Fire and Shadow

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


23. Chapter Twenty-Three

As warriors from the three Clans assembled to hear their leaders, Firefang hurried over to the distraught looking Ravenwing. "What happened?" He asked urgently. Ravenwing looked up with tired, sleepless eyes.

"Bluestar was bitten by a snake at Snakerocks." He meowed tonelessly, as if still in shock. "I—we—we didn't know she was on her last life…she told no one."

"Was it…?" Firefang lowered his voice. Ravenwing quickly looked from side to side to make sure no one was paying them any attention.

Then he nodded. "I-I think so. She was on a dawn hunting patrol. Tigerclaw left camp and came back a little later. Then he sent out another patrol to look for Bluestar and I-I found her there." Ravenwing looked down. Firefang licked the top of his head. "She was still alive—" Ravenwing looked up. "She was trying to tell me something, I know it! I think—I think she was trying to tell me that it wasn't an accident. But she died before she could say anything."

"When was this?"

"Two suns ago." Ravenwing meowed mournfully. "Tigerstar got his nine lives yesterday."

"Two suns…just as we were getting rid of Brokenstar." Firefang closed his eyes and lashed his tail. If only he had moved a little faster! With Brokenstar gone Tigerclaw—Tigerstar—would've had no reason to remove Bluestar. Firefang draped his tail across Nightwing's back as Crookedstar yowled for order.

Looking up, Firefang saw the old Clan leader looking as old and haggard as he'd ever seen him. The hard times brought on by Leafbare and the RiverClan food shortage caused by the Twolegs and Brokenstar had clearly taken their toll. But his voice was strong as he meowed. "Cats of all Clans, welcome to the Gathering. Tonight we are joined by two new leaders. It is an odd and sad thing to see two new Clan leaders appear from one Gathering to the next. In my many lives I've never seen the like." Crookedstar looked to Nightpelt.

Boldly Nightpelt stepped forward, asserting that he did not answer to Crookedstar, but wished to explain for his own sake. "I, Nightpelt, have taken over the leadership of ShadowClan. Our former leader, Brokenstar, broke the warrior code and we were forced to chase him out." There were scattered gasps and yowls, though none—Firefang noted—were upset by the news. Brokenstar had made no friends among the Clans. Nightpelt continued, "The spiris of our ancestors have spoken to Runningnose and chosen me as leader. I have not yet traveled to Mothermouth to receive StarClan's gift of nine lives, but I will make this journey tomorrow night while the moon is still full. After my vigil at the Moonstone, I shall be known as Nightstar."

"Where is Brokenstar now?" Called a ThunderClan queen from the crowd.

"I think we can assume that he has left the forest, with the other banished warriors. He knows it would be dangerous for him to return." Nightpelt answered.

"I hope so." Murmured the queen. Crookedstar nodded in agreement.

"Let's hope Brokenstar has had the sense to leave the forest for good. His greed for territory threatened us all. While Brokenstar was ShadowClan's leader, I allowed him to hunt in our river. But now ShadowClan has a new leader, and this agreement can no longer stand. The prey in our river belongs to RiverClan alone."

RiverClan cats yowled in agreement as Nightpelt kept his face carefully neutral—only cats who knew him could see how unhappy he was with this. But he merely flicked his tail and nodded. "Of course, ShadowClan recognizes that the fish are for RiverClan—they are the only ones who can stomach it." His whiskers twitched as he made a quick glance down at his deputy. Firefang looked up evenly.

It had taken some long arguments with his new leader to convince him of the wisdom of conceding the river back to RiverClan. Firefang argued that Nightpelt couldn't chase out Brokenstar for breaking the warrior's code while continuing his same policies. Leafbare was drawing to a close and ShadowClan now had several less cats to feed and a reputation to rebuild. They could give the river back as RiverClan would demand it anyway. This way ShadowClan appears generous without seeming weak.

