This is one for the two sequels of The Fallen River! Because of this, it is meant to be read alongside the other sequel, which is called The River Rises. They are both part two in the River's Lineage series.
Rain slammed against Troutfin’s pelt. A part of him ached for the soothing feel of icy water trickling from his mottled pinkish coat. But he firmly pushed those cravings away - water wasn’t an element of his life anymore, and he shouldn’t let himself, or his daughter, be exposed to to much water - what if it triggered something in her? She could never know the truth about him, or her origins. Or her sister...
Troutfin winced as his thoughts settled on Puddlekit, the kitten he had lost to his sister, Silverscale. “Oh, Silverscale…” he said, sighing. “Why did you have to take her? Why? There were so many other kits in the nursery that day…”
He mourned the loss of his daughter for a moment, but then he relaxed as his gaze rested on Steelkit. The glossy silver she-kit was curled into a scrappy ball, and he could see her shivering. He pushed her closer to him to warm her, and his eyelids slowly grew heavy. They drooped down and he gained about a moment of rest before they snapped open. What was he doing? He had to take care of Steelkit!
His breath formed small puffs in the air as he tucked himself protectively around her in a semicircle, defiant blue eyes gazing out into the darkening forest. It was little after sunset, but the heavy rainclouds were blocking out the moon and stars.
He sniffed the air, hoping the heavy scent of the clans’ borders would stay strong during the rain, and he was rewarded with a thick blast of ShadowClan’s foul stench. He shrugged, ShadowClan was as good a clan as any to beg for a place to stay.
He flicked his tail patiently, he was good at waiting. His eyes scanned the immediate area around them, and, seeing no threats, settled back down. Maybe he could allow himself a teensy bit of rest?
He glanced around the whip-thin yet somehow menacing trees one last time, and slowly closed his eyes. A rough tug on his pelt a few hours later, the sun poking across the horizon, elated Troutfin - He’d been discovered.
"Steelkit, you have reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to be apprenticed. From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Steelpaw. Your mentor will be Gladesky. I hope Gladesky will pass down all she knows on to you." Snailstar announced.
She paused, looking at the senior warrior who's jaws were now parted with confusion "Gladesky, you are ready to take on an apprentice. You have received excellent training from Leafswirl, and you have shown yourself to be strong and loyal. You will be the mentor of Steelpaw, and I expect you to pass on all you know to her."
Steelpaw padded forward, brushing noses with Gladesky. Steelpaw's silvery pelt glinted in the harsh sun, an odd contrast to Gladesky's pale amber tabby fur. "Meeting dismissed," Snailstar announced. The gray-purple she-cat leapt down from the Highrock and padded back into her den.
"What will we be doing today?" Steelpaw asked eagerly, tail twitching with excitement. Gladesky flicked an ear. "We'll explore the territory first." Her curt manner intrigued Steelpaw, what was going on? However, she nodded. "Okay!"
Gladesky trotted briskly to the outskirts of camp. Once they were past the barrier, she broke into a run, causing Steelpaw to have to sprint after her to catch up. "This is the barrier," Gladesky said coolly, gesturing with her plumy tail, its long fur sweeping the ground. Wheezing and panting, Steelpaw looked around.
An acrid stench washed over them, causing Steelpaw to bristle. "Disgusting." She spat. "WindClan?" Gladesky nodded. "If you cross the border, they'll attack you." She mewed, glaring at the territory like it was a patrol of WindClan warriors. "Why?" Steelpaw inquired. "They think we'll steal their territory." Gladesky mewed. "As if," Steelpaw scoffed. "Why would we do that?"
"Paranoid mange-pelts" was all Gladesky said in response. Steelpaw nodded. "I see." Without a word, Gladesky began to run again. She sighed, running after the amber she-cat, silvery ears pressed against her long-furred head.
"Welcome to the Meeting Place." Gladesky announced. "What's that?" Steelpaw inquired. "It's where ShadowClan cats come to talk to each other in private. Sort of like a gathering but only for ShadowClan."
Steelpaw nodded. "Okay, but why-" But Gladesky was running again. Steelpaw rolled her eyes, chasing after her. What was up with Gladesky?
She sighed, rewarded with a painful jerk in her lung - she wasn’t used to this much running. One thing, though, was abundantly clear to her: Gladesky was not one of those relaxed mentors that gave kind constructive feedback and let them practically train themselves; no, it seemed Steelpaw would be going to sleep sore and exhausted tonight.
Even though the first few days of her apprenticeship had been difficult, Steelpaw of ShadowClan had no regrets. She was very fit, her sleek coat that was so different from those of her clan shimmered now, muscles her strong under her coat.
