A/N: A faster update!... and my third consecutive chapter with more than 4000 words. Dawn and Shadows also hits the 40k mark with this update.
"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather under the Highledge for a meeting!"
Snowpaw looked up from the small mouse she was eating. Bramblestar was standing on the Highledge, his tabby pelt turned a dark auburn colour by a ray of sunlight. The shade matched Bronzepaw's fur exactly, and she felt a hard lump in her throat at the thought of her brother. She hadn't seen him for more than half a moon.
Slowly, the rest of ThunderClan started trickling out of their various dens and hiding places. Poppyfrost, a tortoiseshell pregnant queen, waddled out of the nursery with the kittypet, Daisy, at her heels. Graystripe and Dustpelt came out of the elders' den and sat a few tail-lengths in front of it. To Snowpaw's disgust, Lilypaw, Seedpaw, Dewpaw, and the other Snowpaw trotted out of the apprentices' den and sat as close to Highledge as possible. There was an unusually smug expression on Dewpaw's face, even more smug than usual; Snowpaw wondered what that was all about.
Finally, about fifteen or so warriors emerged, one by one, either from their den or from around the clearing. Cloudtail sat with Brightheart, of course, and Brackenfur; a couple more cats sat behind them. It took Snowpaw a moment to remember their names. Oh, right - Millie, Cinderheart, and Whitewing. A bunch of gossipy she-cats. She sniffed and looked away, also searching for a spot for her to sit (preferably as far away from the rest of the apprentices as possible).
As most of the cats took their seats, Snowpaw spotted a strategic-looking location next to Dovewing and Moleclaw. She hurried over and sat down, just as Bramblestar opened his mouth to speak.
"Today, my friends, we are gathered here for one of my favorite ceremonies!" Bramblestar purred, loudly enough so that everyone could hear. Murmurs and whispers broke out amongst the cats; most of them wanted to know exactly which ceremony was going to be performed.
To Snowpaw's shock, Moleclaw leaned over to her and whispered, "I bet he's going to make Dewpaw and Snowpaw warriors!"
"Oh! Y-you, um, think so?" Snowpaw stammered, trying to think of something to say. She could count the number of times a cat spoke willingly to her since her arrival on her front paws.
"You're right, Moleclaw - look at Dewpaw's smug face," Dovewing muttered from her other side. "He's going to be insufferable once he's a warrior. I don't know what Lilypaw sees in him."
"Lilypaw fancies Dewpaw?" Snowpaw asked, suddenly very interested. Maybe she could use this tidbit of information to blackmail Lilypaw into leaving her alone! Wait, that was mean... but they weren't exactly nice to her, either, were they?... But blackmailing was wrong!
"Yeah," Moleclaw snorted. "Haven't you - oh, right," he cut himself off hastily. Snowpaw could guess what he was going to say - hadn't she noticed how they'd been hanging around each other a lot lately? Yes, she'd noticed a little, but she also spent most of her time trying to stay as far away from her Clanmates as possible. Especially the other apprentices.
"Silence!" Bramblestar yowled, immediately silencing all the conversations. "Ahem. As I was saying, today we are gathered for my favorite ceremony: the naming of two new warriors. Dewpaw, Snowpaw, please step forward."
The eldest apprentices padded to the front of the crowd, their heads held high. Many of the warriors were purring their congratulations, even though they hadn't received their new names yet.
Bramblestar gazed up at the bloodstained sky. "I, Bramblestar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as warriors in their turn.
"Dewpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
Dewpaw looked up at his leader. "I do," he meowed confidently.
"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Dewpaw, from this moment on you will be known as Dewfang. StarClan honours your determination and quick thinking, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
Bramblestar leaped down lightly from his perch, and touched his nose to Dewfang's head. The new warrior licked Bramblestar on the shoulder, then stepped back respectfully, leaving his brother to stand before the leader.
"Snowpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Snowpaw, from this moment on you will be known as Snowheart. StarClan honours your courage and honesty, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
Bramblestar repeated the final part of the ceremony with Snowheart. After he stepped back, the Clan started calling their names.
"Dewfang! Snowheart! Dewfang! Snowheart!"
"You know," Dovewing said casually, continuing their earlier conversation as if nothing had happened, "it'll be much easier to tell you two apart, now that your names are different again."
