Pinefire felt a drop of icy water hit him like a gentle rock on his dark brown head. His eyes snapped open in a flash, the bright blueness catching sight of the rising sun outside. The young warrior stood up, arched his back and stretched out his paws, shaking his fur. It had been a peaceful night in the warriors' den; no sound had ever woken him up in the middle of a clear black night. 

Pinefire strolled over to the other side of the den. Raising a paw, he prodded his older sister gently on her dark-furred shoulder. Opening one green eye, dull with sleep, she glared at her younger brother, annoyed that he had woken her up from her dreamless sleep.

"Ehh.." she grumbled, her eyes adjusting to the light. "Pinefire, you lousy furball, why have you woken me up?"

Pinefire chuckled nervously. He knew his sister so well, and he knew her sharp personalitly. And it wasn't exactly oblivious to any DawnClan cat.

"Look at the beautiful sunrise, Darkstorm." He grinned. "I think it's time the Clan woke up."

Darkstorm stood up, elegantly arching her back in a good stretch. She rolled her tired eyes at her brother. "You do realise that's Lionstar's job, right?" She moaned. "You, Pinefire, have not even been a warrior for long."

Pinefire's pelt grew hot with embarrassment. "Well...I was...just making a suggestion."

Darkstorm smirked, carefully padding around their sleeping Clanmates. Pinefire followed, trying to keep noise to a minimum. The early, glaring sun fell down on the two cats like a spotlight. Glancing around, Pinefire's bright eyes landed on a little cavern at the opposite end of the clearing. The nursery.

"Do you think Mothtail is awake?" asked Darkstorm, licking her shoulder with her dark pink tongue. "Those kits of her's are going to become apprentices soon."

Pinefire glanced back at his sister. Mothtail was their mother, and the oldest nursery queen. Pinefire and Darkstorm's late father, Crowflight, had died saving DawnClan's camp from a being torn apart from a cete of bloodthirsty badgers. With both their dark fur and green eyes, Darkstorm and her father were almost identical. (With the exception of a grey ring around Crowflight's black tail which betrayed the twin-like reference.) Now, Mothtail had taken a new mate, Ravenfeather. Ravenfeather was the oldest warrior in the Clan. Pinefire was surprised that such an old cat wanted any kits at all. Ravenfeather had never had a mate or kits before, so he respected the old tom's choice to take a mate and raise his own kits before he retired to the elders' den.

Darkstorm let out a dry laugh. "You know just how noisy Shadowkit can be. I'm surprised she even gets some sleep."

Pinefire and Darkstorm padded quietly across the cold clearing towards the nusery. As they walked, Pinefire observed all that was around him. DawnClan's camp was surrounded by large pine and oak trees that acted as their safety border. It was usually cold all year for the Clan, not just in leaf-bare, though some bright warmness did come for greenleaf. 

Darkstorm entered the small but wide little den first, and her brother followed. Inside, the air was damp with a thick but comforting smell of she-cat milk, and nests littered the floor like fallen leaves. There were only three queens at the moment: Mothtail of course, with her light grey fur and bright blue eyes; Boneclaw, with her white and black belly heavy with her unborn kits and there was her sister Echostep with her two kits, Snakekit and Whitekit play fighting, batting each other with their tiny paws. Behind Mothtail, two small kits were playing with her tail, as if imagining the wriggling grey fur to be prey. One was a pretty tortoiseshell she-cat with bright green eyes, taking the apprenence of Mothtail's late mother Turtlesplash. The other kit was a smaller black tom with a snow-white underbelly. He grabbed Mothtail's light grey tail with his paws and chewed it gently with his growing fangs. Mothtail whinced a tiny bit, trying not to let it show and turned towards her mischievous son.

"Shadowkit!" The she-cat scolded gently. "For the last time, stop biting my tail. It's not a rabbit!"

Shadowkit's water-blue eyes gazed upwards sheepishly. "Sorry Mothtail."

The tortoiseshell she-cat pounced on her brother, grinning triumphantly. "Never let your guard down brother of mine, otherwise you'll to be mousemeat!" She teased with a gentle purr.

Shadowkit wiggled underneath his sister's weight. "Get off me, Flowerkit!" He grumbled. 

"Say the magic word." The colourful kitten whispered. "Otherwise, I'm going to stay here forever!"

"Flowerkit!" Mothtail snapped, glaring at her daughter. "Get off your brother. You know he doesn't like it!"

Intimidated by her mother's hard glare, she shot off Shadowkit without even hesitating. Pinefire whinced at Mothtail's sharp tone. He remembered his mother's icy voice from when he was a kit. She was gentle one minute, and could turn into a crazy fretting fox the next, just like Darkstorm.

Flowerkit snorted at Shadowkit. "You're no fun, Shadowkit." She rasped. "You timid little mouse."

Pinefire stepped forward. "That's enough, Flowerkit." His voice stern. "Why don't you go and play with Snakekit and Whitekit, if that's okay with your mother." He glanced at Mothtail, who blinked him a welcoming thank you. Flowerkit let out an annoyed groan and padded over to where Snakekit and Whitekit were play fighting and carefully being watched by Echostep.

Mothtail breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Pinefire." She gave her son another slow blink. "I have a hard time controlling her. She's just so naughty sometimes!"

Darkstorm stepped forward until she stood beside her brother. "Aren't all kits?"

Mothtail laughed. "It just seems like yesterday when I gave birth to you two." She sat up and gave her light-grey chest a lick. "You've both grown up so fast, and it won't be long before my old bones will give up and retire."

