The ginger warrior waited silently in the ferns, his jaws parted to taste the air. The smell of intruders filled the air, almost choking the tom. He flattened his ears, and narrowed his fire-green eyes. No cat is invading RiverClan! he thought determinedly. Not while I'm around.
Then, pawsteps sounded close to him. The cat beside him, a brown-and-white tom, took a step forward, ready to charge at the intruders, but the ginger tom halted his ally with his tail, and shook his head slightly. Not yet, he thought, peering through the ferns again. He could see them now, a ginger she-cat with a brown tabby tom. They were creeping through the undergrowth like shadows, but the ginger tom could hear them like an owl hearing a mouse's heartbeat. The intruders crept closer, unaware that they were being watched. When the color of their eyes flashed in the sunlight, the ginger tom screeched "Now!"
In one swift moment, he, and his brown-and-white companion launched themselves at their enemies. The ginger tom wrapped his paws around the ginger she-cat, bowling her over in the dirt. He pummeled her belly with his hind paws as the she-cat tried to claw at his face, her jaws split open in a ferocious yowl. Suddenly, he was bowled off of his oppenent, and thrown to the ground, the air blowing out of his lungs. He looked up to see the brown tabby, his blue eyes bright with the light of battle. There was a flash of brown-and-white fur as the ginger tom's companion wrapped his paws around the tabby's neck, but before he could pull the tom off, the ginger she-cat was on her paws, and she launched herself at the brown-and-white tom. The ginger tom felt claws sinking into his shoulders. Hissing, he raised a paw, and swiped it across his oppenent's face.
At that moment, a loud voice meowed, "That's enough!"
Firekit blinked, and he was back at the RiverClan camp with his littermates. His brother, Shrewkit, still had him pinned to the ground. He batted him away, and scrambled to his paws. His other brother, Shortkit, and his sister, Hazelkit, were on their paws too. Hazelkit was licking her ginger pelt, which was brown with sand.
The four kits looked up at the pale ginger she-cat who had told them to stop. It was their mother, Goldsong. "But Goldsong-" Firekit began to whine.
Goldsong flicked her tail irritably. "I said enough!" she snapped. "Do you want to look like a group of rowdy badgers at your apprentice ceremony today?"
Firekit's ears pricked up when she said apprentice. For as long as he could remember, Firekit has dreamed about becoming a warrior, and he always thought he would be the greatest warrior the Clan had ever seen. Cats told him that he had great potential, and it was an honor be named after the legendary ThunderClan leader, Firestar. Before, Firekit had wondered why a RiverClan cat would be named after a ThunderClan cat until he heard the story about the strong friendship between Firestar, and Mistystar, who was half ThunderClan. Now, his mind was constantly filled with images of him becoming the leader of RiverClan.
Goldsong gathered her kits with her tail, and began licking them clean. Firekit pinned his ears against his head as his mother's tongue rasped across his fur. He noticed that Shortkit wasn't struggling to get out of Goldsong's grasp, but his green eyes showed his dislike of being groomed. Shrewkit ducked his head, and lifted a paw as if he was going to strike at Goldsong.
"Shrewkit! Hold still," Goldsong meowed, licking the brown tabby's fur more fiercely.
When she finally released them, and Firekit shook his fur, a grayish brown-and-white tom was standing by Goldsong's side. Firekit recognized the warrior, Hareleap. "You can't treat them like kits forever, Goldsong," the warrior meowed.
Goldsong sighed, and blinked. "I know," she mewed. "But who says I can't treat them like kits now, before they're apprentices?"
"We're going to be the best warriors ever!" Hazelkit exclaimed, bouncing up, and down.
"I've been practicing my air swipe!" Shortkit meowed. "Watch." He lifted himself up to stand on his hind legs, and swiped his paws through the air, his tiny claws glinting in the sunlight.
"When's the ceremony going to begin?" Firekit asked, impatient to start training.
Goldsong stroked his back with her tail. "As soon as the hunting patrol returns, and Whitesun and Diamondpaw get back."
