Here is the eleventh chapter, I hope you enjoy it =) x
Disclaimer: All characters in this story belong to Erin Hunter - I am merely experimenting with them XD.
Chapter Eleven ~ Training
A black she-cat stood on top of a boulder, her fur buffeted by a gentle wind as she stared down to the rippling silver surface of a lake. Scents wreathed around her, familiar and comforting, and she sighed with contentment. This was her home, the place she would always be safe, the place she would never leave...
"Hollypaw, wake up! We need to get going."
The she-cat jerked awake to find a pair of amber eyes gazing down at her. Lionpaw swatted her playfully with a hefty golden forepaw. "Come on, slowpoke! We're gonna have to be quick to beat our mentors to the Sandy Hollow."
"I'm up, I'm up!" Hollypaw groaned. She stretched sleepily on the moss of her nest, trying to savour the dream she had been having. The lake... A dull sense of loss descended on her as she imagined it. Will I ever see it again?
It had been two days since she and her brothers had somehow journeyed back to the past. Jaypaw, surprisingly, had kept any complaints he had to himself, and Lionpaw seemed to have settled into their new surroundings well, at least to outsiders. Even Hollypaw herself had to admit that yesterday's trip around the territory was enjoyable: it had prevented her mind from dwelling on her homesickness, at any rate. Now, however, she longed for her Clanmates beside the lake with every hair on her pelt. She wanted to play with Cinderpaw as she used to, to see Firestar standing authoritatively atop the Highledge; she wanted her father to tell her how proud he was of her, her mother to say that everything would be ok... A hard lump formed in her throat and she fought it back with extreme difficulty.
As the black she-cat struggled into a sitting position, she felt a moment's surprise to glimpse astonishingly-emerald eyes watching her. Firestar...? Hollypaw blinked and realised that the tom she was looking at had the rounded face of a much younger cat, an apprentice like her. No – he's not Firestar yet. Hollypaw forced her expression into one of composure as she mewed a greeting to him. Firepaw purred back drowsily.
Lionpaw, who was busy grooming himself, said between licks, "I hope they teach us something interesting today."
Hollypaw's whiskers twitched. She knew that by 'something interesting', Lionpaw meant battle practice. "I'm all for learning how to hunt," she told him with a small smirk.
"Me too!" Firepaw agreed enthusiastically, throwing Hollypaw a glowing look. She shuffled her paws, uncomfortable for some reason she could not explain, but then her grandfather turned away to rouse Greypaw. "You snore as loud as the Thunderpath!" the flame-coloured tom teased his disgruntled friend.
Before long, all four apprentices had crept out of the den, leaving Sandpaw and Dustpaw still asleep. Hollypaw remembered that there had been a Gathering the previous night and both of them had been chosen to go, meaning they would be especially tired this morning. She was not sorry for this excuse to avoid them though, having no desire to hear their barbed remarks: it upset her greatly that her grandmother, in particular, was acting so churlish. I suppose I'll just have to endure it, she thought sadly.
"Look," Lionpaw said suddenly, jolting her from her musings. He was staring at the entrance to the medicine den, where a dark bundle of fur had just emerged into the open. Hollypaw recognised the cat as Ravenpaw, and felt a twinge of sympathy when she noticed his hesitant movements: clearly his injury was still not fully cured, despite spending two days in the care of Jaypaw and Spottedleaf. The black tomcat walked over to the others, wincing slightly.
Greypaw purred, "Hey there, Ravenpaw. How's your shoulder?"
"Better," the tom replied. "I'm going to join you in training today." He eyed Firepaw, Lionpaw and Hollypaw shyly.
Greypaw glanced between each of them for a heartbeat. "Oh right," he meowed pleasantly, and proceeded to introduce Ravenpaw to the new apprentices. Then all five young cats headed for the gorse tunnel and out into the forest.
Once more, the day promised to be warm and sunny. Hollypaw's spirits lifted as she ran through the woods, racing her denmates to the Sandy Hollow. Lionpaw got there first and jumped into the air with triumph, batting at a falling leaf with his forepaw as he did so.
