Moonlight washed palely over the border as two she-cats padded softly along. Two pairs of eyes, one ice-blue and another pale amber, blinked in the shadowed undergrowth. The small brown tabby she-cat blinked warmly at the other.
“Greetings, Brambleberry. Do you have any particular news you would like to share with me?” The other cat meowed warmly in reply.
“RiverClan is going to have much trouble with Twoleg kits,” the Brambleberry mused. The blue-gray she-cat narrowed her eyes.
“They captured Willowshine when she was out gathering herbs last sunrise.”
Brambleberry nodded. “I saw. Come. Let us sit down here where we will not be
disturbed.” She flicked her tail towards a large rock almost hidden behind a waterfall. The sleek blue-gray she-cat meowed wistfully,“This reminds me of the Tribe of Rushing Water. I had many friends there. But how are we going to get to the rock?”
Purring, Brambleberry replied, “You are RiverClan aren’t you? You swim of course.”
“Under that wall of water, Brambleberry? What are you thinking?”
Brambleberry laid her tail tip gently onto the blue-gray she-cat’s back. “This way. There isn’t as much water pouring down over here.”
The two cats swam over to the rock. Shivering, the blue cat meowed, “It’s chilly over here!”
“I apologize, my friend,” meowed Brambleberry, “Let’s continue walking.”
Two cats emerged from the Dark Forest, both dark-brown tabby toms. Together, they silently stalked the two she-cats. The she-cats had no notion that they were being stalked. The two toms looked at one another, reviewing their plan mentally, and nodded. As one, they leaped into the air, one landing on Brambleberry’s shoulders, the other knocking the surprised blue-gray she-cat unconscious.
“Quick, Hawkfrost! Drag her across the border where Brokenstar is waiting to help!” yowled the brown tabby.
Brambleberry shook the cat from the Dark Forest off her shoulders, spraying drops of blood onto the leafy green plants.
“Tigerstar!” she spat, “I should have known!”
Growling, Tigerstar attacked Brambleberry once again. Brambleberry leaped into the air and twisted, sinking her teeth into Tigerstar’s long, matted fur. Tigerstar kicked his hind legs onto Brambleberry’s stomach. Yowling, she tried to get up but Tigerstar held her down and raked her belly until she drifted into unconscious.
“Spottedleaf!” meowed Feathertail urgently, “Brambleberry has been attacked!” Spottedleaf rushed to Brambleberry, her carefully collected herbs forgotten in her panic.
“This looks like Tigerstar’s work,” she hissed, narrowing her eyes.
Feathertail gasped. “Look at those paw prints!” Two pairs of paw prints, both fairly large, led deep into the Dark Forest.
“It looks like they dragged a cat with them!” meowed Spottedleaf, who looked as if she’d been struck by lightning, with her fur standing on end.
“Why would they do that?” wondered Feathertail, “Who did they take?”
Spottedleaf growled “Look!” A pair of ice-blue eyes blinked once and disappeared. Feathertail turned to Spottedleaf.
“Hawkfrost.” Feathertail meowed, furious. “Hawkfrost must have dragged the cat away.”
“But why?” Spottedleaf was shocked.
“I don’t know, but I need you to go get Yellowfang. Quick!” meowed Feathertail urgently, “I don’t know ThunderClan camp as well as you do.” She hoped Spottedleaf would hurry. Brambleberry could die if Yellowfang didn’t come quickly and treated her.
Barely conscious, Brambleberry muttered “Feathertail,” before drifting back into unconsciousness.
“Brambleberry! You’re alive! Who was with you? What happened? Brambleberry, I need to know!” Feathertail meowed, her voice rising. What had happened? Would Brambleberry be all right? What would happen if she never woke up? Would she just…fade? Feathertail didn’t even want to think about it.
She shook Brambleberry. “Brambleberry! Wake up! Please!” Feathertail glanced despairingly over her shoulder to see if Spottedleaf was back yet. They needed a medicine cat, desperately. She began to lick Brambleberry’s pelt to wash all the blood away. Maybe that way she’ll wake up, thought Feathertail.
“Feathertail. Where is she?” murmured Brambleberry.
“Where is who?” meowed Feathertail, hope rising in her chest like a caged bird. Quick paw steps filled the air.
“What happened?” demanded Leapordstar.
“Brambleberry has been attacked and Spottedleaf is going for help.” meowed Feathertail.
“Brambleberry has been attacked?” repeated Leapordstar, dazed.
“Yes and Brambleberry keeps on talking about a she-cat. I was about to get an answer, you know,” Feathertail replied, annoyed. Why did Leapordstar interrupt when she was least wanted or needed? Why couldn’t she go and do something useful for once, instead of just lying around ordering other cats to get her fish? She was new in StarClan, for- well for StarClan’s sake. She should stop ordering cats around and do some work for once.
