|"For now I will let them live. They may be useful to me alive."|
|— Tigerstar about Featherpaw and Stormpaw in The Darkest Hour, page 173|
- Below contains in-depth information for chapter sixteen of The Darkest Hour. If you are looking for a shorter summary of the entire book, please check the main article.
- Chapter Number: 16 (of 30)
- Page Numbers: 173-182
- Firestar presses close to Graystripe, sharing his grief and anger over Stonefur's death. Blackfoot looks down at the dead warrior in satisfaction. Darkstripe whirls around to confront Featherpaw and Stormpaw and meows to Tigerstar to let him kill them. Before Graystripe can spring forward, Tigerstar shakes his head, saying that a prisoner can defeat him, yet he thinks he can take on two apprentices. Darkstripe bows his head in shame. Tigerstar narrows his eyes coldly at the two young cats, who are huddled together and trembling with shock. Tigerstar decides he will let them live for now, they might be useful to him. Firestar flashes Graystripe a look, who returns it, his eyes mingled with relief and apprehension.
- Tigerstar summons Jaggedtooth, ordering him to take the apprentices to their prision. Jaggedtooth dips his head and herds the two stunned cats away through the reeds. Tigerstar ends the meeting and the cats in the clearing begin to slip away at once. Tigerstar leaps down from the Bonehill and vanishes into the reeds, flanked by Blackfoot and Darkstripe. Eventually only Leopardstar is left, padding forward until she stands over her former deputy's broken body, and slowly bends her head, nosing into his torn gray pelt. After a moment, she turns and follows Tigerstar. Graystripe springs to his paws, and Firestar warns him to not go rushing off, they have to make sure all the cats have gone before they can rescue his kits.
- Graystripe's body quivers with suppressed tension, saying he doesn't care, if they try to stop them, he'll rip them apart. Ravenpaw murmurs that the kits are safe at the moment, there's no need for risks. Firestar cautiously raises his head above the level of the reeds. It is dark by now and the scents of ShadowClan and RiverClan are rapidly fading. He crouches down again, announcing that they're gone now, this is their chance, they need to find where they're keeping the apprentices; Graystripe cuts him off, finishing with get them away, whatever it takes. Firestar nods, then asks Ravenpaw if he's up for it. The loner's eyes widen, asking if they think he'd leave after what they just saw; he's staying with them. Firestar blinks in gratitude and beckons them along with his tail, leading the way into the clearing. The cats creep close to the ground, reaching the stream where the rotting fresh-kill lies strewn along the bank and Firestar spares a moment to be angry at the waste of prey in such a hard season.
- Ravenpaw suggests they could roll in it to hide their scents. Firestar gives him a brief nod, approval calming his anger. He crouches down and presses his fur against the prey, Graystripe and Ravenpaw joining him. Once they're all covered with the scent of crowfood, Firestar heads into the reeds where he saw Jaggedtooth disappear with the apprentices. There is a narrow path along frozen mud, as if cats regularly come through. As they move away from the river toward the farmland on the other side of RiverClan territory, the reeds thin out and the ground rises. When the three come to the edge of the cover, they see a grassy slope in front of them with an occasional clump of gorse and hawthorn. About halfway up, a dark hole yawns in the hillside where Jaggedtooth crouches beside. Firestar murmurs that the pawprints lead to the hole. Graystripe tastes the air, letting out a faint sound of disgust, quietly meowing sick cats are there, and Firestar is right, this is the place. He bares his teeth, adding that Jaggedtooth is his.
- Firestar whips his tail out, signaling for his friend to stay put, meowing they can't afford a fight, the noise would bring every cat in the territory over, they need to get rid of him in a different way. Ravenpaw offers to do that, anxiously kneading the ground with his paws, but he expression is determined, saying Jaggedtooth will recognize Firestar and Graystripe, but he doesn't know him. Firestar hesitates before agreeing, asking how he'll do it. Ravenpaw's eyes shine with anticipation and Firestar realizes that the loner is almost relishing the danger. Ravenpaw assures him to not worry, he'll be fine. He straightens up and strolls out of the reeds, up the slope, his head and tail held high. Jaggedtooth gets up and paces forward to meet him, his neck fur bristling. Firestar gathers himself, ready to spring if Jaggedtooth attacks. The warrior looks aggressive, but does nothing more then give Ravenpaw a suspicious sniff, growling that he doesn't know him. Ravenpaw meows he has a message from Tigerstar. Jaggedtooth's whiskers twitch and he grunts, sniffing Ravenpaw again and says he stinks. Ravenpaw retorts that he doesn't smell so pleasant either, asking if he wants the message or not.