"You are such a show-off," Hollypaw scolded him, though her tone was teasing. She watched amusedly as Greypaw scooped up a pawful of leaves and showered them over an unsuspecting Lionpaw.
"Hey!" the golden tabby protested. Eyes glittering mischievously, he aimed a retaliatory swipe at Greypaw, who dodged the blow and mrrowed with good-natured laughter.
"You'll have to do better than that!"
Lionpaw bunched his haunches and sprang at the thick-furred grey cat, bowling him over in a play-fight. Exultation surged through Hollypaw. She was about to join the tussle when the scents of approaching felines stopped her in her tracks. The lithe, blue-grey shape of Bluestar had just emerged from the bushes overlooking the hollow, followed swiftly by Mousefur, Willowpelt and Lionheart. Tigerclaw came stalking along at the rear, looking bad-tempered as always. Lionpaw hastily scrambled away from Greypaw at the sight of the massive tabby and exchanged a darkly-significant look with Hollypaw.
Bluestar and her warriors descended the slope and came to rest in front of their waiting apprentices. The ThunderClan leader's sharp sapphire eyes surveyed them all almost appraisingly, but her voice sounded soft and light when she spoke. "Today we're going to be split up into smaller groups. Firepaw and Lionpaw, you are to come with me and Mousefur for hunting practice elsewhere. Tigerclaw and Willowpelt" – she nodded at them in turn – "will remain here with Ravenpaw and Hollypaw. Lionheart, would you mind taking Greypaw to collect bedding for the elders' den?"
Lionheart mewed, "Of course not, Bluestar," and dipped his head to her.
Greypaw groaned at that and sneaked a frustrated glance in his mentor's direction. Lionpaw blinked sympathetically at him; gathering moss was always dull work. He realised that Hollypaw seemed unhappy as well, and he didn't need to look far to solve the mystery: she would be learning under the scrutiny of Tigerclaw. I hope she causes trouble for that hideous murderer, he inwardly growled, though he knew there was zero chance of that happening – his sister would never deliberately act disrespectful to a senior Clan warrior, particularly not in the company of her own mentor.
Hollypaw was thinking along these same lines as she watched her brother and grandfather trot obediently after Bluestar and Mousefur, Firepaw giving her a friendly flick of his tail as he padded by. Greypaw and Lionheart left too, melting away into the undergrowth like shadows.
"Now," said Tigerclaw loftily, and Hollypaw turned her muzzle reluctantly towards him, "Willowpelt and I shall be teaching you some of the basics of battle training. This does not give you permission, however" – he cast a critical eye over his apprentice – "to be soft."
Ravenpaw hunched his shoulders, anxiety written in his face. Willowpelt peered disapprovingly at her denmate. "Don't be too harsh on them, Tigerclaw," she reprimanded.
"They need to understand that weakness will not aid them during battles," the large tom retorted smoothly. "I am merely pointing that out."
"Yes, well..." Mollified somewhat, Willowpelt faced Hollypaw and Ravenpaw. "What Tigerclaw says is true, so you both should pay him heed. But you need not worry about battling just yet. There won't be another one for a long while, StarClan willing." Her pale blue eyes twinkled encouragingly at them and Hollypaw felt warmth for the gentle she-cat. "Firstly, one of the most important lessons is knowing your opponent. If you can anticipate their moves it will offer you a considerable advantage in fights."
"Indeed," Tigerclaw butted in, a glint in his orange eyes. "Ravenpaw," he meowed, "can you tell us what RiverClan's most common tactic is?"
Hollypaw gazed at the black tomcat, remembering suddenly that he had fought against the other Clan previously: it had been how he received the gash in his shoulder. Ravenpaw fidgeted, shuffling his paws, before speaking. "They use water to hide themselves and then creep up on their opponents," he mumbled in a rush.
Tigerclaw grunted, which Hollypaw took to mean that Ravenpaw's answer was an adequate one. "Precisely, and this leaves them more vulnerable on land, because they cannot conceal themselves so effectively. So what should you do if RiverClan cats are attacking your patrol?"
