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.


15. Chapter 13

Firepaw dropped his blackbird as he heard the crunching of twigs. Instantly, he was on alert- ears pricked and eyes scoping his surroundings. He couldn't place the scent of whatever was ahead, past the blackberry bushes. Is it a fox? He thought, scraping leaves over his catch. Or a badger? Or an enemy warrior?

Firepaw crept around the thorny bushes to see five cats moving about quietly. He narrowed his eyes as the scent of mud and pine sap reached his nostrils. ShadowClan. Four of the cats were fully grown, while the fifth was a very small apprentice. He's only just bigger than Mallowtail's kits.

Firepaw then let out a low growl as he realized the cats were carrying a bounty of prey. The largest warrior had two squirrels clenched in his jaws, while each other cat was carrying at least one catch a piece- one even had three water voles.

The apprentice dropped his catch, a small frog. "There's so much prey here!" he said. "Much better than the Carrionplace rats."

"Hush," a she-cat growled, setting down a fat, young rabbit. "You'll bring RiverClan upon us."

"But I thought we were allowed to hunt!" He looked up at the tortoiseshell she-cat curiously. "Why would they care?"

"Because they seem to think there are certain terms in place that simply aren't," she growled in contempt. "But those fish-faces have so much fish in the river that they won't notice this unless someone opens their big mouth a bit too much, Whitepaw."

"Come on," A dark tom growled. "I don't like this. Something about this place rubs my fur the wrong way."

"Fine," The she-cat replied, snatching up her kill. "Come, Whitepaw."

As they retreated, Firepaw growled again under his breath. Those crow-food eaters! He turned around and grabbed his blackbird. They went back on their word! I have to tell Crookedstar.

"They what?" Leopardfur demanded, bristling. Her tail whipped across the moss-covered ground of Crookedstar's den like a furious snake.

Firepaw nodded, eyes narrowed to slits. "They looked like they'd spent the whole day hunting."

Crookedstar let out a growl. "I will discuss this with my senior warriors. Thank you, Firepaw, you did well to come back with this as soon as you did." The tom's twisted jaw tightened. "I will not let this be ignored."

Firepaw took that as a sign he was dismissed, and so the fiery tom bowed his head and retreated from the den. He turned away from the reed-woven den and headed towards the fresh-kill pile to grab something to eat. Vixenpaw was picking through already, and Shadepaw was munching on a young trout.

"Hey, Firepaw," Vixenpaw called. The black she-cat seemed a tad skittish at the moment, though Firepaw wasn't sure why should be. Her tail was flicking about nervously, and her eyes moved quickly from object to object.

"Hello," Firepaw replied, furrowing his brow in confusion. What's wrong with her?

"You can finish this if you want," Shadepaw offered to Vixenpaw, pushing the remaining fish towards the other she-cat. "I've had my fill."

"Oh!" Vixenpaw purred, which only further confused Firepaw. Vixenpaw hardly acted this upbeat. "Sure. Thanks, Shadepaw!"

The dark gray she-cat gave Vixenpaw an odd look before she glanced between Firepaw and Vixenpaw. Her features split into an amused grin before she turned away and padded off. "I'll leave you two to eat."

Firepaw watched her go. Okay, this is officially the strangest interaction I've ever seen. He frowned. Shadepaw was acting like she knew something… He shook it off. I'm just reading into things. "So, I saw ShadowClan today."

Vixenpaw's ears pricked with interest. "Really? I've seen them a bit, but usually near the border along the river. They're pretty quick to move on if they spot me, though."

Firepaw let out a little growl. "They broke the agreement with Crookedstar about hunting. I saw them absolutely loaded with fresh-kill, and none of it from the river."

Vixenpaw's eyes widened, and she bristled. "How dare they!" She spat. "Those mangy flea-bags! I wasn't happy when Crookedstar said he'd given them hunting rights, but this is outrageous. He has to do something about them now."

Firepaw nodded sharply. I don't really want to go to war with ShadowClan… but if they're not only disregarding the Code, and are breaking the agreement… They have to be taught a lesson. ShadowClan is out of control! "I thought ThunderClan was bad, but they're terrible."

Vixenpaw tossed her head furiously. "All the other Clans are greedy for our land. Well, I guess WindClan is an exception, but still! Nothing will ever satisfy them."

Firepaw blinked and jolted slightly as he recalled how Graypaw had told him nearly the same thing when they first met. "The other Clans are always trying to steal prey from our territory, especially ShadowClan!" Firepaw frowned and looked away. Do all the Clans just fight because each thinks that all the others are always out to get them? The politics and motives of the four Clans, including his own, baffled young Firepaw at times.

Vixenpaw huffed again when Firepaw said nothing in return. "I hope we fight them," she declared. "See how much they'd like to hunt here after they feel my claws in their fur!"

Firepaw found himself nodding. ShadowClan was causing far too much trouble for their Clan, and they'd reached a point where talking would solve nothing. Sometimes, he thought, force is the only way to solve these issues.

He cast a glance over his shoulder at Crookedstar's den. "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see."

