"Fallen Leaves. It is time for you to become a sharpclaw."
Fallen Leaves' heart skipped a beat. Finally! What he had been waiting for! He wondered if her actually would get to meet the legendary Rock.
"It smells of rain. Maybe Fallen Leaves should wait until tomorrow," Furled Bracken remarked.
"No!" Fallen Leaves shouted hastily, "I mean--I'm sure the storm will wait to break tomorrow. It would be better to go now."
Furled Bracken dipped his head.
"Are you sure that's safe?" Broken Shadows inquired anxiously.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," he responded. He had been waiting moons for this. No way he was going to throw this away now.
"All right. You may go, knowing you will return a honored sharpclaw."
Fallen Leaves approached the mouth of the tunnel. He could not see its insides; just an utter, choking blackness.
And he slipped inside.
At first he was awkward and nervous. Tripping over a rock, he slipped through a passageway in a fork.
Soon, he began to get the feel for it. He had been trained for this, so he was familiar with the choking feeling of the tunnels, and the feel of his whiskers brushing the dirt walls.
He must've become overconfident, because soon he became confused. Did he miss a passage? The tunnel just seemed to be going deeper and deeper. He whipped his head around, confused. There was no sign of Rock. He was all alone.
To add to his panic, he heard a slow trickling sound that turned to a gushing roar.
The storm had broke.
He slipped around a bend in the tunnel. His whiskers were no longer brushing the tunnel sides.
The tunnel eventually widened into a large cavern.
He had run right to the source of the problem. The crystal cold rain had flowed into the river. It had become an inferno of raging water.
"Rock! Someone! Help!" he called into the darkness.
There was no answer but the dripping stones and gushing water. "Anyone! Help!" he cried again.
The ugliest cat he had ever seen stalked from the shadows. His eyes bulged out of their sockets, and he was completely hairless. His long, snagged claws scraped the earth. So this was Rock? Fallen Leaves had always thought of Rock as a ghostly cat, yet handsome, muscular, and dashing. Certainly not how his real appearance was.
"You are frightened by my ugliness," he stated simply, as if he were just making a casual remark about the weather.
Water was quickly collecting in pools around his feet, almost touching his belly fur.
"Help me," he pleaded, "I'm lost. I'm going to drown."
"Fear not," Rock simply said. Then he pulled out from behind him a long, smooth stick. On it, were striaght scratched with fine lines crossing them out.
Slowly, Rock made another scratch.
What did it mean?
Fallen Leaves gulped. It possibly represented him.
He watched in fear as Rock slowly scratched his line out.
Am I going to die here?
But the other scratches were crossed out, too. He hadn't known any cat to die becoming a sharpclaw yet.
That could only mean...
Rock's clear voice rang out.
"Your pawsteps will guide you."
Taking one last look at Rock, Fallen Leaves dashed inot the nearest tunnel. He wished that he could've said a more polite goodbye to his ancestor, but he was in a hurry. He had to get out before the tunnels completely flooded.
He came to a fork in the path, slowly filling with water. He chose the left path and kept moving.
What if I do drown down here?
Soon he came to a rock. He remembered seeing the odd rock before, when he first came in. He had tripped over it! He pondered for a moment, and took the middle passage.
The water was hungrily lapping at his neckline. He began to shove through the entrance.
He was out.
The rain falling from the sky and onto his face had never felt so good.
He could return to his friends now, as an equal! Bet his story could top any Running Horse could tell!
He exploded into camp. "Guys! I'm back! I made it!" His words were greeted with dead silence.
The camp was deserted.
The was no sign of a badger attack; no blood, fur, or scent. However, the stone walls were laced with fear stench.
What happened here?
His question was answered with a low, distant rumbling. A giant monster, bigger than Fallen Leaves had ever seen, ominously crawled to the edge of the hollow. Followed by two more.
He was surrounded.
He watched slowly as one of the monsters lifted its giant claws and struck down on the rock wall of the hollow.
With a horrible scraping sound, the rock broke off and came crashing down.
Fallen Leaves scrambled for cover. He dashed aside, and threw himself under a thornbush to protect himself from the falling stone. Tiny spikes dug into his flesh. He heard another crash as more rock was sliced off the wall.
He had to get out of the hollow, before he was crushed.
What if his Tribemates were lying dead underneath the barrage of rocks. Or they could've seen the monsters. And fled.
He stood stationary for too long. The third monster moved its horrible paws. Then using its jagged forepaws, it slashed at the stone.
And with an ominous crash, it fell to the ground, blocking his only escape. Rough hills of rock surrounded him.
Yet there was a small breach where he could possibly get through. He just had to...
He began by hooking his claws into the coarse stone and hauling himself up. The rock was slick with rain, certainly not making it any easier.
A terrified voice cut through the rain and rumble of monsters.
It was Broken Shadows.
She was clambering down from the side of the cliff, her voice laced with exhaustion.
"Fallen Leaves, there's a groove up a little farther! Just put your paw in it! Hurry!"
He found the chink in the rock, and climbed more rapidly. He could hear the monsters grim sawing like a drone in the back of his head.
His claw snagged, and wrenched. Blood trickled from it, dribbling onto the rock to be washed away by the rain. Soon, more rock could be crashing down. Crashing down on him.
He hung his head in dejection and defeat. If he hasn't been so stupid, they would never be in this mess.
Teeth gently sank into his scruff and began to haul him upward. Unwilling to be helpless, he began climbing himself.
His feet met the moist ground. Head throbbing, he turned to face his mother. He opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted him.
"I forged a path across the cliff face. We may have to climb a bit, but no matter. Once we get to the top, we can run for the others." Fallen Leaves slowly nodded, and followed in his mother's lead as she used a crack to push herself, and gripped a firm root as a pawhold.
Normally, climb wouldn't have been very tough for him. But he was completely exhausted, and the rain was making the rock slippery.
He gazed upon the top. Almost there. Just a few more pawsteps...
