A low growl of terror echoed through the air.
I looked up, ignoring the pain and tension from the band around my neck, to see Brambleclaw standing there. My loyal deputy. The one I predicted would bring ThunderClan to greatness.
But now, that was not the case.
Hawkfrost stood by his side, muscles flexing. His blue eyes seemed to dig right into my skin, as if he could see right through me. I resisted another a whimper of despair, and met his gaze.
"Brambleclaw, you can do it. He's trapped... he could not resist if you took his remaining lives away."
Of course. I had seen it coming.
Brambleclaw didn't respond, although I wasn't too worried. He was loyal and true to ThunderClan, even though he obviously felt a bit too much kinship towards Hawkfrost.
I began to break into a sweat, as Brambleclaw still didn't move or say a word. Just his tail tip twitching.
Hawkfrost's voice echoed in the back of my head, as my breathing increased. "Just do it, Brambleclaw. Think of the glory."
Now, I was beginning to get nervous, yet I would not lose my dignity, so I stayed silent and squeezed my eyes closed.
And felt the rake of claws down my neck.
Pain laced all through my face, neck, and through my spine. As black washed over me, all I felt was the ultimate betrayal, of the cat that I chose because I trusted them.
Just as I expected, my eyes flickered open to the sight of all the StarClan warriors who had given me my lives, lined up. But Swiftpaw was slightly faded away, leaving a trace of stardust.
"You have lost another life, Firestar," Bluestar murmured peacefully. She opened her mouth like she was going to speak again, but snapped her jaws shut as she decided against it. A darkness clouded her eyes. The more I noticed, all of the StarClan warriors seemed like they were anticipating bad times to come.
"Is there something you need to tell me?" I meowed shrilly. But Bluestar just shook her head, and I slowly faded back into the real world...
Brambleclaw was hunched over, shoulders shaking. Hawkfrost was giving a lecture worthy of Daisy when she was speaking to Toadkit.
"Look at you! Pathetic! Sniveling! Tigerstar wouldn't be pleased."
He let out a low growl, and turned to look at Hawkfrost.
"All you need to do is finish the job..." Finish the job. A spasm of horror passed through my body, along with anger that Brambleclaw would do this to me.
Brambleclaw stepped forward again, unsheathing his claws.
"This is really what you want, Brambleclaw?" I snarled, "A disgustingly disloyal grab for power. You should be ashamed." I paused, breathing heavily, as the trap squeezed my neck even tighter. "But kill me if you must, knowing it will be on your conscience for the rest of you life."
For a moment, I thought he was going to listen.
But instead, he lunged forward and snapped the noose holding me down so tight that I couldn't breathe.... blood pouring from my neck....
I woke up in StarClan, this time Silverstream fading away, uttering a little meow beforing leaving me. With one less life.
Snapping awake again, I saw Brambleclaw still holding the trap tight around me.
I blacked out again. Lost another life. Lionheart had faded.
This time, Brambleclaw's amber eyes met mine directly. I blinked. I thought I heard him mutter a few words.
"I'm so sorry, Firestar. I'm so sorry." He loosened his grip.
"Oh, what is this?" Hawkfrost snarled, pushing his way past Brambleclaw. In one swift movement, he leaned forward and sank his teeth into my neck, repeatedly scraping my skin with his long fangs. I felt life slipping away from me as I saw Brambleclaw peering over Hawkfrost's shoulder, powerless. The traitor.
The StarClan cats were all in a line, in their familiar order. Except that they were all pale and seemingly lifeless, only a slight twinkle of stars in their fur. Bluestar was faded. I had lost my last life.
I let out a strangled cry of horror, but nothing came out. Brambleclaw killed me. Under the influence of Tigerstar. No, no, no...
Aimlessly, I wandered into StarClan territory, one recurring thought in the back of my head.
What will happen to ThunderClan, now that it's lead by a murderer?
Leaves cast a pattern of dancing shadows on the forest floor, shading the ferns and twigs. There was a thin layer of frost coating everything. She shivered.
A sprig of the fern rustled. Squirrelflight tensed, seeing a little pair of whiskers peeping out from underneath. The mouse decided that it was safe, and stepped out of its hidey-hole. She licked her lips, and pounced.
Her claws sank into the prey, instantly killing it.
Squirrelflight leaned over to nip up her catch, but a bulky paw thrust in her way, clipping her over the jaw.
Bruise forming on her lips, she looked up to see who had stopped her.
And found herself staring into a pain of sad blue eyes.
Mistyfoot's gray pelt was haggard, practically hanging over her bones.
"Mistyfoot?" she breathed, "What are you doing here? What happened?"
"We need your help."
Squirrelflight paused. Can I trust them?
No cat would come to attack so malnourished.
"RiverClan's in bad shape," she murmured. She slumped over.
Squirrelflight's eyes widened in sympathy. "You know, if you've come for help, I'm sure I can take you and your warriors to camp and Bramblestar will sort it out."
Bramblestar was her loyal mate. He was always there for her, even when he was busy with leadership duties.
"That's not the case," she mewed, "Nothing can fix our current state now. We came to announce that Hawkstar is the new leader of RiverClan."
She gasped. "What happened to Leopardstar?"
"She died of a sudden sickness," Mistyfoot replied, "But everyone knows that it's probably a lie."
She was starting to think that this seemed all a bit staged, like an elaborate tecnique to get sympathy and extra prey and herbs from ThunderClan. But looking into Mistyfoot's sad light blue eyes, her skin drawn tightly over her ribs, she realized that there was no way that she could just abandon her there. That went for Reedwhisker and Mothwing as well, who looked equally malnourished.
"Follow me," Squirrelflight mewed, placing a steadying tail tip on Mistyfoot's shoulder.
The walk to camp seemed to take an eternity, even though Squirrelflight was walking at a fast pace that Mistyfoot and her patrol obviously couldn't keep up with. What was more, the cold stung her paws now that she had no prey to preoccupy her.
Finally, they reached the camp.
The leaves rustled as they stepped through the barrier and into the camp. All heads turned to look, with surprise. RiverClan cats were known for being strong and full-fed, but now their ribs poked through their skin.
"Who are those cats, mama?"
A few muffled kit pawsteps were heard as little Hazelkit went rushing to her littermates.
"What's this?" Bramblestar mewed gruffly, coming out of the lichen sheet covering his den on top of Highledge.
Before she could speak, Mistyfoot interrupted, flanked by Reedwhisker.
"We need your help."
His brow furrowed. "Help? What has happened in RiverClan?"
"Hawkstar happened," she growled.
It may have been her imagination, but she saw Bramblestar jump a little bit.
"Hawkstar? Did Leopardstar die? What's going on?"
"No, Leopardstar ran off into the sunset with Blackstar," Mistyfoot snorted, "Yes, she's dead. Died of sickness."
"If you need herbs, I'm sure that Leafpool would be willing to help. Right, Leafpool?"
No response, other than a small shuffle from the medicine den. Leafpool didn't come out much lately. Squirrelflight tried to ask why, but never got anything.