Pinefire gazed at his mother. She was an older cat, but not as old as Shadowkit and Flowerkit's father. Ravenfeather would soon be retiring to the elders' den, way before his new kits would even become warriors. His blue eyes travelled to where Flowerkit had sulked off to. The tortoiseshell kitten was now playing with Echostep's kits. 

"Snakekit does look like her father, don't you think Mothtail?" Pinefire asked, his gaze focusing on the young Snakekit. Snakekit had pale ginger fur with three black stripes which stood out on her forehead. Her and Whitekit's father was Waspfur, a golden tabby tom that had black stripes running down each side of his body like dripping water. Both Snakekit and Waspfur had amber eyes as well.

Mothtail grunted and looked over. "Oh yes; Waspfur does show in little Snakekit."

Darkstorm cleared her throat. "I guess we should leave you Mothtail, you need your rest." She flicked her tail at Pinefire. "Come on brother."

As the black warrior strolled calmly out of the den, Mothtail let out a raspy chuckle. "Always so demanding, isn't she?"

Pinefire rolled his eyes. "You got that right." He arched his skinny back and padded towards the cave entrance. "Bye Mothtail." He called over his shoulder. But instead of Mothtail answering, a tiny voice spoke up.

"Goodbye Pineyfire!" 

Pinefire looked back to see Shadowkit grinning at him, waving goodbye with his small tail. Pinefire smiled to himself. What a lovely kit, he thought. One day, I'm sure, he will grow up to be a fine warrior.

Chapter One

"Enemy warrior, feel my claws!" Shadowpaw screeched as he landed on his opponent, pinning her to the ground by her shoulders and drawing up his head in triumph. "You better not steal our prey again!"

The light-grey warrior that Shadowpaw had pinned to the dry ground gave meow of approval. Giving the impression that he had done well, the black apprentice scrambled off his mentor. The older cat rose to her paws and gazed at her apprentice with glee shining in her amber eyes.

"That was fantastic, Shadowpaw." The grey she-cat meowed with pride. "An excellent performance of the Shoulder-drop. I can tell you will become a fine warrior in the future."

She winked and Shadowpaw felt his pelt grow hot with pride and embarassment. "T-thanks Rainfall." He whispered shyly.

Rainfall grinned. "Next, we'll practise the Play-dead technique. That move is very effective and will help you in a battle."

Shadowpaw smiled at his mentor. When Lionstar, the great leader of DawnClan, had announced that Rainfall would be his mentor; Shadowpaw had never felt happier. Rainfall was one of the Clan's oldest and most experienced warriors, and Shadowpaw didn't expect a small and timid kit like him to gain such a noble cat as his mentor.

As Shadowpaw and Rainfall padded back to DawnClan's camp through the undergrowth after their training, a voice rang out through the forest of pines.

"Hey, Shadowpaw!"

Shadowpaw spun around to see his best friend, Snakepaw, sprinting towards him, with her mentor Foxclaw walking slowly behind. The pale-ginger apprentice drew out her paws and skidded to a halt in front of him.

"Hi, Snakepaw!" Shadowpaw meowed, happy to see his friend. "How did training go?"

Still trying to catch her breath, Snakepaw panted for a few heartbeats before answering. "Hard." She replied. "Foxclaw and I practised the Duck and Twist and Jump and pin. It took me a few gos to perfect it, let me tell you."

Shadowpaw glanced over Snakepaw's shoulder to see that Foxclaw was gazing down at her apprentice, her bright green eyes shining with pride, and her russet-coloured pelt shone brightly in the sunlight that rained down on the Clan cats with it's bright rays.

"But you never gave up," Foxclaw's soft voice replied. "And that is a great skill for a warrior to have."

Snakepaw grinned over her shoulder at her mentor, before turning back to Shadowpaw.

"Both of you have worked well today, it seems." Rainfall meowed. "When we get back to camp, why don't you both pick out what you want from the fresh-kill pile?"

Shadowpaw turned around and looked at his mentor with happiness. "Yeah!" He meowed in glee. "Thank you!"

When the four cats pushed through the vines that draped over the camp entrance, Shadowpaw and Snakepaw ran across the clearing to the fresh-kill pile, racing each other to get to it first. Snakepaw was a little bit faster than her friend, and Shadowpaw gazed after her as she sped in front of him. The pale-ginger apprentice skidded to a halt at the foot of the pile that was flooded with prey. Shadowpaw saw her pick up a plump rabbit and wait for him as he chose a vole for himself. The pair padded over to the thornbush that sat waiting alone at the edge of the clearing for them. 

As Shadowpaw bit into the juicy vole, he looked around the camp's clearing. The apprentices' den and the warriors' den were neighbours, both with a large opening as an entrance. The leader's den stood at the far end of the camp, hustled into a corner that blocked out the sound of the busy cats. The medicine cat's den was between the elders' den and the nursery. Shadowpaw's sister, Flowerpaw, was the medicine cat's apprentice. His tortoiseshell littermate had always been interested in Sharkfang, DawnClan's medicine cat, and, as a kit, had often helped him sort out some of his healing herbs. So when Flowerpaw was granted the title of medicine cat apprentice, she couldn't have been more overjoyed.

Mothtail, their mother, was going to be returning to the life of a warrior now that her kits were apprentices. So was Snakepaw's mother, Echostep. The other queen, Boneclaw, had given birth to her three kits when Shadowpaw was still in the nursery, and soon they would become apprentices themselves in the next moon or so.

"Hey, you two!"

