FANDOM


Prequel to Rogue.

“I can’t help you know. You’re old enough to make your own decisions.” She broke off in a chocked and pained tone. “You just made the wrong one.”



Untitled (3)-0


Prologue Edit

“Please just listen to me!” The silver she-cat wailed, ears flattening. “We can still be friends, just listen!”

The second she-cat, dark as a crow, did not look at her. Instead her gaze remained on the stars. Her ear flicked. “We can’t be friends anymore,” she stated flatly. “I can’t believe you would do that to me.”

“I didn’t know, honest!” The first cat wailed. “It’s… it’s the training that’s getting to your head, you know that?”

The black she-cat’s head turned sharply. “I told you to never speak of that!” she snapped. The silver she-cat, looking somewhat pleased with herself, leaned back.

“We both have our faults,” she mewed. “Why can’t you just accept yours?” “I didn’t do what you did!” Suddenly they stopped. The silver cat looked at her paws. “I have been a horrible friend,” she admitted softly, “but I regret nothing. I loved-”

“So did I!” The black she-cat exploded, fury lighting her gaze. “I can never forgive you, don’t you understand?” The silver she-cat’s gaze hardened.

“No,” she growled. “I’ve put up with this for too long. You have done nothing but lie and cheat since you were an apprentice, and I have been nothing but supportive and kind. But when I make a mistake? I’m the bad guy?” Her voice was rising in anticipation. “Honestly, I should have let you suffer when I had the chance.”

The black she-cat flinched, but did not reply for a long moment. “Are you going to tell them? What I did?”

“I don’t know,” the silver cat responded icily, though there was a surge of hesitation. “Are you going to tell them my little secret?”

“Why did you hesitate?” The black cat growled warningly. The silver cat didn’t respond or meet her friend’s gaze. “You already told them, didn’t you?”

“Only... only Applefern,” she mumbled.

“Only Applefern?” The black cat screeched.

“She is my sister!” the silver she-cat protested, head jerking up. “We can trust her, I promise!” “I’m done with your promises!” The dark she-cat snapped. “Maybe I’m training, but you’re a liar and a cheater.”

“I am not!” “You backed out of your promise!”

“Only for a good reason!” Now the black she-cat was stalking forward and  the silver cat backwards, leering towards a gorge wall. Suddenly the silver cat’s eyes widened.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she whispered. The black she-cat smiled.

“Maybe you were right,” she murmured. “Maybe we just weren’t cut out to be friends.”



Allegiances Edit

WindClan

Leader: Pinestar: dark gray she-cat with green eyes

Deputy: Finchtail: yellow tom with golden eyes and a long tail

Medicine cat: Molenose: dusky brown tom with a silver muzzle and yellow eyes

Apprentice: Paleberry

Warriors:

Quickstorm: pale gray tom with short legs and blue eyes

Scorchclaw: dark ginger tom

Apprentice: Stormpaw

Gorseheart: light brown tabby tom

Hollybreeze: silver speckled she-cat

Apprentice: Ashpaw

Graymouse: small gray tom with a darker tail

Apprentice: Sunpaw

Ravenshade: sleek black she-cat

Cloudpetal: light gray she-cat with thick, fluffy fur and blue eyes

Apprentice: Heatherpaw

Lionwhisker: golden tabby tom

Oakthorn: brown tabby tom with yellow eyes

Apprentice: Larchpaw

Briartuft: calico she-cat with patchy fur

Apprentices:

Paleberry: cream she-cat

Stormpaw: gray tabby tom

Sunpaw: ginger tom with golden eyes

Ashpaw: smokey gray she-cat with blue eyes

Heatherpaw: dark gray she-cat with blue tints and milky blue eyes

Larchpaw: gray tom with darker speckles, dark blue eyes

Queens:

Swiftsong: black and white she-cat (nursing Lionwhisker's kits: Icekit, Nettlekit, and Cherrykit)

Applefern: light ginger tabby she-cat with pale green eyes (pregnant)

Elder:

Swiftcloud: silver tabby and white she-cat

Chapter One Edit

“Mom?”

“Hm?”

“Why do they hate me?”

Ashpaw saw Ravenshade’s hackles rise. “Why? Who hates you, darling?”

“Larchpaw,” Ashpaw wailed softly. “And Applefern, she keeps telling me to stay away from her.” The ginger she-cat’s image flashed in her head, and Ashpaw cringed as she remembered the striped paw coming down on her head. “You stay away from Graymouse and I, you hear?” she had snapped upon Ashpaw accidentally bumping into her. “And once we have our kits, you are not to go near them, understand?” Graymouse, Applefern’s mate, was much more compassionate than the feisty she-cat was. Ashpaw was surprised they were mates in the first place.

“Applefern?” Ravenshade murmured, eyes narrowing. Ashpaw opened her mouth, but her mother had stalked off before she could reply. Ashpaw closed her eyes when she realized where Ravenshade was going. Don’t go talk to Pinestar. Don’t talk to Pinestar.

Of course, that’s exactly what Ravenshade did. Ashpaw cringed and watched her mother, fur on end, pull the dark leader away from her conversation with Finchtail, the deputy, and immediately begin screaming at her. Pinestar stared at her calmly, and did not speak, but her eyes were glowering sharply. Pinestar murmured something to Ravenshade, who seemed anything but pleased. Angered once more, Ravenshade stalked away.

Ashpaw sighed. This had almost become routine: cats snapped at her for no reason, Ravenshade found out, and some sort of argument took place. Ashpaw had no idea why. Why she was hated- she was never told. Her mother was known for her temper, that was obvious. But that wasn’t it. It didn’t make sense.

And then there was her father, Scorchclaw. He didn’t do much. He just kind of hung around Ravenshade, not showing her any affection. He took a stand for nothing, and that was about it. Ashpaw watched him scratch at his ear from across camp with his eyes half-closed. He wasn’t really an interesting cat.

“Oh, good. Didn’t know you were awake.” Ashpaw’s ear turned at the voice of her mentor. Hollybreeze trotted up to her, fluffy tail kinked and expression blank.

“Let’s train, then,” she meowed quickly. “It’s starting to get quite cold, agreed?” Ashpaw nodded enthusiastically. Hollybreeze wasn’t as judgemental as the other cats. In fact, even though she was unusually tense with Ravenshade, she didn’t show it at all towards Ashpaw.

Ashpaw followed Hollybreeze out of camp, ignoring Applefern’s judgemental stare following her. She instead focused on the wispy grass and thanked StarClan she was a WindClan cat. She couldn’t stand trees- her first time patrolling the ThunderClan borders was a nightmare. She had gotten dizzy and nearly fallen over at the height and the thought that cats liked to climb.

“I’ve showed you a few hunting techniques already,” Hollybreeze commented as they reached the open moor. “Now it’s time to see what your natural abilities allow you to do. I want you to run down to… that branch-” Hollybreeze flicked her ear at a fallen branch that was strewn across the clearing, “-and back. I’ll count my heartbeat and tell you how long you took, okay?” Ashpaw nodded, crouching nervously. Come on, Ashpaw, she reassured herself. Prove just how fast you are.

“Go!” Hollybreeze meowed loudly, and Ashpaw shot off. Her paws thumped the ground rhythmically, and her ears and fur flattened with the wind. Ashpaw grinned and closed her eyes with the chilly air tasting like leafbare already. She had never run like this before- and she loved it.

She reached the branch and spun around, haring back towards Hollybreeze. Her mentor’s silver pelt grew nearer and brighter until Ashpaw felt their pelt brush. She scrambled to a stop, heaving to catch her breath and laughing simultaneously.

“Nicely done,” Hollybreeze commented, eyes ever so slightly widened in surprise. Ashpaw knew that she meant it. “That was about fifteen heartbeats. You looked like you enjoyed yourself, no?”

Ashpaw nodded, still out of breath.

“Let’s change the scenario. I want to see how fast you can really run,” Hollybreeze continued, glancing at the sky. “Pretend that a big, scary ShadowClan cat is-” “Now, Hollybreeze, isn’t that a little harsh towards Oakthorn?”

Hollybreeze and Ashpaw both turned to see a small patrol of Graymouse and his apprentice, Sunpaw, and Cloudpetal and Heatherpaw.

“Of course.” Hollybreeze dipped her head in apology as she recognized the young warrior’s name. “Oakthorn is a WindClan warrior through and through. I only meant-”

“I know what you meant,” Graymouse interrupted, whiskers twitching in amusement. Ashpaw ignored him and instead focused on Sunpaw. The skinny yellow-orange tom was behind his mentor and talking quietly to Heatherpaw. Hollybreeze was his mother, Ashpaw knew, and prided him and his brother over her own dignity.

“Where are Stormpaw and Larchpaw?” Hollybreeze asked, pointing her tail at the sole kit of Nettleheart and Flowertail that had shown. Ashpaw averted her stare to Heatherpaw, who had shyly perked up at the names of her sibling. Her mother and father had both died when she was a kit, leaving her an orphan along with her brother, Larchpaw. Not that Ashpaw felt all that bad; Larchpaw was a bully. Heatherpaw was nice, though Ashpaw was always too shy to talk to the bigger apprentice.

Stormpaw was Sunpaw’s brother, and he was more down to earth than his brother. Ashpaw learned as soon as she became an apprentice that Stormpaw was all work and no play. Sunpaw was his polar opposite. As he brushed her thoughts, Sunpaw gave Ashpaw a broad grin. Ashpaw couldn’t help but blush and step back. She immediately looked to Hollybreeze. The silver she-cat was pretending not to have seen, but a small smile was visible.

“Hunting,” Graymouse replied. Ashpaw had forgotten that a question had been asked at all. “And since they’re out, me and Cloudpetal wanted to maybe race Ashpaw against the older apprentices?”

Hollybreeze nodded enthusiastically without Ashpaw’s consent. “That sounds great. Although,” she added wryly, whiskers twitching, “Ashpaw just proved that you may have some competition.”

“I don’t know,” Graymouse challenged jokingly. “Sunpaw’s pretty fast. He has his mother’s legs, Hollybreeze.” Hollybreeze grinned as the apprentices began to line up.

“Good luck,” Sunpaw meowed good-humouredly. “I’m the fastest apprentice in WindClan. They might as well have named me Windpaw! Of WindClan! And one day I’m gonna be Windstar-”

“Don’t listen to him.”

Ashpaw turned in shock to the quiet voice on the other side of her. Heatherpaw was looking at her. Although she was taller, the older she-cat was sure shyer. “He’s nothing but hot air. You’ll get used to him.” Ashpaw let out a nervous mrow of laughter at Heatherpaw’s words. Heatherpaw was right- Sunpaw definitely wasn’t helping Ashpaw’s nerves.

“Ready, set, go!” echoed Cloudpetal, and the three apprentices shot off. Ashpaw felt herself pass Heatherpaw soon after the race began and had her gaze set on one thing- the ginger pelt ahead of her. She felt her muscles burn as she pushed forward, but it was no use- Sunpaw’s legs were far longer than hers. Soon they had crossed the log, and Sunpaw obviously assumed he was going to win. But Ashpaw had pulled up. She saw his laid-back expression turn to shock as she pelted up beside him. He made the dreadful mistake of turning his head to see who could possibly keep up with him when his legs buckled underneath him and he hit the ground only a fox-length away from the finish line.

Ashpaw crossed the finish-line stick, hardly able to contain her meows of laughter. Heatherpaw came right after her, barely able to breathe from amusement.

“You… should have seen… his face!” Ashpaw chortled, legs wobbly. Heatherpaw looked ready to fall over too.

“No no no, you should have seen it from the back,” Heatherpaw insisted, eyes bulging. “He… he went like this-” she then proceeded to demonstrate, which made the she-cats laugh even harder.

“Not funny,” Sunpaw huffed, scrabbling up to the group. He spat out a wad of grass, and Ashpaw saw the motherly concern in Hollybreeze’s eyes slowly turn to amusement.

“You’re right. It wasn’t funny,” Cloudpetal added thoughtfully. Then she broke into a mrow of laughter. “It was hilarious!”

“You too?” Sunpaw groaned in dismay at Graymouse’s loud snorting.

“You completely wiped out,” the gray cat chortled.

Sunpaw’s chin raised. “I demand a rematch,” he pouted.

“Not on that paw,” Hollybreeze retorted. For the first time, Ashpaw looked down at Sunpaw’s front paw, the one he had tripped over. It looked a bit swollen, but otherwise fine.

“What did you trip over?” Cloudpetal asked, eyes rounding. “If you hit it on a rock, it can sometimes-” “Tripped over his own paws,” Graymouse interrupted, giving a loud snort. Sunpaw flushed. Heatherpaw and Ashpaw both exchanged a glance and suppressed giggles.

“Well, no more running,” Graymouse meowed sternly. “We don’t want you tripping and bruising all of your paws.” Sunpaw grumbled without further argument as Graymouse ushered him back to camp.

“Should we continue training?” Cloudpetal asked, turning to Hollybreeze. “Now that it’s just the four of us?”

“I think that’s enough running for today,” Hollybreeze replied wryly, grinning ever so slightly. “I’ll ask Pinestar if we can maybe go on a hunt. Back to camp, you two,” she motioned at Heatherpaw and Ashpaw, flicking her tail. Ashpaw talked to Heatherpaw on the way back to camp, weirdly but efficiently bonding with the older apprentice by Sunpaw’s faceplant. Ashpaw laughed and smiled more than she had since she became an apprentice.

And suddenly, the day looked a whole lot brighter.

Chapter Two Edit

When Ashpaw returned to camp with Hollybreeze, Cloudpetal, and Heatherpaw, camp was buzzing as busy as it ever was with cats laying around, sharing tongues and gossiping. One cat rolled over and trotted over to them, fur slick and belly round.

“Is that all?” he asked, nodding towards the mouse dangling from Hollybreeze’s mouth. His eyes darkened with disapproval.

“Oh, hush,” Hollybreeze replied, placing the mouse between her paws and giving her rumpled chest fur a quick lick. “WindClan’s had more than enough to eat, Finchtail. Besides, I wanted to have Ashpaw try out more… exotic prey this time. She caught it herself, you know that?”

The deputy gazed down at Ashpaw, who was shocked by the judgement in his eyes. She expected a cruel remark from him, but instead he nodded and trotted off. Hollybreeze exchanged a glance with Cloudpetal.

“Sometimes I wonder what you see in him,” she meowed.

“Bossy furball,” the white she-cat agreed, but her eyes shone for her mate. Ashpaw narrowed her eyes. ‘Bossy furball’ was right. Every since he had become deputy a few moons ago, he had turned to the serious, cold side of him. Which meant, like many other cats, that he hated Ashpaw as well.

“I thought your catch was great,” Heatherpaw retorted, nudging Ashpaw. Ashpaw smiled.

“Shall we go check on the cripple?” Ashpaw replied wryly, tipping her head towards Molenose’s den. Heatherpaw giggled, and excused the two from Cloudpetal and Hollybreeze. They walked silently across camp, but it was a good silence. Ashpaw, for once, ignored the stares pelting at her.

Just before they reached the medicine cat’s den, Heatherpaw stopped her. Ashpaw blinked in confusion as Heatherpaw cleared her throat.

“I, uh, just wanted you to know that I think you’re really nice,” she meowed awkwardly. She paused and tipped her head to the side, as if inspecting Ashpaw. “You’re really pretty, too, you know that?”

Ashpaw’s mouth was ever so slightly agape, confused with Heatherpaw’s sudden compliments. “Uh… thanks?” At Heatherpaw’s confused face, Ashpaw went on, “It’s not like I don’t appreciate it, it’s just no one ever… really…” Ashpaw trailed off and stared at her paws. Heatherpaw smiled slightly.

“It’s just that Larchpaw, he’s always really mean about you. Harder than he should be. And I was really stupid to listen to him.” Heatherpaw shook her head, as if disappointed in herself. “I’m glad we got to know each other.”

“Thank you.” Ashpaw was still in shock as they reached Molenose’s den. She could hear the old cat screaming at Paleberry, his apprentice, before stalking out.

Ashpaw was always shocked at his appearance, despite how often she saw him. Molenose was very small but stockily built with skinny legs that looked ready to crush underneath him at any moment. His muzzle was flat on the end, like he had run into a tree, and multiple gray hairs speckled his face. His eyes were a very unflattering shade of yellow.

“NO, YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT GOING TO THE GATHERING,” he screeched over his shoulder, bristling.

“You never told me to collect tansy!” came Paleberry’s muffled, hopeless reply. Molenose spat in annoyance, almost hitting Heatherpaw.

“YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN WE WERE LOW!” he accused. His head spun around to face Ashpaw. “What?”

Ashpaw and Heatherpaw gave each other a mutual, scared glance before Molenose shook his head impatiently and stalked off. Hesitantly, they ducked into the medicine den. Upon seeing them, Paleberry’s down figure brightened with a friendly smile.

“Hey girls!” she exclaimed. “What can I do for you?”

“We’re just here to see Sunpaw,” Ashpaw replied modestly. At the same time, Heatherpaw blurted, “How do you deal with Molenose?”

“He’s right over there, and I don’t.” Paleberry answered both questions, shrugging.

“Hey, sleepy,” Heatherpaw prodded, poking the dozing Sunpaw with her paw. The orange tom was fast asleep on a moss bed in the corner, and snorted awake. “Your girlfriend wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Sunpaw blinked in confusion, still sleepy, and met Ashpaw’s eye. The gray apprentice flushed and hit Heatherpaw with her shoulder.

“I just wanted to give the loser a chance to give a concession speech,” she joked breezily. Sunpaw huffed and rolled onto his paws. He met Ashpaw’s gaze steadily.

“Well, I’ll have you know that this loser had an injury and therefore was forced to forfeit,” he meowed. He grinned and tipped his head to the side. “I was medicated rest, so I did. And I’m still up for that rematch, if you’re wondering.”

“You are not up for a rematch anytime soon,” Paleberry retorted, back to the apprentices as the shuffled through herbs. “And you were prescribed to rest, not to get in the beauty sleep you missed. Seriously, I bet the elders could hear you snoring.”

“Swiftcloud has better hearing than most of our warriors,” Sunpaw shot back.

“The elders in ThunderClan.”

Heatherpaw ooohed softly. Sunpaw looked mildly offended.

“When will I be able to train again?” he asked Paleberry, looking, for once, concerned.

“Time will tell,” Paleberry murmured, obviously not caring enough to give a real answer.

“Thanks,” Sunpaw replied sarcastically, giving Heatherpaw and Ashpaw a goofy grin. Paleberry’s head suddenly perked, and she stiffened.

“Molenose is coming back,” he growled. “Shoo! Before he catches you in here!”

Heatherpaw and Ashpaw were hustled back outside quickly. Ashpaw shot her friend a glance.

“What now?” she asked. Heatherpaw shrugged.

“We’re done training already. We have the whole day off, I suppose. You hungry?”

Her words reminded Ashpaw that she hadn’t eaten at all that day. “Absolutely,” she replied, swiping her tongue around her mouth. As they approached the fresh-kill pile, beginning a conversation about their favorite prey, Ashpaw stopped dead in her tracks.

“Ashpaw?” Heatherpaw meowed, surprised. “What’s wrong?”

But Ashpaw didn’t reply. Instead, she was focused on the two she-cats around the pile.

“You took her mouse hunting?” Ravenshade spat. Hollybreeze returned her stare evenly, jaw jutted. “She’s a WindClan cat! Not some ThunderClan scum!”

