Authors: Hunter, Erin
Dedicated to the memory of
Jimmy, Dana, and Emmy Grace CherryPROLOGUE
Wind swept across bleak moorland, carrying with it flurries of rain.
The tough grass was sodden and water had burst the banks of a stream, spreading out in a wide pool; its surface bubbled as raindrops splashed into it.
At the edge of the pool a badger crouched, apparently oblivious to the icy wind and rain. For a long time she gazed into the water as if she could see something there, beyond the broken reflection of gray cloud; then she raised her head and looked around.
“I have come,” she announced.
A black she-cat emerged from behind an outcrop of rocks.
She was barely more than a shadow; starlight f lickered at her paws. She was followed by a silvery gray tom whose green eyes stretched wide as he approached the badger. The starlight that shone around him made him seem a cat formed out of rain.
“Why are we here?” The silver tom’s voice was hoarse, as if he hadn’t used it for a long time. “On a day like this we should be curled up in a warm den.”
“True, River,” the black she-cat meowed. “Whose idea was it to drag us out here in weather not even fit for foxes?”
“Mine.” A third cat appeared from behind a gorse bush, a broad-shouldered ginger tom with white paws. Starlight gleamed in his amber eyes, yet he seemed as insubstantial as a flame. “As you know very well, Shadow. We have to meet.”
Shadow snorted. “I don’t have to do anything you tell me, Thunder.”
Thunder dipped his head. “Of course not. But we have been summoned by the danger to our Clans. They are on the brink of being lost forever—and it’s your fault, Midnight.” His voice sharpened.
Before Midnight could reply, R iver spoke. “Where is Wind? We can’t discuss this without her.”
“I’m here.” The voice came from farther up the stream. The wiry brown she-cat was barely visible against the drenched moorland grass; only the shimmer of silvery light around her revealed her outline. She sprang down the slope toward the pool, her paws scarcely touching the ground. “Why are you all huddling here like lost kits?” she asked, a hint of mockery in her tone. “It’s only a bit of rain and wind.”
Shadow opened her jaws, but Thunder interrupted her.
“We’re not all used to living in the open, Wind. But that doesn’t matter now. We need to know why Midnight has revealed the secrets of the Clans.”
“But why us?” River complained, shivering. “There are younger cats than us in StarClan. Why call us back from the very beginning?”
Wind nodded. “Haven’t we done enough? We formed the Clans and guided them through their first seasons. They have owed us a debt in all the moons since we walked the forest.”
“We must still watch over our Clans,” Thunder murmured. “This is a danger like none they have ever faced before.” He turned to the badger. “Midnight, why did you tell our secrets?”
“Yes, and tell them to that mange-ridden, crow-food-eating loner?” Shadow spat, tearing at the grass with her claws.
“My Clan have abandoned their warrior ancestors since he forced his way among them.”
“On sandy cliffs I met Sol,” Midnight began calmly. “First time of meeting, that was.”
“And do you give away secrets to every stranger who happens to pad by?” Wind growled.
“Can’t you see that you gave him power over the Clans when you told him so much about us?” Thunder pressed.
“Knowledge not always power,” Midnight replied. “Clans not need secrecy to protect themselves. Rogues and loners stay away; they know Clan life is not for them.”
“This loner didn’t stay away,” River pointed out.
“Clans not need to hide,” Midnight insisted. “If did, not strong enough to meet challenges from outside.”
“My warriors can meet any challenge,” Wind snapped.
“Challenges not always from teeth and sharpened claws,”
the badger commented.
Wind let out a hiss. Her neck fur bristled as she unsheathed her claws. “Don’t talk to me as if I’m stupid! You’re only trying to avoid admitting that you made a huge mistake. The warriors of StarClan revealed their secrets to you, and you told them to a stranger! There wouldn’t be any trouble in ShadowClan right now if it wasn’t for you.”
Midnight rose to her paws. “Sheathe your claws, small warrior.” Her voice was a rumbling growl. “Stupid is to pick a fight with someone not your enemy.”
For a few heartbeats, Wind stood her ground, only stepping back and sheathing her claws when Thunder rested his tail on her shoulder.
“Quarreling won’t help,” the first-ever ThunderClan leader meowed. “The secrets are out. We have to decide what we can do now to help our Clans.”
River shook his head. “Well, I don’t know.”
“Nor do I.” Shadow lashed her tail in frustration. “I’d like to rip the throat out of this ungrateful badger, but it’s too late to change anything.”
“We don’t understand,” Thunder meowed, meeting Midnight’s gaze. “We shared our secrets with you, and you have done so much for our Clans. Why would you want to destroy them like this?”
Before he had finished speaking, the wind picked up and the starry cats began to fade, blown away like mist. Midnight watched them with berry-bright eyes until their frail forms were gone and the glimmer of starlight had died away.
A cat emerged from behind a windblown bush a few tail-lengths away: a hairless cat with bulging, sightless eyes.
“You heard, Rock?” Midnight asked.
Rock nodded. “I knew the Clan leaders would be unhappy that you confided in Sol,” he rasped. “But you had no choice.
The power of three is coming, and the Clans must be ready.”CHAPTER 1
The moon was huge, a golden circle resting on a dark ridge of hills.
Stars blazed above Hollyleaf ’s head, reminding her that the spirits of her ancestors were watching over her. Her fur prickled as something stirred on the ridge. A cat had appeared there, outlined against the moon. She recognized the broad head and tufted ears, and the tail with its bushy tip; even though the shape was black against the light, she knew the colors of its pelt: white with brown, black, and ginger blotches.
“Sol!” she hissed.
The outlined shape arched its back, then reared up on its hind paws, its forepaws stretched out as if it was about to rake its claws across the sky. It leaped upward, and as it leaped it swelled until it was so huge that it blotted out the moon and the blazing stars. Hollyleaf crouched, shivering, in darkness thicker than the deepest places of the forest.
Screeches of alarm rose up around her, a whole Clan of hidden cats wailing their fear of the shadow cutting them off from the protective gaze of StarClan. Above the noise, a single voice rang out: “Hollyleaf! Hollyleaf! Come out!”
Hollyleaf thrashed in terror and found her paws tangled in soft moss and bracken. Pale gray light was filtering through the branches of the warriors’ den. A couple of foxlengths away, Hazeltail was scrambling out of her nest, shaking scraps of moss from her pelt.
“Hollyleaf!” The call came again, and this time Hollyleaf recognized Birchfall’s voice, meowing irritably outside the den. “Are you going to sleep all day? We’re supposed to be hunting.”
“Coming.” Groggy with sleep, every hair on her pelt still quivering from her nightmare, Hollyleaf headed toward the nearest gap between the branches. Before she reached it, her paws stumbled over the haunches of a sleeping cat, half hidden under the bracken.
Cloudtail’s head popped up. “Great StarClan!” he grumbled. “Can’t a cat get any sleep around here?”
“S-sorry,” Hollyleaf stammered, remembering that Cloudtail had been out on a late patrol the night before; she had seen him return to camp with Dustpelt and Sorreltail while she was keeping her warrior’s vigil.
Just my luck. My first day, and I manage to annoy one of the senior warriors!
Cloudtail snorted and curled up again, his blue eyes closing as he buried his nose in his fur.
“It’s okay,” Hazeltail murmured, brushing her muzzle against Hollyleaf ’s shoulder. “Cloudtail’s mew is worse than his scratch. And don’t let Birchfall ruffle your fur. He’s bossy with the new warriors, but you’ll soon get used to it.”
Hollyleaf nodded gratefully, though she didn’t tell Hazeltail the real reason she was thrown off balance. Birchfall didn’t bother her; it was the memory of the dream that throbbed through her from ears to tail-tip, making her paws clumsy and her thoughts troubled.
Her gaze drifted to the nest where her brother Lionpaw—
no, Lion blaze now—had curled up at the end of his vigil. She wanted to talk to him more than anything. But the nest was empty; Lionblaze must have gone out on the dawn patrol.
Careful where she put her paws, Hollyleaf pushed her way out of the den behind Hazeltail. Outside, Birchfall was scraping the ground impatiently.
“At last!” he snapped. “What kept you?”
“Take it easy, Birchfall.” Brambleclaw, the ThunderClan deputy and Hollyleaf ’s father, was sitting a tail-length away with his tail wrapped neatly around his paws. His amber eyes were calm. “The prey won’t run away.”
“Not till they see us, anyway,” Sandstorm added as she bounded across from the fresh-kill pile.
“If there is any prey.” Birchfall lashed his tail. “Ever since the battle, fresh-kill’s been much harder to find.”
Hollyleaf ’s grumbling belly told her that Birchfall was right.
Several sunrises ago all four Clans had battled in ThunderClan territory; their screeching and trampling had frightened off all the prey, or driven them deep underground.
“Maybe the prey will start to come back now,” she suggested.
“Maybe,” Brambleclaw agreed. “We’ll head toward the ShadowClan border. There wasn’t as much fighting over there.”
Hollyleaf stiffened at the mention of ShadowClan. Will I see Sol again? she wondered.
“I wonder if we’ll see any ShadowClan cats,” Birchfall meowed, echoing her thought. “I’d like to know if they’re all going to turn their back on StarClan, and follow that weirdo loner instead.”
Hollyleaf felt as if stones were dragging in her belly, weighing her down. ShadowClan had not appeared at the last Gathering, two nights before. Instead, their leader Blackstar had come alone except for Sol, the loner who had recently arrived by the lake, and explained that his cats no longer believed in the power of their warrior ancestors.
But that can’t be right! How can a Clan survive without StarClan?
Without the warrior code?
“Sol’s not such a weirdo,” Hazeltail pointed out to Birchfall with a flick of her ears. “He predicted that the sun would vanish, and it did. None of the medicine cats knew that was going to happen.”
Birchfall shrugged. “The sun came back, didn’t it? It’s not that big a deal.”
“In any case,” Brambleclaw interrupted, rising to his paws,
“this is a hunting patrol. We’re not going to pay a friendly visit to ShadowClan.”
“But they fought beside us,” Birchfall objected. “WindClan and RiverClan would have turned us into crow-food without the ShadowClan warriors. We can’t be enemies again so soon, can we?”
“Not enemies,” Sandstorm corrected. “But they’re still a different Clan. Besides, I’m not sure we can be friends with cats who reject StarClan.”
What about our own cats, then? Hollyleaf didn’t dare to ask the question out loud. Cloudtail has never believed in StarClan. But she knew without question Cloudtail was a loyal warrior who would die for any of his Clanmates.
Brambleclaw said nothing, just gave his pelt a shake and kinked his tail to beckon the rest of the patrol. As they headed toward the thorn tunnel they met Brackenfur pushing his way into the hollow with Sorreltail and Lionblaze behind him.
The dawn patrol had returned. As all three cats headed for the fresh-kill pile, Hollyleaf darted across and intercepted her brother.
“How did it go? Is there anything to report?”
Lionblaze’s jaws parted in a huge yawn. He must be exhausted, Hollyleaf thought, after keeping his warrior vigil and then being chosen for the dawn patrol.
“Not a thing,” he mewed, shaking his head. “All’s quiet on the WindClan border.”
“We’re going over toward ShadowClan territory.” Alone with her brother, Hollyleaf could confess how worried she was. “I’m scared we’ll meet Sol. What if he tells the other cats about the prophecy?”
Lionblaze pressed his muzzle into her shoulder. “Come on!
Is it likely that Sol will be doing border patrols? He’ll be lying around the ShadowClan camp, stuffing himself with fresh-kill.”
Hollyleaf shook her head. “I don’t know. . . . I just wish we’d never told him anything.”
“So do I.” Lionblaze’s eyes narrowed and his tone was bitter as he went on. “But it’s not like Sol is bothered about us. He decided to stay with Blackstar, didn’t he? He promised to help us after we told him about the prophecy, but he soon changed his mind.”
“We’re better off without him.” Hollyleaf swiped her tongue over her brother’s ear.
She spun around to see Brambleclaw waiting beside the entrance to the thorn tunnel, the tip of his tail twitching impatiently.
“I’ve got to go,” she meowed to Lionblaze, and raced across the clearing to join Brambleclaw. “Sorry,” she gasped, and plunged into the tunnel.
The morning had been raw and cold, but as Hollyleaf padded through the forest with her Clanmates the clouds began to clear away. Long claws of sunlight pierced the branches, tipping the leaves with fire where they had changed from green to red and gold. Leaf-fall was almost upon them.
Brambleclaw led his patrol away from the lake toward the ShadowClan border, keeping well clear of the old Twoleg path and the abandoned nest where the Clans had fought their battle.
Tasting the air in the hope of finding a squirrel or a plump mouse, Hollyleaf caught a stale trace of her own and her littermates’ scents, lingering from their trek across the forest to find Sol. She hoped that none of the patrol would notice, especially not Brambleclaw or Sandstorm, because that would mean awkward questions she wasn’t sure she could answer.
To her relief, the other cats seemed too intent on tracking prey to notice. Sandstorm raised her tail for silence, and Hollyleaf could hear the crisp sounds of a thrush knocking a snail shell against a stone. Peering over a clump of bracken, she spotted the bird: a fine fat one with its back turned to the group of cats, too intent on its own prey to realize that hunters were creeping up on it.
Sandstorm dropped into the hunter’s crouch and glided over the forest f loor, pausing to waggle her haunches before the final pounce. The movement alerted the thrush; dropping the snail, it let out a loud alarm call and launched itself into the air.
But Sandstorm was too fast for it. With an enormous leap she clawed it out of the air in a flurry of wings; it went limp as she bit down hard on its neck.
“Brilliant catch!” Hazeltail mewed.
“Not bad,” Sandstorm purred, scratching earth over her prey until she could collect it later.
Hollyleaf picked up the scent of mouse and followed it along a bramble thicket until she spotted the little creature scuffling among the debris beneath the outer branches. A couple of heartbeats later she had her own prey to bury beside Sandstorm’s.
Brambleclaw was clawing earth over a vole; he gave her an approving nod. “Well done, Hollyleaf. Carry on like this and the Clan will soon be full-fed.” He stalked off into a hazel thicket, his jaws parted to pick up the faintest trace of prey.
For a few heartbeats Hollyleaf stood looking after her father, his praise warming her. Casting about for more prey, she picked up the trail of a squirrel, but as she rounded the trunk of a huge oak she spotted Hazeltail ahead of her, following the same scent. There was no sign of the squirrel, but the trail led straight toward the ShadowClan border. Hollyleaf could already make out the scent of the border markings, but Hazeltail seemed too preoccupied with her hunt to notice.
“Hey, Hazeltail, don’t—”
Hollyleaf broke off as three cats emerged from a clump of bracken on the other side of the border. Hazeltail was only a couple of tail-lengths away; startled, she halted, her ears flicking up in surprise.
Relief surged through Hollyleaf as she recognized the newcomers: Ivytail, Snaketail, and his apprentice, Scorchpaw.
All three of them had fought on ThunderClan’s side in the battle; Hollyleaf could still see gashes along Ivytail’s side, and Scorchpaw’s ear was torn. They surely wouldn’t be angry with Hazeltail for coming right up to the border.
“Hi,” she meowed as she bounded up to stand beside Hazeltail. “How’s the prey running in ShadowClan?”
“Keep back!” Ivytail spat. “You’ve no right to come into ShadowClan territory. Just because we helped you in the battle doesn’t make us allies.”
“Typical ThunderClan,” Snaketail added, his voice a low snarl. “Thinking every Clan is their friend.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Hollyleaf demanded, stung by their hostility.
No cat answered her question. Instead, Ivytail stalked up to the border until she was nose-to-nose with Hazeltail.
“What do you think you’re doing, this close to the border?”
“I was tracking a squirrel.” Hazeltail sounded bewildered.
“Prey-stealing!” Snaketail interrupted, the fur on his shoulders fluffing up in anger and his striped tail lashing.
“We were not!” Hollyleaf mewed indignantly. “We’re still on ThunderClan territory, in case you hadn’t noticed. Hazeltail hasn’t crossed your border.”
“Only because we turned up in time to stop her,” Snaketail growled.
Rustling sounded from the undergrowth behind Hollyleaf; she whipped around to see Brambleclaw and Sandstorm approaching, with Birchfall just behind. “Thank StarClan!”
Brambleclaw padded forward until he stood beside Hollyleaf and Hazeltail. “Greetings,” he mewed, dipping his head to the three ShadowClan cats. “What’s going on here?”
“We had to stop these warriors of yours,” the ShadowClan cat explained. “Another couple of heartbeats and they would have crossed our border.”
“That’s not true!” Hollyleaf exclaimed hotly.
“I was tracking a squirrel.” Hazeltail faced the ThunderClan deputy with an apologetic look in her eyes. “I did forget where I was for a moment, but Hollyleaf warned me, and then the ShadowClan patrol appeared. I promise, I never set paw over the border.”
Brambleclaw nodded. “You’re as close to the border on your side as we are on ours,” he pointed out to the ShadowClan cats. “But no cat is accusing you of trying to cross.”
“We’re a border patrol!” Snaketail flashed back at him.
“And it’s just as well we came along when we did.”
“No cat can trust ThunderClan,” Scorchpaw added, padding up beside his mentor.
Birchfall let out a hiss of fury; thrusting his way through the long grass he halted beside the ThunderClan deputy.
“Brambleclaw, are you going to stand there and let an apprentice insult our Clan? When we haven’t even done anything?”
Sandstorm flicked his shoulder with her tail. “That’s enough, Birchfall. Let Brambleclaw handle this.”
The younger warrior let out a snort of disgust; he said nothing more, but stood glaring at the ShadowClan patrol.
“Birchfall’s right!” Hollyleaf protested. “These cats are just trying to make trouble. We haven’t broken the warrior code.”
“Oh, the precious warrior code!” Ivytail’s voice was full of scorn. “You think it’s the answer to everything, but you’re wrong. The warrior code didn’t stop the sun from vanishing, did it?”
“Right.” Snaketail supported his Clanmate. “Maybe it’s time the Clans stopped being so obsessed with dead cats, and started looking for other answers instead.”
Hollyleaf stared at them in dismay. She knew that these thoughts came from Sol. Was this what the strange cat had wanted all along—to destroy the warrior code from inside the Clans?
He meant to start with us. Hollyleaf remembered how friendly and helpful Sol had seemed. But maybe ShadowClan had been an easier prospect; Hollyleaf couldn’t imagine Firestar abandoning his beliefs as easily as Blackstar.
I have to save ShadowClan! In her desperation Hollyleaf was scarcely aware of the cats around her any longer. They can’t turn their backs on StarClan and the warrior code! There have to be four Clans!
“Hollyleaf, calm down,” Brambleclaw murmured beside her.
Hollyleaf realized that her pelt was fluffed out and her claws were digging into the damp earth. The three ShadowClan cats were staring at her, fur bristling as if they expected her to leap on them. Taking a deep breath she sheathed her claws and tried to make her fur lie flat again.
“I’m okay,” she muttered to her father.
“This is Sol talking, isn’t it?” Birchfall jeered, taking a pace forward so that he stood right on the border. “You’re all crazier than a fox in a fit! It’s mouse-brained to listen to a cat that no Clan cat has ever met before.”
“We listen because Sol talks sense,” Snaketail retorted, stepping forward until he faced Birchfall. “He knows what to do to give ShadowClan a better life for the future. Maybe if ThunderClan listened they would be able to fight their own battles. Maybe that’s why the sun vanished, to tell us that the time of the Clans is over, and cats have to work out how to live on their own. If ThunderClan is too cowardly to face that⎯”
With a screech of fury, Birchfall leaped on Snaketail.
The two cats rolled over in a spitting knot of fur. Scorchpaw jumped on top of them, clawing at Birchfall’s shoulder.
Hazeltail launched himself onto the apprentice, trying to thrust him away from Birchfall.
“Birchfall, Hazeltail, get back here now.” Sandstorm took a pace forward, only to find her way blocked by Ivytail.
“Can’t your young warriors fight their own battles?” the ShadowClan warrior sneered. “A battle they started?” She unsheathed her claws and drew back her lips in a snarl.
Brambleclaw bounded forward to stand at Sandstorm’s side. “No. This battle was provoked by ShadowClan.”
Another yowl split the air from the fighting cats. Hollyleaf cringed at the sound of ripping fur, as if the claws were raking her own pelt. “Stop!” she screeched. “What are you doing?”
To her surprise, the battling cats fell apart, panting. At once Brambleclaw stepped forward and thrust Birchfall and Hazeltail back across the border onto their own territory.
“There’s been enough fighting,” he meowed. “Come on, ThunderClan.” As they started to leave, he paused and looked back over his shoulder at the ShadowClan patrol. “You can believe what you want, so long as you stay on your own side of the border.”
“We weren’t the ones who crossed it in the first place,” Ivytail hissed.
Brambleclaw turned his back on her and bounded ahead to lead the patrol away.
“Are you okay?” Hollyleaf murmured to Hazeltail; her Clanmate was blundering through the woods, stumbling over branches and letting trailing brambles rake her pelt.
“I’m a little dizzy,” Hazeltail confessed. “I hit my head on a branch when I was trying to pull Scorchpaw off Birchfall.”
“Here, I’ll guide you.” Hollyleaf rested her tail on Hazeltail’s shoulder. “We’ll let Leafpool take a look at you when we get back to camp. Birchfall was lucky that you did help him,”
she added. “He would have got an even worse clawing without you.”
The young ThunderClan warrior was limping along with blood oozing from a gash on his shoulder. When the patrol paused by the bramble thicket to collect Sandstorm’s thrush and their other prey, he sat down and began to wash the wound with vigorous strokes of his tongue.
“Birchfall, you asked for that.” Brambleclaw paused in digging up his vole. “ShadowClan shouldn’t have accused us of trying to cross the border, but you put us in the wrong when you started the fight. Warriors should know how to control themselves.”
“Sorry,” Birchfall mumbled.
“So you should be.”
When the patrol set off again, Brambleclaw and Sandstorm remained grimly silent. Birchfall padded after them with his head down.
Hazeltail was beginning to recover. “Thanks, Hollyleaf,”
she mewed, shaking off her friend’s tail. “I can manage now.
Don’t you think Brambleclaw was hard on Birchfall?” she went on. “ShadowClan was asking for a fight.”
“That doesn’t mean we were right to give them one,” Hollyleaf replied absently. She was finding it hard to pay attention to anything. Horror gripped her like an extra pelt, thick enough to choke her. ShadowClan believed that Sol held the answers to a better future, but they were wrong.
He’ll destroy the Clans, she thought, terror freezing her limbs until she could barely set one paw in front of another. Somehow, we have to find a way to stop him.CHAPTER 2
Jaypaw slid into the nursery with a bunch of catmint clamped in his jaws. The sharp scent of the herbs didn’t disguise the warm, milky scent of the nursing queens, or the underlying sourness that made Jaypaw’s fur prickle uneasily.
Daisy’s sleepy voice greeted him. “Hi, Jaypaw.”
“Hi, Daisy,” Jaypaw mumbled around the mouthful of herbs. “Hey, Millie.”
Millie’s only reply was a cough. Jaypaw padded over to her, across the thick layer of moss and bracken that covered the nursery floor, and dropped the herbs beside her. “Leafpool sent you those.”
“Thanks, Jaypaw.” Millie’s voice was hoarse. “Will you take a look at Briarkit? Her pelt feels really hot.”
Jaypaw nuzzled among the kits, who were sleeping pressed up close to their mother’s belly, until he identified Briarkit by her scent. The little kit was restless, letting out faint mews in her sleep and shifting about in the moss as if she couldn’t get comfortable. Jaypaw sniffed her all over, catching a whiff of the same sour scent that came from Millie. Her pelt was hot, just as Millie said, and her nose was dry.
Briarkit might have caught her mother’s cough! he thought worriedly. Aloud he said, “I’ll get Leafpool to send her some borage leaves for the fever. I’m sure she’ll be fine.” I hope I sound more confident than I feel, he added to himself.
As he listened to Millie chewing up the catmint, Jaypaw wondered whether it would be better to move her and Briarkit out of the nursery, so that the infection wouldn’t spread any further. It would be easier to look after them in Leafpool’s den.
But then Millie wouldn’t be able to feed Blossomkit and Bumblekit.
He could sense sharp pangs of anxiety coming from Daisy, the fear that Rosekit and Toadkit would start coughing, too.
There was nothing Jaypaw could say to reassure her. His claws worked impatiently in the mossy bedding. If I’ve got the power of the stars in my paws, why can’t I cure a cough?
The nursery felt hot and stifling, cramped with all five kits and the two mothers in there. Jaypaw was eager to be out in the open again, but he needed to wait and see if the catmint had helped Millie at all.
