LONELY SHADOW DANCES — arrival / joining

As night shifts into morning, the scent of the pine forest shifts into a scent of oak.

As he travels further away from SkyClan, regret begins to fill him. Maybe he shouldn't have left. What would Cosmospaw think? What if he wasn't okay with his departure? What if it harmed him more than helped him? Finchcatcher had time to turn back, to pretend none of this happened, to stay home in SkyClan and --

No. SkyClan isn't his home. It would be pointless, turning back now.

ThunderClan, however, could be his home. The ginger tom knows Emberstar enough to trust her, after all. He thinks he'll have a higher chance of being accepted into ThunderClan's ranks because of that. Not to mention, it's close enough to SkyClan that he'll be able to check up on his brother if he truly needs to, all while being away from the memories of the Great Battle that were brought on by the pine forest. Away from the nightmares of Toad.

ThunderClan can be his home.

Finchcatcher will be okay here.

The scarred warrior steps further into ThunderClan territory, a squirrel carried between his teeth. He doesn't quite have a plan here - doesn't know what one does when leaving one clan and joining another - but he hopes the squirrel will be offering enough to whoever may find him, to whoever can lead him to Emberstar.

// retro to the fire!​
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Blood turned ice cold. A dark storm brewed within as wide eyes stared at the ginger tabby.

"Toad would want him dead, if it were me that he killed,"

The grey molly took a step forward. Her veins began to boil and seethe. Lips curled back to expose sharp fangs.

"But, I --"

Another step forward. In that moment, she was an unpredictable storm. Fur stood at attention while claws instinctively unsheathed.

"How would you be able to find him?"

Frog's Ribbit apprehensive thoughts came to life. It turned out that she wouldn't have to search for his whereabouts. Instead, he found her.

Every inch of her nephew's murderer had been etched into her brain. This tom, without a doubt, was the snake who spilled Leaping Toad's blood.

"You - you." Fiery rage caused her voice to tremble. Vision tunneled in on the tabby. Because of this... this rat, Frog's Ribbit was alone. Gecko and Toad's Prowl were without their son. Her paws could still feel the muddy earth beneath them, clawing deep into the earth until they bled in order to put her nephew to rest.

Her body lowered to the ground, ears pinned back, and pupils dilated in feral aggression. But then, for a brief moment, she saw the look of disapproval on Ash's maw. She remembered the toad that stopped her claws from inflicted further damage. Toad, show me a sign. Desperate screams called out to the skies.

"Someone.. restrain me.. before I escort him to the stars where he may join my kin, my precious nephew, whose life he stole." Every ounce of self-control focused on keeping herself from tearing his throat to resemble the state of her broken family: torn apart and destroyed. She wanted him dead. He deserved death.

Stars, why must you tempt and test me so? What the fuck do you expect me to do when..

If not for Frog Ribbit's uncertainty, she wouldn't be hesitating. She had to find him and ask the question once more now that the sniveling coward exposed himself. If Frog's Ribbit wanted retribution then she would deliver - regardless of what the stars wanted.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. The cryptic StarClan omen weighed heavily on her. But would it be enough to stifle the bitter rage burning with her heart? Fuck the ghosts in the sky who seared that dream into the forefront of her brain.

"You fucking child killer." The molly saw red and it was clear she'd pounce at any moment if not quickly subdued. It was impossible to calm herself when she found herself face to face with Leaping Toad's murderer.​
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The pine forest felt so far away now.

Those bright days before the battle felt like they had happened in another world, another time. When she had no responsibilities to weigh her down, no worries of violence on the horizon. All she knew then was how overjoyed she was to finally have friends, to not be alone anymore. There and then, she had decided she would do anything to keep them.

When the shadow of the battle had begun to fall over them, she had no idea what was coming. Nonetheless, she had tried to prepare for it. Help her friends keep themselves safe. Finch and Haku, the two students she had tried to teach everything. She remembered Daisy Flight telling her what a good teacher she was.

That memory did not end happily.

Her days as leader had worn away at her, frayed her nerves and dimmed her light. Which made it all the more a relief when saw a familiar face padding into her territory. Her heart swelled with joy. He was back. One of her first friends, come to her new home. A smile sprung onto her face effortlessly. This was just the type of relief she needed, in these difficult days. She stepped forward, meaning to call out to him, to welcome him to her clan, her family.

Another voice rung out before hers, and her gaze snapped to Cinderfrost. Hackles raised and expression contorted in rage. Her eyes widened in realization. She didn't hesitate.