"I guess so," Snowpaw agreed uncertainly. "Except no one wants to talk to me, anyways."
"I'm talking to you," the she-cat pointed out. "And really, Snowpaw, not all ThunderClan cats are so unfriendly. If you'd just made a bit more effort to fit in, and make conversations, I'm sure they would be much nicer to you. But all you do is walk around, moping, and wishing to be back in ShadowClan. I know you lost your only family, and you're probably still miserable, but life goes on."
Instinctively, Snowpaw's pelt bristled. "You don't know anything about what it's like to leave your only family to go to an enemy Clan!" she hissed. "Who are you to tell me to 'make a bit more effort'? I don't want to fit in with ThunderClan!"
"I'm only looking out for you, and contrary to your opinion, I don't like seeing other cats miserable, even ShadowClan cats," Dovewing mewed patiently. "Especially young apprentices like you. Personally, I don't think it matters what Clan you're from - you're still lost, and alone, and that's sad."
"Whatever." Snowpaw turned away and shut her eyes, trying to block out the kind words that were piercing her heart like kind thorns; bleeding out all the fear and pain and hatred - since when did she hate anyone? - through her unshed tears.
She didn't know how long she sat there, but eventually she felt the warmth of Dovewing to her left and Moleclaw to her right leave her, so that there was only chilly air all around. The rest of the Clan seemed to have dispersed to their dens.
"Snowpaw, what are you doing?"
Who was talking to her? It was - oh. It was one of them. Snowpaw wished she could just crouch here forever, and no one would speak to her ever again, but she knew that Lilypaw and Seedpaw would never go away, not when she was this vulnerable. They saw it as a golden opportunity.
"Please leave me alone," she whispered almost noiselessly, before opening her eyes.
A dark tabby she-cat with white patches stared at her, eyes narrowed maliciously; it was she who had spoken. Beside her was Seedpaw, her pale ginger fur turned a reddish brown in the dying light.
"Leave you alone?" Lilypaw asked sweetly. "Why, we couldn't do that! That would be very rude. Besides, all we wanted to do was share some fresh-kill with you."
"Really..." Snowpaw cast her gaze around the camp, but no one in the vicinity was noticing what was happening. Besides, the nearest cat, Ivypool, would hardly care; she'd sooner join in than stop the bullying.
"Of course!" Seedpaw purred. "Here, we saved this just for you." She pawed a mouse that was lying beside her to Snowpaw.
"What is it?" Snowpaw asked cautiously, sniffing at the food. Surely they weren't this nice... this had to be some kind of trick.
"It's a piece of crowfood we found lying around in the forest - just like you," Lilypaw hissed. "Eat it."
"Wh-what? No! I'll get sick and die!" Snowpaw exclaimed, immediately scrabbling to get away from the mouse. This was an all-time low - trying to kill her with maggots and rotten meat! Her stomach lurched sickeningly just thinking about it.
"And do you think we care?" Seedpaw inquired icily.
"I would hope so, since she is your Clanmate, and the warrior code tells us to be loyal to our Clan," Jayfeather meowed in an even colder tone.
All three she-cats yelped and looked around. The grey medicine cat was standing at the entrance of his den, which was only a tail-length away; they'd been too distracted to notice him coming out.
"J-Jayfeather! Um, hi!" Seedpaw squeaked. "We were just... um... having a little fun! Playing a joke! It's all friendly, right, Snowpaw?" Both she and Lilypaw looked at Snowpaw pleadingly.
For a moment, Snowpaw was tempted to rat them out to Jayfeather, make sure they were punished for bullying her; maybe even dragged in front of Bramblestar, and kicked out of the Clan. She wanted to make sure they suffered as much as they made her suffer... it was what Blackpaw and Bronzepaw would've done. They wouldn't even be hesitating right now.
"Well?" Jayfeather prompted. "Is this true, Snowpaw?" His voice was dripping with sarcasm. "Are you really friends?"
But Snowpaw wasn't that mean. She knew that it was her own fault, too, for being so withdrawn and snappish and unwilling to make friends with anyone. She was letting everyone think of her as that miserable, antisocial ShadowClan apprentice that didn't want to be here. In a way, they were just punishing her for her own mistakes. Bullying her was wrong, it only made the problem worse, but it was her own fault for letting them, and not making friends and speaking up sooner.
