A ginger tom was sitting in a clearing with the stars high above his head.
He was waiting. He was used to it. He had waited during his lifetime. He had waited for this day. He was waiting now for his former leader.
"Firestar," the ginger tom whispered again. "Come on, I have to tell you this."
With the death of Snakestar, ThunderClan's old leader, StarClan was nervous. A leader was dying every moon now, it was becoming a death sentence.
"Please let Lionclaw be a good leader," the ginger tom whispered to himself.
"Is that all you have to say?" a voice asked behind the ginger tom.
The ginger tom gasped and whirled around. "Firestar!" he breathed.
"Lionclaw is Lionstar now," Firestar told the ginger tom. "Why weren't you at the ceremony?"
"I sensed difficulties," the ginger tom muttered, staring at his paws.
Firestar sat, his thin tail flicking back and forth. "What type?"
"Danger," the ginger tom told his old leader. "If this keeps up the Clans will vanish. StarClan won't have a purpose anymore."
"Lionblaze, you know that's not true," Firestar murmured. "We will still be here after many, many seasons."
A gray tom stepped into the clearing. "We'll have to move with the Clans, Firestar," he mewed.
"Jayfeather?" Lionblaze asked, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"Telling you about the prophecy," Jayfeather told Lionblaze dryly.
Firestar seemed to gulp and look nervous.
"There's no poetry to it," Jayfeather began, looking nervous. "Not very much mysteriousness. I'm bad at that."
Lionblaze purred. "We know."
Jayfeather cleared his throat. "A cat will lead his Clan up a hill in dismay. A cat will run back down in excitement."
Lionblaze held back a snort. "You really are bad, Jayfeather."
Jayfeather shrugged modestly.
"Is this what will be?" Firestar asked quietly. He stood up. "Spread the word," he commanded. "A medicine cat must be told."
Chapter 1EditThe frosty air made a ginger tom with a stride in his step shiver. He shook off the snow from his broad shoulders and muttered about the cold outside.
"Lionstar?" a hesitant voice called from behind him.
Lionstar turned, feeling his heart soften as he saw his deputy, Bluepelt. Her blue-gray fur blended into the snow and her eyes seemed to shine. But when she approached Lionstar, the light dimmed.
"Acornclaw's dead," Bluepelt mumbled. "ShadowClan raided again."
Lionstar felt his heart stop and he wanted to rake his claws down her side. Instead, he hid his feelings by saying, "Acornclaw was a noble warrior, and he lived a good life."
Bluepelt's eyes were angry. "Don't you realize, Lionstar, that if we don't stop the raids all of us will die? You only have three lives left and the rest of us have one! Sandtail's life is in Yewtail's paws, but we all know she's dying."
"It's just leaf-bare, Bluepelt, our Clan will flourish again," Lionstar told her, feeling the fur on his neck bristle. What was wrong with him? He usually attempted to be nice to Bluepelt.
"It's the raids," Bluepelt hissed. "They have to be stopped, Lionstar! Don't you care?"
And with that, she stormed away, quickly lost in the white wind.
Lionstar stretched awake, shivering at the thought of his dream.
He had been running through the forest when he had found Acornclaw dead in the snow with the rest of ShadowClan standing around him. He himself only had Bluepelt behind him, but as he watched he dreamed that Bluepelt clawed his face and stepped over to ShadowClan to join in the taunts.
Bluepelt wouldn't really do that, Lionstar reminded himself. It was only a dream.
He couldn't help but wonder, though, as he stepped from his den on the Highledge and looked upon his Clan.
Voletail, the medicine cat apprentice, was trying to get the morning patrol to allow him to come with them. The warriors were shaking their heads, but Barkpaw was trying to get her mentor, Friskfoot, to allow him to come.
The medicine cat, Yewtail, was coming out of the nursery, where she was obviously checking on the only queen, Sandtail. Lionstar expected the kits to come soon. ThunderClan currently had none.
Falconflight and Boulderclaw, the elders, were lying in the center of the clearing where the sun shone, obviously trying to warm themselves.
Bluepelt was talking to Longpaw and his mentor, Graytail. As Lionstar watched, Briarclaw walked up to Bluepelt and nudged her cheek, purring. Bluepelt dismissed him with a flick of her tail.
Lionstar bounded down the rocks, where he was confronted by Yewtail. "Come here," she whispered.
