This story is written by ★Wingflight★.Enjoy!
The moon hung bright in the night sky over StarClan's hunting grounds, casting its silver glow over the trees. A breeze rustled their leaves, swirling through the forest. It reached a large gathering of cats with stars in their fur. The breeze ruffled their fur, but they seemed not to notice. Their heads were bent in deep conversation, their hushed mews carrying on the breeze.
"It is not his time," a beige she-cat hissed. She seemed so old that her pelt was fading-- and it was. The trees were slightly visible through it, although her blue eyes glowed as bright as fire.
"Sapphiregaze, nothing lasts forever," a gray tom meowed sadly. "All that comes up, must come down."
"But he's a kit," Sapphiregaze responded indignantly. "A tiny kit. You would dare take his life? You would dare take him away from his family, and from the Clan that loves him? You would dare take him when she has not even had a chance to fully live?"
"I'm sorry," the tom said. "But there is nothing we can do, not with the cost."
"Yes there is, Stormheart. Spare him! Find another way!"
"Sapphiregaze," a dappled she-cat mewed. "There is another way. The Starfire."
"The Starfire," the gathered cats murmured.
"But--that's nearly unobtainable and you know it, Leafshade," Sapphiregaze argued.
"But it's possible," a tabby tom pointed out. "Sapphiregaze, if this kit's future means so much to you, you should take any chance you have."
"Very well," Sapphiregaze conceded. "We will find the Starfire."
Sunlight filtered through the trees, dappling the leaf-strewn ground. A chill breeze whisked through the forest, making Graytail shiver. Leaf-fall was coming, every cat knew it. Graytail clamped her jaws tighter around the squirrel she carried, hurrying to catch up with her patrol. Despite the weather getting colder, prey had been everywhere and the patrol had caught a lot.
Single file, the cats pushed their way through the bramble tunnel that was the entrance to the ThunderClan camp. They padded across the clearing, depositing their catch on the prey pile. Sunflower's kits, Thornkit and Birdkit, dashed over. "Wow, that's a lot of prey!" Birdkit mewed, round-eyed. Thornkit puffed out his chest. "Someday, I'll catch all that prey! Once I'm a warrior, the clan will never go hungry!" he boasted. Graytail purred, ruffling his fur. "I'm sure you will. But right now, you should bring the elders some prey. I'm sure Duskwing will tell you a story in exchange for a shrew!"
"Yes, Graytail," the kits chorused, and, picking up a couple pieces of prey, raced off to the elder's den. Redflame, Graytail's mate, sat next to her, watching the kits go. Graytail leaned into him, murmuring, "One day soon, we'll have kits of our own."
Redflame looked at her, elated. "Really, Graytail?"
"Yes, Redflame. I'm expecting your kits!"
Graytail lay in her nest in the nursery. She had been moved there a few sunrises ago at Redflame's insistence, and she now understood why. The kits she carried seemed to sap all the energy out of her, and she felt like her limbs were made of lead. Soon, she thought, I won't carry them anymore. Willowbough, the ThunderClan medicine cat, had told her that her kits were due within the moon.
Sunflower and the other nursing queen, Brightglow, had made Graytail's nest very comfortable. They had lined it in feathers and clean moss, carefully sorting through it to make sure there were no thorns. Graytail was grateful to them for that. She had been in the nursery for about a moon now, and her kits had grown even more restless. "Sunflower, are they supposed to-- Ach!!" Graytail wailed in pain. Agony ripped through her and she cried out. "Redflame!! Willowbough!"
Sunflower dashed out of the nursery, leaving her kits bewildered in her nest. A few moments later, she raced back inside, Redflame and Willowbough hot on her heels. "Graytail's kits have come early!" Sunflower mewed urgently.
