Actions

Work Header

Burning Thistles

Chapter Text

Firekit wriggled on his haunches, claws curling in and out, and his tail waved back and forth.

 

“Sit still,” Spottedleaf purred, amused, as she licked her son’s head. “You’re making this harder than it needs to be!”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Redtail murmured nearby, as he stuck his paw out to stop Lightningkit from running away. The dark tortoiseshell she-kit- no, she-cat- kicked her hindleg out at him even as Redtail dragged her back. She hissed and swatted at him when he leaned down to lick a patch of fur that stuck out on her shoulder. Redtail huffed, “Stop it, Lightningkit. Just a few licks and you can go.”

 

Lightningkit growled. “I can groom myself!”

 

“Yet you never do,” Swiftbreeze meowed, tail tip twitching as she watched her son and grandkit. The tabby-and-white she-cat’s yellow eyes gleamed in both pride and fondness. She was grooming Creekkit, but, unlike the other kits, the light brown tabby she-cat had already groomed herself, her white chest puffed out and almost shining in the sunlight.

 

“We’ll be grooming you until your warrior ceremony if you keep acting like you do!” Willowpelt reprimanded the young she-cat jokingly, brushing Copperkit’s light ginger fur with a paw, using her claws to pull out a burr that he’d tangled on his back leg.

 

Lightningkit glared at the gray she-cat before swatting at Redtail’s nose. Firekit noticed her sheathe her claws at the last moment, clearly not wanting to risk delaying her apprentice ceremony. Firekit was surprised Sunstar hadn’t delayed Lightningkit’s ceremony.

 

Lightningkit ducked under Redtail’s paw and bolted away, only to be cut off by Adderfang’s tail. The dark brown tabby tom stared sternly at her with narrowed yellow eyes. She paused, whiskers twitching, before she drooped her head and walked grouchily back to Redtail, plopping herself down at the red tortoiseshell’s paws with a grumble. Redtail blinked, glancing back at his father, but Adderfang had resumed washing Airkit with a low rumble in his throat.

 

“Well,” Redtail said, finally managing to lick Lightningkit’s fur down. “I’m never having kits if they’re all this difficult.”

 

The tabby ears of Runningpaw twitched as he and Mousepaw trotted up to the family. “I’m sure any kits you have will be just as great and kind and patient as you,” he meowed with a quiet purr, doey gaze so focused on Redtail he nearly ran into Adderfang before Mousepaw jabbed his shoulder. The apprentice paused, then bashfully ducked his head, mumbling a sorry to the senior warrior and now keeping his gaze away from Redtail. Firekit frowned and tilted his head at his friend’s odd, embarrassed behavior.

 

Mousepaw rolled her eyes with an annoyed sigh at her brother while Adderfang exchanged an amused gaze with his mate, Swiftbreeze.

 

Redtail just smiled at the younger tom. “Thank you,” he purred. “I do want kits, as fun as it is to watch over my sisters’ kits. It’s just a little harder finding a tom rather than a she-cat.”

 

“You like toms?!” Runningpaw squeaked, head jolting upwards and his fur spiking up.

 

Redtail’s whiskers twitched with a polite smile. “I thought everyone in the clan knew that.”

 

“I mean, I thought- but I didn’t- uhm.” Runningpaw ducked his head again, coughing. “I mean. That’s cool.”

 

The cats around him purred amusedly at Runningpaw’s bumbling words, although Firekit found himself confused why his normally energetic and confident friend was so nervous today.

 

Perhaps he’s afraid he’ll have competition as the best apprentice, Firekit thought, his pelt twitching and his claws briefly sliding out to curl into the soft ground. We’ll totally smoke him in all our training! He thought proudly of his training in the mysterious, special Dark Forest with his sisters, Thistleclaw, and Mapleshade.

 

Lightningkit let out another hiss when Redtail tried to groom her face. “My fur is fine!”

 

“Come on, Lightningkit,” Redtail groaned. “I just need to lick those hairs sticking out right there. And don’t even say you can groom it yourself! You can’t reach there.”

