Fire and Shadow

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


28. Chapter Twenty-Eight

The next morning Firefang and his companions began escorting WindClan back to their old territory. Crossing the Thunderpath with an entire Clan proved challenging, but not impossible. Every cat made it across safely. The orange warrior was beginning to think that things were looking up.

Firefang was walking just behind and to the right of WindClan's leader and deputy, who stood at the point of the procession. Onewhisker, Mistyfoot, and Ravenwing by virtue of their age and fitness, guided WindClan along from the rear and flanks. Shrewdly, the ShadowClan cat supposed that Tallstar wanted to keep Firefang under his watch, without his friends. To what purpose though, he didn't know.

Tallstar beckoned Deadfoot, his deputy over to him. After some hushed whispers Deadfoot nodded and promptly withdrew, slowing down and moving off to the left and rear of Tallstar. This left the WindClan leader alone with Firefang. Tallstar paused, waiting for Firefang to approach him before resuming his pace. Walking shoulder to shoulder, Tallstar turned to Firefang dead in the eyes.

Not flinching, Firefang returned his gaze. Tallstar kept an even pace with Firefang, but his voice was anything but casual. "Firefang." He hailed the ShadowClan warrior evenly.

The orange tabby nodded respectfully back. "Tallstar—may I help you?"

"You have already done much to assist us." Tallstar meowed, his long namesake tail beckoning back to where his Clan marched on behind him to their territory. "But I would know why you have done this. Onewhisker has told be that you were once a kittypet, adopted into ShadowClan. Yet you were the one who stuck hardest to the warrior code, opposing Brokentail's breaking of it, and fermented a rebellion against him which itself is against the warrior code. So what I want to know is, why do you—a kittypet—follow a code that even Clanborn warriors had forgotten? And why did you overthrow Brokentail?"

Firefang flattened his ears against his head. "I'm no longer a kittypet." He reminded Tallstar respectfully as he marshaled his thoughts. "And I have often wondered the same thoughts. All I can think of is that maybe I did the thing I did not despite being born a kittypet, but because I was a born a kittypet."

Tallstar blinked his eyes slowly. "Interesting…what do you mean?"

"Well," Firefang licked his chestfur in thought. "I had to learn the warrior code at the age that Clanborn kits become apprentices. They would have heard the code since the time they were born. It was new to me when I became an apprentice. I think that I adopted it, but didn't simply accept it as it was presented to me. Perhaps because I could see the contradiction between what was being taught me and what I was seeing my Clan do, or perhaps I just wanted to think about it and figure out just how the warrior code is supposed to work. And if there is something in it that doesn't work; like accepting Brokenstar's word as law when he was flagrantly breaking the code, then I went against it."

Tallstar purred in bemusement. "You seem to be in a contradiction there. While I certainly would not and will not complain for you deposing Brokenstar, another cat could say that you committed the same act you opposed Brokentail for: violating the warrior code."

Firefang looked solemnly at Tallstar. "I know…but, what I think is at the bottom of the warrior code, its spirit if not its words, is about right and wrong. What Brokenstar did was just wrong and rebelling against him was right. And if there's a contradiction there…I can live with that." Firefang meowed. "From what I've learned and what I understand is this: the warrior code was written by living cats no better or worse than you and I. It is a living, breathing, changing guide to how the Clans should behave; not something as solid and unchanging as the Great Rock. If strictly obeying the warrior code meant tolerating a tyrant like Brokentail terrorize and murder his way across the forest, if obeying the code meant forgetting the difference between right and wrong, then its time to seriously reconsider what it means to be a warrior!" Firefang hadn't realized that he started to shout until he felt his shoulderfur stand up and his claws extend into the ground.

Tallstar was unflappable. Firefang might have been evenly talking about the weather to judge by his reaction. All he did was wait for Firefang to sheath his claws and sheepishly lick at his paw before softly murmuring: "I've known medicine cats whose understanding was not as deep as yours."

Shaking his head, Firefang started to continue his normal pace when his ears perked up as a cat came running towards him and Tallstar.

"Dogs!" The she-cat yowled as she drew close. "There are dogs heading for the Clan!"

In a blink Tallstar barked out questions. "How many? Where?" Using her tail to indicate a position behind them, she shook her head.

"I—I don't know how many, but there were a lot of them. And they kept barking things like 'pack' and 'kill.' " A deep baying howl accented her words as the dogs picked up the scent of cat.

Tallstar bristled. "We have to get the Clan out of here!"

