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This Is the End is by BladeOfHope. It's a transfer from WFW.


Prologue

It was worth it.

Time stands still as the darkness  absorbs me. It swirls around inside my mind, eating away at my very being. Soon it will all be over, and nothing will be the same.

The silence is almost unbearable. I am trapped in a dark, soundless expanse. No life exists here, and I feel that I could go insane if I stayed here for too long, sealing myself inside the shadows invading my mind.

When will it be over?

A sudden beam of light catches the corner of my eye. I cannot feel my body well enough to be able to turn towards it, but as I wait anxiously, the light seems to grow brighter. I feel a strange sense of warmth creep into my paws, and for the first time I notice how bitterly cold it is here.

As the warmth gradually spreads through my body, I find that I am regaining the ability to move. I turn my head just slightly toward the light. I narrow my eyes against the intensity of it as it grows brighter.

Maybe now I can escape.

My paws start to cooperate, but when I try to run I find that it is impossible. This empty expanse has no surface for me to travel across. I have no way of getting closer to the light that I so desperately want to reach.

I strain towards the warmth, but I cannot move towards it. I hang suspended here by some invisible force. With horror I realize that the light is dimming. I try to call out, but no sound leaves my mouth.

What is happening?

Eventually the light fades entirely, and the warmth starts to leave me. I lose feeling once more, and I can no longer see anything in this expanse.

I close my eyes before I lose all movement. I give in to the emptiness and surrender myself to its frigid silence. It is all I can do. I cannot stay here, all alone. I cannot remain here for all of eternity. I give into it and let it pull me away, piece by piece, until I slowly start to disappear.

So this is the end.


Chapter One


Echopaw struggled to her paws. Her opponent launched himself at her again, hissing. Echopaw ducked and whirled around; the tom landed clumsily behind her. She jumped and pinned him to the ground. "Give in!" she said in what she hoped was a commanding voice.

"Very good!" a friendly voice meowed from behind her. Echopaw looked up to see her mentor, Mistyrain, walking up to her with warmth in her eyes. "You can let him up now."

Echopaw stepped off of the young tom, who stood up and shook the dust from his pelt. "You messed up my fur, Echopaw," he complained.

"Sorry, Bramblepaw," Echopaw purred. "Maybe we should change your name to Dustpaw."

He dropped into a crouch and wiggled his rear. "Is that a challenge? Whoever loses the next round is renamed Dustpaw?"

Mistyrain stepped between the two apprentices. "Enough," she scolded, but Echopaw could see her amusement. "You both did very well."

Behind her, Bramblepaw's mentor, Flamingsun, glanced at the sky. "We should get back to camp. It's going to rain soon," he observed.

Echopaw followed her mentor out of the training hollow. She fell in beside Bramblepaw and nudged him with her shoulder. "I'll beat you next time, too, Dustpaw," she teased.

He pretended to be upset. "What did I do to deserve this?" he complained.

"Let me think," Echopaw purred, pretending to think it over. "You existed, of course."

He gasped and feigned shock. "Well! Maybe I won't share my fresh-kill with you!"

Echopaw stopped walking and watched as he hurried ahead and said something to Flamingsun. The large ginger tom flicked his tail over his apprentice's back, and they vanished into the undergrowth, with Mistyrain close behind.

I like training with Bramblepaw, she thought. He's fun.

Suddenly a raindrop landed on her nose. She looked up at the stormy sky. Fiery lightning flashed across the heavy gray clouds, and booming thunder shook the ground. She ran in the direction of the camp as more rain started to fall.

She skidded under the bush that made the apprentices' den and dove into her nest, shivering. Bramblepaw lay nearby in his own nest. "Forget Dustpaw, your name should be Wetpaw," he told her, whiskers quivering.

Echopaw stood up and shook the water from her pelt. Bramblepaw scooted into the farthest corner of his nest, but most of the rainwater landed on him anyway. He glared at his wet pelt with indignation, and Echopaw stifled her purr of amusement by hastily lying down and pushing her muzzle into the moss.