 

“Lightningkit,” Mousepaw meowed, coming to stand beside the two tortoiseshells. It was weird, thinking back to when Mousepaw was as small as Lightningkit was now- only as high as Redtail’s shoulders- but now Mousepaw was as big as Redtail, only a moon or so away from her warrior ceremony. “Calm down. You can get groomed now and then never have to be groomed ever again, once you’re an apprentice. But you won’t be an apprentice if you can’t even be groomed!”

 

Lightningkit glanced at her friend, then subsided with a grumble, lifting her head up so Redtail could lick a spot right under her eye.

 

“You’re awful at wrangling kits, brother,” Willowpelt meowed, amused.

 

“Hey, I keep getting stuck with the difficult one,” Redtail huffed, rolling his amber eyes. Lightningkit glared at him. “Sorry, but it’s true. At least that stubbornness will be good against our enemies.” Lightningkit’s anger relaxed into pride as she smirked, raising her chin.

 

Out of the nursery behind them, Brindleface slipped out with Sandkit trotting beside her. They walked past Robinwing, who was curled around her kits, grooming them. The pale tabby tom-kit peered out at the older kits, watching them with intrigued eyes, while the ginger-and-white she-kit and the reddish-brown tom with lighter patches tussled behind him. Robinwing and Fuzzypelt- not Patchpelt- had named them Longkit, Cherrykit, and Chestnutkit. Firekit knew from Frostfur’s gossip that the newest rumor- started by the white she-cat herself- was that the kits were neither Fuzzypelt nor Patchpelt’s, because, “did any of them look like the two toms?” Frostfur’s theory was that their father was from another clan, and that Robinwing had tried to cover it up using Patchpelt, but since none of the kits shared in his black-and-white pelt (although Firekit personally thought the black stripes on Longkit looked the same as Patchpelt’s black, and Cherrykit and Chestnutkit had his eyes), her cover-up plan had failed.

 

Of course, nobody in the clan took much merit in Frostfur’s gossip. They knew she was just bored with nothing interesting happening since the birth of Robinwing’s kits.

 

Sandkit padded up to the cats who would only be her denmates for a few more whisker-twitches. She was frowning, her tail tip twitching. “Why can’t I be an apprentice yet?”

 

“You only have two more moons to go,” Swiftbreeze reminded the pale ginger she-kit. “Not very long.”

 

“Feels like forever,” Sandkit murmured, dragging a claw through the dirt.

 

“It felt like that for me too!” Firekit said. “When Darkpaw became an apprentice-” Speaking of Darkpaw, Firekit hoped Tigerclaw wouldn’t keep the black tabby from their apprentice ceremony with his training. “-it felt like forever until I could be an apprentice. But here I am now!”

 

“Here we are now,” Creekkit corrected. “We’re gonna be apprentices!”

 

“Best day of my life, by far,” Copperkit added.

 

“Y-yeah,” Airkit said, the nervous tremors in his voice making it obvious he thought the opposite. But the white-patched brown tom sent a glance towards Lightningkit, and straightened up at her gaze.

 

“It’s alright,” Adderfang murmured into his grandson’s ear. “You’ll be a great warrior one day.”

 

Airkit nodded, raising his chin and puffing out his chest in a mimic of Lightningkit’s stance, but his twitching tail tip gave him away. Firekit pricked his ears as Darkpaw trotted through the tunnel, Tigerclaw behind him. The large, dark brown tabby paid no attention to his apprentice and immediately veered off to talk with Goldenflower and Lionheart. Darkpaw, glancing at his mentor, then the kits, made a beeline for his soon-to-be new denmates.

 

“Firekit!” Darkpaw yowled as he came to stop in front of them. Firekit wiggled out of his mother’s paws, darting forward to meet Darkpaw. “I can’t wait until you join us in the apprentice den!” Firekit purred.

 

“Me too!”

 

“Me three!” Runningpaw grinned, gaining his normal confidence and energy back. “Though, I won’t be an apprentice for long. I’ll be a warrior next moon. Or maybe earlier, if I can impress Sunstar!” He puffed out his chest.

 

“It’ll still be fun to train with them!” Darkpaw meowed. Creekkit gasped.

 

“Look! Sunstar’s come out of his den!” The kits and apprentices all stopped moving, apprehension filling them as they gazed at the large ginger tom. The warriors and medicine cat watching them smiled at the younger cats.

