CHAPTER 5:

An unfamiliar scent wreathed the medicine den when Briarlight opened her eyes. She sniffed, and the smell was almost worse that crow-food. She blinked her eyes, and saw Tigerpaw breathing steadily in the next nest over. Jayfeather was snoring gently in his room.

Briarlight cringed at the terrible scent. She then glanced over at the entrance, and saw a blood-curling sight. The black sillouetted shape of a cat. His violet eyes were darkened. Violet eyes?

The cat's fur was barely fur at all. It was black in patches, but the skin under the black fur was bare and creamy. It wrinkled as it breathed, and sharp, pointed teeth glinted off of the moonlight behind.

Briarlight froze, scared to death. She had never seen this cat before. He looked deathly old, and the crow-food scent was stronger when she wriggled her nose. Gulping silently, Briarlight mewed," W-who are you?"

The wrinkled old cat lowered his violet eyes and meowed in a very low and sly-sounding voice," your worst nightmare,"

Briarlight had no response, just watching the strange cat as he lashed his patchy black tail. "Briarlight," a voice meowed. She looked around the den. The voice that had just spoken her name had definetly not come from the old crow-food cat.

"Briarlight?!" the voice spoke again, louder and more alarmed this time. Briarlight looked around the den. Then while searching, she noticed something wrong. The wrinkled old cat wasn't at the camp entrance anymore. Moonlight shone through the bramble screen, casting a blueish silver light on the dirt covering the ground where the strange visitor had just been standing.

All of the sudden, the rotten smell came wreathing around her neck fur. She turned around slowly, fearing for the worst. The cat was standing right behind her nest. "AHHHHHHHH!" she screeched, fear pulsing through her pelt, turning up every hair on her fur.

"Briarlight!" Briarlight blinked open her eyes, and was immediatly blinded by a bright light. The medicine den surrounded her, and warm dawn sunlight was shining through the bramble screen. She looked around wildy, and saw that the mysterious voice speaking to her seconds ago was actually Jayfeather. The gray tabby was standing over her nest, fear in his sightless eyes. Tigerpaw was no where to be seen.

"Where'd the crow-food cat go?" she asked cautiously, peering behind her nest at the small gap between it and the back wall, where the cat had just been standing.

"What in StarClan's name are you talking about? I woke up to find you stirring in your sleep. I've been trying to wake you up, and then you screeched, and then finally you woke up. Tigerpaw is already outside eating," Jayfeather meowed.

Briarlight looked around one last time. Then turned to Jayfeather. "Uh, its nothing. Nevermind. It must've just been a dream," she mewed, hoping that it was.

"What about?" he asked, sitting down.

Great. Just what I need to start the morning. Explaining. She sighed and began. "Well, I remember waking up, and hearing you and Tigerpaw sleeping in your nests. It was a little past moonhigh and bright moonlight was shining through the bramble screen. I was just questioning myself to why'd I woken up, and then I looked at the entrance, and saw a gruesome looking cat standing there,"

She shuddered, remembering his terrible appearance.

"What'd the cat look like?"

"Well, he was completely bald. Like, no fur except for a few black patches. His creamy skin was so wrinkly, it almost made me sick," she paused, and then remembered the color of the eyes. "Oh yeah, and his eyes were the most peculiar color..."

"What color?" Jayfeather cut her off. He was slowly sliding up, as if ready to dash out of the den. "They were violet." Jayfeather looked down at his paws. "I think I know who you're talking about. I will take you to the Gathering tonight. Bramblestar will not object, I can assure you."

Briarlight was confused. She knew that there was a Gathering later on tonight, but what'd he hope to accomplish by taking her to it?

Jayfeather seemed to know she was confused, and then mewed," you will understand, Briarlight. But, I can tell you this... his returning to the Clans is not a good sign." Returning? Jayfeather's not much older than me. If he knew of some weird cat who's visited the Clans, then so should I.

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath Highledge for a Clan meeting," Bramblestar called to his Clan. Squirrelflight bounded up the slope to Highledge to join her mate. Briarlight lay down in front of the warriors den with Blossomfall, Toadstep, Lionblaze, Rainpaw, and Stormpaw. Blossomfall and Toadstep shared a vole. Lionblaze was watching his two kits wrestle together, practicing new battle moves that their mentors had taught them earlier in the day.

