Chapter Thirteen

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     Cloudstar released a massive yawn as he finally settled down at the corner of the clearing. His vision swept across the barren area with ease. His bright blue gaze fluttered from cat to cat as he took a small bite from his mouse. It was drier than the nice fat ones at home, but at the moment he was too hungry to care. Nearby, Birchfeather and SkyOtter were sharing a plump rabbit. Their gazes locked with a pleased purr, their tails abesnt-mindedly twined. Tallpaw was speaking with Duskgaze and Skypaw, who were licking their chops as they whisked down their last remnants of food.

        The sun was finally settling under the tree tops, ribbons of pink and light purple streaked across the sky. Cloudstar's tail flicked impatiently nearby as he struggled to find something to do. They were wasting precious daylight; and, more importantly, time to find those 'air sweepers'. Shaking his stiff pelt, Cloudstar finally stood to all four paws. His blue gaze rested upon Tallpaw as the young apprentice turned to face him. He was getting so much bigger than when he'd first joined the clan. Cloudstar could hardly recall his own warrior ceremony, yet Tallpaw's arrival was encrypted in his mind.

        "The sun is retiring below ground." Duskgaze meowed, glancing at his leader promptly. Cloudstar nodded. "We should all seek shelter in the abandoned fox den." He gazed around at his clanmates for approval. Skypaw and Duskgaze both looked very unsettled. "Don't you believe it would be better to stay in a place where Starclan cats don't sleep?" Duskgaze's voice was almost inaudible as he choked the words out. His whole expression was hard to read, but Cloudstar knew it all too well. "Starclan watches over us, Duskgaze. We should have no fear of resting with them."

        Tallpaw flexed his claws into the ground, fur bristling along his neck. Why are Duskgaze and Skypaw so skeptical about this old den? His thoughts were interrupted by SkyOtter's calm voice. "Perhaps Gorsestar wouldn't like us seeking shelter in his own." She meowed, her tail brushing against the red dirt absent-mindedly. Cloudstar let out a small growl. If his cats didn't trust Starclan to help them in small times like these, Ashclan was surely lost. "You all are scared of Starclan?" His vocie was controlled, but his gaze was cold and unwavering. Birchfeather flinched, backing up a few pawsteps. "We're not afraid of Starclan, Cloudstar." Skypaw meowed, brushing against the twitching Duskgaze. "We're afraid of what Starclan will do. Afterall, it's a moonstone. Only medicine cats are allowed there, unless you're becoming a leader or something..." She trailed off as Cloudstar turned away. "We have no proof it's a moonstone, and no reason to hide from it either. It's a worthy place for shelter."

        SkyOtter hesitantly signaled to the cats to obey. This was no time to disrespect their leader, or make him feel as if they were abandoning his laws. Birchfeather let out a small growl, annoyance flourishing through his gaze. "Cloudstar should know that we're concerned. He's forcing us to leave, not even willing to listen and help us understand." His voice was cut to a steely edge as he shot a glare at his leader. SkyOtter cuffed his ear. "Stop that!" She hissed, gazing at the other cats who had gathered around them. "Cloudstar is our leader. It's not easy making the decisions, and sometimes he's going to make mistakes." Tallpaw shifted uneasily on his paws.

        Hesitantly, all of the cats followed their leader through the rocky terrain. By now, the sun had finally dove below the horizon. A dark glow was set upon the cats darkly, settling the mood to a slightly uncertain level. Skypaw stumbled over a rock, yelping with pain. Tallpaw whipped around, alarm flecking his gaze. "Skypaw!" SkyOtter leapt over to where the apprentice was standing, blood oozing from a small cut in her pad. The small she-cat winced as she tried to placed the cut against the ground, letting out a small yip. Cloudstar padded over and sniffed the cut, growling with irritation. "This isn't good." He meowed, gazing at the dark sky above. Clouds were obscurring the stars, setting the cats in an even worse mood. "Starclan isn't able to watch us tonight, and EchoDust didn't equip us with many herbs." He glanced at SkyOtter questioningly. The she-cat shrugged. "Tallpaw, you were in his den for a day or two." She meowed, her gaze fluttering towards the tom hopefully. "Why don't you help Skypaw when we get to the den. If Echodust gave us some cobwebs, we should be able to help her paw for tonight, and find some herbs tomorrow." Cloudstar grunted, dipping his head submissively towards his deputy. "I should just retire already." His voice was playful, but hints of uncertainty shone in his bright blue gaze. Tallpaw's pads prickled as his supported Skypaw, letting her lean against him. She was surprisingly light, and her pace matched his almost evenly.

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