 

“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join beneath the Highrock for a clan meeting!” Sunstar called once he reached the top of the cluster of rocks. Immediately, cats emerged from their dens, heads poking from the entrances. Copperkit quivered with excitement as the clan gathered for their ceremony.

 

“Come on,” Spottedleaf meowed. “Follow me.” Her five kits, all sleek-furred and eyes shining, padded after her. Swiftbreeze and Adderfang claimed spots at the front, with Redtail and Willowpelt beside them.

 

“The time has come to appoint five new apprentices,” Sunstar’s mew rang out. Bluefur was seated at the foot of the rocks, with Featherwhisker at her side. Sunstar leapt down from Highrock and padded towards the kits. “Creekkit,” he began. Creekkit was breathing quickly as she walked up to Sunstar. “From this moment on, this kit will be known as Creekpaw. Swiftbreeze-” Spottedleaf, Redtail, and Willowpelt all snapped their heads towards their mother, surprised. Firekit’s whiskers twitched as he heard Redtail mutter, “She didn’t tell us!”

 

Swiftbreeze purred as she trotted over to Creekpaw, who looked equally relieved and excited to have her grandmother as her mentor. “You will mentor Creekpaw. You did a fine job with Lionheart, and I trust that you will do the same with Creekpaw.” Swiftbreeze dipped her head, acknowledging her leader’s words, before touching noses with Creekpaw.

 

“Copperpaw,” Sunstar continued. Copperkit, now Copperpaw, darted forward, nearly tripping in his excitement. “Your mentor will be Lionheart.” Copperpaw’s tail shot up in excitement as the big golden tom came to meet him. “This is your first apprentice, Lionheart, but you had an excellent mentor in Swiftbreeze. I trust you to pass down all you know to this apprentice.” Lionheart nodded, looking as happy as Copperpaw to have an apprentice. They touched noses and went to sit beside Swiftbreeze and Creekkit.

 

“Airpaw.” Airpaw was shaking as he hesitantly padded up to Sunstar, who’s eyes softened as he gave the young apprentice a reassuring nod. “Your mentor will be Thrushpelt.” Airpaw pricked his ears slightly as the brown tom trotted up to him. “This is your first apprentice as well, and I know you will do well with him, just as your mentor Larksong did with you.” Thrushpelt dipped his head.

 

“I will do my best, Sunstar.” Thrushpelt leaned his head down to Airpaw’s ear, whispering reassurances to the skittish tom. Relief washed through Firekit that his brother had a kind-hearted mentor.

 

“Lightningpaw,” Sunstar meowed next. Lightningpaw strutted forward, looking as smug as ever. “Your mentor will be Speckletail.” Lightningpaw’s smug smile fell as the speckled she-cat came forward. “Weedwhisker taught you well, and I expect you to pass down the respect Weedwhisker taught you to your apprentice.” Lightningpaw looked like she wanted to screech to StarClan about the unfairness of it all, her pelt bristling. His sister had wanted a warrior like Tigerclaw, Goldenflower, Redtail or Whitestorm as a mentor, not a gossiping queen like Speckletail, who was one of the worst when criticizing their parentage. Lightningpaw reluctantly touched noses with Speckletail, and followed her to their littermates. Firekit shuffled his paws, nervous now that his turn was up.

 

“Firepaw,” Sunstar meowed, gazing down at him calmly. “Your mentor will be Bluefur.” Firepaw’s eyes widened as the blue-gray deputy slowly padded up to him. “Bluefur, you began your training under Stonepelt, and he now rests with StarClan. I finished your training, and I know you will do brilliantly with Firepaw as you did with Frostfur.” Firepaw slightly frowned at the mention of Frostfur, but eagerly touched noses with Bluefur.

 

“Creekpaw! Copperpaw! Airpaw! Lightningpaw! Firepaw!” the clan cheered, Runningpaw and Darkpaw being the loudest of them all. A purr rumbled through Firepaw as he gazed out at his clanmates - he was an apprentice of ThunderClan, through and through, now.

 

Spottedleaf walked up to her kits, amber gaze misty but proud. She rubbed her cheek against Copperpaw’s, then Airpaw’s. “I’m so proud of you all,” she purred, tail curling. She touched her nose to Firepaw’s. “I know you’ll be great apprentices.”

