This took an amazingly long amount of time to write. I've been overwhelmed by school and work and everything, so sorry! But I hope this makes up for it.
Leopardstar2002: I'm glad I was able to surprise you! :) And no, I didn't kill Foxtooth just to make you cry XD it was more that Foxtooth's and Cinderstar's relationship was beginning to fray and I really didn't want them to have to break up. I'm really sorry I wasn't able to fit in more about which cats died, though! Also, I wanted to thank you personally (or as personally as I can get over the internet) for supporting me all this time. You're always one of the first to review and you always light up my day with your words. Thank you so much! *hugs*
QLKwriter: I get how you feel. XD With me it was: "Just one last scene! Oh wait, this chapter is already 7k words long... But one more scene wouldn't hurt!" I had a tough time saying goodbye to these sweethearts. I don't believe I address this in the chapter, but Ashthorn was in StarClan the whole time, just being super sneaky and all. I wanted to thank you individually for always supporting me. I can hardly remember a time when you weren't reviewing, and you are always quick to point out any inconsistency of mine so I can quickly fix it for the next chapter. *hugs* You're the best!
Shadows of Weeping Wolves: I can't believe it either! My children, they're all grown up! *sobs* Thank you so much! And hey, if you go back to my earlier stories (examples: The Lost Snow and Eagle Air) you'll see how far I've managed to come. XD It takes a buttload of writing to improve, namely writing a 200k+ word series. I checked and I'm pretty sure everyone has the right names here, but who knows, you might catch something anyway! I really want to thank you for being such a huge motivation to me. Your belief in the Misty series helped it grow and let me keep writing. *hugs* I don't know how to thank you enough.
Nightbird1648: Haha, laziness is a plight that affects us all. XD I want to thank you personally for always supporting me, whether on FFN or DA. You've always been there to motivate me when I want to give up and, without you, this story would likely have faded at some point or another. *hugs* Thank you for being you!
ShadowHawk540-2: Thank you! ^^ I want to let you know that you've been one of my central supporters from the beginning, and without you it is likely this story would have crumbled. *hugs* Thank you so much for your support, and if you ever figure out how to get back onto your account and decide to post a story, I'll be there to support you in return.
Willowdream of ForestClan: I'm sorry! *sobs* But I felt like Foxtooth needed to die because I felt his and Cinderstar's relationship fraying and I REALLY didn't want to write a scene where they break up. I might just about throw my laptop across the room, except not really because laptops are super expensive. XD I would probably squeal/scream/grin madly until my family asked what was wrong if you did fanart! If you're too busy, though, I completely understand... I still have several requests due on DA. ^^; I wanted to thank you (again and again) for helping me finish this story. As you wrote with your gift (which is utterly amazing, by the way), you've supported me since forever ago, when Leafy recommended Misty Horizon in one of her chapters. *hugs* You're an amazing person and I'm so thankful we're internet buddies!
ilovewarriorcats: Since I couldn't find a place to put this in without it seeming forced (I tried, believe me, but it wasn't working), I'm afraid I wasn't able to include Vixentail in the epilogue. What I imagine happened to her and Iceheart was that they traveled far away until they found a nice Twoleg and, though they still lived like loners, they consented to eat the kittypet food and live together happily. ^^ All other questions, I hope, will be answered in the chapter. But before you read on, I really wanted to thank you for all you've contributed to this story. I feel really bad about constantly forgetting to put Bluemist in as an actual character. But I always look forward to your reviews. You provide really good questions and suggestions that honestly have made this story better and more complete than I could have done by myself. *hugs* Thank you so much!
ThiefofSong: It's fine! Sorry I haven't updated recently, I've been busy with school and more school. ^^ I'm also sorry about Foxtooth, but I felt his relationship with Cinderstar to be fraying and I honestly would never want to have to write their breakup scene. At least they can still be together in StarClan. I wanted to thank you so much for supporting me through the end. While you may be too busy with school to review, I've been too busy with school to even update! *hugs* Thank you for sticking with this story, because if not for you, I might not have reached the end.
RANDOM PERSON: No, it's fine! ^^ I want to thank you, though, for consistently reviewing my series and supporting me all the way through the end. Each review you write gives me motivation to keep writing the next chapter, and without that support I might not have made it all the way through this series. *hugs* Thank you so much!
I woke to a paw hitting my nose.
"Foxdung… What in the name of—?" I blinked my den into clarity and saw a certain pair of kits giggling together in delight.
"I got him!" Willowkit crowed, bouncing around her brother on her toes. Wolfkit playfully nosed her with enough force to send her tumbling onto the ground.
"What are you two doing?" I asked, glancing out the entrance. "What… How did you get up the Rockfall?"
"We climbed it," Willowkit boasted as she got back to her paws. "Just like you do, Sootstar!"
"That's too dangerous for two-moon-old kits to be doing," I half growled, shaking moss from my fur and swiftly catching my daughter by the scruff as she scurried past.
"Hey!" she complained, kicking her legs hard, jerking my neck back and forth. "But… but…"
"Stay still," I muttered, my voice muffled by her fluffy fur. "We're going back down to the clearing. And we're going to stay there." I headed for the entrance, shrugging my shoulders and flicking my tail to get my blood moving. As I reached the top of the Rockfall, I gave Wolfkit a stern stare. "You stay right there. Don't even try moving a muscle until I get back."
Wolfkit's usually smiling expression froze in one of nervousness. His dark blue eyes followed me as I carried Willowkit down the pile, deposited her at the bottom, then headed back up for him. Once the three of us were safely at the bottom, I crouched in front of their shivering forms.
"What you did was really dangerous. You could've fallen and hurt yourselves, especially with these frost-covered rocks in Leafbare. I don't want to see either of you anywhere near the Rockfall for the next four moons. Got it?"
The kits exchanged a glance. Wolfkit nodded and Willowkit, after hesitating another heartbeat, followed suit.
"Good." I gave both of them a quick nuzzle on the top of the head. "I love you, I just don't want to see you hurt. Okay?"
