The wailing shriek flashed through my dreams, startling me awake. Flattening my ears, trying to ignore the sound I curl up tighter and try to get back to sleep. But the screams simply don't stop so I sit up and look around the darkened den. All of the other warriors I can see are awake, murmuring together or simply watching the entrance to the bush that hides us from the rest of the camp. I slink over to where my best friends Cindersplash and Rainshadow are sitting in silence near the entrance.
"What's going on?" I mutter, squeezing myself between them. "Moonpoppy's kitting. But I think something's gone wrong…" Cindersplash trails off, pressing herself against me, whether for my comfort or hers, I don't know. We sit in silence for moment, each lost in our own thoughts.
Suddenly Kestrelclaw, our deputy, looms up behind us. "What are you three doing just sitting around here? Go bring some fresh-kill to the elders then make sure the apprentices have something to do, preferably out of the camp, this tense atmosphere is killing them," she hisses. Bowing our heads dutifully we creep out of the bush, me bringing up the rear, but not before I hear Kestrelclaw sigh "It's killing us all…"
Kestrelclaw may come over as a very strict and stuck up cat, but we all know she only cares about her Clan, just in a slightly different way. She is a very able deputy and keeps us all in order when Sunstars bad memory gets us confused. All I know is she gets the very best out of us with her harsh words and that she really is a rather gentle nature, underneath the gruffness.
Outside the warm den the drizzly rain clings to my fur as I hurry after the others to the meagre fresh-kill pile. Scooping up a plump mouse I turn and head towards the elders den, sheltered beneath an overhanging oak tree. Ducking into the small entrance I drop the mouse in front of Heatherfall and the sleeping Willowstorm, then move out of the way so Rainshadow can squeeze past me to give his squirrel to Patchpuddle and Silverfang, who are sharing tongues in the furthermost corner of the small den. Once Cindersplash is inside too it gets really cramped so I squeeze back out into the chilly night.
Moonpoppy is still shrieking as I make my way towards the apprentices' den, a large, overgrown, mouldy tree stump, hollowed out by seasons of use. Behind me Rainshadow and Cindersplash take their leave of the elders and hurry to my side as I peer into the stump.
Four pairs of frightened looking eyes stare back at me and Blackpaw, still almost a kit, whimpers, "Is someone attacking us?" "If they are, I'll kill them all!" Wildpaw snarls defiantly, but his eyes still show his fear.
I think he said that to seem brave in front of Mistpaw, the pretty silver cat and only female apprentice, but all of us can smell the fear radiating off all four of them, they are after all, still very young and have no battle experience, Rockpaw, the eldest, having been an apprentice for only two moons.
"No everything is fine; we're here to get you out of here." Cindersplash says softly. "But I don't want to flee! I'll stay and defend the camp, I will!" Wildpaw growls.
My small amount of patience, worn thin by lack of sleep and the tenseness around us, snaps. "There is no fighting alright! Go out and have a look is you dare, but then you do as we say! You understand?" I hiss at the bundle of mottled brown fur that seems to shrink under my onslaught. "Yes Icefire." He mutters and slowly slinks out of the den.
Cindersplash whispers a few calming words to the frightened apprentice as he passes her. She is always so kind, never raising her voice or hurting anyone if she doesn't have too. She would have made a good medicine cat, but our current one seems to think he is fine without a successor. As the other cats file out, Mistpaw purrs "Thanks for that. He was really getting on my nerves." I laugh at that, then follow her twitching tail out of the den.
Rainshadow has taken the lead and calls back to me, "I was thinking of taking them hunting." I nod and watch sadly as he bounds towards Cindersplash and whispers something in her ear. She giggles. Jealousy wells up inside me.
We three have always been best friends; since we were kits we were inseparable unless ordered to. But since Rainshadow and I became warriors half a moon ago and Cindersplash shortly afterwards, Rainshadow has been showing a different affection for her. While with me they behave no differently, but I'm not blind. I see the look he gives her when he thinks she's not looking and vice versa.
I cannot deny my own feelings for Rainshadow. I have liked him for quite a while. He is the only decent tom in the Clan. The others may be nice and all but they're not the same.
I am pulled out of my thoughts by a sharp voice calling me. Looking around I realize the others have left while I was thinking and that Catnip, the medicine cat, is calling from the nursery. "Icefire, get me more cobwebs, quick!" For a moment I simply stare at the grey tabby, then I race to the medicine cats den.
In the small clearing before the overhang of rock where Catnip sleeps and stores his herbs the other queens and the kits are sitting, whispering together and trying to shush the little ones. As I weave around them they ask questions I can't answer.
Once under the overhand I look around. The spicy smell of the herbs sting slightly in my nose as I find the cobwebs stacked on a large layer of leaves to stop them getting gritty. Remembering the last time I had been asked to get cobwebs and took them into my mouth, much to Catnips and my own dismay. This time I swipe at them with my tail and head back out.
