First ImagineClan challenge! Challenge #21, Love over Loyalty: 15, N, O

For the purposes of this story, pretend that these cats are much more advanced than the normal Clans and can make ice swords (or blades, daggers, whatever), dig snow tunnels, and learn the languages of other animals, among other things.

"You wanted to see me, Ashstar?"

"Yes, I did, dearest Rowanflame. I wanted to speak to you about the succession of this Clan."

Rowanflame blinked, both in surprise and to adjust her eyes to the dimness of the leader's cave. "I would do anything for DeathClan, Ashstar. But I have a mate, so I am unable to become deputy."

Ashstar flicked his jet-black tail impatiently. "Rowanflame, I named you not only for my mentor, Flamestar, but also for the brightness of your mind. Don't you think that if I'd wanted you to be my heir, I'd have schooled you in the art of leadership and prevented you from loving Iceblade? No, I need you as an adviser to Eaglespirit. He is a brilliant fighter and commander, but he needs someone wise to turn to. As you know, I am on my last life, and I won't have time to try and tame his hotheadedness."

Rowanflame dipped her head, feeling secretly relieved that she wouldn't have to split up with Iceblade. The thought was too difficult to bear. "Of course, Ashstar, I will assist him in any way I can."

He nodded. "Excellent, my dear. You may go."

She backed out of the den, flinching as always when the hanging moss brushed against her back. As soon as she left the den, she gave a bounce of excitement and bounded to the warriors' den, too filled with happiness to care about the annoyed looks some of the older cats gave her.

"Iceblade! Iceblade!" she called softly, sticking her head into the snow tunnel that led to the den. "Are you in there?"

"I'm coming, Rowanflame," a low mew replied from somewhere up ahead. "What's gotten into you today?"

"Oh, I'm just so happy!" Rowanflame purred when she saw the love of her life emerge from the tunnel, blinking in the bright moonlight that reflected off the surrounding snow. "Ashstar asked me to -"

But she didn't get to finish her sentence, as a fierce yowl rang out from the night, echoing on the mountain slopes.

"FrostClan, attack!"

Rowanflame barely had time to gasp in horror as a wave of cats appeared from the darkness, their eyes gleaming as brightly as the newly fallen snow.

"DeathClan, defend yourselves! Protect the queens and the elders! Kill as many as possible!" Ashstar yowled from the middle of the camp, springing onto the Highcliff. "We cannot lose to FrostClan, or they will disband us forever!"

The DeathClan warriors gave answering yowls as they sprang from their dens. Rowanflame saw Snowfeather and Nightfang streaking towards the nursery, intercepting two enemy FrostClan cats, while Rocktail and Eaglespirit himself helped Ashstar rally the rest of the warriors. Fierce cries echoed across the mountain slopes like thunder as the two Clans clashed in a deadly battle.

"Iceblade, we have to stick together, or we might lose each other!" Rowanflame yowled over the noise, leaning towards her mate. "Let's defend the elders!"

"There's no need, Hawkfur's got it!" Iceblade answered, unsheathing his claws and baring his teeth at the intruders. "Let's go join Eaglespirit to rip out some fur!"

Rowanflame nodded and streaked after him as he sped off into the midst of the battle.

The next ten minutes were a whirlwind of claws, fur, fangs, and blood. At one point, Rowanflame almost fainted from horror when she thought she saw an attack snake on one of the FrostClan cats' shoulders, but it was only a trick of the shadows. If FrostClan had brought the deadly adders that they were known for befriending, then the battle would be crushingly over.

No matter how hard she tried, though, Rowanflame couldn't keep Iceblade in her sighs. One moment, she was tearing at the throat of a spotted she-cat, while he clawed at her stomach; the next, he was tail-lengths away, fighting a huge black tom. She looked away for a moment too long, and he was gone.

"Iceblade!" Rowanflame yowled, slicing through a cat's skin like water. "Where are you?!"

Suddenly, a horrible feeling settled into her chest, as if something very, very terrible had just happened. Something unthinkable.


She fought like she'd gone insane, a spinning vortex of death and anger, with only one thought to guide her; she needed to get to him, because something had gone wrong and he was dying, or worse, dead -

But the cats kept coming, cutting her off from seeing anything besides her opponent. Rowanflame kept looking around desperately as she clawed and bit, ignoring the pain of her numerous wounds, but still she couldn't find Iceblade anywhere.

Miraculously, though, at one point an opening appeared through the screeching cats. Rowanflame somehow knew that it would lead her to the one she needed above all other things, so she took it, ducking around enemies and friends alike. She no longer cared about killing FrostClan cats. She needed to find her mate.

And there he was.

Iceblade was pinned to the ground by his throat, struggling with a tiny tortoiseshell she-cat. Rowanflame's stomach dropped like a stone when she realised who this was: the infamous Spottedleaf, deadliest fighter in all eight mountain Clans. Only she would be able to pin Iceblade like that, with seemingly no effort. And yes - there was the ever-present adder, coiling around her neck, reaching towards Iceblade to deliver the killing bite -

Rowanflame didn't stop to think. She lunged.