"Uh huh." Willowkit was already distracted, staring across the clearing toward the nursery. "Hey Wolfkit, look! Shadekit and Sagekit are up!"
"Finally!" His eyes lit up with excitement. As Willowkit dashed off, he took a couple pawsteps after her, then hesitated and turned back to me. "Er, sorry," he muttered awkwardly. "We were bored and wanted to surprise you."
"You certainly succeeded in that," I said warmly. "Just next time you come up with a great idea, make sure you ask Amberwing's permission first. That way you won't get in trouble."
Wolfkit's expression brightened and he gave me a broad grin before dashing after his sister. Noticing Amberwing slipping out of the nursery behind the pale gray kits, I followed.
As I passed my kits, I heard Sagekit meow, "I told you! I told you you shouldn't have done it! What'd I say? I said he'd be mad! Didn't I, Shadekit?"
"I hope he wasn't that mad," Shadekit said nervously, glancing quickly at me as I passed. I gave him a smile but didn't pause to chat.
Amberwing was on her way to the fresh-kill pile when I intercepted her. She gave me a nod but didn't say anything. I wondered if she even knew Willowkit and Wolfkit had sneaked out. Perhaps not, perhaps she'd had her paws full with her own kits. Sunkit, Birchkit, and Maplekit were due for their apprentice ceremony any day now. Once I figured out their mentors I'd hold the ceremony. I sighed as I reflected again on how Amberwing obviously wanted to look after her own kits first, then mine. If Dawnshine were still alive…
But no, I couldn't think about that. If Dawnshine had still been alive we wouldn't have had these two moons of peace. Remembering the hateful expression on her face as she ripped out one of my lives helped soothe my grief a little, but I couldn't help but wonder if, had she managed to get over her grief, we could've been a happy family.
It was one of the reasons I couldn't let myself think about her. I needed to be here for my kits. I had to be a good father, one who loved them equally and was there for them, one who taught them how to love properly. Unlike my own father.
I blinked and realized Amberwing was halfway across the clearing already, perusing the fresh-kill pile for something tasty for breakfast. I hurried to join her.
"Would you mind sharing fresh-kill with me?" I asked as she pulled a mouse from underneath a sparrow. "I have something I'd like to discuss with you."
Amberwing blinked and nodded, returning the mouse and grabbing the sparrow instead. We settled beside the still-vacant elders' den and I began plucking feathers from one of the wings.
"I know your kits are approaching their sixth moon," I began, looking down at the bird. "I was considering making them apprentices today."
"Oh!" Amberwing's eyes went wide. "That's wonderful! I'm sure they'll be ecstatic about this." She smiled at me.
"I was wondering if you had any specific requests as to their mentors," I asked, looking up at her. "I know usually a leader is meant to decide, but… well… if any of them showed any inclination at all toward being a medicine cat…"
"Actually," Amberwing meowed, "I do think one could be a medicine cat. Sunkit's been hanging around the medicine den for at least a moon now, and every night he tells me all the herbs he's learned that day. Sometimes he repeats a few, but kits will be kits." She paused a moment. "I'd feel better about him becoming a medicine cat if you confirmed it with Goldenwing, though."
I nodded. "I'll be sure to ask her about that, then." I hesitated, wondering how to phrase my second request. "Um, about my kits…"
"You're wondering if I'll move back into the warriors' den after my kits become apprentices," Amberwing guessed. I nodded. "I was wondering that too. I mean, I'd love to return to my warrior duties, but your kits are only two moons old, much too young to be left alone in the nursery."
"I don't want you to have to give up performing w—" I began hastily but Amberwing cut across me.
"So I came up with an idea. Your kits are out of the nursery basically from the moment the sun rises until it sets, only returning inside to take naps around sunhigh. I could return to basic warrior duties during the day, with the exception of the sunhigh patrols, and continue sleeping in the nursery at nights until the kits have grown old enough to sleep in the nursery by themselves."
Amberwing shrugged. "It… well, it's an idea."
"It's a great idea!" I enthused. "Wow! How did you come up with it?"
She grimaced. "Many nights lying awake with seven kits. One of them would wake up from a bad dream or insist they were hungry and when they'd fall asleep the next would wake up, on and on all night. Trust me, being a queen is hard work."
"I believe you," I said, silently thanking StarClan I was not a she-cat.
"Well, I guess that might be it then." I pushed myself to my paws, swiping my tongue around my lips a couple of times to get the last traces of sparrow off my fur. "Do you mind if I use these feathers for my kits?"
Amberwing hesitated. "I… well, if my kits are becoming apprentices today, I was thinking I could use them to soften their nests." She bit her lip.
"Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that would be good. You can have them." I shoved the pale brown feathers toward her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I've already filled my kits' nest with the softest moss I could find." I smiled earnestly. "Go on, you can have them. I'll plan for the ceremony to be around sunhigh today."
Amberwing grinned. "Thanks, Sootstar. The next bird I eat, I'll be sure to put every feather into your kits' nest."
As she padded away, I turned back toward my kits. Perhaps I'd have time to play tag or moss-ball with them before heading out on a hunting patrol. But as I started across the clearing, I almost ran into Goldenwing.
"Uh—hi, sorry," I stammered, moving hastily backward to avoid stepping on her paws.
"Sootstar," she said softly, glancing around to make sure we were out of our Clanmates' earshot. "StarClan sent me a message."
"What?" I asked, lowering my voice to match hers.
"I got a message from Tortoiseheart. He said that you should go to the Moonpool tonight."
My brow furrowed. "What? Is… is that all?"
Goldenwing grimaced. "Messages from StarClan are usually skimpy on details. I'd say you're probably going to get more info tonight."
"Oh, so now I'm going to have to go," I muttered. "They just dropped a juicy squirrel knowing I'd have to pick it up."
Goldenwing nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I would recommend going tonight. The message must be important if you need to be at the Moonpool for it." She shrugged. "Anyway, I should get on with my duties. See you later." She began padding off across the clearing.
