Yes! He had finally done it! He had finally accomplished his life mission. Sunstar was finally taken care of, Bluefur was stuck in the nursery with her whiny kits, and all of ThunderClan was finally Thistleclaw's! The voices in his head were true all along, the voices that whispered his every devious plan and foretold his glorious future. They were right! They were right!
Thistleclaw could still remember when he became deputy as if it were yesterday. He was the obvious choice since Bluefur became pregnant with that RiverClan tom's kits. Tawnyspots had fallen ill with a fatal sickness, and every cat knew he would not recover. Nearly every cat in ThunderClan suspected that Thistleclaw would become the new deputy, so he was not surprised when Sunstar chose him. He could still hear his Clanmates' enthusiastic cheers ringing in his ears. He recalled Tigerclaw's enthusiastic expression along with Bluefur's somber one. She was the only real threat to his deputyship, and Thistleclaw was almost grateful for the RiverClan tom getting her pregnant. Thistleclaw knew that Bluefur was secretly meeting Oakheart, and that Bluefur also had her eyes poised at the deputyship. However, it seemed that her love for that fish-breath RiverClan tom overcame her ambition for potential leadership.
Serves her right, Thistleclaw arrogantly thought.
Up ahead, Featherwhisker finally stopped at the entrance of the Mothermouth. The pale moonlight illuminated the medicine cat's pale silver frame. He glanced backwards at Thistleclaw, waiting for his leader to catch up. Thistleclaw felt almost embarrassed that the medicine cat had to wait for him in the first place. He was the new leader of ThunderClan for StarClan's sake, not a lost kit blindly following its mother!
Succumbing a low growl, Thistleclaw quickened the pace to reach the, no his, medicine cat at the entrance of the cave. Featherwhisker said nothing, as usual, but beckoned for Thistleclaw to follow him into the cavern with a slight gesture of his plumy tail.
For a single heartbeat, Thistleclaw felt a dash of fear. Silverhawk had told him stories about how omniscient and, almost, omnipotent StarClan was. They were the Dark Forest's ultimate enemy, and they were believed to have control over everything. Surely they weren't that powerful that they controlled the destines of every cat? Did they allow Thistleclaw to become leader, or was it all because of the Dark Forest's guidance?
"Thistleclaw…are you coming?" came Featherwhisker's soft, yet comforting, voice from the shadows of the cavern. Thistleclaw couldn't make out his medicine cat from the darkness, but he did his best not to show any more fear.
"I'm coming," Thistleclaw impatiently faked, and unyieldingly trotted into the darkness. He still couldn't see Featherwhisker, but his scent was fresh. The moist tunnel's walls dampened Thistleclaw's thick dark gray and white pelt, and Thistleclaw bent his ears back in frustration.
It won't be long, he kept telling himself, until you walk out of here with nine lives.
Featherwhisker's scent marks deviated and took the right passageway. Thistleclaw, as blind as a newborn kitten, was left helpless and was forced to rely on his medicine cat's good judgment. He knew all too well that Featherwhisker, and Goosefeather for that matter, had doubts about his leadership. He believed that Thistleclaw was too brash and blood thirsty to become ThunderClan's leader, but even Featherwhisker couldn't deny the laws of the Warrior Code. It only took Thistleclaw a few moons to get Sunstar all by himself so he could murder the former Clan leader. It was almost too easy; ThunderClan was ripe for Thistleclaw's taking!
Thistleclaw bit back a yowl as his claws nearly scraped off the wet tunnel floors. The mottled tom had almost slipped, and it didn't help that the tunnel had sharply descended into the depths of the Highstones.
Where is Featherwhisker and this Moonstone? Thistleclaw impatiently thought to himself. He grew more uneasy by the heartbeat. There was defiantly some higher power located in these stones. The Dark Forest was right to be concerned about StarClan's power.
Finally, and begrudgingly to Thistleclaw's relief, the cavern finally opened up. He detected a breeze of fresh air. He looked up and saw the stars through a hole in the ceiling of the cavern. Featherwhisker was found sitting near a large and rather dull rock, looking expectantly at the hole in the roof. Thistleclaw was about to open his jaws to demand what was going on when moonlight suddenly flooded into the open cavern, causing the once dull rock to promptly illuminate a bright white. Its abrupt white glow nearly blinded Thistleclaw, and dappled his ragged pelt into a silver glow.
Featherwhisker beckoned him closer with a nod of his head. "Lay down and touch the Moonstone with your muzzle. StarClan will send you to sleep."
Thistleclaw didn't have to be told twice. He was nearly buzzing with excitement at the anticipation of receiving his nine lives. At once, the powerful warrior laid down and touched the Moonstone with his muzzle.
