Blazing - Book One: Into the Wild

Seasons ago, Bluefur refused to give up her kits, and Thistleclaw became deputy in her place. Thistlestar leads his clan cruelly, greedy for land. In his territorial rage, he chases away and injures young kittypet Rusty. RiverClan rescues Rusty and accepts him into their clan, but while he just wants to learn the ways of his clan, he finds himself in the middle of a desperate war.


3. Chapter 1

A breeze ruffled Rusty's ginger pelt, shaking the branches of the trees above. It was very dark, but Rusty could sense something was near. The young tomcat's eyes opened wide as he scanned the dense undergrowth, parting his jaws to scent the air. This place was unfamiliar, but the strange scents drew him onward, deeper into the shadows. Musty leaf and moss-scent coated his tongue, mingling teasingly with the scent of a small warm-blooded creature.

The undergrowth ahead rustled, and Rusty spotted a tiny flash of gray. Rusty froze, ears pricked as he listened to the critter's shuffling. He was downwind of the mouse- yes! He would be able to catch it for sure.

Rusty dropped into a crouch, swiping his tongue over his lips as his belly rumbled, reminding him of his hunger. With one final check on the mouse's location- it was still shuffling around for seeds without suspicion of the hunter only tail-lengths away. Rusty grinned and pushed off the ground in a mighty leap, clearing the distance and scattering leaves with his paws as he pounced on the critter.

The mouse let out a squeak and slipped through his paws- but Rusty was too fast! He shot out a paw, scooping the mouse off the ground and sending it flying into the air. He wriggled his haunches, prepared to trap the dazed rodent as it hit the ground-

But then a loud, roaring noise shook the forest, and the mouse squeaked again and raced into the undergrowth. Rusty's ears stood up like rabbit ears, and he swung his head around to find the oddly familiar sound.

With a blink, the forest around him disappeared, and he awoke to find himself in his housefolk's den. The clatter was the sound of one of his housefolk pouring pellets into his food bowl. Rusty rolled onto his belly, parting his jaws in a wide yawn as he tried to savor the remnants of the dream. He scratched at his neck with a hind leg, knocking it annoyingly against his tight collar. The bell tinkled as he did so, and it was only a further reminder of how the dream had been just that- a dream. In his sleep, he'd been able to feel that soft breeze against his neck fur, and he'd felt free. This was the third time he'd dreamed of that infernal mouse, that would always just manage to escape his claws.

Rusty sighed a little as he rose from his soft bed, taking a moment to stretch each limb. His housefolk called something to him as he padded by, pointing at the bowl. Housefolk always seemed to either have dull senses or dull minds- of course Rusty knew the food was there! As he gazed into the metallic bowl, he frowned. He was hungry, but wasn't in the mood for dry pellets.

Dawn sunlight filtered in through the windows, warming his fiery pelt. Perhaps robins would be out picking worms. He licked his lips at the thought of a warm, juicy robin- they were work to catch, for sure, but much more satisfying than the dry food he could eat at his leisure.

Rusty turned away from the bowl and headed towards the catflap that allowed him to go out into the yard. He pushed through the flimsy thing, then shook out his pelt in the sun. The grass was still wet with morning dew, and he felt the urge to have a good roll in it.

A friendly call halted him. "Howdy, Rusty!" The ginger tom looked up to see his friend, Smudge, perched on the top of his fence. "Whatcha gettin' up to?" The fat young cat hopped down and landed sloppily, resulting in a purr from Rusty.

"Not sure," he laughed. Rusty glanced at another shorter fence ahead of him. Forest scents wafted through on the slight breeze, carrying the same leaf mold and mossy scents- but more vibrant, more alive. He was sure there'd be real mice out there, fat on forest vegetation and seeds. He stepped forward towards it, raising a paw tentatively as he approached. "I think I want to go take a look in the forest."

Smudge's eyes widened in horror. "No- don't go out there! Henry went out there once, and he said there's wildcats as big as dogs!"

Rusty rolled his eyes. "That fat tabby never went anywhere! He probably stared at it from his fence and started daydreaming." He frowned. "Maybe he did once, but certainly not since his trip to the vet. Now all he does is eat, sleep, and roll around in the sun."

"He did, though!" Smudge protested. "He caught a robin there and showed it to me!"

Rusty knew that there was a robin's nest in Henry's yard, and that the baby birds had a tendency to fall out of it, but he kept that thought private. "Either way, he complains about birds now for disturbing his sleep."

Smudge puffed up dramatically. "But still- there's mean wildcats out there! I heard they eat cats like us for snacks! Snacks, Rusty!"