Suddenly remembering Sunkit and Amberwing's request, I called after her, "Wait a minute! I wanted to ask you something."
Goldenwing turned as I caught up to her. "What?"
"I… I was going to perform an apprentice ceremony at sunhigh for Amberwing's kits. I was wondering how you would feel about Sunkit becoming your apprentice?"
Goldenwing blinked, appearing to consider it for a moment. "Yeah, sure. He'd be a good apprentice." She smiled at me, then glanced across the clearing to where Sunkit and his littermates had exited the nursery. "I'd enjoy working with him."
After a moment of watching the pale ginger kit, she started walking again, heading toward the camp entrance. I watched her tail flick out of sight, then turned toward my kits and bounded across the frozen ground toward them.
"Sootstar!" Wolfkit cried in welcome.
"That's it! He can be the badger!" Sagekit bounced over toward me on the tips of her toes, just like Willowkit had done earlier.
"We're playing Badger," Sagekit explained, rolling her eyes toward Willowkit. "Only someone doesn't want to take her turn at being Badger."
Willowkit huffed angrily. "Just because I don't want you to flatten the air out of my lungs doesn't mean I don't want to be Badger!"
Hoping to avoid an argument, I chipped in. "RrrrRAUWR!" I crouched, stumping my paws into a wider stance and letting one side of my mouth hang limply, exposing a row of sharp teeth. Narrowing my eyes, I shuffled forward, nosing Sagekit hard. "Badger… angry! ThunderClan evil! Badger drive out nasty cats!"
Sagekit squealed with laughter as she tumbled backward. Before she'd regained her balance, a fuzzball shoved its way in front of my muzzle.
"Don't touch her!" Shadekit growled. "I, Shadeclaw, warrior of ThunderClan, will protect my Clan!"
I let a strand of drool hang from my lips. "Badger… Badger ANGRY!" I heaved a slow, badly aimed blow at Shadekit and he dodged easily with a short laugh of exhilaration. Just as I advanced on him, I felt a set of claws digging into the fur between my shoulders. I swung my head back and forth, trying to see who had attacked me, only to feel Wolfkit leap on me from the front, hanging onto my ears.
Roaring again, I shook Wolfkit off and stamped around, shaking my body, though not hard enough to properly dislodge her. She might go flying and get hurt.
Squealing, Willowkit hung on, crouching to merge her body weight more with mine. She was quickly joined by her sister, who clawed her way up to the back of my neck. "Try to shake me off, Sootstar!" she challenged me.
"RrrRAUWR!" I growled again, rearing up into the air. My daughters shrieked in glee and burrowed farther into my fur. As I landed back on all fours, Wolfkit and Shadekit scrambled up too.
"Badger ride!" Wolfkit shouted.
"Badger ride? You sure?" I asked, returning to my normal voice temporarily.
"Yeah!" Shadekit meowed, hunkering down behind Willowkit, who nodded eagerly.
"Badger ride!" Sagekit crowed triumphantly, keeping her position at my neck.
"All right, if you're sure!" I growled again and lunged suddenly forward, lurching around the camp with my kits laughing on my back. I almost laughed myself, but managed to keep in character, staggering around the clearing. I loved spending time with my kits. It felt almost like traveling back in time to play with Cinderkit and Rainkit.
The sun had barely crested the tops of the pine trees when I burst back into the camp, my flanks heaving, the dawn patrol spilling in behind me. I grinned over my shoulder at them. "Good job keeping up," I congratulated Brightpaw, the newest apprentice.
She smiled back at me, but didn't reply as she followed her mentor, Frozenwhisker, into the center of camp.
"I do believe I almost beat you this time," Mistheart meowed as she approached from behind me, grinning as she slowly recovered her breath.
"Oh please," I scoffed good-naturedly. "You barely beat Brightpaw!"
Mistheart laughed as we made our way over to the fresh-kill pile. I glanced over its contents quickly: a couple birds, three mice, and a rather old-looking frog I remembered seeing last night. Inwardly shrugging, reflecting that it was only going to get older, I scooped up the frog and made my way over to my favorite eating place beside the old tree stump. Mistheart joined me with a mouse.
After both of us had taken a few bites, Mistheart looked at me appraisingly, chewing thoughtfully on one of her mouse's legs. "You know, our Clan's pretty small. Much smaller than the other Clans."
I swallowed. "We're getting larger," I pointed out. "Morningear just had her kits, in case you'd forgotten." I nudged Mistheart teasingly. "You know, in case you'd forgotten your daughter had kits."
Mistheart didn't smile. "Morningear is so young. I'm a little worried she's having kits this early."
"She had time to get to know Tanglefur. She seems like she's happy with him, and so far she seems to be a good mother."
"I guess." Mistheart took another bite of mouse. "It's normal to be worried, though, isn't it?" she asked, her voice suddenly intense and a little nervous.
"Although I guess I shouldn't ask you," Mistheart said wryly, "oh ye who never had kits."
I shrugged and took a bite of my frog. It honestly didn't taste that old.
"I really thought you had something going with Foxtooth for a while there." Mistheart paused for a moment, as though reconsidering her words. "Oh, um, I'm sorry. I guess that was a little insensitive."
"It's fine. Honest," I said. "We… I dunno. I guess we never really clicked. Foxtooth wanted to become mates, I could tell. Like, you know, actual mates, not just in theory. But then there was the battle and…" I shrugged. "I've never really wanted kits anyway."
"I…" Mistheart paused, giving me a sidelong, unreadable glance.
Mistheart was quiet for a moment. "I thought you might be grieving for longer, I guess."
I slowed my chewing, then stopped. Still holding my bite of frog in my mouth, I considered Mistheart. We'd grown closer in the moons since the battle, but I still wasn't quite sure she understood me. But then again, I didn't quite understand it myself. Why wasn't I still grieving?