 

“And one day,” Redtail’s voice mewed as he padded up to them. “You’ll be great warriors too.” He flicked Lightningpaw’s ear with his tail playfully, and to Firepaw’s surprise, she just smiled, raising her chin, her self-satisfied smirk back.

 

“It feels like it was just yesterday you five were crawling and mewling at your mother’s belly, eyes closed and ears folded,” Adderfang purred, his eyes glistening with strong emotions. He licked Creekpaw’s cheeks as he stood next to Swiftbreeze, brushing up against her. His mate’s whiskers twitched and she smiled fondly as she watched the brown tom gush over the newly made apprentices.

 

“Adderfang, stop, you’ll suffocate them like you did us at our apprentice ceremony.” Willowpelt bumped her shoulder against her father’s.

 

“You were so small then too...” Adderfang meowed, voice raw with emotion compared to what the strong and aggressive warrior normally sounded like.

 

“You always had a soft spot for kits,” Swiftbreeze commented. “Perhaps you should have been in the nursery instead of me.”

 

“If only I could have,” Adderfang sighed before raising his head. “But I am a tom, and a warrior, and I’m proud. Just like I’m proud of all of you.”

 

Lightningpaw raised her head high at the praise, a content purr reaching Firepaw’s ears. His sister? Purring? That only happened once in a blue moon. Creekpaw noticed too, giving their sister a teasing grin, and Lightningpaw’s smile quickly fell. She rolled her eyes with a scoff, but her purring remained.

 

The apprentices were the next to join the group, with Darkpaw headbutting Firepaw’s shoulder. “Now we can train together! I’ll totally beat you, easy!”

 

“We’ll see,” Firepaw purred, his paws twitching at the idea of a fight.

 

Lightningpaw jumped over to Mousepaw, tail high. “Now we can train together, Mousepaw! I’m sure I’ll be a way better sparring partner than Runningpaw and Darkpaw!”

 

“Darkpaw- maybe,” Mousepaw meowed, and Darkpaw shot her an offended look. “But Runningpaw certainly gives me a run for the best prey in the fresh-kill pile.”

 

Lightningpaw’s tail dropped slightly, but she raised her chin high. “That mouse-brain’s easy to beat, just get me in the hollow with him, and you’ll see!”

 

“Hey!” Runningpaw protested. “I am not!” He glanced at Redtail, then puffed his chest fur out. “I’m the strongest apprentice in ThunderClan!”

 

Copperpaw purred, lowering himself into a crouch. “We’ll see about that!”

 

Lionheart stepped in front of his apprentice, watching with a smile. “You can prove yourselves later. For now, leave us to teach our new apprentices, Runningpaw, Mousepaw, Darkpaw.” He nodded at the three older apprentices.

 

“Yes,” a new, harsh voice meowed, and Firepaw jumped as Tigerclaw appeared behind them. “Darkpaw, come. We were supposed to do training hunting today- or have you forgotten?” The tabby’s eyes narrowed.

 

“No, Tigerclaw!” Darkpaw quickly said, scrambling to his mentor’s side. “I’m ready.”

 

“I wasn’t asking.” Tigerclaw flicked his tail and turned around. “Come.” Darkpaw shot an apologetic look Firepaw’s way before chasing after his mentor as they strood out of camp.

 

A sense of thrill shot up Firepaw’s spine.

 

He was going to go outside of camp today.

 

The day when he, Lightningpaw, Creekpaw, and Darkpaw had snuck out of camp seemed so distant, foggy now. How would the forest look now that he was bigger? Now that he was an apprentice? Now that the seasons were changing and the leaves were starting to fall as leaffall began and leafbare approached?

 

“We should go find Fuzzypelt and Dappletail too,” Mousepaw added. “See you later, Lightningpaw.” She waved her tail at the tortoiseshell as she and her brother ran off to their mentors.

 

Spottedleaf sighed. “And I supposed I should help Featherwhisker. I heard Larksong sniffling earlier- I hope she hasn’t caught sickness.” She gave each of her kits a quick lick or nuzzle before leaving- even Lightningpaw accepted hers without so much as a grumble.

