Clover-blaze winced as Tawny-paw wailed in agony, the juniper juices seeping into the cuts on her face and her tail being wrapped in Coltsfoot leaves after the bone being pushed back into her tail and reed stalks placed on either side of it to help it heel straight. Fox-heart and Wolf-stripe stood on Clover-blaze’s other side, wide eyed they watched. She looked across the clearing again, seeking out Sedge-frost, finding her sitting beside the body of Night-paw, her kits sat beside her in a line, looking wide eyed, and scared at the body of their older brother. On Night-paw’s other side his mentor, Magpie-claw, pushed his nose deep into his apprentices blood crusted black fur, choking on sobs. Tawny-paw wailed again and this time, it was Larch-frost that winced. Tawny-paw wailed on, making Larch-thistle more and more anxious. “Can’t you do something for her?” He hissed at Scar-face. He shook his head. “She is in shock; it won’t be for very much longer. If she suffers any more, I will have to help her on her way to Star-clan.” Larch-thistle got up and arched his back, the fur on his shoulders rising. “Over my dead body! Without becoming a warrior, oh no you won’t,” He broke off as they heard small soft pawsteps, they turned to see that Fern-star was approaching. Fox-heart had sent Willow-whisper to fetch her, and the silver warrior followed the ragged leader into the medicine cat’s clearing. The clan leader stood and looked down at Tawny-paw in silence. Larch-thistle raised his head challengingly, and for a heartbeat Clover-blaze thought he was going to accuse Fern-star of being responsible for Tawny-paw’s injuries as well, but Larch-thistle stayed quiet. Fern-star blinked a couple of times and asked, “Is she dying?” “That’s up to Star-clan, for now,” Scar-face told her, catching Clover-blaze’s eye. “If it’s up to them, then they will show no mercy, she will die.” Larch-thistle gasped. “Without ever being a warrior,” He mewed, his voice quite and sorrowful, and he bent his head again to lick Tawny-paw’s shoulder. “Not necessarily.” Fern–star spoke reluctantly. “There is a ceremony – thankfully little used – if a dying apprentice is worthy, she can be made into a warrior so that she may take a warrior name to Star-clan.” Fern-star hesitated. Larch-thistle looked up at the Grey leader again. “Then do it.” Fern-star did not react other than to dip her head, she began. “I ask my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She has learned the warrior code and has given up her life in the service of her clan. Let Star-clan receive her as a warrior.” Then she paused, and her eyes blazed with anger that burned like cold fire. “She will be known as No-face, so that every cat knows what Star-clan did to take her from us,” she growled, her eyes cast up to the sky, the last lights of day fading into darkness. Clover-blaze flinched away from the stench of darkness on her leader’s breath. Larch-thistle hissed. “But that is a cruel name!” He protested. “What if she lives?” “Then we will have all the more reason to remember what Star-clan have brought us to,” Fern-star replied, her voice barley came above a whisper. “They will have this warrior as No-face, or not at all.” Larch-thistle held her gaze for a heartbeat longer, the light of challenge in his leaf green eyes, and then he dipped his head as if he knew there was no point in arguing. “Let Star-clan receive her by the name of No-face,” Fern-star finished. She bent her head and lightly touched her nose to No-face’s head. “There it is done,” she murmured. As if the touch had roused her, No-face’s eyes opened and a look of terrible fear flooded into them. For a moment Lost-face struggled back to wakefulness. "Blood will kill the clan" She gasped Fern-star recoiled, her fur bristling. “What? What does she mean?” She demanded. But No-face had sunk into unconsciousness again. Fern –star looked wildly from Scar-face to Clover-blaze and back again. “What did she mean?” Fern-star repeated “I don’t know,” Scar-face meowed uneasily. “That’s all she will say.” “But, Scar-face, I told you . . .” Fern-star was struggling to speak. “Star-clan showed me an evil in the forest, and they called it ‘pack’. Is this the pack that has done this?” Clover-blaze watched as Scar-face avoided her eyes, going instead to check on No-face. Clover-blaze sought for an answer that would satisfy her leader. She did not want Fern-star to know that her cats were being hunted down as if they were prey for some nameless, faceless enemy. But she knew that Fern-star would not be satisfied with empty reassurances. “No cat knows,” Fox-heart replied breaking the silence. “But I’ll warn the patrols to be on their guard, but –”
