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.


6. Chapter 4

Rusty padded through the forest silently. His ears were trained for any sounds, and his jaws were parted in the slightest, tasting the air. He sensed a mouse was nearby.

He narrowed his eyes- there it was, just a bit ahead, nibbling on an acorn. This time, he wouldn't let it escape. Rusty dropped down into a low crouch, took a cautious step forward, and-

"Hey there!"

Rusty was jolted awake by a loud, cheery voice. Again, he felt confused for a moment, until he saw the young brown tom in front of him, smelling distinctly like fish. I'm Firepaw now, the ginger tom reminded himself. And with a small rush of pride, he added, I'm a RiverClan apprentice.

The small brown tabby blinked. "Hello? Earth to Firepaw? You in there?"

Firepaw blinked. "Er- sorry. Who are you?"

"I'm Grasspaw!" He informed him cheerfully. "Mudfur went out to gather herbs, and Crookedstar wanted me to escort you around before Danwbright took you out for training." Grasspaw swept his tail around the den. "As you know, this is Mudfur's den. He's our medicine cat, which means he treats our wounds and illnesses- oh, and he checks up on the queens and kits, too."

Firepaw sat up in his nest, nodding a little. All the herbs made more sense now. "Is he the only one?" he asked.

Grasspaw bobbed his head. "Yup. There used to be Brambleberry, too, but she was super old and passed away a few moons ago. Everyone was pretty sad. She was nice." He blinked suddenly. "Oh! I should ask you first if you have any questions. Do you?"

Firepaw felt a little overwhelmed by the energetic tom, but he felt that he liked him, too. "Hmm… Oh. I keep hearing about 'StarClan'. I ran into a cat named Graypaw yesterday who told me there were four clans… is that another one?"

"Oh, yes!" Grasspaw nodded. "Glad you asked. StarClan is where our ancestors live, up in the sky. You see them in Silverpelt every night. It's that thick band of stars that stretches across the sky. Each star is one of our warrior ancestors, and they watch over us every day. Oakheart is with them now, and he'll have a star of his own tonight."

The thought of StarClan actually sounded… nice. Firepaw had occasionally wondered where cats went when they died- it was a little comforting to think that there was somewhere for him after all. Hopefully Oakheart is at peace.

"Come on!" Grasspaw chirped. "I've got lots to show you." He padded out of Mudfur's den, and Firepaw had no choice but to follow.

Outside, Grasspaw led to him to the nearest den. "This is the nursery," he explained, standing in front of the entrance. Inside, a single dark ginger-and-white she-cat was grooming herself. She blinked and glanced up, exposing her large, heavy belly. "That's Mallowtail! She's Dawnbright's sister. There's no other queens or kits right now, but there should be soon."

"Any day now, I hope," Mallowtail sighed, looking tired. "I can hardly walk to the fresh-kill pile with these kits in my belly!" She gave Firepaw a friendly blink. "Good luck with your training. And nice job giving Whiteclaw a good scratch. I love him, but he can be badger-headed at times. He's got a good heart, deep down."

Firepaw had a hard time believing that, but he dipped his head gratefully anyway. "Thank you," he purred. Quickly, he added, "Good luck with your kits, when they come."

"I like this one," Mallowtail decided. "He's got manners, unlike you!"

"Hey!" Grasspaw protested, pretending to look hurt. "I'm polite!"

"Please!" Mallowtail purred. "You're about as polite as a fox!"

Grasspaw rolled his eyes and turned away. "I'll show you the apprentice den next- that's where we sleep." They headed across camp, to a wider den. From inside, low voices could be heard as cats chatted.

Grasspaw and Firepaw both stuck their heads in. "This is Firepaw!" Grasspaw introduced. "Be nice to him!"

"We know," A pretty, long-furred black she-cat muttered, eyes rolling.

"The dumb kittypet," a silver tom spat. "I'll pass on being sweet."

A tortoiseshell she-cat cuffed him over the ears. "Ignore my stuck-up brother, here. He's Silverpaw, and he's all bark and no bite. I'm Mosspaw." she smiled at him. "That's Vixenpaw," she said, nodding at the black she-cat. "Heavypaw is the big lump that's still asleep-" She flicked her tail at a large brown tom in the back of the den, who was still fast asleep. "-And my sister, Shadepaw, is already out training."

