This story is for ages 10 and up.
My paws scraped the ground,but I didn't stop.I walked till my pads were sore and bleeding,and still I had to keep going.
Turning back would mean walking into my own destruction,waiting for everything to crash down.I was doomed to failure anyway.I may as well keep going.Looking into the faces of my clanmates while they learned the truth?Too much to bear.
I am no perfect.What cat is?But I messed up.And there is no fixing what I did.Never.
I had just been apprenticed....
“From this day forward,until you recieve your warrior name,you shall be called Acornpaw."Cricketstar lifted his head high.“Volefoot!You shall mentor Acornpaw.I hope that you will pass on what you know to this apprentice."
The old,grey tom stepped forward.As I touched noses with my new mentor,the crowd was beginning to cheer.
My brother's tail quivered in excitement.His leaf green eyes glowed.Rosepaw's ears pricked nervously.
I looked over the camp.Rosepaw and Leafpaw sat beside me on the warm,greenleaf night.It was moonhigh when I heard the voice.
“Acornpaw,"It whispered,“Leafpaw,come with us."
Leafpaw stood in the snow.Rosepaw glanced around to see where the sound was coming from.
Again it called,“Come with us,please."
Leaves rustled in the undergrowth.I unsheathed my claws as I went to stand beside my littermates.“Who goes there!?"I shouted.
A cat rubbed in mud and decaying leaves wove in and out of the undergrowth.I tasted the air and realized I couldn't smell him.Smart.He disguised his scent.
“Who are you?"Rosepaw hissed.Her small ears pricked forward,her amber eyes blazing in amber,so deep they were almost the color of a red rose.
The cat came into a patch of moonlight.Through the stench of the leaves,I caught a whiff of ThunderClan scent,and saw tabby fur just like mine,and green eyes like I've only seen once before.
“My name is Foxtail,"He spoke.His voice was soft but strong.“Who are you?"
His tone made me think he knew who we were,so I said nothing.Rosepaw stepped closer to me while Leafpaw crouched,ready to spring.
“Are you Snakestep's kits?"
We gave a hesitant nod before Foxtail's face lit with a smile.“Has your mother never told you little kits about me?"
“We aren't kits,"I huffed in indignation.“We are apprentices."
“Leafpaw,Acornpaw,follow me."He turned to go,motioning with his tail.
Leafpaw didn't take his eyes off the mud-streaked tabby.His green eyes glowed wtth rage.“What about Rosepaw?"
“First rule of guarding camp,"Foxtail said without looking back at us,“Always leave someone to fight the enemies."
As he disapeared,Leafpaw,Rosepaw,and I looked at each other.“Should we follow him?"Leafpaw asked.
“That doesn't seem like a good idea.Maybe we should get Cricketstar."Rosepaw glanced at the den where the leader slept,the curtain of lichen blowing in the breeze.
I stared into the undergrowth where the tom had disappeared.I walked toward it.As I turned for a last goance at my littermates,I said simply,“I am going to see what he wants.It seems important."
Leafpaw nodded.He looked at Rosepaw.He dipped his head to her,and we left her to sit in the snow alone.
Foxtail took us through the territory,to Snakerocks and beyond,to a small valley with six large stones all in a circle.“Wait here."
As his tabby pelt disappeared over a hillrise,panic flooded through me.“Why did he bring us here?"
We waited in the valley for several moments before we heard pawsteps coming towards us.Five tall cats followed Foxtail.A ginger she-cat was in lead.
“Why did you bring them here,Foxtail?"She hissed.“And I thought you said there were three."
Foxtail shook slightly as he faced her.“There are!But the third is too weak for this life.They....they are the strongest.And her,"-he motioned to me with his tail-“That one will be a fighter."
I glared at him but said nothing.
The she-cat looked us over and went to sit at the foot of one of the rocks.
One of the other cats,a speckled tom,grabbed a piece of prey.Expertly he skinned it,pulling the pelt off of the rabbit.He repeated this with another rabbit.
“It is time to welcome these cats into this group."He looked at the ginger she-cat.
She stood,swishing her tail.All signs of sterness faded from her expression,replaced wtth delight.“I,Grasseyes,bestow these cats with names to be called by."
The tom draped the skin of one rabbit over my back,and the other over Leafpaw.
“Acornpaw,till the day you die,despite all names the Clans give you,you are Fightingspirit."She spoke the name as if she were a leader holding a warrior ceremony.This wasn't so bad.Fightingspirit...what a name!
