Set in Stone
Series: Coming soon
Succeeding: Burst of Fire
|In EarthClan resides a dusty brown apprentice called Quakepaw, who is training to become a Controller, a master of Earth, her Clan's art.
When something is revealed about her abilities, Quakepaw's life is turned around.
In AirClan resides a whispy white apprentice called Flurrypaw, who is also training to become a Controller of her Clan's art, which is Air. When she meets the most powerful cat in the Clans, Flurrypaw must fight for what she believes is right, one step at a time.
At the same time, a threat that will drive the Clans into an unstoppable battle is rising- and quickly.
The night was silent. There were no birds chirping, no cricket songs, no winds blowing the leaves off the trees. Dew glittered around a dark gray tom and his dark brown companion, but neither tom voiced that they saw it.
The gray tom fell behind the much more powerful brown one, letting him take the lead. This tom had to be protected or it meant the gray tom's death; if it was his fault or not.
"Stoneclaw," the dark brown tom called, breaking the silence. "Take a look at this."
Stoneclaw crept cautiously forward. "Take a look at what?" he asked quietly. His neck fur stood up, and he felt his tail began to bristle. If the brown tom classified something as dangerous, then it was bad. Very bad.
"FireClan scent," the brown tom muttered. "In WaterClan territory? What are they doing here?"
Stoneclaw crouched lower to the ground, feeling his belly barely touch the ground. "Just... avoid them," he advised. "We need to get to the WaterClan camp. You know that! Reedstar is expecting us, not a fight. We can warn them when we arrive."
The brown tom's reply was husky. "If FireClan are brave enough to leave scent right in the middle of WaterClan territory, then we have a problem, Stoneclaw!"
Stoneclaw sniffed it again. "It's not even fresh," he snapped back. "Let's go."
The brown tom stared at Stoneclaw for a long time, obviously pondering if his companion's words were true. After sniffing the scent again, he nodded at Stoneclaw to follow him.
Stoneclaw hesitantly followed the brown tom until he realized that he was following the same course as before- towards the WaterClan camp. The night fell silent again, until Stoneclaw heard a stick snap.
The brown tom instantly stomped his front paw on the ground, but Stoneclaw didn't hear the usual cry of surprise or pain.
Fire came from a random direction, and the brown tom threw himself to the ground. Stonetail followed. He saw a ginger tom push his way from the undergrowth with a smirk on his face.
"Crack," the ginger tom hissed. "I expect your Control to be Earth. It's your Clan Art after all..." Smoke came from the ginger tom's nostrils. "But the best way to fight fire is with fire."
"Flametooth, get out of WaterClan territory!" Crack snapped at the ginger tom.
Flametooth bared his teeth. "Give me a reason why, Chosen one," he snapped. "And then I'll consider."
Crack blew out a powerful breath that blew Flametooth's fur back. Stoneclaw crouched to the ground, knowing that this was the Chosen one's fight.
"Stoneclaw," Crack growled, "get WaterClan warriors. Now."
Stoneclaw raced for the bushes, but heard fire being blown behind him and spun, preparing to protect himself with a wall of Earth, but realized it was aimed at Crack. The Chosen one.
Crack leaped into the air- unsually high for an EarthClan cat- and blew fire from his jaws at Flametooth. His eyes glowed with concentration and he landed with unmatched skill, whirling to face the next attack.
Flametooth bared his teeth, and Stoneclaw shivered as he saw the thing Flametooth was most noticed for- his flaming teeth.
Crack didn't hesitate. He whipped his tail around, water appearing from what seemed like nowhere and hitting the FireClan warrior in the face. The fire was estinguished, but Flametooth wasn't.
Flametooth leaped, his mouth wide and breathing fire. He landed on Crack and dug his claws in. Crack's fur caught on fire, and both warriors went down.
Stoneclaw gasped as he realized Crack had not willed his fur to ignite. The Chosen one could not put out another cat's fire.
Flametooth bared his teeth in satisfaction. "Now the Chosen one will be reborn in FireClan. Stoneclaw, announce Crack's death to your Clan." The ginger tom's firey amber eyes flicked towards Stoneclaw, crouched in the bushes, before padding away.
Stoneclaw rushed towards Crack, yowling after Flametooth, "Your Clan will pay for this!"
"Don't bother," Crack breathed from below Stoneclaw. "Just... announce my death. Tell EarthClan that a rogue attacked me."
"What about your charred fur?" Stoneclaw's voice cracked with grief. "I can't hide that."
"Bury me here. Go back to EarthClan." Crack's voice still had it's usual command despite his ragged breathing and the sparks from his fur.
"Don't argue with me, Stoneclaw!" Crack rasped. "Make sure the Chosen one from FireClan knows that he has more than one choice."
With that said, Crack breathed out. The flames from his fur crackled and sparked and died slowly.
Stoneclaw realized the brown tom wasn't breathing anymore and let out a single, choked sound of grief.
The wind blew Crack's charred fur, and Stoneclaw watched as the Chosen one's fur disintagrated, leaving the parts untouched by fire.
Stoneclaw dug his claws into the dirt, clawing at the roots he found, and dug a hole with his Controller abilities.
The gray tom pushed the brown tom into the ground, covered him, and padded away.
Eyes glowed from the darkness, watching. Things were about to change.
"Crouch," Mudtail commanded again.
Quakepaw sighed and settled into the now-familiar crouch used to catch a mouse. She looked at her mentor, hoping to convey her exhaustion and annoyance in one look.
"There's a mouse over there," Mudtail snapped. "Get it!" He jerked his tail, pointing to a mouse holding a nut under a tall pine tree.