Again the queens ask how it's going and this time I answer with a curt, "I'm sorry, I don't know." Back outside I hold my tail high so as not to get the cobwebs dirty. Rainshadow has reappeared in the camp entrance and bounds towards me as I walk to the nursery.
"Been asked to help?" he stops beside me. It's not really a question but I nod anyway, then tell him, "Go on, this might take a while, you know how he is." Rainshadow laughs, "Yeah, well I'll leave you to it," and he walks off. I still manage to get a good swipe at his hind legs for his comment and when he turns to get me back I'm already gone; on the way to the nursery with my tail, cobwebs still on the end, waving merrily.
Inside the nursery my halfway good spirits are gone immediately. It smells horribly of blood. Moonpoppy is writhing in pain in her nest, her once black and white fur covered in blood that's caked dark brown. The nest, which was once green moss has been shredded and scattered.
Catnip whisks around and snatches the cobwebs of my tail, accidentally pulling out a couple of hairs in the process. I hiss at the pain that momentarily lances down my tail, as Catnip presses the cobwebs to a long scratch on Moonpoppys fore leg, a wound she seems to have inflicted herself.
Catnip sends me back to his den for Ragwort leaves and then again for Raspberry leaves. I take ages finding the things because of Catnips inability to keep anything in order and my own inability to tell the silly leaves apart. three times he sends me back because I had brought the wrong thing and each time I get more hurried as I see Moonpoppys strength leaving her.
She has long stopped crying, but now I can hear every slow laboured breath getting weaker as I crouch in a corner, waiting for Catnips orders. Praying to StarClan for Moonpoppy, I wonder why Catnip chose me to help him. I have never been good with injured cats, lacking the patience and care. I was always more of a fighter or hunter than a queen. Catnip probably had no choice in the matter or he would have surely picked someone else.
At some point I ask Catnip what's gone wrong but he doesn't answer, either too busy to tell me or he doesn't know himself.
As I watch Catnip whispering soothing words in Moonpoppys ear, words she probably can't even hear, I find myself thinking that I will never have kits, ever!
By sunrise, Moonpoppy has passed to StarClan. She lies still next to three kits, two toms and a tiny queen. I am sure all of them are in the hands of StarClan with their mother, but Catnip checks them over routinely.
Suddenly he shoves one of the kits to me and tells me to lick. I do so, wondering if there really in and hope for her. After a while I slow down thinking there's no hope any way, but then she stirs slightly. I'm not even sure if it wasn't my imagination, but I keep going anyway.
Catnip pushes me aside and inspects the tiny bundle. "Please go to Sunstar and tell him what has happened." Catnip murmurs in between sniffs and licks. I am surprised. I have never heard Catnip saying 'please' to any cat. He is always so gruff. I guess the death of a comrade softens us all slightly.
Outside the nursery it has stopped raining. I hurry over to Sunstars den, nestled in the roots of a huge tree. I pause for a moment outside, not wanting to tell the old cat that his granddaughter has died.
"What is it?" he noticed me. I square my shoulders and enter. Sunstar is sitting in his nest, tail tip twitching slightly as he nods his head. I sit down opposite him. Opening my mouth I can't seem to get the words out. "What is it, Icepaw?" he prompts me.
"Err, Sunstar... I'm Icefire now. You made me a warrior half a moon ago." His memory loss seems to be getting stronger again. "Oh, yes yes. Now what is it you wanted to tell me?" He brushes my reminder aside.
I look at the floor, not wanting to meet his eyes, to see the pain. "It's about Moonpoppy." I mumble, "Her kitting didn't go so well." It's a wonder Sunstar can hear me at all.
"What has happened?" Sunstar gets to his feet hurriedly, albeit a little stiffly, I remain sitting, still not looking at him. "She has gone to join her ancestors."
I don't know where that sentence came from. Certainly not from me. Perhaps StarClan wishes to help me deliver this message to Sunstar with as little pain as possible. It would be understandable. Sunstar has already lost his mate, daughter and now, one of his granddaughters too.
He sits back down just as Catnip enters the den. "One kit has survived, Sunstar."
"I must see it." Sunstar gets back up, "Icepaw, Catnip. Please come with me." He leads the way out of the den, across the still empty camp and into the nursery.
Inside he crouches down and licks Moonpoppys head once, then turns to Catnip. "Where is the kit?" he demands. The cloudiness has gone from his eyes, a sign that he seems to be fully capable of remembering at the moment, if one is to believe Catnip.
The medicine cat pushes a pile of unspoiled moss apart to reveal the little kit. Her eyes are closed and she seems to be sleeping, the rise and fall of her chest barely visible. Sunstar touches the tip of his nose to her ear then straightens.
I creep closer to look at the little thing. She has completely black fur, except for two white splotches on each shoulder. I think they look like miniature flowers. They look similar to the marks on my own shoulders, only that my mother thought of them as snowflakes; earning my the name Icekit despite my otherwise gingery-golden fur.
"Icefire." "Yes Sunstar?" I look up. Sunstar has turned away from the kit at my paws and is already halfway out of the nursery. "You will be her new mother, as Moonpoppy is unable to care for her."