“I am in charge of what Ashpaw does and doesn’t do,” Hollybreeze replied coldly. “And I wanted her to learn something new. Wouldn’t you grow bored of hare, after hare after hare?”

“Why are you so about trying new things?” Ravenshade accused. Ashpaw saw her hackles rise angrily. “Why can’t my daughter have a normal mentor who isn’t all about diversity?”

You’re trying to tell me about diversity?” Hollybreeze spat, suddenly livid. “You’re the one that hopped from mate to-”

“Stop.” Ravenshade glared at Hollybreeze, fur on end. Her voice was unusually low and eyes sharp. “We may have had our disagreements, but you promised to not speak of that.”  

Hollybreeze gave Ravenshade an expression of mock surprise. “Oh, really?” she purred, a sudden edge to her tone. “Ravenshade, there’s no need to be ashamed. I’m sure the Clans have seen plenty of slu-”  

“THAT”S ENOUGH!” Ravenshade yowled, suddenly angered by Hollybreeze’s words. She leapt at the silver dappled she-cat, claws outstretched. Hollybreeze flattened her ears and ducked, and the two she-cats rolled over in the grass violently.  

Heatherpaw gasped, snapping Ashpaw into reality. Hollybreeze has been knicked in the ear, and Ravenshade was winning. Ashpaw leapt forward, desperate to help her mentor, but Heatherpaw grasped her tail in her mouth.

“What are you doing?” Ashpaw cried desperately. “They’re going to hurt each other! I have to stop them!”

Heatherpaw spat out her tail. “Not if someone else helps them first,” she replied quietly. Ashpaw looked up just as an eerie cry split the air. Cats had begun to gather around the fighting cats, some even egging them on. Suddenly a dark shape shoved past Larchpaw and Lionwhisker, and Pinestar leapt onto Ravenshade’s back. There was a sharp inhale from all of WindClan as Pinestar yanked the black she-cat back. Ravenshade went sprawling back with an angry yowl and fell into Scorchclaw. Ashpaw felt a flicker of rage spark inside of her as her father jumped back and merely stared at his paws.

“What is the meaning of this?” Pinestar demanded, strutting in the middle of the formed circle. The Clan grew silent. The only sound was the panting of Ravenshade and Hollybreeze, who both looked equally exhausted. Hollybreeze was in the worse- her ear was knicked, and there was a bright line of blood trailing down the side of her face. She scrambled to her paws, ears and tail drooping, and stood up the best she could. Ravenshade wasn’t visibly bleeding, but was hunched over, eyes darting wildly and angrily at any cat that dared to look at her.

Ashpaw felt Sunpaw hobble up beside her. “What happened?” he whispered, eyes widening. Ashpaw swallowed back a wail and only shook her head.

“I said,” Pinestar repeated. Her fur had begun to raise. “What is going on here, and why are two WindClan cats fighting each other?”   

A black and white queen named Swiftsong apprehensively padded forward. “I belive they were arguing before Ravenshade jumped Hollybreeze,” she explained quietly, shooting Ravenshade a scared glance.

“Yeah,” Stormpaw piped up, “and Hollybreeze called her a-” Ravenshade hissed, and Ashpaw didn’t catch what Stormpaw had said. And honestly, she didn’t want to. An older warrior named Gorseheart hit Stormpaw with his paw at his language. Ashpaw turned around, eyes welling, and took off. She didn’t see Heatherpaw and Sunpaw turn around, wide-eyed.

“Ashpaw?” came Heatherpaw’s worried meow. “What’s wr-” “Everything,” she replied sharply, voice cracking. Ashpaw turned around the side of the leader’s den, scrambled behind the rock, and hid. She wanted to stay there forever- away from her demon mother and cold-hearted mentor. If Ravenshade’s temper was the reason so many cats hated her- well, Ashpaw could kind of understand that.

Chapter Three Edit

Ashpaw stood. Her chin jutted in determination. She was not going to cower because of her pathetic mother. She stood, legs still shaking, and raised her head. But just as she turned from the rock, a broad shape stopped her.

“I wouldn’t start another fight,” Pinestar warned, eyes narrowing. Ashpaw’s shoulders slumped. Pinestar had a point- Ravenshade’s temper would only lead to more violence. When Pinestar saw Ashpaw’s figure begin to droop, she softened.

“Ashpaw, look,” She sighed, sitting down. She placed a paw under Ashpaw’s chin so that they were eye-to-eye. “I know it’s hard dealing with the rivalry between the two authority figures in your life-” “Three.” Ashpaw raised her head defiantly. “I have Scorchclaw.”

Pinestar gave Ashpaw an I’m not stupid look. “No,” she replied with an edge to her voice. “You have Ravenshade, and you have Hollybreeze. And they hate each other. And I’m not going to lie- I can’t say this has happened to me before.”

Ashpaw’s heart sunk to her paws. Couldn’t Pinestar even try to be helpful?

Pinestar raised her paw, as if to interrupt Ashpaw. “However, this will only make you stronger,” she went on, opening her brilliant gold eyes. "I expect a lot from you, Ashpaw. All you have to do is ignore Ravenshade. If she tells you bad things about Hollybreeze, toss it. It’s her opinion, and don’t let that blur out your own.” Pinestar smiled. “Okay?”

Ashpaw sucked in a long breath. “Okay. Thank you.”

“No problem,” Pinestar replied.

A long day passed after that. The sun slowly crept over the sky, and Ashpaw felt empty the whole day. With Sunpaw in the medicine cat’s den and Heatherpaw being assigned suddenly to a dusk patrol, it was just like Ashpaw’s early apprentice days with no friends had returned.

Ashpaw arched her back in a stretched and yawned. She entered the apprentice’s den and sat in her nest, waiting patiently for Heatherpaw to return from her patrol. She remembered how nice Heatherpaw had been to her earlier and beamed once more, the compliments reviving her strength.

“Are you seriously just waiting for your new friend to come back?” Ashpaw’s head shot up to see Larchpaw’s malevolent blue eyes glaring at her coldly. She could almost hear his sneer, and suddenly her confidence drained. “Honestly, admit it to yourself.” Ashpaw cringed and bent her neck as Larchpaw stood and stalked towards her. “She hates you. So stop lying to yourself.” His head cocked to the side, looking almost proud. “No family of mine is going to associate with Ravenshade’s kin.”

Ashpaw trembled and desperately blinked back tears. “W-why?” She whispered, shocked at his out-of-the-blue cruelty. Larchpaw shrugged.

“Don’t act so sad,” he sneered. “I’m helping you.”

Ashpaw’s jaws parted, but no words came out.

Helping?” She finally managed, wondering if she had heard him correctly.

“Helping you realize that you’re not anyone’s friend.” Larchpaw shrugged once moer and sat back down. “Don’t blame me. Blame your mom.”

Ashpaw wasn’t sure how to reply, so she didn’t. She stared at Larchpaw’s neck for what felt like eternity before she darted out of the apprentice’s den and scrambled behind it. One tear came, then another, then she was trying to conceal her sniffles before anyone noticed. As much as Larchpaw didn’t make sense, she felt his words burn like a gash. No one liked her. And it was all Ravenshade’s fault. Ashpaw ignored Heatherpaw returning with her patrol. She heard Heatherpaw greet her brother and sleepily ask where she was. She didn’t listen to Larchpaw’s reply. She hates me. Everyone hates me. Soon she was bawling to the point where it was hard to breathe.

“Ashpaw?”

Ashpaw sat up, alert. A chill ran down her spine as she recognized the voice. Two yellow eyes peered at her from the darkness.

“I’m fine, Ravenshade,” she replied, swallowing another sob. Ravenshade, pelt blending with the shade of the moonless night, padded towards her daughter. When she was only a mouse-length away, she stiffened.

“You’re crying,” she declared. Ashpaw tried to reply, but was cut off by a loud, “HOLLYBREEZE!”

Ashpaw felt her stomach drop as the silver she-cat appeared beside her mother, blinking in confusion.

“Can it wait, Ravenshade?” She yawned tiredly. “I just got back-”

“DO YOU SEE MY DAUGHTER?” Ravenshade snapped, high voice piercing Ashpaw’s ears. Hollybreeze looked confused before she saw Ashpaw’s hunched figure. Her tiredness snapped to concern immediately. “Ashpaw, what-”

“She gets bullied, Hollybreeze. And it’s all your fault.” Hollybreeze looked taken aback. “My fault? You’re her mother!”

Ravenshade leaned up until she was a whisker from Hollybreeze’s face. “And you’re her mentor.”

“I’m in charge of training her, not parenting her!” Hollybreeze sighed in exasperation. “Apparently I’m her mom now, right? Because that totally makes sense, Rave.”

“Don’t call me that,” Ravenshade snapped. Hollybreeze raised her eyebrows in mock surprise.

“Oh? So we’re really not friends anymore? Fine.” She spat the words, as though she despised both them and Ravenshade. “Well if I’m supposed to be her mother, than you sure could be her mentor, with your training-”

“Shut. Up.” Ravenshade growled. She whipped around, teeth bared, and faced Ashpaw. “Ashpaw, go to bed. Now.”

Ashpaw trudged away, still shocked from the argument. She could hear Ravenshade and Hollybreeze’s muffled hisses as she curled up, far from Larchpaw, Heatherpaw, and Stormpaw. The thin apprentice walls gave way Ravenshade and Hollybreeze, still in a heated argument.

“You promised not to speak of that.” That was Ravenshade’s voice. Hollybreeze gave a low hiss.

“What? The training?” She growled, barely a whisper. “Rave, just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you can drop your daughter off with me.”

I hate you,” Ravenshade spat. There was so much venom and honesty in her voice that Ashpaw began to cry, soft sobs until she fell asleep.

Chapter Four Edit

“Scorchclaw?”

Ashpaw was standing right behind her estranged father. The long night had ended, and past Ashpaw’s sadness, she had also wondered about two things: Ravenshade’s “training,” and why on earth Scorchclaw was so distant from his mate and only kit. It didn’t make sense to her. Applefern’s kits were due any day (which meant she was too worried about her kits than bullying Ashpaw), and Graymouse, the father, was beyond thrilled. Had Scorchclaw been like that when Ravenshade gave birth?

The dark ginger tom turned from his discussion with Quickstorm and Lionwhisker, and suddenly his gaze grew dark. He didn’t reply with a friendly hello, or even acknowledge her as a cat but more as a rotting piece of crowfood.

“Um,” Ashpaw swallowed nervously. “I was just wondering, maybe, why you and Ravenshade-”

“I’m busy,” he interrupted, looking at Lionwhisker and Quickstorm. Ashpaw’s hope fell. Could he be any more obvious? Ashpaw nodded, biting her lip, and trailed away. Quickstorm began a conversation, but both he and Lionwhisker sounded uncomfortable at how Scorchclaw had treated Ashpaw.

Ashpaw followed her paws to the medicine den. Inside, Molenose was snoring loudly and Paleberry was frantically trying to mix herbs. Sunpaw was covering his ears with his paws, looking ready to murder Molenose at any given second. He looked up at Ashpaw hopefully when she entered.

“Paaaaaaleberry’s Den, where your bad injury is treated gingerly,” Paleberry blurted upon seeing her. Immediately after, she shot a glare at Sunpaw, who broke into laughter.

“What was that?” Ashpaw laughed, smiling for the first time since the previous day.

“I lost a bet to Sunpaw,” Paleberry explained, and Ashpaw didn’t doubt she was telling the truth. Sunpaw snorted, still chortling.

“I bet that Molenose would snore for more than twelve hours,” he explained. “She didn’t. And guess what?”

“With his laughing and Molenose’s snoring, my day hasn’t been the best,” Paleberry huffed, adding another chewed-up leaf to her pollituce.

“Is Sunpaw ready to walk on his paw yet?” Ashpaw suggested lightly. “If so, I can help him walk arou-” Both Paleberry and Sunpaw’s head snapped up and they looked at her with wide eyes, like they had never thought of that idea.

“Please?” Sunpaw begged, hopping to his paws. Paleberry tipped her head to the side.

“I guess, but only if Ashpaw helps you,” he meowed finally.

“YES!” Sunpaw yowled, darting out of the den. “FREEDOM!”

Molenose snorted in his sleep. Paleberry and Ashpaw exchanged a glance. “I guess I gotta go with him,” Ashpaw meowed tartly but affectionately.

Sunpaw looked behind him with a wry gaze. “Well?” he retorted. “I’m the one with an injury, not you.” Ashpaw laughed, and silently the duo made their way towards the moor. As they approached the camp entrance, Ashpaw’s happiness spiked with bitterness when they passed Scorchclaw, still deep in conversation with Quickstorm. Sunpaw’s ears laid back, and Ashpaw flushed when she realized he had noticed her prickling fur.

“What was that about?” He asked when they squeezed past the entrance. Ashpaw sighed and faced him. There was genuine concern in his orange eyes.

“Nothing,” she meowed, beginning to walk again. “It’s just that Scorchclaw has ignored Ravenshade and me for as long as I can remember, and I don’t know why.”

Sunpaw gave one sharp laugh and shook his head. “I wouldn’t know,” he explained as they reached the outskirts of the moor. “I never exactly knew who my father was.”

“Oh.” Ashpaw felt suddenly bad for Sunpaw. “Did you ever ask Hollybreeze?”

“Oh yes.” Sunpaw’s head tipped to the side. “Stormpaw and I have begged to know since we were ktis. But a queen has a right to keep the father to herself. Still, I think it would be nice to know.” He shrugged and looked at his paws.

“Could you be part rogue?” Ashpaw asked. “Or maybe ThunderClan or something?” Sunpaw shook his head.

“No. The one thing Hollybreeze ever told us was that we were full WindClan, so we wouldn’t be looked down upon,” he meowed. He sat down, wind rustling his fur, and looked deep in thought.

“Well, toms can have multiple mates- especially since some certain ones in our Clan that can’t seem to settle,” Sunpaw went on after a moment. Ashpaw giggled.

“Let’s see- Graymouse is an option, but he isn’t colored anything near you or Stormpaw,” Ashpaw rambled. “Plus, he’s about to have kits and he’s thrilled. Lionwhisker, maybe, but that would mean he would have been an apprentice when he and Hollybreeze-”

“Okay no,” Sunpaw stopped her. “This is just getting weird. Maybe I just got my ginger fur from Applefern. I mean, she is Hollybreeze’s sister.”

“But what about Stormpaw?” Ashpaw queried. “His stripes are too dark to come from Applefern. Which toms are tabbies in our Clan?

“Gorseheart,” Sunpaw listed. “Oakthorn. Lionwhisker. And... I think that’s it.” He gave a low whistle. “And we already ruled Lionwhisker out, and since Oakthorn is almost exactly his age…”

“Maybe,” Ashpaw breathed. They sat in silence for a long moment, watching sunhigh reach. “Do you think Gorseheart is your father?” She asked, looking over at Sunpaw.

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “I don’t know him that well. And then there’s-” Sunpaw stopped himself, and didn’t finish.

“Sunpaw?” Ashpaw meowed, an edge to her voice. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Sunpaw didn’t meet her gaze. “No,” he replied quietly. “I don’t think Gorseheart would make sense. Maybe I am a rogue.”

Ashpaw felt her heart melt at how miserable he looked. Briefly, she brushed up against him. “I will always be here to talk if you need me,” she promise. Sunpaw purred.

“Thank you,” he replied, and he sounded as if he meant it.

Chapter Five Edit

Ashpaw still wasn’t over her and Sunpaw’s walk when she returned. A tingling and determined feeling sprung lightly in her paws when she dropped Sunpaw back off at Paleberry and Molenose’s (who had finally woken up) den. However, there was still a lot of questions on her mind following them, one being the srtongest: who was Sunpaw’s father? She was going to find out. She knew it.

Ashpaw ignored Heatherpaw’s inviting gesture and made a beeline towards her first suspect: Gorseheart. The brown tabby tom was in front of the warriors den, grooming his shiny pelt almost unnecessarily. Ashpaw dipped her head when she approached and felt his yellow gaze land on hers.

“Um, hi there,” she began awkwardly. She realized that she had never actually spoken in a solo conversation with Gorseheart before. “I was just wondering some stuff that, uh, Hollybreeze asked me to do to get to know my Clanmates better, y’know, being the newest apprentice n’ all.”

Ashpaw looked hard at him when she mentioned Hollybreeze’s name, but Gorseheart’s eyes revealed nothing. “Sure,” she replied evenly. “What would you like to know?”

“Um, she wanted me to ask about family stuff,” Ashpaw improvised, cheering a little inside at her quick thinking. “So, who were your siblings? Got any kits?”

“Cloudpetal is my sister from a younger litter,” he meowed, looking up and thinking. “Don’t have a mate.”

I didn’t ask that! Ashpaw inwardly hissed. “Okay, thanks!” She chirped, prancing off. Her whiskers quivered when she saw Quickstorm pad into camp, head of the patrol. He’s kind of old, but it’s worth a shot I guess…

But before Ashpaw could reach him, her ear twitched. “I know what you’re up to!”

Ashpaw turned, shocked at the venom in the voice. Across camp, Swiftcloud had stalked out from the elder’s den. Oakthorn turned his head in surprise as the small white and silver she-cat stomped over to him.

“Not here,” he growled softly, motioning at the other cats. Ashpaw’s spine rippled with unease, realizing he had blatantly avoided using Swiftcloud’s name. Oakthorn padded into the elder’s den, making sure Swiftcloud was coming. Ashpaw followed curiously and quietly.

She didn’t know a lot about Swiftcloud and Oakthorn. Swiftcloud was Oakthorn’s mother, she knew that much. She also knew that his father had been a ShadowClan tom, and he didn’t talk to Swiftcloud. At all.

“Alright, what’s your deal?” Oakthorn snapped. Ashpaw blinked at him from the entrance in surprise at the tone of which he spoke to his mother. But then again, Ravenshade isn’t the easiest to get along with either.

“You know what the deal is,” Swiftcloud retorted, tail lashing. For an old cat, she was full of fury. “It’s been going on ever since you became a warrior. You’re ignoring me.”

“That’s not true.”

“I don’t know if it’s the friends you’re picking,” Swiftcloud hissed, sitting down and curling her tail over her paws, “but I haven’t talked to you in such a long time. You act like you hate me.”

Oakthorn flinched, but Swiftcloud didn’t seem to catch it. “I have zeal,” he admitted quietly. “I want to be deputy, leader. I know I can be those things easily. But not with a name like Oakstar of WindClan. Especially when the other Clans know of my past.”

“Quit whining!” Swiftcloud snapped, leaping to her paws. Ashpaw arched up in shock. “I’m sorry you refuse to admit that you are, in fact, half ShadowClan, but this only makes you stronger!”

“Stronger?” Oakthorn echoed as if he couldn’t believe it. Scorn thickly coated his meow as he leaned in angrily. “You really think-”

Ashpaw leaned in, but a sudden screech cut Oakthorn off. Stormpaw shot out form the nursery, where long wails erupted.

“Paleberry! Molenose!” He called. Paleberry’s head poked out from her den in concern, and Molenose grunted from wherever he was.

“What’s wrong?” Paleberry asked, looking at the nursery is dismay.

“It’s Applefern,” Stormpaw panted. “Her kits are coming!”

Chapter Six Edit

“Push, Applefern, push!” Paleberry cried enthusiastically. Ashpaw looked over Stormpaw’s head and saw the light ginger queen panting heavily, then gritting her teeth as another convulsion passed.