Well, that was a lie. I was still grieving. Every time I thought of Foxtooth I was reminded of our journey to find RiverClan together. I'd hear his name in a conversation and remember the way he laughed with his mouth wide open, his tongue pooling behind a row of off-white teeth. I'd pass his grave while hunting and remember how he quietly accepted my pride, then started teasing me about it. Whenever I tasted the nutty flavor of a squirrel I was reminded of how it used to be his favorite fresh-kill.
For the first moon or so I teared up whenever I allowed myself to think of his death. But after that the tears just stopped coming. A couple times I'd tried to force them when I visited Foxtooth's grave, feeling like it would dishonor his memory if I didn't cry there, but after a couple times I realized he wouldn't have wanted me to fake-cry, even for him, and I stopped trying.
I swallowed my mouthful of frog. "I am. I just don't like to show it I guess."
Mistheart bit her lip. "But you can talk about him so easily. I just… I don't know. It seems a little odd to me I guess."
"Foxtooth wouldn't have wanted me to avoid talking about him just to save face," I said. "I'm still grieving, honest. I just… maybe we don't do it in the same way."
Mistheart glanced back down toward what was left of her mouse. "Yeah. I guess we don't."
We ate the rest of our meal in silence. I finished first and, after burying the tougher skin, I padded across the clearing toward where Sparrowtalon sat with Stormtuft.
The medicine cat had grown visibly older since the battle. I noticed a couple new gray hairs on his muzzle as I nodded to him before turning to Sparrowtalon. "I'm free to go on a hunting patrol this afternoon if you need extra warriors."
Sparrowtalon blinked gratefully at me. "Thank you," he meowed. "Yes, I think you'll definitely be needed." He sighed for a moment, gazing across the clearing. "We're getting short on warriors."
"That's what Mistheart said," I muttered, following his gaze. Beside the apprentices' den, Brightpaw was practicing her hunting crouch.
"Only one apprentice," Sparrowtalon remarked. "And several aging warriors."
"You're not aging," I insisted. "You don't have a single gray hair yet!"
"I meant Frozenwhisker and Dewcloud, but yes, I suppose Mistheart and I are also getting on in years."
"Morningear's kits will soon be apprentices," I pointed out.
"If almost six moons is soon, I'll agree with you."
I sighed, plopping myself down beside the toms. "Well, what do you expect me to do? Insist we all go on a mass breeding spree?"
Sparrowtalon barely contained his snort. "Um, no, I wasn't going to insist that. Morningear might get a little annoyed if the nursery gets too crowded."
"Yeah," I smiled, glancing over at the nursery.
"I believe the two of you casually failed to mention my name in this conversation of aging warriors," Stormtuft meowed, raising his eyebrows.
"You're not a warrior, though," Sparrowtalon pointed out.
"Neither are you."
Sparrowtalon rolled his eyes. "I'm basically a warrior. I'm just given a couple extra responsibilities."
"Which makes you more important to the Clan's survival than a mere warrior. Without a deputy the Clan would dissolve into bickering every time a new leader would have to be chosen." He turned back to face me. "Anyway, I meant to talk to you this morning, Cinderstar, but by the time I woke up you'd already left on the dawn patrol. I received a message for you from StarClan."
"Why couldn't they have just sent the message to me?" I asked, furrowing my brow. "Seems like there'd be less chance of a misheard word if it was just sent directly to me."
Stormtuft rolled his eyes and lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "I have no idea. Maybe to get back into the rhythm of sending special messages primarily to medicine cats. We haven't had a prophecy in a long time, so StarClan hasn't gotten much of a chance to send us medicine cats messages. But you're supposed to go to the Moonpool tonight for some sort of ceremony, I believe."
"That's what I said."
"Oh, sorry, I was just, you know," I raised my eyebrows, "making sure I didn't mishear or anything."
Stormtuft prodded me with a paw. "Oh hush, you."
I laughed but didn't poke him back. Leaders weren't supposed to poke their medicine cats. I was sure it was in the warrior code somewhere. All leaders must refrain from poking their medicine cats, however difficult this may be.
Sparrowtalon got to his paws and let out a long yawn. "Mmm." He stretched luxuriously, then started across the clearing. "I'm going to go figure out patrols. Cinderstar, you're coming with me and Twigfur on a hunting patrol after sunhigh."
"Awesome." I nodded at him as he left, then turned back to Stormtuft, only to see him on his paws as well. "Oh no, are you leaving too? We were having such a good conversation!"
Stormtuft snorted. "I need to check on Morningear and her kits. If you want to keep talking you can come with."
"Oh, sure!" I fell into step beside him. "I haven't seen the kits yet, you know."
"You haven't?" Stormtuft looked surprised. "But they were born two sunrises ago. You haven't poked your nose in once?"
"I've been on patrols and such. I am Clan leader, after all."
Stormtuft sighed sarcastically. "Oh, sure, no need to rub it into all our faces."
"Hey, you chose to become a medicine cat!"
Stormtuft flashed a grin before lifting a paw to his mouth and whispering, "Shh… they might be sleeping."
"Oh, right." I lowered my voice and paused to let Stormtuft push his head through the entrance first.
He pulled it out after a heartbeat and meowed, "All good. They're awake," then continued inside. I quickly followed suit.
The nursery was a little cramped, but smelled lovely, like pine needles and warm milk. I breathed in the aroma for a moment, eyes shut, before blinking to adjust my eyes to the dim light and glancing around.
Morningear lay curled around her three kits in the next farthest from the entrance, likely to prevent drafts. She purred when she caught sight of me. "Hullo Cinderstar," she meowed softly. "I wondered when you'd come see me."
"Am I the last one?" I asked, picking my way past the two unoccupied nests, my paws brushing their scratchy, stale moss. The moment I noticed another pregnancy I'd have Brightpaw fix up a new one.
"I'm afraid so. Been busy?"
"Very." I crouched by the side of her nest and sniffed tentatively at the kits. "What are their names?"
"The brown tabby tom is Ratkit," Morningear meowed, rasping her tongue over the one closest to her muzzle. "The pale gray tom is Hopekit, and the she-kit is Streamkit."