One of the Twoleg monsters moved. It prepared its horrid talons, and struck. The rock crumbled.
"No!" He shouted. Broken Shadows was smacked aside by the relentless stream of boulders. With a last horrified look in her eyes, she tumbled through the air, and hit the ground with a sickening thud.
He tried to keep a straight face, just because he was no longer a softpaw. But he ended up bursting into tears anyways.
He knew Broken Shadows would want him to be strong though. So he dodged the last rain of pebbles and lugged himself up over the edge of the cliff.
He risked one last look at his mother. He trembled at the sight. Her body lay broken and sodden, lying limply on the edge of a rock.
He spun away. The others should be somewhere near...how would he tell Stone Song the news? Once again, grief washed over him, for Broken Shadows, helpless on those hard, jagged rocks...
He spotted a white pelt amongst the dark brush. It was Dove's Wing.
"Dove's Wing!" He gasped, relieved.
"Fallen Leaves! Are you okay? We thought you were--"
"Well, I'm not," he said bitterly. Then he hung his head, determined not to let Dove's Wing see his watering eyes.
"Oh no," she whispered.
Fallen Leaves didnt respond.
"Broken Shadows..." She began, "Broken Shadows was determined to believe you had not drowned after that storm. She was determined that you would be looking for us after becoming a sharpclaw. But we abandoned our shelter, because Jay's Wing reported the monsters coming So...she went to find you."
"Yeah," he mewed angrily.
"And--oh, I'm so sorry," she murmured.
He was about to reply, but he was interrupted by Stone Song and Jay's Wing entering.
"What's going on here? Fallen Leaves!" Stone Song mewed.
"Fallen Leaves escaped the tunnels," Dove's Wing stated.
"Yeah. Then, I went to shelter, expecting you, and--there were the monsters. They were slicing the rock off of the walls! And--and Broken Shadows came to help, and--" he couldn't continued. He just couldn't.
They seemed to understand. Jay's Wing dipped his head, eyes filling with grief. Stone Song didn't say a word. He just turned tail, and stalked away.
He doesn't want to face it. I don't blame him.
Stone Song was Fallen Leaves' father, therefore Broken Shadows' mate. He was devastated.
Shadows seemed to leap out at him, like they were haunting him for Broken Shadows' death.
It all my fault. All my fault.
"The tunnels were flooded," he explained to Furled Bracken, "I barely escaped."
Furled Bracken replied. "It was a foolish time to enter the tunnels. But you have proved yourself a sharpclaw."
"Fallen Leaves! Fallen Leaves!"
Fallen Leaves forced a smile and stalked towards a bush for some sleep.
He heard soft pawsteps pursuing him. He turned to see who it was. It was Half Moon. She was a rather pretty white she-cat with green eyes. Fallen Leaves liked her fine, just didn't know her well.
"What's wrong?" she murmured.
"Everything's wrong!" he snapped.
She sighed. "I guess that was a rather stupid question to ask."
"Yeah, yeah it was," he replied distantly.
"I'm sure Broken Shadows is watching you from somewhere."
Fallen Leaves slumped to the ground. "How is that even possible?"
"I don't know. But it must be."
Fallen Leaves dreamed. He was standing on a ledge, overlooking the hollow.
He gazed upon the body of his mother, her fur weighed down with water and smeared with mud.
Suddenly, the bodies populated. There was a dark gray pelt next to Broken Shadows'. Stone Song.
Cries for help echoed in his ears. Jagged Lightning, Dove's Wing, Jay's Wing, Furled Bracken. Half Moon.
"I'm coming!" he yowled to them. But his paws were rooted to the earth. The hollow seemed to fill to the brim with dark blue water. Fallen Leaves cried out as bubbles rose to the surface.
Then finally, they stopped.
A solitary stick with claw marks floated on the murky water's surface.
He sighed deeply as the sunlight hit his fur. It felt as if he was completely revived from all of his hardship. Broken Shadows' death seemed like nothing more but a distant dream. He felt the grief all the same.
He decided to go hunting, since the day was so beautiful.
Dewdrops rattled onto his fur as he wove through the bushes. If only he had someone to hunt with.
A squirrel chattered and scurried across a tree root. He crouched, his paws making no sound as they slapped against the earth. He waggled his haunches, and pounced.
He had never tasted anything so good.
Taking a break, he gazed upon the dark blue lake, imagining where the underground river emptied into it.
From a distance, he caught sight of Jay's Wing's gray pelt. He seemed to be explaining something.
Curious, he strided over to see what was happening.
"Hey!" he shouted, tripping over a tree root. He slammed into Half Moon's side.
"Sorry," he muttered, his cheeks burning red.
"No, it's fine," Half Moon mewed as she turned to look at him. He blushed even brighter. Half Moon stepped away. He realized that he had been rooted to the spot.
Fallen Leaves scooted away and shook his ruffled pelt.
"Er--what are they talking about?"
They slunk into the crowd.
"But how do you know?"
"Er--I had a dream. The mountains were huge, with eagles soaring over them and great rushing waterfalls!"
"Sounds beautiful," Cloudy Sun murmured.
"I would like to go there," Running Horse mewed, "But I'm much too old."
"It sounds like a brilliant idea to me," Stone Song said as he stepped in front of the crowd, "You all saw what happened to the hollow. The Twolegs destroyed it all. And badgers are haunting our pawsteps. We leave, or we die."
Fallen Leaves was intrigued by the idea. Imagine, living under huge slabs of rock with icy waterfalls! And who knows how many deaths would happen around the lake after...no, he wouldn't think of that. He had just gotten it out of his mind.
Furled Bracken spoke. "It is time for the casting of the stones."
Fallen Leaves had only witnessed the casting of the stones once, when he was a kit. It was a vote for claiming the hollow, or the pine forest.
He watched as the stones were pushed into two piles, Leave or Stay. Half Moon cast hers to leave. Fallen Leaves did the same.