Quakepaw crept towards it, keeping her pawsteps light and her tail firmly on the ground. She paused, waiting for the right time to leap, and when the mouse saw her she realized she was too obvious.
She leaped anyway, chasing after the mouse with an unusual speed that she never knew she possessed. She leaped, throwing herself forward and catching the mouse in her outstretched paws, killing it with her unsheathed paws. She hit the ground and rolled, but she didn't panic. She jumped up at the perfect time and landed on all four paws.
Mudtail padded over, murmuring something that Quakepaw couldn't catch. "Good job," he mewed louder, stopping next to her. "You've mastered the roll, but your leap was clumsy."
Quakepaw sighed. Mudtail was only her mentor because he was the only one that didn't treat her like a hero- which she was- and instead treated her like any apprentice.
But Quakepaw was different. Quakepaw had stopped an earthquake at her birth. That's worth credit, right? she asked in her head. She sent a silent plea to StarClan, asking them to make Mudtail treat her like what she was.
"I know this is against the rules, but..." Mudtail trailed off, staring at her and tipping his head to one side. "You seem to be ready," he finished.
"Ready for what?" Quakepaw asked, bouncing on her paws. Thank you, StarClan! she thought. Excitement pulsed through her body as if it were in her blood, and the next thing her mentor told her made her even more jittery.
"I'm teaching you how to hunt with the earth."
Quakepaw gasped and bounced on her paws again. "Really?" she breathed.
Quakepaw had been hearing stories of the legendary Controllers of EarthClan- the ones gifted with the ability to use the earth as a weapon. There were normal cats, too, that trained normal apprentices, but Mudtail was a Controller himself. Quakepaw's abilities had been apparent since stopping the earthquake, and she had been waiting impatiently to use them since.
"Yes." Mudtail sat. "But first, you need to get that jump right. Your left and right paws leave the ground at the same time."
Quakepaw sighed and crouched again, feeling her belly touch the ground. She faced the dead mouse a few foxtails away.
She took her time. Her tail slowly lowered to the ground, and with a quick glance at Mudtail, she leaped, flying through the air at an unbelievable height.
"Quakepaw!" Mudtail snapped. "What are you doing?"
"What you told me to!" Quakepaw retorted angrily. "I jumped right, right?"
Mudtail bared his teeth at her. "Yes, but..." He seemed to shake something off. "It made a big difference."
Quakepaw nodded. Something had been weird about that, she knew, but she couldn't tell what and she didn't want to ask.
"Alright," Mudtail mewed briskly, "it's getting dark. We'll have to do this another time, and we both have to report to your father."
Quakepaw's father, Stonestar, was a Clan legend of some sort. He was leader, the best Controller around, and, of course, the father of Quakepaw.
Quakepaw looked up to her father, but he almost never talked to her. He was always busy- monitoring Controller training and progress, making sure his Clan was safe, and lately, he seemed to be talking more to the elders and to the medicine cat.
"Talk to Stonestar?" Quakepaw squeaked. "Why?"
"You'll understand later," Mudtail replied briskly. Nudging her from behind, he commanded, "Let's go," and padded towards camp.
The EarthClan territory was at the base of the small mountain that AirClan had claimed as their own. As they padded along the border, Quakepaw stared at the top, having an overwhelming sense to run on the smooth rock.
EarthClan's territory was a large contrast to AirClan's treeless, rocky mountain. EarthClan's territory was a dense forest with large boulders everywhere. EarthClan had used this strategically in a battle against an old Chosen one- Quakepaw hadn't heard the story, but that was what she had been told. EarthClan's camp was in the very center of the territory, surrounded by a dense web of trees and boulders that could only be crossed by one that could use the earth.
Quakepaw reached the camp in seemingly no time whatsoever and wriggled under the bramble wall. Mudtail pushed aside some earth to help her get through.
EarthClan's camp was actually very large. The dens were underground- forged by EarthClan Controllers long ago- and the leader's den was on a large cliff overlooking the camp.
Quakepaw walked by the medicine den- below the tree on the edge of camp- and saw the medicine cat, Hollyclaw, treating an injured Controller that went by the name of Redpelt.
"Hello, Hollyclaw," Mudtail greeted as they padded by, nodding at the busy she-cat. "I hope Redpelt's okay?" It was a statement posed as a question; one that required an answer.
"He's fine," Hollyclaw mewed briefly. "It just needs to be treated quickly."
Mudtail nudged Quakepaw along, but Quakepaw wanted to see how bad it was. She obediently padded along, peering over Hollyclaw to see what was wrong.
Redpelt's front right paw had been crushed, she saw. A regular injury, but not pleasant to look at.
Mudtail climbed Stonestar's cliff easily, but Quakepaw took longer, making sure each rock she put her paws on was stable enough to find another higher up. Mudtail watched her with a wary eye, looking slightly surprised but otherwise looking normal- his chest puffed out and his eyes darting around, waiting for another cat to challenge him.
As Quakepaw reached the top, she heard her name called from below. She recognized his voice: Sparrowpaw, a normal apprentice. She turned around. "What?" she called back, hoping that they would make it quick.
"How's training going?" Sparrowpaw asked.
"I'm about to find out," Quakepaw replied, her heart beginning to pound again. She waved her tail in farewell and turned away, and she heard a small sigh from the reddish tom.
Ignoring it, she followed Mudtail into her father's small den. The deputy, Blacktail, was having a low conversation with her father towards the back. Blacktail seemed nervous and Stonestar seemed unusually calm.
