Lilykit had been born to a grieving mother, having lost her mate just days before she kitted.
Not long after, his littermates - all except for his sister, Ivykit - all joined their father, having been born too weak to survive the cold, and their mother's lack of milk.
"Why can't you give us more milk, Mama?" he asked his mother one day, and with gaunt, bitter eyes, she answered him, wrapping her tail around her strongest-surviving kit.
"Our clan is starving, Lilykit, and we can't afford to lose our warriors and leader. We don't come first anymore."
His mother met the same fate as most of the clan a moon after that, and Lilykit had been cursed with an understanding that no older cat seemed to have at the time.
That was when he decided he wanted to become leader, and the clan became his sole priority.
Growing up, he was not the most sociable of apprentices - he was a shining example of a student, always focused and attentive during practice, and agitated when his peers would be goofing off or attempting to distract him. He'd become aggressive, perhaps, in his passion - but he remained isolated.
We don't come first anymore.
Those words drove him onward. They always come first, he would tell himself, digging his claws into the dirt as his mentor would snap at him for giving his share of prey to the only queen left in camp. He was starving, too, but he wasn't starved. He wasn't a kit, desperate for that next drop of milk.
Lilypool was his warrior name. He held his head high as the clan called out, staring into the stars with his chest swelling with pride, with determination. He would push onward, and fulfill what he believed to be his destiny. He wouldn't let another cat relive what he had been forced to learn.
Every cat comes first.
"Lilypool will be the new deputy of HazeClan."
Outraged snarls and calls filled the area as Lilypool stared at Adderstar, frozen with shock. His apprentice squealed with excitement, but everything seemed to fall on deaf ears.
His reaction was mixed. I'm only seventeen moons old, one half of him thought in disbelief. I've only had my apprentice for a moon.
But you're deputy, the other half whispered. You're so close.
"He's still got kit-fluff on his face, for StarClan's sake!" Fishleap snarled, leering up at their leader. "Why haven't you chosen a senior warrior!?"
"Adderstar, he's too young! He'll be the end of us!"
"I'm not going to listen to orders from someone who's practically a 'paw!"
"Enough!" Adderstar roared, and the clearing fell silent as he was wracked with harsh coughing, trembling on his ledge weakly. After recovering, he lifted his head, eyes blazing. "If you do not understand why this cat has been chosen, then you've kept your eyes closed," he spat. "There is no questioning who I have chosen. If you can't respect my choice and live with it, then leave."
Gasps came from the crowd, and they looked around hesitantly to see if anyone would leave. However...not a soul budged.
Sitting once more, Adderstar wrapped his tail around his paws and shut his eyes.
"There is no objection. Then StarClan, and I, have spoken."
The two apprentices in camp called his name cheerfully, led by the soft murmurs or snarls of the warriors who eyed him with uncertainty.
Lilypool, however, felt his flame blazing hotter than ever.
He jumped as he glanced behind himself, joined by a familiar orange-faced tom as he let out a sigh.
"It's late, Dawnblaze. You should be asleep," he remarked, turning his head to look back out across the camp. In the few moons that he'd been leader, he had already named warriors, seen kits born, and expanded territory. He was twenty-nine moons, but he felt so aged already.
A scoff left Dawnblaze, and he pressed close to Lilystar. "I should be saying that to you," he pointed out, "and it's freezing outside. Have you eaten today?"
His tail flicked uncomfortably. He knew he ought to; the fresh-kill pile was constantly full these days, and bellies were even starting to get plump before his eyes for the first time in his life.
"Alright, alright. Share something with me, then." He felt warm as Dawnblaze shuffled his paws almost coyly, before stubbornly nodding his head and leading him down the ledge. Mirth filled his eyes, mixed with satisfaction.
His introduction of a new law in the code had been risky, but it had worked well.
"Should the entirety of the clan go hungry, HazeClan and FernClan will pool their territories to ensure survival. During this time, warriors will proudly and openly roam these lands in an alliance that shall be enforced with the might of StarClan itself."
Warriors had their right to survival, just as queens and kits did - but never at the expense of one another. Never again would he let a cat die with prey snatched from its mouth.
Without warriors, we are unprotected. Without kits, we are without a future, the shadows whispered, running chills up his spine.
Pausing to gaze up at the moon, he felt his tired bones relax just a bit more.
We all matter, he answered silently, that is why we are all part of this clan.