School has prevented me from updating faster and more often. But here is the next chapter. I hope you enjoy it. And remember to review! Thanks.
Chapter 11: Service
"I, Acerbitas, loyal follower of the Star Walkers and Leader of the Fire Tails, grant the sun's beams permission to fall on this cat's head and light his path," the alpha fox said, his red fur tinted with the glow of the quickly rising moon, "let his life be long and prosperous."
Sagepaw was trembling with excitement. He wasn't sure that he wanted to be a member of the Fire Tails but if it would help these foxes trust him, he was willing to do it. He was also very curious. Would the initiation ceremony be anything like when a warrior gets their name?
"Sagepaw, do you swear by the stars in the sky that you will defend the Fire Tails with tooth and claw, no matter what elements are against you?" Acerbitas asked, his head held up proudly, silhouetted against the wide silver moon.
Sagepaw took a deep breath and glanced over at Vorago. She was sitting by Domito. Both foxes gave him encouraging looks and Vorago nodded slightly. Sagepaw looked back at Acerbitas. He was standing in front of Sagepaw, his back to his mate, Ictus, who was grumpily avoiding Sagepaw's eyes. The black squirrel he had given to her was lying on the ground at her feet, untouched.
"I do," Sagepaw said firmly, narrowing his eyes at Ictus.
An approving murmur ran through the crowd of foxes. Sagepaw tensed his shoulders. He wasn't sure he liked having his back exposed to a whole pack of potentially hungry and violent foxes. Then he licked the fur on his chest irritably. He knew they wouldn't attack him; they thought he was going to save them all. Their ancestors said so. But Sagepaw wasn't too sure. He still didn't know what he was supposed to be saving the foxes from.
"Then the Fire Tails welcome you," Acerbitas said, his words echoing across the clearing so every fox could hear, "you shall stay with Vorago and Domito in their den until you are big enough and experienced enough to live on your own. Feel free to visit the other cubs; they might be able to teach you a thing or two."
Sagepaw bowed his head to Acerbitas and the male fox touched his long muzzle to Sagepaw's shoulder. A tingle of delight raced through Sagepaw's body as Acerbitas stepped away and returned to his spot besides his mate. He belonged to the Fire Tails now! The clearing full of foxes began to chatter, breaking off into smaller groups, settling down and tearing into fresh-kill that they seemed to have brought with them. Sagepaw realized the formal part of the Gracious Circle was over. Now the foxes could eat and relax. He watched as Teres made her way over to Regnum, her blue eyes sparkling as he licked her shoulder.
It's just like sharing tongues, Sagepaw thought, watching Domito and Vorago tuck into a plump rabbit. Domito must have caught it on the way back from the Curer's Abode. Sagepaw's mouth began to water as he realized how hungry he was. He trotted over to where Vorago and Domito were sitting and meowed a greeting.
Vorago looked up, crimson rabbit blood splattered on her snout. "What's wrong, Sagepaw?" she asked.
"What can I eat?" he questioned, trying to ignore his rumbling belly.
"Sorry, cat, but you have to catch your own food and bring it to the Gracious Circle," Vorago explained shortly, "only mates are allowed to share food. You caught that squirrel, but you gave it to Ictus."
"But you told me to!"
"I know, but the Fox's Policy says that if you don't have a mate and you didn't catch your own food, then you'll have to go hungry during the Gracious Circle," Vorago informed him, a spark of sympathy glinting in her yellow eyes.
Sagepaw lashed his tail angrily. That didn't seem fair at all! Why couldn't these creatures just share their fresh-kill like cats? What if a cub couldn't catch their own food? Then what? Sagepaw stalked off, leaving his surrogate parents behind, heading towards the stream flowing through the clearing. He sat down heavily by the water's edge and glared at the glassy surface, his fur fluffed up with anger.
"Hey, it's Sagepaw, right?" a voice said, coming from besides him.
Sagepaw turned around, fighting to keep his claws sheathed. He would never get used to being snuck up on by a fox. It made him feel like the prey, instead of the predator. But the fox standing next to him didn't look threatening at all. She was smaller than most of the other foxes and her fur was still soft and feathery. Her pelt was reddish-brown and she had black paws and amber eyes. He guessed she was one of the cubs Acerbitas had mentioned. He looked at her critically. He doubted she'd be able to teach him anything. She looked like she had just stepped out of the nursery.
"Yes, I'm Sagepaw," he replied, "what's your name? Are you a cub?"
"Uh-huh," the younger fox said, her bushy tail wagging on the ground, scattering dirt and leaves in the strong gleaming moonlight, "my name is Ter."
Sagepaw's eyes widened with puzzlement. Why did she have such a strange short name? The cub must have seen his confusion because she let out a bark of laughter.