A sharp, mocking tone broke through Shadowpaw's thoughts. Turning his head, he saw a dark ginger tom padding towards them. Shadowpaw groaned. It was Blazepaw. The most annoying apprentice in DawnClan, and a huge bully. Shadowpaw turned to Snakepaw, who had raised her golden head to glare at the ginger tom. 

"Go away Blazepaw," she spat. "We don't want any trouble here."

Blazepaw stood in front of the friends, his dark blue eyes gleaming with amusement at Snakepaw. Shadowpaw snorted. Every cat in DawnClan knew that Blazepaw liked his friend, and tried everything he could to impress her. But of course, it never worked. Snakepaw hated Blazepaw as much as he did.

Blazepaw glanced over at Shadowpaw and let out an unimpressed snort. "Why do you bother hanging out with this loser, Snakepaw?" he asked mockingly, ignoring her request to leave. "And why not me?" He winked at her. Snakepaw rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Shadowpaw's my friend," She hissed. "If you have a problem with that, then don't bother talking to me."

Blazepaw narrowed his eyes at the ginger she-cat. Shadowpaw could have sworn he'd had seen the apprentice's teeth bare for a second in a slight snarl. 

"I just came to say that my warrior ceremony is tonight," he growled. "I guess you're not even going to congratulate me, are you?"

Snakepaw closed her eyes and whinced. Shadowpaw knew that she didn't want to be disrespectful to her Clanmate, even if it was Blazepaw.

"Well..." The ginger she-cat stammered. "Congratulations, Blazepaw."

Shadowpaw narrowed his eyes at Blazepaw as he scrapped the dry earth with his claws. This was what the bully did best, taking advantage of Snakepaw's weakness, which was to show rudeness in front of a Clanmate, and he knew he was doing it. Shadowpaw so longed to rake his claws over the ginger tom's ear, but he kept his emotions under control.

Blazepaw smirked at Snakepaw, his tail swishing with pride. "Why thank you, kind apprentice." He said in his mocking tone. "One day, I'm sure, you will make a great mother."

He's making fun of her! Shadowpaw thought with an edge of anger. He snapped his jaws at Blazepaw, his blue eyes aflame with the anger that surged in his heart. "Just get out of here and run back to Nightshade. She doesn't want you here, and neither do I."

Blazepaw's blue eyes blazed like a cold fire, and his drew out his claws. "Is that a challenge, little flea-pelt. Aww, that's so cute!" He let out a cruel snigger. "And please, I could tear your pelt off with one swipe!"

"What is going on here?" 

A deep voice rang out, directed towards the two apprentices. Turning round, Shadowpaw saw Blazepaw's mentor Nightshade, strolling towards them. Shadowpaw winced; every kit in the Clan was scared of Nightshade, and even though he was an apprentice now, he still had a right to fear him. Nightshade's black pelt was ruffled, like he hadn't been grooming for days; his amber eyes could pierce through the heart of any cat with a strong glare, and the most recognisable feature about him was the long pink scar that cut through his left eye and ran down his face like a tiger's stripe.

As the dark warrior reached them, he glared down at Shadowpaw with his blazing eyes. "Are you spitting comments at my apprentice?" He hissed. "Just because Blazepaw's going to become a warrior tonight doesn't mean you have to resort to jealousy."

Snakepaw came to stand beside Shadowpaw, her eyes narrowed and her teeth bared in a snarl. "Excuse me?" she growled. "Blazepaw's been bullying us! You always defend him, even when he's in the wrong. I bet you've been watching the whole time, you slimy frog!"

Shadowpaw whinced; Snakepaw had taken it too far. Nightshade beared down on the small ginger she-cat. 

" call me?" He asked in his most dangerous voice. Snakepaw shrank back, recognising her mistake in angering the black tom. Before Nightshade could do anything, a voice called out to him.

"Nightshade, is there anything wrong?"

Shadowpaw looked over the dark warrior's shoulder to see his half-brother, Pinefire, padding towards them. Nightshade spun round and glared at the dark brown warrior.

"Nothing that concerns you, Pinefire." He rasped. "So go back to whatever you were doing before so rudely interrupting our conversation."

Pinefire's expression was stern, and his posture remained straight as he confronted the dark warrior. Shadowpaw stared at his brother with pride; even when faced with the most intimidating cat in DawnClan, he never showed a twitch of fear.

"I think it does concern me," he formerly replied. "When you decide to intimidate apprentices, Nightshade." Pinefire's gaze hardened to a glare. "Does Lionstar need to know about this?"

Nightshade let out a snarl. "Come on, Blazepaw." He flicked his tail at his apprentice. "Let's get you ready for your ceremony. In the meantime," he turned for a heartbeat and bared his teeth at Shadowpaw and Snakepaw. "I will leave you to take care of these trouble-making apprentices, Pinefire."

Shadowpaw watched as Nightshade skulked off, followed by Blazepaw. The apprentice looked over his shoulder for a brief second to scowl at him before focusing on keeping up with his mentor.

Serves them right! Shadowpaw thought as he looked proudly at Pinefire.

The dark brown warrior watched Nightshade and Blazepaw leave, then turned back to them. Out of the corner of his eye, Shadowpaw saw Snakepaw's tail twitch nervously. He smiled; Shadowpaw knew that Snakepaw had a huge crush on his half-brother, although she tried to keep it hidden.

"There was no need for that," Pinefire told them; his voice was soft and friendly. "Nightshade will do anything in his power to defend his snarky apprentice."

Snakepaw spoke up loudly from beside Shadowpaw, making him jump slightly. " Pinefire..." she stuttered.

