"Lilypaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect, and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
"Then, by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Lilypaw, from this moment, you will be known as Lilypool. StarClan honors your intelligence, and your courage, and we welcome you as a full member of ShadowClan."
Redpaw watched as his leader, Wildstar, rested his head on the newly named Lilypool, who in return, gave his shoulder a respectful lick. The blue-gray she-cat turned, and took her place between her former mentor, Larkcloud, and her father, Soottalon. Redpaw heard the warrior give his daughter a lick on the ear, and say, "Littlebird would be proud."
Redpaw felt Lilypool's nostalgia like a hawk's talon coming down on him. Littlebird, Lilypool's mother, along with many other cats, young, and old, had died in the devestating pandemic of greencough just a few moons ago. In fact, out of every Clan near the lake, ShadowClan had lost the most cats. Redpaw quickly shook away the pang in his heart, and watched as the apprentice, Tinypaw, walked forward, his ginger fur sleek, and clean, ready for the ceremony.
Wildstar looked down at the small tom cat. "Tinypaw," he meowed, "do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and to protect, and defend your Clan, even at teh cost of your life?"
Tinypaw nodded, his green eyes blazing with ethusiasm. "I do."
"Then, by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Tinypaw, from this moment, you will be known as Tinyblaze. StarClan honors your swiftness, and your ethusiasm, and we welcome you as a full member of ShadowClan.
As he did with Lilypool, Wildstar rested his head on Tinyblaze's, who had to stretch up to give Wildstar a lick on the shoulder. Redpaw saw Gorsesinger, ShadowClan's deputy, puffing his chest out with pride as his apprentice received his warrior name. Redpaw also saw a shadow of sadness in his eyes. Redpaw sighed. Snakepaw, Rowanpaw... and Petalpaw. They should be here with their brother, and their father, Russetears. Nearly all of Tinyblaze's family had been lost to leaf-bare. Snakepaw and Rowanpaw died in a battle with RiverClan, Snakepaw torn to shreds, and Rowanpaw drowned. Russetears was an elder, and had passed of simply old age. But perhaps the most heartbreaking was Petalpaw. Redpaw had liked the little ginger she-cat, and when greencough took her, he wished he could fight the disease with his bare claws forever, just protect his Clanmates. But Petalpaw was gone, and so were many other great cats.
Redpaw wished he could join his Clanmates as they called out "Lilypool! Tinyblaze! Lilypool! Tinyblaze!", but instead, depression weighed his heart down, and he could see that his brother, Crookedpaw, felt it too. He could tell by the way Crookedpaw brushed the tip of his twisted claw through the dirt, something he often did when he was deep in thought. At the same moment, Redpaw felt a tail tip touch his shoulder, and he glanced behind him to see his father, Brokenleaf. He saw his own sadness reflected in his green eyes. Redpaw sighed, and wished with all his heart that his mother was still here.
Blossomflame, perhaps the most beautiful ginger cat ShadowClan had ever seen, as Brokenleaf described her, was one of the Clan's greatest losses. Blossomflame was known for her fantastic fighting skills in battle, easily outmatching any warrior, even one twice her size, or two at once. Little did everyone know that her battle with greencough would be quickly lost. Within a single night, Blossomflame had joined StarClan, and her family was still trying to fight the battle of remembering her sad departure. At least we keep her memory alive, Redpaw thought. While he, his father, and his brother still spoke about their mother, everyone else in the Clan refused to speak about her. It was too much pain to bear.
Redpaw hadn't noticed the cats were beginning to return to their duties until a low voice called his name. "Redpaw!" A dark brown tabby shoved his way in between Redpaw, and his brother. The Calico apprentice turned his head, and looked up at his mentor, Tigerwhisker.
Tigerwhisker narrowed his amber eyes, and flicked his tail toward the entrance of the camp. "Hunting practice. You too, Crookedpaw. Shiningstream's waiting for you."
Redpaw craned his neck to the silver-and-black she-cat waiting patiently by the gorse tunnel. Tigerwhisker spun around, and stalked toward Shiningstream, leaving Redpaw, Crookedpaw, and Brokenleaf alone.