"A RiverClan-esque name, I see." I smiled down at Streamkit.
"We thought it was only fitting, seeing as she's the only one to have inherited Tanglefur's long fur."
"They're adorable," I purred. "You must be so proud."
"Oh, I am!" Morningear glanced up at Stormtuft, who had just sat up after examining the kits. "They're all healthy?"
"Healthy and growing well," Stormtuft reported. "They're all strong for their age. I must say…" He hesitated a moment, then continued. "I must say I was a little worried, you being so young and all. But they seem to be in perfect health."
"Seem to be?" Morningear asked nervously.
"They are in perfect health. My mistake," Stormtuft said quickly. "I didn't mean to worry you."
"It's fine. As long as they're healthy I'm not worried." She leaned over, smoothing down a tuft of fur on Hopekit's head.
I considered Morningear for a moment. "Why did you decide to have kits so early?" I asked as Stormtuft turned to make his way out of the den.
"Hmm?" Her yellow eyes blinked up at me through the half-light. "Oh… I don't know. It just felt right. And now I have three beautiful little kits." She smiled lovingly down at them.
"You don't mind not being a warrior for so long?" I pressured.
"Well, I didn't experience being a warrior for long enough to really enjoy it. Once my kits become apprentices, I'll be able to experience being a warrior for the first time. That way I don't have a chance to miss it."
I shrugged. "I guess that makes sense." I got to my paws, turning toward the entrance. "I'll see you later. Congratulations again on your kits."
"Thank you." Morningear returned my smile and I slipped back through the entrance. Narrowing my eyes against the bright light, I made my way toward Sparrowtalon. I should probably go out on another patrol or something.
"Are you sure you'll be fine?" I nervously circled Aspensplash's nest, brushing my tail over her nose, past her shoulders, down her spine, along her tail, over the sleeping forms of the two newborn kits at her belly, and back over her hose again.
Aspensplash poked her nose hard into my hind leg as I passed her head for the umpteenth time. "Yes. And quit circling me, you're making me nervous!"
"Sorry." I contained myself with difficulty to merely kneading the ground, my claws working anxiously at the ground. "But…"
"But what? This is StarClan, Rainstar, you can't just ignore them!"
"I'd give up a hundred meetings with StarClan if you wanted," I said earnestly, brushing my muzzle against the tip of her ear.
She briefly closed her eyes at my touch, letting out a soft purr. "But I don't want," she meowed softly. "You need to go figure out what StarClan wants you to know. And don't you dare come back until you know."
I rolled my eyes. "Like you'd be able to tell."
"Hey." Aspensplash gave me a hard stare. "Trust me. I'd know."
"Okay. If you're sure."
I glanced down at the two kits, lying curled on top of each other in the soft moss. Elmkit sprawled on his back, showing off his mixed coloring—light gray from me and white patches from Aspensplash. Silverkit lay with her chin resting on his belly, her lighter gray stripes outlined in the light of the rising moon against her darker gray fur.
"I just…" I bit the inside of my cheek, hesitating. "I just don't want to leave you so soon. I mean, they're only a day old."
Aspensplash swiped at me with a paw, laughing. "What do you think's gonna happen? We're inside a thorny den with an entrance barely big enough for an adult cat to get through, inside another barrier of reinforced thorny bushes, guarded day and night by trained warriors. It's not like a fox could just casually wander in!"
I laughed. "Yeah, I guess you're right." I pressed my muzzle between her ears and she twisted her head around like her neck was a snake to give my cheek a quick lick. "I'll be back before dawn," I promised.
"If I'm sleeping don't you dare wake me up."
"I won't, I promise." I headed slowly for the entrance, looking back over my shoulder at her. "See you tomorrow," I whispered.
"Love you," she smiled.
"Love you too."
I walked straight into the wall of the nursery and stumbled backward, blinking a couple times in confusion. A purr echoed from the other side of the nursery and I twisted around to see Lightwing curled around her single kit, Brightkit. The gold and white of the little kit's fur contrasted strongly with her mother's light brown tabby tail.
"…where you're going," Aspensplash finished hopelessly. "Honest, Rainstar, how many times do I need to remind you to keep your eyes forward?"
"I guess you'll just have to walk in front of me for the rest of my life," I joked, trying to cover up my embarrassment. At least only my mother and mate saw that. "I can't seem to keep my eyes off of you."
"Aww, so sweet." Aspensplash gave me slightly sarcastic kitten eyes before shooing me onward with a flick of her tail. "Go on, you'll keep StarClan waiting."
I set a fast pace through the moor and, following the SkyClan-WindClan border until I found the stream, I headed for the Moonpool. The gray rocks had been spattered with icy, sky-clear water, and though I slotted my paws firmly into imperfections in their surfaces, I still almost slipped several times. Either because of my concentration or due to the blasting wind, I didn't notice the scents of Cinderstar and Sootstar until I reached the top of the hill and looked down into the Moonpool.
"Rainstar!" Sootstar greeted me with an affectionate nuzzle as I joined him and Cinderstar in the inch or so of lingering snow around the Moonpool. "How are you? How are things in WindClan?"
"Great," I purred, beaming. "Guess what? Guess what?"
"What?" Cinderstar looked vaguely amused. "Oh wait, no, let me guess. Your kits were born."
"No way. Really?" Sootstar stared at me, his eyes wide.
"Yeah!" I had to restrain myself from bounding into the air in excitement.
"That's awesome! Congrats!" Sootstar head-butted my shoulder, sending me almost staggering into the Moonpool.
As I regained my balance I heard Cinderstar mutter under her breath, "The one sure way to turn a tom into a kit again is for him to have kits of his own."
"First Sootstar, then me," I purred. "Who's going to be next?" I looked pointedly at Cinderstar. She shrugged and changed topics.
"So did you all get the same message? To meet here for a ceremony?"
"A ceremony?" Sootstar blinked. "I didn't hear about a ceremony."
"I did," I meowed. "Maybe they just forgot to tell Goldenwing?"
"Maybe. What do you think it's for?"