Pinefire chuckled. "Don't mention it." He gave her a wink. Shadowpaw saw his friend working her paws on the ground.

Pinefire looked over his shoulder for a split second. Behind the brown tom, Shadowpaw could see Wolftail, the Clan deputy, striding across the clearing. Upon seeing Pinefire, the grey thick-furred she-cat flicked her huge bushy tail at him.

"Looks like Wolftail wants me," he meowed. Giving the two apprentices one last gaze, he flicked his tail in farewell and padded off to meet the deputy. "Bye!" He called over his shoulder.

Shadowpaw gazed after his brother, then back at Snakepaw. Amusement flooded over him as he noticed the pale she-cat's eyes blink softly.

"Looks like some cat else wants him too!" He mewed with a teasing tone.

Snakepaw rounded on her friend, her amber eyes blazing with concern and embarrasement. "You won't tell any cat, will you?"

"Don't worry Snakepaw," Shadowpaw repiled, the tease still mingling within his tone. "Your little secret's safe with me."

Before Snakepaw could reply, a booming voice echoed across the clearing.

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey, join here beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!" 

Shadowpaw whirled around to see DawnClan's leader, Lionstar, standing on the Highrock, which was a large, heavy moss-covered rock that emerged from the ground and gave the leader a bird's-eye view of the entire camp. Lionstar's golden pelt shone brightly in the sunset's orange light as he gazed down as his warriors began to assemble. 

"Come on," Shadowpaw gave his friend a nudge. "Let's sit at the front." 

Snakepaw nodded in agreement and the two apprentices raced across the dry clearing to sit beneath the Highrock. The friends found a shaded place at the base of the towering rock and sat down beside each other, looking upwards at their leader. Out of the corner of his eye, Shadowpaw saw Blazepaw sharing tongues with Nightshade.

This must be his warrior ceremony, Shadowpaw realised, forcing the fur along his spine to lie flat. If I were leader, I would never make that nasty bully a warrior. He doesn't deserve such a great title.

"I call you all here tonight," Lionstar began. "To see such a loyal and brave apprentice get made a warrior." With a swish of his bushy golden tail, Lionstar beckoned Blazepaw forward. 

Shadowpaw saw the young ginger tom glance up at his mentor and gulp. Nightshade blinked down at him and smiled, winking at his apprentice. A grin spread across Blazepaw's face and he strutted forward to stand beneath the Highrock, his tail pointed in the air. Shadowpaw couldn't help but snort slightly at how foolish Blazepaw was acting.

If this cat's ego were his head, it would have exploded by now.

Thankfully, Blazepaw didn't hear him. His dark ginger head pointed high as he gazed up at Lionstar. 

Lionstar turned his gaze to look directly at Nightshade. "Nightshade, has your apprentice trained hard to understand the ways of the warrior code, and did he do well in his final assessment?"

Nightshade dipped his dark head. "Yes, Lionstar." He meowed. "He has trained really hard; I personally think he's trained harder than any apprentice."

Shadowpaw could have sworn the warrior's gaze shifted to him for a heartbeat. He shook his head briefly, only to see Nightshade's amber eyes fixed on the DawnClan leader. 

He will do just about anything to make that fox-heart look better than any cat else. He thought grimly.

Lionstar stood up with pride, and gazed down softly at Blazepaw. "Then I, Lionstar, leader of DawnClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. He has trained well to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend him to you as a warrior in his turn."

Shadowpaw saw Blazepaw's blue eyes shine like an icy fire as Lionstar continued his speech.

"Blazepaw, do you promise to uphold to warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

Blazepaw dipped his head. "I do."

"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Blazepaw, from this moment on you will be known as Blazeheart. StarClan honours your loyalty and courage, and we welcome you as a full warrior of DawnClan."

Once the leader had spoken those words, he jumped down from the Highrock to touch noses with the newly named warrior. Blazeheart licked Lionstar's shoulder and turned round to face his Clanmates as they cheered his new name.

"Blazeheart! Blazeheart! Blazeheart!" 

Once the cheering had died down, Lionstar leaped back up to the Highrock; the leader's eyes glistened brightly.

"There is one last thing that needs to be done." He called out to his Clanmates before any of them could leave. "Ravenfeather?" 

Shadowpaw's eyes widened. Ravenfeather was his father and the oldest warrior in DawnClan. Was it finally his time to retire and become an elder?

Shadowpaw watched as Ravenfeather stepped out of the crowd of cats, his black pelt smooth and sleek and his green eyes were raised to stare at Lionstar intently.

Lionstar cleared his throat. "Ravenfeather, is it your wish to give up the name of a warrior and go to join the elders?"

Shadowpaw's father held his head up high, his nose pointed to the darkening sky and his white paws working nervously on the ground. "It is." He meowed, his voice cracked and raspy with age.

"Your Clan honours you and all the service you have given to us. I call upon StarClan to give you many moons of rest."

Ravenfeather dipped his head and turned to face his Clanmates. Almost at once, DawnClan yowled his name to the darkening sky.

"Ravenfeather! Ravenfeather! Ravenfeather!"

When the cheering died down, Shadowpaw saw his father walk up to him; the black elder's eyes glowing with pride at his youngest son. Ravenfeather touched his nose to Shadowpaw's ear, purring heavily.

"Take care, my son," he meowed. "I'm sorry I have to retire before you've even become a warrior. But I feel like my duty to DawnClan has been served." 

Shadowpaw gazed into his father's eyes. "I understand, Ravenfeather," he whispered. "I'll always be here to look after you, and I'll always visit you."

