Sorry for the length of this one guys, just got on a roll. We've been doing pretty good!
When the last sliver of pink light sank below the horizon, Thornstar made his preparations.
"Eagleheart, I want you to stay behind with Hawkflight, Elkwish, Emberstrike, Blossompelt, and Lionbreeze."
The grey warrior blinked. "So many of us?"
Thornstar nodded. "I need you all to be on high alert. I'm afraid Darkphantom will try to make a move tonight."
Eagleheart nodded stiffly. "I'll notify them now."
Watching Eagleheart go, Thornstar strode back into his den, waiting for the time of departure to arrive. He lashed his tail, lip curled as he remembered his visit to StarClan's Fang.
The golden-brown warrior opened his eyes to a cold, black void. He shivered violently, feeling the air curling around him and draining his warmth.
"StarClan! Please, share you wisdom with me!"
His cry echoed all around him, the volume increasing tenfold. His ears wailed and the leader grit his teeth.
There was no reply. A familiar scent, however, was present.
"Quailstar," he whispered, blue eyes flashing. The leader he had succeeded. He curled in on himself as the cold grew, the darkness suffocating. Thornstar unsheathed his claws. "Why aren't you saying anything?"
He listened for several beats, the silence so consuming he could hear his own pulse. Then, suddenly, the screeching of many cats rang out.
"WE'RE SORRY," cried the voices.
Thornstar shut his eyes, flattening his ears to his head. The voices grew louder, and louder, drowning out even the leader's own thoughts, until he woke up, gasping for air.
That had been all he heard. After that, he had almost wanted to abstain from going to the Gathering entirely, but he knew he had to.
That didn't mean he wasn't certain, deep in his bones, that something terrible would happen no matter what he did.
He had spoken with Forestheart about his dream, but the she-cat hadn't been able to offer him any more insight into its meaning.
A quick glance at the sky outside his den told Thornstar it was time to start rounding up the cats going to the Gathering. The stars winked down at him, the sky clearer than water on a calm night. Anger simmered in Thornstar's blood. He realized that he was scratching at the dirt beneath his paws and quickly retracted his claws. Flicking an ear, he exited his den.
Outside, cats were already milling around. Lightningstorm stood at the ready at the bottom of Eagle's Perch. The warriors Thornstar had decided he wanted on guard that night were all whispering together, away from the crowd. Blossompelt stood with them, slightly off to the side, but when she saw Thornstar exit his den she crossed the clearing to him.
The she-cat rested her tail on his shoulder. "Tell us if anything happens at the Gathering, okay?"
Thornstar nodded, heaving a sigh. He pressed his face against her shoulder. "Stay safe," he rasped.
Blossompelt purred in response. "It's going to be alright. Just you see."
The two stayed like that for a moment until Thornstar moved away, giving one last weak smile before swiftly climbing Eagle's perch, seating himself on one of it's massive branches. "It's time for us to go to the Gathering. Everyone attending, follow me!"
He kept the announcement brief as possible, immediately leaping down. Heart heavy with dread, he led his clan through the forest and to Ashpaw's Hallow.
From the moment ShellClan entered the hallow, tension was thick in the air. Every cat shifted uneasily as the two leaders exchanged pained formalities. The space was noticeably more empty than on a typical Gathering night.
Hazelfang himself chatted distractedly with Jadepool of ShellClan. Normally, Hazelfang avoided much interaction with ShellClan cats. He remembered all too well a border skirmish turned deadly, in which he, a fresh apprentice, was choking on the scent of ShellClan and blood, his father's eyes slowing dimming because of a blow from the now deputy of ShellClan, Lightningstrike...
As cold as he normally was to those cats in general, the more Hazelfang thought about the traitors the more ShellClan seemed like friends.
Fawnstar stepped forward to address the two clans first, Thornstar sitting like he was made of stone behind her. "Darkphantom and his group have not been sighted or scented on our territory. We have been recovering well from his betrayal, however,... I would like to formally request ShellClan's assistance in subduing them if they return. And I do believe he'll return. Darkphantom is a charismatic and powerful warrior. I fear that he will become a threat not just to MoorClan, but both of our clans."
The cats below in the clearing stayed silent. The threat looming over them weighed on all their shoulders.
Thornstar moved forward, his blue eyes turned silver in the moonlight. Hazelfang couldn't help but compare the leader's golden-brown pelt and noble solemnity to the lions of legend.
His face set in grim determination, Thornstar spoke. "ShellClan will do all we can to aid you. Treason is not just an attack on one clan, it is an attack on the warrior code itself. It is an attack on our entire way of life, and neither I nor my any of my clanmates will stand for it!"
Fawnstar bowed her head, and Hazelfang could tell she was relieved. "Thank you, Thornstar," she turned back to the clearing. "In times such as these, as two clans who have always existed side by side, and who complement each other as we do, we must stand as one against our enemies. And by StarClan, I swear that they will not defeat us."
The clearing erupted in cheers. Hazelfang's chest swelled in pride. Yes, Harestar made the right choice making her our leader.
"Well, weren't those pretty words," a voice drawled across the clearing. "Shame you won't be able to keep that promise."
The cats in the clearing wheeled around, shocked, to see Darkphantom emerge from the shadows. He was flanked on both sides by a swarm of rotten-smelling, scraggly cats. They were no MoorClan warriors, former or otherwise. Hazelfang felt bile rising in his throat and the fur at the back of his neck stood on end.
Fawnstar flattened her ears and hissed. "Darkphantom."
The pitch-black warrior tsked. "That is not how you address a leader, Fawnheart. It's Darkstar now."
Thornstar recoiled. "You? A leader?"
"Indeed," Darkphantom smirked lazily. "I still believe in StarClan or course, and having a proper medicine cat and all, it's amazing what you can do. "
Hazelfang got up, unsheathing his claws in tandem with everyone else in the clearing.
Thornstar spat in Darkphantom's direction. "I see you've collected your fair share of rogues. Even with your numbers, do you think you can take both clans at once?"
The black tom chuckled darkly. "Who said I'd be fighting both at once? I think you have more pressing matters to attend to, Thornstar."
The scarred tom narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
Darkphantom jutted his chin towards the top of the hallow. "See for yourself."
Fur ruffled, Thornstar leaped down from the boulder and climbed up the side of the hallow in a barely controlled sprint, looking in the direction of the forest. Peering into the distance, which was invisible to the cats below, his jaw went slack and a look of terror washed over his face.
"Fire," he whispered, his voice breaking on the single word. "The forest is on fire."