"No," she mewed finally. "They weren't just being friendly. They were bullying me. But I don't want them to be punished."
Lilypaw's mouth dropped open. She and her sister stared at Snowpaw.
Jayfeather tilted his head; his expression was unreadable, but his blue eyes seemed to pierce Snowpaw's fur. "Are you sure?" he asked in a level tone. "I could take this to Bramblestar, if you'd like. Bullying is unacceptable in ThunderClan."
"I know. But... I'd just like them to stop. Give them a warning." Snowpaw glared at Lilypaw and Seedpaw. "If they do it again, I will make sure they're punished."
"All right. You two, you heard her. Run along now." Jayfeather leveled his glare at the apprentices, and they ran off with a couple of little squeaks. Then, he turned to Snowpaw, who was looking back at him calmly.
"Come inside my den," Jayfeather mewed at last, turning around and padding into his home. "Mind the herbs. We need to talk."
Snowpaw shook her head at his disconnected statements, but followed him into the darkness of the den. She could see easily, of course, but in the darkness it was harder to avoid getting lost, staring into those unreadable eyes.
Once she was was inside, Jayfeather indicated a mossy nest a few tail-lengths from his own. "Sit."
Snowpaw sat. Jayfeather curled up in his nest, so that only his head was visible. They looked at each other for a while. Snowpaw tried to guess what the medicine cat was thinking.
"Why did you let them off so easily?" Jayfeather asked eventually. "If it was me, I would've made sure they couldn't leave camp for a moon, and that they got all the dirtiest jobs. Oh, and talked to Brightheart, of course; she can be quite a menace."
"I don't know. I just... I can't really blame them for wanting to hurt me. I'm a stranger to them, to everyone, really. I haven't tried to adjust, or anything, and that basically invited everyone to shun me. Or, in their case, bully me. Besides, I don't want to go to all the trouble of bothering Bramblestar, and then having the rest of the Clan hate me even more for getting Lilypaw and Seedpaw in trouble."
"You have an acute sense of how other cats feel," Jayfeather observed.
"Well... yeah, I guess so. I've spent most of my kithood just watching the other kits play, rather than joining in." Snowpaw shrugged, forgetting that Jayfeather couldn't see her.
He nodded slightly. "About that. Bramblestar told me that you mentioned having some sort of skills with reading signs... could you explain that?"
"Um..." Snowpaw blinked, caught off-guard. Since that conversation a half-moon ago, she hadn't really thought about her conversations with Bramblestar, or with Jayfeather about a possible prophecy. Sure, she'd done a few readings, but they didn't yield anything interesting, and her new apprentice training left little time for stuff like that. "Well, I just learned to mix herbs a certain way, and I learned a few rituals. With practice, I was able to accurately guess what would happen in the near future."
"And who taught you this?" Jayfeather asked carefully.
"I... no one taught me! I taught myself. It just sort of... happened... well, um, one day I just tried mixing herbs for fun, and I realized I could read them, or something, it's kind of hard to explain..." Snowpaw trailed off uncertainly. How had she learned to read herbs? It was so long ago, she barely remembered what had happened. It was a sunny day, though, at the end of leaf-bare. A brief image of a leaf falling from a blue sky came to her, but then it faded without a trace.
Jayfeather twitched his ears. "I see. So it seems like you were just born with the talent?"
"Yes. I mean, I guess so."
"Okay," he meowed after a short pause. "Thank you. Now, there's one other thing I want to talk to you about. Did you think any more about the prophecy? Whether there is one about you and your siblings, I mean? Did StarClan or the Tribe of Endless Hunting speak to you?"
"No! I mean, no, they didn't speak, and yes, I thought about it. A little." All right, maybe more than a little, but Jayfeather didn't need to know that.
"I think... I'm starting to get the suspicion that you're the daughter of Stoneteller, Snowpaw, and something really bad has happened to the Tribe. I think that maybe you and your siblings need to journey there, and find out what happened that made your mother escape to the Clans."
"What?" Snowpaw gasped. Journey to the Tribe? "Who's Stoneteller? I heard Bramblestar mention him, but I don't know what that is. Is he the leader?"
