Blazing - Book Two: Fire and Ice

With Brokenstar and his cronies in exile, ShadowClan is no longer a threat. When ShadowClan's new leader demands that the three Clans work together to bring back WindClan, Fireheart must journey away from home to find a lost Clan. But as the days grow colder, and a pretty face lingers across the river, Fireheart finds himself questioning his loyalty- both to his Clan and the Code.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12172890/1/Blazing-Book-Two-Fire-and-Ice

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5. Chapter 4

Fireheart awoke to the warm scent of fresh-kill. He blinked his eyes open to see a mouse that had been dropped right before his nose. The ginger tom swiped his tongue over his lips and rolled over do that he could sit up and stretch.

Bluefur sat a few paces away. She was running her tongue over a mud-covered paw, and her legs seemed to be covered in dirt. Fireheart frowned at the sight. "What happened to you?"

Bluefur glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, scoffed quietly, and returned her attention to her grooming.

Realization struck him. She didn't… Fireheart wrinkled his nose. "Did you go back to WindClan and bury those elders?"

Bluefur sighed and placed her paw back on the ground. "Unlike some cats," she meowed, slowly, "I have a respect for our traditions. Those cats can rest now."

Fireheart scowled, and it took all his willpower not to bristle with indignation. I respect our traditions! he thought indignantly. But I also want to find WindClan as soon as we can. "You need to rest," he snapped, as irritation boiled up inside him. "You must have been up all night."

"I'll be fine," Bluefur replied breezily. "Worry about yourself."

Fireheart wanted to growl in frustration, but he instead turned his back to her to eat the mouse. Arrogant frog-brain! he thought. We'll never get anywhere if she collapses with exhaustion.

Fireheart crouched down to take a bite of the mouse and chewed slowly, ears flat. This day was already starting off terribly.

Barley and Snowbird padded into the barn from outside, laughing to themselves. They walked close together, and Barley purred something to her before she butted her head against his shoulder and hurried off through the hay, ears pricked.

They're awfully… close, Fireheart thought curiously as he chewed on a bite of his mouse.

"Morning!" Barley meowed, tail raised high in greeting. "I see you're up," he nodded at Fireheart. "It's a wonder you managed to sleep through the night- some of our companions snore like badgers, I tell you!"

Bluefur glared fiercely at her friend before she rose stiffly. "I'm going to make dirt," she muttered, and padded past them.

Fireheart rolled his eyes and smiled at Barley. "Well, I suppose I'm just used to it, sleeping by the river and all." For a moment, his mind went to Heavystep, as his denmate was infamous for being RiverClan's most heavy sleeper, and he purred fondly. "Not to mention, some of my Clanmates sound like monsters at night!"

Barley chuckled and sat down. He glanced over his shoulder, as though checking to see if Bluefur was still around, but the ThunderClan she-cat had vanished already. "Give Bluefur a chance," he meowed. "She's frosty, but she's got a good heart. Earn her trust, and you'll have a strong ally, you will."

Fireheart nodded, but he couldn't help but feel a moment of doubt. Can trust her, though? He was reminded briefly of Silverthorn's misgivings. Silverthorn might be a fox-heart at times, but he's right about one thing- it isn't easy to trust a ThunderClan cat. Bluefur was certainly wise and experienced, but she didn't seem to be getting any friendlier.

"And keep an eye on that Snowbird, will you?" Barley suddenly asked. "She's young, you know? I'm sure she'll prove herself, but she needs for someone to look out for her."

Fireheart narrowed his eyes. "You two seem close already," he meowed. It's one thing if he just wants to look out for her… but if he's trying to flirt with Snowbird, I'll claw his ears! She's hardly older than a kit!

Barley laughed as though he knew what Fireheart was thinking. "Trust me, Fireheart, it's nothing like that. She just… well, to be honest, she reminds me of my sister. I promised to protect her and didn't do such a good job of it." His eyes darkened with sadness. "I don't know I can ever make it up to her. So keep an eye out for her, for me, alright? It tears me up to see such young cats getting hurt."

Fireheart smiled and nodded. "Of course I will." Snowbird was annoying and an absolute pain, but he wasn't hoping for her to get into trouble, either.