He heard a scuffling from Daisy’s direction, and Toadkit’s voice. “I’m a WindClan warrior, and I’m coming to get you!”
“I’ll get you first!” Rosekit mewed back.
The two kits started to wrestle; one flailing paw hit Jaypaw on the shoulder.
“That’s enough!” Daisy scolded. “If you want to play, go outside.”
The two kits bundled past Jaypaw and he heard their excited mews dying away as they dashed out into the clearing.
The long-furred she-cat sighed. “Sometimes I can’t wait for them to be apprenticed.”
“It won’t be long now,” Jaypaw meowed. “They’re strong kits.”
Daisy sighed again; Jaypaw could still sense that she was worrying, but she didn’t try to put her fears into words.
“My throat feels better now,” Millie announced, swallowing the last of the herbs. “Thanks, Jaypaw.”
Another loud bout of coughing interrupted her. Jaypaw flinched as a ball of sticky spit caught him on the ear. “I’ll go and talk to Leafpool,” he mewed hurriedly, backing toward the entrance to the den.
On his way out he clawed up a pawful of moss and rolled over on it to clean his ear. I wonder what happens if a medicine cat gets sick. Who looks after the Clan then? Shrugging, he headed across the clearing toward the den he shared with Leafpool.
As he brushed past the bramble screen, Jaypaw picked up the scents of other cats as well as Leafpool; sniffing, he distin-guished Birchfall and Hazeltail. There was a tang of blood in the air.
“Who’s hurt?” he demanded, his neck fur rising at the thought of another battle.
“Birchfall has a wounded shoulder,” Leafpool explained.
“Picking a fight with ShadowClan cats, by the sound of it.”
“They picked a fight with us,” Birchfall protested.
“And whose claws came out first?” the ThunderClan medicine cat retorted. “Brambleclaw told me all about it. You’re lucky it’s no worse. That cobweb should stop the bleeding,”
she went on, “but come back if it starts again. And I want to see you tomorrow in any case, to make sure the gash is healing well.”
“Okay.” Birchfall sounded disgruntled, then added,
“You too, Hazeltail,” Leafpool continued. “If the dizziness comes back, I want you in here straightaway. Now both of you take these poppy seeds and go and have a good sleep in the warriors’ den. No more duties until tomorrow.”
Hazeltail and Birchfall brushed past Jaypaw on their way out of the den. As their scents faded, Leafpool asked, “How’s Millie?”
“She says her throat feels better,” Jaypaw replied, “but she’s still coughing. And Briarkit is feverish. I think she might have caught the cough too.”
“Oh, no!” Jaypaw picked up Leafpool’s sudden spurt of anxiety. “I’ll go over there and take a look,” she meowed. “And then I’ll have to go into the forest—we’re low on borage leaves for fevers. Can you check the elders?”
Jaypaw stifled a groan. “Sure.” He would much rather go out into the forest; he could find borage by scent just as well as Leafpool could by sight.
“I’m worried Mousefur might still be stiff after scrambling up to the Highledge during the battle,” Leafpool went on.
“And they’ll both need checking for ticks.”
That’s an apprentice job, Jaypaw thought resentfully as his mentor padded past him on her way to the nursery. He answered himself: So? That’s what you are, an apprentice. Get on with it.
He had been proud of his littermates when Firestar had made them warriors, but Jaypaw had no idea when Leafpool would give him his name as a full medicine cat, and he would walk in her shadow until she died. He didn’t want her to die, and yet . . . Can’t I have anything for myself? How long before the prophecy is fulfilled?
Trying to banish the thoughts clawing at his belly, he found a twig and collected a ball of moss soaked in mouse bile from the cave where Leafpool kept her supplies. Wrinkling his nose against the acrid smell, he stalked across the clearing to the elders’ den under the hazel bush.
“Hi, Jaypaw,” Longtail meowed drowsily as he approached; Jaypaw was surprised that the blind elder could pick out his scent even with the tang of mouse bile in the air.
“It’s good to see you,” Mousefur added. “I’ve got a tick on my shoulder that feels as big as a blackberry.”
“Let me look,” Jaypaw mumbled around the twig. At least Mousefur sounded in a good mood today. If she was in a bad temper she could claw with her tongue almost as harshly as Yellowfang, the former ThunderClan medicine cat whom Jaypaw met in his dreams.
He soon found the tick—not as big as Mousefur said, but swollen enough to make her uncomfortable—and dabbed mouse bile on it until it dropped off.
Mousefur flexed her shoulder. “Thanks, Jaypaw. That’s a whole lot better.”
Jaypaw set the twig aside and began searching the skinny elder’s fur to see if she had picked up any more ticks. “Leafpool wondered if you were stiff after climbing to the Highledge.”
Mousefur snorted. “Tell young Leafpool that I may be an elder but I’m not completely helpless. Why would I be stiff after a little climb like that?”
“Good,” Jaypaw muttered. “Now, do you want your ticks fixed? ’Cause if you do, keep still.”
“Is that how you talk to an elder?” Mousefur’s voice was tart, but Jaypaw could feel her amusement. She settled herself comfortably and went on, “You were at the Gathering, weren’t you? What happened? I know there was trouble, but no cat tells us anything. Was it WindClan again?”
“No . . .” Jaypaw hesitated. He didn’t want to discuss Sol with any cat.
“Well?” Mousefur snapped. “Badger got your tongue?”
“ShadowClan didn’t come,” Jaypaw began, choosing his words carefully. “Just Blackstar. He had Sol with him.”
“Sol? That tricky lump of fur who told us the sun would disappear?”
“Yes.” Jaypaw was surprised that Mousefur seemed so hostile. “You didn’t like Sol, then?”
“I don’t trust any cat who knows things that StarClan hasn’t told our medicine cat,” Mousefur replied. “There’s something wrong there, or I’m a rabbit.”
“Blackstar spoke to the Gathering,” Jaypaw went on, relieved that Mousefur didn’t know Sol had almost become his mentor for fulfilling the secret prophecy. “He said that Sol had persuaded him and ShadowClan not to listen to StarClan anymore.”
“What?” Jaypaw felt Mousefur’s pelt begin to bristle. “But every Clan cat listens to StarClan. What else are they supposed to do?”
Jaypaw shrugged. “Blackstar thinks living cats can look after themselves.”
Mousefur snorted. “No more than I’d expect from that flea-brain. So what did StarClan have to say about it?”
“Nothing,” Jaypaw admitted. “The moon kept on shining, bright and clear.”
He felt Mousefur’s muscles tense under his paws. “That doesn’t make sense,” she muttered.
Though Jaypaw agreed, he didn’t reply, just retrieved the ball of mouse bile to deal with another tick near the old cat’s tail. “There, you’re done,” he mewed when the tick plopped onto the floor.
Mousefur grunted her thanks, and Jaypaw turned to Longtail. The blind elder had remained silent as Jaypaw passed on the news of the Gathering; Jaypaw could pick up mingled feelings of guilt and confusion. He guessed that Longtail was still feeling bad that he hadn’t been able to fight beside his Clan in the battle. There wasn’t much Jaypaw could say to comfort him. He was blind, too, but at least he had been able to use his medicine cat skills to help.
“Keep still,” he meowed, parting Longtail’s fur gently and making sure his claws were sheathed. “I’ll soon check you for ticks.”
“Thanks, Jaypaw.” Longtail relaxed a little. “Could you check my pad, too?” he added, holding out one forepaw. “I think it got scraped on the stones when I climbed up to the Highledge.”
“Sure.” Jaypaw didn’t find any ticks, and set the mouse bile on one side to run his paws over Longtail’s pad. There was no sign of blood, but he could feel grit embedded in the roughened skin.
Bending his head, Jaypaw rasped his tongue over Longtail’s paw until it felt smooth again. “I don’t think you need any yarrow, but I’ll check it again tomorrow. Keep it clean, and give it a good lick now and again.”
“I’ll do that,” Longtail meowed. “It feels better already.”
Jaypaw picked up the twig and squeezed his way out of the elders’ den. I wish we could sort out Sol and ShadowClan as easily as I can sort out a scraped pad.
He picked up Hollyleaf ’s scent close by. A blast of anxiety hit him, like walking into the teeth of a gale; he could almost feel his fur flattened by it.
“I thought you’d never finish!” his sister exclaimed.
“What’s the matter?” Jaypaw asked her.
“We’ve got to talk.” Hollyleaf ’s voice was low and tense.
“There was a fight on the ShadowClan border this morning.”
“I know,” Jaypaw replied. “So what? There are border skirmishes all the time.”
“This wasn’t just a border skirmish,” Hollyleaf hissed. “It’s all about Sol. He’s telling the ShadowClan cats to ignore the warrior code.”
“We already knew that,” Jaypaw pointed out.
Hollyleaf ’s anxiety crackled like lightning. “Look, we can’t talk now. We need Lionblaze here. Sandstorm and Cloudtail are waiting for me to go on another hunting patrol, so we’ll meet when I get back, okay?”
“Okay.” Jaypaw knew that Hollyleaf wouldn’t give up until he agreed.
“Hollyleaf!” Cloudtail’s voice came from the other side of the camp.
“Coming!” Hollyleaf called back. “I’ll catch you later,” she mewed to Jaypaw, and bounded off.
Shaking his head, half irritated and half worried by his sister’s distress, Jaypaw padded back to his own den.
Jaypaw was tidying the supply of yarrow when Leafpool returned from the forest with a huge bunch of borage leaves.
“I was lucky to find these,” she meowed, dropping the stems at Jaypaw’s paws. “It’s time we started stocking up getting ready for leaf-bare.”
“I can go out and start collecting stuff,” Jaypaw suggested hopefully. Anything to get out of camp!
“In a day or two, maybe,” Leafpool replied. “We should go through the stores first, and check on what we need. Mean-while, you can shred some of these leaves and chew them into pulp for Briarkit.”
Boring! But Jaypaw knew better than to object. He pushed the yarrow to the back of the cleft where they stored herbs and began tearing the borage leaves apart with his claws. He’d gotten through less than half the pile when he heard paw steps outside the den and caught a whiff of fresh-kill. He picked up Hollyleaf ’s scent, too; the hunting patrol had returned.
“Sorry,” he mewed to Leafpool, springing to his paws.
“There’s something I’ve got to do.”
He brushed past the bramble screen and tracked his sister by her scent. He bounded forward and felt her muzzle brush his shoulder as she ran to meet him.
“Come on,” she urged breathlessly. “Lionblaze is waiting for us behind the warriors’ den.”
Jaypaw followed her, squeezing into the space where they used to play when they were kits. “It’s a bit more squashed in here than I remember,” he muttered as he edged between his two littermates.
“Because we’re bigger, mouse-brain,” Hollyleaf snapped.
“And they extended the warriors’ den,” Lionblaze added.
“There’s still not enough room in there, though. I kind of envy Foxpaw and Icepaw, now they’ve got the apprentices’
den all to themselves.”
“Not for long,” Jaypaw replied. “Rosekit and Toadkit will be in there pretty soon.” He winced as Hollyleaf stuck her paw into his side. “Hey, watch it!”
“There’s a thorn stuck between my toes and I can’t reach it,” Hollyleaf explained.
“Okay.” Jaypaw felt around his sister’s paw until he located the thorn, digging in deep between the beds of her claws.
“Hollyleaf, tell us what’s on your mind,” Lionblaze suggested; Jaypaw could feel his impatience like a cloud of stinging flies. “We can’t stay stuck behind here all day.”
“I’m worried about what Sol is teaching the ShadowClan cats,” Hollyleaf began. “Ivytail said he told them not to listen to StarClan anymore.”
Jaypaw drew back from Hollyleaf ’s paw with the thorn gripped between his teeth. He spat it out. “We heard that at the Gathering,” he pointed out. “Is it such a bad thing?”
“What?” Hollyleaf sounded outraged.
“I don’t mean about ignoring StarClan. But it’s good for cats to question things instead of just accepting them.”
“There are some things you just don’t question.” Hollyleaf spoke with utter certainty. “Sol doesn’t think we should follow the warrior code. And without that, what are we? Just a band of rogues.”
“This still isn’t anything new,” Lionblaze meowed. “Why are you getting so upset?”
“What’s new is that now we know the whole of ShadowClan is agreeing with Sol, not just Blackstar. Honestly, are you both mouse-brained? Do you want a Clan on our borders who doesn’t follow the warrior code? What’s to stop them from crossing the border and stealing our prey? Or maybe even raiding our camp and stealing our kits?”
“I’d like to see them try,” Lionblaze growled; squashed up against him, Jaypaw could feel his brother’s muscles flex as he extended his claws and dug them into the ground.
“The Clans will be destroyed if we don’t stick together and believe in the same things,” Hollyleaf went on, her anger rising. “We have to do something.”
“I’d like to tear that mange-ridden rogue apart.” Lionblaze’s irritation was deepening into anger as fierce as his sister’s; Jaypaw struggled not to feel overwhelmed by the force of their fury surging over him from both sides. “Sol promised to help us with the prophecy, and then he left us and went to ShadowClan.” After a heartbeat’s pause Lionblaze added,
“Do you think there’s a prophecy about ShadowClan, too?”
“I’m sure there isn’t,” Jaypaw meowed. “We are the three. I know we are.”
He hoped that neither of his littermates would ask him how he could be so sure. He couldn’t imagine how he would tell them about his dreams in the mountains when he had visited the Tribe of Endless Hunting.
“I still think Sol knows more about the prophecy than he’s telling us,” he went on. “And if he won’t come to us, then we’ll have to cross the border and find him.”
“Trespass in ShadowClan territory?” Hollyleaf ’s shock struck Jaypaw like a blow. “We can’t do that! We’ d be breaking the warrior code.”
“That’s just what I was saying,” Jaypaw meowed. “Sure, we can’t do without the warrior code. But there are times when it’s right to break it. Great StarClan!” he went on, as he sensed that his sister was rejecting his idea. “When we were kits, didn’t we hear stories about how Firestar sometimes broke the warrior code if he thought it was right? We can’t do anything about the prophecy until we know whatever Sol knows.
Whether he’s right or not about StarClan, he knew the sun was going to disappear, and StarClan didn’t. And we’re not going to learn anything from him by staying here.”
“I’m up for it,” Lionblaze snarled. “I’ll make Sol tell us the answers. Hollyleaf, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
Hollyleaf ’s shock was fading into uncertainty. “No, we’re in this together. Besides,” she went on, more determined,
“maybe the prophecy means that we’re the only cats who have the power to save ShadowClan.”
Jaypaw didn’t say anything. If the only way Hollyleaf could bring herself to trespass was by thinking she was doing it for ShadowClan’s sake, he’d let her go on thinking that. But he and Lionblaze were doing this for the three of them, to find out what the prophecy really meant and how they could achieve the power they had been promised.
“Jaypaw? Are you there?”
Jaypaw’s ears flicked at the sound of Lionblaze calling softly from the other side of the bramble screen. He listened a moment longer, until he picked up regular breathing that told him Leafpool was soundly asleep. Then he climbed out of his nest and slid out of his den into the clearing.
The scents of Lionblaze and Hollyleaf wreathed around him. “Follow closely,” Lionblaze whispered. “The moon is shining and we have to keep to the shadows. Cloudtail is on guard at the entrance.”
“We’re going to sneak out through the dirtplace tunnel,”
“Oh, great.” Jaypaw wrinkled his nose.
“You can crawl out underneath the brambles if you’d rather,” Lionblaze muttered. “Come on.”
Jaypaw’s pelt prickled as he crept after his brother around the edge of the stone hollow. But when he felt the tunnel walls closing around him, the thorns snagging his pelt, there had been no yowl from Cloudtail. He relaxed slightly when he emerged from the other end and picked his way across the dirtplace. As they headed into the forest he tried sniffing out clumps of herbs and brushing through them to get rid of the nasty smell.
The forest was silent except for the gentle rustling of leaves and the occasional scuttling of prey in the undergrowth.
“We need to keep together, and keep quiet,” Lionblaze murmured. “There might be ThunderClan cats out for some night hunting, and we don’t want any cat asking questions.”
“Okay,” Hollyleaf replied. Jaypaw could tell she was scared, not by the thought of a fight with ShadowClan warriors, but because she didn’t want to be caught breaking the warrior code. I wish she’ d lighten up. If we’ve got the power of the stars in our paws, we’re more powerful than the code, right?
Lionblaze led them to the stream that marked part of the border. “Keep right behind me,” he instructed Jaypaw. “It’s not deep.”
Jaypaw bristled. “I’m fine, thanks,” he muttered. He didn’t want any cat to know how scared he was of water, even after teaching Cinderheart to swim. His belly churned when he felt the water lapping around his paws, then rising up his legs as he waded deeper. But before the water lapped his belly fur he felt it sink again, and soon he was scrambling out onto the bank in ShadowClan territory, the reek of ShadowClan scent all around him.
“We should roll in their scent marks,” Hollyleaf suggested.
“That way we’ll disguise our ThunderClan scent.”
“Wonderful,” Jaypaw grumbled, even though his sister’s idea was a good one. “The dirtplace, and now ShadowClan. I won’t be able to lick my fur for a moon.”
Thoroughly covered in ShadowClan scent, the three cats headed deeper into the rival Clan’s territory. Jaypaw’s ears were pricked for the sound of approaching patrols, his jaws parted to pick up the stronger scent that would warn him of approaching warriors. But the forest was eerily silent.
“Where are they all?” Hollyleaf whispered. It was unusual for no cats to be out at night, not even a few hunters, especially when there was a bright moon.
No cat answered her. They went on until Jaypaw felt the fallen leaves under his pads give way to sharp pine needles.
“We must be getting close to the camp,” he whispered.
Lionblaze took the lead again, guiding Jaypaw in short dashes; Jaypaw understood that they were flitting from shadow to shadow. At last he could taste an overwhelming surge of ShadowClan scent from somewhere ahead. The ground underpaw began to rise, and became broken up, with rocks poking out of the pine-needle covering.
Soon Jaypaw felt Lionblaze’s tail barring his way. “Keep down!” his brother hissed. “Then creep forward about a tail-length.”
Jaypaw did as he was told, feeling the prickle of thorns raking the fur on his back. Sniffing, he caught the scent of gorse, and realized they must be hiding under a bush. His littermates’
pelts were pressed against his, one on either side.
“What can you see?” he demanded.
“We’re looking down into the camp. Sol is there,” Hollyleaf breathed into his ear. “Standing on top of a rock. The whole Clan is listening to him—even the kits! I can see Blackstar, and Russetfur, and . . . oh, there’s Tawnypelt!”
“Shut up!” Lionblaze growled. “I want to hear what Sol’s saying.”
Jaypaw flicked his ears forward. He could already make out Sol’s voice rising from the hollow, and as the others fell silent he heard what the loner was saying.
“. . . no cat should just accept what has gone before,” Sol meowed, his voice ringing above the faint sounds of the forest.
“StarClan’s time is over. These cats are dead, and their spirits have no power over you.”
Jaypaw suppressed a shiver. No cat who had met with StarClan at the Moonpool would agree that StarClan had no power. We will have more power, he thought. But we’re the three in the prophecy. Ordinary cats should still look to StarClan.
“I’ve shared tongues with StarClan.” Jaypaw recognized the voice of Littlecloud, the ShadowClan medicine cat. He sounded worried. “I can’t believe that our warrior ancestors are powerless. Or has everything I’ve experienced been a lie?”
“StarClan is good at deceiving,” Sol replied smoothly. “Ask yourselves, did they warn you that the sun would vanish? No!
That means either they didn’t know about it, or they don’t care about you enough to warn you. Why should any cat go on trusting them?”
Murmurs of agreement rose up to where the three ThunderClan cats were hiding. Littlecloud didn’t protest again.
“When the sun vanished, everything you believe in changed,” Sol continued. His voice was so powerful and persuasive that Jaypaw could understand how ordinary cats would be influenced by him. “What you must ask yourselves is what should you do about it? Where will you find your answers now?”
“In ourselves.” Blackstar spoke, a deeper, rougher voice than Sol’s. “What this cat says is true,” he added, addressing his Clan. “StarClan led us to live beside this lake, and I’ve always had my doubts that it was the right decision. There are too many Twolegs, for a start.”
“And too much has gone wrong,” Cedarheart growled.
“The two kittypets in the Twoleg nest—”
“Arguments about borders,” Toadfoot put in.
“Hang on a moment.” Jaypaw stiffened as he heard Tawnypelt speak up. “Things went wrong in the old forest, too. You can’t expect life to be all mice and moonlight.”
“That just goes to prove what Sol is saying.” Blackstar’s voice was harsh. “StarClan couldn’t help us there, either. They couldn’t even stop the Twolegs from driving us out.”
“What does Blackstar mean?” Lionblaze whispered, press-ing closer to Jaypaw. “Does he want to lead ShadowClan away from the lake? He must have bees in his brain! One Clan alone, and leaf-bare not far off?”
“He can’t!” Hollyleaf ’s voice shook. “There have to be four Clans.”
“Shhh!” Jaypaw hissed, trying to concentrate on what was happening in the hollow. But before he could hear any more, jagged lines of silver flashed across his vision. He seemed to be looking down a long forest path; moonlight silvered the forest floor, barred with black where the shadows of trees lay across it. Lumbering toward him was a badger, the white stripe down its face glowing like a silver flame. Jaypaw had barely caught his breath with shock when the creature was gone, and the familiar night of his blindness swallowed up his vision.
“What’s the matter?” Lionblaze murmured.
Jaypaw realized that all the muscles in his body were tense; he was crouching with his claws dug into the earth and every hair on his pelt bristling.
“I saw a badger!” Jaypaw remembered just in time to keep his voice low.
“You saw . . . ?” Hollyleaf sounded bewildered.
“I had a vision.” Jaypaw was too spooked to explain in detail. “We’re in danger here.”
He heard Lionblaze draw in a long breath, and pictured his brother with his jaws gaping, tasting the air.
“There’s no badger here,” Lionblaze reported. “Are you sure you saw it?”
Jaypaw lashed his tail. “No,” he snapped. “I’m just making it up for fun. What do you think, mouse-brain?”
He paused to taste the air himself, and listened for the sound of the huge, clumsy creature trampling through the undergrowth. But the forest was still and silent, except for the sound of voices coming from the ShadowClan camp, and he couldn’t pick up the slightest trace of badger scent.
“It’s got to be a sign of something,” he mewed. “I don’t understand it yet, but I don’t think we’re safe here anymore. We should get back to the stone hollow as quickly as we can.”
“But we haven’t spoken to Sol yet,” Lionblaze protested.
“And we won’t, tonight,” Hollyleaf pointed out. “Not with all ShadowClan listening to him. I think Jaypaw’s right. We should go while we have the chance.”
Jaypaw could feel that Lionblaze was unhappy with the decision, a sullen anger with Sol churning away inside him, but his brother didn’t argue when Hollyleaf led the way down the slope away from the camp and back toward the border.
Jaypaw’s pelt didn’t lie flat again until they had waded back across the stream and were creeping through the tunnel into the ThunderClan camp. He slipped back into his den and flopped down beside the sleeping Leafpool.
Badgers, he thought as he slid into an exhausted sleep. StarClan, what are you trying to tell me?
Jaypaw woke with a paw prodding him sharply in the side. The sun warmed his fur, and Leafpool’s scent swirled around him.
“Wake up, Jaypaw! What do you think you are, a dor-mouse?”
Jaypaw blinked drowsily. “Wha . . .”
“There’s work to be done. I need you to check on Millie and Briarkit.”
“Oh . . . okay.” Jaypaw staggered to his paws, flinching at a scuffling sound outside the den until he realized it was only Icepaw and Foxpaw dashing past.
He didn’t feel that he had slept at all after the previous night’s expedition. It took an effort to pull his mind away from Sol and the ShadowClan cats, and the terrifying vision of the badger. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“I’ve been across to the nursery to check on Millie and Briarkit. Millie needs more catmint. And I’ve made a leafwrap of borage for Briarkit. You can take them over there when⎯”
Jaypaw stopped listening and flattened himself to the ground at the sound of a throaty bark somewhere out in the forest.
“Jaypaw, what’s the matter with you?” Concern replaced Leafpool’s irritation. “Are you ill?” He heard her sniffing as her nose touched his fur. “You smell a bit funny.”
Jaypaw cringed inside. He didn’t want to discuss his scent, in case it led to more awkward questions. “I’m fine,” he asserted. “That barking startled me, that’s all.”
“But you’ve heard a fox bark before. It was a long way off, and if it comes any closer the patrols will spot it.”
“I know.” Jaypaw scrambled into a sitting position, giving his chest fur an awkward lick. “It’s just . . . I had this dream last night.” No need to say where I had it. “I saw a badger. I . . . I wondered if it meant danger.”