"Well... he's sort of like the leader and medicine cat all at once, and he doesn't have a deputy," Jayfeather explained. "He reads signs that the Tribe of Endless Hunting sends, and interprets them so that he knows how they want him to lead the Tribe of Rushing Water."
Snowpaw blinked. That sounded a lot like what she did! "What does this have to do with a prophecy, then?"
The medicine cat hesitated for just a second longer than was necessary. "Nothing. I think there isn't a prophecy, and that the reason our powers don't work is because you're from the mountains. Maybe something got passed on to you from your mother, that makes you immune, or something. It's not that important."
But it is, Snowpaw thought. It's important if you've been wanting to talk to me about it, on more than one occasion. However, she didn't voice her thoughts. Instead, she asked, "When will we go? Does Bramblestar approve?"
Jayfeather shrugged. "I'll speak to him. He's the one who originally suggested it, although we haven't discussed it much. In any case, I think I've given you enough to think about for tonight, hmmmm? You should go now."
"But-" Snowpaw started to protest.
"Don't argue!" Jayfeather snapped. He seemed to be back to his usual, grouchy self. "I said go back to your den, before I chase you out!"
"Y-yes, Jayfeather," Snowpaw mumbled, hastily exiting the den.
The sky was still dark when Snowpaw stood at the entrance to the apprentices' den the next morning. In the east, there was a faint glow, signalling the arrival of dawn; but it was still so far off that the dawn patrol hadn't even left yet, and Berrynose was still snoozing at the camp entrance. From her position, she couldn't see him, but his snores carried all the way across the clearing.
Snowpaw shivered slightly in the frosty air, and fluffed out her white fur. She silently cursed its glowing whiteness, but at this early hour, there weren't any cats around to see her sneaking out of camp.
What was she doing? Last night, after the talk with Jayfeather, Snowpaw had felt a strong urge to do a future reading, but knew that it was impossible, as there were still many other cats around who would see her leaving camp, get suspicious, follow her, and... discover her most precious secret: the only thing she could do that no one in ThunderClan could take away from her. Or had taken away yet, anyways.
So she ditched an extra few hours of sleep, and snuck out early.
Where should I get the herbs? Snowpaw wondered. The easiest place would, of course, be Jayfeather's den, but with his sharp senses, he'd probably wake up immediately. That left only the forest, but she wasn't familiar with all the herb locations yet. (Correction: she hadn't followed Jayfeather on his herb-gathering trips enough times yet.)
With a weary sigh, she took a step towards the entrance tunnel. And stopped.
Two heads swiveled around to stare at her. Dewfang was shooting her a glare, while Snowheart looked merely curious.
Mouse dung! Snowpaw cursed mentally. Of course, she'd completely forgotten: they'd been keeping their vigil right next to the tunnel! And she hadn't seen them because they were partially hidden by a clump of wayward brambles. But then, why was Berrynose still keeping watch?
The answer came to her in a flash - Dewfang and Snowheart couldn't speak, so if they saw someone entering/leaving, they couldn't report it to Firestar. And why would they need to report someone? Well, of course, if that someone was Snowpaw, sneaking out to visit her sister.
She felt a dull flame of anger glow in her heart. Even after more than a moon, they still didn't trust her. ThunderClan still thought of her as a prisoner, as the enemy. She'd resigned herself to her fate here already, yet they still insisted on reminding her that she couldn't be trusted, because she was a ShadowClan cat!
Snowpaw growled softly to herself, and took a step forward, locking eyes with Dewfang. He gave her a challenging stare, and she stared right back.
"I'm going out into the forest," she offered as she came closer to the tunnel. "I'm allowed to, right?"
Snowheart shrugged, while Dewfang shook his head firmly.
"Why not?" she asked in an innocent tone, coming even closer. "I was just going to collect some herbs for Jayfeather; he'd asked me last night. You can even report me to Bramblestar, if you wish, when the sun comes up. That shouldn't be too long from now, right?"
Snowheart nodded, and pointed with his tail to the entrance, as if allowing her to pass. Dewfang didn't take his eyes off of Snowpaw. His gaze was cold and suspicious, now.
"Oh, come on," Snowpaw said with annoyance, dropping all innocence. "If I was meeting ShadowClan cats, I would've left in the middle of the night, through the dirtplace or something, right? I wouldn't be inviting you to report me! So will you let me go, already?!"
