It’s hard to describe the terror I felt. I was terrified of so many things; The dogs, the teeth, death…but there was one thing that terrified me above all else: the thought of those beasts taking Brightpaw away. That day is still so very clear in my mind. I revisit it frequently, and yet I still can’t believe what an idiot I was!
I darted through the undergrowth, Brightpaw hard on my heels. My paws tingled with excitement. There’s no way Bluestar could ignore this! We’ll be warriors by Sunhigh tomorrow! I thought, letting the satisfaction of the thought seep into me.
“Swiftpaw,” Brightpaw panted, running alongside me, “Are you sure about this?”
I saw the doubt in her eyes, the fear. My heart skipped a beat as I gazed into those deep blue eyes.
“We’ll be fine, Brightpaw. Don’t worry about it! There’s probably only one dog there. We’ll be warriors by tomorrow, I promise.”
Brightpaw relaxed a bit, her eyes shining.
A flower of happiness blossomed inside me. Maybe after this is over, we could… I shook my head. I had to focus. Even if their enemy was simply a lone dog, they still had to be careful. However, I was sure Brightpaw and I could take it together. It’s just a mangy prey-stealer! I thought, and put on a burst of speed.
Brightpaw and I slowed as we neared Snakerocks and crept to the edge of the clearing. The sharp, jagged rocks pointed toward the sky. Sniffing the air, the dog’s putrid odor drifted to my nostrils. I wrinkled my nose in distaste.
“Alright, it’s probably hiding in that cave,” I pointed with my tail at the gaping hole between the rocks. “We should creep to the entrance, then dart in and take it by surprise. I bet it can’t even smell us over it’s own stinking scent.”
Brightpaw nodded, flexing her claws. Straightening her shoulders, she looked at me with a glimmer of excitement.
“Ready to become warriors?” she mewed happily.
“More than ready.” I replied. Then, hesitantly, I leaned forward and licked her cheek. Her eyes widened in surprise. For a moment, we sat, staring at each other. Then, Brightpaw pressed her head against my cheek, purring. Feeling elated, I remained still for a moment longer, savoring the feel of her warm fur. She pulled away, and nodded, an unspoken promise. I wanted so badly to yowl with glee, but I remained composed, and nodded in return. After a moment’s pause, I began to creep forward.
And that’s when everything went wrong.
I’d like to say I spun around and faced my foe without fear, like a true warrior. But the truth is, I didn’t even try to stand my ground.
The moment I realized we were facing not one dog, but an entire pack of huge, menacing beasts, I turned tail and ran. Brightpaw raced beside me, her eyes wild with fear. The dogs had surprised us. I don’t know how, but they had been smart enough to sneak up behind. I never saw it coming. Damn me for that. Damn me for everything!
“Brightpaw, this way!” I yowled.
We were heading straight for Snakerocks. We can’t hide in the caves. We’d be trapped there. We could try climbing the rocks, but they aren’t tall enough to really protect us. Perhaps a tree? With no other option, I called,
“Head for the trees!”
Brightpaw had begun to drift away from me. I could see her dappled white coat flashing toward the surrounding trees. She had heard me. I allowed myself a spark of relief, not knowing what would happen next.
Brightpaw ran right into the jaws of a waiting dog.
“NO!” I screeched.
The dog had her head between its jaws. Blood dripped to the forest floor, and I could hear her tortured cries.
Terrified, angry, without thinking, I pelted toward her. Save her! I have to save her! Please Starclan let me save her!
I leapt at the dog, raking my claws along its muzzle, feeling it’s flesh tear. The dog released Brightpaw and she fell to the ground.
I stood over her. My heart was racing with adrenaline, the terror inside me could only be matched by my anger and hatred. I glared at the dog, standing just a few fox lengths away.
The dog barked. The other dogs gathered behind it, and my eyes widened as I realized: this was the leader. The other dogs gave their leader a respectful distance, glaring hungrily at Brightpaw and I. The leader darted forward and sank its teeth into my hind leg before I could react. I yowled with pain and fury, then bit down hard on the dog’s ear, nearly tearing a bit off. The dog released me and backed away. Another dog leapt forward, and I swiped desperately at it, catching its nose and sending blood flying. I fought and fought, every attack leaving me battered, weakened. All the while, the dogs chanted in terrible, hungry voices. Pack, Pack, Kill, Kill! Pack, Pack! KILL KILL!
I can’t hold this out forever. I thought, despair sinking into me.
The pack leader stood, glowering with a triumphant, satisfied light in its eyes. It knows I can’t hold on.
I could feel the terror beginning to sap my strength. Brightpaw was shivering on the floor behind me, her face a bloody mess. I choked back tears. Starclan please! I begged silently as I swiped at another dog.