Brokenleaf's tail retreated from Redpaw's shoulder, and waved toward the warriors. "You should go with them," he meowed. "The Clan could use some food."
Redpaw nodded. "Right," he grunted, not sure if he even wanted to hunt.
"Hey." Brokenleaf nudged his son. "You have your mother's hunting skills," he murmured.
"Yeah!" Crookedpaw agreed, smiling at his brother. "You're turning out to be the best hunter in the Clan."
Redpaw expected to feel a pang of sadness, but instead, he felt pride course through him. Nodding to Brokenleaf, he turned, and sprinted across the hollow with Crookedpaw at his heels, ready for hunting. Tigerwhisker grunted, clearly upset that they were late, but Shiningstream flicked her tail to silence him, and led the way into the pines. Dark gray clouds had settled over the lake, and the smell of rain was in the air. But Redpaw didn't let that faze his scent of smell. Scenting past the rain, he quickly picked up the smell of a blackbird, and crept away from the patrol. Turning around the trunk of a pine, Redpaw saw the bird pecking at the ground, shoving pine needles out of the way as it looked for food. Carefully, Redpaw made his way behind the bird, where there was a thick clumb of ferns. He crouched, and readied to pounce. Before he moved, the wind changed direction, and the bird's head shot up as it caught the scent of cat. Redpaw spat, but pounced anyway. Just before the blackbird could flutter off into the trees, Redpaw caught the bird by the wing with his claws, and slammed it to the ground before finishing it with a killing blow.
With the bird in his jaws, Redpaw returned to his patrol, and saw Tigerwhisker returning with a blue jay. Peering around the trunk of a tree, he saw Crookedpaw waggling his haunches, ready to pounce on a mouse. Shiningstream had disappeared. Redpaw buried his prey in the roots of a tree so he could collect it later, and padded up to Tigerwhisker's side. Crookedpaw followed with the mouse in his jaws. As the three cats padded through the forest, there was a sudden shriek of alarm, and a moment later, a crow shot into the air, cawing its head off, warning the rest of the forest of the hunting cats.
"Fox dung!" Shiningstream yowled, glaring up at the crow. She lashed her tail angrily.
"Great job, Shiningstream," Tigerwhisker meowed sarcastically around the feathers of the blue jay. "You've scared away all the prey from here to the lake."
"Oh, put a mouse in it, Tigerwhisker!" Shiningstream snapped.
Crookedpaw put his mouse down so he could speak. "Maybe we could try near the Twoleg den," the large ginger tom suggested.
Tigerwhisker sighed. "Crookedpaw, you know that it's in ThunderClan territory."
"That's why I said near it," Crookedpaw meowed. "Just on our side of the border."
Shiningstream nodded in agreement. "He's right, Tigerwhisker," she told the dark tabby. "Besides, it's been a while since we hunted there. Maybe there's some more prey."
Tigerwhisker narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. Redpaw lashed his tail, and almost said, Don't be a mousebrain! but snapped his jaws shut in time.
Finally, he grunted, "Alright. I guess. But if there's a ThunderClan patrol, we need to get out of there."
Tigerwhisker and Crookedpaw buried their prey, and the patrol headed towards the abandoned Twoleg nest. Redpaw wished he could explore it, but the only way to do that would be to sneak onto ThunderClan territory. That would be mousebrained, he though. Crookedpaw already got into enough trouble as it is!
