Stone Teller paced outside of the den, her fur prickling with fear. Running Vole and Heavy Snow watched the old cat pace in silence.
"What does it mean?" Stone Teller growled, "What does our dream mean?"
"It could be a warning," Running Vole suggested
"Yes, yes. But why? Are we in danger?" Stone Teller questioned half to herself. Stone Teller stopped and gazed up at the twinkling stars. "Do you believe cats go to the stars when they die?" She suddenly asked the two elders.
"What?" The two elders said concurrently.
"Do you believe that when cats die, they go to the stars?" Stone Teller repeated herself, in a harsh tone.
Heavy Sow glanced at Running Vole, but the old she-cat only tilted her head and stared forward.
Stone Teller sighed, "In our dreams, there was a tom who said, 'Only the worthy will walk with the stars,' correct?"
"Yes," Running Vole said. Heavy Snow nodded.
"Then, the tom proceeded to say, 'The hungry will scream for the prey you won't have. The hungry will leave you behind but you will walk among the forest in the sky. But be wary and hurry, before you become the prey,' correct?" Stone Teller continued. Heavy Snow nodded slowly. Running Vole only blinked.
"So . . What I'm gathering from this is that we are all going to starve to death," Heavy Snow said heavily. "Either that, or some other cat or creature kills us all." Running Vole grunted, slightly chuckling at the end.
"This tom was warning us to hurry," Stone Teller said, "but why? We are living so peacefully here. Are we missing something?" Stone Teller turned back to the two elders.
"Do you think we're being hunted?" Heavy Snow asked.
"Maybe we are, maybe we aren't. But we won't know 'til the time comes. For now, we will wait." Running Vole confirmed.
The three older cats stared at their paws as the moon beamed down on them. The moon was casting Stone Teller's shadow into the stream that glided silently. But when Stone Teller looked at her shadow, it wasn't her's. But a much larger cat, whose face was angry with viscous teeth, broad shoulders, and fur that bristled. The cat's face wrinkled as it snarled.
"I fear the worst for us," Stone Teller gulped as she looked away from the stream, and the large cat vanished.
* * *
(Cats of the mountains)
Stone Teller - Old black- and -white she-cat (Leader)
Snapping Eagle - Brown tabby tom
Rushing Creek - Short-furred, white tom with silver flecks and stripes
Morning Sky - Golden she-cat
Broken Wave - Long-furred, brown she-cat
Tall Thorn - Long black-and-white she-cat
Shadow Thorn - Black she-cat
Elm Root - Lean brown spotted tom
Leaf - Beautiful tortoiseshell she-cat
Short Breeze - Ginger tom with stubby tail
Wolf's Cry - Muscular gray tom
Bat Talon - Dark brown tom
Sinking Sun - Tortoiseshell tom
Dead Branch - Thin, black tom with splotchy brown- and -white fur
River Flower - Pale gray she-cat
Moss - Young wiry brown tom
Flicker - Young black tom with unusual white spots
Tiny Flame - Young fiery orange she-cat with amber eyes
Pale Water - Very pale brown she-cat
(Mother to - Dove Feathers - White she-kit)
Heavy Snow - Old white, thick-furred tom
Running Vole - Very old, pale ginger she-cat
The tom's eyes narrowed. The rabbit was only a tail length away.
He licked his jaws, ready to pounce. He could taste it already.The rabbit was a plump one, sitting among the short stalks of grass. It nibbled on the tips of the grass, filling its belly.
The tom took a step forward, not taking his eyes off the rabbit. If he caught this rabbit, the cats would live another day. But before he could pounce, a cat yowled in an obnoxious manner, "Rushing Creek!"
The rabbit's ears perked and it bounced away. The tom cursed under his breath.
"I was stalking a rabbit, Flicker!" Rushing Creek hissed, lashing his tail. Flicker's ear twitched. "Sorry," he said, "but Leaf was worried about you. When you separated from the group, she started panicking."
"Leaf is always worrying about me," Rushing Creek muttered, thinking about his littermate.
"I also came to tell you that we will be heading back to the mountain." Flicker informed. "We just started hunting!" Rushing Creek protested. Flicker shrugged, "There is nothing we can do about it. It was StoneTeller's order."
Rushing Creek and Flicker padded up the rocky slope that led to their wide camp. Their camp was at the edge of a mountain, with a quiet stream that flowed straight down the middle of the camp and down the edge.There was only one cave for all the cats, but it was high and long enough to fit them. Tiny flakes of snow danced in the cold breezes.
"Thank goodness you are back!" Leaf said, as soon as she spotted the two toms approaching. "Did you catch anything?"
"I would have if you didn't send Flicker to find me," Rushing Creek growled. Leaf flinched as if some cat clawed her. "I was worried," she meowed. "Worrying won't save starving cats," Rushing Creek said.
"Did you bring any prey back?" StoneTeller rasped as she spoke with Tall Thorn, who was leading the cats who were hunting.
"I'm sorry, but all we could find in this freezing weather was this vole and that mouse." Tall Thorn replied, her tone a bit sour, as if she was annoyed. "We need more!" Stone Teller growled.
"Like we haven't noticed," Heavy Snow snapped hoarsely. "We have all been starving for days! If this cold season stays around any longer, we might all freeze or starve to death."
All eyes turned on Stone Teller. The old she-cat always had answers. Or at least, they thought she did.
Stone Teller pondered for a moment, sending awkward glances towards Running Vole and Heavy Snow.
"I will send out another hunting group," Stone Teller announced.
"You can't be serious!" Bat Talon growled loudly. "We have been hunting since dawn."
"I know, but we need more prey," Stone Teller replied calmly.
"Don't you get it?" Broken Wave said, and padded to Bat Talon's side. "We have only caught a vole and a mouse! There is nothing out there. We're all going to starve."
"Or, we could travel to different territory and-" Rushing Creek began but Stone Teller interrupted him with a hiss. "No!" She said, "This is my home. Our home! We will not die. Broken Wave, take Snapping Eagle, Flicker, River Flower and Moss, and go hunt."
Broken Wave rolled her eyes but she didn't argue. She gathered the cats and they stalked down the slope.
"Stone Teller," Heavy Snow growled, "we need to talk." Heavy Snow and Running Vole followed Stone Teller. They disappeared behind the cave to talk.
"Stone Teller has gone mad!" Shadow Thorn shouted, loud enough for every cat to hear.
"We can't really argue with her," Leaf sighed.
Pale Water trotted towards Short Breeze, who was sitting next to Rushing Creek.
"Is there any prey?" Pale Water asked, her voice shaking.
"Only this mouse and vole," Tall Thorn replied. Pale Water snatched the mouse and gave it to her kit, Dove Feathers.
Rushing Creek shook his head. Dove Feathers was a weak and small kit. No matter how many times Pale Water fed Dove Feathers, her ribs were always pressed up against her frame.
Shadow Thorn growled. "I can't believe you're wasting prey on her!"
Pale Water and Short breeze locked gazes with the black she-cat.
"Are you saying our kit deserves to starve?" Short Breeze asked, the fur on the back of his neck rising.
"That is exactly what I'm saying," Shadow Thorn hissed.
"How dare you!" Pale Water snapped, surprising the cats.
"Settle down, please!" Rushing Creek quickly stood between the two glaring she-cats and Short Breeze.
"Who gets the mouse?" Shadow Thorn asked, running her tongue over her chops. Rushing Creek sighed. "You and Tall Thorn can share it," he said. Shadow Thorn happily grabbed the mouse and began to share it with her littermate, Tall Thorn.
"What do you think Stone Teller and the elders are talking about?" Leaf asked, changing the subject.
"Who cares?" Rushing Creek said.
The cats separated, sitting and talking in low voices. The hunting group returned, with no prey.
"We looked everywhere but there was nothing," River Flower complained.
"It is okay," Wolf's Cry assured her. "No! It isn't," Snapping Eagle cut in, over-hearing.
Snapping Eagle turned towards Stone Teller, who pacing back and forth."Tell us what to do!" He begged the old she-cat. "Or at least help us instead of walking around, doing nothing."
"There is nothing I can do!" Stone Teller suddenly roared. "We are all going to die!"
The cats fell silent. They exchanged confused and worried glances. Pale Water looked down at her paws, and whispered something to Short Breeze.
"Will we starve?" Tiny Flame asked.
"Will some creature kill us?" Elm Root asked.
Stone Teller locked eyes with Elm Root. The tom shrunk back in his fur.
"I'm . . I'm not sure . . " Stone Teller said, her voice and stare drifting off.
"You mean some animal is going to kill us?" Dead Branch inquired heavily.
Stone Teller chuckled nervously,"Well, I'm not exactly sure, but my dream-" "Dream? What dream?" Morning Sky cut in. "Not exactly sure?" Snapping Eagle echoed in a mocking tone. "Face the facts! We are all going to die!" River Flower yowled. More and more shouts echoed off the mountain walls as the cats began to argue and question Stone Teller.
"Enough!" Sinking Sun bellowed over the cats.
Rushing Creek whipped his head around to see Sinking Sun leap onto a boulder and yell.
"Stone Teller, you better tell us what we need to know, right now." Sinking Sun growled softly.
Stone Teller gulped, as if she was afraid. Her whiskers twitched in an awkward manner.
"Well, I - sorry, we -" Stone Teller began, pointing towards Heavy Snow and Running Vole -"had a dream about a mysterious tom. He told us to look out before . . . Before -er- we are hunted."
"Are two-legs coming?" Tiny Flame squealed.
"No, no," Stone Teller said, shaking her head. "What I saw was this furious cat, this - this massive cat! It had large paws and brown, short fur. It had sharp teeth and long claws," Stone Teller told the cats, "we were suppose to watch out for this cat. It was a mountain lion!"
"How long ago did you have this dream?" Wolf's Cry asked.
"Er- four days ago," Stone Teller said.
"Four days ago!" Leaf repeated, "We could have been dead, four days ago."
"Do you want us to die?" Dead Branch yowled.
"Now, wait, wait!" Stone Teller said and waited for the cats to settle down. "I didn't want to say anything just in case I scared anyone."
"You still scared all of us," Tall Thorn mumbled.
"I promise no harm will come," Stone Teller said, but her smile was fake. Every cat could tell she didn't believe her own words.
"But, just in case, be wary of your surroundings. If this cat comes, we can beat it!" Stone Teller said, rather confidently.
The cats gave Stone Teller a small cheer.
"Now it is dusk. We should prepare for night soon," Stone Teller said and she stalked through the crowd of cats to reach the cave.
"Do think she is lying?" Morning Sky asked. "I sure don't," Pale Water answered, looking frightened, "why would she tell such a horrible lie about this massive cat?"
"To scare us out of our fur," Dead Branch grunted.
"But how can she stay so calm if this cat is watching us?" Rushing Creek joined in. The cats stayed silent and they retreated to the cave.
Pale Water and Short Breeze wrapped the tails around each other and Dove Feathers. Rushing Creek padded between Leaf and Sinking Sun, his two littermates.
Rushing Creek looked at every cat as they curled up in their nests.
"Sweet dreams," Leaf told her brothers as she laid her head on her paws. "Same for you," Sinking Sun replied.
Rushing Creek stayed quiet. After Stone Teller's speech, he felt as if she was telling the truth.He ignored his thoughts and he copied Leaf, resting his head on his paws. He closed his eyes as the cool, night breeze chilled the cave.
~Chapter One's Notes and Gallery~
(Cats of the lake who live on the moor)
Day Flower - Swift golden she-cat
Raven - Short, thick-furred, smokey black tom with amber eyes
Snowball - Young pure white she-cat
Eclipse - Young dark gray tom
Dark Eyes - Young sandy colored tom with blind, blue eyes
Polar - Young sleek blue-gray she-cat
Silver Vine - Black striped she-cat
Wing - White tom with a light shade of gray on his face and legs
Brick - Red tom
Berry - Bright red tom
Spider Foot - Young long-legged brown she-cat
(Kittypets that live near the moor)
Twig - White she-cat with cream colored patches
Oak - Dark brown tom
Cherry - Light brown she-cat
Pine - Dark brown she-cat
Peach - Young pale ginger she-cat with white
Marbles - Small black- and -white tom
Kermit - Adorable gray tom with a white underbelly
Polar awoke when a sharp cry was heard from outside of the den.
She peered out the den to see the forest had been lightly frosted with snow. She saw her mother Day Flower and her father Raven arguing, Like always, Polar thought.
"You know Dark Eyes is blind!" Raven told Day Flower with a sharp mew. "He can't and he shouldn't play fight with his siblings."
"Oh, so because he is blind he shouldn't do what his brother and sister do?" Day Flower growled back.
"That isn't what I'm saying," Raven sighed, "I'm saying, he shouldn't play fight, because he can't. If he continues to play rough, he may be seriously injured." Raven looked down at Dark Eyes.
Polar spotted her brother, his ears drooping.
Day Flower's whiskers twitched but she didn't argue any longer. She beckoned Dark Eyes to go to the den.
Dark Eyes slowly made his way back to the old fox den, tripping from time to time.
"Good morning, Polar," Dark Eyes said weakly.
"How did you know I was awake?" Polar asked. "I can hear you moving around. I may be blind, but I'm not deaf," Dark Eyes hissed.
Polar's ear twitched. "Sorry," she said in an untruthful tone.
She pranced outside, her paws cold on the icy snow.
"Finally you're awake!" Snowball said.
"Oh, look, a talking snowball!" Polar teased. Snowball growled, "Quit teasing me."
"Oh, but it's funny!" Eclipse meowed. "Anyway, Polar, can you fight with us? Please?"
"I -er- I don't know," Polar said, narrowing her eyes. "Oh come on! Dark Eyes can't play with us," Snowball said. "And the older cats don't want to play," Eclipse added. Before Polar could answer, Silver Vine cut in.
"There will be no fighting while me, Day Flower, Raven, and Brick are gone." She said firmly.
"But Berry and Wing and Spider Foot can watch us," Snowball protested. "Those three are keeping your brother company," Silver Vine growled. Snowball looked down at her paws. "Anyway," Silver Vine continued, "we are going hunting. Stay safe," she added as she twirled around and left.
"She always ruins our games," Eclipse complained.
"Maybe we should play with Dark Eyes," Polar suggested. "With Dark Eyes?" Snowball echoed,"You can't play anything with him!" Polar shot her littermate a dangerous look. "Just because he is blind doesn't mean isn't fun," she growled. "Whatever," Snowball said and rolled her eyes.
"I think his blindness makes him cool," Eclipse said. "Of course you would think that," Snowball sighed, disappointed no one was on her side.
"Hey, where is Spider Foot going?" Eclipse asked, changing the subject.
Spider Foot was sticking her head through some bramble bushes.
"Let's figure it out," Snowball said.
The three raced to Spider Foot, who was very still.
"What are you do-" Polar began. "Shh!" Spider Foot ordered quietly.
The three younger cats stuck their heads through the bush.
An unfamiliar she-cat and tom were standing in the center of the bushes.
"Who are they?" Snowball asked loudly.
The she-cat lifted her head, trying to see who spoke.
"You idiot!" Polar growled and she cuffed Snowball around the ears.
Spider Foot stepped forward, baring her teeth.
The tom froze and locked gazes with Spider Foot. The she-cat back down.
"Who are you?" Spider Foot asked. "You smell like kittypets."
"Is that what you forest cats call us?" The tom said, tilting his head. "Why are you hear?" Spider Foot growled, ignoring the tom's question. "We were just wandering around," the tom replied calmly, "we were tired of our two-legs always yelling at us, so we thought we could walk around the forest in peace."
"We were thinking about living out here," the she-cat said, "maybe with you and your kits." She added, spotting Polar and Snowball and Eclipse.
"Er- these aren't my kits."Spider Foot said awkwardly.
"She's just a friend," Snowball explained.
"Could we live with you? Please? Our life with the two-legs is miserable!" The she-cat said.
Spider Foot hesitated before answering, "I don't know. I mean, you would have to ask the rest of the group."
"I wouldn't mind sharing a den with them," Eclipse admitted.
"Day Flower has told us that kittypets are too soft and fragile. That is why they are not welcomed here. Also, they steal prey," Polar said, glaring at the two.
The she-cat looked offended, her gaze hardening and her whiskers twitching. Her tail lashed behind her but the tom on blinked. He obviously didn't care about what Polar had said.
"You may be right about other- er- kittypets- who steal prey from the forest, but we don't," the tom replied softly, "we have only tasted mouse once. And that was in our backyard." He looked back at Spider Foot, avoiding Polar's intense gaze. "Do we have permission to live at least near you?"
Spider Foot shuffled her paws uncomfortably.
"I guess so," she said, looking down. "As long as you don't harm us then I don't care."
"Great!" The tom said with a smile. "Oh sorry, but you never got our names. I am Oak, and this is my littermate, Cherry. I can't wait to tell the others!"
"Others?" Spider Foot repeated, in a shocked tone.Oak laughed. "I'll show you."
Oak and Cherry both spun around and they headed for the two-leg dens that were a couple cat lengths away. The moor-cats followed.
"Wait here," Oak told them as he jumped onto the fence and plopped down onto the other side.
Cherry waited with the moor-cats.
"We promise we won't cause trouble," Cherry said, "we just want a different life-style. You know?"
"Sure . ." Spider Foot said, pretending to understand.
Soon, loud meows were heard from beyond the fence.
"I forgot to ask, but - how much of you are living in the forest?" Spider Foot inquired, keeping her eyes on the fence.
"Well, counting me and Oak that would be . . Seven!" Cherry exclaimed.
"Seven . . great. ." Spider Foot said enthusiastically and rolling her eyes. "I think I made a mistake," she whispered.
"No kidding," Polar growled.
Oak jumped over the fence with five more cats trailing behind him.
"Are you the forest cats?" An older she-cat asked.
"Er- yeah. Hi," Spider Foot said unpleasantly.
"Well, let me introduce us," the older she-cat said. "I am Pine. Of course you have already met Cherry and Oak. They are my kits, including Twig- who is that she-cat. This is Marbles, Peach and Kermit. They are just friends."
"Why did the two-leg keep so many cats?" Snowball wondered out loud.
"I guess our two-leg just liked cats," Pine said as she stretched out her legs. "And dogs," she added with a slight flinch.
"What are your names?" Kermit asked.
"Well, this is Eclipse, Snowball, Polar and I'm Spider Foot." Explained Spider Foot.
"Strange names," Peach said.
"It's just as strange as having names like Peach, Marbles and Kermit." Spider Foot said rudely, but tried hiding it with a smile.
"Where do you live?" Marbles asked.
"On the moor . . obviously." Spider Foot sighed.
"Oh, so you are moor-cats and not forest-cats?" Pine asked, tilting her head.
"Well, we do sometimes hunt in the forest -" Polar tried to inform.
"You are both forest and moor-cats?" Twig said.
"Yeah! Sure! Why not," Spider Foot snapped, annoyed. "But please, can we go back now?"
"Sure," Oak said with a slight shrug.
Spider Foot got up and the younger cats followed her. Polar looked her over shoulder and saw the former kittypets following them. "Uh - Spider Foot?" Polar asked, still staring at the cats behind her. "Yes?" Spider Foot answered. "They're following us," Polar said. Spider Foot whipped around and the cats stopped.
"The forest, is that way," Spider Foot growled, and pointed to the white forest behind them.
"Oh, I thought we were living with you." Pine said.
Spider Foot let out a loud sigh, trying to calm herself. "Alright. Keep going," she said.
When the cats made it back, the hunting group was just returning. Brick dropped his rabbit when he saw the group of cats. "Spider Foot!" He yowled, "Why are you bringing kittypets onto the moor?"
"I'll let them explain," Spider Foot said. She and the other three cats moved so Pine and Brick were face to face.
Polar watched Day Flower whisper something to Raven. It was probably something rude, since they hated kittypets.
"We don't want to live with our two-legs anymore," Pine explained, "we want to live with you moor-cats. If it is alright with you, may we stay? If you don't want us here, we will leave."
Brick thought for a moment.
"You can stay here," Brick said, but added hastily, "only if you hunt and care for each other."
"We will!" Pine promised.
"Then I will allow you to stay." Brick confirmed. The former kittypets yowled in excitement.
"I certainly don't approve of this," Polar heard Berry growl to Wing.
"Where will they stay at?" Wing asked, ignoring Berry. "Day Flower and Raven and their kits share a old fox den. The rest of us dug under the roots of that oak tree to make a nice and wide den. But where will the newcomers sleep?"
"We can find our own dens," Oak answered before Brick could.
"But what if it is night and you still don't have a den?" Silver Vine questioned, "You will be sleeping in this terrible snow."
"Don't worry about us," Oak said.
"What about the prey?" Day Flower growled, "We only brought enough back for us." She gestured to the small group.
"We can hunt our own prey." Marbles said in a dull tone, "It isn't that hard."
Day Flower glared at the cats, but she turned her attention to her kits. "Brick brought back a rabbit for you. Share it," she said.
Polar bounced towards the limp rabbit and dragged it back to her littermates.
They scarfed it down hungrily.
"Make yourselves at home," Brick welcomed.
Oak turned turned to the group and said, "Kermit and Peach, take Twig and Pine with you, and go hunting. Me, Cherry, and Marbles will stay here and find us a den."
The cats nodded and did as they were told.
"You'd make a great leader," Snowball told Oak. "You really think so?" Oak asked, his ears twitching.
"I don't think so," Polar growled quietly.
"No one asked your opinion." Eclipse said.
Oak's whiskers twitched. Polar saw the glint of amusement spark in his eyes and she looked away, growling.
Dark Eyes' tail tip twitched. He tapped his paw and yowled, "Dog!"
Every cat lifted their head in alarm. And sure enough there was a dog, its deep bark echoing as it ran through the forest, zigzagging towards the moor.
"Get them inside!" Raven shouted at Day Flower. The golden she-cat didn't hesitate. She grabbed Dark Eyes by the scruff and led the other three into their old fox den.
"How did you know there was a dog?" Polar asked her littermate.
Dark Eyes blinked at Polar. He turned to her as if he could see her.
"I could feel the dog approaching," Dark Eyes said.
"You're crazy!" Snowball hissed. "Hush!" Day Flower growled and flicked her tail at Snowball.
"How did you feel the dog that far away?" Polar asked in a quiet voice.
"Am I the only one who felt the dog's paws pounding on the ground?" Dark Eyes whispered, half to himself. "Clearly, you are. Otherwise, I wouldn't have questioned you." Polar said.
A loud shriek cut through the air.
Polar jumped up to see what had happened.
The dog was ripping Silver Vine's shoulder, tearing flesh and spraying blood on the white snow. Berry latched on to the dog's neck, sinking his teeth into it, hoping it would let go. The dog did, as it yelped and backed away from the cats. Wing and Marbles dragged Silver Vine who was struggling to lift herself up.
Raven, Oak, Cherry, Brick and Berry chased after the dog, scratching it whenever it came close. The dog finally ran with its tail between its legs.
"How can we help her shoulder heal?" Wing asked, gazing at every cat.
Polar looked down at Dark Eyes who had something white in is mouth. Cobwebs.
"What are you doing?" Day Flower growled. "Helping," Dark Eyes replied simply. He leaped out from the den and quickly padded to the gray she-cat.
"Brick, you are the closest. Get the goldenrod, please." Dark Eyes commanded nicely.
Brick slowly retrieved the flowers, unsure of what Dark Eyes was going to do. Dark Eyes took the goldenrod and chewed on it for a few seconds before spitting it onto his paw and placing it on Silver Vine's shoulder. The she-cat winced but she didn't argue. He then gently pressed the cobwebs on it, watching the cobwebs soak up the blood.
"Rest, Silver Vine. If you get up and try to walk, you might just ruin it." Dark Eyes told her.
"How do you know these will help me?" Silver Vine growled.
"The black and gray she-cat told me it would work." Dark Eyes replied. The cats exchanged concerned glances.
"Dark Eyes, no one here has a gray and black pelt," Raven told him. The young cat blinked at him. "I know," he replied.
"I think he's crazy," Eclipse whispered to Polar.
But Polar couldn't help but believe Dark Eyes' story. He wouldn't randomly try helping, especially because he was blind. Polar sat back on her haunches and thought for a moment. Who was this gray and black she-cat? Snowball looked just as worried as Day Flower, the fur along her spine rising.
~Chapter Three~Tall Thorn shook her pelt and watched the dust particles fly into the air. She padded out of the cave, squinting, trying to focus as the bright sunlight hit her eyes.
Elm Root was taking Shadow Thorn and Bat Talon out to hunt.
I doubt they will find anything, Tall Thorn thought to herself as the cats passed her.
"Great you're awake!" snapping Eagle shouted. "We are planning another hunting group."
Before Tall Thorn could say anything, Pale Water came, running towards the group of cats with Snapping Eagle.
"Dove Feathers! Dove Feathers is missing!" The mother squealed.
"That kit causes us too much trouble!" Broken Wave spat.
"Where did you last see her?" Rushing Creek asked, ignoring Broken Wave. "She was with her father, Short Breeze. He told me he was going to hunt and that he would send Dove Feathers back to me," Pale Water explained.
"Do you know where Short Breeze is hunting?" Tall Thorn asked in a dull tone.
Pale Water shrugged. "He didn't inform me where he was hunting."
"Stone Teller should hear about this," Rushing Creek said.
"Perhaps you have forgotten, Rushing Creek, that Stone Teller hasn't been very helpful these past few days." River Flower growled.
"She is right," Wolf's Cry said, "Stone Teller hasn't been talking to us, she has been eating the prey we bring back, and she has been terribly rude to the youngsters." He gestured to Moss and Tiny Flame and Flicker.
"Don't worry, we will find her," Leaf promised.
Pale Water gazed doubtfully at the she-cat but she didn't speak. Tall Thorn shook her head, That kit is trouble. And will we ever find her?
"We can send out a couple cats to find the two," Morning Sky suggested.
"We would have to ask for Stone Teller's permission," Broken Wave growled.
"For what?" Stone Teller asked from behind. All the cats turned their heads and stared blankly at the old she-cat.
"Pale Water's kit, Dove Feathers, has gone missing. Oh, and so has Short Breeze," Tall Thorn informed slowly. "We don't know exactly how to find them." Tall Thorn gazed hopefully at Stone Teller.
Stone Teller was quiet for a few moments.
"Should I send out some cats to find them?" Stone Teller said, as if asking Tall Thorn as she stared directly at her with wide eyes.
"I don't know!" Tall Thorn hissed, "You're the leader."
The cats mumbled insulting words towards Stone Teller. But the old she-cat didn't even twitch. She stood still, her gaze slowly drifting. "I don't want to disappoint any of you but I don't think the two are coming back," Stone Teller rasped.
"How can you be sure of that?" Tiny Flame questioned after seeing Pale Water's shocked expression.
"I just sense it," Stone Teller replied shortly.
"Are we sending out a search group or not?" Dead Branch asked in a low voice.
A few moments after Stone Teller not answering, Elm Root was spotted at the entrance of camp.
"Find anything?" Sinking Sun asked him.
Elm Root hesitated for a while before answering, "Prey? No. Short Breeze? Yes." His voice shook as he spoke.
Shadow Thorn and Bat Talon approached the mountain cats steadily, especially Shadow Thorn, who was dragging Short Breeze by the scruff.