The stones were equal. Yet Jay's Wing still had to cast his. Predictably, he pushed his rock into the Leave pile.
He saw Fish Leap and Jagged Lightning grumble angrily to each other. Yet Stone Song and Half Moon looked overjoyed. Surprisingly, Jay's Wind looked unsure of himself.
"I have been outvoted. I fear that I must step down," Furled Bracken mewed, "Stone Song. Your reign has begun."
"Thank you," Stone Song said, "We leave tonight!" Only about half of the cats cheered.
Fallen Leaves decided that he would tour the lake, by himself, for he would never see it again. Yet he avoided the hollow.
The night was clear and cold. He paced along the edges of their current camp, tense and ready to begin the journey.
Finally, the talking died down as Stone Song began to speak.
"Our traveling shall begin shortly! And I give Jay's Wing the honor of leading us."
Fear dawned in Jay's Wing's face. But Fallen Leaves had no time to consider this, because he was already walking, cats leaving.
The breeze ruffled his fur.
"It was a bad idea to travel at night," he muttered to Dove's Wing.
"Tell me about it," Fish Leap grumped, "This whole journey was a bad idea!"
"But staying by the lake is a bad idea too," Fallen Leaves protested.
"Who want to get killed off by Twolegs and their horrible monsters?" Half Moon added as she fell back.
They had been trekking across vast, barren plains.
"Just a little farther, and we'll rest," Stone Song promised.
Then a yowl cut through the air.
"Jay's Wing! He's gone!"
"Where could he be?" screeched Rising Moon.
"How are we supposed to make the journey without Jay's Wing leading us?" Half Moon worried.
"It'll be fine," Fallen Leaves said, resting a reassuring tail tip on her shoulder.
Frightened mews broke out. "Jay's Wing! Jay's Wing!" Dove's Wing called out.
"Silence!" shouted Stone Song.
Everyone turned to him. "Yes. Jay's Wing is gone, yet he will be back! I shall send out search parties to find him. And we will continue our journey to the mountains!"
There wasn't any cheering, like Stone Song seemed to think there would be. But everyone seemed to be reassured. Their journey continued on in silence.
Fallen Leaves grew colder with every pawstep. They still hadn't stopped to make camp, and his eyelids were drooping with exhaustion. Jay's Wing still had not returned.
They set up camp in a hollow tree that had toppled. Fallen Leaves pulled out some grass from the ground for a makeshift nest. It wasn't exactly warm or comfortable, but he'd last the night.
For the first time in a while, he had a deep, dreamless sleep.
The morning dawned clear and cold, yet there was not a cloud in the sky. He hauled himself out of the tree trunk, his eyes crusted with sleep. No sooner than he set his paw on the thick grass, Stone Song was calling his name.
"Fallen Leaves! Finally you're up, you lazy hedgehog!"
Fallen Leaves bit back a stinging retort. He was one of the first ones up. And he could still see the pink and orange of dawn in the sky.
His father approached him with a band of cats trailing behind him.
"We need you for our search party."
Oh. Lucky me.
Yet he knew it was vital to find Jay's Wing.
"You may eat, then leave," Stone Song continued. Fallen Leaves glanced at his traveling companions. There was Fish Leap, Dark Whiskers, and Half Moon.
Fallen Leaves managed to catch a pitiful shrew. He ate it in practically two bites; his belly still rumbled afterwards.
"Let's go," Dark Whiskers mewed.
At first, they were quiet. But then Fish Leap's bad temper began to infect everyone.
"This stupid journey. Stupid Jay's Wing. Why do we even need to find him?"
Half Moon rounded on him. "We all rely on Jay's Wing! Without him, our journey is ruined!"
"What's the point of this journey anyways?"
"To get to the mountains," Half Moon responded.
"But why? We were fine by the lake!"
"My mother died there! The Twolegs could kill us all if we stayed!" hissed Fallen Leaves.
"So is her sacrifice for nothing then?"
"It wasn't a sacrifice!"
Half Moon sighed. "Guys. Come on. This isn't helping. Let's get some rest, then we can find Jay's Wing, and go back to the others."
Fallen Leaves peered at Half Moon's pale shape as she stood guard. Fallen Leaves thought he would be exhausted, but he proved himself wrong. He had shifted into his nest until there was an angry hiss from Dark Whiskers.
He padded up to her. "Wanna get some sleep? I can take your place."
"No. It's fine."
"It a...chilly night. Are you sure?"
"I wish that the Twolegs never came," he mewed suddenly, "I'd much rather stay by the lake...but the Twolegs...you know. My mother. And nearly me, too."
"Yeah. I know. I'm sorry."
Despite himself, Fallen Leaves found himself inching closer and closer to Half Moon until their pelts were brushing....
"Half Moon..." he murmured
"Yes?" she said quietly, wrapping her tail around him.
"Do you think....that we could be just a bit more than friends?"
Half Moon looked startled. Like, Who, me?
"Yeah. Yeah, that would be good," she purred.
He took a deep breath and said it.
"I love you."
For a moment he thought she wouldn't reply.
But she did.
"I love you too."
"Just keep moving!" Fallen Leaves yowled over the icy storm. Dark Whiskers, Half Moon, Fish Leap, and himself were traveling over the highlands.
Wind blew snowflakes onto them and hail poured down. It was the worst storm they had seen in a while, even worse than the rainstorm that nearly drowned Fallen Leaves in the tunnels.
"How can we keep moving! We'll freeze!" Half Moon hissed.
"And so will Jay's Wing if we can't find him! Come on!"
"Seriously, Fallen Leaves, you still think Jay's Wing is alive? Come on. You've seen the weather. And you can easily get lost out here! We're lost ourselves!" Fish Leap retorted.
"We must...have hope!" he declared.
"Stop playing the hero," Half Moon pleaded, "We have to get to shelter."