Her paws thudded against the forest floor as she raced toward them, winding around trunks and leaping over roots with expert precision. She pushed her legs in a way she hadn't since the dark day when blood ran freely about the territory and the fight never seemed to end. But today, she would not fail. A cream blur streaked through the forest. Emberstar burst from the trees, putting herself between them in an instant. Her claws unsheathed.

She spared a glance back at the tom over her shoulder, gave him a smile. "Heya Finch! Long time no see!" she greeted him warmly. Then she turned back toward Cinderfrost and her smile dropped away instantly. "Cinderfrost. Stand down. Or I'll make you."

Emberstar did not mince words, did not afford any niceties. She had made a promise to her clan that she would take care of Cinderfrost, if it came to it. All that mattered right now was keeping that promise. All that mattered right now was keeping Finch safe.
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He sees a form in the distance.

Good, this was good. He could ask them to take him to Emberstar, and then he could ask about staying here. This was good. Everything was fine.

Or, so he thought.

Finchcatcher heads towards the feline shape, all while preparing what he'll say to the distant ThunderClanner - that his name is Finchcatcher, that he's from SkyClan, that he wants to speak with Emberstar, that the squirrel is a gift. However, as he nears, he's quick to realize those aren't the things he will be saying.

It's as if he's asleep; as if the nightmares have yet again seeped into his dreams.

He doesn't expect the blue she-cat before him, didn't expect to see scars all too familiar to his claws adorning her face. And it's clear she wasn't expecting him either.

He shrinks back as she spews venom at him, as she prepares to inflict deserved harm to him.

"N-No, I... I was... I didn't --" he stutters as he starts to back away, his peace offering dropped between them, forgotten by the fear that shakes him. I didn't mean to, he wants to say, though it's a sentence he hardly knows if there's truth in. I was trying to protect my brother, he wants to add.

Had he come all this way to meet his death, rather than to run from his guilt?

He sees movement out of the corner of his eye. Movement heading towards him. Stars, he was being ambushed all over again, wasn't he? Green eyes are tightly shut as he crouches down, bracing for an impact that never comes.

As confusion washes over him, Finchcatcher opens his eyes, only to be met with a feeling of relief.


"Hi, Ember. Emberstar," he greets her with a shaky voice. The tom bows his head in respect, in thanks, as she stands between him and the blue-furred feline ready to attack him. Cinderfrost, he learns. Toad's aunt. "Long time no see, indeed."
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Koko is used to being out by herself or in the company of Night, shes not exactly content in being there without him but voices in the distance piqued small interest and so she'd quietly make her way over, announcing her presence with a small cough that came from the abnormal amounts of smoke pouring in to the forest.

But theres a beyond angry voice, seething with rage and venom above all else and she wants to shrink in to the earth and never return. It sparks a deep pit of fear within her and she lets out a small whimper upon realizing it came from Cinderfrost, child killer...? Her head spun, and then Emberstar was there in front of the newcomer and Koko is inwardly panicking because she realizes she is so useless right now.

Shaky paws lead her to the side of Cinderfrost, looking up to her with wide eyes. "Please, please don't." she chokes on her words, shes terrified, what if Cinder awol'd and killed them all right here? What if she killed the newcomer? The icy defeat of dread wins and drags her paws to the ground like cement. "Do... Emberstar... Help..." she chokes again, feeling like shes drowning. She can't get the sentence out. Shes terrified. "Hi." she finally gets out to the newcomer, almost stumbling with the effort it took to just get that one single word out.
"You didn't what? You didn't mean to kill my nephew? You didn't try to fucking kill his brother and compel him to intercept your killing blow?!" Oh, look. Emberstar approached with the audacity to order her to heel. Her rage only burned hotter when the leader showed her disgusting maw.

"That's fucking golden." Emberstar thought herself sooo far above her. As if she stood on some moral high ground when she'd helped murder a child. "Of course, the kit killer's accomplice would defend another child murderer." As awful as she'd been, at least she hadn't gone to war with the thought of killing her opponents. She'd subdued her foes when others killed theirs.

"Go back to the pines. Everyone from there seems fine with snuffing an innocent life before they're fully grown!" Breathing ragged, tail lashing, she took another step forward. Frog's Ribbit would understand. He'd have to understand because... because-

A presence to her side caused her gaze to flicker away from Finchcatcher and toward... Oh, darling little Koko. She looked terrified. A growl echoed in her chest though not directed at anyone besides herself. The apprentice aged she-cat looked at her like a monster...

She was a monster. But so were they.

