Cats Outside the Clans
Moonlight lit the clearing, staining the rocks and eerie, ghastly white. The trees' leaves were pale mint, and their bark was tan like dust.
A group of cats, six at most, rushed through the forest to the clearing. Caterwauls and screeches echoed throughout the trees. Barking followed closely. They were being chased by dogs, and the mutts were gaining. If they could only get to the clearing, they could climb beneath the rock...
Whimpers were heard, and abruptly cut off as a dog picked off the cat in the back and threw her to the side. The cat in the lead looked back.
"Sapphireeyes," he whispered. They finally made it to the rocks and dove underneath them. Much as the dogs tried, they couldn't fit through the gap. They tried and tried, but eventually gave up and went away.
The cats breathed a sigh of relief. They were safe, for now at least. But as soon as they cautiously exited the havens, the dogs turned around and rushed back. The cats were forced back under.
Suddenly, fur brushed against the leader's pelt. It wasn't one of his cats. He'd gone under a separate rock than the others. He looked around.
A blue-gray she-cat with midnight blue eyes stood in the cave, half transparent. "Hello, Darkstar," she said softly.
He gasped. It was Sapphireeyes! "My mate," he whispered.
"Yes," she answered. "My only regret in death is that we never had kits. But I will always visit you. Do not worry, my mate and leader..." Her voice trailed off, and her touch and scent disappeared.
Darkstar woke with a jolt. He peered through the brambles that guarded his den. Sunlight was filtering in throught the gaps between the thorns.
He breathed heavily. He was remembering a time, at least fifteen moons ago, that his beloved mate had died. He'd been a young leader, a new leader, then.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but it was enough that six lives had slipped from his grasp. He never forgot that day.
Fortunately, Sapphireeyes kept her promise. He saw her nearly every night. Unfortunately, the nights she didn't come, he had visions of the day she died.
Streching, Darkstar blinked away the sleep and padded out into the camp. It was bustling with activity already. His deputy, Juniperwish, was organizing patrols. "Thrushstorm, take Larksong and Dapplepelt to check the Roguewinds' border. I don't want any more trouble," he was saying as he walked up.
Tiny mewls erupted from the nursery, and a black bundle rolled out, hitting Juniperwish's leg and breaking apart.
"Midnightkit! Blackkit!" the leader scolded. "You should be more careful!"
There were way too many kits in the Clan- Midnightkit, Blackkit, Goldkit, Fernkit, Lichenkit, and Yellowkit. They were constantly spilling from the nursery.
"Sorry," Blackkit squeaked.
His new mate, Larksong, emerged into the clearing. "Kits," she admonished, "you shouldn't bother the deputy. He has important jobs to do. Come back to the nursery, and I'll tell you a story."
"Okay," the kits whined, and followed their mother back.
Darkstar sighed. When would they grow up? The medicine cat, Stonestem, came up behind him. "Beware," she whispered in a faraway voice. "The midnight's fangs and the blackness's claws will tear a hole in this Clan."
Darkstar turned back to see her casually glancing at the sky as she walked away.
Darkkit bounded around the nursery. He and his mother, Lilypetal, were the only residents. Much as he'd like someone else to play with, he could mess around in the wide space without stepping on someone's tail.
His apprentice ceremony was coming up soon, and he was so excited! He really wanted Redslash as a mentor. If he was the deputy's apprentice, he'd earn some great respect in the Clan.
His mother was out hunting, so he said to himself, "Your warrior name is Darkclaw. You are a good hunter and you shall be my deputy." Then he purred.
Lilypetal's white fur appeared outside, so he quickly got back in the nest and groomed his fur. "Dapplestar looks ready to call a meeting," she commented. "Look your best. This is a special moment. It only happens once, so enjoy it!"
Darkkit squealed with delight.
"All the cats of MintClan, join now beneath the Stoneplace for a Clan Meeting!" Dapplestar called.
Darkkit bundled out of the nursery, followed by Lilypetal. The cats parted to let them through.
"From this moment, this kit will be known as Darkpaw," the Clan leader announced. "Emberpath," he called.
A dark gray cat from the back stepped up. "I will gladly take this cat as my apprentice," she said.
Darkpaw looked up in disgust. This cat was small and thin. This cat looked old.
And this cat wasn't the deputy.
Ungraciously, they touched noses, drawing back quickly as though the other were contaminated. I'll listen to this cat the day cats fly, Darkpaw thought.
That night, he dreamed of a training session. He easily pinned Emberpath down when suddenly she wiggled out from under him and began hovering in the air. "Cats fly today," she hissed.
He woke up.
Trembling, he stood and stretched. He wasn't used to sharing a den with two cats, but it was okay. Larkpaw and Juniperpaw were both really nice, and didn't mind him walking around.
He blinked sleepily and padded around the den to get warm. When he was halfway around, he heard, "Oomph. Get off."
He was stepping on Larkpaw's tail, so he quickly lifted his paw and continued around.
Exhausted now, since the den was a wide bush, the apprentice flopped back into his nest and fell back asleep.
Darkpaw blinked away the dawnlight flooding in. Another day, a new training session. He shuddered as he thought of Emberpath.
A gray muzzle poked into the den. "Darkpaw, I want you for a training session. Hurry up."
He rolled his eyes. But Emberpath was his mentor now; she could tell him what to do. And deputy or not, he was excited for his first sesision!
He stretched and went to the clearing. Emberpath was there. "The first thing we're going to do is learn the basic leap and roll," she said. "It's pretty easy, but don't take it for granted. It's saved many a life in my day.
"Just like its name, you're going to ready your crouch, evenly putting weight on all four paws, and then spring on me and roll me over. Like this."
The gray cat took a few steps back. She crouched, looking balanced, and lept. As she landed, she tucked down her head and began rolling to the clearing's other side. Finally she stood back up, shaking the dust from her pelt.
"Now you try it on me," she instructed. "We'll work on the crouch first. Show me the best crouch you can."
Darkpaw hesitated, thinking, and crouched. Emberpath inspected him. "Nice," she admitted. "You're pretty balanced. Now try leaping and rolling."
Once Emberpath was back in front of him, he gathered up all his strength and pushed off across the clearing. Landing squarely on her shoulders, he began to roll. It was, however, really messy, and his mentor broke away quickly.
"A good leap, but you waited too long to roll. Let's try it again, and the second you feel my fur, tuck in your head..."
The two cats trained until midday. They headed back to camp for their midday meal.
Emberpath entered the camp just ahead of her apprentice, looking proud. Going right on up to Redslash, she bragged, "You should see this cat fight! He's already mastered the leap and roll. His timing and balance are perfect!"
Redslash purred. "Every mentor says that," he chuffed. "But you look rather excited, so I think I might just believe you!"
She purred back, and headed for the fresh kill pile. Choosing a rather plump mouse, she settled down beside Nettlewhisker.