Fallen Leaves sighed. "I see your logic. But where? It's barren and cold. Nowhere to go."
"We could shelter under an overhang," Dark Whiskers suggested, "If we huddle together we should last the night."
Everyone nodded and they set off.
The wind stung his eyes until tears streaked from them. Ice and frost powdered his pelt, until he looked completely white.
It didn't make Half Moon look any different, though. Her pelt was as white as the snow itself. He sighed. She was so beautiful.
"Look!" shouted Fish Leap, "There's a small overhang....all the way up there....ugh."
He was gesturing to a place in the rock where there was a large snow-covered ledge. Over it was an icy rock overhang, where they could shelter for the night. It was high up though, and they would have to climb their way.
Fallen Leaves stepped forward and began to climb, his claws making spine-tingling scraping sounds on the ice. He looked over his shoulder to see that no one was following.
"Come on," he mewed, "You'll freeze if you just stand there."
Half Moon loyally padded to his side and began haul her way up.
"It was your idea," she mewed to Fish Leap.
He followed them up, along with a reluctant Dark Whiskers.
Fallen Leaves shivered in the cold. His paw pads were rubbed raw with ice. He could barely feel them anymore. Rock, if this is what finding Jay's Wing will be like, then I wish I was never chosen.
He gritted his teeth and moved onward. But then he heard a sudden scrape and a shriek. Fish Leap was slipping down the hill, scrabbling at the ice.
Dark Whiskers was the closest to him. "Hold on!" he yowled as he rushed towards Fish Leap.
He sank his teeth into Fish Leap's scruff, and flung him upwards just in time.
But then Dark Whiskers himself was hanging off of the edge. Fallen Leaves was too high up; and powerless to stop him from falling. "Get him!" he screeched to the others.
Half Moon made a lunge for him. Oh no, not you Half Moon, the others! You can't fall!
Suddenly, a huge gust of wind rattled the side, sending shards of ice into his eyes. He could only hear the scrabbling of claws and the last horrified screech as Dark Whiskers plummeted off of the ledge. He didn't hear a thud. Too much snow.
"I'm sorry!" Half Moon wailed, "It's all my fault! If only I had been fast enough, I could've saved him!"
"It's not your fault!" Fallen Leaves yowled over the wind, "We have to keep moving, or else we'll all get blown away!"
They picked their way up the last of the slope. Fallen Leaves slipped once, but Half Moon caught him just in time. He wasn't even scared, he just cherished the feel of her soft fur as she pushed him upward....
The overhang wasn't even as sheltered as it appeared. Fallen Leaves, Half Moon, and Fish Leap squashed together, getting as warm as possible. They didn't set up a guard. If they did, whoever it was would freeze.
Not even Half Moon's pretty shape pressed against him could comfort him, or get the sounds of Dark Whisker's demise out of his mind.
It was the next day when the trio picked up a scent trail.
"The tribe," Fish Leap breathed, "We can go back."
"But we have to find Jay's Wing!" Half Moon panicked.
Fallen Leaves took a deep breath. He had to say what he had known all along.
"Half Moon. Jay's Wing is dead."
"How do you know? You haven't seen his body!" she responded.
"But do you really think he survived?" Fallen Leaves mewed softly, "Through all of the ice storms and cold? All alone?"
Half Moon sighed. "I won't ever give up hope that he will return. But I believe we should go to the others now."
"Right," Fish Leap said unexpectedly. They turned to stare.
They were greeted with a warm welcome from the others.
"Where's Dark Whiskers?" Chasing Clouds questioned eagerly.
There was a dead silence.
"He....he got blown off a ledge in the ice storm," Fallen Leaves replied.
They took a moment of silence to remember Dark Whiskers. How many more cats will we lose before we find our new home?
The weather, however, seemed to be getting colder instead of warmer. They needed to find a permanent home. Before they all froze.
The tribe was picking their way downstream. They had recently leaped over an intimidating precipice, and Dove's Wing had gotten a serious scrape on her paw. It left spots of blood behind as she loped along with the rest of them.
"Is there any marigold up here?" Half Moon murmured.
"I think there's some cobwebs," Chasing Clouds replied from behind.
"Okay. Should I wash it before you wrap it?" Dove's Wing mewed.
"Yeah. Go ahead," she said distantly. Dove's Wing blinked in reply and began to douse her paws in water.
Half Moon stalked up to Fallen Leaves' side.
"Hey," he mewed.
There was an awkward pause.
"How much longer will it take, for us to find our home?" she meowed, breaking the silence.
Fallen Leaves sighed. "I don't know. I'm less confident in this plan than before. Sometimes I think we'll all get killed off before we find a new home."
"We must not give up hope," Half Moon mewed firmly.
"Yeah," he said. He turned to stare into Half Moon's green eyes. They were strangely captivating, yet beautiful and striking. Unlike his pale green ones.
"You have pretty eyes," he said out of the blue, instantly regretting it.
"Thanks," she murmured. She began to lean closer to him. He could smell her sweet scent. It was somewhat like wildflowers mixed with fresh snow. He began to tilt towards her too.
Suddenly, a large splash and a shriek cut through the air.
"What was that?" Fallen Leaves exclaimed.
He whipped around to see Dove's Wing stuggling to grab onto a slick rock jutting out of the water's surface.
"I slipped! Help!"
"We're coming!" Half Moon yowled.
With a splash, Fallen Leaves landed into the water.
How rushed he had been to save Dove's Wing. How stupid.
The current swept him off his paws.
And he had no rock to cling to.
He was swept downstream. But suddenly, the water underneath him disappeared.
Fallen Leaves tumbled through the air, and hit the pool with a loud smack.
He gasped for air, as he shot up to the surface. Swimming ashore, he noticed that Dove's Wing was following him down the treacherous waterfall.
"Dove's Wing!" he shouted, even though he knew there was nothing he could do.
She hit the surface of the water, sending a spray of cold to his face.
