Graypaw pranced through the bramble tunnel into the ThunderClan camp, his thick tail held high and his yellow eyes gleaming with pride. Lionheart appeared next, then Bluestar who carried herself with the same collected calmness she always appeared with, but her eyes shone brightly as she walked with Lionheart toward her den.
“Ravenpaw!” Grawpaw shouted, bounding over to his scrawny friend. “You’ll never guess what happened.” He was trembling with excitement as he plopped to the ground next to the dark apprentice.
“What happened?” Ravenpaw mewed with quiet curiosity at the other tom’s behaviour. “How was your first patrol?”
“Well,” he started, puffing out his chest. “We were marking the border near Twolegplace and Lionheart asked if I noticed anything unusual. So I scented the air and caught a whiff of some cat not from the Clans.”
Ravenpaw’s fur bristled nervously, his amber eyes staring intently as he followed Graypaw’s story.
“So, I told Lionheart and Bluestar and they let me follow the scent on my own. I found this bright orange cat stalking a mouse!” The story continued, Graypaw explained that he warned the strange cat to keep off of ThunderClan’s territory and to leave their prey alone. “But he didn’t listen,” he said. “He didn’t leave, so I had no choice but to fight.”
The little black apprentice’s eyes widened: This was Graypaw’s first patrol as a new apprentice, and his first territory dispute was with a non-Clan cat. Cats outside of the Clans could be dangerous, living without the Warrior Code to keep their peace, Ravenpaw reminded himself.
“At first,” he went on, “I thought this cat was a clumsy, talentless kittypet. But when I fought him, he really proved me wrong. Put up a real good fight.” He hesitated before adding, “He almost won. But I managed to throw him onto his back, and he knew he wouldn’t last another minute unwounded, so he ran!”
Ravenpaw blinked slowly in response, and Graypaw added, “Can you believe it? I chased him right off our territory back to his Twoleg nest. Don’t think we’ll be seeing him around anytime soon.”
The amused voice came from behind them. Ravenpaw turned to see Lionheart approaching, a mouse dangling by its tail from between his teeth.
Graypaw shyly glanced down at his paws.
“It’s alright,” he purred, settling down next to the two apprentices. “You should be proud. I’m certainly impressed with your skills so far.”
Lionheart, like his apprentice, had a thick pelt and broad shoulders, however his pelt was golden-brown and he had a thick mane of fur around his neck and chest unlike any other cat Ravenpaw had met. He’d heard stories of ancient LionClan, and thought surely the resemblance is what earned his warrior name.
Ravenpaw lay next to Graypaw while he waited for his mentor’s plans for the day. The fluffy tom’s fur brushed against him with each breath as he drifted into a light sleep. He watched Spottedleaf hurry across the clearing from the gorse entrance, mouth stuffed with fresh herbs. Dustpaw reluctantly trailed behind her, having been volunteered by his mentor when the medicine cat requested help. Bluestar sat near the highrock, sharing tongues with Frostfur whose belly was swollen with kits: She spent most of her recent time either around the nursery with the other queens or in Spottedleaf’s den, as she neared the time her kits should be born.
Long ago, Frostfur had been an apprentice with Bluestar as her mentor. Their close relationship never faded when she received her warrior name, Ravenpaw thought, it might even have grown stronger over many moons.
He glanced across the clearing to where his own mentor, Tigerclaw, sat—stiff, upright, speaking in hushed voices with his grey and black companion. Ravenpaw wondered if he would ever have such a bond with the dark tabby. He was a formidable warrior with skills any cat would envy. Sometimes he even detected hints of jealousy in the voices of other apprentices for being given such a great warrior for a mentor. But in training, Tigerclaw never gave more than a single word of praise, never showed a hint of pride. He pushed Ravenpaw to do his best, but not with the same encouragement other mentors gave.
The other apprentices, even Graypaw, would say Ravenpaw was just nervous, but he knew they would find Tigerclaw just as intimidating in his position.
A frightened yelp from an elder tore Ravenpaw’s gaze away to the camp entrance as a pale ginger she-cat crashed through the gorse. “RiverClan,” he heard her pant as Redtail ran to meet her. “At Sunningrocks.”