What was even harder was convincing Nightpelt of the wisdom of Firefang's other bright idea…

With an annoyed flick of his tail, Nightpelt meowed. "Speaking of Brokenstar's crimes against the warrior's code, there is another that ShadowClan intends to put to rights." He nodded into the assembled cats. "Onewhisker of WindClan step forward." Cats mumbled as they stood to let the young WindClan warrior stand before the leaders and deputies of the other Clans. He looked proud, defiant and strong…unbroken by his long captivity by Brokenstar and his Clan's banishment. Beside him, Gorsepaw padded along, sitting down next to him and looking up at the Clan leaders in silent awe.

Nightpelt looked down. "Onewhisker, Brokenstar committed a terrible crime against you and your Clan. One for which I apologize." No one would know it from listening to how smoothly the words came about how hard Firefang had to fight Nightpelt to say that. Firefang finally impressed upon him the danger of the other Clans uniting against ShadowClan and the need to make amends. "We in ShadowClan were tricked, believing WindClan to be responsible for the deaths of Raggedstar and several kits when Brokenstar himself was guilty. Cats of the Clans, ShadowClan intends to erase Brokenstar's stain by finding and returning WindClan to the forest!"

Firefang looked over at Onewhisker, catching his eye and grinning. The other cats were practically speechless. The ShadowClan warrior stole a look at Tigerstar, seeing an angry glint in his eye. The return of WindClan would forestall his alliance with those Twolegplace rogues! And he couldn't very well get up and oppose the return of WindClan in favor of non-Clan cats!

Crookedstar stepped forward. "How is this to be done? WindClan was exiled before Leafbare…for all we know they may have moved beyond our ability to track them."

With a nod from Nightpelt, Firefang stood up. "Onewhisker and I will go across WindClan territory to look for them. If anyone can track their scent, he can."

"No." Every cat's head turned to face Tigerstar. "They should not go—alone. WindClan has cause to be suspicious of ShadowClan. They might attack Firefang," his mouth curled in a sneer. "I propose that each Clan send a warrior to accompany them."

Nodding, Crookedstar meowed. "I agree…RiverClan and ThunderClan will also send a warrior to accompany Firefang and Onewhiser."

"I volunteer!" Mistyfoot scrambled to her feet. "I will represent RiverClan, with Crookedstar's permission." Her leader nodded, approving.

"And me!" Ravenwing meowed. Tigerstar glowered balefully at his former apprentice. "I will safeguard ThunderClan's interests." Ravenwing smartly added. Firefang understood. Tigerstar wanted to make sure the other Clans were involved so ShadowClan couldn't influence or pull WindClan into an alliance with them.

"Very well." Nighpelt meowed. "The four chosen Cats will leave from Fourtrees tomorrow." He stepped back, letting Tigerstar come to the fore. Crookedstar nodded to him. "Welcome, Tigerstar. May StarClan walk with you."

"I thank you for your greetings." Tigerstar meowed. "It's an honor to stand here with you, although I wish the circumstances cold have been different." He briefly explained about Bluestar being killed by a poisonous snake.

Cats across the Gathering bowed their heads. "She was a great and noble cat. Every Clan will honor her memory." Crookedstar meowed, briefly remembering his kithood when he first met Bluestar at a gathering when they were both apprentices.

Tigerstar looked out across Fourtrees. "I stand here before you by the will of StarClan. Bluestar was a noble warrior. After her tragic death StarClan sent an omen to Spottedleaf that another great leader would arise. I swear by all our warrior ancestors that I will become that leader."

As the other cats looked upon ThunderClan's new leader Firefang looked around. The ThunderClan medicine cat was no where to be seen. Somehow he wasn't very surprised. "If StarClan sent an omen for Tigerstar, then I'm a mouse!"

The Gathering broke up shortly afterwards. Firefang briefly caught Mistyfoot and Ravenwing's eyes. Tomorrow they would find WindClan and bring them home. After that…Tigerstar needed to be dealt with.

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