He groaned and hauled himself onto the shore. His fur was so waterlogged that he could barely walk. Fallen Leaves sat down on a rock and began to groom himself.
"Fallen Leaves! Dove's Wing! Are you okay?" yowled Half Moon.
"Yeah," Fallen Leaves mewed weakly.
"You don't sound okay," Half Moon fretted, "Here. I see a path where I can climb down to meet you."
Fallen Leaves watched, heart thumping, as she picked her way down a steep slope. All of a sudden, she stopped, and peered at the waterfall.
"Fallen Leaves. Dove's Wing," she breathed.
"What?" Dove's Wing meowed curiously.
"I think we've found our new home."
"Half Moon....are you insane?" Dove's Wing asked politely.
Sometimes you just had to love both of them.
"I swear! I saw something behind the waterfall!"
She clambered up to her original position, and attempted to peer through the silver-blue sheet water. Her green eyes glowed with excitement.
She beckoned them with her tail.
Fallen Leaves shrugged, and began to climb up the path next to her.
It was vague, and somewhat hard to see. Yet he could see that there was something beyond the waterfall. He could see it...a cave!
Dove's Wing joined them, and peered along next to Fallen Leaves. "I can see it," she murmured.
Half Moon's eyes were alight with excitement. "Let's check it out!"
"Yeah!" he said. Finally, they reached their destination. All though the mountains were harsh, the leaf-bares cold...they could survive now they found a sufficient home.
Only if Jay's Wing were here....
Yet he knew he shouldn't get too hopeful. They hadn't set foot inside yet.
"I'll come with you," he mewed to Half Moon.
Dove's Wing stared at them awkwardly. "Um...I would come in, but I think it would be better if I went to the others and told them."
"Good idea," Fallen Leaves remarked.
"Okay," she said. Then Dove's Wing began to pick her way up the slope.
"Well...she-cats first," he purred to Half Moon.
She flicked his ear playfully and edged along the ridge.
Was it safe? Mouse dung. He shouldn't of risked her safety, just to be playful!
But she appeared fine. Her sleek white pelt slipped behind the roaring, rushing water.
He could barely hear her voice over the noise of the waterfall.
"Come in! It's perfectly safe!" she shouted from inside.
Fallen Leaves shivered, and followed her into the cave.
It was a bit nerve-wracking, inching over the ledge. But he was able to do it without much trouble. And before he knew it, he was standing next to Half Moon, watching the crystal water pour down, spraying them with mist.
Half Moon flicked the dew drops off her whiskers. "It's cold, isn't it?" she mewed.
Fallen Leaves found himself purring, though he didn't know why.
Maybe it's possible I feel just a little more than friendship for Half Moon.....
He was about to speak to her. But she was already frisking away.
"This main cave seems good for the tribe to sleep and eat in," she observed.
"Yeah," he replied, "But there are some other caves, aren't there? Maybe those would be better."
"Good point. Now come on," she mewed.
They checked out a couple of the other caves. One seemed like a good place for queens and kits, but the others were too small and cramped.
Another big passageway caught his eye. For a moment, he was reminded of his terrible time in the tunnels. But he shook it off.
"Hey, what about that one?"
"Okay," she replied. Her tail tip brushed his shoulder as she walked along beside him.
Fallen Leaves found himself purring again.
Yet he stopped abruptly once he entered the cave.
It was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen.
Stalacites and stalagtites hung from the ceiling and jutted from the ground. Deep blue pools of water were smattered on the cave floor.
He felt the cool mountain breeze on his fur, chilling him to the bone.
Fallen Leaves looked up and saw a gap in the roof. Clouds obscured the moon, yet he felt its presence all the same.
"It's beautiful," he murmured. Then he striaghtened himself, and licked his ruffled fur.
Half Moon rolled her eyes. "You know you don't have to be embarrassed in front of me."
That just embarrassed him further.
"It is gorgeous," she mewed, more to herself than to him.
Silence resumed. Half Moon took a deep breath.
Fallen Leaves turned to her. Her eyes were glittering with nervousness.
You know, you don't have to be nervous in front of me, he thought to himself.
Half Moon scuffled her paws and began to speak.
"Fallen Leaves, I think now would be a good time to tell you something important," she mewed quietly.
"Uh-oh. This seems serious," he said.
"I'm expecting your kits."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" he hissed.
"I wasn't sure earlier," she explained, her eyes growing wide.
Fallen Leaves looked at his paws. He didn't know how to feel. He had always wanted to be a father. But this wasn't meant to happen. Half Moon and him weren't even that close as mates. They were more...just friends.
It just wasn't meant to happen.
"I...I don't know about this," he mewed slowly.
"Well?" she continued. "Are you happy?"
"I don't know," he answered simply, "I just didn't think...that we were that much. I mean...." he trailed off, at a loss for words.
Half Moon looked hurt. But she complied.
"I...I guess not."
Excited mews reached the cave.
"Oh, others are here," she quickly said. Then bounded out of the cave, sending sprays of water behind her.
He followed with a heavy heart.
Dove's Wing was leading the cats into the cave.
"Just edge along here. Trust me, it's safe."
Slowly cats spilled into the cave.
"Whew! It's musty in here!" Jagged Lightning exclaimed.
"Are you sure this is a safe place to live in?" Cloudy Sun fretted.
"It's fine. Fallen Leaves and Half Moon checked it all out. Right guys?" Dove's Wing mewed.
"Oh-um, yeah," Fallen Leaves responded.
Rising Moon squealed like a kit. "What are we waiting for? Let's all go explore!"
Fallen Leaves watched as the tribe broke up into groups of friends and began to scuffle around the caves. An excited shout rose from the one with the pointed stones.
"Look what I found! It's gorgeous!" Someone exclaimed. Others squeezed in to see what was in there.
Stone Song padded along behind them. He stopped at the entrance.
"Please let me through to see if it is safe," he mewed.
