Disclaimer: I do not own Warriors. Cats whose names bear any resemblance to those appearing in other works of fanfiction are purely coincidental. Names similar to those in the canon series, however, are intentional—more on this later. Oh, and I'm not sure where the quote is from, although I am being told it's from Shakespeare. The guy's been dead for a while = public domain. Yay! I do not own this quote either. If there's a problem I'll edit it out.
AN: Set post-Omen of the Stars (although you certainly don't need to have read OoTS - heck, I didn't read past Sunrise. Just need to recognize a certain... stick.
This is for the monthly writing challenge at LawlClan. The level is medium. The prompt is: "You'll have to get inspired by this quote: "Some people are born great, while some have greatness thrust upon them and others learn to be great. But there are still some that shall and never be great." This has to be between two thousand and ten thousands words and must be a one-shot."
Shades of Grey
The hero of the tale always has a prophecy. This hero has one, too: Fire will return to save the Clan.
The story behind this prophecy had been the stuff of myth for seasons. After the legendary Firestar joined StarClan at the turning point of the war with the Dark Forest, ThunderClan's medicine cat Jayfeather received a prophecy that spoke of fire: fire that was now extinguished, yet would come again in the time of another darkest hour. And so, during times of chaos, everyone in the Clan looked to the newest births to seek out another kit born to fulfill the prophecy, marked by flame.
The story of this hero's birth is almost as well-known as that of Firestar's death. The hero's father was the brave Emberheart, deputy of ThunderClan; he lost his life in a devastating battle over territory with ShadowClan just before this hero was born. His mate died giving birth to a kit with fur the color of fire—and that very night, every single cat in ThunderClan had the same dream: a vision of brilliant golden flames, illuminating all of the Clan and protecting it from the shadows without. Fire will return to save the Clan.
That kit is Flamekit. He is the cat who was promised, the cat who can make ThunderClan as great as it was underneath Firestar—that legendary leader of lore. He is Firestar come again.
Or so the elders say.
My name isn't Flamekit—it's just Graykit. I don't have a handsome ginger coat that blazes like fire in the sunlight, nor are my eyes a brilliant shade of emerald green. My fur is a dull gray and my eyes are yellow. Not gold, not amber—just plain old yellow eyes.
My parents are dead, too, but no one remembers that because they didn't die heroic deaths in a courageous battle for ThunderClan like Flamepaw's father; they were killed by a fox in an accident. My parents were at the wrong place at the wrong time: near a fox's den in the middle of leaf-bare, when prey was hard to come by. By the time the fox was finished, only their half-chewed bones, stripped clean of the flesh, were found. Those bones were once Barkfur and Brindleclaw, and they were my parents.
I tried not to think about them too much—what's the use of thinking about someone you'll never, ever see again?—but something happened, sometime during the middle of greenleaf, that changed all of that. Forever.
Usually kits like me aren't allowed outside camp on their own, but no one really noticed whenever I snuck outside. Outside was better than the camp, filled with eyes only for Flamekit. And outside was where my journey began, when I found a stick by the lake.
It wasn't just any stick. This one was smooth and polished, without a single trace of the rough bark that once covered it. What was most fascinating about this stick, though, were the deep scratches in the wood. Some of them were short, most were long, some had a second horizontal gash running through them right in the middle. This stick was special; I was sure of it—but why?
That wasn't all. One end of the stick was splintered and broken. How did it break? Everything about the stick was so strange—so at first, it felt like a mystery that I had to solve. At the same time, I felt I had to take it someplace no one—no one, except for me—would ever find it. So I took the stick by one end and started walking, one slow pawstep at a time.
Who made these scratches?
What broke the stick?
What does it all mean?
The questions kept coming until I finally found a hiding place underneath some tangled roots of an oak. Only then did everything grow quiet, and only then did I realize that the voice asking me all these questions belonged to my parents.
That made me sad.
So I took the stick back out just to hear them again. I ran my paw along the wood, too awed to even stop and try to answer all the questions that flooded in like a river—strong yet soothing. What did the scratches mean? What happened to the other end of the stick?
Somewhere, in the midst of that tide, I decided to find out just exactly what this stick meant.
After all, how many cats find sticks like this? None—except for me. And my parents were named Barkfur and Brindleclaw. I looked at the stick again, at the branch stripped of all its bark, and decorated by claw-marks. Was that just coincidence?
Or was it a sign that StarClan meant for me to find?
I don't remember how I first made those connections in my head, but I remember this: At the time, the stick was a beacon of hope, trying to tell me that I was special. That StarClan had a prophecy for me too, just like Flamekit—only my mission was more important than his. So important, that they had to send a sign to me and me only.
Were my parents watching me, at that moment? Were they proud that I had finally discovered my destiny? I didn't know what that destiny might be, or even how to start—but I had to start somewhere. I had to do something. I had to solve this mystery. First mistake.
