Warriors Series 5.5: Echoes of the War
Novella 5: Sasha's Calling
“Sasha? Are you up yet?”
The senior warrior shifted in her nest, reluctantly cracking open one eye. “Keep your fur on,” she grumbled. Her jaws split in a massive yawn. “I'm coming.”
Crowdusk's whiskers twitched as Sasha pushed herself onto her paws. “Don't blame me, you're the one that didn't want to sleep in today,” she pointed out. She waited while the she-cat stretched out her limbs, giving one last yawn before she stepped away from her nest. “Flutterpaw's waiting for you by the fresh-kill pile, and Kayleewing and Bouncefire offered to let you join their patrol.”
The news was enough to banish Sasha's grogginess. She curled her tail, giving a rusty purr. “I'd better not keep them waiting, then,” she mewed. Crowdusk stepped out of the way so Sasha could approach the den's entrance. The younger cat followed Sasha out of the den into camp.
Sasha descended down gorge wall below the warrior's den with practiced ease, no longer having to struggle to make the climb. Even as she grew slower and stiffer with age, moons of living in SkyClan had allowed her to learn the best ways to climb and jump, and now it was second nature to her. Once she reached the floor of the gorge, she paused for a moment, allowing herself to take in the scene around her.
The gorge itself had not changed much in the two leaf-falls that Sasha had lived with SkyClan. Sleek cliffs still loomed over her head, the river still murmured past on the gorge floor, the caves that served as dens were still carved into the rock the same way they had been when she’d came. But the sight meant more to her now, after so many seasons of living here. The unchanging rock walls and river were comforting sights and sounds. To her, they meant home.
Her attention was drawn by the sounds of the cats around her. Warriors and apprentices were milling around camp, readying themselves for patrols, or sharing morning meals. One apprentice in particular caught her gaze. She padded up to the fluffy she-cat, purring, “Ready for some hunting, Flutterpaw?”
The apprentice looked up from her meal, her eyes bright. “Of course!” she purred. The she-cat lacked her mother’s partially-hairless pelt, unlike her littermates, and she seemed to lean more towards her father in looks. The gray shade of her fur, as well as her bright personality, reminded Sasha very much of her father Luckyleaf.
“Then finish eating and meet me by the camp entrance when you’re done,” Sasha purred. She left the apprentice to her meal, then turned and padded away towards a group of warriors, grabbing a starling off the fresh-kill pile as she passed it.
Though it was early, the daylight warriors were already in camp, and sharing meals with their Clanmates. The elders were out sunning on the rocks, their eyes half-closed as they took in the leaf-fall sun. Sasha felt a pang of grief as she looked at them. Petalnose and Billystorm had both died some seasons ago, departing to join their beloved mates in StarClan. Patchfoot and Clovertail were getting stiffer and grayer with every day, but they still hung on season after season, passing on stories to the young cats and enjoying their days with each other. A third cat sat beside them on the sunny rocks. Waspwhisker had joined their ranks some moons ago, and now spent his days sunning himself and sharing prey and stories with his Clanmates. Sasha knew that she didn't have many seasons left herself until it was time to join them, but she held off on retiring for now. She hadn't gotten to be a warrior for much of her life – she wanted to enjoy it a while longer before moving in with the elders. There was still more that she could do as a warrior.
Several warriors looked up as Sasha approached their group. “Hey Sasha,” Kayleewing purred. She and Blizzardfang made room for Sasha as she joined them with her own meal. “Big day today, huh?”
“How are they handling the wait?” Leafbreeze asked with a purr. After Shelia’s exile from SkyClan territory, the treacherous queen and her kits Storm and Patch hadn’t been seen again. But to many cats’ surprise, Coal and his daughter Leaf had returned some moons later. Coal explained that Shelia had died in a fight with other rogues, and that Storm and Patch had turned their backs on him the moment their mother was dead, declaring him to be weak and useless before setting off on their own.