"Find a strong stick, fast," Willowbough ordered. Sunflower nodded and obeyed. Graytail bit down on the stick as her flanks convulsed. Redflame nudged some wet moss under her head. "I can see one coming," he whispered. Graytail yelped as a sharp pain stabbed across her belly. She clamped down harder than ever on the stick as a small, wet bundle slithered out. "It's a she-kit!" Willowbough nudged the kit over to Graytail's belly after nipping its birth sac. Graytail gazed at the kit, her kit. Her beautiful, perfect kit. She licked its golden fur, marveling at how tiny it was. It latched onto her belly and began to suckle, and Graytail was immediately taken over by another wave of pain.
Willowbough placed steadying paws on Graytail's flanks. "Another one's coming," she mewed. Graytail picked the stick up again, gripping it tightly as, with a massive convulsion, another kit was born. "Another she-kit," Willowbough mewed, peeling away the birth sac. "She looks just like you, Graytail," Redflame purred, eyes glowing with warmth and affection as he licked his daughter. She scooted over to Graytail, mewling softly. Soon, she began to nurse as well.
"Hold on, Graytail," Willowbough said. "There's still one more." Graytail's head sank weakly. "I-I can't go on," she breathed. "I'm not strong enough."
"You need to be. Do it for the kits," Willowbough told her. Graytail screeched as a final spasm ripped through her and the last kit was born. Willowbough efficiently delivered the tiny blue-gray tom to her belly, where he suckled alongside his own littermates. Graytail slumped with exhaustion, the pain fading and giving way to happiness and pure joy as she curled herself tightly around her three kits and began licking them. Redflame nuzzled her, eyes shining with more love than Graytail would've thought possible. The queens and Willowbough murmured congratulations, But all Graytail could see were her three kits-- three tiny beautiful, precious, mewling bundles of fur. Her heart swelled as she silently vowed, I will protect these kits with my life.
Graytail and her kits rested peacefully in the nursery. Graytail had been asleep for nearly two sunrises-- her kitting had exhausted her. She didn't dream and woke up feeling very energized.
As soon as the first rays of sunlight poked over the hollow, Redflame had come dashing into the nursery to check on Graytail and the kits. She had expecting him and was not surprised when he sat down beside her. "We need to name them," he mewed, running his tail over the three kits. Graytail smiled. "I know," she answered. "The golden she-kit looks just like the rays of the sun at dawn," Redflame observed. "Maybe Dawnkit?"
"I like that," Graytail purred.
"And the gray she-kit," Redflame continued, "the one that looks like you, perhaps Fernkit?"
"I always thought ferns were pretty, and you are as well, so I just thought..." He trailed off.
Touched, Graytail nodded. "Fernkit is a beautiful name."
"And the last one-" Redflame began, but Graytail cut him off. "I get to name him," she mewed playfully, butting his shoulder with her head. "His name is Bluekit."
"Dawnkit, Fernkit, Bluekit," Redflame murmured, nuzzling each as he said their names. "They're wonderful."
Just then, a gray she-cat poked into the nursery. "Redflame, Cloudnose wants you for dawn patrol," she told him. Sighing, Redflame got to his paws. "Thanks, Cinderfoot," he mewed. "On my way. 'Bye, Graytail."
"'Bye, Redflame," the gray tabby answered. Sunflower and her kits had woken. "Good morning, Graytail," Sunflower said. "Have you named your kits?"
"Yes. The gray tabby is Fernkit, the blue-gray tom Bluekit, and the golden one Dawnkit."
Now Brightglow had roused. "What's all the fuss about...?" she mumbled sleepily. The white she-cat didn't have kits, but she stayed in the nursery to help new nursing queens and generally help manage the kits. "Oh! What did you name them, Graytail?"
"Dawnkit, Bluekit, and Fernkit. Well, I named Bluekit, but Redflame named the other two."
Brightglow purred. "I'm looking forward to spending more time with them already!"
"I wonder what color their eyes will be," Sunflower chimed in.
"As do I," Graytail answered. "But only time will tell, won't it?"
"I suppose so," Sunflower conceded. "We'll see when it's time."