"Um, hi," Firepaw mumbled, a little overwhelmed.

The silver tom snorted. "So composed, isn't he?" he glared at Firepaw. "Shouldn't you be napping, kittypet?"

"Oh, shut up," Mosspaw growled, shoving him playfully. "You're just mad because you bet me three days of dawn patrols that Whiteclaw was going to strangle him to death."

Silverpaw let out a growl, but said nothing else.

Firepaw wasn't exactly sure how to feel about his new denmates betting on his death.

"Vixenpaw!" Grasspaw called. "Come help me show Firepaw the rest of the camp."

Vixenpaw licked a paw and drew it over her ears. "Pass."

"I'll tell Blackclaw you put fire ants in his nest!" Grasspaw teased. "Ooh, or I'll tell Shadepaw about how you-"

"You wouldn't dare!" Vixenpaw screeched. "Fine, I'll come on your stupid tour, you frog-brained nuisance!"

Grasspaw laughed good-naturedly. "She loves me," he happily informed a doubtful Firepaw.

"Tell Shadepaw what?" Mosspaw begged, eyes wide with interest.

"Shut up!" Vixenpaw shouted, ears red with embarrassment before she flattened them. "Let's go, already!"

Grasspaw and Firepaw retreated from the den, followed by Vixenpaw, who was muttering dubiously. As they headed towards the elder's den, Firepaw's belly twisted with hunger, but he tried to squash the feeling. He realized he hadn't eaten at all yesterday, but he didn't want to be mocked for being a greedy kittypet on his first morning in the clan.

The elder's den was in a deep hole beneath a willow tree. Inside, a thin gray she-cat was eating a fat trout. She twitched her whiskers as they entered. "Welcome," she rasped. She nodded at Firepaw. "You're the kittypet apprentice."

"I'm not a kittypet anymore," Firepaw replied, but tried not to sound annoyed. The she-cat was clearly tired and old, and deserved his respect.

"Well said," the gray she-cat purred. "I'm Graypool."

"You'd be surprised to know she's younger than Crookedstar!" Grasspaw whispered, and Graypool's ear twitched.

"His nine lives gives him strength," she chided, giving Grasspaw a hard stare. "I've had my share of illnesses."

Some cats just age faster, Firepaw thought. He'd known a cat who had lived for countless seasons- Pine- but he seemed young and spry as ever, while some old cats who were younger still were much more tired and grizzled.

"Normally, the elders and queens have to be fed before any apprentices can eat," Vixenpaw explained, surprising Firepaw. I almost thought she was just going to stand and be silent. "But since there's just Graypool and Mallowtail, we just take turns doing it."

"It is part of the warrior code to care for elders, queens, and kits," Graypool added. "You'll need to learn and value the code if you hope to stay here."

"I'll do my best," Firepaw mumbled. Graypool smiled and nodded.

"Let's go," Grasspaw purred. "When it's your turn to feed her, you can ask her to tell stories." He twitched his whiskers in farewell before turning away. "I'll show you the warriors' den next, but we won't be going in!"

The warriors den was also a tangle of reeds, but a hollow had been dug out so as to make it deeper. The reeds seemed to open up into a hollowed out cave, and it looked quite cosy. A few older cats were passing in and out, often to draw others out with them before heading out of camp. "They're getting ready to go on hunting and border patrols," he explained. "Most of them will probably be fishing."

Firepaw recognized Whiteclaw, Blackclaw, and Leopardfur heading out of the den. Whiteclaw glanced at him and spat, "Kittypet!" Blackclaw glared, but Leopardfur twitched her ear as though she hadn't noticed.

"Oh, stick a frog in it, Whiteclaw," a golden she-cat said, padding out of the den and rolling her eyes.

"That's Vixenpaw and I's mother," Grasspaw purred. "Her name is Sunfish."

Sunfish glanced over and purred at the trio of apprentices. "Morning! Showing Firepaw around camp?"