"Short Breeze!" Pale Water yowled at the sight of him. Shadow Thorn dropped his body at Pale Water's paws and sighed in a truthful tone, "I'm sorry."
Tall Thorn cringed when she saw Short Breeze. His jaws were open in a scream, his eyes glazed with fear and pain. His paw was bent backwards, and his throat had a gaping wound with blood oozing out. Sandy white fur was stuck between his claws.
"What happened?" Rushing Creek asked, his voice trembling in fear.
"A mountain lion," Shadow Thorn told them coldly before Elm Root could, "a mountain lion came and attacked him. We heard him scream near by so we rushed to the scene. The mountain lion had him pinned down when we came. Bat Talon jumped in to save him but it was too late. I'm sorry Pale Water, but he is gone."
"What about Dove Feathers?" Pale Water asked, a slight glint of hope gleaming in her eyes.
The three exchanged nervous glances.
"Dove Feathers was with him," Bat Talon replied very steadily. "And?" Pale Water pushed on. "She was killed before Short Breeze was even touched." Bat Talon choked out. Pale Water wailed loudly and pushed her face into Short Breeze's bloody pelt.
"The mountain lion will kill us all!" Flicker yowled.
"Stone Teller, we have to leave!" Sinking Sun growled, "We can die from starvation, we can die at the paws of a mountain lion, or we can leave and live safely somewhere else in the forest."
Stone Teller blinked at the tom. "I will never leave. This mountain is my home," she said. She sighed loudly before continuing to say, "But if you want to leave, you may leave. But I am staying her. All cats in favor of staying, raise a paw."
Bat Talon and Broken Wave slowly lifted their paws.
"You want to stay and die?" Wolf's Cry hissed. "This is our home. We will never leave it," Broken Wave responded softly.
Dead Branch shuffled his paws nervously before lifting one. Moss lifted his paw and Tiny Flame gasped, "You - you re staying?" Moss nodded, "Dead Branch is my brother. I'm not leaving him."
Stone Teller turned to the elders.
"We have to stay," Running Vole sighed and gestured to Heavy Snow. "Our old bones wouldn't carry us far into the forest."
No other cat lifted a paw.
"So, you all want to leave, huh?" Stone Teller gave a short growl. "Whatever. Your chose. Let me warn you, the forest is a very dangerous place."
"So are the mountains," Morning Sky retorted. Stone Teller's whiskers twitched.
"You want to leave?" Dead Branch growled at Pale Water. "Of course," she sniffed, "I don't want to end up like Short Breeze and - and Dove Feathers!" Pale Water broke down into tears again.
"At dawn tomorrow, we will leave," Rushing Creek confirmed. Tall Thorn nodded in agreement.
"I believe you will have a better future," Stone Teller sighed, "I cannot make you stay, though. Have fun with your trip and make sure to watch out or the mountain lion." Stone Teller padded into the cave when she finished speaking.
The other cats followed.
"Are you sure you want to leave?" Moss asked Tiny Flame. The orange she-cat nodded. "I am sure." She said with a smile, but she was shaking, scared of what was out there.
"I can not wait to leave these mountains," Shadow Thorn growled. "You never liked it up here?" Tall Thorn asked, her head in a slight tilt. "Never," Shadow Thorn repeated. Tall Thorn understood. When the two were younger, Shadow Thorn was almost killed by an eagle. And she almost drowned. Tall Thorn wasn't that surprised with her decision to leave.
"I can't believe Dead Branch is staying behind!" Elm Root protested. Shadow Thorn growled. "If he wants to stay, let him stay."
Tall Thorn's tail twitch. "I don't exactly agree with him staying, but he did have a strong connection with the mountains." Tall Thorn said. Dead Branch was her littermate, Elm Root's and Shadow Thorn's too. She hated to let him go, but to make the journey, she'd have to.
A growl rumbled in Elm Root's throat. "He is making a mistake."
This time, Shadow Thorn did not reply. She stayed quiet and glanced at Tall Thorn. The light sound of drizzling rain interrupted Tall Thorn's thoughts. She looked outside of the cave and saw the rain pour gently onto the ground with the sun still shining above, making each drop seem clear.
"How long is she going to stay out there?" Sinking Sun asked half to himself as he watched Pale Water sitting in the rain, her eyes not leaving Short Breeze's body. Snapping Eagle shrugged next to him. "She is still mourning. Give her some time," he said.
Leaf shook her head. "She might catch a cold," she said. "Pale Water! You should come back in here."
Pale Water didn't move. She only blinked out the water from her eyes.
"You might catch a cold," Morning Sky said, agreeing with Leaf.
Pale Water gave a loud, long sigh before lifting herself very slowly from the ground. She dragged her paws and tail, hung her head and lowered her eyes as she approached the cave.
Poor Pale Water, Tall Thorn wanted to say. She felt great sympathy for her.
"It'll be okay," Morning Sky assured her.
"No! It will not be okay!" Pale Water hissed, with tears and rain glistening as they fell down her face. "You don't understand how hard it is to lose your mate and kit at the same time!" Pale Water collapsed near the side of the cave, wincing.
Morning Sky blinked, surprised by the she-cat's snap.
"Everyone, rest. We will need our strength for tomorrow," Rushing Creek said.
"Where are we even going?" Tiny Flame inquired.
"We will be leaving the mountains and traveling down into the forest," Rushing Creek informed the young cat. "Soon, we won't have to deal with the mountain lion and we will have more prey."
A small sound of excited mews erupted from the cats.
Rushing Creek turned to Stone Teller, who sat on her haunches. "Will you be okay without us?" He asked. "We will be fine," she said, but her expression was blank and there was nothing in her eyes that showed any kind of emotion.
Tall Thorn lay down, raising her head. She relaxed and leaned up against Elm Root.
"Are we going to bury Short Breeze?" Pale Water asked in a muffled tone. "Of course," Heavy Snow replied hoarsely. "We can bury him for you at dawn," the old tom said and gestured towards Running Vole. Pale Water inhaled deeply, but didn't speak any longer.
The rest of the cats sprawled out or curled up, shutting their eyes, and blocking out the noise of the rain.
Tall Thorn's stomach rumbled and she sighed. Her ribs stuck out and it was clearly visible she was starving. Hopefully, wherever the cats went, they would find food along the way and they wouldn't starve.
The rain began to pour harder, sending a chilling breeze through the cave.
Tall Thorn shivered.
The rest of the day was quiet. The only sound was the rain outside that splattered on every plant and rock. Dark clouds covered the sun, blocking out all the light. Night soon fell, with the clouds still covering the sky.
Before she shut her eyes, Tall Thorn gazed up at the twinkling stars, that shimmered so brightly. She smiled and closed her eyes.
We will find a safe place to live, Tall Thorn told herself, I know we will.
Rushing Creek's eyes flickered opened. It was exactly dawn and he immediately stood up and stretched his front legs. The rain had stopped and the sun was just above the horizon, making a beautiful pink and light blue touch the dark sky.
"Wake up, Tall Thorn," Rushing Creek whispered to the black she-cat. Tall Thorn slowly lifted her head. "Dawn already?" She yawned. Rushing Creek nodded. The two began to wake every cat up, in very loud manners.
"Wake up!" Tall Thorn yowled with her voice echoing off the stone walls.
"Dawn already-" River Flower began but Tall Thorn interrupted with a loud meow. "Yep!"
The cats got up and stretched, each one yawning or complaining about how bad they slept.
"Gather up the leaving cats," Stone Teller told Rushing Creek. He obeyed Stone Teller and he gathered the cats that were leaving.
Rushing Creek stood at the front of the group with Tall Thorn and Leaf. The others watched with sad eyes.
"You don't have to go," Moss said heavily.
"We do if we want to live." Wolf's Cry said firmly. Moss backed down, lowering his gaze.
"Can't you come with us?" Elm Root pleaded to Dead Branch. "No," Dead Branch sighed, "I can never leave the mountains. Not without Broken Wave."
Broken Wave sat quietly, only blinking.
Rushing Creek shot Dead Branch a dangerous look. "Please, Broken Wave, come with me." He begged. Broken Wave shook her head. "No. You chose to leave me," she growled. Rushing Creek's eyes rounded, his heart twisting. Broken Wave looked away, avoiding his gaze.
Elm Root sighed. "All right. I hope you all find peace here."
Stone Teller smiled warmly. "May the stars light your path into the forest." She said. The cats said more goodbyes and licked each other on the shoulders before parting again.
Rushing Creek bowed. "We will miss you all," he said. He turned on the remaining mountain cats and the rest trailed after him as silently as possible. He slid down the rocky slope near the stream and into the ferns that led to the beginning of the forest.
So we begin, he thought to himself, here, right now, is where we leave our home. Forever. We leave our friends and family. Stone Teller, Heavy Snow, Running Vole, Broken Wave, Bat Talon, Moss, and Dead Branch. I just wish Broken Wave realizes how much I loved her.
A loud wail from behind made Rushing Creek spin around. He saw Pale Water looking back at the mountain with tears streaming down her face.
"There is still time to go back," Rushing Creek told her.
Pale Water stared at him. "I don't want to go back!" She meowed. "I just - I just wish Dove Feathers and Short Breeze were here."
"Here we go again," Shadow Thorn growled, rolling her eyes. Pale Water shot the black she-cat a dangerous glance but she didn't argue with her.
"Come on, let us continue," said Rushing Creek.
The cats continued forward in a fast pace, leaving the mountains behind. A twinge of pain caught Rushing Creek's heart. There is no turning back. Not now. Not when we are so close to the forest and the hill. He told himself.
The cats traveled for a few more minutes before they were finally led to the tall, slim trees. The sun was just a bit higher now, its bright rays starting to shine just above the trees.
Rushing Creek looked back at the mountains. They weren't too far.
Maybe twelve fox-lengths away? No . . . maybe even twenty . . Rushing Creek inhaled loudly. He closed his eyes and whispered, "Goodbye."
"This is the beginning of the forest," Rushing Creek said loudly, "the beginning of our journey. If you want to head back to the mountains, I suggest you do it now."
No cat moved. But they lowered heads, as if submitting to Rushing Creek.
When no cats mumbled a single word, Rushing Creek turned back to the forest.
The lush forest looked beautiful with the sun beaming down on it, casting long shadows and the lovely sound of a bird chirping caught the silver -and- white tom's attention.
Rushing Creek marched forward, stepping on the soft, dewy tufts of grass. He breathed in the warm scent of prey that never lingered near the mountains. Sedges and perennials gathered around the slim, but dark trees. Delicate green moss hugged the trunks of the trees. The plants and moss and leaves on the trees sparkled in sun. This was surely a great sight to behold.
"I never expected it to be so warm and beautiful," Morning Sky said, her voice soft and quiet.
The cats took slow paces through the forest. They gently placed their paws on the grass, trying not to make a sound.
"Should we hunt?" Tall Thorn asked Rushing Creek in a low voice.
"We don't even know half of this place!" Rushing Creek protested. "I know," Tall Thorn said replied softly, "but I have starved long enough."
Rushing creek sighed. "Fine. You can hunt. I'll stay with the cats who don't want to."
Tall Thorn gave a slight shrug. "Suit yourself."
Tall Thorn took River Flower, Flicker, Wolf's Cry and Snapping Eagle out to hunt.
The rest of cats stood among the towering trees, listening to the sounds of birds.
"Is this the forest we will be living in?" Tiny Flame asked.
Rushing Creek shook his head. "No. There is an unfamiliar scent. . . it isn't a cat. . . maybe it is a mountain lion or a dog?"
"A dog!" Leaf exclaimed. "Do you think this is a dog's territory?"
"Well for one thing, it isn't a mountain lion," Shadow Thorn growled. "Mountain lion's have our scent, but they slightly smell like dirt."
Leaf blinked worriedly.
"Don't worry, we will be fine." Morning Sky assured.
Sinking Sun grunted. "How do you know we will be fine?"
Morning Sky sniffed. "I like to stay on the positive side."
A few minutes passed by and the hunting group finally arrived. Rushing Creek raced to the cats.
"Catch anything?" He mewed excitedly.
Tall Thorn nodded. She dropped a crow at his paws. She flicked her tail and Flicker and River Flower padded by her side with two plump rabbits swinging in their jaws. Wolf's Cry had three voles and Snapping Eagle had a mouse.
The cats headed back to the others, who greeted them with warm welcomes.
"Flicker, you caught the biggest rabbit. Share it with Tiny Flame, Elm Root and Pale Water." Tall Thorn ordered gently, "River Flower, share with Sinking Sun and Leaf. Wolf's Cry, you may have one of your voles but give Morning Sky and shadow Thorn one. Snapping Eagle, the mouse is yours. Rushing Creek, this crow is ours."
The cats cheered, pleased with their meal.
"How did you catch all of this?" Rushing Creek asked.
Tall Thorn tore a mouthful of flesh from the crow before answering. "There is a rabbit burrow not to far from here," she said, "and the voles were digging a hole near the roots of a tree. The mouse was hiding in some sedge before Snapping Eagle caught it. And this crow - well, he was annoying me with his loud squawks." She ended with a chuckle.
"Should we just stay here instead?" Rushing Creek asked after he swallowed some of the prey.
Tall Thorn was silent for a heartbeat. "It would be nice to live here," she started slowly. "But there is an unfamiliar scent here. I don't know what it is but the scent is strong . ."
Rushing Creek plucked a feather from the crow. "Leaf is worried the scent belongs to a dog."
Tall Thorn gave a short nod. "It's a possibility." Tall Thorn continued, changing the subject and saying quietly, "Hey-uh- no offense, but Leaf has been putting on a lot of weight recently. Have any explanations?"
Rushing Creek shook his head. "Well, she hasn't eaten in a quarter-moon."
"Kits . . . maybe?" Tall Thorn asked very slowly, as if worrying she would offend someone.
Rushing Creek paused. Could his littermate be expecting kits?
"I actually don't know," he said, tilting his head. "I never thought of her having a mate or kits." Rushing Creek looked at Leaf, who was enjoying the rabbit. Her ribs were hardly noticeable against her round belly.
"Have any idea who her mate would be?" Tall Thorn asked.
"I would rather not guess," Rushing Creek responded awkwardly. "Well, actually, maybe-" Rushing Creek was interrupted by a loud bark that rang in his ears. All the cats heard it, their heads raised up in alarm.
The cats stood up, prepared for whatever it was.
"I think we found your dog," Shadow Thorn told Leaf.
Suddenly, more barks came, louder than ever. The dogs were coming closer and closer, their foot-steps loud and hard as the pelted towards the cats.
"Everybody run!" Rushing Creek bellowed.
Right way, the cats took off with three long, brown -and- black dogs snarling and snapping at them.
"Think this was their territory?" Snapping Eagle wondered as they ran.
Rushing creek kicked harder on the dirt as he felt the breath of a dog on his heels. Don't look back, don't look back, it'll only slow you down, He told him self.
"We have to split up!" He shouted.
"Are you crazy?" Tall Thorn yelled back.
"We have to, or the dogs will catch us!" Rushing Creek shouted again. Tall Thorn hesitated but she did as she was told. Tall Thorn veered to the left with Pale Water and Sinking Sun.
"Come on, mouse-brains!" Tall Thorn hissed at the dogs.
One of the male dogs chased Pale Water, Sinking Sun and Tall Thorn, as she veered to the left leading that dog away from them.
Rushing Creek watched as Wolf's Cry also insulted the other male dog and he sped straight forward with River Flower and Tiny Flame at his side. The dog followed, snarling.
But the female dog still urged the cats to keep running. She never snapped, but she seemed to enjoy the cats running in terror.
"Follow me!" Rushing Creek yowled at the other cats. He went in the opposite direction of Tall Thorn. "Crawl under those bushes!" He commanded.
Leaf was the first scramble under the thick thorn bushes. Snapping Eagle and Elm Root - right behind her - then Shadow Thorn, Flicker and Morning Sky. Before Rushing Creek went under the bush he spun around and raked his claws aimlessly through the air, hitting the dog's muzzle. The dog stumbled backwards, surprised and stunned.Rushing Creek cowered under the bushes and slowly crawled, ignoring the thorns that snagged his ears.
The dog jump with a snarl, but realized her mistake. She landed on the thorn bush, hollering in pain. She kicked her legs and howled for help, completely forgetting about the cats she was chasing.
After a few moments, Rushing Creek crawled out from under the bushes. He stood up and shook his pelt.
"That was a close call," Snapping Eagle panted.
"Yeah, now let's go before it gets out from the bush," Rushing Creek growled. The cats padded in a quick pace, farther and farther away from the dog until they couldn't hear its howls anymore.
Leaf collapsed on her side, breathing heavily.
"Are you okay?" Elm Root asked worriedly.
"I'm fine," Leaf said with a smile. She slowly heaved herself off the ground and her eyes narrowed. "Where are the others?"
Rushing Creek tensed. He had forgot about the other cats that were being chased.
"I'll go back for them-" Rushing Creek said.
"You can't go back!" Flicker hissed. "The dog will kill you."
"We can't just leave them," Rushing Creek snapped. "It was your idea to split up," Shadow Thorn retorted. "I am sure they are fine. We just need to stay calm."
A loud snarl from behind the cats made them jump and whip around.
"Who are you?" A smokey black tom snarled, narrowing his eyes.
"A dog was following us-" Rushing Creek gasped, -"We got rid of it though. It isn't near us anymore, I - I promise."
The tom growled. "You're on my territory." The tom stepped forward and sniffed the air. "You don't smell like rogues or kittypets."
"That's because we aren't," Shadow Thorn growled. She took a menacing step forward, baring her teeth. "We're mountain cats."
The tom flinched. "What do you mountain cats want?"
"We wanted to live somewhere other than the mountains," Rushing Creek explained. "We were eating and three dogs chased us. We had to split up from the rest."
"There are more of you?" The tom said in surprise.
"Yes," Rushing Creek replied. "But we are lost and we don't know where they are. Please, let us search for them."
The tom thought for a moment. "I can't let you search for them when you are worn out," he laughed, watching them pant. "And also, it wouldn't be very wise letting a she-cat, who is expecting kits, near a dog." He gestured towards Leaf.
"Follow me, and you can rest with us for a while." The tom said, politely.
"Us?" Morning Sky repeated.
The tom smiled but he didn't reply. He led the cats farther away and out of the forest onto a golden moor, with a few oak trees planted on it.
"You live on a moor?" Rushing Creek asked. The tom nodded.
The cats gingerly followed the tom as he led them to a circle of oak trees.
"See those cats? They live with me. We used are . . rogues." The tom said, pointing to a few other cats who didn't notice him yet.
"I found mountain cats!" He said proudly. All eyes turned on the tom, some shocked and some scared.
The tom turned back to Rushing Creek.
"My name is Raven," he said, "You are welcome to stay here as long as you strangers like."
Tall Thorn veered to the left, leaving the others behind. Pale Water and Sinking Sun were at her side, panting and afraid.
"The dog is following us!" Pale Water screeched.
Tall Thorn and the two others kept running, ignoring the dog.
"Any plans?" Sinking Sun growled.
Think Tall Thorn,think! Tall Thorn desperately tried to think of a plan, but she was too worried.
"We will have to fight the dog," Tall Thorn gasped as she realized they were slowing down.
"Fight?" Pale Water echoed. "I'm sorry, but that is our only choice!" Tall Thorn spat.
Tall Thorn whipped around and snarled. The dog skidded to a halt and it bared its long, sharp fangs.Tall thorn's ears fell back on her skull as she let out another snarl. Pale Water and Sinking Sun copied her, trying to look fierce. The dog didn't seem the slightest bit intimidated.
Tall Thorn held her ground, and lashed her tail.
In a heartbeat, the dog was lunging forward.
Hard paws flipped Tall Thorn over, and knocked the wind out of her. The dog tore at her flank, ripping flesh off and drawing blood. Tall Thorn shrieked and kicked the dog's nose with her hind leg. The dog whimpered as blood dripped from his nose. Tall Thorn hastily stood up and this time, it was her turn to attack. Tall Thorn pounced on the dog's back, raking her claws down his spine. Sinking Sun soon appeared, biting the dog's hind paw and pulling. Before the dog lost his balance, Tall Thorn jumped off and watched the dog tumble onto his side.
For a heartbeat the cats were able to catch their breath.
Sinking Sun launched himself at the dog as soon as he stood up. But the dog was prepared. The dog slammed his paws down on Sinking Sun's back, flattening him on his belly. The dog mauled the back of his neck, sending blood to spray the green grass red.
"Get off him!" Pale Water screeched.
Pale Water sunk her teeth into the dog's shoulder and dug her claws in its side. The dog snapped at her head but she ignored it. Pale Water finally let go but she slash the dog's shoulder, tearing flesh and fur off the dog. Blood began to pour out, painting the dog's leg. Tall Thorn sliced the tips of the dog's ears and Pale Water duck under a fierce blow from the dog. Pale Water went under the dog's belly and slit the dog's stomach open. The cut was enough to kill the dog, but caused a lot of pain.
The dog whimpered in pain and it ran away without another look at the cats. It limped as far a it could before it began to bark in anger.
Pale Water gasped, "Sinking Sun!" She ran to his side and licked his ear. Sinking Sun's neck had a large wound around with blood streaming down the sides. Sinking Sun could hardly stand up without help.
"We need to find help," Pale Water said. Tall Thorn nodded. "I know," she said. "But we know nothing!"
A loud rustle from the undergrowth behind them made Tall Thorn whip around and hiss."Whatever you are, come out!"
After a few moments, a shaggy tom walked out from the bushes and blinked at the cats.
"I-I heard the dog bark," he stammered. "I was worried that the dog would come attack us but I see now, it attacked you."
Tall Thorn eyed the tom suspiciously. "What do you want?" She growled.
"I want to help," the tom said. "Your friend is terribly injured. He might die from blood loss. Let me take you back to my camp."
Tall Thorn glanced at Pale Water, who nodded her head.
"Fine," Tall Thorn said.
The tom smiled. "Alright. Follow me!"
The tom stalked through the undergrowth and the mountain cats followed.He led them to a golden and green moor, that was rich in a milky scent. He padded into a small clearing that had four enormous oak trees with beautiful light green leaves.
"Wait here," the tom told the cats they sat in the cent of the clearing.
"Olive, Lily, it is okay to come out now." The tom called.
Two cats slowly padded out from a large dug-out hole underneath the twisted root of an oak tree.
"I'm so glad your safe!" The she-cat, Lily, exclaimed.
The other tom, known as Olive, stiffened. "Who are they?"
"Oh, the dog we heard attacked them. Their friend's neck as been wounded. He needs help." The tom said.
Olive and Lily exchanged nervous glances. "Alright," Lily said. Lily made Sinking Sun lean on her shoulder and she walked him to a nice, shaded place, where she laid him down on his stomach. "Olive, fetch me a moss soaked in water," Lily ordered. Olive quickly did as he was told. He scraped moss from a nearby tree and rushed to a puddle and let it soak up the water. He gave it to Lily soon after.
Lily placed cobwebs on Sinking Sun's neck.
"Sit up," she told him, "and drink the water from this moss."
"Thank you so much for helping." Pale Water told the three cats.
"No problem," the tom said. "I never introduced us," he added. "That is my mate, Lily, her brother Olive, and I am Jagged Brook."
Tall Thorn bowed politely. "I am Tall Thorn, she is Pale Water, that tom is Sinking Sun."
Jagged Brook tilted his head. "Tall Thorn? I know a Tall Thorn!"
"You - you do?" Tall Thorn stammered, surprised.
"Yeah!" Jagged Brook exclaimed. "Her mother was my littermate. We were both very young when Tall Thorn was born. My poor sister died from blood loss after kitting. She had four healthy kits. I soon left the mountains where I came from, though. I couldn't stand the harsh leaf-bares."
Tall Thorn and Pale Water stared at him with their mouths gaping.
"We were mountain cats!" Pale Water shouted. "And - and Tall Thorn! She has three siblings. Shadow Thorn, Elm Root, and Dead Branch are her littermates!"
Jagged Brook stared back at them, his eyes widening.
"My mother's name was Little Sky," Tall Thorn explained slowly. "My father's name was Bee Fluff."
Jagged Brook's jaw dropped. "Little Sky was my sister," he said in a low voice.
The three stared at each other in silence, their eyes narrowing. "If your from the mountains, why did you leave?" Jagged Brook asked.
"The cold season - or like you said, the leaf-bare was causing prey to die or either hide. Cats were starving and a mountain lion killed Pale Water's mate and kit." Tall Thorn explained. Pale Water looked down, remembering Short Breeze.
Jagged Brook sat down on his haunches, as if trying to remember his life as a mountain cat.
"Did Bee Fluff ever speak of me?" He asked. Tall Thorn shook her head. "Our father didn't talk to us at all," she sighed. "He ignored us whenever he could."
Jagged Brook stared once more at the two she-cats. "My mother, Running Vole, was she still alive?" He questioned.
"She seemed alive and well before we left," Pale Water replied. "Heavy Snow was alive too."
"This is just so strange," Jagged Brook chuckled. "Well, I'm glad we met."
"There are more of us who left," Pale Water suddenly blurted out. Jagged Brook blinked at her. "Ten more mountain cats left. But we lost them after the dogs chased us."
"Don't worry," Jagged Brook said, "we will find them. But for now, you will have to stay with us since Sinking Sun has a bad wound on his neck." The two she-cats nodded.
Lily left Sinking Sun's side and stalked towards Jagged Brook.
She spoke softly, "Your friend could have died if that dog sunk its teeth a litter deeper. You three are very, very lucky. He will have to rest for a few days. The wound will cause a lot of pain. I can also treat that wound," Lily mused, gesturing to Tall Thorn's flank.
"Do you mind?" Tall Thorn asked. "Not at all," Lily laughed. She placed cobwebs on her flank before chewing on dock leaves and gently spreading it on her flank. "You will want to rest if you want that to heal." Lily told her. Tall Thorn nodded and she laid near Sinking Sun.
Lily suddenly gasped, and she collapsed onto her side.
"What is wrong?" Jagged Brook asked, panicking.
"Take her into the den," Pale Water ordered, "she might be having her kits." Lily grunted as Jagged Brook gently lifted her up and led her into the den. "I'm going to see what is wrong," Pale Water said. She slipped under the roots of the oak tree and vanished.
Olive gingerly approached Tall Thorn and Sinking Sun. He sat tow dead mice at their paws. "I caught those just in case you were hungry," Olive said. "Thank you," Sinking Sun said softly. Tall Thorn nodded.
A loud, stressed shout came from the den.
Olive's ear twitched. "Is Lily okay?" He asked, his eyes beginning to flash with worry.
"Pale Water thinks Lily is having her kits," Tall Thorn told him. Olive relaxed and let out a long sigh. "Lily's kits were due this moon," he said. "How did Pale Water guess she was having kits?"
"She has helped other cats with their litters. She has also given birth to a kit." Sinking Sun answered.
"Oh," Olive said shortly. "Is Pale Water's kit here?"
Sinking Sun and Tall Thorn glanced at each other. "No." Tall Thorn sighed. Olive looked down at his paws. "Sorry I asked," he said. Tall Thorn flicked her tail but she didn't respond. She bit into her mouse and glanced up at Olive. The tom was staring into the distance, his muscles twitching from time to time.
