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Warriors Series: A Dangerous Path (Warriors #05)by Erin Hunter
Fireheart's fur bristled with disbelief and fury as he gazed up at the new leader of ShadowClan standing on the Great Rock. He watched as the cat swung his massive head from side to side. Muscles rippled under his gleaming pelt and his amber eyes seemed to glow with triumph.
"Tigerclaw!" Fireheart spat. His old enemy — the cat who had tried to kill him more than once — was now one of the most powerful cats in the forest.
The full moon rode high above Fourtrees, shedding its cold light over the cats of the four Clans, assembled there for the Gathering. They had all been shocked to learn of the death of Nightstar, the ShadowClan leader. But no cat in the forest had expected that ShadowClan's new leader would be Tigerclaw, the former ThunderClan deputy.
Beside Fireheart, Darkstripe was rigid with excitement, his eyes glittering. Fireheart wondered what thoughts were going through the mind of his black-pelted Clan mate. When Tigerclaw had been banished from ThunderClan, he had invited his old friend to go with him, but Darkstripe had refused. Was he regretting that decision now?
Fireheart caught sight of Sandstorm weaving her way toward him. "What's going on?" the pale ginger she-cat hissed as she came into earshot. "Tigerclaw can't lead ShadowClan. He's a traitor!"
For several heartbeats, Fireheart hesitated. Shortly after he had joined ThunderClan, Fireheart had discovered that Tigerclaw had murdered Redtail, the deputy. Once Tigerclaw became deputy himself, he had led rogue cats to attack the ThunderClan camp, trying to murder their leader, Bluestar, so that he could take her place. As punishment, he had been banished from their Clan and the forest. It was hardly a noble history for a leader of any Clan.
"But ShadowClan don't know about all that," Fireheart reminded Sandstorm now, keeping his voice low. "None of the other Clans know."
"Then you should tell them!"
Fireheart glanced up at Tallstar and Crookedstar, the leaders of WindClan and RiverClan, respectively, who stood beside Tigerstar on the Great Rock. Would they listen if he told them what he knew? ShadowClan had suffered so much from Brokentail's bloodthirsty leadership, followed by a devastating sickness, that they probably wouldn't care what their new leader had done, as long as he could forge them into a strong Clan again.
Besides, Fireheart couldn't help feeling a guilty relief that Tigerclaw had satisfied his hunger for power in a different Clan. Maybe now ThunderClan could stop waiting for him to attack, and Fireheart could walk the forest without constantly glancing over his shoulder.
Yet, as he struggled with his conflicting emotions, he knew that he would never forgive himself if he let Tigerclaw come to power without even making a protest.
"Fireheart!" He turned to see Cloudpaw, his long-furred white apprentice, padding quickly toward him with the wiry brown warrior Mousefur just behind. "Fireheart, are you just going to stand there and let that piece of fox dung take over?"
"Quiet, Cloudpaw," Fireheart ordered. "I know. I'll — "
He broke off as Tigerclaw paced to the front of the Great Rock.
"I am pleased to be here with you at the Gathering this night." The huge tabby spoke with quiet authority. "I stand here before you as the new leader of ShadowClan. Nightstar died of the sickness that took so many of my Clan, and StarClan have named me as his successor."
Tallstar, the black-and-white leader of WindClan, turned to him. "Welcome, Tigerstar," he meowed, nodding respectfully. "May StarClan walk with you."
Crookedstar meowed agreement as the new ShadowClan leader dipped his head in acknowledgment.
"I thank you for your greetings," Tigerstar replied. "It's an honor to stand here with you, although I wish the circumstances could have been different." "Wait a moment," Tallstar interrupted him. "There should be four of us here." He peered down at the crowd of cats below. "Where's the leader of ThunderClan?"
"Go on." Fireheart felt a cat nudge him, and glanced around to see that Whitestorm had joined the other ThunderClan warriors. "You're taking Bluestar's place, remember?"
Fireheart nodded to him, suddenly unable to speak. He bunched his muscles and got ready to spring. A heartbeat later he was scrambling to the top of the Great Rock to stand beside the three leaders. For a moment the unfamiliar viewpoint took his breath away. He seemed to be far above the hollow, watching the changing patterns of light and dark on the cats below as the moon shone through the branches of the four massive oak trees. Fireheart shivered as he caught the pale gleam reflected from countless pairs of eyes.
"Fireheart?" He looked up as Tallstar spoke. "Why are you here? Has something happened to Bluestar?"
Fireheart dipped his head respectfully. "Our leader breathed smoke in the fire, and she's not yet well enough to travel. But she'll recover," he added hastily. "It's nothing serious."
Tallstar nodded, and Crookedstar broke in testily, "Are we ever going to start? We're wasting moonlight."
Without waiting for a reply, the pale tabby RiverClan leader gave the yowl that signaled the beginning of the meeting. When the murmuring of the cats below had died away, he meowed, "Cats of all Clans, welcome to the Gathering. Tonight we are joined by a new leader, Tigerstar." He beckoned to the massive warrior with a flick of his tail. "Tigerstar, are you ready to speak now?"
Thanking him with a courteous nod, Tigerstar stepped forward to address the assembled cats. "I stand here before you by the will of StarClan. Nightstar was a noble warrior, but he was old, and he did not have the strength to fight the sickness when it came. His deputy, Cinderfur, died too."
Fireheart felt his fur prickling with unease as he listened. Clan leaders received nine lives when they went to share tongues with StarClan at Mothermouth, and Nightstar had become leader only a few seasons ago. What had happened to his nine lives? Had ShadowClan's sickness been so violent that it had taken all of them?
Looking down, Fireheart caught sight of Runningnose, the ShadowClan medicine cat, sitting with his head bowed. Fireheart could not see his face, but his hunched posture suggested that he was lost in misery. It must be hard for him, Fireheart thought, to know that all his skill had not been enough to save his leader.
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