"Ravenpaw is dead."
My blood froze, and I sat with a thump. A cloud of dust rose to settle on my fur. Blood roared in my ears, drowning out the rest of Bluestar's speech. Ravenpaw? Dead? Impossible! The mouse-hearted coward was too skittish to die. The only way he'd ever join StarClan was by old age.
But as I looked around, the black tom was nowhere to be found. Only Firepaw and Graypaw sat in their usual spot, heads lowered. My fur prickled, and I sank my claws into the soft soil. How dare they pretend to care? They never knew him! He was my brother!
. . . .
. . . .
No. He was my blood, but I never treated him as such. Not before greencough took Father and Chestnutkit. Not before a skirmish over Sunningrocks slew Mother. Not before Cherrypaw fell from the Great Sycamore. All I ever did was distance him. I recalled Redtail once told me to be nice to my siblings as no one knew what sunrise was their last. For not the first time, I wished I heeded his words more.
Another memory came to mind.
Mother's body still held the slightest traces of warmth, although whether or not it was hers or ours was the true question. Cherrypaw had long since wailed herself to sleep, and she cuddled into my left, while Ravenpaw stared at nothing, his slin frame pressed into my right. His eyes drooped with exhaustion. Frostfur, Brindleface, and even Longpaw - no, Longtail now - said everything would be okay. "Robinwing is watching us from StarClan now."
Easy for them to say. They were warriors. They hadn't needed Mother for a long time. Just two days ago, she washed our fur for our apprentice ceremony. Her eyes glowed with life and joy.
I shifted slightly to allow my tail to wrap around my brother, who quickly drifted into dreams. I was the oldest now. I had to protect them.
"Mother, Father. I will keep us safe now. I swear."
Not a quarter moon later, we held vigil for my sister.
"Dustpaw, look at me."
I opened my eyes. When had they closed? Sandpaw's green gaze was a mouse-length from mine. I realized I must have looked out of control. Forcing my pelt down, I stretched my muscles in a show of faux relaxation. "I'm fine, Sand. Nothing to worry about here."
By the look on her face, I knew she knew I was a bald faced liar. "No, you are clearly not. Talk to me."
"I will if I have something to say, which I don't because nothing's wrong." Please, just let it go.
Her tail lashed. "Fine then. Shove all your emotions in a pit. See if I care when you start drowning." With a graceful turn, she stormed off to the apprentices' den. My ears drooped.
There was something I still needed to know, a piece of information that only those who saw the body would know.
A crowd had formed around Firepaw and Graypaw, although apparently they were now Fireheart and Graystripe. Had I really zoned out an entire ceremony? It was so unfair! They were younger than me. Why did they get to become warriors? Because they broke the code a few times?
(Focus on the anger, Dustpaw. Resent them.)
Once the others had left for their dens - were they truly not going to hold a vigil for Ravenpaw and Spottedleaf? - I deigned approach the newly named warriors. The gray and ginger duo were already situated in the center of the clearing. "So, Bluestar once again showed leniency on the code breakers. Not just leniency, but a reward." I noted that, despite their rank, I was still larger in stature than either of them.
"Don't answer him," Graystripe muttered. "He's just jealous."
"At least answer one question." Silence. I cleared my throat. "You saw Ravenpaw's body, right?"
Fireheart stiffly nodded.
"Was . . . do you think his death was quick or painful?" Green and yellow eyes met, confused, and I continued "Not that I really care, but I'm curious. You didn't bother to bring him back, so na-"
"He was torn to shreds. Pieces of flesh and blood was everywhere. Even in death, his face was frozen in agony. Had the stench of ShadowClan not filled the entire area, I would have assumed a pack of foxes got him. There was nothing to bring back."
Fireheart's answer was certainly . . . straightforward. His state was steady, and his voice shook with emotion. The way he worded the situation was enough for me to visualize a vivid picture. I wanted to vomit. Not trusting myself to speak, I curtly nodded and retreated. My nest awaited.
Graystripe and Fireheart weren't the only ones who stayed up all night, and when Darkstripe complained about my obvious exhaustion and nicked my ear, I said nothing.
I deserved worse.