The mouse nibbled contentedly, its beady black eyes fixed on the seed held between its paws. A soft breeze gently ruffled its short brown fur.
It didn't notice the pair of green eyes that watched it quietly from the bushes.
The black she-cat drew herself slowly forward pawstep by pawstep, her tail twitching gently. Not a sound was made as she crept ever closer to her unsuspecting prey.
Tensing her haunches, she flicked her tail once and leapt through the air. By the time the mouse's head lifted, it was far too late. The mouse fell under her paws without a single squeak. Her paws pinned it skillfully to the ground beneath her. In one bite, she had ended its life.
She let out a purr of satisfaction in helping to provide for her Clan.
And then she looked up and saw where she was.
Not far from where she stood, the creek that marked the border between ThunderClan and WindClan burbled merrily on its was across the forest.
And she remembered.
She remembered how silently she had moved through the night, cold gaze fixed on a very different kind of prey. She remembered how her claws had flashed, tearing into flecked gray fur as she took his life. She remembered how she had watched Ashfur bob in the current, his dark blue eyes lifeless and dull. And she remembered how she had simply walked away from the gory scene, her victim's blood washed away by the chilling river.
Hollyleaf flinched away from the memory, shutting leaf-green eyes and she forced the images away. She would not dwell on the past. She couldn't afford to if she was going to help her Clan.
Hollyleaf jerked and looked over her shoulder to see a massive golden tom watching her, amber eyes thoughtful. She relaxed. "Hello, Lionblaze," she meowed, dipping her head to her brother.
Lionblaze's hard gaze softened. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Hollyleaf took one last glance at the river. For a brief moment, the image of Ashfur, bobbing lifelessly on the water filled her vision. She turned away, shutting her eyes.
"Nothing," she meowed. "Let's get back to camp."
Hollyleaf padded through the thorn tunnel, shaking out her thick black pelt. Lionblaze shouldered his way in behind her. Cats were milling about the camp, enjoying the last of the warm greenleaf air. Mousefur and Purdy were sprawled outside their den, soaking up the warmth of the mid-morning sun with their heads tilted upwards and their eyes closed. Close to the center of camp, Cherrypaw and Molepaw chattered happily to each other over a plump-looking sparrow. Outside the nursery, Lilykit and Seedkit tussled happily with one another as Sorreltail and Ferncloud watched on with amusement.
Everything about her birth home was so familiar to her—as familiar to her as her own scent. Yet everything was so different. Like a half-forgotten dream, she could still recall the deep, dank darkness of the tunnels that wound beneath the lake. They had been her home for seasons; but she had never forgotten ThunderClan, and to ThunderClan she had returned.
As Hollyleaf crossed to the fresh-kill pile, she could hear her Clanmates whispering quietly to each other, shooting her sideways glances as she lay her mouse down on the ample pile. She tried to ignore them, pushing the thoughts away. But a little nagging voice in the back of her head remained.
You deserve it, it whispered. You're a murderer, after all.
Hollyleaf forced the voice roughly back into a corner of her mind. As she passed by the knot of warriors, Lionblaze stepped to her side, shooting the group a cool glare as he walked with her. "Ignore them," he said. "They're going to have to stop eventually."
The black she-cat nodded slowly, picking a fat vole from the fresh-kill pile and settling down beside her brother. But as she nibbled on the vole, she couldn't shake the stares that were fixed on her, the uneasy whispering that hissed about the clearing like a chilling wind.
She abruptly got to her paws. "I'm going to see if Jayfeather needs any help," she meowed, striding away from her brother before he could say anything and slipping into her other brother's den.
The floor of the medicine den was covered in herbs—Jayfeather was shuffling around, picking through them. A few mouse-lengths away, Briarlight was sprawled across the cave floor, her back legs splayed awkwardly out behind her as she pulled bundles of leaves together into neat piles.
Jayfeather's ears twitched, though he didn't look up from his work. "Hollyleaf," he said calmly, though there was a flicker of contentment in his cloudy blue gaze.