“Mistystar……gone…….” Brambleberry drifted back into unconsciousness.
Feathertail was confused. Why was Mistystar gone? Where was she? Who took her? She was so aggravated that she yowled to the open sky “What?! Where is the RiverClan leader? Where is she? Where is Mistystar?”
Icewing was back in the forest. The yucky one with the muddy rivers that were as slow as a slug climbing to the old Highstones and the icky, leafless trees that blocked out the sky; not the forest that the ThunderClan and ShadowClan cats lived in – not the one by the lake.
“Hi, Icewing!” came a call from a few paces behind.
“Hello, Ivypool!” she called back. Ivypool was a cat from ThunderClan, and she was really nice, but she always seemed to have something other than training on her mind, meaning she was normally slightly distracted.
“More training, less talking!” growled a voice behind her. Icewing jumped. She turned around and saw Tigerstar stalking out from behind the leafless trees. Ivypool had disappeared.
“Sorry Tigerstar,” Icewing mumbled guiltily; she knew Tigerstar did not take kindly to distractions from experience.
“We are doing tree training today. Come on. The other cats are already assembled.” Tigerstar leaped over a fallen tree towards a clearing. Icewing scrambled over after him.
Tigerstar jumped onto a large rock, easily. “Those ThunderClan fools have been cheating in battle. They climb trees! Are they cats or are they weak little squirrels? We will do tree training too! We will play their own trick against them!” He growled. Tigerstar paused as yowls of approval rang out from the assembled cats beneath him. “We will work in partners! Snowtuft, you are going to be with Hollowflight, Shredtail, you are with Sunstrike, Thistleclaw, with Breezepelt, Ivypool with Blossomfall, Hawkfrost with Icewing, and Brokenstar with Tigerheart. I will be supervising. We are not kits play fighting so unsheathe your claws!”
“Who am I assigned to?” meowed a voice from the crowd of cats.
Tigerstar narrowed his eyes. “You were beaten by an apprentice,” he spat, “You do not deserve to train any cats until you have proven yourself worthy again, Darkstripe!”
“Come Icewing! We haven’t got all night!” Hawkfrost beckoned Icewing other to a twisted, gnarled tree with his tail. “You’re going to climb first and try to attack me as you jump. Got it?”
Icewing nodded. RiverClan has never climbed trees, she thought rebelliously. But another part of her mind said this is going to make me the best warrior I can be. She told herself firmly that again as she strained her hind leg muscles to push herself up the tree. Hawkfrost circled around impatiently. Quietly, Icewing tiptoed down the tree trunk half way and bunched her muscles in preparation for the spring. She landed squarely on Hawkfrost’s shoulders, yowling in triumph. But her triumph turned to confusion when Hawkfrost rolled over and smashed her to the ground. Thinking quickly, Icewing pushed Hawkfrost off herself and when he was still recovering, slashed his belly with unsheathed claws. Growling, he pushed himself off the leaf littered ground. Icewing backed up cautiously, unsure if he was about to pounce. She relaxed, though, as Hawkfrost purred “Nice moves there ‘paw’ but I saw you coming down the tree. Try not to be quite so loud.”
“Like this?” Icewing scrambled up a tree and climbed down as softly as she could.
“Yes,” meowed Hawkfrost. “Now try attacking me.”
Thinking harder this time, Icewing climbed up the tree and waited.
“Hurry up!” Hawkfrost growled.
Icewing didn’t move. Hawkfrost had started circling the tree once again. This time, she silently jumped straight from the branch so as not to give Hawkfrost any kind of warning. Howling, she bit down on Hawkfrost’s back as he jumped into the air to make
her crash. She quickly retaliated and slithered under him, clawing his belly as he landed.
“Excellent,” Hawkfrost meowed. “Now do it again, but try to think of something different.”
Icewing once again went up the tree. This time though, instead of jumping, she successfully got down on the other side of the tree without being heard – where Hawkfrost wasn’t waiting to attack her. Icewing crept up onto Hawkfrost and attacked from behind.
“Sneaky!” Hawkfrost meowed approvingly, “but you didn’t use the tree to your advantage.”
“But I did use it!” retorted Icewing, “I went up it and so when the enemy was preparing for me to jump down onto them, I leaped up onto their back so they got taken by surprise.”
“Excellent thinking!” Eyes narrowing, Hawkfrost growled “However, your enemies may find that attacking you without you being on them is much easier than fighting you when you land actually on their back.”
“But I can always scramble up the tree and land on their backs while they are wondering where I went.”
“ThunderClan knows that trick. We must prepare for that,” Hawkfrost meowed, “You have a sharp and clever mind. Use that to your advantage, too. Let’s see how many more interesting strategies you can think of. More training and less talking!”
And so Icewing crawled up the tree, her muscles aching.