Ravenfeather stepped back, blinking at the him before turning away, padding towards the elders' den. The crowd of warriors was thinning; the cats returning to their duties before they went to their nests to sleep. Shadowpaw spotted Blazeheart sitting at the edge of the clearing, his head held high as he stared at the early apperance of stars pushing through the dimming sky. The newly-made warrior was starting his vigil; a tradition to the warrior code that all newly-made warriors had to do. Lowering his head for a second, Blazeheart caught Shadowpaw's eye. A sneer curled at the edge of his lips, before turning back to look at the stars.

Shadowpaw let out a tiny growl before following Snakepaw toward the apprentices' den, just as the night sky made its home above.

Chapter Two

Stirring awake, Shadowpaw's eyes flew open. Fear gripped his pelt as he gazed at his surroundings. This wasn't DawnClan's territory, and he wasn't in the apprentices' den anymore. Rising to his paws, Shadowpaw found himself standing in a dark, shadowy forest with tall grey trees that towered above him. Despite being a forest, the whole place was a vast, empty clearing with a sickening, foggy scent that stained the air and hung over the forest heavily with it's thickness. 

Looking up towards the sky, Shadowpaw could hardly see anything beyond the towering trees, with the exception of a black starless sky that hung above like a falcon hovering above its prey. Looking down at his paws, Shadowpaw saw a thin sheet of mist wrap itself around his feet, carrying onwards across the forest floor like a snake slithering among the undergrowth of his Clan's thick undergrowth, but this forest's ground was bare and sticky under his pads. Glowing fungus grew on the tree trunks; the only bright thing in this wood.

The forest was as empty as a hollow log, with the expection of Shadowpaw. He breathed heavily, trying to get a grip of his new surrounds. Suddenly, Shadowpaw heard a sudden sound of pawsteps behind him.

Shadowpaw's eyes fell upon a sleek, dark and grey tabby tom. The tom was quite large in figure, but was as thin as a twig. His claws were unsheathed, scraping the ground in front of him. The tom's yellow eyes burned bright amber in the darkness as he gazed at Shadowpaw with slight amusment. Shadowpaw felt his heart beating hard against his chest, feeling as if it might burst through his chest.

"Shadowpaw," the dark tabby spoke, his tone cold and mocking. "It's so nice to meet you."

Shadowpaw tried to regain control of his fear. This intimadating cat reminded him of an adder. Unpredictable and dangerous. 

"Who are you?" Shadowpaw challenged the tabby. "And where am I?"

The tom sniggered and stepped forward. "If your Clan gained a piece of fresh-kill every time a cat asked those questions, they would never have to hunt again."

The nasty, mocking tone that lingered within the tabby's voice reminded Shadowpaw heavily of Blazeheart. His lips curled in a slight snarl as the dark-grey tom padded up and settled down next to him, his tail curled neatly over his paws.

"My name is Darkstripe," the cat meowed, an icy calmness lingerimg in his tone. "And I used to be a warrior serving of his Clan; just like you."

Shadowpaw met Darkstripe's bright gaze, his heartbeat beginning to calm down. "W-Which Clan did you belong in?" 

Darkstripe closed his eyes before continuing. "Neither DawnClan or DuskClan." He whispered. "I have wandered this forest for years upon years and moons upon moons. I never made it into StarClan's ranks, and instead was dragged down here right after my spirit left my mangled body. This place is called the Dark Forest, Shadowpaw." Darkstripe opened his eyes and turned his gaze back to the apprentice. "It is a safe haven for warriors betrayed by StarClan, and all the Clans alike. We know what is right, and we know what is wrong. StarClan have abandoned us. They turned us away because they knew we wanted to change the Clans into something powerful and filled with purpose. StarClan are the real villains, Shadowpaw."

Shadowpaw couldn't get his head around what he was hearing. What this cat was saying made no sense in the slightest. What Clan did Darkstripe belong to if he neither came from DawnClan or DuskClan? And why was he making out like StarClan were the enemies?

"Can you please tell me, Darkstripe," he asked. "Which Clan did you belong to if you weren't part of my Clan or DuskClan?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Shadowpaw could have sworn Darkstripe had narrowed his eyes in a glare directed at him for a split second, but as his looked directly at the dark tom, his nose was pointed to the star-less sky. He breathed in deeply before answering Shadowpaw's question.


Shadowpaw padded across the dry clearing towards the elders' den. What Darkstripe had told him in his dream lay stuck inside the core of his mind. 

ThunderClan? I've never heard of such a Clan! The only Clans I know of is my Clan and DuskClan!

Pushing through the drape of lichen that covered the entrance, Shadowpaw stepped into the warm, sun-lit den. Lying in their nests, the elders were sharing tongues. Tigerpelt, the old tabby tom, lay fast asleep in his feathered nest, opening one eye lazily as he heard Shadowpaw. The other elders, including Ravenfeather, turned to look at the white-bellied apprentice.

Missingleg, the oldest cat in DawnClan, raised her back in a stretch and blinked at Shadowpaw. Her sleek, black pelt had recently been washed, and she stumbled lightly. Shadowpaw felt a pang of sympathy for the elder. When she was a warrior, she had to retire early because a rogue dog had torn off her left leg. Now she hobbled forward, her tail pointed to the roof of the den; she certainly wasn't going to let her disability make her look weak, thought Shadowpaw.

"Good afternoon, Shadowpaw." The black elder meowed. "Is there anything bothering you?"

Shadowpaw scuffled his paws on the ground. "Actually," he muttered. "I want to talk to you."

