Weedclaw felt very overwhelmed.
Here he was, outside the ThunderClan nursery, listening to not one, but two she-cats, writhe in the pain of kitting. To make it worse, Jaytail's first kit, a little black she-kit, had been born dead. Weedclaw, despite all his moons of being the only medicine cat in ThunderClan, couldn't help but feel like he was doing something wrong.
He heaved a sigh and went back into the fray, only having left it for a brief breath of fresh air. He forced positivity into his voice as he went to Jaytail, saying, "You have one more kit left, I'm sure it's alive." She only looked up at him, her eyes wide with fear and pain. Her black pelt glinted in the moonlight shining through the nursery ceiling.
The other she-cat, Featherfur, was having an easier time of things. In fact, she was rather quiet all of a sudden. Weedclaw mewed nervously, "Featherfur, what's going on?"
The gray queen didn't answer. Weedclaw prodded her with a forepaw. "Featherfur, what's going on?" he asked again.
Her head fell forward at the same time that a kit rolled out of her. Weedclaw lunged for the kit, nipped the sac, and began to lick its fur back faster than he could ever think he could. He prayed to StarClan for it to live, somehow.
He felt a tiny, shuddering breath go through the kit's tiny body and Weedclaw couldn't stop his cry of relief, "Thank StarClan!"
The tiny kit's father, Eaglewing, stepped into the nursery. "How's it going?"
Weedclaw quickly picked up the frail kit and put it in front of its father. "You know what to do. Keep at it until I tell you to stop." Eaglewing looked surprised, but obeyed the order, glancing over at Featherfur, who still hadn't moved.
The medicine cat moved back toward the black queen, who seemed prepared to give her final push. "Go," Weedclaw told Jaytail.
With a groan, she pushed, and out came a much stronger-looking kit. "Thank StarClan," Weedclaw heard Jaytail whisper as he nipped the sac and began to lick the fur backward. The kit drew a breath and struggled to move closer to its mother to drink her milk.
"It's a tom," Weedclaw declared to Jaytail. "Congratulations," he added as he moved back toward the tiny kit that Eaglewing was still licking.
"Eaglewing, she's weak," Weedclaw told the tom, referring to the tiny she-kit between them.
Eaglewing looked up briefly. "What about Featherfur?" he asked, before licking his daughter again.
Weedclaw carefully moved past Jaytail and the tom-kit toward Featherfur. With one look, he knew, but he checked anyway. "Dead."
Eaglewing yowled with grief as Weedclaw picked up the tiny she-kit and placed her in front of Jaytail. "Can you give her milk?" the medicine cat asked the queen.
She nodded and the she-kit squirmed next to the tom-kit. Jaytail looked worried. "She's not very strong. She's barely getting any milk, compared to my son."
Weedclaw felt crushed. "Oh, no."
Eaglewing pushed past Weedclaw to get to his dead mate. He buried his head in her fur.
Weedclaw leaned toward Jaytail. "Help me keep their she-kit living. Please."
Jaytail nodded at the medicine cat and went back to cooing at her son and making sure that Eaglewing's daughter was getting enough to drink.
Weedclaw sighed to himself and left to tell Gorsestar the so-called good news.
Webkit stared longingly after the older cats' tails, swishing as they disappeared through the gorse tunnel separating the camp from the outside world. She couldn't even imagine what was out there, but judging from her time spent watching returning warriors and apprentices, it could be very amazing at times.
She still had no idea what a fox was, or how to fathom another Clan. There were more cats out there, and they weren't ThunderClan? And then there were cats who didn't want to live in a Clan? How did they survive?
All questions she would answer when she finally became an apprentice. She was just one moon away.
Glancing down at her shrew, she realized now that she had thought about the outside world, again, she wouldn't be able to finish it. She struggled to her feet and began to painfully dig a hole to bury the remains in.
"Webkit," she heard behind her, "you know you shouldn't try and do that just yet." Above her appeared the fussy Jaytail, who had nursed her as a tiny kit. The black queen added, "You know you're too weak!"