If you have questions, then ask them.
That was what Dad would tell me to do, anyways. So I decided to start by asking around. The only problem was, who in ThunderClan would have answers about this stick?
The only cats I talked to back then were the other kits in the nursery and my sister, Fernfeather. The other kits didn't like me, and I didn't like them either—so that left only Fernfeather.
My older sister, Fernfeather, is light gray with darker flecks. She's from our parents' first litter, while I came afterwards. She's also ThunderClan's medicine cat, so she was always too busy to pay attention to me. And even if no one was sick, she'd be busy talking to some stupid tom—someone like Dustfur. I knew she was padding after him—the entire Clan did—but I didn't say anything. I never did.
I brought the stick to her while she was talking with Dustfur again. (Later I learned why they spent so much time together all the time—but that was later. I didn't notice things very well until then.) "Fernfeather." She didn't notice, even though I was standing right next to her. "Fernfeather." Only then did my sister finally turn away from Dustfur; he looked at me with those stupid eyes of his. I hated him for stealing my sister away like this—but the stick was more important than any stupid Dustfur.
"Is there anything wrong?" Fernfeather's eyes went to the stick I carried in my jaws. "What is that?"
"A stick." I stated the obvious, just in case Fernfeather was too smitten with Dustfur to notice. "Look." I dropped the stick, and pointed out the strange claw-marks. "Do you think these marks mean anything? About … ThunderClan?" I was going to ask, Do you think this means anything about me—but if StarClan wanted Fernfeather to know, they would have told her. I had to keep this sign a secret—my secret.
Dustfur was about to speak, but Fernfeather spoke first. "They're just marks, Graykit. Don't be silly. Go throw that away before you get hurt." She meant the broken end of the stick, and she had a point—but when she turned away from me to face Dustfur again, I grew angry. Angry that Dustfur was more important to her, and that she'd pay more attention to him than me—especially when she was the only other cat in all the Clans who even remembered that our parents once existed. She should have been grieving for them, or she should have been healing cats like a medicine cat should. Not padding after a mousebrain like Dustfur.
She deserved to die. Not our parents—her. If it could bring them back—but no, that would never happen. Still—nothing ever made me so angry. I could have done it. I would have went for her eyes
I stepped back, the stick still clamped in my jaws, and walked away. Once, I would have listened to Fernfeather and thrown the stick away—because she was older, and my sister. But at that moment, I decided: I wouldn't listen to cats anymore just because they were older. All it means is that they're older—nothing more.
Second mistake: deciding to ignore my elders.
After talking to Fernfeather, I decided that ThunderClan didn't have any answers—so maybe this sign was much bigger than just ThunderClan. Flamekit could save ThunderClan if we wanted. As for me, I'd do more than just that. To find the answers I had to go further; I had to talk to someone from another Clan. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It seemed right that I should sneak out of camp—again, no one noticed whenever I snuck out—and take the stick to someone from WindClan, maybe even RiverClan.
I didn't mean to go to ShadowClan first. It was an accident. I was going to go to RiverClan, on the other side of the lake—but as a kit I didn't really know the other Clans' territories that well, so I chose to go into the pine-covered lands of ShadowClan to hopefully get where I wanted to go. Even that was hard at first; I had to remember the stories that the apprentices would tell the other kits about the lands around the lake.
The day came when I retrieved my stick from where I hid it after showing it to Fernfeather, and set my paws for ShadowClan.
It wasn't too easy to tell where ThunderClan ended and ShadowClan began. Both sides have large trees filled with squirrels, and undergrowth that hides little mice. The only way I knew I had reached the border was the scent-trail cutting an invisible line through the earth. It was strange to think about how all that separated ThunderClan and ShadowClan, both hostile to each other at the time, was a mere scent-trail. All it would take to cross was one step.
One step, and I was in ShadowClan.
I expected StarClan themselves to pounce down from the sky to punish me—but no, nothing happened. Maybe they approved—maybe I was on the right back. Third mistake.
Now that I think about it, it was stupid to set paw on ShadowClan. They had killed Flamekit's father in that battle, and later I'd hear stories about how ruthless they are compared to RiverClan or WindClan. It was lucky for me, then, that the ShadowClan cat who discovered me wandering through the marshy forest was a medicine cat. He was a small ginger tabby, carrying a few stems of some herb in his jaws, just as I was carrying my stick in mine—and once he caught sight of me, he immediately approached me.
"A kit? Who are you? Where are you from? Are you lost?"
I dropped the stick so I could answer all his questions. "Yes. Graykit. ThunderClan. No."
He didn't expect that, I guess, so he waited for a few moments until he continued. "Why are you here? What's that stick you're carrying around?"