Missingleg blinked at him for a heartbeat, then nodded. 

Ravenfeather rose from his nest and pressed his nose against his son's face. "See you again soon." He purred.

Shadowpaw purred as well, pressing his muzzle into his father's shoulder before turning to follow Missingleg out of the den. The elder turned and hobbled towards the back of the elders' den, and Shadowpaw strolled after her at a slow pace. He didn't know how his words were going to sound to the old she-cat. She might not even know, but Shadowpaw had heard that Missingleg was wise and knew a lot about DawnClan's history. When he was still a kit in the nursery, his mother, Mothtail, had once told him that Missingleg knew a lot about the ancient Clans that had died out long ago. So this was his chance to find out just what Darkstripe was talking about.

Missingleg sat down on a clump of grass and beckoned Shadowpaw forward with her tail.

"Go on then, young apprentice." She meowed. "What's wrong?"

Shadowpaw looked down at his paws, slightly embarrassed that he was talking to such a wise old cat. "Do you know anything about a Clan called ThunderClan?"

Missingleg stared at him for a moment. Shadowpaw felt his pelt grow warm. She probably doesn't know, he grimaced. I'm such an idiot.

Missingleg put her tail to her mouth, deep in thought. Then her amber eyes flashed and gazed at Shadowpaw with a brief nod. 

"ThunderClan was one of the great Clans that was wiped out from a dreadful disease that plagued their territory." She whispered, her tone raspy with age. "The Clan was one of four Clans whose territories surrounded a great, vast lake. They originally came from a forest that was torn down by Twolegs, and they had to travel a great distance to find their new home. The other three Clans were named RiverClan, WindClan and ShadowClan." 

Shadowpaw's eyes widened. One of the Clans had shared his name! 

Clearing her throat, Missingleg continued. "All four Clans thrived by the Lake, until the worst happened. The disease I mentioned, was called redcough, which was a servere type of greencough. No herbs could cure it; nothing at all. The leaders lost all their nine lives. So did their deputies and all the other warriors and apprentices. Even the medicine cats."

A tone of sadness rung out in the elder's voice. "It spread all over the lake and territories like a fire of death, trapping every cat under its flaming breath of destruction."

Shadowpaw felt pain from his heart rise up to stick in his throat. How could such a horrible virus exist?

"But redcough didn't catch every cat." Missingleg went on, relief baring itself in her tone. "Two rogues managed to escape the contaminated lake and face an incredible journey. Martin and Hickory, two tom cats, travelled through mountains and swam great rivers to make home here, in this beautiful clean forest."

"Martin was a kind, compassionate cat who's very idea was to create one massive Clan. Though his brother, Hickory, thought otherwise. He believed that his sibling was weak and that he should be the one to lead the new Clan. When most of the cats they had recrutied decided to follow Martin instead, Hickory was furious. Turning his back on his brother, he took the few cats who obeyed him to create an enemy Clan. While Martin decided to name the Clan DawnClan, because of how to rising sun always seemed to fall upon their territory, Hickory decided to name his group DuskClan, because dusk is the compelte opposite of dawn. Although Martin and Hickory decided to hold a gathering every full moon, in respect to the deceased former Clans, Hickory never maintained the once good relationship he held with his brother."

Hearing Missingleg talk about the history of the Clans, Shadowpaw felt fascinated by the origins of DawnClan and its enemy Clan. He wanted to ask Missingleg if she knew of Darkstripe, but a sharp voice behind cut through his thoughts. Turning round, he saw Blazeheart standing there, his tail lashing.

"What are you doing over here?" The young warrior demanded. "You shouldn't be listening to an elder's rambling; what are you, a kit?"

Shadowpaw tried to hold back from aiming a blow at Blazeheart's ear. Just because he's a warrior now, he thinks he can boss me around!, He thought with annoyance. Before he could say anything back, Missingleg rose from her patch of grass and stepped forward, defiance glowing in her amber eyes.

"Leave him alone!" The elder growled. "Just because you're now a warrior, doesn't mean you can bully apprentices!"

Blazeheart's eyes flickered over to the black she-cat, an icy fire burning in their depths. "Shouldn't you be in your den, gossiping with the other elders?" He snarled. "You don't have anything better to do in your old boring life, so why don't you just hobble off back to your nest?"

Shadowpaw felt as if a deep, searing thorn had pierced through his heart. He's insulting an elder!

Dropping into a crouch, he got ready to pounce at Blazeheart. But stopped himself at the last minute. 

What would that solve?

Blazeheart bared his teeth in a snarl. "Come on," he ordered. "Rainfall wants you, or are you too busy for that?"

Turning back to Missingleg, Shadowpaw saw that the black she-cat struggle to her paws and blink at him. "I guess your mentor wants you," she whispered with a slight smile. "Thank you, Shadowpaw; it was nice talking to you."

Flicking his tail in a goodbye salut, Shadowpaw followed Blazeheart out into the clearing, glaring after the ginger warrior. 

If that brat becomes leader one day, I will happily leave DawnClan for good...

Chapter Three

"Let all cats that are old enough to catch their own prey, join here beneath the Highrock for a Clan meeting!"

As Lionstar's cry echoed around the clearing, the DawnClan cats gathered at the foot of the great rock and sat neatly, gazing up at their leader. Shadowpaw sat beside Snakepaw near the front of the crowd, his mind whirling with excitement. 

"Boneclaw's kits are six moons old now," he whispered to Snakepaw. "I can't wait to see them receive their new names!"