“One badger on its own?” Leafpool checked. “Not a whole horde of them?”
Jaypaw shook his head.
Leafpool sat down beside him. He could sense her uncertainty, but she didn’t seem to be afraid. “I think the badger you saw might have been Midnight,” she told him.
Leafpool settled herself more comfortably among the bracken stalks. “Back in the old forest, StarClan called four cats, one from each Clan, to make a long journey to the sun-drown-place to find a badger called Midnight.”
Jaypaw’s ears pricked. “Was that how they knew the Clans would have to leave the forest?”
“That’s right,” Leafpool meowed. “Brambleclaw was chosen from ThunderClan, and Squirrelflight went with him. Midnight warned them that the old forest would be destroyed, and then helped all the Clans to find this home beside the lake.”
Jaypaw felt his neck fur beginning to rise. “StarClan gave a message to a badger? But badgers kill cats!”
“Not Midnight,” Leafpool assured him. “She’s no ordinary badger. Later, when we had settled here by the lake, a horde of hostile badgers invaded our camp and tried to kill us all and drive us out. And Midnight . . .”
She trailed off. Jaypaw felt a rush of mingled emotions surge through her, fear and regret and grief. He wondered why she should feel so strongly about a battle that had been over and done with before he was born, but he was too curious about Midnight to try to make sense of what she was feeling.
“What happened with the badgers?” he prompted.
“We tried to fight them off.” Jaypaw realized that his mentor was making a great effort to keep her voice steady. “But there were too many. They would have destroyed ThunderClan if Midnight hadn’t brought WindClan to help.”
“A badger helped cats, against her own kin?”
“Yes.” Leafpool drew in a long breath and let it out again.
“There is nothing to fear from her. But she may have been trying to warn us of some other danger. You will tell me if she comes to you again?”
“Of course.” Maybe. Jaypaw knew that if this strange badger appeared again he would find out what she had to say before he decided whether to tell any cat.
“Why do we have to sit around waiting for her?” he asked.
“Brambleclaw knows where she lives, so why can’t we go and visit her?”
“It’s too far,” Leafpool replied firmly. She seemed calmer now that they had stopped talking about the badgers’ invasion. “There’s a lot of tension between the Clans right now, so Firestar would never spare warriors for that sort of journey.
Especially not Brambleclaw. He’s deputy now; he’s needed here.”
“What about⎯” Jaypaw stopped himself. He had been about to suggest Squirrelf light, but she had only just left Leafpool’s den after being so badly wounded in the battle against WindClan. She wasn’t even back on warrior duties yet; there was no way she could make a long journey. “I guess you’re right,” he muttered.
So, Midnight, if you want me, you’ll have to come and find me.CHAPTER 3
A scarlet leaf spiraled lazily down from a branch above Lionblaze’s head. He sprang up, batting at it with his forepaws, then dropped to the ground again, his pelt hot with embarrassment. Had any cat seen him behaving like a kit?
The dawn patrol was heading back to the stone hollow.
The sun had climbed above the trees, but in the shadows the leaves and grasses were still rimmed with frost. Leaf-fall was creeping over the forest, and the harsh days of leaf-bare were not far away.
Ashfur was leading the patrol; he had drawn a few foxlengths ahead with Thornclaw and Brightheart. Lionblaze drew a breath of relief as he realized none of them had been watching him. He stood still for a couple of heartbeats, jaws parted and ears pricked for any sign of WindClan trespassers.
But the faint traces of their scent all came from their own side of the border.
“Lionblaze!” Ashfur had halted, looking back over his shoulder. “Are you going to stand there until you take root?”
“Coming!” Lionblaze called back, bounding forward to catch up with his former mentor. “I was just checking for WindClan.”
Ashfur gave him an approving nod. “That’s good, but I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
“We can’t be too careful,” Lionblaze meowed, falling in beside the older warrior as they set off again.
Brightheart and Thornclaw had disappeared through the thick clumps of bracken; Lionblaze realized he had the chance he had been waiting for, to talk to Ashfur alone. Giving him a sidelong glance, he began, “Can I ask you something?”
Ashfur’s whiskers twitched. “Sure.”
“I feel like I need some extra battle training. Will you work with me?”
His former mentor stopped and faced him, his blue eyes stretched wide in surprise. “You’re a warrior now, Lionblaze,”
he reminded him. “And one of the best fighters in the Clan.
Do you really think you have any more to learn?”
Ashfur’s praise warmed Lionblaze like a ray of sunlight; sometimes, when he was an apprentice, he had despaired of ever pleasing the gray warrior.
“There’s always something more to learn,” he declared. “I want to stay as strong and fit as I can, so I’ll be ready for the next battle.”
Ashfur blinked thoughtfully. “I’m not sure there’ll be another battle. Not for a while, anyway.”
“WindClan might cause more trouble. And anyway, I still need the practice,” Lionblaze insisted. He flexed his claws, ready to tear frustratedly at the grass, then stopped himself.
He didn’t want Ashfur to know how much this meant to him.
“Okay.” Ashfur still looked unconvinced, but to Lionblaze’s relief he didn’t object anymore. “We could have a session now.
I’ll just catch up to Brightheart and tell her to report to Firestar. Meet you at the training hollow.”
He bounded off, leaving Lionblaze to head to the training hollow by himself. The sunlight suddenly seemed brighter, and he relished the cool touch of the breeze in his fur and the dew on his pads. He knew that he had to keep training, to make the best use of his powers that he could, but he didn’t want Tigerstar to act as his mentor anymore.
Lionblaze shivered, as if thinking of the dark warrior could summon him; he glanced around but there was no sign of the striped shadow and burning amber eyes.
At first he had felt special, honored to be chosen by Tigerstar for extra training, and delighted to be able to beat the other apprentices with a move the dark warrior had shown him. But in the last few moons Tigerstar had changed, showing a hostile side and trying to control Lionblaze.
Or maybe he hasn’t changed. Maybe I’m just seeing what Tigerstar has been like all along.
He remembered Ferncloud scolding Foxkit and Icekit before they became apprentices: “If you don’t behave, Tigerstar will come and get you!”
The two kits had squeaked in terror, and burrowed close to their mother’s belly.
Was I completely mouse-brained? Lionblaze wondered. Did I think he was helping me when all the time he was using me?
If he practiced with Ashfur, he wouldn’t need Tigerstar anymore. And if Tigerstar kept visiting him, he would be strong enough to fight him off.
Maybe he’ll leave me alone if I can prove I’m a good enough warrior without him.
The training hollow was empty this early in the day, with a few wisps of mist still clinging to the grass. Lionblaze padded into the center and began practicing his battle moves, leaping and twisting in the air, imagining how he would land on Tigerstar’s broad shoulders and dig his claws into the dark tabby pelt.
“Pretty good.” Ashfur’s voice came from the other side of the hollow.
“Thanks,” Lionblaze panted.
He was turning to face his former mentor when Ashfur crashed into his side, knocking him off his paws. Furious that he hadn’t been ready, Lionblaze let out a screech. He battered at Ashfur with his hind paws, while Ashfur tried to sink his teeth into his neck fur. The gray warrior’s heavier weight pinned Lionblaze down, driving all the breath out of him.
“Still want to fight?” Ashfur taunted him.
With a tremendous effort, Lionblaze rolled over, thrusting Ashfur away. He scrambled to his paws, breathing heavily, and sprang on top of Ashfur before his opponent could recover.
He gave the gray warrior two quick blows from his forepaws, then tried to leap away.
But Ashfur was too quick for him. Flashing out a paw, he hooked Lionblaze’s hind legs from under him, and the two cats wrestled together on the ground. Lionblaze’s ear stung as Ashfur cuffed him. He pummeled his opponent with his forepaws, finding it hard to keep his claws sheathed as the red haze of battle threatened to engulf him.
“Stop!” Lionblaze hardly heard the yowl, but Ashfur rolled off him right away and sprang to his paws. Lionblaze was left scrabbling on the ground, shaking his head to clear it.
“What in StarClan’s name are you doing?”
Now Lionblaze recognized Firestar’s voice. He struggled to stand, blinking grit from his eyes, and spotted Firestar on the edge of the hollow with Whitewing, Icepaw, and Birchfall just behind him. The ThunderClan leader’s eyes flashed green fire.
“Warriors fighting? Why?” he demanded.
Ashfur shook scraps of debris out of his fur. “It was just a practice bout, Firestar.”
“But Lionblaze is a warrior now,” Firestar pointed out.
“Not your apprentice any longer.”
“It was my idea, Firestar,” Lionblaze meowed. “I asked Ashfur to practice with me. We were just trying to—”
“I don’t want to listen to excuses.” Firestar’s voice was cold.
“What I saw just now was far more vicious than a practice bout. At a time like this, with trouble on both sides of our territory, we can’t afford to have warriors injured. And with leaf-bare coming on, Leafpool can’t afford to waste her herbs on unnecessary wounds. Are you both mouse-brained?”
“I’m sorry, Firestar.” Lionblaze hung his head. “It’s my fault.
Don’t blame Ashfur.” But how are we supposed to fight well if we aren’t allowed to practice?
“Ashfur is an experienced warrior. He should have more sense,” Firestar retorted with a flick of his tail. Then he relaxed slightly. “I know you’re keen, Lionblaze, and that’s good, but try to think ahead, will you? This isn’t a good time to be taking risks.”
His pelt crackling with shame and frustration, Lionblaze muttered agreement.
“Whitewing, Birchfall, and Icepaw are going hunting,”
Firestar continued. “You had better go with them, Lionblaze.
Work off some of that energy on prey instead of another warrior. Ashfur, come with me.” With a flick of his tail, he padded out of the glade, followed by the gray warrior.
“We thought we’d try down by the lake,” Whitewing mewed to Lionblaze.
“Whatever.” Lionblaze let Birchfall and Whitewing take the lead; they padded close together through the undergrowth, with Icepaw bouncing excitedly at the back.
The heat of battle was still pulsing through Lionblaze’s body. He wanted to sink his claws into something; he hoped a squirrel or a rabbit would cross his path soon.
He couldn’t stifle the feeling that Firestar had been unfair.
Surely this was the right time to practice fighting moves? There could be another battle any day with WindClan or ShadowClan. And how was he going to fulfill the prophecy if he never had the chance to work on his skills, to be the best warrior any Clan had ever seen?
* * *
Lionblaze pushed his way through the thorn tunnel, two mice and a vole dangling from his jaws, the scent of the prey flooding his senses. When he reached the clearing he spotted his brother and sister together outside the medicine cats’
den. Hollyleaf signaled to him with her tail, so when he had dropped his fresh-kill on the pile, he bounded over to them.
“What’s this I hear about you and Ashfur fighting?”
“What?” Lionblaze gaped at her. “How did you know?”
Jaypaw twitched his ears. “News runs through this camp faster than a rabbit. Don’t you know that yet?”
“Berrynose told me.” Hollyleaf sounded defensive. “He heard you when he was out with a hunting patrol. He said you sounded really vicious.”
“Berrynose!” Lionblaze spat with a single lash of his tail.
“Hasn’t he got anything better to do than gossip about other warriors?”
“Anyway, is it true?” Hollyleaf persisted. “What were you fighting about?”
Lionblaze felt his neck fur rising. His claws slid out and his muscles tensed; he wanted a real enemy to fight, not just gossip and unnecessary questions.
“We weren’t fighting,” he snapped. “We were training. Just leave it, will you? I’ve already had Firestar clawing my ears over it, and I think he’s wrong! I need more practice. How can I defend my Clan if I forget what to do?”
By the time he had finished speaking he was spitting out the words, his claws raking the ground in frustration.
After a heartbeat Hollyleaf took a pace toward him and gently laid the tip of her tail on his shoulder. Lionblaze shivered, trying to push down the surge of fury that had nearly spilled over.
“You won’t lose your fighting skills,” Hollyleaf mewed.
“Don’t you see? That’s the special power the prophecy gave you, to fight better than any other warrior in the Clans.”
“You don’t understand,” Lionblaze muttered. “It doesn’t feel like that. It feels like I have to keep practicing.”
“Well, you’d better not let Firestar catch you again. Cats are already starting to talk,” Hollyleaf warned. “We can’t let the rest of the Clan know about the prophecy, not until we’re sure what it means.”
“I’ll do my best,” Lionblaze promised, letting his shoulders sag. “I won’t get into any fights with other warriors.” At least, not where Firestar can hear us.
Thick darkness surrounded Lionblaze; the shrieks of battling cats echoed in his ears. He could taste the reek of blood and felt it clogging his paws and plastered in his pelt. His chest heaved as though he had been fighting all night. A gleam of moonlight pierced the clouds that churned across the sky; a single ray shed pale light on the ground at his paws. Lionblaze caught his breath in horror as he made out the body of Heatherpaw splayed out in the mud in front of him.
A gash ran down her body from her neck to her tail. Her light tabby fur was soaked with blood, black in the silver light.
Her lips were drawn back in a frozen snarl and her blue eyes stared sightlessly at the sky.
“No . . . no . . .” he whimpered.
He started at the touch of a tail on his shoulder and whirled around to face Tigerstar’s intense amber gaze.
“Well done,” the huge tabby purred. “That was a battle well fought.”
“But this—this isn’t what I wanted!” Lionblaze protested.
“Isn’t it?” There was the hint of a growl in Tigerstar’s voice, and his eyes blazed. “Remember how she betrayed you! She nearly destroyed your whole Clan by telling WindClan about the tunnels.”
“But . . .” Lionblaze reached out a paw and laid it gently on Heatherpaw’s flank. Her fur was cold. “She didn’t deserve to die like this,” he murmured.
“All traitors deserve to die!” The fire in Tigerstar’s eyes flared up until Lionblaze was smothered in it; he let out a yowl of terror, expecting to feel his fur being scorched. His paws thrashed on the blood-soaked ground, but he couldn’t move.
Another cat thrust a paw into his shoulder from behind.
Lionblaze turned and unsheathed his claws, ready to spring on his enemy.
Dustpelt stood in front of him, his gaze glittering with annoyance. Sunlight was pouring through the branches of the warriors’ den.
“Great StarClan, I thought WindClan was invading,” he snapped. “Do you have to make such a racket?”
“Sorry,” Lionblaze muttered. The moss and bracken from his nest was scattered from his thrashing around, and several other cats were looking up drowsily to see what the noise was about.
“I should think so.” Dustpelt turned away and went to curl up beside Ferncloud again.
Lionblaze was still shaking from his dream, his blood pounding with the heat of battle. He rose to his paws and pushed his way out of the den. Sandstorm and Spiderleg, over by the fresh-kill pile, turned to look at him curiously.
The vision of Heatherpaw’s broken body hovered in Lionblaze’s mind, clearer than the clearing in front of him. Is that what I’m becoming? A cat who slaughters? A cat like Tigerstar?
He wished he had never heard of the prophecy, and could be just an ordinary warrior with the same fighting skills as all his Clanmates.
But the words of the prophecy had been spoken, and Lionblaze knew there was no escape from the destiny it would bring down upon him and his littermates.CHAPTER 4
Jaypaw turned away from counting poppy heads when he heard Leafpool brushing past the bramble screen into the den. Briarkit’s scent mingled with hers, and he heard a feeble cough from the young kit dangling from the medicine cat’s jaws.
“Briarkit’s worse?” he asked anxiously.
Leafpool set the kit down in a nest of bracken; Jaypaw heard the stems rustling as Briarkit tried to make herself comfortable.
“It’s what I was afraid of,” Leafpool meowed. “Briarkit has caught Millie’s cough. And Millie’s no better. I’d like to move her in here, too, but I don’t think Daisy could cope with feed-ing Bumblekit and Blossomkit as well as her own. And we’ve no room for all of them in here.”
Jaypaw felt steady waves of anxiety coming from his mentor like the surge of waves on the lakeshore. “Why are you so worried? It’s only whitecough.”
Leafpool sighed. “It could easily turn into greencough, especially with the cold weather coming.” Lowering her voice in case Briarkit was listening, she went on, “There are several kits in the Clan, and Mousefur is very frail. We could end up losing cats.”
She slid beside Jaypaw into the storage cave. “We’re almost out of catmint,” she murmured. “There’s enough for Briarkit now, and another dose for Millie, and that’s all.”
“I’ll go and fetch some more,” Jaypaw offered instantly.
“That would be a big help,” Leafpool mewed. “Take another cat with you—no, not because I think you can’t manage on your own,” she added as if she knew he would start bristling. “Two of you can carry twice as many stems.”
“Okay. Shall I take the other catmint to Millie first?”
“No, I’ll do that. The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back with fresh supplies.”
When Jaypaw emerged into the clearing, the first cat he located was Poppyfrost, crouched by the fresh-kill pile. He hurried over to her.
“Are you busy?”
Poppyfrost gulped down a mouthful of vole. “Not very,” she replied. “Brightheart suggested I might help clear the bedding out of the warriors’ den—there’s so much of it now, and it’s a hard job when there are only two apprentices. But to be honest, I wouldn’t mind an excuse not to do it.” She swallowed the last of the prey and rose to her paws. “What do you want me to do?”
Jaypaw explained about Briarkit and the need to fetch more catmint.
“Poor little scrap,” Poppyfrost mewed sympathetically. “Of course I’ll help. Let’s go!”
She bounded across the clearing to the tunnel, leaving Jaypaw to follow. Once through the tunnel he caught up to her, and they headed for the abandoned Twoleg nest. Jaypaw felt his paws prickle at the memory of the battle; though the scents of blood and fear had faded, the screeches of fighting cats still echoed in his head. He steered Poppyfrost away from the tunnel where the WindClan cats had invaded ThunderClan territory; he didn’t want to think about what it meant if there was another entrance into the underground caves where he had first met Rock.
He began sniffing for catmint as they approached the Twoleg nest, but instead of the sharp, clean scent of the herb all he could pick up was a musty smell.
“Oh, no!” Poppyfrost halted abruptly.
“What’s the matter?”
“The catmint. Oh, Jaypaw, it’s almost all gone!”
“Gone? It can’t be!”
Poppyfrost bounded forward and Jaypaw followed. He felt soft, thick grass under his paws, then a strip of churned soil where the Twolegs had once grown plants. The musty smell was all around him now, mingled with the occasional hint of fresh leaves.
“What can you see?” he demanded.
“It’s all squashed,” Poppyfrost replied, her voice filled with distress. “The stems are broken down, all black and rotten.”
Jaypaw felt a dark space of fear open up inside him. “That won’t help the sick cats.”
“I know. It must have happened in the battle.”
Jaypaw lashed his tail. “I bet WindClan and RiverClan did this deliberately.”
“Surely no cat would be that cruel?” Poppyfrost meowed.
Jaypaw worked his claws furiously into the earth and felt torn stems beneath his claws. “We’ll have to tell Firestar. They can’t get away with this!”
“No—wait.” Jaypaw had been ready to dash back to camp, but Poppyfrost stopped him with her tail across his chest.
“Cats were fighting all around here. The catmint probably just got trampled.”
Jaypaw grunted; she might be right, but that didn’t stop him from being suspicious. Still, it was more important to see if he could find any fresh catmint for Briarkit and Millie.
Reporting to Firestar could wait.
Tasting the air carefully, he managed to identify a few new shoots of catmint poking through the ground, but they were very small, and there weren’t many of them. He began to bite carefully through each stem.
Poppyfrost was moving around close by, rustling among the leaves. “I’m pulling all the broken stems away,” she explained.
“That way the new ones will have room to grow.”
“Good idea,” Jaypaw meowed. “I’ll help you. Pick any of the new stems you come across, and put them with mine.”
He began clawing away the dying stems and the fallen leaves that clogged up the new growth. He imagined the sun warming the battered plants, encouraging them to shoot up again. But soon it would be leaf-bare, when nothing grew.
Could they wait until newleaf for fresh catmint?
At last there was nothing more they could do. Jaypaw and Poppyfrost divided their gleanings between them, though one cat could easily have carried all they had managed to find.
Then they headed back to camp.
“What happened?” Leafpool’s voice, sharp with worry, greeted Jaypaw as soon as he rounded the bramble screen.
“What took so long? Why haven’t you brought back more than that?”
Jaypaw dropped the herbs at her paws. “This is all there is.”
Poppyfrost padded up beside him and added her stems to the pile. Quietly she explained what they had found near the Twoleg nest.
“This is terrible!” Leafpool exclaimed. “That’s the only catmint I know of in our territory.”
“Then you’ve got to give it all to Briarkit.” Jaypaw hardly recognized the cat who had spoken, the voice was so harsh.
Then he detected Millie’s scent, and guessed that she had come to be with her kit. “I’ll be fine, Leafpool, honestly.” She broke off in a bout of coughing.
Jaypaw didn’t believe her. She sounded even sicker than the last time he had spoken to her, and he could sense Leafpool’s fear for her.
“I’ll go and report to Firestar,” Poppyfrost murmured, slipping out of the den.
“You’re not fine, Millie.” Leafpool’s worry made her sound sharp. “Look at all the stuff you’ve coughed up. You have greencough. You’ll have to stay here, where Jaypaw and I can look after you.”
“But what about Bumblekit and Blossomkit?” Millie’s voice rose to a wail that ended in another spasm of hacking coughs.
“Daisy can’t manage to feed them as well as her own.”
“I’m not arguing with you,” Leafpool retorted. “Daisy will have to manage. Besides, Briarkit is already ill. Do you want to give greencough to the other kits as well?”
Before Millie could reply, paw steps sounded at the mouth of the den, and Jaypaw recognized Graystripe’s scent. “What’s going on?” the gray warrior demanded. “Millie, I could hear you coughing from the other side of the camp.”
“She has greencough,” Leafpool told him. “No—stay where you are!” She brushed past Jaypaw, who pictured her blocking Graystripe from hurrying to his mate’s side. “Do you want to catch it, and spread it to every cat in the camp?”
There was a pause in which Jaypaw picked up Graystripe’s swirling anger and fear for Millie. “All right,” the gray warrior meowed at last. “What can I do to help?”
“Go and talk to Daisy,” Leafpool replied. “She’ll have to feed all four kits in the nursery, because there’s no way I’m letting Millie out of here. Rosekit and Toadkit are eating fresh-kill, so that should help.”
“Okay.” Graystripe sounded relieved that there was something he could do. “I’ll make sure she gets enough prey—and I’ll fetch some for all of you, too. Just tell me if there’s anything else you want.”
“Thanks, Graystripe,” Leafpool mewed.
“I love you, Millie,” Graystripe called out to his mate.
“Don’t worry about the kits. I’ll visit them every day.”
Millie’s only reply was an exhausted murmur; she was worn out by coughing. Jaypaw heard her draw Briarkit close to her belly. “Feed well, little one,” she whispered. “Get strong, and you’ll soon be better.”
“I could take some borage to Daisy to help her milk to come,” Jaypaw offered.
“Fine, but wait here first with Millie and Briarkit,” Leafpool instructed him. “I have to tell Firestar that we have greencough in the camp.” She whisked out of the den.
Jaypaw padded to the cleft to check the supply of borage leaves. They were running low, too, but he knew where he could find more. He set aside enough leaves to take to Daisy, and set to work chewing up their pitiful supply of catmint, ready for Millie and Briarkit.
We need more, but I don’t know where to find it. And if these are the only two cats we have to treat before newleaf, then I’m a mouse.
By the time Leafpool returned, a cool dusk breeze stirred the brambles at the entrance to the den. A crisp half-moon floated above the hollow, its tip just clear of the tallest trees.
“It’s time to go to the Moonpool,” she mewed fretfully. “If only the sky would cloud over! I don’t want to leave Millie and Briarkit.”
“You don’t have to go,” Jaypaw pointed out. “You’re right, you’re needed here. I can go by myself.”
“Oh, but . . .” Leafpool’s protest died away.
Jaypaw made himself stay still and quiet as he listened to her silence. He wanted to add that she was too tired to go; she had exhausted herself taking care of the sick cats, and if she insisted on making the journey she would probably fall off the mountain. But Jaypaw knew better than to tell his mentor that; if he suggested she wasn’t capable, Leafpool would be even more determined to prove she could do everything.
“Apprentices don’t usually go without their mentor,” Leafpool murmured, half to herself. “But I can’t see it would matter for once. You know the way . . . and I have to stay with Millie and Briarkit.”
Yes! Jaypaw stopped his paws from pushing him up into a triumphant leap.
“All right,” Leafpool decided at last. “But be careful. And don’t get into an argument with Willowshine.”
Would I? Mothwing’s apprentice wasn’t Jaypaw’s favorite cat, but he had enough sense not to brush her fur the wrong way when he was the only cat representing ThunderClan.