Yewtail led Lionstar to her den, where she ushered Lionstar as far as possible inside and whispered in his ear, "I've had a dream."
Lionstar looked at the medicine cat stupidly.
Yewtail shook her head sadly. "From StarClan, Lionstar."
"What about?" Lionstar asked, interested.
"There's a prophecy."
Chapter 2EditA low growl came from the undergrowth as a brown tom with a black stripe down his back padded into a clearing.
The brown tom stared at the undergrowth, his fur bristling. "Come out if you know what's good for you," he growled.
A dark blue-gray she-cat pushed her way from the undergrowth into the clearing, looking calm.
"Waterfur?" the brown tom asked, looking confused. Then he realized that this cat was the RiverClan deputy and unsheathed his claws. "What are you doing here?" he growled.
"You shouldn't be surprised, Trailstar," Waterfur said cooly. "I just wanted to say that if Moss-star found your Clan killed another of our cats, your Clan would suffer."
Trailstar flicked his tail. "We didn't kill any of your cats, Waterfur, I don't know what the big deal is."
"ShadowClan scent was found on Fishtail!" Waterfur snapped.
Trailstar felt his heart sink. He had heard that one of his warriors had killed a ThunderClan warrior, too.
"I'll deal with it," Trailstar growled. "Go home now."
Waterfur stared Trailstar down for a long time, then nodded. "Fine," she mewed. "The Gathering's in a quarter-moon, anyway. This will be addressed."
Trailstar watched her pad away.
He turned back to start heading to the camp again, but before he had taken a step Littlepaw and Nightpaw rushed up to him, breathing hard.
"What's wrong?" Trailstar asked, surprised.
"Toothkit and Rustlekit are missing!" Nightpaw mewed between heaving breaths.
Littlepaw nodded. "We... we looked EVERYWHERE. Flameclaw is getting worried. He thinks they might be dead."
"In this cold weather, they might as well be," Trailstar murmured to himself.
"What?" Nightpaw asked, eyes widening.
"Nothing," Trailstar mewed, waving his tail dismissively. "Look, you two keep going the way you came. I'll go towards RiverClan territory."
Nightpaw nodded and rushed off, Littlepaw right behind him.
Trailstar ran the other way, calling the kits' names.
As he neared ThunderClan territory, getting desperate, he heard terrified squeaks and stopped to see Friskfoot and Voletail gripping the kits' scruffs in their mouths. An apprentice was with them.
Trailstar hissed. "Stealing kits?"
Voletail set down Toothkit. "No," he mewed. "We found them, actually, and we were trying to return them."
Trailstar felt the mistrust flowing through his blood as much as he felt the intense cold that made him shiver. "Well, I'll take them," he muttered, motioning for Friskfoot to set down Rustlekit. "I'm sure they'll obey me."
Voletail gritted his teeth. "Okay." He stepped back respectfully, motioning for Friskfoot and the apprentice to do so, too. "See you at the Gathering in a quarter-moon," he added.
Trailstar watched them go, then turned to the kits.
"Are we in trouble?" Toothkit squeaked.
"Yes," Trailstar replied. "But let's get you two warm first."
He nudged Rustlekit forward and led the kits back to camp.
A gray tom's eyes narrowed at his deputy's report. "Are you sure Trailstar had no idea?" he asked.
Waterfur nodded. "I'm sorry, Moss-star."
"It's fine," Moss-star replied quietly. "Go organize the patrols," he added.
He watched his deputy pad away, calling cat's names, and turned back towards his den.
"I'm sorry, Fishtail, I want to avenge your death," Moss-star murmured to himself.
He smelled a wet, smelly pelt beside him. "Something wrong?" a voice asked.
Moss-star turned to see Eelpelt, who was in his opinion the most disgusting cat in all the Clans. "No," he sighed, trying to sound less exasperated then he really was.
"I'm sorry about Fishtail," Eelpelt mewed, brushing his wet, oily pelt against Moss-star's. "You don't deserve that."
Moss-star moved away. "Yeah... can you go join that hunting patrol? We need more prey." He gestured to Gingertail and Ripplepaw, her apprentice.
Eeltpelt nodded. "Yeah." He raced off.