Firekit rolled his eyes. Whitesun, and her apprentice, Diamondpaw, seemed to constantly be training. By the time she's a warrior, Diamondpaw will be one of the strongest cats in the Clan.
Goldsong continued speaking. "Until then, I want you to stay out of trouble, and for StarClan's sake, stay clean!" Although her voice was strict, there was warmth in her green eyes, and Firekit realized that she was going to miss having them in the nursery. Firekit would miss the nursery too, but he couldn't wait to start training with his fellow apprentices.
Goldsong headed off to the warriors' den across the clearing. Firekit stared after her, wondering why she was going to the warriors' den. Then, he realized that since she wouldn't be taking care of him, and his littermates anymore, she would be a warrior again. She was probably going to build a nest for herself.
Firekit looked around the clearing. Cats were lazily sharing tongues in the shade of the ferns, and bracken that surrounded the camp. Despite the harsh leaf-bare, RiverClan actually lost very few cats to greencough. An elder, Liontooth, passed away, and a couple of warriors, and Specklekit's littermate, Fernkit. Those were the only cats Firekit could remember the names of. He knew a few other cats passed away, but for the most part, RiverClan was as strong as ever.
He looked at the tunnel of bracken, the entrance to the camp, and flicked his tail irritably. Hurry up! he thought.
As he flicked his tail, he felt paws come down on it. Mewing with surprise, he turned his head, and saw his tail tip in Hazelkit's paws. "Cut it out!" he meowed, and patted her away with his paw. Hazelkit crouched down, ready to leap at her brother. Firekit tensed his shoulders, preparing for her attack.
Then, Shortkit came up to Hazelkit's side, and rested his tail in her back. "Stop!" he squeaked. "Remember what Goldsong said? She'll have our tails if we get rough again."
Hazelkit flicked her tail, glanced at Shortkit through narrowed eyes, then sat up, and licked her paw a few times.
"Well, what are we supposed to do then?" Shrewkit complained, cuffing the ground, and sending a cloud of dust into the air. "If we can't play, how are we supposed to entertain ourselves?"
Firekit shrugged, and began going through a list of games through his head, but every one of them had to do with play fighting. Mouse dung!
"I know!" Hazelkit suddenly meowed. "Let's go ask Rainypelt for a story!"
Shortkit and Shrewkit jumped up, and down. "Yeah! I wanna hear about Tigerstar!" Shrewkit exclaimed. "Those stories are the best!"
Firekit shrugged. "Okay," he meowed. He wasn't one who enjoyed stories as much as his littermates did, but there was nothing else to do.
Just as the kits headed for the elders' den, the bracken tunnel rustled, and the hunting patrol came through. The head of the patrol, Birchpool, carried nothing in his jaws, but behind him, Gingerstorm carried a crow. Firekit's ears flicked up when his father, Snakeleap, slipped through the bracken with two mice in his jaws. And finally, behind him, came Mudnose, who also carried nothing. The four cats dropped their prey at the fresh-kill pile, where the RiverClan deputy, Pebbleleap, was waiting. She narrowed her eyes at the pitiful collection of fresh-kill.
"It is a bit cold today," Birchpool reported. "Most of the prey are probably hiding in their little holes."
Pebbleleap nodded. "I'll lead a patrol before sunset," the gray she-cat meowed. "For now, you four get some rest." She grabbed a vole from the pile, and made her way to the warriors' den to eat.
While the others went to crouch in the shade of a willow tree, Snakeleap sat down beside the fresh-kill pile, and began grooming his white fur. Firekit, Shortkit, Hazelkit, and Shrewkit raced over to their father, and leaped on him, almost bowling him over. "Snakeleap!" they exclaimed happily.
Snakeleap let out a mrrow of laughter, and batted Hazelkit away from his ginger striped tail before she could pounce on it. "Hey, hasn't Goldsong told you not to be rough today?" he meowed, his voice light, and friendly.
"We're kits for StarClan's sake!" Firekit replied. "What would you expect?"
"Well, you are going to be apprentices today," Snakeleap mewed, pushing Shortkit away from his haunches. The brown-and-white kit had been batting at his father with soft paws.