After a few heartbeats, another yowl came from the den. Then, Pale Water poked her head out and blinked at the three cats.
"Looks like I was right," Pale Water purred. "Olive, your sister has just given birth to two, healthy kits. A she-kit and a tom-kit."
Olive's eyes lit up. "Can I see them?"
Pale Water nodded. "Of course."
Olive ran into the den and Pale Water crawled out. She stretched her legs and shook dirt off her pelt. "A bit cramped in there," she laughed.
"I assume Lily's birth was successful?" Tall Thorn asked.
"Mhm," Pale Water said. But her smile quickly turned into frown and her eyes narrowed. "If only my litter was successful." She growled.
Tall Thorn blinked. "Excuse me?"
Pale Water stretched out her legs again before answering. "I had four kits," she said, "but only Dove Feathers made it through the first half-moon."
Tall Thorn glanced at Sinking Sun. "I never knew you had four kits," said Tall Torn.
"That's because I didn't want anybody to know." Pale Water said under her breath.
"Do you think we will find the others?" Sinking Sun asked, quickly changing the subject. Tall Thorn shrugged. "I hope we will."
Jagged Brook stalked out from the den and approached the three. "I cannot thank you enough for helping Lily," he told Pale Water. "Is there anything in return you cats would like?" Pale Water thought for a moment. "Mind if we stay a bit longer? You know, until Tall Thorn and Sinking Sun heal?" She asked. "Stay as long as you like," Jagged Brook said warmly.
Sundown came shortly after, the rays of the sun slowly vanishing. It was the moons turn to take its place.
Tall Thorn, Sinking Sun and Pale Water slept under one of the oak trees, the soft wind blowing a warm scent their way.
At moonhigh, Tall Thorn's eyes flickered open. She couldn't sleep. All she could think about was Rushing Creek and Wolf's Cry and if their groups survived.
We certainly did, Tall Thorn thought, but what about the others? Are they okay?
~Chapter Five's Gallery~
Polar's eyes widened as Raven introduced the new cats as "mountain cats".
"Mountain cats?" Snowball echoed her father, her eyes narrowing.
"I found them on the moor running away from a dog," Raven explained. "They were wanted to go after more of their group but I thought it was unwise for them since one she-cat is carrying kits." His eyes narrowed and a tortoiseshell mountain she-cat shuffled her paws, a bit embarrassed. "I thought they could stay with us for a while until they find their other two groups."
Day Flower growled. "How do you know they aren't bad?"
"We would never harm innocent cats," a silver -and- white tom said. Day Flower eyed the tom suspiciously but she didn't say anymore.
"If you're mountains cats, what are you doing so far away from the mountains?" Marbles asked.
The silver -and- white tom blinked. "Cats were starving," he said, "we didn't want to stay and starve too. So we left and three dogs chased us. Six of us are missing and we need to find them."
Polar stared at the tom. His face was hard to read, so she couldn't tell if he was lying or not.
"Brick, will you allow them to stay?" Raven asked.
Brick was silent for a few heartbeats. "I don't see why not," he said.
"You can't just let them stay!" Peach squealed. "They could be lying."
The black mountain she-cat growled. "What could we gain from lying to you?"
Peach stayed stayed quiet, but she didn't take her eyes off of the strange cats. Day Flower's tail twitched in a sign of distrust. Silver Vine and Wing spoke in low voices to each other.
"Will you be willing to protect us, catch prey for us and stay with us?" Polar asked, her head tilting. She stared at the silver -and- white tom and he blinked at her. "If that's what we have to do to gain your trust," he said firmly. Polar grinned. "You won't earn a lot of trust here, mountain cats." She spat.
The tom shook his head. "The cat, known as, Brick, seems to trust us. So does Raven," he growled coolly. Polar glared at the tom.
The tom ignored her gaze and announced, "I am Rushing Creek. This is my littermate, Leaf, and my friends, Flicker, Shadow Thorn, Morning Sky, Snapping Eagle and Elm Root. We thank you for welcoming us," he added to Raven.
"If they are staying, I'm not sharing a den with them," Berry hissed.
"And that is fine," Elm Root said. "We never considered sharing a den with you, anyway."
Rushing Creek flicked his tail and the others followed as he went to sit in the middle of the camp. "Would you cats like any prey?" Spider Foot asked. Rushing Creek shook his head again. "We are fine. We ate before the dog - the dog chased us," he stammered, and his eyes started to fill with worry.
"I trust them. What about you two?" Eclipse asked. "I think they are fine," Snowball said. "I don't know," Polar growled, "they seem a bit weird." Snowball rolled her eyes. "Of course they do. They are mountain cats."
"I have to agree with Polar," Oak suddenly meowed. "They seem very suspicious."
"Again, they are mountain cats!"
Pine and Cherry started talking to the mountains cats, along with Wing and Brick.
"Silver Vine, you need to rest!" Dark Eyes snapped at the she-cat. "Carrying kits is dangerous when there are dogs around." Silver Vine chuckled. "Alright, know-it-all." Dark Eyes stared forward but then turned his blind, blue eyes towards Leaf. "You are also carrying kits," he meowed.
Leaf blinked at him in surprise. "How-how did you know? You're blind!"
"I heard my father say that a she-cat was carrying kits," Dark Eyes replied. "I heard you shuffle your paws. I knew it wasn't Shadow Thorn or Morning Sky because when they shuffle their paws or walk, the do it roughly. You, however, take very delicate steps."
Every cat stared at Dark Eyes as if he was insane.
"Also," he added with a grin, "Elm Root is your mate. I can tell by how protective he is of you."
Rushing Creek glanced at Elm Root and Leaf.
"You may sleep with Silver Vine if you want," Dark Eyes mewed. "There is an old fox den right over there by the heather. It fits three cats." He turned away sharply, his tail whisking up leaves.
"Sorry, my brother is a weirdo," Polar said.
Leaf glanced at Polar. "He seems pretty smart. Why is he dragging the plant around?"
Polar looked up to see Dark Eyes dragging green-colored basal leaves towards the den.
"What are you doing?" Day Flower demanded, flashing the newcomers an embarrassed look. "These burnet leaves smell interesting and feel weird," Dark Eyes explained, "I think they are important."
"Important?" Day Flower repeated. "Important how?"
Dark Eyes was silent for a few heartbeats. "Shimmering Moon says they are good for strength. She says I may also give some queens who are expecting kits." Day Flower let out a loud laugh.
Dark Eyes doesn't deserve to be laughed at, Polar wanted to say. He just has a weird imaginations about cats. The more Polar thought about it, the more she slowly sided with Day Flower.
"Dear, there is no cat named 'Shimmering Moon'." Day Flower growled. "Now go and put that burnet back where you found it. It won't help us."
"But I can't just throw it away!" Dark Eyes protested. "And Shimmering Moon is real! She is black -and- gray-"
"Is this one of your imaginary friends?" Day Flower interrupted.
"Shimmering Moon isn't an imaginary cat," Dark Eyes growled. "She lives up in the sky with other cats."
Polar watched Snowball shake her head. "He's got issues." She said.
Day Flower rolled her eyes. "I will let you keep the burnet as long as you stop talking about this she-cat."
Dark Eyes smiled. "Okay!" he mewed. He dragged the burnet to a nearby tree, where he had collected other strange plants.
"You shouldn't doubt him," Spider Foot told Day Flower. "He healed Silver Vine's wound."
"I know, I know," Day Flower growled. "But all this talk about this Shimmering Moon is so obnoxious."
Eclipse teased Dark Eyes as he padded by. "Dark Eyes just has his head in the clouds."
Dark Eyes surprising didn't respond. He didn't seem to care either.
Morning Sky's gaze flitted around the cats nervously. "May we go hunting?" she asked. Raven nodded. "Elm Root and Snapping Eagle will come with me," Morning Sky said. "Take Kermit and Berry with you." Raven said sternly. Morning Sky wanted to question why but she held her tongue. She and the toms headed out of the camp to hunt on the moor.
Rushing Creek stood up and stretched his legs. "Mind if we dig ourselves a den?" he asked.
Before Raven answered, Rushing Creek was already ordering his cats to dig under a large bracken bush near Silver Vine's den. "I don't mind," Raven mumbled.
Leaf waddled next to Silver Vine. "May I sleep in your den?" She asked, her voice low and calm, trying to hide her nervousness. "Go ahead," Silver Vine told her gently. Leaf dipped her head and marched to the den with Silver Vine behind her.
Polar watched the new cats dig out their den. It would take at least a quarter-moon to make it large enough for the cats. "You cloud sleep with Wing, Berry, Brick, and the rest of us in the heather bushes," Polar told the cats offered. "There is a big oak tree hanging over us to protect us from the rain."
Shadow Thorn and Rushing Creek stopped digging and they looked up. "Are you sure?" Shadow Thorn asked. "I'm sure," Polar said. The two glanced at each other but they stopped digging.
"Thank you," Rushing Creek said and he dipped his head. Polar nodded.
The day moved forward to sunhigh, when the sun shined right above the cats, warming their bodies and informing them that Newleaf was approaching.
Morning Sky brought back two rabbits for her cats. Elm Root took his four mice to Silver Vine and Leaf.
Morning Sky took one bite from a rabbit and let Flicker take the other bite. Flicker passed it to Rushing Creek who also, took one bite.
"Why don't you just split the two rabbits evenly?" Polar questioned, her ears twitching.
"When prey is scarce, we share all the prey we have." Flicker answered.
Polar blinked as she watched the cats eat. "Alright," she muttered.
"I'm bored!" Eclipse suddenly squealed. "I wanna go to the forest." Polar rolled her eyes. "The moor is great play on." Eclipse scratched the ground. "I know," he sighed, "but I have never been in the forest before." He turned his bright eyes to Polar, his eyes glistening with excitement and hope. "Maybe we could go to the forest!"
Polar shuffled her paws. "Just us?"
"Maybe Snowball if she would like to join," Eclipse said and tipped his head. "Shouldn't we ask Day Flower or-" Polar was silenced by Eclipse's burning gaze. "Day Flower and Raven won't let us," Eclipse growled loudly and heedlessly.
Polar blinked in surprise. She thought for a moment, thinking deeply. They have never been in the forests. And with dogs around, this could be dangerous. But the forest was beautiful with Newleaf coming soon, few leaves dancing among the lean branches of the trees. Flowers were sprouting, peaking their heads out from the ground. Polar watched as the soft breezes lifted the leaves and made them rustle such a soothing sound.
It is so beautiful, Polar thought to herself.
"So . . wanna go?" Eclipse asked, as if he read her thoughts. "Yes!" Polar said instantly, completely forgetting all her concerns about the forest.
"We will have to be sneaky," Eclipse said. "I know." Polar said shortly. She dropped into a crouch, speeding up her pace as she wove around the tall, tangled stalks of heather, her pelt almost completely disappearing under the mauve shades. Eclipse followed her, gingerly looking over his shoulder to make sure no one saw or followed.
The young littermates rushed down the moor hill and stopped abruptly at the river that encompassed the moor.
The river wasn't deep, but it wasn't scary either.
Eclipse dipped a paw into the river and gave a slight shudder. "The water is cold, but refreshing." He breathed and lapped at the water, both his forepaws also in the water. Polar was reluctant for a few heartbeats, but she stretched out her paws and touched the cold river. Her and Eclipse crossed the river with no problem. Surprisingly, the water only reached half way up their leg.
"That was not bad," Eclipse meowed. "Imagine swimming in it." Polar shook the water off her legs before continuing towards the forest.
As they neared the forest, the trees became giant, and the flowers no longer looked like yellow and white specks.
Polar marched forward, sniffing the air. A whole new scent washed over her. She breathed it in, enjoying the smell of rabbits and mice and squirrels. But there was another strange scent, but she didn't care about it. The sweet scent of the lively forest was what she wanted.
"Let's go." Eclipse whispered to her, and he stalked forward into the forest. Polar hesitated before trailing after him.
Polar narrowed her eyes as Eclipse stopped at every small sound. "You better not hunt," Polar growled, trying to distract her own craving to hunt. Eclipse didn't answer, but he did nod his head.
The two smelt every plant they could, Polar even dragged Eclipse out from under a bramble bush.
"Eclipse, I think we should head back," Polar commented as the sun began to fall, its rays no longer shining over the trees.
Eclipse lashed his tail. "But there is still soooo much to explore!"
"I understand that, but Day Flower will be worrying about us." Polar said. "I can't see the moor from here," she added, her eyes darting to each and every tree in view.
Eclipse turned to her, not a single glint of worry in his eyes. "We aren't even half way through the forest," he growled. "Come on, just a bit more before we-" Eclipse broke off suddenly. Polar whipped around as a strong scent filled her nostrils.
A lean, spotted gray tom was approaching the two, his eyes narrowing and his tongue rolling over his chops.
Polar got herself ready in a defensing stance, her forelegs stretched and her hind legs tucked underneath her. Her tail swayed from side to side and she unsheathed her claws.
The tom studied her for a moment before taking a menacing step forward. Polar eyed Eclipse as he flinched and slowly cringed.
Suddenly, a loud voice came from behind the tom. "Don't harm them!"
The tom stopped in his tracks, only a tail length away from the two moor-cats. Polar kept her gaze on the tom, even after a she-cat approached from behind the tom.
"What are you doing here?" The gray tom growled at Polar.
Polar was the one who answered coolly, "We were exploring and we were just about to leave." Polar took a step forward but the gray tom blocked her way.
"Oh no you don't," he said. Polar met his gaze and she narrowed her eyes.
The tom sniffed. "You two are moor-cats."
Polar craned her neck forward. "Is that a problem?"
"It is when you're on my territory," the tom growled. Eclipse flinched again. Polar's hackles raised as she and the tom locked gazes.
The she-cat stepped between the two. She flicked the tom's muzzle with her tail. "They are only youngsters," she pointed out. "They didn't know any better."
Eclipse didn't know any better, Polar thought. She glanced back at her littermate, who was staring at the gray tom. She regretted coming, every second returning this tom's stare was painful. He looked like he wanted to rip her fur off.
"It is almost sundown," the she-cat spoke softly, her white -and- brown fur ruffling in the wind. "It would be unwise to return to your moor, young ones." Polar blinked, a bit puzzled. "It isn't that far," she said slowly. The she-cat shook her head solemnly. "No. There was a dog chasing some of our cats. I'm afraid they might find you."
Polar's eyes widened. "Are you suggesting we go to your camp?" Her voice came out as an icy hiss.
The tom's fur bristled but the she-cat's fur still laid flat, but her ear twitched. "Just for the night," she responded calmly.
Polar and Eclipse exchanged nervous glances but they quickly looked away. "You promise we will be safe?" Eclipse spoke. The she-cat's ear twitched again. "Of course." She said.
The she-cat swayed her tail in a gesture that meant, "follow me" as she stalked forward with the mumbling tom. Polar and Eclipse were disincline to follow, but they did anyway as the scent of dog grew stronger.
At moonhigh, the she-cat and tom brought the two moor-cats into an abandoned quarry, with a large clearing and what looked like, two dens. Tree hung over the hollow, shading the place from sunlight and rain.
"Fawn! Moth Spots!" A smaller she-cat greeted. "We were worried sick. The others-" she stopped when she saw Polar and Eclipse. She looked at the brown -and- white she-cat questionably.
"We found these youngsters exploring," Fawn explain. "They are moor-cats. I only brought them here for the night. I don't want dogs ripping them apart."
The smaller she-cat gave a slight shrug. "Okay," she said shortly. She sniffed a couple times before her eyes grew round. "They smell kinda like mountain cats."
"I did notice that," Moth Spots said, narrowing his eyes.
Fawn turned to the two. "You aren't mountain cats, are you?" she asked. Polar shook her head. "No. But we just met mountain cats today."
Fawn's eyes lit up. "We met mountain cats today," she said. "They said they were running from dogs-" "-and they were separated from their group!" Eclipse exclaimed, finishing for her. Fawn looked delighted. "Get the mountain cats out here." She ordered. The smaller she-cat nodded, running to a tangle of bramble bushes that grew in the quarry,
Seven cats peeked their heads out from under the bushes as the smaller she-cat told them the news. Their eyes locked onto Polar and Eclipse as they steadily crawled out from the bushes.
A another gray tom and a she-cat slowly approached Polar and Eclipse.
"I am Wolf's Cry," the gray tom said. "This is Tiny Flame. Kestrel told us you found other mountain cats?" his voice high, full of hope.
Polar nodded. "A tom by the name of Rushing Creek and his group were escorted to our camp on the moor by our father," she explained, "he asked if they could stay with us until they found the other six mountain cats that went missing after the dogs chased the."
A smile appeared on Tiny Flame's face. "Who was with your father?"
Polar paused for a moment, trying to remember. "Er- Rushing Creek, Snapping Eagle, Leaf, Morning Sky, Shadow Thorn and - uh - Flicker."
Tiny Flame flashed an anxious look at Wolf's Cry. "Tall Thorn, Pale Water and Sinking Sun are still missing." She gasped.
"At least we found a few of the others," Wolf's Cry sighed..
"It is moonhigh," Fawn announced. "It is time we rest. Tomorrow, we will let you two youngsters return to your moor when it is safe." She paused before saying, "This is Kestrel, Flint, Chasing Fire, Loud Step, and Tangle."
"I am Polar, and this is my littermate Eclipse." Polar introduced. Fawn dipped her head. "You may sleep in those ferns."
Polar thanked her and she and Eclipse stalked towards the ferns.
"Do you really trust them?" Eclipse asked in a low voice. "They know who Rushing Creek is," Polar replied. "So you trust them because they know the mountain cats?" Eclipse whispered. Polar rolled her eyes. "Just sleep."
Polar curled up in the ferns. The ferns were much softer and warmer than the heather back at the moor.
"Just remember, you are the one who got us into this," Polar growled softly. Eclipse fidgeted and his whiskers twitched. "Sorry." He said untruthfully.
~Chapter Six's Gallery~
Rushing Creek woke up as the heather tickled his nose. He sneezed and looked at Shadow Thorn, who slept soundlessly.
Rushing Creek stepped out of the heather and slowly approached Elm Root and Snapping Eagle who were speaking in low voices near the nursery.
"Is something wrong with Leaf?" Rushing Creek asked. Elm Root shook his head. "No. But Silver Vine is having a lot of pains in her hips. Dark Eyes and Spider Foot think she might start kitting soon."
How can they tell? Rushing Creek wanted to ask, but he knew that they wouldn't be able to answer.
A loud wail from behind Rushing Creek made he spin around. Day Flower was weeping, her head resting on Raven's shoulder and Snowball between her paws, her eyes round with worry.
"What's wrong with them?" Rushing Creek yawned. "Eclipse and Polar went missing," Snapping Eagle said. Rushing Creek's ears perked. "Missing?" He echoed.
"Have you found them?" Day Flower asked Pine as she, Kermit, Twig and Oak approached her. Pine sighed, "No, Day Flower. We followed their scent to the river but it continued on over the river."
"They could have crossed the river and gotten lost in the forest," Kermit suggested. "Or dogs got them." Oak said darkly. Day Flower wailed again. Raven's shoulders sagged and he began to tremble.
"We will find them," Twig promised.
Day Flower blinked."I want another group to find my kits in the forest."
Pine glanced at her group but she didn't argue. "Who is willing to go to the forest?" She asked.
Twig and Oak backed away. "I am." Kermit announced proudly. Pine's gaze flitted to each cat. "Anyone?" her voice began to shake as no other cat volunteered.
"I am willing to go." Wing said. Cherry nodded. "I will too."
Rushing Creek hesitated before stepping forward. "I will go." Pine blinked at Rushing Creek in surprise. "Alright," she breathed, "let us go."
Rushing Creek followed the cats as they headed down the hill of the moor. He avoided Day Flower's judging gaze as he passed. "Please find them!" Snowball called to the cats.
Pine led her group through the clumps of heather and gorse and shortly after they arrived at the river. "Their scent continues forward," Pine said. She jumped right across the river with no worry.
Cherry was hesitating, blinking her eyes rapidly out of nervousness. She jumped across, but her back paws hit the water, which made her yowl in shock at how cold the water was. Kermit copied Cherry, except only his tail tip bounced on the water. Wing slammed his paws into the water and trotted very loudly, splashing the other cats.
"You should have checked to see of the water was shallow!" Cherry hissed. Wing smiled. "I didn't drown, did I?"
Rushing Creek also trotted through the water, quieter than Wing but faster. When he got out of the water, he shook his pelt, sending droplets of water onto Cherry. A growl rumbled in Cherry's throat but Pine proceeded forward without a word.
The cats slowly made it to the beginning of the forest. Rushing Creek was awed by the beauty of it.
"Their scent isn't stale. It smells as though they were here yesterday." Wing sniffed.
Pie marched forward under the trees with her group. "If you can track their scent, please tell me," Pine sighed, "I'm getting tired of Day Flower's whining." Rushing Creek rolled his eyes. "You'd be the same way if your kits went missing," he said. Pine's ear twitched. "Maybe as kits," she said. Rushing Creek glanced at Cherry, who smiled happily.
"It's Cherry who's getting on my nerves," Kermit growled softly to Rushing Creek and Wing and Flicker.
"Didn't you live with her back in your twoleg home?" Flicker asked.
Kermit nodded curtly. "Back at the twoleg nest, it was just me, Peach and Marbles for at least, two seasons. One day, our twoleg brought home Pine and her three kits. They lived with us for another season before we went to live with Brick's group on the moor. But Cherry, she always thought so highly of herself. The second Pine would compliment her, Cherry would have such a smug smile on her face. She doesn't think of others either."
"Were Peach and Marbles ever annoyed?" Rushing Creek asked, interested in his story.
Kermit paused for a heartbeat. "Marbles ignored her. Peach didn't and still doesn't like Cherry."
Wing smiled. "Maybe things will change," he said.
Kermit didn't respond. His pace slowed and he sniffed the air. "Pine!" He yelled. "I think I found their trail."
Pine whipped around and licked Kermit gratefully on the ear. "This is why I picked you for the group."
"Er- I volunteered." Kermit said shortly, a slight smile appearing. Pine shook her head. "Forget about it. Lead us to Polar and Eclipse!"
Rushing creek smiled as Kermit led the cats deeper into the forest. "You are very interesting cats," he told Wing. "Usually, us mountain cats would split up."
"That doesn't sound very smart," Wing said bluntly. Rushing Creek blinked. "It worked for us," he growled. "Yeah, maybe in the mountains." Cherry retorted, overhearing.
Rushing Creek narrowed his eyes and dug his claws into the grass as he steadily followed behind Kermit. He ignored whatever Cherry had to say about him and Flicker, but he couldn't ignore her complaining.
"Kermit, are you sure we are going the right way?" Cherry asked. "I don't smell anything."
Kermit's eyes narrowed. "Use your nose and you might smell a familial scent."
Cherry rolled her eyes.
Flicker grunted. "And we thought Broken Wave was annoying."
Rushing Creek closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. He forgot about the mountains. He forgot about the cats they left behind, the amazing view, and of course, he forgot about Broken Wave.
Oh, Broken Wave, Rushing Creek slowly opened his eyes and bumped into Pine's flank. Pine flashed him a look but she didn't speak. Rushing Creek apologized before sighing again. He reflected on Broken Wave. The beautiful she-cat who never left his side until now. Broken Wave was my mate, Rushing Creek growled softly, and I left her behind.
A loud yowl from Kermit interrupted his thoughts. "We have to turn back," he gaped, "I smell cats."
"So?" Pine said. "These cats might now where Polar and Eclipse are!" The brown she-cat pelted forward, leaving the cats to catch up.
"Pine!" Wing panted. "Wait up! We have to be careful-" Wing stopped abruptly, when a loud hiss came from the head of the group.
Pine had stopped running and she was now face to face with an unfamiliar ginger tom. A small she-cat was slowly emerging from the ferns and she was approaching Wing. A growl rumbled in Wing's throat. Another tom came from behind the group, his large paws sending dirt flying in the air. Rushing Creek and Flicker both got into a crouch, their tails lashing crossly behind them. The tom's whiskers twitched, impressed by their fast actions.
Cherry also dropped into a crouch, her paws tucked under her belly as a silver tom snarled at her. Kermit bared his teeth at the silver tom, his eyes narrowing.
"You're moor-cats," the silver tom sneered.
Pine growled lowly. "Is that a problem?"
"It is when you're on our territory," the small she-cat answered.
"You'll pay for crossing us." The silver tom hissed, bunching his muscles, ready to pounce on Cherry.
The brown tom Flicker and Rushing Creek were facing suddenly turned to the silver tom. "Fawn told us no more bloodshed," he said. The silver tom's tail twitched. "I don't care what she says."
The ginger tom dropped onto his haunches as he sat down calmly, surprising Pine.
"Don't fight," the tom growled. The silver tom didn't reply, because he was already pouncing. He slammed his paws into Cherry's chest as she also jumped. Cherry fell on her side and Kermit raked the silver tom's shoulder. Wing batted the small she-cat's ears.
The tom in front of Rushing Creek and Flicker didn't fight. Instead, he yowled, "Stop!"
Before Rushing creek could pounce, Pine's voice rang in his ears.
"I'll kill him if you don't back off!" Pine roared. Rushing Creek whipped around to see her claws placed directly over the ginger tom's throat. The ginger tom didn't move, but his eyes darted from each cat, as if asking for help.The brown tom's eyes widened with fear and the she-cat and the silver tom backed off.
The silver tom glared at her. "You wouldn't dare."
Pine growled, "Try me."
The silver tom's eyes narrowed. "What do you cats want?" He asked.
"We are looking for two young cats," Pine explained coolly. "We lost them at sundown and we traced their scent back here. Have you seen them?" Pine still had her claws hanging above the ginger's tom's throat. He relaxed but his eyes were gleaming in fear.
The she-cat gasped. "We met two young moor-cats!"
"What were their names?" Flicker asked, not believing the she-cat. "Polar and Eclipse!" She exclaimed.
Rushing Creek looked at Pine. Her face lit up and she stepped away from the ginger tom who scrambled away to the she-cat's side.
"Take us to Polar and Eclipse," Rushing Creek ordered. The silver tom glared at him but he turned around lashed his tail. "Follow me." He growled.
The tom led them deeper into the forest, making Rushing Creek nervous, but he relaxed when the tom brought them to a quarry.
"Fawn!" The silver tom called, "Moor-cats are here to pick up the little rats."
Wing flinched, a bit shocked by the silver tom's words.
Polar and Eclipse crawled out from under a bramble bush. "Pine!" They said simultaneously. The two rushed to the cats.
The cat, so called Fawn stepped forward, her eyes narrowing. "I asked Tangle to retrieve the moor-cats, not you."
"We caught these moor-cats in the forest," the silver tom snorted. "They were looking for these two -er - kits." Polar's eyes flashed. "We are not kits!" Rushing Creek smiled with amusement.
"Thank for returning them," Pine said. Fawn dipped her head. "No problem. Sorry for the trouble. My cats probably jumped you, thinking you were a dog.
Pine sniffed. "They did."
Fawn sighed, "Moth Spots, what did I say about-" "about no more bloodshed!" The brown tom finished. "I told him that but he attacked anyway."
Rushing Creek say Fawn's mouth open to speak, but he ignored her words as he saw shaped behind her. He tilted his head and watched the two shapes turn into cats and the the cats turn into . . Wolf's Cry and Tiny Flame.