“I’ll be off, then,” he mewed.
“Right . . . and Jaypaw, if you happen to scent any catmint—”
“I’ll bring it back with me,” Jaypaw promised, though he knew how empty the promise was. There was nowhere else in ThunderClan territory where catmint grew. Perhaps they would need to travel farther from the lake if they were to find enough of the herb to save the sick cats.CHAPTER 5
Jaypaw slid out through the thorn tunnel and stalked into the forest.
The night scents and noises seemed sharper than ever, just because he was on his own. There were no other cats to fuss over him, and if he tripped over a branch or put his paw into a hole, he could recover just fine by himself.
By now the territory was familiar, especially since he had taken part in the battle. Soon he had left ThunderClan territory behind and was climbing the rocky ridge. Ahead of him he scented other cats, and identified them as Willowshine from RiverClan and Barkface from WindClan with his apprentice, Kestrelpaw. Littlecloud wasn’t with them.
The scents quickly grew stronger, and Jaypaw realized that the other medicine cats were waiting for him to catch up. He halted in front of them, dipping his head. “Greetings.”
“Greetings, Jaypaw,” Barkface meowed. “How’s the prey running?” He sounded awkward, and Jaypaw picked up a strong sense of regret, as if the WindClan medicine cat wanted to apologize for the hostility between their Clans.
Jaypaw dipped his head in acknowledgment of what the older cat couldn’t say out loud. “Fine, thanks.”
“And where’s Leafpool?” Willowshine added.
“She couldn’t come,” Jaypaw replied. “She had stuff to do.”
Even though medicine cats lived by different rules, he didn’t want to tell the other Clans that ThunderClan had greencough in the camp. It made them sound weak.
Surprise came from all three cats, with an edge of annoyance from Willowshine.
“I had to wait until I had my name before Mothwing allowed me to come here alone,” she mewed.
I bet Mothwing lets you come alone all the time now. It’s a wasted journey for her. Jaypaw itched to make the retort, but he stopped himself. The RiverClan medicine cat didn’t believe in StarClan; she could spend the night of the half-moon in her den without all the trouble of the journey to the Moonpool.
“It doesn’t look as if Littlecloud is coming,” Barkface muttered. “I thought he at least would stay faithful to StarClan.”
He’s trying, Jaypaw wanted to tell him, but there was no way he could reveal his expedition into ShadowClan territory. Littlecloud had protested against what Sol was telling his Clan, but it hadn’t made any difference. ShadowClan had turned their back on their warrior ancestors, and Blackstar must have forbidden his medicine cat to come to the meeting.
“Perhaps he can share tongues with StarClan from his own territory,” Willowshine murmured.
“And maybe StarClan will show us what to do about Sol,”
Jaypaw suggested, though privately he didn’t think it was likely.
Barkface grunted agreement. “We’d better go on without him. We’re wasting moonlight.”
Jaypaw could hear the sound of falling water and the soft pad of paw steps as he followed the others down the spiral path to the Moonpool. He felt very close to Rock and Fallen Leaves and the other ancient cats as he felt his paws slip into the hollows they had made so long ago.
I hope I get a good dream tonight, he thought. It’s about time.
Ever since his vision in ShadowClan territory and his talk with Leafpool he had hoped to meet the strange badger Midnight again. If she didn’t come here, in this special place under the half-moon, then maybe she didn’t mean to come at all.
The other cats were settling down at the edge of the pool.
Jaypaw took his place beside Barkface. Kestrelpaw crouched on the other side of his mentor, while Willowshine found a spot farther around the rim of the water.
Jaypaw stretched out his neck and dipped his nose into the Moonpool; its cold touch shivered through him. Curling up, he let sleep take him.
When he opened his eyes he found himself on a rough stretch of open ground; a precipice plunged down at his paws and he took a pace back, dizzy from his glimpse of the depths.
Wind whined among the rocks, and Jaypaw dug his claws into the gritty soil, scared that he might be blown away. Dim light illuminated the mountaintop; peering around him, Jaypaw couldn’t decide whether it was twilight or early dawn. He thought at first he was alone until something moved on top of one of the boulders, and he recognized the bald, distorted body and unseeing eyes of Rock.
“You’re here!” Jaypaw gasped. “Do you have something to tell me?”
Rock shook his head. “I have brought someone who wishes to meet you.”
A black shape loomed up behind Rock, moving slowly into the open. Jaypaw gripped even harder with his claws, and his neck fur began to bristle. He was gazing into the berry-bright eyes of the badger.
“Midnight?” he meowed, furious that he couldn’t stop his voice from quivering. “You’re the badger who helped ThunderClan?”
The huge creature dipped her head; the pale stripe down her head gleamed in the half-light. “Is nothing to fear, small one. Speak with me you will?”
“Yes, I . . . I wanted to ask why you appeared to me the night we went to ShadowClan. It was you, wasn’t it?”
Midnight nodded. “I went that way, find out what Sol say to Clans.”
“You know Sol?” Jaypaw was astonished.
“Past my den near the sea he came. He had heard of cats by the lake, and many questions he asked.”
“And you answered him?” Was this how Sol had known so much about the Clans? “Why? Leafpool told me you were our friend!” Jaypaw protested.
Midnight shrugged her heav y shoulders. “Is more than one way to be friend. True, I give Sol knowledge. But knowledge not always bring power.”
“It’s brought Sol enough power,” Jaypaw mewed bitterly.
“He’s already convinced one Clan to give up their faith in StarClan.”
“Perhaps will be StarClan’s task to restore faith of ShadowClan.”
Jaypaw blinked. He thought Rock had been teaching him that StarClan didn’t have that kind of power. “How can they?”
Midnight’s eyes shone with black light. “Faith is strong enough, it achieve anything,” she assured him.
“That’s no answer!” Jaypaw cried, frustrated. “Why did you talk to Sol and not to me?”
There was no reply. Midnight’s bulky body was fading, melting into the shadows. Her white stripe glimmered for a heartbeat longer, and she was gone.
Jaypaw glanced wildly around. Rock had vanished as well, and he was alone on the bleak mountaintop. He struggled to wake up, blinking in the hope of opening his eyes to darkness, but it was no use. Am I stranded here? he wondered, beginning to panic.
Then he spotted two other cats approaching him across the open ground, the wind buffeting their fur. The first was a muscular tabby with one shredded ear; the cat who followed him was a small gray-and-white tom with a drop of moisture gleaming on his nose. The shimmer of stars at their paws was very faint; both of them were advancing nervously, casting swift glances into the shadows as if they expected enemies to leap out at them.
The tabby halted in front of Jaypaw and dipped his head.
“Greetings, Jaypaw,” he meowed. “My name is Raggedstar; once I was leader of ShadowClan. And this is Runningnose, who was our medicine cat.”
Jaypaw stared at the two of them; Leafpool had told him about Runningnose, and it looked as if even in StarClan the former medicine cat couldn’t cure his own cold. “Why have you come to speak to me?”
“For the sake of our Clan,” Raggedstar replied, his voice hollow with sadness. “If no cat can help them, then Sol will tear them apart. They will scatter and become rogues! All their honor and pride will be gone!”
“I have spoken to Littlecloud in dreams,” Runningnose added, resting his tail-tip on his leader’s shoulder. “He keeps faith, but few cats will listen to him, and now Blackstar has forbidden him to speak of StarClan. He is not allowed to leave the camp to share tongues with us at the Moonpool.”
“But . . . what do you expect me to do about it?” Jaypaw asked, bewildered. “I can’t go into ShadowClan to talk to Blackstar, and if I did he wouldn’t listen. He would send me back to ThunderClan one piece at a time.”
“I can’t tell you what to do,” Raggedstar admitted. “I just know my heart tells me you might be the cat to save my Clan.”
He shared a look of despair with Runningnose. Seeing it, Jaypaw realized that not only had ShadowClan rejected StarClan, but their warrior ancestors were almost ready to give up on them, too.
Anger pierced his belly like a thorn, and set his neck fur bristling again. All right, he snarled silently. If they won’t do anything, I will! There must be some way to defeat Sol and restore ShadowClan’s faith in their warrior ancestors. And then Sol can keep his promise and help us fulfill our prophecy.
“I’ll try,” he promised, not bothering to keep his fury and contempt out of his voice. “At least I’m not sitting back and wailing like a lost kit.”
“Thank you.” Raggedstar dipped his head once more. “Your warrior ancestors . . .”
His voice began to die away, as if the vision was fading, though Jaypaw could still see him and Runningnose clearly.
Bewildered, he glanced around and down, and froze with terror; he could see the rough surface of the rock through his own paws.
His eyes snapped open on darkness; he was curled up beside the Moonpool, with the gentle plash of falling water in his ears and the other medicine cats waking around him.
Following Barkface, Kestrelpaw, and Willowshine down the ridge once more, Jaypaw thought about what he had seen.
Midnight had told him next to nothing, except that it was she who had given Sol his knowledge about the Clans. Had she told Sol that the sun would vanish, too? Jaypaw wouldn’t be surprised. But Midnight hadn’t said anything that would help him with the problem of ShadowClan now. She seemed to think that StarClan would be able to restore their faith, but StarClan obviously wasn’t going to do anything, except plead for help from a medicine cat apprentice.
Jaypaw paused to say good-bye to the other cats on the WindClan border. A soft breeze was blowing from the moor, bringing with it the scents of herbs and rabbits. Willowshine padded up to him and brushed his shoulder with her tail.
“StarClan walk with you, Jaypaw, until next time.”
“Thanks,” Jaypaw grunted. “You too.” She needn’t think he was going to start being friendly, not after that smart remark when they met. She was far too smug about receiving her name before him. Besides, he didn’t want to talk; he had to think.
The only way to defeat Sol was to make ShadowClan recover their belief in the power of their warrior ancestors.
How am I going to do that?
He thought back to when he had visited the Tribe of Rushing Water. He remembered how grief-stricken Stoneteller had been when he discovered that the Tribe of Endless Hunting had given up on the cats behind the waterfall. Jaypaw didn’t trust Stoneteller, but he had felt sorry for the old leader then.
Stoneteller had lied to the Tribe to persuade them to go on battling against the invaders. His lies had filled them with courage, and they had beaten the intruding cats. The Tribe of Rushing Water had been made stronger because they had faith in what their warrior ancestors wanted for them.
But there aren’t any easy lies that will convince ShadowClan, Jaypaw told himself. Or are there?
By the time he reached the stone hollow, Jaypaw could feel a freshening breeze that told him dawn was breaking, and hear birds beginning to twitter in the trees. I could do with a good fat blackbird, he thought hungrily.
His worries about Millie and Briarkit returned as he crossed the clearing, but when he entered his den he could hear the deep, regular breathing of all three cats. That’s good.
They all need sleep.
Instead of joining them, Jaypaw crept quietly out again.
He didn’t feel tired; instead, he was quivering with excitement. On the way home the beginnings of a plan had come to him, and he needed to talk to his littermates. He tasted the air, trying to find his brother and sister, and quickly tracked down Hollyleaf crouched beside the fresh-kill pile with Mousewhisker and Berrynose.
“Hey, Hollyleaf!” he called; he didn’t want to go over to her and get stuck talking to the others.
Hollyleaf came bounding over to him; his belly rumbled as he caught the scent of fresh mouse clinging to her pelt.
“Did something happen?” she asked; he could feel her urgency crackling like lightning.
“We’ve got to talk. Where’s Lionblaze?”
“Still asleep in the warriors’ den,” Hollyleaf mewed.
“Get him. I’ll meet you in back.”
Jaypaw slid into the gap behind the warriors’ den, his claws flexing impatiently until Hollyleaf and Lionblaze squeezed into the narrow space beside him.
“We’ve got to find a better place to meet,” Lionblaze grumbled. “If we get any bigger we’ll never fit in here.”
“Stop complaining,” Jaypaw snapped, wriggling to make sure he got his fair share of the space. “This is important.”
“Tell us, then!” Hollyleaf meowed.
Jaypaw told them about his dream at the Moonpool, his meeting with Midnight the badger and then with Raggedstar and Runningnose.
“StarClan asked you for help?” Hollyleaf queried, awe in her voice. “That’s amazing!”
Jaypaw gave a faint hiss of annoyance. “You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“Do you think you can do what they want?” Lionblaze asked. “We’ll help, you know that.”
“I had an idea,” Jaypaw began. “We have to make ShadowClan believe in their warrior ancestors, right? So what they need is a sign from StarClan—a clear sign that every cat can see.”
“If StarClan could do that, wouldn’t they have done it already?” Hollyleaf asked doubtfully.
“Yes, I think so.” Jaypaw’s pelt prickled with excitement.
“So, if StarClan can’t do it, we’ll have to do it for them.”
There was a short silence. Then Lionblaze mewed, “Make a sign from StarClan?”
“I dunno.” Lionblaze sounded puzzled. “It just seems . . .
wrong, somehow. Besides, if we’re more powerful than StarClan, why does it matter that ShadowClan believe in their warrior ancestors?”
“Of course it matters, mouse-brain!” Hollyleaf spat. Jaypaw felt all her muscles bunch as if she would have leaped on her brother for a couple of mouse tails. “All four Clans have to stick to the warrior code.”
“Okay, calm down,” Lionblaze muttered.
Hollyleaf ignored him. “Jaypaw, I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but I know we can. I’ll do whatever it takes to save ShadowClan from Sol!”
Her voice shook with intensity, and Jaypaw could imagine fire blazing in her green eyes. A shiver crept on mouse feet down his spine. It was clearer and clearer that nothing mattered to Hollyleaf more than the warrior code, and for the first time in his life he felt a little afraid of her.CHAPTER 6
The sound of coughing woke Hollyleaf. Raising her head, she peered across the warriors’ den. A few tail-lengths away, Thornclaw was sitting up, his head bent as he coughed.
His sister Brightheart pressed her muzzle into his shoulder fur. “Don’t worry,” she murmured. “I’ll fetch you something from Leafpool to make you feel better.”
“Get a move on,” Spiderleg rasped. “Then maybe the rest of us can get some sleep.”
“Yeah, it’s like trying to sleep with a monster in here,”
Brightheart gave them a furious glare, her teeth drawn back in a snarl. “See if I help you if you get ill,” she snapped, and slid out between the branches.
Thornclaw coughed again. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to the stupid furballs,” Hollyleaf told him. “If they don’t like it, they can go out and do something useful.”
Both Spiderleg and Berrynose ignored her, curling up again and wrapping their tails over their ears. Thornclaw lay down, too, but a cough shook him every time he tried to breathe.
Hollyleaf was too anxious to go back to sleep. She curled up in her nest, listening to the rain beating steadily on the branches of the den. How many more cats would fall ill before Leafpool got the greencough outbreak under control?
Her thoughts jumped to what she and Lionblaze had discussed with Jaypaw the day before. Did they truly need to fake a sign to make ShadowClan believe in StarClan again?
Wouldn’t that make StarClan angry with them? Perhaps they ought to find another way to show that Sol wasn’t a worthy leader.
Unwillingly, Hollyleaf remembered how she had felt when Sol talked to her; she had basked in the warmth of his gaze, and his calm, deep voice made her feel as if everything would be fine as long as she listened to him.
And yet he had taken a whole Clan away from StarClan.
That couldn’t be right! StarClan has always been there! None of the Clans should turn away from them.
Arguing with herself was making Hollyleaf dizzy. In spite of the pounding raindrops, she got up and squeezed out through the branches of the den. Rain had turned the floor of the clearing to mud; it splashed up over Hollyleaf ’s legs and belly fur as she sprinted across to the thorn tunnel and stood shivering in its shelter. Her paws itched to race through the forest, as if she could find the answers she was looking for by tracking them down like prey.
Gray dawn light seeped reluctantly into the hollow. No other cat was stirring, until Brightheart emerged from Leafpool’s den and pelted back across the clearing with some leaves in her mouth. Soon after, movement on the Highledge caught Hollyleaf ’s eye and she spotted Sandstorm leaping down the tumbled rocks. The ginger she-cat headed for the dirtplace tunnel, then swerved when she saw Hollyleaf and bounded over to join her.
“What are you doing up so early?” she meowed. “There won’t be any patrols until the sun is up.” Twitching her tail, she added, “With any luck, the rain will ease off by then.”
“Thornclaw was coughing,” Hollyleaf replied, aware that she wasn’t telling the whole truth.
Concern filled Sandstorm’s green eyes. “The last thing we need is illness in the camp. A lot of the cats are still weak from the battle—especially Squirrelf light.”
Hollyleaf flinched. Her mother had been terribly injured in the battle; her wound was only just beginning to heal.
Although she wasn’t sleeping in Leafpool’s den anymore, she wasn’t allowed to leave the camp. If she caught a bad cough she wouldn’t have the strength to fight it.
Sandstorm bent down and nuzzled Hollyleaf ’s head; for a heartbeat Hollyleaf felt like a kit again, safe and comforted.
“Don’t look so worried,” the older cat purred. “There are plenty of warriors to take care of the Clan, and Leafpool’s a great medicine cat. You just need to concentrate on learning everything you can to serve ThunderClan.”
“That’s what I try to do,” Hollyleaf meowed, painfully aware of how far she fell short of what she would like to be.
“You made a great start in the battle,” Sandstorm encouraged her. “Firestar is very proud of you. But you mustn’t take on more responsibility than you need to.”
Hollyleaf stifled a snort of bitter laughter. Sandstorm had no idea what responsibilities she had to cope with.
“Don’t forget what I said.” Sandstorm stroked her tail-tip gently over Hollyleaf ’s shoulder, then pushed her way out of the tunnel and headed for the dirtplace.
The morning light was growing stronger, though clouds still covered the sky and rain still hissed down into the clearing. Hollyleaf saw Graystripe bound across the clearing to Leafpool’s den, though he didn’t go farther than the bramble screen.
Checking on Millie, Hollyleaf guessed.
A couple of heartbeats after Graystripe, Ashfur emerged from the warriors’ den, closely followed by Cloudtail and Cinderheart. All three cats headed for the tunnel.
Ashfur gave Hollyleaf a nod as they approached, curiosity in his blue eyes. “You look frozen,” he meowed. “Do you want to come on the border patrol to warm up?”
“Sure!” She didn’t want to go back to the warriors’ den, and she knew Jaypaw wouldn’t plan anything about the fake sign without her.
Ashfur led the way out into the forest, making for the old Twoleg path. The rest of the patrol followed him, the rain muffling their paw steps. Cinderheart fell in beside Hollyleaf.
There was a hint of nervousness in her blue eyes. “I don’t like going this way,” she confessed. “It reminds me too much of the battle.”
Hollyleaf let out a murmur of agreement. Her memories disturbed her, too, especially when they came in sight of the abandoned Twoleg nest. The blood had been washed away from the stones, but it was easy to imagine that the stench still hung in the air, and the shrieks of battling cats still echoed from the crumbling walls. Hollyleaf ’s neck fur rose as she eyed the moss-covered walls and thick clumps of bracken, half expecting WindClan warriors to leap out at them.
“Stop!” Cloudtail’s command jerked her back to the present. The white warrior was standing with his tail raised to halt the rest of the patrol. “There’s something up ahead.”
“Can you tell what it is?” Ashfur asked softly. “WindClan?”
Cloudtail shook his head; his jaws gaped as he tasted the air.
Ashfur signaled with his tail for Hollyleaf and Cinderheart to fall back and let Cloudtail take the lead. Hollyleaf knew that the white tom was the best tracker in ThunderClan; he would soon find out what was waiting for them.
Cloudtail slunk along the edge of the Twoleg path, close to the rain-battered undergrowth, and slid under the overhang-ing stems to disguise his white pelt. Ashfur followed him, with Hollyleaf and Cinderheart in the rear. As she crept behind the senior warriors, Hollyleaf caught a trace of unfamiliar scent.
She stiffened, her pelt beginning to bristle, and exchanged an alarmed glance with Cinderheart.
Hollyleaf tried to convince herself that the scent was left behind from the battle, but she knew that it was fresh, and it grew stronger as she padded forward. Her belly churned.
Surely Sol wouldn’t have ordered ShadowClan to invade ThunderClan’s territory?
Wouldn’t he? Hollyleaf thought she could hear Jaypaw’s voice, drily sarcastic.
Cloudtail and Ashfur dropped into a crouch, ready to leap into battle; Hollyleaf and Cinderheart hastily copied them.
The rain had almost stopped, though the wind still blew spatters into Hollyleaf ’s face. She could hear sounds now, of cats pushing their way through the rain-soaked undergrowth, heading for the Twoleg path.
Then she heard a plaintive squeak. “Mother, that fern dripped water all the way down my neck!”
“Hush,” came the reply. “We’ll be there soon.”
“Tawnypelt! Flamepaw!” Hollyleaf bounded forward, ignoring Ashfur’s hiss of anger.
Fronds of bracken parted at the side of the path, and the ShadowClan she-cat pushed her way through. All three of her kits followed, shaking water from their pelts as they reached the open ground.
“It’s you!” Tawnypelt exclaimed in relief, touching noses with Hollyleaf. “Thank StarClan it’s some cat I know.”
Turning away, she dipped her head to Cloudtail and Ashfur.
“Greetings,” she meowed. “I’ve come to—”
“You’ve no right to be here,” Ashfur interrupted, the fur along his spine sticking straight up. “What do you want? Are you alone, or have you brought the rest of your Clan?”
“Hang on.” Cloudtail slapped his tail over the gray warrior’s mouth. “Let her get a word in edgewise.”
Tawnypelt blinked gratefully at Cloudtail. “I’ve brought my kits to ThunderClan.” Her voice was low, so that her kits couldn’t hear; all three of them were huddled together at the side of the path, staring around with huge eyes. “I don’t want to be part of a Clan that doesn’t listen to their warrior ancestors anymore.”
While she was speaking, Hollyleaf noticed how tired and hungry she looked. Her voice quivered; she was far from the tough, resourceful warrior Hollyleaf had known on their journey to the mountains.
“And what makes you think—” Ashfur began, still hostile.
“Try not to be more of a mouse-brain than you can help.”
Cloudtail spoke over him. “What have we got to be afraid of?
It’s only a queen and her kits.”
“We’re apprentices!” Flamepaw piped up indignantly.
Cloudtail twitched his ears. “Whatever. In any case, you can all come back to the camp. Firestar will be interested to hear about what’s going on in ShadowClan.” He shot a glance at Ashfur. “And it’s Firestar who’ll make the final decision.”
Fury still burned in Ashfur’s blue eyes. “All right,” he snapped. “We go back to camp. And if WindClan decides to cross the border because we didn’t finish our patrol, don’t blame me.”
He led the way back along the path, stalking ahead of Cloudtail and Tawnypelt. Cinderheart followed, while all three apprentices crowded around Hollyleaf.
“Hi, Hollypaw!” Tigerpaw mewed.
“I’m Hollyleaf now,” she told them.
“Wow, you’re a warrior!” Dawnpaw’s eyes stretched wide.
“Hollyleaf! Hollyleaf!” Flamepaw called out, and his brother and sister joined in.
Cinderheart glanced back, blue eyes brimming with amusement. “It sounds as if you’ve got three new apprentices,” she murmured.
“Stop that,” Hollyleaf mewed. Every hair on her pelt felt hot with embarrassment. “I can’t move without tripping over you. We’ll get left behind.”
The young apprentices stopped squeaking and began trotting along beside Hollyleaf with their tails stuck straight up in the air.
“What’s that?” Dawnpaw asked, as they passed the abandoned nest.
“Twolegs used to live there,” Hollyleaf explained. “But they haven’t been there for a long time,” she added, as the three apprentices exchanged anxious glances. “Can you scent any Twolegs here?”
All three of them opened their little mouths to taste the air, then shook their heads solemnly. “Not a thing!” Tigerpaw announced.
“Well done,” Hollyleaf meowed, wondering if this was how it felt to be a mentor.
“Where is the rest of your Clan?” Flamepaw asked as they hurried to catch up to the other cats.
“In camp, mostly,” Hollyleaf replied. “We were the dawn patrol. There might be patrols out hunting by now, but it’s still pretty early.”
“Can we hunt?” Dawnpaw asked. “We’re starving!”
“Don’t be such a stupid furball,” Tigerpaw scolded her, flicking her ear with the tip of his tail. “You don’t hunt in another Clan’s territory.”
“Well, I asked,” Dawnpaw retorted.
“There’s no time to hunt now,” Hollyleaf replied, wondering how skillful the apprentices would be. They were still very young; they couldn’t have had much training. “I expect you’ll be able to eat when we get to camp.”
Flamepaw’s eyes gleamed. “Thank you!”
