Wow, this must be a personal record for me – I can't remember a time when I've ever updated so quickly! Many thanks to the people who reviewed the story and/or added it to their favourites/alerts! Seeing the support this story is getting always makes me smile and spurs me on to write quicker and better =).
I got a request for a chapter focusing mostly on Hollypaw, and this is what I came up with – a little bit of fluff hehe XD. I hope you enjoy the chapter =) x
Disclaimer: All characters in this story belong to Erin Hunter - I am merely experimenting with them XD.
Chapter Thirteen ~ A New Friend
Hollypaw was studying Jaypaw closely. Her littermate looked distinctly hassled, wearing a discomfited, almost angry expression. Hollypaw knew that he had come back from Highstones (the place where he had undergone his medicine cat apprentice ceremony) only a day ago. But the Jaypaw that had returned was even more reserved than usual, and Hollypaw yearned to interrogate him, to find out exactly what was troubling him. As far as she was aware, her brother had not spoken a word to anyone, not even Spottedleaf, since his journey back to the Clan, and although Jaypaw was normally taciturn by nature, Hollypaw was beginning to grow concerned about him. Had their ancestors said something to him, something to make him act like this? But though the she-cat harboured many questions, she was aware that none of them would ever be answered: Jaypaw was forbidden to speak about his encounter with StarClan to any cat, even his own siblings.
It was midday and ThunderClan was buzzing with activity. Lionpaw had joined the sunhigh patrol with his mentor and a couple of other warriors; Firepaw, Greypaw and Ravenpaw were away hunting with their mentors in various parts of the forest; and Sandpaw and Dustpaw had gone for battle practice in the Sandy Hollow. That left Hollypaw as the only apprentice remaining in the camp, and Willowpelt had ordered her to search the elders for ticks. This was the most unpleasant of all apprentice tasks and Hollypaw had been unhappy to discover it was to be hers – why couldn't she have gone on patrol with Lionpaw instead? But her mentor had given her a look that allowed no refusal and so Hollypaw, grumbling silently to herself, had headed over to the medicine den for some mouse bile.
As she entered the little clearing beyond the fern tunnel, she had found Jaypaw crouched beside the cleft in the tall rock where the medicine cats kept their nests and herb supply. The small tabby was alone and Hollypaw suspected that Spottedleaf had left to search for herbs. Jaypaw had been lost in thought, staring unseeingly at nothing, but he had lifted his muzzle as his sister approached and pricked his ears, almost as if Hollypaw had caught him unawares. This was unusual in itself, for Jaypaw nearly always could tell when another cat was close to him, even without his sight.
"Are you ok, Jaypaw?" Hollypaw asked him now.
"Yes," came her brother's short response.
"You've been very quiet lately. Do you want to talk about it?" the black she-cat prompted.
"I can't. I'm not allowed."
Well, that confirms that it is something to do with StarClan, at least. "Alright," Hollypaw mewed, doing her best to shield her disappointment from him. "Anyway, I've just come in for mouse bile; Willowpelt wants me to get rid of the elders' ticks."
Jaypaw grunted and got to his paws. "I'll get you some," he offered, vanishing into the gap in the rock. Hollypaw strained her eyes to catch a glimpse of him inside, trying to watch what he was doing, but the darkness of the cave had swallowed him up. Within moments he re-emerged, carrying a stick gingerly in his jaws. He passed it over to Hollypaw, whose nose immediately wrinkled at the vile stench wafting from the piece of moss at its tip. No wonder the ticks can't stand this stuff!
"Be careful not to get any of it in your mouth," Jaypaw advised, "or you'll be tasting it for ages." There was a small glint of humour in his eyes, as though he were imagining the fuss Hollypaw would make if she somehow swallowed some of the bile. At least he's stopped moping now, Hollypaw thought, seeing his whiskers twitching slightly. She purred a farewell around the stick and made her way outside again.
The elders, it seemed, had been awaiting her arrival. Halftail hailed her the moment she walked into their den, informing her that he couldn't reach a tick that was embedded in his neck. Hollypaw quickly set to work, dabbing the bile-soaked moss on the old tomcat's fur until the tiny creature loosened its grip on his skin. It didn't take long for her to remove all of Halftail's ticks and proceed to grooming the others, who each thanked her in turn as she relieved them of the bothersome parasites.
