tl;dr: it's very early in the morning and raven's left the barn for good
Raventail was not in the barn.
He’d tried to be in the barn, of course, because Batbite and Strom were in the barn. Neither of them had a problem with it, and for good reason; it was a fine place, offering straw and warmth and an abundance of mice too dull to realize the danger. At another point in his life, he might have found its walls comforting. There had been a time when he was used to sleeping under his mother’s long fur and the nursery’s clusters of gorse; after that, under the wooden planks of a water-worn Twoleg nest. It had taken him ages to adjust to lying unguarded beneath the moon’s cold, pale glow. Somehow, even after nearly half a moon of living here, he hadn’t been able to reverse it.
Last night, he’d managed to stay in the barn until moonhigh. Then some tiny part of him had noticed his barnmates were asleep—no one would see him go—and that had been that. He was more likely to run into a raccoon than a rabbit at that hour, but he’d left all the same. Just as he had the night before, and before that, and before that.
This brought him to where he was now: not in the barn, but on the wrong side of the small gap that made up its entryway, staring at the few bundles of fur scattered inside. As far as he could tell, everyone else was out cold. His stomach felt like a ball of cobwebs someone had made without checking for spiders first. Somewhere behind him, the sun dug its claws into the night, leaving scars in orange, yellow, and pink. A cloudless dawn promising a clear morning. That was the reason he gave for the restlessness in his paws. It would be a beautiful day, and, though he was so tired his eyes burned, he couldn’t bear to miss it.
With a distant hope that no one would wake up to see him outside, Raventail turned his nose toward the wilderness. This was the best time of day for rabbits; Batbite would probably be eager to try something new, and Strom most likely wouldn’t mind, either. Better yet, a walk might help clear his head.
Robin- and wren-song drifted in and out of focus as the small tom strode through the grass. It had been a while since he’d wandered like this, alone, aimless. Deputyship had brought with it a surprising workload. Ceremonies, planning potential mentors, preparing for Gatherings, assigning patrols… There was always something to be done. It should have been a relief not to think about it, yet his mind returned to it like a fox to a piece of abandoned fresh-kill.
Abruptly, Raventail realized he had stopped walking. Stalks of heather brushed against his legs, hardly noticeable through his fur. A hunched shape had appeared in the distance—a cat? A rabbit, maybe? Crouching, ready to disappear at a moment’s notice, he crept forward. Soon, the shape had a color: gray-brown, with the smallest blotch of white for a tail.
Eyes gleaming, he sank down the rest of the way. His nose was clogged with the scents of rabbit (for what he’d been staring at was, in fact, a rabbit) and moor-flowers; by a stroke of luck, he was downwind. The rabbit sat tall, looking outward in the wrong direction. It leaned down to nibble on the heather, oblivious to its observer, as feather-brained as the barn mice. StarClan themselves couldn’t have given him an easier target. He barely breathed as he moved, careful like a kit trying to sneak out of the nursery. One paw at a time.
The rabbit turned. It fixed its dark, shining eyes on Raventail. Raventail stared back, equally motionless. Down to the thinnest blades of grass, the world slowed to watch them.
An ear twitched—maybe his, maybe the rabbit’s—and the spell was broken. The warrior sprang; the rabbit spun; they raced across the moor as one being, two sets of paws thundering in different but steady rhythms, the distance between them shrinking. No time away from WindClan could strike from Raventail’s memory the wonderful shortness of breath or the wind whipping through his fur. He tackled his prey with all the ferocity his thin frame could hold, and they tumbled together, snapping stems and crushing flowers, until Raventail’s teeth found the rabbit’s neck.
All was still.
Each breath scalded his throat as he rose, triumphant, grin wide enough to hurt. There it was—there was the freedom he’d been searching for since his legs had first carried him toward the barn. He was as light as the breeze, unburdened at last. Eyes as bright and golden as the morning sun, he turned, searching for—
For no one. He was hunting alone today, as was usually the case. Raventail closed his mouth, feeling the kittish joy evaporate.
This was his dream come true. Since the flood had pulled him from the nursery and he’d gotten his first glimpse of what the world had to offer, he’d wanted to know firstpaw what things were like outside of WindClan. And this—this was the ideal. No code, no duties, no borders to mind. Stories upon stories about paths he might never tread. Prey was plentiful, and they were at peace. It was perfect. It should have been. But too often, he would catch himself trying to find something that wasn't there, words from the life he'd left on the tip of his tongue. Force of habit, he'd thought at first.
When the question crept in, there was nothing to shield him from it. Is this what I want? His claws buried themselves in the rabbit’s side, as much of an answer as any words would have been. For the first time, he let it wash over him fully. Then what is?
The answer was surprisingly simple. Finchstar, his friend and confidant, his leader. Barleytuft, good-natured even in grief. Goldengale, his only apprentice, carrying a warrior’s determination from her first day of training. Grousefrost, who had stepped past his bitterness and proved himself willing to ensure Raventail could protect his Clanmates as they deserved. Murkpaw, who had died for him; and Brookclover, his mentor, his family in everything but blood. The only reason he’d lived long enough to see the moor at all.
And Dappleshine. Of course. His dearest friend, who brought down rabbits without a day of training in WindClan. Who was safe when the moor couldn’t be. Who was kind enough to trust even when it hurt, but as fierce as the Gorge’s waters in defense of what mattered most. Around her, he could just be Raventail, whether that meant carefree grins and jokes about fish or hiding his face in her fur until he was ready to walk on his own. Through the darkest and brightest days of his life, their bond had been Raventail’s rock. Dacepaw’s disappearance had made him still more certain of it; he wanted to be there for her as she had been for him. She was the sort of cat he would gladly hunt and fight and stand beside for the rest of his life. Those feelings had a name. In him, that was what love looked like.
Out here, there was nothing to obscure the truth. There were many things he wanted, and he had let them go for a dream that didn’t fit him half as comfortably as it had fit Ravenpaw, all the while telling himself it was the right thing to do as he abandoned WindClan to its fate. He'd fallen short in many ways, yes, but not a single cat had asked him for perfection. All they’d wanted was for him to justify the trust they’d all placed in him, to bear the weight of deputyship with the honor and pride it deserved. And he’d run. Heartless and cowardly, a fox in the night despite all his good intentions. He’d left them without a word. The warmth of realization congealed into icy horror.
All at once, he knew what he had to do. What he really had to do, rather than some misguided conviction born of recklessness and quiet self-doubt. There was no time for goodbyes. No time to break down his nest, nor to eat, nor to bring what he’d caught back to Batbite and Strom. He’d wandered far enough that leaving the rabbit behind wouldn’t lead any unwanted visitors to the barn; Raventail did not ask StarClan for much, but he did ask for this, hoping just once they would listen, that there would be no harm done by this last crucial choice.
However little WindClan would need him once the darkness had passed, they needed him now, as another set of claws if nothing else. And for him, WindClan was home; wherever they set their nests at the end of the day, it was those who lived there made it so. There would not be another. He could never make this right, but he had to try. Squaring his shoulders, Raventail turned until the palest part of the sky sat at his left shoulder and set off at a run. He did not look back.
- Deputy of WindClan -
[Character Profiles] [Remind Me]
WindClan Deputy V
WindClan Warrior IV