him.
What I could smell was water vapor. That was all. It had been like this ever since we had left the ThunderClan camp. We had walked out into the territory for barely a heartbeat before the forest had decided to open up around us and swallow us into darkness. I'd lost direct sight of Jayfeather since then, but I knew that he was still there. It made me feel guilty, knowing that he had to orchestrate most of what had gotten us … wherever we were.
"It will clear soon," said Bane. He had been quiet for so long that I wondered what he was talking about before I remembered my earlier complaints, "then we can get our bearings."
His voice, usually as deep as some unexplored pool, was soft. Not sympathetic, but it might have held kin of such emotion.
Before long, we did come to the edge of the mist. I expected it to gradually thin out, but what happened was from one step to another I was just standing out in the open. My heart jerked, reminding me I was still alive. The shock, however, could not have been from more interesting a combination.
The scenery before me was … a place which I had never wanted to imagine. The trees were dark, lit only by some strange glowing fungi which I had neither a name for nor a desire to describe. Mist still shifted between the trees, but the whole place felt empty.
I knew it. In my bones. And it scared me.
"Why are we here?" I said, my voice gruff.
This place was dangerous.
The Dark Forest.
I turned to confront one of the Banes (or whatever the collective of all the cats were called) only to freeze once again.
There were only three cats behind me. And no mist left to hide them. Instead, all that was left was a bright, starry field which I knew just as well as the forest of darkness behind me. But I couldn't think about that. Only the fact that the numbers of our group had reduced by one.
"Where is my brother?" I asked, pelt bristling. My mind was blazing, fury dancing in my eyes. Bane - the cat - glanced around as if he wasn't actually sure what I meant. Then he waved a tail at the third cat which I had noted.
I'd assumed it was Senkis as soon as I hadn't seen my brother's grey fur or blue eyes but looking at this cat I knew it wasn't Senkis either.
The eyes were wrong. The waxy colors of them - neither blue or yellow - looked back at me as if I'd somehow made some horrible mistake.
They weren't my brother's eyes. Not completely. The rest of him didn't seem complete either. Faint tabby markings were arrayed across a pelt of the wrong color, brown and grey melding in an unnatural fashion. This cat was lankier, and even his movements weren't exactly Jayfeather.
I didn't think I could get the words out.
Chapter 3: Jayfeather-Senkis (Senfeather)
Hurting his clanmates had been the last thing that Jayfeather had wanted. Surprisingly, Senkis hadn't been particularly keen on the idea either, but they had both done it.
Senkis had found the poison - Jayfeather had added into the prey. The dose had to be measured; it couldn't be enough to kill, at least right away, according to a reluctant Senkis, but it had enough that the cats would stay sick. Then for several days, they both went without eating. Each time Jayfeather had seen a clanmate eat, he had wanted to call it off. The feeling of betrayal had twisted around his chest and he’d had to bite at his own tongue so as not to say anything. It hadn’t made any of it easier to know that if they succeeded in what they needed to do than it wouldn’t even change anything for the better. It would just put things back to normal.
When Senkis had given Hazeltail a mouse, part of him felt very … odd. He hadn't been able to identify it until now, now that neither he nor Jayfeather were themselves anymore.
The feeling weighing down his belly was guilt. Maybe a bit more than that. It felt too weighty. It was weighty enough that the being that was neither Jayfeather nor Senkis had to wonder what it was Senkis felt for Hazeltail.
It had been something gradual which neither of them hadn't noticed happening. Not for a very, very long time. The slow crossing of their thoughts. As Senkis’ power returned, so did Jayfeather’s. The power to hear thoughts placed him in a position he didn’t expect.
Jayfeather had, as soon as enough cats were sick, been able to Dreamwalk again, but it was all or nothing with the sick cats. However, his Dreamwalking hadn’t been something small. It was strong enough that when he had stepped forward, the very forest around him had changed. And Senkis had been there, reformed into a cat-like shape as soon as they were no longer in the land of the living.
They'd trailed quickly after Hollyleaf in silence.
Now that I could look back on both sets of memories, I couldn't really tell where Jayfeather and Senkis ended and where I started.
Now I was left untangling my own thoughts. Two sets of them.
I responded to Hollyleaf, the two voices overlapping in different tones. Senkis had a higher voice than Jayfeather and it made a tone echo under Jayfeather’s in a way that had even my fur bristling.
My voice certainly didn't sound like hers, each separate tone jumped with a nervousness all its own. I had two separate sets of thoughts and neither really wanted to work with each other.
I felt fear prickle my consciousness, which was both familiar and unfamiliar.
Bloodclaw looked at me with curious amber eyes. "My my … that isn't something you see every day. I wonder what will happen when Hollyleaf runs into Thinbone and Wick-"
Bane - Soulcatcher - cut her off by stepping in front of her. "Quiet! This is complicated enough without your speculations."
Bloodclaw snorted, but quieted.
Then I was looking into the former Death of Cat's deep blue eyes.
Interestingly, my thoughts had begun rearranging themselves all this time, chronologically, I assumed.
There was more of Senkis - or Illfur rather - to go around. His memories stretched to almost the beginning of time, but they didn't really have any … substance. They just existed. It was like an observation rather than a set of memories. There was only a scattering of definite emotions within it. Then there was Jayfeather. He'd turned up so recently, and would be gone before any of the Banes could have blinked, but his memories were the rare ones that gave me a complete understanding of what emotions were.
Both sets of morels, or as much as Senkis understood about morals, clashed. However, for the time being, I could push that to the back of my mind. I was something between the two of them, a strange combination of them.
I looked Death straight in the eye. "Yes?"
Both of tandem voices overlapped perfectly, high and low tones making the word sound richly accented and stronger than I felt.
The Death of Cat's blinked. "Nothing, nothing, I'm assuming you are doing … alright?"
I glanced from him to Hollyleaf.
She looked like she'd seen a ghost - and like she'd lost someone. I winced, that was definitely my fault. Although it wasn't like I could do much about it now. I wasn’t her brother. I wasn’t sure what I was.
There were several seconds where I was tempted to answer, but wasn’t sure how. It was harder to work out an answer from what was in my head. There was a lot which could be said about, well … the situation.
Both sets of thoughts were claiming that they weren't okay, but to different degrees. Working out a way to combine both versions was difficult. It wasn’t like they were fighting for attention or I was constantly switching between Jayfeather and Senkis ... rather I was just … them. Something else. Not black or white, but a very rich grey.
"I'm the best I can be," I said, flicking my tail and beginning to move forward. Bane nearly cut me off again but I ignored him. I was in agreement with myself, there wasn't any point in doing so. His question, while one of concern, couldn't elevate my worries.
Hollyleaf stood aside almost mechanically and I walked past her, walking down the line between the Dark Forest and StarClan. The mist from the dark trees didn't reach this far, but I still glanced around for it.
My stomach tossed a bit, feeling like something was rolling around inside it. I wasn't sure whether it was just the influence of Senkis' constant illnesses or whether it was just a combination of nerves.
I paused then, thinking about the condition of my head. I wasn't Jayfeather or Senkis because I wasn't making new memories individually. There wasn't a memory bank marked "Jayfeather" or visa versa. There was just my own head and from anything before that I was two cats but rather than the memories having multiple facets, they were winding out in a single line.
I shook the theory away. Whatever answer it was, it wasn't something I could focus on now, it was something which I could leave for another time without much concern weighing on me. I was curious, and maybe a bit worried of the unknown, but there were bigger issues which we all needed to cover.
StarClan. And to the right, the Dark Forest. I knew why we were here, but I doubted Hollyleaf did.
"Why are we here?" I asked for her.
The Death of Cats very likely knew that I had already learned the answer to that from my memory banks, but he still answered with the same deep tones. “We’re on the border between two sides - dark and light. We are neither, we are not dictated by them and they do not dictate us.”
I looked around, noting the absence of cats.
“Place has been cleared out.”
Bane glanced sideways at me. “Yes, we don’t need to pay attention to that. We will be traveling through this place to reach our home.”
The word meant two different things to me, maybe more. The fur along my shoulders ruffled, I wasn't going to think about the logistics of that.
Hollyleaf still looked distracted enough from what had happened that I didn't look at her. It seemed easier.
"So we're just passing through," I muttered. I looked both ways, like the Jayfeather in me was prepared to cross the street (though he had never done it by sight before). Then I stepped forward into the territory of stars, following along the edge.
Chapter 4: Briarlight
There was a burning in my eyes and flank and chest.
A prickling sensation along each line of my fur was a constant distraction, but I could still keep most of my mental faculties straight.
Most of the clan was sick - poisoned by something, but I wasn’t sure how that was possible. After all, it had seemed up to this point that things like sickness couldn’t affect us anymore - I’d seen this and theorized as much when Hazeltail had gotten sick with whitecough but none of the other cats had. She must have gotten sick before all of this had befallen us and then it had not passed further. If that was the case ...
Then I was forced to believe the obvious fact that this was indeed some sort of poison wracking my body and the bodies of the rest of my clanmates. I’d spent my time in the medicine cat den learning the skills that Jayfeather and Leafpool could offer. I couldn’t for the life of me place any other explanation.
Which, since I already knew that, didn't help the current situation. It didn’t stop the current cramp of agony from traveling through my throat and into my chest, where it rested like a batch of particularly prickly brambles.
I gritted my teeth and pulled myself up onto my forepaws. I scooted toward the den entrance, my whole body hot and cold at once. I glanced out at the clan and held in the cough that bubbled up in my throat. There was a touch of taste of blood; the taste of some disgusting plant on my breath. I hadn't died yet, but I didn't want to. I didn't want to, even if I would come back, it felt too much like losing control. It was hard imagining my body growing still and my chest heaving with my final breaths. I had seen enough death just like that already. The idea that it might affect me caused my paws to shake. But that might have just been the poison.
Outside the medicine cat den, the air was thick with the scent of fear and lingering anger. I wasn't surprised. However, I was a bit surprised when Hazeltail said, "Have he come back?"
I glanced toward the she-cat behind me. Her eyes were as bad as mine, blurry and watering. Her pelt swam under my gaze, influenced by my fever, before collecting back into a manageable shape. A wobbly, blurry, and worried Hazeltail. I tried to meet her eyes, but there was a brand of pain there that I couldn’t understand. It seemed more than just poison affected her body.
"No," I said, unable to keep the curiosity out of my voice.
I hadn't exactly expected Hazeltail to be interested in the disappearance of cats who previously caused her so much pain. Not just her either, the whole clan had been affected. I wasn't blind to how close she had grown to Senkis and the interest they'd had for each other. But I hadn’t thought she’d specifically ask after him. And I was pretty sure that he was who she was referring to.
I also didn't fail to notice when she was deflated by my answer. I wasn’t sure how to address that at all.
I shivered a bit, but I wasn't sure if it was from the situation or if it was just another symptom. Before I pulled myself over to her and patted her paw lightly with my own, it was the best reassurance I could offer right now. I wanted to say that they'd be back, but I didn't know if I was right. I also didn’t want to know how that would make her feel. If she wanted to know or whether she should.
The hunting patrol, limited though it was, came back squabbling. I heard them pass the entrance to the den and hurried to pull myself in that direction. I stuck my head out of the den, eyes watering, and watched as Cloudtail set down a single mouse where the fresh kill pile used to be. There wasn’t any food there anymore, all of it removed to the edge of camp. I assumed some cat might look at it eventually to see what it had done to use - some of us - but I didn’t think anyone had looked yet. I also didn’t think that this would be the only use, if the clan wasn’t careful. Hungry cats and all.
Dovewing looked like she'd been pulled backwards through a bramble bush and kept trading snappish remarks with her uncle, while Firestar remained quiet.
I caught a couple of remarks which didn't seem like Dovewing. Normally she didn't get this annoyed. However, when she looked around, I knew it was probably more about the situation than anything Cloudtail had actually done. "Was that all you could find?" I rasped from the entrance, my stomach heavy with disappointment. Firestar was the one to look back at me. I tried not to look surprised, but instead let him simply respond. "Yes."
Chapter 5: Dovewing
I hated the fact that Bane's statement about prey running out within a week didn't even seem to be accurate. It seemed like it was happening now. And right now there was no food to replace the fresh kill pile.
"What does it even matter if we have fresh kill or not," I grumbled to Firestar. It was the first thing I'd directed to him in what felt like hours. I'd just been quipping to Cloudtail before then and that had just been venting. This was a real complaint, but it also held a grain of a real question.
I waited and after a second, Firestar said, "I can't see any reason why we can't die of hunger. Over and over again. I'm not sure that a body could heal from that."
I mulled that over. Then I mulled over what that meant. "Famine" was supposed to be the last Bane in the group which would be coming here. But if they were facing a future where there would only be hunger and no food to see …
It was a horrifying thought. I also wasn't sure how it would actually work. Wouldn't that mean Famine would always exist? Just … become the new state of being.