- Firestar and Graystripe exchange a glance as Jaggedtooth hesitates, before finally meowing to go on with it then. Ravenpaw mews that Tigerstar wants him at once, he sent him to take Jaggedtooth's place guarding the prisioners. The warrior lashes his tail in disbelief, meowing that only ShadowClan are allowed to guard them, RiverClan cats are too soft, so why did Tigerstar send him and not a ShadowClan cat. Firestar flinches, thinking that his friend has made a potenially fatal mistake. But the loner doesn't seem bothered, and turns away, meowing that he thought they were all supposed to be one Clan now, but to suit himself; He'll tell Tigerstar he wouldn't come. Jaggedtooth twitches his ears, telling him to wait, asking if Tigerstar wants him, where is he. Ravenpaw points his tail in the direction of the RiverClan camp, saying he had Darkstipe and Blackfoot with him.
- Jaggedtooth makes up his mind, telling Ravenpaw to stay here until he gets back, if he smells his scent inside the den, he'll rip his fur off. The warrior heads down the slope and Ravenpaw watches him go, then pads up and sits just outside the hole. Firestar and Graystripe crouch inside the reeds as Jaggedtooth passes, who is hurrying now. Once he's gone, the two cats bound across the open to Ravenpaw. Graystripe vanishes into the hole. Firestar stops in front of Ravenpaw, telling him he did well. Ravenpaw licks a paw and draws it over an ear a few times to hide embarrassment, saying it was easy, he was a stupid furball. Firestar points out he'll know something's up as soon as he finds Tigerstar, and tells Ravenpaw to keep watch and call out if he sees anyone. He plunges into the hole after Graystripe, finding himself in a long, narrow passage carved out of sandy soil; thick darkness engulfing him and a lingering scent of stale fox, but the strongest scent by far is fear. The passage leads downward and before he reaches the end of if, he hears scuffling and surprised mews, one of the apprentices calling out to their father.
- A moment later, Firestar's step brings him against Graystripe's haunches, and the scent of the apprentices is stronger than ever, and with a jolt of relief, he recognizes Mistyfoot's scent too and calls to her. Mistyfoot's voice is hoarse as she asks if that is Firestar, wondering what he's doing here. Firestar replies that it's a long story, he'll tell her everything, but first they have to get out; then asks Graystripe if he's ready, and a tense mew of agreement comes from him. Firestar turns, telling Mistyfoot that they're going to take them back to ThunderClan. He remembers how weak Stonefur and the apprentices had looked and asks if they can make it that far. Mistyfoot meows that once she's out of the hole she can make it anywhere. Featherpaw agrees. Firestar tells her he's sorry, but they couldn't save Stonefur. Mistyfoot's voice is ragged with grief as she says the apprentices told her.
- Firestar scrabbles back up the tunnel, and at the top, pauses to check that it's safe, then leads the way out into the open. Ravenpaw takes his place at the back of the group, keeping a lookout as the creep down the slope. The cats are silent as shadows as they follow the path through the reeds until they come to the clearing again, which is empty, with the Bonehill casting its shadow as far as the body of Stonefur. Mistyfoot approaches her brother, bending her head to nose his fur. Outside the darkness of the prison, Firestar can see that she is as skinny and unkempt as the dead warrior. His fur bristles with tension as he listens for the sound of approaching cats, but forces himself to give Mistyfoot time to mourn. Stormpaw touches his nose to his mentor's head before padding back to stand beside his father.
- Graystripe hisses they have to go and his words rouse Mistyfoot, raising her head and giving her brother one last, loving look, and pads over to where the others are waiting for her. Firestar sets a brisk pace back toward the river, feeling himself relax as the stench of the Bonehill and scattered prey begins to fade. Graystripe helps the apprentices along, encouraging them with gentle nudges and mews. Mistyfoot keeps up bravely, limping on cracked, sore paws, while Ravenpaw stays in the rear, his ears tilted for sounds of pursuit. The night is silent besides the murmur of water, and by the time the river comes into sight they have not encountered any cats. Turning downstream toward the stepping-stones, Firestar dares to hope they will get out undetected. Then a voice yowls out in the distance that the prisoners have escaped, which makes the six cats freeze.
Notes and references
|The Darkest Hour chapters|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7 • Chapter 8 • Chapter 9 • Chapter 10 • Chapter 11 • Chapter 12 • Chapter 13 • Chapter 14 • Chapter 15 • Chapter 16 • Chapter 17 • Chapter 18 • Chapter 19 • Chapter 20 • Chapter 21 • Chapter 22 • Chapter 23 • Chapter 24 • Chapter 25 • Chapter 26 • Chapter 27 • Chapter 28 • Chapter 29 • Chapter 30|
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