Barley yawned, before his eyes widened in horror. "Oh, goodness!" he exclaimed. "I better be sure that scamp doesn't get into the chickens!" Without a final goodbye, the big tom leaped up to his paws and bounded off in the direction Snowbird had headed.

Fireheart chuckled to himself and returned his attention to his mouse. Well, at least some cats around here aren't looking to rip my pelt off.

It was just past dawn when the three travelers set off again. Barley had wished them well and promised a warm nest and a full belly, should they ever need it again, and seemed sorry to see Bluefur go. The ThunderClan warrior was as cold as ever, and Snowbird was still bursting with energy.

The moorland seemed to stretch on forever. Fireheart remained alert and on edge, still wary and uncomfortable in the open terrain. While RiverClan certainly wasn't a dense forest, there were plenty of shrubs and reeds to shelter in. Here, there was nothing but the rolling hills of drying grass and the occasional clump of heather.

By midday Fireheart's paws ached and his belly twister with hunger. The mouse he had eaten at dawn wouldn't be enough to hold him over until dusk. And he could tell by the way Bluefur's shoulders sagged that she was exhausted, much more so than she would ever admit. Snowbird, to her credit, was still chipper and stayed a few paces ahead of the older warriors.

Fireheart scanned their surroundings for a good resting place. Only a little ways ahead was a large boulder, which seemed as good as they would get. He picked up his pace until he was walking beside Bluefur. "Hey," he meowed. "Why don't we rest at that boulder? We can hunt and take a break for a little while."

Bluefur blinked at him. After a moment, she lowered her head and sighed, "Alright. Fine."

Thank StarClan, Fireheart thought. At least she's being reasonable now. "Snowbird!" he called, and the white she-cat stopped her tracks to look over her shoulder at him. "Wait up. We're going to rest at that rock."

The young she-cat flicked her tail to acknowledge his words, and bounded on ahead towards the stone.

"Young cats!" Bluefur coughed out a tired, dry laugh. "Always in a rush to get places."

Fireheart flicked an ear and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "At least she got a full night's sleep and won't be slowing us down come late afternoon."

The hint of a smile on Bluefur's face faded and twisted into a scowl. "Perhaps your kittypet birthright makes it harder for you to understand our customs," she spat. "Not even a kit would question the burial of an elder."

Fireheart flattened his ears. "So teach me!" he exclaimed, and surprised himself with his outburst. The warrior heaved a sigh. "I'm sorry," he meowed. "My Clanmates taught me about hunting and fighting and our rules, but… I'm still learning our traditions. Our history. And I want to know them! I believe in StarClan," he added, truthfully. Bluefur gave him a surprised glance, and Fireheart went on. "I do. But… I don't know everything, and I understand that."

Bluefur was silent for what felt like ages, and Fireheart wondered if he had offended her again. Finally, she took a breath. "Brave words," she meowed. "It takes strength to admit a weakness." She was quiet, again, until she added, "Perhaps I can teach you a thing or two in the time we have together." She stared up ahead at Snowbird, who had just reached the stone. "She could use some teaching, too," the she-cat reckoned. "StarClan knows Brokenstar taught her nothing but to fight and kill!"

Fireheart frowned at her words. I hadn't thought of that… "It's a wonder she's so…"

"Chipper?" Bluefur offered with a light chuckle. "Overzealous?"

"Yeah," Fireheart purred in agreement. "That."

They fell back into silence as they drew closer to the boulder, although the tension between them seemed to have eased.

Snowbird flopped down in the shadow of the boulder as they reached her. "What took you so long?" she laughed. "I've been here for ages!"

Fireheart and Bluefur exchanged amused glances before they sat down. Bluefur sighed heavily as she lowered herself into a crouch, head and shoulders slumped with exhaustion.

Fireheart frowned, but refrained from making a comment. She's really worn out, he thought. Digging those graves took a toll on her. He flicked Snowbird with his tail. "Hey," he meowed. "Why don't we hunt? We could use a break for a meal."

Bluefur parted her jaws, as though irritated that Fireheart was clearly trying to leave her, but the tom quickly added, "And of course, it'll be Bluefur's turn to hunt tomorrow afternoon."

