LEAFSTAR—brown-and-cream tabby she-cat with amber eyes
SHARPCLAW—dark ginger tom
ECHOSONG —silver tabby she-cat with green eyes
FRECKLEWISH—mottled light brown tabby she-cat with spotted legs
(toms and she-cats without kits)
SPARROWPELT—dark brown tabby tom
APPRENTICE, DUSKPAW (ginger tabby tom)
EBONYCLAW—striking black she-cat (daylight warrior)
APPRENTICE, HAWKPAW (dark gray tom)
BILLYSTORM—ginger-and-white tom (former daylight warrior)
APPRENTICE, PEBBLEPAW (brown-speckled white she-cat)
HARVEYMOON—white tom (daylight warrior)
MACG YVER—black-and-white tom (daylight warrior)
APPRENTICE, BLOSSOMPAW (ginger-and-white she-cat)
TINYCLOUD—small white she-cat
APPRENTICE, BELLAPAW (pale orange she-cat with green eyes)
SAG ENOSE—pale gray tom
NETTLESPLASH—pale brown tom
APPRENTICE, RILEYPAW (pale gray tabby tom with dark gray strips and blue eyes)
APPRENTICE, PARSLEYPAW (dark brown tabby tom)
PLUMWILLOW—dark gray she-cat
APPRENTICE, CLOUDPAW (white she-cat)
SANDYNOSE—stocky light brown tom with ginger legs
MISTFEATHER—gray tom with amber eyes
(she-cats expecting or nursing kits)
BIRDWING —black she-cat (mother to Curlykit, a long-haired gray she-kit; Fidgetkit, a black-and-white tom-kit; and Snipkit, a black she-kit with white patch on her chest)
MINTFUR—gray tabby she-cat
HONEYTAIL—pale ginger she-cat with long fur
(former warriors and queens, now retired)
CLOVERTAIL—light brown she-cat with white belly and legs
FALLOWFERN—pale brown she-cat who has lost her hearing
A powerful tom, his pale gray fur patched with white, sat on top of the pile of boulders, gazing downstream. A frosty glimmer of starlight clung to his pelt, and stars shone in his blue eyes.
After a while, the stillness of the gorge was broken as a brown tabby emerged from a den near the foot of the cliff and padded purposefully over to the rocks, scrambling up until he could stand beside the gray-and-white tom.
“Brackenheart,” the gray-and-white tom meowed. “Have you thought any more about this vision?”
“I have, Cloudstar,” Brackenheart replied, dipping his head.
“And I have no idea—”
He broke off as a third cat appeared at the top of the gorge and came bounding down the trail to join the other two on top of the boulders. Stars flowed like water through his gray pelt and gave an icy glitter to his claws.
Cloudstar rose to his paws; he and Brackenheart bowed their heads in profound respect. “Greetings, Skystar,” Cloudstar mewed.
Skystar returned the greeting with a brisk nod. “Well?” he asked. “Have you come to a decision?”
Brackenheart shook his head, while Cloudstar looked troubled, replying, “No. What we have seen is too terrible. There are no easy answers.”
“But an answer must be found.” Skystar stood up straighter and gave an impatient lash of his tail. “All three of us have seen the scourge that looms over SkyClan, a danger more dreadful than the heaviest, darkest storm cloud. It could black out the sky and put an end to the Clan I founded forever. I could not bear that.”
“SkyClan will never end!” Cloudstar’s blue eyes glittered fiercely. “We have suffered great losses before, only to rise and thrive again. When we were driven out of the forest, so many seasons ago, we persevered. We found a home in the gorge, and even when the rats destroyed and scattered most of the Clan, a few cats kept the memory alive until Firestar came to restore what had been lost.”
“But Firestar is dead,” Brackenheart mewed somberly. “And his StarClan is far from here. He can do nothing for SkyClan now.”
Skystar looked thoughtful. “Then we must speak to SkyClan directly,” he insisted. “They must be warned.”
“True, Skystar,” Brackenheart responded. “But what kind of warning shall we give? What can we tell them to
“We must tell them to fight,” Cloudstar mewed decisively.
“They are strong, brave cats, deeply committed to one another as a
Clan. They will win if they believe they can.”
Brackenheart let out a sigh. “But not even Firestar himself could fight this scourge. This battle is unwinnable!”
“Precisely. The time has come for SkyClan to leave their comfortable territory,” Skystar declared.
“What?” Cloudstar’s eyes stretched wide in outrage. “After so many cats struggled to keep it? After so many cats
“Everything comes to an end, sooner or later. SkyClan has been its own island for too long.” Skystar leaned forward, his brilliant blue eyes fixed intently on the other cats. “When I founded SkyClan, it was one of the five petals of the Blazing Star, and all of the Clans thrived because they worked together. SkyClan must take a lesson from its history.”
Cloudstar gave the ancient leader a puzzled look. “Then you’re saying that SkyClan is
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Leaving the gorge will only be the first paw step on a much longer journey.”
“No!” Cloudstar’s neck fur began to bristle. “M y Clan and I had to struggle to make our home here among the rocks. Firestar risked his life to reunite us after we were driven out the first time.
And now you suggest throwing all that away? Have you got bees in your brain? They must
Brackenheart nodded in vigorous agreement. “I was SkyClan’s last medicine cat before rats drove us out of the gorge. After all we went through, how can you expect me to stand by and watch as my Clan is driven out a second time?”
Skystar listened impassively to Cloudstar’s heated outburst and Brackenheart’s desperate protest. His voice was quiet and steady as he replied. “No. Every cat knows what our Clan has suffered, but there is a time for our claws to grip hard to what we own, and a time to let go. The threat SkyClan faces is just the beginning. Only by joining with the other Clans can they clear the sky.”
Brackenheart drew in a wondering breath. “All five Clans, together again…” Then he gave his pelt a shake. “But how can this be? Where will SkyClan live, if they rejoin the other Clans?
There is only so much territory. How do we know that the other Clans will accept them peacefully? How do we know that the cats of SkyClan will
“And Sandstorm,” Cloudstar reminded him.
Skystar nodded. “Yes. And she is a brave cat, but her path is dark to me. It is to Firestar’s kin that SkyClan must look now. For when fire dies down, there are still sparks that remain. And you are right that SkyClan’s path will be long and difficult. That is why they must start now.” He paused, staring into the distance.
“They must find those sparks, or their future is terrible indeed.
Hawkpaw startled awake as a bund ...