Chapter Twenty-Three

"Mythsong? Mythsong, wake up."

Slowly Mythsong began to become aware of her surroundings again. She opened her eyes, blinking groggily in the daylight. Her vision had cleared and she could see Wiseowl standing over her, looking concerned. Birds were chattering somewhere overhead, their sounds no longer muffled and overpowered by a ringing in her ears. It appeared StarClan had taken care of her in more ways than one.

She saw Wiseowl's shoulders slump with relief when she raised her head. "Thank StarClan, you're alright. I was afraid you were…" He swallowed hard, looking out over the lake instead of at her.

Smiling softly, the golden she-cat lifted herself to her paws and went to stand beside him. He leaned against her, their damp pelts drawing from the other's warmth. It was nearly sunhigh, but they felt no need to go anywhere just yet.

"So he's really dead, then?" Wiseowl asked after a long moment.

Mythsong nodded. "He was struck by lightning. StarClan made their feelings known."

Another silence stretched between them before Wiseowl finally said, "I was afraid I would lose you."

She cast him a sidelong look, not exactly sure how to respond. "Why?" Mythsong asked, frowning. It sounded like something her father would say, not Wiseowl. Falconstar was anxious and overprotective. Wiseowl had always seemed much more level headed.

The tom flattened his ears in embarrassment. "Because… I care about you, Mythsong." His voice was muffled and he didn't meet her eyes. He seemed a very different cat than the Wiseowl that Mythsong knew.

"… We should get back to camp." Flicking her tail over his shoulder, the golden tabby began to pick her way back through the charred forest. After a moment's hesitation Wiseowl followed her, keeping his eyes down.

Luckily, the damage done to the forest wasn't too bad. The trees were blackened and many of the undergrowth burned, but the fire had not raged for long enough to do permanent damage. She leapt over one newly fallen tree, but it seemed to be one of the only casualties. Among the trees, at least. Her heart tightened at the thought of what they might find back at camp. Although Ghoststar was dead, had the others managed to defeat GhostClan?

It was with the utmost caution that they entered the camp, Wiseowl flanking Mythsong as they slipped through the bramble entrance. The floor of the camp had been churned by the many paws, leaving it rough and difficult to navigate. Across the clearing several motionless forms were laid out in the mud, their fur groomed and ready to find StarClan. Cats crouched near several of them, holding vigil over their fallen Clanmates.

"Mythsong!" She was caught off guard when another cat plowed into her, knocking her off her feet for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last few days. But rather than an enemy she was left staring up into Magicnight's bright green eyes. Well, one of her eyes at least. The other was covered in a thick cobweb bandage.

"We thought you were dead!" her friend purred, butting her head gently against Mythsong's nose. "You vanished during the battle and never came back and we thought you were gone forever!"

Feeling a bit irritated, Mythsong shook the other she-cat off. She wrinkled her nose a bit as some of Magicnight's cobweb bandages left a bit of their sticky residue in her own fur. "We're fine, you don't have to worry." she mewed, forcing a smile. "We lived, which is more than I can say for Ghoststar."

Magicnight's ears perked. "Ghoststar is dead? That's great! I'll go tell Falconstar!" She began to dart away as quickly as she had come, but was blocked by an exasperated Featherglow.

"Honestly, can't you sit still for one minute?" the medicine cat snapped, looking as though she had aged years since the last time Mythsong had seen her. "I told you to sit still until I finished setting Grassfur's leg!"

Magicnight gave her sister a sheepish smile. "Sorry sis, I got a bit excited. I'll be good." Giving Mythsong a we'll talk later look, the calico followed Featherglow back to the group of injured cats gathered around the medicine cats. Grassfur was lying stretched out on the ground, apparently asleep while Featherglow went back to work on his leg.

Nearby Dancestep was draping cobwebs over a nasty looking gash on Rustfur's head, Sparrowflight hovering around him and looking uncomfortable. The young GhostClan medicine cat seemed to have been recruited to assist with treating injuries. Even RiverClan's medicine cat Cloudfur had arrived with the RiverClan prisoners. He was tending to a WindClan warrior's injuries while nearby his apprentice, Glowingpaw, mixed herbs for the healers.

Despite Magicnight's outburst, most of the battle-worn cats seemed too exhausted to acknowledge Mythsong and Wiseowl as they entered. One or two raised their heads to eye the newcomers, then returned to mourning or helping the medicine cats.

At the far edge of the clearing, what was left of GhostClan huddled together in a corner. Ambereye crouched in front of them, glaring around at their captors. Her fur was ragged and bloodied, but her odd eyes glittered coldly from the shadows. Behind her, her Clan looked much less hostile. Many of them appeared to be unconscious, and those who weren't were in worse shape than Ambereye. No one offered to help them, and two WindClan warriors sat close by keeping watch.

Ignoring Ambereye's hostile gaze, Mythsong picked her way through the mud to where the bodies of the dead were laid out, Wiseowl following behind her. Blackfire and Ticklewhisker, the battle's earliest casualties, had been cleaned of any blood that marred their pelts. Next to them Flashinglight lay motionless, her lips pulled back in a final snarl. Leaffall, a WindClan warrior, had been set a bit apart from the ThunderClan cats. Several WindClan cats crouched over him, paying their last respects.

