Warriors forest of secre.., p.1
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       Warriors: Forest of Secrets, p.1
 

         Part #6 of Warriors series by Erin Hunter
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Warriors: Forest of Secrets


  WARRIORS

  FOREST OF SECRETS

  ERIN HUNTER

  To Schrödi, hunting with StarClan,

  and to Abbey Cruden,

  who has met the real Fireheart

  Special thanks to Cherith Baldry

  Contents

  Allegiances

  Maps

  Prologue

  Cold gripped the forest, fields, and moorland like an icy…

  Chapter 1

  The icy wind whirled snow into Fireheart’s face as he…

  Chapter 2

  Fireheart sniffed warily at a path where the snow had…

  Chapter 3

  “Well?” Tigerclaw challenged.

  Chapter 4

  Fireheart bounded up the ravine, the snow crisp under his…

  Chapter 5

  “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Fireheart muttered as he…

  Chapter 6

  “What?” Fireheart was so astonished he could hardly speak. “Are…

  Chapter 7

  Confused and unhappy, Fireheart made for the warriors’ den. Before…

  Chapter 8

  Fireheart crouched in the nursery, watching a litter of kits…

  Chapter 9

  In Yellowfang’s den, Fireheart explained what had happened while Cinderpaw…

  Chapter 10

  Back in the camp, Fireheart spotted Bluestar leaving the nursery.

  Chapter 11

  “Great StarClan!” breathed Sandstorm.

  Chapter 12

  “No!” Graystripe yowled, launching himself after the drowning kit.

  Chapter 13

  It was a cold, gray morning. Fireheart dragged himself reluctantly…

  Chapter 14

  His heart thudding, Fireheart looked from Graystripe to Silverstream. She…

  Chapter 15

  “Well, if it isn’t our newest apprentice, Firepaw!”

  Chapter 16

  Fireheart stepped out of the ferns that enclosed the apprentices’…

  Chapter 17

  As he plunged into the stream Fireheart managed to keep…

  Chapter 18

  The sun began to set for the third time since…

  Chapter 19

  Shocked and angry caterwauls rose up from the cats surrounding…

  Chapter 20

  “Where? How many warriors?” Fireheart demanded.

  Chapter 21

  When Cinderpaw had finished tending to Fireheart’s wounds, he went…

  Chapter 22

  Tigerclaw went on ahead, and by the time Fireheart and…

  Chapter 23

  “Come,” Bluestar ordered. She began to walk slowly across the…

  Chapter 24

  Fireheart leaped from one stepping-stone to the next across the…

  Chapter 25

  Fireheart paused at the edge of the trees. “Wait,” he…

  Chapter 26

  Fireheart tried to hide his misgivings as he led the…

  Chapter 27

  “Run!” Fireheart ordered his apprentice. “Run like you’ve never run…

  Chapter 28

  Fireheart sprang forward and burst through the curtain of lichen.

  Chapter 29

  As he watched his defeated enemy disappear, Fireheart could not…

  Chapter 30

  “Well, Clan deputy,” Whitestorm meowed softly in his ear. “What…

  About the Author

  Other Books by Erin Hunter

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  ALLEGIANCES

  THUNDERCLAN

  LEADER

  BLUESTAR—blue-gray she-cat, tinged with silver around her muzzle.

  DEPUTY

  TIGERCLAW—big dark brown tabby tom with unusually long front claws.

  MEDICINE CAT

  YELLOWFANG—old dark gray she-cat with a broad, flattened face, formerly of ShadowClan.

  APPRENTICE, CINDERPELT—dark gray she-cat

  WARRIORS

  (toms and she-cats without kits)

  WHITESTORM—big white tom.

  APPRENTICE, BRIGHTPAW

  DARKSTRIPE—sleek black-and-gray tabby tom.

  LONGTAIL—pale tabby tom with dark black stripes.

  APPRENTICE, SWIFTPAW

  RUNNINGWIND—swift tabby tom.

  WILLOWPELT—very pale gray she-cat with unusual blue eyes.

  MOUSEFUR—small dusky brown she-cat.

  APPRENTICE, THORNPAW

  FIREHEART—handsome ginger tom.

  APPRENTICE, CLOUDPAW

  GRAYSTRIPE—long-haired solid gray tom.

  APPRENTICE, BRACKENPAW

  DUSTPELT—dark brown tabby tom.

  SANDSTORM—pale ginger she-cat.

  APPRENTICES

  (more than six moons old, in training to become warriors)

  SWIFTPAW—black-and-white tom.

  BRACKENPAW—golden brown tabby tom.

  CLOUDPAW—long-haired white tom.

  BRIGHTPAW—she-cat, white with ginger splotches.

  THORNPAW—golden brown tabby tom.

  QUEENS

  (she-cats expecting or nursing kits)

  FROSTFUR—beautiful white coat and blue eyes.

  BRINDLEFACE—pretty tabby.

  GOLDENFLOWER—pale ginger coat.

  SPECKLETAIL—pale tabby, and the oldest nursery queen.

