Dead leaves crunched and rustled ominously in the forest. The young cat's neck fur prickling uncomfortably. There was something out there. Something dangerous.
A deep roar sounded from within the trees. The apprentice shrank back in fear. "Wh-who's there?" No answer came. The cat crouched low against the ground. It's coming.
The apprentice's eyes widened in horror as the creature came before him. It was black as a shadow with eyes burning like flame. It drew itself up to its full height, and kept going, and going, and going...
The ginger tom jerked awake. His head bolted up and his fur stood on end. His gasping breaths slowed down to a normal speed as he saw where he was. He was surrounded by the sunlit walls of the apprentice's den, where every cat but his sister beside him had already left. Blazepaw turned to see the source of his awakening. The striped gray face of his mentor was poking into the aporentice's den, yellow eyes soft with concern. "Are you alright, Blazepaw?"
The ginger tom let out a shaky breath. "'M fine," he mumbled, ears burning. The genuine concern in Bumblestripe's eyes lessened Blazepaw's embarrassment. "Had a nightmare is all. Guess I'm just a bit nervous." The anxiety and stress over his upcoming apprenticeship had been turning itself into terror of a faceless danger in his dreams for the past several nights.
The gray tabby flicked his ear in a friendly way. "Don't worry young one, you'll do fine." He began to back out of the den. "I have an assignment for you today. Come meet me at the fresh-kill pile." The warrior backed out the den. The branches of the apprentices' den rattled slightly even after he had left.
Blazepaw got quietly to his paws, careful not to wake Silentpaw beside him. The blind she-cat twitched slightly in her sleeping, wearing a peaceful expression. The young tom smiled slightly at the sight of it. Silentpaw liked to act like she was tough enough to take on the world, so it was nice to see her just relaxing for once.
The ginger apprentice made his way out of the den. A surprisingly branch-infested camp greeted him. Great broken-off pieces of branch and bushes were strewn all about the hollow. Blazepaw blinked in surprise a few times before noticing his mentor seated by the fresh-kill pile. He padded over quickly. "What happened out here?" he asked, flicking his ear to indicate the camp.
Bumblestripe looked up from his mouse. "Hmm?" He looked at the chaotic mess around them. "Oh, it got pretty windy last night. This is what happens when you live surrounded by trees." He gulped down the last scraps of his meal and swiped his tongue around his jaws. "I want you to stay here today and help sort out this mess. The elder's den and nursery need doing too. Jayfeather will show you how to clear out the dens before he heads out with Ivypool and Silentpaw."
Blazepaw deflated a little to hear that his first task as an apprentice was cleaning the camp. Bumblestripe smiled understandingly. "Get a good night's sleep tonight then, cause tomorrow we'll take a tour of the territory.
The young ginger tom perked up. "Thanks Bumblestripe." He watched as his mentor padded away, followed soon by the rest of his border patrol.
Snowpaw and Dewpaw were standing by their mentors, waiting patiently to hear what they'd be doing for the day. Blazepaw was looking around the camp, trying to figure out where to start clearing out the mess, when Amberpaw padded towards him. The tiny gray she-cat flicked her ears. "Berrynose says you're on camp-cleaning duty too."
Blazepaw nodded, pleased. The work would go faster with two cats working. Amberpaw continued, "Would you mind taking the elder's den? Spiderleg and I got in an argument yesterday, and I don't think I'll get much work done with him raking his claws over my ears."
The ginger tom snorted in amusement. Amberpaw was one of the feistier apprentices, and most cats in the Clan were divided on whether Spiderleg or Cloudtail were the grumpiest elder in ThunderClan. It wasn't surprising that the two had argued. "Sure," he purred. "I'll get the nursery too, if you want. Then I'll come out and help you with the clearing."
Amberpaw relaxed, her tail lowering slightly in relief. "Thanks Blazepaw." With that, she trotted off towards the warrior' den, where a lot of clutter was collected.
