Disclaimer: I don't own Warriors
-Ashfur's final days from his POV; I'm writing this because Ashfur wasn't my favorite character, and I wanted to find closure with him-
My Final Sacrifice
My eyes lit up with fury as I watched Squirrelflight, pleading with me to let her kits live. I could let them survive, but why should I? Those kits that could've been mine, not Brambleclaw's. If only Squirrelflight had seen that Brambleclaw was just like his father, Tigerstar. If only. But instead, she'd looked past that and left me for that unworthy cat. Why wasn't I good enough for her?
"Your quarrel with Brambleclaw has to stop," Squirrelflight hissed drawing me out of my thoughts. "Too many moons have passed. You have to accept that I'm Brambleclaw's mate now, not yours. You can't keep trying to punish Brambleclaw for something that was always meant to be."
I stared at her, and laughed. Squirrelflight didn't get it. But then, she never had. "I have no quarrel with Brambleclaw," I snarled. This was the moment. I could tell Squirrelflight everything I'd ever wanted to tell her. In that moment, all the pain and anguish I'd been harboring for moons on end washed over me. "I couldn't care less about Brambleclaw. It's not his fault he fell for a faithless she-cat. I know you think I've never forgiven Brambleclaw for stealing you from me, but you're wrong, and so is every cat that thinks so." I didn't even hesitate before continuing on. "My quarrel is with you, Squirrelflight. It always has been."
I was shaking, filled with rage. My heart pounded inside my chest, and I felt as powerful as all of LionClan put together. I could've killed Squirrelflight and those kits of hers in that moment if I'd wanted.
"All this was moons ago. Ashfur, I had no idea you were still upset." Squirrelflight's voice sounded puzzled.
I'd expected for her to leap at me and try to attack me, but she didn't. There was no trace of loathe in her voice, only confusion, anger, and puzzlement. As I watched her, all my love for Squirrelflight came back, and I felt choked with pain. She was so gentle and loving, and I knew she'd never hurt a fly. That bright-spirited young cat I'd once fallen in love with was still there. I missed her and I hated her all at the same time.
"Upset?" I glared at Squirrelflight, echoing her words. "I'm not upset. You have no idea how much pain I'm in. It's like being cut open every day, bleeding onto the stones. I can't understand how any of you failed to see the blood…"
I couldn't think; I could barely hear my own words coming out of my mouth. I knew that what I was saying could cost me my life, and for a moment, I wasn't even aware of my surroundings. Then I snapped back to reality and rounded on Squirrelflight as I sensed her trying to step onto the end of the branch to bring herself to safety.
"Stay there!" I snarled. "I can't believe you didn't know how much you hurt me. You are the blind one, not Jayfeather. Who do you think sent Firestar the message to go down to the lake, where the fox trap was? I wanted him to die, to take your father away so you'd know the real meaning of pain."
My mind recoiled, thinking back to all those moons ago when there had been fox traps on the lake, and I'd tried to kill Firestar in one. I'd lured him down there, knowing he'd get caught, and I'd hoped no one would find him. I'd been wrong.
Hollyleaf said something, but I wasn't paying attention.
"Brambleclaw saved Firestar then." I rattled on, letting the words flow. "But he's not here now. He's not here—but your kits are."
I waited for Squirrelflight's response. All the puzzlement and confusion was gone from her gaze. Now it was replaced by rage and anger. But her rage wasn't even close to matching mine.
"Enough Ashfur," she spat. "Your quarrel is with me. These young cats have done nothing to hurt you. Do what you like with me, but let them out of the fire."
I don't know what I said next. Or even what she said. I wasn't conscious of what was going on around me. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. What brought me back was Squirrelflight saying, "If you really want to hurt me, you'll have to find a better way than that. They are not my kits."
As she spoke, I was filled with disbelief and was drawn back into the moment. I was stunned, too stunned to speak for a moment. She—she was lying. Squirrelflight was a coward and a liar, thinking she could make it out of the situation. "You're lying." My voice quavered.
"No, I'm not. Did you see me give birth? Did I nurse them? Stay in the nursery until they were apprenticed? No." I tried to respond, but Squirrelflight was faster. "I fooled all of you, even Brambleclaw. They are not mine."
They are not mine. The words echoed inside of my head.