Leaf, however, had always had a good heart, and had been enthralled with Clan life no matter how her mother scorned them. The Clan had welcomed the pair back once their friendly intentions were clear. Though Coal chose to remain a loner, Leaf had joined SkyClan as an apprentice, then as a full warrior, Leafbreeze. There had been some suspicion when she’d first joined, but the friendly young she-cat had quickly proved that she was nothing like her mother. She was now a valued and loved warrior of SkyClan.
“They kept me up half the night with their whispering,” Dapplepaw complained. The bald-patched she-cat gave an irritated snort. “Even when they were asleep, they kept twitching and kicking.”
Dapplepaw’s mentor, Rufustail, purred his amusement. “Don’t be too cross with your denmates,” he chided the young she-cat. “It’s not every day a cat gets to become a warrior. They’re bound to be excited.”
“It’s no fair,” Dapplepaw’s brother, Brightpaw, grumbled. “We’re not that much younger than them. We should be warriors too!”
“It won’t be that much longer,” Larchleaf assured him. “And besides, Cosettecloud and Frecklewish’s kits will be old enough to be apprenticed soon, and then at least you'll be the oldest apprentices in the den.” Brightpaw snorted, but he did look a little mollified at the thought.
Kayleewing's whiskers twitched for a moment, then she turned to Sasha. “I haven't seen them this morning,” she mewed. “I think they're still asleep. Feel like pulling those lazy mousebrains out of their nests?”
Sasha swallowed the last bites of her starling before purring, “Leave it to me.” She left the warriors behind and started towards the apprentice's den. Before she could reach it, however, a nearby mew distracted her. She turned to see a familiar black tom padding towards her.
“On your way to see someone?” he asked in an amused purr.
Sasha purred as she brushed muzzles with the tom. “Just a few mouse-brained apprentices who decided to sleep in,” she joked. “Care to join me?”
“You bet,” the tom purred, whiskers twitching. The two cats headed together, pelt beside pelt, for the apprentice's den.
Early morning sunlight was trickling into the apprentice's cave when Sasha and the black tom arrived. Most of the nests were empty – all of Crowdusk and Luckyleaf's kits were already awake, and the only other apprentice, Oreopaw, was a daylight cat who didn't have a nest in the apprentice's den. Only two furry lumps were still curled up in their mossy nests.
Sasha and the black tom swapped a quick look, a silent message passing between them. Then they lowered into identical crouches. They crept closer and closer to the sleeping cats until, after a brief pause, they pounced at the same time. Yowls of shock rang out from the apprentices as Sasha and the tom bowled them over. The black she-cat under Sasha's paws hissed her surprise, twisting on her back to claw at her attacker – only to relax as she recognized her. The aggression in her ice-blue eyes softened into affection. “Great StarClan, you scared the fur off of me,” she mewed.
“You're supposed to be warriors, not kits,” the other apprentice grumbled. The scruffy brown tabby glared at the black tom, groggy annoyance flashing in her yellow-green eyes, a lighter shade of the tom's eyes. “And you, you’re supposed to be an example to your Clan,” she chided him.
The tawny warrior purred her amusement. She stepped back to let the apprentice rise to her paws, the tom doing the same behind her. “Just because we're getting a little gray around the muzzle doesn't mean we can't have fun every once in a while,” Sasha joked. She reached out her muzzle, licking smooth a tuft of fur sticking up on the black cat's head. “Especially when it comes to waking up our lazy kits.”
Sasha's daughter blinked at her with ice-blue eyes that were identical to her own. The white that marked her paws, chest, chin, and forehead were similar to Sasha's pelt as well, as was her sleek fur and smaller size. “We couldn't sleep very well last night,” she revealed, waving a white-tipped tail behind her. “We kept thinking about the ceremony and just couldn't seem to settle down.”
“And of course Nightpaw fell asleep first, and her snoring kept me up even longer,” the tabby joked. Her taller size and scruffy pelt were more reminiscent of her father, but the light brown hue of her pelt, as well as the darker coloring on her face, paws, and tail, were definitely from her mother, as well as the lighter shade of her eyes. A small flash of her mother’s white underbelly fur marked her chest. “And Brightpaw always kicks and twitches in his sleep like he's chasing prey – whatever he says otherwise. It's all any cat can do to get some sleep in this den.”