I thought it was strange that he didn't mention how kits aren't supposed to be out of camp by themselves, but I answered him anyways: "I'm here to find that out. I want to know what this stick might mean. See?" I showed him the delicate scratches on the stick; from the look in his amber eyes I could tell he was just as amazed as I was when I first found the stick. "Well? Do you think StarClan sent this? You're a medicine cat, right?"
"Not a full medicine cat just yet," he told me. He sounded embarrassed. "I'm Rowanpaw." He stared intently at the stick again. "And no, I don't know what your stick means."
"Then what about your mentor? Could we ask him?"
"Her," Rowanpaw corrected me, "and no, I really don't think that's best—"
"What if someone in ShadowClan knows?"
"Really, I don't think anyone in ShadowClan—"
"But what if?" He was starting to get me angry—I just wanted to go to ShadowClan's camp and ask the cats whether they knew what this stick meant, and how it was important. What was wrong with that? "How do you know that no one knows anything?"
"I just do," he said softly. "ShadowClan doesn't want to have anything to do with ThunderClan. Even a kit like you should know that. Didn't one of our cats kill your old deputy? You know, that Flamekit's father?" I didn't say anything—because if there was something I didn't want to hear on my journey, it was about how special and well-known Flamekit was—even outside of ThunderClan. "Anyways, it's the truth. What's so important about this stick anyways?"
"It's important to me."
"How do you know that?"
"It just is." At this point I figured out that Rowanpaw, whoever he was, couldn't help me—no more than Fernfeather could. "I'll go back home if you can't help," I muttered. "Thanks for nothing." I wanted to scream at him, about how my parents were eaten by a fox and no one even cared, but that wouldn't have helped anyone—least of all me.
"I-I'll escort you there." Which I thought was stupid, because he was only a medicine cat apprentice and he wouldn't be able to do much if a badger or fox attacked me on the way back. We walked back to ThunderClan together, kit and medicine cat, and when he left me at the invisible border I thought I'd never see him again.
My encounter with Rowanpaw of ShadowClan was disappointing, because the only thing I learned was that ShadowClan knew nothing. I had to think harder, on which Clan might hold the answers to everything. So a few suns after the half-moon, I thought: Why not WindClan? According to the stories, WindClan lives on windswept hills with hardly any trees covering it; in a way they were like my stick: bare of trees, bare of bark. Maybe that wasn't coincidence.
"Hey, Graykit!" It was Sandypaw, with Flamekit and Redkit. She looked stupid in that hunter's crouch of hers, her rump waving in the air, her tail whipping about excitedly. "I learned how to hunt rabbits today! Want me to teach you?" Beside her, Flamekit and Redkit were both trying to copy the exact way she was crouched, although Redkit was failing miserably. Flamekit, though, looked almost perfect—a tiny little copy of his great big father.
I looked at them, and shook my head. "Why not?" Sandypaw asked.
I have more important things to do, I wanted to say—but then she'd ask what was more important than learning how to hunt. "Hunting is stupid," was all I could spit out before turning tail and leaving them there.
Hunting is stupid was a stupid thing to say, but with every step I took towards WindClan I kept arguing back and forth with myself. Hunting was stupid, wasn't it? No matter how much we call ourselves hunters, there will always be something bigger lurking in the forest, hunting us. When that happens, we aren't hunters anymore; we're nothing more than prey.
It was easier to see what marked WindClan's territory from ThunderClan's. It really was empty compared to ThunderClan's protective forest—and that only confirmed my guess, that the stick symbolized WindClan. I stepped from forest to moor, feeling a rush of power by overcoming the boundary—and set out to find a WindClan cat.
I didn't just find one WindClan cat. I found an entire patrol—or rather, they found me. All three of the WindClan cats were downwind, so I didn't see them coming until it was too late. They were all small and lean but fast; I could only tremble there, a ThunderClan kit in WindClan territory, with only the broken end of a mysterious stick for company. I now knew how cornered prey felt like.
"What is this?" The question wasn't directed to me; the patrol's leader—a slim black tom, almost as small as a normal ThunderClan apprentice—narrowed his blue eyes towards his Clanmates. "He reeks of ThunderClan. What's he doing here?"
"What's that in his mouth?"
I dropped the stick and spoke, to remind them that I could understand what they were saying—even if I was just a kit. "It's a stick," I informed them, the way I told Fernfeather the obvious facts. "I found it, and thought it might mean something really important. Does it mean anything to you?"
All three cats looked at the stick with blank stares—blanker than Rowanpaw's eyes had been. At least Rowanpaw looked as if he were thinking. The black tom was the first to switch his attention from the stick to me. "It's just a stick," he growled, echoing Fernfeather's words. "It has nothing to do with WindClan. If that is what you came for, then you will return to ThunderClan immediately—"
"Oh lighten up, Crowflight," another cat cut in. Crowflight—the black tom with the blue eyes—glared at the warrior, who waved her ginger tail cheerfully. To me she meowed, "Don't mind him. So why is this stick so important? Scratch-marks shouldn't make a stick special. It's still just a stick."
