private walking through the fire, running through the EMBERs

Ash and Leaping Toad wanted the blue molly to make amends. They held no ill will toward the cream-pointed, blue-eyed ray of sunshine. Instead, guilt consumed her and caused mental clarity to fog. She'd waved claws in the air at the ones she perceived to have helped the murder of Ash and Leaping Toad. Selfishly, she pointed at them despite knowing she was at the root of it. She was the one to blame. That guilt had feasted on her fragile mental state.

Signs of life slowly appeared; the she-cat perched near the outside of her claimed den every so often. Within the shadows, of course, but still closer to the clan. She no longer hid within an empty, lifeless shell. A flicker of light had emerged in her previously dull, lifeless eyes. Unlike the living, Leaping Toad, Ash, and Hare Whiskers trusted her and that meant much given recent events.

Emberstar approached again and again. The younger molly had tried to talk but she'd been incapable of conversing. She couldn't even remember what the she-cat said those times she visited. Something about how they needed to discuss what happened and she needed to eat - or maybe someone else told her the latter. All of it now felt like a distant, blurry dream.

If the leader of the forest tried again, extended that olive branch, she would try. While she couldn't forgive nor forget quite yet, she knew she needed to do something. She also knew she needed to apologize. She was older so she needed to step up... but it felt like a lie to say "I'm sorry". Because she wasn't sorry. Or maybe she was. Ashamed, at the very least. Her blood still burned hot for justice but killing Emberstar wouldn't satiate that desperate wanting.


For days now, Emberstar had done almost nothing but watch after Cinder. Though the older she-cat had done little but lay in her den all day, she stood guard outside nonetheless, just to make sure nothing happened. Her only reprieve came as night settled in, when she would glance within the den to find her charge sound asleep, and dart out of the camp to hunt for the both of them. The result of which so far had just been that half her catches went to waste.

Others - like little Starling - had offered to take up the task, even though she knew they didn't like her decision. No one did. They would be all the happier if she finally gave up and ran her attacker out of the clan. She always refused them. They weren't going to put themselves in danger at her behest.

Besides, she had made a promise.

This morning, as she had the rest before it, she headed straight for the Cinder's den with a squirrel in her jaws. She made an effort to keep her head high and her eyes bright as she made her way though camp. The she ducked into the darkness and dropped the prey she had been carrying. "Heya Cinder!" she greeted brightly, in spite of the strain that had crept into her tone with each time she'd had to say that with no response.

The day she had found the blue molly huddled around a abandoned kit had given her hope that might change, that perhaps things were finally going to take a turn for the better. She had been wrong.

Her eyes drifted to the little mouse already lying in the den, left there from the prior day. Her ear flicked. "You have to eat." She insisted, again. How many times could she do this? "You can't just sit in this den and- and starve!" Her voice cracked. She was trying so hard to keep the peace, no matter what it took, and she was just being forced to watch as the cat the stars had guided her to killed herself day by day. Emberstar felt so helpless.

"Just- just talk to me! At least! Say! Something!" She yelled. It was louder than she had meant it to be. Her smile was gone, and she wasn't sure when she had lost it. She was breathing heavy too. Emberstar realized she was angry. Which only made her feel worse, she hated being angry.

"Sorry." She muttered lamely, eyes on her paws. "Sorry for yelling." The leader turned to leave.
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A peppy voice broke through the haze left by the stars in her dream. For the first time, her eyes flickered up to the blinding ray of sunshine. Instead of shriveling backward further into the den and into its protective shadows, she remained still. "The little one.. She needs to eat first." she croaked, voice raspy from lack of use. She knew she needed to eat but the sight caused her nose to crinkle ever so slightly.

After a long pause, she continued, "I shouldn't eat until I've successfully hunted for the clan." Back in the marshes, she'd tried so hard to keep everyone's stomachs full. When the prey became scarce, she hunted further away. And she didn't dare eat unless she knew the kits, queens, and elderly had filled their tummies. In a way, hunger had become a constant companion throughout these recent times.

"Don't apologize for yelling. Don't apologize for your emotions as they are yours and something you shouldn't be ashamed of." she sighed. It sounded silly coming from her. She was notorious for drowning her emotions far beneath the surface. But look where it got her. (Of course, she'd surely fall back into the habit of keeping her composure sooner or later.)

A paw absentmindedly rubbed at the dry tears on her cheeks. "I walked with StarClan last night. With Ash." Her lips tentatively curled up although her expression looked more like a pained grimace. "It really had been Toad that day. He's, he's grown up so much." Too much and too fast.