"And no one in the Clan knows?" I finally managed a response. All of my jealousy and rage at those kits… When I'd been Lionblaze's mentor… I'd hated them and her for everything she had done. And now they just weren't hers? After all I'd been through? I refused to believe it. "What do you think will happen when I tell them? Will your Clanmates let you stay in ThunderClan, knowing you lied to them—to Firestar, to your sister, to Brambleclaw?"
"You'll tell them?"
I spat out a reply that was filled with anger. "I'll let these cats—whomever they belong to—live. But your suffering has only just begun."
I raced away, heading back to camp. What had I become? I wasn't the same young apprentice who'd trained with Ferncloud all those moons ago. I couldn't believe I'd almost been willing to kill just then for a cat I'd once loved. Squirrelflight and I were over, I knew that, but I'd been willing to kill because of it? I shuddered, my paws pounding against the forest floor. I heard the swish of wind in my ears as I raced along the forest floor.
I had that secret. I had it to my own advantage, and I could use it against Squirrelflight. I felt powerful and free. For once, there was something that I was in control of. I could hurt Squirrelflight. I could hurt her and drive her away. I could get my revenge.
I felt choked and pained at the thought. There was a time when I would never have dared to lay a paw on Squirrelflight. I remembered her as a kit. I remembered her as an apprentice. I remembered her as a warrior. But now I saw her now as a faithless, unworthy coward.
My love for her was still there, but I wanted to hurt her. I just wanted her to understand just for a little while, what I'd gone through. No cat understood. It was my own pain and suffering that I'd been through for so long.
Once we were back in camp and the storm had passed, I spent the following days keeping Squirrelflight's secret. I couldn't imagine what would happen if I told anyone. But then I was filled with an even worse thought. What if I told at a Clan meeting? Or even worse, the Gathering? I wouldn't, would I? Was I really that terrible? I promised myself I wouldn't. I wanted to make Squirrelflight suffer, but I wanted her to love me through it all. I wanted her to find her way to me in the end.
I didn't care for those kits anymore. I didn't care at all. Maybe I'd reveal the secret if I had the chance, but I knew it was a risk I had to take. I had to ask Firestar to go to the Gathering. Was I really going to tell? Was I really going to do this?
I contemplated the thought for days, and I finally knew that was my only option. I had to ask Firestar to go. It was the only way to hurt the love of my life in the way I could make her understand. I waited until I caught Firestar alone near the fresh-kill pile and scampered over before any other cat could stop me.
"Hi, Firestar." I mewed calmly.
"Hi, Ashfur." Firestar greeted me.
"It's a, errr, nice day, isn't it?" I looked up at the sky. Great StarClan, what was I doing?
"Yes, Ashfur, it is," Firestar agreed, somewhat impatiently.
I nodded, twitching my tail, waiting for Firestar to say something else, but he didn't.
"Ashfur, what is it you want to ask me?" Firestar asked drily. "You didn't just come here to make conversation about the weather, did you?"
"There's a Gathering in a few sunrises," I began carefully, speaking firmly, yet calmly. "Is it okay if I go?"
Firestar gave me a puzzled look, but he just nodded. I could tell he was curious about why I looked so uncomfortable. Just say yes! I willed.
"I don't usually choose warriors until the same day, but if you want to…"
"Thanks, Firestar." I knew I sounded a bit too abrupt, but I had to get out of there before Firestar interrogated me anymore. I pushed my way through the thorn tunnel getting out into the forest. I needed time to think about it.
I padded out into the forest and quickly spotted a mouse. I pinned it down and dug a hole to bury it. I dug the whole slowly, thinking while I did so. Squirrelflight's image flashed into my mind, and I was immediately filled with a painful ache. The she-cat I'd once loved and would've done anything for. I still loved her, and I knew that no matter what I said I'd protect her until my last breath. But then, why had I just asked Firestar to go to the Gathering to share her terrible secret? I was so conflicted, so uncertain.
I covered up my mouse and continued deeper into the forest and continued hunting. I thought again. So if I loved Squirrelflight, why was I trying to hurt her? I saw a squirrel, and chased after it, pinning it down. Its ginger pelt reminded me of Squirrelflight. There was a day when I'd never been able to imagine myself this way, loathing a cat in my own Clan because of love, and loathing a cat enough to claw her eyes out. But I still loved her just as much. If I claimed my quarrel wasn't with Brambleclaw, and I still loved Squirrelflight, then what was it with? Myself? Was I mad at myself for not getting Squirrelflight? The thought was absurd.