Separated from the Clan cat's dead, GhostClan's casualties were placed with far less care. Snakebite and Hurricaneforce nearly overlapped each other, their bloody paws sunk into the mud. Hurricaneforce looked as if he had been blinded before he was killed; perhaps Emberstar had gotten her revenge. Nearby a cat she recognized as Flutterwing, formerly of WindClan, was crumpled in a heap.

A few tail lengths away, Crouchpaw had apparently dragged the body of Ivypaw away from the other GhostClan cats. Unlike her fallen Clanmates her fur had been carefully groomed, so that she appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Crouchpaw stood over her, keeping a lonely vigil over the sister who had betrayed him and died by his claws.

A soft tap on her shoulder made her jump, but it was only Wiseowl. He jerked his head towards Crouchpaw. "I'm going to stay with him. Go find Falconstar and let him know what happened." the tom whispered, then padded over to comfort his apprentice.

It wasn't exactly difficult to find Falconstar. He was sitting beneath Highledge, looking dazed. He stared vaguely in Blackfire's direction, though his mind seemed to be far away. Mythsong had to give him a gentle nudge to get his attention.

The leader gave a startled jolt, taking a moment to recognize Mythsong. "Mythsong… You're alive?" he murmured as though he couldn't quite believe it.

"Yes, Father." Mythsong forced a smile. "Ghoststar is dead."

"What's this?" Emberstar stalked over, ignoring Dancestep's protests that she should stay still. Her ginger fur was matted with blood and cobwebs, though there was a hint of smugness about the way she carried herself now.

She looked between Falconstar and Mythsong, eyes sharp. "So you really killed Ghoststar all by yourself?"

"Well… No." the golden she-cat stared at her paws. "Wiseowl took one of his lives, and I took another. When he rose again, a bolt of lightning struck him. StarClan… Took all of his lives away in one go."

Falconstar's brow knotted with concern. He examined his daughter carefully, though she didn't seem to have any noticeable injuries on her. Mythsong herself had noticed that while she slept her wounds had healed, leaving nothing but scars behind. Though she had a hunch that Racepaw had something to do with this, she did not mention it to the leaders.

"So, is that the end of GhostClan?" Emberstar asked, shooting a glare towards Ambereye. The ShadowClan leader flexed her claws menacingly.

"I don't know." Falconstar raised his voice, turning towards the cornered GhostClan cats. "Why don't we ask GhostClan?"

Suddenly all eyes were on them. Uncomfortable with being the center of attention, Mythsong backed away from Falconstar and Emberstar, finding herself beside Magicnight instead. Oakstar took her place with the other leaders, staring down GhostClan.

Ambereye stared right back defiantly. "Ask us what? Ask us if we're going to disband, or if we're going to continue this madness?" she asked, her voice cool and smooth.

"You can't possibly hope to stand up against all four Clans now." Oakstar growled, looking as though he wanted to attack her either way.

"Well, of course not. I'm not mouse brained." Ambereye scoffed. There was always something in her voice that had made Mythsong's skin crawl. As though she looked at her peers as particularly bothersome mosquitos. Now was no different. "This was Ghoststar's wild dream, not mine. StarClan has clearly expressed their displeasure for it."

The leaders exchanged skeptical looks but did not press the issue further. "Then GhostClan is hereby disbanded." Falconstar decreed. Looking more confident in himself now, he scaled the rocky cliffs to perch on the Highledge. "GhostClan's members will return to their original Clans if they so wish. Or, if you would rather, you may leave this land now and never return."

Hesitantly, the GhostClan cats began to stand. They separated, returning to their former Clanmates with their tails between their legs. Despite Falconstar's claim that they would be accepted again, it would be a long time before these cats could be trusted again.

With the Clans reassembled, Falconstar lowered his head for a moment. When he raised it again he called out, "I say these words before the spirit of Blackfire, so that she may hear and approve of my choice. Wiseowl will be the new deputy of ThunderClan."

A moment of silence followed his words as everyone looked around for Wiseowl. He was frozen by Crouchpaw and Ivypaw still, staring up at his leader in disbelief. His mouth opened and closed several times, as if he had lost the ability to speak. Finally, he swallowed hard and said, "As you wish, Falconstar."

"Woo! Wiseowl!" Magicnight cheered, bouncing over to the older warrior. "You'll do great, I know it!"

The other assembled cats picked up the cheer, chanting his name and crowding around the embarrassed brown tom. Mythsong only watched from a distance, smiling a little. Wiseowl would make a wonderful leader one day; that much was clear. He was clever and compassionate, and not to mention a powerful force in battle.

Her smile faltered a little. Where does this leave… Us? She couldn't help but think. When they spoke by the lake, Wiseowl had made it clear he had a particular interest in her. Would their relationship change now that he was the deputy?