"Only if you promise to never go near him." she whispered, voice trembling. "His paws are stained with the blood of a child younger than you." For a moment, she felt as if she's was looking at Leaping Toad. Her broken heart quivered.

The molly swiveled around, turning her back on her leader and the orange tabby, before stalking away. She didn't know where she was going as long as it is we away from them. ​
ThunderClan always has some strange, trifling conflicts going on between the cats leading and healing. Meadowflame has padded out behind Emberstar, face a careful mask of neutrality as Cinderfrost threatens this SkyClanner within an inch of his life.

She recognizes him, though the two hadn't interacted much, if at all. The young cat who'd come from the barn fire, hunting for his brother. The one who'd been mauled on that patrol by the marsh queen.

She watches Cinderfrost tremble with her rage before whirling on her heel to stalk away. Meadowflame's whiskers tremble with amusement. "Come to get away from the kittypets, have you? Though as you can see, it's not all sunshine and rainbows here, either." She giggles. It's genuine. "What's your name again? I'm Meadowflame now... you probably don't remember me. I left as soon as I could." The cream tabby shakes her fur out, smiles disarmingly.

The insults spat toward her and Finch got no reaction out of Emberstar. She stood firmly in front of him, crouched and ready to spring into action. Cinderfrost took a step forward and her every muscle tensed, preparing to strike. The shoulder, she decided, would be her target, a swift dart forward to sink her claws as deep as she could before she danced back out of range. She was certain she was fast enough to pull it off, even against a warrior this skilled. Hopefully it would impair Cinderfrost's movement enough too keep her from being a threat. If not, it'd give Emberstar the opportunity she needed to go for the kill.

All those thoughts and more ran though her mind in a second, and for that second it was like she had never left the battlefield.

Then Cinderfrost - with a last warning against Finch - turned and backed off. Still, Emberstar didn't dare sheathe her claws until she was well and gone. She heaved a sigh of relief, turning to her old friend with a weary smile. "Sorry for the poor welcome." She apologized. Her tail touched affectionately to his side. "It is good to see you though. What brings you to Thunderclan?'
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Cinderfrost's words of warning are hurtful, but at least it isn't claws dragging down his skin. At least it's not another opportunity for scars to form, to provide yet another reminder of what he'd done.

Though, it still hurts. It still hurts to hear others be told to stay away from him as if he's some monster. It's deserved, probably, but he knows he wouldn't dare lay a claw on anyone else. Or, at least, he doesn't think he would.

He nods to the young feline in acknowledgment, though does nothing more, not wanting to risk Cinderfrost turning around and pouncing at him, but not wanting to seem rude in the kid's eyes.

And then, another face appears. Familiar, but only in the slightest. Meadowflame, as she introduces herself.

"Finch," he responds back with what he's so used to introducing himself as, only to realize that, no, that's not his name anymore. "Er... Finchcatcher."

It's the first time he's introduced himself as such. It feels... odd. The ginger and white tom can only hope that Cinderfrost doesn't overhear, doesn't find extra meaning in his name, as he did when Blazestar gave him it.

"It's fine," he assures Emberstar as Toad's aunt disappears from his view, "It's good to see you too."

She asks what he's doing here, and Finchcatcher hesitates. With Cinderfrost in camp, would it be safe for him to live here? Would guilt continue to eat at him, be worse than what it was before? But, Emberstar protected him, and he was sure she'd do it again if needed. Of course, Finchcatcher was able to defend himself too, but he feared the anger that coursed through the blue feline was far stronger than his claws could ever be.

"I... I left. I left SkyClan," the warrior finally says, green eyes staring down at snowy paws, "I was wondering if I could stay here. Though, with what just happened, I fear I might not be able to if it's going to cause that much trouble." Emberstar wouldn't accept someone into her clan that would pose that much of a risk, right? If Cinderfrost didn't want him there, would he be allowed to stay?
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Emberstar blinked as her friend introduced himself. For some reason, she hadn't expected that his name might have changed. She didn't expect him to have changed at all. He was too perfectly preserved in her mind. When she looked at him, he still felt like the young tom that she had been so desperate to protect, even if he was a little older, a little taller. It felt like barely any time had passed at all for him. Meanwhile, she felt like an entirely new person than the one who had arrived in the pine forest three moons ago.

She did not share her surprise, however. "Well, we'd be glad to have you! Me especially! It's been great making new friends, don't get me wrong, but it'll be nice having an old one join them!" she told him with a laugh that hid just how honestly she meant it. The suggestion that he would cause trouble, she also laughed off. "It's no trouble at all! Let me handle Cinderfrost, if she gives you so much as a mean look I'll set her straight."
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