The tiny she-kit wanted to hiss at the queen, but she knew it was true. Her muscles just weren't there yet.
Suddenly a black kit appeared in front of her. "Yeah, Webkit, you're too weak," he repeated. "Jaytail, let me help Webkit, please?"
Jaytail purred. "Of course, Spiderkit," she told the black kit. "You're such a great help." She retreated back toward the nursery.
Spiderkit's kind demeanor disappeared as his mother left earshot. "You'll never be an apprentice," he hissed in her ear as he dug the hole with quick, practiced paw strokes. He scooped in the bird remains and added, "You're too weak and too stupid. All you do is sit around and stare into space. You don't even try to get stronger." He shoved her over, as if to prove his point, and then walked away without covering the shrew with dirt.
Webkit lay on the dusty stone, dismayed. She always secretly hoped that Spiderkit would be nicer to her, seeing as they were born on the same night and Jaytail had nursed them both. But he had always been mean and disdainful toward his so-called "littermate."
Webkit's father, Eaglewing, always told her to stay strong, that Spiderkit was only mean because he was jealous of her other kinds of strength. But it was was times like these that Webkit wished that she had physical strength.
Again, she struggled to her feet, with more difficulty than before because she was tired, and began the walk toward the nursery.
Thankfully, Eaglewing spotted her from across the camp and called, "Webkit!" He bounded over in a few strong strides and picked her up by the scruff of the neck, purring just like his daughter. From around her fur, he asked, "What is your destination?"
Webkit purred and answered, "The nursery!"
In answer, Eaglewing carried her toward the nursery with more enthusiasm in his step than Webkit thought was possible. She could hear her father's purring with every step. She felt safe when she was near Eaglewing, like nobody could judge her for her strength.
As the moon slowly went by it became more and more obvious that Webkit would become an apprentice when Gorsestar said she could be one, not at the typical six moons. She began to look forward to the day that Spiderkit would leave the nursery for good. She secretly hoped that Jaytail would hang around. She seemed to like being a queen.
One day Spiderkit approached Webkit and mewed, "I'm sorry."
Webkit was taken aback. Finally, after the moons of constant teasing and physical bullying, Spiderkit was apologizing? She remembered all the things he had said and done and remembered to be angry. "For what?" she growled back.
Spiderkit mewed back, "I'm sorry that you're a curse to ThunderClan and that Gorsestar doesn't like you. I'm sorry that the only reason you're still around is because Eaglewing would protect you no matter what."
She stared at the tom-kit in utter shock. Spiderkit's whiskers twitched in amusement. His smirk widened and his eyes glowed. "I hate you," he added.
Webkit burst out, "Well, I hate you too, Spiderkit!" She ran away with all her strength toward the nursery, barely managing to make it to her nest before she had to collapse.
No place in the entire world would be far enough away from Spiderkit.
Webkit woke up to a rough shove one morning. Her eyes flew open to a jet-black tom standing in front of her, his chest puffed out, his green eyes filled with what could only be described as dominance.
"Spiderkit," Webkit moaned to herself, "what do you want?"
Spiderkit replied, annoyance tinging his voice, "Gorsestar says that as soon as you wake up, we can have my apprentice ceremony. So I'm waking you up now. Get up."
Webkit suppressed an urge to hiss at the annoying tom and stifled a yawn. After this, she reminded herself, I can go back to sleep.
Halfway out the nursery, Spiderkit snapped, "Let's go, slowpoke!"
Webkit struggled to her feet, satisfactorily noting to herself that it got easier every time that she tried, and walked through the nursery opening. No way was Spiderkit going to get mad at her for being weak. She just wanted to be left alone.
Outside, the Clan was already assembled close to the Highrock, and Spiderkit was trying to get Jaytail to stop licking him. Webkit could hear his annoyed outbursts from where she was sitting, just outside the nursery. She purred to herself.
She had been so engrossed with watching Spiderkit get embarrassed by his mother that she didn't notice a small, wiry apprentice pad over to her. "Mind if I sit here?" he asked her, hesitating before he sat down.