Rushing Creek pelted towards the two cats. "Wolf's Cry! Tiny Flame! You're alive." He yelled.
Wolf's Cry halted abruptly. "Rushing Creek?" Tiny Flame gasped as she looked past him, "Flicker! You two are with the moor-cats?" Rushing Creek licked her ear and Flicker trotted towards them. "We needed help finding you," Rushing Creek explained.
"We were so worried the dogs got you," Flicker said. Wolf's Cry and Tiny Flame exchanged sorrowful glances.
"What?" Rushing creek asked, his voice low. All gazes burned into Tiny Flame and Wolf's Cry.
"River Flower didn't a make it," Tiny Flame choked out finally.
Flicker gasped and Rushing Creek stumbled back. "The - the dog killed her?"
Wolf's Cry quickly added, "The dog pounced on her and dragged her away from us. Tiny Flame was already limping after the dog bit her hind leg. River Flower told us to keep running-" he scratched the ground-"I could have saved her." His eyes closed and he breathed in.
Rushing Creek stared at the two, his mind spinning. Dead? River Flower, above all acts, dead? This can't be real. . .
"I'm sorry," Fawn's voice surprised him.
Tiny Flame slowly looked up. "If it wasn't for them, we'd be dead. The young moor-cats too."
Rushing Creek glanced back at Polar and Eclipse. "We'll tell the cats at the moor she didn't make it." He sighed.
"You cats have been reunited, now it is time for you to leave." The small she-cat said solemnly. "We caught a dog's scent earlier at dawn. We don't want it to come back."
Pine thanked the cats before her and the moor-cats, along with Wolf's Cry and Tiny Flame, headed back to the moor.
"I bet they tortured you," Cherry teased. Polar shook her head. "No. They were nice, actually." Eclipse mewed, "Yeah! Tangle's kits were fun to play with."
Pine chuckled. "I bet they were."
The cats reached the end of the forest soon after the sun was its highest in the sky. They jumped over the river and they quickly made it back. As soon as they returned, Day Flower's face of worry was flushed with an outraged expression.
"You two are such mouse-brains!" She chided. "I was scared to death!"
"I thought it was cool," Snowball piped in. Raven cuffed Snowball's ears gently. "You two should never run off like that again." He said.
Polar sighed, "I know. But don't blame me! It was Eclipse's idea."
Eclipse's eyes narrowed but he stayed quiet.
"Either way, you two are both in trouble," Day Flower said. "No hunting tomorrow or tonight."
Polar and Eclipse mumbled under their breaths. Polar turned away from Day Flower and towards Rushing Creek.
"Thanks for returning us," Polar said. Rushing Creek dipped his head. "No problem."
Dark Eyes appeared from the entrance of the den Leaf and Silver Vine slept in.
"Silver Vine is in extreme pain right now." Dark Eyes reported. "Did she have her kits?" Oak asked. Dark Eyes shook his head. "No. But she says she can feel the kits kicking. Spider Foot and I will sleep with her tonight just in case."
"Is Leaf okay?" Elm Root suddenly asked.
Rushing Creek's heart stopped for a moment when Dark Eyes didn't answer. "Yes." He finally replied. "We can't be exactly sure, but Spider Foot and I have estimated her kits will come around in a moon or two."
Relief washed over Rushing Creek and Elm Root. She's okay, he told himself. An image of Broken Wave flashed in his mind. Rushing Creek shook his head, sighing, trying to distract himself from thinking of his old mate.
"Wolf's Cry! Tiny Flame!" Shadow Thorn, who was now awake, yowled. The other mountain cats followed her gaze and their jaws dropped. Snapping Eagle and Shadow Thorn ran to them, leading Elm Root to them.
"Is Tall Thorn with you? What about Pale Water and Sinking Sun? River Flower?" Elm Root inquired, panic flickering in his eyes.
Wolf's Cry sighed loudly. "No. Rain Flower was with us but we lost her to . . to the dog . ." he trailed off, unable to finish as he closed his eyes and remembered what happened. Tiny Flame looked at her paws. "She will be missed greatly." The mountain cats all looked down and surprisingly, so did Wing and Kermit. "River Flower was the bravest cat I had ever met," Snapping Eagle said heavily.
Rushing Creek turned to Raven, saying, "Raven, these two were also mountain cats." He gestured towards Wolf's Cry and Tiny Flame, trying to ignore the grief he held in his heart for River Flower.
Raven gave a slight bow and said, "I am Raven."
Rushing Creek smiled warmly, seeing how Wolf's Cry and Tiny Flame were a bit sheepish introducing themselves to Raven.
"I'll go tell Leaf the news," Elm Root sniffed. He padded away, his head hanging low and his tail dragging behind.
"Is everyone okay?" Wolf's Cry asked. "Yep," Snapping Eagle said softly, "no one was injured."
"Will they be staying with us?" Peach asked, a bit of excitement in her voice. Raven glanced and Brick, who was thinking quietly.
"We already have too much mouths to feed!" Berry hissed. Brick growled at his brother, "If a cat needs shelter, we will give them shelter and food no matter what." He turned to Rushing Creek and said, "They can stay."
At the corner of his eye, Rushing Creek could see Day Flower's muscles twitch and he could hear Berry growl. Day flower rolled her eyes and sat on her haunches, disappointed in Brick's decision. Berry glanced at her with a small grin, glad someone agreed with him.
After Brick's decision was made, the former mountain cats began to speak in low tones. But Rushing Creek was focused on Berry. The tom glared at him, his hatred clearly showing.
What do you have against us? Rushing creek wanted to snap. Rushing Creek looked away from Berry, but he still listened to whatever he had to say.
"You are putting us all in danger," Berry hissed quietly. Brick whipped around and snapped, "These mountain cats have done no harm!"
A deep growl rumbled in Berry's throat. "The last time we trusted one of them, he nearly killed Spider Foot."
Rushing Creek stiffened. Another mountain cat? Perhaps he was talking about the three others, Tall thorn, Pale Water and Sinking Sun. But where could they be? Rushing Creek kept his gaze away from them, so the two littermates wouldn't notice.
"It was an accident," Brick argued.
"Accident?" Berry echoed sourly. "You call pushing a kit into a lake an accident?"
When Brick opened his mouth to speak, Berry cut in, saying, "Spider Foot is your kit. But you do nothing to protect her!"
Brick blinked slowly. "The mountain cats have done no harm," he repeated with a sigh. He turned on Berry who cursed him.
Rushing Creek sat speechless, his mind racing with thoughts. Were other mountain cats were here before us?
Rushing Creek felt a hard nudge on his side. He looked over and saw Peach. "Sorry to bother you," she said, "but Oak and I want to hunt. Mind if we take a mountain cat or two?" Her eyes gleamed hopefully and her smile seemed to convince him. "Go ahead," he said.
Peach had Shadow Thorn and Flicker with her when she followed Oak out of the camp.
Rushing Creek sat on his haunches, watching the four leave. He sighed loudly, remembering River Flower. He looked up at the bright sky and his throat tightened. Why did she have to leave? Are Tall Thorn, Pale Water, and Sinking Sun even alive?
Brown fur flashed by, a large and swift hare hopping aimlessly away from the cats who chased him.
Oak followed the hare, keeping his gaze locked on the hare's neck. In a heartbeat, Oak was in the air and his teeth were sinking into the brown, fluffy fur. The hare kicked its hind legs before falling limp between his jaws.
"Great catch!" Shadow Thorn and Flicker nodded. Oak's eyes smiled, happy to know that the mountain cats approved of his hare, even though Peach did too.
Oak padded away from the heather where he had caught the rabbit and followed behind Peach, who carried a massive hawk. Flicker and Shadow Thorn both carried two mice.
The tattered clouds in the deep blue sky hardly covered the sun's burning rays as it warmed the cats' fur.
The cats slowly made it back to the moor. It wasn't Peach or Oak who wanted to walk slowly, it was Flicker and Shadow Thorn. Maybe they wanted to enjoy such a beautiful day, Oak guessed. But his thoughts quickly changed after Shadow Thorn kept sniffing the air, her eyes bobbing to each plant and her ears perking to the slightest noise.
"Okay, what is wrong?" Oak finally asked.
Shadow Thorn stared back at him. "I thought I smelled something." She said shortly.
Peach eyed her suspiciously. "What did you smell?"
"Er- forest cats?" Shadow Thorn guessed.
"There haven't been forest-cats on the moor for moons," Peach said.
Shadow Thorn gave a slight shrug. "Alright."
When they reached camp, the cats were separated into groups of three, all cats speaking quietly.
"How did you catch that?" Marbles asked Peach when she approached him, his eyes sparkling with delight at the massive hawk she held between her jaws.
"Flicker was hunting it before me. He tore its wing, but I killed it before him." Peach explained, gesturing towards Flicker, slightly embarrassed.
Peach, Marbles, Kermit and Pine ate the hawk together. Dark Eyes took Flicker's two mice and gave one to each queen. Snapping Eagle and Morning Sky ate shadow Thorn's mice. Oak shared his hare with Twig and Berry.
"You want some?" Oak asked Wolf's Cry. The gray tom shook his head. "No. I ate before we came back. Tiny flame did too."
Berry seemed pleased with Wolf's Cry's decision, a grin appearing on his face.
"This is delicious!" Twig exclaimed. Berry nodded in agreement.
Before Oak could respond, he heard Shadow Thorn talking with Rushing Creek. They spoke in low voices, but he could make out some of the words like . . . strange . . . Tall Thorn. He didn't really bother asking about it so he continued scarfing down the hare.
"What do you think they're talking about?" Berry asked in a low growl. "None of your business," Tiny Flame hissed. Berry's eyes narrowed and Oak flinched. This would not end well.
"Anything that concerns this group is my business." Berry snapped. "What they are talking about doesn't concern the whole group," Tiny Flame retorted.
Oak twitched uncomfortably as he watched Tiny Flame and Berry lock gazes, their eyes starting to burn with anger.
Tiny Flame finally looked away and she turned her tail on them.
Morning Sky, who seemed to be listening to Tiny Flame and Berry, kept a watchful eye on the bright red tom. Oak and Twig glanced nervously at each other when Berry caught Morning Sky's eye. He returned her stare with a sharp glare before getting up and padding away. Morning Sky's eyes narrowed but she didn't speak.
"Sorry about Berry," Oak told the mountain cats. "He isn't very fond of strangers." His memory flashed back to when he first arrived. Berry never talked to him, but he always gave him a challenging look. Berry had also threatened to harm Cherry if they didn't give him the prey they caught. "He's just stubborn," was always Brick's excuse.
"Has Brick done anything about him?" Shadow Thorn asked.
Oak shuffled his paws. "Well, no."
"He would be a good cat if he didn't hate his brother and strangers so much." Polar added, her voice suddenly being heard from behind.
Elm Root's head tilted but it was Rushing Creek who inquired, "Why does he hate his brother?"
Polar sighed. "Brick was never really thankful for anything Berry has done. He kinda ignores him. Brick also neglects Spider Foot, his only kit. Day Flower says Spider Foot's being neglected because she reminds Brick of his mate but I personally think he just doesn't care. Berry was mostly the one who took care of Spider Foot as a kit."
Oak glanced at Rushing Creek who spoke again, "How does Spider Foot feel?"
Polar thought for a moment. "She doesn't feel happy at all around Brick."
Shadow Thorn's eyes narrowed and she spoke coolly, "Elm Root and I, along with our other two littermates were ignored by our father."
"Don't try to talk about it in front of Spider Foot. She'll be upset," Polar said.
Dark Eyes interrupted their conversation, by an urgent mew that made them jump. "Where's Wing? Silver Vine is starting to kit!"
"I thought you said she wasn't going to kit," Polar snapped, panic darkening her eyes.
"I was clearly wrong!" Dark Eyes shot back.
"Wing!" Oak shouted. The white -and- gray tom rushed forward, his whiskers twitching nervously. "It's Silver Vine." Oak breathed. Wing immediately followed Dark Eyes into the fox den. Raven went in too, just in case.
Leaf peered from the den, her eyes rounded with fear.
"Is something wrong with Silver Vine?" Pine asked. Before Leaf could answer, Spider Foot looked out and said, "Nothing is wrong. It just seems a bit soon for the kits."
"Do you need any help?" Kermit asked. Spider Foot shook her head. "No. Just wait and be patient."
Elm Root stalked towards Leaf and licked her ear. "Are you okay?"
Leaf nodded. "Of course. It is just . . Silver vine is in much pain. I'm worried."
Oak stayed silent, but he kept his eyes on the nursery. There was a loud wail and it made every cat flinch. Even Spider Foot flinched. Oak began to wonder if she told the truth. Spider Foot kept looking back, her breathing becoming more rapid.
A couple heartbeats went by and another stressed wail was heard. Soon after, Dark Eyes popped his head out and smiled. "Two healthy tom-kits!" He announced.
The cats cheered, happy for the two new kits.
"What are their names?" Leaf asked excitedly. Dark Eyes shrugged. "I don't think they decided yet."
Every cat began to speak loudly, their voices raising above each other as they spoke of the new kits.
"The kits are lucky to born in such beautiful weather," Twig mused.
Raven smiled happily as he emerged from the nursery. "We gladly welcome Silver Vine's two tom-kits, Cloud and Jay's Flight into this new world."
"I can't wait to play with them!" Snowball mewed excitedly.
"Can I see them?" Leaf asked Wing. The white -and- gray tom nodded. "Of course."
Leaf dipped her head towards Elm Root before turning back into the nursery.
"With more mouths to feed, we will have to work harder in hunting." Brick announced. "No kidding," Cherry growled, rolling her eyes. Brick scanned over the cats and his eyes landed on Oak. "Can you take cats out for hunting?"
"I just went hunting!" Oak protested. Brick sighed and this time, he rolled his eyes. "Please?" He begged.
Oak sighed loudly. "Fine." Oak gathered Marbles, Morning Sky, Polar and Eclipse and they headed out of camp.
"Why can't Brick ever hunt? We have been doing everything for him." Marbles complained.
Polar sniffed. "He does what he wants. But no cat dares to question."
"Oh trust me, I will." Marbles growled.
The cats continued forward, the sound of rushing water nearby as the padded closer and closer to the river. The group didn't see much prey, and when they did, it was just birds flying. Finally, two voles were caught by Eclipse, but he hid them under a heather bush.. Morning Sky attempted to chase a rabbit it but zoomed past her and into the forest. And the mountain cats thought it would be easier to catch prey here, Oak thought.
A strong scent suddenly washed over Oak, making him recoil in shock at how fresh it was. It smelled like forest-cats, but with the hunt of the pine forest added on to it.
"Cats were recently here!" Morning Sky exclaimed.
"But they don't smell like average forest-cats to me," Marbles said.
Oak sniffed. "That's because this is the scent of a pine-forest cat who-" A sudden rustle of leaves behind Oak made him whip around. A tabby came out of the heather with a rabbit dangling from his jaws. He blinked at Oak before taking off.
"There's the cat!" Polar announced. She pelted after the tom, shouting, "Who are you?" and "Stop!"
The other three followed behind, panting as they tried to keep up with Polar. But the tom didn't seem to mind. He kept looking back at them as if to say, "Follow me." He would even wait for them to catch up.
The cats followed him all the way to the line of sedge bushes that separated the moor from the pine forest. The tabby disappeared through the sedge bushes leaving the group to ponder whether it was safe or not.
"I want a explanation for this," Marbles snorted.
"We all do," Oak said slowly. The tom looked back once more before winking at Oak. He then winked at Morning Sky and gave a small smile before he whisked around and ran deeper into the pines.
Morning Sky gasped and dropped into a crouch. " I know that tom!"
~Chapter Eight's Gallery~
"Out of my way!" Owl Fur squealed as he came rolling down the ditch and into his sister. Small Bird was knocked right off her paws but she lifted her head, giggling.
"Don't hurt yourselves!" Lily ordered.
Tall Thorn rolled her eyes. "They'll be alright, Lily."
Lily glanced at her but she slowly turned her gaze away from her kits.
Tall Thorn shook her head and laughed as Small Bird batted Owl Fur on the nose. Those two just opened their eyes yesterday and their as energetic as a rabbit already!
"Are kits always like this?" Lily asked.
Pale Water smiled warmly. "Not always."
"Hey, get off my tail!" Sinking Sun snapped at Owl Fur, who had stepped clumsily on his tail. Owl Fur looked the tortoiseshell tom directly in the eyes and said proudly, "You're tail was a monster. But I just defeated it!"
Sinking Sun rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, and my whiskers are birds."
"We can pretend they are," Owl Fur suggested, not noticing the sarcasm that tainted Sinking Sun's voice.
Tall Thorn caught a glimpse of Small Bird gazing at bright red berries that dangled from a bush. Small Bird opened her mouth to snatch a berry but Tall Thorn pelted at the kit and grabbed her scruff.
"Don't eat those!" Tall Thorn ordered.
"Because they are night-seeds," Tall Thorn answered. "They can kill a cat almost instantly."
Small Bird gulped as Lily stormed towards her.
"It has only been a quarter-moon since you were born and you have already gotten yourself in trouble," growled Lily. Small Bird's ears drooped and she dragged her tail back to the den.
"Don't be too hard on her," Pale Water advised and she rested her tail on Lily's shoulder. "She didn't know any better."
Lily sighed. "Sorry. The kits are just everywhere - HEY! Owl Fur, go into the den with your sister."
Tall Thorn saw Owl Fur freeze in mid stalk, his gaze slowly drifting from Sinking Sun's tail. He quickly ran into the den with Small Bird, both their eyes glowing in the dark. Tall Thorn could not help but laugh.
Finally, Jagged Brook and Olive returned with a squirrel and a rabbit.
"Can I have that thing?" Small Bird asked.
Pale Water pushed the she-kit back into the den. "No little one, you can't have squirrels or rabbits just yet."
Olive shared his squirrel with Lily as her two kits nestled closely to her belly and began to suckle.
Jagged Brook offered his rabbit to Sinking Sun, Pale Water and Tall Thorn.
Tall Thorn opened her jaws to speak but Jagged Brook swiftly cut in saying, "I already ate a mouse today." He looked over at Lily before saying, "How were the kits?"
"Small Bird almost died." Sinking Sun said simply as he began to eat the rabbit. Jagged Brook's jaw dropped and his eyes flashed with worry. "She's okay!" Tall Thorn explained and she cuffed Sinking Sun gently around the ears. "She almost ate night-seeds."
"Night-seeds . . night-seeds," Jagged Brook murmured. "Oh! You mean deathberries."
Tall Thorn slowly nodded. "If that is what you call 'em."
"I forgot to mention, but be weary in the forest here. I smelled cats earlier but their scent led to the moor." Jagged Brook said. "Why didn't you follow?" Tall Thorn asked. Jagged Brook blinked. "I didn't know how friendly they would have been."
"It could have been the others," Pale Water suggested quietly.
Tall Thorn smiled at Jagged Brook hopefully. "Did you smell any mountain cats?"
Jagged Brook stared at her with a blank expression. "I didn't smell any." He said simply.
Tall Thorn sat back on her haunches and sighed.
"Ha! You said you didn't smell any," Sinking Sun pointed out, "but did you see any?"
Jagged Brook gave him a quick grin. "That was clever thinking, my friend, but no." As he turned away, Tall Thorn could hear Sinking Sun mumbling.
"Do you think he's lying?" Tall Thorn wondered.
"Why would he lie?" Pale Water asked.
Tall Thorn stared after the brown tabby tom. "It was just a thought . ." She trailed off, her mind beginning to wander on different subjects.
The three ate in silence, but they kept a keen eye on Jagged Brook just in case he showed any trace of lying.
Suddenly, a loud yowl from beyond the brambles and the ferns that surrounded them made them jump. Lily scooped up her kits and she and her kits slid under the roots of the tree with only their noses poking out. Jagged Brook ordered Olive and the others to stay back but Olive boldly stood in front of him just in case.
Pale Water ran to the den under the tree and blocked the entrance from anyone getting in or out.
Sinking Sun and Tall Thorn just stood frozen, their paws felt glued to the ground. But they watched as more yowls erupted from the ferns and brambles.
"Dog?" Sinking Sun guessed.
Tall Thorn shook her head. "I doubt it. It almost sounds like a . . a cat."
Paws steps were heard, drumming closer and closer until . . . five cats exploded into the clearing, hissing.
Without thinking, Tall Thorn lunged at a blue-gray she-cat, sinking her claws into the she-cat's shoulder.
"Tall Thorn stop!" Sinking Sun snapped. The blue-gray she-cat clawed at her muzzle, leaving a bright pink scratch. Sinking Sun ripped Tall Thorn off of the she-cat and threw her aside.
"They're invading!" Tall Thorn shouted but she gazed around the clearing to see that no cat was fighting. Sinking Sun and Pale Water were gaping at another she-cat. Her pelt, her eyes . . she looked so familiar.
"Morning Sky!" Pale Water cried out. She ran to the former mountain she-cat, licking her cheek. "You'e alive!"
"I'm so glad we found you!" Morning Sky said, her eyes sparkling in the daylight. "Of course, I can forgive you for attacking Polar." She added to Tall Thorn.
Tall Thorn glanced at Polar apologetically, but she pelted to Morning Sky and flicked her with her tail.
"How did you find us?" Sinking Sun asked.
Morning Sky stared passed them, a smirk slowly appearing on her face. "Well, while we were hunting-" she gestured to the cats behind her - "Polar chased after Jagged Brook for stealing a rabbit from the moor.
Tall Thorn's eyes rounded with confusion. "How do you know Jagged Brook?"
Morning Sky laughed, "I was nine moons old when he left the mountains! I remembered him by his shaggy pelt. No other cat in the mountains had shaggy fur like him."
"I purposely led them here," Jagged Brook admitted.
A brown tom behind Morning Sky stepped forwarded, his eyes narrowing. "You led us here?" He echoed in a mocking tone.
Jagged Brook nodded calmly.
"Are the others with you?" Sinking Sun asked. All happiness seemed to vanish from Morning Sky's eyes. She frowned and spoke heavily, "Every cat is with us. . . Except for River Flower. She didn't make it."
Pale Water and Sinking Sun gasped, but no matter how much Tall Thorn wanted to scream in shock, she couldn't. No sound or words came out. She was only able to blink the tears away.
River Flower was like a mother to me, Tall Thorn thought mournfully, I never even got to say goodbye.
"Anyway," Morning Sky continued, pushing the sad thought away, "This is Oak, Marbles, Eclipse and Polar."
"Yeah, I think we have met," Polar growled bitterly. No blood welled from her shoulder but there was a bright red scratch running across her shoulder.
Tall Thorn didn't reply. She was still too shocked for words.
"This is Olive, Jagged Brook, and Olive's littermate, Lily," she introduced the others quite happily. Lily stepped gingerly towards the strangers, her hackles raising. Her kits hid behind her legs, glancing up from time to time also at the strangers.
"We plan on taking you back to the moor," Eclipse said.
The three former mountain cats exchanged glances. "What about the others?" Tall Thorn asked. "They saved us from the dog."
The cats were silent for a few heartbeats. "We weren't expecting other cats to be with you," Morning Sky pointed out. "But I think it would be fine if they came."
"We would love to!" Lily shouted.
Olive shuffled his paws. "Do you promise my sister's kits will be safe at the moor?"
"Of course!" Marbles exclaimed from behind Oak. "Two new tom-kits were just born in our group."
Lily's fur began to fall back down and a warm smile appeared. "I think we should go." She looked at Jagged Brook who responded with, "Wherever you like."
"Then it is settled," Oak growled softly. "They come with us."
Tall Thorn and the others followed closely behind Morning Sky as she led them out of the pine forest and into a trail that led through another forest until they finally reached the moor.
"So, are you cats called, pine forest-cats?" Eclipse asked.
Olive shrugged. "If that's what you want us to be called."
Eclipse smiled. "We're moor-cats, as you know," he said. "We call cats who live in the forest, forest-cats."
"Really?" Sinking Sun said, sarcastically. Eclipse ignored the tom's tone and he hurried forward to Polar's side.
The cats reached the camp after a few more steps. The camp was a huge clearing with a few oak trees and heather, gorse and bracken bushes here and there.
The second the cats stepped foot in the camp, a loud ringing yell made Tall Thorn smile.
"Tall Thorn! Tall Thorn!" It was Shadow Thorn. Elm Root was at her side as she ran towards her.
Elm Root and Shadow Thorn greeted her with licks on the cheeks.
"You're alive!" Elm Root cried out.
"So are Pale Water and Sinking Sun," Tall Thorn explained.
Soon enough, all the former mountain cats were spotted, each one greeting the three. The rest of the moor-cats introduced themselves as they walked by.
"That is where the queens sleep," a young she-cat named Spider Foot was already telling Lily where to sleep. "Silver Vine has two new-born kits and Leaf is expecting kits."
Lily thanked the young she-cat before hurrying to the old fox den that was their nursery.
"It's Jagged Brook!" Wolf's Cry and Snapping Eagle began to chant.
Jagged Brook smiled. "You're so big!" He told Wolf's Cry. "You looked like a mouse when you were ten moons old." He turned to Snapping Eagle and gently cuffed him around the ears. "Your sister recognized me by my fur," he said, "is it really that shaggy and dirty?"
Snapping Eagle laughed. "You really are."
"How did you make it out alive?" Flicker asked Pale Water. "Tall Thorn batted the dog on the nose!" She said and glanced at the black -and- white she-cat. "She showed me and Sinking Sun not to be afraid, so we fought back too. Soon, Jagged Brook came swooping in and he showed that dumb mutt!"
Tiny Flame chuckled gently next to Tall Thorn. "She still tells stories as a mother would to her kits."
Tall Thorn closed her eyes. In pained her to hear that, thinking about Dove Feathers and Short Breeze made her joy slowly fading.
Rushing creek soon appeared, flicking his tail across his littermate's back. "Leaf will be pleased to know that you're alive," he told Sinking Sun.
"Welcome, newcomers," a black tom by the name of Raven said. "We are glad you decided to join us. But please make sure-" A loud snarl interrupted him.
"Jagged Brook!" Berry snarled, his eyes flashing in fury at the shaggy tom and his claws unsheathing.Jagged Brook held his gaze, but he unsheathed his claws too and his tail twitched.
"Do you remember me, Jagged Brook?" Berry hissed, his tail lashing behind him. "You almost got me killed when you ran across the Thunderpath. You almost drowned Spider Foot," he added slowly.
Spider Foot glanced at the two toms.
Was she trying to remember Jagged Brook? Tall Thorn wondered.
Jagged Brook didn't even bat an eye at Spider Foot. Berry took a menacing step forward, baring his teeth. "You should be back at the mountains where you belong."
Tall Thorn heard Rushing Creek gasp. "He's a mountain cat?"
The others gaped at Jagged Brook, except for Morning Sky, Wolf's Cry and Snapping Eagle, the only cats who knew him.
"I remember you," Jagged Brook spoke rather calmly, but he kept his furious stare. "You blamed me for stealing prey and you framed me for Spider Foot's drowning. I pulled her out of the lake and saved her, yet you still think I'm insane."
Jagged Brook sheathed his claws and sat down, his gaze softening. "Do what you want Berry. Slit my throat if you want to, but first answer me this, do you even have the guts to do what it takes to kill me?"