"Until I become a fully grown fox, my name remains Ter," she explained, "when I'm made into either a Fighter or a Defender, my name changes to Termes."
Sagepaw nodded, noting again how similar the foxes' rituals were to the Clan cats'. He relaxed, his frustration and wariness gone. Ter was friendly enough to approach him so Sagepaw figured he might as well return her kindness.
"Who are your parents?" he asked, his voice much warmer.
"My mother is Feritas," she answered, nodding to a female fox with hazel eyes on the other side of the clearing, "my father is dead."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Sagepaw said hastily, "I didn't mean to-"
"Don't worry about it," Ter laughed, "I barely knew him."
Sagepaw stared at her, a little unnerved at how unperturbed she was about her father's death. He knew that if one of his family members had gone to join StarClan, he'd be upset.
"So you're going to hang out with the rest of us cubs, right?" Ter continued, not noticing Sagepaw's shocked expression, "It'll be fun! We practice fighting and hunting together too."
"Does any of the adult foxes help you?" Sagepaw asked, thinking back to his conversation with Macresco.
"Not really," Ter replied, looking at Sagepaw like he had grown rabbit ears, "they're all busy doing their jobs. Defenders look after the camp and guard it. They also do a lot of the hunting. And Fighters patrol our borders and keep an eye out for trouble. They're also the best combatants around; they're the first to enter the fray of a battle."
"So if the Fighters and Defenders don't teach you how to take care of yourselves, how do you get enough experience? And how do you decided whether you're going to be a Defender or a Fighter?" Sagepaw asked, his head pounding from all the information.
"Wow, you sure do ask a lot of questions," Ter said good-humoredly, brushing her tail against Sagepaw's pelt, making his tail twitch with surprise, "We gain experience by training together and practicing. We'll have play-fights and hunt mice. You'll see. And you don't decide whether you'll be a Fighter or a Defender. That's up to Acerbitas. He puts foxes where he thinks their talents will be most needed."
"It all seems very disorganized," Sagepaw murmured under his breath, not loud enough for Ter to hear. Then he looked up at the female cub. Her face was alight with excitement and happiness. He figured she was glad to have such a strange creature as a playmate; a strange creature sent by the Star Walkers at that.
"We're going out tomorrow," Ter said, bouncing on the tips of her black paws, "you should come with us. We'll show you some moves!"
"Who's we?" Sagepaw asked, secretly thinking that he'd be the one teaching them some moves. After all, he'd caught a black squirrel and fought against those White Teeth foxes.
"Me, Grav and Hort," Ter said, swinging her head over to a pair of male cubs, sitting in the shadows cast by the pale clouds in the star-scattered sky.
Sagepaw wondered if they were going to be as amicable as Ter. Sighing, he decided he better join them. It was better than doing nothing or being attacked by enemy patrols again.
"Sure," he agreed.
"Great!" Ter yipped. She gave him a quick lick on the shoulder and then pulled a slightly squashed mouse out from under her night-black paw. "This is for you," she said, "you're probably hungry."
Sagepaw twitched his whiskers gratefully at her and knelt down to eat the mouse, not caring that one of its ears had been bitten off, his mouth watering at the aroma. Ter nodded to him, her bright eyes giving off as much light as the moon in the sky.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Sagepaw!" she said.
Sagepaw, his mouth full of mouse, could only dip his head in thanks to her. Then Ter bounded off over the grass to her fellow cubs and left Sagepaw to his dinner.
Sagepaw was so tired that he could barely lift up his tail. He trailed after Vorago and Domito as they entered their den. Sagepaw was a little stunned that he found the den's smell comforting and enticing. He realized that his life as a Clan cat was fading away fast. Too exhausted to worry about his disappearing past, Sagepaw padded towards the bundle of moss in the corner of the den that made up his nest. Domito yawned sleepily and flicked his tail at Sagepaw, saying good-night. Vorago curled up next to her mate and buried her nose in her tail, her rusty fur sleek and shining in the wash of moonlight spilling into the den from outside.
"Good night, Sagepaw," she murmured, her eyes already closed, "welcome to the Fire Tails."
Sagepaw watched as Vorago and Domito drifted off into sleep. Then he quickly licked his coat a few times, washing off the dirt that had gotten stuck in his fur on the way back from the Gracious Circle. The scratches from the White Teeth foxes didn't hurt anymore; Macresco's medicine had worked wonderfully.
Sagepaw tucked his paws under his body and rested his head against the cool earthy ground, overwhelmed by the events that had happened during the day. He wanted to think about what he was going to do to help these foxes but his eyes were already closing. His body cushioned by the soft moss, Sagepaw was unable to stop himself from succumbing to sleep. A breeze rustled through the trees. The world was quiet and the little black and white tomcat was fast asleep in the foxes' den.