"Maybe we should actually, you know, visit with StarClan. Now that we're all here, anyway." Cinderstar stared directly at me and I wondered if she just said that to get back at me. Probably. I accidentally-on-purpose trod on her tail as I settled between her and Sootstar.
"Wait," Sootstar said suddenly, "what about the other leaders? Do you think Mossystar and Rockstar are also coming?"
I hesitated, staring up the path, my gaze following its spiraling track around the hollow. "I didn't see any sign of Rockstar on my way here," I said uncertainly.
"Mossystar wouldn't dare be late," Cinderstar assured Sootstar. "If she were coming she'd be here by now."
"I guess it's just us then," Sootstar murmured. We exchanged a glance and I got the feeling we were all thinking about the same tom. Ashthorn.
My mind briefly flashed back to the battle, to Dawnshine's face twisted in hatred as Ashthorn grinned behind her, to all five leaders standing on the Highledge, staring down at the Clans, to Lightwing's tense face as I told her what had happened, her terse nod of acceptance and my sigh of relief, to Aspensplash and our moonlit walk that night, to our adrenaline-packed, muffled laughs as we almost disrupted another lakeside venture, our constant shushes as we backed away from Lightwing and Hyperion.
I shook my head to clear it. "But he vanished. He dissolved into smoke, remember? How could it be about him?"
"Then why were the other leaders not invited to this party?" Sootstar asked in a low voice.
I had no answer to that, and neither apparently did Cinderstar. After a moment more of silence, she twisted her lips into an expression reading I don't know, shrugged again, and turned toward the water of the Moonpool. "I guess let's find out."
Sootstar and I lined up around the outside of the Moonpool, one on either side of her. I watched my brother and sister out of the corner of my eye to make sure we all drank at about the same time, barely noticing the taste as I swallowed a small mouthful of water.
The soporific effect was immediate. I blinked several times, my knees turning to feathers, staggering back from the water so I wouldn't accidentally fall in and drown. I collapsed in a heap amongst the rocks, my eyes slipping behind the waterfalls of my eyelids, drowning in the sudden darkness.
The waterfalls dried up and I came to in a dark, empty clearing. I quickly glanced at my paws and my heart lurched painfully as I saw I lay on what looked like a layer of solid air. Below me stretched the world with river stones for mountains and moss for forests. I quickly checked my shoulders for wings, but to my great relief found none.
Cinderstar got slowly to her paws, staring downward. She took a tentative step forward, her toes reaching for another foothold. They pressed against something flat. She tested her weight, then slammed her paw hard against the ground. I heard Sootstar give a slight gasp, but the air or whatever it was held. In a couple of heartbeats, Cinderstar had begun prancing around us, spinning in circles and laughing. "Come on, Sootstar! Get up! It's perfectly safe!"
I glanced over at my brother. He huddled in exactly the same position he'd arrived in, eyes wide and pupils dilated, shrinking into himself. Remembering his fear of heights, I shifted over toward him and pressed myself against his flank. "It's fine," I assured him. "Honest. You're in StarClan, what can hurt you here?"
"I thought… there'd be a ground," Sootstar muttered in a weak sort of voice. He laughed, his voice strained and too high.
As soon as he stopped talking, wisps of darkness began converging beneath our paws. Cinderstar, grinning like an apprentice, batted at them, chasing them across the invisible barrier, keeping to the solid air as long as possible before the wisps thickened into an opaque platform. She sighed in disappointment, but returned almost immediately to Sootstar and me.
Stars began emerging in the distance, blinking into view one at a time, slowly growing thicker and thicker. I twisted around and saw the bright lights advancing from all sides, closing in around the three of us. I wondered if I'd see anyone I knew, anyone who had died because of Nightstar or Ashthorn.
As the lights grew closer, they began to look more like cats than stars, with translucent, star-spangled fur, four paws, and tails. I touched my tail against Sootstar's as they grew closer, then Cinderstar's on my other side, standing firmly on my own paws. We waited in silence as the cats moved as though mostly floating, some dropping back into the mass of faces, leaving room for others in the front circle.
"Sootstar," a soft voice called.
"Cinderstar," came a deeper tone, a tom's voice. For some reason I thought I almost recognized it, but it wasn't quite the same.
"Rainstar." Mine seemed more familiar, though I still couldn't quite place it. I sifted through my memory, wondering who it could have been.
Three cats stepped forward. The first, a pale gray she-cat, stopped in front of Sootstar. My tail bristled as I recognized her pale blue eyes, but as my gaze roved down her body I hesitated. She didn't have Dawnshine's faint tabby markings. Was this, perhaps, her sister?
The second I recognized immediately. It was quite obviously Foxtooth. I smiled to myself as he pressed his muzzle briefly against Cinderstar's cheek and she stepped forward, returning the pressure affectionately.
The third made my limbs freeze in shock for a moment, though I didn't know why. Of course she'd come to see me. Why should I be surprised? But it still felt strange to see Silverdapple again after all these moons.
"Rainstar," she murmured, dipping her head to me. I returned the gesture, scarcely knowing what else to do. "You… you named your daughter after me."
"I—" My voice croaked. I coughed and tried again. "I know. Yeah." I licked my lips nervously. "Um, Aspensplash didn't mind. She said it was good to remember those who died in the battle for peace."
"She didn't take it as a sign you still loved me?" Silverdapple wasn't looking at me.
"StarClan cats can't take mates," I murmured. "Yeah? And… and she knows I love her."
Silverdapple looked up at me with a smile, though I couldn't tell whether it was forced or not. I desperately wished it to be genuine. "Good," she meowed. "I'm glad. You two deserve a happy life together."
"Th—thank you." I dipped my head again, still at a loss for what to do. I glanced around at Foxtooth, but he and Cinderstar appeared to be deep in a personal conversation and I didn't want to intrude. My attention turned toward Sootstar and his visitor.
"So… Dawnshine. What happened to her?"