Unable to look Emberstar in the eyes, she gazed down at her trembling paws. "He was right. You didn't kill him. Not even indirectly like I'd insisted." It was clear she didn't completely agree with this given her claws attempting to burrow through the cold stone of the den. "You didn't know she would kill him. Otherwise, you wouldn't have barred my path." An assumption but one spoken with a silent plea: don't argue with this conclusion. It was the only way she could view Emberstar as something other than an accomplice to a cold-blooded murderer.

"I'm sorry." For everything. "I've caused rifts and have disgraced the path of a medicine cat." What exactly that meant or entailed she hadn't a clue. "I can ask Hare Whiskers to revoke the title." She had promised Ash she'd try but this felt like the best solution. She couldn't even heal herself so how would she heal others? And who would come to her for healing? Even the marsh cats she grew up with, ones she thought knew her, refused to look at her properly. ​

A voice called back to her before she could step out. She froze. Blinked a few times. Glanced back slowly. "You're-" she began, uncertain of what to even say. Of all the times she had expected this to happen, it wasn't right after she lost her temper.

She was distracted from her surprise by what was actually being said, which caused her to scrunch up her nose in confusion. "That doesn't make any sense." With a shake of her head, she bluntly dismissed the older mollies words. "You can't hunt on an empty stomach. Eat and then you can go hunt." That was so much more reasonable. Refusing to feed a cat until they caught something themselves was just setting them up to fail in her mind, at least when they were in a state like the blue molly had gotten herself in. "But yeah, I'll make sure the little one eats. Ya don't need to worry about that."

The more Cinderfrost spoke, the more confused she became. They hadn't exchanged more than a few words since the molly had literally killed her and now she was getting advice from her? It was really weird. The content of the advice made her squirm in place. It sounded nice, but she knew it was wrong. It was hard to find the words to explain why though. "It doesn't help anything for me to get mad and yell at you." She muttered simply, glancing away. "It just makes everything a little worse."

The mention of Starclan perked her back up. Another sign to guide them, finally. The stars had seen how wrong everything had gone and they had stepped in to set it right. Relief flooded her.

Before she could speak up, she heard the rest. Emberstar didn't say a word when her medicine cat insisted she hadn't killed Toad. That she wouldn't have stood in the way if she had known he would die. In truth, she had no idea what she would have done. To kill a child, it was unthinkable. But did that mean she could just stand aside and let one of her groupmates die? Would she have been able to stomach that?

She had no idea.

The suggestion that Cinderfrost would step down snapped her back to attention. "You can't." She insisted immediately, her ear flicking. Why didn't anyone but her get this? Part of her didn't want to say what it felt like they should all already know, but it felt like breaking some unspoken agreement. Still, if anyone needed to understand, it was her medicine cat. So she sat down in front of her, met her eye. "Starclan can't be wrong. If they are then they could be wrong about everything. About the clans, about the peace. So, even if they are wrong, we have to make them right."

She realized, after she laid it all out, that she wasn't wearing a smile. Hadn't been since her little outburst. It felt weird, like she was more exposed than normal. This was what was working though, and how Cinderfrost had cursed her damn smile still rung in her ears. So she would keep this up. Even if it was a bit uncomfortable.
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Too tired and weak to argue, the blue molly simply ignored Emberstar's attempt at reasoning. It was solid logic but not the way she did things: call it pride or stupidity or a combination of both. Most likely the latter. She'd thrown away too many of her morals, too many of her silent rules, that she couldn't afford to break anymore in fear that she may lose herself. If that hadn't already happened considering her outburst, her cold-blooded kill, and her new "name".

Unfortunately, it seemed the two were more alike than first thought. "It doesn't help anything for me to get mad and yell at you." An exhausted sigh escaped her lips as her eyebrows furrowed in contemplation. The young leader wasn't wrong. If she'd kept her mouth shut, followed orders, and kept opinions to herself then she may still be with her family and the marsh cats. At the same time, denying herself emotional expression led to... this.

"You can't." Cold, teal eyes stared steadily at the cream point. StarClan can't be wrong - a bold statement. Ash encouraged her to work through this but why? Why her? Especially after she'd drained the first life of the star-approved leader. "Do you trust me?" she asked cooly, face a practiced mask of solid stone.​

Two cold eyes pierced her own as Emberstar squirmed under the weight of the question.

"Do you trust me?"

