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By Pogo

~ Azure Speaks ~Edit

Greetings...

So, it would seem that you want to hear my story... It isn't exactly a pleasant story, mind you. Of course, there are cheerful times when the Stars shine brightly on me, but there are also sorrowful times... when I see and feel nothing but darkness.

I can't quite understand it. I still do not consider myself a clan cat, but a loner... yet, StarClan watches over me. But that's just it... they only watch. Why do they watch when I am drowning under the currents? I know they realize I need more than words. Words can't heal a shattered heart, a heart that has lost what means most to it. So, why is it that they sit in the sky, while I fight for every breath?

Why do they leave it up to a kit to defeat the wretched evil in a forest so dark?

I am only one soul against an army of shadows. I am just barely alive, for I live in a world of pain.

Sometimes, when you're surviving for so long, you forget about living... I walk through the blackest tunnel, and in my story, there is a light at the end. It calls to me, guides me closer to it. The only happiness I have ever known awaits at the end. The finish line.

I made it to that finish line.... But was it worth getting to?

My entire life has been a struggle. Heh... It's not over yet. Nine moons old and still running with pride. I am young, but I feel full of wisdom. I've escaped death more than once. It had tried to beat me to the finish line, to my prize. I didn't let that happen...

I had a heavy loss... I think everyone has, though few learn to cope with it. I had a bit of help getting through mine; it would be shameful to give all the credit to myself. I am telling you my story, so you may learn... Learn to never give up hope.

Sometimes, a loss can make you stronger.

In my story, I gain back what I had lost....

! . . . !

~ Important Kitties In The Story ~ Edit

  • Azure - She is a tall she-kit with long blue-gray fur and blue and tan splotches. She has one completely black front leg. She has pretty turquoise eyes, a fluffy tail, and big paws. She has lasting scars along her sides and muzzle. Her older siblings are Owl and Breeze.
  • Owl - He is a big black and white tom with yellow eyes. He has huge paws, shaggy fur, and a long tail. His face is full of unpleasant scars left to him by a fox. He is the older brother of Azure and the littermate of Breeze.
  • Breeze - She is basically a female copy of her littermate. The only difference is her blind, ice-blue eyes caused by a badger. She has a fierce personality compared to her brother, who is more composed. She is Azure's older sister.
  • Moonfang - He is a big black and white splotched tom with yellow eyes. He is an ancestor of Azure.
  • Forgotten - She is a huge dark gray striped she-cat with a history to remember. (Ironic, am I right?) She has golden eyes and an unpredictable attitude. She is Onyx and Shade's sister.
  • Sparrow - He is a dark brown tabby tom with dull gray eyes. He is an ancestor of Azure. He likes to think of himself as a prophet, but don't be fooled: he is most likely insane.
  • Silent Scream - She is a black she-cat that is not much more than a shadow. When light shines on her, her pelt is transparent. She has liquid, blue eyes that pierce one's core and fills one with dread. Her voice always seems to echo. She is the ruler of the Dark Forest, and she likes to plot. A lot.
  • Nightmare (aka Lostwillow) - She is a black she-cat with dark gray speckles and amber eyes that are tinted red. She has a deep scar right underneath her muzzle. She is a follower of Silent Scream.
  • Shade - He is a jet black tom with green eyes. He has a slick pelt and a long tail. He is also a follower of Silent Scream.
  • Onyx - He is a blue-gray tom with black splotches and yellow eyes. He has a long pelt, muscular limbs, and huge paws. He is the father of Azure, Owl, and Breeze; however, they do not know this.
  • Finn - He is a big, furry tom with brown and tan-ish fur. He has golden eyes. He is a kittypet who was a great friend to Mystic.
  • Pogo - She is a very small she-cat with chocolate fur and blue eyes. She is a friend of Finn's and knows basic medicine cat healing. She too is a kittypet.
  • Ebonydusk - She is a tortoiseshell she-cat with golden eyes. She is the mother of Moonfang, making her Azure's kin.
  • Agro - He is a black and white tom with blue eyes. He is a rogue that lives near the waterfall.
  • Hawkwhisker - He is a brown tabby tom with green eyes. He was a former warrior of HollowClan and has ties with Forgotten.
  • Witheredblossom - She is a pure gray she-cat with yellow eyes. She was also a former warrior of HollowClan with ties to Forgotten. She does not talk much. (Well, sort of.)
  • Nova - She is a gray and white striped kittypet with sky blue eyes. She has long scars along her right flank, and memories she'd rather forget.
  • Saden - She is a large black and gray she-cat with yellow eyes. She is the leader of a rogue group. Her second-in-command is Stevie. She rules by fear and her punishments are harsh.
  • Cricket - He is a white, gray, and brownish-orange tom-kit. He is about three moons old and is a slave to most of the cats in the rogue group. A she-cat, named Nala, is his primary master.
  • BlazingClan - To see all who are apart of this important Clan and their appearances go to BlazingClan. (The cats in BlazingClan who are the most important for the story will have a description.)
  • Scarletlily - She is a russet-red she-cat with a white underbelly and paws. Her eyes are yellow. She is BlazingClan's medicine cat. Her apprentice is Plumpaw.
  • Darkwing - He is a black and brown tom with blue eyes. He is a young warrior of BlazingClan and he is shy particularly around Azure.
  • Blazestar - She is a beautiful golden she-cat with white paws and amber eyes. She is the leader of BlazingClan. 
  • Mysterysoul - She is a black queen with a tan-ish underbelly and striking yellow eyes. As a punishment from StarClan, all four of her paws are blood-red to remind her of the revenge she once sought out. Her mate is Stonefrost and her kits are Foxkit and Badgerkit. 
  • Foxkit - He is a black and white tom-kit with orange splotches and yellow eyes. He is about one moon, but looks older because of his size. He is the reincarnation of Owl. 
  • Badgerkit - She is a black and white she-kit with icy-blue eyes. She is Foxkit's littermate, and she is slightly smaller than him. She is the reincarnation of Breeze. 
  • Sagewhisp - He is a gray and light gray tom with a white underbelly and two white patches. His eyes are green. He is a quiet, yet strict warrior in BlazingClan. He is Azure's kin.

(More cats will be added as the story progresses)

!...!

~ Chapter One ~Edit

Poke. Poke. Poke.

"Azure, will you cut that out?" Breeze growled.

Azure wiggled her whiskers and squeaked in protest. "But it's fun!"

"I don't care what you think. It's driving me crazy!"

Azure huffed. "Fine." But she still had that mischievous glint in her eyes. She scampered in front of her sister and sat down, staring deep into the blind orbs.

Breeze lifted her head and sniffed. "Okay, what do you want? I can tell you're looking at me."

Azure whisked her tail back and forth. "Can you tell me the badger story?"

"No," Breeze hissed ever so slightly. "It's too soon for that."

"But---"

"Azure, no, it only happened a few sunrises ago. I'm not ready to tell it..." Azure could hear a bit of pain in her sister's voice, which she understood. Breeze had lost her eyesight to that badger. If it weren't for Onyx and Owl, it would have killed her.

Azure sat in between her sister's big paws, snuggling close to her fur. "Can you tell me about when you first met Onyx?" She asked. Azure knew this was a story Breeze was delighted to tell, for they all loved Onyx (though they would never know that he was their father).

"Alright," Breeze meowed. She laid her head on top of Azure's, barely putting any weight on the little kit. "Owl and I were about your age when we met him. We were with Mystic---once again, not our mother. Onyx had come to visit, because he was good friends with Mystic. I myself took an instant liking to him. He was very teasing and nice. He came to visit a lot, which I thought was odd, 'cause he spoke to us more than he did with Mys---"

"Well, what do we have here? The lazy-butts still being lazy?" The joshing voice came from the entrance to the small cave.

"Owl!" Azure leaped over Breeze's paws, coming to greet him.

He licked her tiny forehead. "Did I miss story time?" He asked.

"Only for the millionth time," Breeze meowed, lying her head back down. "What'cha catch?"

Owl went back to the prey-pile. "For the annoying one, a rabbit." He picked it up and dropped it in front of Breeze. "And for the lovely, growing she-cat, a plump mouse." He grabbed it and gave it to Azure.

Breeze huffed and muttered a thank you. Azure tore into the mouse. Every bit of it, she thought, was delicious.

Owl watched both his sisters eat for a moment, then he went to Breeze, lying down beside her. "Are you alright?"

Breeze swallowed. "Thanks to you and Onyx, my wounds are healing well."

"I didn't mean physically. I meant, mentally." Owl stared intently at his littermate.

Azure listened to them but pretended not to hear, knowing she wasn't supposed to be, for they were speaking quietly.

Breeze sighed. "I'm still a bit shaken up, and I feel bad for you and Onyx. You both have to care for me like a kit and we already have one of those."

Azure's tail twitched at the comment.

"It's going to be okay," Owl reassured her. "Onyx had asked me to tell you that he'll take you out later on---maybe tomorrow---for some hunting or a quiet stroll."

Breeze nodded. "'Kay." She went back to eating her rabbit.

Azure, already done with her meal, pushed the bones aside. She went over to them and squeezed between them, resting her head on her paws. Her eyes closed. 

. . . .

Azure's eyes reflected the flames just outside the den. "Are we safe in here?" She asked her brother.

Owl looked at her. "Get over here. You're too close to the entrance."

Azure scampered over. "You didn't answer my question," she meowed.

Owl curled his tail around her. "I'm positive that we are safe in here. We're in a cave, remember?"

"Then why do you look worried?" Azure was completely calm. She knew her family would protect her; so she didn't see why her older brother's fur was bristling.

He listened to the flickering of the flames before responding. "I'm worried about Breeze and Onyx," he replied at last.

"W-well, won't they be alright, too? Onyx will keep them safe, won't he?"

"Of course, of course." Owl sounded sure, but his face still looked anxious.

An hour went by and the fire continued on. Azure was playing with Owl's tail. She swatted it back and forth, back and forth. It has been so long, she thought he would have yelled at her by now, but he only gazed at the entrance of the den and didn't make a sound. Suddenly, it began to rain and the fire died down soon after.

"Thank, StarClan," Owl murmured. "Okay, Azure," he meowed and turned to her. "I'm going out there to look for our sister. Stay. Here. Got it?"

"Mhm." Azure nodded.

And so, Owl went out searching for his sister... and Onyx.

Azure watched him leave, wishing she could go with him. She was asleep when her brother returned. Her eyes popped open and she ran to them. "Breeze!"

Breeze felt Azure bouncing around her paws and she licked her sister's ears. Owl helped Breeze to her nest and she lay down.

Azure looked at the entrance expectantly. "Where's Onyx?" She asked excitedly.

Breeze's eyes clouded as Azure turned to her. "He's not coming..." She almost choked on the words.

"What'd ya mean?" Azure asked as anxiety began to prick at her belly.

Owl answered before Breeze could. "Onyx sacrificed himself so Breeze could escape the fire."

"It was horrible," Breeze murmured. "And I didn't even see it happen!"

Azure's fur fluffed up in alarm. "S-so, he---he's dead?"

"Yes..." Owl meowed quietly.

Azure ran to him and sat between his paws and whimpered softly. "I thought he would take care of us," she meowed.

"And he will---" Owl tried to reassure her.

"But I won't ever see him again..." Azure began to mewl.

"Oh, you will! Someday."

Azure looked up at Owl and then at Breeze. She could see the sorrow in both their eyes. "But how?"

"Onyx will be in StarClan waiting for us," Breeze replied. "I promise."

Azure didn't respond; instead, she curled up in a ball at her brother's paws.
  • Azure
  • (the closest thing I could find to) Onyx
  • Breeze
  • Owl

~ Chapter Two ~Edit

Azure paced back and forth as her older siblings slept. She had been up all night unable to rest. She looked at Owl and Breeze, her tail twitching. How could they sleep when the cat that was like a father to them died? The little kit turned away and gazed out the entrance. The smell of ashes filled her nose as she padded towards it. Her eyes flickered to the blackened trees and ground.

You take Onyx away from me, and the forest? Azure thought as she looked up at the almost invisible stars. Why are you so cruel? 

She began to pace around the cave once more, the sun slowly rising. Azure glanced at Breeze as her sister began to mumble in her sleep. She padded closer with her ears pointed forward. What do you have to say for yourself now? Talking in her sleep was often something that Breeze did, and Azure always listened whenever she could; she thought it was funny.

"I don't trust a thing you say..." Breeze mumbled. Who was she dreaming about? "What do you mean, 'I don't have a choice'?"

Azure blinked at her sister, her curiosity rising.

"You can't make me! You have no control over---"

Then, all of a sudden, Breeze's eyes popped open and she growled fiercely when she saw Azure, which woke up Owl. Azure noticed the queer crimson tint to her eyes. She jumped backwards as Breeze stood up, unsheathing her claws. Th-this usually doesn't happen! Breeze growled again, her lips drawn back in a dangerous snarl.

Owl leaped in front of Azure. "Breeze, what're you doing?" He demanded. Breeze froze, and her eyes went back to their normal, clear ice-blue color, blind once again. Owl stared at his littermate. "Were you playing?" He asked Azure.

Azure shook her head. "Sh-she was dr-dreaming, an-and then she woke up and growled at me."

Breeze blinked. "What's going on?" She could sense the tenseness coming from her siblings.

"You almost attacked me!" Azure meowed, her fur bristling uneasily.

"What?!" Breeze was genuinely shocked. "You know I'd never do that!"

Owl narrowed his eyes. "Do you not remember what just happened?"

"What do you mean?" Breeze growled slightly. "I was sleeping!"

"This is strange..." Owl murmured as he padded around her.

"What were you dreaming about?" Azure asked.

Breeze was taken aback. "How do you know that I was dreaming?"

"Well... you were talking in your sleep again," Azure meowed, shuffling her paws.

Breeze's fur spiked up along her spine. "H-how much did you hear?"

"N-not much... Who were you arguing with?"

Breeze's eyes darkened. "A cat."

"What cat?" Owl asked as he paused to stand in front of her.

"I didn't get her name. And I don't care what it is, but..."

"But what?" Owl prompted.

"I could see her, and where she came from..."

"You could see?" Azure asked in disbelief.

"Yes..." Breeze answered slowly. "She was a Dark Forest cat."

Owl froze. "Dark Forest? You were in the Dark Forest?"

Azure looked from one cat to the other. "What's the Dark Forest?" She asked. It sounded ominous.

Owl glanced at Azure, his whiskers twitching. "It's not a place you want to be," he meowed vaguely.

Azure flattened her ears. That wasn't very informative. She looked back at her sister. "What did the cat want?"

Breeze flicked her tail. "Nothing important." She kept her mew cool, but even so, Owl and Azure could tell she was lying.

"If ya say so," Owl muttered.

"We need to talk. Outside," Breeze meowed. Owl followed her out into the forest.

Azure sat in the cave, watching the entrance. What's Breeze got to say that she can't say in front of me? She curled her tail around her paws. What did that cat want...?

. . . .

Azure followed Owl along the shore of the river, her steps light and her nose sniffing the air. "So, when are we gonna hunt?" She asked Owl. Her eyes brightened. "Will you teach me this time?"

Owl looked over his shoulder at her. "I suppose I can. The longer we take the better. Breeze needs to be alone..." He drifted off.

Azure nodded, understanding. It had been two weeks since Breeze's odd, red-eyed outburst, and since then, she began to do it more frequently. Azure shivered thinking about it. What was happening to her sister? Maybe it has something to do with that cat....

Azure realized that Owl was talking to her.

"Got it?" He asked.

Azure blinked. She looked at how he sat facing the water, tail lying flat, and claws unsheathed. He's teaching me to catch fish! "Got it," she meowed confidently.

She sat a little ways off from her brother and positioned herself exactly how he was. She watched him for a few moments, then wham! He lashed out at the water, throwing a fish onto the shore. He put a paw on top of it, then snapped the spine. "That was awesome!" Azure exclaimed.

Owl dropped it and turned to her, purring. "Now it's your turn. Remember what I told you."

Azure faced the water. Okay. Remember what he told me... What did he tell me exactly? She sat completely still and gazed down at the blue-green water. She unsheathed her claws as a few fish came swimming toward her. Okay... Wait for it..... Now! Azure clawed at the water and the fish swam frantically away. "Darn it..."

"Don't give up," Owl meowed encouragingly. "You just gotta keep practicing. You'll be a master fish catcher in no time. I promise."

Azure purred. "Thanks."

They both looked back to the waters, and waited. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Owl grabbing another fish out of the river. That gave her more determination to catch one of her own. If Owl can do it, than so can I!

Azure again waited, her patience slowly ebbing. And soon she saw the dark shape of a small fish. She took a deep breath as it swam slowly closer. She lashed out, timing it carefully, and threw the fish onto the shore. "I did it!" Then she realized it wasn't dead yet since it was flopping about on the ground. She quickly pinned it down (after a few missed swipes), and bit down on its spine like Owl had. She let go and stared at it. "Owl, I caught one!"

Owl padded over to her and licked her ears. "Well done!" He congratulated her as he looked down at her fish. It was a tiny one, but Azure's eyes gleamed with pride. "Go put it on the pile."

Azure picked up the fish in her jaws and hopped over to the pile Owl had made. When she turned back around, Owl was staring up at the sky. He looked into the forest, then to his left and across the river. His ears were perked up and twitching, and his tail lashed to and fro angrily. "Leave me alone!" He howled.

Azure cocked her head to one side. "Um, Owl? Who're you talking to?"

Owl looked down at her, his gaze darkening with fear. "Run," he breathed.

Azure flattened her ears. "What? Why?"

Then, it happened.

Owl swung his head around as if an irritating fly was buzzing around his ears. He let out a gasp as his eyes flung open, and a menacing crimson flowed into his yellow orbs.

Azure's fur bushed out. Oh no! It's happening to him, too! "Owl?" She tried calling his name as she slowly inched backwards, claws remaining unsheathed.

Owl growled as his reddened gaze landed on her. He let a grin creep up on his face. "Owl?" He meowed mockingly. "Your brother is ours now."

And that was her cue to run.

Azure sprinted into the forest, Owl hot on her trail. Her claws dug into the ground, trying to make herself go faster. She felt his warm breath on her tail tip. "Help!" She shrieked. "Breeze! Someone!"

Owl laughed and he batted her in the side with his big paw. "Too scared to fight for yourself, hmm?" He taunted her as she slammed against a tree.

She lifted herself up and faced him. Is this how I'm going to die? My own brother slicing open my throat?

But, as Owl was about to leap at her, he began shaking his head frantically. Then he winced and threw himself onto the ground, paws covering his ears and then his eyes. Azure stood frozen to the ground, her pelt still spiked up in every direction. Then, Owl popped up, sitting down. His head faced the sun, his jaws opened in an agonized yowl that made no sound. He looked to the ground, hunched over and panting. He turned, glancing at Azure. Guilt immediately flooded over him when he saw the state she was in.

"Are you back?" She asked shakily.

"I'm so sorry, Azure," Owl croaked.

"It's okay," Azure replied as she cautiously padded over to him. She smoothed out her fur and laid her tail on his back; he was trembling.

"I couldn't control myself. They---"

"Who's they?"

"Dark Forest cats..."

"What do they want with you and Breeze?"

"I don't know... But you're not safe with us anymore. I think we should take you to Mystic."

"What?" Azure flinched away from him.

He met her gaze steadily. "You'll be safer with her."

"No! I don't want to! I've never met Mystic before. I want to stay with you and Bre---"

"Breeze and I could kill you!" Owl was on his paws now. Both of them stood on shaking legs.

"You wouldn't..." Azure began.

"Of course I wouldn't! But if those evil cats can take over our minds..." Owl drifted off, not wanting to finish his sentence. "I'm taking you to Mystic." With a lash of his tail, he walked back to the river.

Azure stopped beside him when they reached the fish. "I'm surprised no one took them," Owl mumbled.

"Can I at least say good-bye to Breeze first?" Azure asked him as he bent down to pick up a fish.

He sighed. "Yes. I know she'll want to say her farewell, too."

Azure's whiskers twitched. "Do I have to go?" She moaned. "I don't want to leave you!"

"You don't have a choice." Owl picked up as much fish as he could and began walking home.

Azure picked up the last fish and followed sadly after him, the fish's tail dragging on the forest floor.

~ Chapter Three ~ Edit

"WHAT?! You're not taking her anywhere!" Breeze hissed. The fur along her spine stood on end and her tail swayed back and forth.

Azure padded into the small cave, the fish still dangling in her jaws. Owl must have told her already.

"Breeze you don't understand. I attacked her today!" Owl said, not hiding the shame in his mew.

Breeze scowled. "Why would you do that?!" Then her blind eyes lit with realization. "It happened to you, didn't it?"

Owl bowed his head. "Yes..."

"Who did it? What did they look like?"

"I didn't see a cat. I only heard them... him. It was a tom's voice. But it echoed all around my head; it was almost painful to hear." Owl looked back up at his sister. "I felt sick."

Breeze nodded in understanding. "That's how I felt," she murmured quietly.

Azure dropped her prey on the fresh-kill pile. The excitement of catching her first fish had washed away completely. Now she glanced at her two older siblings with sorrow.

Breeze turned to her, sitting down. "Com'ere." Azure slowly scuffled over and sat in front of her sister's big paws. Breeze curled her tail around Azure as Owl laid down beside them. Breeze seemed to stare down at Azure, affection bubbled in her sightless eyes. "Does she have to go to Mystic now?" Breeze asked.

Owl sighed. "I suppose she can spend her last night with us, but in the morning... she has to. No more excuses."

"Alright...."

They huddled together in a big, warm pile of fluff. "Goodnight," Breeze mumbled, trying to hide the sadness in her mew.

"We love you, Azure," Owl meowed.

"I love you guys, too," she told them. She began to whimper softly. Is this what the Dark Forest cats planned: to separate us? Her sadness slowly turned to anger. hate them for it....

It took Azure a while to go to sleep. She could tell that Owl and Breeze were having issues as well. They kept shifting back and forth. But soon they all fell into a deep slumber, only to wake up in the same dream.

Azure opened her eyes, blinking in the blinding light. Her eyes adjusted to it as her siblings stirred beside her. "Where are we?" She breathed.

The forest was beautiful, with the flowers and trees all in bloom. The scent of prey was everywhere, the delicious scent filling her nostrils.

Owl gazed around, his mouth gaping open for a moment. "We're in StarClan." His response was almost inaudible.

Breeze blinked a few times in a row, staring at her siblings. "I can see you..." She meowed slowly as she stood up. "We're all dreaming."

"Thanks for pointing out the obvious," Owl meowed with a mischievous smirk.

Breeze growled and cuffed him over the ears. "At least now my attacks will be on point."

Owl rolled his eyes. "You couldn't land an attack even if your opponent were right in front of your whiskers."

Breeze narrowed her eyes and batted at his muzzle before he had a chance to react. "You were saying?" She hissed. An amused purr rumbled in Owl's throat.

Azure wasn't paying attention to them. She was staring deep into the trees. Her ears suddenly perked up. "Someone's coming," she meowed. Owl and Breeze turned to Azure and came to stand next to her, their pelts brushing.

A black-and-white patched tom approached them, his pelt lit with starlight. He looked so much like Owl and Breeze that their relation was uncanny. "Greetings, young ones," the tom meowed as he came to stand in front of the three.

"Who are you?" Breeze meowed through a quiet growl.

"I am Moonfang, one of your ancestors," the tom replied. His yellow gaze seemed to bore into them.

Another cat came out of the trees and stood beside Moonfang. "Nice to finally meet you three in person," she meowed, though not really meaning it.

"Are you another one of our ancestors?" Azure asked curiously.

The big dark gray splotched she-cat gazed down at her for a moment. "Why yes, yes I am."

"Hey, wait. I know you. I've seen you in my dreams," Breeze meowed, staring at the cat.

"Oh, have you?" The she-cat pretended to be interested.

Breeze flicked her tail. "Yeah. Your name's Forgotten."

This time, the she-cat's golden orbs darkened. "Yes... that's me."

"So, why are we here?" Owl spoke up. "Meeting lost family is great and all, but we wouldn't have come here if it weren't important, right?"

"He's a lot like Onyx. Smart and to the point," Moonfang murmured.

"What do you mean?" Owl's eyes glittered with confusion.

"If I had a choice, I would've haunted your dreams myself, but this old mange-pelt had to beat me to ya," Forgotten meowed with a smirk, purposefully averting the littermates' attention onto her.

"I didn't like her in my dreams, and I don't like her now," Breeze muttered.

"Well, get used to me!" Forgotten hissed. "I'll be inside your head for a long while."

Breeze's fur spiked up along her spine, and her eyes lit with rage. "Are you one of the cats that's been controlling my mind?!"

Forgotten snorted. "No. I'm the one trying to stop them."

Breeze let her fur lie flat, but she tipped her head, perplexed.

"You see," Moonfang began. "The Dark Forest is planning something. We've yet to figure it out. All we know is that they want to use you two to control your entire will. Forgotten and I have been trying to stop them, but... it's been getting difficult."

"Why?" Owl inquired.

The StarClan cats exchanged a glance. "That part is not your business," Forgotten meowed a bit icily.

"We have every right to know!" Breeze growled. "It's our minds their messin' with!"

Azure's pelt prickled uncomfortably. No one had seemed to pay attention to her the moment their ancestors had appeared. She began to back away, thinking that their conversation was not for her.

As she padded into the forest, she could hear the four older cats yowling at each other. Well, it was mostly Forgotten and Breeze. Both have bad tempers, thought Azure. She suddenly stopped and looked at the forest before her. It had turned dark, and all the vegetation seemed to have rotted and grown old. The air smelled foul, and Azure had to keep herself from gagging. She turned around slowly going back the way she had come. How far did I walk?

"Not that far," an echoing voice sounded behind her.

Azure spun around. Liquid blue eyes glowed at her from the darkness of the forest. It made her pelt stand on end.

"There's no need to be afraid, little one. I won't harm you," the cat meowed.

Azure inched forward still unsure. She wondered why the cat stayed by the rotting trees.

As if this mysterious she-cat heard her thoughts, she answered: "Because I am stuck behind a barrier." A shadow-like tail appeared and pointed, showing Azure where the light met the dark. "I can not go passed it."

"Why not?" Azure asked, trying not to show her uncertainty.

"StarClan and I don't really get along...."

"Oh..." Azure didn't like the night very much; it was too hard for her to see. "Why are they mean enough to put you in darkness? Does it scare you?"

"Not a bit. I'm actually quite fond of it. I got used to it real quick. Want to see how it's like for yourself?"

Azure shook her head. "I'm scared of it."

The she-cat let out a strange cackle. "My dear, there is nothing to be afraid of! You'll be safe as long as you're with me," she reassured Azure.

"Ooooh...kay..." Azure meowed slowly. She stepped cautiously forward. She couldn't shake the feeling of dread that had sunken into her belly.

"Come here. I want to show you something that I think you'll like."

Azure followed the she-cat, barely knowing which part was cat and which part was shadow. The darkness swamped over them, making Azure feel terribly helpless. "I want to go back," she mewled.

"Oh, we're almost there." The she-cat snapped her gaze around to look at her. "Fear will get you nowhere in this place." As she said this, the forest opened up into a small clearing, not that Azure could see it. A turquoise-colored flower stood glowing in its center. It seemed to whisper and call to her.

"That's the prettiest thing here," Azure meowed, stopping to stare at it in admiration.

"I agree," the feline meowed. There was something disturbing about the way she answered.

Azure tried to ignore it, though it lingered in the air. Her fur rose along her spine once again.

The shadow cat sniffed the flower's sweet tempting scent. "Wouldn't you like to let the scent bathe your tongue?" She invited Azure.

Azure nodded silently and padded closer.

"Stop right there!" Meowed a new voice. Azure and the she-cat spun around to see a dark brown tom with dull, gray eyes approach them. His pelt was lit with faded stars.

"You fool!" The she-cat hissed, her eyes showing utter scorn. "I almost got the brat to touch the flower! I want all three! Not just Fox and Badger!"

"That would be why I stopped her," the tom snorted. To Azure, he meowed: "Come to me, little one. We need to get out of this dangerous place."

"Dangerous?" The transparent she-cat scoffed. "What a 'horrible' word to describe your home."

The tom curled his lip in a maddening snarl. "This is not my home."

Azure looked back and forth between the two. She was awfully confused and didn't know who to trust; both cats made her feel uneasy.

"Of course it's your home! You chose this place," the she-cat continued, eyeing the tom through slitted, blue orbs.

"But if you ever paid attention, Silent Scream, you'd have seen that I truly live on the border."

The name Silent Scream sent an ice cold chill crawling over Azure. She began to back away from them both as they resumed their argument.

"I suppose it doesn't matter to me which side you are on. You're no threat, and you're not a satisfying ally either," Silent Scream hissed with a lash of her almost invisible tail.

"Good! I don't want to be a part of your evil schemes!" The tom fired back. Then, he realized that Azure had gone.

Silent Scream gave him a disturbing and complacent smile. "You better go find the precious kit before I do," she taunted him, and then she vanished before his eyes.

  • Moonfang
  • Forgotten
  • Silent Scream

~ Chapter Four ~ Edit

Azure ran as fast as she could. She had to get away from them, from this dark place. Where had StarClan gone? She knew that this unpleasant place was definitely not the wonderful hunting grounds of her ancestors. So, where were they? Where were Owl and Breeze? Azure stopped and skidded on the foul-smelling soil. She looked in every direction. There was no light in this forest at all! How am I going to get back? Azure thought miserably. I'm lost! She pricked her ears. There was rustling behind her. Her heart leaped fearfully inside her chest. They found me!

She began to run again, still not knowing where she was going. Suddenly, she heard pounding pawsteps in pursuit. Then, she came to an unexpected halt, feeling a searing pain in her tail. She looked back at her tail to find the glowing eyes of the strange tom, who held her tail firmly under his paw. "Let me go!" Azure mewled, trying to pull it free.

The tom placed another paw on her head, holding her back. "Don't waste your time. I'm not letting go until you listen to me," he told her.

Azure stopped pulling and hissed. "I don't want to listen to you! I just want to get back to StarClan! My brother and sister are probably worried about me."

The tom's eyes flashed seeming suddenly distant and far away. "Badger and Fox are here, too?" He asked, looking around.

"Who?" She huffed.

"Owl and Breeze. Are they here?"

"No!" Azure growled. "Not here. StarClan!"

The tom looked down at her, his normal expression back. "All the more reason I should take you back myself." He let go of her tail. "Follow me if you want to get out of here."

Azure hesitated, then nodded seeing that she had no choice. The dark brown tom led her passed the rotting trees and through the thorny brush. Her pads started to ache when suddenly, she saw a light shining ahead. "I can see StarClan's hunting grounds again!" Azure squealed happily, and she raced forward and crossed the border. She was several fox-lengths away when she glanced back, seeing the tom staring at her from the other side. "Are you coming?" Azure asked him. The tom hesitated and looked back at the Dark Forest. Then, he looked back at her and ran to her side. "Why did you wait?" She asked when he caught up.

The tom twitched his whiskers. "My place is on the border, between the Dark Forest and StarClan," he replied. "I hate alternating between the two."

"But... Does that mean you're... a bad cat?" Azure looked up at him, and he gazed down at her with his gray eyes.

He didn't answer for a minute. "That is for you to decide," he said at last. "You may not like what is coming...."

You may not like what is coming? What does that mean? What's he gonna do?

Azure blinked, her tail twitching. "Hey, uh, what's your name?" She asked, trying to feel less awkward with this strange dead cat.

The tom purred slightly. "My name's---"

"Sparrow!"

Azure and the tom both looked forward to see Forgotten pelting toward them. Azure flattened her ears as she saw the she-cat's furious snarl. She had to leap out of the way as Forgotten rammed into Sparrow. The angry she-cat smashed his face into the ground, hissing loathsome threats. "I should kill you, tear away your existence so you may never walk these grounds again! Why are you here?!"

"Azure, there you are!" Owl meowed as he and Breeze padded quickly to her. They licked her ears.

"Where did you go?" Breeze demanded. "Moonfang and Forgotten were---Um... What's Forgotten doing?"

The three siblings turned to the StarClan cat, who was now sitting on Sparrow and digging her claws into his fur.

"Okay, Miss Forgotten, get off of your father," Moonfang meowed sternly as he came up to her.

"But, we can't let him go!" Forgotten protested. "He's insane!"

"He's not insane," Azure piped up. "He just saved me from the Dark Forest." All eyes turned to her, making her pelt grow hot.

"You went to the Dark Forest?" Forgotten's voice was low and tinted with menace.

"W-well, y-yes," Azure stammered. "B-but I was tricked by s-some she-cat."

"Who was the she-cat?" Moonfang asked, trying to sound calm (but was actually panicking on the inside).

Sparrow finally threw Forgotten off, growling as he did so. "Silent Scream had lured her in. She wanted to play with her mind, just like she did Fox's and Badger's," he told them.

Forgotten cursed under her breath, then she looked at Sparrow coldly. "So, why are you telling us this and not helping your master?"

Sparrow's eyes glinted wildly with something Azure couldn't make out, and his fur bristled as he flexed his claws into the soft earth. "Silent Scream is not my master." His mew was ominous and strange. Then, he seemed to relax, but the glint in his eyes remained. "I only want to help my kin...."

Moonfang stepped forward, his tail flicking, the only sign that showed his anxiety. "You can help them by leaving," the old StarClan tom meowed.

Sparrow pushed past Moonfang and Forgotten, ignoring them both and stopping at the three siblings. "There is something you must know." He suddenly seemed full of wisdom and he straightened, making himself look bigger and mightier. He stared directly at Breeze and Owl, filling them with unease. Sparrow opened his mouth, his voice far away as he spoke:

"Brother and Sister,

Fox and Badger,

Will battle each other.

They will not survive,

Leaving the world so others may thrive.

The time has come,

For the fight to be won."

The five cats, hearing the words of Sparrow, stared at him in horror. Sparrow's gaze darkened, showing an odd and unexpected hate. "The prophecy has already begun." Everyone's fur bristled, and Forgotten leaped at Sparrow again.

"Wait! What does it mean?" Azure asked while shaking on her paws.

Forgotten and Sparrow fought, spitting and hissing viciously. Moonfang came to Azure, wrapping his tail around her protectively. "Owl and Breeze, your brother and sister, will someday fight to the death, and it will be soon."

"No!" Azure shrieked and she tore away from Moonfang, and ran to her siblings. "Why would they do that?! They won't!"

Breeze and Owl looked at each other, not saying a word for there was no need; they were sharing the same thoughts, feeling the same pain.

"It doesn't make any sense!" Azure protested, willing herself to believe that what Sparrow said was false. "They'd never do such a thing! They love each other and me! They wouldn't leave me!"

"No love will save them from their destiny," Moonfang hissed, as three pairs of sad glittering eyes turned toward him. "This is what Forgotten and I were trying to avoid, but... we were too late...."

A yowl full of anguish sounded from Sparrow, and they looked to him. Forgotten held him down, one paw on his throat with the claws digging in deeper and deeper. "You take it back!" His daughter screeched. "Say it isn't true!"

"Can't," Sparrow was able to croak. "If they... don't die... the Dark Forest will use them to... to destroy us all! They have more power than they know..."

"Then, give them some hope, you mangy, flea-bitten, selfish, coward!"

Sparrow began to laugh, and now Azure could see why Forgotten had called him insane. "They'll need more than hope...."

"You said you wanted to help them!" Forgotten growled dangerously close to his face. Sparrow let out another yowl of pain as she dug her claws further in.

"Forgotten, you're going to kill him!" Moonfang meowed, shoving her away.

"That's exactly what I want!" Forgotten growled. "He should've been dealt with a long time ago!"

"He's your father, Forgotten," Moonfang meowed, making the tough gray she-cat flinch only slightly. "Give him some mercy and pity."

"Like he gave to me?" Forgotten meowed quietly, letting out the words with absolute rage. "I got nothing from him."

Moonfang ignored her and helped Sparrow to his paws. The tom's throat was bleeding heavily. "Leave, Sparrow. Go back to the border and don't come back." Sparrow flicked his tail showing that he had heard, but he was reluctant because he had more to say. Moonfang gritted his teeth. "Go."

Sparrow got one last look at Owl and Breeze and grinned broadly. "Those two will die, and I will be there, watching when it happens."

Moonfang growled and Sparrow sprinted away, leaving a trail of scarlet liquid. Forgotten turned away as Moonfang searched her yellow gaze. Owl and Breeze huddled closer together, nuzzling Azure as they curled their tails around her.

Azure whimpered miserably. The only cats that love me are going to die, and there's nothing I can do to stop it, she thought despairingly.

Breeze looked up as Forgotten and Moonfang approached. "There is something we can do, isn't there?"

The two starlit cats lowered their gazes and shook their heads. "Sparrow is right: Silent Scream would use you both to eliminate us all, so she can rule over living and dead cats in darkness and fear. I'm sorry," Moonfang added.

"Sorry?" Breeze repeated. "You're sorry? I thought our ancestors were suppose to watch and care for us! What's the point of StarClan if you all are stupid dead cats that can't help anyone?! Owl and I are suppose to kill each other, and you're telling us there's no way to stop it?!"

"It's not like we want it that way!" Forgotten spat. "We can't do everything for you. You have your own destiny that we can't control. If you want to change it, then you have to do it yourself!"

Breeze's eyes were blazing with fury. She opened her mouth to give a nasty retort. Owl held her back with a paw as she stood up, warning her not to start a fight, and whispered something only she could hear.

"We'll hold it off as long as we can," Moonfang meowed. "But we're losing contact with you two every second. Silent Scream has planned this for centuries. She has new skills that we have yet to discover.... Good-bye."

. . . .

Azure's eyes popped open as Owl and Breeze awakened beside her. Breeze sat up blinking, unable to see once more. "It's not true..." Azure heard her sister meow. "Not a single word."

"You're in denial," Owl meowed simply and quietly.

"Shouldn't I be?" She hissed at him. "Those StarClan fools told us that we are going to murder each other! Do you think I'm really going to believe that?"

"I'm not telling you to believe anything," he murmured. "But we can't ignore what they said."

"Well, I can," Breeze snorted stubbornly.

Owl got to his paws. "Then, you're a bigger fool than they are. If we ignore the prophecy, then we can't stop it. Forgotten said that we have to change out destiny ourselves. So, we have to face it head on." He paused. "It's... It's like the time when Onyx attacked that fox to save me when I was no larger than a kit. He didn't hesitate at all. That's how we should be. We shouldn't wait for what's coming; we should fight it now."

Azure glanced at Owl's scarred face that still showed the fight with the fox. Will that work?

Breeze's ears twitched. "Alright..." She meowed quietly. "Fine. I'll do it your way. I just hope it works... for Azure's sake."

Azure turned to her sister. They want to change their destiny for me! Azure felt a wave of affection for her older siblings. "We'll get through this," she told them. "Together. Like we've always been."

"Together..." Owl mumbled. "That's right, Azure." He touched his nose to hers.

"So, no going to Mystic?" Azure meowed hopefully.

"Huh? Oh, yeah... I totally forgot about that..." Owl paused, grinning. "No... You're staying here. With us. We're going to need you now more than ever."

Hours and hours and hours had passed.

The three slunk back into their den, trudging with exhaustion. They had spent the whole day hunting and teaching Azure how to hunt and fight, so it would pull their thoughts away from being mind-controlled.

Azure yawned, plopping on the floor. "I don't want to move ever again," she meowed as Owl and Breeze laid down next to her.

"I agree," Owl huffed. Breeze had already closed her eyes and was snoring softly. Owl licked Azure's ears, and they did the same as Breeze and fell fast asleep.

Darkness swarmed all around Azure. She could hear unfamiliar voices, but she couldn't see a single cat. "Little Azure thinks she can save her loved ones, hmm?" Came a mocking she-cat's voice.

"It appears she does, Nightmare," a tom responded menacingly. "How sad it is for her to think she can win."

"Only a fool would think such nonsense."

"H-hey! S-stop it!" Azure stammered.

"Oh? Kittypet wants us to stop?" The tom jeered. "How funny!"

"It's not funny!" Azure growled with her ears flat against her head. "M-my brother and sister and I have hope! We'll beat you Dark Forest cats for sure!"

The two invisible cats' response was a cruel laugh. Then, the she-cat stopped and hissed close to Azure's ear. "Shade, do you remember what we do to cats that have hope?"

"Oh, yes," the tom replied, then added in a voice full of dark pleasure, "We teach them a lesson!"

Before Azure had time to think, she felt two huge paws slam into her side, knocking her to the ground. She lay there winded. Sharp teeth pulled at her scruff and lifted her head, forcing Azure to stare unexpectedly at a single pair of red-tinted amber eyes. The she-cat had shown herself, while the tom held Azure's head up, still invisible.

"A-are you Nightmare?" Azure asked almost inaudibly.

The she-cat snickered. "Well, at least we know she's been paying attention." The grip around her scruff tightened as Azure inhaled deeply. Nightmare flicked her dark gray speckled tail, unsheathing her claws.

Azure's gaze hardened. "You'll regret hurting me," she told the cat.

Nightmare let out a big laugh, amusement glinted in her cold eyes. "Why, aren't you a brave one. Only five moons---right?---and she already has a mouth. You better watch what you say, little one. Sometimes talking can get you into trouble, not out of it." Nightmare scratched Azure's muzzle.

Azure flinched at the searing pain that now covered her face. Blood began to form out and around the cut.

"Did you know that our leader, Silent Scream, feeds off of cat blood?" Nightmare asked, eyeing the red liquid that now dripped onto the rotten soil. "Lately, there hasn't been enough of it. But... when your brother and sister kill each other..." She chuckled. "There'll be enough to last her a long, long time."

Shade dropped Azure's head and dug razor sharp claws across her side, making her let out an agonized shriek. "You are just the appetizer," he sneered.

"Stop!" Azure pleaded. It hurt so much, and she didn't want these heartless monsters to talk about her beloved siblings. "They won't die! I'll make sure of it!"

Shade and Nightmare began to laugh, slowly fading away as they did so. "Hope," Shade snarled. "Will get you nowhere."

Azure awakened from the dream. She opened her eyes and focused on the blurry cat that seemed to stare worriedly at her.

"Azure! You're alive!" Breeze's voice instantly flooded with relief. "What happened? Who did this to you?"

Azure winced in agony, feeling the wounds along her side and muzzle. How is that possible? I thought it was just a dream! "I-I thought I was in the Dark Forest," Azure began quietly. "These two cats... attacked me."

"What? Why were you back there? N-never mind that! Owl will be back soon with water. Let me take care of your injuries."

"Okay..." Azure replied feebly. She didn't move; but only listened to Breeze scurry across the cave floor, sniffing around for cobwebs and herbs. Her gaze flickered to the entrance of the cave as a shape blocked the way.

"She's awake!" Owl meowed through his mouthful of soaked moss. He lay it next to his younger sister and started to lick the blood away from her muzzle. "Don't worry. You'll be okay," he told her reassuringly.

Breeze came back with a giant wad of cobwebs and placed them carefully on Azure's side. "She better be!" Breeze hissed when she had finished. "Or I'll murder all of those Dark Forest freaks!"

Owl nuzzled Azure's ear. "You'll murder them either way, Breeze," he meowed. "And I'll help you."

"They think they can pick on out sister just because they believe they have control over us. Well, I'll show them who has control!" Breeze snarled threateningly as she paced back and forth.

This was the angriest Azure had ever seen her sister. Breeze's claws scraped the floor and her tail lashed from side to side. Meanwhile, Owl sat next to Azure protectively, gazing down into her turquoise orbs as she drank the water from the moss. Her two older siblings were so different from each other, and yet, so alike. They both care about me so much... It broke her heart to even think of losing them.

"Those monsters told me that you were going to die so Silent Scream could eat," Azure meowed disgustedly, sort of thinking aloud.

Breeze stopped and turned as if looking at Owl, and Owl looked back at her. "That won't happen," Breeze meowed determinedly.

"But what if it really does?" Azure asked, almost choking on her words. "What if you really do die? What'll I do without you both?"

"You can't think like that!" Owl told her firmly. "We won't leave you to survive on your own. Not now, not ever."

"I want you to be right," Azure murmured. "But I can't help thinking about the bad."

They were all quiet for a moment. "Hey, uh, do you want to hear a story?" Breeze asked, wanting desperately to change the subject.

"Alright..."

Breeze padded over and sat next to Owl. Azure stared up at their matching black-and-white splotched pelts and listened.

Breeze had managed to take everyone's mind off of the inevitable event that they were trying so hard to avoid. But soon, very soon, the day would come when each of them would have to fight for their lives, when Silent Scream would have her feast.