The gray she-cat, who I assumed to be Featherpaw, glanced over her shoulder at the surrounding crowd. "She was sent to the Dark Forest," she said quietly. "I… I watched them do it. Bluestar and Firestar and Yellowfang… all the old heroes. They do most of the deciding."
"Oh." Sootstar paused, then closed his eyes. "Good. It's what she deserves."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess so." Featherpaw bit her tongue, looking at Sootstar uncertainly for a moment. "But… but do you still miss her? I mean—I mean… I guess I don't want to be the only one missing her."
"I miss the cat she used to be," Sootstar said softly. "Before… But I mean, I guess I never knew her then. I only met her after you died."
Featherpaw pressed her muzzle against his cheek briefly, a gesture of comfort more than anything. "She hid it well for a long time," she whispered. "Even I couldn't see the difference. I thought she was back to normal long after I joined StarClan."
"What did you do after you realized she'd changed?" Sootstar's eyes flew open again and he pulled away from Featherpaw's touch. "Did you try anything?"
Featherpaw blinked, looking a little hurt. "Of course I did! What do you think, I sat up here on my rump and didn't even try to help my own sister? I came to her in dreams, but after I realized that was doing more harm than good, I tried getting to her through other cats." She shook her head sadly. "After Ashthorn caught her, she wouldn't listen. I tried everything."
Sootstar looked away. "Yeah. Okay. I'm sorry."
"It's fine." Featherpaw looked away for a moment, taking a deep breath. "She… she loved you, you know. You helped her hold on much longer than she would've otherwise."
Sootstar squeezed his eyes shut. He opened his mouth, but apparently couldn't think of anything to say and clenched his teeth again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cinderstar step back into her original position, gazing sadly at Foxtooth. He held her gaze for a moment, then turned and followed Featherpaw and Silverdapple into the crowd again. The trio disappeared from sight.
For a heartbeat, no one stepped forward. Then a cloud of stardust began trickling out from between the legs of a few unfamiliar cats. They stepped aside swiftly, though the crowd appeared too thick for easy movement, to make a path for the silhouettes of four cats. I squinted at them, but the cloud of dust was too thick to make out their features. They began walking forward, slowly and dramatically. I snorted to myself.
Their faces came into view at about the same time. My eyes flicked across them, taking in the black tom, the brown tabby tom, the gray she-cat, and the ginger tabby tom. They approached us, lining up to speak.
"Do you know who we are?" the black tom asked, his voice a strong yet oddly high-pitched tone.
"Erm…" I stared from face to face, working my claws nervously in whatever substance lay below my feet. Beside me, I felt Cinderstar shrug.
"Um, old leaders?" Sootstar guessed. He directed his question toward the black tom, but I noticed his eyes stayed fixed on the gray she-cat. Maybe it was her fur, but I felt the same way; she seemed the most familiar out of all the leaders.
"Very good," the brown tabby said, looking impressed. "Do you know which old leaders?"
Sootstar set his teeth, thinking, but shrugged hopelessly.
"I am Bramblestar," he said, his voice a low rumble. "Does that give you a hint?"
I gasped. The leaders' eyes turned toward me. "You were the last leaders before the peace ended!" I stared from cat to cat. "You're Reedstar," I said to the black tom. "You're Ashstar. And you're Rowanstar."
"Correct," the she-cat nodded. "Besides Reedstar, the three of us were the last leaders of the Clans before you."
"Reedstar just had to be the special flower," Rowanstar muttered.
Reedstar laughed. "Hey, my Clan ended up doing much better than yours, I might point out."
"Anyway," Bramblestar interrupted, "we've come with a message and a gift. Shall I do the honors?"
"If you insist," Ashstar shrugged. She fixed the three of us with a penetrating stare. "But know this is coming from all four of us, not just Bramblestar."
Bramblestar sat down and the other leaders followed his lead. "Sootstar, Rainstar, and Cinderstar, you have done much for the Clans. You led them for many moons. You brought all five back together around the lake. You defeated both Nightstar and Ashthorn to bring peace to the forest at last, then learned to work together to finally end the fighting. It wouldn't surprise me if prosperity blesses the five Clans for lifetimes after all you have done.
"Because of this, the four of us would like to recognize you officially as Clan heroes. The names of Sootstar, Cinderstar, and Rainstar will be repeated for generations alongside those of Firestar, Lionblaze, Jayfeather, Dovewing, and the other greats. We and all of StarClan honor you."
The leaders dipped their heads toward us, quickly followed by the rest of StarClan. I glanced around briefly, then stared at my paws, feeling my fur growing hot. Sootstar didn't move beside me, taking it all in stoically, but Cinderstar leaped to her paws and spun around, drinking in the attention. "They're honoring us," she hissed in my ear, excitement vibrating underneath her voice. "All of StarClan! This… this is… wow."
"Yeah," I murmured.
After several more long heartbeats, heads began popping up. The first few, after seeing so many other cats with heads down, quickly ducked back into the crowd, but as more and more looked around, they started keeping their chins up. The four leaders at the front looked up last.
"We also have a gift for you three," Bramblestar continued. "Technically, Mossystar and Rockstar should be included in this, but seeing as they aren't also legends, we figured it would be best to just present this to you."
He glanced sideways at his fellow leaders. "I feel like I'm stealing all the attention. Ashstar, how about you finish?"
Ashstar rolled her eyes and muttered, "Uh huh, sure, leave just the last for the rest of us," but nodded anyway. Fixing the three of us with the same piercing gaze she'd used before, Ashstar meowed, "Usually the previous leader symbolically gives leadership of the Clan and the territory to the new leader at their nine lives ceremony. Ashthorn was meant to transfer this to you, but I believe we all can agree he never was a true leader of the Clans.
"Therefore, it is our duty as the most recent leaders to formally relinquish our territories to you. Rainstar," she stepped toward me, pressing her nose hard against my forehead, "I give you control of WindClan territory. Lead my former Clan well."