Webkit chirped, "Of course!" The apprentice, Rowanpaw, sat. His short dark ginger coat was neatly groomed, as it always was. Webkit couldn't help but be impressed by Rowanpaw. He had been a kit when she was, but when she was one moon he was promoted to be an apprentice. He was always very calm and collected. The other apprentices, all younger than Rowanpaw, always told her that he was a quick learner, a good fighter, and a patient hunter.
And it appeared he was nice, too. She let her own personal satisfaction build inside her as Spiderkit's ceremony finished, and then all she felt was relief.
The moon went by very quickly. Webkit's strength was building as the medicine cat, Weedclaw, devised little exercises that she could do to build her muscle mass. She could stand easily, walk without tiring, and even bury her own fresh-kill, all of which were progress.
She pretended not to notice the apprentices snickering at her while she did these things. A few comments floated to her ears: "She's just pretending so she can impress Rowanpaw." Webkit also pretended not to notice how the apprentices didn't say these things when Spiderpaw was training with his mentor, Thrushtail.
In fact, she pretended not to notice up until Rowanpaw approached her one night at dusk. "Webkit?" he asked, "Can I ask you something?"
Webkit pushed herself off the ground quicker than she ever had before. "Yeah, you can!" she replied, surprised at how nervous she was.
"Are you really just trying to impress me?" Rowanpaw inquired, straight to the point. His eyes seemed to burn right into Webkit's.
Webkit felt her fur grow warm, then hot. Her sadness melted away to annoyance, to anger, as she replied, with all the politeness toward Rowanpaw she could muster, "I'm training to be a warrior, just like you and every other apprentice in that den of yours."
Rowanpaw blinked. "Right. I'll keep that mind. Thanks, Webkit." He sauntered away.
Not long after that, a few days at the most, the bullying seemed to stop. Spiderpaw still glared at her, but Rowanpaw would shoot a glare at him whenever he noticed. Spiderpaw, to Webkit's delight, seemed a bit afraid of Rowanpaw, and she hoped it stayed that way.
Smokepaw's belly fur brushed the dust covering the hard, stone ground as he crept forward. His tail was straight up, and he kept his gaze steadily focused forward. He had been an apprentice for a moon now.
He was staring at Thrushtail, his mentor. Thrushtail was staring right back at Smokepaw. Thrushtail's emerald green eyes didn't intimidate Smokepaw as much as Thrushtail probably wanted.
And then Thrushtail's gaze flicked upward, however quickly, to a place above Smokepaw's head. Not a heartbeat later, Smokepaw felt the breath go out of him as he was flattened to a ground. The smell of ThunderClan hit his nose too late, not until after he had scrambled up and clawed the intruding opponent wherever he could reach.
"Smokepaw, it's me," a voice hissed. Smokepaw recognized the voice at the same time as Rowanpaw's scent washed over him. Smokepaw sheathed his claws immediately.
"StarClan, Rowanpaw!" Smokepaw spat at the older apprentice. "Are you trying to put me in the medicine den or something?"
Rowanpaw puffed his chest out and exhaled heavily. "I could ask you the same question, newbie." He twisted back to look at his flank, which now had a bloodless scratch on it.
Smokepaw nearly exploded right there and then with annoyance. "Are you going to explain why you jumped on me, or...?"
"Smokepaw, calm down," Thrushtail mewed, stepping between the two. "I had Rowanpaw attack you to teach you the consequences of not being aware of your surroundings, especially those downwind of you."
Smokepaw glared at his mentor, then at the other apprentice, before declaring, "I'm tired of training today." He turned away to go back to camp.
"Oh no, you don't!" Thrushtail snapped, bounding forward to block his apprentice's path. "You're not done yet. You're not going back to camp unless I let you." Thrushtail's gaze was angry, threatening, and stern, so Smokepaw pressed his belly to the ground and stared at Thrushtail's paws in apology.
"Good," Thrushtail continued, all-business now. "Now, I'm going to have you and Rowanpaw do a mock fight."