"It's perfectly safe," Half Moon assured. Yet he could here the wobble in her voice. The memories they now shared in there were too strong.
"Let me see for myself," he insisted. The few cats in the passage cleared out. Stone Song padded through.
Fallen Leaves heard Stone Song's gasp of awe. Fallen Leaves followed him into the cave to see what the situation was.
As he walked in, Stone Song was deep in thought, his deep blue eyes casted downward. He stared at his reflection in the pool.
A drip of water slid from one of the pointed stones dangling from the roof. It landed in the pool with a drip, sending ripples all throughout it.
Stone Song's brow furrowed.
Finally, he spoke.
"It's a sign."
A few cats snickered.
"What do you mean?" Half Moon spoke.
"An omen," he said simply.
Jagged Lightning openly laughed. "An omen? You have bees in your brain!"
"I believe that they exist," Half Moon replied.
Fallen Leaves looked at her quizzically.
Signs? From where? How does that even make sense? he thought.
"Signs, Half Moon? Signs aren't real," he said skeptically.
"Anything could be interpreted as a sign," Owl Feather pointed out.
"Silence!" hissed Stone Song.
Then he began to speak. "You may not have had much experience with omens in our old home. But I feel that this place is special." He paused. "The droplet of water falling into the pool is a sign of change to come. And because it rippled my reflection the change will be made by me."
"Or to you," Half Moon pointed out. But Stone Song silenced her with a flick of his tail.
"I believe it is only sensible that this cave is designated to me," he meowed, "From now on I will interpret all of the omens that occur in this cavern."
Some muttered silently amongst themselves. Fallen Leaves couldn't hear what they were saying, but he had a pretty good idea of what.
"Omens? Has he gone crazy?"
"I fear that he is starting to enjoy his power a tad too much..."
And deep down, Fallen Leaves couldn't help but wonder if it was all true.
The unsettled whispers finally died down. Wide and hostile eyes rested on Stone Song. Obviously he was going to be questioned.
I think they're right....he thought. But he's my father. I must stay loyal to him.
'All right," Dove's Wing mewed in mock sweetness, "I guess we'll all have to go then, to where the lowly tribe cats go, in the main cave."
"Or are you going to push us out of the cave too?" Fish Leap hissed.
Stone Song spoke again. "Believe what you must, but this place is sacred."
Fallen Leaves took a deep breath, determined not to abandon his father.
"This cave is special," he remarked, "So for now, it should be for him. Until he figures out these 'omens' more. So now let's leave the Cave of Pointed Stones."
"Since when do you tell us what to do?" Running Horse growled as he hauled himself from the outskirts of the crowd.
"I'm not trying to tell any cat what to do. But could we all just stop fighting? Come on, guys. We're better than this."
"Okay. I'll listen to him...for now," Dove's Wing grumbled over her shoulder as she stalked out of the cave.
Sensing the drama was over, everyone started to follow her. Half Moon's wide eyes locked with his. She slowly shook her head and turned tail.
Now everyone hates me too, he thought silently.
Before he knew it, it was just him and Stone Song.
"I'm proud of you," he said.
"Only because I defended you," Fallen Leaves replied.
"I've been proud of you since you were a kit," he rebuked, "You were easily the strongest of the litter. Sadly, the rest were stolen by a fox. You survived, but to this day, we don't know how."
Fallen Leaves spoke. "Look, this is all very touching, but now I'm probably one of the most hated cats of all of us." He just couldn't stand his father's arrogance anymore. He turned tail and fled the cave.
Everyone seemed to have settled down a bit. Owl Feather and Furled Bracken were sharing tongues, although they didn't appear particularly happy. Half Moon was at Shy Fawn's side, comforting her. Shy Fawn no longer had a father to raise the kits, now that Dark Whiskers was dead. She pawed at the ground in agony. Fallen Leaves couldn't even tell if it was grief or stomach pains from the kits.
Half Moon whispered something to Shy Fawn. She nodded.
Half Moon padded up to Fallen Leaves.
"You're not the cat I thought you were," she stated simply.
"I could say the same to you," he mewed coolly.
"How could you side with him? You know it'll just make him want more power! And you defended him, even after being the cat the questioned me about my belief in omens!"
"Well, now I'm going to question you again. How could you side against Stone Song if you believe in signs?" he shot back.
"Because the Cave of Pointed Stones should be for everyone to find omens and share tongues, not just him." She sighed. "Fallen Leaves, we shouldn't fight. You know I'm expecting your kits. We should take care to raise them together."
He didn't particularly like Half Moon at the moment. But he remembered how Broken Shadow and Stone Song had always watched over him. And he knew it would be best for their kits if they were raised with two parents.
"All right," he sighed.
"Well....okay then," she meowed awkwardly.
He scuffled his paws. And finally turned away to talk to Dove's Wing. It would probably be less tense, even though she clearly didn't support Stone Song's decision.
It's not even that big of a deal. It's just all these cats make it one.
"Hi. Um...what's up?" he mewed awkwardly.
"Hi," she said, her voice laced with ice.
"Cats should be getting hungry by now. We should go hunt," he suggested.
Dove's Wing shook her head. "It was really stormy outside when I was fetching the others. I expect a blizzard. Like it wasn't already chilly enough." She snorted skeptically and flicked her tail.
"I'll take a peek," he said. Then he trotted off to the waterfall exit.
Dove's Wing thought that he couldn't hear her mutter. And it hurt.
"Good riddance," she had hissed.
Just because he had supported his father.
Was the cave that important, that his choice was so controversial?
Maybe Stone Song really is enjoying his power. And I can't tell because he is my father.
Ridiculous; he just wanted to interpret the "omens" in the cave. That's all.
The icy spray of the waterfall chilled him to the bone as he shifted across the ledge.
The air was brisk before. But now it had dropped; every breeze felt like ice cutting his skin.
Not only that, freezing flakes were slowly falling from the sky, landing among the branches of the sparse trees, and creating a blanket across the earth.