“Leafpaw,"She continued,“till the day you die,despite all names the Clans give you,you are Firedawn."
Grasseyes dipped her head and stepped back into the crowd,joining them as they cheered our names.“FIGHTINGSPIRIT!"They yelled,“FIREDAWN!"
Suddenly,as if on cue,the sun broke the horizon in a fiery moment of glory.The whole valley was washed in light of all colors.Our fur was dappled in shades of pink and gold and red.
Foxtail's eyes widened.“You must head back to your Clan."
Gently he lifted the rabit skins off of our back and laid them atop a flat stone in the center of the valley.
“Come here tonight,both of you.After the Clan is asleep.And do not be caught."We nodded in understanding.“And do not tell anyone about what happened here."
“Not even Rosepaw?"Firedawn asked.At least,I always called him Firedawn after that,but that wasn't his name,and I knew it.He would always be Leafpaw.
Foxtail lashed his tail.“Especially not Rosepaw.Now go - you will have training today."Just as we turned to go,he stopped us.“And Fightingspirit,try to live up to your name."
I dipped my head.“Of course,Foxtail."
“Firedawn,step forward."Grasseyes lifted a pointed stick.As I watched my brother walk forward,I noticed for the first time that every single cat in the clearing had a scar just under each ear,and a missing patch of fur on the right shoulder.
Firedawn closed his eyes as Grasseyes lifted the stick.Then,with no mercy,jammed it just below my brother's ear.Blood began to drip down his face.She did not pause,nor hesitate.She took the stick to the other side of Firedawn's face.
Droplets of blood,crimson,stained his light grey pelt as it dripped down his face.Dropped the pointed stick now,Grasseyes unsheathed her claws.“Do you promise to live for the good of the group,for the good of no other,to protect with your life the cats you see before you and none else?"
Grasseyes lowered her claws over Firedawn's forepaw,and clawed it so hard that blood covered his now furless flesh.No fur would ever grow there again.
The ginger cat dipped her head to Firedawn.“Welcome.These cats are your brothers,your sisters.You have no littermates but the cats you see here.You fight to protect them,they fight to protect you.Even if it means leaving your Clan."
Foxtail,a black she-cat called Meekfighter,and the speckled tom whose name was Cloudcatcher all shifted uneasily at her words.
The she-cat lifted the stick once more and ceremoniously pushed the point deep into the skin below my ear.I closed my eyes as pain filled me.I could feel the blood sticking in my fur,could taste the metalic scent in the air.I didn't even feel Grasseyes pull the stick away,but I felt its sharp point dig into the other side of my head.
She repeated the lengthy speech she had said to Firedawn.I took a deep breath.“I do."
Hiddensteps began to lick the blood off of our paws,and then on our faces.He told us never to put herbs on it,or wrap it in cobwebs.Treating the Mark is a huge disrespect to the group.
Then we began the slow trek back to ThunderClan.
“What do you think they want from us?"
“I dont know....but they don't seem bad."I gave a shrug.“I'm sure it isn't important."
We walked in silence the rest of the way.
“Acornpaw,why don't you ever talk to me anymore?"Rosepaw said,a slight whine in her mew.“You and Leafpaw....since we became apprentices,you act different."
“We are different,"Firedawn muttered.“We're older."
Rosepaw shook her head,her white fur soft and silky as the wind blew through it.“That isn't it.What did you do to yourselves,anyway?Where did you get those scars?"
Leaffall was coming.Time for the true test of our loyalty to the group - to Grasseyes and Foxtail and Cloudcatcher and the others,and to each other.“Doesn't matter."I looked away so that I wouldn't see the hurt look in my sister's amber gaze.
The sun would be going down soon.As the other cats slowly went back to their dens,Firedawn and I lingered by the fresh-kill pile,sharing prey.Finally,with a sigh,Rosepaw went back to the apprentices den.Even Cricketstar,who stayed up to watch the activities of his Clan,had taken to his den beneath the High Rock.
“Come on,Fightingspirit,"Firedawn said in a hoarse whisper.The moon was just rising,and the only cat awake besides us was Sparrowheart,who was guarding camp.
We found our usual path out of camp - a worn trail hidden by rocks and undergrowth and bushes.Then we took off at a run.
Moonlight dappled the forest as it shone between the trees,a silver blanket lining the ThunderClan territory.Somehow,I didn't think of ThunderClan as home anymore.The valley with the group was where I belonged.