“Are you ready, Steelpaw? It’s your first patrol, after all. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake while hunting, would you?” Bluepaw’s nasal voice carried from across the apprentice’s den, and everyone turned to watch Steelpaw’s response.
Steelpaw, who had been grooming her sleek silver fur, scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Make a mistake? You mean like how you cowered under a rosebush while the rest of us had to fight off a fox?” Bluepaw hissed menacingly, flattening her ears. “Sh- Shut up!” Steelpaw smirked.
“Steelpaw, come on!” Gladesky called from the entrance of the camp. It wasn’t the ShadowClan camp Steelpaw had been born in, but the ThunderClan camp, one the ShadowClan felines had overcome after RiverClan had defeated ThunderClan.
“Yes, Gladesky!” Steelpaw meowed in return, scrambling to her paws. Her short silver fur was groomed, and each individual strand shone like a miniature sun was captured in them. Bluepaw was watching her, her brown eyes glimmering with hate. Steelpaw snarled at her, and Bluepaw flinched, scurrying back.
Steelpaw’s eyes shone with amusement, and she flicked her tail at Bluepaw, before striding out of the apprentice’s den. Her keen gaze surveyed the camp, and she started off towards the cluster of three felines waiting for her; Gladesky, Rootfall, and his apprentice, Tallpaw.
“Glad you could join us,” Gladesky scoffed, rolling her large amber eyes. “I was worried we’d become an… inconvenience to you.” She hissed. Steelpaw flattened her ears. “I had to take care of Bluepaw, first.”
Though Gladesky was Bluepaw’s mother, and their stubborn, aggravating personalities were nearly identical, Gladesky seemed content to let her daughter fight her own battles, and it seemed being a mentor outweighed being a mother. Her lip curled upwards in amusement, and Steelpaw fought back a laugh.
“Let’s go, then.” Rootfall mewed, angling his long, tufted ears towards the clan entrance. Tallpaw nodded, and the hunting patrol set off without further comment. The scents of the forest had overwhelmed Steelpaw the first day of her apprenticeship, but Gladesky had taught her patience, and how to sort out the different scents of the ThunderClan woods.
“What do you smell?” Gladesky murmured quietly, as Steelpaw sniffed the air. “Mouse. And… something new. I’ve never smelled it before.” Steelpaw replied, puzzled. Gladesky squinted, testing the air. Her eyes widened with alarm. “Weasels.” She snarled, raking the grassy floor with her claws.
Rootfall and Tallpaw had wandered off, but when they heard Gladesky’s foul curse, they bounded over, pelts bristling. “Did you smell it?” Tallpaw asked Steelpaw eagerly, bouncing on his paws. “It’s so weird, I’ve never smelled it before, but Rootfall said to stick close and not to anything, so I listened to him, because he’s my mentor, and shouldn’t you listen to your mentor? I asked Rootfall what it was, but he didn’t answer, what do you think it is?” This stream of incessant babble fell from Tallpaw’s mouth, and she just stared at him. How could one cat make so much noise.
“Yes, I smelled it, yes, you should listen to your mentor, and Gladesky said it was weasel,” Steelpaw said after a moment of sifting through his long string of chatter. The mentors were conversing rapidly, in low tones, probably not to be overheard by the apprentices. “Weasel?” Tallpaw gasped, eyes wide. After a moment, he asked, “What’s a weasel?” “Sort of like a scrawny ferret with a ferocious bite,” Steelpaw explained. “Gladesky taught me all about them.”
“Should we tell anyone?” Tallpaw asked, peering through the trees. The camp was out of sight, but it wasn’t far, and Steelpaw suspected that after three days of vigorous running with Gladesky, she could make it to the camp. “No.” Steelpaw shook her head. “The mentors will know what to do, and if they don’t tell anybody, why should we? We’ll just cause trouble for them.”
“You two!” Gladesky barked at the idle apprentices. Steelpaw snapped to attention. “Go hunt, but stay where you can see the camp boundary at all times. If you see a weasel, get back to camp. Clear?” Gladesky asked, narrowing her eyes angrily. “C- Clear!” Tallpaw warbled. Gladesky batted him over the ears before turning back to Rootfall, who was watching the exchange somberly.
Steelpaw turned around and padded away a few feet, stopping only when she realized that Tallpaw wasn’t following her. She halted with a hiss of irritation and glared at Tallpaw. He yelped at her murderous glare and scrambled over to her. “What was that look for?” He asked her, looking hurt. Steelpaw curled her lip in disgust. “Didn’t you hear? We’re supposed to be hunting right now!” She growled at him, cuffing him around the ears like Gladesky did. Since she was considerably smaller than Tallpaw- The aloof tom wasn’t named for nothing, after all-, she had to tilt her foreleg at a difficult angle, but managed to extract a wince out of Tallpaw.