"Quakepaw," Stonestar mewed, standing. He glared at Blacktail, telling him to leave, and padded over to his daughter. "You've grown! You look stronger. And is that a scratch on your back? Hollyclaw should look at it right away."
"Redpelt smashed his paw, Stonestar. I'll be fine." Quakepaw felt a combination of happiness and annoyance rush through her, and she let the annoyance show. "I mean it."
Stonestar sighed. "What are you here for?" he asked Mudtail.
"It's Quakepaw," Mudtail explained with a glance at his apprentice. "I think she's the one you've been looking for."
"Looking for who?" Quakepaw asked, feeling confused. She sat, trying to make herself look older and stronger- old and strong enough for her father to tell her.
"Quakepaw..." Stonestar sighed and padded over to sit beside his daughter. "You remember Creek died just before you were born, am I correct?"
Quakepaw nodded. Creek had been the previous Chosen one, from WaterClan. "Why are you asking?"
"Well, there's a cycle." Stonestar paused and cleared his throat, looking at Mudtail for help. When he gave none, Stonestar continued. "The cycle goes from Air to Water to Earth to Fire and back to Air... and since Creek died... it's our turn to find the next Chosen one. To train them."
Quakepaw nodded slowly, an idea dawning on her. "You think... that I'm the Chosen one?"
Stonestar looked relieved. "Yes. But the elders know, and they don't tell us until we figure it out."
"Why?" Quakepaw asked.
"They like seeing the Chosen one realize who they are," Stonestar explained. "They've been waiting for a while for you. If you are the Chosen one... your life changes. A lot."
Quakepaw nodded. "Well, can we go ask?"
Stonestar nodded. "Yes. Now."
Stonestar led her out of his den and down the cliff, where Quakepaw fumbled over rocks. She found she felt stronger and more agile, but she didn't want to ruin something that could be so great by falling off a cliff. How stupid would that be? she thought.
Stonestar waited patiently for her at the bottom. She was led across the clearing past Hollyclaw, who was treating Redpelt, past Sparrowpaw and the other normal apprentice, Rustpaw. They didn't notice her.
The elder's den was dug under a bush, with a very narrow opening. Quakepaw padded in, expecting to see the five elders coughing on nests and stuggling to bite into mice.
The den was huge. The moss was all on one side. Four nests were made along the edge, where the elders sat. They were batting a mouse back and forth and purring about a joke one of them had made.
Stonestar cleared his throat loudly, making the elders go quiet.
Quakepaw only knew one of the elders. Her name was Lilyfur. Her white coat was fluffed, making her look young, but her eyes and face looked old and tired and filled with knowledge.
"Stonestar," a black tom mewed. His teeth were messed up, Quakepaw noticed, but she said nothing. The black tom continued, "Who did you bring along with you today?"
"My daughter," Stonestar explained. "Quakepaw."
A breath was drawn in from the four elders, but Lilyfur looked the least surprise. She gave Quakepaw a look that said, Stay strong.
"Quakepaw... the one that saved us from the earthquake?" a frail gray tom asked in awe, his green eyes wide.
"Yes," Stonestar mewed patiently. "I think she's the Chosen one."
Now the den was completely silent.
Quakepaw's heart pounded. What if I'm not the Chosen one? she thought. What if I am, but they hate me?
"She is," the black tom with the messed up teeth sighed. "We thought you would have guessed much later."
Quakepaw's heart swelled, but she did her best to look calm.
"Quakepaw," Stonestar mewed louder. "The Chosen one. You will train with Mudtail as your mentor until you master Earth, and then you will get your full name."
Quakepaw's heart pounded.
"Raggedtooth, Lilyfur, Weedtail, Leafpelt," Stonestar mewed, introducing the elders to Quakepaw as well as addressing them, "thank you for your time and effort."
Quakepaw looked over each of the elders, and decided Lilyfur looked the strongest and Weedtail the weakest.
Leafpelt held her gaze the longest. The tortoiseshell she-cat told Quakepaw in one look to stay strong, and never look back.
And as Quakepaw was led out of the den, she didn't.
Quakepaw finished her mouse and buried the bones, feeling jealous of the Controllers that could do it with a stomp of their paw.
Her body wanted to sleep. She still had to stay awake long enough for Mudtail to show her to a new den- one that hadn't been used in seasons, because the Chosen one almost never visted EarthClan.
Mudtail padded up to her, his eyes looking very wary.
"What's wrong?" Quakepaw asked.
"I always hoped you weren't the Chosen one..." Mudtail sighed. "I thought you would be a powerful EarthClan Controller."
Quakepaw sighed. "I think every cat knew it was coming... one way or another." Even she had. She had been the only choice.
"Well... Stonestar told me to show you your new den."
"Why doesn't he do it?" Quakepaw asked. She had hoped that with her new status that he would notice her more.
"He's busy, Quakepaw." Mudtail's tail twitched irritably.
Quakepaw sighed. "Alright." She felt her jaws break in the biggest yawn she had ever felt. It was a feeling different than tiredness, though, but she couldn't figure it out. Maybe... an omen?
She followed Mudtail to the base of a cliff. The wall was smooth in one place. Quakepaw knew that this was the place her den would appear. Somehow.
Mudtail did something with his claws, and the earth around Quakepaw rumbled.
A slab of stone slid aside, revealing a tunnel. A small one.
Quakepaw was astonished. EarthClan cats could Control well enough to burrow under the earth like voles?
She crept foward, aware that the ground beneath her paws was padded with soft moss, and that there was water dripping from the ceiling in one place, landing in a small pool.
The tunnel widened out into a circular shape, with a single mossy nest in the center.
"Wow," Quakepaw breathed, creeping to the nest.