Blazepaw turned towards the hazel bush that served as the elders' den. As he pushed passed the lichen that draped in front of the entrance, he saw that all five elders were awake. Brightheart lifted her tail in greeting. "Greetings, Blazepaw." She rasped from her patched muzzle. "What can we do for you?"
Blazepaw dipped his head to the elder in respect. "Bumblestripe sent me to clean out your bedding, then he wants me to search you for ticks," he explained.
Millie, the oldest cat in ThunderClan, croaked from across the den, "Thank StarClan. Snowpaw was supposed to do that yesterday, but Jayfeather needed his help collecting herbs." Her silver tabby pelt was dull and flecked heavily with white.
Spiderleg let out a snort. "Apprentices these days have no respect for their elders." He shifted on his mossy bedding, his tail lashing irritably. "Amberpaw was in here just yesterday, running her mouth off to me like I was a common warrior."
Sorreltail rolled her eyes. "Lay off the poor cat." She chided Spiderleg in a raspy tone.
From his spot beside Brightheart, Cloudtail spoke up. "Besides, you're not even a proper elder." He scoffed. "You're not old, you're just grumpy."
It was true that Spiderleg was younger than the other elders. A bad case of stiff hip joints had sent him into the elders den early, although he would have joined in some moons anyway. But the black tom curled back his lips at the fluffy white elder. "You would know all about disrespect, wouldn't you Cloudtail?" The black-and-brown tom snapped. "If I remember right, you almost didn't become a warrior because of how often you disobeyed Firestar."
Cloudtail bared his fangs at the skinny black tom. "You weren't even born then, Spiderleg." He snarled. "What would you know about it?"
Brightheart rolled her eye. "Oh, shut up, the pair of you." She turned to Blazepaw. "You can start clearing the bedding."
Sorreltail added, "I'll help lay down the new stuff if you want."
Blazepaw dipped his head to the elderly tortoiseshell. "Thanks," he mewed gratefully. He padded to Sorreltail's nest and scraped the old bedding into a pile. He tucked it under his chin and started out of the den.
Once he had replaced all the old bedding with new moss, he turned to his next task of removing ticks from their pelts. Jayfeather supplied him with the mouse bile soaked in moss, and Blazepaw carried the stinking bundle to the elders' den. As he worked at freeing a tick from Spiderleg's shoulder, Cloudtail stretched himself lazily out on his new bedding. "Ah, this is the life." The elderly white tom closed his eyes contentedly. "This is way better than doing everything myself. Now I have no end of apprentices to wait on me." He chuckled. "My reward for moons of service, I guess."
Spiderleg let out a snort. "Yes, because you were always such a hard-working apprentice." The black elder growled sarcastically.
Sorreltail gave her denmate a jab in the side with her forepaw. "Leave him alone." She admonished him. "The two of you are always arguing. It's enough anyone can do to get any sleep around here, the way you two are always carrying on."
Spiderleg let out an irritated huff. Sorreltail rolled her eyes and turned to Blazepaw. "Sorry about that. Those two never could get along." She flicked her dappled tail in a friendly way. "But at least Purdy isn't here anymore. That old tabby would talk until your ears fell off."
Millie let out a wheeze of amusement. "Poor Mousefur's probably with him now, listening to another one of his long-winded tales. I doubt he'll have left any prey in StarClan's forests either. I've never met a cat with such a talent for eating." Even as she insulted her old denmate, Millie's eyes gleamed with affection for the old tom.
Blazepaw turned to look at Millie, his ears twitching hopefully. "I don't mind stories." He offered.
Sorreltail let out a hoarse chuckle. "Oh you don't, eh?" She eyed the apprentice shrewdly, an amused grin lighting her features. "Very well. Then I assume you won't mind hearing about the battle with the foxes at Fourtrees?"
Blazepaw nodded brightly. With a light chuckle, the old tortoiseshell shifted until she sat comfortably in her nest. "Well, you get started with that bedding, and I'll see how much I can remember, hmm?
