Chapter 1

To Keep Her Kits

Leaf-bare had come. The snow and cold winds swept through the camp like death. A gray-blue cat crept through the white coated forest, determination on her face. She padded through the dead, brittle twigs to her destination. The rabbit made the mistake of poking its head out. The she-cat pounced, killing the rabbit in one, perfect claw swipe.

"That, Frostpaw, is how you catch a rabbit." Bluefur meowed.

"But Bluefur, I already know how to hunt! I thought you would teach me new fighting moves!" Frostpaw protested.

"It's always good to review. The more you hear how to do something, the less likely you'll screw it up." Bluefur meowed with finality. "Now let's get back to camp. It's too cold to stay out for too long."

"Fine," the apprentice growled.

"Cheer up. Soon you will be a warrior," Bluefur meowed encouragingly. She looked around the forest and thought about the days when she was an apprentice. It seemed so long ago, the days when she and Stoneclaw would fight in the sand. Stoneclaw. She was so happy that such a great warrior had trained her. In turn, she was happy that she had been given an apprentice so soon.

Unfortunately, her apprentice would probably be taken away from her. She had borne three healthy kits, and they were becoming a nuisance. She had no time for regular Clan activities, and everybody had been expecting great things from her. They weren't anymore. Now, ThunderClan looked down on the tired queen. Bluefur knew she would have to prove herself, and she was indeed determined to.

Instantly her thoughts left her as they reached the camp. She looked around the camp to see who was in. Tigerpaw and Thistleclaw were resting near the elders. In the nursery, Speckletail was taking care of Bluefur's kits. The deputy, Tawnyspots, was nowhere to be found. Frostpaw bounded over to Tigerpaw and began socializing with the apprentice. Shortly after, Tigerpaw's sister, Spottedpaw, joined them. Bluefur stared at the siblings. She could hardly believe they were related. Spottedpaw was a pretty and gentle cat. She was suited to be a medicine cat. But Tigerpaw, on the other hand, was a violent and ill-tempered cat. He was eager to learn and caught on so quickly. Also, his front claws were strangely long. That further played into his interest in fighting skills.

It was a shame that he had gotten Thistleclaw as his mentor. Thistleclaw would over nourish Tigerpaw's violent nature, and the apprentice would lack discipline. Unfortunately, he would be full of ambition. She wondered if his heart would get as dark as his mentor's. Bluefur decided to keep an eye on the tough apprentice.

Tawnyspots emerged suddenly from Sunstar's den. The two had been discussing something of importance, no doubt. Actually, it appeared that they were discussing something real important since they weren't leaving the Highrock. In fact, Sunstar looked about ready to call a meeting.

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!"

It must be important. Just look at his face! Bluefur thought. She trudged over to the meeting space. Slowly, all the cats were starting to congregate. The apprentices and warriors were gathered first, because they were the fastest. Then came the queens and kits. The elders were the last ones to assemble, of course. Finally, after every cat had trudged through the blanket of snow, Sunstar began his announcement.

"This better not take long," Larksong grumbled. "It's too cold out here!"

"It's always either too cold or too hot! Just stop saying anything," Mumblefoot yowled.

"Why don't you choose better times to be deaf, old fleabag?" Weedwhisker hissed.

Sunstar's huge, strong figure loomed over them in shadow. "Is something wrong?" he asked. Their silenced expressions told him all he wanted. "Good. Now. The reason I have summoned you all here today is to announce the retirement of our fine deputy. Effective tonight, Tawnyspots will become an elder. I will announce our new deputy in the morning. That is all. You may go about your business."

As he said this, the cats immediately returned to their previous chores. "Bluefur! Come into my den. We have things to discuss." Sunstar told her. With great reluctance, Bluefur followed her leader towards the talk that would crumble her life.

"I know you, Bluefur. I know you oppose the appointment of my new deputy. Don't act innocent, I know you know. I wouldn't waste a second to appoint you ahead of him too, but you know I can't do that. Besides: my deputy is my choice. I will appoint the best available cat."

"I'm available, and I won't lead cats to death."

"First of all, you have kits. No. Second of all, you don't know what Thistleclaw will do. And don't you think you're getting ahead of yourself? I have to die first, something I don't intend to do for awhile yet. I'll keep Thistleclaw in his place."

"We will see."

"Don't. I know what you're thinking, and Thistleclaw won't kill me to become leader."

"Don't be to sure. You're too quick to find innocence in your cats."

"And you're too quick to find guilt in yours. You're thinking of his personality now. Cats change. Perhaps he will change as a leader."

"I doubt it."

"Enough of Thistleclaw. That's not even what I wanted to talk to you about. I want to talk about your apprentice. Who do you want to take over Frostpaw's training?"

"Nobody needs to!" Bluefur meowed like it was obvious and that Sunstar was a fool. She sounded so innocent, but Sunstar wasn't playing games.

"Bluefur, you have a responsibility to those kits. Frostpaw deserves a devoted mentor, something she can't get from you anymore. Do you understand me?" His piercing gaze burned through her like fire through wood. Bluefur could hardly keep herself contained. She decided to try one last attempt at reasoning.

"Sunstar, it's pointless. Frostpaw will be a warrior soon enough anyway. Another queen can take care of my kits for a few more days. I want to finish my training with Frostpaw. She started with me, and I want her to end with me. When she is a warrior, I can rest in the nursery. Does this seem fair to you?"

"Think of your kits Bluefur. Think of your kits."

"I'm thinking of them, as a collective whole with the Clan. Thistleclaw is not what's best. From your perch in StarClan, one day you will look down and see me embraced in this struggle. Sunstar. When that day comes, I beg you to help me. And when you're up there… Ask my mother for her help. And remember that fire doesn't always destroy. The flicker of light is all you need when locked in the darkness of a shadow. Just one ray of light… No matter what it comes from." Suddenly, a twinkle of starlight glimmered in Bluefur's eyes. Then, as quickly as it appeared, Sunstar watched it vanish.

"Fine. Finish the training, if that's what you want. My decision stands."

Bluefur stormed out of his den, frustrated as when she left.