  • Sparrow
  • Shade
  • Nightmare (aka Lostwillow)

~ Chapter Five ~ Edit

A moon had passed. It went by very quickly, yet it was just long enough for the family to forget about the prophecy (which is exactly what Silent Scream wanted). No one spoke of it. No one dared to think of it. Though, they still prepared for it as if it was going to happen tomorrow, but only because it had become a routine. Azure had grown and was far better at hunting and fighting than she was before. Her siblings made sure of that. Little did they know that the fateful day was finally here, catching them all off guard....

The three of them padded into the forest, keeping their spirits high and chatting all the way to the river. They crouched several feet away from each other near the edge of the water.

Azure laid her tail flat against the ground, trying hard not to move a muscle. Her gaze focused on the water and flicked to every fish that moved. Come on... Come a little closer... A school of small fish swam nearby as if daring her to pounce prematurely, so she would have to wait even longer before more fish would come again. Patience, Azure! Patience! She kept telling herself. Then, the fish slowly motioned closer. Azure lashed out with a fore-paw and hooked a fish's fin on a claw. She threw it on the land and bit down on its spine. She gave a mrrow of triumph as she picked it up. She looked smugly at her brother and sister, then set it down in their usual catch-pile.

"Looks like I'm starting the fresh-kill pile today!" Azure meowed with a proud wave of her tail.

Owl looked back at her and smiled. "It's about time you started it first."

"Hey!" Azure bounded over and cuffed his muzzle. Owl bowled her over with his bigger paw, sending her face first into the dirt. She stood back up, spitting dirt out of her mouth, which made Owl laugh till his lungs hurt. Azure hissed at him. "I'll get you for that!"

"Sure, you will," he meowed, trying to catch his breath.

"Oh, I promise you, I will!" Azure declared with flippancy. "I'll make sure you have mud for breakfast---"

Owl put a paw over her mouth. "Shh." He gestured to Breeze. Their sister hadn't even budged at their commotion. Owl and Azure shared a mischievous grin, knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Owl padded slowly away and Azure made her way to Breeze. As Owl snuck up from behind, Azure distracted her (though she didn't really need to anyway).

"Did ya hear, Breeze? I caught a fish!"

"Good job," Breeze praised her, only half paying attention.

With a playful yowl, Owl jumped on top of his littermate. Breeze scrambled underneath him, hissing and spitting. "You stupid bird-brain!" She spat. "I outta tear your pelt off!"

Azure rolled over with laughter as Breeze threw Owl off and batted at his face with sheathed paws. But then, Breeze snarled viciously and bit Owl's throat. Owl yowled in agony and surprise and ripped himself free. He backed away, feeling the blood drip from the fresh wound. The playful mood vanished completely.

"Breeze, what the heck!" Owl meowed. "I was only messing around!"

Azure gasped. "Look at her, Owl!"

"What? What do ya---" He cut himself off, and they stared at Breeze. Her eyes had turned blood-red and her lips were drawn back in a dangerous snarl.

"It's happened again!" Azure moaned, beginning to panic.

"Don't worry. It shouldn't last long..." Owl told her. He took a step closer. "Breeze, snap out of it! It's your mind, not theirs!"

Breeze blinked and, for a moment, looked like she was back in control. But then she let out a loud laugh, very much unlike the bubbly, obnoxious laugh Breeze normally used. "Beg!" Breeze commanded. "Beg again, Owl! I love hearing the powerless plead!"

Azure's fur stood on end. That wasn't Breeze's voice. "Nightmare!" Azure exclaimed. "Nightmare is controlling her!"

Owl glanced at Azure quizzically, not sure how she knew that horrid name. He turned back to his littermate. "Leave my sister alone!" He growled.

Breeze laughed insanely. "Do you think you can tell me what to do?" She scoffed. "If you want your sister back, you're going to have to fight her."

"Don't, Owl!" Azure warned. "Don't listen! Nightmare's gonna try to start the battle!"

"Well, haven't you grown smart?" Breeze meowed satirically to Azure.

Owl flattened his ears, stepping in front of his younger sibling. "Leave!"

"Are you deaf? I'm not going anywhere." Breeze suddenly smiled devilishly. "Shade has finally come." The fur along Owl's spine lifted, and he looked all around him as if trying to spot the Dark Forest tom. "I must warn you," Breeze continued. "He likes to bring pain along with him."

Fear flashed in Owl's gaze. "Go away!" He shouted as buzzing sounded in his ears. Then, unexpectedly, he dropped to the ground, seeming to choke. He gave a loud, distressed caterwaul, then became quiet and still.

"Owl...?" Azure uttered as panic soared through her even more.

Owl opened his eyes; they had become as red as Breeze's, and he stood up slowly. "Hello, Azure. Have you come to watch the fun?" He snickered.

Azure's heart sank to her belly when she heard Shade's voice. "N-no! Leave them! They're not yours to control!" She raked Owl's side with her claws in an attempt to scare Shade out.

"Careful," Owl meowed. "You'll hurt your brother. That's not very wise, is it?"

"You're going to kill them anyway!" Azure sobbed.

Owl cocked his head. "Well, you're not wrong." He sent a blow to Azure's side, knocking the wind out of her and sending her to the edge of the river.

"Stay out of the way," Breeze hissed. Then, the two older cats faced each other, snarled, and leaped.

They each scratched the other's face. They dealt painful blows to the flanks, and tore gashed wherever they could. All Azure could do was watch helplessly from the side and plead with them to stop. They wouldn't listen and, when she would get in between, they would toss her aside. Breeze stood over Owl, making his neck wound bigger and bigger.

Breeze was suddenly flung backwards. She growled and popped back up. However, Owl still lay on the ground, stunned. Breeze eyed him carefully and slowly crept over. She began to shake her head, flinging it around like a dog does a chew toy. She gave a heavy, exhausted sigh and froze.

"Breeze?" Azure tried, though she was afraid.

Breeze gazed at her. "No, little one. She's not back yet."

"What?" Azure's tail twitched, perplexed. That was Forgotten's voice! "Get my siblings back!" She told the StarClan she-cat.

Breeze closed her eyes as if she were trying to suppress pain. "I'm trying... but... Nightmare's fighting... Oof!"

Owl rammed into Breeze. She slid around, recovered, and attacked. She pinned Owl down, but only held him there. "Enough!" Breeze hissed.

Owl narrowed his eyes, pausing in his struggling. "Forgotten?" He meowed with a chuckle. "It was very nice of you to join us, but I think you've already overstayed your welcome."

Breeze gasped as if choking, hatred hardening her gaze. "StarClan won't win!" Came Nightmare's voice again. She showed her blood-stained teeth and tore into Owl's ears.

"Stop!" Azure begged, beginning to give into despair. "Please! Don't kill them!"

"Shut up, you annoying brat!" Breeze snarled and she raked her claws down Azure's face.

Azure let out a cry of dreadful pain. She had unwittingly distracted Breeze, giving Owl the chance he needed to end it. Owl forced Breeze away and tackled her. Then, he pinned her to the ground and bit her throat. Breeze shrieked with anguish and flailed her paws wildly, trying to hit him, but blinding pain made her miss. A moment later, Breeze went completely limp, and Owl finally let go. He was breathing heavily, but that didn't stop him from laughing crazily and cheering in triumph.

"NO!" Azure screeched. She ran to her sister and crouched by her head. Breeze's eyes had turned back to their icy blue, but they were lifeless and dull. "Why...?!" Azure moaned. She looked up seeing Owl limping over, Shade still in power.

"You thought you could stop us," he derided. "Cats never learn..." He staggered and fell, letting out a pained groan. "Remember, little Azure... You will never be able to stop Silent Scream... from getting what she wants... She's invincible and... far more... more powerful than you will ever be. Keep... Keep that in mind..." Owl began to cough, spitting out blood. Then, he was silent and un-moving.

Azure shrieked in grief as the last of his breath died away. She realized that crimson liquid still dripped from her own muzzle as well as her sides. But she didn't care. "Breeze... Owl... Please, get up... Don't leave me here alone!" She begged.

There was a small glow and Breeze's body shook. Forgotten stood over her, staring down at her paws. The starlit cat didn't dare look into Azure's eyes. "I'm sorry..." Forgotten quietly mewed through a shaky, guilt-ridden voice. "So, so sorry...." For once, Forgotten's words were truly sincere. Then, she disappeared.

After a while, Azure laid down, overrun by grief and mental fatigue. A coldness gripped her heart and wouldn't let go. She felt empty and alone. She wished that she wouldn't wake up, wished she could die with her siblings rather than face the cruel world alone... all alone...

Then, a sudden, gentle nudge made her open her eyes. She had left the sanguine battleground and seemed to be in StarClan's luscious forest. "Are you alright, little one?" The voice was familiar; it made her heart leap.

Azure turned and stared at the face of Onyx. She gasped and leaped up, fur spiking in all directions. "O-Onyx?"

"It is me," he answered.

She made her fur lie flat and buried her tiny frame in Onyx's starry blue-splotched pelt. "They're dead!" She cried.

"I know..." He meowed. "But don't be sad. You'll see them again."

"You mean when die? Who knows how long that's gonna take!"

"That's not what I meant!" Onyx meowed sternly. "Your life will go on for a long while yet. It must... If you want to see Owl and Breeze again, you must go on a journey."

"W-what?" Azure looked up at his yellow orbs. "Th-they died! How could I possibly see th---"

"Hush," Onyx interrupted. "You must remain strong or what you seek shall never be found." Azure gave a feeble nod. "You shall journey far away from your cave to find them. Walk along side the second river from the cave until you find the mountains. Travel through them carefully. The Stars will help guide you through, if you need us to. From there you will travel to the lake. Breeze and Owl will be there... but in another life. You need to trust my words, Azure---"

"I can't trust anyone anymore!" Azure hissed, backing away from him.

"Not even me?" He asked, through narrowed slits.

"Not even you!" She responded with an unassertive mew. "You left us... I bet they wouldn't have died if you had been there!"

"I didn't leave you on purpose!" Onyx growled, flustered. Upon seeing her even more frightened, he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry... There's not a day that goes by when I don't want to be with you. I know I haven't always been there for you kits, especially you, Azure, but if you will only listen, let this be my chance of making things right."

He was being honest, Azure could tell and she let her gaze drop. "Okay, Onyx... I'll listen..."

Onyx curled his tail around her and they were both silent. They were pressed close against each other; Azure didn't want it to stop. It was comforting with Onyx being right beside her, and it seemed right. She needed him, she needed her father. But then the moment was taken away when Onyx said it was time for her to go back.

"I'll be beside you always," Onyx meowed. He nuzzled her head, then began to fade away. "Live happily, my daughter," he added inaudibly.

Azure awoke from her dream. She bit back a sad howl, discovering Owl and Breeze cold beside her. She got up and began to dig, and she could feel a piece of her heart breaking each time her paw struck the dirt. It took her almost an hour to dig a hole big enough for both her siblings. She took no breaks and by the time she was finished, her bones ached and her muscles screamed with protest. But she ignored the pain completely, for she felt a greater pain in her heart.

She went to Owl and Breeze, and one by one she dragged the corpses to the graves. She pushed them into it, holding back a yowl of despair and sadness as they hit the bottom. She then covered the grave up with dirt. And now it seemed that they were really, truly gone.

Azure completely broke down. She flung herself onto the grave and mourned so loudly it seemed impossible for someone not to hear. Then it started to rain, as if even StarClan was grieving for her loss. Finally, she arose when the sun showed its bright rays. Azure took one look around and sprinted away, an image of the blood-stained clearing still fresh in her mind.

She padded into the cave and dropped to the floor, exhausted. She curled into the tightest ball, her wet fur clinging to her pelt. Once more she wished that Breeze and Owl were there to keep her warm.

Soon Azure will make the journey Onyx had spoken of, but until then, she would have to learn to cope with her painful loneliness and shattered heart.

~ Chapter Six ~ Edit

The birds chirped cheerfully as they flew delicately in the air. Azure looked up at them as they flew overhead. She squinted in the sun as it reached her eyes. Then she looked forward and padded on, though her aching paws greatly disagreed with her.

The Twolegplace is just over the hill, Azure reminded herself. You're so close. The nearer she came to her destination the more excited she became. Yet, she also began to fill up with anxiety. She had never been to the Twolegplace before and she was going alone.

Once she made it to the top of the hill, she stopped to rest. She gazed down into the valley and saw the roofs of Twoleg houses. I did it! I found it on my own! Azure raced down the hill in anticipation, only to skid to a halt when she reached a white wall. (The "white wall" was actually a fence, but Azure did not know this.) It was small enough for her to easily leap onto, which she did. She wobbled until she was able to catch her balance. She flattened her ears and looked at the Twoleg den. Owl and Breeze said that it was three dens down from the one closest to the hill.

Her tail lowered at the thought of her siblings' names. Oh, how she missed them!

Azure shook herself as if that would clear the sadness, and she carefully padded forward, counting the houses as she did so. The third has the catmint in the yard... Ah! Here it is! She cautiously jumped down into the backyard and sniffed the sweet scent of the catmint. Then she gradually made her way to the center and stared at the house. "Mystic!" She called. "Mystic!" She waited a few seconds before calling the name again.

"Who are you?"

Azure spun around to see a big, fluffy kittypet jumping off the fence. Her fur spiked up upon seeing his great size. "Er---Hello," she meowed, backing away as he padded closer.

"Who are you?" The tom repeated.

Keep your cool, Azure. Keep your cool. She lifted her chin. "My name is Azure. I've come to see Mystic. Do... Do you happen to know if she's home?"

The kittypet began to circle around Azure. "I don't believe I've seen you around here before... Mystic didn't have many friends whom I didn't know about, but I'm going to assume you are one... No, kit, she's not home."

"Oh..." Azure tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice. "Do you know when she will return?"

The tom stopped in front of her. "I'm afraid she hasn't been in that house for a long time," he told her grimly. "Not since those two kits left her."

"Two kits?" Azure inquired, hoping he meant her brother and sister. "What two kits?"

"Mystic had sort of... adopted them," he answered with a slight coldness. "I believe she called them Owl and Breeze."

Owl and Breeze! Her heart leaped. "They are my brother and sister!" Azure told him excitedly, then she dropped her gaze, remembering the battle by the river. "I... I was hoping that Mystic could take care of me, since they... are gone."

The tom's expression was unreadable. "I'm sorry... But I have only more unpleasant news for you... Mystic is gone, just as your siblings are gone."

Azure's eyes widened. "You mean she's dead?!"

The tom nodded slowly. "Yes..."

Azure slunk to the ground as tears began to fall. "Why must everyone I need die?" She cried.

Now the tom's eyes filled with sympathy. "I know what it's like to lose someone you care about... One thing I learned is that you can't blame yourself."

Azure stood up slowly, looking at the tom through a darkened glance. "Unless you are the one who killed her."

The tom was surprised by this accusation and his face lit with rage. He struck Azure across the cheek. "Don't you ever blame me for Mystic's death," he snarled.

Azure felt the blood form on her cheek. "I'm sorry," she sniffed. "I can't do anything right anymore." She went cautiously around him and sprinted toward the fence.

"Wait, kit," the tom meowed.

Azure halted and warily turned to look at him.

The tom was ashamed of himself, though he stood straighter when he spoke. "My name is Finn. Please, forgive me for hurting you, a kit. I should have known better... It's just, Mystic was a very good friend of mine and it hurt---"

"There's no need to apologize," Azure told him. "I shouldn't have said that... But I'll be going now, and I won't bother you anymore."

"Wait. I want to help you," Finn meowed earnestly. "I can give you some food, and I know someone who can treat those injuries of yours."

Azure was confused by his sudden change of attitude. "Thank you, but I... can't."

Finn seemed crestfallen. "Alright... Well, good luck on your own then... Azure." He padded to the fence and jumped on top of it.

Azure watched him go. Good luck on your own... Oh, who are you kidding, Azure? You know you don't want to be alone! "H-hey! Wait for me!"

Finn stopped and waited for her. She hopped onto a big rock, then leaped onto the fence. "I thought you might change your mind," he meowed with a small smirk. "Follow me."

She followed him as they walked along the fence. Then, he pounced onto a higher fence. Azure copied, though she almost lost her balance. They continued on until they reached a small brick house. Finn jumped into the pretty backyard. Azure made a clumsy leap and ended up hitting the ground and rolling. Finn glanced back at her. "I would advise you not to break anything. She can't fix broken bones."

"She?" Azure inquired.

Finn nodded and gazed back at the house. "Pogo!" He called. "Pogo!" He waited a minute and padded to the porch steps. "POGO!"

"I'm comin', I'm comin'!" Yelled a voice. Finally, a delicate chocolate she-cat padded out of the Twoleg den and met Finn by the steps. "Geez, Finn, you're as loud as the yapping mutt next door." The small she-cat grinned. "You're lucky my Twolegs aren't home or they would've thrown that pan at you again."

Finn rolled his eyes and twitched his tail. "Your Twolegs need better aim. They missed me by a mile!"

The she-cat swatted his ear. "They don't need better aim to get a coward like you to go away." Her eyes flickered onto Azure, noticing the kit lingering behind Finn. "Who's this?"

Finn smiled and motioned for Azure to come closer, which she did. "Azure, this is my friend Pogo. Pogo, this is Azure."

Pogo dipped her head. "Hello."

"Hi," Azure responded in a quiet voice.

"If you'd be so kind to take a look at her wounds..." Finn began.

Pogo interrupted enthusiastically. "Oh! Say no more! I got ya covered." She raced out to the left side of the yard and picked a few herbs. She came with the bundle in her mouth.

"Go under the porch," Finn instructed. "It's safer."

Azure's ears perked up as she crawled under the porch, followed by Pogo and Finn. "It's kinda roomy down here," Azure commented.

"It's my favorite place to go when I'm tired of the Twoleg kits," Pogo meowed after she dropped the herbs. "Now, let's have a look. How old are these wounds?"

"About three sunrises," Azure answered.

"Three, ya say? Well, this one on your muzzle looks fresh."

Azure noticed Finn tense. "I, uh, scraped it on some sharp bark," she told Pogo.

"They look like they've been made by claws," Pogo meowed, looking Azure straight in the eyes. "But I suppose it doesn't matter." She began to apply some marigold to the wounds along Azure's flanks, face, and muzzle. "When was the last time you had a decent meal?" Pogo asked, noting the clear view of ribs beneath Azure's unkempt pelt.

"Three sunrises," Azure repeated.

Pogo looked up from her work. "Finn, mind catching her something?"

"Not at all," he meowed and ran off.

"He knows how to hunt?" Azure asked curiously.

"Mhm. He taught himself just for occasions like this, when he meets a loner who doesn't like kittypet food."

"Do you help injured cats a lot?"

"No," Pogo answered, seeming almost sad about it. "It would be nice to see more cats 'round here, but I suppose it's better with the way it is now. I'll get you a drink." As she left, Finn returned.

He dropped a mouse at her paws. "Do you feel any better?" He meowed as he sat down.

"Some. The juices stung," Azure meowed.

"The stinging never lasts long."

Azure gazed down at the mouse, beginning to realize just how hungry she was. She devoured the prey in only a few famished bites. "Thank you, Finn," she meowed once she was done.

"You ate that pretty fast for a kit," Finn meowed with a grin.

Pogo froze at the entrance and dropped the soaking moss. "You're a kit?!"

Azure blinked. "Um... Yes."

"But you're so BIG! I mean, you're smaller than Finn, but no one's as fat as him. And---"

"Hey!" Finn scowled. "I'm right here!"

Pogo ignored him. "I thought you were a grown cat!" Then she realized she had dropped the moss, so she picked it up and brought it over.

Azure drank it thirstily. She was grateful for the soothing feeling on her parched throat. "I suppose I am a bit... big for my age," she meowed as Pogo shuffled her paws, embarrassed. Finn stifled a laugh.

"Right... Well, I think you should get some rest now. Finn will stay with you a while. But I have to go back inside before my Twolegs get home."

Azure nodded. "Thank you, Pogo."

Pogo smiled and her blue eyes glittered pleasantly. "You're welcome."

  • Finn
  • Pogo

~ Chapter Seven ~ Edit

"What do you think you're doing?"

Azure opened her eyes upon hearing the stern mew. She blinked in the bright light. Once her eyes became accustomed to it, she stood up and turned around to face Onyx. "What do you mean?"

"You should've left already! Now she knows!" He growled, frustrated.

Azure's ears flattened against her head. "Who's she, and why are you worried that she knows?"

"Silent Scream," Onyx hissed, making Azure flinch at the name. "She knows I told you to go to the lake." He paused and narrowed his eyes. "Why haven't you gone?"

Azure looked down at her paws. "I told you I would listen... I never said that I would go on the journey."

Onyx's yellow orbs grew wide and they seemed to flood with panic. "You should've gone three sunrises ago! Now Silent Scream will make the journey harder than it was previously! You---"

"Owl and Breeze died three sunrises ago!" Azure growled, hiding her misery. "I wasn't ready to go then. I need time to think."

"Think about what? Don't you want to see them again?"

"Of course I do!" Azure was hurt that he would even think that she didn't. Tears began to fall from her eyes. "But I'm not strong enough," she whimpered. "I need someone. Someone who can walk right beside me. Someone who's alive and who I can see all the time. I'm lost, Onyx, even with your guidance. I can't think straight. Just look at me! I'm a mess! I'm sorry... but I'm just not strong enough to follow through with your plan."

Onyx was silent for a moment, merely staring at his daughter with an unreadable expression. "It was a plan that would save you," he meowed finally in a quiet mew.

"Save me? How can you save what's already been torn to pieces?" Azure asked.

"It would've saved you from more pain than you could ever imagine."

Azure stopped her sobbing and glared at Onyx almost indignantly. "I already felt that pain when I watched my brother and sister rip out each other's throats."

Onyx shook his head. "No..." He meowed, even quieter than before. "No, you didn't. That was only the beginning..."

"Just the beginning?! Who else could I possibly lose?!" She wailed.

"Azure," Onyx meowed. "Look at me."

"I am!" Azure hissed.

"No, Azure. Really look. Forget your sorrow, forget your hate, and look at me."

Azure stood stiff and gazed up at him. She was feeling a great bitterness inside, but the longer their eyes locked, the more she could feel it wash away. It was as if all the love she had ever known remained right in him. Onyx gradually padded nearer to her, and he touched his nose to hers.

"Azure, I love you with my whole heart. I know you are much stronger than what you realize. And I know this is hard for you, but it must be done." Onyx took a step back. "Will you do as I say, and make the journey?"

"Yes, Onyx... I will." And she buried herself in his fur.

. . . .

"Hey, where are you going?" Pogo called.

Azure looked down at the she-cat from the fence. "I have to leave."

"Without saying good-bye?" Pogo seemed a bit hurt. "I guess no one teaches you loners proper manners."

"I'm sorry, Pogo. Good-byes are just hard..."

Pogo nodded. "I understand, but I think Finn would like to see you before you go."

Azure hopped back into the yard and followed Pogo to the porch. After crawling under, they sat down. "Ya know, personally, I think you shouldn't be moving until your injuries have fully healed," meowed Pogo. She made Azure lie down so she could reapply the marigold.

"Well..." Azure began, slightly ashamed, and she didn't look at Pogo. "I shouldn't have come here in the first place."

Pogo looked baffled. "Why, how come?"

"I... I disobeyed someone who wanted to help me. I wasted precious time, and why? Because I'm a foolish kit and was scared of the thought of being alone."

Pogo paused, deep in thought, after she had finished with the herbs. "I don't think you're foolish. And any kit would be scared to be by themselves. Also, how could you think you wasted time? You got a meal and now you have a better chance of surviving, since your wounds shall be healed in a day or two. I call that a win!"

Azure forced a grin, knowing the kittypet was trying to help. However, Pogo did not know the full consequence of delaying the journey (though Azure didn't really know either). 

Suddenly, a head peeked inside the tiny den (if you'd even call it a den). "Morning, Azure!" Finn meowed cheerfully. "And to you as well, Pogo. How are you?"

"Well, I'm mighty fine. Thanks for asking," Pogo replied with a smile.

Finn chuckled. "I wasn't asking you."

"I know."

Azure couldn't keep a giggle from escaping when she heard Pogo respond. "I'm feeling a lot better today," she told the tom.

"That's good to hear!"

"I-in fact, I'm feeling so much better, I think I can start traveling again."

Finn tilted his head, staring from Azure to Pogo, and to Azure again. "What? You're going to leave already?"

Azure nodded. "I have to."

Finn wasn't completely upset, for he knew that Azure would leave eventually. But he worried about her being on her own. "Don't you think it's a little early? Um, Pogo?"

Pogo shook her head. "You know I've never held a cat here who wanted to leave. Azure wants to go, and she is free to do just that."

Finn's tail flicked. "Yes, of-of course." He turned to Azure. "You'll take care of yourself out there, won't ya, kit?"

"You know I will," Azure replied.

Finn sighed and moved out of the way to reveal a dead mouse. He brought it over to Azure. "Have some food before ya go."

"Thank you, Finn, and you too, Pogo. For everything." 

"You're more than welcome," the two cats meowed in unison. 

Azure ate the mouse, then she said farewell to the kittypets, who had treated her has a friend. She climbed the fence and glanced back at Pogo and Finn. I'll remember you always. She smiled and jumped down to the other side.

Her journey had begun.

~ Chapter Eight ~Edit

Azure halted, gazing into the cold depths of the water. This is it. The second river from the cave. She lapped the water greedily. After her drink, she began to walk beside the river, heading north. Every once in a while, she would watch the currents and the fish swimming beneath it.

The sun was setting, and the sky displayed a beautiful scene of blue, purple, pink, and orange colors stretching far across it. Azure continued on until there wasn't a single streak of light left. She found shelter in a small hole in the bottom of a tree. She could still see the river clearly from her spot. Azure laid her head on her paws and curled her tail around them and went to sleep.

Azure awoke in the middle of the night, thinking she heard a loud boom from far away. She lifted her head, peering out of the tree to look at the sky. There wasn't a single cloud in the night sky. So, it couldn't have been thunder. As she was about to lay back down, she noticed a star close to the moon. It seemed to be the brightest one. Her eyes widened as it became bigger and bigger as if falling straight toward her. Azure was frozen to the ground and could only watch it come nearer and nearer. Finally, it landed on the opposite side of the river, and Azure breathed a sigh of relief. Though she wasn't relaxed quite yet.

She gradually came out of her sleeping place and went to the edge of the river, the water touching her front paws. The star shined with a radiant glow, making Azure squint. Suddenly, the glow began to take form, slowly shaping into a cat. Azure stared in awe at the star-speckled tortoiseshell. The she-cat looked up and smiled warmly at Azure.

"Greetings, Azure," meowed the she-cat.

Azure didn't respond. She definitely wanted to, but was still in too much shock to even try.

"Remind me never to come that way again. It's a bumpy ride," the she-cat meowed with a purr of amusement. She could see the look on Azure's face and her smile widened. She began to walk (more like float) across the water toward the she-kit. "I hope you weren't having a good sleep. If you were, I'm sorry I had to wake you from it."

Azure blinked as the tortoiseshell came to stand beside her and mustered up the courage to speak. "Um, w-well, it's alright. I-I was about to wake up anyway."

"Do you know who I am?" The she-cat asked.

Azure shook her head. "I sure hope to know."

"Well, little one, you can call me Ebonydusk. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

"Did you come from StarClan?"

"Of course, I did! Dark Forest cats don't travel with stars. They don't even like brightness, the weirdos..."

Azure giggled. "So, why did you come to see me?"

Ebonydusk's tail twitched slightly and her face became very serious. "I've come to tell you that I shall be accompanying you on your journey. You won't always see me, but I will be there and you will hear my voice."

Azure tilted her head, her mew quiet. "That's not the only reason you are here, is it?"

Ebonydusk shook her head. "I wanted to warn you. Silent Scream is following you and she will do everything in her power to make the prophecy come true in her favor."

Azure flattened her ears and backed away slightly. "P-prophecy? You mean, there's another one?!" She was about to send herself into a full blown panic attack.

Ebonydusk tilted her head. "Onyx didn't...?" She straightened and spoke again with a cool tone. "Forget what I said. There's no need for you to worry... What matters most is that you get to your siblings in one piece. I'll be... taking care of any Dark Forest cats that try to get in your way."

Azure tried to sound optimistic, but she suddenly became suspicious of the StarClan she-cat. "So, you'll be like a private guardian?"

"Yes, just like that!" Ebonydusk meowed cheerfully. She glanced at the river and her mew grew quiet. "Now... I won't be able to help much with the other cats you will meet...."

Azure followed the she-cat's gaze to the river, her curiosity sparked. She slowly stood and padded to the water. Is that...? It smells like... The moon seemed to brighten and it shined a light right onto the river. Azure gasped. "It's blood!" The current began to grow faster and the blood-water started to smash into the rocks and spray up along the riverside. Azure recoiled, trying not to get hit.

Ebonydusk put her tail over Azure's shoulder. "Much blood will be shed on this journey," she informed the she-kit quietly.

"Too much has already been spilled and I've only just begun," Azure murmured, slowly starting to fill with despair at the remembrance of Owl and Breeze.

"Yes, darling, you are right... But remember what Onyx and I told you. You're not going into this trek alone."

Azure gazed up into Ebonydusk's golden orbs. "Will I be the same when it's all over?"

"That's for you to find out," Ebonydusk meowed.

"Well, I hope to be stronger."

"You already are. More than you know..." Ebonydusk nuzzled the top of Azure's head in farewell and began to "walk" to the other side of the river. Once there, she faced Azure and slowly started to glow brighter and brighter. Then, she shot upward towards the sky.

Azure blinked up at the new star as it twinkled down on her. Onyx and Ebonydusk will look out for me. She smiled for a moment and began to pad to the den.

Unexpectedly, she froze, not being able to move her legs. She felt a tug on her tail and then a yank as she was being pulled backwards. Azure dug her claws into the ground, but that didn't seem to have any effect; she began to panic as the red river grew closer. She looked around at her tail, but no one was there. What's going on?!

Then, she was dragged under the water. She flailed her paws frantically trying to swim up, but the invisible force didn't falter and she was pulled to the bottom. All she could see was the crimson color of the blood-water, and her sense of direction was forgotten the longer she remained under. Azure grew desperate and tried screaming for help; however, she couldn't make a single sound and she began to choke, the blood filling her lungs.

Azure suddenly awoke, breathing heavily and trembling from head to toe. She looked all around her with a frightened gaze. She was in her temporary den, the hole in the tree. It was just a dream! Just... a dream... She started to relax once she realized she was safe and wasn't really drowning in a river of blood. But why did that happen? Azure didn't expect one, but she was given a reply which chilled her very core.

"That is what it will feel like through every trial you face..."

Then, there was the familiar, insane laugh of Silent Scream.

  • Ebonydusk

~ Chapter Nine ~ Edit

After her dream several hours before, Azure started on her trek once more. She had been unable to sleep after hearing Silent Scream's echoing voice. However, she was determined that Silent Scream wasn't going to scare her anymore, for StarClan was on her side and her ancestors would protect her. Onyx had given her hope and Ebonydusk's visit seemed to pour more into her.

Her father and the starlit tortoiseshell both warned her of strange cats of whom she would meet. Azure figured on avoiding as many cats as possible, but if she could not, she wanted to be well prepared. And that meant getting stronger, and a full belly would certainly help.

Azure crouched, her belly touching the ground. She waited, barely breathing, as the vole foraged for food. The little creature turned away from her and she pounced right on top of it. She picked the limp prey up into her jaws and carried it to a shady spot near a tree. She thanked StarClan and began to eat. Once she finished she continued walking along the riverside.

Even though she felt braver than she had ever before, it still took her all day to muster up the courage and drink from the river. She couldn't help imagining the water as blood; it made her fur stand on end. But eventually, she grew thirsty and desperate enough to swipe a quick drink.

She padded on for two more days, resting and hunting when needed. But her main focus was getting to the mountains. Onyx had told plenty of stories of his experience in the mountains and they were always rough and perilous. She knew the hard part of the journey would be in those tall peaks. She was ready to do it and get it over with.

Azure persisted on for about four more miles, until finally, the sound of the water began to change. Is that a waterfall? Her ears perked forward and she raced ahead, stopping abruptly as the earth before her crumbled away. She looked over the edge of the cliff, the water falling smoothly and crashing far below. She looked up to see the mountains in the near distance and leaped for joy (but was careful not to slip and fall to her doom). The sun lit her face with its luminous rays and she stood for a moment, warming in it and feeling quite triumphant.

I've got to get down there, Azure thought as she looked for an easy enough path down the cliff. She sighed and flicked her tail, contemplating the rocks and paw-holds. She cautiously leaped to each one, making her take a long while just to get to the middle.

She had a little less than halfway to go when she became a bit too hasty. There was a big jump from her rock to the next. Her paw caught in a hole on her rock as she jumped, and she twisted and fell. Azure smacked into the next rock, landing on her side. She scrambled to get upright and stand, but the rock was slippery from the waterfall spraying onto it, and she descended helplessly into the water below. She hit the water hard, but immediately started swimming up to the surface. For a split second, she was reminded of her drowning in the blood-river of her dream; however, she was intelligent enough not to panic---(this time)---and she broke the surface, happy to let the sweet air fill her lungs.

Azure paddled to the shore and rested there. Her body felt as if it were beaten, her flank hurting the worst. She coughed a few times, then finally stood. "That's one way to come down..." She muttered to herself. Azure stayed in the sunlight as she walked on, hoping it would dry her soaking fur more quickly.

An hour passed by and soon, her stomach began to grumble. She had not eaten since yesterday morning. She swished her tail and headed away from the river, wanting forest prey. She had a nice, plump squirrel in mind. She let the scents around her bathe her tongue. A squirrel was nearby. Azure slowly stalked toward it until it was in her sights. It was staying close to a tall tree. The moment it turned away she pounced. She landed on its tail, but it ripped free and scrambled up the tree. Azure raced after it, climbing faster than she ever had before, and she caught it as it was trying to escape to a branch from the next tree over. She bit its neck and it went limp. As she was about to pick it up, a new scent filled her nose: cat.

Azure froze, her claws digging into the bark. She cautiously glanced below her, searching the ground. She saw the black and white head of a tom poke out from a bush a few fox-lengths away. He was in a hunting stance, ready to leap onto a young thrush. Azure prayed, hoping he wouldn't smell her, too. Luckily, the tom was too focused on his prey to realize she was there. He pounced as the thrush pecked at the ground, but he didn't make it very far. His fluffy tail got caught in the thorny rose bush beside him. He yelped and then scowled with frustration when he saw the thrush fly away.

The corners of Azure's mouth went up and she couldn't stop herself from giggling. That was the poorest display of hunting she had ever seen. That was worse than my own!

The tom heard her laugh and he glanced up at her, squinting. He was surprised to see her up in the tree and his face filled with embarrassment, which he immediately tried to hide with anger.

"Do you need some help?" Azure asked.

The tom tore his tail out from the bush. It looked painful but he tried not to show it. "Does it look like it?" He hissed. Then, he turned away without another word.

"H-hey, wait!" Azure called after him. "Where are you going?" She picked up her squirrel and climbed down the tree.

He didn't look at her when she caught up. "That's none of your business," he growled.

"Cool. Do you mind if I come?" She asked a bit muffled.

The tom stopped walking and stared sternly into Azure's eyes. "No."

She dropped her prey. "I-I'm sorry for laughing at your mistake... We can share my squirrel, if you'd like."

The tom said nothing and continued to stare. Azure wasn't sure whether he was confused by her offer, or if he was thinking it over. She gave him a warm smile, trying to show she was in earnest, but he didn't seem to buy it. "Go pester someone else, kit," he mumbled finally and began to pad off.

Azure lashed her tail, indignantly. "I was only trying to be kind," she huffed. "And you don't look much older than me!" She added as she grabbed the prey and followed him.

The tom rolled his eyes, stopping again. "You clearly don't know what 'no' means."

"And you don't know a free meal when you see one," Azure retorted.

His ear twitched and he sighed. "Alright... You can tag along."

Her ears perked up. "Really?"

The tom nodded reluctantly and together they walked on. Azure was silent for a few minutes. She didn't want to annoy him more than she already was, yet at the same time, she could tell he wasn't as mean as he wanted to make out. "My name's Azure, by the way," she told him around her squirrel.

"I hope you know that I don't care. Just because I'm letting you come does not mean we are friends."

Or maybe he really is just a rude tom...

Azure sighed and said nothing more until they reached a big bramble thicket. There was a hole in the bottom that had been carved out. The tom headed in first and Azure went in after him. She dropped the squirrel, then took a bite. There was an awkward silence, which inevitably made the whole meal awkward for them both. Eventually, they finished and it seemed that neither of them could stand the silence any longer.

"So, why are you out here on your own, kit?" The tom asked.

"I could ask you the same question," Azure returned. "And I already told you, my name is Azure."

He ignored her. "Did your parents die or somethin'?"

Azure glared at him. What kind of question was that? "Yes, actually, they did," she growled.

He didn't reply for a moment and seemed to study her face. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"No, I'm not. And by your hunting skills, I'd say you aren't either."

The tom looked away from her, anger sparking in his gaze. "Cats make mistakes," he murmured.

"Obviously," Azure huffed and she crawled out of the den. Why did I even bother...? The plan was to stay away, Azure, not confront them like an idiot.

"Hey, where do you think you're going?" The tom meowed as he crawled out.

Azure didn't stop. "I'm continuing my journey. There's still plenty of daylight left, and I would like to get to the mountains as soon as possible."

"You're going to the mountains alone?"

Azure halted in her tracks and tensed; she hated that word, and coming from his mouth, made her like it even less. But I'm not alone, she thought, taking a deep breath. "That's what it looks like, doesn't it?" She responded, turning to look at him.

"Well... yes..." The tom meowed. There was a few seconds of silence, then he spoke again. "I want to thank you for the meal."

"Don't mention it." Azure began to pad away again.

"My name is Agro," he meowed unexpectedly.

Azure turned around, tilting her head in confusion. "Right, well... Good... Good-bye, Agro."

He dipped his head. "Good-bye, Azure, and good luck on your journey."

Azure nodded and walked back to the river, with Agro looking after her.

As she continued her trek, she wondered about the strange tom. She couldn't wrap her head around the way he had acted. He didn't make sense. He had wanted nothing to do with her, so why should he wish her luck? He didn't even know what her journey was for! Though, Agro might not have meant what he said. He seemed to, but that doesn't mean he really did. Azure sighed and shook out her fur. She truly hoped to never meet another confusing cat like him ever again.

  • The Waterfall
  • Agro

~ Chapter Ten ~ Edit

Two days had passed since her meeting with Agro. The mountains were only a few more miles away. Azure's heart fluttered with excitement. I'm almost there! She could feel it with each paw-step.

The river had swerved away from her, so she had nothing to guide her and had to hope she was still going in a straight line. She was thankful that she had not encountered anymore cats. She did, however, find the smallest trace of a dog, which made her anxious and suspicious of every dark place in the forest. Even so, she padded on.

Dusk came when she realized she was beginning to go upward. She wanted to race ahead, but thought it best to save her energy. She soon found some rocks and spent the night in their cover.

Azure awoke the next morning and decided to hunt, though she had a hard time. Prey was already scarce and she wasn't even close to the top yet. She wasted three hours just to catch a small mouse. She quickly scarfed it down and started traveling up once again.

She made her way to the top of a cliff. She peered over the edge, trying to mentally measure how high up she was. Azure looked upward, hearing a strange noise, and squinted in the sunlight. Once it moved away from the sun, she could see it was a bird. It was flying high in the sky and in a big circle. Suddenly, it swooped down at a great speed; each second it appeared to grow bigger and bigger. Azure's eyes widened with fear, her heartbeat quickening. It was coming straight for her! She quickly darted to the wall and ran along its side. The bird squawked as its outstretched talons just barely missed snatching her tail.

Azure began to panic. She found a hole in the rocky wall and tried crawling into it, but she couldn't fit. I'm too big! She scrambled out only to have the bird wrap its sharp talons around her. It slowly lifted her into the air. Azure struggled, flailing her paws every which way. She was able to turn just enough to strike its face, which she did again and again until it let go. She hit the stone hard and laid there for a moment, stunned. She stood up and winced when she put her left fore-paw on the ground. The bird gave a loud shriek and flew to her again. It wasn't going to give up its prey so easily. Azure limped as fast as she could, avoiding the bird's attempts to seize her again. It was able to grab her tail and it tried pulling her upwards.

"No, birdy, no! I don't like flying!" Azure's claws scraped the ground as she was dragged to the cliff's edge. She yanked her tail free and rolled, hitting the wall. She was upside-down now and the bird attacked once more.

Then, something fell from above and landed directly onto the bird's back. They hit the ground with a thud. Azure saw a flash of brown fur as something else attacked the bird. There were angry squawks and growls, then suddenly, the bird went limp.

Azure went right-side up and shook her head. Two cats stood a few paw-steps from her, one standing triumphantly on the bird. The she-cat stared at Azure through narrowed slits, while her friend dipped his head.

"Greetings, little one," the tom meowed after a moment. "Seems you've had quite a fright."

Azure nodded slowly. "Y-yes. S-seems I have."

"What's a kit like you doing all the way up here?" He asked.

"I'm... traveling," Azure answered with a twitch of her tail.

"I see... Well, I am Hawkwhisker and this is Witheredblossom," the tom meowed with a smile. The she-cat dipped her head curtly and stepped off the large bird.

Azure's ears perked up at the sound of their names. They sounded like clan names, like the ones from Onyx's stories. "Are you guys warriors? Are you from a clan?" She inquired with a twinkle in her eyes.

The two cats grew tense and the tom's mew was a little sharp when he replied. "We used to be... but it was destroyed, and we were the only two to survive its destruction."

Azure grew quiet for a moment, feeling guilty that she had asked those questions. "I'm sorry."

"Just don't bring it up again," Hawkwhisker meowed. Then, he smiled slightly and gestured to the bird behind him. "Mind helping us bring the eagle to our den?"

Is that what that is? Onyx had told her about eagles, too, but he never mentioned how huge they were. She looked at Hawkwhisker a bit baffled. "Are you going to eat it?"

"Of course," he meowed, tail twitching. "Eagles are birds of prey, that is, our prey."

Azure shrugged, seeing the sense in that. She stepped closer to the eagle and did as Hawkwhisker instructed. Together, the three cats took the bird to the warriors' den, which was a big cave. They shared the prey and they all had their fill.

Hawkwhisker turned to the she-kit when they settled down. "Now, it's your turn. You got a name and a backstory, I suppose, so tell us."

"As short as you can," Witheredblossom added.

Azure nodded. "Well, my name is Azure. I've been traveling for a while, trying to make it to the lake on the other side of these mountains. A good friend of mine---he lives in StarClan now---told me that this is what I should do... I'll be happier when I get there."

Witheredblossom gave a low growl upon hearing the word "StarClan," but Hawkwhisker shot her a warning glance not to do anything more. "You believe in StarClan and what your ancestor is telling you?" The tom questioned.

Azure nodded. "Of course! Onyx has no reason to lie to me."

The older cats looked at each other with the same amount of surprise, yet through that surprise, they both shared a horrifying idea. "Onyx, did you say?" There was an odd tone to Hawkwhisker's mew.

Azure nodded again, fighting a sudden sorrow. "He took care of me and my siblings."

"Is he, by chance, related to a certain she-cat called Forgotten?"

Now Azure was surprised. "Well, I'm not sure how or if she's related to him---Hey, wait! You know Forgotten, too?"

"Yes... We know her very well..." His ominous mew changed to a bright one. "We were friends of hers."

Forgotten had friends? "Oh, that's cool! Forgotten has visited me in a few of my dreams---"

Witheredblossom unexpectedly leaped on top of Azure, pinning her to the ground and smashing her face into the cold stone floor. "You're Forgotten's kin! I'll rip out your heart and make you eat it! Then, I'll tear your pelt off little by little, 'til you have nothing but blood as fur!"

"Witheredblossom, that's enough," Hawkwhisker meowed calmly. His friend backed away without a word and he padded slowly nearer as Azure stood shakily onto her paws.

Her heart was beating frantically, and every part of her was telling her to leave. Witheredblossom looked so furious that Azure feared the she-cat's threats were close to happening.

"I'm sorry, Azure. Witheredblossom gets a little... touchy whenever our 'friend' is mentioned. You see, Forgotten is the reason for a lot of cats' deaths." Hawkwhisker stopped barely three feet from Azure. His green gaze hardened with a deep hatred the she-kit had never seen before. "And you being her kin makes us mighty unhappy."

Azure scooted backwards, ears flat against her head and eyes wide with fear. "B-but what does my relation to Forgotten have to do with what she's done?"

"Revenge comes in all shapes and sizes..." Hawkwhisker meowed darkly. "Her crimes can't go unpunished."