Berry's eyes narrowed and his fur bristled. He didn't reply and he steadily sheathed his claws.
"I know what I saw," Berry growled. "And I won't forget it." He whisked around and turned his tail on all the cats.
Tall Thorn's heart stopped racing. She waited for Jagged Brook to pounce on Berry but he never did.
"He handled that well," Tiny Flame commented.
Raven went around apologizing for Berry's behavior, even though the cats didn't really seem to care. Jagged Brook had apologized for what happened to Spider Foot and Tall Thorn was surprised that the young she-cat was perfectly okay with it.
"It was an accident," Spider Foot had said with a smile.
Day Flower, who wasn't so enthusiastic about the new cats, showed them that the heather was where they would sleep. Twig and Cherry made them nests. "You can sleep next to me if you'd like," Twig told Tall Thorn. "Thanks." Tall Thorn said shortly, trying to figure out why the cats thought the heather was comfortable. Twig smiled. "You are welcome."
As the day dragged on, so did Sundown. The wild winds rested into soft breezes that ruffled Tall Thorn's fur. The pink and pale brown sky that was streaked with light blue made everything look beautiful. But Tall Thorn couldn't help but pout. She no longer had the warmth of the pine forest and she longer slept under brambles. Instead, she was curled up in tangles of heather, that left her back unprotected. At least that tree somewhat shades this area, Tall Thorn had told herself as she blinked up at the lanky tree that towered over the clumps of heather.
Sure, she did have Twig and Elm Root next to her, but they didn't keep her warm. How can any cat enjoy this?
When moon-high arrived, Tall Thorn still could not rest or close her eyes. She was now on her back, staring up at Silverpelt and the Claw-moon. She wriggled on her back, craned her neck forward to see a cat approaching. It was a small cat, but no small cat Tall Thorn had ever seen.
Tall Thorn stood up and the cat stopped trotting. The darkened sky blurred her vision so the cat was almost invisible in the shadows.
Was it one of the kits? Tall Thorn asked herself. But the kits were smaller than that.
Finally the cat stepped into the moonlight. A small white she-cat with brown patches had a smile traced on her face.
"I am Kestrel," she announced. "I am looking to speak with Pine or Polar if that is all right."
Two moons had passed since Jagged Brook's group and Fawn's group met the moor-cats. Jay's Flight and Cloud had their eyes opened now, and they were bouncing outside the nursery with Owl Fur and Small Bird. Tangle's kits, Moon Stare and Parsley Tail were observing the four kits, laughing and teasing them.
Just two sunrises ago, Leaf had her kits. Her and Elm Root named their two tom-kits Dew Stripe and Mud Splash. They named their she-kit Gentle Storm.
However, in those two moons, not everything went well. In the last moon, Cherry had been chasing a rabbit across the Thunderpath. Too hungry and eager to catch the rabbit, she didn't bother looking to check if it was safe. Cherry was struck by a monster, her jaw left completely twisted with blood dripping down it.
But she wasn't the only one who passed away. Flicker, the former mountain cat, was tragically lost to a hawk after he saved Parsley Tail from being taken. He sacrificed himself for the she-kit.
Shadow Thorn hasn't been doing well without Flicker. She has been sulking ever since, staying away from every cat as much as possible. Flicker was her mate at the time and now she alone.
"I am extremely sad that we lost Flicker, but I wish Shadow Thorn would at least acknowledged mine and Elm Root's presence." Tall Thorn commented. "Flint was Cherry's mate and he got over her after five sunrises!"
Polar didn't reply. She stared at the black she-cat, who's glare felt like ice.
I'll admit it. I would be like that if I lost someone I loved, Polar wanted to say. She watched as Wolf's Cry tried to speak with Shadow Thorn.
"You must hunt!" Wolf's Cry implored. "You aren't feeding this group by sulking around and doing nothing."
"I'm not sulking," Shadow Thorn argued.
"Then what are you doing?" Wolf's Cry challenged. "We are all devastated by his death, but that doesn't mean our legs don't work." Shadow Thorn gave him a low hiss that him flinch. "Fine," the gray tom finally sighed, "have it your way." He stalked away, shaking his head.
Shadow Thorn's gaze swept across the clearing, her eyes slowly resting on Polar, who stared back at her.
Polar held her gaze for a few more heartbeats until she felt a hard nudge on her side. She snapped her head around to see Fawn. "Elm Root and I are taking Chasing Fire and Tangle out to hunt. Want to come along?"
"What about Tangle's kits?" Polar asked.
"Polar, they're a season old now. They can handle themselves." Fawn said, her ears whiskers twitching.
Polar didn't want to go; nor did she want to move from the sun. But it had been a while since she last visited the forest.
"Alright, I'll come along." Polar finally said.
As Polar followed Fawn out of camp, Dark Eyes yelled from behind, "Make sure to gather any plants that look interesting!"
"Plants don't feed hungry bellies!" Polar called over her shoulder.
"They might be useful," Dark Eyes pointed out.
Polar ignored her littermate. All he and Spider Foot did was discuss plants. They started acting like leaders, commanding each cat that went to hunt to "find plants that look or feel unusual. They might be useful." But what bothered Polar the most was the fact that Dark Eyes was acting like Spider Foot's father and was forbidding her to love with Flint. He can't forbid love! Snowball's words echoed in Polar's ears. He thinks he's so smart!
What was the problem with love? Polar had asked herself.
Polar looked up at the sky. The blue sky was now a pale gray, with darker clouds rolling through, threatening to rain on them.
"When being cooped up in an old fox den for so long, even the gloomy days look much better than the dark." Tangle mused and she stretched her legs before taking a giant leap into the air.
Elm Root held up his tail and the cats stopped. He pointed his nose towards a flock of starlings that pecked mindlessly in the open.
"Fawn and Tangle, go behind the birds. Polar and I will go in front. As soon as I give the signal, chase the birds into our paws." Elm Root ordered.
The she-cats nodded and the crept along the underbrush, keeping their paw-steps light and their eyes flitting from each bird to the next. Elm Root gestured Polar towards a clump of ferns that waved silently in the cool breezes. The two padded into them, keeping their heads low.
Elm Root kinked his tail and Tangle and Fawn sprang forward. The birds, in a desperate attempt to escape the slashing claws of the she-cats, fluttered into the air in a low circle, bumping into each other. Polar and Elm Root launched themselves forward, slicing through the air.
Polar reached forward, swiping at a starling's belly. The starling fell at her paws, twitching.
Elm Root slammed his paws down on a small starling, and it let out a "Squawk!" of pain as it landed with a thud!
"Nice catch!" Tangle praised the two.
Polar smiled. She had not been praised for a while for her work. Fawn padded forward saying, "A rabbit's's scent is strong here. Should we try to catch it?"
Elm Root shrugged. "I don't see why not."
Elm Root split the cats up so each cat had a chance to catch something. Fawn ended up catching the rabbit and Tangle caught a squirrel. Elm Root caught a mouse on their way back to the moor.
"Find any plants?" Dark Eyes asked.
Polar sat her starling down next to his paws. "Do you count this as a plant?"
Dark Eyes sniffed the starling. "This is a bird."
"Share it with Spider Foot." Polar ordered. Dark Eyes mumbled under his breath before dragging the starling to Spider Foot.
Polar trotted to Chasing Fire's side, who sat quietly as he watched Moon Stare bat Owl Fur's nose.
"How are the kits doing?" She asked. Chasing Fire slightly shrugged. "They are doing fine." He shuffled his paws for a few awkward moments before commenting, "Twig's becoming rounder and rounder by the minute." He thrusted his muzzle forward, pointing to the brown she-cat.
Polar gave a mrrow of laughter. "She looks as fat as a hare!"
"Who's kits are they?" Chasing Fire asked. Polar fell silent for a few heartbeats. "I - I don't know. But she's been hanging around Moth Spots and Flint quite often. Think it might be one of them?"
Chasing Fire gave another shrug. "It's a possibility."
"Do you know who is the father of Parsley Tail and Moon Stare?" Polar inquired. Chasing Fire sighed. "Some loner," he said. "I don't remember his name, because I was only a moon old then. According to Flint, after Tangle had kits, he disappeared the next day. No one knows where he went."
"Think he died?" Polar asked curiously. Chasing Fire shook his head. "Tangle saw him near the two-leg place at night. His scent was stale, but it seemed to lead over the fences."
Polar tugged at the grass below her. "Why would anyone want to be a kittypet?"
Chasing Fire didn't answer. He stared forward, lost in thought.
"Moon Stare!" Tangle's stern voice made the tom jump. He turned to face his mother, his eyes gleaming with playfulness. "I was only batting her ears," he said. He flicked Parsley Tail on the nose.
Before Tangle could speak, Jay's Flight growled, "You pulled her tail too."
"He did not!" Cloud shot back, defending his friend.
Tangle wrapped her tail around Moon Stare. "You kits worry too much," she meowed. "I wasn't going to accuse anyone of causing trouble. I wanted to let you guys know that Day Flower will be watching you guys while Silver Vine and I go for a walk."
"Why can't Leaf watch us?" Cloud asked. "Or Twig?" Parsley Tail squealed.
"Because Leaf is nursing her kits and Twig needs to rest." Tangle snapped softly. She turned away from the kits and stalked away.
When Day Flower trotted towards the kits, she didn't even bat an eye at Polar. That's strange, Polar thought. Usually she will always say at least hello.
"Hey, Day Flower." Polar greeted.
Day Flower grunted, not taking her eyes off the playing kits.
"Er- are you okay?"
Day Flower suddenly turned on Polar, her eyes flashing. Her voice seemed to raise higher than the trees of the forest. "Oh, I'm just fine. Eclipse yells, 'I'm not a kit!" every time I want to help him with something, Snowball has been ignoring me and your father, Dark Eyes is too busy with his 'life saving plants' to acknowledge my presence, but you, Polar, you have changed. Whenever we go collect or hunt something, you always run off into the forest, saying how pretty it is and complaining about this windy, sunny moor.I try to have one good conversation with you, but you're just like Snowball. You ignore me. I miss when you four were kits."
Polar blinked in surprise, her jaws parted to speak, but no words came out. I - I'm sorry. I love the forest. I never realized . . . Polar's thoughts trailed away when Day Flower whipped back around to watch the kits.
"She's just in one of her moods," Chasing Fire whispered to Polar. But she knew, even he doubted his own words.
Polar chased the large orange and black butterfly through the trees that rustled quietly. The short breezes, the delightful sounds of the prey and the shelter from the sun made Polar happy. She couldn't stand the moor. She wanted the forest.
Polar's eyes widened when she woke up the next morning. She couldn't stop thinking about the forest. She wanted to live there, not just visit it from time to time. Polar thought for a moment before a smile appeared on her face. She remembered how Tall Thorn constantly complained about the lack of the trees on the moor. Tall Thorn didn't enjoy the sunny land as much as the pine trees; nor did Rushing Creek. Rushing Creek found interest near the lake, where no other cat dared to go. The heather wasn't very comfortable for the two former mountain cats.
"I'm tired of eating rabbits!" Shadow Thorn complained. "Aren't there any shrews or squirrels?"
"Squirrels are only common in the forests," Day Flower said with a sharp flick of her tail. "Be happy you are at least being fed."
Leaf shuffled her paws uncomfortably. "I do enjoy the moor, but I think the forest is better."
Day Flower didn't reply. She was too busy watching Owl Fur and Small Bird play. She'll do anything to ignore others, Polar thought and whipped her tail crossly.
"I'm taking a few cats over to the marsh Peach found earlier while looking for plants," Rushing Creek announced.
"Why would you want to go to a marsh?" Berry asked.
Rushing Creek shrugged. "Could be nice there. And who knows what is beyond it?" He turned away from the others and he along with Kestrel and Wing stalked away.
"Living near or in a marsh sounds disgusting," Shadow Thorn spat. "It will get your paws wet and someone might drown."
"Swimming in the lake might be fun," Snowball commented. "In your whole life, you haven't felt a single droplet of water!" Eclipse growled. "Yes I have!" Snowball argued. "Morning Sky taught me how to swim."
Berry's eyes narrowed. "Why would Morning Sky teach you?"
"Because I asked her to," Snowball said. "I saw her swimming in the lake. She did it so well!"
"Although the sun is great," Pale Water began slowly, "I do miss the warmth of the ferns and brambles. There isn't much danger in the pine forest either." Tall Thorn's ears perked up. "You like the pine forest too?" Pale Water nodded. "Who wouldn't?" Kermit said from behind. "The pine forest is so peaceful," Peach breathed. "But Brick would not want to live there."
"Why don't we just leave then?" Polar suggested. If every cat wants a different place, it might be easier.
"Leave?" Raven echoed from behind. "We can't just get up and leave."
"I don't want to leave the moor," Pine said, "but I think Polar is on the right track. We each want different land to live on."
"This is nonsense!" Berry spat. "This might work out," Flint pointed out.
Berry hissed. "You just want to run back to the forest."
Flint didn't flinch. "I do miss it," he admitted. "But it would be kinda scary to return. . ."
"Why? Are you scared of foxes? Badgers? Chasing a rabbit near the Thunderpath. . ?"
Flint growled dangerously. Berry held his gaze, his eyes flashing with fury.
"Stop!" Polar snapped. "We should talk about this with Brick. If he approves on some of us leaving, then we will go."
"What if he doesn't?" Olive questioned.
Polar stayed silent. She looked for words but nothing came. Olive was right, what if Brick doesn't approve?
Suddenly, a loud screech came from the nursery. Lily and Leaf were rushing out of it, their kits dangling from their jaws. Fear lingered in their eyes. Polar sprang forward as Leaf yowled, "Dogs!"
Before Silver Vine could follow Leaf and Lily, she screamed as something dragged her back into the den.
"Silver Vine!" Jay's Flight screamed. Tangle gripped the tom-kit's scruff so he wouldn't run.
Raven and Day Flower ran into the nursery, where sharp wails for help were abruptly silenced.
Polar held her breath. Only the gusty gales were heard, ringing her ears, Her heart was drumming. Leaf and Lily tucked their kits safely between the heather and gorse. All the fur on her back raised.
A black and white dog came running through the moor, its bark piercing Polar's ears.
Tiny Flame and Moth Spots raced towards the dog, clawing its side. The dog swung its head around, clamping its jaws around Tiny Flame's scruff. Moth Spots raked his claws down its shoulder but the dog only threw Tiny Flame, shaking her violently. Wolf's Cry pelted forward to help, but Polar's vision was blurred by another massive brown dog.
The dog charged at her, knocking the wind out of her as it flipped her. Polar gasped, unable to get up. The dog yanked her leg, sinking its teeth deeply down. Polar felt excruciating pain in her hind leg as the dog struck born. She screamed and the dog let go as Eclipse pulled its tail. Loud Step clawed the dog's muzzle, leaving blood to stream across it. The dog back up and Polar scrambled to paws, her heart pounding.
The brown dog and the black and white dogs backed up, snarling.
Polar watched in horror as the dog in the nursery dragged Silver Vine's body out. The dog's chops were tightly secured around her throat. Blood oozed from the deep wound in Silver Vine's throat. Her eyes rolled back and she stopped moving.
No . . NO! Polar's mind swirled. She stumbled back, devastated.
"NO!" Day Flower screeched as she and Raven exploded from the nursery.
Day Flower jumped on the white dog's back, clawing out tufts of fear and flesh from it. The dog reared on its hind legs and Day Flower fell off with a thump. The dog turned around to strike Day Flower, but Raven swiftly saved his mate by slicing the dog's forehead.
The white dog backed up towards the other two.
Three dogs . . .Thirty-four cats . . but three of them are protecting the kits . .Two of them are protecting the queens . . .
Polar glanced at the three queens hiding in the heather and gorse bushes. Dark Eyes and Spider Foot were with them, claws unsheathed and their tails stiff with fear. They were the only two protecting the queens, and Dark Eyes was blind.
The dogs were shaking, not out of fear, but out of excitement. Their eyes darted from each cat and they could not wait for a fight.
The white dog suddenly took action by racing over to Peach and bowling her over. Peach flipped on her side and the dog bit her neck. Peach screeched and Kermit pounced, clawing the dog's shoulder. Peach slipped away, alive, but with a wound on the side of her neck.
Polar ran to the brown dog that batted Elm Root's ears. Polar knocked a hard blow on the dog's shoulder, making it topple sideways. "Thanks," Elm Root breathed. "To your left!" Loud Step called as the dog charged itself at Polar. The blue-gray she-cat rolled out of the way, digging her claws into the ground to sit herself up.
For a heartbeat, Polar couldn't see anything. The dog lunged forward at Elm Root. The tom didn't have time to move like Polar. The two tackled each other on the ground with claws and teeth. Loud Step and Polar tried to help but Polar was slammed by an aimless blow from the dog.
Polar felt the blood drip from her forehead and down to her eye. She blinked the blood away just in time to see the horror.
Elm Root was on his back with the dog above him. In vicious slashes, the dog tore at Elm Root's exposed belly. Elm Root's scream echoed above the chaos as he dug up clumps of heather in agony.
Polar jumped forward with thinking, slamming into the dog's side. The dog toppled over and Polar snapped at its throat. The dog kicked her chest and she backed off, hissing. Chasing Fire appeared behind the dog, tugging at its shoulders. Chasing Fire made blood well from the dog's shoulders.
Before Polar leaped in to help, the black and white dog was heard yelping as it ran away with both ears flattened against its head, tail tucked between its legs and blood exuding from its chest.
The white dog tried to follow but Marbles and Brick chased after it, tearing at its throat and sides until it collapsed.
Chasing Fire ripped the brown dog's throat out, leaving the dog's last whimper to echo through the moor.
Polar turned back to Elm Root, who's eyes were glazed with fear. His breath was shallow as he gripped onto the last bit of hope. Blood poured out like a river, sending dark red ripples to paint the heather.
Polar looked away and gasped. This can't be happening!
"NO!" Shadow Thorn shrieked. She pressed her muzzle against Elm Root's cheek. Tall Thorn trailed after her, tears starting to glisten in her eyes.
Polar saw Silver Vine lying limp on her side. Blood steadily dripped from the wound on her throat. Jay's Flight and Cloud were pressed against her belly. "Wake up!" Cloud begged.
All the cats had round eyes, iced with fear or tears.
Tall Thorn stepped forward and looked away from Elm Root's body. Her eyes narrowed and as she spoke, her pant came out cool and like ice:
"I had some difficulties living here. But I will take the dogs as a sign. The moor is not safe and I will no longer be staying here."
~Chapter Ten's Gallery~
"Are you sure you want to leave?" Rushing Creek asked.
Tall Thorn nodded solemnly. "You saw what happened to Silver Vine and Elm Root. There are too many dogs around here. It is final. I'm leaving."
A moon had passed since Silver Vine and Elm Root were lost to the dogs.
"Well, you aren't going alone." Polar growled.
Snowball gasped. "You're leaving too?"
Eclipse slowly padded to Polar's side. "I'm sorry Snowball, but I'm also leaving."
Snowball gaped at her littermates. "But - I - what about Dark Eyes?"
"He could come too," Tall Thorn said without thinking. Snowball looked shocked, her eyes widening.
"I don't want anyone one to leave," Brick sighed, "but i can't stop you. I assume other cats want to leave too. Any cat who wants to leave with Tall Thorn and Polar, go to their sides."
At first, no cat moved. They only exchanged glances, shuffled their paws and mumbled.
If no other cat wants to leave, that's fine.
Suddenly, Peach, Marbles and Kermit stood up and they awkwardly went to Tall Thorn's side.
Oak's smile vanished into a frown but he did not argue with their choice.
Pale Water, Snapping Eagle and Shadow Thorn stepped forward. "I don't want to leave," Shadow Thorn said, "but Tall Thorn, you are my only kin that is left." Tall Thorn blinked. "Dead Branch may be alive." Shadow Thorn rolled her eyes."Our brother could be dead. And I'm not traveling back to the mountains to find out."
Chasing Fire and Kestrel went to Polar's side. Soon after Wolf's Cry, Tiny Flame, Dark Eyes, Spider Foot, and Olive did. Leaf padded forward with her kits. But Mud Splash stopped and his ears flattened against his skull.
"Come on," Leaf urged.
"No!" Mud Splash squealed. "I don't want to go!"
"It will be much safer from here," Gentle Storm said. "Yeah, no more dogs," Dew Stripe added.
"If I die, I want to die on the same ground Elm Root died on." Mud Splash growled. Tall Thorn winced at the mention of her brother. Leaf stared at Mud Splash. "Please," she begged in a whisper.
Mud Splash stood his ground. "No." He repeated.
Tangle placed her tail over Leaf's spine. "I'll take care of him," she promised. "So will Day Flower. He will have Parsley Tail and Moon Stare to play with, and Cloud and Jay's Flight." Leaf's jaws parted slightly, as if she was getting ready to speak. She licked Mud Splash on the cheek before whispering, "I love you." Mud Splash licked her back. "I love you too." Leaf nudged her other two kits who hesitantly followed.
Moon Stare shook his head. "I know I might be making a mistake, but I don't want to stay. I would like to return to the forest."
Tangle stared back at her son. Her tail tip twitched but she replied softly, "Do as you please, my dear."
As Moon Stare headed for Tall Thorn, Owl Fur scampered after him. "I'm sorry," he called over his shoulder. Lily went to retrieve him but Jagged Tooth stopped her. "Let him go," he muttered. Small Bird licked Owl Fur's ear. "Will you promise to remember me?" Owl Fur purred. "Of course! How could I forget my annoying littermate?" Small Bird cuffed him gently on the ears. "If I'm annoying, you must have bees in your brain."
Jay's Flight pushed through the cats to reach Polar's side. "Sorry, Cloud, sorry Wing. But the moor isn't safe."
Wing licked Jay's Flight's forehead. "I'll miss you." Cloud glared at his brother but he didn't speak. Parsley Tail nudged Cloud's side, "Come on," she said, "you'll feel better soon."
"You really want to leave?" Fawn asked. Chasing Fire nodded. "I want to be with Polar."
Fawn nodded, understanding.
"You don't have to go," Day Flower told her kits. "You wouldn't want us here," Polar growled. "Besides, Dark Eyes is "crazy" and 'I've changed.' " Day Flower didn't react to Polar mocking her. She dipped her head and stepped back.
"I'll miss you," Twig told Kermit, Marbles and Peach.
"We'll only be in the forest," Peach said. "I bet your kits will be safe here."
Twig's whiskers twitched, as if she was uncertain.
"Is that all?" Brick asked, sounding a bit annoyed. When no other cat went, he said, "You may leave."
Every cat said goodbye to each other.
"I'm sorry," Loud Step whispered to Tall Thorn. "I tried to save Elm Root but I-" Tall Thorn flicked his mouth with her tail. "It is not your fault," she replied heavily. "He died saving others." She turned on the tom and headed out of camp with the others following close behind her.
I leave my second home. I leave three more cats behind. Rushing Creek and Morning Sky and Sinking Sun. I hope they will be safe and I hope they understand my decision. Tall Thorn pushed the thought aside. It wasn't good to think about it like that. The three were still alive. Maybe I could visit them. . .
Polar bumped into Tall Thorn, making her stumble forward.
"Sorry," Polar said. "You randomly stopped walking."
Tall Thorn blinked. She hadn't realized that she stopped. I need to stop worrying. I need to stop thinking of Rushing Creek and morning Sky and move on.
The cats trudged slowly through the heather and gorse, as if they were all reluctant to leave.
Tall Thorn glanced at Jay's Flight, Owl Fur and Moon Stare. The three younger toms didn't seem to mind leaving.
"I'm gonna miss Small Bird," Tall Thorn heard Owl Fur sigh. "Why didn't you stay?" Moon Stare asked. "I didn't like the moor. The pine forest I grew up in was much better." He turned his big round eyes to Tall Thorn, asking, "Do you miss the pine forest?"
"Everyday," Tall Thorn replied. What will be better for me? The pine forest or this forest?
The cats made it to the river, where each cat jumped over it cautiously. The forest was only eight fox-lengths away.
Each paw-step closer and closer to the forest made Tall Thorn happy and forget all her pain. The forest was scintillating with beautiful green leaves that wafted in the cool, New-leaf gale. The flowers that blossomed and the moss that climbed the trees made everything look more alive.
The air wasn't as humid in this forest and the smell wasn't Tall Thorn's favorite. The grass was soft and dewy and not like the pine forest's grass that was prickly. It wasn't as muddy either. But Tall Thorn still enjoyed the pine forest more.
"It is great to be back," Chasing Fire breathed in.
Polar nudged him. "We need to keep moving," she said. "Where are we going?" Olive asked. "To the quarry," Polar replied.
"A quarry?" Tall Thorn echoed under her breath. Shadow Thorn, who happened to hear, said, "I don't mind living in a quarry. But I am disappointed we won't see the pine forest anymore." Tall thorn sighed, "I love the pine forest. But we'll see how it is here."
The cats proceeded deeper into the forest. After a while, they reached the quarry. Tall Thorn gasped at the sight of it.
The high stone walls protected the sides and the back from any attack. There was a grassy clearing and a grassy dip to the right of Tall Thorn with a small pool of water. Brambles were to her right and they were perfect for sleeping under. There was also a clump of ferns near the grassy dip that had a lanky tree towering over it. There was a hole in the back of the quarry that was a perfect den for two.
"This is our new home, huh?" Tiny Flame grunted.
Polar stepped in front of the group and announced, "I know I'm not the leader of this group, but I think the youngsters should sleep in the ferns. The others can sleep under the brambles."
"Who will sleep in the cave?" Peach asked. "Or the dip in the quarry?"
Polar hesitated but it was Spider Foot who said, "The cracked logs along the dip will be good for storing herbs. I think the cats interested in herbs should go there. Plus, there are two rocks that make large dens."
Polar nodded. "That sounds swell."
Spider Foot smiled and she led Peach and Dark Eyes into the dip.
"Peach?" Tall Thorn meowed. Peach looked over her shoulder. "I find plants so interesting," she said. "Is - is that a problem?"
The edge of worry made Tall Thorn quickly add, "No! No, of course not."
Peach smirked before looking away.
"The cave should go to the leader of this group," Kestrel said.
There was silence as all eyes rested on Polar. She might not agree, but I think she makes a fine leader, Tall Thorn thought to herself.
Polar's whiskers twitched out of embarrassment. "I don't think I'm - well, I'm not that good at-" Chasing Fire stroked Polar's back with his tail. "You're a great leader," he reassured her.
Polar was very hesitant before speaking. "I guess I will sleep there. It should fit two - Chasing Fire?"
Chasing Fire licked her cheek. "I will also be in there."
The cats gave a murmur of approval.
"Come on guys, let's go over to the ferns." Tiny Flame said, as she gathered Owl Fur, Moon Stare, Jay's Flight, Gentle Storm and Dew Stripe.
"I wanna sleep next to Tiny Flame," Dew Stripe protested. "I sat by her first," Owl Fur argued.
Tiny Flame whipped the two toms with her tail. "I'll sleep in the middle." She promised.