 

“Adderfang and I were supposed to be on a border patrol right about now, right?” Redtail meowed, glancing at Bluefur. Another thrill ran down Firepaw’s spine as he remembered the blue she-cat was now his mentor. The deputy nodded.

 

“With Goldenflower.”

 

“Let’s go find her,” Redtail told his father, and then the two were off. Willowpelt’s whiskers twitched as she was left with the apprentices and her mentors. She touched her nose to Airpaw’s ear.

 

“Keep safe,” she murmured before she turned and padded over to Robinwing, asking if she needed help with the three rowdy kits running around her paws. Chestnutkit leaped at Longkit, pinning the bigger tom-kit down with a proud yowl. Cherrykit darted around her brothers, yelling jeers of encouragement. A small distance away, Firepaw spotted Patchpelt watching the kits from beside Goldenflower and Frostfur, with a melancholy expression, right before Redtail and Adderfang padded up to them.

 

Oh, Firepaw thought suddenly. Patchpelt is my uncle. If those kits are his, then they’re my kin! His whiskers twitched at the thought. I’ll have to come back to the nursery and visit them often. Maybe with a plump vole from my first hunt!...

 

“Now then.” Firepaw was pulled back to the cats around him as Bluefur spoke. “I suppose you’re all ready to see the territory- for those of you who haven’t already.” She glanced at Firepaw with an amused look. He ducked his head, and saw Creekpaw do the same, while Lightningpaw just raised her chin higher, defiant and proud of it.

 

“Of course!” Copperpaw meowed excitedly, tail waving behind him. “More than ever.”

 

“We’ll split up so we don’t scare all the prey off,” Swiftbreeze suggested. “I can take Creekpaw near Fourtrees.” Firepaw saw his sister’s eyes light up at the mention of the sacred Gathering place.

 

“Bluefur and I can take Firepaw and Airpaw to the thunderpath and Owl Tree,” Thrushpelt suggested, before ducking his head to the deputy. “If that’s alright with you.”

 

“Of course,” Bluefur meowed. “Speckletail, Lionheart, are you alright heading near Twolegplace and RiverClan’s border?”

 

The two warriors nodded. “Some time to catch up with my son, I suppose,” Speckletail murmured, flicking her tail at Lionheart’s shoulder. Firepaw’s ears pricked. He didn’t know Speckletail was the mother to Lionheart and Goldenflower. She was so sleek, tall, and short-furred compared to the large, furry, muscular golden warriors. “Come on Lightningpaw,” Speckletail meowed, kinking her tail towards her apprentice. “Let’s get going.” Firepaw’s ears perked up as his sister and Copperpaw left camp, with Creekpaw and Swiftbreeze behind them and their mentors. He glanced at Bluefur, ready to go, but found his mentor waving Sparrowpelt over.

 

“Sparrowpelt, could you organize the patrols for today while I train Firepaw?” the deputy asked the senior warrior.

 

Sparrowpelt nodded. “Sure thing. Is there any cat you had in mind for anything?”

 

Firepaw was distracted when Airpaw shifted beside him, his tail lashing abruptly side to side as he stared at the ground before glancing quickly at the camp entrance. Firepaw nudged him with his shoulder, smiling.

 

“Don’t worry, Airpaw!” Firepaw meowed reassuringly. “It’s not as scary as you think it is.”

 

“I just-” Airpaw hesitated, ears flicking backwards. “What if I fall in a river like Creekkit- err, Creekpaw did? Or- or- we get attacked, or I do something mouse-brained?”

 

“That won’t happen,” Firepaw promised. “I’ll be there to catch you- and Bluefur and Thrushpelt too! And if you do anything dumb- well then I’ll do something dumber!”

 

Airpaw smiled at him, then nodded. He straightened his posture, although he still fidgeted his paws. “Right! I’m- I’m gonna be a big strong warrior, and big strong warriors aren’t afraid of anything. Not the dark, and not some river!”

 

Firepaw’s ears twitched- that sounded like something Lightningpaw would say. But he just nodded and bumped his nose against Airpaw’s shoulder. “That’s right!”

 

“Firepaw, Airpaw,” Bluefur’s mew caught their attention. She was padding towards the entrance, Thrushpelt beside her. “Come along. We have a lot of territory to cover.”