Immediately, Thistleclaw was greeted with the Fourtrees at the Gathering Place. The grass was covered in a shimmery frost, and he heard the wind rustle the branches above. The waning crescent moon and the stars illuminated the landscape, turning everything ablaze in a silver flame. Tiny stars hovered like dust particles above the frost-covered grass. Soon, they began to swirl upward until Thistleclaw recognized the shapes of cats forming. There were several StarClan cats, each freckled with bright and glistening stars. Here standing before him was StarClan. Their luminous eyes seemed to see deep into Thistleclaw's darkened soul. Did they know that he'd been training in the Dark Forest? …Of course they knew! Silverhawk said that StarClan knew everything. But…would they deny him his nine lives because of his partnership with the Dark Forest?
One particular StarClan cat struck out to Thistleclaw. Her soft and thick white fur was glowing in pure light, and her blue eyes rested fondly on him. At once, his heart leapt for joy. His beloved Snowfur was safely here in StarClan.
"Snowfur…it's really you," Thistleclaw softly breathed. Silverhawk always called him soft for falling in love, but how could you blame Thistleclaw? He had found happiness and a family with the beautiful Snowfur until Bluefur snatched that all away. At that moment, Thistleclaw wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of eternity with his mate.
"My love, it's good to see you, too," Snowfur purred with amusement at his dumbfound expression. "I would love to spend time with you, but right now we have more important matters." She gently rested her nose on his muzzle, and Thistleclaw got the chance to stare into her luminous azure eyes. "With this life, I give you affection for your warriors. Their protection rests under your paws now, Thistleclaw. Defend them and care for them until your last life."
Thistleclaw was about to open his jaws to reply when a sudden bolt of pure energy surged through him. He felt both the power of pure love and strength rush through his veins, all the way from the end of his long tail to the tips of his unsheathed claws. He was left gasping for breath and widen amber eyes. He was not expecting such raw energy during this ceremony. He heard Featherwhisker get to his paws to assist him, but Thistleclaw stopped him with a wave of his bushy tail. No…he did not need any help this time.
It's time I became the leader I was always meant to be. Not even StarClan can stop me from achieving that.
A dark brown tabby tom with glowing yellow eyes was approaching Thistleclaw by the time he finally looked up. Snowfur had retreated to the sanctuary of the other StarClan cats, but kept her loving gaze rested on Thistleclaw for the rest of the ceremony.
"My name is Heronwing," the dark brown tabby introduced. "I am Poppydawn's brother. I survived a terrible starvation that plagued ThunderClan during leaf-bare many moons ago. Even though every cat became emaciated, we prevailed by drawing strength from each other." Like Snowfur, he rested his hefty muzzle on Thistleclaw's. "With this life, I give you considering others. The only way ThunderClan can survive is if it considers the life of all cats: Clan, rogue, loner, and kittypet. You cannot survive alone."
Thistleclaw stiffened and closed his eyes, preparing for the sinister blow from his uncle. He clenched his jaw as the new life raged through him. He felt like his veins were stripped away from his body. They were tugged away like rope until Thistleclaw felt them connected with another cat's. He was able to sense all of the other cats in the world, and how they were all connected by blood. Thistleclaw was left gasping for breath.
"Thistleclaw?" a sweet and innocent voice beckoned him from the depths of the previous life. He slowly opened his eyes and was surprised to find a small tortoiseshell and white she-cat standing in Heronwing's place. How long was he gasping for?
After a few heartbeats of regaining his breath, Thistleclaw exclaimed with a yowl, "Sweetpaw! I haven't seen you since..." He trailed away. The last time he saw his sister was when her body was lying lifeless in her grave. By then, her once beautiful white patches were streaked with mud. Sweetpaw had died from a bad mouse, and Thistleclaw regretted that every single day of his life.
"I understand, my brother," Sweetpaw went on after a few heartbeats. She gently pressed her nose to his. "With this life, I give you second chances. Things today would've never been if cats didn't learn to forgive."
Sweetpaw's life was gentler and softer compared to the previous lives. It soothed all of the aches and pains Thistleclaw had acquired so far. It was the true soothing power of forgiveness. It even almost cleansed away the darkness in his heart…almost.
Great StarClan, I didn't expect this ceremony to get all sappy!
Another dark brown tabby tom was approaching Thistleclaw. The tom had near black stripes and clear amber eyes flecked with stars.
"That tom is Beetail," Thistleclaw heard Featherwhisker whisper into his ear. "He was an ancient ThunderClan deputy long ago under the leadership of Oakstar. He was noted to be a wise and kind deputy, always putting his Clan first until his death."
