Banished Stars (Chapter 4)
Word-Count: 1,895 Content Warnings: ??? Written: 2017?? Last Edit: ???
The sun peaked up from behind the distant mesas, like a small head peaked over a rock to spy on what lay beyond. In the sky, the stars were still bright and visible. Foxflight had lead Crystalsight well outside of the camp. He stopped her silently and looked up at the sky.
"Do you see that group of stars, directly above us?" Foxflight mewed.
"Of course." Crystalsight replied. "Starclan watches over all clan cats...even so far away. Their reign....must cover the entire world..." She drifted off.
"But do you see that specific group of stars? The brightly glowing ones?" Foxflight interrupted her musing with a more forceful question.
"I see a group of stars," Crystalsight said, "but they all seem to shine the same to me." She lowered her eyes, a little embarrassed.
"You can't-" Foxflight stopped. "Oh! You're not Dustclan. Of course."
"What do you mean?" Crystalsight titled her head in confusion.
"The Nightkeeper, it is Dustclan's Nightkeeper. It would not shine as strong for you, being of Tideclan." He looked at the ground with concern. "I'm not sure how I can teach a cat from another clan how to dowse, if they can't see the full Nightkeeper."
Crystalsight nudged him. Her face seemed sour, as she was not used to their being anything about Starclan she didn't know. "What is a Nightkeeper? Do you not see the warrior ancestors above?"
Foxflight perked back up. "Oh...but what portion of Starclan? Where do the Dustclan ancestors reside?"
"Portions....?" She had never even considered that the sky must be divided.
"The Nightkeeper is the guardian of a clan, they contain the warrior ancestors of each clan in their region at night. You can see them in the sections of the night sky." The red tom continued.
"But, Starclan....isn't it united?" Crystalsight protested. She didn't even know how to explain herself. The medicine cat had always believed that Starclan was a single entity, free from clan borders. It had never been questioned, and she had never even thought it to be a question.
"Why would it be?" Foxflight folded a single ear. "There are four seasons, four territories, four clans.... four starclans, four Nightkeepers. If there was just one Starclan, why would there be more than one clan?" He laughed. "We could all live together, never having to worry about hunger or thirst." Foxflight's tone was mocking.
Crystalsight opened her mouth, but said nothing. His words seemed to make sense. Four clans on the ground, four Starclans in the sky. "So these Nightkeepers..." She whispered.
"The nightkeeper of Dustclan is Cheetah." Foxflight said. "Cheetah is the smallest of the Nightkeepers, but the fastest and most clever. To Dustclan cats, she would shine brightly, and her stars would point the way to water. Every night, the Four Nightkeepers move ever so slightly, forever turning toward the water to let their clan live. Medicine Cats, we use the Nightkeepers to dowse."
"Then how...how will Tideclan dowse?" She said.
Foxflight was silent, hanging his head. After a deep sigh, he said, "When I look at Cheetah, her light shines not only in my head, but in my mind. I can see the place she intends for me to go." The tom swallowed and straightened his shoulders, calling up a reserve of strength. "I am certain Starclan, whatever Starclan that watches over Tideclan, has not abandoned you. Maybe, if you look at the sky you can see it to? Without a Nightkeeper?"
Crystalsight seemed apprehensive.
"It's at least worth a try," Foxflight pleaded.
"Oh, no." She mewed softly. "I believe you. I am trying to listen for Tideclan's Starclan."
"But your face seemed so-"
"My face just looks that way." Crystalsight said sharply. It was something she had to say often, with her sad, distant eyes.
He kneaded the dirt awkwardly. When the white she-cat looked up with a smile, Foxflight's stiff muscles relaxed from the tension of their conversation. "Did you hear...see something?"
"Yes." Crystalsight purred. "To the east."
"That's great. Cheetah directs me to the south," Foxflight flicked his tail that way.
Crystalsight began to worry. "Does that mean that I-"
"No. We should be going in two different ways. Tideclan needs its own water." He said firmly. Crystalsight nodded. The two cats parted ways. The Dustclan medicine cat walked with a very sure, swift footing. Crystalsight walked much slower and thoughtfully. She often turned her gaze up at the sky, watching the stars as they slowly faded behind the harsh sunlight.
Crystalsight walked for a ways, back along the path Snakeskin had taken them. Although it had been less than a day, she could smell the faintest change in the scent up ahead. She could recognize that Dustclan's scent was ending, and something else was beginning. It was her memory, not her nose, that reminded her this was Woodclan.
Crystalsight stopped suddenly, before the Woodclan border. Her mind flashed and her paws ached in anticipation. She began to dig into the soft earth, claws raking up clods of dirt.
There was nothing. Her tail drooped. Could she not dowse, like these Dryland cats....? How would Tideclan survive without a Nightkeeper? She had not even heard of the strange celestial guardians until this morning, but already felt scared and uneasy that there was none for Tideclan.
"You have to keep going."
The white medicine cat turned around. Foxflight! His entire lower side was clumped with mud and dirt, but most importantly, his muzzle was wet.