"Should I sleep with Gentle Storm and Dew Stripe?" Leaf asked. Tall Thorn rolled her eyes. "They will be fine with Tiny Flame." Leaf suddenly let out a wail. "I should have never left Mud Splash!" Tall Thorn nudged Leaf on the shoulder. "Mud Splash will live. He has Tangle looking after him." And plenty of other strong and brave cats.
Peach padded over and calmed Leaf down.
Tall Thorn drowned out the noise of cats behind her and she watched Polar and Chasing Fire speak in low tones.
"I have a question" Tall Thorn meowed loudly, interrupting the conversations. When all was silent but the wind, Tall Thorn asked, "Should we allow the moor-cats to hunt in the forest or even beyond the river?"
Every cat began to mutter questions. Polar stared blankly at Tall Thorn. "I haven't thought about that," she said shortly. "Just find your dens and rest. We will talk about it tomorrow." Polar turned her tail on the cats with chasing Fir close behind.
"I don't think she has a plan," Kermit mumbled.
Olive's eyes narrowed. "She seems too young to be leader."
"She's mature enough to be leader of this group," Eclipse growled. Tall Thorn was impressed by the tom's immediate reaction to defend his sister. I never was that fast to shoot down any insult or comment when it came to defending my littermates.
The cats went their ways, one by one they went under the brambles. It wasn't as comfortable as Tall Thorn had hoped, but it was better than the heather. At least I have something to block our rain . . .
The day went by swiftly, night had fallen and the cats were fast asleep. It took a little bit for Tall Thorn, but soon, her eyes closed and she was drifting into sleep. Tall Thorn's mind began to swirl and she was suddenly placed in a large, yet, beautiful clearing in the pine forest.
Tall Thorn was slowly fading into a dream.
The warm milky air made her smile, butterflies went by and the birds sang songs as silvery as the moon. Tall Thorn batted at a butterfly, laughing. She felt like a kit again.
But the sound of wailing made her jump. The birds stopped singing, the butterflies vanished and the pine trees stopped rustling. The wind never picked up either. The wailing grew louder and louder, until Tall Thorn finally went out to investigate.
Every paw step made her question what she was doing. Was this a trap? She asked herself.
Tall Thorn peered from a bramble bush and she shaken to the core to see what was in front of her.
Blood stained cats were hissing and snarling, throwing sharp blows and lunging at each others throats. The only problem was, these were cats Tall Thorn knew.
Morning Sky was pinned down by Shadow Thorn, who's tail was being pulled by Berry. Oak was lunging forward at Leaf with claws extended. Twig and Pine were batting Tiny Flame's sides. Wolf's Cry was behind the three, dragging Brick to the ground. Kermit was slicing Day Flower's muzzle and Marbles and Peach were slowly creeping up behind her, hoping to do a surprise attack before Raven jumped in to save her, slamming his paws down on Marbles.
Jay's Flight and Cloud were tackling each other on the ground, ripping out clumps of fur from each other.
But worst of all, Tall Thorn saw herself, along with Polar, throwing heavy blows at Rushing Creek. He was reluctant to fight but that didn't stop him from raking his claws down Tall Thorn's shoulder.
Before Tall Thorn could run away from the scene, Elm Root's deep and harsh voice rang in her ears:
"Time will run short for you all if no cat defends their borders."
Elm Root suddenly appeared into Tall Thorn's vision. He stared at her until two other she-cats joined him. One was StoneTeller and the other one was an unfamiliar black and gray she-cat, with a pelt that seemed to reflect the moon. Short Breeze and Dove Feathers, River Flower and her parents,Little Sky and Bee Fluff and more unfamiliar cats approached her.
"Do not speak of what you see before you until the time has come."
"How long has it been? Three - no - four moons?" Tall Thorn asked.
Polar nodded. "Four," she sighed. "Time goes by so fast."
Four moons had past and not a single cat wanted anything to do with the moor-cats. At least, not anymore. I wanted to visit but both Polar and Oak are very strict about crossing borders. We had the same dreams - even Rushing Creek did! We should discuss it with the toms.
"Those stone-headed rabbit-chasers!" Kestrel suddenly cursed.
Both she-cats whipped around to see Kestrel, Pale Water, Kermit and Jay's Flight back from hunting.
"What happened this time?" Polar asked rudely, but her harsh tone wasn't towards Kestrel.
"Moth Spots chased a shrew into our territory," Pale Water explained calmly. "The mouse went straight into Kermit's paws. Of course, we claimed the mouse ours since it crossed the border and our cat caught it. Moth Spots and Cloud disagreed saying it was theirs. Kermit and Kestrel got into an argument with Moth Spots and Lily. It ended when Jay's Flight decided to butt in and scratch Cloud's muzzle." Pale Water roughly cuffed Jay's Flight around the ears. The young tom shrunk in his pelt out of guilt and embarrassment.
"That just proves how fox-hearted they are!" Snapping Eagle jumped in. "How dare they claim that mouse as theirs."
Poplar's eyes narrowed. "Who got the mouse?"
"We did." Pale Water said simply.
"I bet they lied to Oak and Rushing Creek about how we stole it." Moon Stare growled.
"Do Rushing Creek and Oak know that their cats have been stealing prey?" Leaf asked.
Polar shrugged. "I don't know," she admitted. "But I will speak with the toms tonight."
Tall Thorn cocked her head forward and hissed, "They have been stealing prey? How come no one told me?"
"You're not the leader," Wolf's Cry pointed out.
Tall Thorn sat on her haunches and listened to Polar discuss a plan.
"After Brick retired from being leader, Oak hasn't been the same. All the power has gotten to his head." Polar growled. "I don't think Oak will take it kindly if we accuse his cats of stealing-" ("Duh. No cat would." Dew Stripe mewed.) -"I want to discuss this with them. However, I won't do it alone. I want Tall Thorn to come with me. I want Tiny Flame and Wolf's Cry to go and find cats patrolling their border. Tell them that I want to speak with Oak and Rushing Creek. I will be waiting at the lake's shore. Tell them if they don't come, they will suffer the consequences."
"You are going to threaten them?" Owl Fur asked. "That won't them any happier."
Polar blinked. "I don't care. I want to make peace with the cats I once knew."
"Threatening them won't make peace." Tall Thorn growled.
Polar tilted her head in a mocking way. "Let us not forget the dream you and I had, Tall Thorn. Elm Root told me to protect the borders, and that is what I am doing."
Threatening them won't protect the borders, Tall Thorn wanted to hiss but she held her tongue. And fighting might not be the answer.
"We've been having problems ever since we left the moor," Gentle Storm meowed. Leaf flicked her tail at Gentle Storm's muzzle and whispered, "Shh."
Polar ignored the young she-cat and continued. "Go now, Tiny Flame and Wolf's Cry. Alert the cats that I will be waiting at sundown at the shore of the lake with Tall Thorn."
Wolf's Cry dipped his head before he and Tiny Flame raced out of the entrance.
Tall Thorn turned to Polar when she had dismissed the crowd. But it was Polar who spoke first, saying, "I know you think this is a bad idea, but it isn't. Dark Eyes believes it is the right choice. He has this sort of connection with a spirit cat by the name of Shimmering Moon."
"Spirit cat?" Tall Thorn echoed. She looked at Polar questionably.
Polar smiled and said, "As a kit, I always thought my brother was crazy. But I soon started to believe that she was real. Dark Eyes said Shimmering Moon gave him the power to hear things far, far away because he is blind. She also tells him all about plants and what their use is. I didn't tell you earlier because I was afraid you would think I was crazy, but I saw Shimmering Moon in my dream! She stood right behind Elm Root. Dark Eyes told me she was black and gray with a pelt that sparkled and her eyes are leaf green.
"Tall Thorn, I believe spirit cats exist. How else would Elm Root be able to visit us in our dreams if he were dead? I saw Silver Vine too. She stood at the left of Elm Root. There were several other cats I didn't recognize behind them, though."
Tall Thorn gasped, making Polar flinch. "I saw the cats!" She exclaimed. "I saw my parents, StoneTeller, River Flower, I saw all the cats that died."
Polar blinked. "We will not speak of this until we meet up with Oak and Rushing Creek."
Tall Thorn nodded. Maybe we won't have to fight. Maybe it will all be okay.
Tall Thorn's thoughts were interrupted by Chasing Fire who was begging Polar to stay.
"I can't stay," Polar replied, her whiskers twitching. "If you go, promise me you won't fight. You are carrying kits." Chasing Fire said. Polar's tail twitched. "I know," she sighed. "I will be alright."
"You . . you're carrying kits" Tall Thorn asked. She glanced at Polar's belly but quickly looked away.
Polar laughed, "Yes, I am. But we must not focus on that right now. We must keep our minds on the plan."
Tall Thorn was able to ignore the rest of what Polar was saying. She felt herself trembling as she looked up at the sky. Please don't have us fight. Polar might die with the kits inside her!
Rushing Creek's whisker twitched uncomfortably as Fawn told him and Oak the message she had received from Tiny Flame and Wolf's Cry.
"Polar is basically saying either we come or we die," Oak growled.
"If you two weren't so harsh when it came to borders, none of this would have happened." Rushing Creek pointed out. When was it so important to protect borders? I wish Tall Thorn was here. She would know what to do. . .
Sinking Sun's eyes narrowed. "Are you going to meet her at the lake?"
"Of course!" Oak spat. "If we don't, she will probably invade our camp."
"She might have a trap waiting for you two at the lake," Moth Spots growled.
You don't know that for sure, Rushing Creek wanted to say.
Morning Sky stepped forward, saying, "Just meet her at sundown. She just wants to discuss the dream you four had - including Tall Thorn."
Mud Splash shuffled his paws. "You said that Elm Root told you to keep the borders safe," he started slowly, "but did my father really want you four to start a fight over borders?"
Rushing Creek blinked at the young tom. He has a point.
Before Oak could speak, Small Bird hissed, "It isn't Polar's fault we got into this mess. It is Oak's!"
Rushing Creek froze when he saw the dangerous look he gave Small Bird. He expected Oak to pounce on the young she-cat but she didn't even flinch.
"You were the cat who made the borders, who told us to hunt on our side. Yet, two moons later, you're sending us to hunt on Polar's territory." Small Bird spoke bravely, especially towards Oak.
A loud growl rumbled in Oak's throat. Small Bird unsheathed her claws and her tail lashed behind her.
Before any cat could do anything, Oak's littermate, Twig, came racing in, blocking Small Bird from her brother.
"You will not harm her," Twig hissed.
Lily tugged on Small Bird's scruff, beckoning her to follow. The young she-cat stood her ground for a few more heartbeats before she whipped around and stalked away. Twig held Oak's viscous gaze.
"The more you harm these cats, the more they won't trust you." Twig snapped.
Rushing creek winced silently, hearing her words. Just a moon ago, Oak had struck Snowball's muzzle for arguing with him. The white she-cat had a scar from his fierce blow. But three sunrises ago, Jagged Tooth had his ear tips clawed off by Oak.
He's insane, Rushing Creek thought.
Oak swung his head back to Rushing Creek and growled. "Just be ready when we meet her there. It will be sundown soon."
Rushing Creek nodded and watched Oak stalk away.
Flint nudged his shoulder, surprising him. He dropped a mouse at his paws and mewed, "Eat this before you go."
Rushing Creek nodded and thanked him. As he laid down to eat his mouse, Morning Sky and Pine joined him. They both had birds hanging from their jaws.
"Are you really going to risk visiting Polar?" Pine asked. Rushing Creek gasped, "Do you believe that Polar is going to ambush us?" She would have no need to!
Pine didn't answer; her gaze drifted somewhere else other than Rushing Creek.
Morning Sky's eyes narrowed. "I fear Oak might start a battle with the forest-cats." Rushing Creek glanced at Pine, who's ear tip twitched. Morning Sky plucked the feathers out of her bird before continuing, "I'm not saying he is evil, but he certainly is something. I wish Loud Step was here. He would be able to talk Oak out of anything."
"Where is Loud Step?" Rushing Creek asked, suddenly aware of the missing tom.
"No one told you?" Pine asked. "He and Dark Eyes, Peach, Wing, and Spider Foot were caught traveling together. When Tangle and Cloud asked where they were going, he simply said, 'On a journey to find the gleaming pool.' He hasn't been back for two days."
"How was I so blind?" Rushing Creek questioned himself out loud.
Morning Sky flicked her tail. "He will be back soon."
"We have to find him!" Rushing Creek meowed. Pine rolled her eyes. "Good luck with that," she growled. "My son won't allow you to leave." She ended with a sigh and stuck her muzzle between her paws. "Instead of worrying about Loud Step, I suggest on checking Flint to see if he is okay. He still seems pretty shocked that Twig kitted so soon."
Rushing Creek gulped down the rest of his mouse before he slowly approached Flint.
The tom was sitting still, staring alone into the heather.
"Er- Flint?" Rushing Creek called. Flint's gaze slowly lifted and he blinked at Rushing Creek.
"Are Twig and you alright?" He asked. Flint nodded and a wide smile appeared.
That's a good sign.
"We named the kits finally," Flint purred. "It might seem weird, but Twig suggested that we have the kits names similar to the mountain cats, you know, so you felt more at home."
Rushing Creek twitched. He gave him an approving grin. At least somebody here enjoys our presence.
Flint's tail twitched. "Anyway, the she-kits are named Turtle Feet, Holly Shade, and Wren tuft." He laughed, "Twig let me name Wren Tuft." He puffed out his chest proudly. But his expression changed and his eyes were no longer locked on the former mountain cat.
Rushing Creek turned to see Berry.
"You're naming your kits after the mountain cats?" Berry snorted. "They are the reason for our group splitting up."
Flint's whiskers twitched. "I didn't name the kits after any mountain cat. They just have similar names."
"You shouldn't remind our group about traitors," Berry spat.
Rushing Creek lashed his tail as the ginger tom trotted away. "None of us are traitors!" Flint's eyes narrowed. "Some of your cats did leave." He pointed out. Rushing Creek was silent. I bet it does look that way. I want to leave too, go to the marsh I found. He was happy when he found a beautiful marsh outside of the moor that he found seven moons ago. Beyond the moor was a triangle shaped island that was surrounded by two streams.
It would provide us a lot of shelter. . .
"Rushing Creek!" Jagged Tooth began to call. His voice was urgent, making both Rushing Creek and Flint run to him.
"Is something wrong?" Flint asked before Rushing Creek.
Jagged Tooth's eyes were round with worry and fear. "Fawn received another message from Tiny Flame when she was hunting. She says that Polar is bringing all her cats to the meeting."
Rushing Creek's heart stopped. He gaped at Jagged Tooth but it was Flint who spoke. "I feel like Oak won't be too happy about that."
Jagged Tooth frowned. "He isn't at all. He thinks Polar will start a fight. He's bringing every cat except for Twig and her kits."
"Every cat?" Rushing Creek echoed.
Jagged Tooth nodded. "Tiny Flame didn't say how much cats she was bringing."
Rushing Creek shook his head. "This is wrong! If Polar and Oak start to argue, it will put every cat in the middle." If they fight, who knows what they'll do? They might rip each other apart!
"Does any cat dare to say no to him?" Rushing Creek mumbled. Flint sighed, "If any cat does say anything, he'll have their fur in his teeth and claws."
Jagged Tooth flinched, as if remembering his fight with Oak and how Oak had sliced his ear tips.
"Come on, every cat now!" Oak's loud voice rang through the clearing. Rushing Creek and the other two toms edged closer to Oak. What does he have to say now?
"It will be at least a few more minutes until sundown," Oak said. "I suggest you all get ready." He jumped down a boulder that sat in the middle of the camp and he spoke quietly with Twig, who's expression was stern.
"I really don't want to fight them," Rushing Creek sighed. Sinking Sun flicked his shoulder with his tail. "Don't be afraid," he said. "I'm sure Oak won't let any of his cats be injured."
I hope you're right, Rushing Creek wanted to say as the tortoiseshell tom trotted away. I would hate to see my own sister, Leaf, have to fight Sinking Sun . . or me. But, would she fight us? She knows we are her kin. But where does her loyalty lie?
"Hey Oak, we spotted a group of cats heading for the lake," Day Flower said. "Should we just go now?"
Oak's ear twitched. "Why not?" He signaled his cats forward with a swift sway of his tail and Rushing Creek padded to his side.
"If we have to fight, you better be on my side," Oak growled into his ear. Rushing Creek flinched as the brown tom glanced one last time at him before proceeding forward.
"I feel like we shouldn't have left Twig alone," Flint said. "What if a fox or a dog comes?"
"Quit worrying!" Brick snapped.
Flint growled. "She is my mate. She has my kits. Shouldn't we have left someone to protect her?"
Brick's claws unsheathed and his tail lashed. "If you want to be a coward and turn your tail and run, go ahead. Leave us for that pathetic she-cat."
Rushing Creek gasped, hoping Oak didn't hear Brick insult his littermate.
Oak didn't hear, but Moth Spots did and he cuffed Brick gently around the ears, but his eyes were ice cold. "She isn't my mate, but she's my friend. Our friend. You better start treating her like one if you don't want your tail cut off." He hissed darkly. He glanced at Oak as they continued walking and Brick gulped.
Brick has changed so much . . Rushing Creek thought sadly.
Rushing Creek looked at Tangle, who was padding at his side. Her face showed no emotion, making it hard to tell what she was thinking.
"Are you scared we might fight?" Rushing Creek asked.
Tangle's whiskers twitched. "Of course," she said icily, but shortly.
The cats stalked silently and wordlessly the rest of the way. It took a while for them to finally reach the lake's shore, which by the time they arrived, it was sundown and sure enough, Polar was there, waiting with all her cats.
Polar's cats sat behind her, except for Tall Thorn, who sat on her haunches next to the blue-gray she-cat.
Polar dipped her head, "Oak. Rushing Creek."
Rushing Creek bowed also. Oak gave a slight nod, speaking kindly, "Greetings Polar. Er- Tall Thorn."
Tall Thorn blinked, but no movement or word came from her.
Polar cleared her throat when all the cats settled down. "I am glad you came," she said. Her eyes narrowed and they darkened. Rushing Creek twitched. She's probably holding back so much.
"I wanted to discuss the dreams we had," Polar said. Oak nodded, the look of understanding in his eyes.
"Let us make it clear, that we all saw Elm Root. Correct?" Polar asked. "Correct." The three added in concert. "We all heard him say, 'Time will run short for you all, if you don't protect the borders.' And then it came clearly into view, dead cats we knew were smiling at us with strangers behind them."
Rushing Creek shuffled his paws. It was weird having Polar speak without having any interruptions from Oak.
"I want to talk about this, peacefully." Polar said with a smile that betrayed her thoughts. Her claws curled as she ripped stalks of grass from the ground, as if it took every bit of her, not to lung at Oak as her eyes settled upon him.
Both Rushing Creek and Tall Thorn tensed but Oak wasn't bothered.
It was silent for a few heartbeats before Polar continued. "I think that Elm Root meant we should not only defend our borders, but we should also respect each other's borders."
A loud grunt came from Oak. "Are you still holding a grudge against me for one small mouse and rabbit?"
He said the wrong thing, Rushing Creek thought. He cringed as he saw Tall Thorn's eyes flash and before Polar could open her jaws, Tall Thorn snapped, "You stole prey from our territory! And it wasn't just a mouse or a rabbit. You stole squirrels and birds. How would you like it if we lingered around your territory and snatched up everything we saw?"
Oak's tail tip twitched. "I tired of listening to these accusations."
Both she-cats drew their lips back into snarls.
Oak's hackles rose and he shouted furiously, "If you hadn't left, this would not have happened! We all need prey to survive."
"You have a moor filled with rabbits, mice, hares, and birds, you fox-heart!" Polar retorted.
"Please! Let us focus on the dream!" Rushing Creek pleaded. This is going all wrong!
"We are!" Oak snapped back. "I think Elm Root sent us that dream to tell us we need to fight for our respect."
"Prey-stealers!" Kestrel yowled.
"Mousefodder!" Raven shot back.
"You're all just cowards!" Oak roared. "If you really wanted to defend your borders, you would fight."
"I didn't bring these cats to fight," Polar hissed lowly. "And we are not cowards. We are trying to make peace with you! Unless, you want your cats to die."
Oak's whiskers twitched. "Are you threatening me?"
Polar shrugged. "If that is what it takes."
A growl thundered in Oak's throat. He lifted a paw and roughly cuffed Polar's ears. It was silent for a few moments when Polar recoiled in shock. That was a big mistake.
The cats behind Polar and Tall Thorn charged forward.
Before Rushing Creek could take one paw off the ground, Tall Thorn rammed into him, her claws dragging him down onto his side. Rushing Creek kicked desperately, trying to escape her viscous blows.
The lake was no longer peaceful. Cats were already screaming, snarling and no cat seemed to show any remorse as they battled their former friends.
Tall Thorn released Rushing Creek from her intense grip and he shook his pelt, hissing.
When he looked up, Tall Thorn's eyes were soft, but a growl rumbled in her throat as if threatening him.
She doesn't want to fight, Rushing Creek thought heavily. I don't either. But I must defend myself.
This time, he was ready. When Tall Thorn had jumped forward, Rushing Creek swiftly darted to the side, twisted his body around and he lunged at her shoulder, sinking his teeth into the soft fur. Tall Thorn yowled with anger and she suddenly collapsed on her belly and rolled, forcing Rushing Creek to let go before he too, had to roll.
A loud snarl from behind Rushing Creek made him spin around and rear up on his hind legs. But he was too late. Polar lunged at his chest, knocking him down with such force. For a moment he gasped for air but he soon returned to fighting. He batted Polar's nose before she could lung for his throat.
Polar dodged a swift blow to her muzzle. She had ducked, but the second blow came straight towards her ears. Rushing Creek's claws tore the soft flesh from ears. Blood dripped down Polar's face like a river. Her eyes burned with rage and she launched herself at the tom. Polar's jaws locked around Rushing Creek's neck. She puled him down, making him slip on the mud beneath him. Rushing Creek squirmed underneath her weight. He swung a paw at her face as he felt Polar's teeth sinking deeper. He clawed a deep gash a claw-length away from her eye. Polar let go, snarling.
Rushing Creek scrambled to his paws in a hurry. This time, Tall Thorn and Polar were flank-to-flank, throwing hard blows at Rushing Creek's face. He ducked under a couple, but few hit his muzzle or his cheeks. Rushing Creek backed up before lashing out at Polar's already wounded shoulder, that Oak must have injured. Polar yowled in pain and not even a heartbeat later, Chasing Fire was on Rushing Creek's back, tearing clumps of fur from him.
Rushing Creek rolled onto his back, crushing the smaller tom. He watched as Tall Thorn escorted Polar safely through some bushes before she returned to the battle. He got a quick glance at Tall Thorn pouncing at Day Flower but he was suddenly thrown to his side by Chasing Fire.
Chasing Fire snarled viciously, shaking out his pelt to make himself look bigger.
For a moment, Rushing Creek was impressed by the tom's determination to keep Polar safe.
A hard tug on Rushing Creek's hindquarter took him by surprise. He looked over his shoulder to see Gentle Storm's jaws locked securely around his ankle. She bit down harder, making Rushing Creek let out a sharp shriek as she struck bone. Rushing Creek kicked the young she-cat with his other hind-leg, knocking the wind out of her.
Before the three could do anymore, Brick's loud, ear-piercing screech made them all look up. Every cat stopped and looked for Brick.
Rushing Creek stared in horror as he watched Wolf's Cry fasten his grip around Brick's throat. The ginger tom desperately kicked his legs and swatted at his face but it did no good. Wolf's Cry pulled on his throat and he tore flesh and fur away and Brick collapsed with a pool of blood around him. His eyes were glazed with only agony, but no rage.
Every cat stood frozen, shocked by the death. Except for one cat, who screamed in anger - Berry.
Berry darted forward, abandoning Small Bird's side and slamming into Wolf's Cry.
Wolf's Cry fell onto his side with a loud thud! and he struggled underneath Berry.
"Get off him!" Tiny Flame snapped, raking her claws down Berry's back.
Berry swung his head backwards and snapped at Tiny Flame, catching her by the scruff and violently shaking her. He threw Tiny Flame on her side but before he could do anymore harm, Wolf's Cry latched on to Berry's shoulder, digging his claws as deep as they could go.
Berry snapped at his ears, making him let go. Berry flung himself at Wolf's Cry flipping the gray tom onto his back.
For a heartbeat, Wolf's Cry and Berry stared at each other, hatred burning in their eyes.
Blood was roaring in Rushing Creek's ears. Was he seriously going to kill him?
Berry lifted his paws and struck Wolf's Cry's unprotected belly. Wolf's Cry let out a harrowing scream as Berry made his death slow and painful, abruptly stopping each time he would rake his claws. Berry stepped away and let Wolf's Cry flop on his side, screaming. Blood began to ooze from his parted chops and his body was left to twitch. He clawed out clumps of grass before finally falling limp.
"NO!" Tiny Flame wailed. Tiny Flame hurled herself forward but she was shot down by Berry, who knocked her out of air.
Berry stared at Tiny Flame, snarling.
Tiny Flame whispered shortly, "Kill me." She was shaking uncontrollably and she broke down into a loud cry.
Berry raised a paw and as quick as snakes, both Gentle Storm and Owl Fur clung to Berry's sides, pulling him down. Soon Jay's Flight joined in and then Dew Stripe.
"For Wolf's Cry!" Dew Stripe meowed.
The young cats were shredding Berry's pelt, ripping out fur and flesh to avenge their tom. Berry's cry for help was muffled by hisses of fury. Gentle Storm gouged at his, Owl Fur ripped his flank open, Dew Stripe raked his shoulder and Jay's Flight clawed at his stomach.
Soon, the young cats stopped. They took steps backwards to see what they had done.
Berry was still alive, but he was badly injured. His face was painted red by Gentle Storm, who made sure he would never see again. His flank and shoulder both had flesh and fur hanging off with blood trickling down his legs. His stomach was slit, but not enough to make blood pour out like a waterfall. Berry kept gasping, trying not to choke on blood. Berry lifted his head, as if to stare at Gentle Storm, but his eyes were just two huge blood patches. He abruptly stopped shaking and his head fell down. Blood spurted from his mouth and he laid motionless.
Rushing Creek gagged, but he didn't look away. This isn't real! This hasn't happened! He kept telling himself it wasn't real, but it sadly was.
Moth Spots suddenly appeared with Fawn dangling from his jaws. The brown -and- white she-cat had her throat bitten by someone. She was also dead.
Polar, Tall Thorn and Oak stared at each other in silence. Their gazes were as cold as leaf-bare. Blood splattered their pelts and their fur was ruffled.
"This," Polar began with a pant, "this, is what happens when you decide to fight." She flicked her tail towards the four limp cats. "Their blood, is on your paws."
Before any other cat could speak, a familiar voiced loudly in Rushing Creek's ears.
"Stop fighting! Stop!"
That sounds like . . . Loud Step!
Loud Step rushed into the center of the cats. Peach, Spider Foot, Wing and Dark Eyes appeared along with him, all their eyes round with worry and fear, including Dark Eyes.
"Where were you?" Oak roared. He took a menacing step forward, making Loud Step flinch. Dark Eyes and Wing stood in front of Loud Step, blocking him from Oak.
"We found out what the dreams were for," Dark Eyes said.
Rushing Creek gasped and plenty of overs did too.
"Explain." Polar growled shortly.