"I'm too tired to argue," the brown tom sighed, making himself comfortable again. "Mistyrain and Flamingsun know how to make us work hard."

Echopaw meowed her agreement. "At least no cat would ask us to go out on patrol while it's raining. We can get some rest."

Bramblepaw had already fallen asleep. Echopaw rested her head on the side of her nest and let sleep whisk her away as well.


They just will not stop.

My life is far from peaceful. Terror grips my mind as I try to find my way out of this shadowed place. I was only an apprentice when they killed me. I don't know enough to figure everything out.

That was an impossible choice. I was so young; they, as full-grown warriors, had no right to kill me in the way they did. But I had to do something. I could not let them kill my denmate.

Was it really worth it?

This is the question I have asked myself so many times. After sacrificing myself to save him, they sent me into their dark world. Here I live after death, but this a life I would never wish upon anyone, not even the enemies I had when I was still alive.

I can only hope that it will end someday. I hope that I can somehow die again and be freed from this land. Even a life as an invisible spirit that no one remembers must be better than this.

Sometimes hope is the only thing a warrior has left to cling to.

I have remembered this phrase from the time when I was still alive. It is something that my mentor told me right before I sacrificed myself. I have forgotten so much about my life. I think the only reason I remember this phrase is because I was so terrified when I was first brought here.

My memories are growing hazy as time goes on. I do not know how long I have been trapped here. It may be that I have been here only a few moons, or it may have been many season-cycles ago that I was slain. No matter how long it has been, there is still an indefinite length of time stretching out in front of me.

The end has not yet come.

This is what I remind myself. It is not over, no matter how much I want it to be. At least I know that  either no other cat has been forced into this awful situation, or somewhere there is a way out. I have never once seen another frightened cat wandering this world.

Knowing this is the hope that I have left to cling to. It is the only thing that keeps me going. At the same time, I know that I have to find a way out of here. I cannot remain here forever.

Somehow, I will escape.


Chapter Two

Echopaw awoke early the next morning. Sunlight streamed into the den. The warmth of the light cutting into the coldness pricked some vague, distant memory at the back of her mind, but she couldn't figure out why the sensation was so familiar.

She looked over at Bramblepaw's nest and saw that he was still asleep. She quietly left the den and let the light of dawn stream over her, filling her and chasing off the hidden shadows of sleep.

Mistyrain saw Echopaw and beckoned her over to where she was sitting with Flamingsun. "We were just discussing your assessment," she called in greeting.

Echopaw hurried over to the two mentors. "You really think Bramblepaw and I are ready to become warriors?"

Flamingsun exchanged a glance with Mistyrain. "Not Bramblepaw," he said slowly.

"What?" Echopaw was wide awake now. "Bramblepaw is just as skilled as I am!"

Flamingsun shook his head, irritated; Mistyrain at least had the sense to look ashamed. "We just don't think he's ready," Echopaw's mentor replied awkwardly.

"But he's just as experienced as I am!"

Flamingsun growled, surprising Echopaw. "We feel that he isn't quite as mature as you are," he said gruffly. "Bramblepaw isn't ready to be a warrior yet, and that's final."

Echopaw's mind was whirling. She had dreamed of becoming a warrior with Bramblepaw for so long.... "Then I won't be a warrior either," she blurted.

Mistyrain looked alarmed. "What? But Echopaw, you've worked so hard!"

"So has Bramblepaw," she insisted. "If he doesn't become a warrior, neither do I." She turned and trotted over to where the Clan deputy, Sharpnettle, was arranging patrols. "Can I go out with a hunting patrol?" she asked him.

The brown tom glanced at her. "Sure, Echopaw. You can go with Mosspelt and Redlily." He turned back to the other warriors and immediately got into an argument with one of them. "No, Clawderp, you can't catch a robin by growing wings and following it all over the territory!" he said angrily.

Echopaw hurried over to where Redlily was waiting. "Sharpnettle said I could join you. Is that okay?"

"Sure," Redlily said warmly. "We could always use some more paws. Ready to go, Mosspelt?" she called to the young gray tom, who had been talking with a group of other young warriors.