The black tom purred his amusement. “Well you won't have to worry about that for much longer, Morningpaw,” he pointed out. “Now come on. You two are going to be late for your last patrol as apprentices.”
Joy lit up in Morningpaw and Nightpaw's eyes. “Great StarClan, we forgot!” Morningpaw cried. Without another word, the she-cats scrambled past their parents and out of the den, leaving the older cats to follow more slowly behind them.
Morningpaw and Nightpaw were already halfway across camp and beside their mentors by the time Sasha and the tom left the den behind. Their kits were practically bouncing with excitement as they joined with their patrol, their eyes shining and their tails curled with joy. The sight filled Sasha with a warm rush of love. It had been a hard path to find someone she wanted to raise kits with, and to bring herself to have another litter after what happened to her first, but she didn't regret a moment of any of it now. Her daughters were happy and safe in SkyClan, and now, they would finally be full warriors.
The tawny she-cat glanced at her mate. “You could come with us, if you like,” she offered.
He shook his head. “I promised Rabbitleap I would lead a patrol to do a sweep of the border,” he mewed. “There's been some rogue scents in the area. But once that's done, I'd love to go for a walk with our kits, if there's time before the ceremony.”
“That sounds perfect,” Sasha purred. She reached out and brushed her muzzle against the tom's cheek, purring deeply. She had been so afraid for so long of what it would mean to let herself love again. But once she had let go of that fear, she had come to love the tom in front of her with a deep, fierce passion that brought her more peace and happiness than she had known for a very long time. She had never forgotten Tigerstar – she didn't know if she ever could forget him – but her new mate was a better tom than he had ever been, and she loved him with all of her heart. Piece by piece, she had been able to leave Tigerstar in the past, and build a new life with the cats that she loved in the here and now.
The tom touched his nose to Sasha's cheek, his warm breath stirring the tips of her fur. “Have fun on your patrol, love,” he murmured.
She closed her eyes, leaning into his touch. “You too, Shrewstar,” she murmured.
Shrewstar pulled back, blinking warmly at his mate, before turning and padding away. Sasha watched him go for a few moments, then padded away to join her own patrol. Kayleewing and Bouncefire were standing by the camp's entrance with their apprentices beside them. Softpetal, Embershade, and Lunacloud, the newest daylight warrior, were waiting with them, as well as an excited Flutterpaw. “Good, we're all here,” Bouncefire mewed. “Then let's get going.”
The ginger tom led his patrol over the rocks and out into the forest. Hues of red and amber painted the treetops and the leaf-ridden forest floor, and golden light poured through the breaks between tree branches. The days were getting colder - leafbare would be there soon. But SkyClan had made it through leafbare before, and Sasha knew they would do it again, as long as they had each other.
As the patrol walked along, Flutterpaw kept her ears pricked and swiveling at every sound. Her eyes were bright as she stared out into the undergrowth. “I heard some robins singing earlier,” she commented. “Should we try to track them down?”
“Don’t be mouse-brained,” Lunacloud snorted. “Those birds could be half a forest away by now.”
Sasha narrowed her eyes at the she-cat. Lunacloud was a fine hunter and loyal warrior, but she could be pretty blunt and snobbish at times. She lashed her tail once, then turned to Flutterpaw. “She’s right that the birds could have flown away by now,” she explained, though in a gentler tone than Lunacloud had taken. “And when birds sing like that, it usually means they’re somewhere that they think a predator can’t reach them, like high up in a tree, where even we can’t easily climb.” Flutterpaw was starting to look embarrassed, so Sasha added, “It’s always good to be aware of your surroundings and any signs of prey. Part of being a warrior is just learning when to listen to which signs, and how to use all of them to your best advantage.”
Flutterpaw ducked her head. “I’ll remember that next time,” she vowed.
“Don’t worry, Flutterpaw,” Embershade mewed. The tortoiseshell cast a friendly gaze towards Sasha, saying, “You’ve got a good mentor, and you’re a smart cat. You’ll be a warrior in no time.”
