Trailing Stars: Chapter 21 by Jayfrost

Trailing Stars: Chapter Twenty One

By: Jayfrost

Edited by: Hazelburrow

illustrated by Jayfrost



     The ferns surrounding the camp rustled lightly as the patrol brushed past them. All around the camp, the cats of BlogClan watched wearily as their Clanmates disappear beyond the ferns into the forest. Once the last cat was gone, nervous murmurs began to ripple through the crowd. The gathered cats were looking at each other with ruffled pelts and flicking tails, hope and worry gleaming in equal measure in their eyes. They all knew the weight of what the patrol was being asked to do. If their Clanmates failed to return with the herbs, then the sick cats, Cakestar included, wouldn’t stand a chance. Without their leader, BlogClan would scatter, and cats would begin to die. This was their only chance.

     Copperclaw moved on to assigning regular patrols for the day once the herb patrol was gone. Slowly, the crowd began to thin out as warriors left for various hunting and border patrols. The atmosphere was still tense, pelts fluffed out and tails flicking anxiously, and fear still filled the eyes of every cat. But now that the anticipation of the patrol was over, and they were being given their own tasks to focus on for the day, the tension was beginning to die down.

     One gray-brown warrior remained motionless as the others departed for their patrols. Jayfrost sat at the very edge of the crowd, her shoulders hunched and her head bowed, her amber gaze fixed on her paws. She hardly noticed as her Clanmates moved around her. Misery quivered in every hair on her pelt, and her trembling tail was pulled tight around her paws. Every instinct was screeching at her to run away from the crowd and hide where they couldn’t find her, but misery and shame kept her seated, waiting for the meeting to end before making her escape.

     “Jayfrost.” The sound of Copperclaw’s voice jerked Jayfrost from her miserable haze. She lifted her muzzle, blinking blearily at the deputy. There was a gleam of sympathy in Copperclaw’s eyes as she repeated, “You’re on Russetfeather’s patrol.” Her green gaze flitted back to Russetfeather. “Try to bring back as much prey as you can – I know this sickness has gotten every cat distracted, but cats still need to eat, so stay focused.”

     The russet tabby dipped her head. “We’ll do our best, Copperclaw.” As Copperclaw moved onto naming more patrols, Russetfeather stood, flicking her tail for her patrol to follow. Reluctantly, Jayfrost rose to her paws, trudging slowly after her Clanmates. The ferns brushed against her fur, tickling her thick pelt as she and her Clanmates passed out of the camp and into the forest beyond.

     Russetfeather led them briskly into the forest, apparently determined to get started on hunting as soon as possible. Mistpaw was trotting right at her mentor’s heels, while Sundance padded beside Russetfeather. Breeze That Glides Through Summer trailed farther behind, her own apprentice Wrenpaw sticking close to her mentor’s side. Jetclaw and Fallenpaw took up the rear not far behind the other cats. Jayfrost trailed far behind any of them, her gaze cast downward, and her tail dragging limply behind her. She hardly noticed when Russetfeather called for the patrol to stop.

     “This is a good spot to hunt,” the russet tabby declared. Though her words were confident, there was a hitch to her mew, and a too-bright gleam in her eyes, that told Jayfrost she was just as worried about the herb-gathering patrol as the rest of the Clan. “I think we should split up – it’ll be easier to sneak up on prey that way.”

     The rest of the patrol glanced uneasily at each other. “Maybe we should hunt in pairs,” Jetclaw suggested. Worry glowed in the warrior’s eyes as she glanced at her apprentice. “With the badger out there, and now a fox, there’s no harm in being over-cautious.”

     Russetfeather gave a brisk nod in reply. “Yes, that’s a good idea. Alright then. Apprentices can stay with their mentors. Jayfrost, you and Sundance can hunt together.”

     “Sure, Russetfeather,” Sundance mewed easily. Jayfrost didn’t speak, nearly giving a small nod in reply. While she had no desire for company right now, the idea of hunting alone while the badger was still out there made her fur stand on end. Memories of savage jaws and agony blazing through her body flashed in her mind, but she quickly forced them back. There was no way she would get any hunting done if her mind was caught up in memories of the badger’s savage attack on her patrol.