Bluefur seemed to hesitate before she nodded in the slightest. "Very well."

Fireheart stretched before he stood and beckoned for Snowbird to follow with a flick of his tail. The white she-cat blinked and hurried after him as he led the way away from the boulder.

He glanced at the young she-cat beside him. Her eyes were bright and eager, and despite their journey, she still had a spring in her step. I should give her a chance to lead a little, Fireheart thought. She's a warrior, but I doubt she gets treated like one. "Do you smell anything?" he asked.

Snowbird seemed surprised, but she stopped to part her jaws and taste the air. She stepped forward, slowly, eyes closed. The she-cat opened her eyes and glanced up at Fireheart. "Rabbit!"

Fireheart grinned encouragingly. "Well?" he asked. "Lead the way! I'm not so used to hunting ground prey."

Snowbird twitched her whiskers and broke into a run without warning. "Keep up if you can!" she called over her shoulder as she sped ahead.

Cheeky fox! Fireheart chuckled to himself before he raced after the she-cat. The pair sped through the tall grass, and it wasn't long before the scent of rabbit hit his nose as well.

He frowned as he caught the smell of blood, and he slowed down. "Snowbird—!" he tried to call, but the she-cat had already ran fox-lengths ahead. The tom watched as she skidded to a halt.

"Fireheart!" she yowled. "Come look at this!"

Confused, Fireheart hurried towards her. "What is it?"

Snowbird jerked her head to indicate he should come closer. At her paws law a half-eaten hare. Flies buzzed around the carcass, and Fireheart wrinkled his nose at the sight. "That's what I smelled," he grunted. "Whoever ate it must have been in a hurry."

Snowbird leaned forward and sniffed it. She gasped and looked up at Fireheart, eyes wide and gleaming. "Fireheart, it's WindClan!" she exclaimed. "WindClan was here!"

"What in StarClan's name do you mean Crookedstar threw you out?!"

Sandbird winced at the ferocity in Thistlestar's snarl. "I—"

"Don't." Thistlestar stood and lashed his thick tail. "What to do with you two…"

Dustclaw scowled from beside her. "With all due respect, I only defended Sandbird from that fox-heart. I didn't—"

Tigerclaw leaned close to the tom, his muzzle hardly a hair's length away. "I don't believe your leader asked, Dustclaw," he growled. Dustclaw lowered his head as the fur along his spine began to bristle in the slightest. Sandbird averted her gaze uncomfortably.

Thistlestar pulled away and began to pace back and forth. They had been in his den since they'd returned home from RiverClan, and Thistlestar was outraged.

"Any other time—Any other time!— I could care less what you did to RiverClan," The massive gray tom spat. "But right now, all I needed you to do was make sure no one harmed our only future medicine cat!" He stopped pacing to stand directly in front of Sandbird. She swallowed thickly, as she trembled underneath his burning gaze. Thistlestar was always intimidating, but seeing him enraged was terrifying.

"Dustclaw, get out," Thistlestar snapped. "We can discuss your punishment later. Tigerclaw, you're dismissed. Let me know when Ravenpaw returns. I'll need to speak to him as well."

Tigerclaw curled his lip, clearly displeased, but he obeyed and stiffly rose to pad out of the den. Dustclaw, on the other hand, couldn't get out fast enough, and only shot a muttered apology to Sandbird as he hurried out.

Thistlestar fixed Sandbird with his intense gaze again. She hung her head. "I'm sorry," she tried. "I didn't mean to—"

"Don't grovel," Thistlestar interrupted her, a note of contempt in his voice. "We both know you're above that, Sandbird."

The ginger warrior raised her chin. He was right. am above grovelling. "...Okay."

Thistlestar seemed to have calmed after Tigerclaw and Dustclaw departed. He flicked his ear, and remained silent to the point where Sandbird was shifting uncomfortably. Is he going to say something? she wondered. Or does he just want to see if I'll crack?

When he still did not speak, Sandbird tried the more assertive route. "Will you just tell me my punishment?" she asked. "I'm sure we both have better things to do than sit here."