Mythsong didn't have much time to fret, as Falconstar was speaking again. "While we're all here, I would like Crouchpaw to step forward." the golden tom jumped down from the ledge to meet the startled apprentice. Crouchpaw looked a mess, his fur rumpled and bloodied, and his eyes were dull with grief. He complied with his leader's order, however, stepping forward to meet Falconstar in the center of the clearing.

"I, Falconstar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. He has trained hard to understand the ways of your code, and I commend him to you as a warrior in his turn." Falconstar said, giving the frightened apprentice a warm look. "Crouchpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

"I-I-I do." the ginger tom stuttered.

"Then, by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name." he paused here, staring up at the midday sun. "Crouchpaw, from this moment on you will be known as Crouchstrike. StarClan honors your fierce loyalty and sacrifice, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."

"Crouchstrike! Crouchstrike!" Wiseowl was the first to take up the cheer, his emerald eyes gleaming with pride when he looked upon his former apprentice. Crouchpaw grinned nervously as the others echoed Wiseowl's call, not sure how to react to all that had happened that day.

"Crouchstrike will keep vigil tonight over the camp." Falconstar went on. "Everyone is welcome to rest with ThunderClan until tomorrow morning. Until then, make yourselves at home and be sure to see the medicine cats." With that the meeting was over, and the gathered cats began to divide into their individual Clans again.

Mythsong was relieved to finally be able to sit down again. She hunkered down next to Magicnight, heaving a great sigh. Her tortoiseshell friend purred gently and began to clean her fur of the dried blood that had matted there. Wiseowl and Crouchstrike joined them soon, sharing tongues as if nothing had happened.

"… Everything's going to be different now, huh?" Crouchstrike finally voiced what they all had been thinking. His vigil didn't being until sundown, so he seemed eager to talk now.

Magicnight shrugged. "It doesn't have to be. We're all still here, aren't we? And we're all still friends." She looked between Wiseowl and Mythsong, giving the latter a knowing smile. "So maybe we've lost a few cats, and maybe a few of us have moved up in the world. But we're still the same, and most importantly we're alive. That's all that really matters to me."

Purring, Mythsong leaned against the outspoken she-cat. "You're right. We haven't changed."

Crouchstrike was frowning, staring at his paws as if it was hard for him to believe what Magicnight said. It was difficult; Mythsong knew. Both of them had lost a sibling that day, someone they thought they had known very well before everything went to hell.

Somehow, it didn't bother Mythsong anymore. When she woke up on the shores of the lake with Wiseowl, Ghoststar had been, for once, the last thing on her mind. Perhaps Racepaw had healed more than just her physical injuries; she would never know. What she did know was that for the first time in a long time, the future looked bright.

As they sat in silence yet again, Magicnight drifted off to sleep, curled up against Mythsong and snoring softly. The sun began to set and Crouchstrike bid them farewell, stepping up to his new duty as a warrior with his chin held high. Left alone together, Wiseowl and Mythsong stared awkwardly at each other's paws for a long moment.

"Mythsong…" he said finally, raising his green eyes to meet her blue ones. "About… What I said at the lake…"

Mythsong offered no response, but did not look away. She had taken note long ago of how stunning his eyes were. They constantly drew her in, promising safety in their emerald depths.

Wiseowl scuffed his paw across the ground. "I've never… Been all that close to another cat, not since Fiercehawk died." He frowned thoughtfully, as if trying to arrange the words properly before saying them. "But when I'm with you, it's like… It feels like the hole he left is filled in."

Still Mythsong did not respond, only nod once, slowly.

"StarClan, this sounds so cheesy." the tom forced a nervous chuckle, though he was becoming increasingly flustered. "I'm really no good at stuff like this. Throw a hundred badgers at me and I'd gladly take them over trying to explain… Something like this."

Mythsong couldn't help but smirk. "We have something in common, then."

Hesitantly, Wiseowl moved closer to her until their pelts were brushing. His was hot with embarrassment, though she rather liked it. The whole world was cold despite the sticky, greenleaf air, but Wiseowl was always warm.

"What I'm trying to say, is…" the brown tom seemed smaller than usual as he swallowed hard. "I want to give… You know… Us… A try. Is that okay?"

Mythsong leaned against him, burying her muzzle in his sweet-smelling fur.

"It's more than okay, Wiseowl."

The End.

ooooo

It's been a long time in the making, but I finally managed to wrap this one up. Kind of a sappy ending… But I'm happy with it. Though I am pondering a sequel for this, I like for all my stories to be able to stand on their own. And I think I've done this here.

As for future stories: I have a few in the earliest stages of planning. Some are Warriors stories, some are not. The next fanfic I write will most likely not be a sequel to this story, but instead follow two characters completely outside of the usual cannon for my Warrior stories. After that, the sequel to this will follow Mythsong again, though it will switch between her and one of Emberstar's kits.

For now, I'm out. If/When I start uploading the next story, it won't be until after I've moved into college and settled into my new schedule. Until then, the best way to see what I'm up to is on DeviantART, where my username is also peofun1.

Thanks so much for reading, commenting, favoriting, and everything else you wonderful fans have done. It means so much to me that you liked the story, and I implore you to let me know your final thoughts.

Until next time!

~peo