     Once everything was decided, the pairs split off to start hunting. Jayfrost fell in silently behind Sundance. As they walked along, Jayfrost could feel fear starting to creep back in. Since Dawnmist had cleared her for full warrior duties after healing from the badger attack, she had been on a few patrols. But she had not been on her own in the forest since the attack. Now, with only Sundance for company, she felt herself growing tense at every rustle of grass and every crunch of a fallen leaf. The terror of her failed attack on the badger played in her mind over and over, causing her chest to grow tight, her breath coming in short, hitched gasps. It would be all too easy for the badger to find her out here, and snap her spine to pieces, or crush her skull between its powerful jaws, or shatter her ribs…

     “Jayfrost?” Sundance’s mew jerked Jayfrost out of her dark thoughts. The pale ginger she-cat was staring at Jayfrost with concern glowing in her eyes. “Are you okay?” Jayfrost blinked at the she-cat, confused for a moment. She hadn’t realized how distracted by her panic she had become until Sundance had spoken.

     “Fine,” she murmured, unable to meet her Clanmate’s gaze.

     Sundance watched Jayfrost a few moments longer. It was clear that the ginger warrior wasn’t convinced, but after a moment, she turned away with a sigh. “Alright. Well, help me keep an eye out for prey. StarClan knows we need as much as we can get.”

     Something clenched in Jayfrost’s chest. I’ve failed again. I can’t even hunt anymore. She just gave a small nod in reply, too ashamed to speak. After a moment’s hesitation, Sundance set off again. Jayfrost fell in behind her Clanmate without a word.

     Birdsong rang out from the branches overhead, and Jayfrost could hear the rustling of prey in the undergrowth. But her paws were too slow, and her mind too sluggish, to let her catch anything. Her clumsy pounce scared off a sparrow, and she walked right past a mouse without scenting it, sending it scurrying away. Her misery only grew the longer they walked.

     Sundance seemed to sense her Clanmate’s dark mood. She murmured a brief word of comfort after the sparrow flew off, and managed to hold back any retort after Jayfrost scared off the mouse, even though prey had been hard enough to catch since they’d all been turned into cats. She was mostly silent as they continued along, apparently determined not to make Jayfrost even more miserable, even if the older warrior wasn’t any help at hunting at the moment.

     As they walked along, Jayfrost kept feeling her gaze being drawn to Sundance’s shoulder. Ugly pink scars parted the warrior’s fur on the lower part of her shoulder. Jayfrost remembered all too well how they had gotten there. Memories of the badger’s claws slicing across her Clanmate’s shoulder flashed in her mind, guilt and fear twisting in her gut. The warrior’s step faltered for a moment as she was overwhelmed with memories. Sundance glanced back at her Clanmate, following her gaze to the scars on her shoulder. For a moment, fear flashed in her eyes, as though the ginger warrior was remembering the badger attack. Then, the look in her eyes softened to sympathy. “It wasn’t your fault, you know,” she murmured, meeting Jayfrost’s gaze.

     A hard knot of guilt settled in Jayfrost’s stomach. “I was in charge of the patrol,” she whispered. “It was my responsibility, and I failed.”

     Surprise flickered in Sundance’s eyes. “You didn’t fail,” she mewed.

     “I should never have ordered us to attack that… that monster!” Jayfrost spat, suddenly pushed to anger. All of the resentment she’d been feeling against herself was suddenly boiling to the surface, now that she was being confronted with the idea that she wasn’t to blame. “I sent us into a fight we couldn’t win!”