Rusty shrugged. "I'll just go for a look," he assured his friend. "I won't go too far- I'll keep the fence in sight!"

Smudge frowned, looking uncomfortable, but nodded. "Okay," he sighed. "Be safe." he brightened after a moment. "And if you catch anything, you better share, you greedy pigeon!"

Rusty chuckled. "Greedy pigeon yourself! Look at that tub of a belly you're hauling!" He turned away and leaped up the fence, feeling satisfied that he could balance much better than his chubby friend. He stared at the forest treeline for a moment, hesitating. What if there were fierce wildcats out there? Shaking his head, he leaped down. Rusty, you're getting as gullible as Smudge, he thought as he landed on the soft grass. He remained still for a few long moments, savoring the view of the thick forest ahead of him.

A rustle of ferns caught his attention. A sandy-brown little creature caught his attention- a real mouse. Instinctively, Rusty lowered himself into a crouch. This one will be my breakfast! He took slow, quiet steps forward as he approached the mouse. The mouse sat up, nibbling on a seed. Rusty felt a rush of adrenaline as he waggled his haunches. His bell hadn't made a sound, either. Today must be his lucky day.

There was a louder, more prominent rustling farther into the bushes, just into the trees. The mouse blinked and shot away, gone for good. Rusty sat back on his haunches with a frustrated huff. His frustration was quickly forgotten as he heard the bushes rustle again. He rose again, craning his neck to try and spot the source of the sound. Something was in the bushes- larger prey, perhaps? Rusty couldn't resist creeping closer, hungry belly urging him on.

The rustling was slowly moving further into the trees. Rusty narrowed his eyes.

Whatever creature was in the undergrowth whipped around and started crashing towards him. The creature flew out of the bushes and slammed into him like a stone, throwing him right off his paws. Rusty yowled with surprise as the hunter quite suddenly became the hunted.

Rusty rolled across the earth before he managed to regain his footing. Whirling around upon his attacker, he saw that his opponent was another kitten- gray with a thick pelt, with a strong stance for one so young. As he turned, the gray kitten charged, crashing into him at full speed. Both young cats fell back, tumbling to the ground. Rusty leaped to his paws, prepared to pounce on the kitten, but stopped as the gray tom simply sat up and licked a paw. Rusty was oddly disappointed by the sudden loss of aggression- he had been filled with adrenaline, prepared to fight fiercely.

"Huh!" The gray kitten huffed good-naturedly. "You put up a fight for a tame kittypet!"

Rusty blinked. His back was still arched as he tried to intimidate the tom, but as he remembered the strength in the tom's attack, he relaxed himself. "I'll fight you again if I have to," he growled.

"I'm Graypaw, by the way," The gray tom meowed as though he hadn't heard Rusty's threat. "I'm training to be a ThunderClan warrior."

Rusty didn't reply. He had no idea what Graypaw- what an odd name!- was yammering about, but he didn't much feel like fighting him again. He could tell, however, that there was no threat in the kitten anymore. He licked his chest fur, trying to appear at ease.

"What's a kittypet like you doing in the woods?" Graypaw asked, drawing his paw over his ears. "In ThunderClan territory, no less. Don't you know it's dangerous?"

Rusty snorted, sitting down. "If you're the most dangerous thing the forest has to offer, I think I could handle myself just fine."

Graypaw chuckled. "Oh, I'm not the most dangerous. I'm just in training- one of our warriors could take you and me both with ease! If I were even half a warrior, I'd have given an intruder like you some real wounds."

Rusty fell a little rush of fear at the word 'intruder'. What did he mean by that?

"Anyway," Graypaw went on, giving his chest fur a good lick. "Didn't seem worth giving you any scratches. You're obviously not from the other clans."

"Other clans?" Rusty wondered, confused by everything Graypaw was saying.

Graypaw let out an impatient hiss. "You must have heard of the four warrior Clans that hunt around here! I belong to ThunderClan. The other Clans are always trying to steal prey from our territory, especially ShadowClan. They're so fierce they would have ripped you to shreds, no questions asked." Graypaw paused to spit angrily and continued. "They come to take prey that is rightfully ours. It's the job of the ThunderClan warriors to keep them out of our territory. When I've finished my training, I'll be so dangerous, I'll have the other Clans shaking in their flea-bitten skins. They won't dare come near us then!"

