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.


18. Chapter 16

Firepaw yawned as he was prodded awake. "Mrrh?"

"Get up!" Grasspaw prodded him in the belly again. "C'mon, lazy lump, Crookedstar is observing our training today! Leopardfur says we're doing a special challenge."

Firepaw raised his head, blinking in the dimly lit den. "What? Right now?"

Grasspaw rolled his eyes. "No, in a half-moon. Yes, right now!"

Firepaw yawned again and slowly pushed himself to his paws. "Alright, you great bothersome badger."

"Badger yourself!" Grasspaw shot back, flicking him with his tail. "You'd best hurry up- Loudbelly and Silverpaw are already being snide."

Firepaw let out a groan as he arched his back. "Of course they are."

Grasspaw shrugged good-naturedly. "Don't worry about it too much," he reassured the young tom. "They always find something to complain about."

Yeah, but that's the problem, Firepaw thought as he followed his friend out of the den. They're always complaining about me.

"I see the kittypet finally graced us with his presence," Beetlenose sneered.

Firepaw gritted his teeth and looked away. At least Blackclaw stopped training with us ever since Heavystep became a warrior. Beetlenose, Loudbelly, and Silverpaw were bad enough without the other warrior to goad him.

Dawnbright padded close to the tom. "Pay no mind to Beetlenose," she whispered to Firepaw. "It'll do no good to fight with him."

Firepaw nodded quietly. She's right.

Crookedstar dipped his head to Firepaw. "Now that we're all here," he said, "Let's head out. Leopardfur will explain your challenge."

Together, the group of mentors and apprentices began to head out of camp, with Crookedstar in the lead.

Leopardfur spoke as they headed towards the training clearing. "This challenge is serving as the start of Mosspaw, Shadepaw, and Silverpaw's warrior assessment."

Firepaw glanced at Grasspaw in surprise. The brown tom shrugged, eyes wide. "It's a bit early," Grasspaw whispered. "I wonder why…"

Leopardfur flicked her tail, though she didn't seem to notice the apprentice's comment. "The rules are simple. Firepaw, Grasspaw, and Vixenpaw will be intruders on RiverClan territory. Your goal is to make it across the territory without being caught and pinned. If you are, you're out. You will be stationed near the gorge, far upstream, and your goal will be to cross the Twoleg bridge. Make it there, and you win."

Firepaw frowned. That's really far. After a moment, he set his jaw. But I ran across ThunderClan territory once to stay alive. I can do this. I was just a kit then.

Leopardfur went on. "You can use any tactics you want to make it there, and you can fight back until you are completely pinned."

Silverpaw let out a groan. "That's ridiculous."

Crookedstar gave the apprentice a stern look. "Do you expect any other intruder to roll over like a dead mouse when you just touch them?"

Silverpaw scowled and didn't reply.

Leopardfur rolled her eyes. "As I was saying. Now, Silverpaw, Shadepaw, and Mosspaw will be RiverClan warriors trying to catch the intruders. You will each pick one of the intruders you want to hunt down, and you will fail if you do not catch them. You can help your teammates, but not until you have defeated your target. And for both sides- claws are to be sheathed. This is a training challenge, but this is still just that- training." She looked over her shoulder at the apprentices behind her. "Is that understood?"

Firepaw nodded firmly. He glared at Silverpaw's back as she looked away. I'm not the one she should be worried about cheating.

Crookedstar looked back at all the apprentices. "Who will each of you be chasing?"

Shadepaw decided first. "I'll go for Vixenpaw."

Firepaw glanced at the black she-cat she had named curiously. Vixenpaw always goes easy on her for some reason. Is that why Shadepaw chose her, or was it just random? Vixenpaw was staring at her paws after Shadepaw spoke. She almost looks embarrassed.

Silverpaw replied hardly a moment after. "Firepaw." His voice was cold.

Firepaw narrowed his eyes. Bring it on, fox-heart.

Dawnbright sat beside Firepaw as cats talked quietly with their mentors by the border. "Don't make it easy for Silverpaw," she said firmly. "I know you're capable of making it a real challenge."

Firepaw nodded. "I will, I promise."

Dawnbright gave him a warm smile. "I'm proud of you, Firepaw. You've grown so much from that frightened kit I carried across the river. You'll make a fine warrior someday soon."

Firepaw raised his head and smiled, heart brimming with pride at her words. It was good to have someone who believed in him here.

Crookedstar padded up to the pair. "It's time to begin."

"Good luck," Dawnbright said. "Don't give in easily."

Firepaw nodded. I'll do my best.

The mentors all slowly left the group, heading off into the territory. Firepaw watched them go until each was out of sight. They'll be watching us, no doubt.

Grasspaw and Vixenpaw hurried to his side. Vixenpaw's tail was flicking nervously. "Do you think they'll be able to catch us all?"

Grasspaw shrugged. "They've been in training a moon and a half longer than us, and two longer than Firepaw. They might be able to if they work together."

