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The prologue gives us a glimpse into what's going on with StarClan. Sagewhisker and Fernshade, two former Clanmates of Yellowfang, blame her for the recent battle between ThunderClan and ShadowClan, claiming she should have been able to stop it. More StarClanners arrive, and they decide that the Clans must join forces if they wish to defeat the Dark Forest.
ThunderClan limps home after the battle. Firestar is still in the losing-a-life trance, and Lionblaze is in a temporary Heroic BSOD after killing Russetfur. Dovepaw feels guilty; she thinks that her power could have detected if ShadowClan was up to something, but she had refused to use it to spy. Jayfeather tends to the injuries, and realizes not only that Ivypaw is training with the Dark Forest, but that cats from other Clans are training with them as well. Cinderheart and Lionblaze take a nighttime walk, discussing the battle. Jayfeather tells Lionblaze about Ivypaw. Dovepaw happens to overhear this, and confronts her sister about it, but Ivypaw doesn't realize she's doing anything wrong.
Meanwhile, ShadowClan also is licking its wounds. They say farewell to Russetfur, and discuss tactics they can use in the next battle. Flametail and Littlecloud meet with Blackstar, who insists that Littlecloud must visit the Moonpool to learn what he can from StarClan about the battle. Flametail insists upon going instead, because Littlecloud is too ill and weak.
Ivypaw continues to visit the dark forest, angry that she's being judged for it. She (literally) runs into a Dark Forest she-cat named Mapleshade.
When Flametail visits the Moonpool, he realizes that it's only ShadowClan cats vising him. StarClan has split by Clan, and the ShadowClan ancestors insist that the living Clans must do the same: that they must stand alone because they can trust no other Clan. They tell him that a time of war is coming, and that he must be strong for his Clan.
Dovepaw notices Ivypaw's injuries from the Dark Forest, and is concerned for her. She hunts, meeting up with Tigerheart near the border, and promises to meet him that night. Lionblaze's patrol is tracking a fox whose pawprints have been spotted on the territory. When they get back to camp, Millie is arguing to Jayfeather about how if Briarlight isn't healthy, then what's the point of making her do exercises to keep her alive? Unfortunately, Briarlight is right there, but she just says that she'll continue doing her exercises.
Flametail reports back to Blackstar and Littlecloud about how StarClan told him to break off his friendships with the other medicine cats. Neither of them are happy with the idea. Frustrated that they won't listen, he speaks with his father Rowanclaw, who just tells him not to worry about it.
Dovepaw meets with Tigerheart at an abandoned Twoleg nest outside of Clan territory. The two of them spent the night playing in the nest and talking, and though Dovepaw notices that he acted strangely when she mentioned Ivypaw's name, she decides to trust him, and they plan to meet the next night. The next morning, Lionblaze notices she looks sleepy. He reflects on his own previous night, when he and Cinderheart took a moonlit stroll and officially talked to each other about being more than friends. The two cats and their apprentices hunt, and then Dovepaw realizes a fox is in the camp. The ThunderClan cats manage to chase the fox out of the camp without anyone being injured. Lionblaze wants to make sure it's driven out of ThunderClan territory altogether, and suggests to Firestar that he fight the fox alone, since he can't be hurt in battle. Firestar agrees, as long as Lionblaze takes along Dovepaw just in case he is injured. They wait until the next morning to make it look like Lionblaze came across the fox by accident - how would they explain that he chased it off alone, unless he took it by surprise? They find the fox, and though for a while the fight isn't going well (Lionblaze is afraid his powers will fail), he manages to beat it. That's when Cinderheart comes along at the worst possible moment, seeing him covered in the fox's blood and thinking it's his, and panics, running back to camp. When he arrives back and the Clan sees he is alive and okay, they praise him, Jayfeather gives him some ointment to make it look like he got some injuries, and Lionblaze speaks to Cinderheart. She was worried that she'd lose him, so to make her feel better, he tells her about the prophecy, and how she'll never have to be worried she'll lose him. She's completely understanding about how he can protect the Clan and will never get hurt, but she's anguished because she feels she is not worthy of being his mate, since he has such an important destiny. She runs into the warriors' den.