Three moons had passed since Graytail had had her kits. They were the only kits in the nursery; Thornkit and Birdkit had become apprentices. However, Swiftfawn, a brown she-cat, had moved into the nursery and was expecting. Graytail thought it would be about a moon before Swiftfawn had them. The gray tabby she-cat watched her own kits fondly as they played in the camp outside the nursery, tumbling around and wrestling. They had opened their eyes: Dawnkit's were amber, like Redflame's, Fernkit's were green, like Graytail's, and Bluekit's were blue. Graytail didn't know why Bluekit looked nothing like her or Redflame, but she loved him just as much as his sisters.
"Momma!" Bluekit whimpered. "Dawnkit stepped on my paw!" Graytail rushed over, gently licking her son. He held his paw close to his chest, eyes round. "Am I gonna die, Momma?"
"You're fine, darling," she reassured him. "Just go a little easy on that paw." She flicked her tail at her other kits, bringing them to her. Lowering her voice, she spoke to them. "Dawnkit, Fernkit, be careful with your brother. Just because he's smaller than you doesn't mean you can push him around."
"I know," Dawnkit mewed. "It was an accident! I would never, ever hurt Bluekit. You know that, right?"
"Yes, honey. Don't worry. Now go and play!" The kits scampered back to Bluekit, nuzzling him and apologizing. Soon, they were back to their game of moss-ball.
Graytail watched Bluekit worriedly. He seemed so tiny and frail next to his siblings, almost like he could be blown away like a leaf. But his sisters took good care of him and Graytail was sure he was safe. But she couldn't shake the feeling of him blowing away in the wind....
Graytail padded soundlessly through the trees, stalking a mouse. She lowered into a crouch, watching it nibble on a seed. Then she tensed her muscles and pounced.
Suddenly, something rustled in the brambles behind her, scaring off the mouse. "Fox dung," she muttered, but then quieted in awe. Stepping out of the undergrowth were two cats with stars in their pelts: StarClan warriors. Graytail dipped her head respectfully as the cats sat in front of her. "Graytail," one greeted her. He had thick, dark gray fur and orange eyes. "I am Stormheart. I come bearing grim news." Graytail was suddenly frightened. "Am I in StarClan?" she whispered. "Am I dead? Are my kits safe?"
The other cat, a beige she-cat with piercing blue eyes, laughed softly. "Don't worry, Graytail. Your kits are fine and so are you. I am Sapphiregaze."
"Your kits are safe, but may not be for much longer," Stormheart meowed gravely.
Graytail gasped. "No! They're too young! Don't take my kits!"
"There is a way to keep them safe," Sapphiregaze told her. "But it rests entirely in StarClan's paws. To save your kit, we must find an ancient legend. Something we are not sure even exists. It is known as the Starfire."
"Why are you telling me this?" Graytail asked. Her fur prickled uneasily.
"You must know, Graytail," Sapphiregaze murmured. She, Stormheart, and the woods around them started to fade.
"Please find the Starfire! Save my kit!" Graytail wailed, but the StarClan cats were already gone.
Another moon had passed, and Graytail had been worrying more and more about her conversation with Sapphiregaze and Stormheart. Her kits had seemed perfectly healthy until two sunrises ago, when Bluekit had gotten a cough. Willowbough told her it was whitecough and gave Bluekit tansy to soothe his throat. Yet the whitecough persisted, and it broke Graytail's heart to see her precious kit as he was racked with another bout of coughing.
Willowbough had him moved to the medicine den so that Graytail's other kits would stay healthy. Redflame offered to stay with him, and Graytail reluctantly accepted, knowing she would need to stay with her other two kits. Within a quarter-moon, Willowbough declared Bluekit well and he joined his sisters and mother once more in the nursery.
"I'm glad you're okay," Dawnkit murmured sleepily. "I missed you. You're so warm."
"I'm glad, too," Fernkit mewed. Bluekit snuggled closer to them in response. Soon, all three of Graytail's kits slept, and lulled by their rhythmic breathing, she slept as well.