"Can you be my mentor?" Hazelkit meowed, looking up at Snaketail with pleading yellow eyes. "Please?"
"No, I want you to be my mentor!" Shrewkit exclaimed, bouncing up, and down.
"Nuh-uh! I called it first, way before any of you did!" Firekit told his littermates.
"Did not!" Hazelkit cuffed her brother over the ear.
"Kits, kits," Snakeleap meowed calmly, brushing his kits' backs with his striped tail. "I'm sorry, but I can't be your mentor."
"Why not?" the four kits whined in unison.
Snakeleap blinked his green eyes slowly. "Because I'm your father," he responded. "You wouldn't want me to hurt you when training, and then making a fuss over you, would you?"
"But you're the best fighter in the Clan!" Hazelkit squeaked.
Snaketail blinked again, and shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not," he meowed. "Who knows, maybe you'll fight better than me when you're warriors."
"We'll be the best warriors ever!" Firekit exclaimed while Shortkit and Shrewkit yowled in agreement.
At that moment, the bracken tunnel rustled again, and Whitesun and Diamondpaw appeared. Both cats had ruffled fur, and Diamondpaw was panting, but her eyes were bright like stars. She was holding a paw off the ground as she headed for the medicine cat's den, and Firekit guessed that she had a thorn in her paw. Pebbleleap saw the golden she-cat return with her apprentice, and trotted across the clearing, disappearing inside a large cluster of bracken, which was the leader's den. Firekit's heart skipped a beat. It's time!
A few other cats noticed Pebbleleap's disappearance because they were gathering in the center of the clearing. A few moments later, RiverClan's leader, Spiderstar, appeared. The black tom strode into the clearing with Pebbleleap just behind him. He sat down, and yowled, "Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here for a Clan meeting."
Instantly, cats began to poor from their dens. Goldsong appeared from the nursery with Petaltail, Spiderstar's mate, just behind her. The leader's kit, Specklekit, scampered ahead of her mother, and joined Firekit, and his littermates beside the fresh-kill pile. "Is this your ceremony?" the dark brown tabby meowed.
Firekit nodded, and puffed his chest out proudly, ignoring Goldsong's tongue rasping across his ears as she settled beside Snakeleap. Petaltail joined them, wrapping her tail around Specklekit, and gazing proudly at her mate. The medicine cat, Mistynose, appeared from her den with her apprentice, Molepaw, behind her. The dark brown tom was helping Diamondpaw across the clearing, who no longer held her paw off the ground, but she still winced whenever she walked. Duskmark and Darkwhisker appeared from the warriors' den with the Calico she-cat, Embertail, behind them. Embertail sat down beside her sister, Leafember, and murmured something in her ear before glancing shyly at Duskmark. Gingerstorm, Birchpool, and Mudnose stayed under the shade of the willow tree, and were joined by Sunbird and Pinefrost. The elders appeared from their den. Fernpool was in the lead while Rainypelt guided the half-blind elder, Leafthicket to a nice, comfy patch of grass in the clearing.
Once the Clan had gathered, Spiderstar raised his voice. "Today, the dream of four young kits will come true." He turned his head, his amber eyes fixing on Firekit, and his littermates. Spiderstar beckoned them with his tail. "Firekit, Hazelkit, Shrewkit, and Shortkit, come forth."
Firekit took a deep breath. This is it! He thought excitedly. Though confidence pumped through his veins, his legs shook as he approached his leader. He, and his littermates lined up in front of Spiderstar, their pelts thoroughly groomed, and their eyes bright with excitement.
Spiderstar gazed at them proudly. "Firekit, Shortkit, Shrewkit, Hazelkit, you have reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to be apprenticed. From this day until you receive your warrior names, you will be known as Shortpaw, Shrewpaw, Hazelpaw, and Firepaw."
Firekit... No, Firepaw! Firepaw puffed out his chest as Spiderstar said his new name in front of the Clan. The black tom gazed past the new apprentices, and scanned the clearing. Firepaw began to tremble, wondering who his mentor would be.