"Not so fassst, precioussss!"

The next thing she knew, she was on the ground, with a snake coiled around her throat. Disbelief flooded her as she looked at Spottedleaf, who was still leaning over Iceblade, grinning cruelly - but her snake was gone. It had only pretended to bite Iceblade, as it was waiting for her to leap forward. And she had fallen for it like a fool.

"Rowanflame! NO!"

A new voice had rung out from only a cat-length away. With growing dread, Rowanflame looked around and saw Ashstar, similarly pinned down by a huge black adder. The snake was staring at her in the eye, flicking its tongue.

"What do you want?" Rowanflame asked all three of the enemy creatures, not sure which one was really in charge here. She'd never seen the black adder before, but suspected that a snake that large could only belong to Skystar.

"We wanted to isolate the three strongest warriors that DeathClan has," Spottedleaf purred. "And we wanted to give you a choice, Rowanflame."

"Wh-what kind of choice?" she choked out, already knowing the answer.

"Who to ssssave, of coursssse. Your mate, or your masssster?" the snake constricting her hissed.

Her heart almost stopped. Slowly, she sat up, and the adder didn't protest, merely coiling around her neck and flicking its tongue near her face.

"Rowanflame! Don't-!" Iceblade's words were cut short as Spottedleaf pressed down on his neck, constricting his throat and making it hard for him to breathe. Rowanflame's mind raced, as she tried to figure out what he'd meant. Don't save him? Or don't save Ashstar? Was Iceblade trying to be loyal, or did he just want to live, at the cost of his leader?

She shut her eyes, ignoring the battle raging all around their little pocket of calm. Would Iceblade really be disloyal? She'd always thought of him as a near-perfect, if not perfect, warrior. Surely he'd want her to save Ashstar. Surely he'd understand. But how could she live her life without her mate? The thought brought only anguish to her heart, which was pounding wildly, flooding her blood with energy.

"You know where your loyalties lie!" Ashstar yowled, forcing her to jerk her eyes open again. Rowanflame almost shrieked when she saw the giant black snake flick its tongue next to Ashstar's face... and take a slow, careful bite into his left ear.

The yowls of agony were impossible to block out. Rowanflame's eyes darted wildly between her leader and her mate, Ashstar and Iceblade, her past and her future... her loyalty rested on moons of service... but was it really worth sacrificing a future for?

In the second that the black adder bit Ashstar agian, she made her lunge.

Spottedleaf yowled in shock as she was thrown off of Iceblade. She was clearly expecting Rowanflame to leap for Skystar's foul snake, not her. Iceblade didn't hesitate; he deftly bit into the throat of Spottedleaf's adder, ignoring its mouth full of gaping teeth poised to bite. The only sign of surprise and/or shock that Rowanflame could see were his wide eyes, but in that moment she was too filled with love to care. How could she ever have thought to live without this brave, perfect cat?

Together, they fought off Spottedleaf, who seemed to be in shock from the death of her faithful snake. She kept whispering "Ssaiss... Ssaiss..." which I assumed was the name of her adder. Her distraction made it easy to beat her, and she soon vanished into the throng of battling cats.

At the exact same time, Iceblade and I turned to Ashstar, just in time to see the most horrible sight ever. His pleading eyes were fixed on me, and he seemed to be mouthing my name... not speaking, because the giant adder had sunk its enormous teeth into his throat.

"Ashstar!" With a shriek of rage, Iceblade hurled himself at the snake. He bit into the back of its neck, and I could see blood spurt out of the wound, but the snake's jaws didn't relax. I bounded over to my fallen leader, and saw his amber eyes look at me one last time, full of - sorrow? Anger? Regret? - and then the light was gone, and I thought I saw a tiny mist emerge from his mouth and disappear, but it had to be my imagination because Ashstar was dead, he's dead and he won't come back.

Iceblade turned to me. I looked at him, ready to tell him how sorry I was and how much I loved him, but stopped when I saw his eyes full of fury.

"You did this," he whispered. "This is all your fault."


"NO! I tried to tell you to save Ashstar! Our leader is a thousand times more important than a warrior!" he yowled. "How is DeathClan going to survive without him?! We're going to lose this entire battle, thanks to some moonstruck, stupid she-cat!"

"But I thought you LOVED ME!" I screamed back, summoning rage to my defense. "I thought we could have a future together - how heartbroken do you think I"d feel if I'd saved my leader at the cost of you?!"

"So you put your happiness in front of the lives of dozens of cats!" Iceblade spat. "I can't believe you, Rowanflame! We're done!"

"We're - we're - what? Done?" I repeated faintly. The world seemed to be spinning, and Iceblade's cruel words seemed to be coming from the end of a long, dark snow-tunnel.

"I don't want anything to do with the she-cat who's responsible for destroying my Clan, and my life." He started padding away, but I barely saw him. My ears were the only thing that was working properly.

"Wait! Iceblade! I'm having your kits!" I tried, in a last desperate attempt to get him to come back.

"Nice try, Rowanflame," he sneered, already a cave-length away. And then he was gone.