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The Lost Warrior
By Erin W. Hunter TokyoPop
Copyright © 2007 Erin W. Hunter
All right reserved.
Stormfur opened his eyes, blinking away sleep, and struggled to remember where he was. Instead of his nest of reeds in the RiverClan camp, he was lying curled in dry, crunchy bracken. Above his head was the earth roof of a cave, crisscrossed with tangled roots. He could hear a rhythmic roaring sound faintly in the distance. At first it puzzled him; then he remembered how close they were to the sun-drown water, washing endlessly onto the edge of the land. He flinched as a vision burst into his mind, of how he and Brambleclaw had struggled in the water for their lives; he spat, still tasting the salty tang at the back of his throat. At home in RiverClan he was used to water—his was the only Clan that could swim comfortably in the river that ran through the forest—but not this surging, salty, pushing-and-pulling water, too strong even for a RiverClan cat to swim in safely.
Other memories came rushing back. StarClan had sent cats from each of the four Clans on a long, dangerous journey, to hear what Midnight had to tell them. They had fought their way across unknown country, through Twoleg nests, facing attacks from dogs and rats, to make the last incredible discovery: that Midnight was a badger.
Stormfur felt ice creeping along his limbs as he recalled Midnight's dreadful message.Twolegs were destroying the forest to make a new Thunderpath. All the Clans would have to leave, and it was the task of StarClan's chosen cats to warn them and lead them to a new home.
Stormfur sat up and looked around the cave. Faint light filtered down the tunnel that led out onto the clifftop, along with a gentle current of fresh air that carried the scent of salt water. Midnight the badger was nowhere to be seen. Close beside Stormfur, his sister, Feathertail, was sleeping, her tail curled over her nose. Just beyond her was Tawnypelt, the fierce ShadowClan warrior; Stormfur was relieved to see that she was resting quietly, as if the rat bite she had suffered in the Twolegplace was troubling her less. Midnight's store of herbs had yielded something to soothe the infection and help her sleep. On the opposite side of the cave, a little way apart, was the WindClan apprentice Crowpaw, his dark gray pelt barely visible among the fronds of bracken. Nearest the cave entrance, Tawnypelt's brother, Brambleclaw, was stretched out beside Squirrelpaw, who slept in a tight ball. Stormfur felt a stab of jealousy at the sight of the two ThunderClan cats close together, and tried to push it away. He had no right to admire Squirrelpaw, and her courage and bright optimism, as much as he did, when they came from different Clans. Brambleclaw would make her a much better mate.
Stormfur knew that he ought to rouse his companions so that they could begin their long journey back to the forest. Yet he was strangely reluctant. Let them sleep a little longer, he thought. We'll need all our strength for what lies ahead.
Shaking scraps of bracken from his pelt, he picked his way across the sandy floor of the cave and out through the tunnel. A stiff breeze ruffled his fur as he emerged onto the springy grass. He was dry at last, after his near-drowning the night before, and sleep had refreshed him. He stood gazing around him; just ahead was the edge of the cliff and beyond it lay an endless stretch of shimmering water, reflecting the pale light of dawn.
Stormfur opened his jaws to drink in the air and catch the scent of prey. Instead his senses were flooded by a strong reek of badger. He caught sight of Midnight sitting on the highest point of the cliff, her small, bright eyes fixed on the fading stars. In the sky behind her, on the far side of the moorland, a strip of creamy light showed where the sun would rise. Stormfur padded over, dipping his head respectfully before sitting beside her.
"Good morning, gray warrior," Midnight's voice rumbled in welcome. "Sleep you have enough?"
"Yes. Thanks, Midnight." Stormfur still found it strange to be exchanging friendly greetings with her, when badgers had always been deadly enemies of the warrior Clans.
Yet Midnight was no ordinary badger. She seemed closer to StarClan than any warrior, except perhaps the medicine cats; she had traveled far and somehow had found the wisdom to foretell the future.
Stormfur gave her a sidelong glance, to see her eyes still fixed on the remaining stars in the dawn sky. "Can you really read signs there from StarClan?" he asked curiously, half hoping that her terrible predictions from the night before would vanish in the light of morning.
"Much is to be read everywhere," the badger replied. "In stars, in running water, in flash of light on waves. Whole world speaks, if ears are open to listen."
"I must be deaf, then," Stormfur meowed. "The future seems dark to me."
"Not so, gray warrior," rasped Midnight. "See." She pointed with her snout across the sun-drown water to where a single warrior of StarClan still shone brightly just above the horizon. "StarClan has seen our meeting. Pleased they are, and help they will give in dark days coming."
Stormfur gazed up at the brilliant point of light and let out a faint sigh. He was no medicine cat, accustomed to sharing tongues with their warrior ancestors. His task was to offer his strength and skill in the service of his Clan—and now, it seemed, of all the forest cats. Midnight had made it clear that each and every Clan would be destroyed if they could not ignore the ancient boundaries and work together for once.
"Midnight, when we go home—"
His question was never finished. A yowl interrupted him, and he turned to see Squirrelpaw burst out of the tunnel that led down into the badger's sett. She stood in the entrance, her dark ginger fur fluffed up and her ears pricked. Continues...
Excerpted from Warriors by Erin W. Hunter Copyright © 2007 by Erin W. Hunter. Excerpted by permission.
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