 

Firepaw shot a grin at his brother before dashing after their mentors, excitement making his fur prickle along his spine.

 

“Now,” Bluefur meowed as they left the entrance tunnel. “This is the ravine. You Firepaw, wouldn’t have seen it on your...escape.” Firepaw flicked his tail in quiet embarrassment. “This is the path we use when leaving on patrols. See those rocky clefts?” At the apprentices’ nods, she went on, “We use those to get up. Thrushpelt, would you care to demonstrate?” Thrushpelt gave a friendly nod.

 

“Of course.” The light sandy-gray tom shifted his weight, eyed the first ledge - which looked a bit crumbly and unstable in Firepaw’s opinion - then sprang up, landing lightly on the rocky cleft.

 

“Much easier than it looks, I assure you,” Thrushpelt meowed. He jumped to the next one.

 

“Firepaw?” Bluefur asked. “Would you like to go next?” Firepaw glanced at Airpaw, who was looking terrified at the thought of jumping on a bunch of rocks that could collapse at any moment. He mentally frowned. How can I get Airpaw to go without it looking like I’m worried about him? I don’t want to hurt Airpaw’s feelings… He pricked his ears thoughtfully.

 

“Can Airpaw go?” he asked. Airpaw gave him a terrified look. “He’s a good jumper, I’m sure he’ll do great!” Bluefur gently nudged his brother.

 

“Airpaw?” she prompted. The brown tabby hesitated, then looked up to where Thrushpelt was.

 

“You can do it!” Firepaw whispered. Airpaw squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, then dropped into a crouch. He, like his mentor, eyed the rocky cleft, sizing up his leap, then sprang. Firepaw was relieved to see his brother land safely, only slightly slipping when he landed.

 

“Good job Airpaw!” Thrushpelt called from the third cleft. “Follow me!” Airpaw’s ears had pricked in pleasure. He glanced down at Firepaw, who was behind Bluefur and giving his brother a proud ‘good job’ look. Airpaw gave a little nod to show his thanks, then sprang to the next cleft.

 

“Your turn Firepaw,” Bluefur meowed. She bent down. “And good job on getting your brother’s confidence up,” she whispered as he crouched. He gave a happy flick of his tail before he leapt for the cleft. Like Airpaw, he had a little trouble getting a good grip on the uneven surface, but was satisfied when he found a good perch. He spotted the next one up and sprang for it. He heard Bluefur land on the first rock and saw further up Thrushpelt and Airpaw had almost reached the top. Here we go! Firepaw thought, excitement running through him once more. He and Bluefur jumped from cleft to cleft, reaching the end as Airpaw’s tail slithered over the top.

 

“That was fun!” Firepaw purred as the four cats trotted away. Airpaw had a little skip to his step as well.

 

“Yeah!” he agreed. “I was a little scared at first, but once we started jumping, I actually really liked it!” Firepaw purred once more, giving his brother a lick around the ear.

 

“We will be heading for the ShadowClan border,” Bluefur called, beckoning with her tail for the apprentices to catch up. When they started running to meet them, she continued, “Then we’ll make our way back and end at the Owl Tree. Our territory isn’t small enough for a one day trip - which is good, since more territory means more prey.” Thrushpelt purred a laugh.

 

“It’s so like you, Bluefur, to always think of the Clan’s needs,” he meowed fondly. Bluefur twitched an ear, acknowledging her friend’s words.

 

“You know me,” she meowed lightly. “Always looking out for ThunderClan.” Firepaw noticed a sad tone to her words that made his head tilt in curiosity. He bounded up to her side.

 

“When I’m a warrior,” he started. “I want to do the same thing!” 

 

Bluefur gazed amused at him, but approval shone in her blue eyes. “I’m sure you will.” 

 

Airpaw padded up to Thrushpelt. “Me too!” he declared. Thrushpelt and Bluefur traded fond looks with each other.

 

“It’s good to know ThunderClan has two apprentices who are determined to help their clan,” Thrushpelt purred. He then shook himself. “Come on! Time's a-wastin!”

 

“Can we race to the border?” Firepaw eagerly asked. He loved racing his littermates and the other kits in the nursery.

 

“Not today,” Bluefur meowed, a tad sharp. “We don’t want you two to run onto the Thunderpath.” A haunted look entered her eyes.