"Yep!" Grasspaw nodded. "This was the last stop before the fresh-kill pile. You've got to be starving, right?" He asked Firepaw, who nodded gratefully.

"Well, you'd better get on with it," Sunfish meowed. "Your mentors will be looking for you soon."

The three headed towards the fresh-kill pile, just in time to see Silverpaw and Heavypaw each picking a fish. Silverpaw hissed and bumped into Firepaw as he snatched up one and padded towards the nursery.

"Silverpaw sure hates you," Vixenpaw snickered. "It's his turn to feed Mallowtail and Graypool, but it looks like someone beat him to Graypool already."

Firepaw watched him go, frowning. "Hopefully he won't start trouble. I don't want to get into another fight like last night."

"Like Mosspaw said," Grasspaw snorted. "All bark and no bite." He plucked a small trout from the pile and dropped it at Firepaw's paws. "Go on, eat."

Firepaw's purred gratefully, and took a large bite. He blinked as he chewed the soft, tender fish. It was so juicy, and full of flavor! This was nothing like the shredded white fish in a tin can. His mouth watered as he swallowed, and quickly took another bite.

"He likes it," Vixenpaw laughed. "Most outsiders don't."

"Really?" Firepaw's mumbled around a mouthful of trout. "It's great!" How can't they? It's incredible!

"Mudfur says the fish is what makes us so sleek," Grasspaw said, picking two minnows for himself. "Something about the oils in it, I dunno. Soon you'll be sleek and shiny like us!"

Firepaw looked up from his meal to see Dawnbright and two other warriors padding back into camp. Dawnbright carried a large squirrel, white the other two each had a few small fish. Dawnbright added the squirrel to a separate pile beside the fish pile, one that had a few other squirrels, as well as some little furry rodents that looked a lot like mice.

"Looks like Firepaw likes fish," Dawnbright meowed as she padded towards the apprentices. "Vixenpaw, go get the other apprentices. We're going to be doing battle practice today."

Grasspaw tilted his head. "Shouldn't we show Firepaw the territory?"

Dawnbright shook her head. "No, he spent all of yesterday racing through ThunderClan. I want Firepaw to watch and learn. He'll try a few easy moves, but he's going to take it slow for a couple of days.

"Sounds like you're soft on him because he's a kittypet!" One of the toms sneered. "Don't think he can handle clan training?"

Firepaw bristled, but Dawnbright rolled her eyes and snapped back, "I don't think you would want to go racing around the forest for an entire day, wake up with sore muscles, and then trek all of RiverClan territory the next morning, Beetlenose."

Beetlenose snorted, but whisked his tail and padded away.

"That's my father," Grasspaw added with a frown. "He's not usually so…"

"Prickly?" Dawnbright suggested. "Hot-headed, and a touch egocentric? Your father is always like that." She twitched her whiskers at her apprentice. "Finish that fish and meet me by the camp entrance."

Firepaw and Grasspaw quickly gulped down their meals as Vixenpaw returned with Mosspaw and a tired-looking Heavypaw in tow. As Silverpaw left the nursery, Vixenpaw called him over. After a minute, they headed to the camp entrance, and departed with their mentors.

"Come on, Shadepaw, knock her off balance!" Beetlenose ordered.

"Step it up, Vixenpaw! You can do better than that, quit going easy on her!" A gray tom named Voleclaw called, frowning.

Firepaw watched, sitting beside Mosspaw, as Vixenpaw and Shadepaw fought. Shadepaw, who was quite snappy, though not so much as Silverpaw, was currently batting at Vixenpaw's face.

"Vixenpaw, throw her off her paws!" Voleclaw shouted, clearly growing more exasperated.

Vixenpaw just batted at Shadepaw half-heartedly until the dark gray she-cat slammed into Vixenpaw's side, knocking her to the ground and pinning her there in one swift move. "Didn't sleep well enough or something?" Shadepaw grinned, and Vixenpaw stared quietly back at her. "You're off your game today!" Shadepaw hopped off and padded back to sit on Mosspaw's other side.

Voleclaw sighed. "Vixenpaw… I don't know what to say. You're going to fight Silverpaw, because I need to see some major improvement right now."