Jayfeather's working in the medicine den, and he realizes that Briarlight isn't eating because she doesn't feel that she's contributing anything to the Clan and therefore does not deserve food. He makes her feel better by making her his regular assistant, helping him with keeping the den clean and sorting herbs. Yellowfang comes to him and brings him outside of camp, saying that she has an urgent message for him before he goes to the Moonpool that night: Lionblaze fighting the fox himself was a sign that ThunderClan must fight the Dark Forest alone. Jayfeather objects, but she insists that since the three are from ThunderClan, then it must only be ThunderClan that will survive. That night, at the Moonpool, despite the ShadowClan cats not showing up, Jayfeather enters the WindClan and RiverClan medicine cats' dreams, and sees their ancestors telling them much the same thing: that their own Clan must stand alone. Jayfeather wakes up, but Willowshine and Kestrelflight quickly leave before he can tell them about the Dark Forest.
Ivypaw wakes up in the middle of the night to see that Dovepaw is not in her nest. Her sister is really visiting Tigerheart, but she thinks that Dovepaw snuck out for extra practice because everyone's been praising Ivypaw's skills recently. Satisfied, she falls back asleep and "wakes" to the Dark Forest. She recieves some scratches from Thistleclaw, and then they do water training. She wakes up only long enough to see that Dovepaw's back, and wakes again to see Whitewing frantically wondering where all the blood came from - her wounds from Thistleclaw had been bleeding in real life. Dovepaw covers for her, pretending to find a large thorn in her bedding. Cinderheart looks at Ivypaw's wounds, noticing things she probably remembers from being a medicine cat. She tells Ivypaw she's worried. Cinderheart comes to the conclusion that Ivypaw was training alone outside the camp, and says that they can train more during the day. She makes Ivypaw promise that she won't leave the camp at night again. Ivypaw guiltily promises. Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Dovepaw discuss this - Lionblaze and Dovepaw agree that it's time to tell Ivypaw to stop going to the Dark Forest, while Jayfeather, remembering his Moonpool visit, thinks that Ivypaw could be useful as a spy. Dovepaw angrily runs off, meeting up with her sister, and Ivypaw confronts her about meeting with Tigerheart; she could smell his scent on Dovepaw. She tells Dovepaw that she meets Tigerheart every night in the Dark Forest. Dovepaw doesn't believe her. She later feels upset that they argued, and she worries that she's driven her sister closer to the Dark Forest.
Meanwhile, Flametail is having trouble finding herbs. He finds only one out of the two that they need. Littlecloud says it's fine, and says he still wants Flametail to go to the Moonpool. Blackstar summons Flametail to his den and tells him he's been having nightmares. Flametail tells him as long as ShadowClan stands alone they'll be fine. On patrol with his Clanmates, while looking for more herbs, Flametail has a vision of being in freezing water, drowning, trapped under ice. He wonders why all his visions are showing him danger, and resolves to find the herbs in order to keep Littlecloud and his Clanmates strong.
Sandstorm is coughing: the first sign of leaf-bare sickness, though she insists that she only swallowed a snowflake. Lionblaze patrols with Cinderheart, Leafpool, and Dovepaw on the WindClan border. They split up, and Lionblaze observes Crowfeather and Breezepelt hunting on the WindClan side of the border. Breezepelt leaps and swipes at a thrush, knocking it to the ThunderClan side. They argue about whose it is, and it turns into a fight. Leafpool tries to break it up, and Nightcloud comes along on the WindClan side. There's some tension, and Lionblaze realizes that the fight had become about family blood, but then the WindClan cats leave. Back at camp, Sandstorm's still coughing. Jayfeather diagnoses it as whitecough, and he and Leafpool argue over whether to give her tansy (there's a good chance it could kill off the roots if they try). Lionblaze reflects on the fight and privately thinks that Yellowfang may be right that each Clan must stand alone.
Soon, more of the ThunderClan cats start falling ill. They find some yarrow outside camp, but can't determine who put it there. Mothwing visits Jayfeather to ask him whether he was told the same thing as Willowshine, that the Clans must stop interacting with each other. She offers Jayfeather the herbs he needs, but he refuses. The Clan starts talking about how everyone's getting sick, and Dovepaw mentions that Littlecloud has greencough. Jayfeather senses Leafpool's emotions and realizes she plans to steal some tansy from the delicate patch, so he orders Brambleclaw to set a guard around it.