"Sandpelt," Spiderstar summonded the pale ginger she-cat, "you had received excellent training from Snakeleap, and you have shown yourself to be intelligent, and swift in battle. You will be the mentor of Hazelpaw, and I expect you to pass on all you know to her."
Firepaw couldn't resist but turning his head around to see his sister's mentor walk forward. Her amber eyes shown like fire as she gazed down at Hazelpaw. Hazelpaw returned the look from yellow eyes like sunshine before touching noses with her new mentor. The cats of RiverClan raised their voices to greet the new apprentice. "Hazelpaw! Hazelpaw!"
Firepaw joined in, calling out his sister's name as loud as he could before she joined Sandpelt in the group of warriors. The golden tabby apprentice, Yellowpaw, walked up to her, and welcomed her as an apprentice.
Firepaw turned his attention back to Spiderstar as he spoke again. "Leafember, you received astounding training from Runningmoon, and you have proved yourself strong, and quick in the face of danger. You will be the mentor of Shrewpaw, and I hope you pass down what you've learned to him."
The Calico she-cat rose to her paws, and let out a tiny, shy mew of welcome as Shrewpaw turned to greet her. The two cats touched noses, and the Clan rose their voices once more. "Shrewpaw! Shrewpaw!"
"Duskmark," Spiderstar continued, "you received great training from Darkwhisker, and have showed your fantastic skills in both battle, and hunting. You will be the mentor of Shortpaw, and I hope you pass down what you've learn to him."
Firepaw turned around again to see Duskmark make his way toward Shortpaw. Although he was a nice cat, and a great warrior, Firepaw couldn't help but think he looked intimidating with his dark blue eyes. Shortpaw seemed nervous too, but touched noses with the warrior, and the Clan cheered his name. "Shortpaw! Shortpaw!"
"Shortpaw! Shortpaw!" Firepaw yowled, and smiled as Shortpaw glanced shyly at him before joining Duskmark in the group of warriors.
Firepaw gulped as Spiderstar scanned the clearing again. Now, it was time for Firepaw's mentor to be chosen. Who could it be? Firepaw wondered. Sunbird is fast, and a great hunter, but I wanna learn how to battle. Perhaps Birchpool... No, he's too young to be a mentor. What about Blazefang? He's a good warrior, perhaps one of the strongest, and he hasn't had an apprentice yet. Firepaw found himself hoping for Blazefang to be his mentor.
Firepaw's hopes were dashed, and his heart sank as Spiderstar called out, "Darkwhisker." Firepaw contained a small groan. Darkwhisker was nearly old enough to be an elder. He was almost as old as Rainypelt. Why was Spiderstar giving Firepaw a crotchety old cat as a mentor? "You received phenomenal training from Sootthorn, StarClan rest his soul, and have shown your great battle skills as well as your stalking skills. You will be the mentor of Firepaw, and I expect you to pass down your knowledge to him."
Firepaw turned around, and twitched his tail nervously as Darkwhisker rose to his paws, and made his way to Firepaw. His facial expression showed very little besides age, but Firepaw thought he could see friendliness in the black tom's eyes. Firepaw touched his nose to Darkwhisker's, and had to resist coughing from the warrior's stinking fish-breath.
Pride, and excitement rose into Firepaw's heart as RiverClan shouted his name into the air. "Firepaw! Firepaw! Firepaw!" Firepaw could see his littermates jumping up, and down with excitement as their brother was officially made an apprentice. Firepaw glanced at his parents, and saw pride, and sadness in Goldsong's eyes. Firepaw was going to miss the nursery, maybe even more now that he had Darkwhisker as a mentor.
As Firepaw and Darkwhisker joined the new apprentices, and their mentors, the Clan rose their voices once more. "Shortpaw! Hazelpaw! Firepaw! Shrewpaw!" Then, the Clan began to break apart into different groups. Some slunk back into their nests to get sleep, and for the first time, Firepaw realized that the sun was going down. I'll barely have any time to train! he thought, a bit upset that his ceremony had to happen at sundown.
Firepaw, Shortpaw, Shrewpaw, and Hazelpaw all glanced at one another, and their mentors. Finally, Hazelpaw broke the silence. "So, what now?" she asked.