“Molenose?” Ashpaw’s ear twisted at Quickstorm’s doubtful mew. “Are you going to help your apprentice?”

“I’m getting old,” Molenose scoffed. “It’s time she does something on her own.” Quickstorm gave a puff of doubt at his reply, but he said nothing.

Ashpaw was cut off from the conversation at the squirms around her paws.

“What’s going on?” Icekit asked, looking around her with wide blue eyes. Her brother Nettlekit and sister Cherrykit were beside her, glancing up in amazement as the cats gathered around the nursery. Ashpaw chuckled as Cherrykit recognized her mother Swiftsong and pelted to her, pressing up against the black and white body.

“There are so many cats!” she wailed. Swiftsong looked at Ashpaw, and the two exchanged amused glances.

“You’re going to get new playmates,” Swiftsong explained gently. Nettlekit’s ears perked.

“Applefern is having kits!” he realized suddenly. Icekit’s ears lifted.

“I hope they’re nice to me,” she added in a squeal. “New friends!”

Ashpaw laughed lightly, but an agonized screech cut her off. Cats began to murmur anxiously. A silence passed before Paleberry’s relieved but tired meow.

“Congratulations, Applefern! Your first kit is a tom!”

Time passed slowly. Ashpaw sat by the fresh-kill pile, watching Icekit, Nettlekit, and Cherrykit prance around a hare.

“Hey, Ashpaw.” Ashpaw blinked her dark blue eyes, startled. She rose to her paws and faced Heatherpaw, who returned her gaze shyly.

“When’s the last time we talked, huh?” the gray apprentice meowed nonchalantly, sliding down on her belly. Ashpaw’s gaze sharpened as she remembered Larchpaw’s stinging words. She doesn't even like me. She just pretends to.

“I dunno,” Ashpaw muttered, not meeting Heatherpaw’s gaze. “Why don’t you just go talk to your brother? I’m not worth your time.”

Heatherpaw gasped. It wasn’t so much surprised, but more like realization. “Ashpaw, have you been listening to Larchpaw?”

Ashpaw flinched. It was true, she had been. But Larchpaw was right.

“Look, Larchpaw is a huge jerk,” Heatherpaw retorted, rolling her eyes. “I swear, if he so much as looks at you badly, we’re going on strike. Together, okay? Because I do like you, and I don’t think you should be blamed for Ravenshade.-”

“That’s just it!” Ashpaw snapped, lashing her tail. “Why is everyone so against my-”

She was cut off by a scream. “What’s wrong with it?”

Ashpaw and Heatherpaw exchanged a chilling glance. They made their way over to the nursery, where Applefern was screaming and kicking. Paleberry had a kit between her paws and was licking profusely, while Graymouse had another, bigger-looking kit.

“I want to see my kits!” Applefern wailed. Tears and snot dribbled down her face, and her eyes bulged with effort. “I want to know that Sandkit and Rabbitkit are okay!”

Paleberry looked at Graymouse. “Giver her Sandkit,” she instructed. Graymouse gave her a worried glance.

“What about Rabbitkit?” he whispered. Paleberry’s eyes clouded.

“We’ll have to distract her,” she meowed between licks. Graymouse nodded solemnly and placed his kit, a small, light ginger tom like his mother, in front of Applefern. Applefern stopped her screaming almost instantly as she laid eyes on her kit, and let a huge sigh of relief. She drew Sandkit towards her belly gently, then froze. Her gaze snapped to Graymouse.

“What about Rabbitkit?” she growled. “We have two kits.”

“Working on that,” Paleberry muttered. Applefern’s mouth opened, ready to cry out again, when Paleberry’s head jerked back, eyes wide.

“Oh, no no no!” She cried, gently nosing the small gray kit that lay still in front of her. “No, no!”

Graymouse’s head jerked up. “What’s happening?”

Paleberry fell. Her head buried in her paws and her ears flattened. Heatherpaw gave a small cry and buried her face in Ashpaw’s side. Ashpaw felt a sweep of sadness. No matter how much Applefern despises me, no cat deserves to have their kit die.

“He’s gone.” Paleberry’s voice broke. “I’m sorry, Applefern. I did everything I could.”  

Applefern shrieked. The den trembled and her voice was carried across camp, across the moor, and into the lake. Ashpaw stepped back. The scream of a queen in an agony was like no other.

Graymouse quickly took Sandkit in his jaws and stepped back, head down. A deathly silence followed Applefern’s wailing. Paleberry looked, for the first time, utterly defeated.



It was Rabbitkit’s funeral. Ashpaw had never seen a burial for a cat so tiny as a hole was dug outside camp, by the moor. Graymouse didn’t think a vigil was necessary- no one had known Rabbitkit, and besides, he didn’t want to see his son’s body still and cold.

One by one, cats went up to the shallow grave and paid their respects. Heatherpaw was sadder than Ashpaw expected her to be as the large gray she-cat dipped her head at the hold, then padded away.

Ashpaw felt numb as she reached Rabbitkit. No kit deserved to die so young. It wasn’t fair. She craned her neck down to touch the grave when a hiss cut her off.

“Don’t go near my kits,” Applefern growled. She stood from her spot beside Rabbitkit’s grave and ignored Sandkit’s wails. “I told you not to already, and now one is dead. You’re a bad luck omen, you know that? You killed my kit. You were the kit that should have died!”

A paw raised, claws unsheathed. Ashpaw only had time to gasp as it came down on her cheek, slashing open a painful, stinging gash. Ashpaw stumbled back in shock. Applefern sheathed her claw and stepped back, tail lashing and eyes slitted.

Ravenshade’s pelt matched the dark sky so perfectly it was hard to see her. “That’s enough!” she spat, leering dangerously towards Applefern. “I don’t care that you’re a queen. I will rip out each limb from your body and feed it to the buzzards if you touch my daughter.”

Applefern scowled but stepped back warily.

“Ravenshade.” Pinestar’s voice was gentle. “She is grieving.”

“Did Swiftsong grieve by scratching apprentices when her entire first litter was stillborn?” Ravenshade shot back, swinging her head around to face the dark leader. Swiftsong looked stung at the reminder as she placed her head gently on Lionwhisker, her mate’s, shoulder.

Ravenshade turned around, unsheathing her claws, and leapt at Applefern. Applefern yowled and fell back, weakened from the birth of her kits, but curled her lip anyway and lunged at Ravenshade’s throat.

Ashpaw stepped back in embarrassment just as Hollybreeze, out of nowhere, leapt at Ashpaw’s mother and bowled her away from the queen.

“Get away from my sister!” the silver she-cat spat. She landed on top, claws at Ravenshade’s throat. “There’s already been one death today,” she growled darkly. “Let’s not make it two, Rave.”

Ravenshade’s eyes widened angrily at the nickname. She pushed her legs under Hollybreeze’s belly and threw her off. Hollybreeze flew away with an oof and landed on the ground a few feet away.

“She scratched my kit for no reason!” Ravenshade defended lividly. “Aren’t you going to defend her?” Hollybreeze’s pupils slitted. “For the last time,” she growled through gritted teeth. “I am not her mother.” Ravenshade narrowed her eyes. “Well, since you never repaid me-”

“Repaid!” Hollybreeze spat in a dry laugh. “For what? Being better than you?”

Ravenshade yowled and lunged towards the silver cat’s neck, but Pinestar rushed up to the pair, lapt, and knocked Ravenshade aside. Ravenshade mrowed in anger, but Pinestar only focused her gaze on her evenly. “Stop it, this instant,” she meowed. She looked at Ravenshade, then Hollybreeze, then Ashpaw. Ashpaw swallowed nervously and stepped back. “Everyone, go to bed,” she instucted, raising her voice. “Graymouse, you may bury Rabbitkit. Applefern, Sandkit needs you now.”

Applefern nodded solemnly, still shaken from the attack. Ashpaw felt a tail tap her spine as she turned around. She turned her head to see Pinestar, staring at her curiously.

“And Ashpaw,” she went on, “there’s something I should explain.”

Chapter Seven Edit

Ashpaw followed Pinestar, head down as cats stared at her curiously. The black leader ushered Ashpaw into her den, waited for her to sit down, before breaking the silence.

“So what did you-”

“Hush,” Pinestar whispered, green eyes wide. “Do you hear that?”

Ashpaw raised her head and pricked her ears. A small owl call reached her ears. “What?” she whispered back. “The bird?”

Pinestar nodded, and together in silence they listened to the ghostly hoots. Suddenly Pinestar cleared her throat and looked directly at Ashpaw. “You know how birds are raised, correct?”

Ashpaw blinked, caught off-guard. “Um, yeah?”

“The whole litter is raised together,” Pinestar explained. Her fur was so dark that Ashpaw could barely see her outline against the dark gray sky. “Then, once they all learn to fly, they go their separate ways. Start their own families.”

There was another silence, like Pinestar was waiting for Ashpaw to catch onto something. But the black leader merely shook her head and went on. “Hollybreeze and Ravenshade are like birds,” she mused, wisdom surging into her words. “They were raised together, almost like littermates. Ravenshade wasn't very popular - even then, her temper was strong - but Hollybreeze stood up for her. Then they learned to fly. When Sunpaw and Stormpaw were born, Ravenshade snapped.”

“Why?” Ashpaw whimpered, voice breaking. This was it- everyone hated Ravenshade, and Ashpaw needed to know why. Pinestar gave a long, exhausted sigh.

“Factual-wise, I know nothing. I’m sorry,” she murmured. “But the rumors I’ve heard are that Ravenshade loved a tom once, very much, and Hollybreeze took him from her. Then Ravenshade took Scorchclaw as a mate. Not because she liked him, but to show Hollybreeze she could be good and have kits, too.”

Ashpaw blinked back tears. “Thanks,” she meowed. “That explains a lot.”

“Go on to bed now,” Pinestar whispered. “Tomorrow is another day.”

Ashpaw was sniffling the whole way to the apprentice’s den. She passed the warrior’s den and heard muffled screaming from the back. She froze, and with a horror-stricken realization, she found Ravenshade’s ballistic voice and Hollybreeze’s voice of reason. Ashpaw didn’t even stop to listen. Instead, she burst into a sprint across camp with tears streaming down her face. Can’t Ravenshade think about me just once, instead of relying on Hollybreeze to?

Ashpaw finally scrambled to a halt in front of the apprentice’s den, where a peaceful snoring droned inside. Ashpaw backed away, ears flat. She didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong anywhere - not with Ravenshade’s shadow following her, lurking and ruining her.

Ashpaw finally collapsed with the weight of so much anger and hurt on her back that she could no longer stand. She felt tears stream down her face for the millionth time. Did normal apprentices cry this much? Ashpaw bit her lip. I’m not normal. The reminder stung.

“Ashpaw?” Ashpaw sniffled in a failed attempt to stifle her crying. A figure stood in front of her, long legs outlined in the moonlight. He reached his head down worriedly, and Ashpaw could see the gentleness in Sunpaw’s gaze. “Are you okay?”

Ashpaw tried to nod, but she felt her shoulders hunch over instead. She wasn’t going to lie to Sunpaw, even if he was a potential cause of Ravenshade’s insanity. Sunpaw looked her in the eyes with an uncharacteristic seriousness to him. “It’s too cold to sleep out here,” he murmured. “Come on, I’m not leaving you out here.”

He began to walk toward the den, but looked back as Ashpaw merely sat still and stared at him. “Well?” Ashpaw forced a laugh that ended in a hiccup. “They don’t want me,” she whispered, fearing that if she raised her voice it would break. “I don’t… I shouldn’t be here.”

Sunpaw padded over and sat down next to her. Ashpaw felt a wave of comfort at his soft fur against her own. “Stop saying don’t,” he whispered. “You’re such a brave cat, Ashpaw. I don’t know why everyone is such a jerk to you.”

“Stop saying don’t,” Ashpaw jokingly mimicked. Sunpaw broke into a slight grin, but it quickly faded.

“Sunpaw!” Stormpaw’s voice rang out from the den. “Get over here!” Sunpaw rolled his eyes.

“Got to go,” he told Ashpaw. His eyes twinkled. “Just don’t stay out here too long, okay?”

Ashpaw opened her mouth, and Sunpaw cut her off. “I know, I know,” he said, voice raising as he drifted farther away from her and closer to Stormpaw. “No more don’ts!”

Ashpaw smiled and felt a blush rise under her fur and tears. At least there was Sunpaw in her life. Heatherpaw, too. She slowly began to make her way towards the den before her fur prickled. Stormpaw’s voice was sharp but low, obviously wanting to remain unheard.

“What are you doing?” Stormpaw hissed. Ashpaw could see his yellow eyes flashing lividly at Sunpaw, who recoiled.

“I’m not allowed to be nice?” Sunpaw spat back. Stormpaw growled.

“Not to her!” he snapped. “Have you never seen how Ravenshade treats Hollybreeze - and our family in general?”

“That doesn’t define Ashpaw!”

“Yes it does,” Stormpaw snapped. There was so much venom in his voice that Ashpaw reeled back, eyes wide. “Stop talking to her. You’re so much better than that. Get your head out of the clouds, focus on being a warrior, and let her suffer.”

The silence that followed was physically painful. It was cut off by a sniffle, and it took Ashpaw a second to realize it wasn’t her own. Sunpaw curled up into a ball, and Stormpaw stepped back, eyes narrowed, and slept next to Heatherpaw. Sunpaw remained awake, trying to conceal his tears. Ashpaw’s heart ached for him, and she longed to just sit beside him, but Stormpaw’s words had made its mark: she was not welcome.

With a defeated sigh, Ashpaw curled up into a ball on the chilled grass. I guess I’m sleeping out here tonight.

Chapter Eight Edit

Two moons.

Two moons since Ashpaw learned part of the truth, two moons since Rabbitkit’s death, two moons since she gained Sunpaw and Heatherpaw as friends.

Two moons. It had been a rollercoaster for Ashpaw, but some parts she didn’t mind. Her training had been progressing well, and her friends remained strongly with her. That night, after both she and Sunpaw had cried over words, he decided to stay. He decided to ignore Stormpaw and Larchpaw’s ugly words and stay with Ashpaw. Ashpaw didn’t mind a bit.

She returned from training with a rabbit clamped between her jaws. Granted, Hollybreeze was the one that had chased it, but Ashpaw had the satisfaction of the killing bite. Even the other mentors had seemed impressed. Hollybreeze had praised her the whole way back. Ashpaw was still shocked at how motherly Hollybreeze was to her, despite the feud between her and Ravenshade. I guess she feels bad for me.

As they entered camp, Hollybreeze had trailed off. The silver pelt froze and ruffled. Ashpaw glanced up at her, rabbit firmly in her mouth, in confusion. Then she saw it.

Ravenshade was outside the warriors den, next to Gorseheart. Her mouth was wide as she told a joke and laughed at it loudly. Gorseheart chuckled but looked overall uncomfortable as Ravenshade leaned into his thick tabby fur.

“Put your prey in the fresh-kill pile,” Hollybreeze instructed. Any emotion in her voice was gone, and Ashpaw wished she could express her thoughts. Then she was gone, tail flicking irritably. Ashpaw stalked past the warriors den, glaring at her mother. Ravenshade was so caught up in talking to Gorseheart that she didn’t even notice Ashpaw’s prey.

Anger finally caught hold of Ashpaw. She saw the back of Scorchclaw, as always, sitting in a seemingly important circle with the older warriors. He was listening to Quickstorm speak with a serious expression when Ashpaw bit into his tail and yanked him back. Scorchclaw sprung back and bit back a screech, and the other warriors chuckled in amusement. Scorchclaw whirled around to Ashpaw, fuming.

“Can’t you tell I’m busy?” he snapped, signaling at the group. Ashpaw hissed.

“You’re always busy, what, gossiping?” Ashpaw retorted. Scorchclaw opened his mouth to defend himself, but Ashpaw cut him off. “You need to stop ignoring Ravenshade and I. We are your family, and look at that!”

Scorchclaw’s head slowly turned to see Ravenshade purring over something Gorseheart had said and his eyes narrowed. He watched Ravenshade giggle for a few heartbeats, then sighed.

“Us being mates…” he meowed, shoulders slumping, “... that was a mistake. We didn’t love each other, no matter how much she told me we did. There was never really a ‘we’ in the first place.”

Ashpaw blinked and processed his words. If anything, he was confirming what Pinestar had said. Ashpaw’s voice broke. “You think I was a mistake?” she whispered.

Scorchclaw’s eyes widened as he realized his mistake, but Ashpaw ran off to hide her face before he could speak. Scorchclaw turned back to his group, but they merely gave him looks of pity and shame.

Ashpaw scrambled into the apprentice’s den and flopped down in her nest. Her day had started off so well, and now it had taken yet another turn.

“Daddy issues much?” Ashpaw spun around to see Larchpaw’s stout figure at the entrance of the den, head high.

“Leave me alone,” Ashpaw growled. Larchpaw is the last thing I need right now!

Larchpaw didn’t listen. Instead, he took a step closer. “Is your whole family dysfunctional?” he spat accusingly. “Is there anyone normal for you to fall back on?”

“You have no room to talk for someone with two dead parents.” Ashpaw recognized Oakthorn’s voice in an instant. Larchpaw stiffened as he realized his mentor was right behind him and slowly turned around.

“Elder’s den,” Oakthorn instructed gruffly. “Clean Swiftcloud’s ticks and change her bedding. Fair punishment, don’t you think, Ashpaw?”

Ashpaw nodded quickly under the glowering glare of Larchpaw. Larchpaw stalked off, fur raised. Oakthorn turned to Ashpaw.

“Sorry about that,” he apologized. “My apprentice needs some work, I see.” Ashpaw smiled. “Thanks, but I’d much rather get an apology from him,” she replied, nodding at the sulking gray dappled body. Oakthorn scoffed.

“Like that’s going to happen,” he meowed, beginning to head out. “Make sure it doesn’t happen again, okay?”

Ashpaw let her shoulders relax. “Okay,” she hollered back as he left. She smiled. Oakthorn had helped, even if it was minor. In fact, she felt a lot better.

Chapter Nine Edit

Another month had passed, and Ashpaw felt warriorship creeping up on her. She was thrilled, really, to finally rank up and prove to the older warriors that she could do something. In another moon, she would be ready, according to Hollybreeze. Maybe, now that Hollybreeze wasn’t going to be her mentor, she wouldn’t be constantly bugged by Ravenshade.

“Ashpaw! Now!” Ashpaw’s head jerked up at Hollybreeze’s voice. The rabbit was haring towards her at full speed, with the silver spotted she-cat on its tail. Ashpaw unsheathed her claws and leapt out from her hiding spot in the gorse. The rabbit saw her and shrieked before Ashpaw’s claws dug into its skin. Ashpaw flew over the prey but managed to throw in a final, neck-snapping bite. Ashpaw rose to her paws as the rabbit fell limp. Hollybreeze looked pleased as she trotted over to Ashpaw, fur flowing in the breeze.  

“Excellent job!” Hollybreeze purred. “You’re well on your way to becoming a warrior, Ashpaw.” “I’m sure you’re ready to get rid of me,” Ashpaw commented, dropping the rabbit at her paws. “Especially with Ravenshade being -”

“Oh, hush,” Hollybreeze mewed lightly, tapping Ashpaw’s ear with her tail. “You drop the rabbit off at camp. I’ll be right with you.”