Dovepaw meets once again with Tigerheart. They get to talking about Littlecloud, greencough, and herbs. Ivypaw comes along, but so does a ShadowClan patrol; Tigerheart just barely has enough time to hide Dovepaw by shoving her under a bush, but not Ivypaw. The patrol takes her back to camp. The next morning, Dovepaw pretends that she cannot find Ivypaw. The Clan begins to look, but she tells Jayfeather and Firestar about where Ivypaw really is. Firestar calls off the search, saying she was last seen on the border and may have been taken captive. A patol is sent to talk with ShadowClan. The ShadowClan patrol tells them that if ThunderClan gives them catmint, Ivypaw can go home, also implying that they may hurt her if not given the herbs. Dovepaw realizes Tigerheart got close to her to trick her into telling him about the herbs. ThunderClan agrees to the exchange. Meanwhile, in the ShadowClan camp, Ivypaw begins to wonder if Tigerstar lied to her before the battle at the end of Fading Echoes. Flametail has a vision of darkness, saying that they must prepare for the fight. He doesn't know who they're fighting, just that it'll be the greatest battle in history.
At the next Gathering, the Clans keep to themselves, and Willowshine doesn't even attend with RiverClan. Blackstar claims that ShadowClan "found" catmint, and Firestar angrily corrects him, and there's some tension, especially when no clouds cover the moon. Mistystar announces that they're leaving, and everyone else is quick to follow.
Ivypaw visits the Dark Forest yet again, convincing herself that she's doing it to be a better warrior. Then she overhears Tigerstar scolding Tigerheart for attending the Gathering instead of training, telling him that it'll be the Dark Forest agains the Clans and StarClan. That's when she realizes their true motives. After a run-in with Mapleshade, she manages to wake up. Dovepaw asks her if she was telling the truth about Tigerheart, and Ivypaw explains that Tigerstar tricked Tigerheart - and her. Ivypaw explains everything to Jayfeather and Lionblaze, and Jayfeather suggests that she continue training with them in order to spy. She refuses. Dovepaw goes to talk to her alone, and tells her about the prophecy, explaining that now Ivypaw's the special one since no other cat can spy for them. This makes Ivypaw change her mind and agree to act as a spy.
Flametail and Littlecloud discuss a nightmare that Flametail's been having about falling into endless darkness. Littlecloud is on the mend from his greencough, though a few other ShadowClan cats have gotten minor cases of whitecough. Flametail goes out to stretch his legs, and finds his Clanmates playing on the frozen lake. They encourage him to join in a game they invented. He plays it for a little bit, when suddenly the ice breaks underneath him and he falls into the water. Wherever he tries to come up, there's ice; he cannot find the hole he fell through. Jayfeather, who inexplicably is there and knows where Flametail is, tries to save him, but Rock tells Jayfeather that he cannot, and attempting to would only result in his own death as well. Jayfeather lets go, and Flametail drowns, his nightmares and visions of sinking into darkess finally coming true.
ThunderClan calls a Clan meeting to announce Jayfeather's news about Flametail's death. Ivypaw goes to the Dark Forest again, and Tigerstar calls a meeting of all the Dark Forest cats - enough to match StarClan - announcing that the day is nearing that they will destroy the Clans. After the meeting, Brokenstar assesses Ivypaw's skills. Flametail comes along - he'd been in StarClan and gotten lost - and Brokenstar orders Ivypaw to kill Flametail. When she refuses, he says that she's really loyal to the Clans, and that he knows Dovepaw's part of the prophecy, and he threatens to kill Dovepaw. Ivypaw has no choice but to attack Flametail, but then Tigerheart leaps in and stops her. Tigerstar comes along and tells Brokenstar that there's no need to kill Flametail. Brokenstar asks about Ivypaw, but Tigerstar says only that he believes she's truly loyal to the Dark Forest, and will fight on their side when the time comes for battle.