United Stars (Chapter 4)
Word-Count: 1,281 Content Warnings: ??? Written: 2017?? Last Edit: ???
"We should go to Stoneclan's gorge before the sunset," Snakeskin said. "I've already set up the hunting parties for today, so the clan should be fine in our absence." Quietstar let out some faint murmur of agreement. The two cats walked out north.
Their journey was silent. The wind gave no scent of prey, so neither ever stopped to hunt. The cats made good time, but Quietstar was tired and weak. He was reaching the age where these journeys would only become more and more perilous.
As they started to see the stony fields on the horizon, their eyes instantly met with a group of Stoneclan cats, about four strong. "Should we have brought more warriors...?" Quietstar said nervously, remembering that they had barely escaped the meeting with Briarclan and Woodclan without a fight.
"No." Snakeskin said simply. Quietstar looked at the brown tabby tom, but without a tail, it was hard to read him. Snakeskin looked out of the corner of his eye, meeting his gaze with Quietstar's, as if to simply show the black cat that he knew he was being evaluated.
The Stoneclan cats did not have aggressive stances. They looked tired. Lightstep, a black-and-white she-cat, stood forward to talk before Snakeskin and Quietstar reached the border. "What is your business? Another envoy?"
"Yes," said Snakeskin, "an envoy of high importance. We must speak to Graystar."
Lightstep narrowed her eyes and swayed her tail. "Duskpelt is our leader now."
"Duskpelt?" Quietstar questioned.
"He will go to the Everpool tonight to receive his name and nine lives. Until then, Duskpelt needs to rest." Lightstep looked down onto the tiny black leader. "Whatever message you have, you can tell to me. Or you can leave."
The tail-less tabby coughed, to draw the Stoneclan cat's gaze onto himself. "Duskpelt should probably not make that journey during the night. The nights have become dangerous."
"It is custom to visit the Everpool at night, when the Nightkeeper shines brightest." Lightstep hissed forcefully. "Not even the will of the silver-tongued Snakeskin will change that."
"It's not my will," Snakeskin wasn't offended by her aggressive tone. "I simply wish to warn Stoneclan of the madness that is infecting cats at nighttime."
"We know already!" One of the other Stoneclan warriors, a very young cat, yowled.
Snakeskin's eyes flashed. "Stoneclan has lost cats to the madness?"
Lightstep flattened her ears and drew her head back. "That is not what he said-"
"But you have lost cats?"
She paused. "Yes. Has Dustclan not?"
"No." Snakeskin replied. "Dustclan has not lost any cats, as we have discovered a cure."
The four cats, even Lightstep, shot up their ears with interest. She was quick to flatten them again as her face showed her suspicion. "You have found a cure for the Sunscorched Madness?" She craned her neck. "Where is your medicine cat?"
Quietstar rapsed, "He was busy....attending to our cats." He paused. "Did you name it the Sunscorched Madness?"
"I was under the impression that Briarclan had named the disease that." The young warrior said again with a shrug.
"Take a message to Duskpelt!" Snakeskin projected his voice, almost as if he wanted the cats down the gorge to hear. "Dustclan has cured the Sunscorched Madness, and wish to make a deal with Stoneclan to exchange it."
Lightstep scoffed. "It's always a deal with you, Snakeskin."
"Knowledge is powerful. Power comes at a price." He said matter-of-factly.
Lighstep turned to whisper to her other warriors. They responded with confused faces and small glances toward the two Dustclan cats.
Finally, Lightstep let out a bitter sigh and said, "I don't see much option. Go fetch Duskpelt." She turned back to face Quietstar and Snakeskin, fur prickling and eyes fierce. "You will wait here."
"Of course," Quietstar murmured. The two cats waited in a silent staring contest with Lightstep as the warrior dissapeared down beneath the horizon. When the newly announced leader arrived, it was with a party of more warriors. Stoneclan was showing its force.
The Dustclan leader started a formal greeting, but was cut short by Duskpelt. "This had better be good, Snakeskin." Quietstar lowered his head and turned away.
Snakeskin replied unfazed. "Stoneclan has suffered losses to the strange illness. How many has it taken?"
Duskpelt flicked his tail. "This is not information Dustclan needs to know."
"Well..." said the brown tabby. "They need not suffer anymore. Dustclan can share the cure."
"Under what conditions?" Duskpelt was not interested in formality or subtlety.
"We need Stoneclan warriors. Briarclan and Woodclan are united to attack Dustclan. We can not survive without Stoneclan's help. If Dustclan dies, the cure will die with it."
Duskpelt's gaze sharpened. "What has Dustclan done to upset two clans?"
"This is not information Stoneclan needs to know." Snakeskin replied with a grim sense of humor.
Lightstep twisted her nose. She was offended by this disrespect, and turned to Duskpelt expectantly. Duskpelt's tail lashed quickly, but his lips were curled in thought. "When and where would you need these warriors- IF we decide to help you."
"Tonight." Snakeskin said. "Woodclan and Brairclan are planning to attack us tonight, we need to be ready."
Quietstar's eyes widened. Was this true, or another of Snakeskin's tactics? It was almost sunset. If it was true, they needed to be back quickly.
"You're cutting things awfully close," Duskpelt growled.
"We didn't have much time to prepare ourselves." He replied. "But, if you'd rather loose a few more cats to the disease..."
"You don't need to twist our paws," The Dustclan leader snapped. "We will accept your offer, but only if you can offer me the proof that you have a cure."
Quietstar swallowed. Snakeskin paused, but only for a brief second. "How can we be sure that you won't go back on your promise?"
"If you have nothing to show, I have no interest in sending my warriors to battle for you." Duskpelt said. Lightstep and the other warriors nodded.
"Fine," Snakeskin replied. Duskpelt and Quietstar pricked their ears in surprise. "When we encounter the madness tonight, as I'm sure we will, Dustclan will heal a cat."
"Tonight?" The dark gray-tabby tom huffed.
"It's hard to heal something that is not around, and the sick cats only come out at night," Snakeskin said coolly.
Duskpelt unsheathed his claws, forcing himself in to the space of the Dustclan cats. "First thing tonight," Duskpelt rumbled. "I will watch you heal this cat, or you will have one more clan to fight, Snakeskin."
"What about your visit to the Everpool?" Lighstep said in a hushed tone. "You need to go...."
Duskpelt signaled his tail dismissively. "It will have to wait. Briarclan and Woodclan have no quarrel with us, they will not attack if we don't-- and we won't, until Dustclan proves itself. Finding a way to stop the spread is priority."
Quietstar bolted his eyes from Snakeskin to Dustpelt, back and forth. "In dangerous times..." He wheezed. Before he could finish, however, the brown tail-less tom stepped in front of him to block his speech.
"Starclan looks proudly on the leader who puts his clan before himself," Snakeskin smiled. "Your decision will surely please them."
Duskpelt didn't return the warm sentiment. "Don't tell me what Starclan thinks. You do not speak for them."
He seemed disappointed. "You're right. Either way, there are more important issues to take care of. Choose the warriors who will come with us to the Woodclan border."
"The cats you see in front of you," said Duskpelt. He nodded his head in the direction of the many warriors.
Even Quietstar smiled at such the amazing force, turning to look at Snakeskin who showed his approval. "Perfect."