Sasha blinked gratefully at her former apprentice. Ebonyclaw’s kits had become apprentices a few moons after Sasha joined the Clan, and Sharpstar had chosen Sasha to mentor Emberpaw. Sparkpaw, later Sparkbreeze, had been assigned to Crowdusk, but Smokepaw chose a different path than his littermates. All three cats seemed happy with the paths that they had chosen. Sparkbreeze and Embershade had grown into fine warriors, just like their parents, and Sasha was fiercely proud of the warrior Embershade had become. Smokepaw had come just as far as his sisters. Though technically still an apprentice, Smokesong was now a fully-trained medicine cat, which had finally allowed his mentor Frecklewish to have kits with her mate, Rabbitleap. Smokesong was fulfilling most of Frecklewish’s duties while she looked after her kits.
Thoughts of her first apprentice led Sasha to sadder thoughts of the cat who had chosen her as a mentor. Sharpstar had ruled SkyClan for another leafbare and a half after Sasha joined SkyClan. Last newleaf, however, he had finally lost his last life in a battle against a fox, in which Sageleaf also perished. Then-apprentices Creampaw and Barkpaw survived because of his sacrifice. Shrewtooth received his nine lives after that and became SkyClan’s new leader, with Rabbitleap as his deputy. Grief for Sharpstar still hung over the Clan like a dark cloud, but it had slipped away more and more as each moon passed, giving way to hope for the future. Sasha would always be grateful to the tom who invited her to join SkyClan in the first place, and she grieved for Sharpstar as much as the rest of the Clan, but she knew that SkyClan was in safe paws under Shrewstar’s leadership.
Sasha was drawn out of her thoughts of the past by two bright voices. Nightpaw and Morningpaw were chatting with their mentors, their eyes shining as they took in what they were being told. Sasha’s heart surged with love at the sight of them. It had taken her a long time to be ready to have a second litter, but she couldn’t be more happy now that she had them. Shrewstar had agreed to let her name their daughters, with some suggestions from him - Nightpaw for ShadowClan, and the darkness her life had started with, and Morningpaw for how her life had changed for the better and become brighter. And both names were for SkyClan, the morning and night sky, after the place where she had made her fresh start and where she and her family belonged.
Shrewstar had worried about Nightpaw’s name at first, but he’d understood when she’d explained why she’d chosen it. While she didn’t forgive what had happened in her past, it had still ultimately led her to discover SkyClan, and her experiences with ShadowClan were what had made her realize she was a warrior at heart. Both morning and night had shaped her into who she was. Whatever their names, Sasha and Shrewstar loved their daughters dearly, and had done their best to raise them well. And now they would finally become warriors.
“You’ll stay for the ceremony, won’t you?” Morningpaw was asking Kayleewing. “I know you have to get back to your twolegs, but-”
“Of course I’ll stay!” Kayleewing interrupted her apprentice with a purr. “I wouldn’t miss it for all of StarClan! In fact, I’m going to stay in camp tonight so I can be the first to greet you in the morning after your vigil.”
Joy lit up in Morningpaw’s eyes. “Really?” she gasped. “Your twolegs won’t mind?”
“They can stand to live without me for one night,” Kayleewing mewed brightly. “This is your big day, Morningpaw. I want to be there for it.”
From the front of the group, Bouncefire added to Nightpaw, “And you know I’ll be there. That goes for after the ceremony too. Even though I won’t be your mentor anymore, I’ll always be here if you need my help. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for anything.” The tom’s tone was unusually sincere. Even after this many seasons of having a happy family, Bouncefire was gruff more often than not, though not in an unkind way. But there was pride in his eyes as he gazed at Nightpaw now.
Nightpaw nudged Bouncefire’s shoulder with her own, purring her amusement. “I’m sure I’ll be too embarrassed to ever ask anything again once my name changes,” she joked in a wry tone. Bouncefire gave a dry purr of laughter in response.
