"Snowdawn? Snowdawn, please wake up!"
"Flamepool?" Snowdawn croaked, opening her eyes. She expected to hear the sounds of battle cries and see the night sky, or maybe even see a bunch of starry cats standing over her, but all she saw was the wall of a den.
"Where am I?"
"The medicine den," Flamepool answered. "You were hurt pretty badly. I thought...I thought you wouldn't make it..."
Snowdawn looked around the den. There were multiple cats in nests, some sleeping, some being simultaneously treated by Mallowfeather. They all looked beaten and battle worn with wounds covering their bodies. One of Sunheart's eyes was closed shut, four slash marks over it.
"The battle?" Snowdawn whispered. She tried to drag herself up, managing to pull up the front half of her body. She had to get back to fighting! MoonClan couldn't lose!
"Won." Flamepool meowed.
"...what?" Snowdawn frozen, looking at her sister in surprise.
Snowdawn turned her head to look at the den entrance. Faint morning light filtered through.
"The remaining ran after they saw Sootlife kill Lilacslash."
Flamepool nodded slowly. “And...there was nothing else I could do...I had to...Lilyfur. She’s dead, too...” Flamepool paused for a moment. “I had to stop her.”
Snowdawn studied her sister's expression. She was obviously trying to look hopeful, trying to convey that she was relieved that they were gone, but there was something deeper plaguing her, and it had nothing to do with Lilyfur.
"What happened?" Snowdawn demanded. Flamepool opened her mouth to answer, but it fell short. She visibly deflated and turned her head in the direction of a nest where a white, bloody cat lay.
"Moonstar..." Snowdawn whispered, her heart plummeting. She pulled herself to all four paws and slowly picked her way to the nest.
"Mother?" she whispered. Moonstar's eyes flew open. They were dull, almost lifeless.
"Snowdawn..." she wheezed. As Snowdawn inspected her mother's body, she saw a long gash across her stomach that went from the base of her neck to her back legs. It looked deep.
"Why does she not have cobwebs?" Snowdawn demanded.
"She refused," Flamepool answered, her voice shaking.
"Don't," Moonster mumbled. "You should have seen how much Mallowfeather has already used on me. It was a waste of cobwebs. She needs to use the on cats that will benefit."
"But...you'll bleed out!" Snowdawn cried.
"But it's your last life..."
"Snowdawn, I know." Moonstar began to purr, a weak one that gurgled in her throat.
"Mother..." Snowdawn buried her face in her mother's neck. "Please."
"I love you, Snowdawn,” she whispered slowly. “Now let me be. I want to sleep."
Snowdawn's throat seized up. If she went to sleep, she wouldn’t wake up. But Moonstar knew that, yet wanted to sleep anyway. It was a good way to die; peacefully in your dreams.
"I love you, too," Snowdawn whispered back. Moonstar's purr got a little louder, and she closed her eyes. The sisters stayed by her side until her breathing slowed and she was asleep.
"Where is Dayflight?" Snowdawn asked, breaking the silence that hung between them.
"Not in here? With Moonstar?"
"Mallowfeather won't let anybody in. It gets too crowded."
"She let you in," Snowdawn pointed out.
"You were waking up. She only allowed one cat to come in." Flamepool motioned outside with her tail. "Sootlife is outside organizing things, so I came."
"I'll go see him." Snowdawn pulled herself painfully to her paws.
"No, no, no!" Flamepool nudged her towards her nest. "Stay. We don't want you open in that wound again." She eyed Snowdawn's neck nervously.
Snowdawn sighed and dragged herself into her nest.
"He'll come later," Flamepool promised. She grabbed a mouse from a small pile in the corner and placed it next to Snowdawn. "Right now, your only job is to eat, rest, and get better."
Snowdawn watched Flamepool leave the den. She closed her eyes. Hungry as she was, she wasn’t too keep on finding out how how painful it would be to swallow. So she let herself succumb to sleep, trying to push away the worry that wormed in her gut over her mother.
Moonstar died that night.