"This was carved out by the first Chosen one," Mudtail mewed from behind Quakepaw. "No cat remembers their name or what Clan they originated from, but the cycle began with them."
Quakepaw tried to imagine the powerful cats that had slept in the den and couldn't. She remembered that she was one of them, and laid down with a shiver on her nest.
"I'll get you when it's time to train tomorrow," Mudtail told her, retreating.
Quakepaw didn't want him to leave. She felt so alone already.
Mudtail backed out when Quakepaw didn't protest and the den was slammed into darkness. Quakepaw found that when she shut her eyes, she saw stars.
Quakepaw's eyes blinked awake, and she saw a forest in front of her. She gasped and stumbled backwards, surprised, and then she realized it was a dream.
The forest seemed erily quiet. Quakepaw shivered. She didn't know what to do! Where was she?
A cold breeze made her shiver. It wasn't cold... it was just unnatural.
AirClan! she thought, taking an excited step towards the source of the breeze.
A strong wind blew her fur backwards, making her squint her eyes and crouch to the ground.
A cat appeared from the darkness. Quakepaw crouched lower to the ground, her belly brushing the soft, lush grass. She had never felt more connected to the earth.
"Quakepaw," the cat purred, taking a friendly step forward. "I thought you would come tonight!"
Quakepaw straightened up nervously and looked at the cat. She could tell it was a powerful tom, but no specific Clan scent came from him. He was bluish gray with a scar on his side.
"Who are you?" Quakepaw asked nervously, her tail flicking back and forth.
The tom's eyes narrowed. "You don't know?"
"No," Quakepaw squeaked.
The tom's whiskers twitched. "I didn't expect you to! I am Creek, the last Chosen one."
Quakepaw gasped and took a step away, feeling her fur burn with embarassment of not recognizing the important tom. "I-" she stuttered, "I- I didn't know! I'm sorry! Don't kill me!"
Creek purred. "Us Chosen ones were only trying to survive, just like all the other cats we met." At his words, three other cats stepped from the trees- a gray tom with darker gray whisps on his fur, a jet-black tom with a gray muzzle, and a dark brown tom with burn marks on his fur.
"This is the part of StarClan where the other Chosen ones reside, watching the current Chosen one deal with their troubles," Creek explained, noticing Quakepaw's awe. "The gray one is Whisp, the last Chosen one from AirClan, Whisp. The black one is the last FireClan Chosen one, Ash, and the brown one is the last EarthClan Chosen one, Crack."
Quakepaw nodded politely to them. "I'm Quakepaw," she heard herself squeak. "I'm the Chosen one now."
"We know," Ash mewed kindly. "We wanted to meet you."
Crack walked around Quakepaw, sizing her up. Quakepaw could feel him staring her down, and she puffed out her chest, trying to look stronger than she felt.
"She'll be a tough one," Crack murmured to himself."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Quakepaw shot at him. She dug her claws into the earth stubbornly, realizing that her rudeness could cause a fight.
Crack purred and his eyes brightened. "I didn't realize you could hear me," he explained. "It's a compliment. You won't get many of them during your life."
Quakepaw relaxed, waiting for Whisp to do something, like speak or show off his abilities.
Whisp just shrugged at Quakepaw and wrapped his tail around his paws. Quakepaw let out a breath, feeling annoyed and relieved, and faced Creek. "What is it like?" she asked. "You know... being a Chosen one? What problems did you have to deal with?"
Creek's eyes looked directly at Quakepaw's. "I won't lie to you," he mewed. "I had a problem with that when I was alive." After a pause, he continued, "Being the Chosen one is the most difficult position in the Clans. You have to migrate between the Clans to make sure there's nothing wrong. You are always in the middle of their problems. They think you're wise even though you might not know what in the name of StarClan you're doing. And you're always attacked. Always."
Quakepaw blinked. "Attacked?"
Creek nodded. "I was attacked by FireClan a lot, but once I made a mistake and AirClan cats attacked."
Behind Creek, Whisp flinched, but Quakepaw didn't detect any accusation in Creek's tone.
"Training is tough," Crack mewed, speaking up for the first time. "You must master your Clan Art very quickly. I mastered earth in three moons, I think. In addition to that, you have to master the other three Arts quickly."
Quakepaw saw Ash nod behind Crack, and Whisp's eyes narrowed.
"There's a problem?" Quakepaw asked Whisp, realizing there probably was none but trying to get him to speak.
"My training was easygoing," Whisp replied. He had a deep, confident voice that didn't seem to match one of a normal AirClan cat. "I was allowed to stay in a Clan as long as I wanted."
"That's thanks to Ash," Creek mewed. "He worked hard."
Crack nodded in agreement to Creek's words, but Ash looked embarassed.
Whisp stood abrubtly. His eyes darted around the clearing, staring at the other four cats.
Ash crept foward. "What's wrong?" he whispered.
"There's a prophecy I recieved the day you were born, Quakepaw," Whisp whispered, creeping forward.
Quakepaw was stunned.
"You have power," Whisp emphasized, staring into Quakepaw's eyes. "You will have more power."
"What did the prophecy say?" Creek demanded.
Whisp's voice became hoarse. "A raven covers the sun, and flurries of cinders rain from the sky to the quaking earth."
A jolt passed through Quakepaw. "What does it mean?" she whispered.
"It means you have a lot going against you," Whisp told her. He glanced into the forest.
"It's morning," Creek mewed quickly. "Mudtail will be waking you up soon. You must be ready!"
Quakepaw's eyes widened, but the images before her eyes flickered and faded away.