Moss-star began to wash his pelt, watching the two kits, Rock-kit and Flowerkit playing outside the medicine den while their mother, Shellnose, got treatment from the medicine cat, Blossomtail.
"Moss-star!" Flowerkit called, seeing her leader. Moss-star saw Rock-kit stop what he was doing, too, and look up.
Moss-star purred as the two kits raced over and Shellnose poked her head out of the medicine den. Shellnose gave Moss-star a look to say You'd better make sure they're alive when I get over there and disappeared.
"What troubles are there today?" Rock-kit asked, sitting back on his haunches, looking serious.
Moss-star twitched his whiskers. "ShadowClan denied killing Fishtail."
Flowerkit looked surprised. "Liars!"
"Maybe they're telling the truth," Moss-star mewed, shrugging his shoulders. "We'll never know."
A worn-out voice sounded next to Moss-star. "If I know ShadowClan, they think they're telling the truth, but one bad cat knows who killed Fishtail."
"Grayheart," Moss-star sighed. "You're sick, and Blizzardpaw is looking for you for treatment." Sure enough, the fluffy white tom was padding around the clearing with herbs in his mouth, looking confused.
"I'm over here," the elder called, before coughing.
Flowerkit narrowed her eyes in worry, but before she could say anything Shellnose appeared and ushered her kits away. "Say goodbye to Moss-star now," she mewed.
The kits mewed reluctant goodbyes and walked away as Blizzardpaw arrived and began to usher Grayheart back to the elder's den.
Grayheart was stubborn. "I'm helping Moss-star."
"Moss-star doesn't need help, he knows what he's doing," Blizzardpaw replied with a mouthful of herbs. "You can help him later if you come back with me."
Grayheart blinked at the apprentice. "Fine," she sighed. She followed Blizzardpaw back.
Moss-star shivered as the wind picked up.
Blossomtail padded from the medicine den, rushed over to Moss-star, and mewed, "I had a dream last night."
Moss-star glanced at her.
"There's a prophecy."
"No queens," Harestar muttered to himself as he padded across the moorland. "No elders. The other Clans should be happy they're better off than us. Why aren't they?"
Harestar had just gotten the news about Fishtail- a previous RiverClan warrior, apparently killed by ShadowClan. He was now going to ThunderClan, where he had heard Acornclaw was dead.
As he hopped from rock to rock across the stream that divided his territory from ThunderClan's, his heart sank. What if they thought that his cats had killed Acornclaw? He stood still for a moment, stunned, until he heard a stick crack.
"What a surprise, WindClan!" a she-cat's voice mewed dryly. A spiky-furred she-cat, a bouncing apprentice, and Voletail, the medicine cat apprentice, emerged from the forest in front of Harestar.
"Is it bad if the same patrol sees ShadowClan and WindClan?" the apprentice asked.
Voletail purred. "No, it just means we got an interesting patrol."
Harestar cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. "I... er... I'm sorry about Acornclaw. He was a noble warrior. StarClan will be glad to have him."
The spiky-furred she-cat- whose name Harestar remembered was Friskfoot- shrugged. "Our Clan is falling apart. Sandtail might die before her kits are born and the elders are getting wheezier every day."
Harestar blinked. "What about apprentices and warriors?" he asked. "It's important they stay healthy."
Voletail gritted his teeth. "Briarclaw has a cough, and Yewtail is all caught up in Sandtail. We're trying so hard."
Harestar felt strangely distant. "Can I talk to Lionstar?" he asked.
Friskfoot looked around, stretching her legs to see over Harestar. "Do you have anyone else with you?"
"No." This was the truth, as far as Harestar knew.
Friskfoot glanced at Voletail, who was muttering under his breath about traveling herbs, and then at the apprentice. She turned back to Harestar. "Sure."
Harestar felt his heart sink. Now he needed to come up with something to talk about. Maybe that he had heard about Fishtail.
Friskfoot led Harestar through the forest. The lack of clear space in front of Harestar made him itch with discomfort, but he said nothing.
"We're here," Friskfoot mewed finally, ducking her head into a patch of brambles that Harestar had just realized was a tunnel. He pulled himself through it, hearing growls on the other side, and stood.
All of ThunderClan had stopped what they were doing- sharing tongues, playfighting, forming small patrols- to stare with open hatred at Harestar. Lionstar was just emerging from the medicine den, looking troubled, and when he saw the WindClan leader, he padded over, his broad shoulders tightening with additional stress.