“You know, I think I’m the first RiverClan cat to do tree training – ever.” grumbled Icewing. Her muscles ached and her back was on fire. It would be a miserable day when the sun rose. Hawkfrost’s voice brought her back to reality.
“Wrong, Icewing. I was the first RiverClan cat to climb a tree. But you were the second. Now, go tell Tigerstar I think it’s time.”
That’s just like Hawkfrost – always bragging. It’s time for what, though? thought Icewing as she ran over to Tigerstar to tell him Hawkfrost’s news.
“What’s it time for?” the green-eyed she-cat asked after she delivered her message.
“I can’t tell you!” snapped Tigerstar.
Icewing wanted to ask why, but she knew not to cross Tigerstar when he was grumpy. Still…
All of a sudden, Tigerstar yowled “Next time she visits, one of our apprentices will take her final assessment!”
Would that be her?
A high, reedy voice from the back of the crowd of cats yowled back “Who, might I ask, is this mysterious she-cat? It should be me!”
“And why would I tell you, Breezepelt? Anyways, you’re still not ready,” replied Tigerstar coolly. “I hope you’ll tend to the ‘cat-in-the-brambles,’ as our apprentices kindly call her, next moonrise instead of training with us. Have fun with the mouse bile and changing her moss. She’ll like that. The rest of you, go – oh, and whatever you do, do not go near the clearing where we used to train or I promise I will personally rip out your pelt and use it to line my nest; even my warriors. I am making an exception for Breezepelt because he must go there tomorrow. Now leave me to think for once, instead of helping train you mouse-brained young ‘paws’ to become ‘better warriors’.” And with that impressive speech, Tigerstar bounded off the “Announcement Rock” and away into the forest.
What is the matter with him? Icewing was bewildered. Tigerstar’s never been grumpy enough to threaten to rip out our pelts before. Humph. Who is this mysterious she-cat? Why can’t we go to the old training clearing anymore? So many questions, yet no answers.
Suddenly, Icewing felt a pelt brush hers, then smelled the slightly musty scent that belonged to Ivypool. Ivypool’s scent was a mixture of Dark Forest and ThunderClan, just like hers was a mixture of Dark Forest and RiverClan.
“Icewing, go home. I am warning you, do not fail your warrior assessment or else you may never go back to your clanmates by the lake.” warned the other white she-cat, then she turned and disappeared.
Icewing felt an ominous chill go down her spine at those words. Was Ivypool hinting that she would die if she failed?
After Feathertail and Spottedleaf found Brambleberry hurt and Mistystar missing and Leopardstar discovered them, there was utter chaos until…
“Silence! Do you want all of StarClan to come rushing here right now?” yowled Leopardstar.
“Leopardstar, Mistystar is missing! Do you know the significance of that!” growled Feathertail. She’s interfering again. she thought, aggravated.
“I know, Feathertail. Calm down. Besides, if we’re too hasty, it could lead to our downfall as well as Mistystar’s,” soothed Leopardstar.
Feathertail thought for a moment. What Leopardstar says makes sense, she concluded. “Who else will help us?”
“No one but us. They will all try to take over, and this is only RiverClan’s business.” Leopardstar meowed.
Feathertail nodded in agreement. “You’re right, Leopardstar. What should we do now?”
Leopardstar narrowed her eyes. “Keep quiet and look for unexpected allies. Make sure they’re at least half RiverClan.”
Why at least half RiverClan? Has Leopardstar gone crazy? thought the silver she-cat. “I’ll do that. I think we should visit Willowshine to tell her what has happened,” meowed Feathertail.
“Yes, I agree. Could you do that? I must go. Crookedstar asked me to come to a meeting of Clan leaders and medicine cats to discuss Brambleberry’s situation.” Leopardstar took off running, her tail streaming out behind her.
Feathertail sighed. Why did Leopardstar always have to take charge? That night she visited Willowshine’s dreams. “Willowshine!”
“Feathertail! Mistystar went to the Moonpool and I went with her and Mothwing but she never woke up! We had to drag her back to camp. Everyone thought she was dead but she was still breathing,” meowed Willowshine in a hurry, “What are we going to do?”
“Her spirit was captured by the Dark Forest. The Dark Forest, or The Place Of No Stars, is where cats that are not accepted by StarClan go after they leave their bodies,” explained Feathertail. “Ask Reedwhisker to temporarily take the leader’s role, but tell him not to change his name to Reedstar as we can not give him nine lives since Mistystar still has all of hers. Don’t forget, Mistystar is still alive.”
“Okay, Feathertail. But how is Mistystar going to escape the Dark Forest?” questioned Willowshine.
“StarClan will rescue her!”
Feathertail’s voice faded away as she hurried back to StarClan’s hunting grounds. When she returned, Leopardstar was waiting for her. Humph.
“Our meeting went very badly,” announced Leopardstar.
“What happened?” asked Feathertail. Nothing could be worse than a hopeless quest into the Dark Forest.