Quakepaw's eyes opened to stunning sunlight. Mudtail was standing in the entrance of the den, watching her. When he noticed her eyes were open, Mudtail mewed, "It's time for training."
Quakepaw stood, excitement pulsing through her veins. She heard her belly growl.
"Let's get something to eat, first." Mudtail had heard her belly growl, too, and was willing to make time for her.
As they padded twoards the food, Mudtail asked, "Did you dream at all? I've heard that the Chosen one eventually meets some of the past Chosen ones."
"I didn't dream," Quakepaw lied.
Mudtail only nodded. "Another time, then?"
"Yes." Quakepaw shook off her lie and began to eat.
It was going to be a long day.
When she imagined the cats that seemed to fly like the birds did, she would tingle with anticipation.
Now, it was Flurrypaw's turn.
She followed her mentor, Heronflight, over the familiar territory of AirClan, which was the mountain looming over the forest below.
A pleasant breeze came from behind a rock, but Flurrypaw knew it was two Controller apprentices play-fighting. She had an urge to send a gust of air towards them and jump in, but she had other things to do.
Her heart pumped with excitement and fear. Today, she would begin her attack training. No cat could leave AirClan territory until they could jump the canyon.
Heronflight stopped next to a large stone. "You ready?" he asked.
Flurrypaw shook her head. "I have to be," she mewed shakily. She tried not to imagine the dreams she had the night before.
"Let's go then, it gets steep here," Heronflight warned, taking a step foward and nearly slipping down the mountain.
Flurrypaw's paw hesitantly lifted off the ground. She took a hesitant step foward, placing her paw firmly on the ground.
She took two more steps. Back paw, front paw. Right paw, left paw.
The next step, her paw slipped, and she dug her claws into the gravel.
"C'mon," Heronflight encouraged. "At the worst, you'll slip a couple of fox-lengths."
Flurrypaw, who had seen a fox before, knew how big they were. As she peered around the rock that hid the canyon from her view, she shivered.
The canyon was... undescribably large, she thought. Birds flew above it, adjusting their course to stay at a reasonable distance above the ground. Flurrypaw could see FireClan cats pacing the other side, marking their territory.
"Hello!" Heronflight called to the FireClan cats.
Flurrypaw watched with bated breath as Heronflight easily approached the canyon, using the air around him to give a happy, windy appearance on the AirClan side.
"Hello," a FireClan cat called haughtily back.
Heronflight called across the canyon, "I need your permission for my apprentice to learn to leap the cliff here, as she'll probably be crossing into your territory in the first couple of tries."
"We teach our apprentices control before we let them advance," a ginger tom shot back, smoke coming from his nostrils.
"Flurrypaw is very advanced. This is one of the last few skills she needs to learn in order to become a full Controller," Heronflight called back hopefully.
"How about a deal?" the ginger tom proposed, seeming to realize that these cats didn't need him to raise his voice to be heard. "If this apprentice comes back with a rabbit for us, you can teach her."
Heronflight groaned, but he padded over to Flurrypaw. "Go catch a rabbit, it's the only way they'll let us."
"I'll catch two!" Flurrypaw told the FireClan cats loudly before racing off at full speed.
She found a rabbit quickly and caught it easily as she had been taught, then trotted back to where her mentor was standing. "Here," she mewed, her voice muffled by the fur.
Heronflight took the rabbit from her and leaped across the canyon, dropping the fresh prey in front of the FireClan cats. "There," he mewed, "can she learn now?"
"Yes," the FireClan cats chorused. They stepped back respectfully and watched as Heronflight began to teach his apprentice.
"Flurrypaw," the lithe Controller began, "can you hear me?"
"Yes," Flurrypaw mewed. "Very well, thank you."
"Respect," she heard him murmur. "Very good." Raising his voice, he asked, "Flurrypaw, what do you do when you're jumping?"
"I lift off with a push," Flurrypaw responded. She imagined pushing herself with a powerful gust of air.
"Yes. How do you keep going across the canyon?" Heronflight inquired.
"Cushion the air around you"- Flurrypaw made a motion with her tail- "and direct it in the direction you want to go."
"Good," praised Heronflight. "How about landing?"
"Create a cushion of air under you."
"When do you begin that process?"
"Halfway." Flurrypaw's answer was prompt.
"Halfway towards the ground or through your jump?"
"Both, you begin halfway through your jump," Flurrypaw began, stumbling over the familiar phrase, "and you strengthen it halfway to the ground."
"Remember that," Heronflight reminded her. "You forgot last time."
"When you're ready," Heronflight mewed, stepping back respectfully. "I'll be here in case something goes wrong."
The word wrong rang in Flurrypaw's ears as she stepped back to prepare for her jump. She felt the FireClan cats' eyes on her.
"Go," she whispered to herself. Across the canyon, Heronflight's ears perked as the word drifted to him, but Flurrypaw didn't care if he was listening.
Something clicked in Flurrypaw's head and she raced down the steep slope, feeling the air gather under her. Just at the edge of the cliff, she sprang off the ground, flapping her tail to send the air forcefully away from her.
"Yes," she whispered. She felt herself sinking, and she quickly remembered to gather the air around her to propel herself across the canyon.
Heronflight's eyes were bright.
Flurrypaw eyed the other side and began to push the air around her to make a cushion for her landing. She began to sink, and as she did, she pushed more air under her.
It wasn't enough.
She hit the ground with her paws under her and raced to keep her balance. Her paws skidded on the tiny rocks and she stopped just before the scent line, right in front of the FireClan cats.
The ginger tom snorted smoke and Flurrypaw leaped backward with an uncontrolled burst of air, landing on the edge of the canyon. Her heart pounded.
