For Mina

- 01: An Adventure in the Dark -

ONCE UPON A TIME in a dry, leaf-bare forest, a kit had sneaked out of the nursery for an adventure in the dark. The predatory hoots of owls overhead and rumbles of the Twolegs' monsters did not dissuade him. He slunk in the shadows, his golden brown pelt dyed black by the night, holding his body low to the ground. Each of his careful pawsteps made only the faintest thud on the forest floor.

He had crept away from the camp and made his way along its perimeter to his destination: the medicine cat's den. Dared by a littermate, he planned to sneak in and steal a single poppy seed as a trophy.

He steered his body as close to the den as he could, his night-blackened pelt another face of the dark rock. As he drew near to the entrance, a breeze stirred the air, blowing dry leaves across the forest floor.

The sound of the leaves scraping against the earth disguised the sound of the paws that were drawing closer until it was almost too late. He froze when he heard a pat on the ground and scrambled backward when he heard another. The kit hid himself behind the hollowed rock, as deep in the shadows as he could, flattening his body against the ground.

"Bluestar?" came the high-pitched mew of the medicine cat.

"How is Mousefur?" another voice meowed.

The kit had never heard this voice. He swallowed, wondering if it could truly be the leader and wondering what his punishment would be if he was caught out of the nursery at night by Bluestar herself.

"Her wounds are deep," the first cat whispered. "I do not know if she will make it."

"Like Redtail and Lionheart."

Their pawsteps sounded above the wind this time as the pair began to walk together, making their way along the medicine cat's den and closer to the hiding kit.

"I wonder why we defend ThunderClan's dying land with our lives, Spottedleaf. Rain has not fallen in seasons. The prey has all but left. You would think that we would be leaving with the prey, but instead we stay."

They had rounded the corner. The kit narrowed his eyes so that their gleam would not betray him, but he could see the pair of cats in the moonlight. His heart thumped faster in his chest because he knew if either turned their head, they would see him too.

After a long pause, Spottedleaf spoke: "It is as StarClan wills."

"My ears can tell you have said that a hundred times."

Spottedleaf let out a low snort.

The blue-gray cat the kit assumed was Bluestar turned her eyes to the sky, watching the stars they had been speaking of.

"Are you looking for answers there?" the medicine cat asked.

The kit looked to the sky as well, risking the movement in case answers were really shown there.

"I wish the ancient warriors would share their wisdom," the leader meowed.

He searched the sky for any answers or wisdom, but he saw only blackness, the silvery sliver of the moon and glittering stars. Disappointment settled in his belly, for he wished to learn the secrets of medicine cats and leaders.

He turned his face downward to watch them as they watched the sky. At first, he did not see what caused the two cats to gasp in unison.

He wrenched his face up once more and was rewarded, not with wisdom or answers, but with the sight of a star falling from the sky itself. It cut the night as it plummeted, leaving behind a thin flaming orange scratch. It plunged through the air for just heartbeats before it landed somewhere beyond the most distant trees of the forest.

"Was that StarClan speaking to us?" Bluestar whispered.

Spottedleaf did not answer the question, but instead let out a wail that rang clear in the nearly silent forest. "I wish I could follow it."

"Why?" the leader meowed, no longer whispering.

"It's fire, Bluestar. Fire is the only way out."