"We're going to torture you! Make you suffer like she made us suffer! You'll be so torn apart that you'll beg us to kill you, and darling... we will." Witheredblossom gave a short, insane laugh. She appeared almost as psychotic as Sparrow (and that's putting it mild, since Azure's never truly seen Sparrow's "true form," as I like to call it).

"But I've done nothing to you! I'm just a kit!" Azure protested, with a shriek, in an attempt to save herself from a long time of agony. "You can't blame me for what Forgotten has done!"

"The kits were the ones to start this whole mess!" Hawkwhisker growled.

"Forgotten escaped her punishment... It's only fair that the one who shares her blood gets what she deserves," Witheredblossom snarled and then she pounced, her sharp claws extended.

. . . .

Azure lay on her side in the very back of the cave, breathing ever so softly. Blood flowed from scratches and gashes all along her body. She had bruises on her back and her bones and muscles ached. She could see out of her right eye again; it was not as swollen as it was before.

Three days had passed. In those three days, the two warriors had beaten Azure until she couldn't stand. When she would try to get up, or fight back, they struck her back down again. So now, she dared not to move. They refused to feed her and had not given her any water.

Azure was helpless. She was alone with two cruel cats and was stuck in the mountains with no way of escaping. Onyx... Ebonydusk... Please, just let me see you or hear your voice... She was slowly giving way to despair.

Witheredblossom trotted over to the broken kit with a piece of rolled-up moss in her jaws. Her gray tail lashed to and fro as she set it several fox-lengths from Azure. "I have some wet moss for you," the she-cat meowed.

Azure gave no sign that she had heard. She wasn't about to fall for that trick. No, not again. The consequence had been a black eye. But the consequence of not obeying....

Witheredblossom took a step back and sat on her haunches, eyeing Azure carefully. "Come on, kit, I know you need a drink." When Azure still didn't move, Witheredblossom gave her a warning growl to obey.

Azure held back a whimper and faced the gray she-cat. She painfully crawled over to the wet moss. She glanced up at Witheredblossom before lapping the water eagerly. When she finished, Witheredblossom gave her a sarcastic grin.

"There. Now your throat's not parched anymore." Then, she smacked Azure's cheek and the kit stumbled into the cave wall. "It's a pity having you here, ya know that?" Witheredblossom hissed. "You're lucky Hawkwhisker still has principles, because if it were up to me, you wouldn't have any blood left." She clawed Azure's ear and watched the red liquid leak from the cut, as if to prove her point. With a dark snarl, she turned and padded away.

Azure crawled to the back of the cave once Witheredblossom had truly left. She returned to her position of lying on the side which hurt the least. She closed her eyes, getting some much needed rest.

The day seemed to drag on awfully slow, and Azure had stopped trying to speak to her ancestors long ago. She desperately wanted their advice, but they wouldn't show themselves; instead, she was left with nightmares about Witheredblossom and Hawkwhisker finishing her off in the most agonizing way possible.

When she awoke, the sun had finally set and the moon had risen to shine with stars. The two older cats came into the cave side by side. They settled down together to eat a mouse Hawkwhisker had caught. Azure tried to ignore the tantalizing scent of their prey as her stomach growled. She wondered if they would ever feed her. She knew they wanted her alive so they could continue to torment her, but starving her would do them no good. So, should I try...?

Azure lifted her head and turned to look at them. They were whispering something very quietly. Azure gulped, not sure this would be a good time to ask about her meal. But, what would be a good time? She took a deep breath. "H-hey... can I have some prey?"

The warriors stopped talking at the sound of her voice and they glared at her. "No," Hawkwhisker answered.

"Please?" Azure tried.

"I guess we tore her ears up pretty good," Witheredblossom meowed. "She can't seem to hear anymore."

Azure flicked her tail and laid her head back on the stone floor, seeing that she wasn't going to eat any time soon---or not at all. Maybe their plan was to beat her as much has they could before she starved. The more Azure thought about it, the more she knew she had to get out of that cave. She had a destination to get to!

Azure turned around. She stared at the two cats. Think, Azure... How do you escape two lunatics?

Hawkwhisker went outside and stretched his limbs. "It's a cold night tonight," he commented, mostly to himself.

Witheredblossom narrowed her eyes, noticing that Azure was staring at her. "Got a problem, kit?"

"Look at me," Azure responded. "And tell me if I have a problem."

"Well, you've gotten sassy," the she-cat meowed with an eye-roll. She padded over to Azure and placed a paw on her throat. "Don't make me rip it out of you."

Azure tried not to flinch at those words and remained silent. Witheredblossom slashed her claws across the kit's side for good measure. Then she bit Azure's paws one by one and laughed when she pulled them away in pain. Suddenly, Witheredblossom's ears perked forward and she turned toward the entrance. After tucking her paws under her, Azure followed the cat's gaze. There was a vicious growl from outside followed by a shriek of pain.

"Hawkwhisker?" Witheredblossom called with the slightest trace of worry in her voice.

Hawkwhisker and another cat unexpectedly rolled in front of the cave's entrance, hissing and spitting. Witheredblossom snarled and raced to help her friend. Azure sat up and watched with a mingle of fear and excitement.

This was a good opportunity to escape! However, they were fighting right by the entrance, so at least one cat would see her leave. But that didn't matter as long as she could outrun them. It sounded like a terrible idea, for the two warriors had lived in the mountains for a long time. I don't care! I'm just gonna do it!

But before she was able, the newcomer had flung Hawkwhisker into the cave wall, and for a moment, the tom didn't move. Adrenaline rushed through her and, as broken as she felt, Azure made a run for it. Hawkwhisker lifted his head in time to see her pass and he caught her fluffy tail with his teeth. He dragged her backwards as she made futile attempts to claw his face.

Then, there was a loud screech of terror. Hawkwhisker and Azure turned in time to see Witheredblossom's gray pelt fall over the edge.

Hawkwhisker's eyes darkened with fury as the strange cat watched the body drop to the bottom. "You killed her!" The warrior snarled dangerously. He sunk a paw into Azure's back and painfully dragged her to the floor. The cat turned to Hawkwhisker upon hearing Azure's yelp of anguish.

"You killed Witheredblossom," Hawkwhisker hissed, pinning Azure to the floor. "I know why you've come, and you won't save her." He bit Azure's throat, and she tried desperately to scratch his face and throw him off.

The cat raced over to Hawkwhisker with great speed and launched itself at the bigger tom. Hawkwhisker was ripped away and thrown to the ground. They fought once more as Azure stood on her shaking legs and unsteadily made her way toward the entrance. Blood dripped from the gash in her throat down to her paws. She suddenly felt dizzy when she came outside and the cold wind froze what little breath she had left. She began to tip over, but the strange cat was by her side and they seized her scruff before she could fall to her doom like Witheredblossom.

Azure's eyelids fluttered as she looked up at the cat standing above her. She caught a glimpse of black and white fur and glowing blue eyes before going unconscious.

  • Hawkwhisker
  • Witheredblossom

~ Chapter Eleven ~ Edit

Crimson liquid swirled all around her. She found herself once again struggling to swim in a river of thick blood. She began choking and sinking to the bottom, the light from the surface getting fainter and fainter. Her heart was racing, knowing that she didn't have a chance. Her time was up.

Azure's eyes shot open, every part of her uneasy. When she was able to calm herself down, she slowly and groggily lifted her head to look around. She felt a piece of cobweb on her neck. She was still in the cave, but it was morning now and the light poured in from the entrance. It seemed unusually bright and the air smelled different, yet familiar.

Azure gasped, spotting Hawkwhisker's body in a corner of the farthest part of the cave. She couldn't tell whether or not he was breathing. It was too dark to see from where she lay. Then, her ears perked up as someone entered the den. She laid her head back down, pretending to still be asleep as the cat padded closer.

It was a tom; she could tell by his murmuring voice. It sounded oddly familiar, but she couldn't place him with a cat she knew. He continued to mumble to himself. Azure tried to listen, but either he was too quiet or his words didn't make sense. There was a moment of silence, then Azure unexpectedly felt a stinging pain on her side wounds.

"Hey!" She snapped. "What did you just put on me?"

The tom was startled and he leaped backwards, fur spiking up in a million directions. "Y-you're awake!" He gave his chest fur a couple of licks, then padded back over to her. "It's about time."

Azure looked up at him, surprised, as he grabbed a few marigold leaves in his mouth. "A-Agro?"

He smiled awkwardly with some of the leaves sticking out of his mouth. "Hiya, kit."

"Y-you're the one who saved me?"

Agro chewed the leaves into a poultice and applied them to another row of Azure's wounds. "Yes... Though, it seems I came a li'l late."

"They were going to kill me soon. I'd say you came just in time." Azure smiled at him gratefully.

The tom said nothing and returned the smile with a tiny one of his own. Then, there was the faintest moan coming from the back of the cave. Agro growled. "Excuse me for a moment," he meowed to Azure. He padded to Hawkwhisker. He bit the warrior's scruff and began dragging him outside.

Azure watched silently with curious and widened eyes. Agro had defeated two very dangerous cats by himself. He risked his own life to save mine... Once again, Azure was very confused by this rogue. They barely knew each other and it appeared that Agro didn't even remember her name. So, what made him come to her aid? Why was he really here?

Agro returned but he was without Hawkwhisker. There was a strange glint in his eyes. "Sorry about that," he apologized. "I thought I had killed him." He laughed awkwardly upon hearing those words come out of his mouth.

Azure stared at him and didn't respond. She tried not to think about what he had done to Hawkwhisker. A strange feeling of dread rested in the pit of her stomach, but she wasn't completely sure why. Agro's words had startled her, but he had also saved her from her tormentors, so why should she feel afraid? Perhaps it was because of the many unanswered questions that swirled around in her mind.

"Uh, how are you feeling?" Agro asked. He shuffled his paws, noticing the way she stared at him.

Azure's tail twitched and she dropped her gaze. "I'm much better... now that those two are gone. Th-thank you."

"Are you hungry? I caught a mouse a while ago," Agro meowed, padding over to the limp creature. He brought it over to Azure. "I know it's not very fresh anymore, but at least you'll have something in your belly." He settled down a few fox-tails away, curling his black tail over his paws.

Azure nodded, smiling politely. "Thank you, Agro." At first she ate very slowly, but then she realized just how hungry she was and quickly ate the mouse in under a minute. Then, she looked up at the tom with a curious glint in her eyes. "How did you know I was here, that I needed help?"

An ear twitched on Agro's head. He seemed sort of sheepish about the topic. "I had a dream," he began. "About you."

"Me?" Azure inquired, her eyes widening.

He curled his lip back with disgust. "And I saw them hurt you... At first I just ignored it, thinking it was, ya know, just a dream. But then I had it again and again. I didn't like seeing them beat you. It made me feel awful... and angry. So, I did the only natural thing a cat would do if they had a dream which haunted them every night: I investigated. I traveled into the mountains and found the cave, and well, you know the rest."

"Wow," Azure breathed, impressed. "Do you think it was a dream from StarClan?"

"What?" Agro asked. He sounded surprised, but it wasn't because he hadn't heard that word before, which is what Azure thought. He was surprised that she had asked him if he knew.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I forget that some cats don't know about them. StarClan is a group of ancestors, who live in a beautiful forest beyond the stars. Every clan cats' past family is up there. I-I'm not a clan cat though," she added. "I figure I'm just a descendant from a clan cat...." Azure drifted off, beginning to wonder what had happened that turned her family into rogues.

"Well, um, that's nice..." Agro meowed, trying to be respectful. Then he tilted his head with a quizzical look in his eyes. "So, why are you going on this journey? You're just a kit and you're by yourself. Seemed like a stupid decision, if you ask me."

Azure flattened her ears indignantly. "No one asked you," she retorted angrily. "I'm just doing what I was told. My ancestors said I had to travel through the mountains to---"

"Your ancestors wanted you killed?" Agro questioned.

"No!" Azure meowed, exasperated. "They just know what's best for me. After I get out of these mountains and to the lake my journey---as far as I know---will be over. My brother and sister will be somewhere over there and... and everything will be... fine. No, perfect."

Agro didn't seem to hear the pain and longing that was in her voice, and he continued to question her. "You trust yourself that little? You can't decide for yourself what's best for you?"

"You wouldn't understand!" She hissed. She didn't want to hear anymore of his annoying inquiries, so she got up and stomped out of the cave. The moment she stepped outside, she felt the full effect of her injuries and every part of her ached. She knew she had made a mistake; she shouldn't have moved. But listening to Agro judging her every word and her ancestors' instructions ruffled her fur in the most irritating way. If he had not saved her life she would have cuffed him over the ears.

Agro padded to her side with silent paw-steps, which made her jump. "You're a touchy one, kit."

"My name is Azure," Azure meowed through gritted teeth. "Now, will you let me be?"

"I-I know what your name is, a-and I know you don't like being alone." The tom's mew sounded embarrassed and he didn't look at Azure, but gazed toward the horizon.

How do you know that I don't like being alone? She thought, narrowing her eyes at him. She slowly went back into the cave, knowing he wasn't going to budge. Maybe things will be clearer if I got some rest... She hoped Agro would stay outside just long enough for her to fall completely asleep, which, fortunately for her, he did. However, her sleep was plagued by a dream---at least, she hoped it was a dream---and her rest was very uncomfortable.

Azure found herself in the Dark Forest. At the sight of the rotten trees, she immediately felt sick and scared. She willed herself to wake up, but she did not. Her ears suddenly perked up, hearing the familiar cackle of Silent Scream and loud moans, and every one of her bones told her to run. But again, she did not. With much effort, she forced herself to take several steps forward. She stopped and hid in a prickly bush once the transparent she-cat was in sight.

"Alright, you two morons, I'm here." Silent Scream was standing over two cats, who were breathing heavily. There were no signs of any injuries on the cats, yet they laid there and didn't dare to move. They let out another moan when seeing their master. Silent Scream whispered softly in the black cat's ear, a wide grin showing on her shadowy face.

"You lied to us," the black cat meowed angrily. Azure knew that voice well, and her heartbeat quickened uneasily. The two cats were Shade and Nightmare; and they were clearly in some sort of pain.

"Lied?" Silent Scream asked in a mocking tone. "How rude of you to accuse me of such a thing. I informed you both of the consequences that would take place if you helped me."

"You never mentioned it would be this painful!" Nightmare growled, fighting back a yowl of anguish. "How could you have expected us to bear it?"

"I didn't," Silent scream replied nonchalantly. "I never said this would be easy. You cannot blame me for your own stupidity. You promised to serve me, remember?"

"Yes, we did," Shade snarled through a gasp. "And it was a mistake."

"A mistake?" The shadow cat's liquid blue eyes narrowed and a flash of anger could be seen in them. "The plan is going perfectly, just how I want it. You should be proud of what you contributed to the cause: everyone must sacrifice something for the cause."

That last line made Azure's skin crawl, and the more she listened, the more dread rested in her stomach.

"Suffering an eternal agony in every part of our bodies is not what we planned to sacrifice!" Nightmare meowed, wretchedly.

"Oh, hush, you mewling kit. It won't last forever." Silent Scream rolled her eyes, beginning to circle the two. Then she mumbled, "Why is it that every slave whines---" She suddenly stopped. She had come around and was nearer to Azure. The she-kit saw Silent Scream's nostrils twitch and she turned her head in Azure's direction. Their eyes met and Azure was filled with horror. Silent Scream drew her lip back in the beginnings of a snarl, when Azure was unexpectedly whisked away.

Azure awoke with a gasp. She scrambled to a sitting position as her heart rate slowed. She looked up to see Agro twisting around in his sleeping position as if he were having a horrible dream. Azure slowly slunk over to him with curiosity, her nightmare pushed to the back of her mind. "Agro?" She tried.

Unanticipatedly, the tom lashed out at her with his sharp claws. His paw shot past her nose and just barely missed her whiskers. Azure stepped backwards to avoid another strike. It looks like he's trying to fight someone. Agro let out a yelp and his eyes opened. For a moment he stared at Azure, not really knowing she was there, then he flattened his ears realizing she had been watching him. "Why were you stalking me?" Agro growled.

"S-stalking? I-I wasn't stalking you!" Azure stuttered awkwardly. "I-I just saw you fidgeting around in your sleep, a-and was curious."

Agro smiled, relishing her humiliation. "Sure, kit, sure."

Azure lashed her tail, huffing as her fur bristled. "Will you quit calling me that? I understand that I am a kit, but I have a name, and you should know it by now!"

Agro rolled his eyes. "You sure take things seriously."

"And you sure are annoying!" Azure retorted.

Agro stood up and stretched, ignoring her attempt to insult him. "Are you feeling better?"

Azure let her fur lie flat and answered calmly, though her eyes were burning with indigence. "I feel great, actually." A pleasant smile took form of her mouth. "Great enough to continue my journey." She wanted to add "and leave you behind," but thought it too rude.

"That's good news," Agro meowed happily.

"Mhm," she agreed, beginning to pad toward the exit. "In fact, I'm going to start right now. It's a beautiful day---"

"Actually, it snowed a while ago," Agro interrupted, but Azure continued as if he hadn't spoken.

"---and I could use a peaceful walk."

"I didn't know walking in snow above your head was peaceful."

Azure twitched her tail as she made it outside, and she took a good look around. Agro was right: there was a lot of snow. But she was not deterred, for she had faced a great snowfall before... in a dream. She gazed at all the sparkling rocky cliffs and lifted her chin. She headed forward, walking confidently on the ledge. From up here she could see a valley not too far below and it gave her a rush of excitement.

"Wait, Azure!" Agro came out of the cave. He caught up to the she-kit and followed her around a corner. Azure did not stop. She did not really care what he had to say. "I'm coming with you," Agro meowed.

Azure halted the moment those words came out of his mouth. She turned sharply and looked at him with a certain fierceness. He had a strange, stubborn look about him and it made Azure feel like she wouldn't get far trying to persuade him not to go.

"I'm coming with you," Agro repeated.

"No," Azure meowed firmly. "I can do this on my own. I don't need your help."

"But can you?" He questioned. "What will you do if you meet cats like those two who imprisoned you?"

Azure was about to speak but stopped. She hadn't thought about that. What would happen? What if the other cats killed her, killed her before she could finish the mission Onyx had sent her on? What if...?

Azure shook herself. Whatever was in store for her, she was sure she could overcome it. She just needed a little hope. "I'll be okay. I thank you for your help earlier with Hawkwhisker and Witheredblossom, but I don't need your assistance anymore. I'm free and healed. Your job is done."

Agro flicked his tail. He was definitely not satisfied with her response. "But you don't know what you'll have to face out there. What if you're attacked by a dog, or a fox, or a badger? You'll need someone to help you then."

"I don't want to wonder about 'what if,' and I doubt any---"

"But it could happen. And when it does, you'll need someone to fight them off. You know I can fight and well, too. I can do the fighting and you can do the hunting." Then he added in a very quiet mumble, "'Cause you also know I'm not very good at that."

Azure stared at him. She just couldn't find anymore words to convince him not to tag along. He was practically begging to come, and he clearly wasn't taking no for an answer. She sighed. "I guess... I guess, it wouldn't hurt to be careful... You can come."

Agro grinned triumphantly. "Glad you have some sense. Now, let's get goin'."

She sighed again and then blinked as she noticed something behind Agro. She peered over his shoulder and found a small glowing ball. It was floating in the air and slowly traveled around the corner.

"What're you looking at?" The tom asked, turning to look behind him.

"Huh? You mean, you don't---Uh, never mind. It's nothing. Just gimme one second..." Azure hurried after the golden orb before Agro could say anything else. She was very curious about this strange glowing sphere. She knew it couldn't be harmful; it reminded her of something... She suddenly stopped as the glowing sphere halted at the entrance to the cave and disappeared. She could see a big, splotched cat with visible stars along her pelt. "Forgotten!" Azure exclaimed with surprise. She hadn't seen the StarClan cat since her brother and sister were killed. Now she realized that the glowing sphere was the striking color of Forgotten's golden eyes. "Forgotten?" Azure tried. The she-cat was sitting stiffly near the edge of the ledge, her gaze fixed on something far, far below.

"You should have let them live," Forgotten meowed quietly, but it was as if she were talking to herself, even though she knew Azure was there.

"What're you talking about?" Azure asked. "Who should've lived?" Then, she soon realized who the StarClan cat meant as she joined her by the edge. "You mean Hawkwhisker and Witheredblossom, don't you? Why should they have lived? Don't you know what they did to me?"

"They should not have been killed," Forgotten responded. "They would have suffered so much more if they were still alive..." The she-cat's mew grew very dark and filled with hate. "They deserved it."

Azure didn't understand and Forgotten's words discomforted her. "Why did they deserve it?" She asked carefully.

Forgotten turned to her with wild eyes and snarled dangerously. "Don't you ask such things ever again! It's best you don't know." She took a deep breath and stared at Azure sadly. "My advice to you: don't let the past haunt you too much. Regret can tear you apart more than a cat's claws ever will." Without another word, the spotted gray she-cat began to fade away.

Azure looked once more where Forgotten's outline had been. As she padded slowly back to Agro, her thoughts still remained on her ancestor's words.

"You sure took your time," Agro scoffed lightly. "What were you doing?"

Azure glanced at him, but kept walking on. "Just thinking about family," she meowed vaguely.

~ Chapter Twelve ~ Edit

The two padded on for hours in silence, listening to the wind whistling by and their paw-steps crunching on the snow. Their stomachs simultaneously grumbled and they looked at each other for a moment and laughed. They were glad to break that awful, awkward quietness.

"I think that means we should stop and hunt," Agro meowed, his blue eyes sparkling with amusement.

"What do you mean by 'we'?" Azure asked with a twitch of an ear. "Didn't you say before we left that I would do the hunting?"

"Oh, yeah! I almost forgot." He gave her a mischievous smirk.

Azure narrowed her eyes. "I'm beginning to think you just said that so you could get out of hunting your own meal." When he didn't reply, she cuffed him over the ears. "You lazy mouse-brain!"

"H-hey! I'm not lazy! Just... strategizing. We'll be more effective as a team this way, if you hunt and I fight."

Azure rolled her eyes, but didn't argue. She knew there would be no point in trying. After another mile or so, they finally made it to the valley. Azure decided it was best to hunt here and it might be easier. Agro nodded to her as she began to pad away, and he sat in the warm sun to rest.

Azure opened her mouth, letting the scents bathe her tongue. She suddenly halted, one paw still in the air, and squinted. Several yards ahead of her, she could see the tips of a rabbit's ears revealing itself above the tall grass. She slunk low to the ground, her belly touching the dirt. She used her nose to steer herself in the rabbit's direction. When she became close enough to see it through the grass and snow, it unexpectedly turned its head and their eyes locked. The rabbit instantly hopped away with Azure darting after. She followed it up and down the hill as fast as she could, trying not tire herself out. Her prey was moving in a zigzagging line, and she only just had time to realize where it was foolishly heading. The rabbit leaped, suddenly noticing Agro, but it was too late. There was a loud caterwaul as prey and predator slammed into each other and rolled together in a tight circle down the hill. Azure quickly followed, panting, and then stopped beside Agro who held a squirming rabbit by the throat, pinning it to the ground with his paw. He had a look of pure astonishment as he gazed up at Azure.

"You can kill it now," Azure told him after a few minutes of merely staring at each other had passed.

Agro blinked and looked down at the prey. He bit its neck until it went limp, then looked back up at Azure with that same astonished look. "You have a funny way of hunting."

She ignored his comment and smirked. "You caught it, so it seems you can hunt after all."

The tom stepped away from the rabbit. He smoothed out his fur, trying to conceal his embarrassment. "Well... It seems like it. Though, I would prefer if we never hunted like that again." He began to move his jaw around in strange ways.

"What? Did the wittle bunny wabbit hurt poor Agro?" Azure meowed mockingly.

Agro stood stiff as stone. "You don't know how it felt, getting kicked by a rabbit!" He meowed indignantly, making a great effort not to sound too upset.

"Okay, okay. Don't get your tail in a twist," Azure laughed. "Let's just eat."

Agro grew silent and slowly slumped down on his bottom. Azure laid down and began to tear into their catch. Agro looked very reluctant as he started to pick through his meat; he was in no mood to eat anymore, but he forced himself to choke the food down.

Azure glanced at him and couldn't help smiling with satisfaction. Now you know how I feel when you humiliate me. Ha! It felt good to know that she could easily make this teasing tom feel uncomfortable right back.

When they both had eaten their fill, they continued to pad through the valley, going up and down, up and down the rows and rows of hills. Agro remained awfully quiet and the silence was gradually driving Azure insane, but she refused to break the peacefulness because she thought she might never have a moment of silence again. At least, while the tom was around. She tried focusing more on the pretty pink and yellow flowers, which peeked out from underneath the few places still piled in snow, and their sweet aromas. The sunshine was warm on her shaggy pelt (which desperately needed to be groomed) and it helped the chilling wind, that blew swiftly through the valley, not to freeze her bones. By midday the two cats finally made it to the edge of the valley. Their tired gazes brightened upon seeing the forest, and they marveled in the thought of being beneath the wooden giants once again. It felt like forever since Azure had seen a tree and the first one she met she walked around it for a whole minute, purring. Then, the two stopped beside each other, listening to a faint noise they had both heard at once.

It's water! At first they were amazed that the water had not yet frozen over, but then they didn't care. They ran as fast as their legs would allow them and screeched to a halt at the river's shore. Agro simply bent over for a drink, but Azure hopped right in and splashed about with delight. It was absolutely freezing, but she didn't seem to notice.

Oh, the river! Azure had found the precious body of water she had been following alone before she came to the mountains. Like an old friend, she was so happy to see it; because it was something familiar in a forest which hosted the unknown. She was going to need a lot of spirit for her next trial.....

Agro growled softly as the she-kit splashed him for the third time. "Will you quit, please? I'm wet enough as is!"

Azure giggled mischievously, but wisely stopped drenching him in river water and padded onto the shore. She stepped far enough away and wrung herself out. Then she flopped on the ground for a rest. "Aren't you just happy to be back by the trees?" She asked her companion.

Agro's ears perked up and he suddenly froze as he gazed through the trees. His eyes narrowed at something---a few somethings---in the distance.

Azure lifted her head to look at him. "Hello? Are you still there, rabbit hunter? I asked you a---"

"Azure, shut up!" Agro hissed quietly.

Azure sat up, ready to fire a retort, but she noticed the look on his face and didn't say a word. She spun around to stare at whatever he was trying to find. They both spotted the creatures at the same time and exclaimed: "Twolegs!"

"Agro, what do we do?" She asked in a frightened voice. She had never really seen a Twoleg before and had no idea what to do. Onyx had kept her far from their influence, unlike her older siblings who had stayed with Mystic.

For a moment, Agro did nothing but stare. He didn't appear to be afraid; he was more like sizing the Twolegs up. "They're just kits," he meowed at last. "We should try not to get too close. They're more likely to bother us if they spot us, so keep your distance and stay out of sight." He looked at Azure and her still terrified gaze. "Uh, just follow close behind me."

Azure nodded and they began to pad as silently and quickly as they could through the snow. They stepped lightly and cautiously; one of them always kept their eyes on the Twoleg kits while the other made a dash for a hiding spot. They moved from cover to cover---(more like tree to tree, since all the other vegetation were beginning to die)---without being seen. They padded around the Twolegs in a wide-ish circle.

When Azure had gotten a good view of them, she paused for a moment to look at the creatures. They were strange, tall things with brightly colored pelts, and the only fur to be seen was on the top of their heads. They created queer noises, which Azure was positive that it meant something awful, and they gathered up snow into their paws and threw it at each other. They ran around uncoordinatedly as they continuously hurled the balls of snow at each other and hid behind trees and snow mounds.

"Psst, Azure!" Agro called quietly, trying to get her attention.

She half-jumped as she heard him and turned to him, blinking. "Oh. Right. Moving on. Let's go." She resumed their strategy of stealthiness and followed Agro to and from the trees.

Once they were clear enough from the Twoleg kits, Agro turned on her, scowling. "What were you thinking?" He hissed. "Why'd you stop? You could've been spotted! You shouldn't have stopped at all! I almost left you!"

When I was just beginning to calm down, too, Azure thought, feeling herself becoming enraged. "Chill out, will you? I've never seen a Twoleg before. And I was being just as careful as you were, so I was fine. No need to scold me for being naturally curious."

"Your curiosity could've gotten us caught! Do you know what it's like to be in the paws of Twolegs?" He questioned her.

"I just told you I've never seen one before, so obviously no," she responded with and eye-roll.

"Well, it's awful. The kits never leave you alone. They lift you from the ground and squeeze you 'til you can't breathe. They have no respect for your personal bubble. And the full-grown ones, I might add, are cruel."

"How would you know? Were you a lazy kittypet once?"

Agro snarled. "Why you---No, I wasn't, but I know how they act. You can't just---"

"Alright, I get it. I made a mistake. Can we move on, now?" Azure didn't wait for him to reply and padded passed him with an exasperated shrug. Why does he care so much about what happens to me? It's not like we're friends or anything! She suddenly stopped and glanced back at him. He was walking with his head down and mumbling a sly remark to himself. When he caught up, she continued and acted like she never waited for him. Unless... he thinks we're friends... Then Azure felt a bit guilty for thinking about and treating him so unkindly.

She was just beginning to think she should apologize when Agro unexpectedly bowled into her. They rolled around for a second until he pinned her down behind a tree. The thought of friendship completely washed away from her mind. "What is your problem?!" She demanded, unsheathing her claws to rip apart his face.

"Shh! Shut up and listen for a second!" He hissed.

Oh, what now? Azure reluctantly obeyed, and they both listened. From several yards away they could hear a loud voice. It sounded like two cats were arguing.

Agro slowly backed away so Azure could stand and look for herself. "It's coming from over there." Between the dormant trees, they could see a big wooden structure standing ominously in the daylight. "That's where the Twoleg kits must've come from," Agro meowed, disgustedly.

"But the voices!" Azure meowed. "They have cats!"

"Do you even remember what I told you? And just because they have cats does not mean the cats are friendly. Same for the dang Twolegs."

"We could at least check them out," Azure suggested. "Maybe they can direct us exactly to the lake!" She sprinted off, thinking her idea was very brilliant.

"Azure! You---ugh!" Agro groaned, infuriated. "You have no sense!" He meowed just loud enough for her to hear as he ran to catch up.

Azure ignored him completely. She came to a halt when she spotted a single cat lying leisurely on the back porch's railing. There was another one gazing up at her friend from down below on the wooden boards. They were both she-cats, Azure noted, as they continued to banter.

"You can't possibly be serious, Nova! It's freezing out here!" Meowed the cat on the ground. "I don't understand why you'd want to purposely catch a cold!"

"Oh, please. Your nagging is getting annoying," the one called Nova meowed. "It's the first snow of leaf-bare, will you let me enjoy it?"

Her friend huffed and rolled her eyes. "Fine. But I'm going inside where it's nice and cozy. If you were smart, you'd come, too---" The she-cat stopped and her eyes widened.

Azure realized the cat was staring right at her. Oopsies...

"Great Cedars of Forest Hill! There's a rogue! No, two! Oh, we're going to die!" The she-cat exclaimed with despair.

Nova lifted her head and gazed carelessly out at Agro and Azure. She smiled bemusedly. "Don't mind my friend Macie. She gets a little jumpy from time to time," Nova told them and lied her head back down.

"'Jumpy' is not the word I would use..." Agro grumbled.

Azure carefully stepped forward, suddenly feeling shy. "Uh... It's okay. We understand why she would want to be... heedful," she meowed, trying to be polite.

Nova got up and stretched. She nodded approvingly at Azure as she sat down. "Macie's a worrier," she meowed with a smirk. "Why don't you come join me up here?"

Macie stood shaking as Azure and Agro padded nearer. "Nova, y-you're insane! You can't possibly be thinking of talking to..." She drifted off in fear, seeing the tom's muscles as he leaped onto the porch. "Eep!" She squeaked and darted into the house through an odd, flapping door.

Nova laughed. "Give her a chance to calm down and she'll be admiring those muscles instead!"

Agro blinked, feeling even more uncomfortable than he already was. "Yippee," he meowed sarcastically, and with a frown of displeasure.

Azure smiled. She liked Nova already. She seemed to be a friendly, yet carefree kittypet. She was obviously much older than Macie, Agro, and Azure, but she had a young, blissful feeling, which she shared with those around her (or, at least, tried to). Nova had a smooth gray and white striped pelt with sky-blue eyes. She had a few long scars along one flank, indicating she had not always been a kittypet (of course, that's not always the case with scars). She reminded Azure of someone she used to know, but couldn't think just who.

Nova watched as the two strangers joined her on the railing. She studied Agro first, since he seemed to be hiding behind his friend. Then, she looked at Azure. There was an unknown flash in her eyes and her youthfulness seemed to fade, but only slightly, and she kept up the pretty smile. "Well, now. How are you two young travelers? I'm Nova, if you didn't hear Macie's frantic speech."

"We're good---and cold," Azure meowed, then added quickly, "But we sure don't mind!"

"You aim to please, don't you, darling?" Nova asked with a small smirk. "What're your names?"

"I'm Azure and this is Agro," Azure told her.

The kittypet froze for a moment upon hearing Azure's name. Then, the friendly, happy feeling disappeared entirely as Nova's whole expression changed to one that was mixed with sadness, anger, and fear. She backed away from them, her eyes wide. "Azure... No, no... It can't be! Oh, why're you here? Leave! Go away, now!"

Azure's fur puffed up with alarm. "N-Nova, w-what're you talking about? What's wrong?"

"I told him I didn't want to see you again!" The kittypet hissed. "And now here you are!"

Agro stood and unsheathed his claws, glaring at Nova. "We would like you to explain yourself," he meowed in a quiet, yet dangerous voice. "You're not making sense."

"Go away!" Nova snarled and she lashed out at Azure, hitting her muzzle. Agro dashed past Azure and hit Nova's chest, and the she-cat fell off the railing in surprise. The two rogues looked at each other for a moment and then raced down to Nova, who lay stunned on the snowy earth.

"Nova... why'd you do that?" Azure asked gently. The cut on her muzzle still stung. "We don't understand what's wrong."

Nova looked up at them in complete distress. "Do your mother a favor, and leave her alone!"

"My mother?!" Azure exclaimed with surprise as her eyes, as well as Agro's, widened as big as moons.

  • Nova
  • Macie

~ Chapter Thirteen ~ Edit

"What do you mean by my mother?" Azure questioned fiercely. "Both my parents are dead!"

Nova stood up slowly, clearly realizing she had made a huge mistake by even mentioning the word "mother." She glared at Agro and then Azure. "At least one of your parents isn't dead," she murmured. "You're looking at your mother."

Azure gasped and took a step back. "But... How? Onyx said you were gone." She was unsure just how to take that her mother was still alive. Her mother was pronounced dead, not because she really was dead, but to hide the fact that she abandoned Azure and everything which she had loved.

Azure was struck with an unexplainable joy at seeing her mother standing before her, yet felt as if she shouldn't be happy at all, but furious. She didn't understand these mixed emotions until Nova's next line, which set off an angry, blazing fire in Azure's already broken heart.

"I was gone," Nova hissed. "I left you... with that pathetic tom."

"Onyx is not pathetic!" Azure growled, the fire practically consuming the withered organ inside her chest as her gaze blew up with rage. How dare Nova, a selfish kittypet, disrespect Onyx, the only true parent Azure ever really knew and grew close to. "You abandoned me! You have no right calling Onyx pathetic!"

"How do you know Onyx?" Agro inquired through narrowed eyes as the older she-cat moved backwards.

Nova snarled. "Get out of here, or I'll call my Twolegs!"

"Twolegs..." Azure murmured quietly. Her gaze hardened and she scoffed. "Only a heartless coward would need Twolegs for protection."

Nova flattened her ears and gazed at the ground, shamefully. "You don't know what happened... You don't know why I left you alone..." She looked up at Azure through angry slits. "You ignorant little beast!" She leaped at Azure unexpectedly, and latched onto her daughter's long pelt with her claws. Azure was surprised, and on instinct, she turned and batted at Nova's head. The she-cat yowled and let go only to begin scratching Azure's side. Azure raced around and leaped at Nova from behind, but Nova had twisted in a strange way and they began rolling together into a pile of snow.

Agro quickly slithered over to the big pile. He found Nova's tail, bit it, and dragged her out. He pinned her to the ground as Azure poked her head out from the top, little snowflakes clinging to her fur. She hopped out and cautiously padded over to Nova, who was hissing and trying to lash out at the she-kit. "Instead of trying to fight me, why don't you tell me the reason you left?" Azure suggested calmly, but Nova struggled even more. Azure became frustrated. "Why did you abandon me?" She yowled.

Nova stopped moving and lay completely still, finally giving up. She began to moan so sorrowfully as tears dripped from her blue orbs. "Just let me go!" She choked out pleadingly. "Don't make me live it all again."

Agro didn't budge the slightest bit. He seemed just as angry and hurt as Azure. "Not until you tell the truth. All of it," he meowed, his voice oddly calm.

"No, no, no!" Azure's mother yelled. "No, no, no, no, no, no (etc.)..." She continued to say "no" for a few more minutes, until each "no" gradually became fainter and fainter. Then, they stopped altogether as Nova closed her eyes, as if all her strength suddenly gave out.

Azure began to feel a flutter of panic inside her chest despite the rage she had felt before, the flame dying down. "Nova...?" She whispered. She glanced up at Agro. "Is she---"

"No," Agro interrupted, shaking his head, but without taking his eyes off the kittypet. "She's still alive. Breathing quite strongly, actually. She might have only fainted." He tilted his head and stepped away. He quickly swatted Nova's cheek. Nothing happened. "Okay, gimme a minute...."

"You killed her!" Came an unexpected gasp from above. Agro paid no attention, but Azure looked up to see Macie with the most horrified expression she had ever seen on another cat. "My only friend, and you killed her!"

"No, Macie!" Azure began. "She isn't dead at all!"

"How could you?!" The small golden kittypet mourned. "Oh, I told her to come inside! Why didn't she listen? You---you rogues are just evil!"

Azure became irritated as Macie continued to blame them for murdering Nova, even though she was clearly still breathing. The flame built itself up again, and Azure swiftly jumped onto the porch, towering over Macie only a whisker away. "Do you know?!" She demanded.

Macie shrieked and leaped backwards in terror. Her fur bushed out to twice her size, making her look more like a big fuzzy puff ball. "Kn-know w-what?"

"Do you know what she did?" Azure meowed, stepping menacingly toward the cowering kittypet.

"N-Nova's done a lot of things. Y-you're gonna have to elaborate on that---"

"Did you know she discarded a helpless kit into a thorny bush and left her wailing for help, for her mother?"

Macie seemed to grow somewhat defiant, but her voice still shook. "Y-yes! Sh-she told me a while after my Twolegs adopted her... A-and I know why she---she did that, too."

Azure dropped before Macie and looked at her with such a pitiful gaze. She seemed as feeble and sorrowful as a bird with broken wings. "Why?" She begged, her mew barely audible. "Why would she do that to me...?"

Macie stared into Azure's turquoise eyes as the she-kit began to cry. "You're Nova's kit?!" She exclaimed, and Azure nodded. Macie felt suddenly mute and surprised that a giant cat like Azure, even if just a kit, could appear so heartrending. She had no idea what to say, she was too bewildered.

"I got her to wake," Agro called proudly and completely oblivious to the fact that his friend was weeping as she recalled that terrible moment of being forsaken.

Without taking her eyes off Azure, Macie cautiously padded around the she-kit and went to the edge of the porch. She hopped down, landing very ungracefully. Agro knew she wouldn't dare come any nearer because he was standing there, so he quickly left to see Azure. Macie nuzzled her friend as Nova looked up at her with a sorrowful gaze. "Nova, someone has to tell her what happened," she meowed softly.

Nova's eyes widened with horror and she shook her head wildly. "No, no! I won't do it! I don't want to see her, and she mustn't know!"

"But you might feel better if your daughter knew the truth."

Nova scowled. "Oh, leave me be!" She hastily stood and sprinted away.

Macie watched her go, then turned back to the porch and went to Azure. "Do you really want to know?" She asked quietly.

Azure faced her and nodded. She sat up as Macie awkwardly placed herself beside Azure so their fur brushed. "I suppose... you're name is Azure... since you're the living kit," the kittypet meowed.

"The living kit?" Azure asked, trying to conceal the tears that wanted to wash down her face. Agro sat a fox-tail away on her other side as he curiously waited for Macie to explain.

Macie took a deep breath and began the story, looking straight out in front of her as if she were merely telling it to the icy wind. "It was a little more than a month after you were born. It was greenleaf and one of the hottest days. Nova was watching you... and your littermates play several fox-lengths away from your den."

"Littermates?" Azure cried. "I have littermates? N-not just older siblings, but actual---"

"You had littermates," Macie corrected sadly. Azure's eyes widened but she didn't say a word and let the kittypet continue. "Your mother began to doze off, thinking you guys would be all right... but only moments later a badger came out of nowhere. The kits ran about in a panic, while Nova had to fight the beast on her own. She was badly wounded... and three of her kits died. They were either trampled on or taken away to be eaten. Nova never said for sure."

"That's horrible!" Azure meowed in a high-pitched voice. Tears began to fall freely from her eyes and her body shook as she sobbed. Agro quickly padded over and sat on her other side, trying to be of some comfort, though he didn't really know what to do.

"I know," Macie meowed. "The worst part: I'm not finished yet... Onyx, an old friend of Nova's, found her bleeding out and hurriedly tried to help her. Thankfully, he did; otherwise, she wouldn't have survived. But Nova wasn't so thankful. She wished she had died so she could be with her kits. She was miserable and filled herself with guilt and shame. She was furious at herself and, in turn, took it out on Onyx. She blamed him for not being there when she needed him. If he was there, he could've helped her save the kits. She even tried to kill Onyx, but she was still very weak and injured; instead, she cursed him, and... and then they heard a very faint mew. Onyx found you, Azure, mewling in a rose bush. The only scratches you had were the ones from the thorns. Nova became very upset when she saw you. She was in complete distress and wanted nothing to do with you. She took you right from Onyx and shoved you back into the bush, saying you could die there as well as anywhere else, as long as that badger never touched you. She hated the sight of you, because it reminded her of the three other kits she had lost. After that, she ran away as fast as she could, ignoring the pain which threatened to make the wounds reopen. She never saw you or Onyx again. When my Twolegs had found her and brought her home, she was---and I mean this in the nicest possible way---completely disgusting. Oh, the fleas and ticks were everywhere! It was disastrous! She almost infected me! And speaking of infected, most of her wounds had terrible infections. I couldn't look at her until my Twolegs fixed her up. It was so gro---"

"We get it," Agro snapped.

Azure stared at her paws. "So that's it then, huh?" She meowed in a very quiet mew. "She abandoned her one living kit because she was overflowing with guilt that she had not protected her other kits from a hungry badger?"

Macie glanced at Azure. "I suppose, in short, yes... She's carried it for a long time, it seems. Nova still has nightmares about the incident. Heh---I would know 'cause she whimpers and swings her claws around in her sleep. I still have a scratch by my ear, wanna see?"

"Not particularly," answered Agro.

Macie blinked at him, suddenly bashful, and curled her tail around her paws. She moved her gaze away from his and froze. "It's getting dark," she meowed in a distant voice.

Agro and Azure looked up at the sky, seeing the sun setting beyond the canopy of trees. "Ya know, you can always run back into your den if you're scared of night predators," Agro told Macie, thinking that that is why she froze.

"It's getting dark!" The kittypet repeated in a much louder and shrill voice. "Nova's not back yet!" Then, she turned to the tom with an expression of pure terror. "Did you say 'night predators'?"

Azure suddenly stood, a look of determination on her face. "We have to go find her."

~ Chapter Fourteen ~ Edit

Agro turned to his companion with surprise. "You want to go search for her, even after the story you just heard?"

"It's because of the story that I have chosen to search for her," Azure responded. "I had always thought she left me, because she believed she was incapable of caring for a single kit. I thought she hated me, because I was some heavy burden which weighed her down and kept her from doing other things. But... But now I see she left because her guilt and shame was so overwhelming; she's suffered just as much as I have because of what she did."

Agro flattened his ears, thinking Azure was being stupid. "How do you know the story is even true? She could have made it up at any time just to tell it to some gullible little kittypet so they would have pity on her. It certainly wouldn't have made me forgive my mother so easily. She would have to make amends, prove to me that she really loves me."

Macie's eyes lit up with quiet rage and spoke indignantly. "Nova was telling the truth! You have no right to question her words! You weren't there! You didn't see the awful sadness on her face or the tears dripping unceasingly from her eyes!"

"There is something called acting, Macie," Agro told her with an eye-roll. "I would know a faker when I saw one."

"How dare you, you heartless, bedraggled brute!" The small she-cat yelled. "I-If I wasn't terribly afraid of you, I would claw your eyes out!"