"I'm ready," he said, meowing a goodbye to his friends. "Where should we hunt first?"

"How about the old Twoleg nest?" Echopaw suggested. "No one's been there for a while."

Redlily nodded her approval. "Good idea. Let's go."

As Echopaw followed the two warriors out into their territory, she felt a pang of unease. Why won't they let Bramblepaw be a warrior? she thought. It makes no sense. He's just as ready as I am.

She pushed these thoughts to the back of her mind and tried to concentrate on the scents in the air. It was going to be a long day.


The day is getting closer.

I can feel it. I just know something is going to happen soon. I cannot explain it; it is a feeling that I have deep in my heart. My heart is telling me that an escape will open itself to me soon.

For now, though, I must still stay here, abiding by the rules of cats with shadowed minds. However, the darkness does not seem so complete as this ray of hope pushes its way through me, coursing through my veins like my very blood.

Maybe I can save myself.

I whisper these words aloud. My voice is hoarse from having remained silent for so long; all the same, the words seem to have a deeper meaning than I can yet understand.

My death was not a pleasant one. I had gone out with my denmate and our mentors; we, as apprentices, were on a mission to become warriors. We were trapped by shadowy cats who wanted to kill us. I sacrificed myself to save my denmate. I would do anything to be able to go back and save myself from this fate, as long as I could still save him too.

I should not have spoken.

The shadows are pressing in, and it feels like they are slowly suffocating me. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, reminding myself that fear will only crush me if I let it. I have learned a few things from being here for so long.

Sure enough, a heartbeat later I can breathe normally again. The shadows still block the edges of my vision, but they are no longer surrounding me.

I am safe, for now.

There is no telling how long I will remain safe, though. I know they want to weaken me. They want me to fail and give into their dark ambitions. I must not give in!

I must remain strong. I cannot let them know how deeply they affect me in my weaker times. It feels like the shadows want to lead me to a better place, where fears do not exist. These are all lies. I know that if I give in, I will be under their control.

I will not give in.


Chapter Three


Mistyrain huddled next to Flamingsun in the warriors' den. Their nests were in the one part of the den that the rain couldn't reach, but it was still cold. A sudden clap of thunder made the she-cat move closer to her fellow mentor.

Flamingsun ran his tail across the she-cat's spine. "It's okay," he soothed. "It can't hurt us."

"I know," Mistyrain meowed, burying her muzzle in Flamingsun's ginger pelt.

"Look, don't worry about it, okay?" he told her. "Yes, Echopaw refused to be separated from Bramblepaw. We don't know that the plan is ruined. We'll make it work."

"I know," Mistyrain murmured. "We'll win somehow."

They fell asleep curled up together on that stormy night.


Meanwhile, in the apprentices' den, Echopaw and Bramblepaw were similarly huddled together.

"I'm scared," Echopaw whispered. "It's so loud."

"I'm scared, too, but it's alright," Bramblepaw reassured her. "It can't hurt us. It's just a storm."

"I know." Echopaw rested her head on Bramblepaw's side. "I just can't sleep. I'm scared I'm going to dream about the shadows again."

"You know they're just dreams, Echopaw."

"But they scare me!" Echopaw stood up and started pacing around the den. "They're so realistic. It's almost like I really am trapped in the shadows and unable to escape." She collapsed back into her nest. "I just know that if I go back to sleep, they'll come back."

"I'm here, Echopaw," Bramblepaw said quietly. "If I think something is wrong, I can wake you up."

Echopaw pushed her muzzle into his brown fur. "Promise?"

"Promise." Bramblepaw licked her ear. "You need your sleep, Echopaw."

"I know." Echopaw breathed his familiar scent in one more time and curled up in her nest. She fell asleep quickly. She didn't dream that night.

Neither apprentice knew about what their mentors were talking about at the exact same time.


I feel like I am being torn apart.

Something is happening down in the living world. I just know it. Something about me, if that is even possible.

I have to get out of here in time to rewrite history. Even if it means I disappear, I must save myself from reliving this fate.

I must keep hoping.