Without a word, just a small huff of indignation that she was being forced to hunt with such an idiot, she stormed off the way she’d come, following the still-fresh scents of Gladesky and herself as she neared the camp area. “Don’t talk to me. I need to concentrate. See you when I get back.” Steelpaw meowed curtly, before stalking into the thick undergrowth. She felt Tallpaw’s gaze on her, but she slid under a long hedge, and Steelpaw was finally free.
Emotions bubbled inside her as she thought with contempt about Tallpaw. The other she-cats in the camp gossiped about him, and when he looked their way, they giggled like demented hogs. She supposed he was cute, in a way, though he wasn’t her type. He was a bit too… silly, carefree, and he loved to talk, which was about the opposite of everything Steelpaw was and stood for. She was glad she had Gladesky as her mentor, and not Rootfall, as Gladesky was more high-strung, while Rootfall was a bid more laid-back.
“Hunting… hunting…” She muttered under her breath. She tasted the air fervently, glad to have a moment to herself to just hunt and de-stress. There was that smell of weasel again, but it was stale, days old, she assumed. She was now behind the camp boundary, no one ever came here. She also caught a fresh whiff of mouse coming from under a tall poplar tree. Not having any better ideas, she crept closer, lowering her haunches into a crouch.
From here, she could hear the mouse scrabbling, though it seemed weak, potentially injured. Not sure if she should kill the mouse, she hesitated for a moment. The mouse’s heartbeat seemed staggered- definitely hurt. What if she brought it back to the camp and someone got sick? It would be all her fault. But then again, what if the mouse wasn’t hurt, and she let it go, and then she didn’t catch anything else? Gladesky would be so disappointed.
She lashed her tail and winced as the whooshing sound echoed through the trees. The mouse froze. Seizing her chance, she unsheathed her claws, plunging her right paw into the small indentation under the roots of the poplar where the rodent was hiding. She plucked it up with her claw, hooking it on the mouse’s matted fur, and dragged it out. The mouse looked fine, though on closer inspection she saw a large gash from the thing’s throat to the chest, and frowned. She flung it off her paw, and the mouse hit the ground with a thud. When it didn’t stir, her frown deepened. She made a bargain with herself as her paws worked furiously on the thick, damp dirt: if she didn’t catch anything else, she’d take it back to the camp. But if she did, she’d leave it here. She dropped the dead mouse into the hole and covered it up with some unearthed dirt, staring daggers at the small mound.
Steelpaw swung her head around, opening her jaws wide. She wrinkled her nose as weasel overlapped all other scents, but, straining her ears, managed to hear a faint beat, and a small tapping sound. She narrowed her eyes, squinting upwards into the poplar tree above her. Half covered by the dense leafage of the tree, a sparrow was pecking at the branch. Several cracked seeds fell from above, and Steelpaw guessed it was trying to eat.
She unsheathed her claws, resting one paw against the sturdy poplar. It was thick, and the bark was ragged, optimal for climbing up the tree. She braced herself, laying her other paw on the tree as well, and hauled herself up. Steelpaw wasn’t very good at climbing, of course, but she managed to tug herself up so she was on the same level as the sparrow. She narrowed her eyes and carefully stepped onto the branch, trying not to make any vibrations. The sparrow’s back was turned to her, and silently, she crept forward. At the last minute, she pounced, and the sparrow thrashed under her grip. She plunged her claws into the avian’s neck, and it went still. Pleased with her efforts, she leapt nimbly off the tree. It was barely seven feet, and she landed safely on her paws, the sparrow clutched between her teeth.
“Good catch!” Came the approving purr from above. Her head snapped up to see Tallpaw draped over one of the branches, much farther up than the sparrow had been. “Wha- How did you get up there?!” She demanded with a hiss. He grinned down at her, and her heart fluttered. She flattened her ears. What was that about? “I caught a few things, and I got bored. I saw you bury the mouse. Smart, the cut looked infected.” She gasped. “You-” Steelpaw couldn’t think of a word bad enough to describe him, and he chuckled again.
“But seriously, that was a nice catch.” Tallpaw purred at her. Gracefully, as if he had done it his whole life, he slid down from the tree, landing neatly on the ground, four paws squarely placed. Steelpaw glowered at him. “Show-off.” Tallpaw smirked at her. “What can I say? I love to climb.”
“Of course you do,” Steelpaw muttered under her breath. Tallpaw cocked his head. “What was that?” He asked innocently. Steelpaw rolled her eyes. “Nothing. Shut up.”
