Lionblaze rushed in, his fur on the end. He had heard the blood chilling cry all the way from the Sky Oak. His heart skipped a beat as he climbed down the stone hollow and into the clearing, thrushing his way through the gorse barrier.
A dark body slumped on the ground. Firestar, Sandstorm, Thornclaw, Brackenfur, Graystripe, Brightheart, and Cloudtail stood crouching over it.
"Brambleclaw!" Lionblaze gasped. The cat who had raised him - unaware of Squirrelflight and Leafpool's lies - thought he was their father, acted like one, and loved him, Hollyleaf, and Jayfeather like one - dead. His eyes glazed and stared at nothing. His claws stretched out towards the sky and his mouth was bared in a snarl, tufts of fur trapped under his claws and blood staining his pelt. A wound opened from his throat to his tail.
"Firestar," Sandstorm swept her tail across the shoulder of the grief-stricken ThunderClan leader.
"He looks just like Tigerstar when he died, Firestar," Dustpelt croaked.
Thornclaw rasped his agreement.
"It's a sign," Leafpool murmured, coming over.
Firestar turned his head to face his Clan, anger blazing in his green eyes. "It is not a sign! He is nothing like Tigerstar! He died driving out a RiverClan patrol!"
Suddenly a shadowy spirit rose from Brambleclaw's body - a muscular, broad-shouldered tom. Lionblaze glanced up. Brambleclaw?
But it wasn't Brambleclaw. It was Tigerstar! His former mentor. The broad shouldered tabby tom puffed his chest and dragged his head back. "You will all be destroyed," he roared. "Meet the Dark Forest on the night where there is no moon and prepare to die!"
"Tigerstar!" screeched Firestar, fear haunting his green gaze. He dragged his gaze to the tall battle-scarred warrior. "Have you done this for every Clan?"
"Oh, yes," Tigerstar's ghostly whiskers twitched. "I sent Hawkfrost for RiverClan - and our bait was Graymist. For WindClan, I sent Hawkheart, and our bait was Nightcloud. For ShadowClan, I sent my dear Brokenstar, and dear Blackstar was the bait! And for your new whatsocalled LoserClan, we killed Patchfoot! And Silverhawk himself went there."
Firestar's eyes stretched wide as he forced down a choke of disbelief. "Our enemies," he murmured. "Our real enemies."
Tigerstar's gaze swept across the Clan. Millie pressed against Graystripe while Daisy stared at him. "The kits, elders, queens, warriors, apprentices, kittypets, leader, loners, rogues, and deputy will fight."
"Graystripe will be the new deputy," Firestar added to his Clan, and faced Tigerstar. "We're not scared of you."
"This will be easy," Tigerstar murmured, glancing at Daisy. "I'll shred her ears and then I'll rip out Silvie's throat out," he hissed at Millie. "Goodbye, KittypetClan!" He vanished in a misty cloud of red, leaving the entire Clan shivering.
Jayfeather's blue eyes flicked open. His heart beat faster and faster each second as he realized: this was the day of the Dark Forest battle. He remembered Tigerstar's ominous words as he warned Jayfeather, Dovewing, Ivypool, and Lionblaze. He shivered, and Tigerstar's words echoed in his mind: "Everyone shall participate...to kits to elders, to alive cats to dead cats....everyone..."
Only a moon ago, Hollyleaf had returned to ThunderClan. She had promised Jayfeather and Lionblaze that she would fight on their side in the Dark Forest battle, but Jayfeather wasn't sure if he could trust her. After all, she had been a loner for a very long time. And, Jayfeather could tell from the anger blazing from her that she was angry at Dovewing.
As he was thinking, a massive, broad-shouldered cat appeared at the entrance. "Welcome, Lionblaze," Jayfeather murmured, lifting his head to face his brother.
Lionblaze stared at Jayfeather. "It's today..." He whispered. "I just don't know how Brightheart's kits will live." Brightheart's kits had been born only a moon ago, named Ravenkit and Russetkit. Ravenkit was in honor of Ravenpaw, and Russetkit was because of the kit's ginger pelt.
"We'll have to talk to Firestar. He'll have to organize a Clan meeting and we're just going to have to wait..." Jayfeather whispered. StarClan, please grant me sight! But he knew it was useless, knowing that he had blindness for the battle.
Jayfeather could hear Lionblaze gulp. Jayfeather sighed, feeling ready to slap some sense into Lionblaze. If a blind cat was brave, he had to be brave, too; knowing he couldn't be hurt in battle.
Firestar was lying on the Highledge. Jayfeather could hear his tail slap the ledge as he flicked it back and fourth. He padded over to Firestar, feeling his warm green gaze scorch Jayfeather's pelt. "The battle is today?" Firestar murmured.
Jayfeather dipped her head. "I believe so."
Firestar let out a sigh. "Do you know when?"
"When Tigerstar wants, hun." Jayfeather mewed, gazing of into the distance.
"ThunderClan is as prepared as it ever was," Firestar sighed.
Suddenly, the forest light died out. Frightened whimpered and horrid screeches rose from the Clan. Ravenkit's voice was a whimper. "Mommy? Mommy? What's--what's...hwappewin?"
Brightheart turned to face Firestar, her good eye blazing with anger. "Yes, what is happening?" she hissed.
"StarClan angry at us for too many kittypets in the Clan?" That was Dustpelt's voice - old and frail, but a challenge was still in it.