Firepaw looked at the three older apprentices, who were talking a distance away. Well, Shadepaw is pretty clever and is great at… actually, she's pretty great at just about everything. Mosspaw is a better hunter than she is a fighter, but she's not bad at it either. And then Silverpaw is good at fighting, but he's also hotheaded and arrogant.

Firepaw sized up the territory before him. He had honestly not spent much time in this part of RiverClan's territory, but that wasn't to say it was unfamiliar. While there were few trees here, much of the grass and plants were tall, providing some amount of coverage. Additionally, there were frequently horses or dogs here, which left a strong scent that could mask his scent, or at least make it harder to clearly find. Large, scattered stones could also provide a hiding place, if he needed.

Firepaw took a breath. He was determined to beat Silverpaw. The arrogant furball had treated him terribly over the past four moons, and this was his chance to prove himself. There's no way I'm going to lose. He'll never let me live it down if I do.

Leopardfur approached them again. "It's time. You'll get to head out first, but don't waste your time. I'm sure your mentors have already said this, but don't make this too easy."

Each apprentice nodded silently. This was as much of a challenge for them as it was the apprentices being tested.

"Get going, then." Leopardfur ordered. Firepaw tried to examine her expression- but as usual, it was neutral, eyes slightly narrowed. It was always hard to tell what Leopardfur was thinking. Does she want us to beat them, or does she want us to fail? "Now!"

At Leopardfur's order, the trio took off, immediately dashing off into the thick grasses. The tall plants whipped at Firepaw's face and sides, and he had to narrow his eyes against them. He could see Vixenpaw's black pelt fox-lengths ahead of him, but Grasspaw was veering away into taller grasses, and it was not long before Firepaw could no longer see him.

Crookedstar's yowl split the air, and Firepaw's eyes widened. I thought we'd have longer than that!

He could hear his paws thudding heavily on the earth as he pushed himself harder. Ears flat, he tried to keep his head low as he could as he ran, but realized the position was too awkward. Thinking quickly, Firepaw skidded to a halt, panting. He angled his ears back- he could hear the grasses thrashing far behind him. Firepaw needed to move quickly or he would be the first to be caught.

Firepaw veered sharply to his right as he started off again, still moving quickly, but not quite as fast as before. He was heading in the direction of the few horses that were grazing. While he would be more visible here, Silverpaw would have to move carefully near the horses if he caught up to Firepaw, or risk spooking the horses, which could trample and kill both of them. It was a risky gamble, but Firepaw was determined to try.

As Firepaw hurried into the shorter grasses, he wrinkled his nose at the pungent stench of horse dung. This was the reason he and so many other RiverClan cats avoided this part of the territory- horse dung smelled terrible, and prey seemed to think so too. Twolegs bringing their dogs doesn't help much, either.

Firepaw slowed down as he neared the tall beasts who were grazing peacefully. There were three of them- two a shiny chestnut color, and the last black and white, who was fixing its gaze on Firepaw curiously before it snorted and returned its attention to the grass.

Firepaw cautiously padded closer to them, but was careful to skirt around them as he headed forward again, towards the gorge and the Twoleg bridge. He risked a glance over his shoulder- there was no sign of Silverpaw yet, and though Firepaw was downwind, there was no chance of catching any scent of him with the heavy smell of horse dung.

Firepaw headed past the horses, forcing himself to keep his fur flat as he walked past them. Something about the large creatures unnerved him, and we was glad to have them behind him as he headed onwards.

The grasses were again taller here, and the area was free of any dung-scent. Instead, he could hear quiet rustling of prey, and he could smell the scents of grouse and quail. His mouth watered, but Firepaw pushed any thoughts of food away. Maybe there will be time for hunting later, but I have to finish this. His belly rumbled uncomfortably. Because he'd slept in, he hadn't gotten a chance to eat before he went out for training.

Firepaw frowned and picked up the pace. I can't waste time being slow. I can't be far now.

The way onward was surprisingly easy. Firepaw did not run, but he went at a fast pace, and though he kept checking behind him, Silverpaw never seemed to be behind him. Did the horses really throw him off, or is he just that bad at tracking? However, a nagging thought remained in the back of his head that kept him looking over his shoulder- What if he's planning something?

Firepaw pricked his ears at the sound of the roaring falls ahead. He was getting closer- the bridge was very close to the falls. Tail raised up in the air, he hurried on. I'm so close!

As the bridge came into view, Firepaw started as a shriek rang out from upstream. Firepaw whipped around to see Vixenpaw and Shadepaw, farther up along the gorge, tumbling head-over-tail as they wrestled each other. Firepaw swallowed and turned away. Vixenpaw can handle herself if she actually fights Shadepaw… but I don't know that she will.

Firepaw's heart sped up as his paws touched the first stones of the sun-warmed bridge. This is it, he thought. I'm so close-!

But as Firepaw reached the middle of the bridge, a fearsome yowl sounded ahead, and before Firepaw realized what was happening, Silverpaw was charging from him from the undergrowth on the other side, and rammed full force into Firepaw.

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