The grey warrior hesitated. Then, with a lash of his tail, he stepped aside, freeing the tunnel for Snowpaw to go through.
"Thank you," she growled, as she passed the two brothers.
She could still feel two pairs of eyes boring into her, until the shadows concealed her form.
By the time Snowpaw had gathered the things she needed - moss, a cobweb, a perfectly shaped oak leaf, some thyme, and several juniper berries - the sun was well over the horizon. She knew that Dewfang would've reported her leaving to Bramblestar by now, and if she didn't come back soon, then they'd start looking for her along the ShadowClan border.
She decided to do her reading by the lake, as it seemed peaceful and warm; the leaf-fall chill that seeped through the forest hadn't yet reached the pebbly shore. Snowpaw set down the bundle of future reading materials and crouched on the sparse grass in the shade of a tall birch tree. The sun cast dappled light on the ground in front of her. She nodded to herself. This was the perfect spot.
Before beginning to spread out her supplies, Snowpaw took a deep breath and closed her eyes, willing herself to feel the river of time trickling all around her, and to submerge herself in its energies. For a moment, all she saw was darkness. But then, a faint, cold sensation started to creep through her fur. She shivered involuntarily, but continued to open herself into the mysterious flow. Soon, her whole body felt as cold as ice, and as finely strung as a Twoleg foxtrap; she felt as if any sudden movement would make her shatter into a million pieces.
Snowpaw opened her eyes.
The world was a hundred times brighter, and sharper. She could see all the way to the RiverClan shore, as clearly as if it was only a few tail-lengths away. The sun was almost bright enough to blind her, and she tried to squint, but her eyes wouldn't listen. Every detail popped out, and all the colours were much more vibrant than usual.
Instinctively, just as she always did, Snowpaw inhaled deeply. The air was suddenly full of many rich flavours, from the mouthwatering scent of a nearby mouse, to the very faint smell of toadstools, many, many cat-lengths down the shore from her. Her ears were pricked so much that they were starting to ache; they swiveled back and forth, seeming to hear everything throughout the forest, even the stream on the WindClan border... unless that was just her imagination.
Still moving carefully, so as not to snap out of her trance, Snowpaw looked downwards at the herbs, moss, and cobweb. They were also very bright and sharp; every thread of the cobweb sparkled as if it had water droplets sprinkled all over it, and the oak leaf had a thousand different hues. As if they'd come alive with their own will, her paws slid towards the materials, and began to mix and tear them with practiced ease. She barely knew what she was doing; it was almost as if her paws were being controlled by something else.
StarClan? The Tribe of Endless Hunting?
The river of time itself?
Snowpaw gasped involuntarily, as the world seemed to shift. Her fur suddenly heated up. Her paws stopped moving, her eyes drifted shut, her amazing senses faded into her ordinary ones. She felt the loss as if part of her soul had suddenly withered and died.
But there was still something left over from those minutes of clarity: the message that her herbs would show her.
She opened her eyes and gazed upon her work.
A strangled gasp escaped her.
Quickly, Snowpaw looked around. Was anyone near? Had anyone seen her do the herb reading? She scented the air, but there was only the much fainter scent of mouse. Feeling her fur start to bristle instinctively, she hurriedly swiped her claws across the reading, destroying the ill-fated message. To make sure absolutely no one would be able to read it, she even scooped up some dirt and mixed it in, so that the herbs were entirely scrambled. Snowpaw's tail lashed as she retreated, back towards ThunderClan camp. As soon as the lake was no longer visible through the trees, she broke into a run, skidding on the dead leaves as she rounded sharp turns and leaped over fallen trees with newfound ease.
As she ran, her paws thrumming on the forest floor, she heard the prophecy that she'd unconsciously dreaded receiving, ever since Jayfeather's warning, repeating over and over in her head. And she wondered, despairingly, how she'd ever be able to explain to anyone what it was supposed to mean.
How could she, if she didn't even know who had sent it?
The prophecy pounded through her brain, even as she tried to erase it.
Feathered shadows will rise from Dawn, and melt the ice that lurks in stone.
The prophecy pointed straight towards the mountains... towards her home.