Something in me said that wasn't how it worked. War always ends. Death had life first. There was sickness, but also health. If there was no hope for an ending, then didn't there stop being a need to describe it? Famine would stop existing because there wouldn’t be a frame of reference for what famine wasn’t.
I wasn't sure, but that was probably as close of a description as I was going to think of.
My tail lashed. "Fine," I said. "Then what should we do?"
Firestar blinked his green eyes at me, then looked toward the leader's den. "I think you should ask-"
I frowned at him and said, taking several steps away from the fresh kill pile, "I think you should start giving your opinion. Like the rest of us. No one told you that we didn't need you anymore. You came to that decision yourself."
Firestar frowned at me, then shook his head.
"I think you have the wrong impression of what I'm doing," he said, voice quite. "I'm not going to be around forever. Bramblestar needs to-"
So that was how it was.
"You knew," I said bluntly. "About the condition of Bane and the others staying here. You knew that you and all the others would have to die if they succeed in whatever them and my reckless cousins are doing."
I wanted to keep the accusatory tone out of my voice - this hadn't been what we were talking about - but I couldn't help it. Secrets choked us all. How long had he known?
As if sensing my thoughts, Firestar said, "I learned about around the same time you must have, Dovewing." He hesitated. "Did you want to talk about it?"
I almost said yes, then bit back the response and shook my head. "There are bigger things to think about than this."
I turned toward the leader's den, pelt prickling with hurt. It seemed like nothing here made sense. It hadn’t for a while. I was so sick and tired of it.
There was very little I could think to do when I reached the leader’s den. Neither he nor I were sick, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about the fact that we could be. We might have to be, if only to have food.
I wasn’t particularly shocked at Bane’s assumption about the prey. It would be because we were trying to avoid eating it. My paws scraping against the rocks up to the leader’s den, I tried to order my head into something to actually talk about. It’s when I entered the den that I angled my ears forward and asked, “Bramblestar?”
The form within the den twitched and it took me a second to realize that I’d interrupted a conversation. I’d been so caught up with whatever was going on in my own head that I had completely missed what was happening in the den itself. Bramblestar was there, as was Squirrelflight, though she looked unsteady. The fact that so many of the clans were in the throws of the sickness that their own medicine cat had caused meant that I was slowly seeing my own clanmates becoming weaker and ill.
Which had been the idea from the start, hadn’t it …
Bramblestar looked over, eyes looking wide and worried, though there was hunger and hurt hiding just below the surface. Even I could see it.
“What is it, Dovewing?” he asked.
And there was the key question. Why had I wanted to come up here? Why had I wanted to come talk to my leader about what was happening?
There was a tickle of something though. Something that I felt like I needed to address.
“We know ShadowClan was attempting to … help with the problem with Redwillow,” I breathed. “I think … we can safely say that something bad is going to happen. Not … not just with the Banes. We have to deal with our problems.”
Squirrelflight coughed, badly, and I could feel my fur bristling. This wasn’t something I’d been prepared for. I wished that I’d known. I would have …
Stopped Jayfeather and all the others? It seemed like something impossible. I should have explained to Bramblestar what I’d known and let him handle it. Once again, I and the rest of the three had taken it on to be the leaders when we were nothing of the sort. And what had happened was now I and Lionblaze were here and the others were … somewhere else.
For all I knew, they were dead. I knew that wasn’t likely, but the fact was, even if I hadn’t poisoned Squirrelflight, the responsibility still felt like it was mine.
“We know,” the deputy finally rasped. “We have been … discussing these matters for a little while now.”
Bramblestar’s tail flicked and he seemed uneasy. Nervous.
“The fact is,” he said softly, “I don’t think we are prepared on the same level as ShadowClan was. What is the point of constantly avoiding these cats? Death doesn’t seem to be an incentive. Our wounds heal.”
Sort of, I thought. Wounds were things both seen and unseen. I doubted even ShadowClan could avoid the fact that every one of them had been through a nightmare. Several of them likely wouldn’t be the same. Death was something that was only supposed to happen once. Pain and injuries went away, but what was left in the head didn’t.
But Bramblestar kept going.
“So the focus should be on what we need to do about the food. It’s dying. Why it and not cats?”
I felt the answer and new the answer at the same time. It didn’t seem enough of a mystery to keep to myself. “Bane … Death … isn’t working for use because someone died. Rock.”
Bramblestar’s ears angled forward.
“The spirit from the Great Battle?”
I nodded my head.
“If him and Midnight have been alive since the beginning of time, then I guess that means something … broke. Something happened that wasn’t supposed to and it rippled outwards. But since it was only the … the Death of Cats … who was affected, then I guess that’s why everything else is okay.”
Bramblestar’s nose wrinkled and he stood, pacing.
“In that case, if the prey is a limited supply, what is the point of continuing to hunt it?”
My fur bristled even more. “To stop cats from starving, maybe?”
Bramblestar looked at me. “If … when … this ends, then we’ll need to have a food supply to fall back on.”
I couldn’t believe this.
“When? And how is that going to happen? Whatever crazy plan you’re kits came up with? The one that poisoned your mate? Are you insane?”
It was Bramblestar’s turn to bristle, but it was more subdued. “You should leave, Dovewing.”
I was still bristling, even though I took a step back. Before I left, however, I looked back over my shoulder and said, “If that happens, cats are going to die again. I don’t know who or what the rules are, but it wont be fair. He isn’t a cat. Bane doesn’t know what it means to have cats die. It wont be forgiven or looked over. Can you lose the cats you care about all over again?”
But before Bramblestar could answer, I stumbled out of the den. Mad enough that the edges of my vision blurred and my pauses slipped on the rock slide up to the den.
Chapter 6: Hollyleaf
My paws shook as I stepped after the cat who was no longer my brother. I didn’t know what to say and I hadn’t felt like my mind was this numb before. I was the one who was supposed to be leading these cats. That meant that I really should have been the one traversing the edges of StarClan and the Dark Forest. But the other cat was. Whoever he was. Whoever he was ..
Would he be my brother again?
I could feel my chest tightening up at the thought that he might not be. That there might be something lost to me. My claws dug into the ground.
This was the distraction that broke me out of my silent panic. The feeling of the earth beneath my claws, more real than a spirit realm had the right to be. It came up under my claws, neither completely rotting or green and healthy.
“Where is your home?” I finally breathed. I could feel my chest tugging me off in a certain direction. A hunger for something that wasn’t in my sight. That was what this felt like. A need to know - or find - something, but with the scent being just too far out of reach. It wasn’t an experience I liked. It twisted at my gut, making me want to claw at my own chest just to work out some of the pressure which only seemed to grow the further they walked.
“Between StarClan and the Dark Forest,” Bloodclaw said, ears angled forward. She seemed far more attentive for the quiet forest than I was comfortable with. Why? This place seemed too much like a deserted, empty camp. It was too quiet. No birds. Nothing that felt like life and light or death and darkness.
“There’s nothing here,” I said, feeling my pelt prickle more. “There’s just the border. It’s a line. There isn’t a between.” That didn’t seem right though, even to me. It felt more like there should have been an … a grey area.
“Maybe,” said Bane. His head rose and he sniffed at the air. It was odd thinking of him as … Death. As the end of life. As the being that destroyed life.
And that I somehow found a reason to follow after him.
My attention turned to J - to the other cat’s tail. To follow in his pawsteps as he seemed to step in a specific direction. That’s when I noticed the change. I noticed that there was a change in the ground, though as soon as I looked away, it stopped looking as … washed out … as I expected. I did my best to focus straight ahead, but when I did, it started to look like the other cat, Bane, and Bloodclaw were growing … fainter.
I pulled to a halt, pelt bristling. “What’s going on?” I said, voice harsh and almost a growl. Bane looked back, but didn’t seem to completely hear me. Bloodclaw turned to look as well, though she seemed more amused than anything else. It looked like she was saying something, but I couldn’t hear her. Then all three had completely faded away, all the time J - Senki - whoever … he han’t looked back once.
I looked around, unsure where the others had gone. I bristled, not sure how to do whatever they had done to disappear. It seemed like there should have been some way I needed to think or act. A way to walk to this … between … they had been talking about.
But I was alone. And there didn’t seem a lot that I could do. It felt like it would draw the wrong sort of attention to call out, but that was what I did.
“Bane? J … Jayfeather? Bloodclaw?” I asked the empty forest. But there was no response.
I took several steps further before pausing again. Nothing had changed and there didn’t seem to be anything that I could do. There wasn’t anything around. The others had just … gone. And now I was alone in an afterlife that didn’t have cats. Or maybe it did and I was going to find them.
I eyed the dark forest where cats I had fought in the great battle once resided. If there were still some there - and there might be - then what would I do?
I stepped away from the dark forest and the line that I had appeared on. Then I turned and looked toward the starry forest.. I hadn’t recognized Bane, but I had only briefly been in StarClan before everything had gone wrong. Even with that brief moment, I still felt a vague memory of it … Then there was the almost painful tug in my chest, which was leading me in a slightly different direction. What should I follow?
I looked off in the direction of the painful tugging. My powers.
The ones that I didn’t feel like I’d asked for. Even if I had for a long part of my life, I didn’t feel like I needed them now. I hadn’t grown up with them. Not like my brothers.
And going in that direction scared me. It led to Wickedheart.
And what was it that Bloodclaw had said?
Something about wondering what would happen when I ran into Wickedheart?
About if I would become like Jayfeather.
I turned away, heading for the starry forest. If the others wanted to find me, I’d be there.
Wasn’t that what Bane wanted anyway? Me, back where I ‘belonged.’
Chapter 7: Honeyfern
To my knowledge, things were now so bad that no one really had time to bother with who had died and who didn’t. That should have made me happy. The fact that ThunderClan was no longer divided on every line possible. Even still, I found myself sitting next to Foxleap, pelt bristling. I had avoided eating any prey for several days now and my gut growled. Foxleap was looking dizzy, but probably a bit better than the both of us. Three days. It had been three days since Hollyleaf and Jayfeather had left. I wondered what they were doing. I thought of Bane as well.
“It’s odd to think that there isn’t anything we can do,” I said. “Just … wait around camp. Hoping that whatever they’re doing is the right thing.”
“I don’t like it,” Foxleap said, tail twitching. “What Bane said as well … about his brother. Who do you think that is?” I didn’t know.
But I did stand and head for the camp entrance, glancing back at Foxleap to see if he followed. He did.
“There’s a common enemy now,” I said to him as we walked. Thus far, no new cats had turned up. That felt … odd to me. There should have been more. A lot more. I wondered if StarClan had noticed something had been going on and made a decision of some kind in my absence. Pity there were any new cats to ask.
“That enemy just isn’t something they can easily direct their attention to,” said Foxleap. “I’m wondering how long this … truce will last. Between us and them.”
The dead and the living - those who felt they were a ‘them,’ that was. Most of them had already died at least once now. Petty.
“Never mind the fact they have the former Dark Forest trainers that they’re still on about,” Foxleap said with a sigh. “As if we wont have the actual Dark Forest here soon.”
I looked around the silent woods. Prey smells were long stale and there was no scent of birds. Leafbare chill bit at my heels.
“Yeah,” I murmured.
“Why are we out here?” Foxleap asked after a second.
I supposed it was a reasonable question. He had just followed me.
I let my eyes narrow, not particularly sure how to voice my suspicions.
“To fid the …” no, that didn’t sound right. I let my tail flick and I glanced down at my paws as I continued to move forward. It seemed completely unreasonable that it would be this hard to work anything out.
A brisk breeze blew about my whiskers and I opened my mouth to scent the air. It was hard to tell what scents were carried on it - not prey scent - but I was pretty sure that there was the faint scent of cat.
I relaxed a bit. There it was.
“I don’t completely know, Foxleap,” I admitted, looking over my shoulders. “There’s a lot to this StarClan and the Dark Forest business. I think that there’s something we’re missing. Even without the cats that keep coming back. And Bane and Bloodclaw.”
“How do you mean?” asked Foxleap, doubt in his voice.
I spun, following the distant scent. I couldn’t be sure what it was I was aiming for yet, but it was a start.
“The other clans,” I said. “We’re already so disconnected. And cats within the clans. And StarClan and the Dark Forest. Who’s the enemy in this? Don’t we all want something?”
Foxleap picked up his pace. “Yeah? Things to go back to normal.” I could hear the sound of his own nervous swallowing. “Whatever that means now.”
I wondered how many f us actually suspected that, if ‘normal’ was obtained, than we would both end up dead again. Maybe most of our clanmates would join us now.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Normal. While I think all of us like being alive in practice … having no death at all …”
It was bad. I think a lot of cats knew that now. Apart from the very scared.
“So then what?” Foxleap. “How does that help us?”