Cloudtail leaped up, his tail bristling. "If StarClan were angry at us they would have punished us a long time ago! Firestar's a kittypet, or he was - and now he's the greatest Clan leader in the forest! And if it wasn't for Millie, Graystripe would have never been back! And Daisy grants us warriors and cares for our kits!" He hissed at Dustpelt, eyes blazing with such fierceness that Dustpelt took a step back, his ears flat.
"Stop," Firestar mewed gently. He looked up. All the Clans were there. "Even if this was a punishment, it's not just for ThunderClan." Dustpelt kinked his head to one side. With his tail, he pointed to the other cats.
"It looks like they've brought their entire Clan," a gruff voice said from the edge of the crowd.
"You are correct," Firestar agreed.
Firestar scanned the group of cats. Mistystar was there...Mintfur, Reedwhisker, Onestar, Ashfoot, Blackstar, Rowanclaw, Tawnypelt, Crowfeather, and there were more cats. Firestar's heart skipped a beat. Spottedleaf! Feathertail, Yellowfang, Bluestar, Lionheart, Whitestorm..Ravenpaw? What's he doing?
The black loner stood next to Firestar with Barley. "We will fight with you," he mewed.
"We are here, Firestar." Every voice Firestar had known and loved spoke in one single voice. Cloudtail's jaw dropped and Lionblaze's eyes gleamed. More cats appeared, but these cats were shadowy and their eyes gleamed with hunger and revenge.
"Attack!" Tigerstar suddenly howled. More cats than Firestar could ever imagine lunged forward, eyes hungry. Almost as soon as the battle started, Cloudtail and Dustpelt went down. Firestar leaped on a ginger and white she-cat, claws sinking. Beside him, she felt Bluestar lunge at Thistleclaw, Sweetpaw beside her.
Thistleclaw hissed at Sweetpaw. "Remember how you died?" his eyes gleamed. "I caught that mouse!" he screeched, going insane. "I caught it! You died because of - who? Me!" He lunged at Sweetpaw, his fangs sinking in his throat. Her starry outline dissapeared.
The ginger she-cat turned around to Ivypool. "Well? What are you going to do?" she growled.
"Save Firestar!" Ivypool shouted. "I won't let you kill him, Mapleshade." Mapleshade's eyes narrowed. "Traitor!" she howled, lunging herself at Ivypool. Ivypool's claws scored across her throat and she ripped her apart. Mapleshade fell to the ground, her outline starting to fade. "Traitor..." she gasped.
One Dark Forest cat, dead. But who else was there?
Ivypool narrowed her eyes as Hollowpaw, Tigerheart, and Icewing went to StarClan's side. "Thank StarClan," Ivypool gasped.
"We were wrong," Tigerheart mewed, shifting his paws. Guilt danced in his amber eyes as he looked around. Shivering like an icy claw had raked it down her spine, she looked around. She heard Sorreltail's screech cut off, and Minnowtail's begs for mercy. Ivypool stared at Tigerheart, Hollowpaw, and Icewing in disbelief. "Can we go?" she shrieked. "Cats are getting killed!" Meekly, she ran off. Her heart pounded as a shape streaked across the clearing. Squirrelflight! Bunching her muscles, she leaped over to help the ginger she-cat. Silverhawk was approaching her, silver tabby coat bristling, green eyes wide for blood.
Squirrelflight shrieked as Silverhawk's claws sunk into her throat. Ivypool's eyes stretched wide with horror and she leaped to Squirrelflight's defense, but it was too late. The ginger tabby fell limply to the ground, her throat torn out, her green eyes cloudy.
"Squirrelflight!" shrieked a brown tabby she-cat as she rushed forward helplessly. All Ivypool wanted to do was tell Leafpool that she was dead, but her paws felt numb with guilt as she realized that she could have helped and saved Squirrelflight from Silverhawk's murderous claws.
Leafpool crouched over her sister's body, her amber eyes horrified. Ivypool bent down, "I'm sorry," she murmured. She looked around and there were more bodies that slumped on the bare floor. Mousewhisker, Hazeltail, Squirrelflight, Toadstep, Icecloud, Foxleap...
A cream colored tom stepped up, panting, blood pouring from gashes on his throat and shoulders. He lifted his head, but he was brought down by Hawkfrost who sliced a claw down his throat.
"Berrynose!" shrieked Daisy, rushing forward, her blue eyes wide. Hawkfrost killed her almost immeditatly as she fussed over her dead kit.
A dark tabby tom loomed over Firestar. "You thought that when I died it'd be our last communication," he growled, eyes blazing. "But you were wrong! We unite, as enemies! There will be no warrior code. There will be only one Clan."
"You are wrong," roared Firestar, his green eyes flashing fury, his shoulders flexing. He suddenly looked much younger - Ivypool reflected - maybe him in the old days, before Brambleclaw was born?
Tigerstar stared at him. "Die," he growled. "Lose your spirit in that excuse called StarClan - who can't even help you now!" His ears flicked towards where Yellowfang was struggling helplessly with Brokenstar, and Bluestar was lost under Thistleclaw's long claws.
Firestar crouched down and lunged at Tigerstar, slicing his shoulder open. Tigerstar moved and bit his flank, twisting and crushing Firestar next to him.
Suddenly Ivypool could not bear to look. Blood poured and made a pool in the ground below them, and Firestar looked more scarlet than ginger. Tigerstar crouched down, his rear in the air, his tail waving. "The moment I've been waiting for...to see your body slumped down...to see the life pouring out of you...to see your eyes cloud over...has come!"
And Tigerstar's claws swept over Firestar's body, sinking in his neck and ripping down to his tail. And there. He fell to the ground, twitching, his eyes glazing over. The powerful leader...who saved the living Clans from Tigerstar...had died at his rival's claws.