Ashpaw grinned until Hollybreeze was out of sight. Ashpaw’s gaze followed the silver cat to the opposite end of WindClan territory, and her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Quickly, Ashpaw buried the rabbit under the gorse bush and began to follow carefully in Hollybreeze’s footsteps. Ashpaw crouched behind a hill when the silver pelt flashed in view. Hollybreeze was standing by the only wooded area in WindClan, ears erect, before she dove beneath the trees.

Ashpaw followed with curiosity brimming inside her. She ignored the uncomfortable cover the trees were giving her, making her gray pelt look dusky. She saw Hollybreeze freeze ahead of her, then fly into a rage of screaming. Ashpaw’s pelt prickled as the voices grew louder until she could see two other cats on the ground, glaring at Hollybreeze.

“Ravenshade, you knew!” Hollybreeze screeched, back arched. Ashpaw inwardly hissed when she saw her mother, eyes half-closed slyly. Intertwined with her was Gorseheart, who looked, as always, slightly uncomfortable. “You knew and you still do this!”

Then Ravenshade stood, black pelt looking eerie under the darkness of the trees. “Why so angry?” Ravenshade purred, nose-to-nose with Hollybreeze. “What, are you and Gorseheart mates now? As far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have a mate.”

Hollybreeze growled. “He. Has. Kits.”

Gorseheart stood, looking at Hollybreeze doubtfully. “Hollybreeze, the past is not something you should be concerned with.”

Hollybreeze’s ears flattened hopelessly. “But it was our past, Gorseheart!” she cried.

Ashpaw didn’t listen any further. She took off at full speed, not caring if Hollybreeze or Ravenshade heard her. She almost forgot to pick up her prey, too, but luckily dug it up and rushed back to camp. Finally, everything made sense.

Camp was rather lazy, but Ashpaw was looking for one cat. She placed her rabbit on top of the flourishing fresh-kill pile and glanced up just as the golden pelt emerged from the apprentice’s den.

“Ashpaw!” he exclaimed, catching sight of her. Sunpaw’s eyes were alight with pride, and Ashpaw felt horrible knowing his spirit was about to be crushed. Sunpaw’s tail curled happily. “Guess what? Graymouse says I’m ready to be a warrior! I passed my asessment today, so tomorrow I’ll be a warrior!”

“That’s amazing!” Ashpaw purred, sadness melting away. “Did you tell Hollybreeze?”

Sunpaw’s ears drooped. “Not yet,” he admitted. “I haven’t seen her since I passed.”

Ashpaw sighed. “Sunpaw, I figured out something today,” she meowed. She was walking now, leading him to the outskirts of camp so they wouldn’t be overheard. Sunpaw’s fur prickled uneasily. “You know how Ravenshade and Hollybreeze don’t get along, right?”

Sunpaw’s eyebrows drew together. “Of course.”

Ashpaw took in a deep breath. “Today I pieced together why.” She looked to Sunpaw for support, and he nodded her on. “When they were apprentices, Hollypaw and Ravenpaw were best friends,” Ashpaw began uneasily. “Not many cats liked Ravenpaw, because of her sharp tongue and violent and jealous nature. But Hollypaw, I guess, pitied her.”

Sunpaw shrugged. “Opposites attract.”

Ashpaw forced a chuckle. “Anyway, They both had a crush on this one tom. By warriorhood, Ravenshade’s violent self became evident when the tom showed more affection to Hollybreeze, even though Ravenshade still loved him. Then, as it turned out, Hollybreeze had kits. His kits.” Sunpaw’s ears perked, and Ashpaw took in a shuddering breath. “Ravenshade snapped. She was so jealous of Hollybreeze that she took Scorchclaw as a mate, to prove that she was over it and could live a life, too. She dragged Hollybreeze repeatedly in an attempt for her to take care of me as some twisted form of revenge. But the truth is, Ravenshade was never really over Gorseheart.” Ashpaw ended in a defeated sigh, staring at her paws. A long silence followed her words.

“Gorseheart is my father?” Sunpaw whispered bleakly. Ashpaw nodded, biting her lip.

“Gorseheart and Ravenshade were hiding out in the woods when Hollybreeze found them.” Ashpaw looked at Sunpaw with pity in her wide blue eyes. “It didn’t go over well.”

Sunpaw’s mouth was slightly open. “I… Thank you, Ashpaw,” he murmured. “Really.”

“You don’t think I’m lying?” Ashpaw whispered. Sunpaw smiled warmly, despite his life crashing around him.

“I trust you,” he promised. “Even though you have every reason to lie to me, you’re not like your mother.”

Ashpaw’s shoulders fell. Every word she had never heard was coming out of Sunpaw’s mouth. “I’m sorry about Gorseheart,” she meowed as he began to break away. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Sunpaw smirked, and Ashpaw could see unreadable emotions flash through his eyes. “Stop saying don’t,” he teased.

Chapter Ten Edit

Night fell, leaving Ashpaw a hopeless mess. Hollybreeze had angrily returned, only to steal away a vole and leave camp again. Ravenshade had followed, smirking the entire time.

“Please just listen to me!” The silver she-cat wailed, ears flattening. “We can still be friends, just listen!”

The second she-cat, dark as a crow, did not look at her. Instead her gaze remained on the stars. Her ear flicked. “We can’t be friends anymore,” she stated flatly. “I can’t believe you would do that to me.”

Ashpaw wasn’t sure what her mother and mentor were doing, but surely it wasn’t good. Her gaze flickered to Sunpaw, whose gentle breathing was rhythmic, in an attempt to clear her mind.

“I didn’t know, honest!” The first cat wailed. “It’s… it’s the training that’s getting to your head, you know that?”

The black she-cat’s head turned sharply. “I told you to never speak of that!” she snapped. The silver she-cat, looking somewhat pleased with herself, leaned back.

“We both have our faults,” she mewed. “Why can’t you just accept yours?

Ashpaw smiled ruefully as her gaze traveled to Heatherpaw. The gray she-cat was such a good friend, and would most likely be a warrior any day. Ashpaw was glad she had them as her friends.

“I didn’t do what you did!”
Suddenly they stopped. The silver cat looked at her paws. “I have been a horrible friend,” she admitted softly, “but I regret nothing. I loved-”

So did I!” The black she-cat exploded, fury lighting her gaze. “I can never forgive you, don’t you understand?” The silver she-cat’s gaze hardened.

“Ashpaw!” Ashpaw’s head jerked up at Cloudpetal’s voice. The white she-cat’s head was poked into the den. The darkness covered her anxious stare. “I need you to come with me. Hollybreeze is missing.”

“No,” the silver she-cat growled. “I’ve put up with this for too long. You have done nothing but lie and cheat since you were an apprentice, and I have been nothing but supportive and kind. But when I make a mistake? I’m the bad guy?” Her voice was rising in anticipation. “Honestly, I should have let you suffer when I had the chance.”

Aspaw climbed to her paws, a new surge of horror creeping along her spine. “Let me wake Sunpaw,” she insisted. She hesitated as she caught the silver tabby fur out of the corner of her eye. Stormpaw was Hollybreeze’s kit, too. “And Stormpaw.” Cloudpetal paused, doubt flashing through her eyes, but she only nodded sharply.

The black she-cat flinched, but did not reply for a long moment. “Are you going to tell them? What I did?”

“I don’t know,” the silver cat responded icily, though there was a surge of hesitation. “Are you going to tell them my little secret?”

“Why did you hesitate?” The black cat growled warningly. The silver cat didn’t respond or meet her friend’s gaze. “You already told them, didn’t you?”

Sunpaw and Stormpaw groggily awoke, and Ashpaw shoved them outside without a word.

“What’s going on?” yawned Stormpaw, arching his back in a stretch. Ashpaw’s gaze darkened, but Lionwhisker stepped beside her.

“Your mother is missing, as well as Ravenshade. It’s been hours now,” he explained. “Pinstar is leading the patrol. Cloudpetal and I are going with her.”

“What about us?” Sunpaw pestered. “Are we going?”

Lionwhisker shrugged. “I assume.”

“Only... only Applefern,” she mumbled.

“Only Applefern?” The black cat screeched.

“She is my sister!” the silver she-cat protested, head jerking up. “We can trust her, I promise!”
“I’m done with your promises!” The dark she-cat snapped. “Maybe I’m training, but you’re a liar and a cheater.”

“If I was Hollybreeze, where would I go?” Cloudpetal mumbled under her breath. Ashpaw was squeezed between Pinestar and Sunpaw, a spot that she wouldn’t complain about. Pinestar was the most focused; she hadn’t spoken at all and only stared grimly ahead.

“We’ve traveled around the whole field,” Stormpaw reported. Even he looked doubtful. “Maybe they went to the other side -”

“Over there.” Pinestar froze, tail lashing. Ashpaw followed her gaze to a section of the field where the world seemed to end. “We haven’t checked the drop yet.”

“Maybe they’re hiding amongst the rocks at the bottom,” Cloudpetal suggested. Pinestar’s eyes narrowed, and Ashpaw realized that she had a completely different idea of what had happened.

“I am not!”
“You backed out of your promise!”

“Only for a good reason!”
Now the black she-cat was stalking forward and  the silver cat backwards, leering towards a gorge wall. Suddenly the silver cat’s eyes widened.

The walk to the cliff couldn’t have been slower. Ashpaw felt dread cover her as she peered over the edge. She gagged and scrambled back. Blinded by fear, she hardly heard Sunpaw and Stormpaw’s unanimous gasps.

“NO!” Cloudpetal shrieked, white fur on end. Lionwhisker was speechless, and even Pinestar’s eyes stretched wide.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she whispered. The black she-cat smiled.

Ashpaw was too in shock to cry out. Her paws stood still as she looked down, and her emotions swirled.

“I never got to tell her I passed my assessment,” Sunpaw whispered. His voice shook until it broke, and he was blinking back tears. Pinestar went around the drop to head to the bottom. Ashpaw could barely see her figure outlined in the thin moon, but her shoulders slumped in defeat once she reached the bottom.

“When Ravenshade is found,” Pinestar announced, voice thick with emotion, “she will be exiled.”

“Maybe you were right,” the black cat murmured. “Maybe we just weren’t cut out to be friends.”

Ashpaw stepped back, closing her eyes. Finally reality caught up to her, without a word being spoken.

Hollybreeze was dead.

Chapter Eleven Edit

The Clan flew into panic upon seeing Hollybreeze’s body dragged into camp, bloodied and limp. Ashpaw had followed Pinestar numbly and watched her mentor’s tail trail ahead of her. She had walked past an appalled Gorseheart. The brown tom’s ears were flat, eyes wide and brimming with… tears? Ashpaw felt nothing but pity. He lost the mate he never truly had. Ashpaw swallowed back a burning, stinging hatred. All because of Ravenshade.

Pinestar had hopped atop her den, trying desperately to quieten WindClan. Ashpaw understood their frenzy; Hollybreeze was a popular cat.

“I’m sorry,” Heatherpaw whispered as the small patrol passed her. Ashpaw only bit her lip and nodded.

“What happened?” Applefern wailed from the nursery. Graymouse was shielding Sandkit from his aunt’s body with his tail. The light ginger she-cat was kneading the ground angrily, and for once, Ashpaw felt bad for her. She lost her sister and kit only two moons apart.

“Where’s Ravenshade?” Another cat screeched. Immediately WindClan bristled, heads swinging around as if the black cat were right beside them and ready to attack. Ashpaw caught Applefern’s head above the rest, eyes wide.

“She killed her, didn’t she?” she asked. Her voice trembled as Pinestar met her gaze evenly. When she got no reply, she repeated, “DIDN’T SHE?”

“There are no signs that it was a murder,” Pinestar pointed out smoothly. Ashpaw tried to flatten her fur. But you said Ravenshade killed her!  “Hollybreeze just slipped, for all we know. She was found at the bottom of a high fall. Accidents happen.”

Applefern’s lip curled in a snarl. “Accident!” she scoffed. “Ravenshade is missing. She killed her for… for having kits that she didn’t approve of!”

The Clan murmured anxiously at the ginger cat’s comments. Ashpaw’s blood ran cold. The only cats to know about Sunpaw and Stormpaw’s father were her, Applefern, and, of course, Ravenshade.

“You know what?” Applefern screeched, voice rising. “She’s been getting away with this for too long. She hated those kits. But the real kit to hate? Hers.”

Ashpaw flushed as every head turned her way. Applefern’s gaze snapped to Ashpaw, who tried to cower behind Oakthorn’s broad figure.

“She did nothing!” Sunpaw cried from his mother’s still body. Applefern paused, swung her head around, and faced her nephew with a snarl.

“Her mother is the reason my sister is dead,” she spat. Then the queen leapt at Ashapw, claws outstretched. Ashpaw didn’t even have time to react. She felt the full impact of Applefern’s body smash onto her, and hissed as claws burned through her cheek. Cats gasped and flung themselves back as the two she-cats rolled on the ground. Ashpaw was too weak and tired and overcome with grief to fight back. She felt hit after hit upon her until she could barely move. Then another voice paused the battle.

“Applefern!” Applefern froze in recognition. She turned her head to see a lone figure, shadowed by the thin moon, as the cats of WindClan parted. Then the strange cat stepped forward, revealing malevolent yellow eyes. “Haven’t you given up bullying my daughter?”

“Like you gave up bullying my sister?” Applefern spat. She laughed roughly. “Never.”

Ravenshade’s eyes narrowed. “You give me no choice.” Applefern stepped away from Ashpaw and faced Ravenshade, bristling.

“I thought you were on the run, killer,” she growled. Ravenshade only flattened her ears and leapt. Ashpaw could barely see the fight that ensued; both the she-cats looked pitch-black against the navy sky with their claws outlined in a crisp, milk white.

There was a wail as Ravenshade’s claws crossed Applefern’s neck. Applefern stumbled back, eyes wide. Graymouse meowed something worriedly, but Applefern shook her head and reared up, meeting Ravenshade mid-air.  

“Enough is enough.” Ashpaw looked up, blinking, and saw Pinestar’s gentle green eyes harden.

“Pinestar, no,” Ashpaw whispered. She weakly crawled towards the black leader, trembling. Pinestar shook her head.

“An innocent cat will die if I don’t,” she meowed. Then she bounded forward and smashed into Ravenshade.

Applefern tumbled away as Ravenshade found a new enemy. Pinestar gave a ghostly battle cry, shocking WindClan. Rain had begun to fall, and cats had backed up into the den. Ashpaw could see them watching the battle with wide eyes, cowering under the shelter of the gorse.

Applefern had retreated to the den, too, leaving the only cats in the clearing Ravenshade, Pinestar, Ashpaw, and the body of Hollybreeze. Ravenshade, once with the upper paw, was now growing tired. Pinestar was fighting brilliantly, eyes alight as if she hadn’t battled in ages.

“What coward attacks a cat protecting her daughter?” Ravenshade hissed accusingly. She yowled as a paw came down on her head.

“I’m not fighting you for that,” Pinestar growled through gritted teeth. She hopped to the side, ignoring Ravenshade’s leap. “You killed Hollybreeze.”

“Prove it!” Ravenshade snapped. Ashpaw blinked back tears for the millionth time before deciding what side she was truly on. She struggled to her paws, confused by the slurring rain, and raised her head.

“Ravenshade!” she bellowed, using the same, pitiful and hurt voice she always would around her mother. Ravenshade’s head turned at Ashpaw’s voice, ears alert. It was a fatal mistake. Pinestar saw the opportunity and took it, leaping at Ravenshade’s exposed throat with her jaws wide.

Ashpaw wanted to turn her head. She knew what was going to happen, she could hear the blood roaring in her ears, but something drove her to watch rigid as Pinestar bit down. Ravenshade shrieked in agony and anger through the pain and scored a hit across Pinestar’s throat. But the leader was winning the fight badly and refused to let go.

Suddenly Pinestar decided enough really was enough and flung Ravenshade away from her. Ravenshade hit the ground with a soft thump. Ashpaw crept up, barely seeing the pelt of her mother. Pinestar reached her first, gazing down sharply.

“Did you kill Hollybreeze?” Pinestar whispered. The fight had impacted her, as well - large, fresh scars dappled her head and face. “Was it worth it?”

Ravenshade’s head turned to face Pinestar and Ashpaw. Ashpaw had already expected her to be dead, so seeing her head awake shocked her momentarily. And then, unexpectedly, Ravenshade began to laugh, blood spewing from her mouth as she did. Her eyes rolled in her head wildly. Ashpaw forced herself to look away.

“Of course I killed her,” she spat. Her head raised from the ground for only a heartbeat before it fell again. “I regret nothing. She deserved to be dragged and mutilated beyond recognition!” Ashpaw shivered. She sounds so proud.

“Monster,” Pinestar growled. Ravenshade exploded into laughter again before her gaze landed on Ashpaw.

“I’m far from the monster,” she murmured. Pinestar leaned in, but Ravenshade didn’t speak.

“Ravenshade?” Ashpaw whispered. She gently prodded her mother with a paw, but Ravenshade did not stir. Her eyes slowly glazed over until they were a dull yellow.

Ashpaw was barely aware of the rest of WindClan emerging slowly from the den. The rain was so heavy that Ashpaw barely noticed Pinestar fall limp beside her.

“She’s losing a life!” Finchtail, the deputy, announced, appearing on the hilltop. His yellow fur was almost a beacon through the darkness. Paleberry rushed up to Pinestar in a frenzy, with Molenose on her tail.

“What about Ravenshade?” Ashpaw screamed, stumbling back. Molenose looked back at her with balant eyes.

“She’s gone,” he meowed simply before moving back to Pinestar. Ashpaw whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut. StarClan help me… I’ve lost so much…

Pinestar began to regain consciousness as Sunpaw and Heatherpaw rushed up beside Ashpaw.

“What happened?” Heatherpaw fretted. “We saw the fight, but-”

“My mother is dead,” Ashpaw whispered bleakly. Sunpaw rested his tail on her spine gently.

“It’s okay to be sad,” he meowed. His voice was breaking. “You lost Hollybreeze and Ravenshade to each other. It’s so hard on you.”

Ashpaw nodded her thanks. But as much as she appreciated Sunpaw’s kind words, something told her she was more worried than sad. Yes, she had lost them - and so had the Clan, judging by their drooping figures as they padded over to Hollybreeze - but something else told her Ravenshade’s mystery of a personality wasn’t quite finished revealing yet.

Chapter Twelve Edit

Death surprised Ashpaw.

She never really thought about the day when she would see her mother’s damp pelt or her mentor’s glazed green eyes staring blankly ahead. It never crossed her mind how she would grieve. Yes, Rabbitkit’s ceremony was one thing, but seeing the two cats that cared about her most - both gone to each other - was on a whole new level.

Ashpaw had remained awake the whole night, and so had WindClan. It had been an eventful few hours, and the sun was surely going to rise soon. She wasn’t sure what to feel - anger, hatred, guilt, sadness, or regret - so she chose to ignore all of them and only stiffly stare down at the two bodies.

As the night dragged on, so did the cats. Many of them left to sleep, one at a time, until few remained. Ashpaw was surrounded by a small cluster: Paleberry, gently massaging strange herbs into Ravenshade’s bloodied fur, Heatherpaw, who was mainly just there to comfort Ashpaw, Sunpaw and Stormpaw, Gorseheart, and, surprisingly, Scorchclaw. Ashpaw was as far away from her father as possible. Sunpaw was sobbing like Ashpaw had never seen him before, flung over his mother’s body. Gorseheart stood behind him ruefully.