Looking at them more closely, Hollyleaf realized that Dawnpaw might have really meant it when she said they were starving. They were all very thin; every one of their ribs was visible through their pelts. Tawnypelt, too, looked thin and hollow, and her fur looked as if it hadn’t been groomed for a moon. Was there a problem with the prey in ShadowClan?
“Do you think Sol knows we’re here?” Tigerpaw asked as they veered off the Twoleg path toward the stone hollow.
Hollyleaf wasn’t sure what to answer. Sol had known all about her and her littermates, and he had known that the sun would vanish. But Jaypaw had told her that he’d found out a lot of things from Midnight. Could he possibly know where Tawnypelt and her kits were now? And would he be angry that they had left for another Clan?
“I don’t know what Sol knows,” she admitted. “Your mother didn’t tell him you were leaving?”
“No way!” Dawnpaw shuddered, her eyes wide with fear.
“He would never have let us go.”
Hollyleaf was saved from having to find a response, as they rounded a stand of hazel bushes to see the thorn barrier across the entrance to the camp. Brambleclaw was standing outside, tasting the air, his dark tabby fur still rumpled from sleep.
When the patrol came into sight he stared at Tawnypelt for a heartbeat, then bounded over to her and pressed his muzzle into his sister’s shoulder.
“It’s good to see you,” he meowed. “Are you and your kits okay? How are things in ShadowClan?”
“Everything’s fine,” Tawnypelt replied with a cautious glance at Ashfur. “Prey is running well in ShadowClan territory.”
Brambleclaw narrowed his eyes and gave his sister a long look. Hollyleaf could see that he didn’t believe Tawnypelt was telling them everything. If there was plenty of prey, why did she and her kits look so thin? “You’d better come into camp,”
he mewed eventually. “I’ll tell Firestar you’re here.”
He led the way through the barrier. The three apprentices dived eagerly after their mother, but when they stepped into the clearing they hesitated, their fur bristling as they gazed around.
“It’s okay,” Hollyleaf reassured them. “Brambleclaw said you could come in, so no cat will hurt you.”
The three young cats relaxed a little; Tigerpaw’s eyes gleamed as he spotted the fresh-kill pile. “Can we have some?”
he asked Hollyleaf. “We’re so hungry!”
“You’d better ask Brambleclaw,” Hollyleaf replied.
Brambleclaw, who was talking to Tawnypelt a tail-length away, had heard the plaintive question. “Help yourselves,” he invited with a wave of his tail. “There’s plenty.”
Hollyleaf followed the three apprentices as they bounded across to the fresh-kill pile. “Don’t gulp your food or you’ll get bellyaches,” she warned them.
Flamepaw gave her a hasty nod and dived into the pile beside his brother and sister. They clawed away the soaking wet fresh-kill on top of the pile to find the drier, juicier pieces underneath, and crouched down to eat with purrs of enthu-siasm.
Taking a mouse for herself, Hollyleaf was just starting to eat when Lionblaze emerged from the warriors’ den, followed by Jaypaw. Both her littermates padded across the clearing toward her; their ears f licked up in surprise when they noticed the ShadowClan apprentices.
“What’s going on?” Jaypaw asked. Hollyleaf picked up the tang of herbs from his pelt; he must have been to see Thornclaw. “ShadowClan cats?”
“Hi, Lionblaze!” Dawnpaw mumbled around a mouthful of vole. “It’s good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” Lionblaze responded, surveying the scattered fresh-kill pile. “I can see you’re making yourselves at home.”
“Where’s our mother going?” Flamepaw asked as Tawnypelt padded past with Brambleclaw, heading for the Highledge.
“Brambleclaw is taking her to see Firestar,” Hollyleaf explained. “His den is up there on that ledge.”
“Right up there?” Tigerpaw exclaimed. “Cool!”
“But why are they here?” Jaypaw insisted, an edge to his voice.
Hollyleaf explained how the dawn patrol had met Tawnypelt and her kits in the forest, and brought them back to camp. “She said she didn’t want to be part of a Clan who didn’t look to their warrior ancestors anymore,” she finished.
Jaypaw said nothing, but looked thoughtful, his whiskers quivering as if he had scented prey. Hollyleaf guessed he was wondering how many more cats wanted to leave, and whether Tawnypelt and her kits would be any help in his plans to make a sign from StarClan.
More cats had begun to appear from the warriors’ den.
Dustpelt padded across to the fresh-kill pile, followed by Mousewhisker and Honeyfern. Foxpaw and Icepaw bounded across from the apprentices’ den.
“In StarClan’s name, what’s going on here?” Dustpelt asked, his lip curling. “What has happened to the fresh-kill pile? It looks as if a horde of badgers has trampled through it.”
“Er . . . we’ve got visitors,” Hollyleaf mewed.
Dustpelt’s tail shot straight up as he stared at the apprentices. “ShadowClan cats?” He let out an irritated sigh. “Have they left any dry prey?”
Tigerpaw spoke up. “We didn’t want to eat the soggy pieces.”
“No other cat wants to eat them, either,” Honeyfern pointed out, pawing through the remains of the pile to see if she could find a drier piece.
“And what are we supposed to do?” Icepaw demanded, flicking a sodden rabbit with her tail. “Mousefur will claw our ears off if we take her that!”
Hollyleaf turned to the three ShadowClan apprentices.
“That wasn’t a very polite thing to do, was it?”
All three young cats studied their paws, their tails drooping. “We’re sorry,” Flamepaw mumbled.
“Sol says we can only rely on ourselves to take the best care of us,” Dawnpaw explained. “He says we shouldn’t spend all our time thinking about fighting and marking the borders.
Then there’d be time for every cat to catch enough prey for themselves, and there wouldn’t be any problem.”
Hollyleaf exchanged a shocked glance with Lionblaze.
Where was the warrior code in the way of life Sol had imposed on ShadowClan?
“What about cats who can’t hunt for themselves?” she asked Dawnpaw.
The apprentice looked uncertain. “Well . . . we wouldn’t let any cat starve.”
You might not, but others would, if it kept them from going hungry, Hollyleaf thought. And you three look as if you’re pretty close to starving.
“Dawnpaw, you shouldn’t listen to that dumb ol’ patchy cat,” Tigerpaw declared, giving his sister a shove. “He won’t let us train to be warriors anymore. I want to fight for my Clan!”
“And I’d really like to be a medicine cat,” Flamepaw added, scoring his paw angrily through the wet earth. “But Sol says we wouldn’t need special cats if every cat knew about herbs and stuff. I was going to be Littlecloud’s apprentice, but now we don’t even have mentors anymore.”
“Blackstar says we have to call him Blackfoot,” Dawnpaw added, her tail drooping.
“It sounds as if ShadowClan is breaking up,” Dustpelt remarked, gulping down the last of a blackbird and swiping his tongue around his jaws. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’d be sorry to see it happen. Your Clan has some fine warriors.” He signaled to Mousewhisker and Honeyfern with a wave of his tail. “Come on—let’s get some patrols organized and see if we can find some prey that’s fit to eat.”
He stalked off toward the warriors’ den. Icepaw and Foxpaw picked up the rabbit and carried it between them toward the elders’ den.
“You can explain why it’s wet,” Icepaw meowed.
“No, you can,” Foxpaw retorted.
Hollyleaf watched them go. Her paws were trembling, yet she felt rooted to the ground. “What can we do?” she asked, hardly expecting a reply. There was nothing they could do to restore ShadowClan’s faith in their warrior ancestors. Even Jaypaw’s plan to fake a sign from StarClan didn’t hold out much hope now they’d heard how much Sol had poisoned ShadowClan against the code.
Lionblaze shook his head; his amber eyes were uneasy. “I don’t know.”
“Tell us more about Sol,” Jaypaw prompted. “Does he—”
“Hey, I look like you, don’t I?” Tigerpaw interrupted, stretching out a paw to compare his golden pelt with Lionblaze’s. “That must be because we share kin.”
“That’s right,” Lionblaze mewed, giving the smaller cat’s ear a friendly lick. “Your mother and our father were littermates.”
Tigerpaw nodded proudly. “Tigerstar was their father. I’m named after him. He was the greatest warrior ever!”
Lionblaze twitched his ears. “We should all try to be the greatest warriors ever.”
Dawnpaw was gazing up at the Highledge, as if she was waiting for her mother to reappear. “Are we going to join ThunderClan?” she asked; she didn’t sound enthusiastic.
“After all, it’s where our mother was born.”
Flamepaw sighed. “I don’t want to. Leafpool already has an apprentice, and besides, I want to be the ShadowClan medicine cat.”
Tigerpaw touched his nose to his brother’s ear. “I know. I want to fight for ShadowClan.”
Hollyleaf ’s heart was torn with sympathy for the three young cats. Of course they all wanted to go home. ShadowClan still held their loyalties, even though everything had changed. A tiny flicker of warmth grew inside her. Sol had tried to destroy the warrior code, but he had failed. It lived on inside these apprentices. Sol couldn’t change every cat’s mind about what they had believed for so long.
She sank her claws into the wet earth. Somehow, they had to find a way to get rid of Sol and bring ShadowClan back to the way of the Clans.CHAPTER 7
From the corner of his eye, Lionblaze spotted movement on the Highledge. Firestar had appeared with Brambleclaw and Tawnypelt.
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath the Highledge for a Clan meeting,” he yowled.
He ran nimbly down the tumbled rocks, halting on a boulder just above the heads of the assembling cats. Even on such a gray day, his flame-colored pelt gleamed. Brambleclaw and Tawnypelt picked their way down more slowly, until they stood just behind him.
Mousefur and Longtail emerged from the elders’ den; Foxpaw and Icepaw followed them, each with a bundle of soiled bedding. Lionblaze noticed Mousefur’s bristling fur and suspicious gaze, and realized that the apprentices must have told her what was going on.
Graystripe appeared from the dirtplace tunnel and padded over to join the group around the fresh-kill pile, giving the ShadowClan apprentices a friendly nod. Leafpool came to sit outside the bramble screen in front of her den, while Daisy appeared at the entrance to the nursery with the four kits peering curiously from behind her. Whitewing and Birchfall pushed their way out of the warriors’ den, and bounded across the camp to sit at the foot of the boulder where Firestar stood.
Lionblaze spotted Thornclaw poking his head out between the branches of the den. Sorreltail and Squirrelflight stood side by side, flicking the tips of their tails.
As the cats gathered, Lionblaze was aware of uneasy looks cast at Tawnypelt and the three apprentices. He could hear muttering, too, as if many of the warriors were unhappy at seeing ShadowClan cats in their camp.
Berrynose stalked over to the fresh-kill pile. “Surely Firestar’s not bringing more outsiders into the Clan?”
“I hope not,” Spiderleg agreed. “That’s what caused the battle with RiverClan and WindClan in the first place.”
“And where would you be, Berrynose,” Lionblaze asked, his neck fur beginning to rise with annoyance, “if Firestar hadn’t taken you in when you were a kit?”
Berrynose snorted and turned his back. “That’s different.”
Jaypaw leaned over to whisper into Lionblaze’s ear. “Yeah, he’s such a special cat.”
“Cats of ThunderClan,” Firestar began when all the Clan had gathered around him, “you can see that Tawnypelt of ShadowClan has come here with her kits—”
“We’re apprentices,” Flamepaw muttered.
“—and she has asked for shelter because of the way her own Clan has changed.”
“And are you going to agree to that?” Mousefur called out from her place in front of the elders’ den. “Hasn’t there been enough trouble because of taking in other cats?”
Before Firestar could reply, Graystripe sprang to his paws.
“These cats are part of ThunderClan,” he hissed. “They deserve to have a home here.”
“No cat forced Tawnypelt to leave,” Mousefur retorted. “If you ask me, cats should decide where they want to live and stay there.”
There was a murmur of agreement; Lionblaze saw dismay in the eyes of the three apprentices.
“They don’t want us here,” Tigerpaw muttered.
“Some cats don’t,” Lionblaze admitted, resting his tail-tip on the young cat’s shoulder. “But it’ll be okay. Firestar will talk them around, you’ll see.”
“I understand your worries,” Firestar went on. “But Tawnypelt isn’t asking for a permanent home in ThunderClan. She and her kits—”
Dawnpaw rolled her eyes. “How many more times?”
“—are only here while Sol holds sway in ShadowClan. If she has seen through his lies, others will too, and he won’t be allowed to stay for long.”
“Then we should take a patrol across the border and drive him out,” Cloudtail meowed. “The lake would be well rid of him.”
“Yes!” Birchfall agreed. “ShadowClan helped us, so we should—”
Yowls of protest drowned out his last few words. “There’s been enough fighting,” Sorreltail meowed, glancing at Squirrelflight. “Some cats are still recovering from their wounds.”
“ShadowClan should deal with their own problems,” Spiderleg added. “It’s no business of ours.”
Cloudtail whipped his head around to stare at the black warrior. “If ShadowClan cats are moving in here, then it’s not their own problem anymore.”
“That’s enough!” Firestar raised his tail for silence.
“Tawnypelt is welcome to stay for as long as she wants. The apprentices—”
“At last!” Tigerpaw muttered.
“—will train and perform duties alongside Foxpaw and Icepaw.”
Lionblaze saw the two ThunderClan apprentices exchange delighted glances, and he heard some of the younger warriors let out sighs of relief at being freed from helping with the apprentice tasks.
“Tawnypelt will have a place in the warriors’ den, and take part in patrols,” Firestar went on.
“Can she be trusted?” Ashfur called out. “Especially along the ShadowClan border?”
Lionblaze saw Brambleclaw’s fur start to bristle, but Firestar raised his tail, warning him not to retaliate. “It’s time for the regular patrols,” he meowed, ignoring Ashfur’s comment.
“The fresh-kill pile needs restocking, and we need to keep a close eye on the border with WindClan.”
Brambleclaw leaped down from the rocks and began calling cats to him, splitting them up into patrols. “Lionblaze, Hollyleaf, I want you on a hunting patrol with Dustpelt and Sorreltail.
And you apprentices go over there and talk to Firestar.”
Tigerpaw, Flamepaw, and Dawnpaw sprang up, looking a bit daunted at the thought of meeting the Clan leader. “You’ll be fine,” Lionblaze promised them as he padded off to join Sorreltail and Dustpelt.
As Sorreltail led her patrol toward the camp entrance, Lionblaze glanced back to see Firestar arranging mentors for the three ShadowClan apprentices. Flamepaw was paired with Cloudtail, Tigerpaw with Brackenfur, and Dawnpaw with Spiderleg. Sandstorm and Whitewing beckoned their apprentices, Foxpaw and Icepaw.
“We’ll all go to the clearing for some hunting practice,”
Following Sorreltail through the tunnel, Lionblaze couldn’t help feeling relieved that the ShadowClan apprentices weren’t receiving any battle training—at least, not yet. If they learned ThunderClan skills, wouldn’t that give them an unfair advantage in future battles?
Curiosity burned like a f lame inside him. He wondered whether any of the three were being visited by Tigerstar in dreams. Tigerpaw would be an obvious choice; he was big and strong, and he seemed most interested in their shared kin, especially the warrior whose name he bore. Even though he wanted to be rid of Tigerstar’s menacing influence in his dreams, Lionblaze couldn’t suppress a flash of jealousy that the dark warrior might choose another cat to mentor, a cat in a different Clan.
Perhaps I should warn Tigerpaw, he thought. But then I would have to tell him that Tigerstar visits me. I can’t do that.
Lionblaze shook his head in confusion. It seemed that since Sol came to the lake, nothing was simple anymore.
Sorreltail led them toward the top of the territory, where the border gave way to open moorland not claimed by any Clan. Although the rain had stopped, the ground was muddy and the undergrowth was soaked; all the scents were damped down and hard to detect. Lionblaze shivered as he plodded along; every fern or clump of grass that he brushed against released a shower of raindrops and his pelt was soon sodden, the fur plastered against his body.
Hunching his shoulders, he wished he could be training for battle instead of trying to track down soggy little mice. They’ ll all be deep inside their burrows, hiding from the rain. Sometimes I think they have more sense than we do.
Head down, he blundered into a clump of bracken, letting out a hiss of annoyance as it dumped its load of water drops all over him.
“Lionblaze!” The yowl came from Sorreltail. “Look where you’re going, won’t you? You just scared off the vole I was stalking.”
“Sorry.” Lionblaze’s paws tingled with frustration and embarrassment.
“Sorry fills no bellies,” Sorreltail retorted.
She stood still, head raised and jaws apart as she tried to locate the vole again. Lionblaze backed off to give her space, and spotted Hollyleaf appearing from behind a bramble thicket with a mouse hanging from her jaws.
“Well done,” he mewed as she padded up to him and dropped her prey at his paws.
“Lionblaze, we need to talk.” Hollyleaf ignored his praise; her eyes were wide and distraught. “We have to stop what Sol is doing in ShadowClan. He’s destroying the warrior code!”
“Keep your fur on.” Lionblaze was startled by his sister’s intensity. “We—”
“We have to do what Jaypaw suggested, and make a fake sign from ShadowClan. And we have to do it soon! I’ll do anything to remind ShadowClan cats of their warrior ancestors.”
Lionblaze’s surprise deepened to uneasiness; the passion in Hollyleaf ’s eyes unnerved him. “Steady,” he murmured, press-ing his muzzle against her shoulder. “Why does it matter so much? We have our own destinies, and they don’t have anything to do with the other Clans.”
“Of course it matters!” Hollyleaf flashed back at him. “Sol was supposed to be helping us, remember? And what will happen to the rest of us if ShadowClan abandons the warrior code?”
“I know,” Lionblaze responded. “But how can we fake a sign when ShadowClan is bound to be hostile? They’ll defend their beliefs because they won’t want to admit they’re wrong.
Great StarClan, we don’t even know the territory!”
“We don’t.” Hollyleaf ’s eyes narrowed. “But there are three new apprentices in ThunderClan who do.”
“Hollyleaf, that’s brilliant!” Lionblaze exclaimed. “But will they—”
An annoyed hiss interrupted him; he whirled around to see Dustpelt standing a tail-length away.
“Are you going to stand there gossiping all day?” the senior warrior inquired with a lash of his tail. “Or do you think that you might possibly find time to do some hunting?”
“Sorry,” Lionblaze muttered. I can’t do anything right today!
“It might have escaped your notice,” Dustpelt went on with biting sarcasm, “but we have four new mouths to feed.
And several of our own cats are sick, so they can’t help with patrols.”
Lionblaze nodded. He realized that the tabby warrior was angry because he was worried. “I’m really sorry,” he repeated.
“We’ll get going right away.”
“See that you do,” Dustpelt sniffed as he stalked off.
As he tasted the air, ears pricked for the sound of prey, Lionblaze knew Hollyleaf was right. They had to help ShadowClan so that Tawnypelt and the apprentices could go home, and ThunderClan could concentrate on making itself strong again.
Lionblaze worked hard for the rest of the hunt, but most of the prey was still hidden in their holes. By sunhigh, when the patrol returned to camp, he had only caught two mice and a shrew. He dropped the meager offering on the fresh-kill pile and padded off to find Jaypaw. After checking the medicine cats’ den and not finding him there, Lionblaze finally tracked him down in the elders’ den.
“Look, Mousefur,” Jaypaw was saying as Lionblaze ducked under the low branches of the hazel bush, “these tansy leaves should stop you getting greencough. Why don’t you want to eat them?”
Mousefur gave the leaves a push with one paw. “I told you, I don’t need them. Stop fussing over me and keep them for cats who are really sick.”
“Jaypaw doesn’t want you to get sick,” Longtail tried to explain.
Mousefur gave him an angry flick with her tail. “Since when were you a medicine cat?”
Jaypaw let out an exasperated sigh. “Mousefur, for the last time—”
“The last time?” Mousefur snapped. “Good. Go away.” She pointedly turned her back.
Jaypaw dug his claws into the floor of the den and spoke through gritted teeth. “Mousefur. I am not leaving this den until you eat these herbs.” He was obviously trying hard to hang on to his temper.
“Come on, Mousefur,” Lionblaze meowed cheerfully. “Stop being such a grump and just eat the stuff.”
Mousefur whipped around and glared at him. Lionblaze tensed, ready to feel her claws raking his pelt. He couldn’t fight back if an elder of his own Clan attacked him. Then Mousefur gave him an abrupt nod, bent her head, and licked up the leaves, chewing and swallowing with a disgusted expression on her face. “Satisfied?” she grunted, then curled up and wrapped her tail over her nose.
“I don’t believe it,” Jaypaw muttered, as Longtail let out a tiny snort of amusement and curled up beside the dusky brown elder. “Thanks for helping,” he added as he and his brother emerged from the den.
Lionblaze shrugged. “No problem. We need to talk about the fake sign.”
Jaypaw’s neck fur started to bristle. “I wish there were ten of me, I’ve got so much to do. Our den is full with Millie and Briarkit, but we really need to take Thornclaw out of the warriors’ den because he’s sick, too, and Foxpaw has started coughing. I don’t know how we’re going to cope.”
Anger surged through Lionblaze; he lashed his tail and dug his claws into the earth. He could fight an ordinary enemy, but there was no way he could protect his Clanmates against the sickness.
“It’ll be easier if we don’t have the extra ShadowClan mouths to feed,” he pointed out. And if Sol leaves ShadowClan so he can mentor us like he promised.
Jaypaw gave a grudging nod. “True. Okay, what about the sign?”
Lionblaze padded beside his brother as he headed for the medicine cats’ den. “Hollyleaf had an idea. She thought the ShadowClan apprentices might help us make the sign, because they know the territory.”
Jaypaw looked dubious. “Help us fool their own Clan?”
“You heard them when they arrived,” Lionblaze persisted.
“All they want is to go home—to the real ShadowClan, not the mess that Sol has made of it. Don’t you think they would help any cat who could make that happen?”
Jaypaw hesitated outside the bramble screen, his head on one side. “Maybe you’re right,” he agreed. “Okay, we’ll talk to them later.” Then he whisked out of sight into the den.
As Lionblaze turned away, he noticed that the thorns blocking the entrance to the hollow were shaking. The apprentices and their mentors were returning from hunting practice. All three of the ShadowClan apprentices looked bedraggled, their fur clumped together and stuck with bits of leaf and moss.
Dawnpaw carried a mouse; she padded across the clearing, her tail straight up in triumph, and laid it on the fresh-kill pile.
“But that can’t be right.” Tigerpaw was arguing with Foxpaw as they came up. “If you stalk the prey until you’re nearly on top of it, you give it the chance to know you’re there. We pounce when we’re a lot farther away.”
“That’s because there’s thick undergrowth in our territory,”
Foxpaw explained. “That hides us and our scent until we get close, then it’s easier to pounce.”
“Oh.” Tigerpaw thought about that for a moment. “Well, it still seems mouse-brained to me,” he decided.
“Hey, Lionblaze!” Hollyleaf bounded out of the nursery, distracting Lionblaze from the apprentices’ chatter.
“How’s Daisy coping with all the kits?” he asked.
“Pretty well,” Hollyleaf replied. “Ferncloud is with her, helping to keep the kits amused. I just took them some fresh-kill.” Glancing around to make sure that no cat was listening, she added, “Did you have a word with Jaypaw?”
Lionblaze nodded. “He says we can talk to the apprentices.”
Hollyleaf ’s whiskers twitched with satisfaction. “Good. I’ll get Foxpaw and Icepaw away, then you can take the others behind the warriors’ den. No cat will hear us there.”
The mentors and apprentices were standing in the middle of the clearing; Cloudtail was explaining something about following a scent trail. Hollyleaf bounded up to them. “Foxpaw, Icepaw, can you fetch some clean moss for the elders’ den?”
Foxpaw and Icepaw exchanged a sullen glance. “Why can’t they do it?” Icepaw asked, flicking her ears toward the ShadowClan apprentices.
“Because they’re not here to do all the jobs that you don’t like,” Hollyleaf retorted. “Besides, the elders will appreciate having the respect of their own Clanmates.”
“Yes, when you’re warriors you get to decide who does what,” Sandstorm added. “Not before.”
“Okay, okay, we’ll do it,” Foxpaw muttered, stifling a cough as he headed back toward the thorn barrier. “It’ll all be wet through, you know that.”
“Like they know the best moss places anyway,” Icepaw mewed with a twitch of her tail-tip as she followed her brother.
Hollyleaf turned to the group of mentors. “Shall I take Flamepaw, Tigerpaw, and Dawnpaw to get cleaned up?” she asked. Lionblaze’s whiskers twitched at the helpful tone in her voice. “Any cat can see they’re not used to hunting in thick woodland.”
“Not thick soaking-wet woodland,” Flamepaw agreed. He gave himself a thorough shake, scattering water drops and scraps of leaf, twigs, and moss. “I’d rather hunt in our own territory. It’s a lot cleaner there.”