At sunrise, Swiftfawn's kits were born. By sunhigh, five kits, named Wolfkit, Foxkit, Hawkkit, Goldenkit, and Shadekit, were nursing at her belly. Fernkit peered curiously at the new additions to the nursery. "Can we play with them?" she asked. Swiftfawn purred. "I think.... they're a little too... small," she panted, soft brown eyes dull with fatigue.
"Oh," Fernkit mewed, dismayed. Graytail watched the tired queen and her mewling litter. Five was unusually large; most litters had two or three. No wonder she's so exhausted, Graytail mused. "Darlings, why don't you give Swiftfawn some space? She must need rest," she mewed aloud.
"Okay," they chorused. Fernkit cast a glance over her shoulder as she padded after her littermates. "Bye, Swiftfawn's kits," she meowed quietly.
"Your kits are so... well behaved," Swiftfawn murmured. "I hope... mine are like that."
"You'll be lucky if they are," Brightglow commented. "Five different kits could run in five different directions. You'll have trouble keeping track of them all!"
"But we'll help, and I'm sure the Clan will as well," Graytail assured the light brown queen.
"Thank you," Swiftfawn mumbled, then fell silent. Soon, soft snores filled the nursery as she fell asleep.
Graytail exited the den to check on her own kits, flicking her tail in a good-bye to Brightglow. Graytail fought down a sense of unease as she checked all their usual playing spots—in front of the nursery, under the saplings at the camp entrance, and by the Highrock—to find them empty. She ran to the elders' den, hoping to find her kits listening as Mistwhisker told them a story, but they weren't there. "Mistwhisker? Duskwing? Have you seen my kits?"
"Sorry, dear," Duskwing answered kindly. "I think they went that way," she added, gesturing with a paw to the warriors' den. With rushed thanks, Graytail hurried away. "Have you seen my kits?" she asked Stagfur, a brown tom. "No, I haven't," he mewed. "I hope you find them, Graytail."
Increasingly desperate, the silver-gray tabby scoured every inch of the ThunderClan camp—every rock, every log, and every tree branch—for any sign of her kits, and then she saw what she dreaded most: three sets of tiny pawprints leading through the dirtplace tunnel.
They've left the camp!
It began to snow as Graytail pounded through the forest, frantically following her kits' trail. Redflame was hot on her heels. It wasn't long before the kits' pawprints began to fill up with snow and Graytail struggled to stay on a scent trail before it too was lost to the snow. Fear stabbed through her heart as she heard a harsh bark and a terrified screech up ahead. Exchanging an alarmed glance with Redflame, Graytail pushed through a clump of bracken towards the sound.
It's a dog.
The monstrous beast had tawny brown fur and hideously bulging muscles. Saliva dripped from its seemingly bottomless maw and its small amber eyes gleamed ferociously. It wore a pink collar with silver spines, a long pink vine dangling from it. The dog snarled at three tiny shapes in front of it, and Graytail realized in horror that they were her kits. It's got my kits! That filthy beast is going to MURDER MY KITS!
The dog snarled, exposing yellow teeth, and snapped at the kits. "Momma!" Fernkit wailed in fear. "Momma! Daddy! Please help us!"
"I'm coming!" Redflame reassured them. "Don't worry!"
"Hang on!" Graytail called. In perfect synchronization, the mates lunged at the dog. The kits backed away as Graytail and Redflame battled the dog; swiping and biting. It swung out a heavy paw, landing a blow on Redflame, but the tom was not deterred. He kept fighting, because he knew that his family's lived depended on it.
Graytail leaped onto the dog's back, snarling and biting its neck. The dog whimpered, trying to buck her off, but the snarling she-cat held on tight. Redflame did his best to hold it off from below, landing blows on it to drive it away from the kits. In one sudden movement, the dog shook Graytail off. She soared backwards, over Redflame, over her kits, and landed hard on the dirt. She fought for breath, vision clouding with pain, and attempted to get to her paws. But a fiery pain in her front paw forced her down. It's broken, she worried. But I need to protect my kits.