"Hello," Harestar mewed formally, doing his best to sound formal and calm.
Lionstar beckoned for Harestar to follow him, which Harestar did. Lionstar led him into a cave- judging by the moss nest on the ground, his den- and sat down near the back.
"I..." Harestar struggled to speak.
"There's a prophecy," Lionstar whispered. "Yewtail just told me about it."
Well, that changes things, Harestar thought. "What about?" he asked, shifting to show his surprise.
"A journey," Lionstar mewed. "We have to travel to find a new home."
"Like the Great Journey?" Harestar whispered, astonished.
Harestar wanted to claw something. Never before in his lifetime had he thought of leaving the lake to find a new home. Never before had he thought of leading his Clan through unfamiliar places.
He didn't like this idea.
"Look, I'll say more tomorrow, at the Gathering," Lionstar whispered, standing.
"Dismissing me so quickly?" Harestar asked dryly.
"I have to," was Lionstar's reply. "See you at the Gathering."
Lionstar scrambled his way up the tree, taking his place next to Moss-star.
His Clan was the last to arrive. He watched his Clanmates slip between groups of chatting cats and turned to the other leaders. Trailstar's back was hunched over, and his fur was fluffed up. He shot a glare at Lionstar.
"What's up?" Lionstar asked Trailstar, feeling the fur on the back of his neck stand up.
Trailstar just looked away. Harestar looked confused. Moss-star shot a glare at Trailstar.
"Can I speak first?" Moss-star asked quietly.
"Sure," Lionstar nodded.
Moss-star raised his voice. "This Gathering has begun!" he called to the island.
The cats stopped talking. Lionstar tried to imagine when there were a lot of cats in this clearing.
"Fishtail is dead," Moss-star told the Clans.
Lionstar felt shock rush through him. Another cat was dead, too?
"But otherwise," Moss-star continued, "Prey is swimming as usual."
Mournful voices murmured below where Lionstar was sitting.
Trailstar quieted them. "Prey is running," he began. "As usual." His voice sounded bored. "And I know nothing about either Fishtail or Acornclaw," he added, staring at Lionstar and Moss-star with an aggressive look in his eyes. "And if any cat outside my Clan says anything different I'll make sure you don't say anything else."
Voices rose in protest at the threat, and Trailstar's gaze settled on Eeltail, a RiverClan warrior.
Adrenaline rushed through Lionstar. If Trailstar attacked...
Trailstar leaped, growling. Lionstar leaped right after him, practicing the warriors he had learned so many moons ago. He flipped Trailstar in midair and landed on top of him, pinning the ShadowClan leader to the ground.
"StarClan has forseen this," Lionstar growled in Trailstar's ear. "And they have prevented it."
Trailstar struggled. "Let me up!"
Lionstar shook his head. "You don't understand," he mewed, so every cat could hear him. "We've had a prophecy."
The gasp that filled the clearing was shocking. Lionstar remembered what Yewtail had told him: there hadn't been a known prophecy in seasons.
Lionstar let Trailstar up, seeing that he wasn't going to attack. "The prophecy," he told the clearing, "foretells a journey. It tells of no leader, no treason. It is... what it is."
"What is the prophecy?" asked a ShadowClan cat called Frogfoot.
Lionstar tried to recall the words, but Moss-star spoke, above him.
"A cat will lead his Clan up a hill in dismay. A cat will run back down in excitement."
The cats stared at Moss-star.
"Jayfeather gave it," Yewtail supplied.
Purrs came from ThunderClan. They all had heard about the powerful blind tom.
"What does it mean?" Treetail, a cat from Lionstar's own Clan, stood up. "I mean, it could mean they ran to WindClan and back."
The WindClan cats nodded their heads in agreement, but Harestar spoke, above Lionstar.
"It means we have to find a new home."
Now, if they weren't listening before, all cats were listening. Ears were perked and eyes were wide. Necks were craned and hearts pounded.
"Look," Lionstar began, his heart pounding, "I think we have to. It would come eventually, without a prophecy." He paused, letting this sink in. "The truth is, cats are being killed right and left. Acornclaw and Fishtail are just two more examples. If we travel together and find a new home together, maybe we'll find it in our hearts to let our Clans develop for a while."