I shook my head fiercely. "But what if it really is important? What if it affects all four Clans? Wouldn't you want to find answers, just to be sure?"
"Affects all four Clans? You mean, something like the war with the Dark Forest?"
Yes! That was exactly what I thought—something as large as that. "Crowflight's grandfather died in that battle," the she-cat with the ginger tail chattered on. "He was named for him—" Crowflight snarled angrily, shutting her gossip. "Er—I mean..."
Crowflight sighed with exasperation. "This is ridiculous. Heatherpaw, come here." The third cat, a smaller light brown tabby she-cat, stepped forward; she hadn't talked because she was carrying a skinny rabbit in her jaws. At Crowflight's signal she dropped the rabbit at his feet. "See this? This is what we're concerned with. Not silly sticks with claw marks on them."
"So you only think about rabbits?"
"Are you saying that your stick is more important than prey?"
Of course it is. You can catch rabbits anywhere, but you can't find signs from StarClan over just any hill. "Why can't it be?"
"You're just a kit," Crowflight growled softly, "but soon even you will learn. We don't know anything about your stick; none of WindClan do—because what we're concerned with is life. Sticks mean nothing so much as a piece of prey no matter how many scratches are on it. This rabbit will feed our Clan—our young, our elderly. What will your stick feed?" I guessed that was a redundant question, so I didn't answer. "So you understand that we do not know what this stick means to you. Or to anyone, for that matter."
I didn't understand—at this point I was getting angry again, since WindClan knew just as much as ShadowClan did—but I decided to pretend. I'd pretend until I could finally understand—so I just nodded.
"And you shouldn't be out of camp," Crowflight continued. "ThunderClan are mousebrained to let kits wander like this." I wanted to argue that ThunderClan was anything but mousebrained, but then I remembered Sandypaw with her rump in the air. "You should return home. I'm sure there are those in your Clan wondering where you are."
They escorted me as far as the border, and turned back—with me back home in the woods, them staying in their empty moor. One cat turned back—the light brown tabby apprentice, Heatherpaw. "Good luck, Graykit!"
Did I tell them that my name was Graykit?
I suppose I shouldn't have—but I stood there, at the border, watching the hunters go. For what, I don't know. From where I stood I could see that they caught scent of another rabbit. I watched as Crowflight sprang forward like a being made of wind itself, flying over the moorland to snatch up the fleeing rabbit from the earth.
It was amazing.
"Graykit, you can be the RiverClan cat." Longpaw sat back on his haunches and nodded to Flamekit. "Now, Flamekit, remember the proper way to fight against a RiverClan warrior?"
Flamekit moved faster than my tired eyes could follow, slamming into my shoulder with his, and knocking me down. Before I could scramble to regain my footing, Flamekit's paw was pressed against my throat, pinning me down. That's not the proper way to fight RiverClan cats, I remember thinking. They're fat and slow because they're so well-fed. And they'll be too big to just knock down with a single blow. I wanted to fight back—but what is the proper way to fight against a cat chosen by StarClan?
"G-Good job, Flamekit!" Redkit crowed loudly. Flamekit's muzzle twisted into a smirk, and he released me while I waited for Longpaw to correct Flamepaw—to show him how to really fight a RiverClan cat. But he didn't do that; he only nodded to Flamekit and congratulated him. When he turned his gaze to me, that bright flicker of pride shriveled into gray pity.
"Maybe you can be a medicine cat" is all he had to say to me.
"Let me fight Redkit."
The suggestion came out of nowhere; I couldn't believe that I even said it. All I knew was, I didn't want to be another stupid medicine cat; I didn't want to be someone like Fernfeather. Redkit was even more surprised; his amber eyes wavered as he stook a few pawsteps backwards. "I-I don't think..."
"He's sick," Flamekit interrupted, "remember?" He shot a glare at me, as if I was the one who had done something wrong. "Your sister told him not to play too hard."
Of course I knew Redkit was sick. He had always been. Fernfeather once told me it was because he was born with tortoiseshell fur. She tried to explain why she-cats could be tortoiseshells but not toms, but I didn't understand any of it. The point was, Redkit was weak—really weak. He was the smallest of all the kits, and he'd spend a lot of time with Fernfeather in the medicine cat's den. And I hated him, for being so weak and small and useless and—
"Err..." Longpaw's mew broke the silence. "Want me to show you guys another move, then? How about something on how to fight off ShadowClan?" Flamekit leaped to his paws immediately—he was always talking about how he'd avenge his father's death. "How about you, Graykit? You can be the ShadowClan cat—"
I'm always the loser. I gritted my teeth, resisting the urge to fly at Flamekit's face—but that wouldn't make everything right. I wouldn't replace him as the special chosen one. What was the use in fighting, anyways? You can't fight everything. You can't fight hungry foxes, you can't fight the cold of leaf-bare, and you can't fight a world that repeatedly tells you that you're nothing compared to that other cat, the cat marked by a prophecy.