Agro snickered and unsheathed his claws, and Macie's eyes widened and the fur lifted along her spine.

"That's enough!" Azure meowed, quickly cutting in between the two. "Agro, I don't care if the story was true or not. Nova is still... is still my mother, and we should help bring her home."

"She's only been gone for twenty minutes!" Agro objected. "You both act like she's been gone all day!"

Azure sighed, beginning to grow frustrated with the black and white tom. "Even so, I would like to tell her that all is forgiven."

Agro looked as if he were about to object once more, but closed his mouth instead. He looked at his paws and was silent for a moment. "Just because you forgive her, doesn't mean she will suddenly forget what has happened in the past," he warned.

Azure sniffed and lifted her chin as if those words didn't matter. "Let's go."

"She's not worth it," the tom insisted. "Can't you see I'm trying to spare you more grief?"

"Y-you guys better go now," Macie meowed awkwardly as she glanced back and forth between the two. "The Twoleg kits are coming back."

Azure and Agro looked simultaneously at the bright-pelted figures lumbering toward the Twoleg den. "Now we have to go," Azure meowed haughtily. She flicked her tail and nodded to Macie. Then, she and an agitated Agro sprinted off before they could be spotted.

Nova's scent was easily found---it was full of fear---and they followed it hastily. Azure, however, soon grew confused and Agro grew frustrated when they realized the scent trail seemed to be leading them everywhere. It went in a straight line; swerved unexpectedly to the left; went around tree after tree after tree; floated alongside snowy bushes; and went in circles so many times. But finally, it led them farther down the river, and, squinting through the coming moonlight, they could make out the silhouette of a cat.

"Nova!" Azure meowed breathlessly. "We finally found you!" She was about to rush over to her mother, but Agro got in her way.

"Wait a minute," he told her quietly. "She doesn't look stable."

The she-kit blinked at Agro then stared at Nova. The kittypet had turned to them, her eyes were big and wild and there was an odd twitch going about her body. "Nova?" Azure tried cautiously.

"Why did you follow me?!" Nova demanded, yowling loudly. She unsheathed her claws and made marks in the dirt as if that were a way of calming herself down.

"I was worried about you," Azure responded, taking a single step forward. "It's dark now and not safe for you to be out on your own."

"I don't need your help! Things like you always bring trouble!" Nova hissed. Then her pupils grew smaller as a frightful imagination crossed her mind. She stood up, the twitching still wracking her body, and became alert, looking all about her as if something were going to creep out of the shadows. "I bet you've brought one with you, and it's waiting to pounce and kill me!"

"What're you talking about? N-nothing's gonna hurt you as long as we bring you back to your Twolegs."

Nova's wild blue gaze suddenly whipped around and stopped on Azure. "You're trying to kill me! You're trying to lure me away into a trap, so that whatever is lurking there can rip out my heart while you watch me bleed to death!"

"What? No! That's not at all what I'm trying to do!" Azure meowed frantically. Her mother appeared to be going crazy. I have to do something quick to calm her down. "I-I didn't come here to kill you. I came here to tell you that I forgive you for---for everything you've done to me."

Nova scowled, then she triple-blinked, realizing what her daughter had said. "You... what?"

"I said, I forgive you," Azure repeated, and she took a few more steps closer.

"You... forgive me?" Nova questioned with so much bewilderment she seemed frozen to the ground. To her, "forgive" wasn't even a word.

"Yes," the she-kit told her with her chin up. Azure felt confident enough now with Nova in a state of utter shock, that she padded to her mother until she was a full tail-length away. "You don't have to be haunted by the past anymore. You can forget about it now. What happened wasn't your fault."

Nova stared at Azure, still not being able to believe what she was hearing. "It wasn't my fault," she repeated. Those words sounded good to her, but she failed to see how they could ever apply to her. Her heart twisted with more grief, and the thought crossed her mind that Azure was teasing her. She became furious, a red-hot anger covering every inch of her mind. "How dare you!" Screamed Nova, launching herself, claws out-stretched, onto her daughter.

Azure yelped as the unexpected weight of the older she-cat slammed into her. Nova began to blindly strike, her paws moving so fast they looked like a blur. She tore out clumps of fur and made tiny cuts here and there as she spat out awful statements into her daughter's ears. Azure batted at Nova's muzzle and nipped at her paws when she got the chance. Azure was afraid of hurting her mother too much, even though Nova appeared to want to destroy the only kit she had left.

Although Azure was ignorant to what her mother's intentions were, Agro, who had anticipated that something like this was going to happen, knew that Nova probably wasn't going to stop until Azure stopped moving. He immediately came to his friend's aid and grabbed Nova by her scruff and ripped her away from Azure. He dragged the kittypet to the ground, but Nova turned when he let go and kicked him in the stomach with her hind legs. Nova continued to flail her legs about, even when Agro backed away to recover his breath.

"Nova!" Azure tried, as she stood up to see the kittypet wriggling about and swiping at the air. "Please, didn't you hear me? I said---"

"I know what you said!" Nova snarled, suddenly popping up and charging at Azure again. And Azure was hit for the second time and knocked to the ground. Nova pinned the she-kit down, Azure was surprised by her immense strength. "You should've died with the rest of your littermates, then I wouldn't have had to go through all this pain again!" She lunged at Azure's throat.

Agro's eyes lit up with alarm and he attacked Nova head on, throwing her off of Azure. They rolled together, finally stopping with Agro smashing Nova's face into the earth. He drew her claws along her side and she reared up, spitting out dirt when she wanted to yowl instead. He struck her stomach, forcing onto her back. Then he pinned her down and bit her neck, his jaws locking in a tight hold.

Azure leaped to her feet. "Agro, don't!" She pleaded, quickly racing to the two cats. "Agro, let go! You're going to kill her!" But the tom didn't seem to hear. There was a strange glint in his eyes, like the one he had had after he killed Hawkwhisker in the mountains.

"Please, Agro!" Azure tried again. She clawed his flanks and continued to plead with him. Ultimately, he released Nova and the kittypet lay unmoving, her eyes shut. Azure shoved herself between the tom and Nova. She stared down at her mother in horror. "What have you done?" She shrieked. "You murdered her!"

Agro stared, too, at Nova as if he didn't know what he had done. Then, he gazed up at Azure with a panic-stricken face. "I didn't," he meowed, trying to defend himself. "Sh-she's not dead!" He went around the she-kit about to prove what he said, but Azure growled and bit his leg.

"Don't you touch her again!" Azure warned, tears beginning to pour down her face.

Agro looked into Azure's sorrowful turquoise eyes and shook his head, slowly. "Azure, she was going to kill you."

"She was my mother," Azure meowed. "She was the only family I had left! She wouldn't have killed me; I know she wouldn't have. You're an awful cat! I thought I was alone, but my mother was alive all this time, and you just had to take her away! You're unbelievable!"

The tom continued to shake his head. "You don't know what she would not or would have done."

"You're a monster, and I hate you! Why did you ever insist on come along? She wouldn't have died if you just stayed away!"

Agro peeled his gaze away from hers and looked at the ground. "Azure, I'm---I'm sorry. I really am. I... I saw how... She was going to kill you, I couldn't let that happen!" He began to grow indignant. He just saved Azure's life again, and she repaid him by calling him a monster. He looked up at her sharply. "She abandoned you, Azure, and wishes you dead, and you're saying I'm the monster? You're nothing but a foolish kit, who thought she could make it on an impossible journey alone because of what some dead cat told her in a dream!"

"How do you know anything?!" Azure growled. "I know what Nova did, and I told you I forgave her. I don't care what she said, she's troubled and she needs me!"

"The last thing she needs is an irritating kit to come waltzing back into her life. She might've forgotten if you hadn't decided to come tramping to the Twoleg den."

"Ugh!" Azure lashed out at him, hitting his muzzle. "I hate you," she meowed. "I never wanted you to come along in the beginning, and now I wish you hadn't more than ever." She began to back away from Agro, as he tried to speak to her again, and went all the way to the bushes. Once in the shadows, she turned tail and fled, tears streaming down her face more than they were before.

She didn't stop running until her legs wouldn't carry her any farther. She squeezed herself inside of a bush, the thorns poking her and the snow making her wet. She curled into a tight ball, ignoring the pain from the thorns and from the small scratches by which she had been inflicted, and cried herself into a troubled sleep, while shivering, not only from the cold, but also from the aching in her heart.

She believed her mother was dead, just like Owl, Breeze, and Onyx. Though her mother had never cared for her, those three did, and she was reminded of them and it only made her feel worse. Worse yet, she had left Agro alone, though she kept telling herself that she didn't care and didn't want him around.

Soon after she fell asleep, Azure began to dream once more of drowning in the river of blood. When she tried to look up toward the moon, as she flailed her paws wildly in an attempt to swim, she found nothing but an empty black sky that threatened to consume her just as much as the blood was going to choke her.

. . . .

"Do you think it's dead?"

"I don't know. I can't tell if it's breathing. Should I poke it?"

"No, 'cause what if it is dead? You'd be touching a corpse!"

"Technically, we touch corpses all the time, because we pick up dead prey."

"Ya know, I don't like you. I hate it when you throw logic at me."

Azure stirred, hearing the voices from outside the bush. She slowly opened her eyes and saw four pairs of black paws. She moved ever so slightly closer to the tiny entrance, and the two cats didn't see it for they were still bantering and they swatted each other in a mock fight. Azure wondered if she could make a run for it before they stopped to check on her again. She saw that the strangers were now a few yards away and decided to try to escape. She squeezed out of the bush as silently as possible and sprinted away.

"Look! The kit is alive! And it's getting away!"

Azure tried to make herself run faster as she suddenly heard the pursuing paw-steps and light growls of the two cats. She zigzagged between the trees and leaped over fallen branches, trying to take the hardest route so she wouldn't be caught. Azure risked a glance behind her, and became frightened and confused when she saw only one cat. Where's the other one? She turned her gaze back to the path ahead, and, as an answer to her question, a tom made a huge jump over a bush. Azure's eyes barely had time to widen with astonishment when the tom slammed into her. After a few rolls, she was forced to the ground. Though she was able to strike the cat again and again on his muzzle, he took the blows with little resistance and continued to hold her there, while his companion skidded to a halt beside them.

"You're a fast li'l booger," the companion, a she-cat, panted. Azure stopped struggling for a moment when the she-cat came closer, then she swiped at her. The she-cat leaped backwards. "And feisty, too," she added with a laugh. "There's no need to be frightened. We just want to chat... and go for a walk."

The she-cat had short black fur with one small patch of brown between her eyes and on the tip of her tail. The tom's fur was black, too, but he had only a white spot on his chest. Their eyes were both a piercing green.

"W-well, I don't want to," Azure hissed, trying to wiggle herself free of the tom's hold.

"There's no point in struggling," the she-cat meowed. "Cayo doesn't know how to let go. Isn't that right, buddy?" She spoke to the tom as if he were a stupid mutt.

"Keep teasing me, and I'll claw your ears off!" The tom threatened the she-cat.

She merely smirked and continued to gaze at Azure. "Ya know, kit, we don't have to be so kind to you. We could rip open your throat and leave you to bleed out and die."

Azure's eyes narrowed and she began to struggle even more.

"You don't like the sound of that, do you? Well, it doesn't have to happen. You could just be sociable for one minute and talk to us like civilized creatures."

Azure stopped moving and sighed. "If I 'chat' with you just for a li'l while, you'll let me go?"

The she-cat nodded. "I promise."

"Alright... let me up. I'll chat."

The black she-cat nodded again, but to the tom, and he backed away so Azure could stand. "Got a name, kit?"

Azure shook the dust off her already unclean pelt. "Yeah... It's Azure."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Teagan, and this is my littermate Cayo. We belong to a small rogue group not too far from here. There's a cat who---"

"No, thank you," Azure interrupted. "I don't want to go there and see that cat. My insignificant wounds have stopped bleeding. There's no need to worry about me."

One of Teagan's eyes narrowed while the other remained open. "I wasn't going to suggest that---"

"Whatever... Let's just... You said something about a walk, didn't you? Well, let's get moving," Azure meowed, staring down at the ground. She was tired of cats, tired of being told what to do, and tired of being injured. She just wanted to complete her journey. But these two strangers stood in her way, and if she had to go for a stroll with them to get by, then so be it. She started off on her own and didn't look behind her.

Cayo and Teagan glanced at each other. "She's got spunk," the she-cat meowed and grinned once Azure was out of earshot.

"Reminds me of you," her brother replied. "But yours was ripped out of you. You know they're going to have to do that to her, too."

Teagan shrugged, her green gaze determined. "If it will make our lives easier, I don't care. We've suffered enough. It's someone else's turn." With that, she flicked her tail and the two littermates quickly caught up to Azure.

They bombarded Azure with many questions, waiting just long enough for her to answer and then threw another one at her. They asked her why she was on her own, and if she had any parents. They wondered where she was headed, what for, and if she expected any good to come from the result. They asked plenty more, but Azure's answers were always short and very straight to the point, that they seemed to forget what they had already said. This kit was truly strange to them.

While they were talking to her, Azure noticed that the two littermates were subtly steering her in a different direction then from where she started. She stopped suddenly, ears perked, eyes glancing every which way, and mouth open to taste the scents. There was a cat nearby who smelled almost like the annoying ones beside her. Cayo and Teagan saw her halt and stared at her. When Azure's fur began to rise, theirs did, too, for they knew exactly who was coming and that was not at all delightful.

The snow-covered bush ahead of them began to rustle, the compacted snowflakes falling leisurely to the ground. First, a black head peeked out from behind, then the cat showed itself completely, revealing her great size, bigger than any cat Azure had seen. Cayo and Teagan forced their fur to lie flat with a great effort and bowed their heads. Azure glanced at them, feeling uneasy at their submission, and unsheathed her claws.

The huge rogue scoffed lightly. "This is what you were bringing me? It's a kit, and it's as big as the both of you!" She stepped forward, shaking the mane of fur around her neck.

"W-well, actually, sh-she's still a bit smaller," Teagan corrected with a stutter, lifting her eyes ever so slightly to look up at the she-cat. Her brother shot her a glance which told her that she should've kept her mouth shut and refrained from correcting their superior. He bravely met the eyes of the much larger rogue and asked, "How did you know we were bringing a gift?"

"You know I have my ways," the she-cat replied as if the tom were a puny bug she could crush at any moment she pleased. "Stevie is a good master and informant, always checking in on those she dominates."

Then, as if on cue, a white-ish, light brown tabby, looking like a bright streak on the way down from the tree to which she had been stalking them from, raced to the side of the bigger rogue. One of her amber eyes was tinted with blue, but both had a firm pride shining through them.

Azure felt helpless as she gazed at the four strangers around her. There was no escape now, her chances of walking away without a fight was rather slim. Cayo and Teagen had a certain fear in their eyes, a fear that seemed frequent and familiar to them, and Azure could tell they felt just as helpless as she did, maybe even more so.

"What did you mean by 'gift'?" Azure spoke up, her pelting crawling with fright.

The she-cat called Stevie smiled an unsettling smile that made her look ravenously hungry. "You'll see in a moment, Azure. It's time we get back to the group."

Azure was baffled and was about to question how Stevie knew her name, when Teagan meowed, "Saden, my brother and I have something to ask you." The black she-cat's voice trembled when she spoke and she bowed her head even lower than before, Cayo joining her in the action.

Saden, the huge black and gray rogue, stared at the littermates complacently, glad to see their fear showing as a strange respect. "I know you do." She flicked her tail and her three members stood up. She gazed at Azure expectantly. "Come now, you too."

Azure shook her head and stood, taking a step back. "I'm not coming with you," she meowed firmly, thanking her legs for not shaking and giving away her fright.

"It wasn't a suggestion, it was an order," Stevie meowed, stalking toward Azure with a grim intimidation. She glanced back at Saden for a mere second, then shoved a devilish grin at Cayo and Teagan. "Though, I suppose, you don't have to."

The littermates' eyes widened and they both yowled panic-stricken, at the same time. "No! She wants to, she wants to!! Azure wants to come!!!"

Stevie and Saden laughed loudly, their cackle sounding oddly similar to that of Silent Scream's, though their was no echo. They obviously thought teasing those poor younger cats, in a way that was to the littermates almost torturous, was absolutely hilarious.

"Looks like they've decided for you!" Stevie meowed, her mew still full of laughter. She quickly slid behind Azure and thrusted her forward so that the she-kit stumbled before Saden's towering figure.

"It would be wise of you to follow us; otherwise, more blood may pour from your little body," the leader meowed threateningly, noting the scratches on Azure's face and legs. Without another word, Saden turned around and padded out of their sights behind the bush. Teagan quickly followed the she-cat, while Cayo gently helped Azure to her paws. He walked by her side as Stevie came behind them, watching their every move like an overly enthusiastic guard watching her prisoners.

  • Teagan
  • Cayo
  • Saden
  • Stevie

~ Chapter Fifteen ~ Edit

The two grown cats along with their servants took Azure deeper into the forest and farther from the river. Everything about this unknown forest seemed unfriendly. The trees had lost all their leaves and now stood like towering giants waiting to fall and crush all those down below. There was no scent of prey anywhere, as if they had abandoned this part of the forest. Azure had noticed it before, but now that she was forced against her will to follow these strangers like a prisoner, the cold seemed to seep its way into her core so she shivered as she walked. The icy sting had frozen a look of sadness and frustration onto her face, and Stevie snickered every time she saw it.

They finally came to a small dip in the earth, and the strong reek of cat filled Azure's nose. They passed a few dying bushes and were stopped by two tabbies, a she-cat and a tom. Both were brown with stripes and had green eyes. They stood like statues as their leader approached.

"Teagan and Cayo have a gift they would like to present to me," Saden told the guards. "Gather the others. We must have a meeting at once."

The tabbies dipped their heads respectfully, then sprinted into the base, shouting names and ordering them near an old stump.

Azure padded into the home of the rogue group and found a multitude of eyes peering at her, some with curiosity but mostly with spite. The cats cleared a path for their leader to walk through with the others behind her. Stevie set Azure a fox-length away from the stump, while Saden easily leaped onto it. She yowled loudly to get everyone's attention, though everyone was already awaiting her words, staring at her and then at Azure.

"Listen, all of you! Two of our servants have something to say!" Saden sat and looked down with menacing yellow eyes at Cayo and Teagan, who had stopped beside Azure.

"Saden, our most gracious and powerful leader," Cayo began, his eyes raised to the leader's. "We humbly ask that you give my sister and I a higher dignity in return for Azure's---this cat's services to you. We found her alone. She is strong, and will serve you without question."

Azure's eyes widened in alarm. So, that's why they brought me here! She stood up and stepped forward, growling, "I will not be your slave! You won't control me! I won't---"

"She's also stupidly courageous," Teagan interrupted quickly. "But you can easily tear that out of her." Then, her mew grew almost inaudible as she added darkly, "You've done it before."

Saden grinned greedily. "I accept this gift (I've waited long enough for it from you two), and I grant you your request. Teagan and Cayo, you are now waitums! You will hunt for your superiors and won't have as many duties as your lower classes. Congratulations..."

Saden jumped down in front of them and dismissed them with a wave of her tail. The littermates slunk back into the crowd, heaving great sighs of relief. Azure could hear muffled congratulations as the black and gray leader faced her, still wearing that same grin.

"You are mine now, little Azure. I expect you to behave and do as I or anyone else tells you. If you don't..." Saden unsheathed her long, sharp claws and swiped the side of Azure's neck. The she-kit flinched and whimpered, and the blood quickly poured out. "Stevie! Take her to her new den!"

Stevie took Azure by the scruff and roughly dragged her to a hole that had been carved out of the ground. The entrance was wide enough for one to peer into and see the very back without having to go inside. The two tabbies she had seen before were there, guarding it attentively.

Stevie tossed her into the hole, and Azure rolled the rest of the way in, getting a mouthful of dirt. "Don't let the little beast escape. If she tries anything, give her a lesson she won't ever forget."

Azure spit the dirt out of her mouth and turned around, looking up, to see Stevie padding away with a smirk. Azure huffed in frustration, trying desperately to keep her fear under control. She could easily crawl out, but she knew the guards would follow Stevie's order with little thought. Oh, what am I going to do? Why does this keep happening to me? I'm tired of being kidnapped and beaten!

Then, to interrupt her troubled thoughts, there was a quiet rustling behind her. She turned around to see a small, white and brown puff ball staring up at her with worried eyes. "Are you okay?"

Azure was taken aback. That was the voice of a kit! Then, she blinked, acting calm as if nothing was wrong, though her stuttering voice gave her away. "I-I'm alright." She moved closer to the tom-kit. "What're you doing down here?"

"Oh... I'm a servant to the others, like you now, I guess." He laughed vacantly. "I'm sorry you had to join me."

Azure looked away from him sadly. "How were you forced into this slavery?"

"I was actually born in this group. Saden killed my father and banished my mother."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Azure told him, looking back into his hazel gaze. "I... My parents are both dead, so I know how you feel."

The tom-kit said nothing for a minute. He brushed up against Azure, who flinched away at the unexpected touch of his fur. When she relaxed, he nuzzled her comfortingly, and smiled up at her pleasantly. "My name's Cricket. What's yours?"

Azure returned his smile and meowed, "I'm Azure."

"Nice to meet you. I hope we can be good friends and help each other out. We're going to need it," Cricket added.

"That sounds good," she replied, though a bit dismally.

"Shut up down there!" Came an angry she-cat's growl. "Or I'll make you do laps on the Porcupine Rocks 'til you can't feel your paws!"

"Yes, Chiara!" Cricket meowed, looking up at the tabby's irritated green orbs. The tom-kit motioned to Azure to follow him to the very back of their den, where they would have the slightest bit of privacy. "You better get used to Chiara yelling at you," he meowed quietly. "She'll be watching us more than anyone."

"What about the tom next to her?" Azure questioned, her mew barely audible.

"Oh, that's Odion, her brother. I've only heard him speak a few times... As long as you obey, you won't have to see his wrath."

Azure blinked and nodded. She could tell that her time here wasn't going to be a pleasant one. She thought---No, she knew it was going to be like being a prisoner of Witheredblossom and Hawkwhisker, and perhaps worse, much worse.

. . . .

"Climb out, maggots! You have chores to do."

Azure stirred at the sound of Chiara's blaring voice. Day one, she thought miserably as she sat up. She glared at Cayo and Teagan as they raced out of the den together, more than willing to start hunting so as not to receive any punishment. Cricket brushed against her as he passed and looked at her meaningfully.

"Don't hold it against them for too long," he meowed softly. "They're just as scared as you and me. Saden had put them through a lot when they first came."

"How'd you know what I was thinking?" Azure asked with surprise.

"Your lips were drawn back in a snarl and your eyes were narrowed." Cricket grinned slightly. "You'll learn to look for small details like that when being among these monsters." He quickly sprinted out of the hole.

Azure followed him slowly. She wasn't prepared for the day at all. Anxiety was building up in every nerve and she feared what was in store for her. With dread in her stomach, she expected the worst. Onyx? Ebonydusk? Are you even listening anymore? If you are, please, just get me out of here! ...And Cricket, too. He doesn't belong here either.

"Azure!" 

Azure's fur stood on end upon hearing her name and the voice that called it, and it unpleasantly broke her out of her thoughts. She forced her fur to lie flat and walked out of the den with her head held high. She met Saden when she exited. The large black and gray she-cat stood before her with an unreadable expression, but Azure knew their was anger lying underneath.

"Why didn't you come when the others were called out?" Saden asked lightly, and with a smooth tone.

Azure looked her straight in the eye. "I was grooming. I figured... my master wouldn't want to have a sloppy servant."

Saden chuckled, but her yellow eyes pierced the kit's core. When the dreadful chuckle was over, she swatted Azure's ears with her claws, making the tips bleed. "When you are called, you obey. You groom when you are told. I couldn't care less what your appearance was, so long as you're fit to work. Understand?"

"Yes, Saden," Azure answered, trying her best not to cower down.

"Good... Follow me. You have to meet your instructor today." Saden turned and padded away, and Azure followed reluctantly. She was taken to a white tom with one green and one blue eye, who was waiting patiently by the entrance of a den beneath a holly bush. Saden stopped before him and he bowed his head. "Have you visited her?"

The tom stood up straight and nodded. "Yes. She is doing well," he responded.

"Alright then. Let's go." With a swish of her tail, Saden began to walk away.

Azure tried to get a glimpse of what was in the den, but the tom gave her a sharp prod in the side and a very stern look that seemed to force Azure along the path Saden had taken out of the group's camp. He followed behind the females and never took his bi-colored gaze off of the she-kit's head. The three soon arrived at a small clearing, the ground covered in yards of sharp and pointy-looking rocks. Saden turned around to look at Azure with a bemused, yet awful smile, her teeth as yellow as her eyes. The tom came to her side and waited for his leader to speak. 

"Azure, this is Jett," Saden meowed, addressing the tom with a flick of an ear. "He is the dovour and will be telling you what you should be doing. I'm going to go check on our new waitums, though I'm sure they are smart enough not to run off. Someone's always watching them. Anyway, be good for Jett, darling, and listen to his every word. He just loves it when idiots, like yourself, step out of line." With that said, Saden padded away, disappearing among the trees and leaving Azure alone with the white tom. She looked up at him expectantly, waiting for him to give her an impossible task just so he had an excuse to punish her.

Jett merely moved aside to reveal the rocks and meowed with a calm mew, "I want you to run on the rocks in a wide circle."

Azure blinked at him, first taking it as a joke, but as she saw his unflinching serious expression, she knew he wasn't joking. She cautiously went around him and stepped onto the rocks. The smaller ones shifted under her weight while the bigger ones didn't budge. Oooo...kay... This shouldn't be too hard... She began to jog lightly around the clearing, ignoring her confusion as best she could.

"Pick up your speed," Jett commanded. "I told you to run!"

Azure obeyed and began to sprint. She soon realized, as the pain shot up all four of her legs, that this must be the Porcupine Rocks Chiara had threatened Cricket with. Every step caused her a pang of anguish as the pointed rocks stabbed into her sensitive paw pads, and they caused her to stop altogether.

"I didn't tell you to stop!" Jett hollered. "You do not stop until I tell you."

"It hurts!" Azure protested. Then, she flattened her ears, seeing Jett's eyes fill with anger. He unsheathed his claws and snarled viciously. Azure began to move again but not as fast as before. 

"Faster!" Jett growled.

Azure didn't want to obey, but she was nearing the tom and worried he might attack her if she refused. So, she sped up as she was told. She tried ignoring the pain, but it was no use. Tears filled her eyes because there was no other way to express what she was feeling. She grew sadder and discouraged as she continued, but didn't dare stop. Jett was watching her like a hawk. At any given moment he could tear her apart because she had refused to listen.

She had to remind herself that she need to stay alive so she could get to the lake. Owl and Breeze awaited her there and she need to see them at all costs. You'll escape from this, she told herself, just like you did with Hawkwhisker and Witheredblossom in the mountains---But how? Azure's heart seemed to sink even lower as she remembered the cat she had left behind only a day before. Agro how saved her from the HollowClan warriors, and there were only two of them. How was she supposed to defeat a whole bloodthirsty group by herself? The situation seemed hopeless to Azure's ever weary heart.

As she was thinking these things and trying to ignore the awful pain on her paws, she suddenly stumbled and crashed onto the sharp rocks. She let out a groan as they poked into her belly and sides, some drawing blood. Jett yowled at her even more, but Azure refused to get up. She felt too hurt, inside and out, to want to move ever again. Jett became angered by her disobedience. He carefully picked his way over to her and gave her a quick nip on one of her ears. "Get. Up," he meowed with a quiet, yet commanding tone.

Azure slowly picked herself up, suppressing the extra tears that threatened to pour down her face. In one motion, Jett hit her jaw, like a human would upper-cut in a boxing match, and she fell backwards and lied there, dazed. 

"Nice one, Jett!" A meow cheered.

Jett glanced up at the cat. "Rishi, what're you doing here?" He asked sternly. "You should be watching the new waitums."

"I am," Rishi replied. "They're right behind me."

Jett's eyes narrowed as two black cats poked out from behind the tortoise-shell. "At least you're doing your job... Where's Rumi?"

Rishi rolled her eyes and swished her tail. An all brown tom appeared beside her, looking quite irritated. He dipped his head to Jett, but said nothing. "How's the training going?" Rishi inquired with a flutter in her voice as she blinked at the dovour standing above Azure.

"Swell."

"Can we watch? Perhaps it will remind Teagan to follow orders exactly if she is shown what could happen to her."

"No," Jett meowed quickly. "That's not necessary. Just give her a good beating yourself." He cleared his throat, then gestured to Azure.. "Rumi, mind helping me drag this idiot out of the clearing?"

"I'll do it!" Rishi immediately volunteered before the chocolate tom could answer.

"I asked Rumi, not you. Take Cayo and Teagan away and do some more hunting."

Rishi looked terribly crestfallen, but did not protest against the white tom's words. She twitched an ear and padded away from the Porcupine Rocks. Cayo and Teagan remained for a moment, staring at Azure's body with wide eyes. Rumi gave them a low growl and they recovered themselves and ran to catch up to the she-cat. Azure pretended to still be dazed, and acted as if she hadn't heard the entire conversation.

Rumi, watching where he put his paws, went over to Jett. "Thank you for getting me away from that stupid furball! I thought I was going to die listening to Rishi."

"I know how you feel," Jett mumbled, reaching down to bite Azure's scruff.

"You know, she talks about you whenever she gets the chance."

Jett growled, disgusted. "Yes, I know. I'm waiting for an excuse to murder her." He began pulling the she-kits scruff and dragging her out of the clearing. Rumi followed, boosting Azure forward from behind.

"I don't think you really need an excuse. Besides, she hates Dior. Shouldn't that be enough?"

They dropped Azure just outside the circle of Porcupine Rocks. "It's not enough in Saden's eyes. If Rishi were to hurt Dior or my unborn kits, then I would have full rights to slaughter her. But she wouldn't ever do that, because, in that case, she's too smart to make a move like that."

Rumi sighed and looked down at Azure. He tilted his head. "We could get someone to kill Rishi for us."

Jett followed his friend's gaze and grinned ever so slightly. Azure tried not to gulp; she could just feel their wicked gazes staring at her, with an awful plan forming inside their heads.

Jett shoved Azure violently and snarled, "Get up!"

Azure obeyed at once. She cowered before the two toms, praying that they wouldn't voice what she knew they were thinking.

"Listen, kit, you're going to do us a little favor...."

  • Cricket
  • Odion & Chiara
  • Jett
  • Rishi
  • Rumi
  • Dior

~ Chapter Sixteen ~Edit

Azure stumbled into the rogue camp, Jett following behind her. Her paws were bleeding and she winced with every step. Her flanks heaved with the effort to breathe as her wounds dripped with blood; Jett and Rumi had showed her what would happen if she didn't perform their so-called favor. As she passed by, the cats snickered and praised the white tom for his excellent training of the new servant, to which he merely smiled and nodded.

Jett glanced at Odion and Chiara, who still stood at attention in front of the hole in the ground, serving as the slaves' quarters. He pushed Azure into it and for the second time, she came tumbling into the den and stopped before Cricket. "Remember what we talked about," Jett snarled and then padded away to visit his mate, Dior.

"What happened?!" Cricket asked, his eyes as wide as moons.

Azure dragged herself to the very back of the den. "A warning happened," she answered quietly.

"That's a warning?!" The tom-kit gasped. "I haven't seen Jett be that cruel!"

"You better shut up down there or I'll tell Jett what you said!" Chiara threatened.

Cricket flattened his ears, while Azure ignored the guard's words and began to lick the blood from her wounds. She paused to glance at her friend. "What're you doing back down here? Shouldn't you have other duties to perform?"

"Nala ordered me to stay here and wait until it's mealtime. So unless someone else gives me an order, I shouldn't come out of our den." Cricket curled his tail around his paws. "Are you going to be okay?"

Azure didn't answer right away. She finished cleaning a wound near her shoulders before looking at the splotched kit with a frightened turquoise gaze. "I don't know..." She answered, her mew almost inaudible. "Jett wants me to do something... something that I know I can't do..."

"I don't think any of us servants want to do what our masters say," Cricket whispered miserably. His face softened when he saw tears falling from his friend's eyes. "Azure...? Just what does Jett want you to do?"

Azure shook her head and quickly blinked away her tears. She glanced up at the two littermates guarding the den, so Cricket would understand why she wasn't telling him. Chiara's name was suddenly called by a voice Azure didn't recognize and the she-cat bounded away. Odion waited a moment then turned to look at the prisoners, his eyes narrowing on Azure. He glanced around and then quickly slunk into the den.

"Perfect timing, I'd say," he meowed casually. "You're lucky you get this chance to answer Cricket's question."

Azure stared at him, surprised. This was the first time she had heard Odion speak; even Cricket looked astonished to hear the tom's mew. "Wh-what do you want?" She stuttered.

Odion sighed quietly. "I want to know what Jett wants you to do."

"Why?"

"I have my reasons," the tabby half growled. As Azure continued to stare, he looked down at his paws, sighing again. "You seem very distraught about Jett's orders. I... I have a deep hatred for him, and whenever he beats someone, especially a kit like yourself, I get very angry." Odion looked back out of the den, then faced the two kits. "I want to help you out... as much as I can."

Azure narrowed her eyes, while Cricket looked uncertain. "What's in it for you?" Azure asked.

Odion paused as if to weigh her question in his mind to decide if it was worthy of being answered. After a minute, he shrugged. "I don't want anything. Not from you."

Azure looked doubtful and frowned. "So you're just going to help me, just like that? Without anything in return?"

Odion grinned trying to look friendly as he admired her skepticism, though it merely made him appear more threatening. "Yes," he told her. His grin disappeared and turned into a frightening snarl. "For as long as I can remember, I've always hated this place and everyone in it. They're cruel and selfish. But I can't leave because of my sister, so I'm going to help you---both of you---as much as I possibly can."

Azure shook her head. She didn't trust a word he said. He's just playing us! I bet he's planning on making us look bad so he can have a higher rank. However, just as she was about to refuse his help, Cricket accepted it.

"That's great, Odion!" The little tom-kit meowed. Then, lowering his voice, he asked, "Do you really mean it?"

"You, above anyone here, should know that I do," Odion replied.

Cricket smiled. "Azure, this is wonderful! For once someone is on our side!"

Azure couldn't believe her ears. Cricket actually believed him! The poor, yet adorable kit was so gullible. How could he trust this monster? Painfully, she stood up, standing almost as tall as the guard. "You're lying," she hissed.

Odion shook his head. "No," he meowed quietly. "I'm not. See? this is why I want to help. Jett has put you through so much already, that you can't trust anyone! He does this to all the new servants...."

Cricket brushed against Azure. "You can trust him, Azure. Before you came here, Odion would sometimes sneak me a meal at night. He's been really kind to me. Go ahead. Tell us what Jett said."

Azure looked down at the splotched tom-kit. She heaved a great sigh and stared at her paws. "Why not? I'm probably going to die here no matter what I do." She paused, summing up her courage, and looked back up at Odion's green eyes. "Jett and another tom, Rumi, I think, want me to murder a she-cat named Rishi."

Odion frowned. "They want you to kill Rishi?" When Azure nodded he frowned even more. "I suppose it was only a matter of time---No one here really likes Rishi, though that doesn't give them the right to want her dead. However, I understand why Jett would want her dead. She hates his mate, Dior, and has tried to poison her once before, but Jett couldn't prove it."

"So does that mean you won't help me?" Azure asked, dismayed.

"Oh, I'm still going to help you. Rishi may be utterly annoying in every way possible, but if anyone deserves to be murdered, it's Jett... and Stevie... and Saden... They are the real threat." Odion went silent, thinking and listening for any paw-steps from outside. "Alright, I got a plan, but you're going to need all your strength for it," he meowed, gazing at Azure.

"Okay. What is it?"

Odion opened his mouth, then closed it. His ear twitched once and he zoomed out of the den. A second later, Cricket and Azure could faintly hear Chiara's whispering mew. Then, Odion's head poked back inside. "Azure," he called, sounding angry, "come out here."

Azure flattened her ears, but did as she was told and limped out of the den. "Saden wants you," Odion meowed. Azure gulped and followed him slowly to the leader's den.

"She doesn't really want you," Odion whispered in her ear. "Don't speak until you're spoken to by Saden." They came to the black and gray cat's den and Odion called to her.

Saden stepped out, staring first at the tom and then at Azure. "Yes?" She meowed in a low growl.

"Saden," Odion addressed her with a dip of his head. "I would like to request that I take this servant out for a hunt."

"We have hunters already," the leader meowed dismissively.

"I know, but Jett had said that Azure here needs more discipline. He left her with me to do what I wanted with her, so he could be with Dior. I thought I'd ask before I took her out of camp."

Saden narrowed her eyes. "I suppose if Jett said so, then you have control over her. You may take her hunting, but make sure she eats nothing, understand? Bring all prey back to camp."

"Yes, Saden." Odion dipped his head again and motioned for Azure to follow him out of camp.

Once they were far enough away without the feeling of being watched, Azure spoke. "Hunting is your big plan?"

"No. We're hunting to get food in you. I told you that you'd need your strength."

"Why can't I just run away? You got me safely out of camp, so no one will see---"

"We are always being watched," Odion interrupted. He pointed subtly with his muzzle to some bushes. When Azure looked, a bush moved ever so slightly as a cat sneaked away. "There are cats you haven't even met yet, Azure, because they are always hidden. They're the kutyns," he told her, barely above a whisper. "If you were to run away, one would inform Saden and get a search party together, while the other would follow you, making a clear trail for the search party to find and re-capture you. You'd be hunted down until you were brought back, only to be slaughtered by Saden's own claws."

Azure's eyes widened. "Why is anyone in this horrifying group? It's just---unbelievable!"

Odion nodded miserably. "Come on. We outta hunt."

Odion said nothing else while they were in the forest. Either he was concentrating on hunting or going back to being his quiet self, Azure didn't know. Though at first she was grateful for the silence, it soon made her fell very uneasy. Everywhere she looked, she expected to see a pair of eyes staring at her from some cover. She almost wished Odion had never told her about the kutyns. Azure was so paranoid about being watched that she didn't realize that the tabby tom was nowhere to be seen. She was alone.

"Odion?" She called uncertainly. "Odion, where'd you go?" I hope you only left because you found some prey.

Then, there was a loud, panicked caterwaul that froze Azure's blood and chilled her ever muscle. Someone was in trouble, or worse.

Azure, fearing it may be Odion, sprinted in the direction of the sound, desperately ignoring the pain shooting through her paws and legs. If Odion was truly trustworthy, she wanted him to stick around for a while: he may be her and Cricket's only hope of surviving Saden and her evil cohorts. As Azure continued to run, she could suddenly smell a strange, acrid scent, and hear an unfamiliar sound. Coming out of the thorny undergrowth, she stopped in her tracks. Only a few yards in front of her lay a black-ish path which stretched to her right and left. The foul smell of it made her want to gag. Then, something blue and shiny roared as it flew past her, carrying another foul scent.

It's a Thunderpath! Azure realized in frightened awe. She remembered Onyx telling her all the stories in which he had to cross one, as well as what happened to those who were not so quick or careful when they crossed it. Not daring to look any closer, Azure backed away. She quickly recalled the cat in trouble and from a great distance, she walked alongside the Thunderpath. She pushed her way through a few snowy bushes and gasped at the sight. Several foxes lengths from where she was standing, lay a cat. Its limbs were oddly sprawled out. Blood poured from deep gashes in its neck and stomach, and from scratches all over the body.

For a moment, Azure was afraid to step nearer. The whole sight reminded her of the blood-stained clearing where Breeze and Owl died. Shaking, she forced herself to get close enough to at least find out who the cat was. However, the body was so covered in blood that Azure was standing over it before she realized, realized with horror, who the cat was. The cat was Rishi.

Azure felt sick to her stomach. Who killed her? She wondered. Then a terrible thought struck her. What if they're still around? She hurriedly glanced all around her, but could spot no one.

"Azure!"

Azure spun, searching for the shrill voice, and her gaze landed on Odion staring wide-eyed at her. He padded slowly toward her and meowed, voice still shrill, "What did you do?!"

Azure's stomach fluttered, not only with nausea, but also with panic. "No! It's not what it looks like! Odion, you left me all alone, I was scared, and then I heard her shriek! I didn't know it was her until I got here. Please, you have to believe me!"

Odion took a deep breath, smoothed out his fur, and took another deep breath. "Alright. I believe you... But someone is clearly responsible for killing Rishi. Did you see anyone when you came?"

Azure shook her head. "No... I found her just like this."

"Odion!" A voice called, and the tom and Azure looked to see Chiara padding toward them. She seemed relieved. "Oh, thank goodness, I found you! What are you doing out here anyway? I saw you take that filthy runt---" She cut herself off to gasp, spotting the bloody tortoise-shell she-cat. "What happened?"

"We don't know yet... Azure and I found her dead." Odion flattened his ears, looking greatly distressed at his sister. "What are you doing here?"

"I-I saw you take the new servant to Saden and then out into the forest. I got Nala to watch the den for me so I could help you with whatever it is that you were doing...." Chiara glanced at Rishi's body. "I really hope this is not what you were doing."

"What?" Odion asked, looking even more distressed. "Are you accusing us of killing Rishi? I already told you that we found her like this!"

"Alright, I'm sorry," Chiara meowed. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't a murderer... otherwise I would have to help you cover it up..."

"Chiara!" Odion scolded.

"What? I can't let you get punished---"

"You can't let who get punished?"

The three young cats jumped and turned to see a gray tabby with green eyes come out from the bushes that Azure had come from. He was followed by a gray, white-muzzled she-cat, who had a stern yellow gaze. As the newcomers drew closer, they spotted Rishi and scowled.

"Which one of you did this?" The tom demanded, snarling.

"M-Maverick, none of us did it," Chiara began. "Odion said he and the servant stumbled upon it while hunting."

"They did now, did they?" Maverick meowed, fixing Azure and Odion with an icy glare. "You know what we do to those who murder one of our own."

"Yes, Maverick, but it wasn't us!" Odion meowed.

"Murderers always plead innocent," the gray she-cat meowed with a slight snicker.

"That's right, Nala," Maverick agreed.

"Nala!" Chiara exclaimed, sounding bravely angry toward her superior. "I asked you to guard the servants' den! If you're not there, then who's watching Cricket?"

Nala rolled her eyes. "Do you really think that little bug has the guts to try an' run off?" She sighed. "I ordered him to clean the pokai's den, so he's occupied. Now, don't change the subject again!" She snapped.

"Bury Rishi," Maverick commanded. "Then we'll take you three back to Saden."

"But we didn't kill her!" Azure blurted.

Nala lashed out and struck the she-kit's flank. "Shut up and start digging!"

Azure obeyed and began to help the two tabby littermates dig Rishi's grave. Oh, no....

When they were finished and Rishi's body had been lowered into the hole and covered back up with earth, Azure gazed warily at the older rogues. They were checking that the burial had been properly done. Azure's gaze flickered above them and her heart seemed to freeze inside her chest. Through the long grass, she could see a pair of striking blue eyes. They glowed and stared at her menacingly, until she blinked, and then they disappeared.

Silent Scream! Azure thought, through her astonished horror. She subconsciously backed away, uncertain if those blue orbs truly belonged to the shadowy Dark Forest leader. She backed into something soft and furry. She spun around to look up at a flame-colored tom. Until she had bumped into him, he had been staring at Rishi's grave. Now he blinked down at Azure, surprised.

"I know who killed her," he murmured in Azure's ear. He ran off without another word.

Azure wanted to yell "wait!" but she was suddenly picked up by her scruff and half-carried, half-dragged back to where the other rogues were silently waiting.

"Running from the scene of a crime, now are you?" Maverick growled when he had dropped her. "That shows your guilty."

  • Maverick
  • Nala

~ Chapter Seventeen ~ Edit

Saden looked down at Azure, Odion, and Chiara, measuring their fear. Each accused cat was trembling as they sat below the stump, waiting for Saden to give them their punishment. Other cats around them looked on, most Azure knew by name, but there were a few others she did not yet have the displeasure to meet.

Azure wondered about what the orange tom had told her. She hadn't spotted him in the crowd when they were being taken to the stump. He knew who killed Rishi, so why wasn't he here to tell everyone who the murderer really was? Unless... unless he is the killer, Azure thought in dismay. If he was Rishi's killer, then he wasn't going to throw himself under his leader's wrath.

Azure shook herself, which made her look like she was shaking with even more fear, as Maverick told the evidence to Saden and all those listening. Glancing over, she saw Rumi, Jett, and a golden she-cat sitting side-by-side(-by-side). The three were grinning devilishly at her, and Rumi mouthed the words "well done."

I didn't do it! Azure wanted so badly to yowl out, but she had been told not to utter a sound until Maverick had concluded his speech. Once he did, her name was called and she looked up.