“Crookedstar brought Brambleberry in and he questioned her thoroughly. All we got out of her was that she was walking along the border and got attacked by two cats from the Dark Forest,” meowed Leopardstar, “She doesn’t even remember anything about Mistystar’s capture.”
Feathertail nodded, “We need a plan to rescue her. Mistystar, I mean, not Brambleberry.” Though Brambleberry does need help, thought Feathertail privately. She knew not to cross Leopardstar when she was grumpy or happy, all the same.
Leopardstar thought for a moment, “Let’s go visit the Dark Forest. Come on, lets go now.”
The pair padded along silently until they suddenly saw a spotted pelt flash by.
“Greetings, Feathertail, Leopardstar. Did you see Milkfur earlier?” meowed Featherwhisker .
“She was at Four Trees not long ago,” answered Feathertail. Why is he looking for Milkfur now?
“Thanks, I don’t think she knows about what happened to Brambleberry. And after all, she has a right to know since Brambleberry was Milkfur’s apprentice.” Featherwhisker trotted away, tail drooping.
Feathertail remembered that Featherwhisker always had liked Brambleberry. No wonder he was sad.
“Well, we will be looking like that for some time,” commented Feathertail. Leopardstar didn’t answer. They quietly strolled along for a while until they reached the border.
“I guess we’ll go in,” meowed Leopardstar. Not long after, they scented Brokenstar on the slightly musty breeze. Leopardstar tensed. Feathertail crouched. What does he want? she thought.
“Well, well, well. Who do we have here?” purred Brokenstar in a silky voice. “I thought we made it clear StarClan was not allowed here.”
“You said was not allowed. We are allowed because this is not the past, but the present. Yes?” retorted Feathertail.
“A clever tongue, as usual. Now, if you’ll give me a tour of StarClan’s hunting grounds, I will gladly let you visit my territory, as that is only fair…Now, get out!” Brokenstar barred his teeth.
Thinking fast, Feathertail meowed “Go ahead. Visit anytime.”
“Feathertail! What you are you thinking?! Since when were you so fish-brained?” interrupted Leopardstar, again. Feathertail silenced her with a glare. Leopardstar returned the glare but did not question her any further.
“Then go ahead and explore all you want.” Brokenstar took off into the dark woods.
“What was that all about?!” hissed Leopardstar, narrowing her eyes.
“Wait. I’ll tell you later,” murmured Feathertail distractedly.
“As you say, Featherstar,” grumbled Leopardstar. Humph. AnnoyingStars all over the place were invading, thought Feathertail grumpily.
“Really! Please stop insulting me! Now can we just get on visiting this place and get out of here? I don’t like it any more than you do!” Exasperated, Feathertail stalked off. With a heavy sigh, Leopardstar followed. Why was Grumpystar always so hostile? thought Feathertail.
“Wait,” Leopardstar halted suddenly, “I smell a familiar scent. Tigerstar!” They spun around in unison to see a large dark brown tabby striding towards them. “The visitors Brokenstar mentioned.” He nodded, “Don’t let me interrupt you. Continue as you please.” Tigerstar disappeared into the shadows.
“He becomes more and more evil every passing moment,” Leopardstar growled.
“No one can deny that,” agreed Feathertail. What makes me think that something is amiss? Those two can never be trusted.
“Humph,” meowed Leopardstar suspiciously. “He sounded like he was up to something.”
“Whenever was he not?” asked Feathertail, “ I wonder if his scheme has something to do with Mistystar’s capture?”
Leopardstar didn’t reply.
The two walked off into the forest, following the twisting and turning path. Feathertail’s mind was filled with questions, one after another. Whys and hows and lots of coulds floated around in the air. She was sure that even Leopardstar, who as lost in her own thoughts too, could hear her mind buzzing with questions.
“Feathertail,” Leopardstar voice was tense, “I think we’ve been going around in circles.”
“How come? We’ve been following this path,” replied Feathertail.
“Look at that same gnarled tree trunk. I’m sure we’ve been past it before.”
“Hmm,” meowed Feathertail thoughtfully, “You’re right.”
“I’m going to scratch a cross onto this tree so that way we’ll know if we’ve been here before.” Leopardstar did so.
After a few hundred heartbeats, they came back to the same tree. Feathertail gasped, surprised at how easily they’d been fooled. “We really are going around in circles!” Her voice rose to a wail, “ We’re hopelessly lost in the Dark Forest! Here, were no one would even think about us being in this horrible……place!”
“What do think we are going to do? Obviously we just don’t follow the path. Now let me lead,” Leopardstar shouldered past Feathertail and growled “Come on!” With a humph, Feathertail followed her leader. Why was Feathertail always so slow? She obviously thought I am a grumpystar, but that doesn’t mean she has to be so grumpy and sharp tongued with me. thought Leopardstar
“Hey! I didn’t see this fork in the path before!” meowed Feathertail excitedly.