“Well, if the enemy isn’t us or any of the cats,” I said, nearly tripping over a log as I jumped over it, a sudden wave of dizziness due to hunger weighing me down, “then it must be whatever caused this. There has to be something we can fight! We’re Warriors. Dead or alive. So we need to work out a way to not be weak. To fight.”
I could tell Foxleap looked doubtful.
I didn’t press the issue. Instead, I kept walking. The scent of cat had grown a bit stronger, tickling at my memories. But I still couldn’t place it.
I found myself crocheting, my belly fur brushing against the top of the grass as I pushed myself forward. I wasn’t sure why, but it must have unnerved Foxleap enough to copy me. I kept moving forward, not correcting him, and my tail twitched as I did. This. This was something I found important. I knew where in ThunderClan territory we were, but we were getting close to the upper part of WindClan territory and our own territory.
“Do you smell that?” Foxleap asked. I flicked my tail to silence him, but then opened my mouth to scent the air a bit better.
Yes. There it was.
“Something’s rotting,” I whispered.
My ears angled forward, curious. What could that be? It didn’t smell right enough to be a piece of prey. I stepped forward. Then hurriedly picked up speed as I thought I recognized the smell. Cat.
I was relieved, however, when I broke into a clearing, the edge o the moor just visible beyond the trees and the rotting smell revealed itself to be a fox. The cat smell veered, away from the fox.
Foxleap came up beside me, wrinkling his nose.
“How long has that been there?” he asked softly.
“Hard to tell if we aren’t patrolling the borders,” I responded softly.
I couldn’t work out where the cat scent had gone. It was lost under the rotting fox smell.
Foxleap’s nose wrinkled a bit more and he said softly, “Some cat’s been eating it.”
I glanced over and realized he was right. There were distinct marks of a cat’s teeth in the fox’s hide.
The cold feeling rustled through my pelt, only this time it wasn’t leafbare chill.
“I wonder who it is,” I said. “Come on … we’re going to try and find them.”
And I hurried past the fox, tail high, heading for WindClan territory.
Chapter 8: Blossomfall
Camp felt cramped with everyone in it, so I had left at about sunrise, paws padding against the dirt at an unsteady pace. Unsurprising, since the cramps in my belly were blurring my thoughts. The ground pitched every now and again, making me wish that I was even sure where I was going. It was all I could do not to stumble over my own paws. The pain in my stomach amounted to more than just hunger. There was also the clawing pain of poison, only just leaving my system. I didn’t want to hang around regardless though. It felt like too much work was being placed into helping the sick cats. Couldn’t they see the help I needed was a breath of fresh air, away from the eyes? The air was chilly enough that I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Where I planned to go. It seemed too cold for this. So I headed for ShadowClan territory. What were borders right now anyway? What was my loyalty? No cat really seemed to care about what it was I was doing, so I had ever intention of going where I pleased. The scent of ShadowClan eventually hit the roof of my mouth, though the idea that there was anything resembling a border anymore wasn’t in the least bit accurate. I turned toward the direction of the lake, paws growing more and more shaky as I went. My paws grew just a bit more shaky than before, though I still continued to do what I’d been doing. It was only when I could see the lake that I slowed. I sat, panting, watching the light reflect off the water. There wasn’t enough light in the sky to illuminate that distant RiverClan shore. “Enjoying the sunset?” asked a tired voice. My fur at once stood on end and the painful tightening in my stomach constricted even more. Rather than becoming sick right there on the pebbles, I looked over at who had just spoken, pelt prickling while I held in the bile that rose in my throat. To my surprise, I recognized who it was from gatherings. Equally, I knew it was one of the ShadowClan warriors that had died. Flametail. "Hello," I said softly. I couldn't work up the motivation to really feel hostile. I had trained with his brother. I remembered his death. I found myself looking back out across the lake without really feeling up to more conversation for a while. The feeling in my chest cramped again and I tried desperately to focus on the distant light that reflected off the lake. There was a lot to be said about how ... peaceful it seemed. At least at this distance. That was all that mattered to me at this point. A bit of peace. Finally, though, I said softly, "How is ShadowClan?" Flametail shifted a bit and I could feel the surprise jumping off his pelt. Like he had forgotten that I was even there to begin with. A slight dip of his head later, he said, "As best as I can expect. I wouldn't happen to know too much. There's so much that's been happening ... I have to wonder what the point is for all of this to happen." I cast a glance to the side, wondering what to say to him. Finally, after a second, I asked, "Are you scared of dying?" It popped out of my mouth, without much thought on the matter or really knowing what it was that I was expecting as an answer. Flametail looked surprised, head sharply turning to look at me. But eventually, he did answer, "Of course. I would think that that would be normal. Fear is normal." Then he looked back toward the lake, the light refracting off of it like a pattern of the stars he'd left. I wondered if he was trying to convince himself. Then I wondered if he even thought there was reason to be afraid. I looked back at the lake. "I'm dying," I admitted. Then I continued, "I ... ate something poisonous. There isn't anything we can do about it. And I'm going to die and come back. Probably. I'm scared about that. I ... there isn't a StarClan to go to. Most everyone has such confidence in it and I've seen it. I've seen the Dark Forest. But it isn't there anymore. What if I don't come back?" Flametail was looking at me with curiosity now, I could tell, but I wasn't sure how to address it. The pain in my gut made me tremble, another cold breeze making the shiver even worse. I hunched my shoulders. "What if I do ... and then when all of this is over with, I'm counted as dead?" I looked at Flametail now and at his bristling pelt and I knew that, though he likely had no idea why I was saying what I was saying, he could still sense my distress. And why wasn’t I even worried about where I would end up? It hardly seemed to matter right now. Right now, it seemed more important that I’d stop breathing. That I’d stop moving. That my story would be over. And I didn’t like where it had been leading thus far. Flametail leaned forward and touched his nose to my shoulder. I didn’t gain much console from it. But eventually, he said, “Relax. Let your body rest. Just for a second.” I didn’t want to agree with him. But I felt weak and I felt frustrated. So I slowly relaxed. “Yeah,” Flametail said softly. Then he pressed closer to me. I wasn’t sure what to do other than the lean into the kindness. “It’s okay to be scared,” he said softly. It was hard to say how comforting it was just to have another cat beside me, telling me that things would be alright. Even if it wasn't 'actually' alright. Even if it wasn't much hope at all. I felt the bad taste, like blood and rotting plant matter, in my mouth. I nearly coughed, but managed not to. Then I just lowered my head, resting my chin on the top of my paws. This. This was supposed to be a better thing for me. Life. So why did it hurt so much? Why did all the options hurt so much? "Can you stay here for a little?" I asked, unsure how else I could keep the tightness out of my voice. Flametail didn't respond, but he started to run his tongue over my shoulder. It helped. Maybe only a little, but it helped. +++ It was getting close to dark before I actually let my head rise. Flametail had stopped sharing tongues a while back, but now he let his tail rest over my flank. "Don't you need to be going back to ShadowClan soon?" I asked oftly. Flametail opened an eye, looking out at the lake. I wondered how there could still be stars showing up in the sky when it felt like all the stars were down here. But I didn't ask Flametail for his opinion. He was looking up at them the same as I was. "No," he said after a second. "ShadowClan has enough to work with. Honestly, the fact that your clan has been keeping to your camp seems ... unusual to me. I assume that has been happening. I haven't seen anyone but you on the border in days." I wondered if he really stayed here that much to know that. "What has ShadowClan been doing?" I murmured. He was still looking out at the lake and the reflection of the stars against it. A thin mist was starting to drift over the edges of the water, looking like little ghosts as they moved across the water. "Wondering a bit," he mumbled. "Here and there, trying to find answers. Trying to find out what to do." I supposed that was reasonable. I wasn't sure why I expected all the clans to be responding the same way that we were. "Do you know anything about RiverClan?" I asked. Flametail shook his head after a second. "I think they're doing something similar to what ThunderClan is doing. Though whether that's a good thing or not, I couldn't say." I hadn't been wracked with the latest cramp for a while, but now a large one had me pressing my muzzle into the soft earth, gagging and spitting up blood while my tail bristled out behind me. I could feel, distantly, Flametail also bristling, but I couldn't think long enough to really put that together. It passed, eventually, but the world wobbled around as if I was floating on the lake I had been watching. My pelt felt hot. Uncomfortably so. I felt the roughness of Flametail's tongue against my fur again and I purred in pain, hating the feeling of weakness and that the medicine cat had to try and comfort me. Eventually though, I managed a soft, "Thanks." He blinked amber eyes at me and said softly, "Did you want to come back with me? To ShadowClan?" My pelt prickled, my tongue already forming words of protest. But then my shoulders slumped. Why? What was the point of 'clan' when everything was like this? "Will it cause a problem?" I asked. Flametail shook his head. "No. Blackstar won't mind. Things are ... things are complicated. He recognizes that." It was hard to stand and harder to move, but I just wanted to be somewhere else right now. Maybe it would be easier to die away from home. Among shadows. Maybe that was the easiest of all places to die. "Lead the way," I rasped.
Chapter 9: Hollyleaf
The ranks of StarClan were empty. Not that I had been particularly looking for anyone. But the idea that everyone was absent. That this place was now dead, reclaimed by whatever starry force let it be placed aside for our ancestors to walk. Only I walked there now. My pelt prickled, feeling disturbed at the very idea. I was the only cat in StarClan. The last StarClan cat currently among the stars. At least that's what it felt like. It felt as if the whole world was very far away. The tugging in my chest got worse the further I walked. It was like an aching hunger. A need to go wherever it was taking me. And that's what made it hard. That's what made all of this almost impossible. As if my own head wasn't enough to make this difficult. StarClan was the same starry forest that I briefly remembered. The sky overhead was still full of stars - paradoxically - but so was everything else. The trees, the ground. I was almost surprised not to see it in my pelt again. But it wasn't. And the only sounds were that of birds and mice and the other things which populated the forest. No cats. No happy laughter. Empty. It took me a second, but I finally worked up the courage to shout out, "Hello?" But the only thing that happened was my own voice echoed back at me. At least for the moment. Eventually though, there was the whisper of, "Hello?" I spun, pelt bristling and claws digging into the starry grass. "Who's there?" I hissed. Even if this was StarClan, I couldn't get the hostility out of my voice. It stuck there like a stubborn piece of fur as I waited for whoever it was to reveal themself. After a second I relaxed as a small, dark furred she-cat slowly pushed her way out of a thicket of bushes. I didn't recognize her. I don't think she recognized me either. Her green eyes brushed over my fur, taking in the lack of stars. "Are you a medicine cat?" she asked. I didn't respond for a while, but eventually nodded my head in response. Then hurriedly shook it. Wait, no. No, I wasn't. "Sorry," I said. "I ... you know that StarClan has been disappearing, right? I'm a StarClan cat." The green-eyed she-cat started to bite at her lip. It didn't seem like she was very convinced of what I was saying. She was StarClan, right? As if reading my thoughts, the she-cat looked around, confused. "This place doesn't look anything like StarClan," she breathed. "Where's the forest?" Something wasn't lining up. My pelt bristled a bit more. "This ... the forest was a long time ago. I get if StarClan cats remember it, but they've been here for a while." She didn't seem to get it. She just looked at me and then glanced around. "I ... was asleep I think," the she-cat breathed, then looked around again. Asleep? "Who are you?" I asked. She finally looked back and seemed to straighten a bit. "My name is Tall Shadow," she said. "Leader of ShadowClan." I tilted my head. "That's a funny name." It sounded odd. Almost like a tribe name. "Shadowstar," Tall Shadow offered after a second. I blinked. Still didn't ring any bells. And maybe that was the point, I thought, the brain going through the motions. I remembered Mapleshade, at any rate. A cat fading from the memories of the other cats around her as well as the minds of the living. Hardly holding on. Maybe this was one of those sorts of cats. "You faded away," I asked, "didn't you." Tall Shadow blinked those green eyes at me. She looked like I did, albeit a bit older. I wasn't sure what to make of that. What to think about just a cat. A leader of ShadowClan from the distant past. She seemed to still be confused, looking around. But finally she nodded, "Yes. Yes, I think I did. That would ... that would make sense." My ears angled forward. "You ... said you were asleep?" I asked. "Is ... is that what happens? When you fade?" Tall Shadow once again looked at me, then shrugged. "I think so. It's hard to describe." I found it hard to imagine. I wasn't sure 'sleep' was a way to call this cat's confusion, but for right now, I shook the thought away. "Are you the only one here?" I asked. Tall Shadow nodded. Then gave a half shrug. "I'm not sure. I think so. I haven't seen anyone lately. Apart from you." I wondered how many cats had returned. I wondered why more of them hadn't shown up in camp. "When did you first turn up?" I asked instead. She looked a bit affronted, then admitted, "Just a bit ago. I haven't run into any cat yet." Again, I found this odd. Not that I thought she was lying, just that it felt ... surreal to think that this was going on. To see what it was like from this side. On a whim, I said, "I'm Hollyleaf. I'm ... I was in ThunderClan." Tall Shadow's ears angled forward with interest. "And you're ... alive. But you've been a StarClan cat as well?" I dipped my head in confirmation. Tall Shadow looked surprised, but didn't make further comments. Maybe everything was strange enough without needing to go into further explanation about what this strangeness was. “Why are you here?” she asked, looking me over with an appraising expression that I didn’t completely understand. It was a look that seemed to be taking in more information than I actually expected. “I was attempting to …” I started, then hesitated. Then I shook my head and kept going, figuring that maybe this previously faded starclan cat would know something. It was at least worth a shot. “Soulcatcher,” I started. “I was trying to follow him and his siblings … and … and my brother.” The last word caught in my throat. It might also have been what distracted me from actually seeing Tall Shadow’s fur bristle on end. Then she shok he head and whispered softly, “What was that name again?” I blinked, then said, “Soulcatcher?” I let my ears angle forward, suddenly wondering if the other she-vat knew the connection between what was happening at the cat that StarClan didn’t even know about. “I don’t know,” she said, Expression distant again. “I … it seems familiar.” I tilted my head, but then hissed, suddenly feeling the pain in my chest, driving hungry, pulling me and not being able to respond. I winced, hissing through my teeth and hunched my shoulders. Tall SHadow bristled further, but her eyes married and she said, voice calmer than I gave her credit for, “What is it?” I shook my head, unable to respond. I wasn’t even sure how I would go about explaining what I was. The odd way these powers had been given to me. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t something I wanted … but I needed to stop whining. I needed to start working on what I needed to do. Even I knew that. But the ball of thorns in my chest was making it very difficult for me. “It’s where I need to go,” I breathed. I looked this way and that, became the feeling I was able to collect into something that told me an answer. A direction rather than bleeding need and desire for something I couldn’t have. My ears turned in the direction of the StarClan border again. “I need to go that way,” I said. Tall Shadow looked in that direction too. “What’s that way?” She asked. I didn’t know how to respond. So I started walking in that direction. To my surprise, Tall Shadow followed. The feeling in my chest didn’t get any better as I went, but I at least felt like things were slightly loosening. From that point, it was easier for me to almost close my eyes and let that hunger drive me forward. The only sound was the wildlife and the hushed sound of Tall Shadow’s paws and breathing. I didn’t know what was going to be at the end of where I was going. I just hoped it would be in the same place that Jayfeather would end up.