"I don't need your explanations!" Thistleclaw snapped furiously. Why did Featherwhisker have to treat him like a kit? He was going to be ThunderClan's leader for StarClan's sake!
"Featherwhisker is right, Thistleclaw. You should listen more to your medicine cat," Beetail meowed solemnly. He didn't comment further upon it, but instead continued with the ceremony. "With this life, I give you a sense of duty. It is your job now to lead ThunderClan righteously. I trust you shall put the best of ThunderClan's interests before your own."
Thistleclaw clenched his teeth and forced himself not to yowl. He ordered his body not to show any signs of weakness. He dug his claws into the soft ground as he felt like his body was being crushed by a huge rock. The dark gray and white tom finally reopened his eyes and was once again gasping.
"I'm fine!" Thistleclaw impatiently insisted over his shoulder.
Don't show any signs of weakness, he reminded himself. Don't show any signs of weakness. Featherwhisker will think less of you. And we can't have that.
"Thistleclaw," a soft voice gently spoke. Thistleclaw looked up and saw a light brown tabby she-cat. Her white chest and toes glimmered brightly and the stars gently swirled around in her pelt. "My name is Sweetbriar. Do you recognize my name?"
Of course he did. He wasn't an idiot. Sweetbriar was Pinestar's mother, the leader before Sunstar. Thistleclaw remembered the day when Pinestar willingly chose to abandon his Clanmates to become a kittypet. A kittypet of all things! He could never understand why his former leader willingly chose to lower himself by becoming a pathetic play thing of Twolegs.
"Poppydawn…named Sweetpaw after you," Thistleclaw instead replied. He wanted to talk dirt about Sweetbriar's weak son, but he couldn't bring himself to. His time in StarClan was regrettably making him…soft. Or was it because of his new lives?
Sweetbriar's eyes shone with happiness. "Yes. That is true." She gingerly touched her nose to Thistleclaw's. "With this life, I give you empathy. Use it to understand the needs of your cats. They are your responsibility now."
Emotions such as happiness and consideration threatened to overwhelm Thistleclaw's soul; they threatened to change him into a peaceful tom. However, Thistleclaw knew that if he turned "soft", he would never hear the end of it from Silverhawk.
Just keep thinking about the Dark Forest. They are much stronger than StarClan. You will lead ThunderClan to the darkness. You will eradicate all of its enemies. You will become more powerful than all of StarClan with the Dark Forest's guidance.
Eventually, the light faded away from Thistleclaw, and he let out a sigh of relief. He'd successfully protected his corruptness.
StarClan can't deny me my nine lives because of the Warrior Code, Thistleclaw thought contently to himself, but that doesn't mean they can't try to change me. I must resist at all costs.
A young black she-kit was now approaching Thistleclaw. The kit was hardly more than a moon old, and she looked strikingly familiar.
The she-kit halted two pawsteps away from Thistleclaw. "My name is Nightkit." Her high-pitched, squeaky voice rang loudly throughout the landscape. "My sister and I died because we were too young to be born, but Tigerclaw survived."
Now he remembered. It was around the same time Sweetpaw had died when Leopardfoot gave birth a moon early. Mistkit and Nightkit had survived long enough to see their father, Pinestar, leave them before dying. Thistleclaw may be considered heartless, but even he grieved for the lost kits.
Nightkit gestured for Thistleclaw to lean down, and when he did she lightly tapped his nose with an outreached black paw. "With this life, I give sagacity," the tiny night-black she-kit squeaked. Her still blue eyes gazed into Thistleclaw's somberly, as if pleading to him. "Please, Thistleclaw…have good judgment."
Nightkit's life was both frigid like a blizzard and scorching like a blaze. It chilled his bones and burned his skin. His fur stood on end as he was surrounded by variant temperatures. He clenched his eyes and screwed up his face. His vision ended in a flood of warm blood that soaked through his thick pelt. Was Nightkit warning him of the future that awaited him if he treaded down the bloodshed path? Her eyes seemed to confirm that.
Thistleclaw drew back his lips into a snarl. "You don't know my future, kit," he spat.
Nightkit merely studied his gaze for a heartbeat longer before nodding and leaving. A different black cat made his way towards Thistleclaw, except that he was full grown and carried the lingering scent of dried herbs with him. This cat was obviously a medicine cat.
"My name is Ravenwing," the small thick-furred black tom introduced with a flick of an ear. "I was ThunderClan's medicine cat, and I served alongside Beetail and Oakstar. I was young when I became ThunderClan's sole medicine cat, but I served my Clan well until my…death." He paused for a few heartbeats, as if to recollect his train of thought. "Mapleshade killed me, and I know that she resides in the Dark Forest. I would be careful if I were you, Thistleclaw. She is a very manipulative she-cat." He straightened himself and gave his pelt a quick shake before continuing. "With this life, I give you high approval of your medicine cats and of StarClan. We speak for StarClan, and you shouldn't take us for granted. We interpret omens and prophecies, and stand apart from Clan rivalries. We are the ones who treat the sick and wounded. Without us, you would be left helpless."