“Thank you, Sandpaw,” Redtail said softly before yowling to summon the attention of his Clanmates. “RiverClan is attempting to claim Sunningrocks. Mousefur, Tigerclaw, you’ll come with me.”
Ravenpaw looked back to his mentor who nodded for the younger tom to follow. As they left, he caught sight of Dustpaw staring hopefully up at Redtail, his mentor. Redtail shook his head and muttered a promise to take him next time.
As he turned away, Dustpaw glanced at Ravenpaw, his lip curled.
They left the camp, putting distance behind them quickly. Ravenpaw, small even for his age, struggled to keep up. He heard Redtail’s screech as he disappeared from Ravenpaw’s vision, throwing himself into battle.
Before he could even take in the sight of his first real battle, a smoky black tom leaped toward him, pushing him onto his back easily. Ravenpaw kicked at the tom with all the strength he could gather, but he was trapped. Before he could even manage a paw swipe. Tigerclaw would be unimpressed, he knew.
To his surprise, the weight was removed in a blur as Sandpaw knocked the RiverClan warrior to the ground. The skinny apprentice took his moment to wriggle free and jump back to his feet, scurrying for the cover of the surrounding brush. He had meant to hide within the leaves and wait to attack any unsuspecting RiverClan warrior near enough, but Tigerclaw had already spotted him.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously and he growled, “You’re training to become a ThunderClan warrior. Fight like it.”
Ravenpaw yelped as Tigerclaw shoved him back into the open with his shoulder before rejoining the fight. A spotted golden she-cat hissed as he crashed into her and her current sparring opponent, a huge white ThunderClan warrior. She thrust the white tom backward with her hind feet but he easily regained his balance. The apprentice watched in awe as Whitestorm threw the RiverClan queen into her back, fear glistening in her eyes until a screech caused him to look up, and she took the opportunity to slip out from beneath his great paws and head toward the mass of battling cats.
Ravenpaw saw his chance and took it, leaping, claws unsheathed, onto the golden tabby’s back. He felt his claws sink into her fur but she was easily able to shake him off, sending him running with a sharp bite to his foreleg.
The line of ThunderClan cats was thinning—Mousefur was already gone, and Sandpaw nearly knocked Ravenpaw aside in her rush back to safety. Only three warriors remained, and Whitestorm’s thick white pelt was stained with blood, his paws red and sticky. Redtail yowled something at the larger warrior; Whitestorm nodded in response and turned back to the forest.
Ravenpaw followed, leaning heavily on one side to keep the weight off his injured leg, but paused when he reached the bracken. A crash from a short distance away startled him, and he heard a voice wail, “Oakheart is dead!”
There he remained crouched, listening to Redtail’s call of “ThunderClan, retreat!” He waited silently for his mentor and deputy to approach the safety of the trees.
It was a long moment before they appeared, and though Tigerclaw walked forward with his usual confidence, Redtail looked tired and defeated, his ginger tail drooping. “We will reclaim it,” the tortoiseshell growled with clear determination. “Sunningrocks belongs to ThunderClan.”
But Tigerclaw didn’t appear to have heard. He had stopped for a moment, allowing Redtail to get ahead a short ways without paying any notice. The huge tabby was crouched down, his feet barely skimming the ground below as he crept forward; Ravenpaw thought perhaps he’d scented a mouse nearby.
By the time he had realized the fault in his thinking, it was too late. Tigerclaw lunged forward with outstretched claws, landing on Redtail’ back.
The tortoiseshell yelped in surprise, but the noise was cut short as Tigerclaw clamped his kaw down on the deputy’s neck.
Ravenpaw stood frozen in the bracken. He had to get back to camp before Tigerclaw, he had to escape unnoticed.
The warrior reached down to grab Redtail’s scruff, his amber eyes alight with the heat of the battle still. As he hauled the body forward, his eyes fixed on the brush near where Ravenpaw stood. He knew he had to find an escape quickly. His eyes flickered briefly from Tigerclaw, silently scouting out the route to camp, then back again.
A starling fluttered out of the bushes on Tigerclaw’s opposite side, and his head turned toward the noise.
Ravenpaw pushed off the ground with all the strength he could manage, ignoring the throbbing in his shoulder as he bolted away from Tigerclaw, without a single glance over his shoulder until he reached camp.