Given the answer, it was the type of question that would normally draw a lie from her. Any other hour of any other day she would have put up a smile and cheerfully said that yes, of course she did. It wouldn't help anything for her to admit how she felt. It would just deepen the rift between them. However, niceties had not gotten her anywhere with Cinder, but her honesty had.

"No." She admitted, against her better judgement. "No, I don't. I might be able to survive or forgive what you did, but my friends?" Her eyes narrowed, a fierce fire within. An ear flicked. "As leader, it's my job to keep them safe. So no, I don't trust you, I can't. Not until I am completely certain that you aren't any danger to them." It was a harsh, bitter truth. One that left a foul taste in her mouth. The stars and her clan asked her to do the impossible. She had been forced to fight to make amends because no one else would, but how could she ever win without her trust?

Fortunately, she had already come to her own answer. She let the silence hang purposefully for a moment, so the fire in her eyes and the weight in the air could die. Then, she continued. "But I would like to try to. Because I have friends in the stars too, and they chose you. I have to believe there was a reason for that." Every word was spoken with earnest, heartfelt sincerity. A plea from one molly to another. "So please, for stars sake, see this through."
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So, she wasn't a complete nonsensical cat with a head permanently trapped in the atmosphere. "Good." A strange response given the statement. "I don't trust you, either." Especially not as a leader. The idea that this young, ignorant, and optimistic cat was to be a capable leader was laughable.

"Ash may have forgiven you but I do not. You may have fooled the rest of the clan into a falsified version of events and sweet honey words but..." But she would not be blinded by something as simple as a bright smile. Did the clan even know why she had dug her nails into Emberstar's stomach that day? Or had the leader conveniently forgotten that part of the story?

The self-proclaimed leader of ThunderClan showed no acknowledgment of her unjust views. "You didn't know she would kill him. Otherwise, you wouldn't have barred my path." While it hadn't been a question, Emberstar's mouth remained suspiciously silent at her words. The look in her eyes, the crinkle of doubt, had been enough for the blue molly.

In the eyes of the clan, she was a murderer but she'd rather but one with a just cause than an accomplice because "I protect my friends".

"Every time you hear the name Ash or see a young cat who has yet to fully grow into their own paws, I pray the stars remind you." Not once did her steady gaze leave Emberstar's. "Remind you of your friend and the taunting words they spoke. Recall the way your friend chose a kit as their target." A trickle of blood fell from her lips as fangs accidentally dug into them. Memories of that disgrace taking it all as a joke, making light of the situation when she tried to draw her attention, and the way the coward ran.

"Remember a tiny tom who laid limp in his own blood as he showed more strength than your friend. Envision the friend he sacrificed himself screaming in terror." She paused. "And, though you did not witness it, imagine the anguish and grief a mother felt upon seeing her only child's body."

"I will try to forgive as they encouraged. However, I hope these memories stay with you as they will with me. I will never forget how you turned a blind eye to a full-grown cat taunting, attacking, and finally killing a young child. The children on both sides should have been protected and never gazed upon as easy prey." The molly sat tall, back straight and extended unlike her previously shriveled posture. Emberstar probably wished she hadn't drawn words out of the reclusive she-cat. It had been better when she was silent and absent.

The task ahead would be a strenuous one: she had to prove that she could be trusted by the clan members. Maybe if she told her side. Why she felt like she did what she needed to do. Truthfully, though, she knew there was no justifying her actions. She was left empty with a shattered heart pumping cold hate into her veins. "I shall listen to and obey the stars. For those who are with us and those who are no longer, I shall see this through."

She sighed, trying to loosen the lump in her throat. "You have proven you're capable of distrusting another so if a situation like that ever happens again, I hope you know that friends, not just enemies, can bare malicious intentions. The weak and vulnerable should be protected."

"... That being said, I-" she turned around, facing the darkness of the back of the crevice, "I apologize for directing my anger towards you when you were not the one whose claws tore away his life." She broke her own morals that day and for that she did truly feel remorseful - it could be heard in the way her confident voice trembled. And, sheepishly, she internally apologized for her most recent rant. The weight of it all was crushing, though, and she (selfishly) needed someone to carry the burden placed upon her.

"I will atone for my sins and rash judgement. For them." For ThunderClan and StarClan rather than Emberstar. Although.. perhaps.. just a little bit.. she did hope to make it up to the molly. "I cannot promise to be perfect. I admit, at the moment, my mental state is a wreck when around you. I see now that this title means more than what [I originally thought. At first, I thought it was a punishment for speaking against Briar. I swear upon this new name, this new start, that I will, henceforth, tackle my duties headfirst rather than turning tail and running."And prove that she could be special, that she could be worthwhile, that she could be someone not easily thrown into the trash.