Dark Eyes paused for a heartbeat. "Us five, we have also been having dreams," he explained softly. "I woke up two days ago, from a dream that left me speechless. I saw this cat named Shimmering Moon, she led me to a beautiful , clear blue pool. She told me it would raise the lives of the fallen cats."
Dark Eyes backed up and to let Wing speak. "I had a dream of Silver Vine, continuously telling me, 'Follow the pool's flowing water, to raise not only me, but the stars too.' "
"I saw Shimmering Moon." Spider Foot purred proudly. "She didn't speak to me, but she showed me all these different kinds of plants. But the plants were rearranged to spell out the words, 'Stars will lead.' "
Loud Step stared directly at Oak, holding the tom's puzzled and outraged gaze."I saw Cherry."
Oak stumbled backwards out of shock, as if he had just been smacked. A loud gasp from Pine and Flint made Rushing Creek flinch. The loss of Cherry hit the three hard. And now Loud Step is claiming to have seen her?
"Cherry told me she was still dead, but she was walking with us in every step. She told me to save the injured and to help free the stars and let them shine." Loud Step's tail twitched before adding, "Cherry didn't look injured. She had no blood, no broken jaw, and her eyes weren't glazed with fear, but with warmth. She says she misses Flint very badly, but she approves of him and Twig."
Murmurs rippled through all the cats, questioning if they were lying.
When Peach stepped up, she smiled at Tall Thorn, and then at Rushing Creek. Her meow was loud and she was happy. "I saw StoneTeller."
"You saw StoneTeller?" Tall Thorn repeated, not believing. This seems impossible! But how else would she know about StoneTeller?
Peach nodded. "I saw hear. I heard her, too. She told me all about the mountains. But most importantly, she told me that the dead must walk with the stars. She also told me my interest in plants will be satisfy all in my clan." She turned her bright eyes towards Rushing Creek. "StoneTeller wanted me to add that a she-cat named Broken Wave is still happy and well. She gave birth to five kits."
Both Tall Thorn and Rushing Creek began to tremble.
"She knows who Broken Wave is!" Sinking Sun gasped.
Tall Thorn flexed her claws nervously. Do I tell them? Do I dare say what I'm thinking? She finally gained enough courage to say,"Before anyone else says more, I want to leave Polar's group."
Shocked meows and gasps were heard all around. Tall Thorn closed her eyes and sighed. "I won't stay in Polar's group if she will fight with Oak and Rushing Creek. I will leave and find my home in the pine forest."
All the cats were silent, and looking away from her.
Fine, if that is how it is, so be it.
Rushing Creek suddenly looked up at Tall Thorn. "I too want to leave Oak's group." He avoided Oak's gaze as he continued. "Every time I hunt, I sneak off beyond the marsh onto the island that is surrounded by shallow streams. I taught myself how to swim. I love it there, and I want to live there."
Suddenly, a gray tom seemed to emerge from Wolf's Cry's body.
Tall Thorn began to tremble. The tom looked just like him! Then three more cats lifted themselves from Fawn, Berry and Brick.
"Ghosts!" Dew Stripe squealed.
"Spirits," Fawn said. She stepped away from her body along with the toms. They had no wounds on them and they looked well groomed. Their pelts were bright and they seemed to reflect the moon.
Polar's shocked mew surprised everyone."What is going on?"
Almost every cat was trembling now, hissing out of fear. But the four looked rather calm. More cats with shiny fur barged through the crowd. Tall Thorn recognized one to be StoneTeller.
Are we being attacked? Am I dreaming?
A black and gray she-cat stepped forward, speaking so softly. "I am Shimmering Moon." She announced."I come from Starclan, and I come to take Berry, Brick, Wolf's Cry and Fawn with me. You may think this battle was unnecessary, but I can assure it, it was not. It has shown you four-" (she pointed her nose towards Oak, Rushing Creek, Polar and Tall Thorn) -"that you must live separate lives in order to make peace. Whenever a cat dies, he or she shall come to Starclan with us, and watch over their former clanmates."
Every cat was speechless, except for Pale Water, who cried out, "Short Breeze! Dove Feathers!"
The ginger tom, who's body was once mangled by a mountain lion, was now smiling, no blood or fur pouring out or missing. He stood staring at his former mate, with Dove Feathers at his paws.
"I missed you so much," Short Breeze said. He and Dove Feathers slowly started to fade and Pale Water begged them to stay.
StoneTeller, Silver Vine, Elm Root, Cherry, Flicker, River Flower, all the cats they knew, they were all there, smiling. More cats behind them, familiar and unfamiliar were there to greet them too. Tall Thorn and Elm Root made eye contact for a moment. She stopped breathing, her heart pounding in her ears. Elm Root smiled but he turned his attention to Leaf and said, "Protect our kits." He turned to Shadow Thorn and also smiled. The spirit cats slowly started to fade away, with Fawn, Berry, Brick and Wolf's Cry following close behind.
Shimmering Moon cast one last glance at Dark Eyes and said, "Each clan shall take a medicine cat. Then, they shall take them to the pool of stars." Her silvery pelt vanished as she raced upwards towards the stars.
A peaceful hush settled over the cats for a few heartbeats.
"Whoever wants to stay at the moor with me, come forward." Oak suddenly spoke. When no cat moved he sighed, "I know it was basically my fault I started this, but please forgive me." His eyes were round with worry when no cat made eye contact with him.
Tall Thorn felt a slight bit of pity for him. He didn't mean to start this. It was Polar who did this too.
Pine limped forward towards her son and licked his cheek. "I'll always stay with you," she rasped.
Tall Thorn winced at the sight of Pine's injuries. Her left hind leg looked twisted as she dragged it across the ground. Tall Thorn suddenly felt pain burn through her. Wing had bitten her neck and now, it really started to hurt.
Day Flower and Raven padded forward, avoiding the stares their kits gave. They sat near Pine and Day Flower said, "We can't leave the moor. It is our home." She turned to Snowball and added, "I'm sorry."
Moth Spots, Tangle, Parsley Tail and Loud Step followed the two older cats.
"Really?" Moon Stare sighed. Parsley Tail smiled at him. "I may be in a different group, but you'll always be my brother." Moon Stare frowned. "I hope we never have to see each other in battle again." Parsley Tail nodded. "So do I."
Cloud and Sinking Sun stepped forward too.
"Wait!" Leaf called. She raced towards Sinking Sun, licking his ear. "Be safe." She said. Sinking Sun nodded and smiled. He looked at Rushing Creek and for a moment, it looked as if Rushing Creek wasn't going to smile back, but a heartbeat, he did.
Loud Step marched forward, holding his head high. He looked Oak directly in the eyes and spoke slowly, "I wish to be your medicine cat and take you to the pool of stars. If . . if that is alright."
Oak was quiet for a several heartbeats. "You can be my medicine cat." He said finally.
When no other cat stepped forward towards Oak's group, Rushing Creek said, "Any cat who wishes to swim, hunt fish, and live on a peaceful island, come with me."
Instantly, Morning Sky and Flint padded forward.
"May I come back with Twig?" Flint asked, a bit nervous of Rushing Creek's answer. The white -and- silver tom grinned. "Of course."
Flint turned his tail on the cats and headed for the moor in a hurry, even with a bleeding shoulder.
Snowball padded to Rushing Creek with Mud Splash leaning on her shoulder, since he could hardly walk with his injured feet and legs. Small Bird followed close behind them.
"Be safe near the water!" Leaf called to Mud Splash. The young tom smiled, "I promise I will be."
Both Lily and Jagged Tooth, who were both limping, went to Rushing Creek's side.
Wing looked at Rushing Creek, who dipped his head and said kindly, "Wing, will you be our medicine cat?" Wing's eyes lit up and he raced to Rushing Creek. "I'd love too!" He said.
"Any cat who wishes to join me in the pine forest, come with me." Tall Thorn said. At least one cat has to join.
Shadow Thorn, Snapping Eagle and Eclipse stalked to her. Tall Thorn was surprised when Eclipse approached her.
"You're leaving?" Polar inquired. Eclipse nodded. Polar fell silent, but her mouth twitched, in what seemed to be in frustration.
Tall Thorn scanned the crowd of cats and she was pleased to see Leaf, Gentle Storm, Dew Stripe, and Pale Water in front of her. Kermit and Marbles only approached Tall Thorn when Peach did.
Peach opened her jaws to speak but Tall Thorn silenced her when she held up a paw. "Yes, Peach," she meowed kindly, "you may be my medicine cat." Peach's eyes lit up. "This is great!" She purred with delight.
The rest of the cats inched towards Polar.
"You will be the leader of the forest I suppose?" Tall Thorn asked.
Polar's ear twitched. "I guess so," she said. She lifted her head and smiled, her eyes filled with pride. "The remaining cats will follow me to the forest. Kestrel, Moon Stare, Tiny Flame, Owl Fur, Olive, Jay's Flight and Chasing Fire, do you wish to return to the forest with me, and do you accept me as your leader?"
"I do!" The cats yowled concurrently.
Polar swung her head towards Spider Foot and Dark Eyes. "Will you two be my medicine cats?" She inquired.
Spider Foot and Dark Eyes raced to her side. "Yes!" Spider Foot mewed excitedly. Dark Eyes nodded, "I would be glad to serve you."
Every cat fell into an awkward silence. A few minutes passed by and Flint returned with Twig and their kits.
"We're hear to join you, Rushing Creek." Twig announced. She nudged her three clumsy daughters forward. Rushing Creek smiled warmly. "They will do just fine." He looked up and said loudly, "I am leaving for the marsh. Wing will take me to the pool of stars tomorrow."
"I think all medicine cats should take their leaders tomorrow," Loud Step mused.
"Then it is settled," Polar said, not waiting for any cat to object. "Dark Eyes and Spider Foot shall take me, Loud Step shall take Oak, and Peach shall take Tall Thorn."
Tall Thorn almost growled when Polar made up her mind for all three of them. She has no right to order my cats around.
With one last smile, Rushing Creek turned his tail to everyone and his cats followed close behind. Then Oak headed for the moor with his. Polar dipped her head towards Tall Thorn, saying, "It was nice living with you." She backed up and she and her group went back to the forest.
Tall Thorn was the last to stand up and lead her cats forward to the pine forest.It felt weird being on her own, as in, without Polar. She had no other cat to guide her through her ways. It was all up to her now. I have to make this right for the cats I'm leading. I cannot fail them.
Tall Thorn had to enter Polar's territory to get to the pine forest. Even though Polar allowed them too, she didn't look very happy that they would be neighbors. Am I invading your privacy by living next to you?
"How will we know the perfect spot to set camp at?" Kermit asked as they neared the pine forest.
Tall Thorn glanced at Polar, who was following close, making sure that they reached the forest.
"Let's talk about that later," Tall Thorn whispered.
The cats marched onward towards the pine forest that was a tree-length away.
Now a its a rabbit-length away . . . . (A few more moments) . . . Now its just two tail-lengths away.
Tall Thorn's group stopped abruptly at five massive sedge bushes, that separated the pine forest from Polar's forest.
Tall Thorn inhaled, and exhaled slowly and deeply. She and her cats trudged through the sedge.
When they reached their side, Tall Thorn whipped around at Polar, who watched from her side.
"The sedge mark our border." Tall Thorn growled, "None of your cats are allowed over unless it is an emergency. I hope you understand that."
Polar blinked. "I do. But it goes the same way for you over here."
Tall Thorn's whiskers twitched as Polar stood up and stalked away from the border.
"Everyone, move forward." Tall Thorn ordered.
The cats walked for a while, debating on a few areas. The areas were small, but they would have made good camps. A couple more minutes pass by and Tall Thorn's still distracted by the beauty of the pine forest. She suddenly shakes her head and mumbles to herself, "We need to find a camp."
As if reading her mind, Peach yowled, "Look! a ravine."
Tall Thorn looked up and gazed slowly at where Peach was gesturing. Tall Thorn bolted without her cats, trying to get closer. When she reached the ravine, she was shocked by how perfect it was.
The ravine had no trees in it, a few bushes here and there, but it was something that wasn't too big. The ravine was very wide in the center, but towards the end of the left, it became very narrow. An entrance and exit, just big enough for four cats to walk through. Tall Thorn looked at right of the ravine, that ended with a single pine tree, that was towering over them, with its long, narrow trunk. But one thing she noticed was that at the roots of the tree, was a perfectly carved out hole, wide enough for a cat to walk through.
Tall Thorn didn't waste any time. She raced down a rocky slope that led her to the entrance. When she entered the ravine, she was shocked. It looked so much bigger in it! Her cats followed after her shortly, panting.
"This - this is the perfect camp!" Tall Thorn meowed.
Tall Thorn looked around the ravine happily. "Peach, your den will be between those brambles and thorn bushes. The branches will help you store your herbs and other plants."
Peach gaped. "Are you sure I should have a den of my own?"
"Yes!" Tall Thorn exclaimed, making Peach flinch. "You are a medicine cat. Your special. You deserve a den of your own."
Peach smiled. "Okay."
"Queens will sleep in that carved out cave in the ravine wall." Tall Thorn announced. She gazed around for a few heartbeats. "The youngsters and the warriors will sleep under those bramble bushes."
"Warriors?" Marbles repeated.
Warriors? Why Did I call them warriors? Tall Thorn's head swirled with ideas. "Warriors . ." she whispered before shouting, "Warriors! The medicine cat heals any injured or sick cat. The warriors will serve the clan bu hunting and by protecting."
"May I fight?" Peach asked.
Tall Thorn blinked. "I don't think that should be allowed. We can't afford to lose medicine cat."
Peach backed down, a bit disappointed. But she suddenly perked up when a thought came to her. "Gentle Storm and Dew Stripe are still young, right? They still need to learn how to fight and how to hunt. What if we - er - make them apprentices? Just for two more moons until they become a - er - warrior."
Great idea! Tall Thorn wanted to praise the she-cat, but Kermit beat her to it.
"But who will mentor them?" Leaf asked.
Tall Thorn dropped suddenly and sat on her haunches. Mentor them? That went way over my head. "Gentle Storm, Dew Stripe, come forward."
Gentle Storm and Dew Stripe skipped forward excitedly.
"Gentle Storm will be mentored . . Eclipse! Dew Stripe will be mentored by . . . Marbles! I hope you two toms will pass down your courage and swiftness onto these two youngsters." Tall Thorn said.
Eclipse touched noses with Gentle Storm, and Marbles and Dew Stripe copied.
"Where will you sleep?" Pale Water piped in. "After all, I think the leader should have their own den."
Tall Thorn looked over her shoulder and stared at the hollow pine tree behind, with the perfectly carved out hole.
"That," she whispered, just loud enough for every cat to hear, "that will be my den."
Chants started to ripple through the small group of cats. They were pleased with their camp and with their leader.
"I have one more announcement," Tall Thorn said. "All names will be changed."
A shocked gasp from Kermit made her flinch. "I feel like this clan would feel more alive with more . . . mountain cat names. . . if that is all right."
The cats were silent, and for a moment, their fur pricked with anger.
I shouldn't have said that, Tall Thorn began to worry. Relief flooded over Tall Thorn when Eclipse looked up and said, "It will be just fine."
"Leaf," Tall Thorn began, "Your name will be Leaf Swirl, in honor of your powerful spin when you fight and hunt. Eclipse, your name will be Dark Eclipse, after your dark fur. Peach, you shall be Peach Fuzz, for your soft fur and your sweet personality. Marbles, you will be known as Mouse Tail, after your small size and skinny tail. Kermit, you will be know as Cinder Fur, after your light touch of gray fur."
"Will you change your name?" Leaf Swirl asked.
Tall Thorn blinked. "I don't know -" "She has to!" Peach Fuzz interrupted. She cleared her throat and continued more slowly. "When I take her to the pool of stars, along with the medicine cats, she will receive her full name."
Tall Thorn glanced awkwardly at the others. "What is my full name?"
Peach Fuzz shrugged. "Only the Starclan cats know."
Tall Thorn gave her head a slight shake before saying, "Every cat may rest now."
The small group separated, each going to their new dens. However, Shadow Thorn seemed very clumsy as she reached the cave in the ravine wall.
As soon as she caught up, Tall Thorn asked her sister, "What are you doing?" Shadow Thorn looked back at her with a warm smile. Oh, I haven't seen her smile so happily in like, two full seasons.
"This is where the queens sleep, right?" Shadow Thorn inquired. Tall Thorn tilted her head. "Uh . . yes . ."
"Tall Thorn! I'm going to have kits!" Shadow Thorn mewed. "I thought it was obvious." She looked down at her round belly that had slightly grown larger.
Tall Thorn smiled. "Congratulations." I thought she was just eating more prey! "Who's the father?"
Shadow Thorn hesitated and she looked away shyly. "Snapping Eagle."
"How long have you been carrying kits?" Tall Thorn asked. "Er- one moon?" Shadow Thorn answered.
"That's great!" Tall Thorn shouted.
"Anyway," Shadow Thorn went on, ignoring Tall Thorn's sudden shout that had embarrassed her. She waddled into the cave before casting a quick smile at Tall Thorn.
Tall Thorn stepped away from the soon to be nursery and she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She exhaled when she opened her eyes and sat down in the center of the camp, gazing in awe at the tall, lovely pine trees. The scent of the pine forest filled her nostrils and she watched the mist that had lingered above the trees, slowly fade away.
Starclan, wherever you are and if you can even hear me, I thank you for leading us here into this wonderful camp.
~Chapter Thirteen's Gallery~
Polar yawned tiredly, as she stalked out of her den with her eyes half closed, still trying to get them to adjust to the bright sunlight. As soon as she padded into the center of the camp, Olive threw a mouse at her paws.
"Freshly caught," Olive promised.
Polar's mouth watered. I haven't had a mouse in a while.
When she started to lie down, Kestrel and Moon Stare joined her with their mice.
"How long have I been asleep?" Polar asked.
Kestrel gulped down her mouse before speaking. "Oh - for a long time. You missed the dawn and morning patrols around the border." She added a bit sourly, "You promised you would patrol with us."
"I know, I know," Polar sighed. "Its just - I've been so tired lately and after the battle I -" She was hushed by a stern look from Moon Stare. "You better speak quieter about the battle," he mewed and flicked his tail towards Tiny Flame, who sat alone near the ferns, her head hanging low and her eyes were still filled with grief.
"Wolf's Cry's death must have hit her pretty hard," Kestrel commented lowly. "She hasn't spoken or even looked any cat in the eyes since last night."
You can't blame her, Polar wanted to say, she lost someone she loved.
"Whoa! Polar, you're looking rounder than a badger!" Jay's Flight suddenly laughed from behind, changing the subject.
Polar glanced down at her belly. "Thanks for reminding me."
Kestrel nudged Polar's shoulder with a paw. "He's just joking," she said. "But come on, you look as if you have been eating twice as much. When will the kits be coming?"
Polar shuffled her paws. "I don't know," she admitted sheepishly, "maybe a few more days? I have been expecting for two moons now, and each day I just keep getting fatter and fatter." She slowly heaved herself to her paws with a grunt.
"You shouldn't be walking." Kestrel said.
Polar rolled her eyes. "I can walk - Oof!" Polar tottered sideways before being supported by her mate, Chasing Fire. "Kestrel is right you know." He said gently.
"But I have to meet up with the other three leaders so we can go to the pool of stars," Polar gasped.
"Not until sundown," Chasing Fire responded. "Please, just rest."
After a few moments, Polar finally gave in and she sat down. "Border patrol, report what you saw."
The leader of the morning border patrol, Owl Fur, stepped forward and said, "All seems well in the other clans. They seemed very quiet about their new homes though ("Would you blame them?" Kestrel commented). Oak, who was leading his patrol, told us that Rushing Creek and Morning Sky will be expecting kits."
"That is great," Polar said. She began to feel guilty about sleeping so late. I wanted to tell Oak I was sorry. Polar suddenly grew bitter again about the battle. It wasn't my fault. He was just power hungry!
"Polar?" Spider Foot approached the blue-gray she-cat slowly. "May I leave camp to find some herbs?"
"Of course," Polar said and she stood up again.
Spider Foot's eyes narrowed. "You can stay if you want."
Polar shook her head. "Nah. I'll only be able to walk a few more days now until the kits arrive. I need to stretch my legs."
Spider Foot gave a slight shrug. "Alright." She whisked around and headed for the entrance with Polar padding behind. Polar looked over her shoulder and smiled at Chasing Fire, who shook his head and laughed.
"You don't have to come with me." Spider Foot said.
"I know you don't want me here. I just want to stretch my legs on a walk." Polar responded.
"Alright Polar, tell me the real reason you wanted to join me out here." Spider Foot said when the two were far enough away from camp.
Polar blinked. "You and Dark Eyes already restored the herbs yesterday."
Spider Foot's whiskers twitched nervously. She glanced down at her paws and replied shortly with, "I feel like we need more."
"You're lying," Polar growled. You won't make eye contact and you're twitching.
Spider Foot ignored Polar and said, "Dark Eyes was looking for some lavender. Lavender grows near Tall Thorn's border and near Oak's border. Let's split up to retrieve some. I'll go to Oak's border."
Without waiting for Polar's protest, Spider Foot quickly sprinted through the trees.
She's hiding something.
Polar waited a minute before following Spider Foot's scent. It only took a couple minutes to reach the lavender plant Spider Foot had spoken about near Oak's border. Except Spider Foot wasn't collecting any lavender. In fact, she was no where to be seen.
Polar cursed loudly. She rolled in the lavender to hide her scent!
Polar opened her jaws and tasted the air. She paused and her ears perked at the sound of a cat laughing. This way, she told herself and she dropped down into a crouch and steadily crept around the lavender and forward towards Oak's border. She halted when the strong scent of the moor bathed her tongue. But there were only two cats in sight: Moth Spots and . . . Spider Foot!
Polar gasped and ducked underneath some shrub just in case they heard. Spider Foot was on Oak's territory, chatting away with him. They were laughing, talking, and even batting each other playfully.
Traitor! Polar wanted to hiss. How could Spider Foot be so friendly with Moth Spots after the battle?
Polar's fur bristled in anger. A low growl rumbled in her throat. She lifted her head and peered through the shrub she was hiding in. Her whiskers twitched in irritation to see the two laughing together.
Spider foot suddenly stood up and yelled, "Good-bye!" But before she turned her tail on him, she licked Moth Spots' cheek.
Polar's whole body fidgeted in rage. She was being affectionate towards him. They liked each other. Spider Foot started to head Polar's way and Polar backed away from the shrub. She waited a bit further away for the medicine cat to return.
Spider Foot appeared from the shrub and she shook her fur. As she rounded the corner of a bramble bush, Polar jumped out, making her flinch and cower.
"I saw what you were doing!" Polar hissed.
Spider Foot had a blank expression. "What?"
"Don't play dumb," Polar growled coldly. "I saw you with Moth Spots."
Spider Foot's hackles began to raise and finally looked Polar directly in the eyes. "You were spying on me?"
"Yes," Polar admitted but she sharply added, "and I'm glad I did! Spider Foot, you're a medicine cat AND you are not part of Oak's group."
"So?" Spider Foot grunted.
"I will not allow you to have a relationship with one of Oak's cats." Polar meowed.
Spider Foot gasped. "You can't stop me!"
"Oh, I can." Polar growled. She flexed her claws and spoke icily. "You are a medicine cat. You take care of the injured and sick, not kits. If you had kits, where would they go? Would they stay with their mother in my group, or would they abandoned her and leave with their father? Or, would you leave with Moth Spots to have kits? Because if you do, you will be driven away from this forest and this territory."
Spider Foot fell silent but her eyes were glowing like a fire.
Polar sighed, "We will all miss you if you leave. Especially Dark Eyes. He needs your help-"
"I never chose to become a medicine cat!" Spider Foot interrupted.
Polar blinked. "I understand," she said calmly. "But you must realize your destiny is to become a medicine cat not a queen. That is why Shimmering Moon chose you."
"How do you know my destiny didn't include me becoming a mother?" Spider Foot questioned.
Polar's hackles began to raise. "Because I won't allow it," she growled, "and Dark Eyes won't be pleased if you are. If you raise kits, Dark Eyes will have to do all the work for you and your kits will get in the way of your duty."
"So why are you having kits then?" Spider Foot retorted. "Won't they get in the way of your duty to lead the clan?"
"It won't be hard leading and nursing," Polar shot back softly. "But it will be hard to nurse kits and help the sick at the same time."
Spider Foot and Polar locked gazes for a couple heartbeats. Both of the she-cats were furious now, both of their stares as cold as ice. Spider Foot stood up, stretched, and began to walk back in the direction home.
"Where are you going?" Polar asked.
"Where does it look like?" Spider Foot hissed over her shoulder.
Polar gave her head a slight shake. She thinks I'm mad. But I know what I am doing is right. Polar got up and followed after the young she-cat, keeping her self two-cat lengths behind her. We both need the space.
Suddenly, Polar collapsed and yowled in pain as a sharp pain rose in her stomach.
Spider Foot whipped around, all anger had dissolved from her eyes and face and now, she was panicking. "What's wrong?"
Polar felt a hard kick. "The kits -" she gasped -"I think their coming!"
Spider Foot rushed to her leader's side and lifted her up on her shoulder. "Come on," she meowed, "we have to get you back quickly."
The two she-cats struggled home. Each paw step made Polar flinch. Her muscles were weakening and she starting to slow down. She would shake from the pain and wail a bit each time she had to walk.
The two finally made it back and as soon as they did, Spider Foot yelled, "Dark Eyes! Polar's kits are coming!"
Polar watched Dark Eyes lick her fourth kit vigorously. He pushed the kit towards her and whispered softly, "Its a tom-kit."
Before Polar could smile, another twinge of pain caught her by surprise and she grunted loudly as she pushed.
Spider Foot yelled, "A fifth kit!" She licked the kit until it started to wail. She pushed the kit towards Polar's belly, where it began to suckle. Polar breathed heavily, relieved all the pain was over. She was very exhausted now and she could hardly move, due to the pain in her lower back and haunches.
"Let me in!" Chasing Fire was heard growling from outside the nursery. "She's my mate! I should have been in there before."
Kestrel stood firmly in front of the entrance. Spider Foot glanced at Polar, who nodded and the brown she-cat mewed, "Let him in."
Kestrel moved slowly and Chasing Fire came, tumbling down into the nursery.
Dark Eyes lifted a paw and stopped the rolling tom with a hard shove. "Watch out!" He hissed. "You almost flattened me and your mate."
"Sorry!" Chasing Fire breathed. Polar looked at Chasing Fire, who was gazing at their kits with delight. "Five kits."
"Five kits." Polar repeated. "Three tom-kits and two she-kits."
Suddenly, Owl Fur and Jay's Flight padded through the entrance to see the kits."Was I that small when I was born?" Owl Fur asked half to himself.Jay's Flight prodded Owl Fur gently. "Of course you were! Don't be a mouse-brain."
"What will you name them?" Owl Fur asked, ignoring his friend.
Chasing Fire glanced at Polar, as if looking at her for an answer.
She looked at her five kits carefully. "The black tom-kit will be Little Night. The two tom-kits next to him will be Chive Seed and Crow Song." Polar looked up at Chasing Fire for approval. He nodded and said with a smile, "The she-kit will be Fern Petal and the other she-kit will be Soft Pelt."