Seeing her daughters joking and laughing with their mentors, their last time doing so as apprentices, filled Sasha with a sort of bittersweet joy. She suddenly felt the need to say something before they became warriors. “Bouncefire, would you mind if I borrow these two for a moment?” she called out to the patrol leader. Morningpaw and Nightpaw looked back at her in surprise. “I won’t keep them too long.”
Bouncefire nodded easily. “Take all the time you need.” With a flick of his tail, he led the rest of the patrol away, leaving Sasha alone with her daughters.
“What’s going on?” Nightpaw asked, concern glowing in her eyes. “Is something wrong?”
Sasha paused a moment, taking in the sight of her two daughters, grown cats now, no longer tiny kittens that needed her protection. Her chest swelled with pride and sadness alike. “Nothing's wrong,” she assured them. “I just wanted to talk to you before we head back to camp.”
She curled her tail, unable to hold back a purr. “I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you, both of you,” she mewed. “You've both worked so hard to get to this point. I know you're going to make fine warriors. I want you to know that I'll always be here if you need me – but I also know that you're grown cats now, and that you can look after yourselves.” Unease pricked at Sasha's pelt. She had been so afraid of losing her daughters the same way that she'd lost her first litter, she'd sometimes been too over-protective when the kits were young. She'd worked hard with Shrewstar to overcome that, but she worried sometimes whether her daughters still saw her that way.
“I'll always be here for you, but I understand that you'll want to stand on your own as warriors now, and I respect that,” she continued. “Just know that I always love you.”
Surprise lit up in the sisters' eyes. “Don't be mousebrained,” Morningpaw mewed bluntly. “Of course we still need you!”
Nightpaw took a gentler approach. “We are going to be warriors, and we can look after ourselves as much as any other warrior,” she mewed in a soft tone. “But the whole point of being in a Clan is that no cat stands alone. We all depend on each other. We don't want to be treated like kits, of course, but we'll always turn to you when we need you. You're our mother.”
Joy lit up in Sasha's heart. “Thank you,” she purred. “All I want is for you two to be happy, whatever that means for me and your father.” She reached out her muzzle, touching her nose to Nightpaw's ear. “I'm just happy seeing you take your place as warriors. I'm so proud of both of you,” she repeated.
For a moment, uncertainty flashed in Morningpaw's eyes. “Do you think our brother and sister would be proud of us too?” she asked. Sasha blinked at her in surprise. “If they knew us, I mean?”
Grief twisted in Sasha's heart. Not a day had gone by that she didn't think of Mothwing and Hawkfrost, and of her poor lost Tadpole. The whole Clan knew about her past now. She had told them over time, when she'd been ready, when the hurt felt bad enough that she needed to share it with others. But the hurt grew less and less with every day. Hawkfrost and Mothwing were happy with their own Clan, and now, she had two beautiful, wonderful daughters that she'd never been forced to give up. She could see so much of her other kits in her daughters. Mothwing's compassion and thoughtfulness were reflected in Nightpaw, Tadpole's energy and joy in Morningpaw, and Hawkfrost's ferocity and courage in both of them. But they were their own cats too, and wonderful in all their own ways. It brought Sasha more joy than she had ever known to watch them grow into the extraordinary cats that they had become.
“Of course they would be proud of you,” she murmured, rasping her tongue gently over Morningpaw's head. “They would be just as proud of you as I am.” She pulled back, gazing at both of her kits with equal pride. “And I know that right now, Tadpole is watching over all of us, and he's proud too.” She blinked slowly at both kits, then gave a quick shake of her head. “But today isn't about the past. It's about your future. So let's get going, before Bouncefire wonders where we got to.”
“And when sunset comes, it'll finally be your time to be warriors.”
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath the Rockpile for a Clan meeting!”
A crowd was already beginning to gather in front of the Rockpile before Shrewstar even opened his mouth. News of the ceremony had spread quickly through the Clan. Sasha near the front, next to Cherrytail and Graystorm. Everyone was in the crowd, even the daylight warriors. Oreopaw was sitting beside her father, Macgyver, and Lunacloud was sitting beside some of the younger warriors, the older daylight cats scattered in the crowd. The youngest warriors, Barkfall and Creamwillow, were sitting near their mother Peachflower, with their father Harrytooth on their mother's other side. Even some of the local kittypet and loner visitors had decided to stay for the day's ceremony. All of SkyClan and its friends were gathered together to celebrate this special moment.