Saden was glaring at her with those cold yellow orbs. She had a smile of contempt as she asked, "Azure, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Azure felt mute as she continued to stare into the cold eyes of the rogue leader. She inhaled and exhaled deeply, fighting the tears that desired to pour down her face. With all the courage she could muster she answered, still staring, "I didn't kill Rishi. Odion and Chiara didn't either. Like we told Maverick, we found her already dead."

"But you were standing over the body when Maverick and Nala found you, were you not?" Saden growled.

"Yes... I was... But that doesn't mean I killed her!" Azure growled back.

"Looks like your spirit still needs to be crushed," Saden meowed icily.

Azure could hear Teagan wince just as the crowd of cats laughed mercilessly. She tried to shake off the leader's threat and breathed calmly again. "Right after we buried Rishi, I... I backed into an orange tom. He told me that he knew who killed Rishi."

Saden's eyes narrowed skeptically and quiet murmurs broke out. Then she looked into the crowd of her assembled cats. "Where is Flame?" She inquired to Stevie, who had padded to her side.

Stevie went through the throng of cats and to the very back of the camp. Everyone could hear her hiss, though they had no idea what she hissed. Then, in the next second, she came back with the tom called Flame by Saden. He was the only cat with a pure orange pelt in the group, and everyone stared as he walked past them. His amber eyes strayed to each cat willing to make eye contact until they rested on his leader. He stopped beside Azure, curling his tail around his paws uncomfortably.

"You have something to share, I believe," Saden meowed.

The tom shuffled his paws nervously, but not because he feared the giant cat on the stump. He glanced back at all the eyes staring at him, waiting for him to speak, and his long orange pelt began to prickle and rise. "I-It's him."

"Who him, you idiot?" Saden snarled. "Was it Odion?"

"N-no! It... It's the cat I-I told you about before... The one who---whose going to kill us all...."

Saden's eyes narrowed again, looking like tiny slits. "The one in your dream?" She meowed spitefully.

Flame nodded. "That'd be the one..." He murmured.

The leader threw her head back and laughed maniacally and a few cats joined her. Then, unexpectedly, she leaped off the rock, attacking Flame with her outstretched claws. "You stupid fool!" She hissed as she backed away. The fiery tom stood shakily to his legs, blood dripping from his forehead and chest. "I told you before that that dream meant absolutely nothing!"

"But, Saden!" Flame protested. "I saw him! I know I did!"

Saden struck him again and this time, he was wise not to get up. "I don't want to hear of that ridiculous dream again!" She growled in his face. "That one imaginary cat will not be able to take down a whole group on his own." She went back onto the stump, swept her furious gaze around her cats, and stopped on Chiara, Odion, and Azure. "I have no more questions for you."

"You're not even going to try to find out who killed Rishi?" Chiara spoke up bravely. "We didn't kill her! Maybe Flame is right for once! Maybe---"

"Silence!" Saden commanded, her fury raging on once more. She spoke to the crowd. "Because I am unsure whether these three are guilty or not, they shall receive a lighter sentence than death." The leader turned to Stevie. "Take Odion, Chiara, and Flame to the Porcupine Rocks. Bring Jett, Nettle, and Nala with you. I want to carry out our spunky servant's punishment myself."

Stevie dipped her head and smiled with pleasure. "Yes, Saden."

. . . .

Saden threw Azure into her den. The she-kit shrunk to the back of the leader's den, looking fearfully up at the dark dirt walls with nowhere to escape. The yellow eyes never left her turquoise ones as the huge black and gray feline padded nearer. She stopped a mouse-length in front of Azure, scowling.

"Why are you going to punish me?" Azure mewled. "I didn't do anything wrong!"

Saden unsheathed her claws and, without a word, sliced the she-kit's muzzle. She grinned at the first drops of blood that dripped onto the earthy ground. She lifted her paw again, but Azure didn't wait to be struck. She quickly bit the bigger cat's paw and didn't let go. Saden yowled, more surprised than hurt, and violently shook Azure off. 

"Is that the best you can do?" Saden scoffed. "You're pathetic."

She drew her sharp claws along Azure's entire side, marveling in the shrieks of agony. "And weak," the cruel leader added. As Azure tried to recover, Saden circled her, ushering her into the center of the den. "I don't know how you did it, but somehow you've managed to win Odion and Chiara over. They are good guards. A little slow, maybe, but decent. I can't have you turning my cats against me. No---that just won't do." Saden batted Azure's head with a flurry of swipes, until Azure felt so dizzy she fell to the ground. Her face and ears burned with the scratches Saden had inflicted, and without really succeeding, held back a mournful whimper.

"I didn't 'win' anyone over!" Azure cried as the she-cat lifted her by the scruff and forced her to stand. "Odion's never liked you---he hates you! He told me himself. I doubt any of your cats truly like you as leader."

"I don't care what they think," Saden growled, smashing the she-kit's head against the ground. She bent down towards Azure's ear and whispered, "I rule by fear: the best way to rule. If they don't fear you, they don't respect you. They serve me because they have nowhere else to go. It's too late for them to leave, because they would be hunted down and killed if they tried. Truth is: they need me to survive. I've given them a better life than they had before."

Through a squashed mouth, Azure was able to mumble: "I highly doubt they believe their lives were made better because of you."

Saden let go, but before Azure could get up, she kicked the kit's jaw. "Say what you want, you little brat. Just remember that you're stuck here, too. If you try to leave, you'll just be brought back. Each time your punishment will become more severe, until you're so broken you'll either give up all hope of escaping and give in to your orders or beg to die. Death is the only way to freedom."

Azure spit out the blood that had filled her mouth and gazed up the leader through angry turquoise slits. But who has to die for me to gain freedom: you or me?

Saden saw the look she was given and shoved Azure forcefully against the wall. Azure's back was against it and she stood awkwardly up on her two hind legs. Saden struck the kit's soft underbelly and Azure screamed as she tried moving away and lashing out at Saden's muzzle. Azure slunk to the den's floor, her wound bleeding heavily.

"I don't appreciate you staining my den with your blood," Saden meowed and laughed.

"You're to blame for it," Azure meowed bravely, though she was trembling. She gasped as a new wave of pain shot through her because of the blood she was losing.

"I would've thought your senseless courage would've already been ripped out of you when Jett and Rumi beat you," Saden meowed, circling around her once more.

"How---" Azure began, but she had to stop to gasp for the second time.

"How do I know?" Saden guessed. "Darling, you're still so very stupid. I know you've been told before that you're always being watched. One of the kutyns---it was Maverick, in fact---told me about what Jett and Rumi did. He also told me they wanted you to kill Rishi." She paused to laugh softly. "The only thing I don't know is who really killed Rishi. I highly doubt it was pathetic little you."

"Then, why aren't you finding the real murderer?"

"Because I need to deal with you first," Saden meowed matter-of-factly. "You're still full of that kit spirit and I have to tear that to shreds before it gets too excitable. Now... I see that you're somewhat bleeding out, so I think your punishment is over."

She grabbed Azure by the scruff and began to drag her out of the den. She glanced around for a moment, and then dropped Azure and shouted, "Jorro!"

A small brown tom scrambled over to his leader. "Yes, Saden?"

"Take care of this scrap here, will you? Make sure she's at least fit to stand."

The tom's hazel gaze wavered toward the heap of blood and blue-gray fur that lay in front of Saden's massive paws. "Of course, Saden. Right away," he meowed, trying not to wince. Saden padded back to her den as Jorro bit Azure's scruff and dragged her near a holly bush. He had to heave with all his strength, because Azure was as big and tall as he was.

Azure's eyes fluttered, trying desperately to focus on the tom while fighting the blackness of unconsciousness that edged around her vision. She could feel him pressing cobwebs onto her wounds; he was unusually gentle for a cat in this horrid group. "Why... Why are you helping me?" Azure was able to mew after several minutes of silence.

"Shh!" Jorro commanded. "You should not be speaking." He paused to chew some herbs into a poultice, and then spit it onto Azure's wounds. "I can hardly call it 'help'."

"Why's that?" She asked in a strangled voice.

"I told you not to speak!" Jorro meowed. He placed soaked moss near her head. Then, looking distressingly at her underbelly which continued to bleed, he pressed a big wad of cobwebs onto it and added more and pressed more as needed. "I can't call it help, because once you're healed enough, you'll be sent back out to do Saden's bidding. You're better off dying." He sighed heavily and spoke as if Azure was really understanding what he was saying and as if he had offended her. "I-I don't mean that. It's just that you're probably going to get injured again, so what would be the point of treating your wounds?"

And finally, Azure's mind plummeted into darkness.

She knew just where she was when her eyes opened. The blood-water of the river flowed all around her. To her dismay, there was no moon when she looked up---if that was up. She flailed her paws, trying to swim to the surface she couldn't see. And then, through the blood she spotted a glowing blue light. It seemed to draw closer and closer to her. Azure's jaw dropped in horror and immediately she began to choke. But the blue light frightened her more than drowning because of where the light was emitting from. The light came from a pair of livid eyes that were in the head of a transparent she-cat: Silent Scream. The Dark Forest ruler laughed and it seemed to pound in Azure's ears. But before Silent Scream could reach her, she woke up.

It was dark when she awoke, the sound of voices hovered a mouse-length away. After her breathing steadied and she relaxed somewhat, she listened intently to the voices she recognized as Jorro's and Nala's.

"You need to move the brat into the servants' den," the gray she-cat meowed, "to make room for Odion, Chiara, and Flame. Their paws need to be treated."

This demand was met with a short sigh from Jorro. "Azure shouldn't be moved."

Nala narrowed her eyes. "You say that as if you have authority." She snickered, then added, "Saden ordered it, Jorro."

"Alright... Send them in. I'll take care of the kit."

"That's more like it."

Jorro dragged Azure out of the dip in the holly bush (which she didn't realize she was under until now), and Nala watched him struggling to move the she-kit with a bemused grin, with Odion, Chiara, and Flame beside her. They were halfway to the servants' den when a cat, unknown to Azure, came pelting into the camp, eyes wild with fear.

"Saden!" The Siamese she-cat cried. "Saden!"

The leader rushed out of the den. "What is it, Tear Stream?"

"It's Nettle and Maverick!" The cat exclaimed. "They're dead!"

"What?!" Saden roared, outraged. "Who killed them, did you see?"

Tear Stream shook her furry head. "No---But they were close to the Thunderpath. I found them right before Teagan and Cayo."

"What were Nettle and Maverick doing there?" Saden growled. "Nettle was ordered to accompany Stevie and Jett... Maverick must've wanted her for something..." She paused thinking. "Rishi died near the Thunderpath, too."

"What if the cat who killed Rishi killed them, too?" Tear Stream meowed, still panting from her panicked run.

"It's possible... Where's Cayo and Teagan?"

"I told them to get the others at Porcupine Rocks so they can help bury Maverick and Nettle." Tear Stream's voice faltered and she spoke in a whisper. "Saden... What are we going to do? What if Flame's right?"

In one lightning-fast movement, Saden slashed the she-cat's face and pinned her down with a massive paw on her neck. "Flame. Isn't. Right," she hissed dangerously. Then, addressing everyone around her, she snarled, "If I hear 'Flame is right' one more time, you all will have something more to worry about than just this cowardly murderer!" Saden glared down at Tear Stream, then padded back into her den.

Jorro let go of Azure. He made sure Tear Stream was okay before padding back to her with a grim expression on his face. "Is somethin' wrong?" Azure asked him sarcastically.

The chocolate tom shot her a warning glance to be careful what she said, and then proceeded to drag the she-kit to the servants' den. Azure noticed the dark glint in Nala's yellow eyes as the rogue raced out of camp. When Jorro made sure she was somewhat comfortable, he left her to rest, though she couldn't. Azure was afraid of seeing Silent Scream in a dream again. But more than that, Azure wondered who exactly was killing off the cats in the rogue group. It didn't surprise her, however. A monstrous group as this is bound to have plenty of enemies. So maybe it's a completely different group trying to eliminate them and not just one cat, Azure thought. Maybe that's why Saden is so upset when her cats think Flame's dream means something, because she already knows the threat. She didn't feel sorry for them one bit. Her only concern was little Cricket. For his sake, she worried what would happen to him if the camp was overrun by even stranger and crueler rogues. Eventually Azure fell asleep thinking of the group's predicament, sometimes dreaming of being struck down beside them, and sometimes dreaming of being set free. Both seemed highly unlikely, even with a murderer---or murderers---on the loose.

  • Flame
  • Jorro
  • Tear Stream
  • Nettle

~ Chapter Eighteen ~ Edit

"Oh, please, Cricket, there's no need to worry about me. I'm fine, honest!"

"But just look at your wounds!" Cricket fretted. "You can't tell me those don't hurt!"

Azure smiled, though it was so small her splotched friend didn't notice it. "Yes, they do ache, I'll admit. But you're going to get in trouble if you stay with me any longer!"

Cricket gazed at her anxiously. "Oh, okay... Remember not to move so much. And it's probably best that you act like you can't walk, even if you can; otherwise, Saden will---"

"I know!" Azure meowed, amused and exasperated. "Now, go! Nala won't show any mercy on you now that Maverick's dead."

"Right." Cricket quickly licked her ear and raced out of the den.

Azure's smile grew as she watched him go, but then it faded away. She was happy that Cricket liked her so much: he treated Azure like a sister. But she was sad because he had no one else to turn to and had to rely on her for comfort. How could she give him comfort when she needed some herself? She desperately wished Owl and Breeze were here. They would be able to comfort both kits and make them feel loved. Azure scowled. Love didn't seem to exist without them. The world had turned dark and cruel.

Azure's gaze flickered to the entrance as a gray pelt blocked it. Two cold yellow eyes stared down at her. "How're you feeling?" Nala asked nonchalantly.

Azure flattened her ears. "I was doing alright, until you showed up."

Nala laughed one of those drawling, fake laughs. "Saden won't be very happy to see that you've still got your spunk." She glanced at Odion and Chiara and twitched her tail, signalling for them to leave. Once they obeyed (which only took them a split second) Nala entered the servants' den.

"I won't be very happy to see her face," Azure retorted.

"You're stepping out of line, kit," Nala meowed tartly. "Too brave for your own good. I bet you've gotten into plenty of trouble that way."

"I don't look for trouble. It finds me instead."

Nala smirked. "That's true, too." She paused and sat, curling her tail around her clean, gray paws. "I bet you're wondering why I'm... visiting you."

Azure nodded and narrowed her turquoise orbs. "I figured you'd be with Cricket."

"He's with Jett, but that's not important. I want to know how you did it," she meowed, her voice suddenly dark. "How you killed Rishi."

Azure's fur immediately started bristling. "I didn't!" She protested.

"I thought so... But you were the one who discovered her first. And, as I'm sure you know, Maverick and a guard named Nettle were killed yesterday, too. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Of course not! I was being punished by Saden!"

"I know you were. But I'm starting to get the feeling that you're not as innocent as you appear. You're hiding something in that stupid little head of yours. I think you killed Rishi and, because he's so spineless and foolish, you forced Flame to tell Saden that ridiculous story about that cat in his dream."

What the heck was wrong with Nala? "You overestimate me by a lot," Azure meowed, stunned by the she-cat's idiocy. "How would I, a kit, kill Rishi, a full-grown monster like yourself?"

Nala swiped at Azure's face and snarled. "I don't know! Rishi has always been ditsy, and if you ambushed her, she wouldn't stand much of a chance, especially since you meant to kill her."

"But I didn't! I still don't see how any of you can suspect me for murdering her! You should be interrogating her enemies, like Jett and Rumi! They hated her!"

Nala struck Azure again but didn't have the time to speak, because just as she opened her mouth, an anguished caterwaul was heard from outside. Nala's fur spiked and she whirled around, sprinting out of the den. Quite painfully, Azure crawled to the entrance and poked her head out and listened.

Cayo and Teagan skidded to a halt in front of Saden and Stevie. The littermates were covered in blood. Nala lingered close by to listen as several cats came to her side equally curious. "We need Jorro, quick!" Cayo panted.

"What happened?" Saden demanded.

"We were attacked," Teagan meowed, still out of breath. "We were hunting with Rumi when this cat came out of nowhere! Tear Stream and Fang tried to warn us, but it was too late."

"The cat bowled Rumi over," Cayo cut in, "and without a thought, sliced his throat open!"

"We tried to help him! We would've died, too, if it hadn't been for Tear Stream and Fang. They told us to come back to camp, to warn you and get help. That stranger is a one cat army!"

"We need to take a few cats back with us, including Jorro. Tear Stream and Fang may still be alive! We have to help them!"

"Forget it," Saden growled, to everyone's surprise. "If you had stayed they might have lived. But the two of them could not have taken that cat down, not if it already killed Maverick and Nettle."

Both Cayo and Teagan looked as if they wanted to protest, but they quickly thought better of it. Then Cayo meowed, "Saden, before we... ran away, the stranger told us something." The tom paused to look in Azure's direction and she had to duck so he wouldn't spot her. But whatever Cayo had said, Azure couldn't hear. He spoke barely above a whisper so only Saden and Stevie could hear. Now Saden looked in Azure's direction, and though Azure was sure the massive she-cat hadn't seen her, she felt a grim uneasiness crawl up her spine. Azure scrambled painfully back down to the back of the den, knowing Saden was approaching.

A giant shadow blocked the light from the entrance as Azure looked up. She gulped and pressed herself against the wall. "You're in line with the killer," Saden meowed bluntly. Her yellow gaze raked through Azure, sending extra chills up the she-kit's spine.

"How could I be?" Azure meowed, keeping her mew as steady as possible.

"I don't know how," Saden hissed, "but you are." The rogue leader padded into the den, her eyes narrowing. "Three more of my cats were killed today. That's six altogether, if you're brain can't add. Cayo and Teagan escaped the cat, and do you know what Cayo told me?" Azure shook her head. "He told me that their attacker asked for you. I'm having a very hard time putting together why that cat would want anything to do with a pathetic scrap like you, if not to kill you. So you're going to tell me what exactly it wants."

"I don't know what it wants!" Azure meowed desperately.

"You play so innocent," Saden snarled. "You know more than you let on. I'm just going to kill you anyway, so what do you have to lose? Tell me what you know!" Before she let Azure speak, she clawed her servant's side. Azure cried out but was silenced by a blow to her jaw.

"I have no information to give," Azure meowed after a minute. "I don't know who the killer is and I certainly never want to meet whoever it may be." She looked straight into Saden's furious eyes and grinned. "You're scared."

Saden's gaze wavered but only for the slightest second. She bared her teeth. "I am not," she replied calmly.

"I bet you are," Azure growled quietly. "That's why you're in here, isn't it? Because you already know who the cat is and you're scared of it. You know they're coming for you. And you think I'm the key to finding out what it wants just because it mentioned me."

"You have a big mouth," Saden meowed. "However, it's not telling me what I want to hear!" She lifted a paw and Azure shrunk beneath it, but before Saden could strike her again, surprised and anguished caterwauls broke out outside the servants' den.

"Saden!" Azure recognized the voice as Flame's. "Saden!" The tom yowled again, stopping just in front of the entrance. "He's here! The cat from my dream! He's here to kill us all!"

Saden froze and Azure watched her carefully. The she-cat's whiskers twitched and then she took a deep breath. Spinning around, she flew out of the den, Flame following.

Azure waited a minute before crawling to the opening. She slowly stuck her head out and gasped once she laid eyes on the scene. Everywhere cats were fighting, and all looked terrified. Some lay sprawled on the ground, blood splattering their pelts. Shadows in feline forms streaked across the camp grounds, locking with Saden's cats with teeth and claws. Three of the shadows met Azure's gaze, but they quickly dismissed her and attacked a white and brown tom.

Azure's heart stopped when she caught sight of Jett and his slick fur no longer white. Where's Cricket? She looked around desperately for her friend and suddenly spotted him cowering near Nala's body. His master's chest heaved with the effort of breathing and then, she lay still.

Azure glanced around quickly and cautiously called Cricket's name. She called him a second time and he looked up. Immediate joy washed over the tom-kit's face. He raced, limping, to Azure without looking at anyone else, and she pulled him into the den.

"Cricket!" She exclaimed. "Are you alright? Your paws are bloody---who did that to you?"

"I-I'm fine," he told her quickly. "Nothing touched me. My paws are only injured because Jett took me to Porcupine Rocks." His gaze grew frightened. "Azure, what's going on?"

"I wish I knew. Stay right here and don't say another word. I'm going to take another look around."

"But what if one of those---those things sees you?" Cricket's voice cracked with worry.

"Then, I'll lead it away from you. Just stay quiet and don't move." Azure scrabbled back to the entrance, holding her breath. The shadow cats were now chasing the rest of the rogues out of camp; the slow rogues were pounced on and killed immediately. Azure exhaled and turned in time to see Saden scuffling with another cat. She looked like she were struggling. Finally, she broke away and made a run for it, but fell when she put pressure on her right front paw. The leader spun to see her attacker glaring at her.

Azure's eyes widened. This cat appeared to be alive. He wasn't a shadow like the others. His pelt was black and white. She could only see his back side; but she could also see the pure terror on Saden's face.

"Please!" The she-cat begged. "Agro, please! You---you don't have to kill me!"

Azure's fur began to bristle and she froze, her paws rooted to the spot. Agro!?

"You---you know I n-never meant to hurt you," Saden continued as she slowly crept backwards. "We were friends, weren't we? You w-wouldn't want to hurt me. I-I was good to you w-when the others weren't. You owe me! Don't kill me!"

"I owe you nothing!" Agro responded coldly, his voice like ice. "You're weak and spineless. If anything, you owe me. I stopped Shade from killing you." His eyes narrowed to slits and he chuckled softly. "That was a mistake." Without another word, he leaped onto Saden and clamped his jaws around her throat. She started thrashing madly and hitting Agro's head, but eventually, she stopped. Stopped everything altogether.

Azure had to stifle a gasp. She wanted to run far away, but her legs wouldn't move. Then, slowly, very slowly, Agro turned around, his deep blue eyes catching her turquoise ones. He opened his mouth but no words came out. Azure wouldn't have let him speak to her anyway. She saw the look on his face, the blood staining his teeth, the flash in his eyes. He looked like Breeze and Owl the day they had killed each other, except his gaze hadn't turned crimson.

She ducked back into the den. Cricket began to ask her what happened, but she shushed him at once, nudging him to the back of the den. "Just... Stay behind me" was all she was able to tell him.

Agro came inside a few minutes later and Azure stood, straightening up to her full height, though it pained her greatly. The tom's gaze darted to Cricket and darkened sinisterly. Azure lifted her chin. "You won't touch him," she meowed bravely.

Agro looked at her silently. He almost seemed confused.

"You won't touch him---Cricket. I won't let you." Azure unsheathed her claws. "You'll... You'll have to kill me first."

"Azure, no!" Cricket pleaded.

Azure shushed him again and continued to stare at the black and white tom in front of her. She started to become uncertain if he was even real, because he didn't move an inch, not even to blink. Deep down she knew he wasn't an illusion. It hurt her to see him again, after what he did to her mother.

"I didn't kill her," Agro meowed quietly as if reading her mind. "She isn't dead."

Azure shook her head. "I don't believe you."

"I didn't think you would..." He sighed. "I came to this rogue group to free you, Azure. And... And to tell you I'm sorry."

"How did you know I was here?"

"I saw Saden and Stevie take you away with those other two cats the first day you came here. I would've saved you then, but... I wasn't sure if you wanted me to. I knew you were very angry with me...."

Azure dropped her guard, if only a little bit. She saw how difficult it was for him to admit this to her. "You didn't have to kill Nova. You could've just wounded her," she meowed, painfully.

"I didn't kill her!" Agro meowed fiercely. "I swear to you I didn't..." He glanced down at his paws. "She was going to kill you, Azure. I... I didn't know what else to do. I was scared---for you. Maybe you didn't see her face, but I did. And she wasn't going to let you go."

Azure closed her eyes as tears began to trickle down her face. She faltered and fell, her body shaking with sobs. Agro was at her side in a flash, while Cricket inched over to her other flank. "I brought Nova back to the Twoleg den after you left," Agro continued, unsure if he should nuzzle her to comfort her as Cricket was doing. "Macie was horrified and she got her Twolegs. I watched from a safe distance when they took her away, probably to one of their healers. I went looking for you afterwards."

"Oh, just shut up!" Azure yowled as she looked up at him, the sudden motion causing Cricket to flinch. Tears still fell as she licked Agro's cheek. "I forgive you, I forgive you!"

"Azure..." Agro started.

"No, shut up!" She paused to stifle her sob. "I missed you... I didn't know how I was going to get out of this wretched place without your help. I'm just glad you're here."

Agro's face lit up with the most handsome smile Azure has ever seen on him.

  • Fang
  • Shadow Cat #1
  • Shadow Cat #2
  • Shadow Cat #3

~ Chapter Nineteen ~ Edit

His smile barely lasted two seconds before it disappeared under a dark gray cloud. He turned away from her. "You missed me...?" Azure could hear the suppressed pain in his mew.

"Of course I did," she responded, confused by his sudden change. "You were the only friend I had."

Agro said nothing for a whole minute. "Were?"

Azure forced herself to stand, swallowing back a whimper. "You were my only friend until I met Cricket." She glanced at the tom-kit, who stood shaking in the corner. "Cricket was the only kind cat in the rogue group. He cares about me."

Agro's smooth black head turned ever so slightly to glare at Cricket. He inhaled deeply, then turned to face the kit. "You must be brave if you risked showing even a little kindness to a stranger."

Azure breathed a sigh of relief. That was a compliment! She wiped away her tears and smiled at Cricket. He stood straighter and tried to return Azure's smile. "Yes," he meowed, unsure. "I suppose I am... Thank you."

Agro nodded curtly. His gaze flickered back to Azure. "Shall we go now?"

"Go? Go where?"

"To your siblings."

"Oh!" Azure exclaimed. She immediately felt a prickle of guilt. How could I possibly forget? She flattened her ears, shamefully. "I forgot about finding them..."

An angry spark flashed in Agro's blue eyes, but not because she had forgotten her own mission. "You're bleeding," he meowed, stepping over to inspect her wounds.

"Huh? Oh, yeah..." Azure slid back down into a laying position as Agro checked her left flank. "Saden attacked me just moments before you came."

She heard the tom curse under his breath. "I'll find some herbs," he mumbled and headed out of the den.

"Agro," Azure called him. He stopped, tail twitching. Azure's pelt prickled uneasily because of the question she was about to ask. "How did you know Saden?"

Agro barely moved a muscle. "That was a long time ago... In a past I don't wish to talk about."

"I understand," she murmured. "Then, what---what were those... shadow cats? Why did they attack the group?"

Turning his head, Azure caught his gaze. It was curious and worried. "What shadow cats?"

"You mean, you didn't see them?"

"No." As if the conversation was done, Agro padded out of the den. Azure looked after him, astonished. No? Just a simple no? And nothing more?

"Do you think he's telling the truth?" Cricket questioned, his own eyes following the older tom.

Azure shuffled, uncertainty clutching her like a closed Two-leg's filthy paw. She did not know how to answer, because Cricket had voiced her own thoughts.

. . . .

Two days passed. Most of Azure's wounds had healed and she could finally walk around without a limp. Cricket stayed close to her side. It was plain that he didn't trust Agro; his pelt would spike up just looking at the older tom. Agro was a little cold toward the tom-kit, probably because he was a part of Saden's group. Azure tried to reassure them that they could trust each other, but as far as she could tell neither one of them were listening. She was just happy that she had convinced Agro to allow Cricket to come along.

"So, how do you know your brother and sister will be at the lake?" Cricket questioned as they started on their journey.

"A family friend told me I could find them there," Azure answered, a sad smile forming on her face. "He's in StarClan now..."

"StarClan?"

"Remember? I told you all about it last night."

"Oh, yeah!" He stopped for a moment and looked up at her sadly. "That means your friend is..."

"Dead," Azure finished for him. "Yes, Onyx is dead." Saying it aloud still stung. She shook herself and smiled wide. "Come on. Enough of that. We really need to pick up our pace, or we're going to lose Agro."

"Losing him wouldn't be a loss," Cricket mumbled.

Azure gazed at him sternly, then sighed. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. Now, let's go." She began to sprint and Cricket followed behind. They met Agro at the edge of the Thunderpath, the acrid scent stinging Azure's throat.

"We're going to have to cross it," Agro informed them, staring at the far side. "We're going to be crossing a lot of these, I imagine...." He added. He looked both ways, narrowed his blue eyes, and pressed a paw against the asphalt. "I think we're in the clear. Have either one of you done this before?"

"Nope," Azure answered, and by the look on Cricket's face, she could tell he hadn't either.

Agro flicked his tail. "All you gotta do is run straight across and don't stop. Understand? Good. Now, we wasted a lot of time talking about it, so I'm going to check again." He put a paw on the black road once more. He nodded. "Okay. Azure, you first."

Azure took a deep breath and padded to the Thunderpath. She looked both ways herself and then sprinted as fast as she could. She skidded to a halt on the other side. I did it! She silently cheered. She turned around, smiling. "Come on, Cricket! It's easy!"

Cricket went to the edge of the Thunderpath, legs trembling. He tentatively placed a paw on the black surface.

"You'd better wait," Agro warned.

Azure's nose filled with a stronger scent than the one of the Thunderpath. She coughed, trying to get it out as it settled in her throat. She leaped backwards as a shiny red beast zoomed passed, taking Azure's breath with it.

"Go now!" Agro meowed urgently. Cricket began to shake his head. Agro thrusted the tom-kit onto the Thunderpath. "You're wasting time!"

Cricket scrambled across the road, his eyes darting from side to side. Then, his gaze caught something. Terror froze every muscle in his body and he stood staring into the glowing eyes of a monster.

"Cricket, move!" Azure shrieked. The black monster crept closer and closer, but Cricket wouldn't budge.

Agro cursed and took off sprinting. He slammed into the kit, forcing them both to roll onto the other side just as the giant beast roared by. Agro stood up at once, took Cricket by the scruff, and raced to Azure's side. He let go, panting. "You stupid fool!" He spat at Cricket. "Did you want to die? You could've gotten us both killed! I should throw you back onto that path---"

"Agro, enough," Azure hissed, stepping in front of Cricket. "Can't you see how frightened he is?" They both glanced down at the splotched kit. He was curled into a ball, shaking all around. Azure nuzzled him gently. "It's alright," she told him. "You're safe now, Cricket. You're here with me. You made it."

Cricket looked up at her, his eyes wide and fearful. "I'm here with you," he repeated, steadying himself. He took a deep, deep breath. "I made it."

"That's right." Azure licked his ear.

"We're not done yet," Agro meowed gruffly. "I know we have at least two more Thunderpaths to cross. Beyond that, I don't know. Never been that far."

Azure nodded, and looked back down at Cricket. "We can do it," she encouraged him. "I know we can." We have to, she added to herself. She helped her younger friend to his feet and they padded onward, side by side.

She turned to look back and found Agro crouched down, head bowed. "Ya coming?" She called.

Agro looked up. What was that flash in his eyes? He straightened stiffly, and calmly raced to her other side, pelt brushing hers.

~ Chapter Twenty ~ Edit

The small group crossed the two Thunderpaths Agro had mentioned. Cricket was reluctant at first, but Azure assured him she wouldn't leave his side. They crossed together and Agro quickly followed. The tom-kit was more confident after getting passed the second Thunderpath.

"You're like a pro now!" Azure had purred. Cricket had puffed out his chest, face lifting with pride.

Now the three were walking through another quiet forest. It seemed colder here. They pressed closer against each other. Azure opened her mouth, tasting the air. Not a single whiff of prey. It was unsettling.

"We should stop here for tonight," Agro meowed suddenly. He pointed with his nose to a dip in the earth beneath a tree. "We... we need to rest."

Azure was suddenly aware that he was leaning against her, almost for support. "Are you okay?" She asked, anxiety prickling in her belly.

"Fine," he answered automatically. "Just fine."

Azure frowned, but said nothing else.

They camped in the dip, squeezing in together as best they could. It was a tight fit, but it kept them warm. The night went by quickly. Azure was grateful for a dreamless sleep. She woke early. The forest seemed somehow brighter and she blinked again and again until she was used to it. She looked around her, her eyes widening. She was alone.

Azure popped out of the temporary den. Snow covered the ground like a perfectly unwrinkled blanket. She drew in a breath of relief when she spotted Cricket bouncing around and giggling a couple fox-lengths away. "Morning!" She called.

Cricket spun around, a wide smile etched on his face. "Morning, Azure!" He cried, merrily, hopping toward her. "It snowed while we were sleeping!"

"I can see that," she meowed and licked his ears. She looked around. "Where's Agro?"

"He's out hunting," the tom-kit replied. "Or trying to. Personally, I don't think he has even a whisker's long chance of finding anything, what with the snow and all."

Azure shrugged. "We'll see."

They didn't have to wait long. Only a minute later, Agro came padding toward them, empty-pawed. "There's nothing out there," he complained, grumbling. "I guess they sensed the snow was coming and hid far in their dens."

"It's alright," Azure meowed. "Thanks for trying." She lay her tail on his back.

"Yeah, well..." He flinched away from her. "Er---shall---shall we get s-started?"

Azure tipped her head, staring at him curiously. She'd never heard him stutter before. It was kind of cute. She blinked and she shuffled her paws, her face burning red. "Yeah," she squeaked.

Cricket looked between them. "Are you guys okay?"

"Fine," they meowed in unison, their regular voices back.

Before Cricket could say anything more, Azure quickly padded away. The toms followed her silently after a shared awkward glance.

They walked on for miles and miles, the forest changing slightly. Despite the snow hugging their paws, it felt warmer than the night before. Azure found tiny pawprints made, she suspected, by a squirrel. It was the first sign of life they found. Cricket found more a while later, though the prints were shaped differently and were smaller than a squirrel's. Azure followed these and soon caught a mouse. It was still very plump, so the three cats shared the meal.

They came across another Thunderpath. It was twice as big as the last three and it took some major encouragement from Azure to get Cricket to step onto it. Monsters roared and zoomed by faster than ever. Then, unexpectedly, one swerved and hit another. Monsters behind the other two skidded to a halt. Azure could see horrible dents made in the leading monsters and wondered how they weren't shrieking in agony.

"Well, I've never seen this happen before," Agro murmured thoughtfully.

"Are they dead?" Cricket asked.

"I don't think so. The two up front are injured, it seems. The rest are waiting for them to move." He tipped his head. "I think?"

"What should we do?" Azure piped up.

Agro shrugged. "Well, they're not moving, so it should be safe to cross. I think we ca---Get down!"

They pressed themselves flat against the ground. Azure risked lifting her head just a tad and saw several Twolegs getting out of the monster's belly. One of the monsters was smoking near the front of it. That can't be good. Three older looking Twolegs stood next to each other, arguing loudly.

"I think we can go," Agro meowed quietly. They stood up and walked slowly onto the Thunderpath. Cautiously, they went in front of a beast. It didn't even seem to notice. They had to pause after passing the accident because they arrived at the point where the monsters went in the opposite direction. These ones hadn't slowed in the slightest. Azure watched Agro as he stared intently at the monsters. She could tell he was waiting for something.

"There!" He meowed after a minute. "Get ready to run for your life. Literally." They waited a few more seconds, then Agro shouted "Now!" He shot out and Azure and Cricket followed. She could see where her friend was headed: there was a wide gape between a few monsters. They raced through and into the safety of the trees, each of them breathing hard.

"Whew!" Azure panted. "Let's hope we don't have to do that again."

"Uh-huh," Cricket agreed.

"Let's get away from here," Agro mumbled.

They walked on through the snowy forest. Azure felt strangely exhilarated from their run across the giant Thunderpath, and she wished to pick up the pace. To her, they were trudging so slowly. She ran ahead of the toms, the cold air racing through her lungs, and soon came out of the forest. She halted right at the edge. Miles and miles of white open space stretched halfway toward the horizon. Her heart lurched as if it could see what was beyond the frosted hills and the distant line of trees.

"The lake!" She cried. "It's so close!" Owl and Breeze are so close! She spun around, looking for her friends. Her happiness was snatched away as quickly as it had come, when the strangled caterwaul filled her ears.

"Azure!" Cricket shrieked.

Azure sprinted back to her friends as fast as she could. Cricket looked up at her, trembling from head to toe.

"I-I think your f-friend's possessed," he stammered as he carefully peered behind a tree, where anguished yells were sounding off.

Azure went around the tom-kit and stopped dead. Agro lay writhing on the ground. His eyes were shut tight, but his mouth was open allowing all the yells to escape his throat. He suddenly went completely limp and all went quiet.

"Agro?" Azure tried tentatively. She was afraid to move closer. She half expected his eyes to open with a crimson glaze covering his blue orbs. What could I do if that does happen? But she didn't have to find out. Agro stirred, coughed once, and opened his eyes, not a touch of red on them.

"What happened?" Azure demanded through a quiet whisper.

Agro froze at the sound of her voice. He rolled his eyes onto her and closed them again. "Oh, no..." He mumbled. "You saw that?"

Azure nodded, though she realized he wouldn't be able to see that and quickly forced a shrill reply. "Yes."

Agro audibly cursed and opened his eyes. Very slowly, he sat up. "You shouldn't have..." He breathed.

"What happened?" Azure repeated, much louder this time. "Why were... You weren't... Was someone... trying to... get into your head?"

Agro met her gaze and she knew completely well that he knew exactly what she meant. "No... It wasn't like that..."

"Then, what was it like? Why were you---twitching like that?"

Agro now made it his mission to stare fixedly at his paws. "I'm sick," he replied quietly. "Sick deep inside. Don't ask me what, 'cause I can't tell you. I don't know what it is myself."

Azure blinked. She wasn't sure she believed him all the way. Him writhing on the ground reminded her painfully of Owl whenever Shade entered his mind. Yet it was too different to be the same. "How long have you been... sick?" She asked finally.

"Since you ran from me when you thought your mother was dead," he answered truthfully.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Azure fought hard to keep her voice under control.

"I didn't want to worry you... You have enough going through your mind as is." He paused. "And besides... I heard where we're going, there'll be cats who could heal me."

Azure didn't know what to ask first as a flood of questions poured into her mind. She ended up running her words together and she said it so fast all Agro could say as an answer was, "Er..." She took a deep breath and started with the first one she thought of. "You knew where we were going this whole time?"

"Well, you said we were going to 'the lake,' so I just assumed you meant the one lake everyone used to talk about. Groups of cats live there, Azure. You didn't know?"

"No," she meowed quietly with a shake of her head. "I was only instructed to follow the river. And when it veers off to the left I should keep going straight. We've made it past the mountains and the other obstacles." She smiled slightly. "I know we're very close."

Agro stood, staring at her avidly. "We are? How close? Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. We have to cross these hills and then I'm positive the lake is just beyond the line of trees. I saw it when I ran ahead..."

"That's wonderful!" Agro exclaimed. "Come on! We---we should go now!"

Before Azure got a chance to ask any more questions, Agro raced past her, a little unsteadily, and headed for the edge of the forest. Azure spun around to find Cricket blocking her path, his eyes wide.

"He's not possessed," Azure assured him.

"I heard what he said," Cricket responded a bit coldly. "I'm going to keep my distance from him just the same."

Azure sighed. "Well, I'm going to be next to him just in case he decides to get all twitchy again. Just make sure you don't lag too far behind."

. . . .

Azure's heart felt lighter than it had been when she and her two companions began crossing the snow-draped hills. She started to think fervently about her siblings, wondering about all the things she could possibly say to them. It was like a game that went on and on and on and on. I've missed you both so much, she recited in her head for the fifth time. Why did you leave me for so long? Onyx told me to come find you. Did you know what I had to do to get here? How did you get here? Why are you here in the first place? StarClan sent me to find you. They'd known I couldn't live without you. Oh! You're both alive! I love you, I love you, I love you! Her "I love you's" went on for a long time until the words Agro had said about groups of cats living at the lake forced its way through, and then a whole new round began in the game, a round full of questions.

How many groups are there? Are they nice or mean? Will they want to harm us? What'll happen if they kill me before I can get to my siblings? Are Owl and Breeze living with them? Are they safe, or are they being imprisoned? Will they imprison me like Saden did or leave me alone? Will Cricket be okay? And Agro? Will these cats help him? What if they don't? What if---

"Azure!" Agro yelled, tearing her out of her thoughts and ending her game.

Azure's fur puffed up in alarm and she spun around to find Agro and Cricket staring at her, the older tom looking irritated and the kit looking concerned. "W-what? What's wrong?" She stammered.

"Nothing's wrong," Agro growled. "Except I've been calling your name for a whole five minutes!"

"Oh! Oh, you were? I-I'm sorry. I guess I was too busy thinking... M-my bad."

Agro snorted. "Right. Well, you might have noticed if you weren't too busy thinking, but the moon's out now."

"The moon?" Azure echoed. She looked up and found the moon shining down on her brightly, the sky pitch-black where there were no stars. "That means we've been walking all day!" She felt suddenly guilty. She hadn't allowed them to stop once, she had been so anxious to get to the lake now that it was so close. "I'm sorry," she apologized shamefully.

"It's alright," Cricket chirped. "I found a den for tonight."

"We," Agro corrected. "We found a den."

Cricket mumbled something inaudible and turned away to show Azure where they were spending the night. It was a hole looking similarly like the servants' den in the rogue group's camp. Azure wasn't so sure she wanted to go down there, and not just because it reminded her of her unpleasant time with Saden and her cats. Even from above ground, she could smell the stale scent of fox coming from the hole.

"Are you sure it's safe?" She asked her friends.

"Yes," Agro answered. "It still smells like fox, I know, but I already went down there. Nothing will gobble us whole while we sleep."

That did not make Azure feel better. Nevertheless, despite her fear, she crawled into the old fox den after Cricket and Agro followed. "It's kind of cozy, once you get past the stench," she admitted as she lay down, and soon, she found herself fast asleep....

....Only to wake up drowning in a river of blood.

~ Chapter Twenty-One ~ Edit

She couldn't swim up to the surface. It was like the surface didn't exist anymore, there was no hope left that she would ever reach it. The moon was gone, too. All Azure could see were the glowing blue eyes of her greatest enemy, and they came closer and closer until they were mere inches away. Azure choked even more on the blood as a shadowy outline formed before her panicked eyes. Silent Scream grinned broadly, eyes flashing as she reached out and grazed Azure's cheek with her paw.

An instant cold flowed through her, seeming to hit Azure's lungs harder than the blood-water continuously pouring in. And it was enough to awaken her with a scream. A silent scream that no one but Azure could hear. Neither Agro nor Cricket stirred. They were deaf to her agony. It frightened Azure even more and she blindly bolted out of the den. She didn't run very far, just far enough for her to escape the suffocating den and its frightful dreams.

Azure breathed deeply, savoring the untainted oxygen. But no... Something was wrong. There was something else in the air. Something that would try to gobble her whole. It's a fox! She looked all around her and couldn't spot a single fleck of red fur. The moon was still up and refused to allow her any helpful light as it hid behind unfriendly dark clouds. She knew the fox was on this plain somewhere, the scent had been fresh. She decided to wake the others. At least, they would be awake and ready to defend themselves if the creature ever showed itself. Azure turned and sped back to the den, but as she drew nearer she found a shape standing before the entrance. It was too big to be Agro.

It's found them! Azure thought, panic racing through her. She had to get it away. "Agro! Cricket!" She shrieked at the top of her lungs. "There's a fox!"

The red-furred creature spun around and locked its hungry eyes on Azure. Her breath caught in her throat. Well, what now, ya stupid? It's gonna come after you! Why can't you think anything through? Azure turned tail and fled, leading the fox away from the den. She only hoped one of her friends had heard her.

The fox was gaining ground much quicker than Azure had expected. Its longer legs made it easier for it to sprint through the snow; meanwhile, clumps of snow stuck to Azure's underbelly, making it difficult for her to run as fast as she would have liked. She made a wide circle around the old fox den, not wanting to go too far so that Agro couldn't get to her. She felt a sudden pain shoot through her tail and yelped as the fox yanked her backwards. Unexpectedly, it let her go. She couldn't find her footing and began to roll down the hill. Azure stood up just as the fox met her at the bottom. Her fur spiked up, she hissed, and the fox snarled. It was readying itself to pounce. When it sprang, Azure met it with outstretched claws. It bowled her over and had her pinned before you could say "Son-of-a-fox-dung." Azure struggled beneath its greater paws, hissing and spitting. She was terribly afraid and knew the fox wouldn't let her go. She was done for and wouldn't ever make it to the lake, to Breeze and Owl. The fox opened its jaws, seeming to smile wickedly in triumph, and reached for her throat. Azure shut her eyes.