Chapter 10: Senfeather
I looked back after a couple minutes of walking, but eventually I looked back. When I did, I was surprised to see that the only ones there were Bane and Bloodclaw. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, so I paused and then completely turned around. The world around us had become grey, a washed out version of the forest we’d been walking in before. Neither dark nor light. “Where’s Hollyleaf?” I asked. I felt like I should be more concerned than I was, but right now I only felt a bit curious about the absence of the other traveling companion. Bloodclaw turned to look back the way we’d come, whiskers twitching in amusement. There seemed to be no surprise that there was no one there in the growing gray mist covered forest. “I think she got stuck,” she said, sounding unconcerned. I tilted my head, not really sure if that was also a reason for concern. “Why?” he asked. I felt distant but didn’t like it. I just tried to push it away. There was too much within my head that didn’t stay in the order that I wanted it to be. I felt like my own cat, but there was a lot that I still hadn’t figured out. I turned around, heading back in the direction we had been going in. I looked back at the other two Banes and said, “We’re going back.” Bloodclaw blinked at me. Then drew her ears back. She didn't seem angry, though I did tense up a bit. Nopart of my past said that it was a good idea to stay on Bloodclaw’s bad side for very long. “You really aren’t Illfur,” she said. I thought back to Senkis - Illfur - and let my own ears lay back. “No,” I said. “I’m not. There's a lot of things that I am. But your ‘brother’ is not one of them. Not really.” I continued stepping back toward where we had been before. “She won't be there,” Bane said, looking back but not moving to follow. "What do you mean?" I asked Bane, completely turning around to look at him. I wasn't sure what he was getting at. "Maybe you need to consider who she is as a cat," he asked, tilting his head. I couldn't help raising my chin at that. "What do you mean by that?" I asked, not really understanding that at all. "I don't think you even know her." He looked a bit distant, but tilted his own head back at the thought. The gray branches of trees framed his head, making the black of his face stand out. I couldn't place why it made part of me - maybe all of me - shrink back. "I've met her," he said. "I will meet everyone sooner or later." "And?" I asked, though my voice had softened a bit. "I think it's safe to say that she will eventually be drawn by Thinbone's powers," Bane said after a second, meeting my eyes. I felt a bit like I didn't completely grasp how that was connected. There didn't seem to be any reason to think that either of those things matched up. But I did have to wonder how I - or even someone who was completely a bane - could understand Death itself. After all ... it seemed like every other bane could be affected by Death - there was an end - but Soulcatcher and Wickedheart were likely the only two who would continue to exist throughout all of it. At the beginning and the end. I shook the creeping feeling inside of me - impermanence even of a cat who wasn't completely mortal - and asked, "Where will she go then? She was supposed to be leading us, so we don't actually know where we're supposed to be going." "She has to get here eventually," Bloodclaw said scathingly, as if this was a very obvious statement that I really should have guessed. I looked - or rather glared at her. "Thanks for that perfectly useful comment," I said dryly. "I'm sure it was very helpful." I swept around a couple times, looking around at the gray forest. "Why can we not go back?" I asked instead. "We could," said Bloodclaw, though she sounded a bit annoyed at the suggestion. She glanced toward Bane when she said that, seemingly questioning whether my question was a good one or not. I searched my memory, trying to remember how to get out of the Inbetween. Was that what this was? We are in the bane's realm. In theory. They weren't really in this part of it and I had memories of how ... individually it got further in ... but here ... here it was thin. It should have been easy to get out of it. I turned again and started to head back. I had been at the head before, but now I didn't even care if Bloodclaw or Bane followed. I just wanted to see if it was possible to get back for the time being. The forest started to lighten, but I couldn't quite get the sense of how I was supposed to move. They lightened and then darkened again, leaving me thinking about what it must be like to be stuck in an endless loop of these woods. I didn’t think that would happen, but that didn’t change the fear. I looked up at the sky. No stars. Not one. The true sky. That was what the voice in my head said. I sighed a bit, the fact that I seemed to be as stuck as Hollyleaf probably felt sinking in. I turned and walked back. It was a long trip. I wish it hadn’t been, but it took a bit to find both Bloodclaw and Bane, even though I had been traveling in a straight line. “What then?” I asked. It wasn’t as if he thought he had many other options. He was pretty much only relying on the fact that these two might have a little better idea than he did how to save the Clans. But part of him now really doubted it. Both Bloodclaw and Bane looked at each other and seemed to share a silent glance. I wondered what they had to make of me. Two cats that were now one cat. That in itself likely wasn't something - at least in Senkis' memories - that they had seen before. They hadn't seen this coming. Any of it. Heh. "Well," Bane said after a couple of seconds, his voice wary as he seemed to think over everything that was going on in his head for the third time. "We have to travel through our realms. To Wickedheart." "The plain of our - your - realms is not set like a 'travel in a straight line,'" I countered. I knew that at least. "It isn't as simple as just turning left at the perfect point and you're there. You can realm hop, but the rest of the banes can't. Not unless there's something going on in the real world to let them. War has no place where Famine resides unless they can get there by means given by the real world." Bloodclaw chuckled. "But we can all reach the end of our realms individually, can't we?" she asked. I looked at her. "That would mean splitting up. And that would mean Hollyleaf would have to travel through Thin Bones realm on her own." This was true. I could see it in both of their eyes. "Or through Soulcatcher's," Bloodclaw finally spoke up, though she seemed very hesitant. "We can all pass through Soulcatcher's." I didn't like that idea. It made my skin crawl. Splitting up didn't seem like a good idea either. My body was only partly made for the petride, sickness soaked waste of what was only partly my realm. I wasn't sure if Bane's realm would be much better. He looked hesitant too. "We'll cross that ... void ... when we come to it," he finally admitted. "We have to make it through this forest first anyway." Then he turned and started walking, leading the way this time.
Chapter 11: Brackenfur
I followed the line of the lake shore, my pawsteps falling into the loose sand. The stars were shining very obviously overhead, even though that confused me. It confused me that this was the sort of thing that we now saw each night. The sky, but nothing above us.
"Is this what you see?" I asked quietly, still looking up. Cloudtail glanced over, tail rising a bit to acknowledge that he had heard, even as he tried to think about what I had asked.
"A bit," he said. I think he understood what my question was. Even if I didn't even really feel like I did.
"What," I asked, "do you do about it? Doesn't it make you feel lonely?"
I didn't know what Cloudtail would respond with, but he kept walking forward for a while before he said, "No. It makes me feel grateful. It makes me feel like I have to live this life really well, because it's the only one that I have."
I wondered how that made him feel now. Going through the Dark Forest and now this. I think it would shake anyone's beliefs.
"I'm sorry," I said. I wasn't sure how else to put it. It seemed complicated all around.
"Don't be," Cloudtail said with a sigh. "You have your own issues."
He picked up the pace then, running along the banks of the lake. I followed after him, my paw pads digging up the loose dirt and throwing it back behind me. I glanced off toward the Gathering island and then up at the moon. I didn't think, even though it was almost full again, that we'd be using it.
"Do you think there would be fish in the lake?" I asked, watching the reflection of light dance across it. Cloudtail looked back and slowed to a trot. "There might be, but I'm not sure that it would be that easy to hunt them. We're not RiverClan."
My stomach growled, clearly not caring. Searching for birds by the edge of the lake really wasn't proving to be very useful.
Cloudtail again looked back, but even his steps had slowed a bit at the prospect of their failed hunting trip. I didn't get a good look at his face, but it seemed to have a very low, disparaging glance at the sky again.
"No food," he murmured.
I hated the fact that my clanmates were in pain. But I also hated the fact that I could do nothing to stop what was going on. Not yet. I would work something out though. I just had to think about it. I just had to think about a way of keeping death from returning and taking everyone I cared about.
I couldn't let that happen. I just couldn't.
But I didn't share these thoughts with Cloudtail. It didn't matter whether he believed in StarClan or not now. I believed that dead would be dead. And I would be seperated from my family again.
So I patientently sniffed at the air, trying to work out what it was that was on my mind. What it was that I could do.
Changing what was going on here. If I could stop the ... the banes from having access to their powers, then that would bring Bane back to the world of the living. Right?
That had to be the answer, it was the only thing that I could think of.
So the point was, I needed to find some way to cure the cats in the ThunderClan and stop them from getting more sick. But how? We couldn't find any prey here.
But I was looking at Cloudtail. Thinking.
What if we moved? Away from here. Just for a little. Kittypets would be better than this, wouldn't it? Clean food. Health. Away from the influences of the Death of Cats?
It might work. I couldn't see any of the other clans offering untainted food when they were likely suffering from the same problem.
"Cloudtail," I asked slowly. "Where's the nearest twolegplace? Do you know?"
Chapter 12: Lionblaze
Lionblaze saw Brackenfur and Cloudtail return from their hunting patrol empty-pawed and he frowned. This was just another point where he was not very happy with how the clan was handling the situation. While he was fine with the fact that they were trying to hunt for the clan, he couldn’t help noticing that there no longer seemed to be any way that really seemed to be handling things. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t going to be a clear cut situation. But he had been hoping that there would be some way that they could put their heads together and work this out.
Instead, it just seemed like a poor attempt to bring all the cats together only to watch them fall apart.
"What are you thinking about?" Cinderheart asked beside him, her pelt pressing against his as she tried to reassure him about how this was maybe not all that bad. Or so he assumed. But he didn't think that.
"My brother and sister are lost," he said softly, "after I'd just found them again. And I can't understand how they could do what they did."
He remembered what it felt like to have Bloodclaw in his head, egging him on, telling him to cause a fight when there just shouldn't be one.
But now he was here and they were who knew where. That made a difference. It made him feel like he might have his own head back, but it also made him feel like he was going to lose both of his siblings all over again.
He didn't trust Bloodclaw. He didn't trust that she wouldn't turn on the others. He didn't trust Bane. He didn't think it was possible that the two sides of him - the kind one and the other one - could have such a dissonance between them. Death was death. That wasn't going to be changed just because they spent a couple moons as cats.
"You should rest," Cinderpelt said softly. "You were out hunting late last night. It won't do you any good."
Lionblaze looked at her again, unable to place what he wanted to say. The protests he wanted to make. But finally he nodded. He turned back toward the entrance of the Warriors den, sinking into his nest almost as soon as he got there.
Lionblaze's dreams were a chaotic mix of sights, smells, and colors that it took a while for them to actually become a full dream. When they did, he found himself looking at a dark forest, bordered by a starry one.