Snakepaw nodded, her golden eyes gleaming. "Remember the morning we were made apprentices?" She reminded him. "We were as nervous as shaking rabbits!"

Shadowpaw's pelt felt warm as he gazed at his friend. For some reason, he had been feeling quite strange when he had been hanging out with her. He wasn't sure why or how he was feeling this way, but he kind of liked it.

Shaking his head to clear the thoughts that lingered within his mind, he saw Lionstar beckoning Boneclaw's three kits with his golden, sleek tail. 

"We have gathered here today to welcome three new apprentices into the Clan." Lionstar's deep, powerful voice rang out across the camp. "Blizzardkit, Spiderkit and Hollowkit have reached the age of six moons, and are ready to begin their warrior training."

Shadowpaw cast a quick glance over his shoulder. Sat a few mouse-lengths behind him was Boneclaw, her head held high and her tail raised as she gazed proudly at her three, healthy kits. Sat next to the black-striped she-cat was her mate, Cowpelt. The black and white tom licked at Boneclaw's ear, his eyes shining.

Lionstar gazed down at the three kits and flicked his tail at them. Obeying the silent command, Blizzardkit, Spiderkit and Hollowkit sat down at the edge of the Highrock, their little heads pointing towards the sky.

"Blizzardkit, Spiderkit, Hollowkit," the golden-furred leader addressed each of them. "You have all reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to be apprenticed." 

Lionstar gazed down at Blizzardkit first. The mottled-brown tom was shaking all over, though he tired to keep a steady posture as he gazed up at his leader, his whiskers twitching in anticipation.

"Blizzardkit. From this moment on, until you have received your warrior name, you will be known as Blizzardpaw." Scanning around the clearing, Lionstar closed his eyes for a second, then opened them again to gaze down at Blizzardpaw. "Your mentor will be Blazeheart."

Some of the cats let out startled gasps. The others just remained silent. Shadowpaw couldn't help but scowl as Blazeheart padded through the crowd towards his new apprentice. 

He's only been a warrior for a moon, and already he's getting his slimy paws on an apprentice!

Lionstar raised his tail for silence before continuing. "I know what you all are thinking, and can understand your doubts. Even though he has only been a warrior for a moon, I believe that Blazeheart needs an apprentice early. For he is a strong, loyal young cat." 

Blazeheart's blue eyes shone as he gazed at his leader, his compilments making him stand tall with pride.

"Many of you can recall the day when a DuskClan patrol stole prey from our territory, and when we confronted them over it with a fight." Lionstar told the gathered cats. "Blazeheart fought in that battle with such skill and strength, and defended our territory with his very life."

Shadowpaw vaguely remembered that day. When that battle happened, he was still a kit in the nursery, and Blazeheart was a new apprentice. Shadowpaw remembered Mothtail grabbing him by his scruff and retreating back into the nursery as that patrol came back bloody and injured. And that was the only thing he could remember, apart from the fact that the DawnClan patrol had sent the DuskClan cats scurrying back to their territory.

Lionstar looked down at Blazeheart, his eyes shining. "Blazeheart, you are ready to take on an apprentice," he meowed with great authority. "You have received excellent training from Nightshade."

Lionstar shot a quick glance at Nightshade. As Shadowpaw turned to look at the black-pelted warrior, he realised that Nightshade wasn't even looking at Lionstar, neither his former apprentice. Instead, the warrior's gaze was fixed on Wolftail, DawnClan's deputy. A slight smile had curled at his lips, and he slowly blinked at the grey she-cat. The deputy hadn't noticed Nightshade's intense gaze, and instead was smiling at Blazeheart from her spot beneath the Highrock. Shadowpaw decided to turn his gaze back towards the ceremony, Nightshade and his creepy staring making his pelt crawl.

"...and I expect you to pass on all you know to Blizzardpaw." Lionstar finished.

Blazeheart and Blizzardpaw touched noses, and his brother and sister became apprenticed too. Spiderpaw, the dark grey tom, was apprenticed to Owlflight, a beautiful tortoiseshell she-cat. Hollowpaw, a white she-cat with light brown patches, was apprenticed to Pinefire. Shadowpaw felt a wave of pride crash over him. He was so happy that his brother had finally received an apprentice.

He really deserves one. He thought. He's such a mature warrior, and wise for his age.

"Blizzardpaw! Spiderpaw! Hollowpaw!" 

Cheering rang out across the crowd as the cats greeted the new apprentices. When the noise died down, every cat went back to continue with their duties. Shadowpaw watched as Blizzardpaw and his siblings vanish with their mentors through the ivy-covered tunnel for their first tour of the territory. Scrambling to his paws, he followed Snakepaw to where Rainfall and Foxclaw were waiting to take them hunting.

Suddenly, a loud yowl erupted across the clearing. Turning round in shock, Shadowpaw saw Nightshade at the base of the Highrock, facing Wolftail. The black warrior's fur was bristling, and his amber eyes blazed in a whirlwind of anger and pain. His claws were unsheathed and they dug into the ground. Nightshade looked as if he had fought in a ferocious battle, his teeth clenched and his body convulsed in a variety of spasms.

"Why?" Shadowpaw heard the battle-scarred tom screeched. "You know I've always loved you, Wolftail. We could have been great together, but you've just thrown that opportunity away!"

Wolftail's eyes were glazed with sympathy, and she took a deep breath. Her thick grey tail had drooped to the floor, and as she looked into the eyes of the furious Nightshade, she lowered her head, as if in shame of what she was going to say.

"I'm sorry, Nightshade." Wolftail meowed. "But I don't feel that way about you. We're friends, that's all."