  ELDERS

  (former warriors and queens, now retired)

  HALFTAIL—big dark brown tabby tom with part of his tail missing.

  SMALLEAR—gray tom with very small ears; the oldest tom in ThunderClan.

  PATCHPELT—small black-and-white tom.

  ONE-EYE—pale gray she-cat; the oldest cat in ThunderClan; virtually blind and deaf.

  DAPPLETAIL—once-pretty tortoiseshell she-cat with a lovely dappled coat.

  BROKENTAIL—long-haired dark brown tabby; blind; formerly ShadowClan leader.

  SHADOWCLAN

  LEADER

  NIGHTSTAR—old black tom.

  DEPUTY

  CINDERFUR—thin gray tom.

  MEDICINE CAT

  RUNNINGNOSE—small gray-and-white tom.

  WARRIORS

  STUMPYTAIL—brown tabby tom.

  APPRENTICE, BROWNPAW

  WETFOOT—gray tabby tom.

  APPRENTICE, OAKPAW

  LITTLECLOUD—very small tabby tom.

  QUEENS

  DAWNCLOUD—small tabby.

  DARKFLOWER—black she-cat.

  TALLPOPPY—long-legged light brown tabby she-cat.

  WINDCLAN

  LEADER

  TALLSTAR—black-and-white tom with a very long tail.

  DEPUTY

  DEADFOOT—black tom with a twisted paw.

  MEDICINE CAT

  BARKFACE—short-tailed brown tom.

  WARRIORS

  MUDCLAW—mottled dark brown tom.

  APPRENTICE, WEBPAW

  TORNEAR—tabby tom.

  APPRENTICE, RUNNINGPAW

  ONEWHISKER—young brown tabby tom.

  APPRENTICE, WHITEPAW

  QUEENS

  ASHFOOT—gray she-cat.

  MORNINGFLOWER—tortoiseshell she-cat.

  RIVERCLAN

  LEADER

  CROOKEDSTAR—huge light-colored tabby with a twisted jaw.

  DEPUTY

  LEOPARDFUR—unusually spotted golden tabby she-cat.

  MEDICINE CAT

  MUDFUR—long-haired light brown tom.

  WARRIORS

  BLACKCLAW—smoky black tom.

  APPRENTICE, HEAVYPAW

  STONEFUR—gray tom with battle-scarred ears.

  APPRENTICE, SHADEPAW

  LO
UDBELLY—dark brown tom.

  APPRENTICE, SILVERPAW

  SILVERSTREAM—pretty silver tabby.

  QUEENS

  MISTYFOOT—dark gray she-cat.

  ELDERS

  GRAYPOOL—thin gray she-cat with patchy fur and a scarred muzzle.

  CATS OUTSIDE CLANS

  BARLEY—black-and-white tom who lives on a farm close to the forest.

  BLACKFOOT—large white tom with huge jet-black paws, formerly ShadowClan deputy.

  BOULDER—silver tabby tom, formerly of ShadowClan.

  PRINCESS—light brown tabby with a distinctive white chest and paws—a kittypet.

  RAVENPAW—sleek black cat with a white-tipped tail who lives on the farm with Barley.

  SMUDGE—plump, friendly black-and-white kitten who lives in a house at the edge of the forest.

  Maps

  PROLOGUE

  Cold gripped the forest, fields, and moorland like an icy claw. Snow covered everything, glittering faintly under a new moon. Nothing broke the silence in the forest except for the occasional soft rush of snow sliding from the branches of trees and the faint rasping of dried reeds when the wind swept through them. Even the murmur of the river was stilled by the ice that stretched from bank to bank.

  There was a flicker of movement at the edge of the river. A large tomcat, his bracken-colored fur fluffed up against the cold, emerged from the reeds. He shook snow impatiently from his paws as he sank into the soft drifts with every step.

  In front of him, two tiny kits struggled forward with faint mews of distress. They floundered in the powdery snow, the fur on their legs and belly matted into icy clumps, but every time they tried to stop, the tomcat nudged them on.

  The three cats trudged along the river until it widened out, and they drew level with a small island not far from the bank. Thick beds of reeds surrounded it, their dry stems poking up through the ice. Stunted, leafless willow trees concealed the center of the island behind snow-covered boughs.

  “Almost there,” the bracken-colored tom meowed encouragingly. “Follow me.”

  He slid down the bank into a narrow frozen pathway through the reeds and leaped onto the dry, crisp earth of the island. The bigger of the two kits scrambled after him, but the smaller one collapsed on the ice and crouched there, mewing pitifully. After a moment’s pause the tomcat jumped down beside it and tried to nudge it to its paws, but it was too exhausted to move. The tomcat gave its ears a lick, roughly comforting the helpless scrap, and then picked it up by the scruff of the neck and carried it onto the island.

  Beyond the willow trees was a stretch of open ground broken by bushes. Snow covered the earth here, crisscrossed by the pawmarks of many cats. The clearing seemed deserted, but bright eyes gleamed from shelter, watching the tomcat as he led the way to the largest clump of bushes and through the outer wall of tangled branches.