Briarlight looked up from her sorting. "Hello, Hollyleaf!" she meowed cheerfully, gaze brightening.
Hollyleaf dipped her head to the two. "Jayfeather, I was wondering if…there was anything you needed help with."
The gray tabby rolled his eyes. "I don't think I'll be needing any more help," he growled. "Briarlight is helping me sort herbs, and I already had Cinderheart begging me to let her go collect herbs earlier."
Hollyleaf winced. If her fellow Clanmates weren't gossiping about her, they were gossiping about Cinderheart—and the cat she had once been. Ever since the day she'd revealed herself to be Cinderpelt's past life, she had insisted on helping out in the medicine den as much as she could.
The black she-cat sighed. "Are you sure there's nothing I need help with?" she asked.
Jayfeather shook his head. "I'm fine," he snapped. He lifted his head. "Briarlight, could you check the herb store and make sure we didn't miss anything?"
The crippled she-cat nodded, hauling herself to the back of the cave to check the stores.
Hollyleaf watched her brother work. Now that she watched, he did seem a little distracted. The blind tom looked unusually unfocused on his work—there was a slightly glassy look in his eye, and he was muttering quietly under his breath. He began calmly sorting through a pile of herbs that had been already neatly piled.
"Jayfeather, what's wrong?" she whispered. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," he insisted. "I just…" He twitched an ear, as if to make sure no one was listening; Briarlight was still sifting through the herb store.
"I've just had a very bad feeling lately," he muttered anxiously, his blue eyes clouded with uneasiness. "I don't know why, but…I'm getting the feeling StarClan is trying to tell me something. That something is wrong."
Hollyleaf's eyes widened. "Jayfeather," she murmured. "You don't think this has something to do with…with it?"
She didn't dare mention it by name.
There will be three, kin of your kin, who hold the power of the stars in their paws.
The prophecy that dangled over her brothers' heads, governing their lives. The one that would decide the very fate of the warrior code.
The one she'd once believed she had been a part of.
But the gray tom shook his head. "No…it's not that. It's something else." He narrowed his eyes in frustration. "But I don't know what."
Before she could reply, Briarlight pulled herself free of the medicine den. "I found a few more," she announced, gently placing a bundle on the ground.
Jayfeather's head snapped up. "Thank, Briarlight," he meowed, sniffing at the new herbs. "Hollyleaf, why don't you get some rest?" he meowed, one eye flicking in her direction. "It seems like you've had a hard day."
"I—" She sighed. "All right," she meowed. She gave Jayfeather a final glance, but padded out of the den, across the camp and into the warriors' den. Most of the nests were empty, but Toadstep and Thornclaw were both curled up in their respective places. As she passed, both cats lifted their heads. Toadstep's gaze was carefully guarded, but Thornclaw shot her a surly stare, his gaze bleary with sleep. Hollyleaf ignored them, stepping between them and climbing into her own nest.
As her eyes began to slide closed, her mind drifted back to Jayfeather's anxiety
He said he didn't know why he was so on edge, she mused. So what is it that's causing it? What could StarClan be trying to tell him?
She stirred slightly, her eyelids fluttering as she shifted in her nest.
A paw prodded her side. "Hollyleaf. Wake up."
Hollyleaf opened her eyes, shifting quickly into a sitting position. But she relaxed when she saw that was only Cinderheart. Though the gray she-cat looked the same on the outside, there was a different air about her. Her sapphire-blue eyes looked aged now—they'd lost much of her old youth, making her look as if she was seasons older than she actually was.
Which, in a way, was true. Cinderheart wasn't fully herself anymore. Hollyleaf had been as shocked as the rest of her Clanmates when Cinderheart had discovered the circumstances behind her birth. After all, Cinderheart had been her best friend for most of her life. Finding out that she was really the reincarnation of an old medicine cat tended to change things.