"Those are all beautiful names," Spider Foot mewed.
Polar licked Little Night on the top of his head. "I know." She looked up with a smile at her mate and the others.
"Well, we should all leave you to rest-" Dark Eyes began. "Wait!" Polar interrupted, "I have to meet the other leaders by sundown!"
The cats fell silent for a few moments.
"Just don't go then," Owl Fur suggested.
"But we have to get her to the pool of stars!" Spider Fur piped in.
Polar's fur began to prick with worry.
Dark Eyes' tail tip twitched. "She can't move. She is nursing kits, how is she going to see the spirit cats?"
"Reschedule the meeting," Jay's Flight said.
"The leaders won't allow that," Polar growled, "especially Oak." She added with an eye roll.
"Then you simply can't go." Chasing Fire sighed. "It'll be okay. I will go out with a patrol and-" "Hold on!" Spider Foot cut in, her eyes beginning to brighten."Isn't Twig nursing kits?"
"Er- yes," Dark Eyes answered slowly, "what does Twig have to do with this?"
"Think about it!" Spider Foot exclaimed, "Twig might have enough milk to nurse Polar's kits for one night. If Twig can come, Polar can travel to the pool of stars with the leaders."
Dark Eyes thought for a moment. "It could work." He mewed, "But will Rushing Creek be alright with it?"
"If we go, we can find out." Owl Fur said.
"I think this is an excellent idea!" Polar said. Chasing Fire nodded slowly. "If she approves, I approves." Chasing Fire padded out of the nursery with Dark Eyes, Owl Fur, and Jay's Flight. His voice was heard, ringing through the camp, "Polar has had five kits! But we have another announcement - -" The rest was muffled since he was far away now.
A few moments later, Olive peered through the entrance saying," Congratulations!" He paused before mewing, "Chasing Fire and I are taking Kestrel and Moon Stare out to Rushing Creek's territory."
Polar nodded. "Go ahead."
When the tom left, Polar glanced awkwardly at Spider Foot, who examined her kits. Spider Foot's eyes were half dull, half filled with joy.
I know what she is thinking. She thinks I'm lucky to have kits.
"I'm sorry." Polar repeated.
Spider Foot blinked at her. "For what?"
"For yelling at you when I saw you with Moth Spots." Polar sighed, "I understand it wasn't your chose to become a medicine cat. If you want kits I will allow you to have a mate. But please, please don't be mates with Moth Spots."
Polar looked into Spider Foot's eyes for a reaction, but nothing came to she-cat's, brown lifeless eyes.
"No." Spider Foot hardly breathed. "It is not my destiny to have a mate and kits." She looked away from Polar and said, "You were right to yell at me. I was foolish, falling in love with Moth Spots."
Polar's ears twitched. "Does that mean you won't visit him anymore?"
Spider Foot didn't look back at Polar. Her whisper was more like a breath when she said, "Yes."
Polar went back to focusing on her kits. She nuzzled Chive Seed closer to Crow Song. She wrapped her tail around them and she laid her head down on her paws.
It was silent for a while before Spider Foot announced, "Tiny Flame's expecting kits."
Polar's head shot up in an instant. "Tiny Flame?" She echoed, surprised and shocked. "Who's her mate?"
Spider Foot hesitated. "Wolf's Cry was."
Polar's heart sunk when she heard the tom's name. How come Tiny Flame never told anyone? Was she too distraught to announce she was going to have his kits? "How did you find out?"
"Oh, please," Spider Foot said with a grin. "It isn't hard to spot an expecting queen."
"How long has she been carrying?"
"About a moon in a half. Her belly is small, so I suspect she won't have a lot of kits."
"Shouldn't she be in the nursery with me?" Polar asked.
Spider Foot blinked. "I thought about it . . yeah, she should be." Spider Foot got up and swiftly headed out the den. She came in a few heartbeats with Tiny Flame. "You have plenty of room in that corner," Spider Foot told the she-cat.
Tiny Flame nodded and she silently went to the corner, curled up and closed her eyes.
When Spider Foot left, Polar said, "How come you never told anyone you were expecting kits?"
Tiny Flame's eyes didn't open, but she murmured, "I didn't want anyone to know."
Tiny Flame gave a slight shrug. "I dunno. Maybe it was because I didn't want cats worrying about me."
"They're all ready worrying about you because you haven't spoken or looked any cat in the eyes yet," Polar growled, "I guess that's why you closed your eyes when you came in here."
Tiny Flame's whiskers twitched but she was silent.
"I know Wolf's Cry's death was traumatic, but you have to move on." Polar said.
Tiny Flame's eyes flickered open, and her eyes narrowed. "Move on?" Tiny Flame echoed in a mocking tone."It's harder than that. You can't just walk away from the thought and act okay."
Tiny Flame's eyes closed again and she would ignore anything else Polar had to say.
She's still so sad. Will having kits even make her feel better?
Polar looked down at her kits. Soft Pelt began to mewl, as she was being squished between Fern Petal and Crow Song. Polar whispered, "Shh," and she licked the top of her head. "It will be alright."
Suddenly, Soft Pelt's eyelids fluttered opened to reveal beautiful blue eyes. Polar gasped, "Tiny Flame!"
Tiny Flame slowly lifted her head, hissing, "What?"
"Look! She opened her eyes!"
"Oh," Tiny Flame muttered, surprised. "Her eyes . . they're so pretty! Oh! Look, I think another is opening their eyes!"
Crow Song's heavy eyelids lifted and he looked Polar directly in her eyes. His green eyes glinted with delight as if he knew Polar was his mother. Then Chive Seed and Fern Petal opened their eyes to reveal four, pale green eyes. Little Night's eyes flickered opened and for a moment, it looked like he would close them. But his eyelids didn't fall back down. Instead, they were wide open for Polar and Tiny Flame to examine his yellow eyes.
"Spider Foot!" Tiny Flame called.
Spider Foot came running into the entrance, her eyes wide with worry. "Is something wrong?"
"Everything is just fine," Polar replied. "But look! They already opened their eyes! I have never seen a kit open their eyes so early after birth."
"It is rare but possible." Spider Foot meowed.
Polar touched noses with Little Night, who swiped at her muzzle playfully.
A loud burst of shouts came from outside the nursery.
"What is going on?" Polar asked nervously. "The patrol is back with Twig!" Spider Foot announced.
After a few heartbeats, Twig and Chasing Fire appeared in the entrance. They slowly padded down the short tunnel and towards the two queens. Twig was holding two of her kits and Chasing Fire was holding her third one.
"May I sit?" Twig asked.
"Of course!" Polar exclaimed.
Twig sat between Polar and Tiny Flame and gently dropped her two she-kits near her belly. Chasing Fire gave her the other she-kit.
"Thank you so much for coming!" Polar said.
Twig nodded. "It took some convincing, but you know Rushing Creek, he is too kind to say no." When Polar opened her mouth to speak, Twig silenced her by holding up a paw. "I know what you are going to say, Polar. Yes, I do have enough milk for your kits. Can you tell me their names?"
"This one is Little Night, Crow Song, Soft Pelt, Fern Petal, and Chive Seed." Polar introduced her kits.
"A fine looking family," Twig mused.
"How are things beyond the marsh?" Polar asked, changing the subject.
"Oh! Everything is going wonderful!" Twig said with such joy. "We live on an island that has two very shallow streams surrounding it. We get to catch so much! Fish are really tasty, you should try one if you visit."
Polar grunted. "I think I will stick with prey on land." She paused for a moment before asking, "How is Morning Sky?"
Twig hesitated before answering, "Not very well. She has fever right now. Wing is afraid it might get worse."
"How much longer 'til her kits arrive?"
"Not until another moon or so," Twig replied.
Polar laid her head down on her paws and breathed out slowly. Sundown will be soon . . . Will Starclan welcome me? Does Shimmering Moon trust me to lead a clan?
~Chapter Fourteen's Gallery~
"Polar! Polar! Wake up," Chasing Fire's urgent mew made Polar jump.
"Is something wrong?"
"It is almost sundown, come on. You have to get ready." Chasing Fire informed.
Polar parted her jaws in a wide yawn. "Already?" She breathed. She looked at her kits peacefully sleeping at her belly.
"Don't worry," Twig said. "They will be safe with me." She scooped up Polar's kits and led them towards her. Little Night and Crow Song mewled in protest but they settled down after a few moments.
Polar dipped her head. "I am very grateful that you came."
Twig smiled. "I'm grateful you invited me."
Polar licked each kit on the head. "Don't worry," she whispered, "I'll be back." Casting one last glance at her kits, Polar emerged from the nursery as she followed Chasing Fire out.
"Before you go, Spider Foot and Dark Eyes want you to take some traveling herbs. Dark Eyes says it is a long way to go from our camp to the pool of stars." Chasing Fire said.
Polar listened, but she didn't reply. How far could it possibly be?
Chasing Fire had Polar wait while he got Dark Eyes. He returned with the blind tom, who dropped a small, white flower at her feet. "This is chamomile," Dark Eyes informed her. "It will strengthen your heart and soothe your mind so that you will be ready for the journey. It will also help you retain your strength when you travel."
Polar dipped her head. "Thank you, Dark Eyes." She nibbled the a petal of the flower before gulping it whole.
"Now, we must hurry." Dark Eyes meowed. He was already out of the entrance when Polar was saying her goodbyes.
"We will meet the other leaders at the moor." Dark Eyes said when Polar caught up with him.
"How long will we have to walk?" Polar asked.
"Only for a few minutes if we don't stop." Dark Eyes replied.
Polar nodded. She couldn't help but feel so excited and anxious for this moment.
"Polar, are you okay with becoming leader?" Dark Eyes suddenly asked.
Polar blinked in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I asked."
Polar fell silent for a moment. Why is he questioning me? "I'm very grateful Shimmering Moon and my clanmates chose me as leader." She hastily added, "I don't mean I'm the best, but it was very nice of everyone to think I was good at leading."
"Okay," Dark Eyes mumbled.
"Dark Eyes, why did you ask me?"
Silence. Nothing but dead silence that pierced Polar like a thorn.
Does he think I will fail at being leader?
Polar repeated herself more bleakly, "Dark Eyes, why did you ask me?"
Though they both kept walking, Dark Eyes stared at the ground. He hesitated before mewing, "I was worried you would turn down this leadership."
He's lying! "Do you think I'm not good at being leader?" Polar hissed.
"No! No, I just -" Dark Eyes looked over his shoulder and slowed his pace. His clouded, milky blue eyes seemed to stare right into Polar's angry, but lively eyes. "Shimmering Moon almost chose some other cat as leader." He meowed shortly.
"Who was this 'other cat'?" Polar growled.
Dark Eyes shrugged. "I dunno. She only mentioned that she had a second choice. Now, let us hurry." He started faster again, leaving Polar to quickly race him through the forest.
The two cats traveled in silence the rest of the way. During their travel, Polar had to resist every urge to hunt. Dark Eyes didn't seem bothered by anything as they stalked through the moor.
The sun was down, but the moon was just rising. It made their pelts sparkle in the milky light.
After a few minutes, the two finally made their way up a small hill. When they reached the top, both Tall Thorn and Oak were sitting up at the pool of water next to their medicine cats.
The pool of stars was much more beautiful than Polar ever imagined. It reflected the moon in its clear, turquoise waters. The bottom of the pool looked deep, but not too deep for a cat to struggle or drown in. The bottom of the pool looked like crystals were glinting from the moon.
Loud paw steps were heard from behind Polar. The three leaders turned their heads to see Rushing Creek and Wing both panting. "Sorry," Rushing Creek gasped, "we ran as fast as we could."
Tall Thorn gave a slight shrug. "You still had plenty of time."
"Now that we are all here," Dark Eyes began, "let us lap at these waters. We will fall into a deep sleep and wake up after the ceremony."
"Ceremony?" Polar and Oak both echoed. They glanced at each other, puzzled.
All the medicine cats blinked. "You'll see," Peach Fuzz meowed.
After a few moments, Dark Eyes said, "Let us begin."
Polar laid down with her paws tucked under her stomach. At first, she was a bit scared, but as soon as she lapped at the water, she felt okay. The water was nice and refreshing on tongue. Her eyelids began to feel heavy and they slid forward, her eyes shutting.
Polar reopened her eyes. At first, it all came as a blur, but when her vision cleared, it was beautiful.
She was sitting in a grassy meadow. The sweet and soft wind brushed her fur lightly. But why was she here?
Polar spun around to see a cat approaching her. She couldn't see the cat at first, or even recognize it, but it soon became clear; it was Silver Vine.
Polar's heart began to pound violently out of joy. "Silver Vine!" She called.
Silver Vine approached her with a wide and warm smile. She looked absolutely stunning in the sun as she padded closer. To Polar's surprise, Silver Vine showed no blood, no wound from the dog attack. She looked as clean as ever.
"It is so good to see you," Polar meowed. Silver Vine smiled. "I have missed you." She rested her muzzle on top of Polar's head before stepping back. Six more cats suddenly appeared behind her, all seeming as if they were waiting their turn. Silver Vine must have noticed Polar's confused expression.
"We each come to bring you a life. These lives we bring you will help you lead your clan and help you survive a lot of injuries." Silver Vine told her. Silver Vine's face fell solemn as she spoke," Polar, I give you the life of a mother's love. Love your kits as I have loved mine." She touched noses with Polar slowly.
Polar suddenly fell back with a jolt. It seemed as if Silver Vine had shocked her. It was a bit painful, but after that, Polar felt a bit stronger.
Silver Vine turned to the left and she slowly faded out of view.
The next cat was Brick. He dipped his head when Polar narrowed her eyes. "I know I failed as a leader, but that is why I am here." He said. "I believe you will be a great leader. Polar, I give you the life of resilience. I hope in the future you will continue to recover from any hardships in your life." He touched noses with Polar and again, Polar jumped back as another surge of power went through her.
Polar glanced at Dark Eyes, who was sitting at her far right. The blind tom looked worried, as if he could tell what was happening to Polar. I'm alright, Polar wanted to tell him, but she held her tongue when she saw Berry approach her.
"I was a horrible warrior," he began heavily, "and I regret what I did. You may not forgive me, but you will need to forgive others. Polar, with this life, I give you forgiveness. Use it whenever a cat has wronged you." He touched noses with her and her whole body shook again.
Polar expected another cat she knew to show up, but instead a small kit showed up at her paws, his eyes gleaming like emeralds.
"Hello there," Polar mewed. The tom-kit smiled back happily. "You don't recognize me because we never met," the tom-kit meowed. "I am Bark. I was named after the tree's bark on the moor because I have brown fur. Snowball, Eclipse, and you were my littermates. You don't remember me because I was weak and I died the next night after our mother, Day Flower gave birth to us. Raven and her buried me behind the nursery on the moor. Because Day Flower was so heartbroken, she refused to tell anyone that she had a fourth kit.
"That is why I will be giving you two lives. The life of honesty and healing. Use honesty as much as possible. Lying can hurt the clan deeply, especially if the clan leader lies. Even though both Raven and Day Flower lied, it hurt them so much to say that they had three kits. I give you healing because over time, Day Flower learned how to heal from her loss. If you lose anyone you love, I promise you will get through it, even if it takes time." Bark touched his tiny pink nose to Polar's.
This time, Polar didn't shake. She suddenly felt happier and more pleased with her self. After Bark scampered off, a creamy colored she-cat stepped forward.
"I am Chaffinch, Day Flower's mother. I give you the life of curiosity. Your curiosity will help you clan and others in the future." She touched noses and Polar gasped as it felt like someone clawed her chest.
When Chaffinch left, Wolf's Cry stepped forward, his eyes round with sadness, but they danced with joy.
"Polar, with this life, I give you mercy." He said simply.
Polar felt a surge of strength ripple through her. She watched with pity as Wolf's Cry turned away. He probably wishes Berry had mercy on him . . Polar could not help but think.
The last cat was Shimmering Moon.
Shimmering Moon walked steadily towards Polar, a smile slowly turning at the corner of her lips.
"Polar," she spoke so softly and sweetly, "with this life, I give you war and peace. You wanted war and you got it, but you learned how to create peaceful living among you and the others. If there is ever another war between you and another, it shall always end in peace."
Shimmering Moon touched noses with Polar and the blue-gray she-cat yelped. She could hardly stand due to the immense pain that waved through her body. She glanced to her side to see Dark Eyes on his feet, getting ready to run towards her. But Shimmering Moon stopped him with a look.
Polar finally looked up, panting. She felt stronger, stronger than any other cat in the forest.
"Polar from now on, you will be known as Polarstar, the leader of Polarclan. Use these wisely whenever your cats may need your help." Shimmering Moon meowed.
"Polarstar . ." Polarstar repeated ". . . I am the leader of Polarclan. I promise, I promise I won't fail!"
Shimmering Moon dipped her head. "Go now, Polarstar. And let the other stars rise next to you."
Polarstar's eyes flickered open. She shot upward and sat on her haunches. She watched the other leaders and medicine cats rise from their sleep. Each leader glanced at each other.
"I am no longer Rushing Creek. I am Creekstar, leader of Creekclan." The silver tom meowed.
Thornstar blinked. "I am Thornstar, leader of Thornclan." Oak dipped his head and said, "I am Oakstar. Leader of Oakclan."
Polarstar bowed her head and let a few heartbeats go by. "I am Polarstar, the very first leader of Polarclan."
"Did you each get your nine lives?" Peach Fuzz asked. Thornstar cuffed her head gently. "Don't ask that."
"She was okay to ask," Oakstar mewed. "Yes, Peach, we each got our nine lives."
Creekstar quickly piped in, "But don't share what lives you have received. That is only for the medicine cats and the leaders to know."
Each cat nodded in agreement.
"We shall each lead our clans peacefully. Pray that no battle will be started again among us. ." Creekstar said
Thornstar looked up, a wide smile across her face. "I have something to say. Cats that hunt and defend our clans should be called warriors. But in order to become a warrior, you must be an apprentice. Any kit after six moons will become an apprentice and train with their mentor. For example, Dark Eclipse, or Eclipse, is the mentor of Gentle Storm. Mouse Tail, or Marbles, as you guys know him, mentors Dew Stripe. The two toms will train them to hunt and to fight."
"I think that is an excellent idea," Oakstar was the first to praise the black -and- white she-cat.
Polarstar and Creekstar nodded. "Then warriors and apprentices they shall be called!" Creekstar confirmed.
"I also have an idea," Wing said. "I have talked this over with Creekstar before, but I think there should be a cat called a deputy. The deputy will help the leader consider things; help them make the right choices. After their leader loses their nine lives, the deputy will be the next leader chosen to lead the clan."
Each cat praised the tom for his brilliant plan.
Thornstar shuffled her paws uneasily. "I changed the names of my cats."
Polarstar stared at Thornstar. "Their names?"
Thornstar nodded. "Yes. Eclipse is Dark Eclipse, Marbles is Mouse Tail, Kermit is Cinder Fur, Peach is Peach Fuzz, and Leaf is now Leaf Swirl. I changed their names so that every cat could feel more comfortable with similar names."
"It would be easier to address them that way . ." Loud Step said, as if he way in deep thought.
"Well, that is it. This meeting is over. I say every full moon, we make a Gathering to report how life is in our new territories." Polarstar said. She stood up when every cat agreed it was a good idea. She and Dark Eyes turned their tails on the others as they headed down the slope.
This new time has finally come. Polarclan, Creekclan, Thornclan and Oakclan have risen.
"Coming through!" Mistpaw laughed, as he pushed his two siblings, Sootpaw and Plumpaw.
"Mistpaw, watch out for your brother and sister!" Tinyflame snapped at her son.
Polarstar laughed as she watched Tinyflame scold her three kits for their behavior.
"Were we this wild when we were young?" Crowsong asked his mother.
"Of course you were," Polarstar replied. "All apprentices act this way."
Crowsong let out a soft chuckle. "I remember the time when we were still kits. Softpelt and Fernpetal were tugging on my tail and calling me a mouse!"
Polarstar smiled warmly. Her kits had grown up so fast!
It had been seven moons since Polarstar and the other leaders had received their nine lives. A lot has changed.
Darkeyes and Spiderfoot approached Polarstar and Crowsong. "Remember, tonight we will have another Gathering." Darkeyes reminded her. "Oh yes, I remembered." Polarstar responded.
"Oh! Can I come to the Gathering this time?" Chiveseed begged, overhearing.
"No way!" Fernpetal growled gently. "You have already gone there twice."
"Yeah, well Littlenight hasn't gone," Softpelt growled, "and neither have I."
"Settle down!" Runningfire told his kits. "Polarstar knows who to pick for tonight's Gathering."
Ah . . Runningfire . . my dear mate, Polarstar thought. I'm glad I changed his name. He sounds more threatening. His given name, Chasing Fire, almost sounded weak.
Polarstar's kits padded away, talking in low voices with each other.
"Er- Polarstar," Spiderfoot suddenly meowed, "I was hoping Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw would be able to attend the Gathering."
Polarstar's ear twitched and her whiskers twitched in disgust.
Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw were Spiderfoot's kits. Even after the medicine cat promised she wouldn't have kits, she did anyway. But what made the situation worse was that Spiderfoot had kits with Flintfur! Flintfur, who was already mates with Twigheart, and who had three daughters, decided he wanted someone else. Polarstar was glad Creekstar punished Flintfur for abandoning the family he already had. And Twigheart, Turtlefeet, Wrentuft, and Hollyshade don't plan on forgiving him anytime soon. Creekstar hasn't allowed Flintfur to attend the Gatherings and he doesn't let him speak to his daughters.
Serves him right! Polar hissed in her thoughts. He betrayed his clan and went against the warrior code.
However, Polarstar did feel sorry for Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw. The two kits were raised being called "half-clan fish-brains." The two didn't choose to be half-clan
Polarstar was, of course, enraged by this. She didn't relieve Spiderfoot from her duties, but she made sure she had little time to spend with her kits. ("Polarstar is being a bit harsh," Olivefleck commented. "It isn't harsh," Kestrelwing argued, "she needs to be firm.")
Polarstar did realize how sorry Spiderfoot was. She was sincerely sorry, but it wasn't enough. Spiderfoot had named Buzzardpaw, her son, after Flintfur's favorite prey. She named Hopepaw, her daughter, in hopes that Polarstar would accept her two kits. Polarstar started the kits' training at five moons, since the two were so eager to prove their loyalty. She had Moonstare mentor Hopepaw and had Jayflight mentor Buzzardpaw.
Spiderfoot seemed to see Polarstar's agitated expression and looked down at her paws. "I was only wondering."
Polarstar let out a deep sigh. "No, it is fine. They can come." She paused for a moment before saying, "I have an announcement."
She hopped onto a pile of high rocks (called the "High-ledge") that had fallen from the side of the quarry.
As the cats gathered around, she said, "I know Spiderfoot and her kits have trained and fought hard for their acceptance back into Polarclan." She paused, eyeing the cats to see any reaction before continuing. "Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw have been training for eight moons, two moons longer than any apprentice would have. I did this because I wanted to test their loyalty and it seems to me, that they are truly destined to lead courageous and loyal lives here in Polarclan."
A small ripple of approved shouts were heard.
Polarstar went on when the noise died down. "Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw," she called, "step forward."
The two apprentices hopped forward with the look of joy beaming upon their faces.
"I, leader of Polarclan, call upon my ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code and I commend them to you as a warrior in their turn.
"Hopepaw and Buzzardpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend the clan even at the cost of your life?"
"I do!" The apprentices shouted. Their shouts began to ring in Polarstar's ears. It made her throat tighten in joy and in sadness. They truly want to serve my clan.
"Then, by the powers of Starclan, I give you your warrior names. Hopepaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Hopeheart. Starclan honors your loyalty and patience. Buzzardpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Buzzardclaw. Starclan honors your determination and dedication. We welcome you as full warriors of Polarclan."
"Hopeheart! Buzzardclaw!" The cats shouted from down below.
Moonstare licked Hopeheart's ear. "Good job!" he told her. Jayflight was congratulating Buzzardclaw when Spiderfoot licked both her kits on the cheeks. "Excellent!" She purred. She turned her eyes up to Polarstar, who stared back with a smile. Spiderfoot mouthed the words, "Thank you," before turning back.
"I have one more announcement," Polarstar said. "Runningfire, Fernpetal, Littlenight, Softpelt, Owlfur, Darkeyes and our two new warriors, Hopeheart and Buzzardclaw will be coming to the Gathering tonight. Owlfur, I want you to take your apprentice, Plumpaw, with you."
"That's unfair!" Mistpaw suddenly snapped.
"Stop complaining," Kestrelwing growled at her apprentice. "You went last time."
"You'll really enjoy the Gatherings," Sootpaw told his sister. "The two times I went, I met other really nice apprentices and warriors. Last moon, I met two newly made warriors from Thornclan, Badgerwhisker and Briarshade."
Badgerface and Briarshade . . Polarstar repeated in her head as she jumped down the high-ledge. Those are Shadowthorn's kits!
"Really?" Plumpaw gaped.
"Yeah!" Mistpaw joined in. "When I went, I met three Oakclan apprentices, Swallowpaw, Cavepaw, Oddpaw. Brokenpaw and Quickpaw were really nice."
Oakstar's and Parsleytail's kits. . . . Brokenpaw and Quickpaw are from Tangledshrub's second litter, Polarstar reminded herself.
"Lucky," Plumpaw breathed.
Suddenly Chiveseed joined the apprentices. "I have met Creekstar's and Morningsky's kits." He boasted. "Whoa!" The three apprentices gasped. "What are their names?" Sootpaw asked.
Chiveseed narrowed his eye as he recalled their names. "Shiningwave and and Hazelstorm."
"Shiningwave is a very pretty name," Plumpaw mused.
"Shiningwave is a very pretty she-cat," Chiveseed mewed. Kestrelwing cuffed Chiveseed around the ears. "Don't get any ideas, mouse-brain." She growled.
Sootpaw's mentor, Olivefleck, started a hunting patrol with Kestrelwing, Moonstare and Mistpaw. The cats were off in a few moments.
When they left, Runningfire sat next to Polarstar, who watched them leave.
"Tinyflame is putting on some weight again," Runningfire commented.
"Think she's carrying more kits?"
Polarstar paused for a moment. "I would hope so," she replied. "More kits means more warriors."
The two fell silent for a few moments.
Runningfire mewed, "Fernpetal has gotten along with Mistpaw and Sootpaw really well. Crowsong is always with Hopeheart. Maybe Fernpetal and Hopeheart will become mothers one day."
Polarstar grunted in agreement.
"Polarstar, is something wrong?" Runningfire asked, his voice starting to shake.
"No, of course not!" Polarstar snapped gently. "I was just thinking about the Gathering."
"Don't let it worry you," Runningfire mewed, licking her cheek. He stood up, stretched, and padded away.
Polarstar watched him and Kestrelwing engage in a conversation. She looked up at the darkening sky, whispering to herself, "Thank you, Starclan for all your help." She closed her eyes and inhaled.
You will lead your clan well, the soft voice of Shimmering Moon, brushed Polarstar's ears. The future of Polarclan depends on you.
Go check out other stories made by my sister and me! Foxfur's Story made by my sister.
Go check out ShatteredXFeather for being the very first person who noticed my stories. Her story is The Hidden Storm!