Briarlight had spent the entire day up until now relaxing. Surprisingly, Jayfeather hadn't assigned her to do anything. No collecting herbs, Tigerpaw was sent to do that, no sorting herbs, Jayfeather was taking care of that at the moment...

It was nice to be able to relax once in a while. She had even been allowed by Bramblestar to go to one of Rainpaw and Stormpaw's battle training sessions in the training hollow farther in the forest.\

Luckily, Vinekit, Quickkit, and Darkkit had returned home. They were actually ShadowClan kits, Snowbird's to be exact. In the middle of the night last night, they had gone to the Nursery to sleep with Daisy and her kits. At sunhigh earlier, a ThunderClan patrol was sent out to all of the Clans. They had eventually come to ShadowClan and found that Snowbird was missing three of her kits. The patrol returned to ThunderClan, and then rushed back to ShadowClan, returning the kits safe and sound to their mother.

ThunderClan had now all gathered in the clearing, watching their leader. Foxleap and Icecloud sat underneath the ledge, looking steeply up the wall to their leader. Cinderheart, Sorreltail, Spiderleg, Ivypool, and Seedbriar sat behind them. Sorreltail and Cinderheart were talking back and forth. Spiderleg looked annoyed at whatever the two she-cats were saying. Ivypool and Seedbriar were whispering gently, casting angry glances at Spiderleg.

Bramblestar spoke now. "I've gathered you all here to announce which cats will be attending tonight's Gathering. Squirrelflight and I will be leading the Clan to the island. Jayfeather has asked of me to bring Briarlight, which I will accept." Briarlight silently thanked StarClan, hoping earlier that Jayfeather was telling the truth.

"Tigerpaw, you will also come to be introduced to the other medicine cats. I have chosen the following warriors and apprentices: Brackenfur, Cloudtail, Brightheart, Thornclaw, Birchfall, Foxleap, Bumblestripe, Berrynose, Toadstep, Lionblaze, Cinderheart, Ivypool, Cherryleaf, Moletuft, Lilydust, Seedbriar, Snowpaw, Rainpaw, and Stormpaw."

Murmurs of agreement rose around the clearing. There would be enough warriors going to make the Clan look strong, and there would be enough warriors left in camp to defend if the Clan if it was invaded.

Spiderleg looked angry that he wasn't chosen, but at least he had the sense to keep quiet. He stalked off into the warriors den. Lionblaze got up, and started heading over to the camp entrance. Briarlight looked up at the darkening night sky. The sun had already slunk behind the skyline, and the moon was already making its journey over the forest.

The Clan would be leaving soon.

Bramblestar and Squirrelflight padded down the rocky slope to the ground, and stood by the tunnel, waiting for the chosen cats to assemble. Lionblaze and Bramblestar were talking silently, too far away for Briarlight to understand. Jayfeather padded up behind her and mewed," Are you ready to leave?"

"Yeah..." she then remembered her older dream she'd had. The dream where a strange group of cats had attacked the camp, killing three of her Clanmates. Then some StarClan cats came and one, Cinderpelt, had given her a prophecy. Both of her dreams had bad endings. What did they both mean? She would most likely find out tonight.

Jayfeather had already starting walking over to the other cats going to the Gathering. Briarlight got up and dragged herself over to him.

By the time all of the cats had assembled at the camp entrance, it was almost moonhigh. Bramblestar cast one last look over the camp, and then led the way through the thorn tunnel. Squirrelflight and Foxleap followed right after him. Then Briarlight pulled through, and then swerved off to the side to let her Clanmates pass. Brackenfur and Thornclaw's golden brown tabby pelts rushed by, and then the rest of the Clan moved through a bit slower. Briarlight joined in the group of cats when Cinderheart, Rainpaw, Snowpaw, and Stormpaw passed.

Rainpaw and Snowpaw were talking about the cats from the other Clans. Stormpaw was padding along, listening. Cinderheart meowed to Briarlight," How's it going in the medicine den?" Briarlight pulled over a twig, making her wince. "Oh, the usual. Jayfeather being grumpy, Tigerpaw being quiet," she was about to say, 'annoying', but remembered that she was talking to his mother.

