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Warriors: Power of Three #5: Long Shadows SNY
The moon was huge, a golden circle resting on a dark ridge of hills. Stars blazed above Hollyleaf's head, reminding her that the spirits of her ancestors were watching over her. Her fur prickled as something stirred on the ridge. A cat had appeared there, outlined against the moon. She recognized the broad head and tufted ears, and the tail with its bushy tip; even though the shape was black against the light, she knew the colors of its pelt: white with brown, black, and ginger blotches.
"Sol!" she hissed.
The outlined shape arched its back, then reared up on its hind paws, its forepaws stretched out as if it was about to rake its claws across the sky. It leaped upward, and as it leaped it swelled until it was so huge that it blotted out the moon and the blazing stars. Hollyleaf crouched, shivering, in darkness thicker than the deepest places of the forest.
Screeches of alarm rose up around her, a whole Clan of hidden cats wailing their fear of the shadow cutting them off from the protective gaze of StarClan. Above the noise, a single voice rang out: "Hollyleaf! Hollyleaf! Come out!"
Hollyleaf thrashed in terror and found her paws tangled in soft moss and bracken. Pale gray light was filtering through the branches of the warriors' den. A couple of foxlengths away, Hazeltail was scrambling out of her nest, shaking scraps of moss from her pelt.
"Hollyleaf!" The call came again, and this time Hollyleaf recognized Birchfall's voice, meowing irritably outside the den. "Are you going to sleep all day? We're supposed to be hunting."
"Coming."Groggy with sleep, every hair on her pelt still quivering from her nightmare, Hollyleaf headed toward the nearest gap between the branches. Before she reached it, her paws stumbled over the haunches of a sleeping cat, half hidden under the bracken.
Cloudtail's head popped up. "Great StarClan!" he grumbled. "Can't a cat get any sleep around here?"
"S-sorry," Hollyleaf stammered, remembering that Cloudtail had been out on a late patrol the night before; she had seen him return to camp with Dustpelt and Sorreltail while she was keeping her warrior's vigil.
Just my luck. My first day, and I manage to annoy one of the senior warriors!
Cloudtail snorted and curled up again, his blue eyes closing as he buried his nose in his fur.
"It's okay," Hazeltail murmured, brushing her muzzle against Hollyleaf's shoulder. "Cloudtail's mew is worse than his scratch. And don't let Birchfall ruffle your fur. He's bossy with the new warriors, but you'll soon get used to it."
Hollyleaf nodded gratefully, though she didn't tell Hazeltail the real reason she was thrown off balance. Birchfall didn't bother her; it was the memory of the dream that throbbed through her from ears to tail-tip, making her paws clumsy and her thoughts troubled.
Her gaze drifted to the nest where her brother Lionpaw—no, Lionblaze now—had curled up at the end of his vigil. She wanted to talk to him more than anything. But the nest was empty; Lionblaze must have gone out on the dawn patrol.
Careful where she put her paws, Hollyleaf pushed her way out of the den behind Hazeltail. Outside, Birchfall was scraping the ground impatiently.
"At last!" he snapped. "What kept you?"
"Take it easy, Birchfall." Brambleclaw, the ThunderClan deputy and Hollyleaf's father, was sitting a tail-length away with his tail wrapped neatly around his paws. His amber eyes were calm. "The prey won't run away."
"Not till they see us, anyway," Sandstorm added as she bounded across from the fresh-kill pile.
"If there is any prey." Birchfall lashed his tail. "Ever since the battle, fresh-kill's been much harder to find."
Hollyleaf's grumbling belly told her that Birchfall was right. Several sunrises ago all four Clans had battled in ThunderClan territory; their screeching and trampling had frightened off all the prey, or driven them deep underground.
"Maybe the prey will start to come back now," she suggested.
"Maybe," Brambleclaw agreed. "We'll head toward the ShadowClan border. There wasn't as much fighting over there."
Hollyleaf stiffened at the mention of ShadowClan. Will I see Sol again? she wondered.
"I wonder if we'll see any ShadowClan cats," Birchfall meowed, echoing her thought. "I'd like to know if they're all going to turn their back on StarClan, and follow that weirdo loner instead."
Hollyleaf felt as if stones were dragging in her belly, weighing her down. ShadowClan had not appeared at the last Gathering, two nights before. Instead, their leader Blackstar had come alone except for Sol, the loner who had recently arrived by the lake, and explained that his cats no longer believed in the power of their warrior ancestors.
But that can't be right! How can a Clan survive without StarClan? Without the warrior code?
"Sol's not such a weirdo," Hazeltail pointed out to Birchfall with a flick of her ears. "He predicted that the sun would vanish, and it did. None of the medicine cats knew that was going to happen."
Birchfall shrugged. "The sun came back, didn't it? It's not that big a deal."
"In any case," Brambleclaw interrupted, rising to his paws, "this is a hunting patrol. We're not going to pay a friendly visit to ShadowClan."
"But they fought beside us," Birchfall objected. "WindClan and RiverClan would have turned us into crow-food without the ShadowClan warriors. We can't be enemies again so soon, can we?"
"Not enemies," Sandstorm corrected. "But they're still a different Clan. Besides, I'm not sure we can be friends with cats who reject StarClan."
What about our own cats, then? Hollyleaf didn't dare to ask the question out loud. Cloudtail has never believed in StarClan. But she knew without question Cloudtail was a loyal warrior who would die for any of his Clanmates.
Brambleclaw said nothing, just gave his pelt a shake and kinked his tail to beckon the rest of the patrol. As they headed toward the thorn tunnel they met Brackenfur pushing his way into the hollow with Sorreltail and Lionblaze behind him. The dawn patrol had returned. As all three cats headed for the fresh-kill pile, Hollyleaf darted across and intercepted her brother.Warriors: Power of Three #5: Long Shadows SNY. Copyright © by Erin Hunter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.