“But if Star-clan has abandoned us, patrols will not help us,” Fern-star finished scornfully. “Perhaps they have sent this pack to punish me.” “No!” Scar-face faced his leader “star-clan did not send the pack. Our ancestors care for us, and they would never disrupt the life of the forest or destroy a whole clan for a single grudge. Fern-star you must believe this.” Fern-star ignored him. She padded over to No-face and stood looking down at her. “Forgive me.” She meowed. “I have brought the wrath of Star-clan on you.” Then she turned away and toward the nursery. Almost as soon as she left the clearing a loud wail cut through the air of the camp. Clover-blaze scrambled to the entrance of the clearing and gazed out to see Maple-thorn, Night-paw’s sister, back from hunting, dash across the clearing to her fallen brother, wailing in grief. Clover-blaze watched as the young warrior threw her head back and wailed a loud grief stricken wail. She couldn’t stand it anymore. Clover-blaze squared her shoulders and padded out of the Medicine cat Clearing, nudging the young warrior, she said “Tawny-paw – No-face – Went out with him. She was attacked as well.” Maple-thorn’s face screwed up even tighter, Clover-blaze laid her tail across her shoulders. “Come with me.” Maple-thorn followed Clover-blaze almost nose to tail tip. When they came to the clearing Scar-face stood in front of the apprentice, shielding her from view. Maple-thorn dodged around him, and threw herself next to No-face, covering her little sisters body in careful, grief riddled licks, making low keening noises as she rasped her tongue over her kin’s torn and bloody fur. Clover-blaze watched for a few moments, but after she had seen enough she turned and padded across to the nursery, her head down. As soon as she stepped into the nursery Clover-blaze realized that Light-pelt was missing, Clover-blaze backed back out of the nursery and scanned the clearing, not seeing a glimpse of russet fur Clover-blaze turned and raced to the elders den; going behind it she caught a whiff of Light-pelt’s sweet scent. Following the trail she came to a rotten tree stump, and inside was a russet heap of fur. Clover-blaze watched in horror as Light-pelt’s body shuddered and she twisted in the dead leaves. Light-pelt lifted her head and looked at the cream queen. “Please! Get help! Get… Get Wolf-stripe …. Get Scar-face! They’re coming!” Refusing to leave her, Clover-blaze yowled at the top of her lungs, yowling until she ran out of breath. Then, she heard the pounding of paws ion the ground, Clover-blaze spun around and came face to face with Fox-heart, Wolf-stripe, Scar-face, Claw-face, Moth-paw, Petal-shade, Magpie-claw and Bright-sky. Clover-blaze, unable to speak, pointed furiously at Light-pelt. Scar-face pushed forward, speaking urgently to Clover-blaze as he passed. Light-pelt groaned and twisted, Clover-blaze’s eyes were drooping when a wet bundle of fur was stuck in front of her. She took it and placed it on the ground and began to lick her damp black and blue fur. Scar-face turned back around with another bundle, this time a white tom with grey stripes, he handed it to Bright-sky and hurriedly turned back around. Light-pelt screeched in pain as her she jerked wildly, her legs spasuming then, she was silent. A single mew split the silence as Scar-face passed a pure white she-cat with bright blue eyes to Wolf-stripe, who laid his daughter carefully on the ground. Light-pelt’s head lifted off the dead and dry leaves, Clover-blaze watched as the young queens eyes cleared and her eyes sparkled with love as she saw her small kits lying on the ground. The russet queen pulled herself around, dragging her back legs limply, so she could see her kits. Reaching out a paw she silently pulled them to her belly. Clover-blaze looked back and forth between Wolf-stripe and Light-pelt. Finally she broke the silence. “What are you going to name them?” Wolf-stripe waved his tail. “You name them Light-pelt; I’m sure you’ll pick much better names than I ever will.” The russet queen looked down at her kits. Touching the black and blue she-cat she murmured “Mossy-kit, for the tree that shelters me and keeps me warm,” Light-pelt moved her tail-tip to the grey and white tom “Cloud-kit, for the cloudless sky on the day this kit was born,” and finally she touched her tail tip to the smallest white she-cat. “And Frost-kit, for the leaf-bare that will be upon us soon.” Clover-blaze touched Light-pelts head “I think those are wonderful names.” She meowed gently. Wolf-stripe nodded, nuzzling his mates head, he purred gently gazing into Light-pelts eyes. Clover-blaze looked across to Fox-heart, who gazed back sadly.