"I would get them myself," One-eye croaked while Hollypaw rubbed mouse-bile onto her back, "but it's so much more difficult these days."
When she was finished, Hollypaw disposed of the stinking stick, feeling faintly nauseated, and trotted to the camp entrance, intending to head into the forest and find somewhere to rinse her paws. Willowpelt was sitting next to the gorse tunnel, apparently on guard. She nodded at Hollypaw as she drew nearer.
"I know tending to the elders' ticks isn't the best duty in the world, but it needs to be done," the pretty grey she-cat meowed to her apprentice. "I'll ask Lionheart if we can go on one of the next patrols, shall I? And then I'll show you some of our Clan's special hunting techniques tomorrow. That way you'll get to learn something more exciting than how to muck around with mouse bile."
Hollypaw's eyes gleamed with enthusiasm; being taught how to hunt was rapidly becoming one of her favourite lessons. "Thanks, Willowpelt!" With a joyful spring in her step, Hollypaw continued on to the top of the ravine.
The songs of birds and the whisper of wind through leaves filled the air as the apprentice charged through the woods, making a beeline for the little gurgling stream that she remembered was nearby. She slowed to a trot when she reached its bank and waded out into the clear, chilly liquid, feeling it flow over her feet instantly. She stood still for a number of heartbeats, wanting to be certain that her paws were well and truly clean, before she climbed out and shook them each in turn to dispel the clinging droplets of water. A rustling in the undergrowth suddenly made her stiffen in alarm and then relax as a familiar face poked out of the bushes. It was Ravenpaw.
"Hi, Hollypaw. Were you just in the stream?" His face registered surprise.
"Yes," Hollypaw mumbled, somewhat embarrassed as she padded up the bank towards her Clanmate. "I had to wash my paws because I used mouse bile on the elders. Where're Firepaw and Greypaw? I thought you were with them."
"Bluestar took Firepaw to the Great Sycamore to practice his climbing skills, and Greypaw went with Lionheart to catch prey at Tallpines. I wanted to go with them but Tigerclaw told me I should do some solo hunting while he went on patrol."
Hollypaw personally thought it was unfair for Ravenpaw to have to hunt by himself when he would've done just as well with Lionheart and Greypaw. "I'm not busy right now, so why don't we go together?" she suggested. It would mean that she'd have something worthwhile to do and it would also be fun to hang out with another apprentice again after spending the morning doing duties alone.
"Sure." Ravenpaw looked somewhat happier as the pair left the stream behind and set off through the trees. "Where should we go?" he asked Hollypaw as they skirted a bramble thicket.
The she-cat thought for a minute. She didn't fully know this territory yet, but one area always stuck out in her mind. "How about Sunningrocks?" Ever since her first tour of the boundaries, she had always wanted to know what it would be like to climb on the sun-warmed stones and watch the river flow past.
Ravenpaw agreed and led the way, flinching occasionally at noises or movements as if he expected to be attacked. Hollypaw wondered why he was so jumpy. She questioned him about it, but the tom simply replied that it was better to be safe than sorry. They passed the Sandy Hollow, where Hollypaw could hear the sounds of her grandmother training with Dustpaw and the voices of their mentors as they offered encouragement and guidance. Unwilling to linger too near the unfriendly apprentices, she urged Ravenpaw onwards.
While they walked, Ravenpaw struck up a conversation about Hollypaw's past, questioning her about living as a loner with Lionpaw and Jaypaw. Hollypaw pondered her answer carefully before speaking, ensuring that she stuck to the story which she and her littermates had told Bluestar before being accepted into the Clan. Ravenpaw displayed signs of sympathy when she got to the part about being abandoned by her mother, and he assured her that she would always be welcome and taken care of in ThunderClan. Hollypaw purred back at him, deciding that she rather liked this affable side to the nervous young apprentice.
By the time the two cats came within sight of Sunningrocks, Ravenpaw appeared to be calmer and much more carefree than before. He scooped up a pawful of leaves and flung them unceremoniously over Hollypaw's back.