Yet…she knew better than anyone what it was like to be different. Her very birth had shattered the warrior code that she held so dear. She'd killed Ashfur to keep the secret from escaping…but it had been in vain in the end. The secret had gotten out anyway, and she spent moons away from her Clan because of it.
The black she-cat jumped again as Cinderheart's voice broke her out of her reverie. "Yes?" she asked, shaking away the last of her sleepiness.
Cinderheart jerked her head towards the den entrance. "Come on," she meowed. "Firestar wants you on a patrol."
Nodding, Hollyleaf got to her paws and followed her friend out. Brambleclaw was waiting by the camp entrance, along with Thornclaw, Birchfall, Toadstep and Mousewhisker. She fought back a growl of annoyance.
Wonderful, she thought. I'm stuck on a patrol with three of the cats who still think I'm a traitor.
As she approached, Mousewhisker gave her an awkward nod. She returned it respectfully, but her eyes betrayed no emotion. After all, he'd said it himself—they'd been friends before, but he'd made it clear he no longer trusted her.
Brambleclaw nodded. "We're patrolling the ShadowClan border," he informed her. His amber eyes narrowed. "Firestar also wants us to check for Sol."
Hollyleaf dug her claws into the ground as she pictured the loner tom. After everything he'd done, she was more than willing to sink her claws into his treacherous pelt.
Brambleclaw led the way through the thorn tunnel and out into the forest beyond. The air was still warm and pleasant, and Hollyleaf lifted her head to the sunlight. But then a cool wind cut through the trees, and she let out a yelp at the sudden breeze.
So much for that, she thought, fluffing up her pelt against the chill. Leaf-fall's closer than we thought.
"It's colder than it was earlier," meowed a voice from beside her. Hollyleaf jumped in surprise, but relaxed slightly when she saw it was only Mousewhisker. The gray-and-white tom looked uncomfortable as he tried to make conversation.
Hollyleaf nodded hesitantly, not meeting his gaze. "Yes," she meowed, choosing to instead focus on a leaf that was fluttering in the wind above them.
The two cats were silent as they padded along. Mousewhisker stared at his paws for a few moments before looking up again. "Leaf-bare's going to be here sooner than we know it."
The black she-cat nodded again, ears pinning back uncomfortably. Why is he trying to talk to me? she thought confusedly. Aren't I "untrustworthy?" After all, Thornclaw seems to think so. The golden-brown tom kept shooting her glances over his shoulder, as if he expected her to tear out his throat the moment he let his guard down.
Mousewhisker watched her hopefully for a few moments as he waited for a reply. When she never did, he sighed. "Er…Hollyleaf—"
Before he could continue, there was a hiss from the front of the patrol. Brambleclaw was standing still, his neck fur lifting as he smelled the air. "Do you smell that?" he meowed, eyes narrowed.
Hollyleaf lifted her nose to the air, parting her jaws to draw the scent in. Her eyes widened when she caught a whiff of cat-scent. But it didn't belong to any of the Clans. And there was something off about it; was it just her, or did it smell more like Twoleg than cat?
"Rogue!" Thornclaw hissed.
"But it smells like Twoleg," Mousewhisker said thoughtfully. "I've never smelled anything like it before."
Brambleclaw shook his massive head. "Neither have I," he rumbled.
Hollyleaf took a few steps forward, still tasting the air. She followed it along for a few tail-lengths. It led to a small clump of grass and ferns that lay about three fox-lengths away. Something about the place looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't put a claw on it…
And then it hit her. They were close to one of the bordering tunnel entrances. She'd never used it much because it was so out of the way, but she'd known it was there.
Hollyleaf craned her neck, searching among the ferns. And there, half-buried beneath the greenery, was a dark hole in the ground just big enough to fit a cat.
"Everyone!" she meowed, trotting forward. "I think I know where—"
Without warning the ground rumbled under her paws. Hollyleaf's eyes widened, but before she could take a step back the ground gave way beneath her.
She had just enough time to let out a shriek before she was swallowed up by the darkness.
I tried to keep everyone in character as much as possible, let me know what you think!