Smokepaw's anger flared up again and he felt his claws unsheathe. "I'm not fighting that turd." Rowanpaw seemed to not notice the insult.
"You'll do what I say," Thrushtail snapped again, "or you'll be fighting me."
Smokepaw began to seriously consider jumping on Rowanpaw before Thrushtail could allow the fight to start, but Thrushtail seemed to hear Smokepaw's thoughts, because he said, "Both of you get ready to fight. Fight when I say so. Claws stay sheathed," he added, glaring at Smokepaw.
Smokepaw reluctantly let his claws slide back to where they belonged and resolved himself to fighting with heavy paws. Rowanpaw's eyes glinted.
"Begin!" Thrushtail's voice rang through the clearing.
Smokepaw immediately propelled himself toward the other apprentice, stretching his paws out to grab Rowanpaw. Rowanpaw, however, was ready; he ducked down and rolled over until Smokepaw was directly above him and then kicked Smokepaw's belly with his back paws. Smokepaw felt a jolt of pain surge through his body. He hit the ground hard and rolled over on his back, but Rowanpaw had strategically pinned him down and placed a claw on Smokepaw's neck.
And when Smokepaw thought it was over, Rowanpaw leaned down and murmured, "Mess with Webkit again and my claws end you. Permanently."
Smokepaw nodded slowly before being allowed to stand up again.
And he didn't insult, chide, or make fun of Webkit again, as much as he still wanted to.
Although Spiderpaw was surrounded by his friends-- apprentices all older than he was-- he couldn't help but be in a rotten mood. He had no appetite for the thrush sitting before his paws, but the other apprentices were all eating with gusto, conversing, and occasionally bragging. Even Rowanpaw was hanging around, which, for him, was rare.
Almost a moon, but not quite, had passed since Rowanpaw had threatened Spiderpaw. Spiderpaw tread carefully, but he still found joy in glaring across the camp at Webkit, who now appeared to have the approximate strength of an average six-moon-old kit. He sneered at the she-kit who had stolen all the attention since her birth, and continued to do so. Jaytail had rarely acknowledged her son since he had become an apprentice.
Suddenly one of the apprentices, Icepaw, leaned forward. "Did you hear the news?" she inquired of the other apprentices. Her blue eyes glinted with a strange sort of confidence that could only come from being Gorsestar's apprentice.
Icepaw's littermate, Snowpaw, looked up. His broad shoulders flexed as he looked at his sister, his eyes narrowed with interest. Spiderpaw leaned forward, too. Out of the corner of his eye, Spiderpaw noticed that Rowanpaw's ears were pricked at Icepaw's news.
Icepaw looked around to make sure no other cat was listening before she hissed, "Webkit is joining our den tonight."
The reaction from the other apprentices was immediate. Tangible suspense and tension filled the air as annoyance was expressed in every possible way from every denmate except Rowanpaw.
"So I have a plan," Icepaw continued, her blue eyes glinting again. "We'll mess up her nest every morning. And we won't let her talk to us. She'll be miserable and sad so she won't learn and then she can't become a warrior."
Spiderpaw found himself nodding, despite a glare from Rowanpaw. He didn't mind messing Webkit up, she had messed him up once, too.
"But everyone has to agree," Icepaw continued, "so I need everyone to promise to me that they won't be nice to Webkit, not once."
Rowanpaw snorted, got up, and walked away. The other apprentices quickly agreed. "We'll just make Rowanpaw feel bad, too, then," Snowpaw mewed, his voice hardening.
Spiderpaw couldn't help but feel excited. Webkit would finally understand how much of a burden she was to her Clan, thanks to him.
Spider watched as the tiny gray she-kit sat before Gorsestar.
"By the power of StarClan, I now declare this kit an apprentice, called Webpaw." The warriors, queens, elders, and other kits yowled in congratulations. Spiderpaw noticed that Eaglewing, Jaytail, and Rowanpaw were especially loud.