At that, Thistlestar broke into deep, throaty laughter, which startled her. Sandbird wasn't sure she'd ever heard an actual laugh from Thistlestar in all her life. StarClan, he's going to snap and rip out my throat or something, she thought, a little worried this was actually the truth.

Thistlestar regained his composure with a final chuckle, and stared at her once again. "No," he meowed. "I will not be punishing you."

"Wh-what?" Sandbird was astonished. This was the cat who'd ordered Graystripe, as an apprentice, to eat seven snails after he was caught talking about how Tigerclaw had bees for brains; the cat who'd ordered Ravenpaw go hunt hedgehogs and adders when he failed his first warrior assessment; the cat who'd actually clawed out a chunk of Darkstripe's fur when they'd lost Fireheart as a kit at Sunningrocks. This cat was now telling her he wasn't going to punish her? Is… is this some kind of test? she thought frantically. He must be joking! Any moment now, he's going to say 'got you!' and rip my ears out or something!

"You heard me," Thistlestar said as he lifted a paw to slowly draw a tongue over it. He reached up to clear the back of one ear. "I won't be punishing you. You're too valuable."

"Er…" Sandbird was floored. In all fairness, Thistlestar was only a few murders away from being an actual tyrant, and he actually wasn't about to strip her of every whisker on her face. "What… what do you mean?"

Thistlestar chuckled again. "Don't be humble, Sandbird. It's not fitting for you. You have been a warrior only a moon, and yet you are one of my most skilled warriors. You have more patience than Runningwind or Mousefur, more hunting skill than Stonefur, and you're a more calculated fighter than Darkstripe. You're young, but you have a rare potential I haven't seen in seasons."

Sandbird blinked, surprised. She'd never heard him praise anyone, let alone to this extent! "Th-thank you, Thistlestar," she stammered out. He is right, she thought to herself, despite the initial surprise. Runningwind couldn't be patient to save his live, Stonefur is too bulky to hunt well in the undergrowth, and Darkstripe jumps into fights without thinking- even more than Dustclaw! But I still can't believe Thistlestar is giving me such high praise.

"Yes," Thistlestar went on. "You're too valuable to put on some apprentice duty detail. I need my best warriors, close by my side. Do you understand, Sandbird?"

Sandbird hesitated before she dipped her head. "Yes, Thistlestar."

"Very good," he meowed. "So I won't be punishing you- but I trust that in return, you will do me a favor. Not now, but when I should need it."

Sandbird swallowed. "Of course."

"Very good," he repeated with a twitch of his tail. "Now, go get some rest. Ravenpaw can check that shoulder of yours when he returns."

Sandbird stood, but before she turned away, she hesitated. "What about Dustclaw?" she asked.

"Dustclaw!" Thistlestar snorted. "He isn't half the warrior you are. Dustclaw is strong, yes, but he has no ambition, no drive to go any farther than where he is right now. His greatest asset to the Clan will be providing it with strong kits, in due time. But you, Sandbird-" he paused for a moment, and smiled darkly- "You stick by my side, and you will go far in ThunderClan. Work closely with me, and we can help each other, you and I. Do you understand me?"

Sandbird hesitated again. This was more than just a leader asking for his Clanmate's loyalty. Thistlestar was asking that she become one of his loyal followers, a cat who did his work and lived easy in ThunderClan.

She was surprised by the offer- very surprised. Redtail had been one of his most vocal dissents, and they both knew this. And yet, here he was, offering her this opportunity like a plump rabbit in Leafbare. Could I do this? She wondered to herself. Can I go against all my father believed in? Sandbird knew this would ensure her a strong and safe position in ThunderClan, and would bring its benefits.

Sandbird felt her heart ache for a moment, for Redtail, before she meowed, "Of course, Thistlestar. I understand completely."

Thistlestar purred, low and deep. "Excellent. I believe you and I will accomplish great things, Sandbird." He inclined his head to the mouth of his den. "Now, go on- you have the day to rest that shoulder, but I want you on patrols tomorrow."

Sandbird dipped her head silently and turned away. She padded from the den, and as she did, she felt a thick lump rise in her throat. I'm sorry, Redtail.

 
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