I bristled, unsure what to do now that I was here. I knew where 'here' was too. I just didn't understand how I had made it back. It seemed very unreasonable that such a situation would happen when cats were literally no longer dying or staying dead.
Sighing though, I knew it was a better idea to check out the situation. If I was here.
What I didn't remember until I had already taken a few steps was that I didn't have my powers. If I died here because my pelt could no longer withstand the blows of claws, then that would be it.
I shook the thought away. I didn't want to think about it and I didn't think that it would help me very much in the long run. Instead, I just pushed it to the back of my mind and kept walking. Mud squelched between my toes and there was a musty smell in the air. The Dark Forest had never exactly been full. There wasn't a reason for cats to run into each other unless being brought together for something nefarious. But I couldn't help feeling like it was too silent. I felt like there should have been some noise. Some sign that I wasn't the only one here.
But for the time being, there was no such sign. The only thing that I could hear were my own footsteps. There wasn't even a wind through the trees. I felt like I maybe should have tried to cross the border into StarClan, but I didn't think that would have shown any different results.
"Chaos," said a voice.
I hadn't been sure I had even heard it, but I turned my gaze this way and that, unsure why my brain would have made up such a word.
"Chaos used to thrive here," said the voice again.
I stiffened. That time I had heard it. That time there was no mistaking the fact that there was a voice somewhere just out of my sight. But I couldn't work out from where. I couldn't work out where the words were coming from and I couldn't work out what I was trying to find either.
I wasn't even sure it was a cat. It was hard to explain. But that was the truth. I heard the sound and I wasn't sure what sort of cat I was hearing.
I glanced around.
"Who said that?"
"Well," the voice continued, but it was a tone that hinted that it really hadn't heard me. "Chaos used to thrive everywhere. Here was hardly an exception. Here, the Clans, it really didn't matter. It was everywhere. I was everywhere."
"Wickedheart?" Lionblaze asked, stiffening as he said this. He didn't think there was any other option. There wasn't exactly any other ca- creature that he knew about who would say such things.
“Something like that,” the voice said, and this was the first time Lionblaze thought it was addressing him. “I don’t think that this name is the best one to suit me, but if it is what you can conceptualize.”
“What are you getting at?” Lionblaze hissed.
“Well,” said the voice. “I would say that it has everything to do with the fact that things will return to chaos. At some point or another.”
“Not now!” Lionblaze said, pelt bristling.
There wasn’t a response. More of a ‘hum’. As if the unseen being didn’t agree.
“It will happen sooner or later,” it repeated. “Just like everything does. The world has a way of … cycling. You should sleep, Lionblaze. Things will get … complicated.”
Chapter 13: Ivypool
I noticed Blossomfall’s absence fairly early on in the evening. When I stepped after the scent trail she had left behind, I couldn’t help noticing that there wasn’t any sign that she’d come back.
I stepped toward the ShadowClan border, since that was where her scent trailed toward. I wasn't sure why she would go in that direction, but my mind did shift to Tigerheart. Then I pushed the thought away. It seemed unlikely that Blossomfall would want to visit an old Dark Forest friend. Instead it seemed more likely that she would be looking for a place to get away. Why she would leave the medicine cat's den with the amount of pain that the point seemed to be causing, I wasn't sure. But it seemed like a good bet to keep trying.
So I followed along a line of bushes, tail brushing against the bare branches. My chin was kept high, sniffing at the air in an attempt to keep track of where I was going. There were a lot of things about this turn of events - where Blossomfall was going and what might possibly be going through her mind - that didn't sit well with me. It seemed more likely that this might be a result of fear than actual calculated thought. Her leaving to try and hide from the rest of the clan.
Oddly enough, I found myself relaxing when I arrived at the ShadowClan border, my whole pelt lying just a bit flatter and more relaxed. That seemed to be it, until I realized that Blossomfall's scent wasn't getting any stronger and in fact, after pausing, crossed past the mudded scents of the border and into ShadowClan territory. I sighed, then slowly stepped toward the pine forest.
There seemed to be very little difference between when I was here the last time and now. For the most part, I found myself struggling to see anything but glooming, looming shadows at this point. There just seemed to be a large amount of darkness completely devoted to this area of the forest. Stepping forward again, I couldn't help imagining that there were dark cats lurking in every shadow that I passed. Instead of feeling like I should step quicker, I slowed down, slowly swinging my head this way and that as I walked, tasting the air for the signs of another living creature nearby to me. When none turned up, I had to admit that maybe it was my imagination.
Not that I needed much of an excuse for my imagination to run wild.
With that in mind, I continued forward, following the scent of Blossomfall and a ShadowClan cat's scent that I finally placed, to my shock.
A part of me felt my pelt prickle. I hadn't seen him since that time in the Dark Forest. It seemed like an age ago. I wasn't sure what would happen if I did catch up to him. It seemed like there was more of a possibility of him clawing my ears off than me working out why Blossomfall was here.
I squared my shoulders a bit better, setting that feeling aside. It would take a bit more than a medicine cat, or ShadowClan, from making me feel this way. So I continued forward, feeling the prickle along my pelt get worse.
The ShadowClan camp came into view, the barrier still pockmarked from the horrible battle that now felt like an age ago. I didn't bother being sneaky about my approach. To my surprise, it seemed like a lot of what I had been expecting from ShadowClan just hadn't been happening. They seemed broken then, from the last gathering, and now so easily broken as well. I stepped forward until I stood at the entrance, shocked when no guard challenged me. I glanced around again, puzzled, and took a hesitant step forward.
If I had thought ShadowClan was fractured before, it seemed even more so now. I was pretty sure that I was faced with a lot of empty dens now, until a head peaked out of one. An apprentice. She stepped forward. Young. I was surprised. I wasn't even sure why she was here when there were no other Warriors about.
"Where is everyone?" I asked. But she just tilted her head to the side and retreated back into the den.
"They're around," said a voice behind me. I stiffened and then turned. It was a tired looking cat that I didn't recognize. I didn't recognize the apprentice either, come to think of it. Were they both cats that had come back? Before my time, perhaps?
"Who are you?" I asked. "Me?" said the cat, looking slightly surprised. His face softened.
"Bolder. I was a ShadowClan warrior a very long time ago."
I couldn't place the name. Maybe other cats in ShadowClan would be able to.
"Where is everyone?" I asked instead, glancing around.
"They've been traveling," Bolder said, his chin rising as if to indicate the fact that ShadowClan had traveled beyond its camp. I couldn't really understand that, but I nodded slowly, hoping to get more details if I asked more questions.
"A friend of mine ... Blossomfall ... She came this way? Do you know where she went from here?"
Bolder paused, then seemed to scratch at a piece of fur with his back leg before he worked up an answer.
"She went with Flametail toward the twolegs."
I at once bristled, disbelief bubbling up in my throat. "Why would she do that?" I hissed, not understanding. That didn't make any sense! None at all.
"We've worked out that it doesn't seem to be affecting the kittypets," Boulder said distantly, as if still talking about something completely unrelated.
"It doesn't affect the kittypets," Boulder repeated. "It is just the Clan cats."
I frowned. That didn't make sense ... did it?
I tried to wrap my head around it.
Was it something as simple as the fact that Soulcatcher was a Warrior name? Or was it more than that?
I pushed the thought away viciously, shaking my head as I did.
"Can you show me where they went?" I asked instead, looking up at Boulder.
Boulder hesitated. Then stood, shaking out his pelt a little.
Then he started for one of the holes in the barrier. Hesitating for a second, I eventually followed.
Chapter 14: Blossomfall
My head tilted slightly, looking up at the fence of the twoleg den.
"There are cats here?" I asked. Flametail's tail tip flicked back and forth a bit nervously as he nodded.
"Yes," he said. "A while back they used to cause trouble for ShadowClan, but we sorted things out. They stick to their yard. We stick to our area."
My legs wobbled a bit, to which I just tried to spread my weight out a bit further. "So why do you think they'll be okay with me staying?"
Flametail shrugged. "I don't know. But they have been telling us that kittypets are still dying. It's just us who are ... like this."
I froze up a bit at this news.
"Why would that happen? How? Are you sure?"
"I think they're more inclined to think that we're lying than the other way around," said Flametail, whiskers twitching with the same nerves.
"At any rate, I don't think they'd be so ... calm about this if they weren't telling the truth."
I couldn't get my pelt to lie flat, I just looked at Flametail for another long second.
"But if that's the case, what if I die while I'm there?"
I couldn't help feeling the fear well up in my gut.
"That won't happen," Flametail said with an almost disappointed sigh. "Otherwise other ShadowClan cats would have already been affected. And we haven't been. This is a punishment for the clans. Not kittypets."
I couldn't help feeling my chest tighten just at the thought. "You're really sure?" I asked.
Again, Flametail nodded.
"The two legs should have something to help," he added. "Better than what ShadowClan herbs can offer."
I looked up at the fence again.
"And the kittypets are just okay with clan cats being here?"
"I wouldn't say that," said Flametail with another small sigh. "But they've been tolerating the interference so far. Maybe their scared."
Probably. If I was them, I would be scared.
Clan cats who no longer died? The idea itself terrified me.
I looked at Flametail again and felt my pelt prickle. It felt a bit like he was suggesting a way out, away from the pressures of clan cats. But it wasn't an escape from death. I wasn't even sure if that's what I wanted. It seemed like there were too many words caught in my throat, causing a different sort of pain to the one that ached in my limbs from the poison.
"I can't get over the fence," I half rasped. I let my ears lay back on my head and I tried to press the idea of the things which could go wrong out of my head. That made all of this too real.
"I'm not sure what else to say," Flametail murmured, looking in a different direction and then standing to follow the fence along its side before he could lose himself in looking off into the distance. It wasn't the first time I'd seen him do it. It was a haunting action. Like he wasn't completely here. Like he had died. I wondered if that would become me. Someone looking off into nowhere and never being completely sure how that would affect me.
I wasn't sure that I could live with that. Medicine cats could help the body. They weren't the best at helping with the brain.
I followed after him, walking alongside the fence with steps that felt more steady than they actually were. Flametail paused to rest his tail on my back again. I didn't feel like it was very good at steading me, but it was better than nothing. It offered a sort of familiarity.
There eventually was a gap in the fence. Some part of it seemed to have been pushed open and I gratefully pushed myself inside, feeling my legs shake even more. It was when I entered the carefully evened grass and the soft, unnatural light that drifted onto that open part of the back of the twoleg den that I actually paused. Scented the air.
There was a soft hiss. "Is that it forest cat?" said a voice. "Are we done with dealing with all of this?"
Flametail's fur bristled a little, but he still looked in better shape than before.
"Yes," he said. "She's it. Thank you."
There wasn't any response, but I caught the flash of a pair of eyes under a bush.
"You can leave now," the voice finally responded.
Needless to say, I didn't exactly feel welcome.
Flametail still hesitated before he backed up. I wondered if the hissing over this situation from the unseen cat was causing him to double think about leaving me here.
I paused, waiting to see if he would have something else to say, but then just let him flick his tail in farewell before he followed away from where we were, disappearing into the dark woods. This left me alone with my mysterious stranger and the unknown of my reality.
"Hello?" I asked, feeling myself bristle up and trying to look more imposing. Considering I was shaking with just the idea of this - the sickness taking me or maybe these cats - I didn't think there was much to think about in general.
This left me to wait, in the faint twoleg light, until a cat slowly pushed himself out from under the books.
"Hello," he said gruffly. "I'm Jasper."
I paused. I was almost surprised that he'd even introduced himself. It seemed impossible that such a cat would even share that civility.
"I'm ... Blossomfall," I finally admitted. I just assumed that it was the polite thing to do, even if I didn't really want to be polite.
His tail tip twitched and he looked around.
Then he backed up a step and turned toward the twoleg light. He walked forward until he was standing very close to it and the clear surface that separates him from the interior of the twoleg nest.
He rubbed against it, meowing, until a hairless twoleg came up and somehow removed the clear stuff from the tom's way, creating an opening.
The tom - Jasper - looked back and twitched his whiskers.
"Coming?" he asked.
Then he stepped into the twoleg den.
I stared after, disbelief about what he was doing clouding my disease-addled brain. Then I stepped, ever so slowly, forward.
Then moved into the twoleg den ...
Chapter 15: Brackenfur
I rested next to my mate, laying my head down across Sorreltail's back and thinking about what I had discussed with Cloudtail. My eyes were half lidded, but I wasn't exactly sure what I could say to make ... well ... It seemed to me as if there were a lot of things that I could have spoken about, but for the time being, just resting my head against my mate, breathing in her scent, and having the small kits pressed against me made my world seem just that bit better.
"Are you doing alright?" Sorreltail whispered to me, resting her nose against my cheek and I tried not to think too hard about the weight I was feeling on my back. There seemed to be a lot of pressure to respond with a yes. To say that I was doing fine. But I didn't feel like I was. I don't think she did either.