"Jumpy," the ginger tom remarked to his Clanmates.
Flurrypaw hissed. "You made mistakes when you were training!"
The FireClan tom puffed his chest out. "I made no mistakes."
"You made a mistake scaring my apprentice," Heronflight growled, crouching low to the ground.
"You going to blast me?" the ginger tom taunted, prancing back and forth on his paws. "Oh, an AirClan cat is threatening me!"
Heronflight lashed his tail. "You bet I am."
The ginger tom flew back and hit a tree in his own territory. Flurrypaw heard his back snap.
"Stop!" Flurrypaw cried at Heronflight. "You know just as well as I do not to attack!" She rushed to the ginger tom's aid, but she was knocked roughly back by one of the ginger tom's companions, a jet-black tom.
"Flurrypaw, get back across the line," Heronflight snarled, his fur bristling. "We don't need trouble."
"You just made trouble!" Flurrypaw retorted, but she did as she was told.
"Go back," breathed Heronflight.
Flurrypaw breathed back, "What?"
"Jump the cliff. You'll do fine."
"I'm not going without you," Flurrypaw growled.
"Fine!" Heronflight snapped. He spun around and leaped the canyon without a second thought.
Flurrypaw watched him go before trying to follow.
What had she done?
"Patrol, Flurrypaw," Heronflight called. "Me and you today."
Flurrypaw stood, bade farewell to her fellow apprentice, Rushpaw, and padded after her mentor.
A quarter-moon had passed since Heronflight had attacked the FireClan cat. Since then, Heronflight had trained Flurrypaw rigorously.
"We're doing it at the canyon," Heronflight told Flurrypaw as the two padded along. Flurrypaw imagined how they looked- an outgoing, light whispy gray apprentice padding next to a dark gray hefty-shouldered tom.
Heronflight, in truth, was not broad-shouldered. All of the AirClan cats were lean with the exception of the leader, Guststar, and his son, Breezeheart.
The two cats leaped the canyon after a brief instruction from Heronflight and stared across the border into FireClan territory.
"I'm worried," Heronflight mewed darkly. "FireClan always threaten and tease AirClan cats, but they actually seemed to be angry..."
Flurrypaw squinted to make out a group of figures trotting through the FireClan forest. "Heronflight," she mewed slowly. "There's a patrol of cats coming..."
A pair of bright amber eyes caught Flurrypaw's gaze. They disappeared quickly, just as Heronflight asked, "What?"
"There's a patrol," Flurrypaw mewed uncertainly. "I saw them!"
Heronflight pricked his ears and a wind blew his fur back.
"There is a patrol," he murmured, "and I can hear what they're saying."
Flurrypaw had tuned into the two youngest-sounding voices, who she could identify as apprentices.
"Sunpaw," one chirped, "stop squirming. They'll leave evenutally."
"No," Sunpaw hissed back. "I want to fight! Those cats hurt my mentor."
"You'll get a chance eventually," the other apprentice told him.
Flurrypaw glanced at Heronflight to see his face filled with anger. "They're going to try and attack the camp."
Flurrypaw quietly hissed to herself, chiding herself about not listening to the right cat. "How many cats are there?" she asked her mentor, crouching. "Should I go get more cats?"
"No, I will," Heronflight mewed. "Hold your own."
I'm too close to the cliff to fight! Flurrypaw thought with alarm. She kept her face carefully straight as Heronflight disappeared from her side.
Pricking her ears, she listened to the FireClan cats with the older-sounding voices. "The mentor just left," one hissed. "Attack now."
Flurrypaw was expecting many cats to fly from the bushes and rake her with their claws.
She realized that wasn't what was going to happen as a burst of fire exploded towards her. She whipped to the side, putting out the fire with a gust of air.
Flurrypaw faced the forest again, now smelling ashes and hearing growls. "Come out and face me!" she spat. "Are you too scared to fight me in the open?"
She heard a cry: "Sunpaw, no!" before a brilliantly ginger apprentice pushed his way through the bushes to face Flurrypaw. "Your mentor hurt mine," he growled, "so you're going to get hurt."
"Try me," Flurrypaw taunted.
Sunpaw shot towards her, but Flurrypaw pushed him back with a powerful gust of air that could knock a cat back easily.
Sunpaw, however, held his own and whipped to the side while shooting fire at her. A move Flurrypaw had used, and somehow better. Flurrypaw leaped into the air to avoid the fire and tried unsuccessfully to hurt the ginger apprentice again.
Sunpaw smirked. "You can't beat me!" he boasted.
Flurrypaw rushed forward and raked the FireClan tom with her claws. Feeling satisfied with his painful yowl, she pushed him back with a powerful gust of air and he hit the base of a tree in shock.
"Sunpaw!" a voice cried. A dark gray she-cat rushed from the bushes to the tree, attacking Flurrypaw as she ran.
Flurrypaw avoided the fire, but didn't attack, sensing desperation in the she-cat's actions.
The gray apprentice reached Sunpaw, pushing her nose into his fur.
"Cinderpaw," Sunpaw croaked, "it's okay, I'll live. She won."
"FireClan don't lose!" Cinderpaw snapped, whirling to face Flurrypaw. Flurrypaw stepped back in alarm as fire barely missed her, but she could feel the heat.
"You can say that again," Flurrypaw hissed, slapping her tail on the ground. Cinderpaw flew into the air and hit the ground with a huff.
"Try me," Flurrypaw spat into the trees, "and see what happens." Now, she felt angry enough to throw them all at the ground.
