A/N: Here's my new story, Into the Shadows! It's the first in a series that raises the question... What would have happened if Rusty never joined the Clans? It's told from Sandpaw's point of view, and I have it all planned out so I'm very excited about this project. R&R please!
Sandpaw was lying curled up beside Dustpaw in front of the apprentices' den. A moonbeam sliced through the camp, frosting her pale ginger, sand-colored fur. A soft purr rumbled in her throat; for once she had all her duties done and could relax for a little while, back-to-back with her best friend.
The ferns at the entrance tunnel rustled, and her ears twitched as Bluestar, Lionheart, and Graypaw strode into camp. Sandpaw snorted in disgust. The long-furred tom had been made an apprentice just this sunrise; she didn't think he deserved it. His parents were freaks, after all; Willowpelt and Patchpelt were brother and sister, and to top it off, Patchpelt was an elder. Sandpaw was going to make it clear that the little gray freak's nest was not to be anywhere near hers. Maybe he could sleep by Ravenpaw. The two seemed to have hit it off, which was fitting, considering the black apprentice was such a coward. He had started his apprenticeship half a moon late, just because he was too scared to leave the nursery.
Her attention flicked back to the returning party, snapping out of her reverie. Bluestar was bounding off to converse with her father Redtail while, to her distaste, Graypaw was coming toward them. His yellow eyes shone as he dropped into a sitting position, scratching one furry ear with his hind paw. "Guess what I did today?" Graypaw boasted.
Chased your own tail? thought Sandpaw. "What?" she asked in a bored tone of voice.
He faltered slightly at her dismissive tone, but went on boldly, "I saw the whole territory. AND," here he puffed out his chest, "I chased out an intruder."
"What was it, a kittypet?" Sandpaw remarked snidely.
Graypaw's face fell, but only for a moment, confirming Sandpaw's suspicions. Then his face hardened with anger, his fluffy tail swirling around his paws. "What did you do all day? Run in circles? I'm off to find Ravenpaw."
"Good riddance," Sandpaw sniffed, while Dustpaw was silent.
"Sandpaw!" Sandpaw's ears perked up as she spotted her mother, Brindleface, bounding toward her. The pretty gray she-cat had sparkling green eyes, darker gray dapples and swirling black tabby stripes. She sat beside her daughter, tucking her paws neatly beneath her tail. "How was your day?"
"Fine," Sandpaw muttered, with a sideways glance at Dustpaw. She remembered, that, technically, Dustpaw was her uncle. Which seemed so totally wrong. But it was true; he was the younger brother of Brindleface and her sister, Frostfur.
"I'm a little concerned about Redtail going off to battle," Brindleface admitted. "But he always comes back fine. That's why he's deputy. But I can't help worrying about him every time, at least a little..." Sandpaw's gaze strayed to her father, finishing up his conversation with Lionheart. Her perfect, noble, intelligent father. Brindleface turned to Sandpaw now, looking wistful and a little bit sad. "I can't believe my kit is growing up. You've been an apprentice for three whole moons now, and you're growing bigger before my eyes." Mom! Not in front of Dustpaw! the ginger she-cat was wailing inside. She glared mutinously at her mother and hoped the gray tabby would take a hint. "Sometimes I wish I could have another litter. But Redtail is so busy as deputy, and I just don't know..."
Oh, StarClan, someone save me, thought Sandpaw in humiliation. Dustpaw was stiff by her side. Then, StarClan seemed to answer her prayer, as Bluestar yowled loudly, "Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey, join beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!"
Sandpaw jumped to her feet and scurried over to the Highrock with Dustpaw at her side. They settled into the crowd that soon flocked around them.
"ThunderClan," began Bluestar warmly, her muzzle curled into a smile. "RiverClan has occupied our rightfully owned Sunningrocks for far too long." Cats around Sandpaw, including Dustpaw, yowled agreement, and she added her voice to theirs. "Tonight, we will reclaim it! ThunderClan, Sunningrocks will soon be ours!" More yowls. "The battle party will travel to Sunningrocks tonight and win it for ThunderClan to keep. The cats going are..." She paused slightly, as if checking a mental list, "Redtail, Tigerclaw, Mousefur, Ravenpaw, Runningwind, and Willowpelt!"
What! Sandpaw thought, having to bite back a yelp. Ravenpaw is going? He's a coward and what's more, he's only been training for two moons! What about me? The deputy's daughter? She concluded her inner rant as ThunderClan caterwauled approval, and the chosen cats grouped together in front of the Highrock. Redtail looked confident; Tigerclaw's claws shredded the grass as though he couldn't wait to do the same to a RiverClan warrior. Ravenpaw the coward just looked nervous, and Runningwind shouldered him heartily with a reassuring mew. Willowpelt rubbed cheeks with Redtail, reminding Sandpaw all too much that she was her aunt. Which means Graypaw is my cousin, I guess, she thought digustedly.
"Be safe!" Brindleface called as the battle party started to leave.
Sandpaw felt like she should say something, so she just yowled, "Shred those fishbreath warriors for me!"
"I will, and I will!" called Redtail amusedly, and then he vanished through the fern tunnel, his bushy ginger tail whisking out behind him.
