There it was, in his gaze, a long snake, pale as milk and striped with black. Striped like Tigerclaw, Ravenpaw thought, and his jaw clenched. Tigerclaw, the mentor who had never appreciated him; Tigerclaw, the mentor who had never cared for him; Tigerclaw, the murderer. Ravenpaw let out a quiet snarl, but silenced himself, not wanting to alert the adder to his presence. It was at peace now, sunning itself on the rocks, its little forked tongue darting out every now and again. They said it scented with its tongue; Ravenpaw believed them. Cats could scent with their mouths; why not snakes?
Ravenpaw crept forward lightly. He wasn't sure how to go about catching an adder. No other warrior had ever tried. Or, if they had tried, then they had died. One bite could kill any cat as small as he was, and he wasn't exactly a strong cat either.
He took another step forward, becoming closer to the adder as he moved. He was directly above it now, and still it did not notice. He imagined the faces of the other apprentices; Graypaw would celebrate, Firepaw would be awed, and even Sandpaw and Dustpaw wouldn't be able to pretend they weren't impressed. And Tigerclaw might finally appreciate him; he might finally care about his apprentice, for once. Ravenpaw didn't know what to do about Tigerclaw and Redtail. Part of him wanted to tell Bluestar, to tell someone. But, the other part of him was too afraid, afraid of what Tigerclaw might do. No one knew what he was capable of. Ravenpaw knew he wouldn't be content with just being deputy. Ravenpaw knew he wanted more.
Another step closer to the adder.
And, as much as Ravenpaw might dislike it, he knew part of him craved power. Part of him wanted to be like Tigerclaw, fierce and strong. Part of him wanted to train with Tigerclaw. Part of him wanted to betray ThunderClan, the Clan that had never loved him.
He took another step forward, a smirk playing on his muzzle. It was like playing StarClan, when he stalked this adder; its life was in his paws. He controlled whether it lived or died.
Then, suddenly, there was a terrible cry. The snake stirred, but even with the sun in its blood, it was too slow; a hawk swooped down, grabbing the snake in its claws and began flying away. Ravenpaw's mouth gaped open. Then, as he watched, the hawk dropped the lifeless adder and continued to fly.
Ravenpaw was shaking with fear. A hawk could kill an adder, and even young cats, small cats, cats like himself. Where had it come from? He hadn't even seen it.
I was like the adder, Ravenpaw thought. There was an enemy I couldn't see, and I could have been killed. He got to his paws and padded over to the lifeless adder. The hawk's talons had gripped it by the throat and killed it. The marks looked almost as if a cat had killed it, instead of a hawk. I could pretend I did, Ravenpaw thought. Everyone would still be impressed. He picked up the adder and began carrying it back to camp. But the sight of the hawk kept nagging him; it wouldn't leave him alone. I was like the adder, he thought again. There was an enemy I couldn't see, but I was confident, smug even. I thought I owned the place; I thought I decided who lived or died. I was wrong. A hawk, a stupid hawk, decided that for me.
He paused suddenly, as the realization hit him. StarClan had been trying to tell him something. No one cat could be strong enough to decide who lived or died. That was what Tigerclaw wanted; total control. It wasn't right.
Ravenpaw's legs trembled. StarClan had sent him a message. He almost dropped the adder, but clamped it in his jaws more firmly. He understood now.
I have to tell someone, he thought. I have to tell Tigerclaw's secret. I can't let it be hidden any longer. I don't want to be like the adder.
And with that, he headed back to ThunderClan camp. The other apprentices were impressed – even Tigerclaw couldn't find fault with him – but they didn't feel like Ravenpaw did. To them, it was just an adder. To Ravenpaw, it was a great lesson.