Three warriors pushed their way through the trees, eyes bright with danger, but they didn't look like a threat to Flurrypaw.
"What's the problem here?" Flurrypaw heard Heronflight ask. "Why are two of your apprentices hurt?"
"They attacked me in revenge," Flurrypaw explained quickly.
"You hurt my mentor!" Sunpaw croaked at Heronflight angrily. "You coward, you didn't even stay! You left your apprentice to fight."
Heronflight's eyes flared with anger.
"Ignore him," Flurrypaw whispered, looking at the cats Heronflight had brought with him. All of the most powerful AirClan Controllers.
"Cinderpaw, Sunpaw, can you stand?" one of the FireClan cats asked.
Both apprentices stood with groans.
"You'll pay for this, AirClan, I'm sure of it!" a FireClan cat threatened.
Flurrypaw watched them retreat, then turned to Heronflight, her fur prickling with shame.
"What have we done?" Heronflight whispered.
"Stay next to me," Heronflight instructed Flurrypaw. "We're entering FireClan territory."
Flurrypaw obeyed her mentor as she followed her Clan to Stone Circle, where the Clans gathered every moon and discussed what Heronflight called matters of importance. Flurrypaw had never been to a Gathering before, as they were limited to Controller and Controller apprentices, but she was looking foward to it.
She wondered if Sunpaw and Cinderpaw would be there. They were obviously far into their training, but they had gotten hurt the day before.
"We're near," Heronflight murmured. "Whatever you do, don't tell any cat about your training or that Breezeclaw is sick. They'd be more likely to attack."
Breezeclaw, the medicine cat, was sickened with greencough. The medicine cat apprentice, Birdflight, was doing her best, but there was only a matter of time until Breezeclaw's unfortunate death.
"Okay," Flurrypaw murmured.
As they passed a line of large stones and padded into a ravine, Heronflight began to explain the Stone Circle. "This is the ravine. There's just enough room for cats to walk two and two, and the most important cats stay in the front."
"All the Clans do that?" Flurrypaw asked.
"Yes," her mentor replied. "The Stone Circle refers to both the location of this place and the circle of stones that surrounds the clearing. Snow never falls here, and sunlight or moonlight never touches the ground. The Circle has been the place where Chosen ones have been fully realized and where the most important battles in Clan history have taken place.
"Inside the Circle, the Center Stone is where the leaders stand. There is a special stone beside it for the Chosen one and the deputies and the medicine cats sit around it."
Flurrypaw silently marveled at the Clan traditions that she would become a part of. She scented the air and smelled EarthClan and WaterClan cats.
As she entered the Circle, she breathed out. It was much bigger than she had imagined, and the ground was perfectly flat and smooth. It was burned in some places, but as Heronflight had said, there was no moonlight. The clearing had no light, but there was a piece of wood in the center of the Center Stone.
Flurrypaw didn't know anyone but her Clanmates. She watched the other apprentices talk. One apprentice was also sitting around, alone. Her light brown, dusty-looking pelt marked her as a EarthClan cat, but there was something else about her that confused Flurrypaw.
As a reddish tom padded up to her and greeted her as Quakepaw, Flurrypaw wondered where her name had come from. She resisted the urge to call out, and instead, she watched her leader, Guststar, greet the other two leaders. One resembled Quakepaw, and Flurrypaw guessed that he was the EarthClan leader, Stonestar. The other cat was obviously the WaterClan leader, Riverstar.
"Hello," a small voice mewed.
Flurrypaw turned around to see a blue-gray apprentice behind her. "Hello," she mewed kindly.
"I'm Icepaw," the apprentice mewed, his voice quavering. "My mentor wanted me to go meet somebody from another Clan, and the dusty she-cat over there"- he motioned towards Quakepaw- "was my first choice, but then that red tom stole my chance." Icepaw sounded bitter.
"I'm sorry," Flurrypaw apoligized, wondering why the blue-gray tom was being so honest. "I'm Flurrypaw," she mewed helpfully. "I'm from-"
"AirClan," Icepaw finished. "I know. You're much thinner than all of the other cats."
"You're WaterClan," Flurrypaw shot back, feeling annoyed. "You're much more plump than every other cat because you have the river."
Icepaw sucked in a breath. "That's true," he admitted. "But we have as much trouble hunting as you do."
"Hunting should be easy!" Flurrypaw speculated. "Getting a fish seems easier than chasing after a-"
At that very moment, Flurrypaw smelled the FireClan cats approaching. "Gotta go," she mewed. "I can see my mentor calling me." She scurried away from Icepaw, who looked confused, and hid behind a stone in the Circle and watched the FireClan cats file in, two by two.
First was the leader, Flamestar, and another cat that Flurrypaw could guess was the deputy. The Controller warriors followed, followed by the apprentices.
As she saw Sunpaw and Cinderpaw, their feet wrapped in herbs, Flurrypaw panicked.
She overheard two EarthClan cats talking about her, cowardly hiding behind a stone.
Flurrypaw glared at them as she stood up and stepped away from the stone.
Sunpaw had seen her. Instead of glaring at her, he padded over. "Hello," he mewed formally.
"Hi," Flurrypaw mewed awkwardly. "How are you?"
"Fine," Sunpaw mewed dismissively. "You were a good fighter, and I was overconfident."
"I was actually having trouble beating you," Flurrypaw admitted, embarassed. "I mean... you're tough."
"I didn't feel tough," Sunpaw purred. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm okay. You looked really worried yesterday."
I did? Flurrypaw thought, alarmed. "Yeah... well... I'm a nicer cat than I am a fighter. You did a good job, too."
