At a Gathering, there are tensions between ThunderClan and RiverClan due to a recent battle where two ThunderClan cats died (including the leader's son Birchface), but this doesn't stop Mapleshade of ThunderClan from talking to her secret mate Appledusk of RiverClan. She tells him that she's expecting his kits, and he promises that they can still see each other when things calm down. Mapleshade gives her news to the Clan the next day, and when asked about the father she says only that she's raising the kits alone. Frecklewish, the sister of the recently-deceased warrior Birchface, assumes that this is because Birchface is the father, and Mapleshade doesn't confirm or deny it.
One day when the kits are two moons old, Mapleshade is tired of an elder criticizing the kits for not jumping as well as Birchface, and so she sneaks out of camp with them to take them swimming in the river. They enjoy it, but a RiverClan patrol spots them and warns them away. The ThunderClan medicine cat Ravenwing also sees them, and tells her that he's figured out that the father of the kits is Appledusk, not Birchface. He insists that the Clan needs to know the truth, and tells them. Needless to say, the Clan does not take this well, and Mapleshade and her kits are exiled.
Mapleshade tries to take the kits across the river, but it's flooded, and the kits drown; Mapleshade herself only survives because a RiverClan patrol pulls her out in time. Appledusk confesses to the Clan about what happened, and he vows that his loyalty is only to his Clan; he blames Mapleshade for the kits' death, and RiverClan has no interest in letting her stay. She spends the night in a barn, and believes she can hear her three kits crying out for her. The next day she heads into ThunderClan's territory, where she learns from an apprentice that Frecklewish had watched her cross the river. Mapleshade vows vengeance on Ravenwing and Frecklewish, blaming them for her kits' deaths.
The following night, she waits at Highstones and kills Ravenwing at the Moonstone. After this she only hears two of her kits crying for her, and she thinks she needs to kill three cats total to properly avenge them. She decides that Frecklewish will be her next victim, and uses a mouse to lure her to Snakerocks. There, she tricks Frecklewish into leaping at an adder and getting bitten in the face. As they bring her back to camp, unsure if they can save her life, Mapleshade hears only one of her kits calling for her.
Mapleshade decides her third cat to kill will be Appledusk. She traps his apprentice as bait, and just when she's trying to get him to fight her, his new mate Reedshine shows up. Mapleshade goes for her instead, but Appledusk jumps in the way, and he takes the fatal hit. Appledusk's apprentice jumps on her and bites her neck, badly wounding her; she vows to take revenge on Reedshine and Appledusk's bloodline before crawling away. Her third kit vanishes, and she thinks they're free, but also can't find them. She stumbles to the barn where she'd slept before, and falls unconscious for the last time.
She finds herself in a dark place and wonders aloud if it's StarClan; a voice tells her that it's the Dark Forest, and she feels glad, not upset, that she ended up there. She feels like she's found a place where she belongs, and is ready to wreak vengeance for all eternity.
Tropes appearing in this novella:
- Animal Assassin: Mapleshade uses the adders at Snakerocks to kill Frecklewish.
- A Day in the Limelight: Mapleshade's only POV.
- Dead Guy Junior: Frecklewish hoped that Mapleshade would name one of her kits after Birchface.
- Desecrating the Dead: After the other medicine cats bury Ravenwing, she digs up his body for the hawks to feast on him.
- Did Not Get the Girl: A genderbent example; Mapleshade did not end up with Appledusk.
- Dishonored Dead: While Mapleshade's kits are indeed buried, they aren't given a proper ceremony.
- Diving Save: Appledusk jumps in front of Mapleshade when she attacks Reedshine.
- Eye Scream: Frecklewish slashes Mapleshade across the face when the truth is revealed about the kits' father; Mapleshade gets a torn eyelid from this.
- Famous Last Words:
- Patchkit: "Promise we'll be okay?"
- Petalkit: "Help!"
- Ravenwing: "Mapleshade! What are you doing here?"
- Appledusk: "Just leave!"
- Mapleshade: "Leave me alone. I don't need anyone."
- Freudian Excuse: Mapleshade was hoping to become ThunderClan leader, but they drove her out after she had kits with a RiverClan tom. She then tried taking her kits to RiverClan, but they drowned on the way. RiverClan rejected her, her mate blamed her for the kits' death, and he took on another mate within his Clan.
- Hell Seeker: After her kits' death, Mapleshade hated StarClan and wanted to go to the Dark Forest.
- Murder by Inaction: Mapleshade believes the deaths of her kits to be this: Frecklewish was watching to make sure Mapleshade left the territory when exiled, saw them swept into the river, and left. Frecklewish said she'd seen RiverClan warriors on the other side, and assumed that they'd be saved and she never wanted them to die; this is also what she told her own Clan. It's not clear if Frecklewish was lying or not, as we're limited to Mapleshade's POV and she was only aware of RiverClan once they pulled her out of the water.
- Please Wake Up: Mapleshade to her kits.
- The Promise: Lots of promises are made in this book. There are several that don't come to pass - that Mapleshade will never let anything bad happen to her kits, that the kits will one day see WindClan territory, that they'll be okay crossing the river. Appledusk promises to find the kits in the river (which he does, though sadly not alive), and that his loyalty lies only with his Clan now. Mapleshade also promises to ThunderClan and Appledusk that they will regret the way they treated her, and to Reedshine that she'll haunt her kin, which she follows through with.
- Revenge by Proxy: Mapleshade first intends to get revenge against her ex-mate by killing his new mate. When he takes the fatal hit meant for her, Mapleshade vows that she will get revenge against the pair of them by haunting their bloodline; in Crookedstar's Promise we see her following through with this by tormenting their great-grandson Crookedstar throughout his life.
- Screaming Birth: Mapleshade's kitting. She's tempted to sink her teeth into the medicine cat's leg.
- Shared Family Quirks: The kits take to the water naturally, just like their father. (Unfortunately, it's not enough to keep them safe in a flood.)
- Slashed Throat: How Mapleshade kills Appledusk.
- Someone to Remember Him By:
- ThunderClan thinks this is the case with Mapleshade: after she tells them she's raising the kits alone, Frecklewish assumes that that's because the kits are her deceased brother Birchface's kits, and Mapleshade doesn't deny it.
- When Appledusk is killed, Reedshine is already carrying his kits.
- Start of Darkness: This novella is Mapleshade's.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Larchkit's pelt is the same shade of brown as Appledusk's, and Patchkit's pelt exactly matches Mapleshade's (but he has Appledusk's green eyes). Meanwhile, Frecklewish, thinking that Birchface is the father, claims she sees Birchface in all three kits.
- Taking the Bullet: Appledusk takes the fatal hit meant for Reedshine.
- Triang Relations: Type 7. Appledusk became mates with Mapleshade and fathered her kits; he does seem to still have some feelings for her when he sees their kits swimming, telling her that they're wonderful and that he's proud, and she thinks she sees a longing look in his eyes. Days later, Mapleshade discovers that Reedshine of RiverClan is expecting Appledusk's kits.
- Villain Episode: This novella shows Mapleshade's downfall and how she first became a villain.
- You Fool!: Mapleshade internally calls a WindClan patrol "fools" after she gets away with taking the rabbit they were chasing.