I hunted for a little while longer. When I returned to camp with my prey and dropped it on the fresh-kill pile, I saw Brambleclaw heading towards me.
Oh, no, I thought. Squirrelflight didn't tell Brambleclaw, did she?
But Brambleclaw gave no sign of knowing anything. I felt bad for the deputy. He didn't know anything. He was completely clueless. I—I couldn't hurt him, too, could I?
"Hi, Ashfur," he mewed. "Would you lead a hunting patrol tomorrow morning?"
"Sure," I replied, responding steadily, but having trouble doing so.
"Thanks," Brambleclaw mewed, picking up the squirrel I'd caught and trotting away to join Squirrelflight to eat. I watched them, flashing them a look of distaste. Brambleclaw nuzzled up to Squirrelflight, but I sensed the she-cat's uncertainty from across the camp.
As I watched them, I realized that all along, I hadn't wanted to hurt Squirrelflight. I'd loved her, and she'd left me, but I'd never wanted to hurt her. I just wanted her to understand… because no cat had ever understood me. I'd never managed to forgive, but it was only because I'd loved her once and I wanted her to return that love. She'd let me go, but I hadn't been willing to let it pass. It wasn't Brambleclaw's fault. It was hers. I clawed at the ground seamlessly. There was nothing I could do with my secret. Squirrelflight knew, but if I told the rest of the Clan, I'd cost myself trouble as well. There was nothing to gain from it, but her pain. And I would never want to inflict that upon another cat. I decided I wouldn't reveal Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw's secret at the Gathering. I couldn't do it. I wasn't the same cat I once was, but I wasn't evil.
I replayed Lionblaze's words in my head. The young warrior had asked to join our hunting patrol, but had instead demanded to know what I was going to do when Cloudtail and Brightheart had gone ahead, accusing me of destroying our Clan. I tried to protest, saying I wasn't going to, but whatever I would've said wouldn't have changed Lionblaze's mind.
I settled down to sleep, curled up in my nest. I spotted Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw curled up next to each other, and I noticed the slow rise and fall of their chests next to each other. Another wave of grief overcame me. I'd never felt this way before. I scanned my eyes to see Lionblaze and Hollyleaf also sleeping. I wanted to put myself into their minds to see what they were thinking. Did they really think I was going to tell at the Gathering? Because Lionblaze seemed to think so, and I couldn't doubt that Hollyleaf, Jayfeather, and Squirrelflight thought the same. I let out a hiss of annoyance. If Squirrelflight had ever known me at all, she'd know that I wouldn't do that.
When I drifted off into sleep I found myself at the ShadowClan border. I hesitated. I never had dreams like this. I began to walk, pushing my way through the brush and brambles. I smelled a scent… I hesitated; the wind was blowing the scent towards me. It took me only a moment to recognize it.
I pushed my way through a clump of bracken and saw Jayfeather pouncing down on a leaf. "What're you doing here?" I demanded, the words coming out more forceful than I intended.
"I could ask you the same thing," Jayfeather responded, his voice level with mine.
I padded forward, shaking. Was I scared of him? I walked right up to him, expecting to see his blind eyesight looking directly past me, but instead, it bore right into me. "Y—you can see!" My fur stood on end.
"You're dreaming, Ashfur," Jayfeather mewed, gazing into my eyes. "Don't you know that?"
I took a pace back. I dreamed about other cats before, but one had never been this clear before. Was Jayfeather just a memory? Or was I really talking to him? I couldn't tell anymore, and I felt my stomach muscles clench together. "Why would I dream about you?" I demanded, feeling troubled.
"Because I want to talk to you where no cat can interrupt us. Where you can listen to me." Jayfeather spoke as though the answer had been obvious all along.
I snorted. "I don't have to listen to any cat, let alone a scrawny excuse for a medicine cat. Besides I already know what you're going to say. You're going to beg me not to say anything at the next Gathering. Well, you can save your breath. I'll say what I want."
Or nothing at all, I added silently, but I kept on blabbering anyway.