Nightshade snapped his jaws. "Not anymore!" He roared. "I can't believe you were leading me on all this time!"

Shadowpaw saw Wolftail's tail flicker in annoyance at the warrior's words, but maintained her emotions. "I wasn't leading you on," she took another deep breath. "I never even knew you felt this way for me until now!"

Nightshade's head hung down, his teeth clenched as if in pain and spasms erupted from his pelt again. "I...I thought we could..."

Wolftail laid her tail over the tom's shoulders. "Nothing was ever going to happen," she told him formerly. "I'm highly flattered that you feel that way for me, but I just can't love you back. Please understand."

Nightshade shook her away and marched off towards the tunnel, glaring over his shoulder at the deputy before disappering out of sight.

Chapter Four

Waiting by the edge of the water, Shadowpaw kept his sight fixed on the lapping waves. A flicker of movement within the inky liquid caught his eye. As quick as a darting adder, he thrust his paws into the water, his claws sinking into the scales and flesh of his prey. Closing his eyes, Shadowpaw shoved his head into the waves, closed his teeth over the prey, and flung it towards the sandy land where Rainfall was watching him. 

As the dead fish landed at her feet, Rainfall blinked with approval at her growing apprentice. 

"Fantastic, Shadowpaw." She meowed with pride. "More of a challenge, isn't it?"

Panting, Shadowpaw shook the water from his fur and nodded at his mentor. "And I thought catching prey in the forest was difficult!"

Rainfall laughed. "Come on," she said, beckoning him with a flick of her thin, grey tail. "Let's see how the other apprnetices are doing."

Picking up his fish, Shadowpaw bounded across the sand after his mentor. His mouth was stinging with the taste of saltwater, but he tired to ignore it. Shadowpaw looked towards the shimmering water of the Sun-drown place as it stretched out endlessly beyond the horizon. The late greenleaf sun shone down on the rippling waves, and the cloudless, bright sky made the water look blue as it reflected upon it.

Gazing across the beach, Shadowpaw could see the four other apprentices with their mentors. Whitepaw, Snakepaw's brother, was sat in the sandy bank next to his mentor, Breezefur. Whitepaw's snow-white fur was soggy and stiff with the water that had decided to cling onto him. A thornback skate lay at his paws, his eyes shining. Pinefire, Blazeheart and Foxclaw watched as their apprentices tried to catch the fish that darted along the waves. Blizzardpaw tossed a plump, scaly fish towards the bank; Blazeheart yowled in approval.

"Great catch, Blizzardpaw!"

Shadowpaw could see that the young ginger warrior was enjoying being the mentor to such a determined and eager apprentice. Blazeheart had been Blizzardpaw's mentor for three moons now, and the apprentice was doing well with his training. So was his siblings, Spiderpaw and Hollowpaw. Owlflight had taken Spiderpaw battle training with Waspfur and his apprentice Rookpaw, who would soon become a warrior once she had passed her final assessment.

Hollowpaw had caught the exact same fish and threw it onto bank next to the other prey. Foxclaw held a paw on the panicking fish and drew her fangs over the fish's throst, killing it instantly.

"Well done, Hollowpaw!" Pinefire meowed, praise lingering in his tone. "Fantastic, keep it up!"

Blazeheart turned to face Shadowpaw's brother; the ginger cat's ego was hinted heavily in his shining gaze. "I can't believe Blizzardpaw caught that fish on his first try." He meowed.

Pinefire narrowed his eyes at the young warrior. "Blizzardpaw is a fantastic apprentice." There was an edge of annoyance to his voice, as if he was biting back a sharp retort.

Shadowpaw dropped his piece of fresh-kill beside Pinefire. He wanted his half-sibling to see his prey first. Pinefire looked down at the lifeless fish, and blinked back at his brother, a smile spread on his face.

"That is a nice healthy fish, Shadowpaw." Commented Pinefire. "I'm sure this beauty will make a delightful meal for the kits."

Blazeheart looked at Shadowpaw's fish. For a heartbeat, Shadowpaw thought that the warrior's lip would curl in a mocking snarl, or that he would make a resentful comment. But instead, and to Shadowpaw's surprise, Blazeheart dipped his head to him.

​He approves my catch! ​Shadowpaw thought, joy surging through his veins. I guess he's finally learning to like me!

​Looking out towards the water, Shadowpaw saw Snakepaw retreating to land, a massive plaice held between her jaws. Her mentor, Foxclaw, gazed at her apprentice with approving eyes as the pale-ginger apprentice dropped the flat fish at her paws.

"Wow, Snakepaw!" Whitepaw hollered as he padded up to meet his sister. "Look at that plaice, it's huge!"

Snakepaw turned to her brother. Shadowpaw could see that a wide grin plastered on his friend's face, and her golden eyes sparkled with triumpth. Feeling pride wash over him, Shadowpaw bounded over to admire Snakepaw's catch.

"Awesome catch!" He meowed. "That has to be the biggest fish I've ever seen!"

Snakepaw grinned at her friend. "I almost lost it as well!" She said, a pang of relief in her tone. "It almost wriggled out of my mouth, but I managed to hold it with a strong grip.

As the ginger she-cat looked down at her kill with pride, Pinefire and Blazeheart padded up to them.

"Well, well, well," Pinefire meowed in surprise. "Fantastic, Snakepaw. Absolutely fantastic! When we get back to camp, we have to show this to Lionstar!"

Shadowpaw could see Snakepaw lower her stance in embarrasment as her crush praised her. "T-Thank you, Pinefire." She stammered.

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