LEADER LEAFSTAR—brown-and-cream tabby she-cat with amber eyes
DEPUTY SHARPCLAW—dark ginger tom
MEDICINE CAT ECHOSONG—silver tabby she-cat with green eyes
WARRIORS (toms, and she-cats without kits)
PETALNOSE—pale gray she-cat
SPARROWPELT—dark brown tabby tom
SHREWTOOTH—skinny black tom
EBONYCLAW—striking black she-cat
BOUNCEFIRE—ginger tom (Clovertail’s son)
TINYCLOUD—small white she-cat (Clovertail’s daughter)
APPRENTICES (more than six moons old, in training to become warriors)
SAGEPAW—pale gray tom (son of Petalnose and Rainfur)
MINTPAW—gray tabby she-cat (daughter of Petalnose and Rainfur)
FRECKLEPAW—mottled light brown tabby she-cat with spotted legs
QUEENS (she-cats expecting or nursing kits)
FALLOWFERN—pale brown she-cat (mother to Hunchfoot’s kits: Rabbitkit, Creekkit, Nettlekit, and Plumkit)
CLOVERTAIL—light brown she-cat with white belly and legs (expecting Patchfoot’s kits)
ELDERS (former warriors and queens, now retired)
LICHENFUR—gray mottled she-cat
TANGLE—ragged tabby tom loner
CATS OUTSIDE THE CLAN
EGG—cream-colored tom loner
HUTCH—dark brown kittypet (formerly Shortwhisker)
BELLA—tabby-and-white kittypet with amber eyes
ROSE—elegant brown-and-cream Siamese kittypet with slanting blue eyes
STICK—brown tom with yellow eyes and a torn ear
SHORTY—brown tom with amber eyes and half a tail
PERCY—dark gray tabby tom
RED—dark ginger she-cat
DODGE—dark brown tabby tom
HARLEY—gray-and-brown tabby tom
CLOUDSTAR—pale gray tom with white patches and very pale blue eyes
BUZZARDSTAR—ginger tom with green eyes (deputy when SkyClan left the forest)
FAWNSTEP—light brown tabby she-cat (medicine cat when SkyClan left the forest)
BIRDFLIGHT—light brown tabby she-cat with long fluffy fur and amber eyes
FERNPELT—dark brown tabby she-cat
OAKSTEP—gray tabby tom
SPIDERSTAR—dark tabby tom (last leader of Ancient SkyClan)
HONEYLEAF—ginger tabby she-cat (last deputy of Ancient SkyClan)
BRACKENHEART—brown tabby tom (last medicine cat of Ancient SkyClan)
SKYWATCHER—dark gray tom with pale blue eyes (lived in the gorge before Modern SkyClan was formed)
RAINFUR—light gray tom with dark gray flecks (killed in the battle with the rats)
The sun was going down, casting deep shadows over the gorge. A chilly breeze ruffled the surface of the river and whirled the last few shriveled leaves through the air. The only sound was the murmur of water that surged from a black hole in a pile of boulders, coiling into a pool before winding away into the darkness beneath the cliffs.
A dark tabby tom appeared at the top of the gorge, outlined against the sky. He paused for a moment, tasting the air. The dying sun shed bloodred light over his pelt, touching a patch on his shoulder where the fur had been torn away. After a few heartbeats the tabby tom signaled with his tail and began to pick his way down a narrow track that zigzagged across the face of the cliff. Seven other cats followed him: A white she-cat stumbled awkwardly on three paws, the fourth a mass of blood-soaked fur held close to her chest; a long-legged black tom edged downward nervously, one eye closed and sticky with blood; a young ginger tom limped with both ears shredded. Not one of the cats was free of wounds.
As the eight warriors padded painfully down the trail toward the water’s edge, four more cats emerged from a cave a little farther along the gorge. The first was a young brown tabby tom who sprang quickly down the rocks to the foot of the boulders. His paws worked anxiously in the sand as he waited for the warriors to arrive. The other three were elders who stumbled after him on shaky legs.
“Well, Spiderstar?” one of them rasped as the leading cat reached the bottom of the cliff. The elder’s muzzle was gray with age, and every one of his ribs was visible beneath his thin black pelt. “What happened? Did you win?”
The dark tabby tom paused for a moment, then padded forward to touch his nose to the older cat’s ear. “What does it look like, Nightfur?” he murmured in reply. “Brackenheart,” he added to the young brown tabby, “I hope your den is well stocked with herbs. We’re going to need them.”
Before the medicine cat could reply, the long-legged black tom pushed up beside his Clan leader, his lip curling in contempt. “Of course we didn’t win. This battle was lost before it was even begun.”
A ginger tabby she-cat, who had brought up the rear as the battle-scarred cats made their way down the cliff, bounded up and glared at the black tom. “You can’t say that, Swallowflight! We had to fight. SkyClan still has its pride!”
It was the white she-cat who replied, shaking her head sadly. “Pride in what, Honeyleaf? We can’t feed ourselves because the rats have chased off all the prey. No kits have been born in moons. The only ceremonies we have now are to send our Clanmates to our ancestors.”
The ginger she-cat’s head whipped around, her green eyes narrowing to slits. “Look, Frostclaw—”
“Will we hold ceremonies for Sunpelt and Fallensnow?” the young warrior with the shredded ears interrupted. His voice was trembling with grief.
“We will, Rowanfur.” Spiderstar dipped his head to the young cat. “Their spirits are free now to walk among the stars.”
“What?” A gray tabby elder rose shakily to his paws. “Sunpelt and Fallensnow are dead? Then where are their bodies? We must sit vigil for them and then bury them.”
“Oakstep, we had to leave them behind,” Swallowflight spat out with a lash of his tail. “We were too busy fleeing to save our own pelts to carry our fallen Clanmates.” He turned away, his head bowed as if he couldn’t bear to go on looking at the others.
Frostclaw padded up and sat quietly beside him, pushing her nose into the black tom’s matted shoulder fur. “Swallowflight, there was nothing else we could have done for them. No cat could blame us.”
“She’s right,” Brackenheart meowed quietly. “Our Clanmates hunt with StarClan now. They’ll understand.”
Spiderstar nodded, his eyes dark with pain and loss.
“But if you had brought them back we could have buried them!” Oakstep protested. “Where is the honor in leaving them to be picked over by the rats? Sunpelt and Fallensnow should never be crow-food!”
Every paw step an effort, he started to hobble up the trail that led to the top of the gorge. Before he had gone more than a few fox-lengths, Spiderstar darted in front of him and forced the grief-stricken elder to stop.
“We have lost enough Clanmates tonight,” he mewed. “Let us pray for their spirits as they join StarClan.”
Swallowflight’s ears pricked, and he turned to look at his Clan leader. “StarClan? Do you think they are really watching over us?” His whiskers twitched with disgust. “If they cared about us at all, they would never have let the rats come.”
Honeyleaf whirled to face her Clanmate. “StarClan has given us the warrior code, and with that c ...