In the forest, Silentpaw followed her new mentor through the thick undergrowth. The new terrain baffled the blind cat. Back in ThunderClan's camp the ground had always been smooth and sandy, but now there were brambles, vines, bushes. Everywhere she set her paws there was something waiting to get in her way and tangle around her legs. Even getting past what was on the ground, there was the constant sound of the wind banging against the trees high above them. So many new things out here. The sheer number of new scents and sounds threatened to overwhelm the young apprentice.
Silentpaw gritted her teeth in annoyance as her paw got caught up in a bramble. The apprentice tugged at the tangled thing to no avail. "Ivypool, can you get me out of this?" she asked somewhat sheepishly.
Pawsteps sounded as her mentor came to her side. "No problem." The warrior gave the brambles a quick jerk, freeing Silentpaw with ease. "Good thing you're not like Jayfeather," Ivypool commented with amusement. "We'd have been here all day while the stubborn idiot tried to free himself."
The tom in question gave a derisive snort. "You weren't exactly a ray of sunshine as an apprentice either," he pointed out somewhat crossly. Ivypool just chuckled and led the small group onward.
As they traveled further into the forest, the scent of water grew stronger. "Are we getting close to the lake?" Silentpaw asked eagerly.
"Yes. There's something I want to show you first though." Her mentor's pawsteps faded, and when she spoke again, her voice was farther ahead. "Come check this out."
Silentpaw padded gingerly towards her mentor, careful of the undergrowth under her paws. Ivypool was standing by a tree of some sort, oak by the scent. Silentpaw placed her paw on the trunk, feeling the cool bark under her pad. The young cat had no way of telling how high it was, but by checking how thick it was, she guessed it was pretty tall. "What is this?"
The young warrior's voice sounded off to the left. "This is the Ancient Oak. No one knows how long it's been here, but it's the biggest tree in all of ThunderClan's territory. We'll be doing tree-climbing lessons here."
I have to climb this? Silentpaw gulped at the thought of being up so high in the air. She'd told Bramblestar that she could handle climbing trees despite her blindness, but she'd never realized how tall they were. An involuntary shudder ran through the young cat.
Jayfeather must have read the apprentice's thoughts, for he laid the tip of his tail comfortingly on her shoulder. Silentpaw allowed herself to be led forward until she was surprised to feel water lapping at her paws. She leaned down to sniff at it, flinching away as her nose touched the cold, wet surface. "Is this the lake?"
"Yes." The grass rustled as Ivypool sat beside her apprentice. "This is the center of all the Clans' territories. Every Clan has access to it." There was the slight stirring of water as Ivypool traced her paw over the surface. "You could say it is the heart of the Clans."
Silentpaw felt a sense of wonder at her mentor's words. She lifted her head, trying to imagine what the great expanse of water must look like. The little cat listened to the wind as it swept over the smooth, clear water, and she could smell the water and the scent of the other Clans being blown in from across the lake. Ivypool sighed quietly. "I wish you could see it," she murmered.
She'd probably thought her voice was too low to be overheard, but Silentpaw had caught every word. She turned to her mentor, trying to put as much conviction into her words as she could. "I don't."
Ivypool perked her ears with interest. "Really?" The pity in her voice had been replaced by curiosity. "Why not? I can't count the number of times Jayfeather's whined about being blind." The tom in question let out an annoyed hiss, but Ivypool ignored him.
"That's because Jayfeather knows what seeing is like. He sees in his dreams after all. But me?" Silentpaw shrugged. "How do you miss something you've never had? And my scenting and hearing are all the better for it." She suddenly realized how much she'd revealed, and her pelt burned in embarrassment. She got to her paws as quick as she could. "Come on, there's more forest to explore, right?"
The three started off again. As they went further into the forest, new, less pleasant smells became apparent. The odor of marshland was strong and slightly foul and strangely overlaid with the sickly sweet scent of pine. Silentpaw wrinkled her nose in disgust. "What in StarClan's name is that stench?"