“Ash.” Ashpaw’s ears perked at Scorchclaw’s unusually soft voice. Her father was shifting on his paws, slowly inching towards her. She gave him a cold nod, but couldn’t help realize how Scorchclaw showed no emotion towards the funeral. She realized with a pang that not even she nor Schorchclaw would miss Ravenshade.

Scorchclaw cleared his throat. “I know losing Hollybreeze and Ravenshade is kind of like losing the authority in your life,” he began awkwardly. “And I realize that. I’ve been a bad father to you, and that’s my fault entirely.”

Ashpaw snorted, but couldn’t help feeling the tiniest bit touched.

“So, what I’m saying is, maybe this doesn’t have to be all that bad,” he went on. “Maybe for us, this can be a fresh start.”

Ashpaw slowly broke into a grin. “You’re ready to be a father?” she whispered. Scorchclaw smiled.

“If you’ll allow me.” Ashpaw couldn’t bear her excitement and pressed into Scorchclaw’s soft chest for the first time. He accepted the embrace, gently placing his head on hers. Weirdly enough, losing Ravenshade brought the family closer than ever.

“Cats of WindClan!”  Ashpaw broke the embrace at Pinestar’s commanding voice. The leader had grown stronger in the past few hours, like the attack had barely fazed her or cost her a life. Morning broke behind Pinestar, casting an eerie glow to the tips of fur.

“Despite the deaths of two beloved warriors, I think it’s time for something optimistic,” she meowed. Cats were beginning to wake, confused by the sudden announcement. Pinestar’s gaze swept her Clan proudly. “Four young apprentices have passed their assessments. Though their ages are a small bit different, they show equal strength and courage. Heatherpaw, Larchpaw, Sunpaw, and Stormpaw, would you please step forward?” With a jolt, Ashpaw remembered Sunpaw talking about his assessment and how he had completed it. Pinestar’s chin raised, and suddenly she was leader of the whole forest.

“I, Pinestar, leader of WindClan, call upon my warrior 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 warriors in their turn,” she recited, looking down at the four apprentices as if they were her own kits. “Heatherpaw, please step forward.” Heatherpaw looked over her shoulder at Ashpaw for support, and Ashpaw nodded in encouragement. Then she turned to Pinestar, shoulders straightened.

“Heatherpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?” Heatherpaw grinned. “I do.”

Pinestar nodded approvingly. Cloudpetal, Heatherpaw’s mentor, looked ready to burst with pride. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Heatherpaw, from this moment you will be known as Heatherdawn. StarClan honors your dedication and patience, and we welcome you as a full warrior of WindClan.” WindClan cheered, Ashpaw the loudest, as Pinestar’s chin rested atop Heatherdawn’s head. Ashpaw was ready to explode with pride as Heatherdawn was congratulated by Cloudpetal profusely.

Larchpaw came next, newly deemed Larchfall. Stormpaw followed after, earning his new name Stormstripe with pride. And then, Ashpaw’s heart fluttered.

“Sunpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?”

Sunpaw did so, eyes glowing despite Hollybreeze’s death. “I do,” he squeaked.

Pinestar smiled fondly. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Sunpaw, from this moment you will be known as Sundusk. StarClan honors your speed and loyalty, and we welcome you as a full warrior of WindClan.” Newly named Sundusk stepped back beside Stormstripe proudly. He grinned at Ashpaw, who couldn’t conceal her excitement.

“WindClan, welcome your new warriors!” Pinestar roared. WindClan cheered loudly, almost like the deaths had never even happened.

And honestly, Ashpaw didn’t mind.

Chapter Thirteen Edit

A moon passed since the deaths and ceremonies. Ashpaw was lonely in the apprentice’s den, but only for a little while. Soon enough, Icepaw, Nettlepaw, and Cherrypaw ranked up with her with Heatherdawn, Sundusk, and Stormstripe, respectively. Ashpaw was glad Larchfall wasn’t given an apprentice. She was still the oldest apprentice by far, and longed for the day she would become a warrior.

Since Hollybreeze’s death, Pinestar took it upon herself to mentor Ashpaw. Ashpaw was roaming the territory with the leader now, watching the golden morning sun climb the horizon. Pinestar was a great teacher, and she required a morning walk every morning to relax and wake up. Usually, they’d just talk quietly or not talk at all. Today they spoke.

“How has life been since the deaths?” Pinestar asked, looking straight ahead. “Better? Worse?”

“Better,” Ashpaw admitted, and she meant it. “Scorchclaw and I have gotten along better. I don’t have to fall asleep to them arguing.”

Pinestar nodded thoughtfully. “And what about Sundusk and Heatherdawn? You were friends before, no? Is them being warriors getting in the way of friendship?”

“Of course not!” Ashpaw insisted, shaking her head furiously. “We’ve been closer than ever.”

Pinestar gave her a one-sided smile. “I’m glad you found close friends in them,” she admitted. “After that happened with Ravenshade, I thought you’d be horribly mistreated. You picked the best cats to be friends with.”

There was a moment of silence that left Ashpaw trapped in thought. She was lucky to have Heatherdawn and Sundusk, now that Pinestar brought up the point.

“Did you know that I am on my last life?” Pinestar said suddenly. Ashpaw froze. Wasn’t a leader sworn to secrecy about their lives?

“No,” she replied carefully. “Are you sure you should be telling me that?” Pinestar gave a long, defeated sigh. “I don’t think it would hurt. If I’m going soon-”

“Don’t say that,” Ashpaw growled. “We’ve already lost so much.”

Pinestar smiled slightly. “You’ve grown so much,” she commented. Then she shook her head. “I just wanted to tell someone. You’re understanding, right?”

Ashpaw nodded. “I think.”

“When I was an apprentice, my best friend was Finchpaw - you know him as Finchtail,” she began softly. Nostalgia flashed in her eyes, mostly pained. “I promised that when I became leader, I’d make him my deputy, or vice-versa. We were set on ruling WindClan.”

Ashpaw blinked. “And you did.”

Pinestar bit her lip and sat down, careful gaze on the midsummer golden grass. “The thing was, I was in love with him,” she went on softly.

“Isn’t Finchtail mates with Cloudpetal?” Ashpaw pondered aloud. Her ears pricked as she remembered something else. “And didn’t she just move to the nursery?”  The white she-cat had moved just as soon as Heatherdawn had become a warrior, and was so thrilled to be a mother. Pinestar closed her eyes, and Ashpaw felt a wave of pity for the old leader.

“I never told him. I thought our pact settled that,” she replied. “By the time Cloudpetal rolled around and was all over him, I was too late.”

“Did you ever tell him?” Ashpaw whispered. Pinestar’s eyes opened again and she gave the smallest shake of her head.

“I never did,” she mused. There was a gentle breeze, but it chilled Ashpaw to the bone. Pinestar shook out her fluffy coat before looking back at Ashpaw. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell someone,” she wrapped up nonchalantly. “It gets it off my chest. Back to camp, now.”

The remainder of the day passed rather quickly, leaving Ashpaw bored. Sundusk and Heatherdawn were busy now that they were full warriors with apprentices. Without Hollybreeze and Ravenshade arguing, it seemed almost boring. Once night fell, Ashpaw felt herself struggling to sleep. She still wasn’t used to not sharing a den with her best friends, and found the litter of three weird and off to the side.

Eventually, Ashpaw found sleep. But she realized immediately that she was dreaming. She raised to her paws, surrounded by an unnerving blackness around her. She opened her mouth, but no voice came out. Warily, Ashpaw stepped forward.

She jumped as a pelt brushed by her own. Her fur fluffed defensively as she saw the shape of a cat, merging with the shadows, slink away. She tried to hiss, but there was no sound. The mysterious cat trotted ahead and Ashpaw followed apprehensively, head down. But then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small flicker of light.

When she turned, Ashpaw could make out another cat - this one of light and not darkness. The dark cat paused, as if waiting for her to follow, but Ashpaw couldn’t help but stare at the faceless, bright cat.

The shadow cat was obviously growing impatient, and Ashpaw felt a claw lash out and scratch her cheek. Blood tinged and stung her face, and Ashpaw reeled back in surprise. In fact, she was so shocked that she felt herself wake up in a cold, lost sweat.

What’s happening to me?

Chapter Fourteen Edit

“Molenose?”

Ashpaw nosed into the medicine cat’s den apprehensively. She had asked Pinestar to skip the walk, for once, to speak to Molenose. Pinestar had agreed generously, and Ashpaw relieved.

She expected the dark brown tom to be sleeping but he was, for once, wide awake. Paleberry looked stressed as always, sorting herbs in the back and muttering under her breath.

“Molenose?” Ashpaw repeated warily. The broad head snapped around at his voice, and Molenose set his unsettling yellow eyes on Ashpaw. Ashpaw dipped her head politely.

“I just had a question about a dream,” she meowed quietly. Paleberry looked up, eyes rounded in interest.

Molenose, for once, looked half-patient and even interested. “What kind of dream?” he asked steadily. “I’m the best at interpreting them.” Ashpaw swallowed back her initial fear.

“There was a dark cat,” she began warily. “And-”

“Male or female?” Molenose interrupted. Ashpaw wracked her mind, but nothing stood out to her.

“I… don’t know,” she confessed. “Anyway, I think it wanted me to follow me, but then this other cat appeared - a brighter one - and then I woke up.”

Molenose paused in thought. Ashpaw had never seen him think like this before. “They didn’t speak to you at all, did they?” he asked. As Ashpaw shook her head, Paleberry looked at Molenose.

“I can’t help you,” he said flatly, his typical self returning. Paleberry stood, shaking the leaves scattered through her pelt.

“Molenose,” she whispered. “I think-”

“I don’t care what you think,” Molenose snapped, startling Ashpaw. He whirled around, teeth bared in a snarl. Ashpaw scrambled back. “Leave! I’m busy!”

Ashpaw sprung out of the den, startled by Molenose’s sudden abruptness. What did I do to startle him? She heard the muffled arguing of Molenose and Paleberry as she left, but was too exhausted and confused to stick around and investigate.

Ashpaw looked around for something to entertain her. There were a few measly scraps in the fresh-kill pile, but everyone was hunting anyway. Swiftcloud was by the elder’s den, reaching a tick behind her ear, Cloudpetal was in the nursery, fondly gazing out, and Sundusk was flicking his tail and sprawling in the middle of camp, bathing in the sun. Ashpaw grinned when she saw him, and braced herself for a friendly hello as she made her way over to him.

“Ashpaw,” Sundusk greeted, opening one eye and rolling over on his stomach. “What’s up?”

Ashpaw shrugged and arched her back in a stretch. “Nothing,” she complained. “Everyone’s out or-”

“Help!” Ashpaw was cut off and Sundusk leapt to his paws, spinning around. The voice belonged to Heatherdawn, whose gray fur was fluffed up. Blood soaked her paws and her eyes darted around wildly, like she had run across the whole moor.

“What happened?” Cloudpetal fretted, seeing her former apprentice drenched and exhausted. Heatherdawn raised her voice shakily.

“My patrol was attacked by a fox,” she explained quickly. “We need backup, but-”

“There’s hardly anyone here!” Paleberry hollered from the medicine den. Sundusk stepped forward boldly.

“That doesn’t mean there’s no one,” he argued. “Paleberry, you’re not a fighter, but you can run.”

Paleberry nodded sharply, emerging from the den.

“I need you to fetch the other patrols,” Sundusk instructed. “Ashpaw and I will go with Heatherdawn.”

Ashpaw felt her paws tingle as she was included. She had never seen a fox on the moor, much less battled one. But as Heatherdawn turned back and she felt herself pace beside Sundusk, she realized she didn’t have much of a choice.

“They’re right up here,” Heatherdawn explained quietly, nudging at a thick cluster of bracken.” Sundusk paused and leaned in, ears perked.

“Are you sure?” he breathed. “I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s because all the cats are down,” Heatherdawn replied darkly. “I think the fox wants to lure in more cats with their cries.”

“Smart fox,” Sundusk huffed. As he spoke, angry grunting came from the other side of the bracken, and Ashpaw could hear the impatient pacing of the fox.

“I have an idea,” Ashpaw piped suddenly. Heatherdawn turned to her friend worriedly.

“It’s all we have,” she urged. Ashpaw took in a deep breath.

“If I attack first - since I’m the smallest out of us,” she began quickly and quietly, “the fox will think it has an easy meal. Then Sundusk will leap in from the other side, and then Heatherdawn. Or whichever way.”

“That’s actually a good idea,” Heatherdawn muttered, mainly to herself. Sundusk looked less pleased.

“You’re willing to throw yourself at a fox?” he asked doubtfully. “Ashpaw, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I won’t,” Ashpaw replied firmly, though Sundusk had brought up a point. “You guys will be right after me. Okay?”

Heatherdawn took in a deep breath. “Sounds like a plan.”

Sundusk looked at Ashpaw, and for once she realized how worried he was for her. “Be careful, okay?”

Ashpaw only nodded sharply. She watched quietly as Sundusk and Heatherdawn trekked in opposite directions, heads down, and crouched on either side of the bracken. Then Heatherdawn nodded, and Ashpaw flung through the bracken with a loud yowl.

The fox was bigger than she expected. It turned at her cry, eyes wide, and opened its mouth in an ugly snarl. Ashpaw met the fox’s side and barely got a glimpse of Graymouse sprawled across the ground, and Icepaw’s tiny figure dappled with blood. The foc’s silver jaws snapped down, barely missing Ashpaw’s ear, and miraculously, Heatherdawn followed with an eerie cry.

The fox turned to see who else had attacked him when Sundusk joined the party, leaping with a triumphant yowl and landing on the fox’s back. Ashpaw nipped at the fluffy orange and white tail, sending the fox in a raging fury to reach her. Heatherdawn was on its neck, and had almost landed a killing bite when she was flung away, landing in a thorn-spiked bush not far off.

“Heatherdawn!” Sundusk yowled. There was no time for helping their friend. The fox was stumbling them away from the rest of the patrol, down a sloping hill. Ashpaw felt a rush of adrenaline as the fox snagged Sundusk’s tail, causing a hiss of pain. She reared up on her hind paws to score a wound across its flank, then scrambled back as the big head reared around to face her. She barely avoided a sharp bite beside her neck and felt everythign about her run cold.

Then an orange blur passed the fox. “Hey! Over here, you ugly orange badger!” Ashpaw heard Sundusk’s familiar voice from somewhere beside her, but the fox didn’t pick it up as quickly. The great head turned, neck exposed, to find Sundusk.

“Ashpaw!” Sundusk yowled. “Now!”

Ashpaw was snapped back into reality. The fox was slowly turning back to her, but she was quicker. She leapt at the neck, drilling her teeth into the exposed fur. The fox screamed in pain, front paws in a frenzy to push her away, but Sundusk had returned to pull the flailing beast back. Ashpaw watched as the light began to drain from its eyes and its fight began to slow. Then the fox slumped over, and she let go of the neck. The body rolled down the hill the tiniest bit before it was still.

Ashpaw could hardly believe herself. But no, she was there, with Sundusk heaving beside her, and the dead fox lying on its side.  

“I did it,” she rasped. She looked at Sundusk in amazement. “We did it.”

Sundusk smiled warmly, but another voice cut him off. Pinestar was running towards them, belly down with a patrol of the bigger warriors behind her. When she rose to her paws, she looked surprised, then pleased, to see Sundusk and Ashpaw staring over the body with wide eyes.

“Looks like I didn’t even need my attack patrol,” she exclaimed, looking proudly from Ashpaw to Sundusk.

“I was supposed to help, but I got flung off,” Heatherdawn interrupted in a slurred voice. The gray she-cat had appeared beside Ashpaw, and she was a mess. She had been ruffled before, but now thorns and debris littered her pelt. Beside her, Icepaw was swaying on her paws, and Graymouse followed unsteadily.

“I watched Sundusk and Ashpaw kill it,” he observed, breaking off in a cough. “Ashpaw did a nice killing bite at the end. Hate to say I’m impressed. Pinestar looked at Sundusk, who nodded his approval to Graymouse’s statement.

“You’ve waited and suffered long enough,” Pinestar exclaimed, looking down at Ashpaw proudly - almost as if she were her own kit. Ashpaw blinked up at her in confusion.

“You’re saying?”

Pinestar laughed. “You certainly won’t need an assessment after that,” she exclaimed. “Ashpaw, I think it’s about time you became a warrior.”

Chapter Fifteen Edit

It was the proudest moment of Ashpaw’s life.

Night was almost upon them, leaving the sky a deep red-orange. Pinestar stood above her, head raised. WindClan surrounded her, all of them murmuring in excitement and casting glances her way. Graymouse, Icepaw, and Heatherdawn stood outside the medicine den, Heatherdawn cheering loudly for her friend. And Sundusk was right behind her, practically beaming.

“As many of you know, Ashpaw and Sundusk bravely killed the fox that attacked Graymouse’s patrol early today,” Pinestar began. “As Ashpaw is old enough to be a warrior, I, her mentor, hardly deem an assessment necessary.”

Ashpaw wriggled in excitement. She saw Scorchclaw out of the corner of her eye, grinning proudly.

Pinestar raised her chin. “I, Pinestar, leader of WindClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice.” At that, the black she-cat nodded at Ashpaw, who stepped forward with her stomach twisting. “Ashpaw has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you as a warrior in her turn. Ashpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, even at the cost of your life?”

Ashpaw nodded seriously. “I do."

Pinestar smirked, and Ashpaw almost missed it. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Ashpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Ashpoppy. StarClan honors your bravery and spirit.”

Ashpoppy could hardly contain her excitement as Pinestar rested her muzzle gently on her forehead for a lingering moment. Then the Clan was chanting her new name loudly and proudly. She could hear Sundusk, Heatherdawn, and Scorchclaw above everyone else, cheering with such enthusiasm.  

“Ashpoppy! Ashpoppy! Ashpoppy!”

As the cheering began to die down, Pinestar nodded at Ashpoppy. “You will sit vigil tonight, by the camp entrance. You will stay until morning. Understood?”

Ashpoppy nodded sharply.

“It’s not that bad,” Sundusk teased. His breath tickled her ear. Ashpoppy snorted in disbelief.

“I’d better get going,” she told him, rolling her eyes. “Night isn’t going to wait for me.”

“Well unlike night, I’ll be waiting,” Sundusk replied cheekily, raising his tail and beginning to head to the warriors den. “It’s been lonely without you.”

Ashpoppy smiled slightly. “Same with you,” she responded lightly.

She made her way over to the entrance, paws tingling. Then she sat, thanking StarClan that it was a warm night. The stars twinkled above her brilliantly, and the crickets set the drowsy mood. Ashpoppy began to nod off but would shake her head, reminding herself of the importance of the vigil.

“Well, well. It’s Ashpoppy now, huh?”

Ashpoppy’s head jerked up at the voice. Her gaze landed on a pair of narrowed golden eyes, not far ahead. She jumped up defensively and felt her claws unsheathe in defense. She opened her maw to yowl a warning, but her voice was held, like she was mute. The new cat laughed coldly, blinking its bright yellow eyes.

“You thought you were still awake?” it purred darkly. It stalked out of the shadows, revealing a shadowy pelt that matched the trees around it. Ashpoppy shivered. It was the same cat from last night, she realized in horror. The black cat stalked past her, tail resting on Ashpoppy’s chin for a lingering moment. “Come,” the black cat hissed. Ashpoppy turned curiously, and instead of the gorse barrier a dark and murky forest greeted her, stinking of crowfood and death.