But Azure never felt the fox's jaws, with its sharp and pointy teeth, clamp around her neck. The weight of the creature was lifted from her an inch before teeth met flesh. She heard a furious caterwaul and the fox's snarl. When she dared to open her eyes, she glimpsed Agro's glowing blue orbs before he was tackled. Azure raced to her friend's aid without even thinking and sprang onto the fox's back, biting its spine. The fox reared back in agony, leaving its belly exposed for Agro to tear open. Yowling in pain, the fox fell and Azure slipped, falling where the bigger creature landed. It snatched her breath away as it crushed her. Agro swiftly dealt it the death-blow and hurriedly dragged it off of Azure when it had gone limp.

"Are you alright?" Agro panted. Azure unsteadily lifted herself and merely nodded; she was too busy retrieving her breath. "You have blood all over you," Agro meowed, panic glinting in his eyes.

Azure gazed down at her right side. Agro was right, but that wasn't her own blood; it reeked of fox. She quickly rolled in the snow, trying to get the sticky red liquid off her pelt. "I'm good," she meowed, checking herself again and seeing no wounds. She looked up. "Oh, Agro!" His whole front leg was drenched in blood and it was definitely his blood.

"Don't worry. It'll heal," Agro meowed quickly.

"But---but look at it! It's awful! Agro, what are we going to do? We don't have anything to help it!"

"Calm down. Panicking won't help. We---" Agro winced painfully as he tried to walk with his wounded leg, making Azure's anxiety sky-rocket. "We need to get to the forest," Agro continued through gritted teeth, "and find lots of cobwebs and marigold."

Cricket suddenly came bounding down the hill toward them. "Are you guys okay?" He demanded. He saw the dead fox and looked revolted, but he gasped once he saw Agro's leg and turned away in horror and gagged.

"We have to get to the forest," Azure told the tom-kit hastily. "We have to find the right things told help him. Get on his other side."

Azure took the side with Agro's injured leg and Cricket hurried to his right, looking sick. They walked agonizingly slow toward the forest. Agro seemed to be putting in too much effort, either to get them there faster, to stay awake, or both. His breathing had grown heavier and he was losing blood; Azure feared he would soon be unconscious. The sun finally appeared on their left, rising over the treetops and filling the world with its glow. They reached the forest with its leafless branches, when the sun was almost halfway above them. They went in a little farther and, at last, Agro collapsed, crumpling to the ground, his eyes closing shut.

"Okay," Azure meowed, trying to calm herself down (though she wasn't doing a very good job because she was staring as Agro's wound). She turned to Cricket. "Let's get to work. Find as many cobwebs as you can, and I'll look for marigold." I just hope I can find some.

Cricket nodded but said nothing and ran at once to do his job. Azure started to go, but then stopped, unsure if she should leave Agro unattended while he was bleeding out. What if something else finds him? He's too weak to defend himself now. Azure glanced around. There were no marigold plants near them at all, none alive at least. She prodded Agro a few times, trying to get him to wake. His eyelids fluttered but did not open, and he groaned.

Azure began to pace the area closest to Agro, desperately looking for any sign of cobwebs or marigold. She scented something familiar but knew it wasn't the flower she was looking for. This plant smelled faintly tangy and it strangely reminded her of when she had fallen out of a tree. She had had no broken bones, but had badly scraped her back on the rough bark, making her bleed. Onyx had told Breeze to look for some root that would help.... Wait a minute---Heeeeeey!

Azure hurriedly dug up the plant and carried it back to her injured friend. She chewed the roots into a poultice and spit it out over Agro's leg wound. It's called comfrey root and helps soothes wounds, Azure remembered proudly. She chewed some more and applied it again until there was none left.

Cricket came running up to her with an enormous wad of cobwebs stuck to his jaws. Once she snatched it from him, he meowed out of breath: "Ran into... big, hollow log... So many spiders..." He shivered furiously as if the eight-legged arachnids were crawling over him right now.

"Thank you, Cricket," Azure purred. She began to wrap Agro's leg tightly, layering the cobwebs in the hopes of stopping the bleeding.

"I also found goldenrod," Cricket meowed, "though I wasn't able to grab it."

"Yeah?" Azure asked, half-listening.

"Jorro---you remember him, right? Well, he said goldenrod was good for healing wounds. It grew in a clearing close to our camp---"

"It can heal wounds?" Azure looked at him sharply. "Get it! Grab as much as you can!"

Cricket looked startled and stammered as he replied. "I-It was almost completely wilted---"

"I don't care! We need the goat's trod quickly!"

"It's goldenrod not goat's trod---"

"I don't care! Just get it, please!"

"Okay, okay!" Cricket meowed, stumbling backwards. He sprinted away.

Azure looked back at Agro. His blood was soaking through the cobwebs, but his eyes were open and wide. "Does it... hurt much?" She asked him tentatively.

"It's not as bad as it was..." He replied heavily. "It doesn't burn like fire anymore, but it could still be better."

"Good," Azure meowed with a nod. That means I did something right. "You should probably rest. I sent Cricket to get some herb that's gonna heal you."

"You couldn't find marigold?" Agro asked, though it didn't seem like he cared. His eyes closed once more.

"What I found was dead. This herb is called... goldenrod. Have you....?" Azure drifted off, seeing that Agro was asleep.

Cricket came back several minutes later with his mouth stuffed with a faded yellow plant. He dropped it in front of Azure. She thanked him and began unwrapping Agro's leg. She chewed the goldenrod into a poultice and put it on the tom's wound. Then, she wrapped his leg in cobwebs again. She tipped her head, surveying her work. Almost as good as Onyx, she thought proudly. And Pogo. She turned to Cricket. "He'll need food and water. I'm going to go try my luck hunting and... What's wrong?"

Cricket had turned away from her with a distasteful look on his face. He flattened his ears as he replied. "I just think you're wasting your time."

"What do you mean? It certainly can't hurt to search for prey. I don't know about you, but I'm starved---"

"I mean you're wasting your time helping him," Cricket meowed, nodding toward Agro.

"What? H-how could you say that?" Azure meowed indignantly. "If it wasn't for Agro, I wouldn't be here! He's saved my life more than once. I owe him... I owe him a lot." Azure looked back down at her black and white friend, realizing just how true this was. She was filled with an even bigger need to help him recover. I'm not just going to the lake for me anymore. I'm going because Agro needs help, too.

"I know he saved your life," Cricket meowed quietly. "But I... I just have this feeling... He can't be trusted."

Azure frowned. "So him saving my life isn't worthy of trust?"

"It should be," the tom-kit answered, "if he weren't a liar."

"A liar?"

Cricket didn't respond. He knew Azure would only get angry. "You like him, don't you?" He asked after a moment.

Azure was taken aback and she felt her face growing hot. "W-well---I mean, I---He's a good friend," she stuttered.

Cricket faced her and met her turquoise eyes with his piercing hazel gaze. "Can you tell me that a good friend is all he is to you?" He went on, not giving Azure a chance to answer. "I'm sorry... I know I sound rude... When I was in Saden's group, I never got to speak my mind. I guess I've gotten used to the idea. But, Azure... The only reason I can't trust him is because I care too much about you to see you hurt. Like I said, I have this feeling and... and you're in danger just being around him."

Azure said nothing. She wanted to be furious with Cricket for saying those things, but she couldn't. He was worried about her and was telling her exactly how he felt. He was truthful.

But Agro wasn't; she knew this. When she had first met Agro, she had thought he was the strangest cat on the planet. He hadn't made sense. He still didn't. Even though he'd saved her life and helped her again and again, she couldn't shake the feeling of dread that he would give her every time he looked at her. It was such a familiar feeling that she had pushed it to the back of her mind and forgotten about it until now.

However, she didn't want Cricket to be right. Agro had proved himself trustworthy. So, why should Cricket have this feeling that Agro was a danger to her? She had never really thought of Cricket's suspicions until now and she didn't like it.

"Cricket," she meowed at last, "I'm... glad that you care so much about me, but unless Agro does something completely horrendous, I'm going to continue to trust him with my life because that's what he deserves."

Cricket nodded sadly. "You're a very kind cat, Azure. After all that's happened to you, you show a lot of faith in others. I just hope that that faith isn't squashed... I hope you're right about Agro."

Azure looked down at her paws. I hope so, too, she thought. Then she left to go hunt.

~ Chapter Twenty-Two ~ Edit

"Agro, what do you think you're doing? It's only been a day! You shouldn't be walking yet!" Azure circled around her friend, fretting he might hurt himself as he limped forward without using his injured leg.

"We need to get moving," Agro meowed calmly.

Azure absolutely agreed that they needed to get a move on. She knew her siblings were so close and it filled her with such a longing that she couldn't stand not moving for more than a minute. But, however hard it was, she suppressed this longing because Agro was hurt. He needed her just as much as she needed her siblings. She had waited this long, she could wait a little more. "You are staying right where you are until I'm sure your leg is healing properly!" Azure meowed fiercely.

Agro stopped but only to look at her furiously. "Azure, we have to go!" Azure heard the desperate urgency in his voice and it made her stop her circling to look into his face. "Can't you feel just how close we are?" He asked, almost pleading with her to understand. "We're practically there! We have to keep going."

"Alright," Azure meowed, finally giving in. "But, can you at least wait until I catch us breakfast?"

"No," Agro hissed. He limped passed her without another word.

Azure sighed and turned to look at Cricket, who hadn't spoken to her since their talk about Agro yesterday. "Come on," she told him quietly. "Get on either side of him before he falls and hurts something else."

They caught up to Agro and walked beside him. Azure tried not to worry about every little thing Agro could possibly trip over and instead, tried to think about meeting her brother and sister. She knew it was going to be such a wonderful reunion. She suddenly wished Agro would hurry up. No, you don't wish that. Just calm down. Be patient. Just a few more steps... Too bad those "few more steps" looked like a million.

The trio walked in silence. They finally left the forest to find more hills stretching farther away from them into the next wooded area. Azure lifted her chin to hide the disappointment filling her insides. She was so sure that Breeze and Owl were closer than this. She ignored her misgivings and despairing thoughts of Maybe they aren't even there, and padded forward. They just hadn't made it to the lake yet. That was all. There's nothing to worry about. When they had gotten halfway through the hills, Azure finally forced them to stop. Agro had been panting mercilessly and Azure feared his leg was causing him problems, though she never found out because he refused to tell her. She checked his wound and approved it was alright and after several more minutes of resting they started on their way once more.

Cricket began to perk up as they neared the forest. He told stories to keep his companions' spirits high, and when he felt they were going too slow to bear, he scouted ahead. He clambered onto a giant rock and looked toward the forest. "Azure, I see it!" He shouted. When he looked back at her he was positively beaming and he bounced on the rock in excitement. "It's the lake, Azure! In the center of the forest! We're so close!"

Azure's heart leaped inside her chest. We're so close, she repeated merrily in her head. We're so close! "That's wonderful!" She yelled back to Cricket. Her anxiousness to get to the lake had never been this high. Agro seemed to sense it.

"I think I could go a bit faster," the tom told her.

Azure looked at him. "Are---are you sure?"

Agro nodded. "I'm sure."

"Alright. But you better tell me if you can't go anymore!"

"Yeah, yeah. Quit being my mother and let's go."

Azure huffed with annoyance, but she couldn't stop the smile that crept onto her face. They went on walking and quickened their pace. Cricket carefully climbed down from the rock and ran alongside them. "Slow-pokes!" He crowed as he passed by. Azure twitched her whiskers. She would've shown Cricket who the slow-poke really was, but she didn't want to push Agro any harder. I'll get ya, Cricket, she vowed playfully.

The sun was on the verge of setting when the three passed the first tree. Azure realized painfully that this wasn't exactly worth calling a forest: The trees were dotted along the plain with the occasional large rock and bush. Azure's fear suddenly crushed her blissful excitement and curiosity. Strange scents filled their noses, and their fur began to bristle. She glanced at her friends. Both were looking about them anxiously, like they could feel unfriendly eyes peering at them from the shadows that had appeared with the coming night.

"I think we crossed scent markers," Agro muttered and he unsheathed his claws.

"Scent markers?" Azure questioned.

"They mark territory." Agro pushed away from Azure and stood by himself on his three good legs. "I believe we are trespassing."

Azure looked at him and flattened her ears. "Oh, goodie," she meowed sarcastically. "What do we do?"

He shrugged. "Be on your guard and, uh, take every noise seriously."

Azure nodded and Cricket moved closer to her so their fur brushed. The little tom-kit was trembling. She licked his ear comfortingly, and then the three went on, heading deeper into the dangerous, unknown territory. It was not long before they heard a snarl and several threatening growls following. From up ahead, Azure could see two cats approaching. She also noted the three that went around them. They're circling us, Azure thought in dismay. And she wasn't wrong. The cats had Azure, Cricket, and Agro in a tight formation, their backs towards each other and their claws unsheathed. The two cats in front stepped forward.

"What do you think you're doing here?" A brown tom snarled. Azure narrowed her eyes at him, sizing him up. He was much taller and his muscles were clear under his pelt.

We're doomed, she couldn't help thinking. However, she cleared her throat, lifted her chin, and responded with as much dignity as she could muster. "We're just rogues passing through. We mean no harm," she added.

The she-cat beside the tom snickered. "You couldn't do much harm anyhow," she meowed, her eyes glittering with pompous amusement. Her green gaze sliced across each trespasser in turn and her smirk broadened.

"We don't allow anyone to 'just pass through' our territory," the tom meowed. "Leave at once." His face darkened and his eyes narrowed. "Or we'll make you." His comrades around them began growling and inching slowly forward.

"We'll leave," Azure answered quickly. "There's no need to... hurt us. We'll go."

The tom's lips curled into an annoyingly satisfied smile and he nodded. The cats behind the three parted. Azure slowly nudged Cricket forward and Agro tried not to lean against her so much as they left the hostile circle of cats. Azure glanced behind her. The strangers were watching them closely, all wore grins like they had just stumbled upon a life-time supply of prey. It was very unsettling. The moment Azure looked forward again, she could hear swift movement from behind her. She turned her head in time to see the sharp claws of a golden paw. The blow knocked her into Agro, who stumbled into the brown tom and was thrown to the ground. Cricket was grabbed by the scruff and was helplessly shaken to and fro, while Azure was piled on top of by the she-cat with green eyes and a golden tom. Azure mercilessly swatted the faces of her attackers and sunk her teeth into the she-cat's ear. The she-cat yowled and reared back. Azure hit the tom, jumped to her feet, and lunged at the she-cat. She blindly tore into the she-cat's stomach. Then, she felt teeth sink into her scruff and she was pulled backwards. The golden tom threw her against a rock and clawed her exposed underbelly with a flurry of swipes. Above her pained yowls, Azure heard a frustrated growl, and saw Cricket racing toward her with a furious tortoiseshell trailing behind him. Cricket reached the golden tom and began striking his flank. The tom didn't even flinch, though he was distracted enough so that Azure could quickly claw his face. Then, she launched herself at the tortoiseshell right before the she-cat was about to lay a paw on Cricket. The two were locked together, hissing and spitting, and they rolled, slamming into a rock. Azure hastily stood up, a bit dizzily, but the she-cat didn't budge. She had hit her head on the rock straight on.

Azure turned back to the fight, breathing heavily. Cricket was pinned to the ground by the golden tom, and Agro was fighting two cats at once, having just struck down the she-cat with green eyes. Azure attacked the golden tom, releasing Cricket from his grip, only to get herself flattened as the tom threw all his weight onto her. The weight was suddenly lifted off of her. Agro hastily helped her to her paws, panted "Run!", and limped away. Azure found Cricket and they fled. Azure spotted a clump of trees and veered in their direction. She took a chance and glanced back to see Agro somewhat keeping up, though the last three cats were gaining on him. They reached the trees. A new scent crashed over them, but they didn't stop running. After a minute or so, Azure heard the brown tom's voice calling the other two cats back. The rogues still didn't stop when their attackers retreated back into the open.

They didn't know how far they ran after that. Flashes of bark whisked past along with dying shrubs and thorny bristles. Azure never saw when Agro collapsed or when Cricket disappeared from her side. She didn't even know when she fell herself, she was too exhausted to notice. Her head spun and darkness crowded around, closing in on the little sky she could see through the canopy. She heard shouts and then murmurs. A blurry face suddenly appeared, blocking the sky.

"No---don't!" Azure cried, her head still swirling. "Don't hurt us... No need... We go...."

The face disappeared.

~ Chapter Twenty-Three ~ Edit

Azure awoke, shaking uncontrollably after another dream filled with Silent Scream and the river of blood. She gasped as pain overtook her, her underbelly feeling as if it were on fire. The rest of her body ached terribly and she felt stiff. As her breathing returned to normal and she grew calm, Azure slowly lifted her head, realizing she didn't know where she was. It was dark, the only light trickled through the lichen of what Azure guessed was the entrance to this small cave---a den perhaps? It had the distinct scent of herbs and it overpowered nearly everything. If Azure's eyes weren't in good shape, she wouldn't have even known that Cricket and Agro were beside her, huddled in their own separate nests made of soft moss. She noticed the rise and fall of the toms' chests and relaxed a little more. She also noticed that her friends had quite a few cobwebs wrapped around them. Looking at herself, she found that most of her was thoroughly wrapped as well, and that was probably the reason for her stiffness. (At least, that's what she told herself.) Azure's ears perked up and she turned toward the lichen doorway, hearing pawsteps from beyond. A shadow crept forward and pushed itself through.

It was a small gray she-cat. She hastily scurried over to the far wall muttering about "borage leaves" and "kits" to herself as she went. Azure stared at the cat's back, wondering if she would notice Azure at all and silently hoping that she wouldn't. However, after a moment, the she-cat froze and very slowly turned around to focus her violet eyes on Azure's turquoise ones. She had a clump of leaves in her mouth, which came spilling out when her jaw practically dropped to the floor.

"You're awake!" She squeaked, when she finally found her voice. She blinked twice and hurriedly scooped up the leaves and raced out of the den.

Well... that was odd... Azure thought, looking after the she-cat. She wondered who the stranger was and if she had bandaged Azure and her friends. It reminded her of the kittypet named Pogo. A few minutes later a different cat entered. She was much taller than the other cat, and she had russet-red fur and a white underbelly. Her yellow eyes twinkled when her smiling face turned to Azure.

"It took you long enough," the she-cat meowed good-humoredly as she padded over. "How're you feeling?"

Azure stared up at the she-cat and answered timidly. "F-fine."

"Well, that's good," the she-cat meowed cheerfully. "Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

Azure shook her head, though at the same moment her stomach growled.

The she-cat smiled even more. "I'll get you some prey." She left and returned with a mouse, laying it beside Azure's nest. "I am Scarletlily, by the way."

Azure sniffed the prey cautiously and deciding it was safe to eat, she wolfed it down almost at once. When the she-cat laughed, Azure felt embarrassed and quickly put the remains aside. "Erm---Th-thank you," Azure stammered.

"Oh, think nothing of it."

A long silence followed and it consisted of Azure staring hard at Scarletlily, while the older she-cat merely smiled. Finally, Azure felt she had to get some questions off her chest. "Where are we?" was the first one out.

"You're in my den in BlazingClan's camp," Scarletlily answered.

"Blazing... Clan...?"

"Mhm. BlazingClan is just one of the groups that live here at the lake."

Azure tried not to look too dumbfounded by the words "just one of the groups" and asked another question. "How did we get here?"

"Our night patrol found you and your two companions unconscious on our territory. They took pity on you, seeing all your wounds, and brought you back here to our camp. Then, Plumpaw---she's my apprentice---and I fixed you up. Now, if you don't have anymore questions, I really should check on our newest queen. She's a little grumpy at the moment..." Scarletlily started toward the entrance, but then she looked back at Azure with a very commanding expression though it still had the tint of friendliness. "Because of your injuries, I ask that you do not leave this den. And if those two wake up, you tell them they may not leave either. Oh, and try to tell them that they are safe here. We will be hospitable if you don't cause trouble."

Azure nodded quickly and the russet-furred she-cat walked away. Azure still had so many questions. She tried to remember everything Onyx said about clans. He never once mentioned BlazingClan, she was sure of that. Scarletlily had said that someone named Plum... paw was her apprentice. Apprentices were young cats training to be warriors, Azure remembered. Then, she recalled medicine cats and realized Scarletlily must be BlazingClan's medicine cat. That's why the den smelled tainted with herbs. Then, there was the leader and deputy, who was next in line as leader. What were old cats called again? And what were mothers with kits? Am I missing something...?

Azure's thoughts broke off when Cricket stirred in the nest to her right. He opened his eyes, blinked several times, and yawned. "Morning," he mumbled.

"Are you alright?" Azure asked anxiously. She wanted to know how bad he was hurt during the fight with those hostile cats.

"I'm fine," he meowed groggily. He sat up and lazily glanced around the cave. "Where are we?"

"BlazingClan's camp," Azure meowed impatiently.

Cricket looked at her, clearly hearing her tone, and realized what she wanted. "There's no need to fuss over me," he told her with a small smile. "I feel fine. I don't think I was hurt too bad." He looked down at his cobwebbed-covered fur. "So, is this... BlazingClan infested with spiders?"

Azure knew he was trying to cheer her up and it normally would have, but she was extremely worried about being in this Clan's camp. She had met Scarletlily, who seemed nice, and had briefly met the medicine cat's apprentice, Plumpaw---if you'd even call that a meeting. Azure didn't feel that those two would harm her and her friends. But she knew there were plenty of others in this group and she couldn't help worrying they would be like Saden and her cats. Then, Azure recalled Hawkwhisker and Witheredblossom. They were clan cats, and they had held Azure prisoner inside a cave, though the cave was in the mountains. They had also kept her for revenge, but Azure had learned from Saden that you don't have to have a reason to beat a cat. Or a kit.

Azure forced those thoughts to the back of her mind. She shouldn't think like that. She should be optimistic, even though it was hard after all that's happened to her. Azure took a deep breath and smiled for Cricket's sake. Passed Cricket's head, Azure noticed Agro beginning to wake. He opened his eyes but didn't lift his head.. His blue orbs were blank as he gazed around. He spotted Azure out of the corner of his eye.

"We're alive." His voice came out as a moan. It sent chills through Azure and her anxiety increased.

"Are you hurt?" She asked Agro.

"Yes! I mean---No. I just need more rest..."

Azure got out of her nest, though her body screamed in protest because of her hastiness, and poked her head through the lichen. Agro needs Scarletlily! Azure stifled a gasp. What she saw was a big clearing. What made her want to gasp was all of the cats in the clearing. There were so many, way more than in Saden's group. And it was terrifying. Azure pulled her head back in, trying to keep herself from shaking. Be brave! You can do it. It's all in your head, there aren't that many cats out there. She looked at Agro and Cricket, took a deep breath, and poked her head through again. She was nose-to-nose with a black and brown tom. Azure squealed in fright and leaped backwards, and then keeled over in pain. Jumping was not good for the injuries on her underbelly.

The tom quickly came to her side. " 'M oh orry!" He meowed.

Azure looked up at him blankly and saw his mouth full of rabbit and mouse, which was the cause of his incomprehensible mew. She slowly stood up and he dropped the prey at her paws. "I'm so sorry!" He repeated, clearly this time. Azure noticed his cheeks reddening and looked away just as embarrassed as him.

"Th-there was no need to scare me to death!" Azure forced her voice to sound cold to hide her humility.

"I-I didn't mean to!" The tom meowed earnestly. "I-It was an accident. I didn't know---didn't know you'd be there. Plumpaw s-saw you poke your head out the f-first time and thought you were hungry. S-so she told me to bring you some prey."

"Well, I'm not hungry," Azure muttered, walking back to her nest. "I was looking for Scarletlily...."

"I'm sorry," the tom meowed again. He stared at her searchingly for a moment, then brought the prey over to Agro and Cricket.

"Thanks!" Cricket meowed cheerfully, snatching the mouse. Agro didn't respond when given the rabbit and merely grunted his gratitude. He was watching the black and brown tom through slitted eyes.

"You're welcome," the tom replied with a shy smile. The color began to fade from his face. "I-I'm Darkwing, by the way."

"I'm Cricket," Cricket meowed between chews.

"My name's Azure and my other friend is Agro," Azure meowed, making it her mission to look everywhere but at Darkwing.

"I-It's nice to meet all of you," Darkwing meowed.

An uncomfortable silence followed. Cricket continued to eat noisily, perhaps to break the awkwardness. After several minutes Darkwing cleared his throat and meowed speaking to Azure, "S-so you said you were looking for Scarletlily?"

Azure glanced at him briefly and nodded. "Agro isn't feeling well," she mumbled.

"I-I'll go---go get her." Darkwing raced out of the medicine cat den as fast as he could.

"Well, he seemed nice," Cricket meowed with a sideways glance at Azure, who said nothing in return, and Agro rolled his eyes.

. . . .

Scarletlily came almost at once, though she wasn't alone. She brought with her a beautiful golden she-cat and a light brown tom with scars across his face. Plumpaw scurried in after them and sat in a corner, where she was blocked by the two newcomers. 

"Hello again," Scarletlily greeted Azure. "I'm glad to see your companions are awake." Then, addressing all three of her patients, she meowed, "I'm going to check over your wounds, then we will have a lil' chat."

Scarletlily did as she said. She checked them over carefully, starting with Agro. She reported that each of them were doing fine so far and nodded at the golden she-cat.

The she-cat smiled and her amber eyes twinkled in the darkness of the cave. "Hello," she meowed pleasantly. "I'm Blazestar, the leader of BlazingClan, which is where you are staying for the time being. I'm glad you all are healing fine, and I hope you have felt welcome here, even though it hasn't been a full day yet."

"Thank you for your hospitality," Azure meowed. She grew uncomfortable when the leader's gaze darted to her and remained there.

"What are your names?" Blazestar asked.

"I am Azure and that's Cricket and Agro."

"Nice to meet you. Mind telling me why my patrol found you and your friends bleeding and unconscious on our territory?" Blazestar meowed not unkindly. She spoke with a dignified curiosity.

Azure hesitated. What exactly should she tell her? It was an honest question, Blazestar had every right to know the answer, but Azure felt she needed to keep her guard up high. At any moment, things could turn from sweet to sour in the blink of an eye. One wrong word and she and her friends could get hurt---or worse. She'd learned too much from Hawkwhisker, Witheredblossom, and Saden: Their scars were permanent. Azure glanced at Cricket and Agro, then back at Blazestar.

"We were traveling," Azure meowed at last, deciding to tell the truth. Most of it, anyway. "We had walked all day when we finally scented these strange smells. Agro said we had crossed a... a border, that we entered into a cat's territory. Well... We didn't get very far before we were surrounded by some very hostile cats. They attacked us, but we were able to get away. We headed toward the forest. We ran so fast and so far, didn't stop once. And then... and now we're here," Azure finished. 

"Sounds like you met WindClan," the light brown tom meowed. His deep voice was without empathy and he looked at Azure coldly.

"I'm sorry to hear you ran into trouble. We'll be most hospitable toward you three while you recover, won't we, Bearfur?" Blazestar meowed with a stern glare at her deputy.

"Of course, Blazestar," Bearfur meowed unconvincingly. "As long as they don't cause any trouble---"

"Oh, yes, because these helpless, wounded kits will cause trouble!" Blazestar meowed with a humph at the end.

"I was just warning them," the tom replied defensively. "Sheesh."

Blazestar sighed. As she opened her mouth to speak once more, Agro interrupted by a low mumble. "I'm sorry?" She asked, unable to catch what he had said.

"I'm not a kit," Agro mumbled louder than before. Azure looked at him and rolled her eyes, and found that his were defiant. She couldn't help smirking just a bit. Blazestar was smirking, too, and it was very noticeable.

"Well, that's good to know," she meowed, her eyes sparkling amusement as she gazed down at the cobweb-wrapped tom. She turned back to Azure. "If any of you need anything, you just have to call Scarletlily or Plumpaw. They'll be taking care of you while you stay."

"Hopefully, your recovery will be quick," Bearfur added.

"You know, I have half a mind to hit you," Blazestar told him. "Goodnight, Azure, Agro, and Cricket." With that, the golden she-cat left the den with Bearfur following behind. 

"Blazestar has lost some of her patience ever since Badgerclaw died," Scarletlily meowed with a sigh, her gaze on the entrance.

"Who's Badgerclaw?" Azure asked quietly.

Scarletlily looked at her a bit startled, like she had forgotten Azure was there. "Oh... Badgerclaw... He was her mate," she meowed. Then, as if she had said too much, she meowed quickly, "Well, I'll leave too, so you may get more rest. Come along, Plumpaw."

  • Plumpaw
  • Scarletlily
  • Darkwing
  • Blazestar
  • Bearfur
  • Badgerclaw

~ Chapter Twenty-Four ~Edit

Cricket and Azure recovered from their wounds before the week was up. They were allowed to roam the camp and stretch their legs as long as they kept out of everyone's way. Agro was getting better, though he couldn't put any pressure on his leg without collapsing in pain. Azure grew worried when Agro became restless and began walking around when he should be resting, so she practically pleaded with Scarletlily to watch him more closely. Azure found that the medicine cat was not one to disappoint: She watched Agro like a hawk, never letting him out of her sights; someone was always keeping an eye on him. Agro grew extremely grumpy. He was at his worst the night of the full moon, when all the clans around the lake would meet for a "Gathering."

"I wish you wouldn't fuss so much," Agro snarled when Azure came inside the medicine cat den that night.

"Someone has to make sure you don't ruin your leg," Azure meowed defensively.

"I don't need a babysitter," Agro growled.

"What do you need then?" Azure hissed, finally losing her patience with him.

"Why do you think I came here?" He growled again. "I need help!"

"Well, it's good to hear you admit it," Azure meowed before he could continue. She sighed and her voice softened. "You have to take one thing at a time, Agro. Once your wounds heal, the visible ones, then ask Scarletlily about your... your sickness. We have to be patient. Why do you think I haven't started looking for my siblings?"

"How should I know?" He snapped.

"It's because your my friend. You're also a ridiculous and senseless piece of foxdung, but still---my friend." And I care about what happens to you....

Agro said nothing for a minute and turned away from her. "You're blind," he meowed at last. "Blind and stupid."

"Excuse me?" Azure growled. "I'm blind and stupid? You can't even tell when someone's helping you! It's like you don't understand kindness!"

"You're right," he meowed, to Azure's great surprise. "I don't understand kindness. I never have. And if it keeps me from seeing what I want most and it's right in front of me, then I don't ever want to know."

"What do you mean by that?"

"They're right in front you, Azure," Agro hissed, looking at her once more, his angry blue eyes cutting into her like claws. "You've been out there all week and haven't even sensed them, have you? I've escaped this stupid prison only once and I know they're here."

"Who are you talking about?" Azure asked, exasperated.

"If you have to ask, then you're dumber than I imagined."

Azure had had enough. She gave him a nasty look, whipped around, and padded out of the den. How dare he call her stupid! After everything he's done for her, and after everything they've been through together. I guess he's done with this helpless kit, Azure thought bitterly. Now that he's going to get the help he wants, he doesn't need you anymore. That's what hurt her the most. He didn't care about her at all. He used her as a guide to get here and now he was throwing her away like Twoleg trash. Azure wished she had no tears to spare him but they wouldn't stop coming. Her tears blurred her vision and she accidentally ran into a fluffy wall.

"Oof!"

Realizing the wall was not actually a wall, Azure quickly turned and wiped her eyes. "S-sorry," she mumbled.

"Watch where you're going, you filthy rogue!"

Azure spun around, infuriated. She had been insulted too many times today! "I said I was sorry!" She snarled.

The she-cat was startled by Azure's sudden ferocity, but quickly regained her composure. Her aqua-green eyes swept over Azure's face and she smirked. "Looks like you've been crying," she meowed with a snicker.

"So what if I have?" Azure snarled again.

"Probably regret making such a long journey. Feeling guilty you left family behind?"

"I left no one behind!" Azure unsheathed her claws. "My family is dead!"

"H-hey! Hey! What's going on here?" 

Azure tore her gaze away from the she-cat's to see Darkwing stopping beside her. 

"The pathetic rogue's been having a bad day," the she-cat meowed, not even trying to hide her smile.

"Cloudbreeze, quick that! Why can't you be nice to her? We've had rogues visit before." Darkwing turned to Azure. "Are... are you okay?"

Azure glared at the white and orange-patched she-cat and said nothing.

Darkwing glanced at Cloudbreeze. "Go away," he commanded quietly.

Cloudbreeze's smirk doubled in size and she rolled her eyes. "Sure, Darkwing. But I'd be careful if I were you. Filth like her tend to bite."

Azure growled and Cloudbreeze laughed as she walked away. "What's wrong with her?" Azure demanded. "Why does she have to push me around? What did I do?"

Darkwing seemed to shrink under Azure's gaze. "N-nothing. You did nothing. Unfortunately, Cloudbreeze is always like that. She thinks she's better than everyone, even Blazestar herself. She pretends to be a good little angel and sucks up to our superiors." Darkwing's hatred for Cloudbreeze made Azure feel a little better, even though the tom looked guilty for having said too much. "So, uh, if you don't mind me asking, what---what's wrong?"

Azure looked down at her paws. "Oh... it---it's nothing really... Agro and I had a fight, that's all..."

"Oh... W-well, I'm sure you guys will patch things up soon. Don't worry, he'll come around."

Azure couldn't help hoping that Darkwing was right. Maybe that's all it was---just a fight. Friends fight all the time, don't they? She overexaggerated. She and Agro would apologize and be good friends once more. Everything would be fine. 

"Hey, uh, would you like to see Cricket?" Darkwing suggested. "He's playing with the kits right now."

Azure nodded and quietly followed Darkwing toward the nursery. They heard lots of giggles as they approached the tree. 

Darkwing paused at the entrance. "Er---do you mind waiting here a moment? Mysterysoul doesn't like it when too many cats crowd her kits; she's a tad overprotective... Cricket is lucky not to have his eyes ripped out."

Azure stood outside while Darkwing went in to confront Mysterysoul. The queen sounded vicious and Azure was suddenly afraid for Cricket. But then Azure assumed that mothers should care a lot about their kits. "No matter what happens," Azure meowed softly to herself, thinking of her own mother, Nova.

Darkwing crawled out of the nursery, followed by a panting Cricket. "Mysterysoul and the kits are coming out," Darkwing informed Azure.

Cricket smiled up at Azure, still out of breath. "They're wild ones, those kits."

"So they're not much different from you, then?" Azure joked. She had perked up upon seeing her friend's face.

Cricket laughed. "They definitely beat me when it comes to wild."

At that moment, a black she-cat with a tan-ish underbelly came out of the nursery. She looked slightly frazzled, but there was a pleasant smile on her face. "Hello," she meowed. "You must be Azure. Sorry it's taken me so long to meet you."

Azure smiled back. "Oh, don't be sorry. I understand."

Mysterysoul nodded then looked at the nursery entrance. "What's taking you two so long? I thought you wanted to play with Cricket!"

Two tiny heads poked out. The kits clambered over one another in an attempt to come out ahead of each other. "We do want to play with Cricket," meowed the she-kit. "It's just that Ashenwillow won't let Speckledkit play, too."

"Speckledkit is far too young," Mysterysoul meowed. "Besides, Ashenwillow doesn't like how rough you two play. Who could blame her..." She turned to Azure. "Well, Azure, these are Foxkit and Badgerkit. Say hello, my little ones."

"Hello, Azure," the kits meowed happily together.

"Um, Azure?" Cricket nudged her.

Azure had gone frozen stiff. She couldn't take her eyes off the two kits before her. She couldn't believe her eyes. They looked so much like Owl and Breeze! The only difference was that Owl had orange patches mixed with his black and white fur. The moon shined down on them so clearly. Was it really them? They were so small, kitten fluff covered them from head to toe. They couldn't possibly be Owl and Breeze, her older siblings. But then, a shimmering shape appeared behind the kits. Onyx's star-speckled face looked down at them, then up at Azure. He smiled faintly.

"But they're kits!" Azure protested in shock.

"Of course they're kits," Mysterysoul meowed, confused by Azure's outburst. "What, did you think they'd be full-fledged warriors?"

Azure shook her head, still looking at Onyx. "I don't understand." But he disappeared before she could receive an answer. 

"What's not to understand?" Mystersoul asked, her eyes narrowed.

"What's wrong?" Cricket asked.

Azure looked down at him. "They are my brother and sister," she whispered. 

Cricket's eyes widened. "What're you talking about?"

Azure didn't hear him. She was looking back at her siblings. "I am blind and stupid," she meowed, recalling Agro's words. That's what Agro had meant. Somehow he had known Owl and Breeze were here in BlazingClan's camp the entire time. How had she not seen them? They were never around when I came out of the medicine cat den. But that didn't matter. These two kits were her siblings! She knew it in her heart, even if it didn't make sense. 

"Owl and Breeze! I found you!" Azure exclaimed. Joyful tears streamed down her face and she lunged at them, licking both of them all over their heads.

Mysterysoul tackled Azure and pinned her to the ground. It was as if the queen had put on an entirely new face. Looking into her dark yellow orbs, Azure was swept away by an ocean of fear. "What do you think you're doing?!" Mysterysoul roared. "You dare touch my kits---"

"Mysterysoul, relax, please!" Darkwing cried. As he tore her off of Azure and blocked the queen from attacking again, the cats who had not gone to the Gathering began to come out of their dens. "It wasn't like she was harming them!" Darkwing meowed frantically.

Azure scrambled to her paws. Mysterysoul glared at Azure from over Darkwing's shoulder. "No one touches my kits, except me and my mate," the queen spat. Azure nodded vigorously; she was in shock 100%.

"To be fair, anyone who plays with Foxkit and Badgerkit has to touch them," Darkwing pointed out. "How else would you wrestle?"

Mysterysoul growled. "We're going back inside the nursery. Foxkit, Badgerkit, let's go---"

"That's not their names!" Azure meowed unexpectedly. She was shaking all over.

Mysterysoul slowly turned her head back toward Azure. "What?"

Darkwing looked nervously from Mysterysoul to Azure. Seeing that his new friend was still in the danger zone, he meowed, "Azure, I think you may be tired. W-why don't you, Cricket, and I just take a walk far from the nursery---"

"No!" Azure cried. "I'm not tired. And their names aren't Foxkit and Badgerkit: they're Owl and Breeze! They're my siblings!"

For a moment everyone was quiet. Azure looked warily around at the small crowd of cats that had gathered around her. They all stared at her as if she were insane. "Of all the crazy things..." Mysterysoul breathed. She rounded on Darkwing. "Look what you've brought here, Darkwing! Why'd you have to find this... this..."

"Freak?" Cloudbreeze suggested from the crowd.

Mysterysoul glared at the she-cat, then turned back to Darkwing. "Why'd you have to find her?"

"She was hurt!" Darkwing meowed.

"Well, clearly she's not healed yet! Her mind's not right---"

"Look!" Someone shouted. Mysterysoul and Darkwing turned to see Foxkit and Badgerkit slowly creeping up to Azure. Azure didn't dare move as they approached, and she held her breath. She was deathly afraid they would run away from even the slightest movement.

"Everyone's looking at you funny," Badgerkit meowed bluntly as she gazed up at Azure.

"Why'd you say you were our siblings?" Foxkit piped up. His innocently curious yellow orbs poured into Azure. They looked so much like Owl's that Azure wanted to cry. Her joy at finding her siblings was overwhelming. She wanted to say so many things, but feared Mysterysoul, or someone else, would take them from her.

"I-It's a little complicated," Azure whispered at last.

Foxkit blinked. "Well, you can try to explain," he meowed patiently. "And we'll try to understand."

Azure hesitated and glanced warily at Mysterysoul. The black queen was watching her very closely, but she didn't attempt to take her kits back to the nursery; she seemed as curious as everyone else to hear Azure's answer. Azure shuffled her paws, her pelt growing hot. She wished no one else was around, that this could've been a private moment between her and her brother and sister. She took a deep breath.

But as she opened her mouth, an ear-splitting yowl of anguish echoed throughout the camp and her heart stopped. As the yowl ended, Azure looked toward the medicine cat den. Once again, she was shaking. She looked down in surprise as Badgerkit and Foxkit pressed themselves against her. They were just as afraid as she was.

Azure forced herself steady and, very reluctantly, she stepped away from the kits. "Go... Go back to your mother," she told them softly. "Perhaps we'll talk later." Before they could respond, Azure rushed off to the medicine cat den. Several cats followed her and peeked their heads through the lichen as she went inside.

  • Cloudbreeze
  • Mysterysoul
  • Badgerkit
  • Foxkit

~ Chapter Twenty-Five ~ Edit

"Agro...?" Azure called his name for the third time. She carefully nudged him with her paw.

"He's probably dead," meowed an elderly she-cat with black and white patches.

Azure whipped around. "He is not dead!"

"Spottedflower, you shouldn't have said that to the little one," another she-cat meowed with a sigh.

"Why not? She might as well face up to the truth. (Remember, she's not in her right mind.)"

Azure suppressed a growl and turned back to Agro. The tom let out a low moan and opened his eyes. "Agro!" Azure squealed. Without thinking she licked his ears, then backed away with a reddened face. "Y-You're okay!"

"Of course I'm okay," he meowed groggily, appearing not to have noticed what she'd done. His eyes widened as he gazed up at her and he seemed suddenly alert. "Why? What did I do?"

"You nearly forced our ears to sprout a bleeding river," the elder named Spottedflower meowed.

"Um... Sorry?"

"She means you almost made our ears bleed with that loud caterwaul," a tom translated.

"Could you all leave?" Azure asked. She glared at each one of the cats in turn. Spottedflower scoffed and left with the others following. "Agro, are you really okay?" She asked, turning back to him.

"I... I'm alright now that I'm awake," Agro answered. He slowly sat up. "So... You... heard me?"

Azure nodded. "And so did everyone else. You sounded like you were in a lot of pain. What happened? Were you dreaming?"

Agro shrugged. "I don't know."

Azure looked at him carefully. He didn't seem to be lying. She decided to drop it; she wouldn't have been able to get anything out of him anyway. She shuffled her paws and turned away from him. "You were right," she mumbled.

"I was right? About what?"

"I am blind and stupid."

Agro flattened his ears. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry, Azure," he meowed, the guilt written on his face. "I was just... upset. You're not---"

"Yes, I am! You were right! Breeze and Owl have been here this whole time, and I didn't know it. Except... their different."

"Different how?"

Azure sniffed. "They're kits! And they don't know me!" She wailed. "I don't understand," she continued to herself. "Onyx told me those kits were Breeze and Owl, but it doesn't make any sense. They're clearly Mysterysoul's kits, so how could they be my siblings? And she doesn't want them to have anything to do with me..."

"Azure?" A new voice sounded from behind. Azure turned around to see Scarletlily standing in the entrance. The cats from the Gathering had returned.

"Yes?" Azure tried to not make it sound like a sob.

"Blazestar and I would like to speak with you."

. . . .

Azure followed Scarletlily into the leader's den. Blazestar sat in the back and she greeted the newcomers with a purr. "Thank you for fetching her," the golden she-cat meowed.

Scarletlily nodded, then turned to Azure. "We heard about what happened while we were gone."

Azure's pelt grew hot and she shrunk. Was she in trouble? "I-I'm sorry if I caused anything. I didn't mean to---"

"You don't have to apologize for anything, Azure," Blazestar interrupted. "We just have a few questions for you. Why would you think that Mysterysoul's kits are your siblings?"

Azure straightened up a bit. She looked from the leader to the medicine cat and all of a sudden, her story came pouring out. She told them everything. She told them about the day Breeze and Owl died; every one of her dreams, especially those with Silent Scream; her journey from her home to the lake; her mother Nova; Saden and her rogue group; Agro's strange condition; and the discovery that Badgerkit and Foxkit are her older sister and brother (somehow). When she had finished, Blazestar's friendly face turned from curiosity to concern and neither she nor Scarletlily spoke for several minutes.

Azure didn't like the silence that those minutes brought, but she waited quietly and patiently for them to speak. The two older she-cats shared meaningfully looks, as if they could tell what the other was thinking without saying anything at all. Finally, they turned back to Azure, but once the leader opened her mouth, Azure broke. "You probably think I'm crazy, but I swear I'm not. I'm telling the truth! The whole story, it's true! Please, believe me, I'm not crazy!"

Amusement crossed over the she-cats' faces. "We don't think you're crazy, Azure," Blazestar reassured her.

"Oh, but you have to bel---Wait, what?" Azure blinked, surprised.

"We believe your story," Scarletlily meowed.

Azure was dumbfounded. "Really?"

Blazestar laughed. "Yes, Azure. Really."

"It is a little strange, though," Scarletlily meowed thoughtfully. "I wonder what StarClan plans for you? Normally cats, rogues included, don't get dreams like the ones you've had from StarClan. StarClan mostly speaks through medicine cats in clans, and they share prophecies and visions. One thing is for certain: your ancestors wanted you to come back to the lake, to be with the Clan."