Jaw set in grim resolve, Graytail leaped up and ran at the dog, dodging its paws to get close to its neck. In one swift leap, her jaws were clamped firmly on its throat. She tried to ignore the metallic tang of its blood as it flailed, sinking to the ground and lying still. It's dead. It's over. We're safe. Graytail let go and limped over to Redflame. "Red-Redflame," she mumbled. "It's dead."
"I know," he murmured. "You were brilliant."
Leaning on him for support, Graytail made her way over to her kits, counting to make sure all three were there. They were huddled in a shivering pile in the undergrowth. Dawnkit looked slightly shaken; Fernkit looked concerned; and Bluekit looked terrified. Graytail drew them close to her. "Oh, my precious kits," she sighed. Then her gaze hardened as she glared at them. "Never do that again, you hear me? Never leave camp without my permission. Ever."
Round-eyed, they mumbled that it would never happen again. Graytail let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "We should get you to camp," Redflame mewed concernedly. "You should get that leg checked out." Weakly, she nodded and allowed herself to be guided back to camp.
The ground was now completely blanketed in snow as Graytail, Redflame, and the kits staggered into camp. A few cats rushed over, looking worried. Petalstar, the ginger-and-white leader of ThunderClan, padded in front of the ragged group. "What happened?" she asked.
"Dog... by the Sky Oak," Graytail panted. "Kits... wandered. Dog found them.... we fought it off."
"I'll send out a patrol to investigate," Petalstar decided.
"No need," Redflame told her. Graytail killed it."
"Wow! That's amazing! Only two cats against a full grown dog? That's so awesome!" Ravenpaw, a black-furred apprentice, exclaimed.
"And you both got out alive," mused Dappleheart, another cat.
"I think Graytail and her family should get their wounds treated," Sunflower stated firmly. "They've been through a lot."
Blinking gratefully at the golden tabby she-cat, Graytail did just that.
Graytail lay in the medicine den, her leg in front of her. "A dog, hmm? But it isn't broken. Just sprained. I'll give you some elder leaves," Willowbough meowed, wrapping Graytail's paw in a few dark green leaves. "And all of you should have thyme for shock and some poppy seeds to help you get a good rest."
"I can't take away from your stocks," Redflame protested.
"You need it," Willowbough assured him. "Now don't fight with me anymore, you know I'll win."
Redflame sighed and allowed himself to be treated. "Alright."
Graytail and her mate had various small scratches, which Willowbough treated as well. The gray tabby queen was grateful to see that her kits were unharmed, but they were still very stunned about what had happened.
"Now, don't you go using that paw," Willowbough advised. "Rest it for about a half-moon. It should be usable again by that time."
Graytail nodded. "I will," she promised. "Thank you for saving us, Momma," Bluekit mewed quietly. Graytail purred. "Thank your father," she answered. "He did most of the fighting." She couldn't be angry with her kits for leaving the camp anymore; she was just glad to have them safe at home.
"I'm sorry, Momma," Bluekit apologized softly that night. Graytail and the kits were in their nest in the nursery. "We didn't mean any harm, honest! We just wanted to explore. But we didn't expect the dog, and then the sky started falling!"
Graytail purred. "That was snow, darling."
"What's snow?" Dawnkit asked.
"Well," Graytail began, "far, far away, there is the sea. It is a bigger lake than you would ever see; fox-lengths and fox-lengths of rolling water. Legends say it's beautiful, others say it's dangerous. But we know nothing about it. Water rises from the sea into the sky, and it huddles together in clouds.
"But in leaf-bare, because it gets so cold, the clouds start to shiver. And when they shiver, little flakes of them drift off onto the world. That's why it snows."
"I like snow," Fernkit mumbled sleepily. "Me, too," Bluekit purred. Eventually, all of them drifted into sleep.