"The water isn't going to be that shallow." Foxflight said, walking over to Crystalsight. "You have to dig deep." The tom lifted his paw and slammed it into the earth. His muscles rippled. Crystalsight had never taken the time to notice how lean and strong Foxflight was. He was a large cat who surely would have been a great warrior if that had been his path. She let herself break from the train of thought, helping Foxflight dig. Suddenly, the earth seemed to crackle and grumble. Crystalsight took a step back, afraid that perhaps the sea would jump out at her.
A small, brown drizzle floated to the surface. The hole was filled with a layer of water, only about as thick as a few whiskers. "Is...is that it?" She said, dissapointed.
"Yes. It'll last for most of the day, though, even as your cats drink at it." Foxflight didn't seem surprised.
Crystalsight looked at the dirt-thick water. Her heart shot with a pang of sadness, missing her old home. This world was so different.
Foxflight nudged her. "You should go get your clan. The sun has risen and I am sure they are thirsty." She nodded, and the two slowly began to head back in the direction of the Dustclan camp.
The two medicine cats did not have to make the full journey back into the camp. They met up with Snakeskin and the other Tideclan cats, taking a tour to hunt.
"Crystalsight!" Pebblepaw squealed. Puddlepaw shuffled on his feet, flinging dirt in air toward his brother, and ran over to her. Pebblepaw followed immediately. Puddlepaw had a small, lean mouse in his mouth. He dropped it in front of her.
"We caught this for you," the gray apprentice said proudly.
"Prey here is little." Wavecrash added darkly, nodding a welcome toward Crystalsight.
Rainstar stepped forward, quickly adding, "But it is not scarce. Once we fully understand the prey here, there will be plenty to feed us."
Crystalsight smiled slightly. She nibbled at the mouse until it was gone.
"How was dowsing?" Rainstar replied, her eyes fearful. "Did you find....did you find water?"
Foxflight spoke before the white she-cat did. "She did great! Found a little spring without a Nightkeeper, even."
Rainstar flattened her ears. "What?"
"That's....surprising." Snakeskin seemed genuinely shocked, though his voice was calm and formal.
"We shouldn't waste anymore time." Crystalsight said smoothly, turning back around. "Follow me, I will show you the water and I will explain on the way."
The Tideclan cats didn't wait for her to repeat herself. Pebblepaw and Puddlepaw even raced out ahead of the medicine cat, as if they had any idea where they were going. Crystalsight talked with great eagerness to Rainstar, about the Nightkeepers and the dowsing.
Rainstar twisted her face. The Nightkeepers, a divided Starclan... was it true? If their ancestors were limited to a portion of the sky, had they followed them to the Drylands? Rainstar didn't speak her fears out loud, but her next thought hit her like a cold gust of air. If Starclan was divided....are their ancestors at war too? Was their truly no escape or peace for the clans? The sound of splashing water, heavy on her paws as it began to drag her down....
"Rainstar, you've walked into it." Crystalsight broke her trance. Pebblepaw and Puddlepaw giggled. "You must have been deep in thought."
Rainstar gulped, looking down at the mud she had walked into. It took a bit of concentration to even tell there was a layer of liquid near the top.
"This is our water?" Wavecrash said. "This...this doesn't look fit to drink."
The leader furrowed her brow. She could tell that Wavecrash was doubting her decision again. Her tongue prepared to spit, but Crystalsight spoke faster. "I've drank from it. It's surprisingly refreshing." She almost giggled.
"Besides, what other water have you seen?" Frostfang cackled. Rainstar blinked. It was not often that Frostfang would show any approval of her leadership, even when it was so...indirect. It must be because this is the work of Crystalsight, she told herself.
The white medicine cat turned to her leader. "Rainstar, if you could let us..."
"Oh...oh! Of course," Rainstar jumped out of the mud. The two gray apprentices giggled again at her clumsiness. They were innocent, but she was all too conscious of the fact that this was not a display of her leadership skills. The leadership skills I hope I even have, Rainstar thought grimly.
The Tideclan cats took turns drinking. They each lapped for a long time, enough to sate themselves, but the water didn't disappear. As they drank, more bubbles of cool water floated to the surface.
"Would you like some?" Rainstar asked Snakeskin and Foxflight. There was still water left over after her entire clan had drank. This seemed polite.
"It's not our water." Snakeskin shook his head.
Wavecrash prowled between the tail-less tom and the Tideclan leader. "I think," His eyes locked with Rainstar's, "we ought to preserve any water there is for Tideclan. It might dry up before we know it."
Foxflight was not bothered by the deputy's harsh tone. "It won't dry up until sunrise," he said very matter-of-factly. Wavecrash looked at him from the corner of his eye. He was obviously not convinced. Despite the heat of this place, it was still Leafbare, and the sun had already began to drop below the distant horizon.
"Rainstar...." A little voice called. Rainstar looked down at Cedarpaw. "Rainstar," said Cedarpaw, her voice hollow, "there is something coming."
Rainstar looked back. Her warriors stepped forward and the apprentices creeped nervously beneath them. She could make out a shape in the distance....though it wasn't in the distance for long. It was a cat, charging at full speed with unnatural vigor.
"Is that..." Rainstar questioned, squinting. The cat was close enough to see now.
Snakeskin hissed like a crack of thunder. "Palethorn!"