Cloudtail leaped back as drops from Flamepaw’s fur spattered his white pelt. “You do that, Hollyleaf. The sooner the better.”
At the same moment, Lionblaze noticed that more cats had emerged from the tunnel: The border patrol was returning, led by Ashfur, with Honeyfern and Brackenfur.
“Yes, carry on, Hollyleaf,” Sandstorm meowed, heading toward the newcomers. “We need to find out what’s been happening along the ShadowClan border.” Whitewing, Cloudtail, Sorreltail, and Spiderleg crowded close behind her.
“Do you think any more cats will have crossed into our territory?” Spiderleg asked.
Lionblaze didn’t listen to Sandstorm’s reply. He padded over to meet his sister, who waved her tail at the three ShadowClan apprentices and led them across the clearing.
“Come with us,” Hollyleaf said. “We need to talk to you.”
Suspicion glimmered in Tigerpaw’s amber eyes. “This isn’t just about cleaning our pelts, right?”
“No, but it’s nothing to worry about,” Lionblaze assured him. “We’ve thought of a way to help your Clan.”
As they passed the entrance to the medicine cats’ den, Hollyleaf paused. “Hey, Jaypaw! Meet us in the usual place.”
The only reply was a bout of exhausted coughing.
“Is that the medicine cats’ den?” Flamepaw asked curiously.
“Can I look inside? I really wanted to be a medicine cat,” he added.
“Not right now,” Lionblaze replied. “It’s a bit crowded in there.”
The sound of more coughing drifted through the bramble screen. Dawnpaw’s eyes stretched wide. “Gee, those cats sound sick!”
Lionblaze exchanged a glance with Hollyleaf. It was natural to hide problems from a rival Clan; if he told the apprentices there was greencough in the camp, it would make ThunderClan sound weak. Still, the young cats were hardly likely to launch an attack. That could only happen if ShadowClan started to believe in StarClan again. Lionblaze sighed. Everything led back to the fake sign. . . .
“Jaypaw?” Hollyleaf called again.
“Okay!” Jaypaw sounded irritable. “I heard you the first time. I’ll come as soon as I can.”
Hollyleaf led the way to the space behind the warriors’ den. It was sheltered from the wind, but it felt even more cramped with the three apprentices in there. “You’ll manage better if you clean each other up,” she advised. “Get all the twigs and burrs out of your fur; then you can give yourselves a good wash.”
“This is such a pain,” Dawnpaw sighed, tugging at a stubborn knot in Tigerpaw’s fur. “I wish we were back on nice soft pine needles.”
“With any luck you will be,” Lionblaze promised.
“What do you mean?” Flamepaw asked.
“Wait until Jaypaw comes,” Hollyleaf meowed.
“I’m here.” Jaypaw appeared around the edge of the warriors’ den. “Great StarClan, it’s more crowded than ever,” he added, shoving his way in beside Lionblaze and wriggling until he’d made himself a space.
“Lionblaze says we’ll be back in our own territory soon.”
Dawnpaw was quivering with curiosity. “But I don’t see how we can be.”
“We’ve had an idea,” Jaypaw began, “but we haven’t much time. The longer Sol stays in ShadowClan, the harder it will be to get rid of him.”
“No cat can get rid of him,” Flamepaw mewed dejectedly.
Jaypaw tensed his muscles. “We can. We’re going to make a sign from StarClan to persuade ShadowClan that Sol is lying to him. Blackstar—I mean Blackfoot—will kick him out pretty quickly after that.”
All three apprentices stared at Jaypaw with baffled faces.
After a few heartbeats, Flamepaw whispered, “Won’t that make StarClan angry?”
“I doubt it.” Jaypaw flicked his ears. “StarClan themselves asked me for help. They can’t object to how I go about it.”
The three young cats’ eyes stretched wide. “Wow!” Dawnpaw breathed.
“We want to know the best place to create a sign.” Lionblaze took up the explanation. “And we have to bring Blackfoot and Littlecloud to see it, so they’ll be convinced StarClan is still watching over them.”
“And don’t forget, your Clan will know by now that you’ve left,” Hollyleaf reminded the apprentices. “Any plan we make will have to take that into account.”
“I get it,” meowed Tigerpaw. “A place near the border would be best, so that you don’t have to trespass too far on our territory.”
“Maybe that marshy place near the edge of the territory,”
Dawnpaw suggested. “Not many cats go there. We don’t want to be disturbed—”
“No, I think by the lake would be best,” Tigerpaw interrupted. “Then you could have a StarClan cat coming out of the water and—”
“Great,” Jaypaw grumbled. “And how do you suggest we do that?”
“And how do we get Blackfoot and Littlecloud to come and see it?” Dawnpaw added.
“We could tell them we saw cats trespassing,” Flamepaw suggested.
“Or a fox,” Tigerpaw put in. “We could lay a trail of fox scent.”
“What?” Dawnpaw’s neck fur fluffed up. “Are you mouse-brained? Are you just going to ask the fox nicely if—”
“We could use fox dung,” Flamepaw meowed.
Dawnpaw’s whiskers twitched in disgust. “You can. I’m not going near any fox dung, thanks very much.” Then her eyes sparkled mischievously and she added, “Why not feed them poppy seeds and carry them to the place?”
“No way!” Tigerpaw protested. “Blackfoot’s a seriously big cat. I’m not lugging him across half the territory.”
“There are useful herbs growing near the oak tree by the stream,” Flamepaw pointed out. “Littlecloud would come for those.” His tail curled up in amusement. “Then we could pelt Blackfoot with acorns, and he’d think they came from StarClan.”
“That’s stupid!” Dawnpaw exclaimed, leaping on her brother.
They wrestled together; in the confined space one of Flamepaw’s hind legs jabbed Hollyleaf in the belly.
“Watch it!” she snarled. When the two apprentices sat up, she went on more calmly. “You’re not taking this seriously.
This isn’t a game. It’s about preserving the warrior code. Do you want your Clan to break up and become a collection of rogues? Because that’s what will happen if we can’t make them believe in StarClan again.”
Serious now, wide-eyed with anxiety, all three apprentices exchanged uncomfortable glances. “Sorry,” Tigerpaw muttered.
“Well, what about that marshy place?” Dawnpaw went back to her original idea. “Not many cats will be anywhere near, especially after all this rain. We wouldn’t be disturbed there while we were setting up the sign. And Sol never goes that far; he doesn’t want to get his paws wet.”
“That sounds pretty good,” Lionblaze meowed. “What do you think?” he asked his littermates.
Hollyleaf nodded, and Jaypaw murmured, “It’s worth checking out.”
“But what will the sign be?” Flamepaw mewed eagerly.
“We’ll work that out when we get there,” Jaypaw replied.
“We’d better go right away.”
Lionblaze stuck his head out into the open. Watery sunlight was gleaming through the clouds. Outside the warriors’ den, Sorreltail and Brackenfur were sharing tongues, with Squirrelflight drowsing in the sunlight nearby. The four remaining kits were playing at the entrance to the nursery, with Daisy and Ferncloud looking on. Otherwise, everything was quiet; Lionblaze guessed that most cats were sleeping in their dens, either sick with the cough or building strength for the next patrol.
“All clear,” he reported. “Let’s go.”
“But I’m hungry,” Flamepaw complained. “Can’t we eat first?”
“There’s barely enough for ThunderClan,” Jaypaw growled.
Seeing the guilty looks on the faces of the apprentices, Lionblaze rested his tail-tip on his brother’s shoulder. “It’s not their fault,” he murmured. “There’s no time to eat now,”
he told Flamepaw, “but we’ll see if we can pick up some prey on the way back.”
Seeing the shock in Hollyleaf ’s green eyes, he added, “Okay, I know, the Clan must be fed first. But faking a sign from StarClan isn’t exactly part of the warrior code, is it? Anyway, we’re not a hunting patrol. I reckon the territory can spare a few mice.”
Hollyleaf didn’t reply, just flicked her tail.
“I’ll go and tell Leafpool that I’m going to collect herbs,”
Jaypaw meowed. “We’re low on almost everything, and I can pick some up on the way back.” He whisked out of their hiding place and behind the bramble screen into the medicine cats’
Lionblaze waited for him to emerge, then took the lead as they headed out of the camp and into the damp forest.CHAPTER 8
Every hair on Dawnpaw’s pelt was quivering. “This is like being sent on a real warrior mission!”
Hollyleaf could sympathize; she remembered very well how it felt to be a new apprentice, doing something to help her Clan.
“Do you think we’ll get to be warriors, after it’s all over?”
Tigerpaw mewed. “Because we saved our Clan?”
“No,” Hollyleaf replied gently. “Don’t forget, no cat must know we’re doing this. Besides, you’re too young to be warriors yet. You still have a lot to learn.”
The six cats were heading toward the far end of ThunderClan territory, following the same route Hollyleaf and her littermates had taken when they went to find Sol. Already the ShadowClan scent marks were fading along the border, and there was no sign of cats from either Clan. The only sounds were the drip of water from leaves and the rustle of ferns and grasses as the cats brushed through them.
All three of the apprentices were bouncing with excitement, rushing off into the undergrowth or dabbing at one another in the beginnings of a play fight.
“That’s enough,” Lionblaze ordered, rounding up Flamepaw with his tail and nudging him forward. “Do you think warriors chase each other around like that?”
The young ShadowClan cats settled down and padded along quietly, but Hollyleaf could see that their paws were still itching. They were acting as if Blackfoot had already seen the sign and decided that his Clan would return to StarClan and the warrior code.
But it’s not as easy as that.
Hollyleaf ’s belly churned as she wondered what would happen if they failed. They would only get one chance. If Blackfoot realized he was being tricked, he would be twice as careful afterward. ShadowClan would be lost forever. Even worse, Blackfoot might decide to invade ThunderClan, to punish them for interfering.
What if cats die because of what we’re doing?
“Jaypaw, have you decided what—”
Her brother flicked his ears irritably. “I can’t decide anything until we get to where we’re going. Now keep your tail over your jaws and let me think.”
“This is where we should cross the border,” Tigerpaw announced, stopping and looking around. “The marshy place is only a few fox-lengths away.”
Even though she could hardly taste the ShadowClan scent marks, Hollyleaf still felt guilty as she crossed into the rival Clan’s territory.
I don’t know why. If they cared about their border, they would mark it.
They couldn’t care less about the warrior code.
But we do, she answered herself. Going into another Clan’s territory is wrong.
Tigerpaw led them through some trees where brambles snagged their fur, then into a more open patch of ground.
“Here we are,” he declared.
Water welled up around Hollyleaf ’s paws as she gazed at the marsh ahead. Long-stemmed clusters of reeds grew around pools covered with bright green pondweed. Between them were tussocks of brittle grass and sedge, and a few spin-dly saplings grew with their roots in the water. There was a dank, musty scent, and the air was heavy with silence.
“What can you see?” Jaypaw mewed as the cats drew to a halt.
“Marshy ground and water,” Lionblaze replied.
“Yes, reeds and long grass. And a few trees.”
“What are the trees like? How big are they?” Jaypaw was beginning to sound excited. “What are their roots like?”
“Small trees,” Hollyleaf replied, wondering what was going through her brother’s mind. “Their roots look quite long and shallow, at least as far as I can see.”
Jaypaw fell silent, motionless except for his whiskers quivering.
“I don’t see what we can do here,” Hollyleaf mewed anxiously, wondering if they should have chosen somewhere else.
“There’s nothing to—”
“Shut up, I’m thinking,” Jaypaw snapped.
Hollyleaf exchanged a glance with Lionblaze.
“Leave him alone,” her brother whispered. “If any cat can work this out, he can.”
Hollyleaf hoped he was right. Trying to push down her impatience, she kept an eye on the three apprentices, who were stalking around the edge of the marshy ground, looking for prey.
“Nothing but pond flies!” Dawnpaw exclaimed indignantly.
“These trees.” Jaypaw broke his silence at last. “Do any of them look as if they could be knocked over?”
What? Has he gone completely mouse-brained? Hollyleaf flexed her claws and forced herself not to speak.
“I’ll check,” Lionblaze mewed. “There might be a few.”
He splashed off into the marsh with water brushing his belly fur and pondweed sticking to his golden pelt. The three apprentices left their hunt to watch, and Hollyleaf waited anxiously while Lionblaze circled several of the trees, giving their trunks a good sniff, then came splashing back.
“I think we could do it,” he reported. “I could feel roots under my paws, so we should be able to dig them up.”
“But why?” Hollyleaf only just stopped herself from wailing like a frustrated kit.
Jaypaw’s sightless blue eyes gleamed. “We’re going to make it look as if ShadowClan’s territory is falling down around them.”
Hollyleaf ’s heart thumped harder. Only Jaypaw would have thought of digging up trees as a message from StarClan. If it worked, it should really convince Blackfoot that following Sol was wrong.
Under Jaypaw’s direction, Hollyleaf and Lionblaze chose two saplings, not too far from each other.
“I want them still upright, but ready to fall. And when I give the word, I want them to fall toward each other, so their branches are joined together,” Jaypaw explained. “Okay, get digging.”
Hollyleaf waded out into the marsh, flinching as cold mud and water soaked into her fur. Dawnpaw joined her at one of the trees, while Lionblaze and Tigerpaw tackled the other.
As Lionblaze had said, Hollyleaf found that she could easily feel the roots of the tree under her paws. She clawed at them vigorously, trying to dislodge them from the mud. At first she thought she wouldn’t be able to shift them at all.
“This is hopeless!” Dawnpaw gasped. She was belly deep in the thick mud, and drops of it were spattered over her head and shoulders. “We’ll never do it.”
“Yes, we will,” Hollyleaf growled, clawing even harder.
“We’ve got to!”
She staggered as the root she was tugging at gave way, barely saving herself from sliding under the mud. Her pelt burned with urgency as she scrabbled around to find another root and dug her claws into it.
A few fox-lengths away, Lionblaze was struggling with the other tree. Tigerpaw worked alongside him, but Flamepaw was standing back with a troubled look in his eyes.
“What’s the matter with you?” Tigerpaw asked, flicking mud from his ears. “Come and help!”
“I still don’t know . . .” Flamepaw mewed doubtfully. “I’m not sure it’s right to fake a sign from StarClan.”
Dawnpaw glanced over her shoulder. “We’ve been through this,” she hissed in exasperation. “We already agreed to try anything. This might just work, and let us go back to our own Clan.”
Flamepaw hesitated, then took a deep breath. “Okay.” He floundered forward into the mud beside Lionblaze and his brother.
Hollyleaf couldn’t shift the next root however hard she clawed. Growing desperate, she gulped in air, then plunged her head below the surface of the mud and bit down on the stubborn tendril. Mud oozed into her mouth as she gnawed at it. Her chest ached with the need to breathe, but at last the bitter strands parted. Hollyleaf resurfaced, coughing and spitting out mud. Her fur was plastered with it and a foul taste clung to her tongue, but she didn’t care. Triumph flared through her from ears to tail-tip. I’ll do whatever it takes to save ShadowClan!
“I think we’ve done it!” Dawnpaw exclaimed. “The trunk feels unsteady.”
Hollyleaf gave the sapling an experimental push. The trunk tilted and a sucking sound came from under the surface of the mud.
“Stop!” Jaypaw ordered. He had been sniffing at Lionblaze’s tree; now he splashed across to Hollyleaf and stretched out a paw to touch the trunk of her tree. Hollyleaf saw it wobble again.
“That’s it,” Jaypaw meowed. “You can stop now.”
“Thank StarClan!” Dawnpaw sighed.
Jaypaw splashed back to Lionblaze, while Hollyleaf and Dawnpaw headed for the nearest dry spot where they could crawl out and shake some of the mud from their pelts.
“I thought I was going to turn into a frog!” Dawnpaw gave her chest fur a couple of quick licks. “Ugh! It’ll take moons to get this stuff off.”
Lionblaze and the other two apprentices were still struggling with their tree, while Hollyleaf flexed her claws impatiently. Rays of weak sunlight slanted through the forest; if they didn’t manage to uproot the trees before nightfall, Jaypaw’s plan would fail. Several sunrises seemed to pass before Jaypaw announced, “That’ll do.”
“Now one of us has to fetch Blackfoot and Littlecloud,”
Lionblaze meowed, hauling himself out onto dry ground.
“I’ll go,” Tigerpaw offered immediately.
“No, I will,” Dawnpaw protested.
“I’d be best at talking to Littlecloud,” Flamepaw pointed out.
“But I’m the strongest,” Tigerpaw insisted. “And the best fighter. If some cat attacks me I’m most likely to get out alive.”
Lionblaze nodded. “But you need a warrior for backup. I—”
“I’ll go,” Hollyleaf interrupted. She didn’t think she could stand waiting here wondering what was happening, while some other cat went deeper into ShadowClan territory to fetch Blackfoot. “You know I’m the best at stalking and keeping hidden. I’ve got light paws and a black pelt.”
“No, a mud-colored pelt.” Dawnpaw’s eyes glimmered with amusement.
“Whatever. The mud should help disguise my scent.” Hollyleaf sprang to her paws. “Let’s go, Tigerpaw.”
The ShadowClan apprentice led the way, skirting around the marsh and heading deeper into ShadowClan territory.
“I’ll be a few paces behind you,” Hollyleaf murmured.
“Don’t expect to see me unless there’s trouble.”
Tigerpaw nodded. “I’m going to try for Littlecloud first. If he listens to me, he’ll help persuade Blackfoot.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
Hollyleaf fell back a few tail-lengths, keeping the apprentice in sight as he slid through the undergrowth in the direction of the ShadowClan camp. Her ears were pricked for the sound of other cats, and she paused now and again to taste the air.
The silence of the forest raised the hairs on her pelt. Usually she would have expected to spot a patrol by now; her muscles were braced to leap into hiding, but the ShadowClan scent trails wandered faintly here and there, as if cats were hunting by themselves, and she caught a glimpse of only one tabby pelt, so far away that she couldn’t tell which cat it was.
This isn’t the way for warriors to live.
Tigerpaw headed for the stream and leaped lightly across on stepping-stones. Hollyleaf followed, more cautious than ever as the trees she was familiar with on ThunderClan territory gave way to pines, and the undergrowth became sparser. Her paws made no sound on the soft covering of pine needles.
At last she began to pick up the mingled scents of herbs.
Tigerpaw trotted briskly up a rise and paused at the top.
Without looking back, he raised his tail to beckon before vanishing down the other side of the ridge.
Hollyleaf crept after him, then clawed her way up a tree that grew near the top of the slope and crouched on a branch from where she could look down. The ground fell away below her into a shallow bowl, thickly carpeted with bushes covered in bright green leaves. Littlecloud, the ShadowClan medicine cat, was standing near the bottom, biting off some stems and laying them carefully to one side.
“Littlecloud!” Tigerpaw bounded toward him.
The small tabby tom leaped to his paws, his neck fur bristling in surprise. “Tigerpaw! Are you okay? And Tawnypelt and the others?”
“Yes, we’re all fine, thanks.” Tigerpaw halted in front of the medicine cat and dipped his head. “Littlecloud, I need to ask you something.”
The medicine cat bit off one more spray of leaves and laid it with the others. “Go ahead.”
“I brought Flamepaw and Dawnpaw to the border,” Tigerpaw began, gesturing with his tail. “We all want to come back to ShadowClan, but . . . well, we’re scared that we’ll get into trouble with Blackfoot.”
Littlecloud nodded. “I see.”
“Will you help us? Please?”
“What does Tawnypelt think about this?” Littlecloud asked.
“She doesn’t know we’re here. If Blackfoot will take us back, then we’ll talk to her about it. But she might not come. She’s really unhappy that ShadowClan doesn’t follow the warrior code anymore.”
Littlecloud heaved a deep sigh. “She’s not the only cat to feel like that.”
Hollyleaf tensed, digging her claws into the rough bark beneath her. Tigerpaw might be tempted to share the plan with Littlecloud, and that would ruin everything. But the apprentice said nothing about it, only repeating, “Please help us.”
“Of course I will,” Littlecloud purred. “Wait here. I’m not sure Blackfoot will listen to me, but I’ll do my best to bring him.” Picking up his bundle of stems, the medicine cat turned and bounded up the opposite side of the hollow.
“Don’t let Sol know what’s happening!” Tigerpaw called after him.
Littlecloud glanced back and nodded in acknowledgment, then trotted off among the pine trees.
Tigerpaw looked up into Hollyleaf ’s tree and waved his tail excitedly.
Thank StarClan! Hollyleaf thought. The plan’s working!CHAPTER 9
Lionblaze and Jaypaw crouched with the two remaining apprentices in a clump of spiky grass. Dawnpaw kept wriggling and bob-bing her head up to see over the top of the stems.
“For StarClan’s sake, keep still,” Jaypaw grumbled. “And keep your head down.”
“The grass is sticking into me,” she complained. “And I want to see if any cat is coming.”
Lionblaze laid his tail-tip on her shoulder. “We’ll hear and scent the cats before we see them,” he reminded her. “Keep still or you’ll give us all away.”
Dawnpaw settled down, though Lionblaze could feel excitement quivering through her as she pressed close to his side. His belly churned with better-hidden anticipation.
What’s taking so long? The sun was slowly sinking, and Blackfoot was unlikely to come after nightfall, if he came at all.
Suddenly Lionblaze heard rustling from the other side of the marsh. He pricked his ears and opened his jaws to taste the air. ShadowClan scent!
“Get to the trees,” Jaypaw whispered.
Lionblaze was just about to creep into position when Flamepaw hissed, “Wait! That’s not Blackfoot!”
Lionblaze froze. The lower branches of a bush at the edge of the marsh waved up and down; then a dark brown tom emerged, sniffing the air suspiciously.
Dawnpaw’s claws dug into the ground. “Toadfoot!”
“Fox dung!” Jaypaw spat.
Flamepaw’s eyes stretched wide with dismay. “Now what do we do?”
For a few heartbeats Lionblaze felt as helpless as a piece of prey under a warrior’s claws. He guessed that the ShadowClan warrior was following the scent trail left by Tigerpaw and Hollyleaf. What would they do if Blackfoot turned up now? Then he gave himself a mental shake. This was no time to panic!
“Flamepaw,” he whispered, signaling with a twitch of his ears. “Creep around the marsh on that side, and make sure Toadfoot doesn’t see you. I’ll go this way. When I leap on him, you come and help.”
The apprentice gave him a tense nod and crept away, his belly f lat to the ground. Lionblaze headed in the opposite direction, and took cover in a clump of bracken a couple of tail-lengths from Toadfoot. He caught a glimpse of Flamepaw’s ginger pelt under a bush opposite.
The ShadowClan warrior stalked forward, an aggressive light in his eyes. A low growl came from his throat. “I know you’re there. Come out!”
“Now!” Lionblaze yowled.
He leaped out of the clump of bracken and bowled over the astonished Toadfoot. At the same moment Flamepaw hurtled across the boggy ground and flung himself on top of his Clanmate. Lionblaze pinned Toadfoot down with both forepaws on his belly.
Toadfoot battered at Lionblaze with strong hindpaws. His forepaws flailed, scoring down Flamepaw’s neck and shoulder, but the apprentice held on, stretching himself across Toadfoot’s neck and shoulders.
“Get him into cover!” Lionblaze ordered.
Together he and Flamepaw dragged the struggling ShadowClan warrior behind the clump of bracken. Toadfoot lashed out with his claws, landing a painful blow on Lionblaze’s f lank, but he couldn’t free himself. His screeches of fury were cut off when Flamepaw pushed his head to the ground and kept a paw over his jaws.
As soon as the thrashing and yowling stopped, Lionblaze heard the sounds of more cats approaching through the trees.
Breathing heavily, he raised his head. Through the bracken fronds he could see Tigerpaw with Littlecloud pacing alongside him, and Blackfoot a tail-length or so behind.
The ShadowClan leader paused and looked suspiciously around him. “I heard something,” he growled.
“Some cat hunting, maybe,” Tigerpaw lied easily. “This way, Blackfoot. Flamepaw and Dawnpaw are waiting by the border.”
At the sound of his leader’s voice, Toadfoot heaved himself up in another attempt to escape. Lionblaze thrust him down again.
“Keep quiet if you want to save your Clan!” he hissed, planting a paw on Toadfoot’s neck.
Toadfoot glared at him furiously, but couldn’t move.
While Lionblaze and Flamepaw were fighting with Toadfoot, Jaypaw and Dawnpaw had slipped back into the marsh and taken up their positions by the saplings they had loos-ened. Almost covered by the mud, they were hardly visible to any cat who wasn’t looking for them.