As Sasha sat, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted movement from the nursery. Two curious kits were poking their heads out of the nursery, but Cosettecloud quickly herded them back inside. Sasha's whiskers twitched. Cosettecloud and Birdshade hadn't been able to have kits of their own, but Cosettecloud had managed to find a kittypet tom willing to father kits for them, and now the couple was lovingly raising their kits together. Her heart stirred with joy. New life was starting all the time, and even now that her kits' journey growing up was done, new journeys were already starting.
Sasha's attention was drawn back to the Rockpile as Shrewstar lifted his head. “Today is a day of celebration for our Clan,” he called out for every cat to hear. Joy was blazing in his eyes. “SkyClan has seen hard times and losses, and leafbare is coming soon to bring us more grief. But we will survive, as we have always done, and now two of our members are ready to join our ranks as full warriors. Step forward, Nightpaw and Morningpaw!”
Sasha watched as her daughters made their way through the crowd. Their pelts were groomed to perfection, even Morningpaw's scruffy pelt, and their eyes were shining with joy as they came to stand before their father.
Shrewstar leaped down from the Rockpile, coming to stand in front of his daughters. Love glowed in his eyes as he called out, “I, Shrewstar, leader of SkyClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as warriors in their turn.” Pride glinted in his eyes. “Morningpaw, Nightpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do,” Morningpaw purred, joy blazing in her eyes.
“I do,” Nightpaw echoed. Though outwardly she was calmer than her sister, Sasha could see the excitement she was hiding underneath.
A purr escaped Shrewstar. “Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior names.” His gaze slid briefly to Sasha. Her chest flooded with warmth – they had picked these warrior names together.
“Nightpaw, from this moment on you will be known as Nightstream.” Sasha watched as her daughter stiffened in joy at her new name. Nightstream – a name for RiverClan and her connection to them, and for her calm and contemplative personality. “StarClan honors yours patience and your forethought, and we welcome you as a full warrior of SkyClan.” Nightstream purred her joy, ducking her head so Shrewstar could lay his chin over it.
With his first daughter named, Shrewstar turned next to his second kit. “Morningpaw, from this moment on you will be known as Morningbreeze,” he announced. The newly-named Morningbreeze bristled in excitement. Sasha and Shrewstar had chosen her name for her energy and freedom, and for the spirit that she had inherited from both of her parents. “StarClan honors your determination and your spirit, and we welcome you as a full warrior of SkyClan.”
A cheer rose up from the crowd. “Nightstream! Morningbreeze! Nightstream! Morningbreeze!” Sasha added her voice to the crowd, her heart ready to burst with joy as she called the new names of her kits. Morningbreeze and Nightstream stood before their Clanmates, practically trembling with joy as they were accepted as full warriors.
Even as the ceremony came to an end, and the crowd broke up, Sasha remained where she was, her heart full of love and joy and contentment. She didn't look at Shrewstar as he came to stand beside her. She just kept her gaze fixed on the spot where Morningbreeze and Nightstream had padded out of camp to start their vigil. She felt nearly ready to burst with love. Her purring and Shrewstar's blended together as they sat side by side, until it was nearly thunderous in sound. There was no need for either cat to say a word.
Sasha's life had been full of so much pain, and the losses and betrayals of those she had cared about the most. And that pain had taken a long time to work past. But in the end, it had all been worthwhile. She had two wonderful kits serving RiverClan with loyalty and love, and she knew that Tadpole still watched over her, safe in StarClan with the ancestors of SkyClan. And now, she had a Clan that she could call her own, a family that love and supported her, an amazing mate that she loved with all her heart. And most importantly, she had two amazing daughters who were now warriors of SkyClan beside her. One day, she would walk with all of them in StarClan, a united family once more. But for now she knew exactly where she belonged.
And now, finally, she was happy.
END OF NOVELLA FIVE