“She is a threat,"I heard Foxtail saying as we neared the meeting place,“We have to do what is best for the group.We have to protect ourselves like the Clans never did."His voice shook with grief.
Cloudcatcher murmured in his deep meow,“Foxtail,it has to be done."
As we came over the hill,we looked upon the six cats we had come to know as a family.Foxtail was distraught with grief.Meekfighter pawed the ground nervously.And Grasseyes looked away.
The tabby tom looked up as Firedawn and I came closer.“Hello Fightingspirit,hello Firedawn."
Grasseyes heaved a sigh.“Your sister..."
“Rosepaw?"I was shocked that I didn't even seem to feel as if Rosepaw was my sister,my kin.Yes,she was my littermate.We shared a den,we grew up together,we played mossball in the nursery.But she wasn't....my sister.Not anymore.I was one of these cats now,and I wasn't ashamed.
“Yes,Rosepaw.She isn't safe to have around.She knows too much,suspects us.And the Clans don't deserveus.This is for the greater good."
She took a shaky breath.“Do you want to protect the group,these cats here,treat them as your Clan....no,more than a Clan.Your kin."
“Yes."We said it at once.Firedawn's meow faded halfway through,but he did say it.
Meekfighter lifted her head,her black fur silver in the moonlit valley.“You need to get rid of Rosepaw."Her voice was flat and merciless.
Firedawn's jaw dropped.My head spun.“You want us to kill our littermate?"
Foxtail shook his head and stood.“I...I need to go."The tabby went out of the valley,off towards the direction of Snakerocks.
“I can't do this...I'm sorry."Firedawn's eyes dropped to his paws...I knew he was staring at the furless one,covered in crisscrossed scars.
Grasseyes looked at him,her eyes so green and intense.He looked up and instinctively backed away from her.“You must prove your loyalty!"
Firedawn shook his head.His grey fur looked as if it were made of starlight.
Grasseyes had her claws unsheathed.And she pounced.Just as she landed atop Firedawn,Foxtail poked his head over the hill.His eyes widened in panic.“Stop!"He yelled.“Please!"
Grasseyes ignored him.“You habe no bravery!No heart!No courage!You don't deserve the name this group has bestowed upon you.Leafpaw,the oath of the valley is broken.These cats have no relation to you!NONE!"She took another slash at him before letting him go.
His fur was torn in places,and the scars on his paw had been ripped open.Blood clotted his grey pelt.Shaking,he took off running.
Foxtail let him go.
As he disappeared from sight,Foxtail ran down the hill,all the while screaming at Grasseyes.“LEAVE HIM ALONE!"He screeched.His claws were out and he sliced at Grasseyes's cheek.“He was barely more than a kit,mouse-brain!First you want Rosepaw,now Firedawn-"
“His name is Leafpaw.He broke his oath of loyalty."
“The oath isn't broken if someone vouches for the cat in question!Don't you understand?Firedawn had more loyalty than any of us!Loyalty to his kin!"Foxtail sighed and looked at his paws.“I wish I had the courage of thay cat,the courage to stand up to cats who don't know what it is like to be told they are unloyal if they stand up for their kin."
He stood and glanced at me.“Fightingspirit,do you want to prove your allegiance to them,or to us?"
I looked at Foxtail,with his tabby fur that matched mine so well,the green eyes the color of the trees in greenleaf.That was when I realized I was looking into my father's face.
But something held me back.My promise,my Mark,the happiness I felt with these cats.“I...I have to stay here.Tell Firedawn-"
“Tell Leafpaw I will miss him.But this is hope."
Foxtail sighed and disappeared over the hilltop.I didn't know then what an impact that choice would have on my life,on my fate.On my littermates.
Grasseyes smiled,and her face filled with warmth.“Your loyalty will be tested many times.But always remember,it is for the good of the group."
“It is for the good of the group."I repeated.
She gave me one last instruction before I left the valley that night,a short while after moonhigh.If Leafpaw tried to interfere with my mission,I had to be prepared to take him down too.
Rosepaw was bouncing in glee as I walked with her to go hunting.“I was starting to think you didn't like me,"she admitted.
I laughed,but it sounded forced.“You really think I would stop wanting to hang out with my sister?"Yes.
“I guess I was kind of stupid."Rosepaw's amber eyes glittered.Her tiny ears pricked,she stopped.“I smell prey.
I dropped into a crouch.A mouse scurried onto the path in front of us,but before Rosepaw could pounce,I sprang.I felt my claws tear deep into her white pelt.The scent of blood filled the air.