What Longpaw and the others didn't know was, I did fight a RiverClan cat earlier on that very day. Before the first dawn patrol left camp, I snuck out with my stick, towards the lake past WindClan's territory. If RiverClan didn't have answers, then no one would.
By the time I reached the other side of the lake, my paws were like stones; all this traveling was finally starting to wear me down. I tried to ignore it, because this was the last journey I'd have to make—and since I was thinking about how tired I was, I didn't even see the RiverClan cat when he pounced at me. "Intruder!"
"Ow!" We tumbled in the wet lakeshore; he was much bigger than I was—and I couldn't fight with the stick in my jaws. He finally pinned me down, just as Flamekit would pin me down later in the day. "Gotcha," he snarled through his teeth. "What's a ThunderClan kit doing out of camp?"
I noticed that his claws weren't even unsheathed—like he knew I was a kit, and no threat to him. A loser. He let me up while I shook the mud out of my fur, wondering why he let me up so easily. "That was too easy," the RiverClan cat crowed, his white fur even muddier than mine. "I know you're a kit and all, but don't you know how to fight at all?"
I had to drop the stick to reply; he didn't even spare it a glance. I looked around, hoping his mentor—assuming that he was just an apprentice—was around, since I knew someone like him wouldn't know anything. But no older cat came. "Fighting is dumb."
"Oh yeah? It's fun." He rolled onto his back, jerked, leaped back onto all four paws—all in one swift motion. "I'm Whitepaw." He crouched, stalking an invisible enemy, pounced—clawing through empty air. "Best apprentice of RiverClan."
I doubted that. "What's so fun about fighting?"
"Well..." Whitepaw sat down. "That's what warriors do, isn't it? We all learn how to fight." Whitepaw's face grimaced. "Unless you're a medicine cat."
"So what if a hungry fox came out of those bushes right now?" I challenged him. "What would you do then?"
"Fight it, o'course!"
As fast as he was, I knew that didn't make sense. It was greenleaf, so naturally every cat would be fat—but this RiverClan apprentice was rounder than Sandypaw or Longpaw ever was. Fernfeather once told me that it was because there's always a lot of fish to eat, so RiverClan is rarely ever hungry. I wondered what WindClan would have to say about that, since it didn't look like they ate as well as RiverClan did. "No, the fox would eat you," I told him realistically.
"That's good too!"
Did I hear him right? I cocked my head at him. "How is it good if you end up dead?" You can't protect anyone if you're dead, not even in StarClan. If dead cats could protect the living ones, my parents wouldn't have been eaten by that fox.
"Well, if the fox eats me," Whitepaw reasoned slowly, "then he'd be too full up to eat anyone else."
"Anyone else from RiverClan, you silly furball. That's why fighting's great, right?" I didn't follow. "I mean, I guess it's not all that great," Whitepaw admitted. "Cats can always die. I could die. You could die, too. But we learn how to fight so we can protect the Clan—so hey, why not?"
"Why don't they protect themselves?"
"Because they can't. Geez, ThunderClan kits can be slow." He laughed—but it wasn't cruel, or mocking, really. For some strange reason, I wanted to be like Whitepaw—to have a purpose. "Not everyone can protect themselves, silly. Like elders. Even kits like you."
That was true, I supposed. But talking about fighting wasn't the reason why I came here. I propped the stick up so Whitepaw could see it a little better. "Cool! Where'd you find this?"
Hope soared in my chest; it sounded like Whitepaw recognized it. "Y-You know what it is?"
And that hope crashed down like a fallen bird when the RiverClan apprentice shook his head. "Looks neat, though. All those little scratches."
"But... So you can't help me?"
"Help you with what?"
I realized, too late, what I had just said. But this was the end of the journey, wasn't it? I'd just tell him. "Help me find out what this stick means to me. How I can be..." Special? "...useful. To ThunderClan."
"That's easy!" The enthusiasm in Whitepaw's voice was beginning to make me uncomfortable; it felt like I was the apprentice and he the kit. "Be like me. Learn how to fight, once you're old enough. Protect everyone in your Clan. Isn't that useful?"
That wouldn't make me better than Flamekit, or even equal to him. Flamekit would fight cats from the Dark Forest, or the legendary Tigerstar risen from the dead. I would... what? Fight foxes, and make sure parents weren't eaten by them so that their kits wouldn't have to go on pointless journeys to figure out how they can mean something to the world?
"What was that?" I hadn't heard what Whitepaw was saying.