The next day, whitecough struck Bluekit with a ferocity. Graytail guessed it was because of the ordeal on the previous day — and being out in the snow certainly hadn't helped — and silently cursed herself. I never should've let them out of my sight. Then everything would be fine and Bluekit wouldn't have whitecough again.
But Graytail knew that her son would've gotten it again, whatever the situation.
They're murdering my son.
Graytail shook her head to clear it. They're finding the Starfire, whatever that is, to save him.
Or so they say...
Graytail jerked out of her mental battle as Bluekit drew her attention. "Momma," he mumbled. "I don't feel good."
"Oh, darling," she mewed. "Let's take you to Willowbough; she'll know what to do."
With firm words to Fernkit and Dawnkit to stay in their nest, Graytail picked Bluekit up in her jaws and carried him to the medicine den.
"Hello, Graytail," the ThunderClan medicine cat greeted them. Then her gaze found Bluekit. "Oh. Oh dear," she mewed. "Whitecough again?"
"Settle him here," the dappled she-cat instructed, waving her tail at a nest. Graytail did so, making sure the blue-gray kit was comfortable before stepping back.
"I'm surprised no one else has come to me," Willowbough remarked as she checked him over. "There are usually more colds in early leaf-bare." She pressed her cheek to Bluekit's pad, then recoiled. "He's got a fever," she muttered. "Feverfew... tansy... honey... Graytail, you're free to go if you wish."
The slim gray tabby shook her head. "Bluekit is my kit," she said firmly. "I need to stay with him."
Willowbough nodded slowly, once again absorbed in her work. She laid her ear to Bluekit's chest. "No fluid, that's good," she murmured, bustling off into her herbal stocks and returning with two leaves and a piece of something golden. It had strange indentations and a sweet-smelling golden liquid dripping off of it. "What is that?" Graytail asked suspiciously.
"Honeycomb," Willowbough answered distractedly as she made her way back to Bluekit.
The tomkit looked tiny in the medicine cat's nest. His eyes were dull with exhaustion and his body shuddered. But his ears perked up after Willowbough gave him the herbs she brought. He licked his lips. "That honey was good!"
Willowbough purred. "Bring him again to see me tomorrow," she ordered. "Have him sleep in your nest. You and his littermates will keep him warm, which he needs. Also, he's not allowed to play until he's recovered. Medicine cat's orders." Willowbough took a breath. "I hope he gets better! And please carry him. He shouldn't walk yet."
"Thank you, Willowbough," Graytail meowed, picking Bluekit up again. She waved her tail as a good-bye as she exited the den.
As soon as Graytail reached the nursery, Dawnkit and Fernkit came bolting over. "Bluekit!" Dawnkit exclaimed. "You look so much better!"
Fernkit just purred and rubbed against her brother.
"What do you want to do?" Dawnkit asked.
"Well, I can't play," Bluekit mewed, "Medicine cat's orders."
"Aww," Fernkit sighed. "Well, how about we ask Mistwhisker for a story? He tells all the best ones!"
Bluekit nodded. "Yeah!"
"We'll support you," Dawnkit added. And then, with Bluekit leaning on Fernkit and Dawnkit, the three made their way to the elders' den. Graytail watched them go affectionately. Her kits would take care of each other when they were older, as they did now.
If all of them live...
Graytail dreamed she was back in StarClan that night. She sat down, patiently waiting for something to happen. And then a beautiful she-cat stepped out of the foliage and over to her. "Greetings," the strange cat mewed in a voice as soft as kit-fluff.
"Greetings," Graytail answered.
The she-cat swished her tail. "I am Leafshade. I've brought you here because I have a message for you."
Leafshade sat down in front of Graytail. Her green eyes were unreadable as she spoke. "The search is difficult."
"What?" Graytail queried.
"The search for the Starfire. Sapphiregaze and Stormheart have searched for a moon now and have not returned. I am confident that they will, but I need to warn you."