     Sundance came to a halt, turning to face her Clanmate with a serious expression. Jayfrost halted in front of her. “You didn’t give the order to fight,” she said in a firm tone. “Copperclaw did, and she was right to. We all knew what we might be getting into when we went into that fight. It would have been worth it if we could have saved our Clanmates from being surprised by the badger anymore. It’s not your fault the attack failed, and it’s not your fault we were injured. We all got out of there alive – that’s thanks to you. You called off the attack in time, and you got us all out of there alive.“

     Except I didn’t. Bile rose in Jayfrost’s throat at the memory. She had called off the attack before any cat had been killed, but if it had been left to her, they all still would have died. After the badger had slammed her head against the ground, she had become too disoriented and confused by a concussion to lead her Clanmates anywhere, and the rest had all been too injured to take charge. If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of Geckopaw, her entire patrol would have been slaughtered. Her failure would have cost her Clanmates their lives.

     She turned away in a sharp motion, suddenly desperate to escape the sympathy of her Clanmate, sympathy that she didn’t deserve. “I think I smell a mouse,” she lied. Before Sundance could protest, she bounded off into the undergrowth, leaving the pale she-cat behind.

     Jayfrost hardly noticed the brambles and twigs that scraped against her pelt as she raced through the undergrowth. The only thought in her head was to put as much distance between herself and her Clanmate as possible. She didn’t deserve Sundance’s words of encouragement. Real people – children – had very nearly died because of her stupid, selfish belief that she could be a real warrior. She didn’t deserve the protection of her Clan, not when she had failed them, not when she had nearly cost real people their lives. Only selfish fear kept her from leaving her Clan behind entirely. Jayfrost was too much of a coward to strike out on her own – she feared hunger and pain too much to try and make it as a loner, even if she deserved it. The she-cat had tried to do her duty to the Clan since the attack, but she refused to be put in charge of any more patrols, and she hardly spoke to any cat anymore. She never wanted to be put in charge of other people’s lives again. She couldn’t be trusted with it.

     As the she-cat rushed past a clump of ferns, she was surprised to see a rounded hole carved into the earth, surrounded by brambles and clumps of tall grass. Jayfrost paused, then kept going forward, ducking down into the hole. She soon found herself in a smooth, rounded tunnel that stretched out in front of her, seeming to lead further underground. For a moment, fear clenched in her chest. But after a moment she forced it back. The tips of her whiskers brushed against the edges of the tunnels, giving her a sense of how large the tunnel was, and where it led. The tunnel would be a good place to hide from Sundance, and, if she was lucky, she might find some prey burrowed there to bring back to her Clan. She took a deep breath, then began padding forward.

     The tunnel was narrow at the start, growing wider as the warrior traveled through it. A rank smell began to fill the air, but Jayfrost was too wrapped up in her own misery to notice it. Eventually, the tunnel opened into a wide, hollowed-out den. The stench had grown even stronger now. Jayfrost’s eyes had finally begun to adjust to the low lighting, and as she stepped into the den, her eyes widened with horror at the sight that awaited her.

     The den was cozy, with a low dirt roof and carved-out walls. A nest of moss and feathers lay in the center of the den – and in that nest lay five small creatures. The rank scent that Jayfrost had ignored earlier was now mixed with milkscent. Yips and whines filled the air as the pudgy little animals scooted blindly around the den. Short brown fur covered their small bodies, and their ears were folded against their eyes, their eyes screwed shut. Five mouths were open in plaintive mewls, showing little pink tongues, and teeth that would one day grow into fangs that could tear a cat’s pelt. Jayfrost took a half-step back, reeling with horror. She had stumbled into a den of baby foxes!

     For a moment, Jayfrost could do nothing but stare at the nest of fox cubs, frozen in terror. The cubs were no threat to her, of course, and in any other circumstance she would consider them adorable. But a nest of baby foxes could mean only one thing – the mother fox must be nearby. Foxes were dangerous enough on their own, but a mother defending her cubs would be at her most vicious. There was no way that Jayfrost wanted to be around when she came back to the den. She wouldn’t stand a chance.

     Get out of here. Get out of here now! Jayfrost finally broke through her terror enough to regain control of her own paws. She scrambled backwards, ready to turn and flee the den, when a new sound made her pause. Over the whines of the fox cubs, there was a faint sound, too familiar for Jayfrost to ignore. “Couldn’t Copperclaw have picked someone else for this stupid patrol?”