"I am ... passible," I managed, but nuzzled closer, letting the rise and fall of my chest match hers. That was what made this feel better.
I let my plans drift further away. I let my mind relax a little. I would need to do something soon, but at least for now this was something. This was what I expected, even if there weren't a lot of thoughts that I could keep ahold of without letting on to my dear kits that their father wasn't as sure about what he was doing as I would have liked.
"If you're sure," Sorreltail said, tongue rasping over my cheek and then my head, the softness of her breath tickling my face. I couldn't help relaxing. It felt nice. It felt nice just to be near her and feel a bit like this world was okay.
I licked at her back, relaxing just a little more and letting sleep tug at me. That was reassuring. That was what I was looking for. Sleep and her and my kits. That was what felt right.
From there, I let my eyes slightly close, let my body relax, and let sleep take me.
I was woken up by the sound of hearing the distant sound of screaming. I wasn't sure what to make of it for a second, my muddled brain unable to tell the difference of whether it was in my head or whether it was in my dreams.
I wasn't sure if I liked the answer to that question.
I hastily stood, my brain registering the the fact that it was pain I was hearing, not fear or anguish. I wasn't sure I had heard the latter in a very long time, mostly because of the fact that this would actually mean some damage would have to be done to any cat here.
No, this sounded like a cat wracked in some painful throws of some deep issue.
I hurriedly shook off my tail and slept and stepped out of the den, bounding in the direction of the sound. The occasional gasp for breath and other similar sounds. I hurried in that direction, unsurprised to find out it was the medicine cat den. When I pushed my way inside, I was already a bit behind several other cats. Briarlight was in the way, looking like the simple act of moving was painful, but determination was in her eyes as she hissed at me, Mousefur, and Ferncloud. "Stay back, Leafpool is working."
I took a step back, like it had been requested of me and looked over the other faces of my clanmates. I tried to remember who had been in the medicine cat, before I remembered that Hazeltail had been staying there.
"What's the matter?" I asked Briarlight, feeling a twinge of guilt that I was asking her questions both when she was in pain but also when she was clearly trying to resolve the issue of even more cats turning up behind me.
"Hazeltail," she said, sounding hurt, but also like she didn't really want to address everything right at this moment. I couldn't blame her for that. I took another step back. The sounds of Hazeltail's pain were getting less and less as I stood there and I realized that something was contained in them and Briarlight's words. More than I had expected.
Hazeltail was dying. Again. I felt my pelt prickle with apprehension. This was yet another issue. The poison in the food. It made me wonder if even death - however breath - could be a cure. The screams of pain were getting weaker. Murmurers.
Eventually, they stopped.
Leafpool, looking tired and haggard, walked out of the medicine den, her head low.
"What happened?" Cloudtail asked, trepidation in his voice. I could feel it hanging out in my own throat, unable to be released properly when the medicine cat remained silent.
"She's sleeping," Leafpool said eventually. I wasn't sure whether to relax or not. It didn't seem like this was the answer that we were looking for. Instead it felt like this was an unanswered nothing.
"Did she ...?" asked Mousefur, seeming more capable of speech than I was.
Leafpool shook her head. "Not yet."
I got the sense that under those words, however, she was saying that it was only a matter of time.
"Clear out," Briarlight said hoarsely after looking at Leafpool. "There's a lot of work to be done."
I got the impression that poor Leafpool had a lot more work to get done than anyone in the clan gave her credit for. With Jayfeather gone, far too much of it was being placed on her, Brightheart, and Briarlight's shoulders. Only one of them was an officially trained medicine cat.
"If you need any help, Leafpool," I said softly, "Then just say."
I took a step back after I saw her give a tired nod. It wasn't enough and we both knew it, but it was a start.
I headed back to the nursery, to press my nose against my kits and Sorreltail's flank. I didn't think that it would be enough to make me feel better though.
That would be ... maybe forever.
Or as long as this lasted and more.
We needed to leave here. We needed to.
Chapter 16: Hazeltail
I drifted in and out of consciousness, feeling my heartbeat in my ears and the breath in my lungs more than I was aware of anything outside myself. It took a while before I drifted into any sort of sense, and when I did, it was a sense of dreams. Maybe some edge of reality that I wasn't quite aware of.
Hello, said Senkis.
He was sitting next to my nest. A fuzzy sense of him was. He didn't seem completely there. Not really. I could raise my head to look at him, but I got the sense that the cat I was hearing wasn't really here in a physical sense or even completely here in some other form.
I couldn't speak. My throat felt too dry. But I wanted to. I wanted to ask why.
Senkis lowered himself next to my nest, his fur pressed against mine and the vague sense that his eyes were looking at me.
I didn't want to, he added. It was almost like he could hear my thoughts. Could he? I tried thinking angrily, but it didn't seem to have any result.
Instead, Senkis rested his chin on his paws, looking toward the entrance of the medicine cat den for a while.
I wanted him to say something. Anything. But it took him a very long time to.
I'm not going to make an excuse. The idea of doing so is fairly new to me anyway. But I do ... regret it. I just wouldn't change it.
He tilted his body until his ... ghost was pressed up against me.
Being alive is hard, he breathed. It ... hurts in ways I didn't expect.
I didn't know what to tell him. What did he want me to say? That everything would be alright? That what he was feeling was normal?
It wasn't. He wasn't.
But even still, my tail flicked toward his, winding around it. It had substance. I think. Maybe it was just my imagination. But either way, he looked over, seeming surprised at my actions. Then he slowly lowered his head back to his paws again, thinking, I assumed. There was silence once again, as he apparently thought. But his eyes didn't shift from me.
Are you in pain? he asked after a while. Being sick hurts. I think. It's always been so ... dull for me. But I can feel that that is what it does. I can tell. But I'm not sure if that's what is happening to you.
He didn't look sick. But I wondered if that was what happened when you controlled the literal embodiment of what that was. Did that happen to you anyway?
I didn't know.
His nose came closer to mine, but didn't brush against it.
You're hot, he whispered. Is that bad? I mean ... does heat hurt? Or is it warm? He sounded lost, confused, and like he didn't know how things worked. I didn't know what to say to him. I didn't know how to explain. He was the Illness of Cats. He should realize how it made others feel ... shouldn't he?
I didn't know.
Maybe it was more complicated than that. Maybe it was a lot more complicated than that.
Senkis rested himself down again, breathing lightly, only now his pelt was pressed against mine. It was cooler than I expected. Almost a light breeze.
I wanted to ask him if I would get better.
But maybe he didn't know.
And I had no way of communicating that with him.
I'll stay here if you want me to, he said after a while.
I wanted to ask why he had left to begin with. I knew ... but also why. Why didn't he say anything to me? Why didn't he explain all the wildness of what was going on? Explain what part of his twisted, non-cat brain had thought any of this was okay.
But I couldn't.
And I didn't want him to leave again. Even if this wasn't exactly him. So I kept my tail wrapped around his and did not exert any other energy to try and push him away. I just let things be and drifted off a bit. Not into sleep, but into something else. I wasn't sure.
I wasn't sure if I was dying either. I wasn't sure if I was capable. If that was something I could do.
Maybe I would. And part of me just thought I would stay sick. I probably would. I would stay sick and I would stay in this body, trapped.
I leaned a bit further against Senkis. He didn't seem like the sort that I wanted to do that two, but I also felt like there weren't a lot of options.
I wish I could make things better, he might have whispered. But I'll make sure you're safe. I'll have to. Please.
But I didn't think this was as real as I wanted it to be.
And even if it was, I wasn't sure I wanted it badly enough.
Chapter 17: Hollyleaf
It was odd traveling with someone who claimed to be the leader of ShadowClan. The first leader of ShadowClan. For a while, I just expected her to blink out of existence, but for the time being, she didn't.
She also didn't seem particularly chatty. Instead, it seemed like she was just willing to not be alone.
She didn't seem like any ShadowClan cat that I had ever met either. I sort of expected her to end up chewing off my tail within a couple minutes.
But she didn't and I just watched the forest, feeling the tug of pain in my chest as I hurried forward, trying to make sure that I actually had the ability to do something before the next wave of hunger wracked my body.
"I don't understand," Tall Shadow was saying. "How could this be the case? I mean ... cats like the ones you describe. But I think they were ... familiar anyway."
I looked back, a bit puzzled about what she meant. The tug was taking me to something lost - something I desperately wanted. Hungered for, really. I found that in itself ironically amusing. That this was how things were named. But that wasn't the statement that Tall Shadow had made which had confused me. So I found myself asking, :"What do you mean?"
It took her a bit to explain, but eventually she said, "It feels like I know how they ... feel? Not on a physically sense, but on a sense that I think I know what it is that they are like. Almost how StarClan feels."
I looked around. It ... did feel different. Different from the Dark Forest.
"So you've maybe been around them before?" I guessed.
Tall Shadow nodded slowly.
"That might be it," she agreed. "That at least seems like a possibility."
I nodded again, then felt my fur bristle and the ache of another 'hunger pangs' shot through me.
Why weren't Jayfeather and Lionblaze's powers like this?
Then again, I supposed, the adjustment period had been there all their life. Mine hadn't even been a moon.
"Where do you think we're going?" asked Tall Shadow. She was again glancing around. I wondered what the borders were like for StarClan. If we were heading for a ... different sort of border than the Dark Forest's ...
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "Wherever Rock is supposed to be kept. Wherever these banes live?"
It seemed like a good guess at least.
We continued on for what felt like several more minutes. This was when the forest finally began to change. I looked around, wondering what it was I wasn't seeing, but as soon as I looked, the forest seemed to shift back to the starry expanse.
I flicked my tail. It felt like the last time and that annoyed me. It annoyed me that this was what we were doing and it annoyed me that everyone else seemed more capable to do it than I was. The issue that I was seeing was that the forest was changing when I didn't pay attention to it. That was what was annoying to me. That was what I didn't like. The fact that there didn't seem to be any rules. There didn't seem to be any reason for why the forest should be changing. It just was. This was what made me particularly annoyed. I couldn't focus on not focusing. That defeated the purpose.
Tall Shadow seemed to have been focussing on me, but she stopped when she noticed that I had.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The forest keeps moving," I growled. "The one I need to reach"
Tall Shadow looked around.
"This still looks like StarClan."
My tail flickered again. "Yes! And that's the problem. How am I supposed to know when this will stop being StarClan? How am I supposed to know how any of this works, there aren't any rules?"
Tall Shadow tilted her head and looked at me over. Then she looked at the forest over.
"If it's somewhere that only turns up when you're not paying attention, then maybe you should close your eyes."
I looked around at all the trees. "What? I'll run into something!"
Tall Shadow looked back at me and calmly smiled.
"Well, then you'll work that out. But it's worth a shot, right?"
I fluffed up my pelt. I wanted to protest, but after a second calmed down and closed my eyes. Then I turned back in the direction that my little tugging hunger was taking me.
It was less than a couple heartbeats before I ran face first into a tree. I yelped, then jumped backwards, eyes opening as I exclaimed, "It didn't wor -'' But I stopped.
All around me, there were gray trees. Gray light. Gray everything.
"I think it worked just fine," Tall Shadow said in a hush.
Chapter 18: Honeyfern
Me and Foxleap had to sleep around the border, but that wasn't the only issue about our sleeping arrangements. It felt a bit like there were cats watching us, even though I knew that wasn't very plausible.
Even still, I didn't mention it to Foxleap. Instead, I let myself rest my eyes sparingly. It seemed like a better way of going about watching for any onlookers.
If there were, they didn't feel malicious, which surprised me. That was what I had thought would happen, but it seemed like whoever - if it was a whoever - didn't want to attack us.
Sleep was peaceful.
I woke up to a distant bird singing and my stomach at once started growling. It seemed like the bird was probably mocking me, however, because as soon as I got up and stalked toward the nosy tree, the sound stopped and there was a brief flapping of wings.
I cursed, then looked back toward Foxleap, who was blinking awake under the bush we'd rested in.
"No food," he grumbled.
"Doesn't look like it," I hissed.
With the fact that food was now out of the question, I turned back toward the direction we'd been heading. Maybe we should have gone back to inform the others what we were doing, but I felt a bit like that was cheating. Like going back without any sort of information would result in some horrible turn of events. So instead, I just glanced at Foxleap, stretched, and asked, "Ready to go?"
I didn't feel ready, but since he gave a wary nod, I felt it only right that I give a wary nod as well.
Then we both started heading in the direction of the territory beyond ThunderClan. That seemed the best idea, after all. The best place to find cats if they weren't in ThunderClan.
So far there was nothing though. No sign of any cat, nor any sign that we should be finding one.
I was a bit disheartened, but after searching this long, it seemed only fair to keep searching.
