"I wonder what's keeping everyone", protested Dewpaw, the smell of skunk still slightly lingering from his dark pelt. "I don't want ThunderClan to be the last to arrive".
Lilypaw sat beside the smaller apprentice. "We've still got plenty of time", she reassured. "It's hardly even dark".
Firepaw gave his shoulder a nervous lick, timid about facing different apprentices from different Clans. At the time of the Gathering, he was going to meet cats from different Clans. He would bond, chat, boast about his first catch and compare moves, knowing that one day he would met them face-to-face in battle with unsheathed claws. Will I even make an enemy tonight?
The bramble tendrils of the apprentices den rustled, and out emerged Amberpaw. The grey-and-white apprentice padded towards her denmates. "It's such a shame Oddpaw and Snowpaw can't come", she sighed. "I suppose they could come next time? It feels weird without hearing Snowpaw complaining about Dewpaw's stench".
"Well, I think it feels great!" Dewpaw protested.
Firepaw looked across the clearing and blinked slowly at his littermate, who was crouching beside the apprentices den; staring at the opposite direction. It was unfair that Oddpaw wasn't going to attend this Gathering while he was. Why couldn't they go together? And why did Snowpaw had to be singled out from his denmates? What was his story?
He made a move towards his littermate. "I wish you get to come too", he sighed. "At least you won't be alone". I wonder how much company Snowpaw will make.
Oddpaw forced a purr. "I suppose it's for the best", she mewed. "I'm not ready to meet the other Clans yet anyway. Besides, I don't want any cats to make fun of me because of my eyes". Her odd-eyes glimmered in the newborn moonlight. Firepaw blinked softly at her; he had hardly noticed her one-amber, one-blue eyes - in fact it was hardly referred to. He wondered how the cats from other Clans would react to this rare condition. Would they make fun of her? He wouldn't allow it.
"Well, I'll tell you everything that happens", he promised. "And when the moon comes when we go to the Gathering together, you'll get to see anything for yourself!" I wonder what the island looks like.
A yowl silenced the two, turning their attention towards the clearing. "That was Bramblestar's call", Oddpaw mewed. "You better go now".
"I'll see you".
Firepaw headed back to the crowd where his denmates were waiting. More cats had gathered round now, all ready to head to the island. Bramblestar gave a curt nod and, with Squirrelflight brushing next to him, raced through the thorn barrier. Firepaw blinked at the deserted camp for the final time before following his denmates through the tunnel. He stuck close to Lionblaze who was trotting next to him, his bright pelt flashing gold in the dimming light. Firepaw admired his father's radiant pelt, but kept his close attention to the scene in front of him as they burst from the tunnel and raced up the slope.
They passed the Sky Oak and headed down to the lake. Pebbles cracked beneath his pads, spraining them a little, but he could care less. He could already see the island rising from the lake, sheltered by a forest of pine trees. The sky was getting darker, and more stars began to form. Out of the blackness, he could see the dark pine trees from the island reaching up to touch the dusked sky. His paws itched with excitement,
Then they approached WindClan territory. Bramblestar slowed the pace and edged closer to the lake as he padded onwards. A large Twoleg nest passed them, and Firepaw saw strange, long-faced animals outside the nest but trapped by a wide fence. Horses, he realised. He heard about Daisy formerly coming from this Twoleg nest called the Horseplace; so this nest must be it.
After the long trek through WindClan territory they arrived at RiverClan territory. The ground was muddier as they neared to the island, and Firepaw didn't want to meet the Clans with muddy paws. Avoiding getting dirty by stepping lightly he glanced ahead. The trees that jutted from the island were larger now; so was the island itself. Firepaw wanted to gawk in awe, but he continued to walk on. They passed the wetland until they reached the fallen tree. Firepaw knew that this was like a 'bridge' to get to the island. He never knew it could be so...big.
He stared at his father. Lionblaze nodded. "Go on ahead", he meowed.
Firepaw gulped and waited until Amberpaw jumped up, then he leaped after her. He lost his balance slightly but after readjusting his position the apprentice got the hang of it. Black water lapped at the dead branches which held the tree in its place. It gulped beneath the tree, and Firepaw fastened his paws into the bark to prevent slipping off. Lionblaze leaped from behind him, making the tree jerk. Firepaw weaved his way through the small twigs until he reached the other side. Heart leaping, he jumped down onto the island and looked up.
Bramblestar, Squirrelflight, Thornclaw, Dewpaw, Amberpaw and Seedpaw had already reached the other side, and were waiting patiently for the rest of their Clanmates to meet them. A pack of trees crowded behind them, and Firepaw's legs ached to race through them and see what lay ahead, but he had to wait for the others first. As soon as Lionblaze, Mousewhisker, Lilypaw and Hazeltail reached the other side, Bramblestar signalled his Clanmates to walk on.