But my voice wasn't listening. "That lying she-cat will be driven out of ThunderClan for good, and no other Clan will want her, either."
Ashfur, what're you saying? No! My conscious was yelling at me. Too late.
"You'll regret it, Ashfur." Jayfeather glared at me.
"Are you threatening me?" I snapped. "I could break your neck with one swipe."
Stop! My conscious screamed.
"Try," Jayfeather invited him. "This is a dream, remember?"
I hesitated. Was I willing to attempt to kill? Even if it was only a dream. I hesitated. Was I turning into Tigerstar? Tigerstar had killed for power. I didn't want power… I wanted people to listen. I wanted to be happy. But was I willing to kill?
"I'm imagining all of this. I don't have to listen to you." I tried to sound braver than I felt.
"Take warning, Ashfur. I'm a medicine cat, and I speak with the voice of StarClan. If you go ahead with what you plan to do, you will regret it."
"My conscious is clear, and StarClan knows that. It's Squirrelflight who lied. She doesn't deserve the loyalty of any cat." As I spoke, my words sounded smothered. It wasn't what I intended to say. I wanted to tell Jayfeather that I wasn't planning on revealing Squirrelflight's secret, but I wondered if StarClan had other plans for me. Did StarClan not trust me to keep quiet? And in that moment, I wasn't sure if I trusted myself either.
I couldn't tell Jayfeather. He wouldn't believe me anyway. I stumbled and then turned away and raced back into the bracken.
My eyes flew open, and I found myself panting in my nest. It was still dark. I shuddered. I was exhausted. I tried to steady my breath. I gazed around the den. Everyone else was sleeping.
"Squirrelflight," I whispered. "I love you. Even if you don't know it. I'll love you forever, and no matter what, I promise I'll never do anything to hurt you."
My eyes began to fog over, and I held back the hurt. If I cared enough about Squirrelflight what would I do for her? I remembered watching her get hurt in the battle against WindClan. I'd done nothing, but watch her almost die hurt. I'd hated her, but I hadn't wanted her die. I remembered how relieved I'd felt when I knew she'd lived. But she hadn't realized how I'd felt. My love for Squirrelflight clouded my thoughts, trying to shut out the hurt, anguish, and hate.
Soon after sunrise when cats began to leave their nests, I noted that Squirrelflight was one of the first. I shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep. When she was gone, I I watched Brambleclaw. The poor mite didn't understand what his mate was going through. He didn't understand the lies. But then, neither did I. I was sure she had her reasons, but they had to be good enough if she had been willing to take in three kits and keep silent about it.
I stood up and crept out of the den. I snuck a glance around camp and didn't spot Squirrelflight anywhere. I saw Dustpelt and Ferncloud sharing a piece of fresh-kill. As I watched my sister, a wave of jealousy rushed over me. My sister and Dustpelt led the life I'd never gotten. They'd loved each other undeniably until the end.
I headed towards the tunnel to leave camp, and as I did I saw Jayfeather entering. I flashed him a glance before bounding out into the forest. That night was the Gathering. It was when I'd have to make my decision to keep silent or speak out. Maybe I should tell Firestar I didn't want to go to the Gathering. I could already imagine my leader's concern at my decision not to come.
As I wandered, I soon found myself at the ShadowClan border where I'd seen Jayfeather in my dream. The thought spooked me, and I quickly backed away, heading back into the woods towards camp. As I walked, I spotted Hollyleaf hunting. I could feel anger pulsing through her. She didn't even notice me. She was clearly thinking about the Gathering. I could tell without even seeing her face.
I turned and followed her. Maybe if I talked to her…
"Don't creep up on me like that!"
Hollyleaf's voice snapped me out of my daydream. I looked up and subconsciously retorted, "I'm not creeping." Hollyleaf didn't reply, and I waited patiently. "What do you want?"
"How do you know I want anything?" she hissed.
I cocked my head to the side. Could I be wrong about what she really wanted? "Aren't you going to try to make me change my mind, like Squirrelflight and your littermates?"
"No." Hollyleaf looked uncertain as she spoke. "I know there's nothing I can do. It's your decision to betray your own Clan."
I felt my claws unsheathe. I hadn't managed to make her angry, but then I thought it was just as well. "I'm betraying no cat. Squirrelflight's the traitor, because she lied."