"Did you see I stole a move of yours?" Sunpaw asked, his ears perking up. "It was clever."
"I did see. It's better for AirClan cats, though."
Sunpaw shrugged, looking at his paws. "I still did a good job with it, though."
Flurrypaw purred at him. "Yes, you did."
Sunpaw paused, then he changed the subject. "Do you think there's a new Chosen one yet?"
"About time," Flurrypaw muttered.
"I think the Clans would do just fine without one," Sunpaw mewed. "FireClan is growing stronger with every d- hey, look!" he suddenly exlaimed, his tail shooting up, "The Gathering's starting!"
She looked up just in time to see Flamestar touch his flaming tail to the wood in the middle of the Center Stone. The clearing lit up, dancing with light.
Flurrypaw could now see all the way across the clearing. She saw all the cats stop what they were doing and turn to face the leaders as they began in soft, enchanting voices.
"FireClan is in danger," Flamestar whispered, putting his tail out somehow. "AirClan attacked us. They haven't stopped."
A gasp rippled through the gathered cats and Flurrypaw felt anger rising.
"We give you one warning," Flamestar finished. "Stop attacking us, or we'll attack you."
Growls came from the assembled AirClan cats, but Flurrypaw didn't make a sound. She noticed Heronflight was silent, too.
"In other news," Flamestar continued brightly, "we have a new deputy."
Flurrypaw blinked. She had heard that the FireClan deputy was very young.
Next to her, Sunpaw winced, but he said nothing.
A black cat stood up as Flamestar mewed, "He's an outsider, but he proved himself very quickly."
Yowls of protest came from the other three Clans.
"Only Controllers can be deputies!" an EarthClan warrior yowled.
A WaterClan warrior joined in, too. "Outsiders don't know the ways of the Clans! They don't have our blood!"
"Indeed this is," Flamestar mewed calmly, the cats falling silent, "but Raven is very smart. He has advisors."
Flurrypaw's heart pounded, but she stood up. "Flamestar," she called, "why don't you just make the advisors deputy?"
Flamestar growled at her. "Sit down, apprentice, you don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes she does!" Heronflight yowled. "This is my apprentice."
"Oh, the one that attacked my Clan?" Flamestar hissed. "Sit down, AirClan, FireClan has control of the Circle now."
Heronflight obeyed angrily, and Flurrypaw was forced to sit by Sunpaw's gaze.
"Raven is the FireClan deputy. It is not a matter of all four Clans, but FireClan's decision," Flamestar snapped.
After it was clear that Flamestar was finished, Riverstar stepped forward. "Prey is swimming, and the river is thawing. We have a new Controller, Fishclaw," he finished.
Guststar stepped forward next. "Prey is running, and I apologize for my cats, Flamestar. It won't happen again," he added sternly.
All attention turned to Stonestar. By the way he was holding himself, Flurrypaw could tell there was important news coming.
"Quakepaw," Stonestar mewed. "Can you come here for a moment, please?"
Flurrypaw held her breath as she saw the dusty brown EarthClan apprentice pad across the smooth clearing to face her father beneath the rock.
"EarthClan, FireClan, AirClan, WaterClan!" Stonestar called, his tail going straight up, "the cat sitting in front of me has been determined to be the new Chosen one."
A gasp rippled through the crowd.
A new Chosen one? Flurrypaw thought in alarm. Oh, FireClan won't be happy.
"Quakepaw of EarthClan is the new Chosen one," Stonestar told the Clans proudly. "She will be finished training in EarthClan in six moons."
Flurrypaw heard Quakepaw's breathing. It was quiet and ragged with effort. How hard had they been training Quakepaw?
The EarthClan cats looked proud. Flurrypaw noticed her own Clan and WaterClan looked relieved.
Sunpaw and FireClan, however, looked uneasy.
"Figures he'd mention it at our chance," Sunpaw muttered. "How long as he been sitting on it?"
"Clans," the apprentice began to say.
"I mean... she doesn't even look strong. Maybe it's a lie," Sunpaw continued.
"I'm just as surprised as you are..." Quakepaw continued. "But I think... if we work through our problems together, I won't be a threat."
This remark was met with nods of agreement from the AirClan, WaterClan, and the EarthClan cats.
"I will train my hardest," Quakepaw promised, looking at all the apprentices. "I will be kind."
"Figures," Sunpaw muttered to himself. "Wait until she figures out what's going to happen."
"What?" Flurrypaw whispered, alarm rushing through her. Was this the first problem that the Chosen one had to face?
"I'm honored to be chosen," Quakepaw added, "and I will represent my Clan the best way I can."
The cats around the Circle nodded, their heads bobbing up and down with approval for the dusty brown apprentice.
Flurrypaw's heart was dark. What problem would Quakepaw have to face?
"This Gathering is over," Stonestar declared loudly, staring proudly at his daughter. "We will update the Clans on Quakepaw's training in one moon."
Flurrypaw looked at the full moon, her hope shrinking as she saw all the dirty looks Quakepaw was given by the FireClan cats.
Raven, however, padded up to Quakepaw and bowed his head.
Quakepaw nodded back, her eyes flashing, and followed her Clan out of the Circle.
Sunpaw shrugged at Flurrypaw. "I'll see you at the next Gathering," he promised. "As long as I'm not injured," he purred.
"I'll try my hardest," Flurrypaw mewed, twitching her whiskers.
Sunpaw nodded respectfully at her and padded away.
"Flurrypaw, time to go," Heronflight mewed, padding over to his apprentice. "Long day tomorrow."
Flurrypaw nodded, her head whirling.
She had to get to Quakepaw before it was too late. Before the Clans fell apart.