He followed his Clanmates through the trees, impatient to see the other cats. Different scents whisked around them, circling the apprentice like snakes. The trees went on until they started to grow thin, and a clearing opened up.
Firepaw gasped at the sight ahead of him. He had never seen so many cats. Different shapes and pelts, and only just a selected few from each Clan. Loads of cats were bigger than him, making Firepaw feel small and inexperienced. But he raised his chin and hid his awe as Lionblaze turned to face him. "Quite a large crowd, huh?" his father purred.
"There's so many cats..." Firepaw's face dropped. "I can't believe I'm going to meet most of them in battle".
"Don't think about battles for now", Lionblaze advised. "Gatherings are held under a truce; here, you are to make new friends, boast about your training and compare them. It is a rewarding experience to meet cats from other Clans. Learn about them, compare your Clan life to theirs. Each are very different".
Firepaw looked up. "Are you coming with me?"
"Do you want me to?"
He shook his head. "I'll be with my denmates", he said.
"Alright then". Lionblaze turned to leave. "I'll head off on my own then. And try to make friends from other Clans". With that he ran and disappeared into the crowd. Firepaw padded towards his denmates who were gathered round.
"What shall we do now?" Dewpaw asked.
Seedpaw pointed her tail towards a group of apprentices sat a few foxlengths from them. "I'm going with that lot", she said. "I suppose Sunpaw got his warrior name. I wonder what it is?"
"I'll come with you", Amberpaw mewed. Seedpaw and Amberpaw gone, all left were Firepaw, Dewpaw and Lilypaw. The three sat awkwardly for a few heartbeats until another apprentice approached them.
He was a huge, broad-shouldered tom with a sleek dark tabby pelt and a splash of white on his chest, including large, pale green eyes. His size made Firepaw feel very small; like a kit who just left the nursery. A marshy scent wafted around the apprentice, and Firepaw instantly recognised the scent of ShadowClan. He heard that ShadowClan were cunning, aggressive cats with a dark history and reputation. However, a cunning glimmer was nowhere to be found in this apprentice's gaze; his gaze was warm and friendly. Dewpaw scrabbled to his paws and nudged the other tom playfully. "Hi, Shadepaw!"
"Greetings, Dewpaw". Shadepaw dipped his head. He blinked at the white-patched she-cat. "And hello to you, too, Lilypaw".
Lilypaw flushed and, without returning the greeting, left to join Seedpaw and Amberpaw with the cluster of apprentices. Firepaw stared at the she-cat perplexedly. Is she shy? He glanced at Shadepaw for some clues, but the ShadowClan apprentice's gaze was innocent and he shrugged. Then he turned and stared at Firepaw, blinking interestedly. "And who is this?" he asked.
Firepaw opened his jaws to answer but Dewpaw cut him off, "This is Firepaw - one of our newest apprentices, and a good friend of mine".
Friend? Firepaw wanted to narrow his eyes at the grey tom. They were just acquaintances, unless Dewpaw didn't know the difference. He kept silent and nodded a greeting at Shadepaw. Shadepaw returned the greeting. "Well, a friend of Dewpaw is a friend of mine also", he commented. Firepaw's heart leaped. Did I just make a friend? That was quick.
"My name is Shadepaw", the ShadowClan tom meowed. "Is this your first Gathering?"
"Yes". Firepaw nodded.
"Great. So, how do you like the island so far?"
"It's amazing". Firepaw looked around the crowded island. "I have never seen so many cats in my life".
Shadepaw sniffed. "Nor have I", he agreed. "It awed me as well on my first time. You'll get used to it, trust me". He changed the subject. "Hey, Dewpaw, you smell funny. Did you fall in the mud or something?"
Dewpaw shuffled his paws. "Well, I..." He sounded self-conscious. "I got sprayed by a skunk a few days ago. The scent sort of got washed off by water, but apparently Jayfeather said that there isn't anything that could completely get rid of the stench". He sighed. "I suppose I'd have to get used to smelling weird for now on".
"That's a bummer", Shadepaw mewed. "But I'm sure every cat will get used to it. It's not everyday a cat gets sprayed by a skunk, though".
It was then another apprentice padded from behind. It was hard to tell that this cat was even a full-grown apprentice hence his tiny size. His frame was small, and his legs were short and stubby. However, he had an erect, whisking feathery tail that seemed too big for this tiny body. His body was long and sleek, with stretched, flopped whiskers. He had a long, silky grey coat with a darker back and a pale grey, almost white, underbelly. He carried the scent of rabbits, grass and wind - evident that he was a WindClan apprentice. He blinked up at Shadepaw with great defiance. "Have you seen Whitetail?" he said in a growly voice.