Firepaw looked at Darkwhisker, feeling a little lost. Darkwhisker was staring off into the forest as if lost in thought. "Come on," Leafember meowed, beckoning Shrewpaw. "I'll show you the lake, and the island. Duskmark, would you, and Shortpaw like to come as well?"
Duskmark nodded. "Of course. Come on, Shortpaw. You might as well explore the territory while you can." The dark gray tom followed Leafember and Shrewpaw to the bracken tunnel. Shortpaw gave a small excited bounce, and pelted after the other cats.
Hazelpaw took a step toward the bracken tunnel. "Can we go with them?" she asked, glancing shyly at Sandpelt."
Sandpelt shook her head. "No. We don't want to scare away all the prey before the hunting patrol goes out. I'll show you the horseplace instead."
"Really?" Hazelpaw's voice was breathless, but her yellow eyes were scared. "But, won't the horses crush us?" she mewed in a tiny voice.
Sandpelt shook her head. "Not unless you go under the fence, which would just be mousebrained!" she meowed, and Hazelpaw mrrowed. Sandpelt flicked her tail. "Let's go. Maybe I'll teach you some hunting while we're out."
Firepaw watched as his sister, and her mentor padded into the bracken tunnel, and disappeared into the forest. Suddenly, a realization slammed down on him. I'm an apprentice. He suddenly felt lonely, knowing that he wouldn't always be able to train side by side with his littermates, and found himself longing to be back in the nursery. I never thought being an apprentice would feel like this.
He turned to Darkwhisker, who hadn't said anything since the ceremony. He had a thoughtful look on his face, and a touch of sadness in his eyes. Firepaw guessed he was thinking about his mentor, Sootthorn. Firepaw hadn't been born when Sootthorn died, but he heard stories about the brave RiverClan warrior. According to the elders, Sootthorn sacraficed himself to save Darkwhisker when a badger invaded the camp.
Firepaw felt a bit awkward standing in silence beside the black tom, so he flicked his ears in the direction of the horseplace. "Are we going to go with them?" he asked.
Darkwhisker shook his head, and finally turned his gaze to his apprentice. "No. We're going on border patrol." The black tom's voice was slightly raspy, showing his age, and his blue eyes were strict, but filled with knowledge.
Firepaw felt his paws tingle with excitement. My first patrol, and I've just been made an apprentice! "Who are we going with?" he asked.
Darkwhisker flicked his tail in the direction of the fresh-kill pile, and stalked toward it. Firepaw followed, and saw Runningmoon, Sunbird, Pepperears, and his apprentice, Lavenderpaw. Relief flooded through Firepaw. Thank StarClan I'm not the only apprentice here!
Runningmoon turned his head to Darkwhisker as the black cat approached. "Are you ready to go?" the tall white tom asked.
Runningmoon glanced at Firepaw, his yellow eyes welcoming. "Welcome to apprenticeship, Firepaw," he meowed.
Unsure of what to say, Firepaw just flicked his ears in embarrassment.
Runningmoon nodded, and then headed to the bracken tunnel, the rest of his patrol filing into the forest behind him. Firepaw looked up at the towering willow trees, and oak trees above his head. He hadn't been out into the forest since he was about four moons old, when he, and his littermates got in trouble for leaving the camp without a warrior, or Goldsong. They had been trying to find catmint for Hareleap and Gingerstorm, who had whitecough, but they ended up getting caught in a snowstorm. Now, the forest looked different. Green buds, and small leaves grew on the trees. Flowers pushed up from the ground, drinking in the warmth of newleaf for the first time in moons. The forest was bursting with life, and it filled Firepaw with energy. He pricked his ears up at every sound in the forest, and tried to distinguish different smells. He thought he scented fox, but wasn't sure if it was stale or not. After a while, he realized that the patrol was heading for the ShadowClan border. His pelt prickled at the thought of encountering the dark-hearted warriors, but he quickly pushed the feeling away. An old leaf fell from an oak tree, and fluttered above his head. Firepaw leaped up, and caught in his paws, slamming hard onto the ground.