"I just had a feeling, 'twas all." Whitepaw shrugged. "Maybe your elders might know. The stick looks kinda old, right? So... uhm... yeah." He began shifting his paws, one to another. "Just sayin'."
I remembered what I had decided back when I showed the stick to Fernfeather—how she was older than I was, but didn't know anything. I promised myself that I wouldn't listen to my elders anymore—but at this point I was too disappointed to remember. This was the only route left to me.
So I took up the stick again. "Maybe I'll do that," I told Whitepaw. "I-If you meet a fox though, you should run. That's what I would do."
"I'll be sure to run. Just 'cuz you asked me so sweetly." Whitepaw nodded then, and something in my chest tightened. "'Luck then, Graykit."
So I didn't have time to play around with Longpaw, Flamekit, and Redkit. I had to go to the elders with the stick. And I would have done that immediately after returning to camp from RiverClan, if Longpaw hadn't made me play-fight with the other kits. Now that I was free, I could take the stick and go to the elders—but then someone I didn't expect was blocking my way. Fernfeather.
"Tired?" I nodded—I had walked to RiverClan and back, after all. "We need to talk, Graykit."
"Now you do," I muttered.
Fernfeather frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You never have time to talk."
"Because I'm busy, Graykit—you know that." Not so busy you can't keep talking to Dustfur. "We have to talk about Redkit."
"What about him?"
"I was watching you play with him and Flamekit. You know you can't tease Redkit like that—"
"I wasn't teasing anyone."
"You reminded him that he can't play like you and Flamekit can," Fernfeather pointed out. I only looked at my paws—one part of me agreed with her, and the other wanted to scream at the world. "He's just... special that way."
Special. That's what I wanted to be. I didn't care about saving ThunderClan from the shadows or fulfilling some stupid prophecy. I just wanted to be more than some mousebrain on the sidelines that no one cares about. "What about me?" I heard myself say. "I'm not special like Flamekit is, am I right? Flamekit can do whatever he wants because he's the chosen one but I can't, am I right?"
"Graykit, that has nothing to do with—"
"Yes it does!" It really didn't have anything to do with Redkit—but the anger finally took control, and words flew out—words that could never, ever be taken back. "You don't care anything about me! It's all about Flamekit and his stupid prophecy, or Redkit and how weak and stupid he is. No one in ThunderClan cares! They didn't even care when Mom and Dad died, did they?"
"You don't care either—you only care about talking to Dustfur, it's always about Dustfur and not me!"
"Dustfur...? Graykit, you don't understand—"
"I understand this." I bared my teeth at her. "I hate you."
If I were older, I would have taken one look at her green eyes and apologized—immediately. But I was only a stupid kit who wanted to be important to the Clan. It's not easy to recognize pain on someone else's face when you're only thinking about your own hurt. So I could only stare dumbly at the strange expression on her face, until I finally backed away to find my stick and talk to the elders like Whitepaw told me to.
I wanted to tell her everything, I really did. About Rowanpaw, who was nice for a ShadowClan cat. Crowflight of WindClan, who could chase down fleeing rabbits like a silent storm, just so his elders could eat. Whitepaw of RiverClan, who loved to fight—as long as he could protect his Clan. About how I traveled to every Clan around the lake, which I'm sure Flamekit hasn't done yet, and what the stick meant to me. But I didn't tell her, because what I really wanted to say was that I was disappointed—disappointed that my sister couldn't be as swift as Crowflight or as strong as Whitepaw. Disappointed that no one in ThunderClan even stopped to care.
"About time you came," the gray tabby elder snapped at me as soon as I entered the den. "Longpaw was supposed to have changed my bedding this morning!"
"He's outside playing with Flamekit and Redkit." I looked around after setting my stick down. I never came here before, because I didn't like elders or their stupid stories about Firestar and the Dark Forest—so I wanted to drink this unfamiliar place in, burn it into my memory. There were three other nests in the elder's den, although only the one gray tabby was there. The others must have been making dirt or sunning themselves.
"So you're Graykit?"
I nodded, but the elder didn't respond; I looked closely at his pale blue eyes and realized that they were blind. I flailed a little inside—how could this elder help me if he couldn't even see the stick? "I am, but..."
"You have something there, don't you?"
I didn't have time to be surprised. "I-It's a stick. I thought it might be a sign from StarClan, or... or something..."
"Does it have little scratches on it?"
"It does!" Excitement poured out of me like rivers, and I think the elder felt it. "What is it?"
"It was something the ancient cats used—ancient cats that lived here before we Clan cats ever settled here around the lake. When apprentices wanted to become warriors—or sharpclaws, as they called themselves—they had to go through a trial. Each mark represents a cat who started the trial."