"But we'll never outrun them out in the open!" Firefang reminded him. "Dogs are too fast and we can't match their speed with all the elders and the sick." His mind raced as he looked around. He could see the Highstones were the Moonstone lay, as well as the barn that he passed when Yellowfang took him to the Moonstone itself. He dimly recalled being annoyed at having to pass up all those juicy rats that lived near the barn…

"That's it!" He yowled, earning blank or confused looks from Tallstar and Deadfoot, who had returned when the runner came back. "Tallstar we can't outrun the dogs, but we can lead them away from WindClan. Me and the cats who came with me will head them off and lead them in another direction while you lead WindClan back to your territory."

"You're mad!" Deadfoot opined sharply. "Those dogs will tear you and your friends to shreds!"

"Only if they catch us." Firefang turned to see Onewhisker, who had spoken, approach with Mistyfoot and Ravenwing.

"Firefang!" Mistyfoot panted as she led the two toms towards them. "We can't let those dogs get close to WindClan. So we thought—"

"That we'd lead them away and give the others a chance to escape?" Firefang smiled. "Just what I was thinking. You're almost ShadowClan in your cunning." He had to resist the urge to smile wider at the flatlook Mistyfoot gave him.

Tallstar didn't take long to make up his mind. He nodded to Firefang and the warriors with him. "Go. Do what you can, but take no unnecessary risks."

"No we're just going to play a came of tag with a pack of dogs…" Ravenwing shook his head as he went off with Firefang and the others.

They didn't have to go far. They had barely made it over the rise just behind the last of the WindClan cats when they came across the dog pack. Snarling, growling, and drooling viciously, they were a sight to strike terror into any cat's heart.

Firefang had only a minute explain his plan before he and his three comrades darted out in front of the dog pack. Wild howls greeted their appearance. The cats returned them with hisses and scratches as they darted barely a fox-length in front of them. Then they ran off to the side, away from WindClan's direction, toward the barn. Within a heartbeat, the dogs were on them, chasing them.

Herein lay the danger. If they somehow managed to pull too far ahead of the dogs, they might lose interest and reacquire WindClan's scent. So they had to make sure that they were followed. It was dangerous going. Every now and again one dog would get too close to a cat, who would have to hiss and slash at the dog's muzzle and force it back.

The barn had just come into sight when the leader of the pack, a large fierce looking dog, snapped his jaws a mouselength from Mistyfoot. Firefang saw her in trouble and ran over, claws outstretched. Hissing furiously, he slashed the big dog across the face. He let out a pain stricken, angry howl and batted at Firefang with his front paws, almost crushing the ShadowClan cat's face in.

Firefang leaped away and rejoined his fellow cats as they ran past the barn, the dogs nipping at their heels. Finally, Firefang saw what he had been looking for. "There it is! The ditch!" He yowled. "Get in and out on the other side, hurry!"

The four cats leapt down into the dingy ditch, which stank of crowfood and garbage. At Firefang's direction they quickly overturned piles of garbage, knocked crowfood around and made such a ruckus that heaps of rats started crawling out of the woodworks. The cats bolted for the other side of the ditch just as the dogs soon jumped in. The rats, angry and disturbed, hissed and bit at anything near them; including the dogs. The dogs, not the cleverest or most focused of beasts, soon forgot about the cats and started barking and chasing the rats. The squeals of the rats and the occasional pained whine of the dogs was all the four warrior cats heard as they scampered out of the ditch and ran back to the forest, not stopping for anything.

"Everyone okay?" Firefang called back.

Onewhisker nodded. "I'm fine."

"Me too." Mistyfoot chimed in. "Thanks for the save back there." Despite no longer being together, Firefang beamed at her thanks.

"Anytime Mistyfoot…Ravenwing, how about you?" He asked the skinny, shaking ThunderClan warrior.

"Me? Fine!" He gave a nervous laugh that bordered on hysterical. "Can we do that again?"

All four cats mrowed in good spirits as they headed home. "WindClan should've made it back to their territory by now!" Mistyfoot meowed as they ran.

"But those dogs won't take long to find the forest either." Onewhisker pointed out. "I just hope their Twolegs bring them back and chain them up where they belong!"

"Either way, all the Clans are going to be jumpy when we tell them about the dogs." Firefang sighed. "It looks like Tigerstar got himself a reprieve…foxdung!" He cursed.

As they approached Fourtrees where they would part ways and go back to their respective Clans, Ravenwing turned to ThunderClan territory and sniffed. "Anyone else smell that?"

The other cats opened their mouths to try to get a scent. "Yes." Mistyfoot nodded. "It smells almost like—" her eyes widened. "StarClan no!"

"Fire!" Ravenwing yowled as he darted into the forest, towards his home which even now glowed with a sickly yellow-orange light. "Fire in the forest!"

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