“You’ve been foolish, Ashpoppy,” the cat meowed from ahead, almost too quiet for Ashpoppy to hear. Ashpoppy leapt to her paws and padded towards the cat curiously. Now she could tell it was a she-cat by her lithe shape and smell, though her voice was coarse and rough.

“What do you mean?” Ashpoppy growled, lashing her tail to mask her fea. “And how do you know me?”

The she-cat laughed roughly. “I saw you, today. Fighting the fox, eh? What a sight.”

And then, like a vision, Ashpoppy could see it. Sundusk and her fought side by side, Sundusk leaping away while she dealt the killing bite. Ashpoppy couldn’t hold back a smile, but the black cat hissed impatiently, clearing the memory angrily.

“I see how you treat each other,” she snarled. Her teeth were in Ashpoppy’s face and her muzzle was twisted. Ashpoppy could see the flash of a fleshy pink scar across the cat’s neck. “I see. You love each other, don’t you?”

Ashpoppy opened her mouth to shoot back, but the black she-cat wasn’t having any of it.

“If my kinline is connected to that rat, I’ll destroy the lives of all of them,” the cat growled a promise, and seemed intent on keeping it. In a horrible moment, Ashpoppy realized who she was talking to.

“Ravenshade,” she spat. The fur rose along her spine. Ravenshade’s eyes widened slightly.

“You seem a little defensive,” she replied accusingly. Ashpoppy rolled her eyes.

“Because you totally didn’t just threaten me,” she growled drily. Ravenshade sighed and sat down, wrapping her tail around her paws.

“Ashpoppy, I do love you,” she whispered. For once, Ashpoppy could see sadness cloud her eyes. “I want you back. And now that Hollybreeze isn’t here, I can visit you. We can have the relationship we never had.”

“But you won’t let me be friends with Sundusk,” Ashpoppy murmured, glancing at her paws. If her mother was asking for forgiveness - even in her own way - she wasn’t ready to give up Sundusk.

“That’s not just my opinion,” Ravenshade replied, licking a paw and drawing it over her ear. “Hollybreeze doesn't want her son with my daughter eith-”

“Dragging me into your miserable conversation, Rave?”

Ravenshade hissed, and Ashpoppy swung her head around to see a dazzling white light. The murky forest gave way to gentle streams and golden trees, and in the smack middle was a beautiful silver dapple she-cat. It was, Ashpoppy realized, the second cat from the previous night.

“Hollybreeze,” Ravenshade growled. Hollybreeze rolled her eyes.

“Calm down,” she meowed bluntly. “I’m only here to talk to Ashpoppy.”

“You’re not allowed to talk to her,” Ravenshade hissed, stepping protectively in front of Ashpoppy. Hollybreeze ignored her.

“Ashpoppy, don’t listen to her,” she hollered as Ravenshade began to push Ashpoppy away. “She’s evil!”

“I’m her mother!” Ravenshade screeched, back arched. Ashpoppy wondered if she would attack, just like old times. “And she choses me!”

“If she choses you,” Hollybreeze whispered, voice trembling. “Then she’ll only be filled with hatred.”

“You can’t control her,” Ravenshade growled. Hollybreeze sat up straighter, eyes looking more sad than angry.

“I can’t,” she responded softly. Ashpoppy stepped forward, eager to find the light, but Ravenshade scuffed her ear and shooed her back. “You are her mother, Rave, no matter how much I try to help her. I have one condition, however.”

Ravenshade spat on the dirt nearby. “Talk.”

“Ashpoppy.” Ashpoppy’s gaze met Hollybreeze’s pleading one. The silver she-cat dipped her head. “Ravenshade - I can’t believe I’d ever say this - but she was right.”

Ashpoppy looked at Ravenshade with an open mouth. Ravenshade only glared ahead. Hollybreeze’s voice was trembling now.

“Stay away from my son.”

Chapter Sixteen Edit


“The little light gray one is Goosekit. Isn’t she gorgeous? And the smallest one is Rosekit. And this one - she’s a little yellowish, like her dad - her name’s Skykit.”

“They’re all she-kits?” Ashpoppy breathed. A moon had passed and Cloudpetal had given birth to her kits, and all three had been healthy and beautiful. Cloudpetal nodded proudly.

Pinestar had gone into a bout of depression upon seeing Cloudpetal’s kits. She had not been present for the birth and had only given Cloudpetal a congradulations out of politeness. Finchtail was, of course, delighted.

Ashpoppy watched in wonder as Skykit clambered over Rosekit and buried her small muzzle in Cloudpetal’s soft fur. Would she one day want kits? It seemed like a huge responsibility, but so many queens had kits and loved it. Maybe one day, she decided.

Applefern fixed her with a glare from the back of the den, but Ashpoppy chose to ignore it. Sandkit was five moons old now and was already hanging out with Icepaw, Nettlepaw, and Cherrypaw as much as he could.

“They’ll open their eyes any day now - Paleberry said it might be today,” Cloudpetal added excitedly. Ashpoppy was shocked that Cloudpetal had only named one medicine cat, and then remembered that Molenose had died only a few days prior. She pitied Paleberry - she was more stressed than ever without her mentor.

“Ashpoppy?” Ashpoppy turned to see Scorchclaw’s broad figure appear beside her. “Everything okay?” “Yeah,” she lied, transfixed on the kits. “Has Cloudpetal introduced her kits to you yet?”

Scorchclaw’s eyes lit up. “No, she hasn’t,” she responded. He looked to Cloudpetal eagerly. “Would you mind?” “Of course not!” Cloudpetal purred. Seeing an opportunity, Ashpoppy snuck off.

It had been a slow past month. With her avoiding Sundusk and speaking to Ravenshade in her dreams, it had been mainly uneventful. She found herself walking out to the open moor, where Hollybreeze had taken her as a young apprentice. She reached the track and saw the log, and scoffed when she remembered Sundusk tripping and landing on his face, and her and Heatherdawn making fun of him the whole way home. She smiled at the memories, almost bittersweet.

“Still up for that rematch?”

“Sundusk!” Ashpoppy whirled around. She hadn’t even noticed him following her, but when she saw him a goofy grin was plastered across his face. Sundusk drew a line with his paw.

“The start line’s here,” he directed. He gave her a sly glance from the corner of his eye. “That is, if you’re brave enough.”

Ashpoppy narrowed her eyes and crouched. “Look who you’re talking to,” she growled playfully.

“To the log and back,” Sundusk meowed, eyes narrowed competitively. “Ready?”

“Go!” Ashpoppy yowled, breaking into sprint. She felt herself get a good lead ahead of Sundusk with her legs burning. When she rounded the log she saw a blur of ginger fur curve the inside. Before she knew it Sundusk was racing beside her, his legs reaching hers. Then, slowly, he pulled ahead.

“I WON!” Sundusk chirped, scrambling to a halt. “VICTORY IS MINE!”

“NEVER!” Ashpoppy hollered back. She crossed the finish line, and with an oof, slammed into Sundusk. Sundusk toppled over, rolling onto his stomach. Ashpoppy landed on top of him and giggled as she realized how close to his face she was. Suddenly Sundusk’s playful mode changed to something else. And then Ashpoppy remembered Ravenshade’s sharp words.

“Ashpoppy, I-”

“I have to go,” Ashpoppy interrupted, scrambling off of him. “I, uh, told Scorchclaw I’d do something for him.”

She turned to leave, but Sundusk sprung in front of her. “I’m not stupid,” he meowed seriously. “You can keep a secret safe with me.”

Ashpoppy looked at her paws. No, she wasn’t going to tell him - not here, not now. “Not this one,” she whispered. Sundusk opened his mouth, but by then she had streaked off, fur flushed warm.

I’m so sorry.

Chapter Seventeen Edit

When Ashpoppy reached camp, cats were crowded around the nursery loudly. Ashpoppy headed to the front of the throng, confused, until she saw Cloudpetal shielding her kits furiously.

“There’s nothing wrong with her!” she wailed, keeping her head tucked over her smallest kit defensively.

“What’s going on?” Ashpoppy asked, squeezing up beside Heatherdawn. Heatherdawn shook her head in pity.

“Rosekit opened her eyes,” she responded. “And they’re-”

She didn’t get the chance to finish. Rosekit wriggled away from her mother and peered at the gathered cats curiously, blinking up at them with her newly-opened eyes. Ashpoppy stifled a gasp.

“Her eyes are pink?” she whispered. Rosekit did indeed have pink eyes- more of a reddish color that stood out against her pale white fur. Heatherdawn nodded as cats murmured amongst each other.

“Briartuft said she’s called an al-bi-no,” she stated importantly, stretching out the word to make sure she had pronounced it right. Ashpoppy nodded, struggling to remember the word. She pitied Rosekit, seeing all these strange cats gathered around her. I know what it feels like to be different.

“That must be horrible,” Sundusk murmured, appearing beside Ashpoppy. Ashpoppy flinched, and she was shocked in the hurt in Sundusk’s eyes when he noticed. Heatherdawn saw the tension between them and awkwardly stepped to the side, starting a conversation with Larchfall. Sundusk turned to Ashpoppy with so much sadness in his gaze that it pained Ashpoppy to look at him.

“Ash, if I did something-”

Suddenly there was a horrible shriek. Ashpoppy drew away from Sundusk sharply to see Paleberry crouched over Pinestar’s limp body. Ashpoppy scrambled forward, head up.

“What happened?” Finchtail demanded, emerging from the crowd. Paleberry shook her head fretfully.

“She… she’s losing a life,” the medicine cat spoke quickly. Ashpoppy took in a sharp inhale. Her last life.

“Pinestar,” she whispered, peering over Pinestar’s back to see her face twist up slightly. “You’re gonna be okay, right?”

Pinestar laughed gently. “Not this time,” she murmured. Ashpoppy felt panic rise inside of her.

“I was just getting back to my life again!” she rasped. “It’s been so soon since I lost Hollybreeze and Ravenshade! Please!”

Pinestar only shook her head. “You were a great apprentice,” she rasped, “and I will miss you. But I need to talk to Finchtail.”

Through her sadness, Ashpoppy found a smile. “You’re finally going to tell him?” Pinestar only smiled bittersweetly. Finchtail stepped forward at his name, confused.

“Pinestar?” he asked. “Did you want me?”

And then, Ashpoppy saw a tear glimmer in Pinestar’s eye. “Remember when we were apprentices?” she whispered. “And we promised we’d be there for each other?”

Finchtail nodded. Sadness gleamed in his eyes, and his voice shook as he spoke. “Of course.”

“I watched you grow from there,” Pinestar whispered. “I watched your raise a family - twice,” she added, nodding at Paleberry. “I watched it all. And it wasn’t me.”

“What are you saying?” Finchtail murmured, resting his head on Pinestar’s still flank. Pinestar sniffled quickly.

“I’m saying that I loved you, Finchtail. I never took a mate. And it ripped out my heart, watching you leave me and taking someone else as your mate.” Finchtail opened his mouth, but Pinestar merely raised a paw to stop him. “I mean no harm. Cloudpetal and your kits are beautiful.”

“Pinestar,” he whispered. “You never told me?”

Pinestar shook her head sadly. “But I’m glad I did now. Farewell, Finchstar,” she whispered. Then a tear slipped down her cheek and her head rested on the soft dirt. Then her flank heaved one more time, and she breathed no more.

Chapter Eighteen Edit

“It’s all her fault!”

Ashpoppy whirled around at Applerfern’s shriek. The Clan had dropped to a dead silence one Pinestar passed, and Applefern had broken it.

Applefern had left the nursery, gently nudged a bewildered Sandkit aside, and stalked up to meet Ashpoppy nose-to-nose.

“I’m telling you all, she’s a bad luck omen!” she screeched, fur on end. “This needs to be ended once and for all!”

A silence greeted her words. Graymouse stepped forward slowly.

“Applefern,” he meowed in a low tone. “I know a lot has happened lately, but I don’t think blaming Ashpoppy is the way out.”

“I lost my sister, my kit, my leader,” Applefern snarled. “Her mother killed my sister. She has been there for every single death. And you think I’m going to let her go? Next time it’s going to be you, Graymouse, or Sandkit.”

Graymouse flinched at the thought of losing his last kit, but regained his posture. “No one could have saved Rabbitkit,” he defended Ashpoppy, giving her a nod. “Or Pinestar.”

“I’m sick of all of it!” Applefern shrieked. Some of the cats stepped backwards apprehensively. “She needs to go, or I’m going to make her!”

“Applefern, please sit down,” Finchtail intervened. But Applefern was so blinded by rage that she leapt at Ashpoppy, claws outstretched and poised at her neck. Ashpoppy, caught by shock, felt herself roll onto the grass beside Pinestar’s body. Applefern was above her, aiming hits at her neck. Other cats had joined, mainly to pull the crazed Applefern away, but the ginger she-cat wasn’t backing down. Then Ashpoppy fought back for a brilliant, shining moment, extending her paw to stop an incoming attack. But her hit fell too hard and too long, and Applefern scrambled off of her at once, coughing up blood.

“I’m so sorry!” Ashpoppy gasped. Applefern had stumbled back, blood spewing from her sharply cut neck.

“Liar!” she cried. Her eyes rolled around her head like she was insane. “You evil omen! You deserve to rot in the… Dark Forest.. Like your mother!”

“Applefern, please let me look at your cut,” Paleberry urged, stepping ahead and blocking Ashpoppy’s view of the injured she-cat. Other cats crowded around Ashpoppy, glancing at her in bewilderment. Ashpoppy was breathing heavily, but not from the attack. She didn’t want it to end this way - with Applefern cursing her, dying. She didn’t want to kill Applefern.

But Applefern wasn’t dead, right?

Ashpoppy shook her head and took off before any cat could question her. She felt herself leave camp and go to the track, with the log bobbing closer and closer into view. She was always there, she realized. The log brought good memories. Like the tom that she could never have.

“Ash.”

Ashpoppy knew the voice before she even turned around. For a moment, she was angry. Sundusk just had to follow her everywhere, didn’t he? He just had to be with her. And then, she realized, maybe she wanted to be with him, too.

“Go away,” she snarled softly. “Leave me alone.”

She heard Sundusk pause before planting a paw down on the wispy grass firmly. “No,” he said, chin raised. “Stop avoiding me.” Ashpoppy hissed.

“Why?” she spat. “Why do you care so much?”

Sundusk stopped, like he wasn’t sure what to say. Then he stood in front of her, and Ashpoppy could admit, he did grow in the moon she had been avoiding him. He had grown into his legs, and he left his skinny body with a lean, sleek shape. Concern glistened in his eyes, the one part of his face that never changed.

“Why do I care?” he whispered, like it hurt him. “Ashpoppy, I thought you knew. From the very first race, from the first time I saw you bullied by Ravenshade, from the first time I laid eyes on you…” Sundusk trailed off and took a step closer to the gray she-cat. “Ashpoppy, I fell in love with you.”

Ashpoppy blinked in shock. “Me?” she whispered. Sundusk laughed lightly.

“Of course.”

“I…” Ashpoppy trailed off. Sundusk placed a paw under her chin and raised her head up to meet his. Ashpoppy felt tears well in her eyes. “I want to love you. And I do, Sundusk, I do.”

Sundusk’s gaze clouded. “Then what’s stopping us?”

Ashpoppy’s head dropped to her chest. One tear slipped down her cheek, then another, until she was crying. “I met Ravenshade, in StarClan, last moon,” she confessed quietly. “She and Hollybreeze don’t want their kinlines connected. I promised to stay away from you. But I don’t want to.”

Sundusk smiled slightly. “I couldn’t stay away any longer than you could,” he replied in a murmur. “It’ll be our secret, okay?”

Ashpoppy sniffled and nodded. “I’m glad I told you. I love you,” she said, for the first time in, her life, she realized. Sundusk grinned, as if he too had realized it.

“Would you like to go back to camp?” he offered. Ashpoppy shook her head, smirking and resting her head on Sundusk’s shoulder.

“I think I’ll wait out here a little while,” she responded. With Sundusk at her side and no other cat in the world, Ashpoppy felt okay.

***


Ashpoppy and Sundusk returned, it was almost time for Pinestar and Applefern’s vigil. To Ashpoppy’s shock, the ginger cat had passed away from the neck wound. While she was reassured thoroughly that it was an act of defense, she still blamed herself.  

By the time night had fallen, the bodies had been laid out across the field so that the stars could look down upon them. A few words had been spoken about Applefern, mainly by Graymouse, who disappeared to the nursery not long after to shield Sandkit from his mother’s body. Then the attention turned to Pinestar, which Ashpoppy was grateful for.

“She could keep a secret for the longest time,” Finchtail meowed somberly. “Even her own. I will miss her deeply. She was my best friend.”

“She lead out Clan out of so many wars,” Quickstorm added. “We all knew her for being a bold, headstrong leader. Her death will be a loss for WindClan.”

A few cats murmured agreement, and then went silent.

“How about Ashpoppy speaks?” Briartuft suggested. “Pinestar was her mentor.”

Ashpoppy stepped forward as the attention centered to her. She cleared her throat and peered down at Pinestar’s cold body, so lacking of the liveliness it once held. Her shoulders straightened as she stood above her second mentor.

“Pinestar was more than a mentor,” she began. Her voice echoed around the clearing as the other cats went silent, all eyes on her. “She was a friend. She was mysterious, and feared by the other Clans, but the side she showed me was different than the one she might have showed you.” Ashpoppy’s gaze swept the Clan. “She always wanted kits. She fell in love with her best friend. She had so many secrets, and I’m sure she doesn’t want me sharing them now. But think about this when we bury her: she was more than a leader. She kept her personal opinion, her emotion, off to the side to care for her Clan. She may not have had kits, but you were her kits. All of you.” Ashpoppy dipped her head. “That is all.”

Then the funeral ended, and cats paid their last respects to the leader. Ashpoppy laid beside Pinestar and closed her eyes. Pinestar wasn't dead. No, she was sleeping. Ashpoppy smiled. Ah, yes. Sleeping. She liked that thought.

But as she drifted to sleep beside her former mentor, as her heart swelled for Sundusk, another presence was beside her. Ashpoppy recognized it in a heartbeat, and her fur crawled with unease.

If Ravenshade couldn’t leave her alone for a funeral, perhaps she had seen she and Sundusk after all.

Chapter Nineteen Edit

Three moons flew over Ashpoppy’s head. Finchtail had been granted nine lives as Finchstar and was going about his duties, with Graymouse as the new deputy. Briartuft had moved to the nursery, and given birth to Buzzardkit, Mousekit, and Swallowkit only a moon ago. Sandkit had become Sandpaw. Ashpoppy and Sundusk had lived out the past moons with each other, away from the drama-filled camp.

Now they were by the creek, by the trees in ThunderClan territory. Ashpoppy usually hated trees, but this was an exception. She liked the cool breeze and the dappled shade on her pelt, and the lapping of the water around her paws. Sundusk was on top of the small waterfall, batting at the small fish that swam gracefully around his paws.

Ashpoppy giggled and tossed a pawful of water at Sundusk, and laughed as he sprung back, face dripping. His face twisted in mock anger.

“You’re so dead, Ashpoppy!” he shouted. He jumped from the waterfall and landed in front of Ashpoppy, sending a wave of water at her. Ashpoppy squealed as her pelt quickly became drenched.

“It’s on!” she growled, splashing another pawful his way. Sundusk jumped out of the way, only to land on a slippery rock and fall. He rose to his paws, chin dribbling with water and a grin plastered across his face. The small battled pursued as the WindClan cats ran down the creek, water flying from their heels and drenching their fur.