I think I now know the real reason my mentor's words stayed with me. I do not think she ever really wanted to hurt me. I think she told me this so that I would figure out how to escape this place.

I have had the answer all along. I just did not know how to use it. This world is made of shadows, hate, and fear. Hope is the only thing that can penetrate its grasp and release those trapped inside.

Hope is my answer.

Impossible as it seems, I think time in this world has been standing still. I am still living in the time when I was killed. If I can find the way out, maybe I can save myself!

I don't think my and my denmate's mentors thought this through very well when they first designed their plan. I am smarter than they seem to think I am. If I can escape and save myself, I can go on and live a normal life as a normal warrior!

It will not be me living it.

If this works, I will disappear and my living self will get to live her life. Who knows, though? Maybe I'll get to talk to her before I sacrifice myself to save her.

It must be an odd sensation, talking to oneself. Whatever happens, though, I just want my plan to work. I would do anything to save myself from having to relive this fate.

This will work.

Chapter Four


"Wake up."

Echopaw moaned. The shadows were going to take her. They were going to take her and trap her in the darkness and keep her there forever.

"Echopaw, wake up."

Something nudged her side. She scrambled frantically out of the way and started running. I have to get away... I have to get out of here!

"Echopaw!"

Echopaw jolted awake. Bramblepaw was standing over her, his eyes wide with worry. "Are you okay?" he said, his voice full of concern. "You were muttering and twitching in your sleep."

She tried to blink the sleep out of her eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine," she muttered. "It was a dream, that's all."

He sighed with relief. "I was afraid something was wrong."

Echopaw sat up and tried to smooth out her fur. "Is it midnight?" she murmured drowsily.

"Pretty much." Bramblepaw started pawing at his nest, like something was bothering him. He didn't meet Echopaw's eyes.

"Are you okay?"

He winced. "I was thinking about how Flamingsun and Mistyrain refused to make me a warrior."

"Oh." Echopaw studied her paws. The warriors' words still echoed in her head. She couldn't imagine how hard it would be on Bramblepaw. He'd worked just as hard as she had, keeping up pawstep for pawstep, and then was denied his chance to be a warrior. "I'm sure it won't be long," she meowed awkwardly.

Bramblepaw looked hesitantly at her. "It won't be long," he said quietly. Then, with confidence: "It won't be long!" He rushed over to the entrance to the den. "We'll do something so great, Flamingsun and Mistyrain will have to talk to Crystalstar about us being warriors!"

Echopaw padded to his side. "What are you thinking of doing?" she asked nervously.

He looked at her, green eyes blazing. "I don't know," he admitted. "But we have to do something!" He exited the den and disappeared into the night beyond the branches.

But if we do something spectacular to lose our apprentice names, Echopaw thought, we might just lose our lives.


Later, Bramblepaw and Echopaw were eating fresh-kill together when Flamingsun burst into camp. "Intruders!" he hissed.

Crystalstar looked up from where she was talking with the senior warriors. "Where? What happened?" she demanded.

Mistyrain came in behind Flamingsun a heartbeat later. "Rogues," she panted. "They crossed the border and stole prey."

Crystalstar bared her teeth. "They'll learn not to mess with us," she snarled. "I want you to take some warriors with you. Sharpnettle, will you-"

"That won't be necessary," Flamingsun interrupted. "Bramblepaw, Echopaw, come with us."

"What?" Echopaw exclaimed, exchanging an alarmed glance with Bramblepaw. Why us?

"I don't want you putting your apprentices in danger," Crystalstar insisted. "This is a job for warriors."

"They're more than ready." The ginger tom flicked his tail dismissively. "It's about time they participated in their first attack."

Bramblepaw scrambled to his paws and raced after the two mentors as they turned to leave camp. Echopaw stood up and followed him. "What are you doing?" she hissed when she caught up to Bramblepaw.

"This is our chance," Bramblepaw said, his eyes bright with determination. "We can prove ourselves here, and Crystalstar will have to make us warriors!"

Echopaw almost tripped over a branch, she was so surprised. "But that's crazy," she protested. "We're putting our lives in danger!"