Startled, I glanced down at Brightpaw. Her one blue eye was fixed on me. Sadness and fear swirled in its depths, and my heart nearly stopped.
“I’m sorry, Brightpaw.” I whispered. “I brought you here… I did this.”
Brightpaw did not respond. She blinked, and there was something else in her gaze now, something warm.
“Swiftpaw…what are you doing? Run…please...run…”
I couldn’t stop the tears. As I felt them wet my cheeks, mixing with the spatters of blood, a wave of fury ran through me, and I stood straighter.
“No. I’ll never run. I’ll never let them touch you again, Brightpaw!” My mew rose to a snarl, and suddenly I was shouting at the dogs. “I’m finishing this!”
I leapt forward, my eyes red with rage. I was blind, oblivious to the pain, only aware of the yelps and snarls of the dogs as I tore through them, and they through me. My mind screamed as I fought. Starclan, listen to me now! She will live! No matter what happens to me, I will defend her, and she WILL survive! My life for hers! If you can do nothing else, do this for me!
And the pain stopped. I opened my eyes to find myself in a grassy clearing. The world was calm and peaceful again. There was no blood, no teeth, and no dogs. Trees heavy with leaves stood to my right, and a pool of water lay to my left, it’s surface smooth, reflecting the sky above.
“Your call was heard.”
I looked up to find a huge golden tom, his pelt speckled with stars, walking toward me.
“Lionheart! But you died!”
“Yes, young warrior, I did.”
“Then is this…Starclan’s hunting grounds?”
“Yes.” Lionheart replied.
I gazed around myself once more, amazed.
“You fought like a warrior.” Lionheart purred.
I felt happiness bubble in his chest. Then a wave of fear crashed down on me.
“Wait, what about Brightpaw?!”
Lionheart raised his tail, signaling silence.
“She is fine. She suffered severe injuries, but she will survive and live on to become a great warrior.”
I almost collapsed with relief. She’s going to live. She’s going to live.
“But I’m dead…” I whispered to myself.
“I’m afraid so, young Swiftpaw.”
I felt a pang of regret as I pictured Brightpaw’s shining blue eyes. We had a future together… I thought.
Lionheart stood for a moment in silence, watching him. Then, in his rumbling voice, asked,
“Would you like to see her?”
I looked up into the eyes of the Thunderclan warrior. Hope bloomed in my chest, and I nodded.
Lionheart walked to the pool a few fox lengths away and sat at its edge. Puzzled, I trotted over and settled beside him.
“Look into the pool, and you will find her.”
I cast a dubious glance at Lionheart before turning my gaze to the blue depths of the pool. For a moment, the water was still, holding a perfect reflection of the clouds overhead. Then, suddenly, the water shifted. It swirled until I began to make out an image. The medicine cat’s den! I realized. In a corner of the den, a white figure was crouched, it’s pelt dappled with patches of ginger. Brightpaw… Brightpaw lay, curled in a bed of moss. As the image became clear, I saw her injured face. Her eye was gone, and large, raw scars slashed the left side of her face.
“You see? She is alive and well.” Lionheart said.
I tore my eyes from the pool and glared at the golden tom.
“But she’s hurt! She lost half her face because of me!” I shouted. I was such a fool…
“Swiftpaw, you mustn’t blame yourself. It is true that what you did was foolish, but Brightpaw came of her own accord. You did not force her, and you did not know what awaited you at Snakerocks.”
I looked back into the pool, angry at myself, guilt burning in my chest. As I watched. Brightpaw opened her eye and looked up. Cloudtail walked toward her and dropped a piece of freshkill in front of her. She blinked gratefully and I heard her muffled voice whisper,
“Thank you, Cloudtail. You don’t have to look after me.”
“I don’t mind one bit, Brightpaw. You just wait, you’ll be better in no time.” Cloudtail replied.
A pained look crossed Brightpaw’s face.
“But these scars will never go away.” She murmured bitterly.
Another flash of guilt rippled through me.
Cloudtail leaned forward and licked her scared cheek. Brightpaw’s one good eye widened in surprise, and Cloudtail purred.
“That doesn’t matter. You’re still beautiful, and one day, you’ll be one of the greatest warriors in all of Thunderclan.”
Brightpaw’s eye softened, and she purred.
I watched the scene with a mixture of hope and jealousy. She’s in good hands. I told myself, pushing away the jealousy. To the pool, I whispered,
“Watch over her, Cloudtail. Defend her with your life, and don’t you ever let her go.”
In the pool, I thought I saw Cloudtail’s ear twitch.