"'The Clan,'" Azure repeated. "You mean, they wanted me to come here, to BlazingClan?"

"We knew your ancestor Moonfang," Blazestar meowed.

"He was my apprentice," Scarletlily added softly, with a note of pain in her voice.

Azure was uncertain, but she couldn't help feeling a sprinkling of joy. Moonfang belonged in BlazingClan! Then, in the long run, Azure must belong in BlazingClan, too! But wait... Scarletlily said that Moonfang was her apprentice. That's past-tense. Azure swallowed. "What happened?" She asked tentatively.

"He left," Scarletlily meowed bitterly, her face filling with rage. "Left the Clan, his family, for a fox-hearted she-cat who didn't even love him!"

"Scarletlily," Blazestar meowed sternly. The medicine cat apologized and Blazestar took over. "Moonfang left BlazingClan after he became a full medicine cat. He... he fell in love"---here, Scarletlily growled---"with a she-cat named Kamila. She, a tom called Hayes, two kits called Cypress and Copper, and a former kittypet named Maple, came to the Clan. The kits were sick, no doubt from all their traveling; they weren't old or strong enough. Well, when they were, and it was time for them to leave, Moonfang left with them."

"The kits and Maple stayed," Scarletlily added. "They're all loyal warriors now. Mapledusk, Cypresssong, and Copperthorn."

"Do you know what happened to him after he left?" Azure asked.

"No," Blazestar answered. "We never heard from him again."

"But now we can guess what became of him. He had kits," Scarletlily meowed in disgust. Her face flushed with shame as she gazed at Azure. "I'm sorry... for my behavior. When Moonfang left, I felt betrayed. I thought he would be such a wonderful medicine cat, a better one for BlazingClan than I am now. But... he threw everything away. The Clan didn't matter to him anymore. Oh, and his poor father and brother!"

"Everyone was upset that Moonfang left," Blazestar meowed. She shook herself. "But let's move on from that, shall we? We have other things to discuss."

"Like why your ancestors brought you back," Scarletlily cut in, glad for the change of subject. "You say this Onyx wanted you to come here to meet your siblings?"

"Yes," Azure answered. "The only reason I made the journey was because Onyx persuaded me. He said Owl and Breeze would be at the lake. Well, they are, but they're not the same... They're Mysterysoul's kits. I don't understand it."

"I think I do," Scarletlily told her with a slight smile. "Your siblings, Owl and Breeze, are living through Foxkit and Badgerkit."

"But how? I saw Owl and Breeze die! I never really understood what Onyx meant when he said they were here. I assumed he meant that they were alive, but I didn't get how."

"It's simple, really. Owl and Breeze were reincarnated."

"What's that?"

"They died, but were reborn. And now they live on as different cats. They'll grow up again, live life again. It's been done only once before, as far as I know. A medicine cat in ThunderClan was reincarnated, and now she's a warrior."

"So, they really are my siblings?" Azure asked, her hopes rising.

"Yes," Scarletlily meowed. "But they will be different. You might see your siblings in the kits as their personalities grow with them, but they won't really be Owl and Breeze. They won't remember anything from their past lives."

"I see," Azure meowed, thinking hard.

"What I want to know, is why StarClan has done this," Blazestar meowed. "In the case of the ThunderClan she-cat, they did it because her destiny was actually to become a warrior. But what was the reason for your brother and sister?"

"Perhaps they were meant to be warriors in BlazingClan instead of rogues," Scarletlily suggested.

"Maybe..." Azure hesitated uncertainly.

"Go on," Blazestar urged kindly.

Azure shuffled her paws. "Maybe Owl and Breeze were... reincarnated mainly to bring me here. Maybe the three of us were supposed to be in BlazingClan all along... but things just got complicated because Moonfang left. Maybe... Um... Well, I think---er..."

"Yes, Azure?" Blazestar prompted.

Azure swallowed and looked the leader right in the eye. "I want to join BlazingClan."

  • Kamila
  • Mapledusk
  • Cypresssong
  • Copperthorn

~ Chapter Twenty-Six ~ Edit

The next day was bright and cold. Azure and Cricket stood a few feet away from the CrystaledRock, the place where Blazestar held meetings. The golden-furred leader stood on the large rock now, with Scarletlily sitting on her right side. All the cats of BlazingClan sat around the rock, murmuring their surprise at their leader's announcement. Azure fluffed out her fur against the cold and kept her eyes trained on Blazestar, trying to ignore the green-eyed glare from the gray tom who sat a fox-length away.

Blazestar yowled to quiet down the few murmuring cats and began the meeting---the meeting that would make Azure an apprentice in BlazingClan.

Blazestar and Scarletlily both made sure that this was something Azure wanted to do. While delighted at the she-kit's proposal, they wanted to know if she was fit for clan life. They informed her about everything the Clan does: from patrols and apprentice training to the meaning of the Gathering. If she joined, she must be loyal to BlazingClan only and everyone in it. They told her about the warrior code, and Azure went to bed repeating it in her head. By the end of their discussion the night before, Blazestar and Scarletlily were convinced that Azure belonged with them in the Clan. And they were very happy to have her.

Azure was positive that she was making the right decision. Her siblings were here; they would grow up and live here. And Azure wanted to be a part of their new lives. No one would take them away from her again.

And then there was Agro. She was becoming a member of BlazingClan for his sake, too. She thought it would be easier to help him if the Clan trusted her. And when or if he healed, he might be inclined to join BlazingClan as well.

Cricket pressed himself against Azure for warmth. He looked up at her with a nervous smile and she returned it with a bright grin. Azure had told Cricket and Agro her decision the night before. Agro had been unusually quiet, but Cricket fully supported her choice and said that he would join if she did. So, in the morning, Azure went to see Blazestar and brought Cricket along. Blazestar accepted him, too, and told Azure about the apprentice ceremony that would commence in a few hours. The leader went over what would happen, and then Azure met who her mentor was going to be. And that was when Azure began to doubt herself, and when she fully realized just how great a decision she had made.

But she was determined to go through with it. No matter how unwelcoming or strict her mentor-to-be was, nor how rudely he had treated her when they had left the leader's den---and earshot. She was going to join BlazingClan! Even if it killed her!

Blazestar looked at Azure from the CrystaledRock and smiled encouragingly. In a loud voice she meowed, "Azure, it was not long ago that a BlazingClan patrol had found you and your friends unconscious and wounded on our territory. You have watched us and our way of life, and you have decided to become a member of our Clan... And we warmly welcome you." Blazestar paused as the cats' voices rose in agreement, then continued. "Azure, you are six moons old and you wish to become an apprentice of BlazingClan. From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Azurepaw. Your mentor will be Sagewhisp. I hope he will pass down all that he knows on to you."

Blazestar turned to the green-eyed tom who had been glaring at Azure. "Sagewhisp, please, step forward." The tom slowly padded over to Azure and sat beside her. "Sagewhisp, you are ready to take on an apprentice. You have received excellent training from Fernclaw, and you have shown yourself to be fearless and loyal. You will be the mentor of Azurepaw, and I expect you to pass on all you know to her." Blazestar turned back to Azure. "Azurepaw, I welcome you as a new apprentice of BlazingClan!"

Sagewhisp bent down slightly so he and Azure could touch noses. Then, the surrounding cats cheered and chanted Azurepaw's name. Blazestar waited a few minutes before silencing the crowd with another yowl. "We are not quite finished yet," she meowed with a smile. "Azurepaw's good friend Cricket will be joining the Clan as well!" Blazestar smiled at the little tom-kit and meowed: "Cricket, from this day forward, until you receive your apprentice name, you will be known as Cricketkit. I congratulate you and Azurepaw on joining the ranks of BlazingClan. Welcome to the Clan!"

Azurepaw and Cricketkit beamed as the cats chanted their names. Several cats came up to them and congratulated them. Azurepaw saw a grin flit across Sagewhisp's face, but it vanished when their gazes locked. He opened his mouth, but Azurepaw never got to hear the words because Mysterysoul had loudly called the new apprentice's name.

"Congratulations," Mysterysoul meowed as Azurepaw turned to her. The queen gave her a suspicious, yet knowing look. "Your joining BlazingClan wouldn't have anything to do with my kits, would it?"

"So what if they are the reason for my joining?" Azurepaw returned bravely.

Mysterysoul lifted her chin contemptuously. "So much for loyalty," she spat.

"You don't have to worry about my loyalty. I'll show everyone in this clan that I belong here." Azurepaw lowered her voice. "I'll make up for Moonfang's mistake."

Mysterysoul was taken aback at the mention of the old medicine cat's name. She looked as if she were going to question Azurepaw, but a striped gray tom with blue eyes cut in.

"Mysterysoul, the kits are wanting you," he meowed. He glanced at Azurepaw and smiled. "Glad you've joined BlazingClan, Azurepaw. I'm Stonefrost."

"Nice to meet you," Azurepaw meowed. "I suppose I should go tend to Sagewhisp now. Um, excuse me."

Stonefrost dipped his head. He quickly whispered in Mysterysoul's ear and the black she-cat reluctantly walked away with him to the nursery. Azurepaw breathed a sigh of relief and found her new mentor talking to an older warrior with different colored eyes. Sagewhisp saw her approach and stopped his conversation.

The older warrior turned his hazel and green gaze onto Azurepaw. "Hello, future warrior," he meowed with a grin. "I'm Aldergaze. My son is your mentor," he added.

"Oh!" Azurepaw meowed. "I'm happy to meet you."

Sagewhisp cleared his throat and glanced at his father. "Well, if we're all done here, I think I should take my apprentice for a tour of the territory." He dipped his head toward Aldergaze, then turned to Azurepaw. "Come on, Azurepaw." Sagewhisp padded toward the entrance of the camp with Azurepaw following at his heels.

"Sagewhisp," Aldergaze called.

Sagewhisp halted and looked back at his father.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about," Aldergaze meowed. He smiled. "You'll make a great mentor."

Azurepaw saw Sagewhisp's cheeks turn slightly pink. He cleared his throat, nodded, and left the camp. Azurepaw followed, wondering if Sagewhisp was nervous about teaching her---or, if it was something else.

. . . .

Darkwing perked up when Azurepaw and Sagewhisp returned. Timidly, he padded over to them and meowed a greeting. Sagewhisp didn't even look at the tom and started off for the leader's den. Azurepaw watched her mentor worriedly.

"It's getting late," Darkwing commented softly. "Have you eaten yet?"

Azurepaw shook her head and followed Darkwing to the prey-pile. She choose a thin mouse and the two cats settled down near a yew bush. Darkwing took a small bite out of his vole and gazed at Azurepaw with his brilliant blue eyes, a question swirling in them. After several minutes, Azurepaw concluded that he was too shy to ask her, so she smiled and meowed, "Got something on your mind?"

Darkwing's cheeks flushed for a brief second. "Y-yes," he stuttered. He looked down at his prey. "I... I wasn't sure if I sh-should ask or not. You know, it m-might not be my business. Just tell me if I crossed a line. But, um... I was wondering if everything went okay when Sagewhisp took you out on a tour of our territory."

"Oh..." Now it was Azurepaw's turn for her cheeks to flush. "Everything went alright," she answered slightly high-pitched. "Except... Well, I tried to catch a squirrel. Um---I didn't catch it." Azurepaw practically tried to hide under her half-eaten mouse as she continued. "We were nearing the WindClan border. I'm sure you know how the trees thin out around there. I saw the squirrel just sitting out in the open, so I kind of... strayed away from Sagewhisp's side and tried catching the squirrel. It ran away and I chased it. Apparently, it---it went over the border and I didn't notice."

"Oh." Darkwing blinked.

"Sagewhisp was furious," Azurepaw added. "He looked about ready to murder me."

"Well, I-I'm glad he caught you before a WindClan cat spotted you. You would've been in bigger trouble."

"Lesson learned," Azurepaw meowed. "I'll be more careful next time."

"Good. I don't want anything to happen to you---the Clan! I mean, the Clan wouldn't want anything to happen to you," Darkwing caught himself (a little too late). "'Cause you're n-new and everything, and I---WE don't want to lose you w-when you just started...." He continued to ramble on and on.

Azurepaw had never seen anyone's entire face turn that red. She felt bad for the shy black and brown tom. He got embarrassed so easily. "I understand," Azurepaw interrupted him. "I thank the Clan for caring so much about me already."

Darkwing managed to nod. And the rest of their meal was awkwardly silent.

. . . .

Azurepaw padded into the apprentice den after her meal. She could see that a nest was made for her and she slunk into it, feeling strangely exhausted. Before she could close her eyes, however, three young cats, arguing noisily, entered the den.

"And I'm telling you that Cedarpaw did it!" Growled a light-brown she-cat with yellow eyes.

"And I'm saying that you're a liar!" A gray tom, with a taupe-colored stripe between his eyes, retorted.

"No, you are!"

"Nah-uh!"

"Yeah-huh!"

"Nah-uh!"

"Shut up or I'll murder the both of you!" A white tom shouted. He looked exasperated and worn out. "Geez, you fools get more annoying every day."

"But---"

"No! Shut up! I don't care who put the burrs on my fur. I don't care anymore, alright?" The white tom suddenly turned and met Azurepaw's turquoise gaze, and he became mute. His siblings were equally startled to find someone in their den.

"Hi," Azurepaw meowed. "I'm---"

"We know who you are," the she-cat snapped, finding her voice first. She walked with her chin up over to her nest, the farthest from Azurepaw's.

"Hello," the gray tom meowed. He smiled, but it looked guarded, and he sat in the nest beside Azurepaw's. "I'm Cedarpaw. My brother is Icepaw, and the brat is Brightpaw."

"I am NOT a brat!" The she-cat snarled.

Cedarpaw rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and I'm a purple leaf."

"I'm gonna rip---"

"Enough!" Icepaw shouted again. "Can we not go to bed one night without fighting?" He turned to Azurepaw. "It's nice to meet, Azurepaw. Welcome to BlazingClan." He glared at his siblings and laid down.

Cedarpaw made a face at his brother, caught Azurepaw's eye, and snickered. As soon as he put his head on his paws, Icepaw swatted him over the ears. Cedarpaw flew at his brother and they latched onto each other. They rolled over Brightpaw, who growled furiously and started hitting both with accurate swipes.

Azurepaw leaped out of the way of flying paws and biting teeth. She scooted her nest to a corner of the den and laid back down.

She did not get a wink of sleep.

  • Sagewhisp
  • Fernclaw
  • Stonefrost
  • Aldergaze
  • Brightpaw
  • Cedarpaw
  • Icepaw

~ Chapter Twenty-Seven ~Edit

The next day Sagewhisp took Azurepaw hunting. They worked on her form and her footing for all sorts of prey. On account of yesterday's incident by the WindClan border, her mentor was unimpressed when she caught a squirrel---or any other prey, for that matter; he seemed greatly displeased, though Azurepaw couldn't understand why. He had worked her hard and she had done everything he asked, unquestioned.

After hunting, he took her to a small clearing, sand littering the ground. Brightpaw, Cedarpaw, and Icepaw were there with their mentors: Kestrelfeather, Cinderblossom, and Tigercloud. Scarletlily and Plumpaw were also there. Tigercloud, an orange and white cat with black stripes, greeted Sagewhisp and Azurepaw as they approached.

"Come for some sparring, have you?" She questioned.

"No," Sagewhisp replied. He glanced at Azurepaw. "I think she's had enough training for today."

"You weren't mean to her, were you?" A silver and brown she-cat asked, gazing sympathetically at Azurepaw, who looked quite tired.

Sagewhisp snorted. "I don't believe I was, but she may say otherwise."

"I am fine," Azurepaw spoke up and straightened to her full height. She didn't like how all the mentors were looking at her. It was as if they felt sorry for her. "I could've done a lot more, but Sagewhisp had me stop after I caught my fourth piece of prey." She knew she was bragging but the effect of her statement changed the mentors' expressions. To her satisfaction, they were impressed.

"You must be pleased your new apprentice is doing so well on her first day," a light brown and tan tom commented. For the first time, he took his eyes off Brightpaw and Plumpaw, who were sparring, and smiled at Azurepaw. But only for a second.

"Yeah," the silver she-cat, Cinderblossom, meowed. "That's mighty impressive for a new apprentice. I don't think anyone has caught four pieces of prey on their first day. Good job."

"Thank you," Azurepaw smiled and dipped her head.

"Don't get a big head," Sagewhisp muttered to her. "I brought her here to show her how to spar," he meowed more loudly. "I knew Plumpaw was coming today so I thought they could learn together."

"That's a good idea," Scarletlily meowed with a nod. "Though Plumpaw will be a few steps ahead."

Kestrelfeather, the tom, told Brightpaw and Plumpaw to cease fighting. Brightpaw, who had pinned her sister down with ease, stepped aside and gave a haughty glance at Azurepaw before getting in line beside her brothers. Plumpaw stood up and Azurepaw padded over to her. The medicine cat apprentice nodded shyly.

Kestrelfeather told Icepaw, Brightpaw, and Cedarpaw to stand before Azurepaw and Plumpaw. On his command, the three took up their basic fighting stances. He looked at the newbies. "I want you to look at them and tell me every characteristic you can find. Azurepaw, you may go first."

Azurepaw gazed at the three siblings in turn. Icepaw's stance looked flawless. At first she couldn't find anything to say, but then she noticed how his eyes would occasionally drift off and focus on a branch not too far behind her. She moved onto Brightpaw. The light brown she-cat was slightly taller than her brothers. Her stance was almost as perfect as Icepaw's. Her hind legs needed to be spread out a bit more. Finally, she went on to Cedarpaw. She hadn't noticed it before, but he was a bit chubbier than his siblings. She assumed it would make him less light on his feet and easier to strike. She respectfully related all her findings to Kestrelfeather.

Kestrelfeather nodded approvingly. He glanced at the other mentors. Why do they look surprised? Azurepaw wondered. Even Sagewhisp struggled to hide it.

"Have you, by chance, been in a clan before, Azurepaw?" Kestrelfeather asked.

"No," she answered, confused. "Did... Did I say something wrong?"

"No, no. It's just that you described these three quite accurately."

"You didn't leave me anything," Plumpaw meowed with admiration.

"What's most astonishing is that you knew Brightpaw's stance was off," Tigercloud meowed. Brightpaw's face reddened and she glared at Azurepaw. "How'd you know?" Tigercloud asked.

Azurepaw shrugged. "My older littermates gave me a few fighting tips," she answered simply.

"Tips?" Kestrelfeather asked. "They seemed to know what they were teaching, if you noticed that small detail. Were they in a clan?"

Azurepaw shook her head. "The only cat in my family whom I know was a clan cat was... was my ancestor Moonfang."

The she-cats gasped and the toms' eyes lit up in surprise. Every eye turned to Sagewhisp. He did not look shocked. His face was like a stone, cold and blank.

"Your ancestor was Moonfang?" Plumpaw asked.

"Yes..." Azurepaw glanced at Sagewhisp. "Why is everyone looking at him?"

Plumpaw looked uncomfortable. "Moonfang was Sagewhisp's brother."

Sagewhisp must have heard the medicine cat apprentice, for he gave her one withering glare, whipped around, and stalked off into the forest. Several minutes passed before anyone spoke.

"You get stranger by the minute," Brightpaw meowed scathingly.

"I wonder what other surprises you'll come up with," Tigercloud meowed thoughtfully.

"I think your training is done for today," Scarletlily meowed to Plumpaw. "You and Azurepaw follow me, please."

Scarletlily led the two young cats back to camp. Azurepaw realized they had followed Sagewhisp's scent trail. It led them to the leader's den. They stopped outside it.

"You knew didn't you?" Sagewhisp's accusing growl sounded from inside the den.

"I did," Blazestar answered.

"Why didn't you tell me before you made me her mentor?"

"Would it have influenced your decision on becoming her mentor?" Blazestar countered.

A moment passed before a quiet, yet firm "Yes" was heard by the eavesdroppers.

Blazestar sighed. "That's why I didn't tell you. I knew what you would say and do. You haven't grown up at all, have you?" Blazestar meowed. Azurepaw could almost see the burning disappointment on the leader's face.

Sagewhisp hissed. "He abandoned the Clan. He left everything behind so he could be dragged along by a filthy kittypet! You think I should forgive him of that? He was my brother, and he left me alone. Do you know what that was like? And so soon after---after Ebonydusk died."

"You felt betrayed like the rest of us," Blazestar meowed. "And even though I don't approve in the slightest, Moonfang did what he thought was right."

"He was selfish," Sagewhisp spat.

"I think you're being selfish. Did you think you could've had him forever? He was a medicine cat; he was supposed to give his heart to his Clan. You would've held him back from his job."

"Well, that doesn't matter now, does it? He's gone."

"He is gone, yes. But his kin has returned. Moonfang helped bring her back here."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Moonfang has visited Azurepaw before. She told me so herself."

"You mean, he's dead?" He sounded uncertain, as if he didn't know how to feel.

"Yes."

Silence followed for several minutes. Azurepaw and the medicine cats could hear Sagewhisp take a deep breath. "I wish you would have told me, at least that he was dead," he meowed at last. Then he answered Blazestar's question before she could ask it. "I will continue mentoring Azurepaw."

"This won't effect the way you treat her, will it?" Blazestar asked.

"No, Blazestar. She is Moonfang's kin... my kin, and I will train her well. I will make sure she doesn't make the same mistake as her ancestor."

"Good..." The golden she-cat paused. "I believe she is special, Sagewhisp. Scarletlily agrees. Guide her carefully."

Scarletlily finally nudged the apprentices away and walked toward the medicine cat den. "You may have heard too much," she meowed quietly.

"Blazestar thinks you're really special," Plumpaw whispered excitedly to Azurepaw. "I wonder why? And Moonfang had visited you before! What was that like?"

Azurepaw stared at the ground. It had been awful. In her first meeting with Moonfang she had learned about the prophecy that told her that her siblings would die by each other's claws. Truthfully, she wished Moonfang hadn't come to her. He was there when Sparrow uttered those horrible words, and he had told her there was nothing she could do to prevent them from coming true.

"It was strange," Azurepaw mumbled. Plumpaw saw the sorrowful expression on her face and didn't ask anything more.

. . . .

"So you met him?"

Azurepaw opened her eyes to a blinding light. She blinked and saw a black and white tom standing over her. She gave a low growl and stood up. "I don't want to talk to you, Moonfang."

Her ancestor ignored her. "What do you think of him?"

Azurepaw rolled her eyes. "Of who?"

"Sagewhisp."

"Oh..." Azurepaw turned away and glanced up at the canopy of bright green leaves above. The moon's light shone through, brightening the entire forest. "He doesn't like me."

"That's not really a surprise," Moonfang meowed with a humorless chuckle. "And now that he knows you're my kin, he probably won't like you even more."

"Great," she meowed sarcastically. She faced him. "Why do you care?"

"He is my brother, Azurepaw, and---"

"Not according to him."

Moonfang made a face, then put on an uneasy smile. "Well, whether he acknowledges it or not, I'm still his brother."

"But you're dead. So, technically, he really doesn't have a brother anymore," Azurepaw pointed out.

"Don't get smart with me, Azurepaw. I know how to make your life miserable."

"You've already succeeded," she meowed, her voice clipped. "Owl and Breeze killed each other and you gave me no hope of stopping them."

"That's because it was too late to do anything!" Moonfang snarled, losing his temper. Azurepaw shrunk away, for he suddenly seemed much bigger and frightening. "And I now see that they had to die," he continued. "You wouldn't have come to the lake if they hadn't died. You were meant to be here. In BlazingClan. Only in BlazingClan will you learn to defeat Silent Scream."

An ice cold chill swept through Azurepaw's core. "Defeat Silent Scream!?" She exclaimed. "What are you talking about? How can I---I don't want---I can't---"

"You will destroy her," Moonfang meowed, his yellow eyes boring into hers. "You don't have a choice."

I don't have a choice!? "But I'm---I'm only a kit," Azurepaw protested. "How could I ever kill Silent Scream. She is insanely strong and strongly insane!"

"It is your destiny to defeat her," Moonfang hissed.

"Like it was my siblings' destinies to die?" She hissed back.

"Yes! They didn't have a choice either. Nightmare and Shade were always going to try to enter their minds. Those two Dark Forest cats paid the price, but they were right in their decision. Everything that happened to you was a test of your strength. And there are still more tests to come."

Azurepaw shook her head, her heart beating furiously. "I don't want to be the one to defeat Silent Scream! Pick someone else! I can't take anymore of those---tests. I won't be able to survive another minute!"

"You will," Moonfang meowed, a dark glint in his eyes. "You'll have to. It's time for Silent Scream's reign to come to an end. She knows it's coming, and she is preparing every strength she has. You will kill her, or she will kill you. You don't have a choice."

"But---I---can't!" Azurepaw wailed. She felt the weight descending on her shoulders like a crashing wave. Her legs threatened to buckle. Moonfang had given her the burden to carry alone. She would have no help. She was all alone. Tears began to pour down her face.

"You shouldn't have told her like that," a new voice broke in. It was soft and familiar, yet the way in which those words were said tore at Moonfang like daggers. Azurepaw blinked through her tears and found Ebonydusk beside her. The star-lit tortoiseshell was glaring at Moonfang with a sort of silent rage. "Do you know what you've done? You're no better than Sparrow."

Moonfang growled indignantly. "I will not be compared to that wretched fox-heart!"

"Like father like son," Ebonydusk hissed. She turned to Azurepaw as Onyx slowly approached. Azurepaw raced over to Onyx and buried herself in his fur.

"It's alright, little one. It's alright," Onyx meowed comfortingly in her ear. He nuzzled her gently.

Azurepaw cried more as she spoke. "I've been singled out to kill Silent Scream. I can't do it. She haunts my dreams, Onyx. She scares me. How can I be brave enough to face her and kill her when she already has me cornered? What do I do? What can I do?" She looked up at him pleadingly.

Onyx's face was wrapped in pain and his words were very quiet. "There's nothing you can do but train your hardest. I will be with you always, and I will be with you to defeat Silent Scream." He paused. "If you need to talk to anyone about this, you can trust Mysterysoul. She will listen and she will understand."

"I can't do this," Azurepaw moaned softly.

Onyx nuzzled her again. "You are stronger than you think, and you will get even stronger. I... I love you, Azure. Your trial will be dark and difficult, but you will make it through. I know you will..."

Then, he was gone, along with everyone else.

  • Kestrelfeather
  • Cinderblossom
  • Tigercloud

~ Chapter Twenty-Eight ~ Edit

Azurepaw was woken up by a hard shove. Brightpaw stood over her, looking thoroughly annoyed. "Is something wrong?" Azurepaw asked.

"Yes," Brightpaw hissed. "You were whimpering loudly in your sleep. It woke us up."

"Icepaw is still asleep, though," Cedarpaw meowed through a yawn.

"I'm sorry, guys," Azurepaw apologized. "I just had a bad dream...."

"It's alright. What were you dreaming about?" Cedarpaw asked curiously. He fixed his position so he could stare at her with his intent brown eyes.

"Who cares?" Brightpaw meowed with an eye-roll as she went to her nest. "Go to sleep."

"Will you tell me about it?" Cedarpaw pressed. "I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."

Brightpaw saved Azurepaw from answering. "She's not going to tell you anything. Who would want to? I better not hear a word out of either of you or I'll claw your ears off. If that doesn't do the trick, I'll go complain to my mentor, and he'll put you in your place for me."

"So on top of a mouse brain, you're also a whining kit," Cedarpaw meowed, irritated with his sister.

"I'm warning you, Cedarpaw."

"And now you're acting tough. Do you really think I'm going to be afraid of you? You shouldn't even be out of the nursery yet! Why don't you crawl back to mother?"

"THAT'S IT!"

Just as Brightpaw was about to launch herself at Cedarpaw, Icepaw popped up, startling them all. He gave Brightpaw such a frightening glare that she shrank, flattening herself against her nest.

"Cedarpaw started it," she whimpered.

Icepaw spun to face his brother. Cedarpaw swallowed and smiled uncertainly. "A---A f-fine night, isn't it?"

"Go. To. Sleep," Icepaw growled.

"Yes, Icepaw," his siblings meowed in unison. They quickly curled up and closed their eyes.

Icepaw glared at them a moment longer. Then he smiled pleasantly at Azurepaw. "Goodnight."

"Good---goodnight," Azurepaw stammered. She lay down and quickly went back to sleep. It felt like only seconds had past, however, when she was awakened by another shove, harsher than before. What now? Groggily, she lifted her head and met the glowing green eyes of Sagewhisp.

"Get up," her mentor meowed in a commanding whisper.

"Is something wrong?" She asked worriedly.

"No. You and I are scheduled to do the dawn patrol." Without waiting for her response he left the den.

Azurepaw hurried to follow. A beautiful sunrise met her eyes and instantly all sleepiness left her. It was still dark above, but the horizon passed the trees showed the golden sun against a yellow, pink, blue, and purple, cloudless sky. It lifted Azurepaw's heart a tad after her awful dream. She tore her eyes away from the magnificent scene and came in step beside her mentor. "Does the dawn patrol always wake up to that?" She asked Sagewhisp. She looked at the sky once more.

He followed her gaze and smiled slightly. "I suppose so, yes."

"Then I want to be on the dawn patrol every morning," she declared.

The deputy, Bearfur, whom Azurepaw had met in the medicine cat den along with Blazestar, overheard her. With an approving grin, that was still somehow stern, he meowed: "I like your enthusiasm. I hope it rubs off on those two lazy bums."

Azurepaw saw two she-cats sitting by the entrance of camp. The one with black and brown spotted fur was slumped against the other, clearly snoozing. The other she-cat, who had a yellow-orange pelt, was only half awake. Her eyes flickered open when the three approached and she immediately perked up. She nudged her friend, who fell over.

Bearfur sighed. "Wake up, Blackhawk."

The black and brown she-cat opened one green eye and gazed lazily at Bearfur. "I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I was just having this darling dream."

"I don't care about your dream. We have a job to do."

Blackhawk stood reluctantly. "Just for that, I won't tell you about it."

"That's good, 'cause I didn't want to hear it. Now, I would like---"

"I have a question before we discuss our course, brother. Why, in the name of StarClan, did you pick me for this patrol? You know I'm not a morning cat."

Bearfur sighed again. "I chose you specifically because we could use your eyes."---(Blackhawk got the "hawk" part of her name because of her excellent eyesight.)---"The last patrol detected some suspicious activity by the RiverClan border. Seems they have been fishing on our side of the river."

Blackhawk huffed. "You're dang right you need my eyes, but they generally work much better, say, midday."

"Shut up," the deputy meowed. "We're going to check the RiverClan border first, then move around the rest of the territory." Without another word, he went through the exit to camp. Sagewhisp and Azurepaw followed with the yellow-orange she-cat behind them. Blackhawk took the rear, mumbling things behind her brother's back.

The run went smoothly. All was quiet on the RiverClan border. It was obvious that several RiverClan cats had been fishing on their side, since certain areas of ice had been broken. Azurepaw was praised for finding pawprints that the other patrol had not discovered (and Bearfur scolded his sister for letting an apprentice find the clue first). The rest of the borders were silent and the patrol headed back to camp. Sagewhisp told Azurepaw that she may go back to sleep and that he would wake her when it was time to train. She gladly crawled back into her nest and fell asleep.

She woke up before noon to the sound of Bearfur shouting orders to the warriors. She looked out of the den to see several cats bringing brambles to the nursery. They were taking the brambles down around the yew bush and rearranging them. Azurepaw went to the fresh-kill pile, her stomach growling. She noticed Agro watching the construction from outside the medicine cat den. She picked a shrew and walked over to him. "Hello," she meowed after she put down her prey.

Agro glanced at her, then turned away. "It gets lonely in that dark cave, ya know."

Azurepaw felt guilty; she hadn't seen him in a few days. "I'm sorry," she meowed. "I've been busy with training."

"Too busy to visit me, huh? So, what? Now that you belong to this clan, I don't matter anymore?"

"No, of course not! I just---I have a lot going on right now, that's all..."

"And you forgot about me. I get it. You don't need me anymore, so you're tossing me aside."

Azurepaw swallowed back an angry retort. Why is he acting this way? He can't be that mad that I haven't spoken to him since my apprentice ceremony. Then she remembered his strange sickness and thought it was probably taking a toll on his temper. She didn't want to fight with him again. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I was a bad friend to forget you." She nudged the shrew closer to him. "I've got a shrew. Want to share?"

Agro glared at her. "Why don't you share with him." With his nose he pointed to Darkwing, who was padding toward the fresh-kill pile. "He's been looking for an excuse to be with you." Agro went back inside the medicine cat den with a growl.

Azurepaw frowned, feeling rejected. She looked at Darkwing. He had been nothing but nice to her since she came to BlazingClan. She tilted her head. Was it true that he was trying to find excuses just to be with her? The thought made her heart do a little fluttering dance, but she didn't know why. She picked the shrew and walked over to the black and brown tom. Fine, Agro. If that's how you want it, I'll share with Darkwing.

"Hi, Darkwing," Azurepaw greeted him around her piece of prey.

Darkwing jumped. "H-hi, Azurepaw. I-I didn't hear you coming."

She laughed. "Want to share this shrew?"

The tom smiled shyly. "Sure."

They found a place in the sun, a few yards away from the cats working on the nursery. Azurepaw took a bite of food and glanced at the construction. "So, what are they doing?"

Darkwing followed her gaze. "Oh. They're building a bigger nursery. Scarletlily says Copperthorn is going to have kits soon, so they want to be ready for her when she does." He looked back at Azurepaw. "Copperthorn is Sagewhisp's mate, you know."

"She is?" Azurepaw asked intrigued. She didn't think her mentor would be the type to want a mate and kits. She looked down at her paws guiltily, thinking that that thought was probably disrespectful.

Darkwing nodded in answer to her question. "She's the she-cat talking to Blazestar over by the CrystaledRock."

Azurepaw glanced up to see a brown-ish tortoiseshell she-cat listening to Blazestar. Her eyes were a beautiful aqua green and they twinkled when she laughed. "She's very pretty."

Darkwing nodded again, though he was still looking at Azurepaw. Quickly, he took a bite of shrew.

They chatted about their day so far as they ate. When they each had their fill, they began to watch the warriors work once more. Azurepaw noticed Mysterysoul also watching the workers, and she was reminded of her dream. Onyx had told the apprentice that she could talk to Mysterysoul, if she needed to. Azurepaw suddenly felt a desperate need to talk to someone about her dream. Slowly, she got up.

"It---It was nice talking to you, Darkwing," Azurepaw meowed with a smile. "I'll see you around."

Darkwing returned the smile, his face reddening slightly. "Yeah," he managed to mew.

Azurepaw dipped her head and padded toward Mysterysoul. She wondered why Onyx said that the queen could help her. What did Mysterysoul know? Azurepaw became incredibly nervous as she neared the big black she-cat, since their first two encounters hadn't gone so smoothly. But when she began to have doubts and wanted to turn back, it was too late. Mysterysoul saw her and watched her approach, looking as if she were about to snarl. "H-hi," Azurepaw squeaked.

Mysterysoul raised an eyebrow. "Hello."

"M-may I-I---" Azurepaw cleared her throat. "May I talk to you in private?"

"No," the queen meowed immediately. "I'm busy."

"Oh, just for a moment? I---"

"No."

"But it's important!"

"No!" Mysterysoul growled firmly. She turned to walk away.

"Please," Azurepaw begged. "I have to talk to someone."

Mysterysoul looked at Azurepaw. She heard the desperation in the apprentice's voice and saw the fear etched onto her face. "Alright..." Mysterysoul meowed quietly. "Make it short. Let's go into the forest."

Azurepaw gave a relieved sigh. Mysterysoul told Stonefrost to watch the kits, who had been playing only a yard away from where she and Azurepaw had had their short conversation. Then, they left camp.

"What do you want?" Mysterysoul asked gently, once the two were alone under the leafless trees.

Azurepaw was taken aback by the softness in the she-cat's voice. She forced herself to relax and walked side-by-side her, matching step for step. "I..." Azurepaw hesitated, unsure of how to begin. "I should apologize first... I probably embarrassed you when I announced that Owl and Breeze---that Foxkit and Badgerkit are my siblings. I know it made me look crazy, and I know it made you look worse. I---I was just so happy that I'd finally found them. I wasn't thinking about anything else. Or that they could've been anyone else's. They had always been there for me; they had always been mine. What---what I'm trying to say is---"

"Oh, shut up." Mysterysoul stopped walking and looked Azurepaw right in the eye. Azurepaw, startled, had stopped, too. The queen took a deep breath. "Blazestar told me that you had lost your brother and sister. They were all you had. She also told me that my kits... my kits are your siblings and they went through some weird reincarnation thingy." Mysterysoul paused, looking a little uncomfortable. "Look... I... I should be the one to apologize. I've been unkind to you and you don't deserve it. You've been through a lot already. I'm... I'm sorry I added to it."

Azurepaw blinked. Never in a million moons did she think Mysterysoul would apologize, and especially to her. But then Azurepaw smiled. To her, it meant that Mysterysoul was a good cat. Good and trustworthy. Now she knew she could trust the queen. Onyx was right. "Apology accepted," she meowed.

Mysterysoul smiled slightly and nodded. "Let's go to the lake."

When they arrived there, they sat on the shore and gazed at the white-blue ice as it glittered in the sunlight. Azurepaw took a deep breath and summed up her courage to speak. She looked at Mysterysoul. "I had a dream last night. My ancestors visited me." She paused, waiting for a reaction, but the black she-cat continued to stare out at the lake.

"Was Moonfang one of them?" The queen asked.

So she heard he was my ancestor. "Yes. He... He told me that I will have to kill Silent Scream."

Mysterysoul looked up sharply upon hearing the name and she stared at Azurepaw. Rage blossomed in her yellow eyes. "Silent Scream?" Her voice came out very quiet and dangerous.

"Yes," Azurepaw answered, feeling uncertain. "You know who that is?" She had expected that she would have needed to explain who Silent Scream was. Apparently, that was not the case. Azurepaw was half glad that she wouldn't have to introduce the queen to the leader of the Dark Forest.

"Oh, yes, I know her," Mysterysoul spat. "Ya might say I know her well. Too well. She tried to use me."

Azurepaw had to stifle a gasp. "U-use you?" She choked out.

The queen nodded. She calmed down a little and turned back toward the lake. "I suppose I should tell you the whole story." She paused. "My mother, Foxfur, died shortly after mine and my sister's birth. Then, when we were apprentices my sister, Pearlheart, was killed by a WindClan warrior."

"Oh," Azurepaw meowed sympathetically. "Oh, I'm so sorry."

Mysterysoul went on. "When I was made a warrior, I vowed to kill that WindClan cat. Silent Scream... helped me. She trained me, and I grew stronger while my heart grew colder. She tried to turn me against BlazingClan, but I didn't. But I would have if..." The she-cat drifted off. She blinked, then cleared her throat. "At last I found Pearlheart's murderer and we fought. And... I killed him, but I almost died in the process. I blacked out and woke up in StarClan. Foxfur and Pearlheart were there. They told me that Silent Scream would have used me to kill a lot of other cats, but somehow they saved me. They wouldn't tell me, but whatever they did made Silent Scream forget about me. I wasn't hers anymore." Mysterysoul shuddered. "I was punished, though, for wanting---getting revenge." She looked down at her four scarlet-colored paws and Azurepaw followed her gaze. "They're stained with blood to remind me to never again seek revenge."

That was a lot to take in. Azurepaw didn't know what to say.

Mysterysoul looked at the apprentice. "So now Moonfang wants you to kill Silent Scream." She scowled. "That burden shouldn't have been left to a kit."

Azurepaw nodded feebly. After hearing Mysterysoul's story and knowing what she was destined to do, she felt overwhelmed. Silent Scream seemed even more terrifying. "What am I going to do?" She suddenly cried.

"You must train," Mysterysoul meowed simply. "Train your hardest."

"But how will that help me when Silent Scream is so powerful?"

"This is easier said than done, but you need to become more powerful than she is." Mysterysoul shrugged. "I don't mean to worry you even more, but that sounds impossible."

Azurepaw's chin quivered as she spoke. "That's exactly what you've done." She began to cry.

"Oh, don't do that!" Mysterysoul meowed. She came to Azurepaw's side, not sure what to do or say. "Look what you've done," she chided herself.

"I'm sorry," Azurepaw sniffed. "It's just... I've been holding them back all morning."

"No---it's alright. I---I shouldn't have said that. Uh..." Mysterysoul awkwardly laid her tail on the apprentice's back. A thought struck her. "It---It's probably not impossible after all."

"Well, now you're just saying that."

"No, really! I don't believe StarClan would've chosen you for this if you weren't capable of beating Silent Scream. You must already be as powerful as her!... Or pretty close."

"But---but I don't feel strong!"

Mysterysoul rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. It's not about feeling strong. It's a plain fact. You're just stronger than you realize."

"That's what Onyx said," Azurepaw murmured thoughtfully. Mysterysoul tilted her head questioningly, but Azurepaw didn't explain. She wiped the tears away from her eyes and looked up at the queen. "You think I can do it? You think I'm able to... to kill Silent Scream?"

Mysterysoul nodded firmly. "I do. And I'll help you in any way I can."

A thin thread of hope weaved its way around Azurepaw's mind. She smiled gratefully. "Thank you."

  • Blackhawk
  • Copperthorn
  • Foxfur
  • Pearlheart

~ Chapter Twenty-Nine ~ Edit

Azurepaw and Mysterysoul entered the BlazingClan camp. Sagewhisp saw them and walked over. Uh-oh, Azurepaw thought. He looked like he was in a bad mood.

"Where have you been?" Her mentor growled. "I've been looking everywhere. We could have used your help with building the new nursery."

"I'm sorry, Sagewhisp," Azurepaw apologized with a dip of her head. "I had to talk to Mysterysoul; it was important."

"I doubt it was so important that you couldn't have waited until we all shared tongues. You're going to need a better excuse."

"We only went out for a walk," Mysterysoul meowed. Azurepaw could tell that the queen was struggling not to raise her voice. "Like Azurepaw said, we had some important things to discuss."

"Like what?"

"That's between us she-cat's only."

Sagewhisp narrowed his eyes. "Fine. Whatever. The next time you want to steal my apprentice, how 'bout you, at least, ask me first."

Mysterysoul smirked. "But then it wouldn't be stealing. I'd only be borrowing."

They looked as if they were about to snarl, but then a pretty brown-ish tortoiseshell popped up unexpectedly by Sagewhisp, and their expressions completely changed to pleasant smiles.

"Getting along, I hope?" The she-cat asked teasingly.

"Of course, Copperthorn," Sagewhisp meowed.

"We always get along," Mysterysoul added.

Copperthorn smiled and shook her head. "You do realize that it is super obvious when both of you are lying, right?"

"Yes," Sagewhisp meowed, defeated, at the same time Mysterysoul meowed "No."

Azurepaw suppressed a laugh. She liked Copperthorn already. And the soon-to-be queen was even prettier up close, though Azurepaw noted that she had a big nose.

"Why don't you help me move my nest to the nursery," Copperthorn meowed.

"I'd be glad to," Sagewhisp meowed. He licked her ear, then went off to grab her nest. Copperthorn winked at Azurepaw and Mysterysoul, laughed to herself, and then waddled along to follow her mate.

"I don't see what she sees in him," Mysterysoul commented with a shake of her head. "Well, I'll see you around, Azurepaw." She padded to the nursery.

Azurepaw walked to the apprentice den. Suddenly, Scarletlily emerged from the medicine cat den. "A-Azurepaw!" She gasped, accidentally catching the apprentice's eye.

Quickly, Azurepaw raced to her. "What is it?"

Scarletlily looked shocked and uncertain. "Er---It's nothing. I---It was a mistake."

"Are you sure?" Azurepaw meowed, disbelievingly.

"Uh---Yes."

"If you say so. May I go see Agro?"

"Absolutely not!" The medicine cat hastily moved so her whole body blocked most of the entrance to the den.

Panic instantly flooded over Azurepaw. "Why not?! What's wrong?!"

Scarletlily knew she could have handled that better. She tried to calm her own fears enough to answer calmly. "He's---very sick."

"Is he going to die?!"

Scarletlily opened her mouth, then closed it. Then she meowed, "I don't know. I must talk to Blazestar now. Azurepaw---" Again, she looked as if she were going to say something and stopped.

"What's wrong with Agro?!" Azurepaw demanded. She tried to get into the den, but Scarletlily pushed her back.

"You can't!" The medicine cat meowed, becoming stern. "Azurepaw, under no circumstances are you allowed to enter this den. That's an order. Do you understand me?"

Now Azurepaw felt she had to get in even more than before. "I have to see him! He---he might need me!" She tried once more to get in, but Scarletlily wouldn't let her.