Shadepaw twitched an ear. "I think I saw her walk towards a group of ShadowClan cats", he reported. "Why, Falconpaw? Were you looking for her?"
The tiny apprentice ignored him and was now staring at Firepaw. Judging by his petite size, Firepaw didn't feel so small any more. Falconpaw narrowed his eyes and crouched a little, unsheathing and sheathing his claws repetitively as he glared daggers at the taller apprentice. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"I'm...Firepaw". Firepaw felt self-conscious, but forced his fur to lie flat to indicate that he was scared of this tiny excuse of an apprentice. He was up to his chest, and staring up at Firepaw like he was staring up a tree.
"How come I have never seen you before?" Falconpaw hissed.
Dewpaw broke in, "It's his first Gathering".
Falconpaw snarled at the dark grey tom. "Did I ask you to speak?" he growled.
"What do you want from us?" Dewpaw growled.
"I was just asking Firepaw a question". The emphasis on his name was icy, making said apprentice flinch. Falconpaw bore his pale blue gaze onto him. "Well?"
Firepaw tried not to stammer. "Um...it's my...first Gathering". He echoed Dewpaw's words. Why must Falconpaw force these words out of him? Dewpaw already said so.
Falconpaw narrowed his eyes. "Is that so?" he said coldly. "Well, if that's the case, let's make sure I don't bump into you again; hm?" He turned and strutted away, lifting his tail high and letting the tip droop. Firepaw couldn't believe it. Was he just threatened by a cat who was smaller than him?
He waited until he was out of earshot when he hissed, "Who made dirt in his fresh-kill?"
Shadepaw sighed. "You have to forgive Falconpaw", he remarked. "He thinks that because he is the son of Onestar and Whitetail he has high expectations - but in all fairness he's just the same as any cat in WindClan".
"But why does he hate me so much?" Firepaw asked. "What did I do?"
"You did nothing", Shadepaw reassured. "It's just that Falconpaw hates cats that are bigger than him. I heard that he was the tiniest kit in the nursery, and the other taller kits used to make fun of him because of that. This made him bitter and very insecure about his size. He likes to make himself feel better by acting big and strong towards taller cats". He lashed his tail. "He used to give me the cold shoulder when we first met, but now we just got used to each other. Don't underestimate him for his small size though - he's one of the oldest apprentices in WindClan; he'll be getting his warrior name soon". Then he leaned towards the bright ginger tom. "But I'm telling you this now; stay out of trouble. Falconpaw likes to pick fights with other apprentices - especially during Gatherings. It's best if you stay away from him".
Firepaw nodded. He wasn't going to be near him anyway. Why would he pick fights during the Gathering? I thought they were held under a truce.
Dewpaw's mew cut through the silence, "RiverClan has arrived".
Firepaw turned to see more cats emerge from the trees. He never realised that RiverClan cat could be so scrawny. A blue-grey she-cat took the lead, her ribs showing through her once-beautiful coat. She looked tired and frail, like she had to walk around the lake twice to get here. Not just her; all the RiverClan cats looked tired.
"Something has definitely happened with RiverClan", Shadepaw remarked. "Mistystar looks exhausted, and I don't see Mothwing any where".
"Mothwing?" Firepaw echoed.
"The RiverClan medicine cat. Like, your medicine cat is Jayfeather. Normally the medicine cat would always attend the Gathering, but Mothwing is nowhere to be seen. I see Willowshine though - her apprentice".
Firepaw saw the young dark grey she-cat amongst the crowd. She didn't look as tired as the rest of her Clanmates, but she still looked like she just made a lap around the lake. The medicine cat apprentice approached a group of cats where Firepaw recognised Jayfeather with a brownish-grey tom with white streaks and a small brown tabby tom. The medicine cats.
"Let all cats gather beneath StarClan". Bramblestar scrabbled to his paws as soon as Mistystar jumped onto her branch. The crowd was silent and all attention drew to the Clan leaders. The Gathering's about to start!
"ThunderClan is thriving this greenleaf", the dark tabby tom reported. "And we have two new apprentices joining us; Firepaw and Oddpaw. Sadly, Oddpaw could not join us tonight - but her brother, Firepaw, is among us".
Firepaw cringed as he felt many eyes rest on him. Shadepaw leaned against him. "I never knew you had a littermate", he whispered in his ear. "And Oddpaw is quite a strange name, no offence".