"And it's not betrayal when you weaken ThunderClan in front of the other Clans, so soon after the Great Battle?" Hollyleaf's voice was brittle.
"If you're trying to scare me it's not working," I grumbled and stalked away into the trees. I wasn't going to listen to Hollyleaf. I wasn't even sure why I'd bothered talking to the mouse-brain. I should've told her. I should've told someone I was planning on keeping silent.
I'd never been one to provoke a mentor or upset a cat. I was always the good one, or at least I'd tried to be. Even if I wanted to reveal the secret, I would never have been able to bring myself to it. I could never be that cat. Sure, I hadn't been myself since Squirrelflight had left me for Brambleclaw, but I'd never been a betrayer.
I walked until I reached the border at WindClan. I knew I should've been heading back to camp with the Gathering beginning soon, but I wasn't in the mood. It was probably best if I didn't go anyway. Leaving the Clan in peace was the least I could do. I saw the stream and knew that soon the rest of ThunderClan would be there to head for the Gathering. I flicked my tail along the ground when I picked up the scent of a mouse. I was about to stalk it when all of a sudden I felt someone come at me from behind.
I let out a scream that was cut off as I felt someone digging into my shoulders. When I couldn't see who it was, I tried to smell the cat out, but I couldn't tell beneath the fresh scent of blood.
After a few moments, I managed to whip myself around. I looked at the cat's face and recognized the face immediately. I turned my head as she lunged for my eyes.
"Hollyleaf!" I choked out. "What're you—"
My words were cut off as Hollyleaf raked at my flank and face. I felt blood pouring out of me. I scrabbled to my paws, and I turned to see the stream beside us.
No! Ashfur, tell her! Ashfur, tell her you won't hurt her or her littermates! My conscience was screaming at me as I tried to claw at Hollyleaf, but I could only feel air beneath my paws.
"Hollyleaf," I gasped, trying to breathe. "I'm not going to tell anyone! I don't want to hurt you! I love Squirrelflight!"
"It's too late for that," snarled Hollyleaf. "She's Brambleclaw's mate now and you can't stop that."
Hollyleaf swiped at my throat and before I could reply I felt blood beginning to well up inside my throat.
"Hol—" I couldn't manage my response.
"I'm doing this to protect ThunderClan," she hissed.
I felt my throat oozing with blood. Great StarClan, save me! But even as I pleaded, I knew there was nothing I could do. My own Clanmate was going to kill me. No… I felt my claw swipe at Hollyleaf's shoulder, but I doubted it had even left a scratch.
"This is your own fault," she hissed into my ear, leaning forward, continuously clawing at me.
My gaze began to darken and blur, and I struggled beneath her. She was strong. I'd never known this. I couldn't believe the power in her eyes. Hollyleaf was nothing like the kit I remembered her being. She was young and strong, fierce and powerful. She wasn't a coward, and she'd clearly been plotting this through. She'd wanted to kill me from the moment I'd found out Squirrelflight's secret.
"Goodbye, Ashfur," she snarled.
"Don't…" my voice cracked as I spoke, but I knew that Hollyleaf didn't care. She plunged into my throat, digging her claws into it so that I bled. My vision went from blackness to light to blackness again, and red spots clouded over my vision. I tried to struggle, but I knew that nothing was happening.
The next thing I knew I felt water rushing over my pelt. It took me a moment to realize that I was in the stream by the WindClan border. I was drowning and bleeding. I was dying. There was no way to deny it. I'd brought this upon myself. If only I could've Hollyleaf believed I'd never hurt her and littermates. If only I told her I was planning on keeping quiet. If only I'd done something…
But it was too late. I stopped fighting. I gasped, trying to breathe, but the power of the stream took over… I was dead.
I quarreled with her internally until the end, but it was only because I loved her and wanted to protect and care for her. I hadn't trusted Brambleclaw, but… I owed it to him. He was a good cat, and he treated her well. And I knew that. I knew that he'd give anything for and love her until the end. Squirrelflight was safe. And so was her secret. She had nothing to worry about. And as I let StarClan take me away, I was left with that final thought in my head. What I'd done was my final sacrifice. And in the end, I'd died for Squirrelflight, loving her until the end.
And someday, I knew, when she came to join StarClan, we'd once again walk side by side, but this time amongst the stars.
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