Thistleclaw couldn't help but cast a sideways glance at Featherwhisker, who sat patiently a few tail-lengths away.
No, he arrogantly thought as Ravenwing's life surged through him, you're wrong, Ravenwing. Featherwhisker takes orders from me now. They should not question me at all. The word of the Clan leader is the Warrior Code after all.
"My name is Morningstar," a different tom suddenly spoke. Unlike the others, this tom's pelt was difficult to decipher. Instead, his pelt was covered in a foggy mist that floated around into a cat shape. Even the tom's eyes were a ghostly white. It was as if this tom didn't have a full description. "I was leader of ThunderClan during one harsh leaf-bare. My Clan was weak from hunger, and we were unable to protect our borders from WindClan. WindClan kept stealing our prey from inside our borders, and there was nothing we couldn't have done to stop them."
"Why didn't you fight?" Thistleclaw demanded. "You should've shown WindClan that ThunderClan is a force to be reckoned with."
The misty StarClan tom nodded and the stars in his pelt swirled more aggressively. "That is what I did. I was too afraid to lead my Clan into battle, but my warriors weren't dying warrior deaths. Instead of dying in battle, they were dying of hunger. I soon realized that wasn't what they wanted. If they were to die, it had to be in battle against WindClan. They wanted to fight this battle, and I eventually granted their wish. Several warriors died during the fight, but their deaths weren't for nothing."
Morningstar rested his faint and cloudy muzzle on Thistleclaw's own. "With this life, I give you the knowledge to know when to lead your Clan into battle; fight when your warriors want to and when it is deemed right. Don't lead your Clanmates into unnecessary battles, Thistleclaw."
The Clan leader's life seemed more like a warning than an actual life, Thistleclaw noted. The proud and arrogant tom bit back a pain-filled yowl as he felt imaginary claw marks rake across his entire body. Each wound left a mark of searing pain on his skin. He felt like his pelt was on fire. However, with each painful claw wound, Thistleclaw felt that each mark was deserved. That each wound would prevent a terrible conflict, a horrible miscommunication; each attack meant something.
The tom made up of clouds walked away and was replaced by a different cat made up of mists. Apparently this tom also had a description that was not worth remembering.
The fog-filled tom dipped his head in respect. "My name is Finchstar. During one terrible Gathering long, long ago, the leader of ShadowClan attacked the other Clans without warning. It was an unspeakable act. Ripplestar refused to call off the attack, so StarClan killed him."
StarClan can kill a cat? Perhaps I should be worried, then.
Finchstar went on, and Thistleclaw finally noticed that the cloudy tom's form was much fainter than Morningstar's. This cat must've been an ancient leader of ThunderClan. "It was then that I suggested the tenth code to the Warrior Code: a Gathering of all Clans is held at the full moon during a truce that lasts for the night. There shall be no fighting among Clans at this time." He rested his ghostly muzzle on Thistleclaw's white one. "For your final life, I give you the gift of concord between the Clans. War isn't the only option, my friend."
Finchstar's life made Thistleclaw's heart race as if he were in the heat of battle. The adrenaline surged through his veins and made him feel as if he were invincible. Suddenly, all of that vanished away, leaving pure peace throbbing through his body. Finchstar was trying to show him that peace was better than war.
Well it's a shame that I have a lust for battle, Thistleclaw snickered sinisterly to himself. The pain finally ebbed away, and Thistleclaw felt anew. He had finally received all nine lives of a Clan leader. He gently shook the aches free from his pelt and firmly planted his paws on the solid ground. He held his head high and his sharp amber eyes gleamed with a new found power.
The StarClan cats nervously murmured amongst themselves, softly and unwillingly chanting his name until it slowly became a loud battle cry. "Thistlestar! Thistlestar! Thistlestar!"
Yes! He was now Thistlestar, leader of ThunderClan! StarClan had failed to sway his craving for war; he was a disciple of the Dark Forest, not of StarClan.
The newly named Thistlestar glanced smugly over his shoulder at his medicine cat. Featherwhisker's facial expression was unreadable, but his eyes betrayed his concern.
Whatever you see pathetic medicine cat, do not fret, Thistlestar malevolently insisted to himself. I'll make sure to lead ThunderClan to a brighter future. One where we tower over our defeated enemies. One where no cat dares to threaten our dignity.
A path that is drenched in the blood of our enemies.