Chapter Eighteen

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“Get up!” A rough kick rudely woke Flame. Startled, he growled and let his fur rise. 

“Get up!” The grey she-cat repeated. Flame obliged resentfully. Still growling, he slid his tail around Dove’s muzzle and down her spine. She shook awake, smelling the jumbled stench of cats. She ambled to Flame’s side and tried to look tough. 

“Gorsetail, Crowfeather, Antpelt! Surround them!” The she-cat commanded. They nodded silently and obeyed. Flame and Dove were herded roughly from beneath the bush. “Why are you doing this to us? What did we ever do to you?” Dove cried. 

“Don’t speak unless spoken to!” The grey cat spat.

“Yeah, you tell them, Ashfoot!” Antpelt snickered.“Can’t you recognize a scent marker when you smell one?” Crowfeather hissed. 

“Well, wait, scent marker? Warrior names?” Dove hesitated, then continued. “Are you guys in a clan?” 

Gorsetail sneered as Ashfoot “Ha! What would a loner know about such things? Besides, it’s not your place to ask. Now, get moving!”

As they arrived at the camp, they saw kits playing with one another, and old cats sharing tongues. Dove was sure these cats were clan cats. The scene was quite familiar to her; apprentices play fighting by their den, warriors sharing tongues, the sight brought back long buried memories. Emberfoot, the smell of pines, sweat and dirt covering her pelt from the long hours of training. Frustration towards the Elders for being so grumpy and negative. Recollection came crashing down until she could hardly breath. All the regularity of that life opened a hole in her soul that nothing but clanmates could fill. Fighting tears, she turned to face a brown, tabby tom that padded sedately to Flame and her with Ashfoot at his side. He looked down at them, and said, “My deputy, Ashfoot, says he found you trespassing in our territory. Is it so?” Flame nodded and stepped forward to appeal to the obvious leader. “I am Flame, and this is Dove. We did not know this was your territory, but apologize profusely for our mistake. We were only seeking shelter for the night. I pray we receive your pardon.” The leader looked at hi warmly and said, “Flame, I am Onestar, leader of Windclan, I am pleased to meet you.” A crowd of wind clan cats had gathered around their leader and the intruders. A murmur passed through them when they heard the warmness in their leader’s voice. One cat ventured, “You won’t allow them into the clan, will you?” another took courage, “Yes! We don’t want to end up like Thunderclan, do we, Onestar?” These outbursts triggered outraged meows from all the clan, even the kits were bawling. Onestar lowered his tail for silence. “I will do as I see best for the clan!” Turning to Flame and Dove, he saw their expectant faces and lowered his voice so only they could hear and said, “I am truly sorry, but I cannot allow your admittance into Windclan,” Louder he added, “I escort you personally to the border. Breezepelt! Sunstrike! Come with me.” He silently led the patrol out of camp, while shouts of praise and acclamation pounded after them. As they tramped through open moorland, Onestar avoided  Flame’s eyes, afraid of the condemnation he would find there. One the contrary, Breezepelt openly jeered them. “If you thought for one second you would be able to join Windclan, you were wrong!” He continued the whole trip until at last they reached the border. Onestar finally spoke. “Go,” Flame ducked his head respectfully, and turned to go, Dove trailing. She took one last pained look at Windclan and sighed. Flame lifted his face to the heavens and said fervently, “It was not Starclan’s wish,” Dove nodded, and followed him. Dove despaired that they wouldn’t find another clan for moons. She couldn’t wait that long! Flame steered her toward the river. She turned her head around to see that the Windclan cats were still watching. For a moment, she thought Onestar would call them back, but she saw now that he feared his clan and Ashfoot, the deputy. She looked back where she was going, already tired from the morning’s endeavors. Flame had stopped and was now urging her into the ice-cold water. Clenching her teeth, she saw the swirling, clear water under her churn and twist about her body. Luckily, the deepest water was just a pawlength away from her paws. They finally made it to the other side where Flame gently pulled her out. Shivering, they looked at lush bushes and ferns, firm, tall trees, and grass as green as a kittypet’s collar. Dove took a deep breath as she plunged into the green depths.

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