"Warn me about what?"
"They may not find it."
Graytail sighed. "I know."
"May StarClan light your path and your kits', Graytail..."
In the morning, Bluekit's whitecough hadn't been soothed; if anything, it was worse. In addition to a sore throat, he was disoriented with rapid breathing. When Graytail took him to see Willowbough, the medicine cat's brow creased with worry.
"What's wrong?" Graytail asked apprehensively. "What's wrong with my kit?"
"Well, you see... the whitecough isn't whitecough anymore," Willowbough explained. "It developed into greencough overnight."
"There is a cure, correct?"
"Not in my stocks at the moment-"
Graytail inhaled sharply.
"-But I know where to find some."
Graytail returned to the nursery with Bluekit, asking Brightglow to watch over him, Dawnkit, and Fernkit. The white she-cat agreed, promising not to lose sight of them. "Why do you need me to watch them?" she asked curiously.
"I need to find an herb for Bluekit," Graytail mewed. "Thanks for helping."
"Anytime," Brightglow answered. "Good luck with the herb!"
"Yes, good luck!" Swiftfawn echoed.
"Thank you," Graytail mewed again, then walked back out of the nursery. Willowbough was waiting outside the medicine den. "Let's go," she called. "Follow me."
Graytail caught up to her. "Okay."
The two she-cats left camp, treading swiftly and silently through the woods. Snow whisked into Graytail's eyes but she blinked it out and kept going. All she could think of was finding the herb for Bluekit. Suddenly, she scented a mouse. I can't waste this opportunity, not in leaf-bare. Flicking her tail at Willowbough, Graytail dropped into a hunter's crouch. She steadily tracked the scent to its source. The mouse was sitting on a tree root, blissfully unaware of the predator stalking it.
Then Graytail pounced. Delivering a killing blow to her prey's spine, she savored the warm blood flooding her mouth. Burying her catch, she caught up to Willowbough.
"Nice hunt," the medicine cat complimented her.
"Thanks," Graytail answered. The two cats traveled on in silence.
By the time they reached an old Twoleg path, Graytail had caught and buried another mouse and a scrawny blackbird.
"This path will lead us to the Twoleg den where the herbs are," Willowbough explained.
"Are you sure it's safe?" Graytail asked warily.
"Oh yes," came the response. "ThunderClan medicine cats have used it for seasons and seasons. It's been long abandoned."
"If you say so." Graytail began the trek up the path. It was made of pointy gray stones, so the tabby stepped lightly to avoid sore paws afterward. Willowbough resumed the lead and eventually they reached a run-down, decaying Twoleg den.
Its stone walls were crumbling and covered in twisting tendrils of ivy. The roof had caved in and pieces of it littered the ground. Graytail poked around inside, noticing that plants and mushrooms were growing from the floor. Despite all the flora inside the den, Willowbough was outside of it. Graytail found her sniffing around the base of the den.
Willowbough stopped. "Oh no," she muttered. "Oh no oh no oh no..."
"What is it?" Graytail asked apprehensively.
"Come and see for yourself." Willowbough moved aside so Graytail could see the herbs—or rather, what was left of them. Where a lush patch of plants had obviously once been, there was now no more than a few withered, black stalks.
"The frost," Willowbough said quietly. "The frost killed it."
"Is there another herb that can cure greencough?" Graytail asked, but she somehow knew it was hopeless.
"I'm sorry, Graytail," Willowbough mewed heavily. "There isn't."
That night, Graytail lay curled around her kits in a nest in the medicine den. Willowbough had told her to sleep there because she didn't want to risk Bluekit spreading his cough to Swiftfawn's kits. Fernkit and Dawnkit were there because they refused to let Bluekit sleep alone in the medicine den. "He won't be alone because I'll be there," she had reassured them, but still they insisted. Redflame had wanted to stay with his family, but Willowbough said that she didn't want too many cats in the medicine den.