I stare at the entrance where Sunstar has disappeared and then at the kit sleeping in the nest, my mouth hanging open. This must be a bad joke! I can't take care of a kit. Sunstars completely lost it. So much for uncloudy eyes meaning he's thinking straight. I'll never listen to the medicine cat again!
Catnip is muttering something about giving big jobs to small cats as he grabs Moonpoppys scruff and starts pulling her out of the den. That coment dosen't help calm my ire either. I bare my fangs at the entrance hes just left.
When he returns for the two kits he adds, "You might want to start by naming her." I stare at the sleeping bundle and realise she is shivering. Deciding I don't want to stay in the bloody nursery, I pick her up and head out.
The clearing is already filling with cats as they come to pay their last respects to Moonpoppy and the two kits that they will never get to know. I keep to the shadows, not sure if I should be walking around with a new born kit.
Slipping into the warriors den I almost collide with Rainshadow, apparently back from his hunting trip. When he sees the kit in my mouth he exclaims "What are you doing with a kit out here? It should be with its mother!-" He is interrupted by a loud wail of grief. Turning we see Hailsong streak across the camp towards the body of her sister. I know they were very close.
Rainshadows gaze flicks from the distraught Hailsong, to the body Moonpoppy, to the kit still clamped in my jaws and a flicker of understanding passes over his face, replaced almost immediately by more questions.
I brush past him, flicking his shoulder with my tail, indicating for him to follow me. I head to my nest, set the kit in the middle and curl up around it, hoping that I'm not squashing her and look up at Rainshadow to see him looking at me strangely.
"You look weird with a kit." He states. "Thanks," I say dryly, "It wasn't my choice. Sunstar ordered me to be her new mother, seeing as Moonpoppy is..." He nods sadly.
"I'll be back in a sec." He says as he goes out, presumably to say goodbye to Moonpoppy. I stare down at the kit snuggling into my side and can already see the resemblance to her mother.
Rainshadow comes back followed by Cindersplash, who has a mouse in her mouth. She drops it at my paws, smiling at me warmly. "So, Sunstar told you to look after the remaining kit? What did he say? Have you named it yet? Do you know who the father is? Why-"
"Let her breathe Cindersplash, Icefire's probably forgotten half the questions already at the speed you're asking them." Rainshadow interrupted, chuckling.
"Yeah, but I want to know and Icefire doesn't mind. Do you?" she finished hopefully. I like this side of her. The side that wants to know every little detail and will stop at nothing to get it. As an apprentice she was always like this, any task she was given was seen as such and she drank in the words of her mentor Fuzzyfoot like a sponge. As she got older the thirst subsided as there was less for her to learn, but the inquisitiveness remained.
"No, I don't mind, but it would be good to talk a bit quieter, I don't want to wake her up," Uncurling my body to show them the kit. "And as for forgetting the questions, I'm not that old yet!" I shoot at Rainshadow, who flattens his ears and hisses playfully back.
"Now answer my questions." Cindersplash prods.
"Alright, does everyone know that I'm to look after her already?" Rainshadow shakes his head slowly. "I told Cindersplash and the others are all still with Moonpoppy so you have until tomorrow, I think. Unless someone sees her first."
That's good. That way I can get used to this myself, if only a little. I look at Cindersplash, who is about to burst if I don't tell her everything soon, looking back down at the kit by my side, I tell them everything, starting at the time Catnip called my away from our hunting trip with the apprentices. Rainshadow and Cindersplash listen silently, as if I was an elder and they the kits hearing the stories of the ancient cats or other heroes for the first time.
Once I've finished Cindersplash asks, "So the father is unknown?" I nod.
"And you're sure Sunstar meant that you should really take care of her, not just give her to one of the queens?" I nod again.
"He said I should be her new mother, and I can't understand that in any other way." I lower my voice and curl protectively around the bundle at my stomach as some of the senior warriors come back into the den, having said their fair wells to Moonpoppy. Thankfully we are in the shadows at the edge of the bush and go unnoticed. There are some good things about being a junior warrior; it is a lot easier to go unnoticed if you are at the edge of things, rather than in the middle.
Outside we can see Sunstar, his yellow pelt shining in the light from the rising sun, along with some of the other queens and warriors, holding their vigil at Moonpoppys side.
"You still need to name her." Cindersplash looks at me expectantly. I stare at her as her words sink into my mind. My head snaps around to look again at the little kit and then back to my friends, both waiting.
Seeing the kit snuggle into my side even more, I bend over her slightly. Staring at the white patches until my eyes blur I think about the happenings since last sun-down. Yesterday I would not have dreamed of being the mother of a kit, but here I was.
Still staring at the kit I don't notice Catnip entering the den and heading towards us. As he reaches us the kit stirs, still not opening her eyes and yawns. Mewling slightly she starts to sniff around, probably searching for milk, something I cannot give her.
Finally, having made my decision, I feel a purr rising in my chest as I say,