Several minutes passed, before Dustpaw suggested, "Let's get some sleep."
"Sure," Sandpaw replied with a shrug. Envy still made a tight knot in her stomach as she walked with her best friend back to their nests. They curled up together, fur brushing.
The next morning, Sandpaw woke up early and nibbled drowsily on a mouse with Dustpaw. Both pests, Graypaw and Ravenpaw, were gone so they ate their meal in peace.
After a relaxing half-hour or so, Whitestorm and Darkstripe showed up and took their apprentices on a hunting patrol. Sandpaw caught two mice and a thrush; she was quite proud of herself as she carried them into camp. Sunhigh was nearing, and Sandpaw spotted Graypaw slinking through camp, looking disappointed. "Sandpaw!" Brindleface called, and bounded up to her daughter. "When do you think the battle patrol will be back? Oh, they're late..." she fretted.
At that very moment Ravenpaw tore across the clearing. His yellow eyes were wild with fear and one entire shoulder was slick with blood. Panting heavily, he scrambled onto the Highrock. He tried to catch his breath while blood pooled on the cold stone below.
Bluestar appeared from the nursery. "What is it?" she demanded.
He gasped, panted, and altogether managed to gather enough breath to shout, "Redtail is dead!"
Silence. Horrible silence. Then it hit her.
Sandpaw felt as though she had been whapped in the stomach by a badger. Suddenly the world swayed alarmingly around her, and she couldn't find her paws. It has to be some sick prank, it has to be! she thought fiercely.
Ravenpaw kept talking, but Sandpaw didn't hear him. There was a dull thud and he was on the ground, eyes closed, Goldenflower bounding up to him and Spottedleaf and...
"Redtail!" Brindleface's grief-stricken wail tore into Sandpaw's mind. A wave of shock and grief hit her as Tigerclaw strode into the clearing, her father's limp body held in his powerful jaws. He laid Redtail on the ground, his pale amber eyes dull with sorrow.
"How did this happen, Tigerclaw?" Bluestar demanded.
"He died with honor, struck down by Oakheart," Tigerclaw rumbled. "I couldn't save him, but I managed to take Oakheart's life while he was still gloating over his victory. Redtail's death was not in vain, for I doubt we'll see RiverClan hunters in our territory again."
"No," Brindleface wailed. "Redtail, you can't leave me! We were going to have another litter, you can't go..." Suddenly she tore across the clearing and buried her face in Redtail's fluffy, bloodstained tortoiseshell fur. Other cats crept over to him: Patchpelt, Willowpelt, Spottedleaf, Dustpaw, Bluestar. Friends, family, apprentices... But Sandpaw couldn't move. She was rooted to the spot by shock and horror.
She was aware of Bluestar speaking, of other cats returning, but she stayed where she was, dazed, rooted to the spot by a whirlwind of shock and disbelief.
"Aren't you going to share tongues with Redtail?" Graypaw was beside her, blinking big amber eyes.
"Shut up, furball!" she snapped, and slid into her nest. Just a nightmare. It has to be...
When Sandpaw woke, light streamed into the den. She was alone. She crept into the clearing, and her light green eyes widened as she spotted Patchpelt, Rosetail, and Smallear carrying Redtail's body out of camp.
"W-Wait!" she cried, bounding over to the group of elders. "I-I want to help."
Patchpelt Redtail's brother and Sandpaw's uncle, glanced at the others and nodded, amber eyes glimmering with sadness. Sandpaw nudged her way beneath one of Redtail's limply dangling legs and bit back a sob as his scent wreathed around her. Oh, Dad, I didn't sit vigil for you! Now you're gone forever!
They bore Redtail's body through the forest. Sunlight shone through the crisscrossing branches. Light and shadow dappled the forest, and strong, moss-covered trees towered around them. Purple flowers nodded at their bases, and bushes bloomed with newleaf's first flowers. It was pretty, and yet it shouldn't be, Sandpaw thought. The day should be gray and drizzling, the sun hidden by clouds. How dare the sun show its face when ThunderClan's greatest warrior had died?
They eventually reached ThunderClan's traditional burial place beneath the huge shading maples in the heart of the territory. She dug harder than any of the elders, putting her regret and sorrow into each scoop of soft, rain-weakened dirt. Earth turned beneath her paws, muddying and chipping her claws. Finally the grave had been dug.
You were amazing, Dad... Sandpaw thought, and finally, though she was surrounded by others, she let the first tears fall. They streaked down her face, leaving salty tracks in her fur. You were deputy, but you always had time for me... I was proud to have you as my father. She helped Patchpelt lower Redtail into the ground. He lay there, limp and lifeless, his familiar scent reaching Sandpaw's nose one last time. Smallear sent the first shower of dirt over him, and Sandpaw glared fiercely at him even as more tears fell. She wanted him to stay aboveground forever. I'd kill Oakheart, if he wasn't already dead!
"I'm sorry, Dad," she whispered brokenly, and watched him disappear below the soil, forever.
A/N: Rather depressing, that was. Well, please review and tell me what you thought of it! ;)