Chapter 1: The Rise of Pantherclan

"Curare!"

A large black panther called loudly from the trunk of a fallen tree. Light fell through the trees in unorganized patterns which danced across his smooth black pelt like the ripples on the Molopo River.

"Curare!" he called.

Suddenly a large brightly-colored bird burst through the undergrowth squawking loudly. A large spotted panther shot through the undergrowth after it, her lithe body twisting in midair, claws outstretched. The macaw gave one final screech of pure terror and then all was silent.

"What did you do that for!" the panther growled angrily, as she turned to face the black tom. "You probably scared away all the prey from here to the river!"

"Sorry! Why don't you answer when I call you?!" he replied angrily.

"I can take care of myself!" she howled before picking up her catch and racing off through the forest.

The black panther rolled his eyes and followed her.

The trees grew high and thick blocking the bright South African sun from bearing down on the large cat's black pelt as he ran, and casting shadows on the warm damp earth. His muscles rippled with strength as he hurdled a log and veered away to rejoin the path of trampled grass that led towards the Pantherclan camp.

"Durian!" a large broad-shouldered spotted panther yowled as the black tom skidded to a stop on the wet leaves. "Your apprentice returned long ago, without you! And yet you return with no prey!" growled the spotted panther as he leapt down from the branch of a small tree to confront the black panther known as Durian.

"I apologize," meowed Durian as he met the spotted cat's eyes evenly, "I had some trouble with my apprentice." he finished, gazing pointedly at Curare which wiped the smug grin off her face.

The spotted panther turned his amber gaze on Curare who hung her head.

"Sorry Tualang." she said, sheepishly curling her tail around her paws.

Tualang's amber gaze softened. "It's ok. Just be more careful next time." he meowed gruffly before turning to bound back to the tree.

"I will!" Curare called after him, her tail twitching with satisfaction.

"You got off easy!" a voice beside Curare said.

She turned around and saw Ceiba, her best friend, walking towards her.

Ceiba's white pelt gleamed in the sunlight which danced across her fur like stars. A gleam of amusement flitted across her albino-pink eyes as she came to stand beside Curare.

"I think," Ceiba meowed cunningly, "Tualang fancies you."

"What!" Curare yelped, pressing her ears tightly back against her head "but-but I'm just an apprentice! And he's deputy!"

"I know! Isn't it great?" Ceiba gushed, flicking her tail excitedly.

"How is that great?!" Curare asked, her voice shrill.

"You're just about to be upgraded to a warrior, why isn't it great?" Ceiba asked.

"Because!" Curare howled, hiding her head with her paws.

Ceiba's eyes lit up with excitement, "No way!" she squealed, "You like Tualang!"

"WHAT?!" screeched Curare turning her fiery green gaze on Ceiba.

"That is so cute!" Ceiba howled practically leaping into the air with joy.

"Not so loud!" hissed Curare her tail twitching with annoyance.

"Sorry, but seriously, this is so exciting." whispered Ceiba.

Curare started to laugh, soon Ceiba joined in until they were both laughing uncontrollably.

Durian was watching the two apprentices laugh. He remembered when he was younger, tramping through the forest like a young forest elephant. It was not long ago, he reflected, that it was my turn to become a warrior. Being the youngest warrior in the clan it was not common for him to have an apprentice. Curare was almost the same age as him, after all. The only reason he had an apprentice was because Curare's former mentor, Calcutta, had died in a battle against Tigerclan many moons ago and Curare was left without a mentor.

She'll be a warrior soon, he told himself, and so will Ceiba.

He watched Ceiba get up and walk over to the fresh-kill-pile. Her white pelt gleamed in the strong midday sun causing her to look even more beautiful then she already did.

Durian watched her intently as she padded over to sit beside Curare, folding her tail neatly over her paws.

"You know what?" Curare meowed softly "I think Durian fancies you!"