Into The Wild
For Billy-who left our Twoleg home to become a Warrior.
We still miss him very much.
And for Benjamin-his brother
who is with him now in StarClan
Special thanks to Kate Cary
A half-moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver. The silence was broken only by the ripple of water from the swift black river and the whisper of trees in the forest beyond.
There was a stirring in the shadows, and from all around lithe dark shapes crept stealthily over the rocks. Unsheathed claws glinted in the moonlight. Wary eyes flashed like amber. And then, as if on a silent signal, the creatures leaped at each other, and suddenly the rocks were alive with wrestling, screeching cats.
At the center of the frenzy of fur and claws, a massive dark tabby pinned a bracken-colored tom to the ground and drew up his head triumphantly. “Oakheart!” the tabby growled. “How dare you hunt in our territory? The Sunningrocks belong to ThunderClan!”
“After tonight, Tigerclaw, this will be just another RiverClan hunting ground!” the bracken-colored tom spat back.
A warning yowl came from the shore, shrill and anxious. “Look out! More RiverClan warriors are coming!”
Tigerclaw turned to see sleek wet bodies sliding out of the water below the rocks. The drenched RiverClan warriors bounded silently up the shore and hurled themselves into battle without even stopping to shake the water from their fur.
The dark tabby glared down at Oakheart. “You may swim like otters, but you and your warriors do not belong in this forest!” He drew back his lips and showed his teeth as the cat struggled beneath him.
The desperate scream of a ThunderClan she-cat rose above the clamor. A wiry RiverClan tom had pinned the brown warrior flat on her belly. Now he lunged toward her neck with jaws still dripping from his swim across the river.
Tigerclaw heard the cry and let go of Oakheart. With a mighty leap, he knocked the enemy warrior away from the she-cat. “Quick, Mousefur, run!” he ordered, before turning on the RiverClan tom who had threatened her. Mousefur scrambled to her paws, wincing from a deep gash on her shoulder, and raced away.
Behind her, Tigerclaw spat with rage as the RiverClan tom sliced open his nose. Blood blinded him for an instant, but he lunged forward regardless and sank his teeth into the hind leg of his enemy. The RiverClan cat squealed and struggled free.
“Tigerclaw!” The yowl came from a warrior with a tail as red as fox fur. “This is useless! There are too many RiverClan warriors!”
“No, Redtail. ThunderClan will never be beaten!” Tigerclaw yowled back, leaping to Redtail’s side. “This is our territory!” Blood was welling around his broad black muzzle, and he shook his head impatiently, scattering scarlet drops onto the rocks.
“ThunderClan will honor your courage, Tigerclaw, but we cannot afford to lose any more of our warriors,” Redtail urged. “Bluestar would never expect her warriors to fight against these impossible odds. We will have another chance to avenge this defeat.” He met Tigerclaw’s amber-eyed gaze steadily, then reared away and sprang onto a boulder at the edge of the trees.
“Retreat, ThunderClan! Retreat!” he yowled. At once his warriors squirmed and struggled away from their opponents. Spitting and snarling, they backed toward Redtail. For a heartbeat, the RiverClan cats looked confused. Was this battle so easily won? Then Oakheart yowled a jubilant cry. As soon as they heard him, the RiverClan warriors raised their voices and joined their deputy in caterwauling their victory.
Redtail looked down at his warriors. With a flick of his tail, he gave the signal and the ThunderClan cats dived down the far side of the Sunningrocks, then disappeared into the trees.
Tigerclaw followed last. He hesitated at the edge of the forest and glanced back at the bloodstained battlefield. His face was grim, his eyes furious slits. Then he leaped after his Clan into the silent forest.
In a deserted clearing, an old gray she-cat sat alone, staring up at the clear night sky. All around her in the shadows she could hear the breathing and stirrings of sleeping cats.
A small tortoiseshell she-cat emerged from a dark corner, her pawsteps quick and soundless.
The gray cat dipped her head in greeting. “How is Mousefur?” she meowed.
“Her wounds are deep, Bluestar,” answered the tortoiseshell, settling herself on the night-cool grass. “But she is young and strong; she will heal quickly.”
“And the others?”
“They will all recover, too.”
Bluestar sighed. “We are lucky not to have lost any of our warriors this time. You are a gifted medicine cat, Spottedleaf.” She tilted her head again and studied the stars. “I am deeply troubled by tonight’s defeat. ThunderClan has not been beaten in its own territory since I became leader,” she murmured. “These are difficult times for our Clan. The season of newleaf is late, and there have been fewer kits. ThunderClan needs more warriors if it is to survive.”
“But the year is only just beginning,” Spottedleaf pointed out calmly. “There will be more kits when greenleaf comes.”
The gray cat twitched her broad shoulders. “Perhaps. But training our young to become warriors takes time. If ThunderClan is to defend its territory, it must have new warriors as soon as possible.”
“Are you asking StarClan for answers?” meowed Spottedleaf gently, following Bluestar’s gaze and staring up at the swath of stars glittering in the dark sky.
“It is at times like this we need the words of ancient warriors to help us. Has StarClan spoken to you?” Bluestar asked.
“Not for some moons, Bluestar.”
Suddenly a shooting star blazed over the treetops. Spottedleaf’s tail twitched and the fur along her spine bristled.
Bluestar’s ears pricked but she remained silent as Spottedleaf continued to gaze upward.
After a few moments, Spottedleaf lowered her head and turned to Bluestar. “It was a message from StarClan,” she murmured. A distant look came into her eyes. “Fire alone can save our Clan.”
“Fire?” Bluestar echoed. “But fire is feared by all the Clans! How can it save us?”
Spottedleaf shook her head. “I do not know,” she admitted. “But this is the message StarClan has chosen to share with me.”
The ThunderClan leader fixed her clear blue eyes on the medicine cat. “You have never been wrong before, Spottedleaf,” she meowed. “If StarClan has spoken, then it must be so. Fire will save our Clan.”
It was very dark. Rusty could sense something was near. The young tomcat’s eyes opened wide as he scanned the dense undergrowth. This place was unfamiliar, but the strange scents drew him onward, deeper into the shadows. His stomach growled, reminding him of his hunger. He opened his jaws slightly to let the warm smells of the forest reach the scent glands on the roof of his mouth. Musty odors of leaf mold mingled with the tempting aroma of a small furry creature.
Suddenly a flash of gray raced past him. Rusty stopped still, listening. It was hiding in the leaves less than two tail-lengths away. Rusty knew it was a mouse-he could feel the rapid pulsing of a tiny heart deep within his ear fur. He swallowed, stifling his rumbling stomach. Soon his hunger would be satisfied.
Slowly he lowered his body into position, crouching for the attack. He was downwind of the mouse. He knew it was not aware of him. With one final check on his prey’s position, Rusty pushed back hard on his haunches and sprang, kicking up leaves on the forest floor as he rose.
The mouse dived for cover, heading toward a hole in the ground. But Rusty was already on top of it. He scooped it into the air, hooking the helpless creature with his thorn-sharp claws, flinging it up in a high arc onto the leaf-covered ground. The mouse landed dazed, but alive. It tried to run, but Rusty snatched it up again. He tossed the mouse once more, this time a little farther away. The mouse managed to scramble a few paces before Rusty caught up with it.