If StarClan had faith to believe in Ember, to give her a special title, then she would attempt to respect that belief. ​

It was strange, to hear words that felt like bile in her mouth be called good. Stranger still, to hear the one that had split her gut open say that she didn't trust her. She didn't like this. Never had she been in a conversation where hatred was laid so bare and open, and it tore into her. It felt wrong to say it to someone else and to hear it said to her. Worse to hear it perhaps, if only because Cinderfrost was all too good at saying it. Laid out every grisly detail of what had caused her claws to burrow into the leader's belly that day.

Emberstar had not understood it, not really. The haze of adrenaline and fear that had clouded her thoughts during the attack had stopped her from fully realizing what her attacker was telling her. Since, she had not given it much thought. Had tried not to, really. Now though, it was impossible to deny. As word after word of anger was spit into her face she physically recoiled, ears flattening back against her head and eyes going wide. It was impossible for her to find her voice, even as the other mollies words turned away from vitriol, until silence had fallen.

That silence sat for a long time.

"I didn't." She protested weakly. There was so much for her to refute, but one felt important above all the rest. Tears threatened her, but she pushed them back. Even now, she didn't want to cry in front of anyone else. She'd do that on her own time. "I didn't turn a blind eye. I had no idea she would do that, and if I had I would have stopped her myself. Friend or foe. Letting an enemy kill her friend was unacceptable, but doing it herself? That felt better somehow. She would have tried not kill, as ever, but if there had been no other way. It was the standing aside that felt wrong. "I just-"

Words. Too many and not enough, all tangling in her mind. She wasn't any good at this, but right now it felt important to try. For some reason it was Cinderfrost, despite everything, that she needed to understand this above everyone else.

"I couldn't do anything in that battle. Everything was happening all at once, and I couldn't stop any of it. When I tore away from fighting you I went to protect Blinding Star, and before I had even gotten to him his eyes-" she trailed off. What she meant needed no explanation. "All I could do was provide cover for him to get outta there." The bloody scene hung in her mind, it was like nothing else she had ever witnessed before or since. It made her stomach turn.

"Did you ever meet Haku?" the words croaked out suddenly, and Emberstar cleared her throat after. "I mean, probably not. Before... it happened, I trained him. Because I could tell things were getting bad, even if I didn't really understand it. I thought that would be enough to keep him safe." She hesitated. What else was she supposed to say? "I don't know what happened to him. All I know is that I saw him come down from the stars after."

Desperately, she tried to find the other molly's eyes again. "If I could have done anything in that battle, no one would have died. On either side. But it was just all too much. Every moment someone else I had met was dying. So I just fought and I fought, fought with all the faces I knew and fought against all the faces I didn't. I didn't see Ash die. I only saw the body, after. Just another-" She cut herself off with a frustrated noise. The way she was saying that was wrong and she knew it, but she didn't know how to say it better. She was no good at this. At this heart-wrenching honesty. She was no good at it and it hurt her.

Eventually she caught on the word 'just'. That felt like the problem. All of the losses of that day were too big for that word. Still, she took another try at the whole sentence just to be safe. She spoke carefully, giving each word its due weight. "I am as responsible for his death as I am all the others I couldn't save." Which she was. Each and every life she had failed to save was her responsibility, at least a little. She knew there was no way she could have saved them all. That didn't mean she shouldn't have. It was for all of them, all those that were gone that she was reminded of every day, that she built this clan.

Her breathing was strange, now. She didn't want to relive those memories. Never had she forgotten all of that, but there was a difference between simply remembering and actively thinking about it all. One was a responsibility, the other was a torment. That was the reason for her smile, and not just for herself either.

"And I'm not fooling anyone. They were there, Cinderfrost. None of them are going to forget that bloody day just because I'm nice to them." Her tone was less defensive, less desperate this time around. Incredulity crept into it at the thought that her 'honeyed words' were going to do all that. "Thunderclan needs to be a nice place. It has to be free of the horrors of that battle, for the sake of the cats that are still here. I know not everyone who comes here will be a friend, but I want to give them all a chance to be. That's the type of place I want this clan to be. "

Even though her day had barely begun, she felt exhausted. Looked it too. The conversation had visibly drained her in a manner that was uncharacteristic of her usual energy. She looked emptier, more hollow than when she had began. The words she had spoken made her want to gag. There were a thousand emotions fighting within her and she hated them all, but couldn't name a single one.