“That’s because I’m leading,” grumbled Leopardstar. Really, Feathertail was so cheery she could beat a sparrow singing – that is, if she could sing. She couldn’t sing, only birds and possibly Twolegs could. Then she crashed into a bush.
“Hurry up, Leopardstar! We’re losing our time for exploring!” hissed Feathertail.
Leopardstar didn’t like that and retorted “Well, stop singing like a bird!” With a growl of fury, she turned around and stalked off. She could sense that Feathertail wanted to say something back to her but even she knew better than to start an argument with a leader. Leopardstar felt a stab of self-satisfaction with that small victory of words.
Soon, they reached a clearing filled with cats surrounded by trees. They quickly hid themselves behind two of these disgusting under-growths and peered out from behind them. It seemed like the cats in the clearing were having a meeting of some kind. Some of the faces in the crowd looked familiar, and they scanned them with sharp eyes, gold and blue, to see what cats they knew. Feathertail was the first to spot a Lake cat they knew.
“Look! There’s Icewing with Hawkfrost! They’re training together. I never knew this was happening!” wailed Feathertail, clearly distressed.
“It’s all right. She might be a spy for RiverClan like Ivypool is for ThunderClan”
Feathertail visibly relaxed.
“Let’s continue along. Mistystar is obviously not here,” meowed Leopardstar. She turned and headed off into the shallow undergrowth. With a sigh of exasperation, Feathertail followed. She sniffed, then stiffened. Leopardstar followed suit, and smelled a scent that she had never wanted to smell for the rest of her death years.
“Brokenstar!” she warned. Sure enough, Brokenstar appeared moments later. “Visits are over. I will show you the way out.”
“That was useless!” growled Leopardstar, “and now he can visit our territory! He probably set us up to get lost. That way we can’t learn anything.” Brokenstar was the most obnoxious cat from the forest to the sun-drown place; from the mountains to the lake.
“Just wait. He’ll get his payback.” purred Feathertail.
What was that cat up to?
“You still haven’t told me why you are going to let Brokenstar into our hunting grounds,” reminded Leopardstar. Feathertail was so forgetful she would forget she was on a patrol the minute she left camp.
“He said ‘If you’ll give me a tour of StarClan’s hunting grounds.’ Well, that is exactly what I plan on doing. I’ll give him a tour on the most boring and useless places,” Feathertail paused. “I’ll also give long uninteresting lectures. Then I’ll send him out of here like he did to us.”
“Brilliant, Feathertail!” meowed Leopardstar, “Great thinking!” How had Feathertail thought of that? Well, she’d add to that. “Try to somehow get him lost in the most uninteresting place – the island in the middle of the small lake would do. Just make a bridge out of wood and lead him across, then destroy the bridge and swim away.” He’s such a drypaw, she thought in disgust.
Leopardstar was pleased with the praise, but she decided not to say anything. Maybe if Feathertail gave her more compliments, she would make her her personal deputy – for helping the Clans only, of course.
“Cats of StarClan!” yowled Willowstar, “Brambleberry has been attacked by one of the Dark Forest. We are suspecting that Tigerstar did the fighting while a different cat dragged someone over the border and is currently holding them hostage. Leopardstar and Feathertail, would you like to speak?”
“We were there, not when the attack happened, but at the aftermath. Feathertail and I do not know who was taken except that they are not from RiverClan.”
Leopardstar felt guilty that she was lying at a Gathering, but she had no choice. She jumped down from Highrock in a graceful leap and meowed “Feathertail, would you like to speak?” Leopardstar meowed. She would probably mess up the whole lie and tell everything that had happened since the attack on Brambleberry and Mistystar.
“ Well, we went into the Dark Forest to investigate the matter…….” A chorus of cats started yowling “What! Why didn’t you tell us? You should have discussed with the rest of StarClan first!”
“I’m sorry but there was not enough time. As I was saying……..”
Feathertail got interrupted again this time by Mossleaf, an old StarClan cat. “Are you not telling us something?” she meowed suspiciously, “Something is missing and without it, your story smells quite fishy.”
“No Mossleaf,” assured Feathertail, “I have told you everything – well, almost everything, and I’m going to tell you the rest of it right now.”
Mossleaf sat down back on her haunches again but kept a glare on her.
“Right,” meowed Feathertail, ignoring Mossleaf, “Brokenstar is going to visit StarClan in return for our visit to their home.”
There was a few collective gasps but no one spoke.
“I plan on giving him a tour of some of the most boring places there are here; like the many different varieties of herbs in StarClan that grow next to the border drop-off. I will need a medicine cat sitting around just to make it convincing” The border drop-off was when the territories just fell into space: the ground just turned right into sky. Of course, StarClan could walk on it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that most cats were just afraid of the sheer drop-off, even though they couldn’t die a second time. Yellowfang’s voice suddenly brought her back to the present.