"Rock, help us," Fallen Leaves groaned. Shy Fawn would need nourishment sometime soon. The whole tribe would need food soon.
The wind speed picked up. Snowflakes landed on his face, not even melting with his body heat. He would return to the cave, and report to Stone Song. Maybe he could send out a patrol of strong cats to take on the mountain storm.
Just then he remembered Dark Whiskers' demise. They couldn't just take a risk like that!
He began to turn tail. But as he began to pad away, something caught his eye.
A dark little blob stood out against the crisp white snow.
Its tail twitched. Then it dragged its paw over its ear.
It was a mouse. And a juicy one too.
He dropped into a stealthy crouch, his tail sticking straight out, his belly brushing the snow.
It was nibbling on a discarded nut, half shriveled from the cold. Too endorsed in eating to realize the sly form of Fallen Leaves.
He was about to pounce, when a shadow fell over the white earth.
He looked up to see a bird, bigger than he had ever seen, circling above them.
It's beak was outlined against the gray sky as it let out a raucous cry. Then it swooped.
Fallen Leaves first reaction was to flee.
But the Clan needs prey.
He streaked towards the fat mouse, as fast as he could possibly go. Yet the bird was diving towards it at the same time.
Fallen Leaves dove out of the way, the mouse in his claws, just at the right time.
The hawk struggled and flapped madly, just above the ground. Fallen Leaves turned to watch the great bird fly off.
And he felt the mouse slip out of his claws. He jerked around to save it, but it was too late. His only prey disappeared into a burrow.
How can we survive if birds can attack us?
Just then, he had an idea. The great hawk was just flapping away. Fallen Leaves leaped up, and snagged his claw on the wide wing of the hawk.
The hawk screeched, and lashed out with its talon.
White hot pain burst through his eye. He felt blood trickle from it into his mouth.
But he still held on to the wing of the hawk as it beat furiously. It turned to look at him, it's beady eyes unforgiving and cruel.
That was when Fallen Leaves lunged forward and bit down on the bird's neck.
The mighty hawk began to quiver and sway in the blizzard breeze.
Fallen Leaves felt himself dropping to the ground, bringing the hawk with him. The bird's eyes were beady and lifeless. Fallen Leaves had overcome it.
What if I'm starting to like killing? He suddenly thought.
Ridiculous. It was an enemy. He had only killed his prey so far. Prey....
The tribe would be well fed that night.
Using his muscles, he picked up the great bird, and attempted not to drag it through the snowdrifts. Fallen Leaves soon arrived at the cave.
All eyes were trained on him, glimmering with curiosity.
"What have you brought into the cave?" Owl Feather demanded sharply.
Fallen Leaves pushed his bird into the light of the waterfall. "Prey."
Shy Fawn gasped.
For a moment, he was the hero of the tribe. He had brought them prey, assuring they would survive for the days to come...like, the bird was so big that it could feed a lot of them.
Excitedly, he sunk his teeth into the flesh of the bird.
Dear Rock. It was awful. And stringy.
Yet no one said a thing. I guess it's the intention that counts.
And that they were all fed.
Fallen Leaves pushed it with his paw to Dove's Wing. She raised an eyebrow and sunk her teeth in. Fallen Leaves saw her eyes widen with surprise and disgust.
They did this until everyone had eaten, especially Shy Fawn. She was going to kit any day, and she had to keep her strength up.
But to Fallen Leaves' discouragement, the vision in the eye were the hawk's talon had slashed had still not come back, even after he had washed it and put cobwebs on it.
Fallen Leaves scooped a shallow dip in the softer part of the floor. He lined it with a few feathers floating around the cave from the meal, put his paw over his nose, and attempted to drift off into sleep.
He felt Half Moon's quiet gaze rested upon him. Like he didn't notice. Deep down, he was hoping that she would come into his nest and curl up around him like she used to. But instead Fallen Leaves just heard the gentle sound of her pads hitting the cave floor, as she padded away.
"Jay's Wing...I miss you..." she murmured. Fallen Leaves twitched. Jay's Wing was never coming back. It was him she chose to bear her kits, and now this was her life.
She should deal with it.
Half Moon gave birth to his kits a few moons later, along with Shy Fawn, although she did not say that Fallen Leaves was the father.
This left another unreparable scar on his heart.
They were two beautiful she-kits, with Half Moon's ghostly white fur and bright green eyes, named Rush of Waterfall Over Cliff and Tumble of Falling Snow. Yet Fallen Leaves had visited them regularly, and knew that Tumble of Falling Snow bore a few orange splotches on her underbelly.
Fallen Leaves was still a part of them, no matter how much Half Moon denied it.
The tribe hadn't been doing well. Running Horse had died, and so had several others, in attempts to escape from the mountains all together. Some had even succeeded, and were no longer a part of their tribe.
Their numbers were dwindling. His kits would starve with no prey. And Stone Song had died recently, leaving them with no leader.
This was all a mistake. All one big blunder, bringing all of our lives crashing around us.
Jaypaw frantically churned his paws in the water, the water that was slowly filling the tunnels.
"Which way now?" Breezepaw hissed.
Jaypaw sighed. There was no use. Rock wasn't helping them. They would be trapped forever.
He sensed Hollypaw snapping around to look at Heatherpaw and Lionpaw. "You know these tunnels very well," she mewed frantically. Yet her voice was laced with poison.
"Heatherpaw knows them better," Lionpaw gasped, as he struggled to stay afloat.
"Well, there are three tunnels connecting to this one here, and we are supposed to take the smallest one that is the farthest from us. Then it is pretty simple from there."
"Wait--are you sure?" Lionpaw asked. Heatherpaw just ignored him.
"Right!" Jaypaw sputtered, as he continued leading on the apprentices and kits to their destination.
"Here!" Heatherpaw gasped.
"But wait," Hollypaw began sensibly, "That tunnel is completely flooded! We can't swim through, or we'll drown!"
