Rainsong sat as still as a rock, not moving even when a bird jumping from branch to branch somewhere above her dislodged a lump of snow that fell onto her head. She only blinked, simmering with annoyance at the wet mass, but didn't move, determined to punish herself. Why was she punishing herself? Rainsong wasn't quite sure. But obviously she had done something wrong, because otherwise she wouldn't be dead right now.
She sighed, exhaling a plume of air that misted in the freezing air. Who knew StarClan was so cold? When Amberflight had told her about a dream she had one time, she had described the StarClan hunting grounds as all three Clan territories combined into one, with lush meadows, towering cliffs, and an enormous forest in between. There was even a river running through, used as an easy source of water. In her words, it was always greenleaf, no matter what the season was in the living world. But it appeared that something had drastically changed.
Rainsong squeezed her eyes shut as she remembered that day. The day she died.
She had been hunting with her apprentice, Glasspaw. The golden, silky-furred she-cat's mother had been a kittypet, so she gave all three of her kits odd names. Rainsong had taken Glasspaw out to the very far corner of the territory, which ended in an enormous drop to the forests of LeafClan below them. All that was there was the sheer, unbroken ledge and the empty air, and the sky. The pure blue sky. She could still remember it now, six moons later, because she'd never seen that shade of sky again.
Hunting on ledges was a classical StoneClan technique. Rainsong had shown Glasspaw how they had to catch a mouse, then carefully place it on the very corner of the ledge, so that it was in clear view of all the winged predators in the area. They hid together for what felt like hours, watching eagles and kestrels circling hundreds of cat-lengths above them, obviously hesitating to grab the free prey. Not for the first time, Whiskergrass had wondered if they maybe had Clans of their own, or a language, and they were on patrol together to hunt for their elders and queens. If cats were intelligent, why couldn't other animals be, too?
At last, one of the larger eagles decided to go in for a steep dive. Rainsong felt Glasspaw tense beside her, and laid her tail on the smaller cat's mud-covered shoulders. They had to wait for the perfect moment to strike, when the eagle was close enough to the ground to be pinned down with a well-aimed leap.
The bird approached at a breathtaking speed. It truly was a magnificent specimen; its wingspan had to be at least a cat-length, and those hooked talons promised death to any prey foolish enough to be caught in them. Rainsong was awed, as she always was when she came close enough to truly see such a flawless hunter. For a moment she felt sorry for it, and its family. Would they miss their mother, or father, or brother, or sister, when she took its life? But the thought was gone a moment later when Glasspaw leaped for the eagle's wings.
"Glasspaw! STOP!" Rainsong shrieked, diving after her apprentice. Glasspaw had landed perfectly on the eagle's back, but she was too early. The eagle was still too high up, and it hadn't even grabbed the mouse yet. It screeched and flapped its wings a few times. To Rainsong's horror, the movement dislodged Glasspaw, so she hung by a single forepaw from the eagle's back, nothing but an endless drop below her.
Without hesitating a second longer, Rainsong leaped at the eagle's wings. She had to bring it down before it managed to shake Glasspaw off, or even worse, carry her with it to its lofty nest. Unfortunately, one of the eagle's talons clipped her head, and she collapsed, yowling with pain. Her ear felt like it had been shredded, and her left eye was already filling with blood.
However, Glasspaw had used the brief moment to hoist herself up on the eagle's back again. Now, she jumped off as far as she could, aiming for the small rocky outcrop that jutted a few tail-lengths away from the edge of the cliff. She almost made it, too, but landed short. The giant bird had smacked her with its wing as she streaked through the air.
But for some reason, it didn't go for the golden apprentice. No, Rainsong had to watch helplessly as the eagle converged on her, clearly sensing that she was greatly weakened from blood loss. Already, the corners of her vision were dimming. The last thing she heard was a wail of "No!" from Glasspaw, as a talon sliced through her throat.
Then she was suddenly standing among the cliffs of the stars.
Rainsong blinked, jerking out of her memories. She felt vaguely surprised at the moisture on her cheeks; when had she started crying? But that wasn't what had roused her out of her thoughts. A cat's muzzle was a few inches away from her, green eyes sparkling with worry.
"Rainsong? Are you all right?" the cat asked.
She leaped backwards, stumbling across a tree root. "Who - who are you?" Rainsong demanded angrily. "What are you doing here? Why are you so close to me? Get away!"
"Okay, okay!" The cat stepped back hastily, his dark grey fur bristling. "No need to get your tail in a twist. I was just looking for you. The New-leaf Gathering is about to start."
"New-leaf Gathering?" Rainsong repeated blankly, finally succeeding in standing on her paws without falling over into the snow. "What's that? And isn't it leaf-bare here?"
"The leaders of StarClan decided that we should have a sort of... daylight Gathering, I guess? Except it's to celebrate the coming of new-leaf. Apparently this wintertime is ending soon. About time, too!" The cat snorted. "I was getting tired of the snow sticking to my paws all the time."
"I'm not interested," Rainsong meowed indifferently, turning away. "I don't want anything to do with StarClan cats. They're all a bunch of dead fools."
"Hypocrite!" The grey tom mewed indignantly. "Anyways, they said everyone has to. We're making something called a resolution."
"And what in the name of StarClan - sorry, myself - is a resolution?" Rainsong asked flatly. "And what part of 'not interested' do you not understand?"