“I’ll be the medicine cat,” meowed Yellowfang. Feathertail nodded with appreciation. Leopardstar was surprised. Yellowfang was usually much grumpier than even the cat Feathertail called Grumpystar – namely, herself. And, Yellowfang was Brokenstar’s mother. Hmm.
“ Also I will show him WarmRocks and the pond. It would be best to have some cats fishing there. The waterfall will be shown to him also, and best of all, I will make him swim! I’ll tell him he can either swim or be pushed into the water – his choice. Yellowfang will be my backup, since she’ll already be with me, making sure he doesn’t run away.”
Yowls of approval came from the assembled cats.
“We’ll fish,” came the voice of some cats. Feathertail had nodded again. Leopardstar craned her neck to see who had said that.
“Humph,” she muttered.
The cats were all craning their necks and Leopardstar couldn’t see over the heads of the other cats. She felt like a kit. All the other cats were so much taller than her when the ones in front of her were so much taller than her when they were all standing on their hind legs and craning their necks, so she did what they were doing.
“And Leopardstar has one last thing to tell us!” yowled Feathertail over all the cats meowing in a hurry.
Leopardstar gulped “I do?” Did Feathertail want her to tell the cats about THAT? Feathertail gave a little nod as if she knew what Leopardstar was thinking. Leopardstar burned with fury. She was a leader and Feathertail was a mere warrior! She was superior and Feathertail was a servant! Leopardstar humphed again. All eyes were on her now. “Well, Feathertail and I found Tigerstar training cats from the living clans. We suspect the Dark Forest is tricking them into training since we found Blossomfall, Birchfall, Icewing, Ivypool…”
After the Gathering was over, cats clamored around Leopardstar and Feathertail. Is that really true? was the most common question.
“Enough!” yowled Willowstar, “This Gathering is over and will all of you please return to your dens!” Leopardstar headed off to her den but stopped. There was going to be a lot a whispering. Instead, Leopardstar had Feathertail follow her to a secret place where Leopardstar had found when she had just joined StarClan.
“It’s beautiful!” gasped Feathertail.
“Duh,” humphed Leopardstar. They had just walked into a little clearing through a flowering arch. In the middle, was a little pond filled with every kind of fish, and to the back, was a small waterfall. They were surrounded by trees and flowers.
“No one knows about this except for you and me,” meowed Leopardstar proudly, “Now hurry and make your nest.”
“What about you?” asked Feathertail. Leopardstar pointed her tail tip to a small cave whose only entrance was under a willow tree. When Feathertail had finally gathered enough swan feathers, they both headed into the cave. Feathertail gasped. The cave shimmered and sparkled from all the shiny things Leopardstar had put in. The cave was so small, during the day, it was flooded with green light. Leopardstar pointed to a small hole right above her comfy swan feather covered nest.
“You can see the stars,” Leopardstar meowed quietly, “There’s enough room for you to sleep next to me.” Feathertail quickly constructed her nest and laid down and sighed softly. Of course, thought Leopardstar, rolling her eyes. Feathertail is awestruck by the beauty, once again. Then, they both lay down to sleep.
Icewing woke up, stretched her matted fur and tired muscles, and yawned. It had been a long night.
“What in the name of StarClan happened?” her daughter, Petalfur, shrieked when she got a look at Icewing’s pelt.
“I went night hunting and fell into a hollow full of brambles,” Icewing lied. She felt bad about lying to Petalfur, but she would only tell Mistystar but Mistystar’s spirit was gone somewhere. Or so says Willowshine. And then how would Icewing become a better warrior? Who knew.
“The only bramble hollow is next to the Twoleg place, and there is absolutely no prey there,” meowed Petalfur suspiciously. I don’t blame her. I would be suspicious if my mother claimed she fell into a hollow full of brambles, Icewing thought sadly.
“I got spooked by an owl,” she invented, while she secretly slipped a long thorn into her nest. She wriggled around a bit. This felt just as bad as lying. But what could she do? Tell her daughter she’d been training all night with Tigerstar and Hawkfrost? Petalfur would tell Reedwhisker and then that would be the end of that. Well, she’d just have to hope.
“And there is this!” meowed Petalfur triumphantly, spotting the long thorn and pawing it out of the moss. “You have been sleeping on a thorn!”
“Oh! Thanks for finding that, Petalfur,” Icewing meowed, feigning surprise.
“Petalfur, Icewing! It’s sunhigh all ready and you’re needed on patrol!” Graymist yowled. She was the temporary deputy for RiverClan.