 

“Oh,” Firepaw said, glancing down at his paws. “Okay. Sorry.” Bluefur shook her head.

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she told him. “Now, this way!”

 


 

“Woah…” Airpaw breathed. “That’s the Thunderpath?!”

 

“Mmmhmm,” Thrushpelt hummed. “Be careful, usually the monsters stay on the path. But sometimes it can skim the edges, so make sure you stay back.” Both apprentices nodded, understanding this was a serious lesson. Bluefur pricked her ears.

 

“ShadowClan patrol,” she meowed. Firepaw felt Airpaw tense, and his smaller brother pressed up against him. The red apprentice nuzzled his shoulder lightly as a group of three cats appeared over on the other side of the Thunderpath. Bluefur raised her tail in greeting.

 

“Greetings, Scorchwind,” she meowed. “How’s the prey running?” A ginger tom, whom Firepaw presumed was Scorchwind, gave a respectful nod to the ThunderClan deputy.

 

“Rather well for leaf-fall,” he replied. “You?”

 

“Very well,” Bluefur responded.

 

“Hello Nutwhisker,” Thrushpelt greeted. “How’re your sisters doing?”

 

“Rowanberry’s getting awfully friendly with Clawface if you ask me,” a brown tom muttered good-naturedly. “And Yellowfang is as grumpy as ever!” A thin gray tom came bounding up to his side of the Thunderpath.

 

“Hi!” he called to Firepaw and Airpaw. “I’m Cinderpaw. Who’re you? Haven’t seen you around before.”

 

“I’m Firepaw,” Firepaw introduced, raising his tail amicably. “And this is my brother, Airpaw.”

 

“Hi.” Airpaw lifted a paw in shy greeting.

 

“New apprentices?” Cinderpaw asked. At their nods, he added with a proudly raised chin, “I’m nearly a warrior. Can’t wait for a full name!”

 

“We have some friends who are nearly warriors,” Firepaw meowed. “Runningpaw and Mousepaw.” 

 

Cinderpaw perked up. “I know them! Is Runningpaw still mooning over Redtail?” 

 

Firepaw recalled the sappy looks his friend had whenever Redtail was around. So that’s what that was? He purred, “You betcha!” 

 

Cinderpaw purred a laugh. “Nice meeting you!” he meowed as Bluefur and Scorchwind ended their conversation (which sounded like it was borderline tense). “Enjoy your apprenticeship!” The ShadowClan cats turned from the Thunderpath and disappeared over the edge.

 

“They were...friendlier than I thought,” Airpaw stated hesitantly, frowning as the group of four trekked their way to the Owl Tree. “I thought ShadowClan was dark, and mean.” Thrushpelt brushed his pelt against his.

 

“Those are just nursery stories the elders like to mew on about,” he assured his apprentice. “Mind you, Cinderpaw was much friendlier than even cats in ThunderClan are.” He pricked his ears. “Ah! We’ve arrived at the Owl Tree!” Airpaw glanced hesitantly at the tall tree with a knot in it.

 

“Isn’t there an owl in there?” he asked quietly.

 

“Yes, there is,” Bluefur replied. “But it rarely comes out during the day.”

 

“Poppydawn told us that the second leader of ThunderClan - Owlstar - used to sneak out of camp and follow it around,” Firepaw meowed excitedly.

 

“That he did,” Thrushpelt agreed. “He was Thunderstar’s second deputy - and, if I recall correctly, his cousin.”

 

“Woah, cool!” Airpaw stared wide-eyed up at the tree. Bluefur beckoned them with her tail.

 

“Come along, you’ll see the rest of the territory tomorrow.” Firepaw’s tail drooped. He wanted to see the rest of ThunderClan’s territory. He then noticed Airpaw stifling a yawn, and realized he, too, felt a little tired. “Let’s get back to camp,” Bluefur meowed as they set off. “You can get some rest, and then -” she twitched her whiskers mischievously, “You’ll learn how to take ticks off the elders.” At Firepaw and Airpaw’s horrified looks, Thrushpelt teasingly added;

 

“All the more reason to train hard, you know. The sooner you’re warriors, the sooner you don’t have to do it!”