I closed my eyes at her touch. As the last word left her lips, weaving into my fur, I felt a slight breeze rush through my fur, flattening it briefly. I glanced downward and saw the outline of muscles like Sootstar's, usually hidden under my fluff. The sight of them made me grin, and once I started it was impossible to stop. I felt like a leader. An actual, legit leader.
Ashstar stepped back, as did Bramblestar and Rowanstar on either side of me, the wind dying away again. I stood proudly between my littermates, my chin raised, looking out at the whole of StarClan as they began chanting our names, their voices filling the air. I shut my eyes again, and for a heartbeat, I was able to step into Cinderstar's paws.
This feels really cool.
I'm a leader.
I am Rainstar, leader of WindClan. Welcome to my Clan.
I am one with the wind and the sky. The moors are my home. I run with the rabbits and sleep under the stars.
I am the leader of WindClan.
Hello, my name is Rainstar.
When I blinked open my eyes again, I lay once more by the Moonpool. Beside me, Sootstar and Cinderstar were also stirring.
"Urgh," Cinderstar grunted, propping herself up on her forepaws and scrunching up her face.
"Wow." Sootstar blinked several times, glancing around.
"Seriously." I glanced upward at the dark sky, covered with a thick bank of clouds.
"So…" Cinderstar looked from Sootstar to me and back again. "What happens now? Do we just go back to our Clans and lead them the way we've been doing for two moons now?"
I bit my lip. "Well… maybe not exactly the way we have been. We officially own the territories now. We're going to go down in Clan history."
I flicked my tail. "So? Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Is it supposed to?"
"It does to me." I blinked, looking down at my paws, kneading my toes into the snow.
"I guess we can lead more confidently," Sootstar suggested, coming over to stand beside us. "Now that we have StarClan's respect. We led fine before, but… it's like we have confirmation that we're doing a good job."
Cinderstar snorted to herself, but shrugged all the same. "I suppose so." She got to her paws, heading toward the path leading up out of the Moonpool hollow. "Come on, it's almos—" She stopped, staring down at my paws.
"What?" I glanced downward, following her gaze. Poking between the claws on my right forepaw was a flash of bright green. I lifted my paw and it was revealed to be a tiny green bud, a baby flower.
"It's the first leaf of Newleaf," Sootstar murmured, bending down to nose it, brushing his muzzle gently against the flower. "I haven't seen a green this bright since the beginning of Leaffall."
Cinderstar joined us, staring down at the fragile stem. "Do you know what this means?" she asked quietly. I met her gaze as she glanced from Sootstar to me. "Newleaf is coming. We survived Leafbare."
Sootstar bowed his head, a smile breaking out across his face. "The Clans will survive."
I brushed the tips of my ears against Cinderstar's and Sootstar's, softly purring once. I seemed to be filling up with a warm liquid as it spilled from my chest into my paws and tail, pouring through my body like adrenaline.
"Congratulations, brothers," Cinderstar laughed. "We're legends. We've brought peace to the lake at last."
I guess this is it. A New Rise, affectionately called the "Misty series," is now officially over. Wow. I actually kind of can't believe it. This series has been a part of my life, though maybe not an active one all the time, for about one and a half years. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty insane. I have no idea how I stuck with the idea this long.
I remember when I decided to write it-I was super bored one summer afternoon and got a random cool idea for three characters, so I typed them up on a note on my iPod, as well as their parents. Then, with a sudden burst of motivation, I switched to a new note and started writing the first chapter. Then I kinda sorta ended up with the first nine chapters and thought to myself, "Hey, this could actually go somewhere." And look at how far it's come.
I have been asked by a bunch of people whether or not I will be writing anything else, possibly even another book/series centering around the trio's kits. I'm afraid I'm not going to do that, partially because I don't believe in making main characters into parents (it has a nasty habit of turning them into flat characters ;-;) and partially because I actually have another idea I really want to write.
I didn't make Rowanstar have such a large role in this chapter, even though I felt bad about giving him only one line of dialogue, purely because I unintentionally stole his name for one of the main characters of this next book. It's going to be an extra-long standalone, I've decided, centering around two kits named Ivykit and Rowankit who were abandoned in the Twolegplace. I'm not going to say anything else here, because I'd love it if you read the FFN and saw for yourself what happens, but know that I'm super excited about it and will hopefully find more time to write in the coming weeks as some of my real-life responsibilities start decreasing.
But I'm getting way off topic. Back to Misty one last time.
What I really want to do most of all is say thank you, thank you, thank you so incredibly much to every single one of you. Whether you left me one review or reviewed every single chapter and did a buttload of fanart, you had a part in helping me finish this series. This is a major point in my life, the first time I've stuck with an idea long enough to turn it into a series, and it wouldn't have been possible without every single one of you. I hear regularly from many of you that I inspire you, but honestly, that inspiration goes both ways. I probably would've stopped writing partway through the first book if not for your support. You inspire me every single day to write and do what I love, and without you there would be no Misty series.
I'm literally shaking with adrenaline as I write this. Is that a bad thing? XD Probably not. Anyway, I have one last shoutout to give. Thank you with all my heart to Leafy ( , previously known as Leafsplash-of-ThunderClan). I remember clearly the PM I sent her just when I was considering whether or not to stick with this idea, back when my only reviewer was Queen Eradrin, asking her how she was able to get so many people to read her series, Blue Moon. She suggested I start replying to reviews and offered (very generously, I don't know how I can thank her enough for this) to recommend my story to her readers. This series has kept growing ever since. Thank you so much, Leafy!
I believe this is about it for my last author's note, seeing as I can't think of much else to write. Thank you again to every single one of you, because if you read this note it most likely means you've read the series, or at least most of it, and supported me through it. You all are amazing, incredible people, and you should never forget it because the world needs more people like you. 3 If you want, you can write/draw fan stuff. I've done what I can with this story, and now I open it up to all of you. If you want to write a series around Sootstar's, Rainstar's, and Lightwing's kits, I would love to read it.
Love you all. Thanks a million. If you follow me as an author I believe you will get a notification when I post the first chapter of Take Flight. :) I'll see you around.