Darkwhisker suddenly lashed out a paw, and cuffed Firepaw over the ear. Firepaw could feel the tip of a claw brush his fur. "Quit tromping through the forest like a horse!" Darkwhisker hissed. "You'll scare all the prey from here to the WindClan border!"
Firepaw felt embarrassment flood through him, and he continued walking, trying to make his pawsteps quieter. He saw Lavenderpaw glance at him, and tried to hide his embarrassment by pretending he was smelling the air for signs of enemies, or prey. Great way to start off your first day as an apprentice, Firepaw! he scolded himself.
Soon, the pine trees of ShadowClan came into sight. Silhouetted against the dying sunlight, they looked like a badger's claws tearing apart the sky. Firepaw shivered, and wondered how cats could live in that dark forest. The patrol stopped, and Firepaw realized that they must be at the border.
Runningmoon peered across the border, and took a deep breath. "There's a ShadowClan patrol nearby," he meowed. "Let's try not to provoke them." He walked along the border, heading away from the lake with Sunbird beside him. Pepperears and Lavenderpaw went the other direction. Darkwhisker and Firepaw followed.
Darkwhisker halted to mark a stone that was a border marker. "Remember this stone, Firepaw," he rasped. "Don't go past this stone, or you'll be in big trouble with ShadowClan."
Firepaw nodded in understandment. He sniffed the air, and a strong wave of ShadowClan scent hit his nostrils. It was coming from a clump of ferns right on the border. He marked it, and followed Darkwhisker.
Pepperears had stopped to test Lavenderpaw. "Can you distinguish who's in the ShadowClan patrol?" he asked.
Lavenderpaw parted her jaws to taste the air carefully. "I think I can smell... Tigerwhisker... His apprentice. I can't remember his name."
"Redpaw," Pepperears reminded her.
"Right, Redpaw." The black she-cat nodded, and tasted the air again. "Addertail... Brokenleaf... and... I think Gorsesinger."
"Copy Lavenderpaw," Darkwhisker murmured into Firepaw's ear. "It's important to know the scent of your enemies."
Firepaw nodded, and took a deep breath. What felt like a thousand smells crashed over him. Mice, voles, squirrels, badgers, fish... He pushed the smell of prey away, and ignored the smell of coltsfoot, and marigold, and focused on the ShadowClan smell. At first, all he could smell was the musty scent of ShadowClan. Then, he could pick out individual cats. Two cats, he realized, smelled almost the same, except one was younger than the other. Father, and son perhaps? Firepaw could also smell an older cat, his scent mixing with the younger cat. Probably his mentor, Firepaw thought. His concentration was broken when Darkwhisker flicked his shoulder with his tail. Pepperears and Lavenderpaw were heading back to the spot where the patrol had split up. Firepaw followed, and soon saw Runningmoon's white fur through the undergrowth.
"Anything?" the white tom mewed.
Pepperears shook his head. "Still no trespassing. I think ShadowClan learned their lesson in the last battle," the gray tom replied.
"You can never be too sure with ShadowClan," Runningmoon huffed.
Suddenly, just as the patrol was ready to head back to camp, the undergrowth behind them rustled. Firepaw turned around, and his eyes widened as a muscular dark brown tabby tom emerged from the undergrowth with two Calico cats, a ginger tom, and a pale brown tom with a white chest.
The dark brown tom narrowed his amber eyes as he stared that the RiverClan patrol, but the pale brown tom dipped his head. "Greetings, Runningmoon," he meowed, his voice smooth.
Runningmoon dipped his head lower, showing the utmost respect. Firepaw realized that the pale brown tom must be the ShadowClan deputy. "Greetings, Gorsesinger," he replied. His tone wasn't friendly, but it wasn't unwelcoming either. "How's the prey running?"
"We're fine. What about RiverClan?" Gorsesinger asked.
"We're fine, thanks," Runningmoon replied.
Gorsesinger scanned the patrol, his eyes filled with recognition until he saw Firepaw. Firepaw's heart skipped a beat, and he took a small step closer to Darkwhisker. He glanced at the dark brown tabby, and tried to fight off the fear that began to take over.