* * * *
A soon as they reached camp, the patrol was surrounded. The elders cooed and purred about the new arrivals, while the other warriors praised the patrol and congratulated the new parents. Clover-blaze kept her head high as she carried tiny Frost-kit to the nursery, padding much more slowly than the others. Sun-kit, Thistle-kit and Sorrel-kit came bounding out of the nursery; wide eyed they watched the new arrivals being carried into the nursery. Light-pelt, supported by Wolf-stripe, padded into the den. She scrambled up into her nest then plopped, taking in short gasps of air, Clover-blaze pushed up on her hind legs to reach the ledge where the nest was perched right beside Sedge-frost’s. Light-pelt took her small kit out of Clover-blazes careful grasp and placed her right at her belly, where the kit barreled into the soft white underbelly fur. Fox-heart came next carrying Cloud-kit. After placing the tom beside his tiny sister, he backed away. Flicking his head towards Clover-blaze, signaling he wanted to talk to her, alone. She raised her tail, she watched as Bright-sky placed the last kit, Mossy-kit, in beside her brother. Fox-heart backed out of the nursery and Clover-blaze followed her heart heavy. She crossed the clearing in four short bounds, stopping by the bracken stalks just on the edge of the clearing Fox-heart’s head popped out. “Come.” He led her to a clearing, just on the other side of the stalks. He sat. “Clover-blaze, I have been thinking a lot about this, and I have decided, to resign as deputy, please let me finish. You need me more right now and there is another who is much more qualified then I am.” Clover-blaze watched her mate carefully, and then she said. “If that’s what you want, then I support it, but I do have one question.” She meowed. “Why in Star-clan’s name have you brought me here?” Fox-heart purred. “That’s what I was just about to tell you. I was thinking that we could build our own den here, and bring the kits too, of course, so it’s not so stuffed in the nursery, or the warriors den for that matter.” Clover-blaze’s heart swelled with joy. Her own den, with Fox-heart, and the kits. “That’s wonderful, yes of course!” Fox-heart jumped up and swiped the air twice with his paws. “Great, I’ll go tell Fern-star.” Clover-blaze nodded and followed him through the stalks. Fox-heart led the way to Fern-star’s den. Even though Fern-star had kits, Clover-blaze realized she was spending more and more time in her own den than the nursery. “Fern-star,” he called through the curtain of moss. The prompt reply came heartbeats later. “Come.” Fox-heart entered the den, Clover-blaze followed shortly after. “Fern-star, I would like to tell you something,” Fern-star turned her curious blue gaze on her deputy. “Well, get on with it.” Clover-blaze heard Fox-heart draw in a quick breath. “I would like to resign as deputy. Clover-blaze and my kits need me right now, and I need them, I will always put my Clan first. But sometimes I need to put my family first.” Fern-star narrowed her eyes, her tail flicked in the sand, making a soft swishing noise that seemed to fill the silent den. Finally, Fern-star nodded. She swung her head back and forth. Pool-cloud and Thorn-heart would be very proud to call you their son. I’m sure Snow-claw is also very proud to call you her brother. Fox-heart’s eyes filled with sorrow and pride. Fern-star looked steadily at Fox-heart. “Who do you think should be the next deputy?” she asked, Clover-blaze suddenly got very nervous, and when Fern-star swung her gaze on Clover-blaze she felt her leader could feel it as well. Fox-heart puffed out his chest and made a soft huff. “I would like if Shadow-foot took on the role of deputy, he showed great courage standing up for Heather-paw like that and facing that problem head on. He would make a good deputy,” Clover-blaze heard a soft rustle as Scar-face entered the den. “Fern-star,” he meowed, out of breath. “There has been a sign from Star-clan, and I think you two should stay here to hear it.” Fern-star nodded and flicked her tail. Scar-face nodded back. “I was in the medicine den clearing, the sun was directly overhead and then a cloud crossed the sun and turned only the medicine cat den dark. I was looking for the entrance when something brushed up against my ankle. The sun burst out from behind the clouds just as I picked up a grey rabbit foot. I think it means that Shadow-foot is meant to be Leaf-clans new deputy. Oh and one more thing, I was using the rabbit foot to take clumps of fur for the elders nest, and when I first had taken it from the rabbit, it was white.” Scar-face finished breathlessly. Clover-blaze stood her eyes wide she gazed at Fern-star. “Then it is decided, Shadow-foot will be the new deputy of Leaf-clan, I will announce it at Moonhigh. I’m very sorry you chose to leave the post of deputy, you would have been a great leader someday.” Fox-heart nodded and wrapped his tail around Clover-blazes shoulders. He turned around and led her out of the den. Cover-blaze sighed as the moss swung behind them. A feeling of relief swept over her, Fox-heart chuckled. “Yep, she can have that effect on everyone.” Clover-blaze nodded. “Definitely.” Fox-heart chuckled again.