Ashpoppy suddenly felt a lurch under her paws. In a heartbeat, she slipped into the air and sideways onto the reeds alongside the grass. Sundusk padded over to her, shaking the water from his pelt.

“I win!” he chirped. “Again! Ash, you’ve gotta stop giving up like this.”

Ashpoppy shoved his affectionately with her paw as he approached her, laying down beside her. Night had fallen, giving the pair a chance to stare up at the open, cloudless sky.

“What do you think’s up there?” Sundusk breathed, stretching out his hind paws. Ashpoppy shrugged.

“Besides StarClan?” she mused. “I have no idea.”

“I bet that one’s Hollybreeze,” Sundusk meowed gently, pointing his paw at one of the brightest stars. “And there’s Pinestar, right beside her.”

Ashpoppy smiled. “I like that idea.”

Sundusk turned his head to look at her. “Should we head back to camp?” Ashpoppy shook her head.

“I like it out here,” she responded, yawning. Sundusk smiled.

“Me too,” he whispered. And so, with her pelt touching Sundusk’s, and with StarClan twinkling above her, Ashpoppy fell asleep.

***

“You idiot.”

Ashpoppy stirred uncomfortably at the voice before opening her eyes and realized she was standing in the same, forsaken forest that she had been in all those moons ago.

“Ravenshade,” she whispered. Her voice was already trembling badly. But her mother was only glaring at her, eyes alight with anger. Ashpoppy swallowed nervously. She knows.

“I can’t believe you would do that to me,” Ravenshade snarled. She flicked her tail at the StarClan border hesitantly. “To us.”

“Ravenshade, please,” Ashpoppy meowed, stepping towards Ravenshade pleadingly. “I was already in love with him when-”

Love!” Ravenshade growled. “That’s why the Clans are so weak. I am shaping you to be WindClan’s leader. You could have become anyone else’s mate, feelings aside, and you chose the one cat I told you not to!”

Ashpoppy’s head fell, and she felt her whole body shake uncontrollably.

“Love is a burden,” Ravenshade went on, tail lashing. “It was a burden for me, and now it’s going to be a burden for you.”

“It’s only a burden for me because you’re making it one!” Ashpoppy shot back, head shooting up. As soon as she spoke, she regretted it. Ravenshade’s head tipped to the side.

“I’m helping you,” Ravenshade snarled.

“By stalking my dreams?” Ashpoppy whispered, stepping back. And then Ravenshade grinned, a horrible, nasty bout of anger.

“Oh, no,” she growled, stepping closer and closer to Ashpoppy until she could smell her rotting breath. “I’m going to make you feel the pain I did when you took Sundusk as a mate, all while clearing your path for leader.”

“But-”

“Oh, I already know about the kits,” Ravenshade interrupted, casting a nasty glance down at Ashpoppy’s belly. Ashpoppy closed her front legs protectively.

“What are you going to do to them?” she growled. Ravenshade shrugged.

“Me?” she replied. “I’m going to do nothing. You’re going to make your kits suffer. But first, I’m going to make you pay.”

Her grin returned, and suddenly Ashpoppy was thrown into a world of darkness and sleep. But she underestimated Ravenshade’s powers and intentions. And perhaps, that was why that day was the last time she was every truly happy.

Chapter Twenty Edit

Ashpoppy woke up with a sharp gasp and the painful realization that only smashed reeds were beside her. Her eyes rounded fearfully.

Sundusk was gone.

It was the most fearful run back to camp Ashpoppy had ever experienced. Emotional pain shot through every step until she scrambled under the gorse barrier, fur fluffed up. When she reached the other side she gasped.

The sun had barely risen, but all the cats were outside their dens. In the center was the lithe figure of Sundusk, circling Gorseheart. As Ashpoppy crept closer, she saw the fear in Gorseheart’s wide yellow eyes. Sundusk passed her, and his eyes met hers. But they were different. They were not orange-yellow, like the sunset. No, they were putrid yellow. They were Ravenshade’s.

“Sunpaw’s pretty fast. He has his mother’s legs, Hollybreeze.” Hollybreeze grinned as the apprentices began to line up.

“Good luck,” Sunpaw meowed good-humouredly. “I’m the fastest apprentice in WindClan. They might as well have named me Windpaw! Of WindClan! And one day I’m gonna be Windstar-”

Oakthorn stepped forward. “Sundusk, what’s-”

But Sundusk - no, Ravenshade, Ashpoppy realized in horror- lashed out, claws unsheathed. He scored across Oakthorn’s nose and the big tabby reeled back. A unanimous gasp rippled through the Clan. Sundusk’s head sharply turned towards Gorseheart’s trembling figure.

“I just wanted to give the loser a chance to give a concession speech,” Ashpaw joked breezily. Sunpaw huffed and rolled onto his paws. He met Ashpaw’s gaze steadily.

“Well, I’ll have you know that this loser had an injury and therefore forced to forfeit,” he meowed. He grinned and tipped his head to the side. “I was medicated rest, so I did. And I’m still up for that rematch, if you’re wondering.”


“You betrayed my family with Ravenshade!” he growled, teeth bared. Gorseheart stepped back, ears flat.

“It wasn’t like that!” he exclaimed. Sundusk slashed his claws across his throat.

“Liar!” he bellowed. As if signal, Finchstar emerged from his den, eyes wide.

“What’s going on?” he demanded. But Sundusk only glared at him through Ravenshade’s hateful eyes as Gorseheart stumbled back, dumbfounded.

Ashpaw felt her heart melt at how miserable he looked. Briefly, she brushed up against him. “I will always be here to talk if you need me,” she promise. Sunpaw purred.

“Thank you,” he replied, and he sounded as if he meant it.

“Sundusk, step away from Gorseheart,” Finchstar commanded sternly. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but-”

“Never,” Sundusk growled. “He deserves more than what I’m going to do to him.” He broke off in a cackle, so similar to Ravenshade’s. Ashpoppy pushed past Heatherdawn and looked at Sundusk.

“Don’t do this,” she whispered. Sundusk only glared at her, with the yellow gaze boring into her fur.    

Sunpaw padded over and sat down next to her. Ashpaw felt a wave of comfort at his soft fur against her own. “Stop saying don’t,” he whispered. “You’re such a brave cat, Ashpaw. I don’t know why everyone is such a jerk to you.”

And then he lept. Ashpoppy winced as his jaws dug into the unsuspecting Gorseheart’s throat. She could almost see it in slow-motion: Finchstar leaping but being too late, Gorseheart’s surprise turn to sadness that his son would end his life and there was nothing he could do to change that, and the horror from everyone else. Some cat shrieked, and it took Ashpoppy a long moment to realize it was her.

“Ashpaw!” he exclaimed, catching sight of her. Sunpaw’s eyes were alight with pride, and Ashpaw felt horrible knowing his spirit was about to be crushed. Sunpaw’s tail curled happily. “Guess what? Graymouse says I’m ready to be a warrior! I passed my asessment today, so tomorrow I’ll be a warrior!”

Sundusk dropped Gorseheart’s body with a thud. He was dead the moment he hit the ground. And, in that very moment, Ravenshade left his body. His eyes flashed to normal, and he blinked up confusedly at the glowering Clan around him.

“What’s going on?” he meowed. He sounded just as helpless as a kit upon seeing the limp body of his father.

“You killed him,” Finchstar snarled, stalking up to meet Sundusk nose-to-nose. “Why am I even explaining this to you?”

Ashpaw ended in a defeated sigh, staring at her paws. A long silence followed her words.

“Gorseheart is my father?” Sunpaw whispered bleakly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sundusk wailed, flattening his ears and stepping forward.

“Yes you do,” Finchstar replied. He was seething now, fur on end. “You’re a killer, Sundusk. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“It wasn’t him!” Ashpoppy hollered. She was sobbing, but didn’t feel embarrassed as she stepped in front of the whole of WindClan. Finchstar tipped his head.

“You watched him murder his own father, and now he’s going to pay,” he replied evenly. His tail flicked, like he didn’t even care. “He will be executed.”

“My mother is dead,” Ashpaw whispered bleakly. Sunpaw rested his tail on her spine gently.

“It’s okay to be sad,” he meowed. His voice was breaking. “You lost Hollybreeze and Ravenshade to each other. It’s so hard on you.”

Ashpoppy’s heart dropped to her paws. “But he didn’t-”

She didn’t have time to speak. Finchstar leapt at Sundusk, along with several other cats. Ashpoppy couldn’t see them, only a blur of blood and screams. She shrieked, loud enough to wake the entire forest, as Sundusk’s bright pelt disappeared from view. She flung cats away from him angrily, but it was no use. She only got shoved out, one at a time.

“That’s enough!” Finchstar bellowed. The cats began to step away, each casting hostile glares at Sundusk. Ashpoppy let out a small squeak upon seeing his still body, streaked with blood.

“Ravenshade possessed him,” she snarled quietly at Finchstar. “He would never murder Gorseheart.”

“Ravenshade?” Finchstar mused. Heatherdawn stepped up beside Ashpoppy.

“It’s true,” she agreed, tapping her tail on Ashpoppy’s shoulder. Ashpoppy silently thanked her friend, though she didn’t know what was going on. But there was a bigger problem at paw.

Then an orange blur passed the fox. “Hey! Over here, you ugly orange badger!” Ashpaw heard Sundusk’s familiar voice from somewhere beside her, but the fox didn’t pick it up as quickly. The great head turned, neck exposed, to find Sundusk.

“Ashpaw!” Sundusk yowled. “Now!”

Finchstar could not reply. Instead his mouth hung agape. He looked fearfully at his Clanmates before scrambled back. “I’ve made a horrible mistake,” he whispered, glancing down at the blood on his paws in horror.

Ashpoppy wasn’t listening. Instead she crept up to Sundusk, blinking back tears. She prodded him in the flank gently. “Sundusk?”

To Ashpoppy’s surprise, the ginger head raised ever so slightly. “Ash?” he meowed, barely a whisper. Ashpoppy felt the tears stream down her face as his eyes met hers.

“Sundusk, you’re gonna be okay,” she whispered, choking on her own words. “You’re going to be a great father. It was a mistake.”

Sundusk’s eyes lit up for the last time. “You’re going to have kits?”

“I WON!” Sundusk chirped, scrambling to a halt. “VICTORY IS MINE!”

“NEVER!” Ashpoppy hollered back. She crossed the finish line, and with an oof, slammed into Sundusk. Sundusk toppled over, rolling onto his stomach. Ashpoppy landed on top of him and giggled as she realized how close to his face she was.

Ashpoppy nodded. “They’re going to be beautiful. So please, Sundusk, you can’t go. Not now. Not when we’re so happy!”

Sundusk smiled, blinking back tears himself. “Ash, I gotta go. I’m going to see Hollybreeze again.”

“I don’t want you to leave me,” Ashpoppy whispered. Sundusk smiled through his tears and Ashpoppy’s.

“Stop saying don’t,” he murmured.

Why do I care?” he whispered, like it hurt him. “Ashpoppy, I thought you knew. From the very first race, from the first time I saw you bullied by Ravenshade, from the first time I laid eyes on you…” Sundusk trailed off and took a step closer to the gray she-cat. “Ashpoppy, I fell in love with you.”


And then his head fell to the ground. His eyes gently closed, and his flank heaved down one last time.

“Sundusk,” Ashpoppy whispered. “I love you.”

But there was no reply.

"I want to love you. And I do, Sundusk. I do."

Chapter Twenty-One Edit

The next few days were the hardest of Ashpoppy’s life.

She never thought she would be the one to lower Sundusk’s cold body into a hole. She never thought that she would cry so much so hard, in one night.

The funeral and vigil for both Sundusk and Gorseheart passed quickly. Finchstar’s guilt led him away, only watching the vigil from afar.

And Ashpoppy, oh, she hated him.

In the days that followed she would glare at him as much as possible, though she lacked the energy to even speak. Heathderdawn comforted her, and Ashpoppy was grateful. But she pushed even her best friend away. She wasn’t going to lose another close friend, so her solution was to just not have any.

Her sleep was often troubled, too. She wanted to see Sundusk in StarClan, but she was only trapped in the sinister forest. Ravenshade was absent the first couple nights, perhaps letting Ashpoppy wallow in her own grieving. But then, less than a week later, she was back.

Ashpoppy was sitting underneath a large dead tree, staring blankly into the darkness when she came.  

“You need to stop.”

Ashpoppy’s head jerked up angrily. “Why?” she growled. “You killed him, and you expect me to forgive you?”

Ravenshade smiled wryly. “I didn’t kill him,” she replied smoothly. “I killed Gorseheart. Finchstar killed Sundusk.”

Ashpoppy hissed, but she realized Ravenshade was technically right. The black she-cat flicked her tail irritably.

“What’s done is done,” she went on. “Sundusk is gone and you can’t bring him back. My vengeance is over. But yours…”

Ravenshade trailed off, nodding as if trying to get Ashpoppy to understand. But Ashpoppy only shook her head furiously.

“Finchstar was wrong, but I’m not going to hurt him, or anyone else,” she decided firmly. Ravenshade tipped her head to the side.

“But you have no one left,” she persisted, pacing around Ashpoppy. “You only have a desire for power. If there is truly no one left, perhaps becoming WindClan’s next leader is your desire.”

Ashpoppy’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that you can now become leader without worrying about losing loved ones,” Ravenshade growled, smiling malevolently. “You know Oakthorn, right?”

Ashpoppy nodded slowly. “We’ve talked.”

“He’s the next leader of WindClan,” Ravenshade revealed. “If you can win his heart, you can win your place to deputy. And then…” Ravenshade trailed off, curling her tail over her paws neatly. “... the plan falls into place.”

Ashpoppy looked to the StarClan border hesitantly. Ravenshade did bring up a good point: Sundusk was gone. And there was nothing she could do to change that.

Ashpoppy’s head snapped back up. Her Clanmates were snoring gently around her, but one large tabby pelt stood out. Quietly, Ashpoppy scooted closer to Oakthorn until her fur brushed his.

Sorry, Oakthorn, she thought, laying her head back down. It’s nothing personal, what’s going to happen to you.

It’s just that I’m going a little crazy.

Chapter Twenty-Two Edit

“The cats going to the Gathering will be Graymouse, Paleberry, Lionwhisker, Oakthorn, Ashpoppy, Larchfall, Icefern, Nettlestorm, Cherrydapple, and Sandpaw.”

Ashpoppy’s ears pricked as her name was called. A quarter-moon had passed, giving her time to talk to Oakthorn and join patrols with him. She grinned when she heard both of their names in the Gathering call, and raised to her paws from the warrior’s den, tail high.

Icefern, Nettlestorm, and Cherrydapple had ranked up, leaving Sandpaw as the sole apprentice. But Sandpaw was still friendly towards the new warriors - Icefern especially. Ashpoppy expected kits as soon as he became a warrior.

Ashpoppy followed the group gathered, careful to stay close to Oakthorn. The big tabby was ahead of her, head leaned in to speak to Lionwhisker. Suddenly the golden tom got distracted from something Graymouse had said.

“Hey, Oakthorn!” Ashpoppy quipped, seeing her chance. She slid up beside him, and he looked slightly surprised to see her.

“Ashpoppy.” He nodded curtly.  Ashpoppy trotted forward, only to run into a silvery blue RiverClan tom.

“Hey!” he hissed. He looked no more than a young warrior. Ashpoppy apologized quickly, and he stalked away.

“Wasn’t he friendly?” Oakthorn joked, laughing heartily. Ashpoppy laughed, though it faded quickly. Oakthorn looked at her worriedly.

“Look, I’m sorry about what happened with Sundusk,” he said. “Finchstar was wrong. Especially to kill him when you were carrying kits.”

Ashpoppy shook her head. “It’s sickening,” she growled, mew hard. “They’re due any day, and they won’t have a father, because of Finchstar.”

Oakthorn’s gaze softened. “Shouldn’t you be in the nursery if they’re due so soon?” he asked. Ashpoppy smirked.

“I don’t think a Gathering is going to cause any harm,” she replied lightly. “Patrols may be a bit too much.”

“Let the Gathering begin!” Volestar, the ShadowClan leader, began. Ashpoppy scanned the ShadowClan cats, eyes narrowed. And then she saw a smaller, white-gray she-cat. Her front paw looked badly twisted, but determination shone in her eyes. Ashpoppy grinned. I’ve found my first recruit.

The Gathering quickly passed, and by the end, Ashpoppy was physically exhausted. She fell asleep quickly, right beside Oakthorn, only to reawaken in the murky forest with Ravenshade lounging lazily on a tree. When she saw her daughter, the black she-cat hopped down neatly.

“Very good!” she praised. Ashpoppy beamed. “I saw the pity in Oakthorn’s eyes. It’s only a matter of time, my dear.”

“So what now?” Ashpoppy asked, flexing her claws and feeling them unsheathe.

“We train.” Ravenshade began pacing, trailing her tail under Ashpoppy’s chin. “Without your precious Sundusk, there’s no one left to care for. You’ll get Oakthorn wrapped around your paw. And once he is…” Ravenshade trailed off, paw in the air. Then, suddenly, her claws unsheathed. Ashpoppy flinched. “You spring.”

“But what about the kits?” Ashpoppy asked, glancing down at her heavily swollen belly uncertainly. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

And then Ravenshade sighed. She sat down and looked her daughter in the eye with unreadable emotion. “I’ve seen the future - or, at least, part of it,” she admitted quietly. “It’s best that you know that you will hurt your kits - at least one of them. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

Ashpoppy opened her mouth, but Ravenshade cut her off with a growl. Her head swung back and forth before she bolted off, head low. Then she was gone. Ashpoppy blinked in confusion at Ravenshade’s odd behavior - but then, when wasn't it odd - and stepped back.  

Ashpoppy caught the bright StarClan border out of the corner of her eye. Curiosity drew her nearer to the glimmering forest for the first time until the light reflected from her whiskers brilliantly. Without hesitation, she crossed the border. She saw cats whiz from the corner of her eyes, pelts teeming with stars, but she ignored them. Instead, she was looking for a familiar, flame-colored pelt she had missed.

“You can’t see him.”

Ashpoppy’s ears perked. A silver dappled coat was shielding her from the rest of StarClan firmly. “I beg your pardon?”

Hollybreeze’s eyes narrowed. “Sundusk. You can’t see him."

“And why is that?” Ashpoppy demanded, stalking forward to meet her mentor nose-to-nose. Hollybreeze, to Ashpoppy’s surprise, only sighed.

“You should know why,” she said simply. “For one, it isn’t fair that you visit StarClan whenever you please to visit the dead. Other cats want to see their loved ones, too, you know.”

“I’m just lucky, I guess,” Ashpoppy replied through gritted teeth. She felt the hackles raise along her spine.

“You are in the world of the dead because of Ravenshade,” Hollybreeze went on. Though her words were simple, emotion was thick in her voice. “To train in the Dark Forest. I watched you grow as an apprentice. I watched you pass the abuse. I even thought you and Sundusk would be a great couple.”

“Then why are you stopping me?” Ashpoppy hissed, thrusting forward. Hollybreeze stepped aside, slamming her shoulder into Ashpoppy’s.

“Because you chose Ravenshade,” Hollybreeze whispered. Ashpoppy caught a glimmer of tears in her eyes, but they were gone in an instant. “I thought you would chose correctly, Ashpoppy. I really did. It was looking you dead in the eye!” Hollybreeze’s voice rose shakily as she flicked her tail at the border. “I thought I taught you better. But mother knows best, doesn’t she?”