"No, Azurepaw!" The she-cat looked into the apprentice's frightened eyes. "You need to stay away from Agro until... until I can heal him. Please. It is very important that you listen."

Azurepaw was trembling, though she managed an unconvincing and feeble nod.

"Good. Now... Now go to the apprentice den."

Very reluctantly, Azurepaw obeyed. She waited several minutes for Scarletlily to go to Blazestar's den before she went back out. But to her utter dismay, the medicine cat had placed warriors in front of the entrance to guard her den.

Azurepaw's heart plummeted. Now what was she supposed to do? She was determined to get in somehow! Slowly, she approached the warriors, whose names were Fernclaw and Gingerfall. They looked at her curiously, as if waiting for her to try to get passed them.

"Hello," Azurepaw meowed sweetly and innocently. "Scarletlily wants me to grab an herb for her. May I come in?"

"No," Fernclaw meowed immediately.

"But---"

"If Scarletlily wanted an herb, she would either get it herself, or have Plumpaw fetch it."

"Well, she couldn't find Plumpaw, so she asked me," Azurepaw meowed hotly.

Fernclaw opened his mouth to retort, but Gingerfall nudged him and her mate remained silent. The orange she-cat smiled at the apprentice and meowed, "Azurepaw, dear, Scarletlily gave us specific instructions not to let anyone in, especially you."

"Please," Azurepaw begged, losing all composure. "I have to get in there. Agro needs my help."

"Yeah?" Fernclaw growled. "And what help would you be?"

Azurepaw took a step back, stung. Gingerfall shot her mate a look. "That was a bit uncalled for," she hissed.

"Azurepaw!"

Azurepaw instinctively turned at the sound of her name. Her mentor was padding toward her.

"We're going on a hunting patrol," he meowed. "Then, we'll do some training." When Azurepaw didn't respond or move, he growled, "Come on."

Azurepaw went with him reluctantly to join the others on the patrol. She couldn't help looking back at the medicine cat den with almost every step.

"Is something wrong?" Sagewhisp asked.

"Agro is sick, and Scarletlily won't let me into her den." She looked up at the tom's face. "I'm scared."

Sagewhisp blinked. Then, he tried to smile. "Warriors aren't suppose to get scared."

"I'm not a warrior."

"But you will be one day." Sagewhisp stopped walking, so Azurepaw did, too. "I'm going to teach you how to overcome your fears."

He sounded like he meant it. Though Azurepaw was grateful, she doubted that she would ever overcome her fears. With the burden she carried, nothing really seemed possible. However, for her mentor's sake, she lifted her chin and nodded.

They met a gray and black she-cat with taupe splotches at the entrance of camp. Darkwing was beside her. He smiled.

"It took you long enough," the she-cat, named Twilightflare, meowed, feigning annoyance. "Let's go."

The four cats went toward the WindClan border. They each caught a piece of prey. As they headed back to camp, Azurepaw spotted a squirrel digging around for a nut it had buried. The closest tree was several feet away. Sagewhisp and Twilightflare han't noticed it; they were farther ahead. Azurepaw whacked Darkwing's tail, who was in front of her, to get his attention. She motioned toward the squirrel. They dropped the prey they were carrying, and Darkwing circled their preoccupied quarry. Once in position, he pounced. The squirrel scurried away just in time and made a dash for the tree. Azurepaw was waiting there, however, and easily caught it between her paws and snapped its neck.

"Nice catch!" Darkwing praised her.

"I wouldn't have caught it without your help," she meowed modestly.

"Oh, I'm sure you could have," he replied with a smile. Azurepaw went to grab her other piece of prey and didn't reply. "Hey, um," Darkwing began, coming beside her, "are you alright?"

"Huh?"

"It's just... you didn't seem yourself when we left camp."

"Oh." She hadn't thought her mood was noticeable. "I have a lot on my mind," she meowed vaguely.

"Would you like to talk about what's on your mind?" He offered.

Azurepaw sighed. She was about to turn him down when she realized he genuinely cared about her problems. She stared at him for a long moment, then she spilled the beans. She told Darkwing about Agro and what was weighing her down even more: the inevitable battle with Silent Scream. To her surprise, Darkwing already knew of Silent Scream. He told Azurepaw that he and Mysterysoul were close friends and that the queen had revealed to him everything that had happened between her and the Dark Forest ruler.

"I wasn't able to help Mysterysoul with everything she had been going through," he meowed regretfully. "She shut everyone out, including her father Redstone." Darkwing looked at Azurepaw with fire in his eyes. She had never seen him angry before. "I'm tired of Silent Scream hurting cats I care about!" He declared with a growl. "Azurepaw, if you'll let me, I would like to help you. I don't know with what exactly, but I want to help."

Azurepaw thought her heart would burst with gratitude. It seemed that every time she was about to despair, someone always renewed her hope and she knew she couldn't give up. "Of course you can help!" She licked his cheek. "You've already done plenty."

. . . .

A moon had passed. Azurepaw trained harder than she ever thought possible. Darkwing was her sparring partner constantly. Sagewhisp had only approved of it because he knew Darkwing was an excellent warrior; he wouldn't show Azurepaw mercy. Mysterysoul often came to watch them spar, and she would sometimes bring her kits. Much to Sagewhisp's annoyance, she would also give his apprentice advice. Azurepaw was soon good enough to beat Darkwing several times.

One day, Sagewhisp announced that he would spar Azurepaw. He fought unfairly on purpose. Azurepaw grew frustrated and she called him out on it after being successfully pinned five times.

"Do you think your opponent will fight fairly in a battle?" Sagewhisp demanded. "I can tell you for certain that they won't. They are going to do everything they can to defeat you. Watch their eyes. Their eyes will tell you how they plan to strike. Let's go again."

So they fought again and Azurepaw dodged his every move and landed every one of her blows. When she had pinned him at last, it caught him off guard. She let him up and he smiled the sincerest and handsomest smile. "Good job," he meowed, his voice full of pride.

Even though Azurepaw had made outstanding progress, there was one thing that put a damper on her happiness, and that was the fact that Agro wasn't getting better. He seemed to get worse instead. Azurepaw was still not allowed to see him. Occasionally, Scarletlily and Blazestar would take him out of camp, they said, "to get some fresh air." Every time Azurepaw tried to follow, Sagewhisp would suddenly pop out of nowhere and give her a chore to do around camp.

But one day, Azurepaw discovered that Agro was something more than sick.

. . . .

"She's getting stronger like we feared. Are you sure the time is close?"

"Of course I am---I can smell the blood. He's done it! The time is now."

Azurepaw woke up. She was shaking and breathing heavy. The sun blinded her and she looked away, right into the eyes of Cricketkit. He looked frightened and his mouth was moving but she couldn't hear the words. What happened? She tried to speak but found she couldn't. It was like her jaw was stuck. Then everything came back to her at once.

"Azure!" Cricketkit was shouting. "Azure---paw, are you alright?!"

Azurepaw lifted her head. More than half the clan was gathered around her. They were all worried and puzzled.

"Are you alright?" Cricketkit asked again.

"Yes," Azurepaw replied hoarsely. "I'm okay now." She stopped shaking and her breathing grew normal. "What happened?"

"You blacked out," Mysterysoul meowed, stepping forward with Stonefrost, Badgerkit, and Foxkit. They looked afraid.

"I was so scared," Cricketkit meowed, his voice trembling. "We were in the middle of playing, and then you fainted."

"But you were saying things..." Mysterysoul meowed hesitantly. "In voices that weren't your own."

Azurepaw suddenly remembered her dream. Silent Scream and Nightmare were talking, but she couldn't see them. They were waiting for something, for something to start. Who was the "he" that Silent Scream mentioned? Azurepaw told her dream to Mysterysoul.

Sagewhisp brought Azurepaw some wet moss, then he told everyone to go about their business; he would take care of his apprentice. Mysterysoul, Cricketkit, and Darkwing remained.

"Its the battle," Mysterysoul murmured. "It's going to begin."

"What battle?" Sagewhisp asked.

Azurepaw's heartbeat quickened and she stood up. "Do you think it's gonna start right now?"

"What battle?" Cricketkit asked.

"How should I know?" Mysterysoul meowed in answer to Azurepaw's question.

"What should I do to prepare?" Azurepaw inquired hastily.

"I think you've done all you can," Mysterysoul told her.

"What are you talking about?!" Sagewhisp and Cricketkit demanded simultaneously.

Azurepaw quickly told them about her impending battle with Silent Scream, explaining everything.

"Oh, Azure!" Cricketkit exclaimed.

"So that's why you've been trying so hard for the past moon," Sagewhisp meowed thoughtfully. He glanced at Darkwing. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

Darkwing nodded. "I wanted to help."

Sagewhisp looked at Azurepaw, hurt. "Why didn't you tell me? I'm your mentor!"

"No offense, but you're not someone who's easy to talk to," Mysterysoul meowed flatly.

"What's going to happen to you?" Cricketkit meowed.

Azurepaw looked down at him. She licked his ears and smiled wanly. "I'm not sure." She turned to Mysterysoul. "Should I tell Blazestar or Scarletlily that it's about to happen?"

The queen shook her head. "Can't. Both of them are out with Agro."

"I'll get them," Darkwing offered. He went to the entrance of camp just as Plumpaw came charging in and she nearly rammed into him.

"Help!" She shrieked, her eyes wide with fear. "Agro attacked Blazestar and Scarletlily!"

  • Gingerfall
  • Twilightflare
  • Redstone (without burned patches)

~ Chapter Thirty ~ Edit

Gasps sounded from every cat and the warriors crowded around the medicine cat apprentice to learn all she knew. Azurepaw pushed her way up to the front, Cricketkit behind her.

"Are you sure Agro attacked them?" Bearfur questioned Plumpaw.

"Yes!" She gasped. Tears poured down her face.

"I thought he was supposed to be sick," a black and white tom with gray flecks, named Falconflight, meowed through narrowed eyes.

"So did I," Plumpaw cried.

"Tell us what happened," Bearfur ordered.

Plumpaw took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. "W-well, we took Agro out of camp, l-like we've been doing. Blazestar suggested going down to the lake. When w-we got there, something t-terrifying happened. A-Agro fell over and s-started writhing as if he was in pain. Th-then he started screaming, b-but n-no sound came from his mouth. It echoed all around my head." Plumpaw closed her eyes and whimpered as if she could still hear Agro's anguished screams. "Then, he suddenly stopped. He slowly stood up, and he looked at us---Oh, it was horrible! We just knew something was awfully wrong!"

Whitewhisker, a snow-white she-cat, who was Plumpaw's mother, put her tail around her daughter comfortingly and licked her ears. "It's okay, darling," she murmured. "It's okay."

"No, it's not!" Plumpaw shouted. "He attacked Blazestar first, and then Scarletlily when she tried to stop him. Then, he came at me and pinned me down. He told me to come back here---to camp. He wanted me to get Azurepaw." Plumpaw looked up at Azurepaw fearfully. "He wants you to go to the lake alone, or he'll kill Blazestar and Scarletlily."

Azurepaw felt every gaze fall on her. "What would Agro want with her?" Cloudbreeze sneered.

"That's beside the point," Bearfur growled at the she-cat. He turned back to his daughter. "Are you sure that's what he said?"

The medicine cat apprentice nodded.

"What are we going to do?" meowed Lightningstripe, a black tom with a golden streak down his back.

"I'll take a patrol down to the lake," answered Bearfur. "Agro apparently thinks he can push BlazingClan around, seeing what he's done to our leader and medicine cat. I will---"

"No!" Azurepaw meowed suddenly. "Agro wants me. I have to go alone."

"You're crazy if you think I'm going to let you face him by yourself," Bearfur meowed. "He's clearly insane."

"But you heard what Plumpaw said! Agro will kill Blazestar and Scarletlily if I don't go alone. What do you think will happen if a patrol shows up with or without me?"

"You might have a point," the deputy muttered concedingly.

"But, Azurepaw!" Mysterysoul meowed worriedly, coming to the apprentice's side. She looked hesitantly around at her clanmates for a brief moment, then faced Azurepaw. "What about... the battle?"

"It clearly hasn't started yet," Azurepaw whispered. "I still have time to stop Agro from making a huge mistake---a bigger mistake." She turned to face the crowd of cats. "I'm going out to meet Agro. Alone," she announced. She started out the exit when Cricketkit blocked her path.

"Azurepaw, you can't go out there," he pleaded, frightened. "Agro could kill you."

Azurepaw said nothing for several seconds, too shocked by the idea that Agro would harm her. "I-I'm sure he wouldn't," she told her friend. "Besides, if I don't go, then he might hurt Blazestar or Scarletlily and I can't let that happen. My life isn't worth as much as theirs."

"It is to a lot of us," meowed a voice behind them. Azurepaw turned, surprised to see Sagewhisp backed up by almost every cat in the clan. "Have you forgotten that you're one of us now?"

"Sagewhisp---" Azurepaw started.

"No, no. Be quiet and let me finish. You're a BlazingClan cat, Azurepaw, and my apprentice. It's my job as your mentor to teach you in the ways of our clan and more importantly, I think, to make sure you don't get yourself killed. So, whether you like it or not, I'm coming with you."

"I'm going, too," Darkwing meowed.

"I will, too," Mysterysoul meowed, and several others decided they would follow her as well.

"We'll follow at a distance," Bearfur meowed to Azurepaw. "That way Agro will think you are alone."

Azurepaw smiled, her heart swelling. "Thank you, everyone. But I believe your caution is unnecessary. You don't have to do this."

"Nonsense," Sagewhisp meowed. "We want to."

Azurepaw could see that there was no use continuing to argue. "Well, then, let's go!" She quickly nuzzled Cricketkit, then raced out of camp.

Even though she was confident that Agro would not hurt her, she began to feel nervous as she neared the lake. What would possess Agro to attack Blazestar and Scarletlily? Azurepaw suddenly skidded to a halt. Was he possessed? Was it like the situation with Owl and Breeze when Shade and Nightmare controlled their minds? If so, who was controlling Agro, and why? Azurepaw began to panic as she continued to run. She hoped she wouldn't have to fight him. But what if you're wrong about him and you do have to fight him?

Azurepaw smelled blood. She broke through the trees, stopping in the space between the treeline and the shore. Agro sat at the shore, facing away from her. Blazestar and Scarletlily lay motionless off to the side, their pelts covered in blood. Azurepaw breathed a sigh of relief when she saw their chests moving---just barely. She took a step forward.

Agro's eat twitched and he turned his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Azurepaw. He looked back at the lake, chunks of ice still covering a quarter of it. "I didn't want to do it," he meowed so quietly that Azurepaw had to strain her ears to hear. "But I had to. Oh, Azure, why did you come? Do you know what's going to happen?"

Azurepaw swallowed and answered clearly. "I've come to help you, Agro."

"Help me?" He laughed humorlessly. "You can't help me. It's too late. Much too late."

"But I can if you only let me." Azurepaw hesitated before going on, for she didn't really know how she could help him. Could she even help me? She had tried to help Breeze and Owl, and they were dead.

"You'd be wasting your time. I'm already gone...."

"No, you're not!"

"Yes, Azure, I am!" Agro snarled. He spun to face her.

Azurepaw took a step back as ice-cold chills ran up and down her spine. "No..." She breathed disbelievingly. She saw the real reason why Plumpaw had feared him so much. His blue eyes, which had always uneased Azurepaw for some unknown reason, seemed to have been hollowed out and filled in with a heart-stopping rage. There was a wild look about them, as if all the hate in the world rested solely in his blue orbs. And there was no more room for Azurepaw; she had been replaced by hate. In his eyes, she was nothing, nothing more than a fallen leaf to be crushed beneath his paws. What's worse is that she knew it was him. This was Agro. He had never been sick. He wasn't possessed. No one was controlling his mind. He was just finally showing her what he never wanted her to see.

She understood why he had really come to the lake. He had hoped, falsely, that a medicine cat from any clan would be able to get out whatever darkness was inside of him. He had wanted to be free, Azurepaw thought sorrowfully. But it wasn't meant to be, because somehow Silent Scream had gotten hold of him. Azurepaw now knew why she had never felt safe under his gaze---his blue eyes matched Silent Scream's perfectly. How she had not known was beyond her, because it was so clear now.

"You're Silent Scream's," Azurepaw murmured. "You've always been." Azurepaw's eyes stung from the tears she was holding back. She felt betrayed, the pain in her heart was almost overwhelming.

"I'm heir to the throne, ya might say," Agro meowed. "It was always mine... but I've never wanted it. Or maybe I have... I tasted blood at a young age and never could get the taste out of my mouth. I need it. I was born to slaughter and drink the blood I spilled."

Suddenly Blazestar's eyes flickered open. They widened in fear when she spotted Azurepaw. "You---have---to get away!" She warned in a raspy voice. "Agro---He's going to kill you! Please---Azurepaw, run!"

"It's true," Agro muttered, gazing at Azurepaw steadily.

Azurepaw glanced at the BlazingClan leader, then back at Agro. "What's true?"

"I have to kill you."

Terror gripped Azurepaw. She wanted to listen to Blazestar and run, but she held her ground. "Why?" She asked. "What could you possibly gain from killing me?"

"Oh, I won't gain much. In fact, it'll be close to nothing. Silent Scream will get it all---you're a prized package. You must die, either by my own claws or Silent Scream's. One of us will get you. And you know what?" Agro gazed at Azurepaw regretfully and it seemed like some of the old Agro that she knew was back. Her heart twisted painfully when he meowed, "This will be my hardest kill."

"Well, you won't kill her!" Shouted a voice. Darkwing leaped to Azurepaw's side.

Agro curled his lip into a snarl. "You! What're you doing here?" Without waiting for an answer, he looked back at Azurepaw accusingly. "So, you didn't come alone after all? Nevermind. I'm going to enjoy ripping you to pieces, Darkwing, and whoever else came along." Agro flexed his claws menacingly.

Instinctively, Azurepaw and Darkwing got into fighting stances. "What're you doing here?" she whispered to Darkwing.

"I came to help you," her friend responded quietly. He didn't take his eyes off Agro.

"Where are the others?"

"Hiding. They're planning a way to get Blazestar and Scarletlily back to camp, so Plumpaw can treat them. Our job is to distract Agro."

"I want you to go. I can distract Agro on my own."

"Will you fight him?" Darkwing questioned. "His goal is to take our lives; he made that pretty clear. He won't talk forever, you know. He'll attack us and try to kill us." Azurepaw didn't respond. "Will you fight him, Azurepaw?" Darkwing repeated. He glanced at her and murmured sadly, "He's not your friend anymore."

Azurepaw shuttered. Every word was like a claw tearing her to shreds. "I have to fight him, Darkwing... I know I don't have a choice."

Agro suddenly looked up at the sky, an ear twitching. He gasped, his legs almost crumpling from underneath him. He caught himself and met Azurepaw's gaze. "It's time," he breathed. And he pounced.

Darkwing and Azurepaw ducked and rolled away in different directions to avoid Agro's razor sharp claws. The black and white tom whipped around and launched himself, snarling, at Darkwing. The two collided hard, Darkwing falling onto his back. Azurepaw quickly raced over and, using all her strength, she dragged Agro off her clanmate. Agro wriggled out of her grip. He stood up, about to strike, yet hesitated when their eyes met.

"You don't have to fight us," Azurepaw told him, pleadingly.

Agro shook his head and closed his eyes. With a growl, he leaped at her, tackling her down. Azurepaw swiped well-aimed blows at his face. But he returned each one, faster and stronger.

Darkwing leaped onto Agro's back, biting his neck. Agro twisted and caught his opponent's ear, biting down hard. Seeing Agro distracted, Azurepaw clawed at his exposed underbelly. He howled as she tore it open. Darkwing released him and Agro fell. Azurepaw scrambled to her paws, her heart in her stomach. She wanted to vomit, knowing she had down that to Agro.

Behind them, Bearfur and five other BlazingClan warriors darted out of the trees toward Blazestar's and Scarletlily's bodies. As quickly and gently as possible, they lifted their leader onto Nightstorm's back. The black and gray tom was strong enough to carry her without support. They did the same for Scarletlily, who was carried by a light gray tom named Wolf. Then, they left for camp, while Mysterysoul, a tom named Blade, Blackhawk, Sagewhisp, and another she-cat came out of the trees and circled Agro.

Agro lifted himself halfway and gazed at all the cats around him, his livid eyes stopping on Azurepaw. "You won't win," he meowed angrily through gritted teeth. "No matter how many cats you get to help you; I'll kill them all."

Without waiting for a response, he shot at Sagewhisp. He tore at the older tom's face, aiming for the eyes. But before he could do more damage, Blade attacked him. Furious, Agro pinned Blade down and bit his neck in a death-grip.

"NO!" Blackhawk screamed. She and Mysterysoul clawed Agro's flanks as the light gray and taupe she-cat, Brookstride, launched herself onto his back. Agro finally let go when the weight of all three cats was too much for him. He reared back, throwing Brookstride off, while simultaneously striking the other two she-cats.

Azurepaw, Darkwing, and Sagewhisp rejoined the fight. Mysterysoul recovered hastily and helped them, but Blackhawk was too occupied mourning over Blade to even think straight.

Agro fought back madly, inflicting twice as many wounds on his opponents as they were on him: he was like a clan all on his own.

Unexpectedly, Blackhawk pushed everyone roughly out of her way and she leaped at Agro's throat, screeching, "You killed him!"

Agro easily dodged her claws, tripped her, and ripped open her throat with one deep, hefty swipe. Blackhawk sucked in her last breath and fell beside Blade. Agro barely glanced at her before he spun to face the others.

Darkwing struck Agro's head. "Blade was my brother!" He howled, tears escaping his angry eyes. He clawed Agro again and again and finally pinned him. But before Darkwing could send another blow, Agro kicked so powerfully with his hind legs that he flipped Darkwing over and knocked the breath out of him. Agro sliced Darkwing's stomach without hesitation.

"No, Agro!" Azurepaw shouted. Agro faltered at the sound of her voice, giving Mysterysoul a chance to tackle him. Azurepaw hurried to Darkwing's side, relieved to find that the gash in his stomach was not deep.

Agro, infuriated by Azurepaw's act, fought off Mysterysoul, leaving the queen dazed and bleeding heavily. He shoved Azurepaw aside, intending to finish Darkwing off. Azurepaw leaped back up, her heart stopping as Agro went for the throat. She and Sagewhisp attacked Agro from both sides. He sent Sagewhisp staggering backwards, then he grabbed Azurepaw's scruff, forcing her to the ground. Darkwing swiped at Agro, bringing the tom's attention back to him. Agro let go of Azurepaw and bit down on Darkwing's neck.

Azurepaw got up quickly and clawed Agro, panicking. "Agro, let him go! Please, let him go!" When his grip didn't loosen, something seemed to click inside Azurepaw's head. She forced Agro to release Darkwing. She tackled Agro, pinning his down, and she clamped her jaws around his throat. He tried unsuccessfully to throw her off, but Azurepaw was determined to hold on. Finally, when his desperate swipes became weak, she let go.

Agro's breathing was short and raspy, his chest barely rising. Blood gushed from the wound around his throat and made a little pool by his head. His eyes fixed themselves on Azurepaw. He laughed bitterly. "Well done, well done."

Azurepaw gave a sorrowful caterwaul as tears leaked from her eyes. "Why did you make me do it?" She sobbed.

"I didn't make you do anything," Agro retorted.

"I couldn't let you kill Darkwing!"

Agro looked away, disgusted. "Well, I hope he dies a very painful death. He took you away---" Agro stopped himself. He glanced at her with a sly smile. "They're calling him. He's not done fighting, and neither are you."

Someone suddenly yanked Azurepaw away. She was forced onto her back and blood-stained claws tore at her underbelly. She screamed. She caught a glimpse of Agro pulling himself up to stand before she blacked out.

. . . .

Azurepaw opened her eyes to darkness. Sitting up and looking around her, she could faintly see decaying trees and rotted plants. Unexpectedly, it began to brighten up around her. Something stirred out of the corner of her eye. She spun to the right and found Mysterysoul standing next to Darkwing. Both seemed confused. Their wounds were still visible, but they were no longer bleeding.

Darkwing gazed at his surroundings with wide eyes. "Are we dead?"

A loud cackle sounded from behind them. "No, idiot, you're alive. Alive and filled with delicious blood!"

The three turned to see Silent Scream sitting on top of a log, which looked about ready to break at any second. Azurepaw's blood froze in her veins.

"Surprised, little one?" Silent Scream cackled again. "You shouldn't be. My presence was expected, yes? Your precious ancestors should've told you all about our battle."

"That's why I'm here?" Azurepaw breathed. "It's about to begin." Her claws were already unsheathed.

"What about us?" Mysterysoul spoke up. Her yellow orbs were filled with hate as she gazed at Silent Scream. "Not that I wouldn't mind ripping you apart, but this is Azurepaw's fight. Why are Darkwing and I here?"

Silent Scream smiled creepily, showing all her pointy, yellow, teeth. "You are here, Mysterysoul, because I want you to be here. You are joining this fight because I personally want to see your blood drain out of your body!"

Mysterysoul's eyes narrowed to slits. She opened her mouth but didn't speak, for the bushes behind Silent Scream began to rustle. Nightmare and Shade came out and stopped beside their master. They looked stronger than ever before. Several other cats followed them, all with translucent pelts.

A suffocating despair began to choke Azurepaw upon seeing all those Dark Forest cats. They were Silent Scream's minions, and they all meant to kill her. Anger swelled within her.

Azurepaw growled and lifted her chin. "Are you afraid, Silent Scream?" She taunted. "Are you so afraid of me that you need extra help?"

Silent Scream laughed. "I am not afraid of little you---"

"Then, what are you? Weak?"

Silent Scream's eyes narrowed. The cats beside her looked uncertain. "You think I'm weak?" She meowed. "Why don't I show you just how weak I am!" She crouched into a pounce, her blood-stained claws unsheathed.

But before she could make a move, a bright, white glow filled the forest behind Azurepaw. Silent Scream hissed as Azurepaw and her friends looked. Azurepaw's ancestors sprinted to her side and in the lead was Onyx. He licked her ear affectionately. "I told you I would be here when the time came."

Azurepaw smiled up at him. Every ounce of despair left her and her heart was free to breathe. Moonfang nodded to her and Forgotten joined her on her other side. Sparrow stayed in the back. He looked unsure if he should be there, but his eyes were determined. Ebonydusk stood next to him.

"Greetings, little one," she meowed to Azurepaw with a smile.

"Don't forget me!" Said a voice. Blade stepped out of the glow.

"Blade!" Darkwing rushed at his older brother like a missile.

Blade smiled and ruffled the fur on top of Darkwing's head. "Come on. We'll fight together."

A black and white she-cat came out of the glow next. She had soft green eyes. She greeted Azurepaw with a bow of her head. "Hello. You don't know me, but my name's Badgerfleck." Sparrow suddenly looked very uncomfortable. Badgerfleck padded right passed him without even looking into his direction and she stopped next to Forgotten. She licked the she-cat's cheek and then nodded at Onyx. "Hello, dears."

Silent Scream growled. "How sweet," she mocked. "You know, it's nice having you all here together. This is where your bloodline is going to end!" Without another word, she launched herself at Azurepaw and her minions attacked.

The StarClan cats and the members of the Dark Forest collided. Furious snarls and anguished yowls reverberated throughout the forest as the two sides locked in a ferocious battle.

Azurepaw did her best to dodge Silent Scream's blows. She was too busy avoiding the shadow-cat's claws to actually strike back. Azurepaw misstepped and a blood-stained paw connected to her cheek. The blow was so hard that Azurepaw fell onto her side, dazed. Silent Scream let out a triumphant howl and sliced the she-kit's underbelly. Azurepaw ignored the pain as best she could. She hit Silent Scream sharply on the jaw, sending the shadow-cat staggering backwards. Azurepaw hastily popped back onto her paws, ready for another attack.

Silent Scream's haunting blue eyes filled with hatred as she gazed at Azurepaw. Blood, almost as dark as her fur, trickled down her chin. "Lucky shot," she spat.

Azurepaw let a grin of satisfaction spread across her face. It didn't last long, however, because the Dark Forest ruler prepared to pounce. But suddenly, Silent Scream's eyes widened and then shut as if in pain. Her whole body trembled and she hunched over, yowling madly. She staggered, almost falling, her breath coming in great gasps. She opened her eyes, her face filled with astonishment.

"They killed him," she murmured in disbelief. Then, she became enraged, her entire pelt exploded in flame, and she gave a screech that hurt everyone's ears. "THEY KILLED HIM!"

Silent Scream launched at Azurepaw again. Her furious swipes were so fast that Azurepaw couldn't even see them to avoid them, though she did notice they were significantly weaker. Even so, Silent Scream's rage somehow permitted her to fight better and Azurepaw was burned. The she-kit was hit from every angle and she kept stepping backwards in an attempt to dodge the blows. She finally backed up into a tree, hitting it so hard that she was forced onto her hind legs. Silent Scream roared. She locked her jaws around Azurepaw's throat, spun, and slammed the she-kit into the ground. Her hold around Azurepaw's neck tightened.

A scream escaped Azurepaw. The pain she felt was so great she thought she would die that very second. She felt she was burning from the inside out. Black spots appeared around her vision.

A ferocious snarl sounded from somewhere, and Forgotten charged at Silent Scream. She crashed into the fiery shadow-pelted she-cat, ripping her off Azurepaw. It was a few minutes before Azurepaw felt okay enough to stand. But when she did, she saw Onyx fighting Silent Scream, and Forgotten lay a fox-length away, her sides heaving from the effort of breathing and staying alive. Blood was splattered all over her pelt.

Anger swelled inside Azurepaw. Without her realizing it, her paws began to glow, as if she held the light of the moon, and she growled loudly. It echoed throughout the battlefield and everyone halted in their swipes. Onyx broke away from Silent Scream and they both looked at Azurepaw. The Dark Forest leader's eyes flooded with fear. She was done for, and she knew it.

Azurepaw attacked, swiftly sweeping Silent Scream off her paws. She pinned her to the ground and with one, iron bite, she tore out Silent Scream's throat.

The StarClan cats cheered, while the remaining Dark Forest cats fled in terror. Azurepaw stepped away from Silent Scream's body, which had turned back to shadow, and it vanished from sight. The only evidence of it every having been there was a great pool of dark scarlet blood. The light faded from Azurepaw's paws and she felt suddenly drained of energy. She padded falteringly over to where Forgotten lied, and her other ancestors gathered around. Badgerfleck stood above Forgotten's head, her own head bowed close to her daughter's face.

"Did I do well?" Forgotten asked, every word coming out as a gasp. Talking pained her greatly.

"Yes," Badgerfleck murmured.

"Did I make up for what I've done?" Forgotten seemed desperate.

"Yes, my love," Badgerfleck answered. "Completely."

"You'll tell Bluewish and... and the kits?"

"I will..."

Forgotten smiled faintly. "Good... Thank you." She closed her eyes and sighed.

Badgerfleck licked her daughter's ear. Onyx whimpered softly when Forgotten's body disappeared. Azurepaw pressed against Onyx in an attempt to comfort him as well as herself. Someone nudged her with a paw. Turning, Azurepaw saw Moonfang and Ebonydusk. Sparrow stood a few feet behind them.

"We would like to thank you, Azurepaw, for what you've done," Ebonydusk meowed gratefully.

"StarClan will always remember you and your great deed," Moonfang added solemnly.

Sparrow smiled one of his strange, crazy smiles. It could have meant anything. "Remember, kit, dark days are still to come," he meowed.

Ebonydusk glared at him. "But we, your ancestors, will be with you to strengthen you." She licked Azurepaw's ears, then she, Moonfang, and Sparrow left, returning to StarClan.

Badgerfleck was next and she smiled. "You are the bravest warrior I have ever known. Thank you." She bowed her head, smiled warmly at Onyx, and followed the others.

After whispering something to Darkwing, Blade left also. Only Onyx remained. He looked down at Azurepaw and nuzzled her affectionately.

"There's not much I can say. Everybody else already took my lines," he meowed, trying to be humorous. But he quickly grew serious. Azurepaw snuggled closer to him. "You've suffered a lot... I wish it didn't have to be that way. Just know that I'm proud of you." Onyx licked her cheek. "I love you."

"I love you more," Azurepaw meowed earnestly.

Then Onyx left, too. Mysterysoul and Darkwing walked up to Azurepaw, their pelts blood-stained. Mysterysoul looked grave and faraway, but Darkwing was smiling.

"Well, the battle's over," he meowed. "You did it."

Azurepaw smiled, though she didn't really feel like it. "Yeah, I did. We did."

"I'll wait for you by the lake," Darkwing told her. He quickly licked her cheek, then faded out of the Dark Forest.

"Are you alright?" Azurepaw asked when Mysterysoul hadn't said anything for a few minutes.

Mysterysoul blinked. "They told me I'd never see them again."

"What are you talking about? Who told you that about who?" Azurepaw asked, confused.

"Shade and Nightmare," Mysterysoul answered, her voice full of venom. "They told me... They said I would never be able to see my mother and sister again, because they... because Foxfur and Pearlheart gave up their places in StarClan, so Silent Scream would let me go, so she would no longer use me for her evil plans... They were tortured and killed... for me."

"I'm sorry," Azurepaw meowed.

"I wasn't worth that sacrifice."

"Apparently they thought so," Azurepaw meowed quietly.

Mysterysoul glanced at her and said nothing.

"Do you know if Shade or Nightmare fled with the others? We could---"

"No," Mysterysoul meowed with a slow shake of her head. "They're dead... for good. I killed Nightmare, and Forgotten slaughtered Shade. You should have seen---Well, nevermind." She straightened and added abruptly, "Excuse me, I must go talk with my father Redstone. You should leave this place, too." Then, the queen left the Dark Forest, and Azurepaw was alone.

  • Falconflight
  • Lightningstripe
  • Nightstorm
  • Wolf
  • Blade
  • Brookstride
  • Badgerfleck
  • Bluewish
  • Silent Scream in a rage

~ Chapter Thirty-One ~ Edit

Azurepaw sighed. Suddenly, her ears perked forward and she spun around. A small blue light floated a few fox-lengths away. It flickered then split into two. They're eyes, Azurepaw realized as a shadowy head formed around them, and then a body with a white chest and front paws. It was Agro.

He seemed frightened as he took in his surroundings. He hadn't spotted Azurepaw yet; a tree obscured his view of her. His breathing was heavy and he looked prepared to run. He scrambled backwards, stepping right into Silent Scream's pool of blood. He leaped out once he realized what it was and tried shaking it off. It might have looked comical if the mood wasn't so grim.

"I killed her," Azurepaw blurted suddenly, her voice sounding hollow.

Agro whipped around. He relaxed upon seeing her, only to tense up again as her words registered in his mind. "You killed Silent Scream?" He asked with shocked admiration.

"Yes," Azurepaw replied stiffly.

His face became grave. "Then we don't have much time..." He took two steps forward, but seemed to think better of it and retreated. He gazed at Azurepaw earnestly. "I'm sorry."

"What for?" She asked, as if she didn't already know.

"For everything---Everything I've done and everything I will do." Agro flattened his ears, looking extremely sad. "In a little while I'm... I'm going to change. You've already seen a part of what that change will do... But this time it'll be complete. And... And you won't matter to me anymore. But I want you to know that you did---do. You do matter to me. From the first moment I saw you, I... I..." Agro shook his head, exasperated and annoyed with himself. His next few sentences came in a rush. "I might as well get it out now. This is my last chance---Azure, from the first moment I saw you, I wanted you. I wanted you to be mine. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't have you. I knew you were the one who was going to fight Silent Scream. And she already had me in her paws, she already made plans... I... I'm sorry things couldn't have been different. I wish for what could have been...."

Azurepaw began to cry softly. She wanted to say something touching. She wanted to let Agro know how much she had wanted him too. But she couldn't. Either she couldn't find the words, or she no longer thought he deserved to hear them. A hole had been scratched into her heart and it had grown deeper with every word he spoke. All she managed to say was "So do I," and it came out as a whisper.

Agro turned away from her. She could tell he was fighting something inside. "Good-bye, Azure." His mew was sad and strained. Quickly, he slunk into the shadows.

Azurepaw didn't move. She merely stared at the spot Agro had stood and, with her heart in pieces, she fought the sudden urge to chase after him.

. . . .

Azurepaw woke up to the smell of herbs. Her body felt stiff and it hurt all over; she felt she were on fire, though wasn't quite getting burned. She lay wrapped in cobwebs in the medicine cat den of BlazingClan. She lifted her head to look around. Blazestar and Scarletlily were lying in seperate nests beside her. They were asleep and also wrapped in cobwebs. Azurepaw sat up, wincing. Sagewhisp was across from her. His eyes popped open and he lifted his head from between his paws when he heard her. His green orbs lit up with joy.

"You're finally awake! Plumpaw!" He called. "Azurepaw is awake!"

A few moments later the medicine cat apprentice flew into the den. She looked hopelessly ungroomed, her fur sticking up oddly and clumping together, and her eyes showed her exhaustion. "Great flying squirrels!" She exclaimed. "Why did the world have to explode while I was medicine cat?"

"What's wrong now?" Sagewhisp demanded, concerned. "Is Copperthorn alright?"

"Of course!" Plumpaw snapped. "Nothing's wrong. I'm getting poppy seeds for the pain. Ashenwillow and Cypresssong are with her now. She's doing fine. And you---" Plumpaw whipped around to face Azurepaw. "You lay back down until I come back!" She hastily grabbed the poppy seeds and raced out of the den.

Azurepaw blinked and did as she was told. "Is Plumpaw okay?"

Sagewhisp shrugged. "She's been a little... nuts since we came back."

"And when was that?"

"Several hours ago. It's almost been a full day."

Azurepaw hesitated. "What happened when Mysterysoul, Darkwing, and I entered the Dark Forest?"

Sagewhisp frowned and looked away. "Brookstride and I fought Agro. I... I killed him, but he killed Brookstride."

Azurepaw closed her eyes, trying to shut out the pangs of loss. Blade, Blackhawk, and Brookstride were killed by Agro, and Forgotten was killed by Silent Scream in the Dark Forest. "And what happened afterwards?" She asked slowly.

"For a while, nothing. I waited to see if you guys would come back, but when you didn't I dragged myself back to camp. I told Bearfur what happened. He brought a patrol to the battle scene and found Darkwing and Mysterysoul there... and those we'd lost. Soon after you showed up. The three of you were carried back to camp. By that time Plumpaw had already taken care of Blazestar, Scarletlily, and myself. She's a good, fast worker, that Plumpaw. Loses her mind, though. Anyway, Mysterysoul and Darkwing are fine. They're resting in the warriors' den. I should be there, too, but I insisted in staying here while Plumpaw did other things." Sagewhisp smiled. "Oh, and Copperthorn is kitting as we speak."

"Huh," Azurepaw meowed. "Plumpaw was right: the world did explode."

Minutes later Aldergaze entered the den and announced that Sagewhisp was now a father of three kits: two toms and a she-kit. Azurepaw's mentor, injured as he was, wasted no time in rushing to the nursery. Aldergaze took Sagewhisp's place across from Azurepaw. Soon Plumpaw came and checked Azurepaw's wounds, then she curled up in a corner of the cave to get some well-deserved sleep.

. . . .

One moon later.....

"Are you sure? Is that really what you want?"

"Yes. It is."

"Then, let's go. Everyone is waiting for us."

Azurepaw followed Blazestar out of her den. They padded side-by-side to the CrystaledRock, where the whole clan was sitting patiently. Ebonykit, Graykit, and Rabbitkit stood excitedly outside of the nursery next to their mother. Copperthorn told them to settle down. She smiled at Azurepaw as she passed.

Blazestar jumped onto the CrystaledRock, while Azurepaw settled by the base beside her mentor.

"What did you ask her?" Sagewhisp whispered.

"You'll find out soon enough," Azurepaw told him. He shot her a look, but said nothing as Blazestar began to speak.

"Cats of BlazingClan," Blazestar began, "I have asked you here today for a very important meeting. Today, we will welcome a new warrior into our ranks." She looked down at Azurepaw and Sagewhisp. "I, Blazestar, leader of BlazingClan, ask my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She has learned the ways of your noble code, and I commend her as a warrior in her return. Azurepaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

"I do," Azurepaw answered, loud and clear.

"Then, by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Azurepaw, from this moment on you will be known as... Shatteredazure. StarClan honors your strength and courage, and welcomes you as a full member of BlazingClan."

For a moment all were silent, too shocked by her name to speak. They didn't understand. But then Cricketkit and Darkwing began to chant her new name. Sagewhisp and Mysterysoul followed suit until the whole clan was shouting, "Shatteredazure! Shatteredazure!" Then, they offered their congratulations.

Icepaw, Brightpaw, and Cedarpaw approached her. Icepaw was the only one smiling.

"Congrats!" Cedarpaw meowed, though it was halfhearted.

"We should have been made warriors before you," Brightpaw hissed sulkily.

"Oh, shut up, you big mewling kits!" Icepaw snarled at his littermates. "She's older than us anyway! And obviously she was ready to become a warrior." He smiled at Shatteredazure. "We really are happy for you."

"I'm not," Brightpaw meowed as Shatteredazure meowed "Thank you."

Bearfur, who was the apprentices' father, had been behind them the entire time. He winked at Shatteredazure and then proceded to drag Brightpaw away by the ear. He ordered his sons to follow (and Icepaw got to watch his cowering siblings be scolded).

"You picked your warrior name, didn't you?" Sagewhisp asked, when everyone else went away.

Shatteredazure turned to face him. She lifted her chin. "I asked for it, yes."

"Why that?"

Because there's nothing left of me but broken pieces, she thought and was wise to hold back. "Because that is who I am," she meowed instead.

"It didn't have to be."

"Perhaps... But it is now."

Sagewhisp sighed. "Ya know, furball, I always thought you were strange." A smile spread across his face. "I was always proud of you too. Still am."

"Thank you, Sagewhisp."

"Yeah, well." He licked the top of her head. "Don't mention it. Now, I've got to spend some time with the kits. Copperthorn needs a break."

Shatteredazure then went on her first border patrol as a warrior. When she came back, she was tired and hungry. Mysterysoul met her at the fresh-kill pile, Foxkit and Badgerkit trailing behind their mother.

"Alright. Pick out a piece of prey, you two," Mysterysoul told her kits. "Agree on one to share. How are you?" The queen asked Shatteredazure, once the kits were occupied.

"Fine," Shatteredazure replied, staring down a dead vole to avoid the older she-cat's eyes.

"I hope you don't mind my saying it, but you don't look fine."

"It's been a long day."

"More like a long moon," Mysterysoul gazed at her sympathetically. "It's not good to dwell in the past, you know. If you let those dark thoughts consume you, you won't be anything more than an empty shell. I speak from experience," she added softly.

Shatteredazure couldn't help herself from glaring at the queen. "What am I supposed to do? Forget it ever happened?" She spoke with a quiet indignation.

"No," Mysterysoul responded, calm yet firm. "You won't ever forget it. But now you have your name to remind you of it, so you can let the past go and move on."

Shatteredazure looked away so Mysterysoul wouldn't see the tears that threatened to spill all over the ground. "How can someone move on from everything that's happened to me? I've lost so much and I can't find it again."

"Take a look around you," Mysterysoul commanded gently. "You're blinding yourself to what's right in front of you. I'd say you've gained a lot more than you've lost."

Together, Shatteredazure and Mysterysoul watched Foxkit and Badgerkit. The brother and sister had lost interest in finding prey and were wrestling a few tail-lengths away. Shatteredazure gazed around slowly, soaking everything in. Bearfur stood near the entrance of camp, organizing a hunting patrol. A few others lingered around him waiting for their orders. Cats were basking in the last light of day, while others relaxed and shared tongues. Sagewhisp and Copperthorn watched their three kits play with Cricketkit outside the nursery. Blazestar and Scarletlily stood in front of the leader's den, quietly discussing when to give Plumpaw her medicine cat name. (Scarletlily gave her her name at the half moon, which was three days later. Plumpaw is now called Plumfrost.) Lastly, Shatteredazure saw Darkwing sitting alone by the CrystaledRock. She didn't know it, but he was trying to figure out a way to cheer up his crush without getting all shy and tongue-tied. Shatteredazure's gaze rested on him the longest, guilt forming in the pit of her stomach for avoiding him for a whole moon.

Mysterysoul nudged her. "I heard his stomach growl earlier. He hasn't eaten yet." She smiled mischievously.

Shatteredazure blinked and then self-consciously licked her chest fur. She watched Badgerkit and Foxkit play a moment longer before grabbing a rabbit from the fresh-kill pile. She headed toward Darkwing.

And she found what she had lost and let it heal the hole in her heart.

  • Graykit (tom)
  • Ebonykit (she-kit)
  • Rabbitkit (tom)

~ The End ~