"Why are some of them different?" I could barely even speak; I was that excited. Here was finally the truth. "Some of them have second scratches across them in the middle. But the others—"
"The others are the ones that never completed the trial." The elder's mew grew soft; I realized he was... sad. Sad for these ancient cats who couldn't become warriors, or sharpclaws. "They went into the tunnels, and never came back out."
What are tunnels? It sounded like a stupid question, so I kept it to myself. "What happened to the ancient cats? Why aren't they here anymore?"
"They went to live in the mountains. I—I helped them, a little."
How? I didn't ask that either. It was time to get what I came here for—from ShadowClan, from WindClan, from RiverClan. "So what does the stick mean? Are they going to come back and attack us? Do they want their home back?" The elder didn't answer. "Is the Dark Forest going to come back? Am I going to fight them off like Lionblaze did, in the stories?"
The elder stepped forward, so I could see him better; his gray tabby fur was whitening away into the silver of age, and his pelt was old and matted. His eyes didn't focus on anything—just looked straight ahead. And when he turned those blind eyes to me, I somehow knew he was looking right through me—not at me. "No. The Dark Forest, the cats of the Place of No Stars—they're all gone. That battle has been fought."
"But this stick has to mean something, right?" Desperation crept into my voice. "Why else would I find it?"
"I found it." Before I could stop him he scooped the stick up with his scrawny paw, and I could only watch helplessly as he felt the small grooves in the stick. "I broke it, too."
"Because I was angry. Rock, the ancient cat who owned this stick, he never told me..." The elder's voice trailed away. "We were the Three. We had the power of the stars in our paws, and in the end we defeated Tigerstar, but everything was hidden in secrets for so long..."
"But what does that have to do with me?"
Jayfeather—because it could only be him, the blind medicine cat who received the prophecy of Flamekit so long ago—looked at me coldly. "It has nothing to do with you."
"Nothing. This meant something a long time ago. Not anymore."
"It's done, Graykit." Jayfeather took the stick with him as he retreated to the shadows of the den. "I'm surprised, really—everyone in ThunderClan knows about the stick. Whenever kits come in for a story from the elders, the one about the ancients always amazes them."
It's almost amazing what sorts of connections you can make, at the strangest of times. "Everyone in ThunderClan knows what this stick is? So if they saw it, they'd know what it was?"
"Of course. But you never come in here to listen to stories, do you?"
Of course I didn't. Stories were silly, and elders were just elders. But those connections were still being made, and I could barely even think. If everyone in ThunderClan could recognize this stick...
...Dustfur had seen the stick when I first brought it to Fernfeather, hadn't he? Why hadn't he said anything?
He had tried to say something, but Fernfeather stopped him. Fernfeather must have known what it was, too, but she told me to throw the stick away.
Why? She could have sent me to Jayfeather right away, instead of having me walk my paws off to ShadowClan and WindClan and RiverClan for no reason—
"How did you know my name was Graykit?" It was something that had been bothering me for a long while now. Not just when Jayfeather called me by my name, even if we had never met before—but when Heatherpaw of WindClan said "Good luck, Graykit!" and when Whitepaw of RiverClan said "Luck then, Graykit"—even though I'm sure I had never told them my name. The only time I told someone my name was Rowanpaw, the medicine cat...
"Why, Fernfeather told me a few suns ago. She told me to keep watch for you—she expected you'd be coming here on some business of the stick any sun now."
Fernfeather knew? But how?
Rowanpaw and Fernfeather were both medicine cats.
I went to visit WindClan a few suns after the half-moon. At the half-moon, when all the medicine cats are supposed to meet at the Moonpool and share dreams with StarClan, Rowanpaw must have told Fernfeather everything. And Fernfeather must have guessed that I would try to contact the other Clans too—so she told the medicine cats of WindClan and RiverClan, so that those medicine cats could tell their Clans to keep watch for a small gray ThunderClan kitten carrying a strange stick. So of course Heatherpaw and Whitepaw knew my name, even if I never told them what it was.
It all made sense and no sense at the same time.
I don't remember leaving the elders' den, but I must have—because the last thing I remember of Jayfeather was his quiet, rasping goodbye: "Good luck, Graykit."
My sister knew everything, from the very beginning. But why didn't she stop me? I could have gotten hurt. A fox could have jumped out of the undergrowth and eaten me just like it had eaten Barkfur and Brindleclaw. Worst of all, the journey kept my hopes up. Even if I didn't find answers, I felt like I was solving a mystery—the mystery of me.
Now I knew the truth. There was no mystery in the first place. I'm just me—plain old Graykit, again. Gray gray gray.
I think I was at the lake, alone, when Fernfeather found me. Dustfur was there, too. I bristled a little when I realized he was with her—but at the moment I was still feeling too sorry for myself to care. "Graykit." I didn't respond, like when I first called her name that day and she was too busy with Dustfur to notice. "Graykit, I think it was time you met Dustfur."
"I already know him. He's your mate."