"None taken", Firepaw sighed as the eyes returned to the attention of the leaders. "She was named after her...eye condition".
"Let's just say her eyes aren't...regular".
Shadepaw nodded in understanding and looked up at oak where the leaders were waiting for silence. Bramblestar turned to the other leaders. "Anything else to report?" he asked.
Blackstar rose to his paws as he nodded. "ShadowClan is thriving as well", he said. "And we have a new warrior among us; Sunflash".
A bright yellow tabby tom rose from the crowd as the Clan cheered his new name. Firepaw saw Lilypaw, Seedpaw and Amberpaw amongst him, leading the cheer. As soon as the cheering died down Blackstar continued, "Now that it is greenleaf, prey has returned to us. Fresh-kill is piling and everyone is well. However, we also have to announce the death of one of our elders, Tallpoppy. She has died peacefully in her sleep. She had served our Clan as humbly as any cat could ask for; may StarClan treat her well".
As he sat down, Onestar spoke up, "WindClan doesn't have much to report. My warriors, Leaftail, Weaselfur and Sedgewhisker chased a dog from our territory, but that as all". He faced the RiverClan leader. "Any reports for RiverClan?" he asked.
Mistystar nodded and forced herself to her paws. "Unfortunately", she croaked, "RiverClan isn't thriving as well as the others. Fish may be plentiful in the lake, but that has been distracted upon as a mysterious sickness has infected some of our warriors - and killing one of our elders, Dapplenose".
Shocked murmurs spread throughout the cats. Firepaw exchanged glances with Dewpaw, then turned to the medicine cats. Willowshine was nodding to the others while Jayfeather's expression was unknown.
"Our medicine cat, Mothwing, is currently in camp tending the sick", Mistystar continued. "Willowshine can manage to be with us tonight. The suspense and tension has exhausted us all, as we fear the sickness may come from our fish - that is why we are not thriving well".
As murmurs began to continue, Firepaw could hear Shadepaw growl under his breath, "That's mousebrained. We've all been eating fish for moons and the rest of the Clans are fine".
Bramblestar blinked at the blue-grey she-cat. "Care to tell us about the illness, Mistystar? ThunderClan must be aware of this".
"ShadowClan too", Blackstar chipped in, whilst Onestar nodded.
"The illness is quite unusual", Mistystar explained. "When a cat catches it, their fur will start to moult and huge spots will form around their underbelly. The cat becomes extremely weak, up to the point when they can hardly move". She hung her head. "When Dapplenose died, she was lying in her nest saying her final goodbyes to her Clan..."
The cats chatted amongst each other, wary about this strange illness. Firepaw stared at the medicine cats again, and noticed that Jayfeather was staring at the opposite direction; his expression still unreadable.
"I know that illness!" Dewpaw gasped. "It's the illness that killed Sorreltail moons ago".
"Sorreltail?" Firepaw tilted his head.
"Lilypaw and Seedpaw's mother", he explained. "It must be terrible to be reminded of the illness that once killed your loved ones".
Firepaw stared across the clearing where the two sisters sat. Seedpaw had her head hung while Lilypaw was consoling her. Yes, they got reminded. He didn't know what it was like to lose a mother, but he could tell for sure that it must have been awful. He pushed away the thought of seeing Cinderheart on her last dying breath - no, his mother won't die. I'll make sure of it.
"Thank you, Mistystar". Bramblestar jumped down from the oak. "ThunderClan, we're going home".
Dewpaw frowned and turned to face his ShadowClan friend. "I guess this is goodbye, Shadepaw", he sighed.
Shadepaw returned the dismay. "I'll see you at the next Gathering". He raised to his paws. "Goodbye, Firepaw".
"Bye". Firepaw waved his tail bye and followed his denmates towards the others. Lilypaw, Amberpaw and Seedpaw muttered their goodbyes to their friends and joined them.
Lionblaze's tail stroked his son's flank. "So, how was it?"
"How was what?"
"The Gathering". Lionblaze raised an eye.
"Oh!" Firepaw gasped. "Well, it was amazing. I...met a few cats". He feel like he shouldn't mention Falconpaw to him - he'd just make a big deal out of it like he always did.
Lionblaze looked proud. "Did you make any friends?"
"I met a ShadowClan apprentice..."
"ShadowClan!" Lionblaze gasped. "Well, making friends with a ShadowClan apprentice is a first. Just know that one day you may meet him in battle with unsheathed claws".
Firepaw nodded. "I know".
The Clan began to emerge through the trees. Lionblaze nudged him forward. "Let's go", he muttered. "I think Bramblestar's going to call a Clan meeting once we get back".