"We're doing it for the sake of the Clan," Bramblepaw replied. Ambition seemed to put more energy into his paws, and he rushed forward to run next to his mentor.

Echopaw kept up as best as she could. "I still don't think this is worth it," she muttered, but she kept running anyway.

Soon they reached the border, and Mistyrain and Flamingsun started sniffing around. "Where was it?" Echopaw heard Mistyrain mutter.

Flamingsun suddenly stood up straight, tasting the air; then he took off. "This way!" he said. "This is where it has to be!"

Echopaw blinked. That was a weird way to talk. Thinking hard, she followed the cats again until they reached a small grassy opening. Flamingsun reached it first, and when the others arrived, he was looking up at the sky with an almost evil glint in his eyes. "Yes, yes!" he hissed. "This is the place, Mistyrain, I know it!" As Echopaw watched, he seemed to grow a little bigger, and his pelt seemed to darken and tangle.

Bramblepaw took a step back. "I don't smell any rogues," he said fearfully.

"No, you don't," agreed Mistyrain, as she, too, grew bigger and darker before the apprentices' eyes. "That was a trick to get Crystalstar to let you come out here."

"See," growled the shadowy beast that used to be Flamingsun, "we have plans for our future. And someone is getting in our way."

Echopaw realized at once what they meant. "No!" she said in a strained voice. "You brought us here to kill us, didn't you?"

"Yes," purred the shadows in a unified, deceptively sweet voice.

Beside Echopaw, Bramblepaw dropped into a defensive position, but Echopaw could see he was still trembling. "We'll fight," he said in a shaky voice. "We'll fight until the end, Echopaw. I won't let myself be slaughtered without putting up a fight."

"Brave," said the Flamingsun-shadow with a nod of approval. "But not good enough."

Echopaw's eyes filled with tears. "Maybe there's hope," she whispered. "Maybe we can save ourselves, somehow..."

"Hope," echoed the former Mistyrain. "Sometimes hope is all a warrior has left to cling to, isn't that right?"

Hearing such reassuring words from the thing that used to be her mentor made Echopaw's heart split in two. "You're not you anymore!" she yowled with grief, tears streaming freely down her face. "You're not the cat I knew. You're a monster! I won't let you kill us!"

A part of the old Mistyrain seemed to jump back at Echopaw's mournful words. "Really, we don't need your life," she said quietly. "Even if we only took Bramblepaw, our plan would still work..."

"Don't be absurd!" the other shadow snapped. "What's to stop the she-cat from telling every cat what we've done?"

"You know we have ways of silencing them."

By now Echopaw was trembling so much she could barely stand. "Stop!" she begged. "Don't hurt him! T-take me instead!"

"No, Echopaw!" Bramblepaw cried. "Let them take me. I couldn't live knowing you sacrificed yourself to save me."

Echopaw looked at her denmate. "Goodbye," she whispered. Her blue eyes were glittering, fear and a strange sort of brave calm reflected on their shining surfaces. "I have to."

"Fine," Flamingsun spat. "We'll just kill you, and silence the other." Long red claws slid out from shadowy paws. "Are you ready to meet your death?"

Echopaw took a few steps closer to the two shadows. She stood tall and tried to look confident, but she was shaking and sobbing. "Just do it. Just get it over with," she said, closing her eyes.

Bramblepaw looked away, tears now freely streaming down his face as well. Flamingsun raised his paw to deal the death blow, but before he could, a strange yet familiar presence like a rip in the shreds of time appeared, filling the area with a white light and knocking Echopaw off her paws.

As Echopaw tried to stand and get her sight back, she heard a voice that was very much like her own. "No!" it said, resonating with wisdom that Echopaw couldn't even begin to comprehend. "I will not let you ruin my life again!" Echopaw heard the two shadows yowl with fury. The light faded, and everything went dark.

The last thing Echopaw remembered before blacking out entirely was the sensation of someone nudging her side. "You're safe," someone said, but Echopaw couldn't recognize the voice before she lost all consciousness and let the blackness take over.