     A gasp escaped Jayfrost, echoing in the hollow space of the den. Willowpaw! There was no mistaking the mew of her Clanmate. There were other voices too, much too faint for Jayfrost to make out, and the shuffling of paws. Horror overcame Jayfrost as she realized what she was hearing. Willowpaw had been assigned to the herb-gathering patrol earlier that morning. Copperclaw had said that the herbs they were looking for were located in front of a fox den – but there hadn’t been any mention of cubs in the den. Horrible realization came over Jayfrost. They don’t know about the cubs. Something in her chest clenched. They’re in danger!

     Terror nearly made her freeze again. But now, new urgency lent speed to her paws. It wasn’t just her in danger anymore. Jayfrost bounded straight past the fox cubs, nearly stumbling over them on her way out. Her paw knocked into one as she flew past, knocking the cub over a little, causing it to cry out in surprise. The gray-brown warrior followed the tunnel that led out beyond the nest, her claws tearing up clumps of dirt in her haste to get to the exit. Her heart was thundering against her chest in terror as she scrambled her way through the narrow tunnel.

     Finally, she burst through the den’s entrance, stumbling right into a startled Willowpaw. “Watch it!” the gray apprentice hissed, eyes wide with shock as she scrambled out of Jayfrost’s way. The rest of the patrol began to approach, gazing at Jayfrost in surprise.

     Jayfrost was far too winded to reply. She dug her claws into the earth, ragged gasps escaping her as she fought to draw air back into her lungs. There was no time to waste. The second she could breathe well enough to talk, she gasped out, “The den… the foxes…”

     “We already know it’s a fox den, Jayfrost,” Flowerstream mewed in a concerned tone. The silver-gray she-cat had been chosen to lead the patrol that morning by Copperclaw. She was standing at the head of the group now, gazing at Jayfrost with a baffled expression. “The scent isn’t fresh, though, so we know the foxes aren’t in right now.”

     Jayfrost shook her head impatiently. “Not foxes…” she panted, still too winded for full sentences. Her throat burned with every word, but she couldn’t afford to wait until her breath was back. She finally managed to gasp out, “Cubs!”

     Flowerstream’s eyes flew open wide. All around her, the other warriors had stiffened, fear and understanding flashing in their eyes. Thistlepool and Emberdawn were staring at each other with frightened expressions, Foxpaw pressing her pelt against Lupinepaw and Goldenpaw, all of the apprentices suddenly looking kit-like in their fear. Sunnystripe was staring off at nothing, eyes glazed over with new fear, while Willowstream was looking over her shoulder as though she expected the mother fox to come charging out of the bushes at any moment. But Willowpaw just looked confused. “So what?” she asked, glancing at the older warriors. “Who cares about a few fox cubs? They’re no threat to us.”

     “The cubs aren’t, but their mother is,” Owlwater answered in a grim tone. “If she finds us anywhere near her babies, she’ll be more vicious than ever. She’ll be fighting to kill, not just to chase us away.” Horrible realization lit up in Willowpaw’s eyes. Her pelt fluffed out in new fear, her tail bristling behind her.

     Flowerstream’s gaze swept over her patrol. Jayfrost could see her terror in the bristling of her hackles, but she was clearly trying to keep a level head. Her mew trembled a little as she said, “We can’t give up now. Our Clanmates need these herbs; they’ll die without them.”

     “So what do we do?” Goldenpaw asked in a small mew.

     The silver-gray she-cat sighed. “We keep gathering the herbs, same as before. We’ll just have to keep an extra-careful eye out for the mother fox coming back. Sunnystripe, I’ll put you on lookout duty. Stay back over there and keep watch, and raise the alarm if you see any sign of the fox coming back.”

