O AKSTAR—sturdy brown tom with amber eyes
BEETAIL—dark brown striped tabby tom
RAVENW ING—small black tom with blue eyes
(toms and she-cats without kits)
MAPLESHADE—thick-furred orange-and-white she-cat with amber eyes
DEERDAPPLE—silver-and-black tabby she-cat
APPRENTIC E, NETTLEPAW
FREC KLEW ISH—speckled golden-furred she-cat with dark amber eyes
BLO O MHEART—gray tabby tom
SEEDPELT—light brown-and-white tom
THRUSHTALO N—light brown tabby tom
NETTLEPAW —ginger tom
(former warriors and queens, now retired)
RABBITFUR—gray tabby tom
SPIKETAIL—dark gray tom
RAINFALL—skinny black tom
APPLEDUSK—pale brown tom with green eyes
APPRENTIC E, PERC HPAW
REEDSHINE—dark orange she-cat
SPLASHFO O T—pale gray tom
EELTAIL—gray-and-black tabby she-cat
PERC HPAW —thick-furred gray tom
SLO EFUR—black tom
LARKW ING—gray tabby tom
SW IFTFLIGHT—pale gray tabby tom
MIDGEPELT—patch-furred brown tom
CATS OUTSIDE CLANS
“Sorry, Swiftflight,” Mapleshade apologized over her shoulder as she plunged deeper into the throng of cats. The light of the full moon turned all their pelts to silver, and fur tickled Mapleshade’s nose. Above her, Oakstar’s voice echoed around the trunks of the four gigantic oak trees.
“My warriors tracked the adders to their nest at Snakerocks and blocked the hole with stones,” the ThunderClan leader reported. “Thanks to their courage, no adders have since been seen in our territory.”
“They were lucky not to get bitten,” grunted a ShadowClan elder near Mapleshade’s ear.
“Too right,” agreed her Clanmate. “Remember when Marshpaw trod on an adder on his first patrol? That was a bad way to die.”
The first cat shrugged. “I’ve seen worse.”
Mapleshade rolled her eyes.
“There may be a truce,” snarled the black warrior Rainfall. “But don’t push your luck, ThunderClan mouse dung.”
Mapleshade ducked her head. “I mean no harm,” she mewed. “I’m not staying.”
“Good,” growled a cat she couldn’t see.
Mapleshade forced her hair to lie flat as she wove among the hostile warriors. She couldn’t blame RiverClan for being angry. ThunderClan had triumphed in the last clash over Sunningrocks; defeat was the bitterest wound of all.
“Remember what happened to Birchface and Flowerpaw,” Rainfall murmured in her ear, so close that Mapleshade could feel the heat of his fish-breath. “Those rocks belong to us, and we’ll kill as many of your Clanmates as we need to until you give them up.”
Mapleshade stumbled as a memory seared through her brain: Appledusk, a light brown RiverClan warrior with piercing green eyes, striking Birchface so hard that the ThunderClan cat lost his footing and slipped from the very top of Sunningrocks. He landed with a splash in the swollen river. His apprentice Flowerpaw leaped in after him and struggled to keep Birchface’s head out of the water but the current was too strong and they were swept downstream into the half-submerged crossing rocks.
For one terrible moment, dark tabby and dappled gray heads rose above the surface, screeching in fear, then both vanished into the tumbling foam. Their bodies were found just beyond the stones, washed up on the ThunderClan shore as if they were making a last desperate effort to go home.
Mapleshade swallowed a burst of rage at the warriors around her. Why did RiverClan insist on fighting over a bunch of rocks that were clearly on ThunderClan’s territory? She lowered her head and pushed her way through the knot of hostile cats. She made it to the edge of the hollow where the shadows clustered more densely, dark enough to hide among. Suddenly a pale brown shape loomed in front of her, and Mapleshade’s nostrils flared at the scent of fish. She looked up, her heart pounding.
“What are you doing here?” hissed Appledusk. His long front claws caught the moonlight as he sank them into the grass.
Mapleshade’s words seemed to be stuck in her throat. She stared into the RiverClan warrior’s holly-colored eyes and tried to breathe normally. She wondered if any of her Clanmates were watching.
Appledusk took a step closer and lowered his head until his muzzle brushed the tip of Mapleshade’s ear. “You must know how dangerous it is for you to be here. What would happen if your Clanmates saw you talking to me?”
Mapleshade leaned forward until her cheek pressed against Appledusk’s feather-soft chest fur. “I had to speak with you,” she murmured. “It’s been too long. I waited for you at the sycamore tree every night, but you never came.”
The tom’s breath warmed the back of her neck. “I know,” he purred. “But since the battle, we’ve doubled our border patrols, even after dark. I can’t cross the river without being spotted.” He took a step back, and Mapleshade felt a rush of cold air on her pelt. “I’ll try to get across at new moon.
Things might have calmed down by then.”
“If only you hadn’t killed Birchface,” Mapleshade whispered. “Of all the cats to lose in the battle, it had to be Oakstar’s son!”
She felt Appledusk stiffen beneath his pelt. “It was an accident,” he growled. “I never meant for him to fall into the river.”
Mapleshade closed her eyes. “That’s not the way my Clanmates see it. They blame you for both of our losses.”
“Then they are fools.” Appledusk shuddered, then relaxed. “But Sunningrocks has always made our Clans a little mouse-brained.” He licked the top of Mapleshade’s head. “Thank StarClan you didn’t get hurt in the battle.”
Mapleshade gazed up at him.
Appledusk was looking over her head, toward the pool of moonlight where his Clanmates stood.
“Can’t it wait?”
“I don’t think so.” Mapleshade took a deep breath. “I’m expecting your kits.”
There was a flash of green as Appledusk opened his eyes wide. “Are you sure?”
Mapleshade nodded. The RiverClan warrior curled his tail over his back. “I’m going to be a father,” he purred. “Incredible.” He tipped his head to one side. “But these kits will be half-Clan.
“They won’t know,” Mapleshade answered. She noticed Appledusk flinch. “At least, not at first,” she went on. “I will raise them as ThunderClan until they have been fully accepted. Then every cat will be able to cope with the truth. Why should it matter that their father lives in a different Clan?”
The fur on Appledusk’s shoulders twitched. “You have great faith in your Clanmates,” he murmured.
“No, I have faith in StarClan, and in the warrior code.”
“You think StarClan approves of what we are doing?” Appledusk narrowed his eyes.
“I think our warrior ancestors know that our Clans need kits and we are providing them. How can our innocent kits not have their blessing? They will grow up to be fine warriors, loyal to ThunderClan and RiverClan equally.” Mapleshade turned away before Appledusk could say anything else. “I must return to my Clanmates before they come looking for me. Perhaps it’s best if we don’t see each other again until after the kits have come.” She looked back over her shoulder. “But I will be thinking of you every day, my love.”
As she padded into the shadows that ringed the hollow, Mapleshade heard rapid paw steps.
“Appledusk! There you are! I’ve been looking for you!” Mapleshade stopped, hoping her white patches weren’t glowing in the moonlight. A dark orange she-cat was pressin ...