“Coming,” grumbled Icewing. She stood up and shook her fur. As she trotted out of her den, Willowshine walked into camp with a mouthful of catnip and saw Icewing’s scratches. She shrieked, “What in the name of StarClan happened?” She dropped her catnip and raced over to Icewing to examine her scratches. “She…..won’t……go……..on…….ANY…….patrols……..today,” she meowed between licks. Now that the blood was gone, the scratches didn’t look so bad. Icewing followed Willowshine to the den for treatment to her scratches. While Willowshine added patches of marigold and cobweb to them, Icewing told Mothwing what had happened. Even though she was a very convincing liar and had had to lie many times before, Icewing always felt guilty. “I couldn’t sleep and went night hunting,” explained Icewing. “An owl spooked me and I accidently ran into a bramble pit. A thorn stuck on me while I was sleeping and after rolling around, I got these scratches.”
“Hmm. No more night hunting for you. In fact, no more hunting for at least another two sunrises,” meowed Mothwing.
Well, the Dark Forest is still going to keep me training. And besides, I will just be a better, tougher warrior, thought Icewing.
All day, Icewing watched patrols come and go. Even the kits were doing something more exciting than her. When dusk came, Icewing felt that she was ready to face training. Then she remembered. Her warrior assessment. Ivypool had warned her about death. She had always been a reliable friend. Would she be right again?
“There you are, Icewing!” yowled Hawkfrost, “Come over here!” Icewing nervously walked over to where the leaders were standing.
“You must fight one of us and win to become a warrior, but if you fail………” Brokenstar let his threat hang in the air. He bared his teeth and hissed impatiently. “Come on! We haven’t got all night!” Icewing looked around. Hawkfrost looked smug as if he knew his own apprentice wouldn’t attack him. Sadly, I agree with him, Icewing thought. He’s much too good a fighter. Tigerstar was staring around at the rest of the apprentices, but Icewing could feel he had trained at least one eye on her. Darkstripe looked bored and Brokenstar looked menacing. Mapleshade growled at Icewing. Then, in the shadows, Icewing saw a old warrior she had only met once. She couldn’t remember his name. Looking at the red pelt, the name came to her. Bloodfur. Icewing knew who she wanted to fight. But she would wait a little longer, just so she could have the advantage of surprise. Maggottail leered at her and inched forward a step. Time was running out. Snowtuft bunched his muscles for a leap, but before he got the chance, silently, Icewing jumped onto the distracted Bloodfur’s back. I bet he didn’t expect me to attack him! Icewing thought. With a yowl, he rolled onto his back, but not before Icewing bit him on the ear.
Now at least he can’t hear on one side, Icewing thought with satisfaction. But then, as Bloodfur squashed her until she felt that she would suffocate, she realized it was a fight to death. To see if you’re a good enough fighter to take another’s space. And the only way to do that was to kill. Icewing mustered her strength and pushed Bloodfur off her belly. She hooked her hind claws into his belly fur as he flew across the clearing and landed with a thud. Icewing was pulled along, but was in the perfect position to rake his belly. Again and again, Bloodfur yowled in agony. But he wasn’t a warrior for nothing. He tried to bite Icewing on the neck, but she jerked her head out of the way and received a long scratch on her chest. In her moment of weakness, Bloodfur flipped onto his feet and pounced! He stretched out his forelegs and his paws collided with her head. Without hesitation, he jumped onto Icewing’s back and tried to kill her with a bite to the neck. But Icewing sensed this coming and pushed him off her for the second time. Then, spotting a tree three paces away, she raced towards it, then leaped up into its branches. Bloodfur was lying on the ground, moaning, and Icewing realized that this was her chance! She leaped from tree to tree, ignoring the pain in her muscles. When Bloodfur finally realized she had climbed the tree, he began to climb himself, because he knew the Dark Forest had not covered tree fighting for apprentices. Icewing was smart though, and by the time Bloodfur had climbed the tree and searched it, Icewing had made a loop to approach from behind. Looking around, Bloodfur understood Icewing’s plan a second too late. Icewing flew onto him with a mighty THUMP! His claws slipped and he tumbled, ears over tail, out of the tree. Icewing jumped down and landed gracefully on top of Bloodfur. She looked him. Fear flooded his eyes. He was too weak to fight back. Icewing knew she only had one choice. She could not fight any longer. She could barely stand. She looked straight into Bloodfur’s amber eyes, trying to convey three words – I’m sorry, Bloodfur, then bit his throat with the killing bite. Blood poured out of the fatal wound, and his eyes spoke to her. The cats of the dark forest are evil. Do not trust them. They are trying… but before he could tell her what they were trying to do, the light faded from his eyes. Tigerstar looked at her in awe. Hawkfrost proudly meowed, “See, Brokenstar, two apprentices made warriors already and both are alive. More than you can claim.”
Brokenstar glared at Hawkfrost and returned to watching Icewing. In his raspy voice, he growled, “Well, now you are a warrior, Icewing. No doubt about that.”