Snowdawn was deep asleep, dreaming of absolutely nothing. It was a peaceful sleep, one that she wasn’t to keen to be woken from as abruptly as Flamepool decided was necessary. She was about to snap at her sister until she saw the distraught look on her face.
“What happened?” she whispered, her voice shaky. The medicine den was noticeably less crowded, the not as wounded cats having left once they were treated.
“It’s Moonstar,” Flamepool whispered back, choking on her words. “She’s...she’s dead, Snowdawn.”
Snowdawn’s eyes went wide and she hauled herself up instantly, ignoring the pain in her throat and all over her body. She wanted to go straight to Moonstar’s nest, but Moonstar was not there.
“She’s already in the clearing,” Flamepool explained. “She’s with the others...” She said the last words slowly, quietly, and Snowdawn’s heart sank. She pushed past Flamepool and through the entrance of the den, out into the clearing.
The camp was a wreck. The wall was a mess of sticks and leaves and littered with holes. Tufts of fur moved around in the light breeze and there were still spots of blood on the ground even though there were some warriors who were burying the spots in dirt. But the worst sight to see was the small gathering of cats in the center sharing tongues for the last time with their fallen clanmates, something they couldn’t have done the night before.
“Wait, Snowdawn!” Flamepool appeared behind her. “There’s...there’s something else.”
Snowdawn’s body tensed up as she saw the sympathetic look in her sister’s eyes.
“What? What is it?”
Flamepool paused, looking down at the ground. Her eyes closed for a moment before she took a breath and meeting Snowdawn’s eyes.
“Firepaw...he didn’t make it either.”
Snowdawn didn’t respond. She didn’t know how. Her apprentice was dead? No, he couldn’t be! Snowdawn turned away from Flamepool and slowly picked her way towards the group, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. She hadn’t thought about there being others besides Moonstar. As she approached, some cats spotted her and one moved out of the way so she could squeeze through.
A strangled cry escaped from Snowdawn’s throat. She knew what she was going to see, she knew that Moonstar and Firepaw were dead, but the sight of it made it all the more horrible.
Firepaw was by far the smallest of the dead, his brilliant apricot fur matted with blood. His jaws were parted, and there was a deep wound on the side of his neck. She buried her nose in the young tom cat’s neck, breathing in his scent. She couldn’t believe she’d failed him.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her breath stirring his fur and tickling her nose. Then she lifted her head and turned her attention to Moonstar.
She collapsed by her mother, burying her face into the leader’s fur. She didn’t even notice Dayflight when he settled down next to her, nor did she notice the other cats around her. All she cared about was her mother.
What was she going to do now that Moonstar was dead? She still had Flamepool and Daylight, and of course, she still had Sootlife, but it felt like there was a huge hole in her heart that couldn’t be filled.
The night passed quickly like that. Snowdawn thought she fell asleep, because the next thing she knew, Flamepool was nudging her softly. She raised her head, bleary-eyed and confused.
“They’re going to bury them.”
Snowdawn raised herself up and stepped back to watch Sparrowfeather lead a couple of warriors in picking up the bodies and dragging them carefully out of camp. As her fallen clan mates disappeared through the camp wall, she finally forced herself to see who they were.
She felt a sudden pang in her heart and a new wave of remorse. There was Graytail and Flamedsparks, both cats she never got to know very well, a decision she regretted deeply. And then Heatherpool, the sweet she-cat who had lost both her parents and her brother. And then, with her calico tail dragging along behind her in the dirt, there was Kindheart. Snowdawn felt a brush of fur against her side and looked up to find Sootlife standing next to her. His eyes were filled with a deep despair and pain, and Snowdawn reacted by leaning forwarding and pushing her muzzle into his neck fur.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. Like Heatherpool, he had nobody left. Even through all the things Lilacslash ever did, she knew that down deep in his heart, he still loved her and hoped that one day, maybe she’d realize the error of her ways and come back.
Sootlife didn’t answer her, but instead licked the top of her head and let out a deep, rumbling purr.