     Her words didn’t seem to reassure the patrol very much. They were all exchanging worried glances, fear in the bristling of their pelts. Jayfrost could see the hope from earlier that morning starting to crumble in front of her eyes. Her own heart was sinking in her chest. It seemed like at every turn, there was some new danger facing BlogClan, some new way to steal their hope and place young lives in danger. Would there ever be any end to it?

     As the patrol set off to work, Flowerstream approached Jayfrost. “Thank you for the warning,” she mewed quietly. “At least we won’t be caught off-guard now if the mother comes back.”

     Jayfrost just dipped her head wearily in reply. The warrior’s breath had finally come back, but she still felt exhausted, more from fear than her run. She was too worried about the return of the mother fox to feel very proud of warning the patrol in time. The warrior glanced back at her Clanmates, who were busy cutting stalks and gathering leaves into a neat pile. “I can stay and help you gather herbs, if you need,” she offered.

     Flowerstream shook her head. “That’s nice of you, but you should probably get back to your patrol. We don’t need them worrying about where you’ve gotten to.” She reached out to nudge her muzzle against her Clanmate’s pelt, only to recoil with a curled lip. “Ugh. You smell like fox.”

     For a moment, Jayfrost’s whiskers managed a weary twitch of amusement. “Thanks,” she mewed in a dry tone. Flowerstream’s whiskers twitched as well, a teasing light to her eyes. Jayfrost was about to reply in kind, only to freeze as horrible realization came over her. “Oh StarClan,” she breathed, her heart twisting fearfully in her chest. “The cubs! I brushed past them on the way out. My scent will be on their pelts, and the den!”

     Understanding lit up in Flowerstream’s eyes. “BlogClan scent,” she breathed, fear lighting up in her eyes. “The mother will know a BlogClan cat has been in her den.”

     Jayfrost looked back at her Clanmates, fear and guilt sitting heavy in her gut. “She’ll be able to follow your scent back to camp,” she realized. “Her babies are so young, she’ll want to hunt down any predator that might be a threat to them.” This is all my fault, she wailed internally. If I hadn’t gone into that stupid tunnel… Her mind raced, her thoughts tripping over themselves in her desperation to think of a solution. “We… we need to lead the fox somewhere else,” she mewed, trying to keep a level head. “Away from camp.”

     Flowerstream took a deep breath, trying to calm her own fear. “We can try to disguise our scent on the way back to camp,” she said slowly. “We can cover ourselves in herbscent or something, or walk through a stream to disguise our scents. But the fox is still going to be looking for BlogClan scent.”

     Slowly, an idea began to occur to Jayfrost. Icy terror pulsed through every hair on her pelt, nearly taking her breath away. All she wanted was to turn away and flee from this nightmare life in the forest. But as she glanced back her Clanmates, she remembered just how young they were, how much of their lives they had ahead of them. There was no older adult she could turn to in order to protect her and make everything alright. She was the older adult. For her younger Clanmates, she had to try.

     “We can make a false trail for her to follow,” she mewed in a shaking tone. At Flowerstream’s confused expression, she explained, “Sort of like in A Dangerous Path with the dogs. I can go back into the fox den, then go somewhere else into the forest, far away from the camp, leaving my scent behind me as I go. I’ll make sure the fox follows that trail instead, then I’ll disguise my scent somehow, then circle back around to reach the camp. If the fox follows my trail long enough without finding me, and then the trail goes cold, maybe she’ll give up, and she won’t go hunting down our warriors.”

     Flowerstream’s tail began to bristle. “That would be incredibly dangerous,” she warned her Clanmate. “If that fox caught up with you, you’d be crowfood. There wouldn’t be anyone to help you.”

     Jayfrost took a deep, shaking breath. The agony of her wounds from the badger attack was fresh in her mind, reminding her just what was at stake if she failed and the fox found her. “I know,” she murmured, holding back a shudder. “But it’s the only way to keep the camp safe.”

     The silver-gray she-cat hesitated. Then, after a moment, she sighed. “I think you’re right. But you shouldn’t go alone.”

     “You need every cat here to help carry herbs back,” Jayfrost argued.