  The icy chill of the air outside gave way to the warmth of the nursery and the smell of milk. In a deep nest of moss and heather a gray she-cat was suckling a single tabby kit. She raised her head as the tomcat drew closer and gently set down the kit he was carrying. The second kit staggered into the nursery behind him and tried to scrabble its way into the nest.

  “Oakheart?” meowed the she-cat. “What have you got there?”

  “Kits, Graypool,” Oakheart replied. “Will you take them? They need a mother to look after them.”

  “But…” Graypool’s amber eyes were shocked. “Whose kits are they? They’re not RiverClan’s. Where did you get them?”

  “I found them in the forest.” Oakheart did not meet the she-cat’s eyes as he spoke. “They’re lucky a fox didn’t find them first.”

  “In the forest?” meowed the queen, her voice rasping with disbelief. “Oakheart, don’t talk to me as if I’m mouse-brained. What cat would abandon her kits in the forest, especially in weather like this?”

  Oakheart shrugged. “Rogues, maybe, or Twolegs. How would I know? I couldn’t leave them there, could I?” He nosed the smaller kit, which was lying completely still except for the rapid rise and fall of its tiny ribs as it breathed. “Graypool, please…Your other kits died, and these will die too, unless you help them.”

  Graypool’s eyes clouded with pain. She looked down at the two kits. Their tiny mouths gaped pink as they mewed pitifully. “I have plenty of milk,” she murmured, half to herself. “Of course I’ll take them.”

  Oakheart puffed out his breath in a sigh of relief. He picked up first one kit and then the other and laid them next to Graypool. She nudged them gently into the curve of her belly next to her own kit, where they began to suckle eagerly.

  “I still don’t understand,” Graypool meowed when they were settled. “Why would two kits be alone in the forest in the middle of leaf-bare? Their mother must be frantic.”

  The bracken-colored tom prodded a piece of moss with one massive front paw. “I didn’t steal them, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

  Graypool looked at him for a long moment. “No, I don’t think you did,” she meowed at last. “But you’re not telling me the whole truth, are you?”

  “I’ve told you all you need to know.”

  “No, you haven’t!” Graypool’s eyes flashed with anger. “What about their mother? I know what it’s like to lose kits, Oakheart. I wouldn’t wish that kind of grief on any cat.”

  Oakheart lifted his head and glared at her, a faint growl coming from the depths of his throat. “Their mother is probably some rogue cat. This is not the weather to go looking for her.”

  “But Oakheart—”

  “Just take care of the kits, please!” The bracken-colored tom sprang to his paws and turned abruptly to push his way out of the nursery. “I’ll bring you some fresh-kill,” he meowed over his shoulder as he left.

  When he had gone, Graypool bent her head over the kits, rasping her tongue over their fur to warm them. The melting snow had washed away most of their scent, though Graypool could still make out the odors of the forest, of dead leaves and frostbitten earth. And there was something beneath that, fainter still….

  Graypool paused in her licking. Had she really sensed that, or was she imagining things? Dipping her head again, she opened her mouth to breathe in the kits’ scents.

  Her eyes grew wider, and she stared unblinking into the dark shadows that edged the nursery. She was not wrong. The fur of these two motherless kits, whose origins Oakheart refused to explain, unmistakably carried the scent of an enemy Clan!

  CHAPTER 1

  The icy wind whirled snow into Fireheart’s face as he struggled down the ravine toward the ThunderClan camp, the mouse he had just killed gripped firmly in his jaws. The flakes were falling so thickly that he could scarcely see where he was going.

  His mouth watered as the prey-scent of mouse filled his nostrils. He hadn’t eaten since the previous night, a grim sign of how scarce prey was in leaf-bare. Hunger clawed at his belly, but Fireheart would not break the warrior code: The Clan must be fed first.

  A glow of pride briefly drove off the chill from the snow that matted his flame-colored coat, as Fireheart remembered the battle that had taken place only three days before. He had joined the other ThunderClan warriors to help support WindClan when the moorland cats were attacked by the other two Clans in the forest. Many cats had been injured in that battle, so it was even more important for those who could still hunt to bring home prey.

  As Fireheart pushed his way through the gorse tunnel leading into the camp, he dislodged snow from the spiky branches above, and he flicked his ears as the cold lumps fell on his head. The thorn trees around the camp gave some shelter from the wind, but the clearing in the center of the camp was deserted; all the cats preferred to stay in their dens to keep warm when the snow lay this thick. Broken tree stumps and the branches of a fallen tree poked above the covering of snow. A single line of pawprints crossed from the apprentices’ den to the bramble thicket where the kits were cared for. Seeing the trail, Fireheart could not help remembe
ring that he was without an apprentice now, since Cinderpaw had been injured beside the Thunderpath.

  Trotting across the snow into the heart of the camp, Fireheart dropped his mouse on the pile of fresh-kill near the bush where the warriors slept. The pile was pitifully small. Such prey as could be found was thin and scrawny, hardly a mouthful for a famished warrior. There would be no more plump mice until newleaf, and that was many moons away.

 
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