The sun was dipping low on the horizon by the time Crookedstar left his den, flanked by Leopardfur, Blackclaw, Skyheart, Voleclaw, Petaldust, and Beetlenose, who all had narrowed eyes and twitching tails. Crookedstar quickly ascended the Rockpile and let out a yowl. "All cats gather beneath the Rockpile to hear my words!"

The formality was practically unnecessary- nearly everyone who had not met with Crookedstar was awaiting news anxiously. The senior warriors of the Clan dispersed and took their seats, but their grim expressions did not change.

"My clanmates," Crookedstar began, voice heavy with tiredness. "As some of you may know, ShadowClan has breached our hunting agreement and has taken more than their allowed share of our prey."

Outraged yowls sounded from across the Clan.

"I knew those fox-hearts would!" Whiteclaw shouted.

"We should fight back!" Sunfish declared boldly.

Even Silverpaw threw his head back in defiance. "Those rats need to pay!"

Firepaw sat silently, tail whisking about anxiously. What has he decided?

Crookedstar waited for the complaints to die down before speaking again. "My friends, I hear your outrage, and I agree. What ShadowClan has done is wrong- we put trust into them with something as sacred as our own land and hunting rights, which they have infringed upon." He paused again as a few cats yowled in agreement. "I have discussed this matter with my most experienced warriors, and it is not a straightforward issue."

"Well?" Frogleap demanded. "What will we do?"

"We will prepare," Crookedstar declared. "But we will not fight- not just yet. Hold back your complaints until after I finish, because I have much to say." His stern glare scanned the Clan before he continued. "ShadowClan has the upper hand for the moment. They are using not only our territory for hunting, but WindClan's, too- so they are likely very well-fed and have clearly no fear of us." Crookedstar lashed his tail. "However, they are not expecting resistance, at least not from us. My plan is this- from now on, we will challenge them when they hunt here, and we will fight for our prey. But, not only our land… we will hunt on WindClan's empty territory and challenge patrols we come across there as well."

Leopardfur raised her chin. "They will not be expecting resistance, but they will also not be expecting an offense from us. When we are ready, and our apprentices have been properly trained for battle, we will bring the true fight right to the heart of their camp."

Crookedstar dipped his head. "For now, however, we will fight in this way. Are there any issues with this?"

Firepaw was nearly surprised to see that most of the Clan had the opposite reaction. Cats were either nodding in excitement or whispering to one another, eyes bright. This plot brought a new sense of hope to them- they were not helpless in this mouse-brained situation.

Crookedstar nodded shortly, as though pleased he received no argument. "Then before this meeting is done, I would like to have patrols stationed at the ShadowClan border and Twoleg bridge. The next time they come hunting, they will leave with nothing but the scars of our claws."

"Silverstream," Crookedstar called, and the pretty silver tabby looked up. Firepaw glanced at her for a long moment. Though she seemed friendly, Firepaw had honestly barely interacted with the leader's daughter- in a way, she seemed a bit distant from most her clanmates. "I want you to take the Twoleg bridge. Bring Heavypaw, Blackclaw, Whiteclaw, and Loudbelly with you."

"Got it." Silverstream nodded.

"Leopardfur," Crookedstar went on. "Your patrol will be stationed at the falls. Take Sedgecreek, Dawnbright, Sunfish, Frogleap, Silverpaw, and Grasspaw with you. And finally, Beetlenose-" He glanced at the dark warrior. "-You will be just outside of Fourtrees, within sight of the Twoleg path towards the bridge. When the ShadowClan patrol comes, you will follow from behind and cut off their escape when Silverstream's patrol engages them. Take Petaldust, Reedtail, Skyheart, Vixenpaw, Shadepaw, and Firepaw with you. I will remain in camp to bring reinforcements if necessary."

Firepaw started as he realized he had been chosen to be in the third patrol, and after a heartbeat, began to wonder if Crookedstar was over preparing. Three full battle patrols against a single hunting party… why is he so determined to show them we can fight? One challenging patrol would be enough, but it sounds more like we're plotting to slaughter them… Firepaw felt a chill run down his spine. If they'd been discovered sooner, it could have been that tiny Whitepaw fighting all of us.

Firepaw pressed himself farther back into the bush. His senses were on high alert, and every muscle in his body was prepared for the coming fight.

They had been waiting long past sun-down when Beetlenose cautioned them. "Shh… ShadowClan warriors approaching."

Firepaw narrowed his eyes as he saw six dark shapes striding confidently down the twoleg path. His emotions and thoughts were an utter mess- on one hand, he felt a bitter resentment towards these egotistical, treacherous cats, and couldn't wait to sink his claws into their flea-ridden pelts… but on the other, he felt a mixture of confusion and pity- what was driving them so far across their borders for food? Was it just a greed for power over others, like many suspected, or was there more to ShadowClan than met the eye? Were these cats all as eager for blood and land as their leader, or did some quietly oppose Brokenstar's reign? Whatever the answers were, Firepaw felt the situation was more complex than others would like to think, and wasn't sure how to feel about three battle-ready patrols against this hunting party.

As the patrol started to head farther and farther down the trail, Beetlenose let out a quiet growl. "Now. Move quietly. Let's go."

Firepaw swallowed as he stepped from the shadows. No matter how this night turned out, he knew he would have that twisting feeling of pity in his gut for the unsuspecting warriors for a long time to come.

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