He gritted his teeth in annoyance, to which Snowpaw butted his shoulder. "Just wait," Snowpaw murmured.
Spiderpaw relaxed as Gorsestar began to speak again. "Now, much consideration has gone into Webpaw's mentor. I have settled on a very well-respected senior warrior, who has had seasons upon seasons experience in training apprentices. I think Webpaw will do extremely well under his tutelage, if he will accept the position, that is," Gorsestar purred.
The Clan waited with bated breath as the leader continued, "Ravenwing, will you accept the position of being Webpaw's mentor?"
Ravenwing, a hefty black tom with white forepaws and broad, powerful shoulders, stepped forward. His green eyes glowed with excitement. "Of course I will, Gorsestar," he announced. Webpaw rushed forward and jammed her nose to his eagerly, and Spiderpaw nearly choked on his own disgust.
"Lucky Webpaw," Icepaw muttered. Her voice was tinged with unmistakable jealousy and anger.
The Clan chanted Webpaw's name. An elated Eaglewing congratulated his daughter. Webpaw's purring was loud and difficult to stop listening to.
Spiderpaw merely imagined the lack of purring when she realized that the other apprentices were ostracizing her.
During days, Webpaw trained. Judging by Ravenwing's boasting, her training was going extremely well. Webpaw would come back from her training battered, but with a happy glint in her eye. She would pick up fresh-kill and pad over to the apprentice den, head held high.
As Webpaw approached the other apprentices, though, Spiderpaw found joy in watching the joy and excitement from a wonderful day of training fade from her eyes as she remembered that the only apprentice talking to her was Rowanpaw, who was about to become a warrior. She would go off by herself, eat her prey, and wander into the apprentice den to find, on a nightly basis, that her nest in the back was scattered everywhere.
Spiderpaw never heard a word of complaint. Occasionally Rowanpaw would come back early enough to help her fix the nest, and they would have a short conversation before Webpaw fell asleep. It was obvious to Spiderpaw that Webpaw was still weak, but was doing her best to cover it up.
During the mornings Webpaw would wake up and immediately leave the den, which made it easier for Icepaw to mess up her nest. Rowanpaw normally followed shortly after.
One morning, a quarter-moon after Webpaw had become an apprentice, Spiderpaw, Thrushtail, Ravenwing, and Webpaw went out as a group. "Today," Thrushtail explained to the apprentices, "we're going to be practicing a thing that warriors see in every fight: the initial attack."
Thrushtail launched into detail and Spiderpaw zoned out, until Ravenwing asked, "Spiderpaw? What did Thrushtail just say?"
Spiderpaw snapped to attention. "He said that we were going hunting and to catch a vole before sunhigh."
Webpaw snorted, which annoyed Spiderpaw. It annoyed him even more to hear Ravenwing reply, "No, Spiderpaw. We're going to be practicing basic defensive skills and initial attacks."
Spiderpaw choked back an annoyed reply, gritted his teeth, and nodded his head at the senior warrior.
"Since Webpaw was listening, I'm going to let her attack Spiderpaw first," Ravenwing informed the group. "Okay. Webpaw, come over here." He escorted Webpaw to one side and Spiderpaw was led by Thrushtail over to another.
"Now listen, let Webpaw practice a few times. Stay absolutely still. Don't try to avoid it, okay?"
Spiderpaw nodded and got into position. Webpaw crouched on the other side of the clearing, her blue eyes narrowed in concentration.
"Go!" Ravenwing yowled, and Webpaw ran toward Spiderpaw before taking a giant leap into the air.
She stretched out her paws, but she missed completely and managed to crash into a bramble bush.
Spiderpaw snorted, trying to conceal his enjoyment, while Webpaw wailed with pain. "Help!" she called. "It hurts!"
When the two mentors managed to extract the small gray apprentice, she was covered with tiny cuts and scratches, some of which were bleeding.
"We're going back to camp," Ravenwing decided.
The teasing from Icepaw, Snowpaw, and Spiderpaw for the "bramble bush incident" lasted for a moon, and Spiderpaw never got tired of it.