Cinderheart nodded.

The cats padded through the forest, and then finally the lake appeared, glimmering in the moonlight. The water shimmered as a fish splashed farther out. A warm breeze blew off of the lake, warming Briarlight's fur. Bramblestar nodded to the Clan, and then started padding around the water's edge.

Slowly, the grass underneath her paws disappeared and sand appeared in its place. It felt night-cool on her pads. Rainpaw and Stormpaw looked relieved too.

Briarlight looked up ahead and saw that the river that separated ThunderClan and WindClan was coming up. They had made good time so far. They would probably be the first Clan to the island if they kept up this speed.

Cinderheart inhaled, and then looked around, like she'd scented something. None of the apprentices seemed to notice. Briarlight sniffed the air too, but the only smell was WindClan and the lake. "Did you pick up a scent?" Briarlight asked the she-cat. "Umm, yes, actually. It's faint, so its probably just blown in from the horseplace across the lake..."

Briarlight felt the air, and found that the wind was blowing toward the horseplace. Sorry, Cinderheart. Not possible...

She was about to say something, when Bramblestar yowled from the front of the Clan. They'd reached the river. "We'll cross one-by-one," he ordered. "I'll go first, then Squirrelflight, and then Jayfeather, Tigerpaw, and Briarlight will follow. Then the apprentices, and then the warriors."

Briarlight moved to the front of the Clan, just in time to see Bramblestar reach the other side of the river. The dark tabby tom signaled for Squirrelflight to cross next. Briarlight looked and saw the familiar stepping stones the Clan used to reach WindClan territory.

Squirrelflight bounded over easily. Then Jayfeather stepped up with Tigerpaw at his side. All of the sudden, Cinderheart appeared at Briarlight's shoulder. She padded up to Jayfeather and meowed sternly," I will carry him across."

Briarlight held a snicker of laughter. She knew that any normal apprentice would be embarrased at his mother carrying him three tail-lengths across the most calm river in the whole forest. But, as already figured out, Tigerpaw wasn't a normal apprentice. He actually looked pleased at the prospect of his mother carrying him.

"He's old enough to take care of himself!" Jayfeather spat. "This is one of the calmest rivers in the forest!" Cinderheart hissed and retorted," What? He's your son now? I don't think so!" She picked up her son and stepped onto the first stone. Jayfeather's neck fur fluffed up and he yowled," No! He's my apprentice!"

Briarlight could tell that Jayfeather knew Cinderheart was ignoring him.

Bramblestar and Squirrelflight were exchanging nervous glances. Even the Clan leader didn't want to get into this one.

Once Cinderheart and Tigerpaw reached WindClan territory, Jayfeather grumpily stepped across. Briarlight remembered what to do so that she didn't get her legs wet. She carefully stepped her front paws onto the first stone, with her hind legs still balancing on the land. Then, as quick as a cat with her disability could be, she jumped her front legs onto the next stone, and luckily, her hind legs slapped onto the first one.

Embarrassment crawled through her pelt as the whole Clan watched her. I hope I'm not slowing us down.

She repeated the same procedure over and over until she jumped onto WindClan territory. She turned around to see annoyed and impatient looks on the faces of her Clanmates. Maybe I shouldn't have come after all. No one seems to want me here.

Briarlight slumped her shoulders and pulled over to where Jayfeather was waiting. He seemed to recognize her emotions. "Don't worry Briarlight. Everything will be all right," She peered at him oddly. When'd he get so caring? "Nothing is alright when you're talking about my life," she retorted.

Jayfeather's blind eyes flashed. "I'm afraid you're right. Death is upon us,"

Briarlight stared at him, remembering that he couldn't tell. "W-what do you mean?" she asked warily, feeling her fur start to prickle.

"I'm so sorry..." he trailed off, and turned away. Briarlight pushed him on," Tell me!" If she didn't force him, he'd never speak of it again.

"T-the cat you saw last night in your dream?" "Yes..."

"He's not just any dream-figure, Briarlight. He is the Bringer of Death. His name is The Reaper."

Briarlight still didn't understand. "So? What does it mean that I saw, The Reaper?" she mewed, thinking of the odd name. Jayfeather stared her straight in the eye. "It means you are going to die."