Ashpoppy struggled for an answer, standing rigid with her mouth open.

“Doesn’t she?” Hollybreeze repeated in a whisper. She stepped back and curled her tail over her paws. “I can’t help you know. You’re old enough to make your own decisions.” She broke off in a chocked and pained tone. “You just made the wrong one.”

Ashpoppy stumbled back. Hollybreeze’s head dropped, and a bright light blinded her until all she saw was white. Then it faded, and Ashpoppy jerked awake.


The morning passed slowly. Ashpoppy was told to stay at camp, away from patrols and hunts, in order to keep her unborn kits safe. She, personally, thought it was boring and pointless. She could probably still hunt, and even if she didn’t catch anything, it would help clear her mind.

“Hey, Ash,” Heatherdawn mewed softly, sliding down beside Ashpoppy. Ashpoppy flicked an ear in reply. “It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

Ashpoppy nodded absentmindedly. It hadn’t been a mistake: she had been deliberately avoiding her old friend as much as possible since Sundusk’s death. It had been one of the hardest tasks Ravenshade had given her. Heatherdawn was her only true friend left, and she was leaving her behind.

“The kits are due any day,” Ashpoppy replied wistfully. Heatherdawn nodded.

“That’s great news!” she purred. “Have you thought of names yet?”

Ashpoppy rasped her tongue over her back. “A few,” she admitted. Then she stretched and rose to her paws. “I’m going to go on a walk, okay?”

“Okay,” Heatherdawn responded, though she looked crestfallen. Ashpoppy trotted quickly away and slipped out of camp unnoticed.

She smiled as she realized she was headed to the old log where she and Sundusk had first raced. No matter what the situation, the memories always brought her a tiny bit of happiness.

Then she saw a blur ahead, a white and silver shape struggling to cross the meadow. It was a cat. As Ashpoppy crept closer in inspection, it looked like it was in some sort of invisible storm. And then she saw the kit, the tiny tortoise shell shape, swinging from her jaws.

“Hello?” she called warily. “Do you need help?”

But the she-cat didn’t seem to hear her. Her ice-blue eyes flashed in determination. “We need to find shelter, now,” she told the kit around its scruff. Ashpoppy couldn’t shake the fact that the cat looked hauntingly familiar when the silver tabby pelt vanished into thin air.

Ashpoppy froze. That was impossible. Perhaps she was seeing things.

She was just starting to question her sanity when another shape appeared by the small thicket growing not far off. Ashpoppy whirled around as she heard bickering voices. Once belonged to a small white apprentice-age she-cat, looking up at an older, light gray she-cat. Ashpoppy looked down and saw the crooked foot and gasped. I know her! She wracked her brain for a name until it hit her: Twistedfoot. Fitting.

“...I know you don’t trust me,” Twistedfoot growled, sneaking a glance behind her. “And I get that. But look, Featherpaw. I’m not the threat here.”

Featherpaw stepped back in hesitation before freezing, and then disappearing into thin air like the silver-white cat and her kit. Ashpoppy squinted before a horrible pain lurched in her belly. She realized in horror exactly what was happening.

My kits are coming!

Chapter Twenty-Three Edit


Ashpoppy barely made it back to the nursery before she collapsed.

Briartuft pricked her ears as Ashpoppy smacked onto the ground. “Paleberry!” she hollered. “The kits!”

At once, the medicine cat scrambled to the front of the den. Cats were peering over curiously. Ashpoppy shrieked as the first bout of pain rippled throughout her entire lower half.

“Sandpaw, fetch fresh moss,” Paleberry instructed with speed and ease. “We need the kits to be comfortable. Graymouse, I need the largest stick you can find. Cloudpetal, take the kits outside - all of them.”

“What about me?” Brairtuft added, scrambling up beside Ashpoppy’s head.

“Emotional support,” Paleberry replied to her sister quickly. Graymouse dropped a stick at the calico she-cat’s side, with Sandpaw not far behind. Moss was tucked neatly in his maw and under his chin.

“Come along,” Cloudpetal cooed, draping her tail over her kits. “You all can play with Sandpaw! You’re nearly apprentices anyway.”

“Awesome!” Goosekit squeaked, bounding away. Skykit was hot in pursuit, while Rosekit followed with hesitance. Buzzardkit, Mousekit, and Swallowkit backed out much more slowly.

“I want to help,” Swallowkit volunteered quietly.

“You can watch,” Paleberry responded gruffly. Then her eyes widened. “The first kit! Ashpoppy, bite down on the stick and push!”

Ashpoppy felt the stick splinter under her teeth as another shockwave of pain pulsed through her.

“Push!” Briartuft cried enthusiastically. Ashpoppy did just that, and felt the pain numb as something slid out. Swallowkit’s eyes widened and Paleberry broke the sac, releasing a crisp wail through the air.

“Your first kit is a tom!” she announced. Ashpoppy felt a wave of relief soothe her. Her first kit, her precious son, was right by her paw. Gently, she nudged him towards her belly.

“His fur is just like Sundusk’s,” Briartuft whispered, and Ashpoppy nodded, smiling bittersweetly. The ginger tom nuzzled into her belly fur just as another spasm hit her.

“You’re doing great, two more,” Paleberry muttered. The gently lifted Ashpoppy’s kit and placed it in the moss, instructing Briartuft to lick it and get its blood flowing. Ashpoppy felt Paleberry’s paws gently massaging her belly until the pain became unbearable.

“Second kit!” Paleberry announced. “I can see it, Ashpoppy! Push!”

Ashpoppy gave her hardest shove and, to her relief, another shape slid out beside her. Paleberry went through a similar procedure as before: nip the sac, hand it to the nearest cat (who just so happened to be Cloudpetal), and turn back to Ashpoppy.

“Your second kit is a she-kit!” she revealed. Ashpoppy forced a smile through her tiredness and pain. “Don’t worry, this one feels small,” Palberry insisted. “Come on, Ashpoppy!”  

Ashpoppy bit into the stick once more and used her very last spark of energy. The stick snapped between her jaws, and sure enough, the pain was gone. Only the numbness, tiredness, and three kits remained.

“You did it,” Paleberry confirmed. “Congratulations." Ashpoppy could only give her a nod of thanks. Her first kit - the orange tom - was now at her belly, squirming excitedly. Cloudpetal placed his small, white and silver tabby sister beside him. And as Paleberry finished licking the final kit - a light brown tabby tom - she handed him to Ashpoppy.

The gray she-cat could hear the muffled voice of Cloudpetal announcing the news and genders to the Clan, but she was so tired that she fell into her first good sleep in a long time.

***

A few hours had passed, and many cats had visited Ashpoppy’s new kits. First it had been Scorchclaw, who was thrilled, then Heatherdawn, who couldn’t get over how adorable they were, and then other cats.

“So what did you name them?” Skykit asked curiously, peering over Ashpoppy’s back.

“Don’t bother her, dear,” Cloudpetal fretted, drawing the white kit back with her tail.

“It’s fine,” Ashpoppy dismissed. Her tail pointed to the light brown tom. “This is Runningkit.” “That’s fitting,” came Briartuft’s muffled mew from the back of the den. “Seeing as his parents were both the fastest runners in WindClan.” Ashpoppy nodded, but that wasn’t entirely the reason. Her mind flashed back to the log, to the very first race. To the very first time she felt her heart fluttered.

Runningkit.

“This one’s name is Redkit,” Ashpoppy went on, pointing at her biggest tom. “That’s pretty self-explanatory, right?”

“And what about the last one?” Rosekit added, popping up beside her sister. “The silver and white tabby?” “That one’s Breezekit,” Ashpoppy finished, relaxing her shoulders. Cloudpetal caught her gaze.

“After Hollybreeze?” she whispered. Ashpoppy looked at the ground. As if perfect coincidence, Oakthorn appeared at the den entrance.

“I came to see the kits,” he began awkwardly. Skykit, Goosekit, and Roskeit equally looked terrified of the large tom. Oakthorn bent down and dropped a large mouthful of soft moss beside Ashpoppy. “I thought they might need some.”

“They did, thank you,” Ashpoppy purred in genuine thanks. Oakthorn looked at the kits for a long moment. His gaze traveled down Runningkit, then Redkit, and then it landed on Breezekit. His gaze hardened, but he didn’t move. Ashpoppy’s eyes narrowed.

“Again, I’m sorry about Sundusk,” Oakthorn added, swiftly changing subjects. “Raising kits on your own won’t be easy, especially when they lost their father like that.” “Maybe they don’t have to,” Ashpoppy whispered. Just as she spoke, Redkit squirmed uncomfortably.

"Don't you think Redkit will feel bad, knowing that his siblings all have meanings behind their names?" Cloudpetal teased. Ash poppy laughed lightly.

"Well, if all three of my kits were named after dead warriors, it would feel a tad unoriginal," she admitted. As she spoke, Larchfall appeared beside Oakthorn, head down.

“I’m sorry about Sundusk, too,” he said with genuine apology. “About me being a jerk as an apprentice… I’d like to apologize for that. So, I owe you a favor, okay?”

Ashpoppy smiled. “Sounds great.”

And Larchfall smiled.

But oh, he had no idea.

Chapter Twenty-Four Edit

“I win! I win!” Breezekit chirped, paw on top of Runningkit triumphantly.

“Get off of me!” the small tom wailed. “Mother!”

Ashpoppy chuckled and gently lifted Breezekit from Runningkit’s back. Runningkit glared at his silver and white sister, who stuck out her tongue as she was gently lowered to the ground. “Where’s Redkit?” Ashpoppy asked, tipping her head to the side. Breezekit shrugged. As if signal, the ginger kit pranced into view, a small blue butterfly hovering in front of him. Runningkit and Breezekit immediately dropped whatever they were doing and chased after it, too. Ashpoppy stifled a giggle.

Six moons had passed. Breezekit, Redkit, and Runningkit were bound to be apprentices any moment now. Sandpaw had become Sandhawk, Rosepaw, Skypaw, and Goosepaw had become apprentices, then warriors, only a few days ago. Buzzardpaw, Mousepaw, and Swallowpaw had also ranked up, with Swallowpaw as Paleberry’s new apprentice. Swiftcloud had birthed a second litter only days ago. Larchfall and Cherrydapple had also had kits - now Rainkit and Cinderkit - before calling it quits.

But no half season-cycle was without tragedy. Skypaw had died of greencough soon after becoming an apprentice, with her mother Cloudpetal and Mousepaw following to the claws of a ShadowClan patrol.  

Ashpoppy glanced at the sky. Was Sundusk watching his kits? Did he love them like he would if he was alive? Did he miss her?

“I almost had it!” Redkit whined as the butterfly floated past him. His siblings were in hot pursuit. Ashpoppy smiled fondly, but caught a glimpse of silver and white behind her, and then large brown tabby fur. She frowned. Uh oh.

Swiftcloud stalked up to Oakthorn angrily. The small she-cat was older than ever, and more furious than ever.

“Oakthorn!” she snarled, pulling him back and shooting a glare at Ashpoppy. Ashpoppy turned her head as if she had never heard the old cat in the first place. “Don’t ignore me!  I am your mother, for StarClan’s sake! I’m not going to be here much longer!”

“You’re not my mother,” Oakthorn growled, shooting a risky glance at Ashpoppy and the kits. “I have no mother. Swiftcloud died the day she met Darkpool.”

“For StarClan’s sake!” Swiftcloud cried. It sounded as if she was going to cry. “Oakthorn, this isn’t about me, you, or your father right now. This is about your kits.”

“Sundusk’s kits,” Oakthorn corrected, tipping his head at the nursery. Swiftcloud hissed.

“You are their father,” she meowed. “Sundusk will be nothing but a story to them. So please do me one favor- be a father to them.”

“You’re insane,” Oakthorn sniffed. “Of course I will be! Ashpoppy is a great mother.”  Ashpoppy smiled but quickly hid it. Oakthorn had been getting the hints after all.

“She is now,” Swiftcloud growled, voice growing suddenly eerie. “But I don’t trust that she-cat. It is up to you to protect your kits, y’hear?”

Ashpoppy didn’t hear Oakthorn’s reply, but she saw Swiftcloud stalk off. A chill rippled down her spine at the elder’s words. Perhaps cats were finally realizing her intentions. But Swiftcloud is old.

Ashpoppy turned back to her kits when she saw Oakthorn’s gaze sharpen. His eyes were all for Breezekit’s pelt, so eerily similar to Swiftcloud’s. Ashpoppy’s gaze darkened. The big reddish tom had a sparking dislike towards Breezekit’s resemblance to his mother. If she could be clever enough, perhaps it was in her best interest that Oakthorn had a grudge.

“Will all cats gather in the clearing for a Clan meeting?” Finchstar’s voice boomed. Ashpoppy’s ears perked. The yellow leader had slowly gotten frailer, putting perhaps too much dedication into the fact that he had numerous lives. Not that Ashpoppy minded, of course.

The kits obviously knew what was happening. Redkit scrambled first, Breezekit at his tail, and Runningkit glancing up at Ashpoppy uncertainty. She gave him a small, proud nod before he grinned and pranced to the front. A crowd had gathered, beaming at the kits. It was almost as if they had forgotten Ravenshade’s legacy, and these kits would be a new chapter for her family.

“These kits have reached six moons,” Finchstar announced, head raised. “Redkit, would you step forward?”

Redkit did so, swinging his head around and grinning at Ashpoppy. The gray she-cat smiled back just as Oakthorn sat next to her.

“Do you think you’ll apprentice one of them?” she whispered, leaning over to them. Oakthorn shook his head as Redkit became Redpaw. The ginger apprentice touched noses with Lionwhisker, his new mentor, eagerly.

“- Runningkit, from this moment on you will be known as Runningpaw. Your mentor will be Briartuft.”

Ashpoppy exhaled as the friendly calico she-cat grinned and touched noses with her new apprentice. She was easygoing, to soothe Runningpaw’s nervous ways. And Lionwhisker was a noble cat. Perhaps he could sculpt Redpaw’s energy and use it the right way.

“Breezekit, please step forward,” Finchstar commanded lightly. Breezekit pranced forward, eyes shining. “Breezekit, you have reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to be apprenticed. From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Breezepaw. Your mentor will be Stormstripe. I hope he will pass down all he knows on to you.” Breezepaw trotted up to touch noses with Stormstripe enthusiastically. Ashpoppy’s eyes narrowed. Stormstripe wasn’t the kindest to herself as an apprentice, but perhaps since Breezepaw carried his mother’s name, he would treat her differently.

You care so much for them.

“Ravenshade!” Ashpoppy hissed, careful to not let Oakthorn hear. The big tom excused himself to congratulate the apprentices and mentors. “Get out of my head!”

Ravenshade laughed harshly. Remember what I told you, all those moons ago? The black she-cat’s bodiless voice growled. You’re going to betray them. You’re going to betray all of them.

And then, as Ashpoppy looked up, she saw her kits. But they were not the same. They were replaced by much older cats, looking so much like themselves.

“I’m seeing them in the future,” Ashpoppy murmured. She could almost feel Ravenshade’s pelt touch her own.

Look closer, her mother snarled.

And Ashpoppy did. Runningpaw had grown skinny with the lithe shape of his father, with glossy fur and long legs. Redpaw had more of a muscular shape, but his orange fur kept its shine. The scars that crossed his pelt didn’t faze the brightness of his eyes. And then, when Ashpoppy went to find Breezepaw, she was gone. A mere glimmer of light replaced her final kit.

“If Breezepaw is the one that I lose,” Ashpoppy muttered, half to Ravenshade and half to herself, “then let it be so.”

If only you knew how you’d lose her, Ravenshade hissed. Oh, you’d go ballistic. You’d blame me, like you always do. But no, it’s always been you, Ash.

“I’m not you,” Ashpoppy growled slowly. Her mother had taken desperate measures. She had killed so many cats. And that wasn’t Ashpoppy.

There was a silence that followed, and Ashpoppy could almost hear Ravenshade’s sinister grin. You’d be surprised.

Epilogue Edit



“It’s over, Sundusk.”

Pinestar watched as the orange tom raised his head. He looked miserable: rheumy eyes, ruffled fur, shaking figure. He ambled over to the former leader, tears shimmering in his eyes. He looked down in the puddle and immediately began sobbing again. His legs collapsed and he fell into an ugly mess at the sight of the two she-cats, claws forever unsheathed.

“I didn’t… she just… and now they’re both…” he didn’t finish. Pinestar draped her fluffy tail over him comfortingly.

“None of us saw it coming,” she soothed. Sundusk looked up at her, suddenly seething.

“I saw it!” he retorted, sniffling. “I saw it back when we were young, and in love. I saw it when Ravenshade went crazy. I saw it when she made me kill my father. I saw it in my death. I knew it all along. I just.. I just loved her too much…” his voice broke again as he trailed off.

“Sundusk.” It was a single, powerful mew. Sundusk raised his head, shocked at the coldness in Pinestar’s voice. “Get up. I died long before you. What you saw was love. What I saw was a powerful tom, dying and still staying loyal, wrongly accused and still staying strong, watching his love pick someone else as a mate and watching his own daughter walk the same path as he and stay strong yet… and watch someone that you knew was crazy, that you knew- you even said it yourself- was evil, and now you lose it, of all times.”

“I didn’t just lose Ashpoppy,” Sundusk pointed out, beginning to regain his posture once again. “I lost Breeze, too. And worse yet, I lost them to each other.”

“But you still have Redfire and Runningleaf,” Pinestar pointed out. “And soon, you’ll be a grandfather. While you were over there moping, I was watching Runningleaf pretty obviously flirt with Sorrel.”

“I’m not allowed to grieve unless my entire family dies?” Sundusk growled, bristling. “You never had a mate or kits. You don’t know my pain.”

“True,” Pinestar agreed, “but I knew love once. And it was nothing but pain. My Clan is like my kits. Watching any of them die is the pain of a mother.”

Sundusk saw the image clearly: a bold yellow tom, best friends, a promise to make him deputy, and the dark she-cat not speaking soon enough. A mate, kits- none of them hers.

“Right,” Sundusk whispered. As he spoke, a flicker grew in far sight by the forest. A glowing silver she-cat appearing, paws lightly and eyes wide in amazement. A few cats clustered around her, meowing welcomes. But Sundusk’s neck was stretched, as if looking for someone else.

“Where is she?” he demanded, eyes wide in alarm. Pinestar looked at her paws and said nothing. Sundusk whipped his head around to face the former leader. “WELL?”

“Sundusk, face the facts,” Pinestar murmured. “You’ve known for a long time where she is now.”

“NO!” he roared. “She doesn’t belong there! She’s not like them, I can prove it!”

Pinestar shook her head. “There’s nothing to prove. I’m sorry.”

Sundusk shockingly dipped his head instead of flying into rage. “I… okay. You’re right. I have better things to do.” He sounded as if he wanted to cry again. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to greet my daughter.”

“She looks a lot like her mother, you know,” Pinestar added, trying to be helpful. Sundusk smiled bittersweetly, beginning to head towards Breeze.

“I like to think that,” he replied quietly. He began to near his daughter, tail leaving a line in the sparkling ground. There was a silence as he padded away, before Pinestar broke it once more.

“You always loved her, don’t you?” she blurted. Sundusk hesitated, turning his head as wounds opened once more and Ashpoppy’s death crashed on him again. He faced Pinestar, voice cracking but confident, and eyes shining with more emotion than he ever thought possible.

“Always,” he whispered.

*the end*

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.