Jayfeather's gruff mew sounded. "We're getting close to the ShadowClan border. Keep your ears pricked, Silentpaw," he instructed the apprentice. "Figure out the way the land is laid out, where the trees are, and the dips and rises in the ground. You'll have to find your own way around one day with nothing but scent and sound to guide you."
Silentpaw snorted. "I don't think scenting this place is going to be a problem."
Suddenly, pawsteps sounded in the distance. Silentpaw turned to Jayfeather. "Do you hear -"
"Yes." The medicine cat stepped up to stand beside the apprentice, his legs stiff and his muscles tensed. "A ShadowClan patrol is coming this way." He leaned down to murmur in Silentpaw's ear, "Just stay calm. ShadowClan cats like to puff out their fur and talk tough, but they won't pick a fight without reason. Well, not most of them."
The sound of cats' paws grew louder, and soon they stood only a few fox-lengths away. There were three full-grown cats, judging by the pawsteps, and a smaller, probably an apprentice. An unfamiliar voice sounded. "Greetings, Jayfeather, Ivypool. Didn't expect to see you out here."
Ivypool dipped her head respectfully. In an even gone she mewed, "Greetings, Rowanstar." Silentpaw blinked in surprise. ShadowClan's leader? She never thought she'd meet him on something so mundane as a border patrol. He hadn't been leader long - Blackstar, the leader before him, had died shortly before Silentpaw was born.
Another voice sounded, another male. "This is Snowbird's apprentice, Marshpaw. Who's yours?" Silentpaw stiffened when she realized they were talking about her.
"Silentpaw," Jayfeather replied tersely. In a quiet voice, he Murmers to the apprentice, "The tom is Tigerheart, Rowanstar's son, and the she-cat with them is Snowbird, Marshpaw's mentor."
Tigerheart. Silentpaw had heard his name before. He was Bramblestar's nephew, and a former Dark Forest visitor. He, like Ivypool, had turned out to be a spy for the Clans and had fought to protect the forest from the Dark Warriors. Silentpaw felt almost as much respect for him as for her mentor.
Rowanstar sounded surprised. "Ah. You're Lionblaze's kit, aren't you?"
"The blind one?" A younger voice blurted out somewhat bluntly. Marshpaw, probably.
Silentpaw let out a slight hiss. "Yes. I'm blind. So?" Her tone dared the apprentice to challenge her further.
"Hmm. Congratulations on becoming an apprentice." Rowanstar didn't make much of an effort to hide his disdain. "Goodbye, Jayfeather. Just make sure your new apprentices know to keep their paws on your side of the border." With that, the leader took his patrol and left, leaving the ThunderClan cats alone once more.
Silentpaw let out a snort. "Nice guy," she commented sarcastically.
"He's a leader of a rival Clan," Ivypool mewed drily. "What'd you expect, your pick of the fresh-kill pile?"
Jayfeather's voice sounded. "Besides, they've got a lot on their minds, what with Oakfur being sick."
Silentpaw perked her ears in surprise. "How did you know that?" Then she remembered who she was talking.
Ivypool's voice was heavy with disapproval. "Jayfeather, you can't keep doing that. What happens to ShadowClan is their own business."
Jayfeather sniffed. "It's not my fault they can't keep their thoughts to themselves," he complained. "That Marshpaw was practically shouting in my head."
"How sick is he?" Silentpaw asked.
Jayfeather didn't speak for several moments. He finally answered quietly, "He's not long for StarClan." Without another word, he turned and started off into the forest again, leaving Ivypool and Silentpaw to follow. As they returned to their tour of the territory, the little blind cat was left to wonder, What does it mean for ThunderClan if ShadowClan's deputy dies?
Here's more Faded Boundaries for ya! Sorry for taking so long to post this. Do this was just basically to show more of what's been going on in ThunderClan and ShadowClan since The Last Hope. Also, to introduce Blazepaw's POV.
Up next is another chap of The Quiet Before the Storm, then more PotterFly with There's No Place.