“It’s alright,” he said. “We’re alright. The clan...the clan will be alright.” He was silent for a moment before mumbling, “I love you, Snowdawn.”
Snowdawn felt the hole in her heart grow a little bit smaller.
“I love you too, Sootlife.”
Lightning cracked across the night sky, followed by an explosive peal of thunder. There were countless cats gathered under the rain, their ears pressed against their heads, which were bowed low. One cat broke through the crowd, a young she-cat with beautiful white fur and amber eyes that shone with her youth. She had long legs and a lanky body, a narrowed face, and short fur. She was followed by her patrol that consisted of three other cats, one of them a very young white cat with gray splotches.
“Moonfeather.” A fluffy old tom poked his head out of the den that was made up of the roots of a tall tree. He looked solemn, his eyes sad.
“Sedgefur. Coldpaw told me.” She flicked her tail at the white and gray apprentice. “How is he?”
The tom sighed. “It doesn’t look good.”
The entire clan shifted, their eyes wide with worry. One she-cat stepped forward, her silver fur sticking up in odd angle from the rain.
“Will he survive?”
“I don’t know, Silvertail,” Sedgefur answered. “It’s up to StarClan now.”
“Can I see him?” Moonfeather asked, stepping towards the old tom.
“Of course.” Sedgefur turned and disappeared inside the den, and Moonfeather followed.
Inside the den, a young she-cat huddled in the back next to a nest that held a large, fluffy orange lump. She she-cat stood, her blue-violet eyes shining as lightning flashed outside.
“Sparrowfeather, has he gotten worse?” Sedgefur asked.
“...yes.” she answered after a bit of hesitation. “He’s deteriorating by the seconds. The poultice isn’t working.”
Moonfeather pushed past Sedgefur and approached the nest, peering inside and staring at the large orange tom.
“Lionstar?” she whispered.
The tom’s eyes cracked opened and he turned his head slightly, a small purr rising from his throat.
“Moonfeather. I’m glad I could see you one last time. There was something...something I wanted to tell you before I go.”
“You’re not going anywhere, Lionstar,” Moonfeather insisted. “Sedgefur will fix you up...you’ll be fine.”
“Moonfeather...” Lionstar paused, trying to get a better look at her. “There’s nothing you can do. I am an old cat and I am on my last life. Please, let me die in peace.”
Moonfeather swallowed and nodded, unable to make herself believe that he would be fine.
“Moonfeather, I am very glad I chose you as my deputy. I have never had reason to regret my decision, and I know that you will make a great leader, one of the best this clan has ever seen. I’ve watched you grow up, and I always knew you’d be the one to be my successor. I am proud of you.”
Moonfeather found her throat closing up with remorse. This was her leader, her mentor, a cat who had been like a father to her. It pained her to see him so weak, so close to death.
“Goodbye, Moonstar,” he whispered, emphasizing the last part of the name she would soon take on.
“Goodbye, Lionstar,” Moonfeather choked out, unable to suppress her grief. She watched him settle down into the nest, his eyes closing slowly. His side rose once more, fell, then became still.
Moonfeather buried her nose into Lionstar’s back and sighed, then grabbed his scruff carefully and pulled him out into the rain and among the clan. Nobody cried out, nobody gasped. They just stared quietly as she placed him in the center of the group. Then they began to pad up, whispering their goodbyes to their faithful leader who no mate nor kits.
“The clan is my family,” he would say. “I need no other.”
Moonfeather looked up at the sky, watching the rain pelt down. But there, in the middle of the storm, was a hole in the clouds. And in the hole, just left of the moon, was a star, shining brighter than any other star Moonfeather had ever seen. A sense of peace rolled over her as she stared at the star, and she knew that Lionstar was finally at home up in StarClan.
She was Moonstar now, leader of MoonClan. What an odd coincidence. She already knew her deputy would be Silvertail, because she had no friend like her. There was nobody she trusted more to help start her long journey as leader of the clan, and there was no place she’d rather be than among these cats that surrounded her.