When they were just kits, Tinyblaze had dared Redpaw and Crookedpaw, known as Flamekit before, named after his mother, to cross the border, and spy on the ThunderClan camp. Redpaw had dismissed the idea immediately, knowing Wildstar would have them cleaning the elders' den, and looking for ticks before they could say mouse. But Flamekit had thought it would be a great idea, and before anybody could stop him, he was streaking across the camp, and into the forest. Redpaw wanted to follow him, but knew he would get in just as much trouble, but he didn't want to wake the warriors either, and send the camp into a panic. Instead, he just waited, and hoped that the worse thing that could happen was he would be caught by a ThunderClan patrol, and returned to the camp. When two days passed, Redpaw was beginning to think his brother was dead. Just when Wildstar was going to call off the search, two ThunderClan warriors, Hollowstep and Thunderember, had walked into the camp with Flamekit in Thunderember's jaws. Redpaw's brother seemed fine, but when he noticed him limping, he couldn't help but ask what had happened. Apparently, he didn't see where he was going. It was too dark, and he ended up falling into the ThunderClan camp. He saved his life by stretching out his paw, and clinging to a bramble thicket, where he hung until dawn. The accident nearly tore his claw out, twisting it so painfully that it hurt whenever Flamekit sheathed it, so he kept it unsheathed at all times, though there was still a little pain in his paw. As punishment for breaking the warrior code, Wildstar had renamed Flamekit Crookedkit. Although his parents, and brother still called him Flamekit, he quickly adopted his new name, and before he was made an apprentice, his family soon started calling him by his new name. Redpaw glanced at his brother now, and saw him limping heavily. He deserves a break, he thought. Maybe I can talk to Shiningstream about that.
The Twoleg den came into view, and the air began to smell of both ShadowClan and ThunderClan. The patrol stopped just a few foxlengths away from the den. This was the border.
Tigerwhisker pointed his tail to his left. "Shiningstream, take Crookedpaw that way. Redpaw, and I will go this way."
Shiningstream nodded, and beckoned Crookedpaw to follow her. Redpaw fell in behind Tigerwhisker as his mentor led him back into the trees. They hadn't walked more than a few pawsteps when Tigerwhisker froze, and flicked his tail forward, indicating that there was prey up ahead, and Redpaw could go catch it. Redpaw parted his jaws, and picked up the smell of rabbit. Slowly, he creeped into the undergrowth. Peering through a thicket of bracken, he saw the gray creature just in front of him, nibbling on some seeds. It was facing him, but it was too busy eating that it couldn't smell him. He would have to make this kill quick.
But before he could make a move, a cat crashed through the bracken not too far away. Redpaw's shoulders tensed. The border patrol! The rabbit looked up, and saw Redpaw. Streaking forward, Redpaw tried to slice the rabbit's throat with his claws, but it slipped away, and bounded through the trees for a few foxlengths before diving into a hole in the ground. Redpaw flicked his ears angrily, and looked in the direction of the border patrol. He saw Addertail with his brother, the newly named Tinyblaze, along with Shimmerfeather, Sedgetail, and her apprentice, Spiderpaw. Addertail was the one who had crashed through the undergrowth like a horse. I'll have to remind him that he's a warrior, not a kit! Redpaw thought angrily.
Tigerwhisker appeared behind him, and stared off into the trees where the rabbit had disappeared. He grunted, and then turned around. "Come on," he said. "It's time to go."
Redpaw flicked his ears again, and followed his mentor back to the border where Shiningstream and Crookedpaw were waiting patiently. Redpaw felt pride flood through him when he saw a vole in his brother's jaws. He's a good hunter despite his twisted claw. Tigerwhisker froze, and narrowed his eyes as he looked across the border. Redpaw followed his gaze, and recognized the ginger pelt of Thunderember along with the warrior, Tawnyflower, and a white she-cat he didn't remember the name of. "Let's go," Tigerwhisker grumbled before stalking into the trees without waiting for the patrol.
The cats unburied their fresh-kill, and were welcomed home with gasps of admiration. It had been a while since a patrol returned with this much food. As Redpaw and Crookedpaw dropped their fresh-kill, Tigerwhisker flicked his ears in the direction of the elders' den. "Bring some food for them," he said, then went off to join Shiningstream by the warriors' den.
Redpaw picked out a squirrel, knowing that this was Honeypath's favorite meal. Honeypath was the mother of Addertail and Tinyblaze, and Redpaw knew that she would be feeling grief for her other kits who hadn't made it to the warrior ceremony. Squirrel had a tendancy to make Honeypath happy, so Redpaw clamped his jaws around the squirrel, and headed across the clearing with Crookedpaw behind him, a fat vole in his jaws.
The apprentices ducked under the thornbush that covered the entrance to the elders' den. Honeypath was sharing tongues with her denmate, Cherrypool, the oldest cat in ShadowClan. Honeypath's ears flicked up when she saw the squirrel. "Is that for me?" she asked, her tail flicking with interest.