The thin branches were waving as though the trees could fall at any moment. Tigerpaw led Blackfoot and Littlecloud forward as if he was going to skirt the marsh at the very edge.
Lionblaze caught a glimpse of Hollyleaf creeping from behind a gorse bush and plunging into the mud to help Dawnpaw.
His chest heaved. Now! Now!
Jaypaw raised his tail and slapped it down on the surface of the mud; then he thrust at the trunk of his tree with outstretched forepaws. Hollyleaf and Dawnpaw pushed their tree. Slowly the trunks tilted. There was a sucking noise and the surface of the marsh churned with brown bubbles.
Blackfoot let out a yowl of alarm, but it was too late to flee.
The trees crashed down, their branches locking together as they fell, the roots rising out of the mud and lashing the air like enormous tails. Peering through the bracken, Lionblaze spotted Tigerpaw scrambling through the branches and taking refuge underneath one of the trunks. He could see Blackfoot, clawing vainly at a mesh of twigs; for a moment he was worried that Littlecloud was hurt, but then he heard the medicine cat’s voice.
“Blackfoot? Are you okay?”
“No, I feel as if my pelt’s torn off,” the ShadowClan leader growled. “What happened? Where’s Tigerpaw?”
“I can’t see him. Tigerpaw!”
Jaypaw hauled himself out of the mud and balanced among the roots of the nearest tree, out of sight of the trapped cats.
“Tigerpaw has vanished . . .” he whispered, loud enough for the ShadowClan cats to hear.
“What? Who’s that?” Blackfoot demanded.
“I am one of the spirits you have denied. More cats than Tigerpaw will be lost if you go on rejecting your warrior ancestors.” Jaypaw’s whisper became more intense. “The forest will fall. . . .”
“What do you mean?” Lionblaze could just make out Blackfoot’s face, his lips drawn back in a snarl, and Littlecloud peering out of the branches beside him. The medicine cat’s eyes were wide with awe.
“A StarClan warrior is speaking to us!” he meowed.
Toadfoot started struggling again; Lionblaze crouched down on top of him while Flamepaw lay across his neck and shoulders, keeping a paw over his jaws. Keeping the writhing cat pinned down, Lionblaze peered out from hiding.
Blackfoot was clawing furiously at the branches. “Supersti-tious nonsense!” he spat, though Lionblaze thought there was uncertainty in his voice.
“We must listen,” Littlecloud insisted. “StarClan has a message for us. What if they’ve taken Tigerpaw and we never see him again?”
Blackfoot let out a snort of contempt. “If that’s a StarClan warrior, let it show itself.”
Lionblaze’s belly churned. Jaypaw wasn’t a warrior with stars in his fur, just an undersized tabby apprentice, covered with mud. If Blackfoot wouldn’t believe him without seeing him, their plan would fail.
“The forest will fall . . .” Jaypaw repeated. Lionblaze could just see him, crouched among the roots, his muscles tensed and his claws digging into the bark. “The trees will die. Your warriors will be scattered, and when they die they will never find a place among the stars.”
It’s not working, Lionblaze thought hopelessly. Blackfoot still wasn’t listening, just making more and more frenzied efforts to claw his way into the open. “Show yourself!” he snarled.
“The forest will fall. . . .” Jaypaw’s voice had an echoing qual-ity, as if another voice had joined it. “The forest will fall. . . .”
Now there was a third, all the voices twining together.
Lionblaze thought he saw a shimmer on the surface of the marsh. He blinked; then every hair on his pelt stood on end.
Two cats balanced on the surface of the mud: one a big tabby with a torn ear, the other a small gray-and-white tom. Frost sparkled at their paws and starlight was ref lected in their eyes.
“Raggedstar! Runningnose!” Littlecloud exclaimed from among the uprooted trees.
Blackfoot stopped his frantic clawing and stared, his mouth dropping open.
“Sol’s time in ShadowClan must come to an end,” Raggedstar meowed, his gaze locked with Blackfoot’s. “He is like the darkness that covered the sun.”
“He seems to have taken over your Clan,” Runningnose put in, “but he will pass and be forgotten in the brightness that follows. Brightness that will shine on ShadowClan for countless moons.”
“I . . . I hear you,” Blackfoot stammered. “I’ll do as you say.”
Littlecloud dipped his head as respectfully as he could with twigs clutching at his pelt. “ShadowClan will return to our warrior ancestors,” he promised, and added, “What have you done with our apprentice?”
“He is safe,” Raggedstar replied.
The gaze of the StarClan warriors swept around to rest on Hollyleaf, Jaypaw, and finally Lionblaze, who forced himself not to flinch. Would these starry cats be angry at what he and his littermates had done?
The StarClan cats did not speak, just bent their heads in a dignified nod. Their glimmering forms began to fade until they were no more than wisps of starlight above the marsh.
Then they were gone. Lionblaze let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
Blackfoot broke through the branches that held him without much trouble; Littlecloud followed him through the gap he had made, and both cats scrambled onto dry ground at the edge of the marsh. Their pelts were clumped with mud and bits of twigs and debris, and blood was trickling from one of Blackfoot’s ears.
“StarClan hasn’t abandoned us!” Littlecloud’s voice was shaken, but ecstatic.
Blackfoot shook his head. “They spoke to us,” he murmured.
“You were right, Littlecloud. We can’t ignore the spirits of our warrior ancestors. Not when they’re still watching over us.”
“What will you do now?” Littlecloud asked.
“Get rid of Sol, to begin with.” Blackfoot flexed his claws until the tips disappeared into the wet ground. “I can’t believe I let myself listen to that mange-ridden trickster. He told me StarClan didn’t care what happened to us! But they brought us here, made the trees fall so that we had to hear them. I’ll make sure that no ShadowClan cat is led astray by Sol again.
You don’t think I’ve left it too long?” he added anxiously.
“I know you haven’t,” Littlecloud reassured him, touching his leader’s shoulder with the tip of his tail. “The warrior code lives within every one of the cats born in ShadowClan. One cat alone cannot quench that flame.”
“Then let’s go,” Blackfoot meowed, turning toward the ShadowClan camp.
Littlecloud hesitated. “Tigerpaw, are you there?”
Lionblaze saw the apprentice clamber out of his hiding place under the trunk and splash his way through the mud to his Clanmates.
“Are you okay?” Littlecloud asked. “Did you see what happened?”
“Yes.” Tigerpaw’s amber eyes were shining. “I never thought I’d get to see real StarClan warriors!”
Nor did I, Lionblaze thought.
Tigerpaw dipped his head to Blackfoot. “Can we come back now?”
Blackfoot nodded. “Of course. ShadowClan needs you.”
Tigerpaw straightened proudly. “Then I’ll go and find Flamepaw and Dawnpaw.”
“Get back to camp as soon as you can,” Blackfoot ordered.
Waving his tail to Littlecloud, he added, “Let’s go. I can’t wait to tell our Clan they can look to their warrior ancestors again.”
“I know they’ll all be glad to hear it, Blackfoot,” Littlecloud meowed.
The white cat drew himself to his full height, his muscles rippling beneath his ruffled pelt. “Black star,” he corrected.
“My name is Blackstar.”
Raising his tail, the ShadowClan leader stalked off into the forest, with his medicine cat padding behind him.
From the moment when the StarClan warriors started to speak, Toadfoot had lain still as a stone under Lionblaze’s paws. When Lionblaze and Flamepaw let him get up, he sat staring at the marsh as if he couldn’t believe what had happened. “Were those really cats from StarClan?” he whispered.
“Yes, they were,” Flamepaw replied solemnly. “Our warrior ancestors are still watching over us. They want the warrior code to be preserved.”
Toadfoot blinked, still stunned.
“What are you going to do now?” Lionblaze asked him. If Blackstar knew what they had done, would he still want his Clan to look to their warrior ancestors?
Toadfoot’s glance f licked from Lionblaze to Flamepaw and back again, a low growl beginning to build in his throat.
“You faked that sign!”
“Only to start with.” Flamepaw faced his Clanmate. “We made the trees fall and brought Blackstar here. But we didn’t make the StarClan cats appear. They came of their own accord, and that made it a real sign after all.”
Toadfoot shook bits of bracken off his dark brown pelt, his eyes still indecisive. “You’re lucky they did come,” he muttered.
“Otherwise ShadowClan would have torn ThunderClan apart for interfering and lying.”
“You could try,” Lionblaze meowed, his fur bristling.
“But StarClan really did come,” Flamepaw persisted. “They proved that they are still watching over us, that we should still listen to them and live by the warrior code. They have the Clan’s best interests at heart; we have to believe what they say for our own sake.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” Lionblaze demanded.
Toadfoot paused, then nodded. “I suppose I should thank you,” he meowed grudgingly.
“No,” Lionblaze replied, “it’s StarClan you should thank.”
Hollyleaf padded up, mud dripping from her pelt, and gave Toadfoot a disapproving sniff. “What are we going to do about him?” she asked Lionblaze.
It was Toadfoot who answered. “I promise I won’t tell any cat what I saw.”
Hollyleaf ’s ears flicked up. “Can we trust him?”
“It’s trust him or kill him.” Jaypaw joined them and sat down with a gusty sigh. “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go through all this to start killing ShadowClan cats.”
“Then we have to trust you.” Lionblaze turned to Toadfoot. “Swear by StarClan that you’ll keep the secret.”
“Of course I will, mouse-brain.” Toadfoot lashed his tail.
“I swear it. Unless keeping your secret will harm my Clan,” he added instantly.
“Which it won’t.” Lionblaze gave Toadfoot a brusque nod.
“You can go.”
Toadfoot turned and stalked away, with a last fearful glance at the marsh where the two StarClan warriors had appeared.
“Come on.” Tigerpaw waved his tail at his two littermates.
“We’ve got to get back, too.”
The apprentices dipped their heads to the ThunderClan cats.
“We’ll never be able to thank you enough,” Flamepaw mewed.
“We did this for ThunderClan, too. And we couldn’t have done it without you,” Lionblaze replied.
“What are we going to do about our mother?” Dawnpaw asked her brother and sister.
Tigerpaw and Flamepaw looked blankly at each other.
“Don’t worry about that now,” Lionblaze assured them.
“We’ll tell Tawnypelt what happened. You need to get back to your camp right away, and we need to get off your territory.”
“Yeah.” Tigerpaw’s eyes gleamed. “Don’t you dare cross our borders once we renew the scent marks!”
The apprentices bounded off through the trees. Lionblaze watched them until they were out of sight, then headed back toward his own territory with Hollyleaf and Jaypaw at his side.
“I can’t believe our fake sign turned into a real message from StarClan!” Hollyleaf exclaimed. “Jaypaw, do you think that StarClan needed us to set the trap before they could appear?”
Jaypaw shrugged. “I don’t know, but I doubt it.”
“I think they wanted the apprentices to show them how desperate they were to save their Clan,” Lionblaze suggested.
“Tigerpaw and the others wouldn’t have gone through all that if they didn’t want to bring ShadowClan back to StarClan and the warrior code.”
“We were desperate, too.” Hollyleaf lashed her tail. “Nothing matters more than preserving the warrior code.”
“And what in the name of StarClan are we going to tell Tawnypelt?” Jaypaw asked. “The truth would be a really bad idea—I can feel it in my pelt.”
“I don’t know.” Hollyleaf sounded worried. “I don’t want Firestar to know what we did, either. He would put me and Lionblaze back on apprentice duties before you could say
Lionblaze drew ahead a few paw steps, his mind drifting from the conversation behind him. His paws were itching to know what Sol would do after Blackstar told him to leave ShadowClan.
Will he keep his promise? he wondered. Will he come to mentor the three of us to our true destiny?CHAPTER 10
Hollyleaf leaped, sinking her claws into the vole and dispatching it with a quick nip to the neck. Straightening up with her prey in her jaws, she spotted Lionblaze approaching through the bracken, dragging the limp body of a rabbit.
“Hey, great catch!” she mumbled around the vole.
Twilight had fallen, and deep shadows lay on the forest floor. Hollyleaf and Lionblaze had stopped near the dead tree to hunt on their way back to camp, while Jaypaw looked for fresh herbs.
“Let’s get back,” he meowed, padding up with a bunch of tansy. “I’m worried about the sick cats. Leafpool can’t do everything, and if I’m any later she’ll have my pelt for bedding.”
“Okay.” Hollyleaf retrieved the mouse she had killed earlier and led the way back to camp, carrying her prey.
Every hair on her pelt was tingling with relief that they had been able to save ShadowClan. Only one problem remained: What were they going to tell Tawnypelt?
Lionblaze pushed through the thorn tunnel ahead of her, the hind legs of his rabbit leaving faint scars in the dust. As she emerged into the camp, Hollyleaf could see that the clearing was almost empty. Many cats would already be in their dens. She spotted Sandstorm and Squirrelflight sharing a thrush beside the fresh-kill pile, while Poppyfrost was padding toward the dirtplace tunnel.
“Hey, Poppyfrost!” Lionblaze bounded forward, letting his rabbit fall. “Have you seen Tawnypelt?”
Poppyfrost nodded. “She’s in Firestar’s den with Brambleclaw.”
“Hang on,” Hollyleaf meowed to her brother as he padded back to her. “We haven’t decided what to tell her yet.”
“We can’t talk now,” Jaypaw stated. “I have to check in with Leafpool. I’ll find you later.” Without waiting for a reply he bounded over to the medicine cats’ den and disappeared behind the brambles.
Lionblaze yawned and arched his back in a long stretch.
“I’m worn out. Let’s drop off this prey and go to our den for a rest. We don’t need to worry about Tawnypelt right now; she’s busy.”
The two young warriors picked up their prey and carried it over to the fresh-kill pile.
“You’ve been hunting,” Squirrelflight mewed approvingly.
“How did you get that mud all over you?” Sandstorm narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Were you hunting for frogs?”
“It’s just a bit wet out there,” Lionblaze mumbled, not looking at the older she-cat.
Amusement glimmered in Sandstorm’s green eyes; she opened her mouth to reply, only to be distracted by the sound of cats pushing their way through the barrier. Birchfall emerged; Hollyleaf ’s fur tingled with surprise when she saw that Littlecloud was following him, with Whitewing and Icepaw bringing up the rear.
Sandstorm leaped to her paws. “What’s this?” She bounded across the clearing to confront the ShadowClan medicine cat.
Squirrelf light rose more slowly. “I’d better let Firestar know,” she murmured, and headed for the tumbled rocks that led to the Highledge.
Hollyleaf and Lionblaze followed Sandstorm across the clearing. More cats were appearing from the warriors’ den, Cloudtail loudly proclaiming that he would know ShadowClan scent anywhere. He and Brightheart joined the group around Littlecloud, followed by Berrynose, Hazeltail, and Mousewhisker. Mousefur poked her head out of the elders’
den but stayed where she was, her whiskers twitching in disapproval.
“What’s another ShadowClan cat doing in our camp?” Berrynose demanded.
No cat answered him, though his littermate Hazeltail gave him a sharp nudge with her shoulder, nearly knocking him off his paws.
“Greetings.” Sandstorm gave Littlecloud a curt nod. “Birchfall, what’s going on here?”
Hollyleaf thought that Birchfall seemed embarrassed. “We were patrolling the ShadowClan border,” he began.
“I spotted Littlecloud,” Icepaw broke in. “Birchfall and Whitewing were too busy gossiping.”
“That’s enough.” Whitewing scolded her apprentice; she looked flustered. “Littlecloud says he needs to talk to Tawnypelt.”
Littlecloud dipped his head respectfully to Sandstorm.
“With Firestar’s permission. Things have happened in ShadowClan that she needs to know.”
Before Sandstorm could reply, Hollyleaf saw Firestar, Brambleclaw, and Tawnypelt appearing on the Highledge, with Squirrelflight just behind. Sandstorm waved her tail, inviting Littlecloud to follow her; she led him across the clearing to stand at the foot of the stones. Hollyleaf and Lionblaze padded after them with the rest of the ThunderClan cats; more were emerging from their dens and gathering around to listen. Rosekit and Toadkit frisked across the clearing from the nursery, their ears pricked curiously, while Daisy followed more slowly.
“Greetings, Littlecloud,” Firestar meowed. “Welcome to our camp. How can we help you?”
“Thank you, Firestar,” the medicine cat replied. “It’s Tawnypelt I need to speak to.”
The tortoiseshell warrior’s ears flicked up in surprise. “I’ve nothing to say to ShadowClan anymore.” There was the hint of a snarl in her voice. “They are not my Clan.”
“I’m sorry you feel like that.” Littlecloud blinked sympathetically. “But I think you might change your mind when you hear what I’ve come to tell you.”
“Go on, then.” Tawnypelt still sounded hostile.
“Blackstar wants you to come back,” the medicine cat went on. “Your three kits have already returned—”
“What!” Tawnypelt’s jaws gaped wide in shock. Hollyleaf could see she wanted to spill out a whole cascade of questions, but her gaze flickered around the listening ThunderClan cats, and she clamped her jaws shut again.
“Blackstar wants me to tell you that no cat will blame you for leaving.” Littlecloud gazed up at his Clanmate. “ShadowClan is returning to the warrior code, and to their faith in their warrior ancestors.”
Tawnypelt drew in a long breath. “If that’s true . . . what about Sol?”
“Sol has decided to leave ShadowClan,” Littlecloud replied.
“Decided?” Lionblaze whispered into Hollyleaf’s ear.
“Look out for flying hedgehogs.”
“His place is not with us,” Littlecloud continued. “Blackstar bears him no ill will, but he is not a Clan cat.”
“This is good news,” Brambleclaw meowed to his sister.
“I’d welcome you as my Clanmate again, but I know you’ll always be a loyal ShadowClan cat in your heart.”
Tawnypelt touched her nose to Brambleclaw’s ear, then nodded. “Okay, Littlecloud. I’ll come. But you’d better be telling me the truth.”
“A medicine cat doesn’t lie,” Littlecloud replied.
Tawnypelt turned to Firestar. “Thank you for everything, Firestar.”
“I’m just glad it’s ended so well,” Firestar meowed. “Good-bye, and good luck.”
The tortoiseshell warrior pressed her pelt against Brambleclaw’s, then leaped down the rocks to join Littlecloud.
Together the two ShadowClan cats padded across the clearing and disappeared into the thorn barrier.
“I never thought that would happen!” Cloudtail burst out as soon as they were gone. “Do you think Blackstar really changed his mind just like that?”
Hollyleaf deliberately didn’t look at her brother.
“I’d bet a month of dawn patrols those apprentices had something to do with it,” Birchfall meowed. “Why else would they disappear back to ShadowClan without their mother?”
Dustpelt let out a snort of amusement. “I can just picture those three holding Blackstar down until he agreed.”
“Maybe losing them made Blackstar realize what he was doing to his Clan,” Hollyleaf suggested carefully.
Hazeltail nodded. “You could be right.”
“Well, whatever changed Blackstar’s mind, it’s a good thing for the rest of the Clans,” Sandstorm mewed. “No cat wants a Clan on their borders that doesn’t follow the warrior code.”
“True,” Ferncloud purred, brushing against the ginger she-cat’s side. “There should always be four Clans around the lake, all following the warrior code.”
“I just hope Tawnypelt won’t tell Blackstar too much about our camp,” Daisy murmured, with an anxious look at her kits.
Hollyleaf began to bristle at the suggestion that her kin would betray the Clan who had helped her, especially when it was her brother’s Clan. Before she could speak, Sandstorm touched her nose to Daisy’s ear. “I’m sure you don’t need to worry. Tawnypelt would never do that.”
“And what about Sol, that’s what I’d like to know.” Mousefur stalked up to join the group of cats. “Where will he go now?”
“Who cares?” Berrynose mewed.
“Because he might start causing more trouble, mouse-brain,” Dustpelt pointed out. “I just hope he’ll leave the Clans alone now.”
“He’d better.” Hollyleaf clawed fiercely at the ground. Even the thought of Sol made her pelt bristle. “He has no place here if he tries to destroy the warrior code.”
Lionblaze opened his jaws as if he was about to protest, then closed them again. Hollyleaf didn’t like the doubtful look in his eyes. Surely he wasn’t going to defend Sol, after what the loner had done to ShadowClan?
Hollyleaf jerked her head to draw her brother away from the excited cats. “You don’t still believe in that crow-food-eating menace, do you?” she hissed.
Lionblaze shrugged. “He’s not as bad as all that. I was hoping he’d come back to mentor us.”
Hollyleaf stared at him in disbelief. “Why should he help us? Why do you even want him to? Look at what he did to ShadowClan. He persuaded them to give up the warrior code!”
“But our destiny has nothing to do with the warrior code,”
Lionblaze argued with a glance over his shoulder to make sure no cat was listening.
Hollyleaf snorted. “Sol is a dangerous cat. If he turns up again, you should stay away from him. Our destiny will come, whatever we do or don’t do. Isn’t that the point of a prophecy?”
Lionblaze looked away. He didn’t protest anymore, but as Hollyleaf padded over to the warriors’ den, she wasn’t sure she’d managed to convince him.
Hollyleaf stood on a steep bank overlooking the lake, and tasted the air for signs of prey. Behind her, Dustpelt and Sorreltail, the other members of the hunting patrol, were stalking through the undergrowth. A cool breeze was blowing the leaves from the trees; they whirled past Hollyleaf, fluttering scraps of scarlet and gold. Though the sun was up, the ground underpaw still crackled with frost.
Hollyleaf ’s ears f licked up as she caught a trace of vole on the wind. Heartbeats later she spotted a good plump one, under a root halfway down the slope that led to the lake. She dropped into the hunter’s crouch and glided toward it, trying to keep her paw steps as light as a falling leaf.
She was sure that she hadn’t made a sound, but before she had covered half the distance, something spooked the vole and it scurried down the bank toward the lake. Mouse dung! Hollyleaf sprang after it, but when she reached the pebbly shore her prey had vanished.
Furious, she began sniffing at the holes in the bank; there was a strong scent of vole, but no way of getting at it.
Hollyleaf froze at the sound of the quiet voice. She spun around to see Sol sitting on the pebbles with his tail wrapped neatly over his paws. His white pelt with its black, brown, and ginger patches was sleek and well groomed, and his pale yellow eyes gleamed.
“What are you doing here?” Hollyleaf demanded. She could feel every hair on her pelt bristling, her tail fluffing out to twice its size, and her belly churning with her distrust of this powerful cat. “I thought you’d gone.”
Fury flashed in the loner’s eyes, and his claws dug into the ground. Yet a heartbeat later he was cool and controlled again, so that Hollyleaf almost believed she had imagined the anger he had betrayed.
“I left ShadowClan, but I cannot leave the lake yet,” Sol meowed calmly. Hollyleaf had never met a cat, not even Firestar, who sounded so sure of himself. “The Clans need me.
They just haven’t realized it yet. You need me, Hollyleaf.”
Hollyleaf swallowed, realizing that she was in danger of falling under the power of Sol’s voice once again. “You’re wrong,” she insisted. “I don’t need you, and neither do Lionblaze and Jaypaw.”
“Are you sure of that?” Sol’s amber gaze was fixed on her; for a heartbeat Hollyleaf felt like a piece of cowering prey, transfixed under a warrior’s claws.
“Quite sure.” She forced herself to sound certain. “We’ll achieve our destiny without your help, because the warrior code will set our paws in the right direction.”
She braced herself for Sol to argue, but the loner only dipped his head a little, acknowledging what she said. He rose to his paws and turned away without another word.
Hollyleaf stood watching him, determined to make sure that he left ThunderClan territory. Before he had gone more than a couple of tail-lengths, Sol glanced back over one shoulder.
“Are you sure you have found the three?”
“What do you mean?” Hollyleaf took a pace toward him, her vision blurring with anger. “Lionblaze, Jaypaw, and I are the three. We’re kin of Firestar’s kin, and there are three of us.
And Jaypaw knows things that no other cat does.”
“But Jaypaw didn’t know about the vanishing sun.” Sol’s voice echoed around Hollyleaf, but when she focused her gaze again he was already far away, padding along the shore of the lake in the direction of WindClan territory.
“Good riddance,” she whispered, but her pelt still quivered and in her heart she knew that she had not seen the last of Sol.
Hollyleaf managed to track down another vole and carried it back to where the hunting patrol was gathering, ready to return to camp. She was determined not to say anything about meeting Sol, and she hoped no other cat had seen him; the sooner her Clanmates forgot about him, the better.
Dustpelt, who was leading the patrol, was scraping the earth off their cache of fresh-kill when Hollyleaf padded up.
“The Clan will eat well today,” he meowed. “Let’s go.”
There was a rasp in his voice, and he ended with a cough.