Vixenpaw nodded quietly as Silverpaw stepped into the clearing. The training area was a small clearing, marked by a few beech trees that grew around it. The earth was soft and well-worn- Firepaw could see paw prints everywhere. Some were quite old and nearly faded away, while others were from the fights this morning.

Loudbelly took Beetlenose's place at the side of the clearing, closer to the training apprentices. "Ready… begin!"

Firepaw was surprised when Vixenpaw immediately charged at Silverpaw. He sidestepped, but the she-cat had been prepared- she twisted sharply and rammed her shoulder into his, sending him reeling back. Vixenpaw turned again, pouncing, and landed on Silverpaw's back. She was just larger than him, and the silver tom screeched and overbalanced. Vixenpaw neatly landed on her paws before rearing up, then slamming her paws down sharply on Silverpaw's chest, winding him. Finally, she placed a paw at his throat. Giving her mentor a sharp look, she hissed, "I win."

That was… Firepaw didn't know what to think. In her last battle, Vixenpaw had all but rolled over onto her back and surrendered. She'd taken Shadepaw's blows and hardly returned any. Was she trying to trick Silverpaw or something? I don't get it. She's clearly good at fighting.

"Nice one!" Shadepaw called, chuckling at her brother's furious expression as he stood and shook himself. "Silverpaw was looking a little too full of himself today!"

Vixenpaw grinned and moved to sit beside her brother on the opposite side of the clearing.

"That was great!" Voleclaw exclaimed, clearly surprised. "I don't know how you turned it around that quickly, but well-done."

Dawnbright nudged Firepaw. "I want you to spar with Heavypaw." She fixed the stocky brown apprentice with a look. "Don't go too hard on him."

"Okay." Firepaw nodded in determination. But, as they stepped into the center of the clearing, he gulped. Heavypaw was named Heavypaw for a reason. He was very bulky, and it looked like it would hurt a lot if he even just sat on Firepaw.

"Whenever you're ready," Dawnbright called, twitching her whiskers. Firepaw gave her a glance. Is she rooting for me, or secretly hoping Heavypaw crushes-

The distraction cost him.


Firepaw felt the wind get knocked out of him as Heavypaw rammed into him, head smashing right into Firepaw's smaller chest. The ginger tom was sent flying back before he crashed to the ground and rolled once, groaning.

"Keep your eyes on your opponent, kittypet!" Blackclaw jeered.

"Come on, Firepaw!" Grasspaw called. "You can do it!"

Growling, Firepaw rolled back onto his paws just in time to duck a hefty swipe from his opponent. He wasn't sure what spurred him on more- Grasspaw's encouragement, or Blackclaw's jab. Twisting, he managed to swipe at Heavypaw's side, which he proudly knew would have done real damage had his claws been unsheathed.

Then Firepaw yowled in pain as he felt teeth in his tail. Fur bushing up madly, he tried to whirl around, only to tug his only tail harder in Heavypaw's clenched jaws. Releasing his tail, Heavypaw quickly reared up and slammed his paws down on Firepaw's back, crushing the smaller apprentice beneath him. Firepaw felt a jolt of pain as his jaws snapped together sharply from the force, before his chin clipped the ground. The ginger tom struggled, but to no avail- the larger tom had him completely pinned.

"I think the winner is obvious," Blackclaw sneered. "Great work, Heavypaw." Whisking his tail, he added, "I think the rest of the apprentices ought to go hunting, while he stays here and works on that lazy form."

Dawnbright growled at the smoky tom, but didn't argue. None of the other mentors complained as they gathered up their apprentices and departed- but Grasspaw and Mosspaw each shot him sympathetic glances.

Firepaw stood up, shaking his coat. He could still feel it where Heavypaw had crushed him, and the soreness of his muscles didn't help.

Dawnbright sighed. "I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have just thrown you in like that. But, you did do well to dodge that second blow and counterattack." She frowned, thinking for a moment. "I think we'll practice the hunting crouch for a while instead. It's less strenuous, so you won't be abusing your muscles as much."

Firepaw nodded, but couldn't help but feel disappointed. Was his own mentor so unimpressed that she didn't think he could handle training after all?

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