Gorsesinger's green eyes were friendly as he said, "I see you have a new apprentice."
Darkwhisker nodded. "His name's Firepaw. And I'm his mentor," he added. His voice was defensive.
Firepaw blinked shyly, and noticed that Gorsesinger's eyes flashed. He knew Darkwhisker well, Firepaw guessed, because that was fear in his eyes. Firepaw glanced at the other cats, and saw the small Calico tom beside the dark brown tabby's shoulder. This must be Redpaw, Firepaw guessed, so that means the dark tabby is Tigerwhisker.
Firepaw took a step forward, hoping to get to know Redpaw. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, Firepaw thought, remembering his father's favorite saying. "Hi," Firepaw meowed as friendly as he could.
But Redpaw ignored him. His white, orange, and black fur was bristling along his spine, and his claws sank into the ground. His amber eyes were fixed in glare, staring directly at Darkwhisker. Firepaw glanced from the ShadowClan apprentice to his mentor, and back. What's going on?
The bigger Calico rested his tail on Redpaw's shoulder. The apprentice took a step back, and sheathed his claws, but his eyes never left Darkwhisker.
Gorsesinger glanced up at the sky, which was now red as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. "I guess we should head back to our camps," he meowed.
Runningmoon nodded in agreement. "May StarClan light your path," the white tom meowed.
Gorsesinger nodded. "You too." With that, he flicked his tail, and the patrol disappeared into the undergrowth. Redpaw stayed a moment longer before pelting after his Clanmates. Firepaw blinked, staring in the direction that Redpaw had disappeared. What was that about? he wondered.
"Firepaw!" Runningmoon's voice brought him back from his thoughts, and he followed his Clanmates back to camp.
Twilight had settled over the camp when the border patrol returned. Shortpaw, Shrewpaw, and Hazelpaw were gathered outside the apprentices' den. Shortpaw and Hazelpaw were sharing a rabbit white Shrewpaw had a fish to himself. Firepaw grabbed a fish, and joined his littermates.
Hazelpaw was talking about the horses. "It was so cool!" she meowed. "They're huge, and they look terrifying, but at the same time, they're magnificent!"
"I think you're crazy!" Shortpaw mewed, flicking his sister's ear affectionately with his tail. "Shrewpaw and I got to see the island, and the Great Oak!" the brown-and-white tom added, turning to Firepaw. "It was amazing!"
Firepaw took a bite out of his fish. "Well, I got to meet a ShadowClan patrol. And the deputy was there," he bragged.
Shortpaw's eyes widened. "Liar! You did not meet the ShadowClan deputy!"
"Mm-hm," Firepaw mumbled as he took another bite of fish.
"If you did," Shrewpaw mewed, narrowing his blue eyes, "what does he look like, and what's his name?"
Firepaw took a moment to chew, and swallow his fish before responding. "He's a pale brown tom with a white chest, and green eyes. Oh, and his name's Gorsesinger."
Hazelpaw flicked her ears, and Shrewpaw's eyes widened. "Fine, you win," Hazelpaw mewed, taking the last bite of rabbit before Shortpaw could.
"I also met Tigerwhisker," Firepaw added.
"No way!" Shrewpaw meowed in excitement. "He's the strongest ShadowClan warrior out there! They say he beat an entire ThunderClan patrol by himself."
"As if that could happen," Hazelpaw meowed. She began to groom her ginger fur.
"It's true!" Shrewpaw said, determined to stick to what he believed.
Firepaw decided it would be best not to mention the tension between Darkwhisker and Redpaw. Instead, he finished his fish, and shared tongues with his littermates for a while. Feeling tired, Firepaw stretched, and followed his littermates into the den. Lavenderpaw was already there with Yellowpaw. Yellowpaw pointed her tail to the right of the den. "We've got your nests ready for you," she mewed, her voice friendly.
"Thank you," Shortpaw meowed, claiming the nest closest to the center.
Firepaw curled up beside him, and felt Hazelpaw press her back against his. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and let the sounds of the forest lull him to sleep in his new den, excited for what would come next in his apprenticeship.