"Try to lure them to where there's no water?" suggested Hollypaw boldly.
Willowpelt purred. "That would be the best way for us to gain the advantage. Well done, Hollypaw."
Hollypaw's chest swelled with pride at her mentor's praise. Trying not to appear too pleased with herself, she listened intently as the older cats explained some of the battle moves that they could use in a pinch against RiverClan. She pictured herself wrestling with a cat that was perhaps twice her size and using some of those moves to outsmart her rival. Lionpaw will be so jealous when I tell him what I've learnt today!
Lionpaw was grumbling under his breath. It wasn't that he was against being taught how to hunt – he just would have preferred battle training. I wonder what Hollypaw's doing? he asked himself glumly.
Firepaw walked beside him, bursting with excitement as always, while Bluestar and Mousefur weaved through the trunks ahead, stepping silently and not uttering a word. Lionpaw gathered that they were being careful not to disturb any potential prey, and he did his best to imitate their stealthy movements through the bushes. He bristled in embarrassment as a twig snapped under his paws, though neither she-cat made a remark about his clumsiness.
Bluestar paused at long last by the foot of a humongous tree. "This is the Great Sycamore," she informed Lionpaw and Firepaw, waving her tail at the branches – the majority of which were thicker than a cat's body – far above. "It's where you will one day learn to climb trees, both for protection against predators and to use certain fighting skills. We aren't here to show you that now, however," she added.
Thank StarClan! Lionpaw couldn't help quivering at the idea of being so high in the air.
"That's right," Mousefur mewed, bringing him back from his reverie. "Today we're going to try out some of our Clan's hunting techniques."
"There is a big difference in the way we stalk certain kinds of prey," Bluestar put in. "Mice, for example, are easily capable of feeling your pawsteps through the ground. You must therefore tread lightly when creeping up on one." The blue-furred leader dropped into a position which Lionpaw recognised from his few training sessions by the lake. "This is the hunter's crouch," she told the young tomcats, "and it's what we use to catch most of our fresh-kill. To effectively hunt a mouse it's important to take all your weight into your haunches. That way, your paws will make very little impact on the ground and your target won't be as likely to sense you. Look at how I do it and try to copy me." She started to move slowly forwards in a demonstration.
Lionpaw carefully observed the way she moved, wanting to get it exactly right. He studied her fluid motions, the way her tail was held aloft to stop it trailing over the forest floor, how her eyes focused straight ahead... I can do that, he thought. Bluestar finished her delicate stalking and sat down next to Mousefur again, ready to watch the apprentices attempt it for themselves.
Lionpaw shifted into the hunter's crouch as best he could before stealthily making his way forward, his gaze never wavering from the tree root he was aiming for. He was aware of Firepaw doing the same at his side.
"Nice work, Lionpaw," his mentor complimented. "Your balance is excellent."
"As is yours, Firepaw," Bluestar stated, "although your movements need to be faster."
Firepaw tried to quicken his pace. Lionpaw broke off from his stalking and peeked at his grandfather, who appeared to be doing well for a former kittypet.
"Concentrate, Lionpaw!" Mousefur's rebuke made the golden tabby stare ahead once more.
Several largely uneventful minutes of practice passed. Lionpaw was satisfied with the way his body appeared to instinctively respond whenever he fell into a crouch. Firepaw, too, was making noticeable progress, and by the time sunhigh came and they had repeated the stalk numerous times, their mentors insisted on practising other hunting techniques for a while. Lionpaw's head was soon buzzing with information and he wondered how he could possibly remember it all.
"You're both shaping up to be exceptional hunters," Mousefur purred. Lionpaw was pleasantly surprised to note how laid-back the wiry brown she-cat was, as opposed to the grumpy, often sharp-tongued elder of his own time.
"Yes," Bluestar agreed amicably, "you shall be able to put everything you have learned today to good use in the future. It won't be long until you'll get to hunt real prey, but for now, it's time we returned to camp." She got to her feet and beckoned the others to follow.