Graytail was worried even more about Bluekit. Her son seemed so tiny beside his littermates, so fragile and frail. Sweeping her tail around her kits, she slowly sank into sleep. She didn't dream that night.
"Momma! Momma! Wake up! Something's wrong with Bluekit!"
Fernkit's voice in her ear woke Graytail. It was still dark outside, but the silver-gray she-cat was up in an instant. "What is it?"
Fernkit scooted aside so her mother could see Bluekit. Graytail anxiously stuck her nose in his fur. It was cold. Panicking, she felt his flank for breathing. Her kit showed no signs of life, not even twitching a paw. Graytail kept on feeling, refusing to believe what, deep down, she knew was true.
Bluekit was dead.
"They couldn't find the Starfire after all." Graytail could barely breathe. A single, glittering tear dropped to the ground. "I love you, Bluekit..."
Graytail raised her muzzle to the night sky and howled her anguish.
"Momma, what's wrong? Why won't Bluekit wake up?" Dawnkit asked.
"Dawnkit, he won't be waking up..."
My son, my precious son, is gone.
Overhead, a shooting star arced across the sky. Graytail saw it. They were too late.
The queen watched her kit's spirit rise from his lifeless body, climbing up into the sky to become one with the stars.
Goodbye, Bluekit. I'll always wait for you, I promise.
The moon shone bright over the Moonpool. Bluekit sat in his place among the ranks of StarClan, watching and waiting. Two cats appeared in the distance, traveling closer. One was fiery russet, the other a light brown tabby. Dawnflame and Willowbough.
Dawnflame helped Willowbough up the final slope to the quiet pool. The old medicine cat stiffly lowered herself to her paws, bones sharp with age beneath her pelt. Dawnflame settled beside her and the two she-cats touched their noses to the starlit water.
Bluekit stayed hidden among the starry cats, watching as his sister received seven lives from their ancestors. His mother, who sat beside him, stood and leaped over to her daughter. Her green eyes shone as she meowed, "Oh, my baby. I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too," the russet she-cat murmured in response. Graytail lowered her nose to touch her daughter's. "With this life, I give you the love of a mother. We feed every new mouth, teach every kit. Without us, the Clan would be nothing.
"Love your Clan as if every cat were your own kit. Protect them and cherish them. Use this well."
Dawnflame didn't suffer with this life; instead she leaned forward, soaking up a warmth that Bluekit couldn't feel. "I am so proud of you," Graytail purred before rejoining the StarClan cats. She nudged Bluekit gently with her paw. "It's your turn," she murmured. Bluekit nodded, feeling a thrill of nervousness rushing through him as he bounded over to his sister.
Tears shone in her eyes. "Bluekit," she breathed.
"Yes," he answered simply. "I'm going to give you your ninth life!"
Dawnflame smiled. "I'm sure it will be amazing."
"It will," Bluekit promised. "I hope you value it for the rest of your life. Or rather, lives," he added. "Dawnflame, I am honored to give you your ninth life."
The blue-furred kit stretched up so that his muzzle brushed his sister's. "I give you a life for, well, living. Live every day as if it were your last, enjoy every moment. Regret nothing. Live your lives to the fullest, Dawnflame. Use this well."
A surge of power transferred from Bluekit to Dawnflame, making her eyes flare bright white with starlight. She trembled, but held her ground until the surge passed. Dawnstar stood proudly, a new cat. Bluekit grinned. "Welcome, Dawnstar."
"Dawnstar! Dawnstar!" StarClan cheered. The Moonpool seemed alive with the purity and joy of the sound. Dawnstar raised her head, eyes glowing with fierce pride.
Despite dying so young, Bluekit really had lived. He lived through his siblings, through his Clanmates. He felt every achievement, every moment, as if it were his own.
And even if he wasn't with them in flesh and bone, he was with spirit and soul. The fire of love burned fiercely in his belly and Bluekit knew.
He was the Starfire.