Foxleap nodded, then followed after as I walked. I was struggling not to wonder why we'd even gone this far until I finally smelled what I was looking for. I paused, my mouth open as I scent the air. It was sweet with the scent of a cat who I couldn't place and didn't know. Even from StarClan. I hesitated. The scent was fresh. But after the brief hesitation, I followed, pelt lightly brushing against a bush. I didn't make any effort to try and make it look like I was stalking the cat. Foxleap's pelt was bristling, but he looked set and ready should anything happen. I continued forward, breath catching in my chest as another scent joined the first.
There. That was what I was looking for.
Then the territory around me started to grow heavy with the scent of cats. New ones join in with almost each step. It was overwhelming and the forest didn't seem to be able to hold it all.
"What?" breathed Foxleap.
I paused. Looked around.
"They came here," I said quietly. "I don't know how, but they all came here."
"Came?" Foxleap breathed. I looked at him. But he wasn't looking at me.
"They're still here."
I turned, looking back. A cat had appeared just ahead of us. Blue gray fur, soft eyes ...
"Hello," said Bluestar. She sounded tired. Very tired. But as welcoming as it was probably possible to be. "Welcome to StarClan."
Chapter 19: Ivypool
Boulder had to stop eventually. He looked older than me, but still seemed to have some youth about him.
"What ...?" I started to ask, but never presude my question. Of what had happened. What dying was like. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know, even if it felt like it might be important to Blossomfall. I didn't think it was reasonable that we were already traveling and he was being kind enough to direct me, but that I would proceed to ask such personal questions.
I hadn't gotten any sleep, but it already looked like the sun was starting to rise. It was peaking around the trees, making the whole of ShadowClan territory look hazy and misty in comparison to what it had been before. I tried not to think about what we'd had to go through just to make it through a new day. It seemed like too many words.
Boulder sat, waited, catching his breath. I scented the air, trying to taste for any sign of Flametail or Blossomfall. But we didn't seem to be taking the same route that they had been going. We seemed to be on a different track. I just hoped it was faster. She shouldn't have to be alone. She should be able to have a friend by her side through this, not a clan that she didn't know. But I knew that that might not be what she wanted.
But I had to know.
When the sun had already well and properly become dawn rather than an awkward twilight, Boulder stood. I could feel my pelt prickling with impatience, but I tried to force it down. The ShadowClan cat continued to walk and I followed. It felt a bit easier, all things considered, after the rest. But I tried not to let it show. It felt easier to ignore the fact that I'd needed the rest.
Eventually I did start to smell two legs. ShadowClan too, with scent that wasn't as thick among the pine trees as it had been in ShadowClan camp, but still enough that it shocked me that this was where they had come.
Boulder glanced back at me, then turned toward the distance, barely visible twoleg fences. I wrinkled my nose. Why would a Warrior want to go here?
But at the same time, a voice in the back of my head pointed out that maybe the 'soft life' of a kittypet when you were painfully watching your own life drift away would tempt Blossomfall.
Maybe because she felt like she'd had it bad enough already.
"Here," Boulder said, stopping at the fence. He glanced back at me. "Is this all?"
I hesitated. I wasn't sure what else I could do or ask of him, but eventually I dipped my head.
"No. That's all. Thank you so much. It truly was of help."
He dipped his head as well, then headed off in a direction that I suspected was not toward ShadowClan.
I looked up at the fence, then bunched my haunches, leaping to the top of it. I perched there for a second, checking the yard beyond and scenting the air. There was at least one kittypet. Or maybe rogue would be a better term, from what I had heard. Even still, my pelt prickled. I could scent Blossomfall as well.
I jumped down into the yard.
I'd hardly followed a couple pawsteps of the trail when there was a hiss. I bristled, spinning toward it, claws unsheathed. There was a tom there, looking very displeased at my presence. His brown fur stood on end and his green eyes were narrowed.
"What do all you Clan cats want?" he growled. "I'm getting tired of this!"
My tail tip flicked, back and forth, back and forth. I did not like this cat's attitude.
"I'm looking for a cat called Blossomfall," I said. "I know she's here."
The tom looked even more annoyed. "You send a cat here and almost at once I get a visitor looking for her? Are you all crazy?"
"I'm her friend," I growled. "I want to talk to her."
The tom's ears pulled back, but he looked wary, as if he didn't want to actually move past intimidation.
"Why?" he said, with a bit of a hiss.
I was starting to lean toward just clawing this cat's ears, but I tried very hard to compose myself.
"Because," I said, making my words as slow as possible to try and make myself perfectly clear. "I know she was hurt. And I want to make sure that she's doing better."
The tom did not look like he liked that answer, but he also didn't look like he could disagree with it. So after a very long pause of just glaring, he said, "Follow me then."
He walked toward the twoleg den, to which I stiffened. He then approached what looked like a clear divider between that and the inside of the twoleg den.
He rubbed against it a couple times, meowing, until eventually a tall looking twoleg came to the clear substance and somehow drew it aside.
The tom slipped part way in. Then looked back. "Are you coming?"
I bristled. "I'm not going into a twoleg den!"
The tom's whisters twitched.
"Suite yourself," he said. Then he stepped forward. The twoleg closed the clear substance again. The tom looked back at me with amusement, then moved out of sight.
I shivered, both with unease and anger. Who did he think he was? Just waltzing into a twoleg den? That was crazy! Would Blossomfall have actually done that?
With great hesitation, I moved forward. Right up until my nose was pressed against the cool substance of the material.
She might have. It was at least possible.
Could I afford to let myself lose the chance to see?
I started meowing like the tom had.
I heard a faint, twoleg chirping. And then the twoleg reappeared again. I looked up, bristling with nerves just a bit. But I meowed a couple more times.
There was more chirping, but eventually the clear substance was opened.
Slowly, I stepped inside. Nervous. Even more so when the twoleg closed the clear substance. At least it didn't make any attempt to touch me, but it was all I could do not to rush toward the exit again.
"Was that so bad?" the tom asked dryly.
I glared at him from where he was sitting on one of the strange colored rocks.
"Where's Blossomfall?" I asked. The tom nodded toward a place deeper in the nest. "That way. Can't miss her."
I hurried along the hall, which seemed to cause the twoleg to chirp more. I did start smelling Blossomfall though. I moved more slowly, tasting the air for signs of more two legs. But other than the one who seemed to be excitedly chirping and squeaking behind me, there didn't seem to be any.
I continued forward, then lightly asked, "Blossomfall?"
It took a second, but a weak voice a bit aways responded with, "Ivypool? Is that you?"
I was relieved. I hurried forward until I entered a side den, seeing Blossomfall in the corner of it, past brightly colored rocks. She was in a brightly colored nest, looking bad, but she still raised her head.
"Ivypool?" she asked again.
"Y-yeah," I said, hesitantly stepping forward.
But Blossomfall seemed to hear my voice and just curl up again.
"Oh," she murmured.
Then, even softer, she said, "Please go, Ivypool ... I don't want you to see me like this."
Chapter 20: Brackenfur
I didn't want to check on Hazeltail the next day. I didn't want to know if everything was okay or not. It had been hard enough getting to sleep with the hunger gnawing at my belly. But there didn't seem to be any change now that I was away either.
I felt my mate's flank rise and fall against me and I kept myself from breathing too heavily least I wake her. My kits were a tumble of tiny bundled fur against me, already looking so big. But also at the same time, so much like *mine*.
I touched my nose to the tops of their heads, breathing in their scent before slowly rising from my sleeping position.
It seemed like a good time to talk to Cloudtail again. And maybe, just maybe, Bramblestar and Firestar.
The world seemed quiet. No dawn patrol. I was quiet too, as if afraid that if I didn't match the silence, then I would end up in the trap of creating some sort of attention which I didn't want.
That was the wariness, at any rate. I tried not to think of it too much as I headed for the Warriors Den.
Cloudtail had to be poked a bit to get woken up, but eventually with murmured protests, he squeezed out of the Warriors den. He looked tired as he blinked in the early morning light.
"What?" he asked.
"If we're doing this," I murmured, "Then we need to look for someplace that has what we're looking for. We shouldn't just approach the leaders with nothing."
Pural. Two leaders. It felt very strange to say that.
Cloudtail looked a little bit more awake then. His tail started twitching against the dirt, as if he was stalking a particularly allusive mouse.
"You think that ThunderClan might really be better off if we moved?"
"I do," Brackenfur said. "So long as we at least have food we can eat, then things might be better."
His claws dug into the dirt below at the mere mention of food.
He glanced in the direction where the poisoned food had been put. He was pretty sure someone had buried it by now. But he also would hazard that if he was looking longingly off in its direction then it likely wasn't far out of the realm of possibility that someone had actually gotten hungry enough to eat a piece of it.
No one that he'd heard of - yet - but he'd place bets.
"Anything is better than here," he said, looking back at Cloudtail.
This seemed to placate the other warrior, who nodded.
"Alright. Should we try looking past ThunderClan territory then?"
Brackenfur nodded, then looked around at the quiet camp.
He'd doubt anyone would notice - or care - if they left. Right now, he wouldn't be surprised if cats walked off ...
They didn't feel like a proper clan anymore.
"This way then," he said, turning away and heading for the camp entrance. I stepped slowly, but sooner rather than later Cloudtail started to overtake me, taking the lead through the forest and toward the clanless border.
The trip was long, but I still felt like it was worth it by the time we got there. It was already like I could smell fresh, unpoisoned prey.
Cloudtail moved beside me, is tail twitching as he walked. I scented the air, tasting the scent of mouse, but it was stale. I couldn't help it. I started purring a bit in relief, my mouth watering and my belly growling with pain. Mouse! I felt thin, looked thin, and was trying so very hard not to feel as if this whole situation wasn't an endless string of doubt. There was however the dawning sense that I should have another bad thing happen to me. Another bad thing that was just on the horizon. But I had to have this. This was the one thing which I really wanted.
And it was nice. I couldn't deny that it was nice to be able to see everything as just a little bit brighter.
With that in mind, however, I did however like the thought that I might be able to hunt for the clan today. I couldn't bring anything back regularly, but even if the leaders didn't want to move ThunderClan, I could at least feel like I was doing something again.
That's when I caught the scent of a cat. I paused, looking back at Cloudtail and wondered if he smelled it too.
His ears were back, so I turned to face the direction again, pelt beginning to bristle. Was it a rogue? I hadn't been in a fight for a while now, but I wasn't inclined to get into one now.
There was no appearance of a cat, just the scent of one gently drifting on the breeze.
I hesitantly stepped forward, my ears held back and my pelt on end. But the scent was slowly fading, drifting away. I was about to relax when I heard a rustle behind a nearby bramble bush. I spun, pelt bristling up and ears held back. I hissed, the tension in my muscles obvious to anyone watching to be just as much fear as it was anything else.
"Show yourself," he hissed. "We know you're there."
He wasn't sure if that would actually happen, but after a second, a small, orange head peaked out from behind a bush. Wide, curious blue eyes looked at me with a naive sort of interest.
It was hardly an apprentice age tom. It didn't mean that I relaxed, but I couldn't help letting my whiskers twitch with relief. I hadn't wanted to engage a cat, say, like Tigerstar.
"Hello," said the young tom after a second. At once I felt my pelt bristling. The odd curiosity was almost unnerving. This apprentice - or whatever the young cat could realistically be called - did not sound like a rogue. I wasn't sure how to place him.
"Who are you?" Cloudtail asked. The small tom tilted his head a bit, looking at the white tom with the same curiosity.
"Could ask you the same thing," he said brightly. Then he eyed my unsheathed claws.
"I'm Herz," he said after a second. "Who are you?"
I sniffed the air, trying to scent any other cats which might be around. Nothing. It seemed Herz was alone.
"We're clan cats," I said.
Herz seemed surprised, blue eyes widening. "Aren't you over ... like ... that way?" he asked, waving his tail back in the direction of clan territory.
"We're hunting," I eventually said. Herz still seemed surprised, but not overly concerned. He just seemed to shrug his shoulders and take several steps back.
"Sounds like that's going to be interesting. If your clanmates hunt here too. Well ..."
He glanced at Cloudtail and then back at me.
His small orange tail seemed to wave happily, then he was bounding off. Cloudtail watched him go, then looked at me. "He seemed," he said, puzzling over his thought for a second. "Odd. He seemed odd."
I had to agree. It didn't seem like Herz was even from here. Either way, there wasn't much that I could do on the matter. We were here to hunt. That was the whole point. I looked back at Cloudtail and nodded toward the forest at large. I didn't know if there were other cats like Herz around - or rather more competent cats. But it seemed like a good bet not to get too comfortable.
I didn't feel like scaring off cats who weren't even in ThunderClan territory. We couldn't uphold that much territory. Even with the fact we couldn't be killed.
I wondered if and how kittypets and rogues were dealing with it. I wasn't particularly keen to find out.
But the forest did have the scents we were looking for. Fresh prey. Unhunted.
It was the best we were going to do.
