Fire and Shadow

AU. Rusty has been adopted not by ThunderClan...but ShadowClan!


32. Chapter Thirty-Two

Across the border, WindClan's warriors were in the same state of anticipation. Onewhisker, though still a young warrior had taken on responsibilities more like those of a Clan's senior warriors. He trained Gorsepaw hard, trying to prepare him for the battle to come while taking stock of his other Clanmates.

Tallstar conferred constantly with Deadfoot in planning battle strategies and consulted with Barkface for any signs from StarClan. Onewhisker was troubled. He knew how well Tigerstar had orchestrated events in his favor. The battle would undoubtedly occur at Fourtrees, as soon as the Clan leaders rejected Tigerstar's demand to submit. Tigerstar wouldn't waste any time. By picking the time and place for the battle, he gave his Clan and BloodClan an undoubted advantage. RiverClan fought best by and in the water. WindClan fought best in the open space. ShadowClan fought best in night ambushes. But in a battle in broad daylight, in the middle of the forest with bushes and brambles all about—ThunderClan would be in its element.

Any victory would be have to be hard fought. Much like Firefang did, Onewhisker found himself walking through his camp trying to etch the face of each of his Clanmates into his mind. Wondering which one of them would live to see another day.

Onewhisker saw Gorsepaw fetching freshkill for the queens, Ashfoot and Whitetail. On the other side of the camp Mudclaw and Tornear, senior Clan warriors, engaged in practice bouts with younger warriors like Tawnyfur, Runningbrook and Webfoot.

His single whisker twitched in confusion as he looked for two missing faces…those of WindClan's newest warriors: Stoneclaw and Thrushwing, brother and sister who had been standing their warrior's vigil the night ShadowClan attacked. They barely escaped alive. He spied the two of them dropping prey in the freshkill pile. Stoneclaw padded over to join the younger warriors while his sister walked up to Onewhisker. The young WindClan warrior tried, and failed, to wipe a smile off his face as the long-furred light brown she-cat approached.

"Hello Onewhisker." She mewed as she sat down next to him, licking at her paw. "I brought down a rabbit. Want to split it?"

Tail curling in pleasure, Onewhisker nodded briskly. "Thanks Thrushwing, I could use it."

The two warriors headed over to the freshkill pile "Thinking about tomorrow?" She asked as she took a bite out of the rabbit's stomach.

"That obvious?" Onewhisker replied as he also sank his teeth into the rabbit.

Thrushwing flicked her tail by way of answer. "Strange thing…I'm actually looking forward to it." Onewhisker surprise must have showed for she nodded. "Yes, I am! Come what may I look forward to sinking my claws into Brokentail's hide before the battles done!" Her ears flattened as she extended her claws and scratched them into the ground. She had been forced to flee with the rest of WindClan against Brokentail's vicious attack when he led ShadowClan.

Thrushwing, like the rest of WindClan, still thirsted for revenge against the ousted tyrant. Onewhisker didn't disagree. What he did say was, "As much as I'd like to see Brokentail get his pelt shredded, we can't go haring off on our own to pay back one fox-hearted excuse of a cat. If we don't coordinate with ShadowClan and RiverClan, we stand to lose everything." Thrushwing set her jaw defiantly but after a moment looked away.

She sighed. "You're right…there's never been a battle like this before."

"No, there hasn't." Onewhisker noted. "We're not fighting for honor, for borders, for prey, or even for our Clan. We're fighting for our lives and our forest."

"I can't believe those mousebrains in ThunderClan are following Tigerstar and those rogues!" Thrushwing spat in disbelief and anger. Onewhisker sighed. He couldn't either.

"If ThunderClan fights against the rest of the Clans, then even if we win, the forest will change forever. There have always been four Clans. What happens if we have to destroy ThunderClan along with the rogues in order to save the rest?" Onewhisker shuddered. It was a frightening possibility. If ThunderClan was destroyed, then that would just lead to new battles, new fights between the three remaining Clans over ThunderClan's territory. Then reality rudely intervened as Onewhisker recalled just how slim the odds were that he or Thrushwing or any Clan cat would be around to worry about such a thing.

Clinging to the area near Fourtrees in ShadowClan and WindClan territory was the exiled RiverClan. Driven from their camp by ThunderClan, much as WindClan had once been, RiverClan survived by the grace of their ShadowClan and WindClan allies. Huddled together in unfamiliar territory that smelled of the scent of their long time rivals, awaiting battle in the morning; RiverClan was in a state of permanent unease.

Mistyfoot, the recently appointed deputy of RiverClan in the aftermath of Crookedstar's death, surveyed the makeshift 'camp' of her Clan. She tried to judge their state of combat readiness in the aftermath of the vicious attack on their camp that forced them into exile. Their leader, Crookedstar, had died battling Tigerstar's vicious attack, after they had welcomed ThunderClan into their camp when a fire ravaged their own camp. Exile was a hard thing to bear, especially after all that. To be unhomed was to die without the release of oblivion. It was all too easy for exiles to leave hope beind along with their home. Those who somehow brought it with them were a special breed.