Rosepaw squirmed beneath me,trying to throw me off.With a yelp of satisfaction she managed to pin me to the forest floor.
“Why are you doing this?"
I nearly choked as I said,barely above a whisper,“I have to."I jerked my neck forward,feeling my teeth sink into her throat.I tasted blood.
As my sister went limp,I let go.She gave a last feeble scratch at my leg,tearing a gash all the way to my paw,ripping open scars.
“I'm sorry..."I whispered as I turned away.
I heard a yowl of defiance behind me,and at first I thought it was Rosepaw,somehow getting the energy to fight.But then I heard the unmistakable voice of Leafpaw.
“How could you,Acornpaw?"He demanded.
I hissed in annoyance.“My name is Fightingspirit."
His green eyes were filled with sadness.“You don't see what they did to you...to us.They brought you to murder,Acornpaw!"
My claws scraped against the ground.“Don't maee me do this,Leafpaw."
He shook his head.“You don't have to do anything.You have a choice."
I charged,knocking him over.He snarled,lashing out at me with his paws.I sank my teeth into his shoulder,trying to drag him over.Blood once more filled all my senses - in my eyes,in my mouth,the scent in the air,on my paws.
I kicked at him,drawing long scratches in his chest.With a gasp he heaved himself to his paws,but I knew it was almost over.And I went for the killing bite.
With the blood of my siblings on my paws,I began to run back to ThunderClan camp.“BADGER!"I yelled.They couldn't know I killed them.Blood pounding in my ears,I remembered what Grasseyes had said when I took the oath of the valley.You fight to protect them,they fight to protect you.Even if it means leaving your Clan.
You have a choice.
“Where?"Volefoot and Littlewhisker where on their feet instantly.
I was panting from my run.Perfect.“In the forest....it....killed Rosepaw....and Leafpaw."I did my best to look greived.And I think they bought it.Every one of them.
Littlewhisker looked at Cricketstar,who had climbed off of the High Rock.“I will organize a batrol to investigate this."
Cricketstar nodded his head.
That night celebration reigned in the valley.Each of us sat on one of the rocks.Six.It seemed as if it were meant to be.
“Fightingspirit has rightfully earned her place here,"Hiddensteps said,gazing around the valley.The others nodded in assent.
I woke early in the morning.The sunlight filtered through the branches in the apprentice den.
I went to the fresh-kill pile to grab a rabbit.Tension was thick as everyone worried about the badger.Little did they know it was me.
But that wouldn't last long.
A tabby pelt raced through the gorse tunnel,panting hard.His green eyes were filled with anger.
Cricketstar narrowed his blue eyes.“Robinwing,you were exiled.Why are you on ThunderClan territory?"
“Because one of your apprentices killed my son and my daughter!"Foxtail's tail twitched.
Sparrowsteps gasped from where she sat by the warriors den.
“No,"Littlewhisker hissed,“A badger-"
“A badger?"Foxtail's anger grew.“What lies have you fed them?"He said,adressing me.
All eyes turned.My pelt itched under their stares.“What lies?"
He shook his head.“You all need to know what happened.Now."
Cricketstar motioned for Foxtail to enter his den.
I sighed.As I left camp,I told anyone who asked I was going hunting.But I never returned with any prey.
I walked past Snakerocks,past the valley,through the Twolegplace.But I couldn't stop.They knew now of my crime.But I didn't need their punishment.I would suffer on my own.
Each night as I looked at silverpelt,I searched the stars for Leafpaw and Rosepaw.And,in sadness and guilt,I knew I would never join them.
Although,I always remembered the valley.And my family there.I decided after a while to go back.But when I did,I found that all of them - Grasseyes,Hiddensteps,Meekfighter,Cloudcatcher,and Fawnchaser - were dead.
All because of me.
I had been walking for moons....seasons.....years.Years and years and years.But I had never stopped.Stopped walking,running,feeling the guilt.
Finally,as I looked into a rain puddle,I realized then that my muzzle was greying,but still my paw had no fur and the scars beneath my ears still parted my fur.I bore the Mark of the valley.But I broke the oath.Forfitted my name.
But it is the only name I hold now.
I didn't even want to go on.I sat in a Twoleg alley.The only reason I didn't die was that strays felt sorry for me and left me food.Not much,but enough.
One night,I closed my eyes.I blinked them open in a forest that had an eerie glow.But no stars.
It didn't bother me.I just kept walking.Into the darkness.
Into the darkness.On and on.
Into the darkness,forever.