He looked up at the leaders. "Don't you see? We have to go."
He saw Moss-star nodding his head and Harestar looking uncertain.
"No," Trailstar growled. "No, no, no! The Clans moved once. That was the Great Journey. It was unnatural, it put many cats in danger, and things were unsettled for moons!"
Lionstar wanted to explode, but he only mewed, "There aren't that many cats anymore."
Moss-star seemed to grit his teeth. "If ThunderClan decide to go, RiverClan will gladly accompany them."
"As will WindClan," Harestar sighed in reply.
Trailstar growled and spun towards his Clan. "No!" he yowled.
"Please," Lionstar pleaded. "It's what's best."
Trailstar crouched to the ground. "No. My Clan refuse." Standing, he mewed, "ShadowClan! We're leaving."
Lionstar watched the brown tom depart, then turned back to the branches. "I'll get them to come," he promised the other leaders. "Just you wait."
As the day stretched into a quarter-moon, Trailstar wondered about the journey that had been proposed at the Gathering.
He was sitting in the center of the clearing, talking to Mudface, when a hiss came from the entrance of camp, where Nightpaw and Littlepaw were sitting.
Trailstar padded over just as Flameclaw burst into camp. "It's Dawnheart," he breathed.
Shock made Trailstar's spine curl. "What about her?"
"Badger!" Flameclaw's eyes were wide with fear. "ThunderClan is trying to help, but they need another cat."
Trailstar threw himself past his warrior and raced out of camp. "Come on!" he screeched.
He and Flameclaw raced through the territory, and somehow Trailstar knew exactly what was going to happen.
Dawnheart was going to die. Because she was the medicine cat, she hadn't had as much training as the warriors.
"Oh, StarClan, help us," Trailstar whispered as he burst into the clearing where the badger was.
The sight he found was a shock: there was a dead badger on the ground and ThunderClan were gathered protectively around Dawnheart.
Lionstar's head rose when he saw Trailstar and Flameclaw. Flameclaw went over to comfort Dawnheart as Lionstar padded to Trailstar.
"Look," Trailstar began, "I'm not going on this journey, no matter what you do, say, or think."
"I don't want you to." Lionstar's words were another shock to Trailstar. "I need you to, the other Clans need you to, but we don't want you to go."
Trailstar felt anger now. "What do you mean, you don't want us to go?"
Lionstar's voice was quiet. "Trailstar, none of us want to leave the lake. But we have to if we want to keep the Clans alive."
Trailstar felt his muscles tighten towards violence. No, he thought. I am not leaving the lake, but it's not worth fighting over.
"I'll think about it," Trailstar mewed finally, relaxing. "And you can trust I will."
Trailstar had no time to himself the next few days. He was being badgered by Clanmates about everything: Toothkit and Rustlekit, a possible apprentice for Dawnheart, and, of course, if he was going to let his Clan go on the journey.
It seemed as if the entire Clan was desperate for a needed change. Trailstar couldn't help but feel annoyed, but he said nothing in reply to each request.
Finally, he told Berryclaw, his deputy, to tell cats that he was out on a mission if they asked for him.
Trailstar was indeed going on a mission, and that was to RiverClan to find out more about the prophecy.
Berryclaw had only nodded and looked worried. "You can't leave us now, Trailstar," he had mewed.
Trailstar remembered what he had said as he walked, weaving through close-knit trees. "I have to."
He said this to himself out loud until he got to the RiverClan border, where he saw a single approaching cat. Duckfeather's white pelt was an obvious contrast to the RiverClan moorland.
Duckfeather hissed when he saw Trailstar. "What do you want?" he growled, crouching low. "Do you have other cats with you?"
Trailstar shook his head. "No. There's no warriors to spare right now."
Duckfeather's ears pricked. "You mean... ShadowClan's having the same problem?"
"You saw all our cats at the Gathering a quarter-moon ago," Trailstar informed the white warrior. He regretted it almost instantly. Giving away secrets and weaknesses about his Clan was not an option.
Duckfeather seemed to think. "Well, what do you need?" He asked it kindly this time, with more respect.
"I need to talk to Moss-star," Trailstar told Duckfeather. "Can you bring me to him?"
Duckfeather ducked his head. "Yes. Follow me."