Here a group of queens shared tongues, there Mudfur gathered some herbs, and some warriors shared a piece of freshkill. Typical enough Clan activity.

Loudbelly and Heavystep shared a meager thrush while Blackclaw and Whiteclaw engaged in a practice bout with each other. She didn't try repressing a purr of pride when she saw her brother Stonefur drilling several apprentices while also keeping an eye on the two half-ThunderClan kits of Silverstream and Graystripe.

Seeing her brother also caused a dull pang of pain as she remembered Graypool—the cat who had raised her and until recently, had believed to be their mother. The old cat confessed that she was not their mother shortly before Brokentail had been overthrown. The gray elder had died not long after RiverClan's expulsion from their territory. The shock of the battle and being forced to flee had been too much for her. Her Clanmates had buried her not far from Fourtrees in their own territory.

Even as she remembered the cat who loved and nutured her and her brother, she couldn't help remembering the tom she'd fallen in love with who helped her through her discovery: Firefang. The kittypet-turned-ShadowClan warrior was brave, cunning, and intelligent—typical enough ShadowClan traits- but unlike the rest of his Clan he regularly showed his compassion, his integrity, and sense of fairness to outsiders and would aid any cat in trouble or in need.

She'd seen that the night he rescued her kits from the river. Her ears twitched as she thought back to her brief relationship with Whiteclaw, the father of her kits. They had gotten on well enough at first and Mistyfoot didn't regret a thing, but there simply wasn't any attraction to keep them together. And Mistyfoot, quick to fight and serve her Clan, wasn't long for staying in the queen's den once her kits were six moons old. Her relationship with Firefang, while brief, was much more fulfilling.

Mistyfoot felt another pang in her heart as she thought about him. She knew she had no choice but to end their relationship but on another level it was already too late. Their lives—hers in particular—would never be the same. She was so distracted that she nearly walked into her brother.

"Keep your head out of the sky, Mistyfoot." Stonefur reproved her gently. "It'll do no good if our deputy floats off into the clouds." He teased gently. Mistyfoot batted his flank with her tail. Dodging, Stonefur added. "Leopardstar's looking for you."

Serious again, Mistyfoot nodded. "Right. Go help yourself to the freshkill pile." She walked off, looking for her leader. She found her sitting atop a large rock, surveying her Clan's surroundings. "Leopardstar, you sent for me?"

The spotted RiverClan leader nodded. "I did." She sat up and stretched languidly. "Do you think the Clan is ready for the battle?"

Nodding, Mistyfoot mewed. "The queens have been instructed on what to do: take the kits and those too old or injured to fight and head for the ShadowClan camp. All of our warriors are training hard and the senior warriors understand that we'll be in the center of any Clan line, being the heaviest warriors."

Leopardstar looked at her deputy. "That shows me that they are prepared. I asked if they were ready."

Mistyfoot looked Leopardstar squarely in the eyes. "Is any cat? This battle is without precedent in the history of the Clans. If a cat thought that they were ready for tomorrow, then they don't understand what's happening at all." Leopardstar winced as if biting into a rotten piece of freshkill.

"…Well I did ask." She mewed finally. "I suppose that will teach me to be more careful when I ask you a question." Leopardstar shook her head. "I knew I could count on you to tell me what I need to hear, even if it isn't what I wanted to hear. That's why I made you my deputy."

"I never expected to be deputy." Mistyfoot said, blinking. "I expected you to appoint Stonefur or Blackclaw."

"That's another reason why I chose you." Leopardstar dipped her head. "You didn't expect it. But you have a point, either your brother or Blackclaw would make an excellent deputy and one day even leaders of RiverClan in normal circumstances. But circumstances are far from normal. Even should our Clan win the battle tomorrow, the forest will be a very different place. We may require more cooperation with other Clans than we normally do. You are a warrior who is adaptive and knows when its time to fight and when its time to talk. Most cats know only how to do one or the other."

Mistyfoot lowered her head and licked her chest in embarrassment. "Thank you Leopardstar." Her old friend and Clan leader wasn't known for dishing out compliments. She sensed something was wrong when Leopardstar paused. "What is it?"

Slowly the spotted she-cat meowed "…I think it might be best if you sat out of tomorrows battle, considering—"

"Don't you dare!" Mistyfoot hissed, her fur bristling. "Don't you DARE try to keep me from fighting tomorrow! We need every warrior who can fight and I won't sit and cower while others fight and die. If we don't win then we won't have a future!" She glared defiantly at Leopardstar until she forced her to look away.

"Very well." The RiverClan leader sighed finally. "But I'm sure Firefang wouldn't thank me for this." Mistyfoot flinched as if struck. She would've protested furiously at the remark but Leopardstar had already turned and walked away.

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