"Hey!" the black she-cat protested. Growling playfully, she crouched and sprang at the tom, bowling him over. Ravenpaw let out a startled mrrow and the pair rolled over and over, locked in a play-fight. Hollypaw soon scrabbled away from him, gasping for breath, and swatted at him with sheathed claws as he grabbed at her tail.
"I win!" she announced, purring in amusement as Ravenpaw sprang back from her blow.
"Ok, ok!" His eyes shone as he turned and ran for the boulders, leaping lithely up onto one of them. Hollypaw attempted to follow but didn't quite make it; she squeaked as her hind paws slipped from underneath her and she slid gracelessly down the stone, her claws scraping uselessly against its surface. But then Ravenpaw grasped her scruff in his teeth and hauled her up to sit beside him.
"You'll scare all the prey away, you lumbering badger!" he teased.
"Who're you calling a lumbering badger?" Hollypaw demanded, trying and failing to sound cross with her denmate. But then a scurrying noise distracted her and she spied a vole in the crevice between their rock and the next: it was busy foraging and hadn't noticed them. Hollypaw's ears perked up and she signaled to Ravenpaw to be quiet. If she could just reach it...
But as she inserted a forepaw into the crack, swiping down towards the vole, it finally became aware of the cats' presence. Alarmed, it took off in the opposite direction, scampering deeper into the shadows and out of range of Hollypaw's claws. With a disgusted hiss, she withdrew her paw from the gap again.
Ravenpaw waved his white-tipped tail from side to side. "Bad luck," he said. "We'd possibly get better results in the forest."
Hollypaw admitted that he was right. She had never hunted among these sun-scorched boulders before and would no doubt find it easier to catch prey in the undergrowth, where she was accustomed to stalking and pouncing from a good distance away, using the killing techniques her mentor had taught her.
The apprentices played around on the Sunningrocks for a while longer, daring each other to jump from rock to rock or dip their paws in the fast-running river. Hollypaw started to feel like a kit again, quite forgetting that they were supposed to be finding food for the Clan as Ravenpaw coaxed her into climbing a tall tree on the edge of the forest. She had to admit that the black-furred tom was good company. He laughed along with her as she lunged for the trunk and startled a squirrel, sending it running for cover, chattering angrily with leaves clinging to its pelt and its bushy tail streaming comically out behind it.
It was only when Ravenpaw wondered out loud whether the others had made it back to the camp yet that Hollypaw remembered that her mentor was going to take her out on a patrol.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed. "I've kept Willowpelt waiting! She's probably really annoyed by now!"
Ravenpaw gazed sheepishly back at her. "That's my fault," he mumbled apologetically. "I should've made sure you didn't have to be anywhere before letting you come with me."
"No, it was fun." Hollypaw blinked warmly at him. "I'm glad I came. But now I should head back."
"Me too." Ravenpaw suddenly adopted a haunted expression. "I bet Tigerclaw wants to know where I've got to."
A strong rush of dislike coursed through Hollypaw at the mention of Tigerclaw. She worked hard to conceal it from her denmate though, not wishing to worry him further; after all, in his eyes at least, she had no motive to distrust the strong, respected ThunderClan warrior. He had done nothing to her, not directly anyway. What he's done to hurt the cats I love, on the other hand... The apprentice mentally scowled, her hatred for the huge tabby increasing. But she forced herself to push it back and focused on Ravenpaw once more.
"Tell you what," she said, in an attempt to cheer them both up again, "why don't we race to camp?" She bunched her haunches, her emerald eyes glittering mischievously. "Or are you too scared you might lose to me for the second time today?"
"No way!" Ravenpaw purred. He threw one last glowing glance in her direction before he spun around and hared away.
Hollypaw sprang into pursuit at once, overtaking him easily. Affection surged through her as she heard him call out something and quicken his pace to run alongside her. It didn't even bother her that they had nothing to show for their 'hunt', or that she was doubtlessly in for a scolding from Willowpelt when she got home. As far as Hollypaw was concerned, the only thing that mattered right now was that she had found herself a new friend.