     Flowerstream countered, “We can spare one cat. Besides, two false trails might be better than one. Wait here.” She padded off towards the rest of the patrol, speaking to them for a few moments in a low tone. There were exclamations of fear, which Flowerstream quickly hushed as she continued to explain. Finally, Emberdawn took a step forward, mewing something that Jayfrost couldn’t hear. Flowerstream gave a small nod in reply. The two she-cats approached Jayfrost, coming to a halt in front of her. “Emberdawn will lay the other false trail,” Flowerstream told Jayfrost. “Be careful, both of you.”

     “We will be,” Emberdawn replied. The dark ginger she-cat was trying to look brave, but Jayfrost could smell the fear-scent coming off of her in waves. But she still held her chin high, mewing clearly, “We’ll meet you all back at camp.”

     Flowerstream dipped her head wearily in reply. Jayfrost and Emberdawn shared a quick, scared glance, then set off together. They passed the rest of the patrol as they approached the tunnel, who spared quick, worried glances at their Clanmates. “Good luck,” Owlwater murmured, a few of the others echoing her sentiment.

     Jayfrost ducked into the tunnel first, Emberdawn right behind her. The gray-brown warrior led her Clanmate down the tunnel, letting her whiskers guide her, and back into the wide den that held the fox cubs. The cubs were still mewling for their mother when the warriors padded into the den. Jayfrost’s heart was nearly in her mouth, every hair on her pelt quivering. If the mother fox came back while they were still here, they would be killed without question.

     Emberdawn took a deep breath, then approached the cubs. “What are you doing?” Jayfrost hissed, terror spiking in her chest. They had to get out of the den before the mother fox came back.

     Emberdawn looked grimly back at her Clanmate. Her blue eyes glowed with a dull light in the darkness of the den. “We have to make sure absolutely sure the mother finds our scent here,” she mewed quietly.

     Jayfrost hesitated, then approached the cubs on stiff legs. Their whines rose in pitch as the she-cat wound herself around them, rubbing her muzzle and head against their pelts, and licking a few of their pelts. “I’m not going to hurt you, babies,” she murmured quietly to the cubs. “I just need to make sure your mama can smell that I was here.” She licked one of the louder cubs between the ears, and he quieted, calming his squirming.

     She waited only a few seconds longer, then backed away. “That’s enough,” she mewed. “Come on, we have to go.” Emberdawn gave a small mew of agreement. Together, they approached the far tunnel, leaving the fox cubs behind them. The tunnel led them further up, until they could finally see the forest beyond peaking through the fern-covered entrance.

     Once they broke through the ferns into the forest, the two warriors split off into different directions. Every instinct Jayfrost had told her to run as fast as her paws could carry her. But instead, she forced herself to walk slowly. The warrior wound slowly through the undergrowth, making sure to rub against every bush and bramble she passed in order to leave her scent behind, even marking her scent in a few places. Every second was agonizing; she kept expecting the fox to burst out of the undergrowth, fangs aimed squarely at her throat. But all was quiet in the forest.

     After what felt like moons, Jayfrost finally allowed herself to stop. She figured that she was far enough from camp to end the trail. The warrior searched around the area for a while, looking for something to mask her scent, before nearly stumbling over a clump of mint. The overly-sweet scent of the soft leaves, which Jayfrost had hated even as a human, left her as to no doubt what plant she had found. She paused, looking critically at the leaves. She remembered vaguely having read that mint was used to cover the scent of death during vigils in Warriors. If she was right, it should cover her own scent well enough. The warrior crouched, then rolled onto her back, rubbing her whole pelt against the mint leaves and stems. The powerful scent of the leaves nearly made her gag, but she forced herself to keep going until her entire pelt was covered with it.

     Jayfrost was still on her back when the snap of a nearby twig alerted her. The air was suddenly filled with a rank stench, with a faint hint of milkscent accompanying it. Her heart nearly froze in sudden terror. The fox! The warrior scrambled to her paws, ducking behind a nearby hazel bush. She had just pulled her tail out of view when the creature came into view. The vibrant reddish-orange pelt and white markings of the fox stood out against the greenery of the forest, her dark legs and ears shadows against the bright leaves and ferns of the forest floor.