Chapter Five


Echopaw groaned. "Wh...what happened?" she said. She tried to sit up, but pain jarred her side and she sank back onto the ground.

Nearby, Bramblepaw rolled over and stared at Echopaw. "We're alive," he breathed.

Determined to figure out what was happening, Echopaw forced her paws to work. She stood, wincing with pain, and looked around the clearing. "Mistyrain and Flamingsun are gone," she said, but her voice sounded hollow. She wouldn't miss them, not knowing their true motives.

Bramblepaw stood up beside her. "It's so quiet," he whispered. Suddenly something on the other side of the clearing caught his attention, and he raced over to it.

Echopaw ran up behind him, gasping with shock when she saw what had caught her denmate's attention. There was a cat lying there. She was almost transparent, somehow, and barely breathing, but what startled Echopaw the most was the cat's appearance.

"It's... you," Bramblepaw choked. It was true. The cat looked exactly like Echopaw.

The cat twitched and slowly raised her head. "I'm glad," she said softly, in the same resonating voice Echopaw had heard earlier. "I saved us."

"What do you mean?" Echopaw said, nudging Bramblepaw aside to get closer to the fading cat.

"I am you," the spirit explained. "I am you from another time. I was forced into a dark, shadowed place, and I've saved you from sharing that fate."

My dreams! Echopaw realized with a jolt. All those dreams of suffocating darkness... she must have been feeling what this other version of herself had been feeling! "Don't die," she pleaded.

"But I must," the other Echopaw said, closing her eyes and resting her head on the ground. "I must sacrifice my own existence to make sure you live the life we always wanted."

"No!" Echopaw cried. Her other self lay very still, and she faded even more.

Bramblepaw rested his muzzle on Echopaw's side. "She gave up herself to give you your future," he said, his voice choked with tears. "I'm so glad, Echopaw."

She can't die! There must be hope, Echopaw thought; then, remembering Mistyrain's words, Sometimes hope is all a warrior has left to cling to.

Her fading self's eyelids flickered, and a heartbeat later her paws twitched, like she was trying to run. She fell still again, and she didn't move any more. Echopaw's paws collapsed under her, and she fell to the ground, sobbing. How could she have been brave enough to let herself die to save... herself? Echopaw's mind didn't want to work, and she didn't want to think that hard. All she knew was that this was true loyalty. This was the kind of cat she wanted to be.

Soon the she-cat faded entirely, with one last sigh, like she was relieved. One last line of her wise voice seemed to hang in the air, making Echopaw sob even harder. Bramblepaw stroked her back with his tail, but Echopaw barely noticed, trying to hold on to the last words of her other self.

So this is the end.


Epilogue

Moons and moons later, Echosilver and Brambleshade sat looking at the stars. Echosilver entwined her blue-silver tabby tail with her mate's brown one. "Do you remember?" she whispered, her voice faltering. She didn't have to say anything else; the tom knew what she was referring to.

Brambleshade turned his amber gaze away from the stars to look at Echosilver. "Yes," he murmured. "I remember how brave your other self was, and I remember how brave you were, too."

"I wasn't brave," Echosilver protested, but the warmth in her mate's eyes made her purr. Pressing her cheek against his fur, she meowed, "I love you."

"I love you too," Brambleshade said, licking the top of Echosilver's head. "And I love our kits."

Echosilver glanced back to the nursery, where their two kits, Morningkit and Fuzzykit, were sleeping quietly. The kits had been born just a moon before, and they were still tiny, determined to get underpaw of every cat in camp. The mother purred softly as she remembered some of her kits' misadventures.
Brambleshade's voice jolted her back to the present. "It's not over, is it?"

"No," Echosilver whispered, looking back at the stars far overhead. Did Mistyrain and Flamingsun have stars? She shuddered as detached memories from the dreams she'd had as an apprentice about her other self flooded back: a dark place, shadows always pressing in, and overwhelming fear. They were probably there. That was a horrifying thought. She'd never entirely forgiven the two cats, but Echosilver wouldn't want to be stuck there forever.

"No," she said again, meeting Brambleshade's gaze. "It will never be over."

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