The apprentices looked at Icewing in fear. She hated terrorizing them. Her eyes sought out Ivypool and found her with the rest of the warriors. Ivypool looked urgently at her.
“Well, go and sit with the warriors,” hissed Mapleshade.
Numb with pain, Icewing went and sat with Ivypool.
“Good job,” she meowed but her voice was tense. What was wrong? Ivypool began to lick Icewing’s fur. Suddenly, Icewing wished Ivypool was from RiverClan. She jerked back.
“Stop,” she meowed, “We are from different clans and we shouldn’t be making this friendship.” With a start, Icewing saw all the other cats looking at her. She had spoken too loudly. “But we are clanmates. Dark Forest clanmates. Since you just proved yourself true to this place, we are now true clanmates,” she continued. “Whoever says otherwise will get ripped to shreds.” She glared at everyone, but inside, she just wanted to forget about the Dark Forest. But no. She also wanted to rip Tigerstar and Mapleshade to shreds. She wanted to wipe out the entire forest, and never see any of these evil cats again.
After the meeting, Hawkfrost caught up with the pair of them. “It is not for you to make such speeches and decisions, but you acted like what I expect all my apprentices to become – menacing, powerful leaders.”
Icewing felt like tearing him apart, but instead she meowed “I just wanted to begin a reputation.”
Hawkfrost nodded and walked away. Ivypool made no comment. They kept on walking until suddenly she veered off the path.
“Ivypool, where are you going?” asked Icewing.
“Somewhere we won’t be overheard,” meowed Ivypool without looking back at Icewing.
Icewing was confused. What was happening? Did Ivypool want to hurt her? Ivypool led Icewing to a bramble thicket.
“In here,” whispered Ivypool.
“What?” asked Icewing loudly.
“Shh! Keep your voice down!” hissed Ivypool. “This way.”
She led Icewing to a little opening in the midst of the thicket where they could see the old training clearing. In the middle was a cage built of thorns so tightly woven that Icewing couldn’t see what was inside. Was this the “cat-in-the-brambles” Tigerstar had mentioned? If there was a cat in there, how could she breathe? Then Icewing noticed little holes for air, big enough for oxygen to get in, but small enough so that even the tiniest kit claws couldn’t fit through. Thistleclaw and Sparrowfeather were guarding the thorn cage while Breezepelt threw in two dead, rotten mice and a shrew that looked like crowfood into the cage through a large hole which was immediately covered by thorns again. Whoever was in there must be very weak; that way whoever it was didn’t stand a chance of clawing their way out, much less fighting, even if an apprentice purposefully walked in and let them attack first. Breezepelt went in through the hole and started clearing out moss so dirty it looked like it hadn’t been changed for many moons. Then he grabbed another ball of moss, less dirty but still looking like something else had already used it, and tossed it to the cat and snarled, “Spread that yourself.” Icewing watched, transfixed, as Breezepelt stalked away and the guards resumed their positions. Soon after, Shredtail and Clawface appeared to take Thistleclaw and Sparrowfeather’s places. What was happening? Who was under such heavy guard? Icewing looked to Ivypool for answers, but Ivypool only shook her head and whispered, “I don’t know any more than you do, except that this place is always under guard by a dead Dark Forest warrior and that every sunrise, a apprentice will come and feed them that meager meal and every three sunrises, she gets her moss changed. The cat doesn’t even get to use the dirtplace!” Mystified, Icewing watched some more.
“We have to go now, Icewing,” Ivypool meowed, “Meet me at the island at moonhigh tomorrow night. Now that you’re a warrior, you don’t have to come every night.” And with that, Ivypool disappeared and Icewing was left alone. Ivypool was definitely a friend, but what was her secret? Did she know about the true intentions of the dark forest that Bloodfur had hinted at?
Feathertail waited near the border, her tail twitching with annoyance. She was waiting for Brokenstar to show up so she could take him on the most boring tour of his life. The tour would start at the herb meadow, where she would briefly hand him over to the grumpy Yellowfang, who would show him the herbs (and be quite hostile to him, which she was VERY good at.) Then she would take him to the best place to hunt rabbits, then to Warmrocks. And last of all, she would walk him onto an island using a fallen tree, then leave him there, jump into the water, and swim away while a crew of cats dragged away the tree, leaving Brokenstar trapped on the island until he found the courage to jump into the water and swim to shore.
“Finally!” she grumbled as the dirty tomcat slinked into StarClan’s territory.
“Brokenstar is not here, so I will take his place,” meowed Tigerstar.
Why? There’s something suspicious. Could he know my plan?
“This way, then,” Feathertail led Tigerstar to the Herb Meadow, feeling uneasy. When they had finally trekked through the Marshland, Yellowfang looked up in surprise, “What’s he doing here?” she growled.
“He took Brokenstar’s place,” explained Feathertail, then whispering in Yellowfang’s ear, “He’s up to something. Be careful.”