I expected a denial, or some sort of angry outburst—but Dustfur only laughed. "Is that what you think? Brightdawn would want a word with you, you little furball. As would Flamekit and Redkit."
What? "Dustfur has a mate," Fernfeather told me, as if I had forgotten—when the truth was, I had never known. "You should know. Redkit is his son."
"So why are you together all the time?"
"Because she won't let me out of camp," Dustfur complained. He had to hop forward a bit—a little weird—and show me the rushes that bound his hind leg. "I twisted it," he proclaimed dramatically. "I swear it's all better by now, but your stubborn furball of a sister wants to make sure nothing goes wrong. Today's the first day she's let me out of camp."
I... didn't know what to say.
"Besides, medicine cats can't take mates. Should have better trust in your sister, don't you think?" Dustfur winked at me, like he did many times before—but for the first time it didn't make me angry. "Well, I'm sure I can make it back to camp on my own, Fernfeather. See you two back at camp." He limped away—why hadn't I seen him limp before?
"Graykit." This time I didn't ignore her. "I'm sorry. I really am."
"Because I—I didn't tell you. I could have told you what the stick was, but I didn't."
I didn't want to see my sister sad—so I turned my eyes towards the lake. The sun was starting to set, and the lake looked like it was on fire—a beautiful mix between fire and light, painting the blue lake red and orange. Something in that fire set the final pieces in place, and it urged me to see.
"I learned a lot, though."
"About ShadowClan." I remembered how enthusiastic Flamekit had been, to train how to tear a ShadowClan cat's flea-ridden pelt—and how the kits would talk about how evil ShadowClan is. But that's not true. "Rowanpaw was nice. Not every ShadowClan cat wants to kill ThunderClan or take over our territory."
I couldn't see Fernfeather because I was still staring out at the lake, but I could imagine her nodding. "And WindClan, too. The apprentices make fun of how small they are, but they're fast. They don't have to pay attention to stupid things like size, because in the end they do what they do best: hunt for their Clan."
Another imaginary nod. "RiverClan are fat," I continued, "but they're not different from us either. They want to fight for the same things we do. We're all the same."
I guess I should have apologized to Fernfeather—for everything. I loved her, for true, and I wish I could take back all the things I said to her, or the thoughts I thought about her—but one look from her told me that she already knew. Words aren't the only way to tell others how you feel—and I think somehow, Fernfeather knew exactly what I was feeling. So all I said was, "Race you back to camp?"
I won, because Fernfeather let me, but that's not the point of my story. It didn't matter that I wasn't Flamekit. It didn't matter that, once I died, no one would remember my name—just as no one remembers our parents. Elders wouldn't tell stories about my special powers or my feats on the battlefield. I wouldn't make a single mark in the histories passed down through generations.
Having my name known doesn't matter at all. What matters is whether I can make a difference.
Hunting for the Clan makes a difference—that's what Crowflight was trying to tell me. Whitepaw was trying to tell me that fighting as a warrior makes a difference, too, because that's how you can protect your Clan. Every single cat can make a difference. And Rowanpaw changed the entire course of my journey with the simple act of telling Fernfeather—and that made all the difference. I didn't understand any of this at first, but I think I'm beginning to. That's what Fernfeather was trying to tell me when I teased Redkit for being born the way he was, because some cats are just weaker than others. It's not their fault, really; that's just the way it is. And all it takes is one cat to make a difference, to reach out to them—and help them stand up.
I used to be angry for being gray. I wasn't as bright as flame, or red as red, or white as snow, or black as a crow. But my biggest mistake of all was for seeing the world as black and white—one side filled with special cats destined for greatness, the other filled with nobodies. But that's not true at all. We're all gray. Some of us are darker, some of us are lighter, and it has nothing to do with the color of our fur or the shade of our eyes. We're all just different shades of gray—and on the inside, we're all the same...
AN: Holy crap. This is 8,297 words without the ANs.
This idea was supposed to be my entry for Scarheart of DarkClan's "And the World Listened" contest - but alas, the length that this would have to go to scared me away (*doesn't look at Koraki's entry, which was totally kickass*).
One might be wondering: so why the deuce are the names so familiar? Dustfur = Dustpelt, Fernfeather = Ferncloud, etc. I just happen to have a thing for reincarnation (ie. Cinderpelt to Cinderheart). If I ever write a full-on post-OoTS series, then expect Bluestar and Mistystar and everyone else back in the world of the living as neat little reincarnations. Plus I thought it was ironic that Ferncloud the kit-factory should be reborn as Fernfeather the celibate medicine cat. Ho hum.
Anyways, thanks for reading - if you managed to get past the 8k+ words of my rambling, then you are indeed awesome.
Oh, and yeah, I know the 'grey' in the title isn't used in the rest of the story. Wonder what's up with that.