The hungry water was now lapping at Jaypaw's chin.
"But if we stay here any longer, we'll still drown!" Breezepaw pointed out.
Lionpaw sighed. "All right, hold your breath, kits. We're going in."
"This is ridiculous!" Breezepelt shouted over the roar of the water.
Heatherpaw turned to him. "It may be ridiculous, but it's the only way out."
Jaypaw watched as Lionpaw quickly plunged underwater, followed by Hollypaw. He shivered, his hate of water getting to him stronger.
"Coward!" Breezepaw spat at him.
"If I'm such a coward, then what are you, still standing here?" Jaypaw retorted. Then he took a deep breath, and let himself slip underwater.
He hadn't been like this since the time he fell in the lake. Icy water flowed through his fur, numbing his paws.
Now swim forward, before you run out of breath.
He paddled strongly, as he attempted to find the correct passage. The water dulled his sense of smell and hearing, so he actually was blind.
Jaypaw curved into the tunnel that Heatherpaw had been talking about, and continued swimming.
The air in his lungs was slowly draining. When will this tunnel end? I'm going to die here, if I don't reach the end soon!
To his relief, it opened up. But as he became more aware, he realized that he couldn't feel the walls. They were back in the cavern. And the cavern was completely engulfed in water.
Now he couldn't even hear the roar of the floodwater. It just became a fuzzy drone in the background, nothing to distract his dulling senses. His paws curved as he began floating downward, needles pricking all over his body. Pressure on his chest.
There will be three, kin of your kin, that will hold the power of the stars in their paws.
How could they save the Clans, if they were dead?
Heatherpaw's head broke through the surface. The water weighed down her fur. Yet not as heavily as the guilt that weighed on her heart.
She had led her comrades down the wrong passage deliberately...Jaypaw had promised that he would find the way. And rescue the kits. Yet they never did, because Heatherpaw saw her chance, after Jaypaw became lost.
She had also seen the gleam in Hollypaw's green eyes as she saw Lionpaw and Heatherpaw together. She knew that Hollypaw was going to tell. And Heatherpaw couldn't let that happen.
As for Lionpaw, Heatherpaw knew that she could never truly let go of him if he was alive. It was just going to be better that way.
Yet the guilt still quashed her spirits, after escaping the tunnels alive. Too bad she couldn't have saved the kits.
Heatherpaw staggered to the ThunderClan and WindClan border, guilt and exhaustion dragging at her paws. She noticed her Clan up ahead, and silently slipped among its ranks.
Onestar and Firestar stood face to face. "We did not take those kits, and you know it!"
"Prove it!" Onestar spat back.
"We have no need to prove anything!"
Warriors were on each other in screeching, writhing masses. Heatherpaw watched as Crowfeather bit down hard on a ThunderClan warrior's ear. Blood spurted from it, emanating a salty tang.
"Heatherpaw! Fight!" Crowfeather hissed at her.
Heatherpaw's legs began to wobble; her vision went blurry. The world seemed to spin, as the cats fought, claw to claw, tooth to tooth.
"I can't," she whispered.
"What do you mean?" Crowfeather screeched, "ThunderClan stole those kits!"
"I can't," Heatherpaw repeated. She forced her quivering legs to work, as she stumbled away from the battle, and into the grassy slopes of WindClan territory.
She collapsed in the grass, tears streaming from her cheeks. How could I have done that? How could I have killed seven cats, three of them only kits!
She knew it was important somehow. She knew it deep down. But what was done was done, and at least she knew that Hollypaw would never blurt out her and Lionpaw's secret.
"Fallen Leaves!" Broken Shadows called to the sky, as more torrential rain poured down.
"Broken Shadow, Fallen Leaves is gone," Rising Moon whispered to her softly.
"No, he can't be!" she sobbed, "He can't be dead!"
"But he is dead," Rising Moon said harshly, surprising Broken Shadow, "He's dead and gone. He drowned in the tunnels, and will never come back."
Spottedleaf pressed her eyes tightly shut. So much misery, so much suffering...she just had to do it. Her vision changed to an image of a young white and orange tom, yet ghostly, wandering through the tunnels. Tears slipping from his confused expression, as he realized that he was dead, and all alone.
The lush bushes rustled. Out stepped Yellowfang and Lionheart.
"You've toyed with destiny enough, Spottedleaf!" Yellowfang spat into her face.
Spottedleaf's eyes shone with grief. "I...I just had to. No cat should leave a soul to suffer alone, no matter who it is."
Yellowfang circled her, her eyes gleaming with fury. "You realize what you've done?"
"Yes, but, but I--" Spottedleaf breathed, unable to find words to say.
"Two of the three are dead! The third will die down in the tunnels, because there will be no one to help her! Fallen Leaves was meant to die! It affects the fate of the Clans itself!"
Lionheart finally spoke, much more dimplomatically. "The Clans won't survive the Dark Forest attack without the three. Grim fate awaits the Clans, just because of one little change."
Spottedleaf sighed. "I suppose you're right. But let's not forget the courageous tom that Fallen Leaves could've been."
She stared down into the pool before her, her amber eyes reflected back, along with images of Fallen Leaves escaping the tunnels...a snowy mountain scene...a white she-cat with kits, staring lovingly down at them....
"I can't," Spottedleaf whispered.
Lionheart narrowed his eyes in fury, Yellowfang pacing the clearing behind him. "The Tribe is all going to die anyways, if you don't do this, Spottedleaf. Fallen Leaves is not there to rescue Jaypaw from drowning, therefore he will never return to Fallen Leaves' time. Without him then, they are doomed. The Tribe of Rushing Water will never exist. And it may be possible that the Clans won't exist."
She sighed, and turned away, slapping her paw down on the pool, shattering the images of Fallen Leaves' life.
Time seemed to stand still for that moment. And it did, until fate had rearranged itself, until destiny was set in the time, and the time before, the Clans.