Prologue


The dawn air was heavy with mist and contained the a faraway chill that hinted at the end of greenleaf. Despite the sun rising behind the heavy graying clouds, the shadows of the thick boggy trees casted over the clearing and all who dwelled in it. The morning is quiet, almost eerily so, only to be interrupted by the solumn stirring of cats, the dreading pattering of paws, and Stonetooth quietly calling the dawn patrol.

Mistface lifts her eyes from Larchtail's still form and gazes around the group of cats, all sharing their grief for their fallen friend. Larchtail had been her denmate once, before StarClan called on him for a different destiny. His death was sudden to all of ShadowClan, who all loved their medicine cat and held him with as much loyalty as the cats who fought on the field. The one who took it the hardest was Sagewhisker, his apprentice who only earned her name just a few sunrises ago. Larchtail was a quick, agile cat despite his age, but the adder was quicker.

Sagewhisker sat beside her former mentor now, her flattened muzzle buried in his dusky brown fur. Her mother Dovefur sat beside her, her stomach swollen with unborn kits. They held vigil along with Mistface and the others, sharing tongues while Larchtail, young and in his prime again, found his way to StarClan.

Mistface stood up, holding back a squeak of pain. She had only joined the elders' den last moon, but age was a slow thing that has been creeping up on her for some time. Morning dew had begun to settle into her pale pelt. Beside her, Brindlestar rose to her paws. Brindlestar had been their leader for many moons, and despite age beginning to wind into her path, she still stood tall and straight and brimming with confidence. But there was no ignoring the clear haze of grief in her eyes as she lowered her nose and pressed it against Larchtail's for the last time.

"Adders in our own nests," Rosewood's voice was a harsh whisper into Mistface's ear. "The poor cat barely saw it coming."

"Seedfur killed it." Mistface murmured back, remembering the look of disbelief on the black warrior's face and the horror on his mate's face when she thought he'd been bit too. Seedfur's disability was one he kept quiet about, and many cats in the other Clans did not know of it, but his claws were sharp and his wits were quick, and ShadowClan may sleep soundly for now, now that the snake was dead. "It was a freak thing. No one could have predicted it."

Rosewood's words were loud enough for the others to hear. "It's a omen of hard times to come. Who can we trust if we are not safe in our own dens?"

Squirrelfur, the last elder of their group, merely sighed, making his frazzled whiskers fluttered. His tongue was as sharp as a hawk's talons, but being a denmate with Rosewood for so long taught him that nothing could argue with her paranoia. Mistface didn't blame him. Whenever StarClan became a topic of anything, she always found herself silent.

Brindlestar stood up. Her long tortoiseshell pelt didn't contain a single fleck of white, but a long graying scar across his flank was easy to distinguish. She gazed at the old medicine cat once again and began to speak. "Larchtail was a noble cat." She began. "He was a dear friend to the Clan, with a natural compassion and tranquility air to him, but with the bravery and determination of the fiercest warrior. He will be missed by all of ShadowClan."

In the quiet of the dawn, a voice popped up. "May I speak, Brindlestar?"

Brindlestar lifted her gaze to one of the warriors, a handsome tom with a thick, orange pelt. She nodded slowly, "You may, Flameclaw."

"Thank you." Flameclaw had been Mistface's apprentice, her last apprentice. He was a young warrior, but even a blind cat could see the potiental with every ripple of his fur. Mistface couldn't help but feel pride within her as her former apprentice stood in the center of the clearing. All eyes turned on him; even the dawn patrol consisting of Rockfang, Poolcloud, and Nettlespots turned to listen.

"We lost a hero today." Flameclaw began. The first dawn rays of sunshine casted upon his pelt. "Larchtail has been among us for countless moons, healing us and speaking with the stars for us. It takes careful paws to create miracles, and I've seen Larchtail do it time and time again." Flameclaw padded close to Talonwind, who stood solemnly beside Crowtail.

"Talonwind, when you went against those ThunderClan rats and showed them the power that dwells in every ShadowClan cat, who brought you back to health?"

Talonwind lifted his head. "Larchtail did." The senior warrior said, his claws flexing as if ThunderClan fur were beneath them.

Flameclaw turned to a ginger flecked warrior. "And Nettlespots, when your kit lay still and ridden with greencough, who gave him the chance to grow into one of our warriors?"

Nettlespots casted a worrying glance at Brackenpaw, who was just stumbling out of his den with Hollypaw, as if the young cat were still sickened with the disease. "Larchtail did."

Flameclaw turned back to the mass of cats. "We lost a friend, we lost a medicine cat, we lost a hero." He meowed. His voice was loud and strong, as if he were standing on the High Boulder itself. He will be Clan Leader someday, I know it. "But we do have something. Something that not even the coldest leafbare winds, the fiercest enemies, the most hopeless scenerios will ever take away from us."

Every cat was watching, enthralled by his words. "Faith." Flameclaw finished, his amber eyes gleaming. Just the mention of faith detached Mistface from the speech, her insides growing cold. "We have faith. Our warrior ancestors will stand by us as long as the sun rises as falls, as long as water runs in streams, as long as rain falls from the sky. I have faith." Flameclaw waved his tail at Sagewhisker. "I have faith that Sagewhisker will protect us from any cough or cold thrown at us." He said confidently. "I have faith in every one of our warriors, who fight for us with sharpened claws and undistinguished bravery. And I have faith in the stars, and in all of us. ShadowClan will thrive!"

Cats exchanged hopeful glances with one another. Flameclaw was always a good speech teller, and this time, the words hit home. A pretty black she-cat was staring at Flameclaw with such admiration. Mistface looked up at the pale sky; the stars were just barely visible in the dawn light, and she could feel them watching her. Judging her... I do believe cats dwell within the ranks of the stars. The elder thought, a shiver running through her tabby pelt. But that doesn't mean I will be among them.

It was the elders' job to bury the dead, but Brindlestar stepped up beside them. "I am no elder yet," The Clan Leader mewed. "But I would like to join you in burying Larchtail. He deserves a place of honor for his long time service."

Rosewood fell in beside Mistface as Squirrelfur carried Larchtail's limp, lifeless body out of the camp. "Flameclaw is right," Mistface whispers to Rosewood. "There is no need to fear. The adder is dead, but ShadowClan will live."

Rosewood's face was strained, but her eyes looked haunted, as if she could see something that no one else could. "How can a Clan live," Her voice was rough, like stone scraping against stone. "When the corruption lurks on the inside?"