     Jayfrost held her breath, every hair quivering as the fox’s golden eyes swept the undergrowth, bright with rage for the cats that had threatened her cubs. The fox’s lip was curled, her fangs exposed in a furious snarl as she sniffed the ground, following Jayfrost’s trail. The warrior froze in terror as the fox passed right by her hiding place. She hardly dared to breath, unable to tear her gaze away from the fox as it continued to pad forward, sniffing the ground. Suddenly, the creature stopped in front of the clump of mint. It began circling the clump, whining as it continued to sniff, pawing the ground. She’s reached the end of my trail, Jayfrost realized.

     The fox lifted her head. For a few moments, her golden gaze swept slowly across the undergrowth. Jayfrost’s breath caught in her throat as the fox’s gaze lingered for a moment on her hiding place. But after a few moments, the fox gave a frustrated huff, then turned and trotted back the way she had come. Jayfrost didn’t let go of the breath she was holding until the fox had padded beyond a patch of brambles, completely out of sight. She sank to the ground, shaking all over in a sudden release of fear, and relief. The fox hadn’t found her. She was safe, for now.

     Jayfrost waited for a while longer, wanting to make sure the fox was really gone before setting out again. She made sure to take a longer route back to camp. Even though the mint was already masking her scent, the warrior waded through a small stream towards camp as long as she could, just to make completely sure that she wasn’t leaving any trail whatsoever. With a dripping-wet belly and legs, and a pelt stinking of mint, she finally pushed through the ferns that led into camp.

     “Thank StarClan!” Jayfrost was nearly tackled by the enthusiastic greeting of her Clanmates. Sundance was at the head of them, relief blazing in her eyes, while other warriors and apprentices were swarming her as well. Jayfrost could see the rest of her hunting patrol in the crowd, as well as other warriors and apprentices who had left for other patrols earlier in the day. With a start, she realized just how long she had been gone; the sun was starting to lower in the sky. “Emberdawn already came back, we were worried that you weren’t here yet.”

     “We thought the fox might have gotten you,” Kat added, butting her muzzle against Jayfrost’s head.

     Jayfrost took a half-step back, overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reactions of her Clanmates. “No, but it nearly found me. I had to hide for a while before it was safe to come back,” she explained. Sudden fear seized her. She searched the crowd, mewing aloud, “Did Flowerstream and her patrol make it back alright?”

     Kat was about to answer, but was cut off when a silver-gray she-cat pushed through the crowd, coming to stand before Jayfrost. “We got back just fine,” Flowerstream assured her Clanmate. “We managed to disguise our scent coming back to camp, and we didn’t run into any trouble on the way home.”

     “The herbs were exactly what we needed,” Dawnmist added. The silver tabby had left the medicine den behind, standing in the crowd around Jayfrost. “I’ll be able to treat the sick cats now.”

     Relief nearly took Jayfrost off of her paws. “Thank StarClan,” she breathed.

     Cats were beginning to pad away now that the excitement was over, but a few cats still remained by Jayfrost. “That was a great idea, Jayfrost,” Flowerstream mewed warmly. “You and Emberdawn got us out of that safely. Thank you.”

     Jayfrost paused, surprised and touched by her Clanmate’s words. Warmth began to fill her chest, a weight coming off of her shoulders, leaving her more at ease than she had felt in moons. This time, she hadn’t failed. She had realized the danger, warned her Clanmates, and found a way to keep them safe. Maybe she wasn’t such a failure as a warrior after all. Maybe she really could be a credit to BlogClan. Maybe, with warriors defending it, and with the herbs they needed to cure their sick, BlogClan could make it as a real Clan after all. The warrior held her chin high, letting herself feel pride for the first time since the badger attack.

     “You’re welcome,” she mewed sincerely.