Tallpaw grinned. “So, where’re your catches?” Steelpaw asked, changing the subject. “Back at camp. I told you, I had some time.” Steelpaw narrowed her eyes, but withheld her commentary. “Fine, then. I caught something, so I’m heading back too.” She decided, eyeing Tallpaw suspiciously. His eyes still had that playful innocence that made her slightly chagrined. She frowned at him. “Okay, then- let’s go.”
They padded back to the camp in silence, on Steelpaw’s, a humiliated anger that made her wonder why Tallpaw had caught so much in such little time. Finally, the entrance to camp came into view. Steelpaw felt unease rise in her as she pondered how this might look, two apprentices coming into the camp together, without the mentors they had set out with.
She felt a glare on her flank, and turned to see Bluepaw staring at her, unmistakable hatred in her eyes. Steelpaw scowled at her, and Bluepaw flinched. She made her way to the foodpile, dropping the sparrow down with a thunk. She noticed three new additions to the prey pile and scowled again. Tallpaw smiled at her smugly and gracefully padded off towards his nest in the apprentices’ den. Steelpaw waited for the tell-tale giggle that meant Bluepaw was engrossing him in a dull conversation, before padding towards the nursery and sitting down in the brilliant sun, the light warming her pelt. She felt warmth spread through each part of her body, and she gradually drifted off to sleep. Her first hunt had gone well, and she was exhausted.
“All cats old enough to fight their own battles and supply for their clan, gather around the Highrock for a clan meeting!” Oakstar’s summons rang out across the camp, waking Steelpaw from her peaceful slumber.
She rose, glancing around her, a foggy stupor clouding her mind. She remembered hunting with Tallpaw, and then feeling sunshine warm her pelt… She cursed inwardly- had she fallen asleep? Looking around, though, she saw several cats who had the same tired expressions on their faces, and she was relieved to realize she wasn’t the only one.
Steelpaw arched her back, padding towards the Highrock. She sat down close to the front, where she could get a full view of the clan leader. She was surprised, and slightly pleased (though she shoved those feelings away, that Tallpaw’s eyes lit up when he saw her, and he came to sit down next to her).
“Hi,” She greeted, stifling a yawn. Tallpaw looked pleased. “Hi. What made you so un-grumpy?” He teased, nudging her. “I was just tired.” She explained, looking away. He laughed, but didn’t say anything more.
“We must select cats for the gathering! In order to look strong, we must send our fiercest warriors. RiverClan or WindClan may turn on us and drive us out! We must inspire fear in the hearts of our enemies!” Oakstar boomed. Maybe not in the hearts of her enemies, but the regal, majestic tom certainly frightened her, Steelpaw thought shrewedly.
“The felines going will be me, Finchclaw, Tempestswirl, Gladesky, Steelpaw”- Steelpaw let out a small squeal of happiness, and Tallpaw laughed quietly -”Rootfall…” Oakstar proceeded to name all the felines going to the gathering. For the forty-or-so cats in ShadowClan, seventeen in all were chosen to go to the gathering. When Tallpaw heard his name be called, he let out a low purr, and Steelpaw wanted to nudge him gently, but she refrained.
“Awesome, huh?” Tallpaw said, turning to her once Oakstar had dismissed the meeting. “Yeah!” Steelpaw agreed, nodding eagerly. “Hold on a minute, I need to talk to my dad.” The silver-furred she-cat turned away and began to eye the felines streaming back into the warrior’s den. Tallpaw nudged her helpfully. “There.” He angled his ears towards the medicine den, where Troutfin was talking with Tempestswirl. “Thanks,” Steelpaw called to the older feline, breaking into a trot as she headed towards her father.
“I’m so proud of you!” Troutfin purred, nuzzling his daughter. Steelpaw purred. “Thank you.” “Now, remember to stick with the apprentices in your clan, and look tough!” He grinned, as if to say ‘do what you want, I don’t care.’ Steelpaw mocked Oakstar’s tone and expression. “Yes. I will inspire fear in the hearts of our enemies. RiverClan will quake when they hear the name Steelpaw!” She grimaced, and Troutfin laughed.
“Your friend is waiting for you,” Troutfin said. Steelpaw frowned, puzzled. “Who-” “Him.” Troutfin angled his ears towards Tallpaw, who was watching her with a small grin. She felt herself blush. “Oh, yeah, okay. See you around, Troutfin!” She meowed, padding over to Tallpaw.
“Smooth,” Tallpaw noted, grinning. “Oh, shut up.” She growled playfully, also smiling. He smirked. “Come on. I noticed you fell asleep in the camp. How about you try your nest this time?” “Ha-ha,” Steelpaw said drily, but she followed him into the apprentice’s den.