The cat shrugged. "A resolution is something you promise yourself for the upcoming season cycle, and it's usually something good. Like, I'm promising myself to be a better cat, and not take offense at others when they're mean to me. Like you," he added helpfully.
Rainsong shrugged, too, already dismissing him and the stupid Gathering from her mind. "Whatever. I don't care what they think, I'm not going. I don't feel like celebrating I'm dead."
"You're not celebrating that you're dead! You're trying to do better!" the tom meowed fiercely. "You're supposed to try to be a better cat, or something, even when you're dead, because just because you're dead doesn't mean you can't change!"
"I changed because I was dead. I used to be all happy-go-lucky, but ever since..." Rainsong swallowed. "Well, I just don't care anymore. I don't want to be here. I shouldn't have died. It was all my fault; for all I know, Glasspaw is dead because I didn't warn her about why it was so dangerous to hunt eagles, and she made a mistake that was really my fault and I paid for it with my life, except I'll never forgive myself because what if she died too? I can't stand not knowing, and the StarClan leaders won't let me look for her, both in the living and in the dead, and I just can't stand not knowing what happened, and I just want to die for real so I don't have to think about all this anymore." She sighed miserably, not quite knowing why she was spilling out all her fears to this strange, annoying grey tom, fully expecting him to just sneer at her problems and walk away.
But to her surprise, he nodded. "That's sort of how I felt, too, when I first died. I just wanted to be gone from memory, from this world, and everything, y'know? I didn't want cats to mourn my death, because I knew they had to move on, and yet I myself couldn't move on because I felt like because I died, because I made a stupid mistake, my daughter died too. And it was my fault" He sniffed a little. "But then I met her in StarClan, and she told me that she didn't blame me, that she was happy to be with me, even if we were both dead. And now I feel a lot better."
Rainsong shook her head. "I don't want Glasspaw to die. And I don't really care about anyone else. I just want to... be alone."
"Okay." The tom nodded. "I'll tell them you didn't feel like going... or, no, I'll just say I couldn't find you. They expected you to be in the StoneClan part of the territory, but I knew better. I've been watching you, y'know."
"Umm... right." Rainsong dipped her head awkwardly. "That's... whatever. Um, see you around?"
"Maybe." The tom flicked his tail, then walked away in the opposite direction.
Rainsong shook herself, ridding her pelt from the collected snow, and began to make her way through the snow, heading away from where the other StarClan cats probably were. She couldn't stop thinking about the tom's words. Was he really right? Should she stop blaming herself for what happened with Glasspaw, and move on? But she couldn't! She never knew what happened to her apprentice, and the doubt was eating away at her inside.
I have to know, she thought silently. Somehow, I'll sneak past those cats, and I'll spy on the viewing pool and I'll see if she's all right or not.
As soon as she thought of that, however, Rainsong knew she couldn't. First of all, the other cats would never let her close enough to the viewing pool to see Glasspaw; they knew she wasn't allowed, for whatever reason. Second, she was just... scared. What if she saw Glasspaw in StarClan? What if she was just as miserable as Rainsong? What if she saw that Glasspaw was dying even now?
What if Glasspaw was living happily with a mate, and she had completely forgotten about her dead mentor?
Rainsong stopped and curled up right where she stood, squeezing her eyes shut. This was excruciating. She couldn't stand it. Rainsong suddenly knew, and miraculously accepted, that the tom was right. She needed to move on, and stop obsessing over Glasspaw so much. She was slowly dying inside, and yet she couldn't escape because she was already dead.
My New-leaf resolution, Rainsong thought to herself, will be to let go of Glasspaw. I will be happy, and free, and I will stop worrying and wishing that the past was changed. The past is past, and I can't change it. The past is past, and I can't change it. The past is past, and I can't change it.
"Good job, Rainsong," a new voice said. A familiar voice.
Rainsong slowly, slowly opened her eyes and raised her head. In front of her, a golden-furred she-cat stood, purring.
"I couldn't see you until now, because you couldn't let go of your hurt," Glasspaw said. "StarClan needed for you to come to terms with your death, as I have come to terms with mine."
"You... you died?" Rainsong whispered. "Did the eagle...?"
"No, I died in a battle two moons later," Glasspaw replied. "It's sad, really, how I survived at your expense, and yet my life was still wasted over a pointless piece of territory."
"It's not your fault I died," Rainsong croaked. "If I had warned you -"
"Shhhhh," Glasspaw soothed. "Remember your resolution. What's past is past, and we can't change it. We must learn to live, after death, even."
"Okay." Rainsong stood up and bowed her head. "Thank you, Glasspaw."
"You're welcome!" she purred in response. "By the way, I found someone else you might be interested in seeing." From behind her, another cat stepped. A dark grey tom. Only now, his eyes were sapphire blue, instead of green.
"Remember me now, Rainsong?" Greywhisker mewed warmly.
"Greywhisker... you... you... you found me?" Rainsong breathed. "Even when you died in the Tribe's territory... even after I said those things to you about Ribbon... you joined StarClan?"
"Of course, Rainsong. I would never truly leave you, even for a pretty loner," Greywhisker answered. "I'm sorry I left you. I realised how I felt too late... fate got in our way. My love."
"My love," Rainsong echoed. "I forgive you."
And she was happy, and joy filled her heart.