Rusty narrowed his eyes. This must be what Smudge meant by 'wildcats'. From the sound of it, they were greedy for every morsel of meat in the forest! Why don't they just work together? Rusty thought sourly. There'd be no silly fights then, right? Either way, he had to admit, he admired the tom. Life must be rough, fighting for prey and land every day. Exciting, but rough. "So you're not a warrior yet?" he asked.

"Why? Did you think I was?" Graypaw purred proudly; then he shook his wide, furry head. "I won't be a real warrior for moons. I have to go through the training first. Kits have to be six moons old before they even begin training. Tonight is actually my first night out as an apprentice."

"Why don't you just find yourself a housefolk and a nice den? Your life would be much easier," Rusty meowed. "There are plenty of housefolk who'd take in a kitten like you. All you have to do is sit where they can see you and look friendly-"

"And they'd feed me pellets that look like rabbit droppings and soft slop!" Graypaw interrupted harshly, demeanor changing in a heartbeat. "No way! I can't think of anything worse than being a kittypet! They're nothing but Twoleg toys! Cooped up in those odd barns, fat on crow-food? That's no life! Out here it's wild, and it's free. We come and go as we please." He grinned proudly. "You've never lived 'til you've ran through the forest with your clanmates and tasted a fresh-caught mouse."

Graypaw frowned at him after his speech. "You wouldn't understand. You have to be born wild to know what it's like. To tame kitties like you, the forest is just one big adventure before you head back to your warm dens and full bowls of slop." He shrugged. "You have to be born a warrior to understand the feeling of having strong warrior blood in your veins or feeling the wind in your whiskers."

Rusty bristled as he thought of his dreams. "That's not all true!"

Graypaw didn't reply, but after a moment, stiffened. "Oh, no. I smell my clanmates. Quick, run! They'll shred you soon as look at you."

Rusty froze fearfully. He wasn't sure how Graypaw knew such a thing- he couldn't smell anything out of the ordinary, but he could tell from the startled expression and bristling fur that Graypaw was very, very worried. He prepared to spring away, but he had no idea where Graypaw's 'clanmates' were coming from. Looking around, he realized they had also rolled too far into the trees for him to see the fence- Rusty was lost already.

It was too late. A voice startled him from behind, deep and gravelly. "What's going on here?"

Rusty turned around to see a massive, spiky-furred gray-and-white tom strolling towards them. The tom's white-mottled face was riddled with nicks and small scars, and his harsh amber gaze seemed to bore right through Rusty. His huge paws crushed the grass beneath them, and Rusty felt miniscule in front of him.

"Thistlestar!" A handsome golden tom followed close behind, thick chest fur much like a mane. "Wait up, will you- wait, what's this?" He frowned down at Rusty, nearly as large as the darker tom beside him. He glared at Graypaw. "You shouldn't be so close to the Twolegplace, Graypaw!"

"I'm sorry, Lionheart," Graypaw murmured, crouching low and tucking his tail beneath him. Rusty felt he should do the same, not to mention that he was filled with fear at the sight of the massive toms in front of him.

"Just who is this?" The gray tom rumbled, lip curling.

"He's not a threat!" Graypaw insisted, gaze flickering nervously from Rusty to Thistlestar. "Just a silly twoleg pet that's lost."

"You know how we treat twoleg pets, Graypaw," Thistlestar growled, unsheathing his claws. He looked back at Rusty. "You may have fought well for an untrained kittypet-" He spat the word like it was venom- "-but you have no place in the forest. You did well to attack him, Graypaw, but you should have given him a few scratches to remember us by." He snarled. "Leave, little kitty."

Rusty couldn't help but feel indignant. He was causing no harm! "Why should I?" he challenged. "I'm not doing anything wrong! I only wanted to catch a mouse or two and I'd be on my way. Surely you can spare."

The outraged snarl that erupted from Thistlestar told him that Rusty had said the wrong thing. "You little worm," he spat. "You dare challenge me?" He drew himself even taller than he was before, and Rusty swallowed. "I am Thistlestar, leader of ThunderClan," he said. "And you've made your final mistake coming here."

Before Rusty knew what was happening, he was clobbered over the head with a hefty paw, and unsheathed claws tore through Rusty's ear. He yowled in pain and surprise as he tumbled onto his back. Graypaw gasped, and Lionheart took a step back, looking uncomfortable. "Thistlestar, he is only a kit, and the code-"

"The code says a leader's word is law, Lionheart," Thistlestar hissed. "And I say this insolent rat dies today."

Rusty tried to stand as the massive tom padded closer, curling claws unsheathed. He was filled with dread as he glanced at Graypaw, who was backing away and shaking his head. I can't die, Rusty thought, cowering miserably. Not like this!

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