"But good," Emberstar replied with a smile, her first since she had snapped at her medicine cat. "I'm glad you apologize for all that." Even if she didn't want to accept it. "I'm glad you agree to help this clan." Even if she wasn't sure she believed it. "And, I hope we can be friends, eventually. Even though we don't trust each other." Because of that, actually.
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"She taunted him. The moment a cat engages with any child not done growing... Especially given the context." And then the way the twisted she-cat strangely reacted to her warning. "Perhaps not a blind eye but a deaf ear and a naive mind. Anyone willing to speak to a child like that," Her nose crinkled. "Is despicable and rotten to the core."

"Imagine if I'd done what you did." she bitterly "chuckled". "If I'd stopped you from defending an injured cat." But she hadn't. "I tried to disengage to cover and protect him. It was not different than what you did. Yet, you barred my path while I didn't stop you."

Hearing her use Ash's name, her voice grating in her ears, annoyed the molly. What right did she have to speak his name? Blinding Star was alive. Possibly because any potential threat to the tom had been chased away by the arrival of two combatants. Yarrow and the cream-point were able to secure him. The fact that she hadn't gotten that chance, that she didn't get a single opportunity to try.

Why in the world was she bringing up some other cat? "I had acquaintances," she was far too scarred to use the word friends, "Among the pine cats but I do not recall ever meeting a Haku." The younger molly blabbered on about how she trained Haku before the battle. "I trained Ash, too. In defensive techniques. When it became apparent the children wouldn't be spared by the battle. Perhaps we're both miserable at training." she dryly snorted. Especially considering that disastrous group training.

She snorted, teal eyes rolling, when Emberstar said she was fooling no one. "You act like little miss perfect, little miss sunshine." A claw dragged through her heart. Cats she'd grown up with chose her. It was like Bone and Cicada all over again but somehow worse. "A cat here was a mother figure to me yet she hasn't come to ask for my side of the story. None of them have because they'd rather trust in some stranger rather than someone who had always, always.." She cursed under her breath as she tried to settle her bristling fur.

Everyone forgot how she had wanted diplomacy rather than war. She may have killed Emberstar yet the molly still walked among them. The fact that StarClan gave her nine lives... the fact that they gave her this position, which currently meant nothing, instead of a leadership role. She'd always been the good little warrior who followed orders. Did they not believe she was capable of issuing orders and leading? Had they not witnessed her dedication when she'd done her best to find an alternative solution? Why was she always overlooked.

"I left the marshes because I called Briar's warmongering out. My friend tried to kill me when I did." She raised her head, showing the lasting scar near her jugular. "Yet them standing by your side stings just as much. If you hadn't lied then why are they so readily taking your word? Why has no one asked for my side? Have you even told them why? Or are you worried they'd also think you deserved this punishment. Look at you differently - call you the murderer... Rather, the murderer's accomplice." Did she ever once tell them in whose name she had killed her for? And that she allowed a fully grown she-cat taunt a child? Ash may not think the molly at fault but maybe - if for once - they listened then they would see why she sought vengeance that day.

Silent tears welled in her eyes, ones that she rapidly blinked away. She forcefully swallowed the lump in her throat down while trying to cool herself down. This little meeting would turn into a disaster if she let her emotions grab the reins. Still, the emaciated she-cat was devastated.

Any action she took had always been wrong. Any opinion she'd ever expressed? Also, wrong and spoken out of turn. Why was she always the one fucking up? The only one fucking up?

"Then, in ThunderClan, let the children be children. Even if only until half a moon or so old. Those younger shouldn't be exposed to the horrors of the real world. They should be allowed to imagine and live a childhood before being thrust into this sick world." A fire temporarily burned in her cold eyes as she spoke. She was passionate about the subject. Although, truthfully, she didn't expect much. In the past, she'd tried to bring it up in the marshes. And that clearly went great.

She felt sick. Emberstar didn't apologize in return. She'd made a fool of herself - apologizing when the she-cat had no intentions of returning the action. Instead, she thought her actions were justified. Well, the blue molly had thought her actions to be justified, too, so why was she the only one apologizing?

Eventual friends? "Our relationship will be purely professional. From now and onwards." Besides, that word meant nothing. "Friends" was a title used too loosely. At least, that's what she'd realized. Everyone she'd ever considered a friend were willing to abandon her without second thought. So, even if she grew to like the leader (though that seemed unlikely at the moment), she would never be "friends" with her.​
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