Trailstar followed the tom, trying to make conversation. Nothing stood out to Trailstar- the warrior was politely giving nothing away.
If he was in my Clan, I'd make him my deputy, Trailstar thought.
Finally, they reached the camp, after what seemed like the longest journey Trailstar had ever made. Duckfeather led the way into camp, and then he stopped.
Trailstar's eyes widened when he saw what Duckfeather saw- Sandtail, the queen, nuzzling... another warrior. What was the big deal?
Duckfeather crouched low, and Trailstar stood, not sure what to do.
"Get down!" Duckfeather hissed at Trailstar. Trailstar crouched next to the white warrior.
"What's wrong?" Trailstar's heart was pounding. His mind flashed back to when he was running to find the badger with Flameclaw.
Duckfeather eyed Sandtail, who now had two kits bouncing around her.
"Are they mates or something?" Trailstar asked finally.
The white warrior didn't get a chance to answer, as Moss-star padded up to the pair. "Hello," he mewed, strangely formal.
Duckfeather stood instantly. "I... I found him while I was hunting. He wanted to... er... speak with you?" He padded away, looking over his shoulder at the kits and the cats they were bouncing around.
Trailstar sighed. "What's up with this prophecy?"
Moss-star's eyes widened and he beckoned for Trailstar to follow him.
Moss-star led Trailstar to his den, where he sat. Trailstar sat a distance away.
"The prophecy is going to shape the future Clans," Moss-star began. "Do you want ShadowClan to be a future Clan?"
Trailstar nodded slowly. "Yes."
"Then lead your Clan with us." Moss-star flicked his tail.
"You have to. Sometimes, Trailstar, you have to think of other cats then yourself." Moss-star leaned forward. "I think your Clan want to come. Mine do."
"Our Clan boundaries also keep us together," Moss-star added quietly. "If that's what's keeping you back... well, RiverClan will be glad to travel with you."
Trailstar nodded slowly. "When do we leave?"
Moss-star watched Trailstar be escorted out again by Duckfeather. His tail flicked back and forth thoughtfully.
"Moss-star?" a hesitant voice asked beside him.
Moss-star turned. It was Blizzardpaw, the medicine cat apprentice. "Yes?"
"I want to tell you something."
Moss-star's eyes widened. "What now?" he asked quietly.
"You've been treating her, haven't you?" Moss-star asked. "Blossomtail has been looking on as well, right?"
Blizzardpaw directed his gaze towards the ground. "Blossomtail doesn't know anything yet," he mumbled.
"Anything about what?" Moss-star asked, worried. "Blizzardpaw, what's going on?"
Blizzardpaw looked up. "Moss-star," he murmured, "Grayheart is dead."
Moss-star's breath caught in his throat. "What?"
"She's dead, Moss-star, I couldn't do anything..."
But Moss-star wasn't listening. He was running towards the elder's den, where Grayheart was.
The pale gray-she cat was on the ground, as still as a stone.
"StarClan help us," Moss-star whispered, padding towards the she-cat.
"Moss-star?" a tiny voice asked behind him.
Moss-star turned to see Blizzardpaw, trembling behind him. Moss-star felt bad for the poor tom, who looked so small.
"I'm sorry, Blizzardpaw," Moss-star said quietly. "I need you to get Blossomtail."
With a squeak, Blizzardpaw disappeared.
Moss-star turned back towards Grayheart's corpse. He gulped. "Things are getting bad," he murmured.
Blossomtail appeared by his side. "Oh, no," she whispered. "Blizzardpaw messed up?"
"I don't know... he just gave me the news."
Blossomtail fixed her gaze upon Blizzardpaw, who had reappeared. "Blizzardpaw," she began, "you are no longer my apprentice."
Blizzardpaw's eyes widened. "But, Blossomtail-"
"No buts," Blossomtail snapped.
Moss-star turned to Blossomtail. "Don't you think that's a little harsh?" he asked quietly.
"No," Blossomtail snapped. "Find him a new warrior mentor. I refuse to train a murderer."
"I didn't murder-"
"Yes, you did!" Blossomtail snapped back. She glared once at Moss-star and stormed out of the den.
Blizzardpaw looked petrified.
"It's all right," Moss-star told him calmly. "Every cat makes mistakes. Blossomtail's just surprised. She'll calm down after a few days."
Blizzardpaw nodded slowly.