Chapter 21: Lionblaze
I saw Brackenfur and Cloudtail return with a mouse each and I couldn't help but blink in surprise. It wasn't what any of the watching cats expected. We hadn't seen a lot of pretty in ages. I could feel my mouth watering just at the sight of it, my stomach turning inside out with it. I heard a couple kit-cries from the nursery over it. That seemed like where the food would go, but that didn't stop me wondering where it had come from in the first place.
Brackenfur dropped the prey on the place where the fresh-kill pile had once been, much to the surprise of my clanmates.
I stepped forward, looking down at the food.
"Where did you get this, Brackenfur?" I asked, unable to feel anything other than excitement bubbling up in my chest. This was it. Food to help the clan. I looked around, seeing happy faces, right up until my eyes fell on Dovewing.
That's where I hesitated. That's where I found the expression lacking, though I wasn't sure what to do about that. She looked worried.
I took a step back, then glanced around to spot Bramblestar as he slowly scampered down the rockslide until he had pushed his way in front of the freshkill pile, looking at the same prey as the rest of the clan. Then he looked at Brackenfur, who had remained silent.
Finally he did speak when Bramblestar was within earshot and I waited, breath baited to hear what he'd have to say.
"There's the territory beyond ThunderClan. It has food. We should go there."
"And leave ThunderClan?" Berrynose at once pipped up. Cloudtail shot him a wary look and Brackenfur glared. "Yes," he said. "Because if we stay here, everyone is going to die!"
I watched Dovewing slowly slip to the back of the crowd, away from the cats slowly starting to speak up. I watched her, frowning. Hesitant that this was what she was going to do. In fact, I wasn't sure what she was going to do at all.
He would have liked to have followed her, but he also felt like there was something going on here.
He couldn't help noticing how Bramblestar glanced toward his new den, but also how Firestar looked less convinced. Which leader would they listen to if it came to a split between the two. I, and I felt like the others too, could see that there was a very large difference between what each of our clan leaders wanted. Though the motivations I didn't know. I doubted it was Firestar's loyalty to the territory.
He's given up, a voice in the back of my head said. He's given up on another option for the various cats. He doesn't think that there is one.
He seemed like he was willing to just let the banes and my kin do what they wanted.
I wasn't sure if I could let even my small bit of doubt let that happen. Let my clanmates die.
"I think we should go," I said loudly, hoping that my voice would add some sort of sway. It didn't look like it did. A couple of cats looked at me and I thought maybe that meant something, but ultimately it seemed like there were other cats who the leaders were paying attention to.
"Hazeltail can't be moved," Leafpool spoke up. Her back was stiff and she was standing nearer to the medicine cat den than she was to the fresh-kill pile. She was looking at Bramblestar in the eyes and occasionally shifting to look at Firestar. "And I would be surprised if Squirrelflight could make it to the edge of camp. If you leave, a large number of ThunderClan will have to stay. I will not abandon my clanmates."
But even I could see the hungry look she was occasionally directing toward the fresh kill pile. I wasn't completely sure what to say to my adopted mother. I could feel my pelt prickle a bit with shame when she looked at me, but I pushed it away. Brackenfur looked distressed, well and truly like he couldn't believe any cat would honestly choose hunger and sickness.
"You're all crazy!" he said. "I am not letting my mate and kits stay here! This isn't a matter of whether we should or shouldn't go. We need to go now! Before cats die of hunger!"
I was decently sure that it wasn't that far away. I could feel my own movements weakening almost what felt like hourly.
But Bramblestar seemed to realize this and he dipped his head.
"If there are members of ThunderClan who wish to leave, for whatever reason, I will not stand in their way."
There was a shifting and a murmur of discontent. This sounded like breaking up ThunderClan. Maybe more than that.
But Brackenfur seemed satisfied, if hesitant, as he headed for the nursery.
I watched him go, my pelt prickling. Then padded after him.
"Brackenfur," I said. He looked over his shoulder. "Yes, Lionblaze?"
I paused, then said, head raising a bit, "I'll come with you. If you're heading out of ThunderClan territory."
Brackenfur seemed to look a bit relieved at that, dipping his head. "We'll be happy to have you," he said, sounding a bit breathless.
I glanced over my shoulder, fur prickling, and briefly met Firestar's eyes.
I knew I was doing the right thing. But those eyes seemed to suggest that I was fighting a losing battle.
My tail flicked.
He may have given up, but I wasn't going to.
I turned away, heading away from the other clanmates.
Or maybe they weren't my clanmates anymore ...
Chapter 22: Senfeather
I finally scented Hollyleaf after what had felt like ages. It was very interesting how excited I was, but it was almost muted. Like I wasn't really sure if or how much excitement I should have.
I turned in the direction where I could tell she was coming from, spotting her dark pelt through the gray trees, only to be surprised when she was joined with another cat. I walked a couple steps in that direction, ears up and scenting the air with curiosity.
"Hello?" I heard, recognizing the voice as Hollyleaf's. When she saw me, she bounded forward, until she was close enough that I could actually see her expression fall. It wasn't the expression that I think she should have worn. Maybe it would have been different if it was her brother's face she was seeing rather than what mine was. I couldn't help feeling a prickle of distaste for that. I couldn't help what had happened to me.
"Who is your friend?" I asked, looking at the other black she-cat. I couldn't place her. I knew too many cats. She did seem to place me, however, and she took a small step backward, though from how she was tilting her ears, it seemed more likely that she wanted to try and attack rather than run away.
I angled my own ears back, but in an effort to hear Bane and Bloodclaw's approach rather than to show any sort of hostility. I heard a small, hummed intake of breath from Bane and glanced over my shoulder. He was looking at the strange black she-cat with puzzlement.
"I take it you are one of mine?" he said, seeming slightly in doubt, even as the black she-cat took several steps backwards. Bane seemed to wait for a second, then said, "Shadowstar, yes? Tall Shadow?"
Hollyleaf stepped between the she-cat and Bane. Her eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?" she asked. "'One of yours?'"
Bane glanced at her, then flicked his tail. He seemed both dismissive and very annoyed at the same time.
"She is from my realm. She is not meant to return from it."
He spun away, as if this was all the explanation he needed to give. I looked after him, feeling puzzled. He seemed more polite than usual. What had changed?
I glanced at Bloodclaw, but she didn't seem particularly interested in any of the exchanges.
In the same fashion, Hollyleaf seemed to be warily eying me, as if she didn't really know how to take any of the interactions we'd had up to this point. She was also sticking close to ... Tall Shadow, as if concerned that she might be in danger.
I wondered if she was.
I followed after where Bane had gone, but paused when Hollyleaf said behind me, "Where are we going?"
I glanced back, but just flicked my tail. I didn't really know. The implication seemed to be that we'd be waiting for Hollyleaf to turn up before we made the decision to go through each individual realm or just Bane's. But now that she was here, I wasn't actually sure if we'd made any proper decisions.
I looked back at Bloodclaw again, but she didn't look like she knew anymore than I did. I followed after Bane, not answering my sister(?).
Bane seemed to be standing at some kind of border. I could tell that the mist beyond the trees wasn't just mist, but almost a wall. I looked at it and wrinkled my nose. The place he was staring at felt ... bad.
"Is she coming with us?" Bloodclaw asked, sounding annoyed. I glanced back to see that not only had Hollyleaf been following, but Tall Shadow as well.
"Hum?" Bane said, distracted, looking back.
"She shouldn't. She doesn't have a place here," Bloodclaw said, pelt bristling.
Bane looked a bit miffed. "She is from my realm. If she belongs anywhere, it is there."
Tall Shadow bristled. "I have no idea what you're talking about but I'm right h -" Bane glared at her and her voice wavered and faltered. It was my turn to frown. Bane seemed to be on edge. Tetchy, even.
"I'm coming," said Tall Shadow. I could almost place interest in her voice, but for sure I could tell there was a confidence to it that I wouldn't have expected. I didn't turn to look this time however, I just watched Bane's expression.
He turned back to the fog before I could actually place what he was thinking about.
"Make your choice on whether or not we will be going through my realm," he said. "I highly doubt we have as much time as we would like, so consider how quickly or not we will be going through it verse your ability to go for each individual realm."
His tail flicked and he added, "And Tall Shadow will have to come with me. She wouldn't survive a trip through any other bane's realm."
Hollyleaf bristled. I almost expected her to ask a question, but she seemed to pick up the fact she had missed something and adjusted accordingly.
"We're staying together," she said.
Bane looked back. I almost expected him to warn her against how bad of an idea that was, but after a second of staring he didn't seem to want to bother. Instead, he headed for the fog, stepping across the border and disappearing from sight. The last thing to disappear was his tail tip.
I frowned after him, but then my line of sight was cut off by Bloodclaw.
"Come on," she growled. "He wont wait for us and we do not want to be alone in there."
I hesitated, glanced at the other two she-cats, and then followed. I noticed a pained look on Hollyleaf's face before I did, but I tried not to think too hard about it. Instead, I kept after the russet form of Bloodclaw, listening as the other two followed after me, single file.
The fog wasn't as thick as it looked, but when we reached the other side, the forest was no longer gray. It was black. It was almost hard to see where the edges were, but everything had a bit of sheen to it, so I was at least able to tell the difference between trunk and ground. The only bits of color were myself, the eyes of everyone, and the rather more blood-colored look to Bloodclaw. It was a bit unnerving, actually.
"Where are we going?" I asked. My voice felt a bit flat in this atmosphere. I wasn't sure what to do about it. Sound just didn't seem to carry.
Bane glanced back at me and I noted that the pupils of his eyes seemed to have grown smaller inside of the blue. It was very unnerving.
"Through," he said. "But more specifically, we're going directly through my home. We won't be skirting the borders. It would take too long."
Long, yes, but I couldn't help but know, in some part of my head, that there was a lot more to what he said. Long. I couldn't quite place it though.
I noted Bloodclaw's fur bristling, but she stoically continued walking. I could feel it too though. I could tell that there was something about this place. Like it was taking something from me with each step.
Like my muscles were growing just that bit more tired.
I couldn't place the exact reason for why this was bad, but I picked up my pace, glancing around as if I expected something to jump out at me.
"Stay close," Bane said, not looking back. He didn't have to tell me twice, but I did look back at Hollyleaf and Tall Shadow, who didn't seem to be among the ones who were focused on this advice.
Bloodclaw fell back a bit, looking over Tall Shadow. Then grinned.
"Bet you one of us three were the ones who killed you," she said, then chuckled a bit and picked up the pace before it was possible for her to claw Bloodclaw's ears. Hollyleaf was bristling as well, but I was glancing at Bloodclaw with suspicion and interest.
"One of us three? Death doesn't kill you. It's a result, not a cause."
Bloodclaw glanced at me, then hummed. "Yes. I wasn't talking about Bane. I was referring to Hollyleaf."
Her tail flickered and she grinned.
Clearly Hollyleaf was thinking the same thing. "What?"
But Bloodclaw clearly pretended she didn't hear, hurrying up to walk beside Bane.
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Turin not Torino: I once checked in a guest that lived on Fire Star Ct. I also used to live down the street from a Half Moon Dr. The weirdest one for me though is my ex named his kid Brook(e?) Hazel, and I am willing to bet he'd never even heard of Warriors before.
Nov 24, 2022 4:18:53 GMT -5
Hal: Happy Thanksgiving guys!
Nov 24, 2022 12:10:20 GMT -5
Dawnmist: Happy thanksgiving!!
Nov 24, 2022 12:40:01 GMT -5
𝙵𝚎𝚛𝚛𝚎𝚝𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚙: Happy thanksgiving!
Nov 24, 2022 14:04:39 GMT -5
silvermoon2💖: 🍄🎶✨Brambleheart✨🎶🍄 Thats so cool!
Nov 24, 2022 18:15:39 GMT -5
silvermoon2💖: Happy Thanksgiving!
Nov 24, 2022 18:16:04 GMT -5
Fireclaw3: Hope y’all had a good Thanksgiving last week
Nov 29, 2022 18:40:22 GMT -5
Tawnyfire: i keep getting drawn back here by memories of old rps, but i can't tell if they were here or the old site, but memories all the same
Nov 30, 2022 1:25:41 GMT -5
☾ ☯♢ Ivyeyes ♢☯ ☽: i love rps!!!!!!!!!!! CRINGE CULTURE IS DEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nov 30, 2022 10:53:15 GMT -5
Tawnyfire: i genuinely don't know what cringe culture is
Nov 30, 2022 13:38:05 GMT -5
Hawkeyes258: It's assuming certain things people like are considered cringy. Usually used by edgelords who want everyone to be miserable
Nov 30, 2022 13:45:59 GMT -5
Tawnyfire: oh, that's what that is
Nov 30, 2022 13:48:22 GMT -5
Quill: A YouTube called Contrapoints does an excellent video essay on cringe culture, I highly recommend it.
Nov 30, 2022 16:25:50 GMT -5