Hollyleaf gazed at him in dismay. There was a feverish glitter in the tabby warrior’s eyes; it sounded as though he had been coughing for some time.
“You should see Leafpool as soon as you get back,” Sorreltail told him.
“I’m fine,” Dustpelt retorted, with another painful cough.
“You are not fine, and you will see Leafpool,” Sorreltail flashed back at him. Dustpelt had been her mentor for a while, when Sandstorm was away journeying with Firestar; Hollyleaf knew she wasn’t as apprehensive of the short-tempered warrior as many of the other ThunderClan cats.
“All right, no need to be so bossy,” Dustpelt grumbled, grabbing up a squirrel and stalking through the undergrowth toward the camp.
Hollyleaf exchanged an anxious glance with Sorreltail as the two she-cats followed.
Back in the stone hollow, she dropped her prey on the fresh-kill pile and bounded across to Leafpool’s den to tell her about Dustpelt. She wouldn’t put it past the tabby warrior to conveniently forget that he should visit the medicine cat.
“Don’t come in!” Leafpool’s voice came urgently from behind the brambles. A moment later she appeared, the scent of herbs clinging to her pelt. “Oh, it’s you, Hollyleaf. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing for me,” Hollyleaf replied, worried to see how tired the medicine cat was looking. “But I was out hunting with Dustpelt, and I heard him coughing. I thought you should know.”
“Oh, no—not another cat!” Leafpool’s eyes stretched wide with anxiety. “Longtail started coughing last night, and Daisy and Honeyfern this morning, and Rosekit is feverish.”
Fear gripped deep in Hollyleaf ’s belly, not just because of the bad news, but because she had never seen Leafpool this distraught. “Are we all going to get sick, one by one?”
“I don’t know.” Leafpool shook her head. “I’m doing all I can, but what if it isn’t enough?”
Hollyleaf couldn’t remember ever seeing Leafpool so full of doubt, so frightened for her Clanmates. She pressed her muzzle into the fur on the medicine cat’s shoulder. “You’re a great medicine cat, Leafpool. I know every cat will be fine with you to take care of them.”
“It means a lot to me, hearing you say that.” Leafpool’s amber gaze was fixed on Hollyleaf. “I just wish it was true.”
She straightened up and gave her pelt a little shake. “Go and get something to eat. You need to keep your strength up, or you’ll get sick, too.”
Hollyleaf dipped her head. “Okay.”
As she returned to the fresh-kill pile, she felt confidence gradually filling her up like rain in an upturned leaf. Sol had gone; she had watched him leave, and she had made it clear that he wouldn’t be welcome in ThunderClan. ShadowClan was keeping the warrior code once more, and looking for guidance from the spirits of their warrior ancestors. As for the sickness—it was bad, but Leafpool would cure it.
Crouching down to take the first bite of her vole, Hollyleaf felt some of her old excitement about the prophecy coming back.
I’m ready, StarClan! Just tell me what I have to do!CHAPTER 11
Jaypaw let out a sneeze as dust from the dried herbs got up his nose. Squeezing himself even farther into the storage cleft in the medicine cats’ den, he stretched out a paw and scrabbled at a few brittle stems that lay right at the back. The faint scent that lingered told him they were coltsfoot, collected the previous newleaf.
The apprentice started at the sound of Leafpool’s voice and bumped his head on the roof of the cleft. “Mouse dung!”
he muttered, wriggling out backward with the dried coltsfoot leaves in his claws.
“What have you managed to find?” Leafpool asked.
“Coltsfoot, and a few juniper berries,” Jaypaw reported, dropping the stems at Leafpool’s paws.
“So little . . .” Leafpool murmured.
Jaypaw could hear her sorting through the pitiful collection.
“Better than nothing,” he mewed, trying to sound optimistic.
“But it’s not enough. Jaypaw, we’re losing the battle.”
Every hair on Jaypaw’s pelt prickled and he dug his claws into the packed earthen floor. “We can’t be!”
“We are.” Leafpool let out a despairing sigh. “There isn’t enough room to separate the sick cats from the rest of the Clan, and we can’t treat greencough without catmint.”
“I’ve been looking after the catmint plants at the old Twoleg nest,” Jaypaw meowed. “Shall I go and see if there are any new shoots?”
“No, there can’t possibly be enough.” Jaypaw felt his mentor’s hopelessness as if it were his own. “Besides, we need to let that supply grow for next season.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. Things will only get worse as the weather gets colder. Cats will get weaker as prey runs short. And if more cats get sick, there won’t be enough warriors left to hunt for the Clan.”
Jaypaw lifted his chin. “Then we need to find more catmint.”
“There is no more,” Leafpool insisted. “I know of one patch, just outside the RiverClan border, by a Twoleg nest, but I can’t leave the Clan long enough to fetch it, and—”
She broke off, but Jaypaw knew well enough what she had meant to say. You can’t go because you’re blind. He sensed Leafpool watching him in despair, and felt the strength of her desire that he could see. Briefly he struggled with a surge of bitterness. Because then I’d be more useful, right?
“No, Jaypaw.” Leafpool answered his unspoken resent-ment. “It’s not because you’re blind that you can’t go. If that was the problem, I could send you with a warrior.”
“Then why don’t you?”
Leafpool sighed. “Because you would need to cross ShadowClan territory, and go along the RiverClan border to get to the place. There has been too much fighting recently. We can’t risk you and a warrior when so many cats are sick. What if another Clan attacked us? We need all the paws we’ve got, here in our own territory.”
“Then what about asking the other medicine cats?” Jaypaw suggested. “If they’ve got catmint, they’d give us some.”
“Yes, they would.” Leafpool’s voice grew sharper, as if she was annoyed by his insistence. “But I can’t ask without the other Clans finding out how weak we are. Firestar would have my pelt if he found out I’d done that.”
Reluctantly Jaypaw had to admit she was right. “So what can I do to help?” he asked.
“I’ve sent Millie and Briarkit out for some fresh air and sun.” Leafpool sounded relieved to turn to something more practical. “They’re in that space between here and the warriors’ den. It’s sheltered there, and they should be far enough away from the other cats to stop the cough from spreading.
Could you take out their old bedding, and bring in some fresh?”
“Sure.” Jaypaw padded to the side of the den and started scraping up the used moss and bracken, collecting it into a ball.
“Make sure you take it a long way from camp,” Leafpool reminded him. “And when you’ve finished, you can fetch Millie and Briarkit back in, before they get too tired and cold.”
Jaypaw rolled the ball of soiled bedding out through the thorn barrier, and dumped it several fox-lengths away from the hollow. Nearby he found more moss growing thickly around the roots of a tree. To his relief, it had dried out since the heavy rain of a few days before. Tearing off some fronds of bracken, he bundled the whole lot together and staggered with it back into camp.
When he went to fetch the sick cats, he found Millie lying stretched out in a sunny spot beside the wall of the stone hollow. Her breath rasped in her throat and when he rested a paw on her chest, Jaypaw could feel it heaving rapidly up and down. Briarkit pushed up beside him, nudging at her mother.
“I want to play,” she whimpered. She had to catch her breath as she spoke, and Jaypaw could feel her legs wobbling. “Be a mouse, and I’ll catch you!”
Millie let out a weary sigh, and Briarkit’s pleading ended in a cough.
“Come on,” Jaypaw meowed, trying to sound cheerful. “I’ve put down some fresh bedding for you. You’ll be able to have a really good sleep.”
“Don’t want to sleep!” Briarkit protested.
“Yes, you do,” Jaypaw informed her. “Sleeping will make you feel better.”
He slipped his shoulder under Millie’s as she struggled to her paws; her chest wheezed with the effort and her coughs were weak, as if her strength was ebbing fast. Jaypaw’s belly twisted with frustration. The prophecy said he had the power of the stars in his paws, but what good was that if he had to witness the cats in his care die?
He helped Millie back into her nest, with Briarkit getting under his paws until he shooed her into the moss beside her mother. He straightened up and headed back to the cleft, wondering if he could have possibly missed any stores of herbs.
Suddenly his eyes filled with dazzling sunlight, so bright that he flinched and bent his head, trying to shut out the rays.
When his vision cleared, he looked up again, blinking. He was standing in a glade, thick with rustling leaves. The warm air was heavy with the scent of growing herbs.
Is there catmint here? That was the first thought that jumped into his head.
As he tasted the air, the smell of cats flooded over him, drowning the scents of the herbs. Starlight glimmered in the undergrowth under the trees, and warriors of StarClan began to emerge into the clearing. Jaypaw recognized Bluestar, her tail twitching with anxiety; she glanced back at the muscular figure of Whitestorm, who followed her into the open.
“They are coming,” the old ThunderClan leader whispered.
“So many of them . . .”
“Maybe not,” Whitestorm meowed reassuringly. “ThunderClan couldn’t have better medicine cats.”
Jaypaw heard a disgusted snort as yet another starry cat pushed her way through the ferns: Yellowfang with her ragged gray pelt and burning amber eyes. “Are you mouse-brained, Whitestorm? What can medicine cats do if there aren’t any healing herbs?”
“Is there no way we can guide them?” A soft mew announced the arrival of Spottedleaf, her tail waving gracefully as she padded out into the open. “No way to help?”
“You tell me,” Yellowfang snapped. “There’s no more catmint on ThunderClan territory, and that’s that. I’d give them my pelt if I could, but what use would that be?”
“Will sickness destroy my Clan?” Bluestar wailed, her claws working furiously, tearing up clumps of grass.
One last cat slipped into the clearing: the silver tabby whom Jaypaw had seen in Graystripe’s memory, her lifeblood gush-ing out onto stones as she gave birth to a pair of tiny kits.
“Millie is close to joining us,” she murmured. “What can we do? Graystripe doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken again.”
None of the other StarClan cats could answer her. They began to circle distractedly, their pelts quivering with distress.
None of them seemed to have noticed Jaypaw.
Why am I here? he wondered. If there’s nothing useful in this vision, I’ve got sick cats to look after.
A cool breeze swept over the clearing, ruffling the moon-colored fur of the restless cats. Starlight gleamed again in the shadows under the trees, and three more cats padded into the open. The first was a young she-cat—barely old enough to be a warrior—her silver tabby pelt glimmering with a pale light.
The second cat was older, a silver tabby so like the first that Jaypaw guessed she was her mother, while the third was a broad-shouldered tabby tom.
“Brightspirit.” Bluestar dipped her head respectfully to the young she-cat. “It has been a long time.”
“Shiningheart. Braveheart,” Whitestorm greeted the two older cats. “Your presence honors us.”
Jaypaw stared at the three newcomers. Where had these cats come from? He had never seen them before, or heard their names in any of the Clans. Their scent was different too—faintly of StarClan, and of something else carried on wind and in starlight. He sensed that they had traveled a long distance. Is this why I’m here? To meet these cats?
The two older cats remained at the edge of the trees, their tails twined together, but Brightspirit bounded across the clearing and halted in front of Jaypaw. Her green eyes glowed with love and sympathy and her sweet scent wreathed around him.
“Greetings, Jaypaw,” she mewed. “You are troubled.”
Jaypaw crouched to the ground. This was no ordinary StarClan cat; he couldn’t imagine telling this cat she was merely a Clan cat in a different place. Something about her, the way she tipped her head to one side and studied him as if they were the only cats in the clearing, made him spill out the truth.
“ThunderClan cats are dying. I don’t know what to do.”
Brightspirit stretched out her neck and rested her muzzle against her ear, warming him with her breath.
“Seek for the wind,” she whispered. “The wind holds what you seek.”
Jaypaw took a step back and stared at her. “What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
With a hiss, darkness slammed down over his eyes as if night had suddenly fallen, and he found himself surrounded by the scents of stale herbs and sick cats once more. He bit back a yowl of frustration.
She was going to tell me something!
For a few heartbeats he could still make out Brightspirit’s scent, and a distant echo of her voice. “Seek for the wind. And may StarClan light your path.” Then she was gone.
“Come on, Millie.” Leafpool’s voice sounded close by him.
“Lie down here. Jaypaw fetched fresh bedding for you.”
“Thanks, Jaypaw,” Millie rasped.
Jaypaw tensed. Had the whole of his vision taken only a couple of heartbeats? He helped Leafpool settle Millie and Briarkit, longing all the while for a bit of peace so that he could think about Brightspirit and her mysterious words.
As the sick cats curled up in their nest, Jaypaw heard the sound of racing footsteps drawing closer. What now? He picked up Sandstorm’s scent as she halted by the bramble screen.
“Leafpool, come quickly!” she gasped. “Firestar’s ill!”CHAPTER 12
Leafpool let out a yelp of horror. “I’m coming!” She slipped past Jaypaw and raced after Sandstorm.
Jaypaw snatched up a couple of the coltsfoot stalks and dashed after her, scrambling up the rocks leading to Firestar’s den without stopping to think about where to put his paws.
When he reached Highledge the smell of sickness struck him like a blow. Inside his den, Firestar was coughing, and as Jaypaw padded up to him he could feel the heat of fever pulsing from his body. Every hair on Jaypaw’s pelt stood on end.
What would happen to ThunderClan now that their leader was ill?
“Thanks, Jaypaw,” Leafpool mewed, taking the coltsfoot from him. “Here, Firestar, eat these.”
“I’m not that sick,” Firestar protested, his voice already roughened from coughing. “You should keep the herbs for cats who need them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Leafpool snapped. “You need them.
I’m your medicine cat now, and don’t you forget it.”
“You were so quiet when you were a kit.” Weary amusement crept into Firestar’s voice. “I never thought you would turn out this bossy.”
“Well, I did, so do as you’re told.” Leafpool sounded full of affection for her father. “Come on—you know the Clan needs you to be strong and fit.”
As Firestar chewed up the herbs, Jaypaw slipped out of the den and down into the clearing. Halting at the foot of the rocks, he tasted the air, hoping to find an apprentice to fetch fresh bedding for Firestar. At least the Clan leader could be kept apart in his den, so that he wouldn’t pass on the sickness to healthy cats.
But instead of an apprentice’s, the first scent Jaypaw picked up was Brambleclaw’s.
“What’s going on?” the deputy asked.
“You shouldn’t go up there.” Jaypaw blocked Brambleclaw from climbing the rocks. “Firestar has greencough.”
“Oh, great StarClan!” Brambleclaw’s voice was shocked.
“You are helping him, aren’t you?”
“Leafpool’s with him,” Jaypaw meowed. “She’ll do her best.”
“I know.” His father sounded a little reassured. “Let me pass, Jaypaw. I’ve got to speak to Firestar about the patrols.”
“Okay.” Jaypaw moved out of the way. “Stay out on the Highledge, though, and talk to him from there. Don’t get too close.”
Jaypaw tasted the air again as Brambleclaw’s paw steps receded up the rocks, but he still couldn’t pick up Foxpaw’s or Icepaw’s scent. This time, it was Graystripe who padded up to him.
“Jaypaw, how is Millie?” he demanded. “She’s really sick, isn’t she?”
Jaypaw would have liked to find a comforting lie, but he knew that Graystripe would never believe it. He nodded, and was almost knocked off his paws by the strength of the agony that surged over him from the gray warrior. Is that love?
he wondered. Does Graystripe care about Millie that much? It’s as if his own life was in danger!
“The silver cat who died,” he mewed. “You loved her, didn’t you?”
Graystripe caught his breath, startled. “Y-yes. Her name was Silverstream. She was Stormfur and Feathertail’s mother.”
He fell silent, wreathed in sad memories.
“You couldn’t have done anything to save her,” Jaypaw told him. “She lives in StarClan, and she’s watching over Millie now. She doesn’t want Millie to join her in StarClan yet, not when she has your kits to care for.”
“You know all this?” Graystripe asked, shocked.
Jaypaw nodded. “I heard her in a vision.”
“It’s so like Silverstream to care,” Graystripe murmured,
“but it’s not much comfort right now. StarClan can’t fight greencough any better than we can here.” He sounded defeated, as if he had made up his mind that he was going to lose Millie as he had lost Silverstream.
Anger scorched through Jaypaw like a devouring flame. Cats won’t die! I’l do something! He wanted to battle the sickness, not only for the dying cats of his own Clan, and for warriors like Graystripe who loved them, but for all the cats of StarClan, And for Brightspirit, he added. She came to help me. And somehow I’ll work out the meaning of what she said.
Still looking for Foxpaw and Icepaw, Jaypaw padded over to the apprentices’ den. Before he reached it, he scented a hunting patrol returning through the thorn tunnel: Brackenfur, Lionblaze, Cloudtail, and Cinderheart. All four of them were carrying prey, but Jaypaw could sense their weariness and discouragement.
It’s happening just like Leafpool said, he thought. So many cats are sick, there aren’t enough for all the patrols.
Jaypaw stuck his head through the bracken that grew against the entrance to the apprentices’ den. Little snuff ling sounds told him Foxpaw was asleep. His breathing was even; the day before, Leafpool had given him a dose of tansy, and it seemed to have cleared up his cough.
One less cat to worry about.
“Hey!” Jaypaw slipped inside the den and poked Foxpaw with one paw. “Wake up!”
“Wha . . . ?” Foxpaw raised his head.
“I need you to fetch fresh bedding for Firestar.”
The ginger apprentice let out a huge noisy yawn. “Can’t some other cat do it? I did the dawn patrol, and a hunting patrol with Sandstorm. She said I could have a rest.”
Jaypaw couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sympathy.
“Every cat is overworked,” he meowed. “Icepaw could help you if you can find her.”
“She’s out hunting with Whitewing,” Foxpaw told him, scrambling to his paws and grunting as he stretched. “Okay, I’m coming.”
“Make sure the bedding’s dry,” Jaypaw instructed as Foxpaw brushed past the ferns into the clearing. “And get rid of the old stuff well away from camp. Firestar’s sick.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Foxpaw’s voice was full of dismay.
His paw steps receded, racing toward the tunnel.
Jaypaw padded over to the fresh-kill pile and collected a squirrel for the elders. Before he reached their den under the hazel bush, he could hear Longtail coughing, and a comforting murmur from Mousefur.
“Here you are.” Jaypaw dragged the squirrel into the den and dropped it beside Mousefur. “How are you, Longtail?”
“His cough’s getting worse,” Mousefur snapped. “When are you going to fetch him some catmint?”
When hedgehogs f ly. Jaypaw suppressed the sharp comment.
“We haven’t got any,” he told Mousefur. “I’ll fetch him some tansy, though, and borage for the fever.”
Mousefur snorted. “A poor medicine cat you turned out to be, if you haven’t even got catmint.”
Once again Jaypaw stopped himself from snapping back at her. He knew that the cranky elder was worried about her denmate. At least the tansy leaves Mousefur had eaten had kept her from getting sick . . . so far.
“Longtail, try to eat some of the fresh-kill,” he urged. “You need to keep your strength up.”
“Okay,” Longtail croaked between bouts of coughing.
With a nod to Mousefur, Jaypaw left the den and padded back to the fresh-kill pile to fetch prey for the sick cats in the warriors’ den. When he pushed his way through the branches, he located Thornclaw and Dustpelt in nests to one side. Ferncloud was curled up close to her mate.
“This is ridiculous,” the tabby warrior was mewing. “I’m perfectly able to go out on patrol.”
“No, you’re not,” Ferncloud told him. “You’re staying here if I have to hold you down.” Jaypaw heard her tongue rasping affectionately over her mate’s pelt.
Jaypaw dropped a mouse in front of Dustpelt and another beside Thornclaw. The golden tabby had been ill for longer than any cat except Millie, and his breathing sounded fast and shallow. He lay on one side, and didn’t respond when Jaypaw checked him with a paw. His pelt was rough and Jaypaw could feel every one of his ribs. Jaypaw’s muscles tensed. Thornclaw could already be on his way to StarClan.
“Is there anything I can do?” Jaypaw felt Ferncloud’s breath warm against his ear.
“Not much, but thanks,” Jaypaw meowed. “Try to get him to eat that mouse when he wakes.”
“I will.” Ferncloud touched her nose to Jaypaw’s muzzle, then went to curl up again beside Dustpelt.
“Jaypaw.” Squirrelflight’s voice came from the other side of the den. “I want you to tell Leafpool that I’m fit enough to go hunting.” Her paw steps approached; Jaypaw could feel pain and stiffness in every movement.
“So you want me to lie to my mentor?”
“Lie? Nonsense! You can tell her my wound has healed.”
Jaypaw sniffed at his mother where claws had slashed down her side in the battle with WindClan and RiverClan. The wound had closed and there was no smell of infection, but her fur had yet to grow back and Jaypaw could tell that her muscles were still stiff.
“You’re not ready,” he growled. “And Leafpool would tell you the same. I’ll ask her to come and check you, and maybe you can start some gentle exercises, but that doesn’t include chasing squirrels.”
Squirrelf light snorted. “ThunderClan needs every warrior we have right now.”
“Yes, we do.” Jaypaw’s patience with his mother was rapidly running out. “But can’t you see you’ll make more work for us if you go back on patrol before you’re ready?”
Squirrelf light’s reply was cut off by the sound of another warrior pushing into the den; Jaypaw picked up Mousewhisker’s scent, which had an edge of urgency. “Foxpaw told me that Firestar’s ill!” he exclaimed.
There was a stir of movement among the other cats. “StarClan forbid!” Ferncloud wailed. “What will we do if our leader dies? WindClan and RiverClan will attack us again for sure.”
“He won’t die,” Jaypaw insisted, putting all the conviction he could into the words. “And if he does lose a life, he still has plenty more.”
“That doesn’t mean he can throw them away,” Squirrelflight snapped. “And Brambleclaw will need to do even more patrols.
What if our leader and our deputy get sick?”
“We’re doing everything we can to fight the sickness,” Jaypaw meowed. “And Firestar is a strong, fit cat.”
“I know, but . . .” Squirrelf light’s voice died away. Jaypaw could sense the same anguish coming from her as he had picked up from Graystripe earlier. Without another word she turned away and padded back to her nest.
Worry surged over Jaypaw again as he thrust through the branches of the warriors’ den and went to collect fresh-kill for the cats in the nursery. He was afraid Leafpool had been right when she said that they were losing the battle. Without catmint, there was nothing they could do.
I have to find some. Somehow I must work out what Brightspirit was trying to tell me.
By the time Jaypaw had finished reporting to Leafpool and taking what few herbs they had to the sick cats, night was falling. He curled up in his nest in the medicine cats’ den, wriggling deep into the moss to block out the sound of Millie and Briarkit snuffling and wheezing close by.
Maybe now I can figure out what I have to do.
Jaypaw remembered his meeting with the beautiful silver tabby, and the warmth in her gaze as she spoke to him. Seek for the wind. But there was wind everywhere; you didn’t have to look for it. It rustled through the branches of the trees, swept over the lake, flattened the moorland grass on the way to the Moonpool. If only it was as easy to find catmint!
Seek for the wind . . . and you’ll find catmint. Was that what Brightspirit meant for him to understand? Excitement tingled through Jaypaw from ears to tail-tip; he f lexed his claws, snagging the moss beneath him. Where did the wind blow harder than anywhere else? Of course! Over WindClan territory!
There was no catmint on ThunderClan territory; the RiverClan supply was too far away, and the sparse undergrowth under the pines of ShadowClan made it unlikely that there was any there. If there was more catmint around the lake, it must be in WindClan.
Jaypaw wanted to leap out of his nest and go charging through the forest, but he knew that would be totally mouse-brained. He didn’t know his way around WindClan territory, and even if he could see, he had no idea where to start looking for the herb.
You’re a medicine cat. You have powers. Use them.
Curling into a tight ball, Jaypaw closed his eyes. He had never walked in the dreams of a cat who was so far away, but Kestrelpaw, the WindClan medicine cat apprentice, had always been open and friendly toward him. Dumb, but friendly . . .
Maybe that would make it easier to step into his dreams.
Jaypaw pictured himself heading out of the camp and through the woods toward WindClan territory. Leaping the stream that marked the border, he swooped across the moorland on featherlight paws, until he reached the top of the hollow where WindClan had their camp. Letting the dream carry him onward, he padded among indistinct shapes of rocks and bushes, focusing on the wide crack in a boulder where Barkface and Kestrelpaw had their den.
Inside the crack, the medicine cat and his apprentice were curled up in nests of moorland grass and feathers that stirred with each breath. Jaypaw’s shadowy form curled up beside Kestrelpaw, touching his warm, soft fur. He slowed his breathing to match the other cat’s; heartbeats later he felt wind buffeting his fur and found himself in Kestrelpaw’s dream.
The young medicine cat was padding over the moor with the scents of grass and sheep all around him. Clouds scudded across a pale blue sky, and dew glittered under the rays of the early morning sun.