CATS OUTSIDE CLANS
RAVENPAW—sleek black tom
BARLEY—sturdy black-and-white tom
VIOLET—pale orange tabby she-cat with dark orange stripes and white paws
RILEY—pale gray tabby with dark gray stripes and blue eyes
BELLA—pale orange she-cat with green eyes
LULU—pale sandy she-cat with long fur
PATCH—gray and pale orange tom
MADRIC—brown tabby tom
PASHA—very dark tabby tom
LEAFSTAR—brown-and-cream tabby she-cat with amber eyes
SHARPCLAW—dark ginger tom
ECHOSONG—silver tabby she-cat with green eyes
WARRIORS (toms and she-cats without kits)
EBONYCLAW—striking black she-cat (daylight warrior)
HARVEYMOON—white tom (daylight warrior)
MACGYVER—black-and-white tom (daylight warrior)
TINYCLOUD—small white she-cat
NETTLESPLASH—pale brown tom
PLUMWILLOW—dark gray she-cat
APPRENTICES (more than six moons old, in training to become warriors)
DUSKPAW—ginger tabby tom
HAWKPAW—dark gray tom with yellow eyes
PEBBLEPAW—brown-speckled white she-cat with green eyes
PARSLEYPAW—dark brown tabby tom
Ravenpaw dug his claws into the ground and picked up speed. He saw Graypaw’s striped pelt vanish into the bracken, just behind the orange flash of Firepaw’s fur.
Ravenpaw burst through the ferns and raced after his Clanmates. They were running much faster now, so quickly that the colors of the forest were a blur of green, brown, and pale gold.
They whisked through the undergrowth, following paths that grew narrower and narrower, but even the densest clump of brambles didn’t slow them down. Smooth gray shapes loomed up and vanished in a heartbeat.
Now they were beside the river, brown and churning and flecked with foam. The trail along the bank was little more than the thickness of a reed, slippery with wet green moss, but the cats didn’t falter, not even when stiff green stalks lashed against their fur.
His legs weren’t tired at all, his paws were lighter than dried leaves, and he was breathing as easily as if he were lying in his nest.
In front of him, Firepaw had reached the base of Sunningrocks, the vast mound of stones that stood beside the river. Firepaw swarmed up the rocks without slowing down. Graypaw and Ravenpaw reached the top only a moment behind him, and all three cats stood side by side, looking out across the trees.
“There is no better place than ThunderClan!” Firepaw declared.
“ThunderClan!” Graypaw echoed.
Ravenpaw opened his mouth to join in, but a raindrop splashed onto his muzzle, making him jump. The sky was still blue and cloudless, and the sun blazed on his black fur, but out of nowhere rain was falling, heavier and heavier.
“You’re getting wet!” grumbled a voice close to Ravenpaw’s ear. A paw jabbed him in his flank, and he rolled over to see Barley standing over him. Behind his friend’s head he could see pale gray sky through a crack in the barn roof. Another trickle of raindrops landed on the back of his neck, and Ravenpaw jumped out of his nest with a hiss.
“I thought you checked the roof before we made our nests last night,” he muttered. His dream still tugged at the edges of his mind, and he was convinced he could smell the scent of his old friends close by.
“Don’t be such a grouch,” Barley teased. “Do you want me to go climbing over the whole roof every night before you go to sleep, just to make sure you won’t get wet? Come over here where it’s dry.”
He patted the hay where he was lying. Ravenpaw stayed where he was for a moment, halted by a sharp stabbing pain in his belly.
Barley pricked his ears. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Ravenpaw mewed. “It’s probably that mouse you caught two sunrises ago. I told you it didn’t look right.”
Barley squinted up at the gap in the roof. “I don’t think this rain is going to last,” he meowed. “Would you like to go to the forest today? Once the weather turns, it won’t be so easy to get there, and we haven’t been there in moons.”
Ravenpaw tasted the air. He could smell leaf-bare approaching, cold and crisp like stone. “Yes, I’d like that,” he mewed. He stretched out his front legs and arched his back, curling his tail until it brushed his ears. The pain in his belly had subsided to a dull ache, and Ravenpaw hoped that a walk to the forest would get rid of it completely.
They sprang down the stacked hay to where Barley had hidden the remains of the pigeon he had caught the day before. Ravenpaw wasn’t hungry—his belly felt strangely full—but he picked at a wing when he felt Barley’s gaze boring into his pelt. When Barley had finished cleaning his whiskers, they slipped through a hole in the wall and padded through the long grass that grew beside the barn. The rain had stopped, and the clouds were thinning to reveal slender strips of blue.
Barley paused at the edge of a stretch of pale stone.
Faint barks were coming from one of the fields beyond the Twoleg den, suggesting that the dogs were far away, so the cats trotted across the stone and plunged into the hedge.
Barley led the way, his big paws leaving prints in the damp earth. Ravenpaw tried to put his feet into the same imprints, but Barley’s legs were longer than his. He had to trot to keep up.
A few cows lifted their heads and watched as the cats crossed the field. Ravenpaw had been scared of the huge black-and-white creatures at first, but now he regarded them with a sort of affection. He was so used to seeing them around, they almost felt like his Clanmates.
For a moment he was back in his dream, standing on top of Sunningrocks and looking down over the forest where he had been born.
“Come on!” Barley bounded back to him. “Let’s check that the tunnel isn’t flooded.”
The Thunderpath was much broader than it had been when Ravenpaw had first crossed it as an apprentice. The hill on the far side had been gouged out, leaving huge scars in the earth. Even this close to dawn, the Thunderpath teemed like a river of gleaming fish, with monsters growling up and down. It was too wide for cats to cross, so instead
Barley and Ravenpaw used a narrow tunnel that ran underneath. It was dark and damp, and just big enough for a badger to squeeze through; mercifully Ravenpaw hadn’t come face-to-face with one of those in the narrow space.
The tunnel did sometimes fill with water after heavy rain, but today there was nothing more than a muddy trickle running along the bottom. Taking a deep breath, Barley plunged in. Ravenpaw gritted his teeth and followed, hating the way the tunnel wrapped around him. The air ...