Redpaw nodded, and dropped the squirrel at the golden she-cat's paws. "I thought you'd want your favorite food on a special day like this," he meowed.
Honeypath nodded. "Ah, yes. Tinypaw's ceremony. I mean... Tinyblaze's ceremony." The elder sighed. "You know what I would have named the others if I was leader?" she asked Redpaw, her amber eyes sad.
Redpaw shook his head.
Honeypath was looking past him, as if she could see the past when Tinyblaze was a kit alongside his brothers, and sister. "Snakeleap, because he could jump higher than any living cat I've ever seen. Rowanheart, for being the most gentle, yet courageous apprentice. And Petalspirit, because she was the most beautiful cat in the Clan."
Redpaw sank his claws into the dirt as memories of the sweet Petalpaw flooded his mind, sending painful shots through his heart. If only... The thought trailed away, and Redpaw resisted wailing out like a kit.
Honeypath began to dig in to the squirrel while Cherrypool took a bite out of her vole. Seeing the nostalgia in her denmate, the tortoiseshell elder turned her gaze to Honeypath. "What was Addertail like when he was a kit?" she asked.
The sadness disappeared from Honeypath's eyes, and she blinked. "Oh, he was the most rambuctious kit I've ever seen!" she exclaimed. "I swear, getting him to sit still just to tell him something was like trying to calm a fox in a fit."
"Wildstar was the same," Cherrypool replied, letting out a mrrow of laughter, and Redpaw suddenly remembered that the ShadowClan leader was her brother. "Our poor mother was exhausted by the end of the day!"
"Spotcloud is the same with those rowdy three of hers!" Honeypath meowed. "Especially that Patchkit!"
Cherrypool flicked her ears in agreement, and took another bite of vole. "Addertail is one lucky tom," she said.
Honeypath huffed. "I wish him luck with those kits," she meowed, and took another chunk of squirrel.
Leaving the elders to continue their gossip, Redpaw and Crookedpaw made their way to the apprentices' den, and sat down by the entrance. Not too far away, Addertail's kits, Owlkit, Sunkit, and Patchkit were jumping up, and down around Tinyblaze's legs, firing question after question about what it was like to be a warrior. Redpaw wondered if Petalpaw was like that, but quickly shook the thought of her away. Without meaning to, he dug his claws into the ground again.
Crookedpaw leaned over, and began licking Redpaw's ear soothingly. "What's the matter, Redpaw?" the ginger tom asked. "Ants in your pelt?"
Redpaw sighed, and sheathed his claws. He turned his head so his amber eyes met Crookedpaw's green eyes. "Crookedpaw," he meowed solemnly, "what do you think ShadowClan would be like if Blossomflare was still alive?"
Crookedpaw paused in his licking, and his eyes grew dark, but a spark returned quickly after. "Life would be so much better," he replied. "She could have come hunting with us, and battle train with us. She could have patrolled the borders with us, and share the joy of seeing us become warriors. And the battle with RiverClan would have been won."
"And Petalpaw wouldn't have died," Redpaw rasped, turning his head to look up at the dark clouds above the camp. They were growing darker; night was approaching.
Crookedpaw suddenly pressed his head against Redpaw's cheek. "I know you miss her, Redpaw," Crookedpaw meowed mournfully. "I miss her, too. The whole Clan misses her, but I know that no one will miss her as much as you do."
Redpaw nodded, fighting the urge to sink his claws into the ground again. Petalpaw wouldn't want this. She wouldn't want to see Redpaw agitated. Neither would Blossomflare. But it's so hard. He flicked his ear as a drop of rain hit the tip. He was thankful that Brokenleaf had survived the bout of greencough, as was he glad about everybody else who was still alive. But most of all, he was thankful that he still had his brother. He couldn't imagine any cat surpassing Crookedpaw. But as hard as he may try, he could never get rid of the thorn of grief that pierced his heart. Blossomflare... Petalpaw... The names of two of the cats he had loved most echoed through his mind. I wish you were still here. Thunder rolled over head, and rain began to poor down from the sky as if Blossomflare and Petalpaw were sharing Redpaw's longing to be together again from StarClan.