When they returned from morning patrol, Rainstep and Blackpelt made their way over to where Smoketalon was standing, debriefing him on scent of the rogues they had found on patrol. Though she couldn't hear what the she-cat said from where she was standing, Lynxheart could see the frown that tugged at her expression.
By her side, Yarrowpaw shifted. "Hey," she said, "Falconpaw and I were going to go hunting after morning patrol—do you want to come?"
"Are you sure?" Lynxpaw asked. Falconpaw wasn't outright hostile towards her, but like many other members of the clan, the tom often gave the apprentice a wide berth. "I don't' want to intrude…"
Yarrowpaw shook her head. "You won't be," she promised.
Lynxpaw hesitated. "Alright," she said, finally, "I'll ask Rainstep if I can. I don't think she has any training planned for me today, so it should be fine."
The other beamed; and Lynxpaw's mouth felt dry for a moment. She turned and padded towards where Rainstep had retreated back into the warriors' den. "Rainstep?" she called quietly, mindful of the other warriors still dozing. "Can I talk to you?"
"What is it, Lynxpaw?" the she-cat asked.
"Can I go hunting with Falconpaw and Yarrowpaw?" she asked, watching the larger she-cat's tail flick as she thought. Finally, Rainstep nodded her assent, and Lynxpaw tried not to leap for joy at it. "Thank you," she murmured, and exited the den, practically racing over to where Yarrowpaw and Falconpaw stood by the camp exit.
The dappled tom narrowed his eyes at Lynxpaw when he caught sight of her; and as she approached, Lynxpaw heard him say, tone carefully neutral, "Lynxpaw is coming?"
"Yes. I asked her," Yarrowpaw retorted; and then, to Lynxpaw, "sorry about him, he must have eaten a bad vole. Come on, let's go—the prey isn't going to hunt itself!"
Lynxpaw found herself grinning at the other's quip; and followed after her out of camp.
The three apprentices made their way onto the moors. "Okay," Yarrowpaw said, "whoever catches the most prey gets the soft feathers I got for my nest yesterday."
"With a prize like that, how could we resist?" Falconpaw said drily.
Yarrowpaw scowled at him. "Three, two, one," she said quickly, and hared off towards the heather. Falconpaw and Lynxheart exchanged a glance before splitting off in opposite directions. Bolstered by her earlier success with the hare, Lynxpaw kept an eye out for any hares or rabbits.
Unfortunately, though, there were no hares to be found, nor rabbits; and by the time they gathered back outside camp, Lynxpaw had only managed to catch a few voles. Falconpaw had caught two voles and a bird, and Yarrowpaw, always the better hunter of the three of them, had managed a vole, three birds, and a shrew.
"Guess I get to keep my feathers, then," she said, around her mouthful of prey; and both Falconpaw and Lynxpaw glared at her half-heartedly.
They trotted back to camp just in time to hear Owlstar's voice ring out. "Let all cats old enough to roam the moors gather beneath the Highrock!" the she-cat called. At her words, the warriors who had been milling around the clearing chatting with each other and eating began to gather around the highrock.
The three apprentices deposited their prey on the prey mount. "I wonder what she's going to say," Falconpaw murmured.
"Probably talk about the Gathering tonight," Yarrowpaw replied.
Once the clan had gathered, Owlstar began. "The following cats will be attending tonight's Gathering: Robinwing, Meadowleap, Falconpaw, Lynxpaw, Whiteheart, Rainstep, and Oaktail. Thank you." With that, she dipped her head and retreated to her den.
Yarrowpaw turned to Lynxpaw. "I can't believe you're going!" she exclaimed. "You're going to have so much fun—I'm so jealous! Hey—" she nudged Lynxpaw's shoulder— "maybe next time we'll get to go together and I can introduce you to some of my friends."
"You're not supposed to fraternise with other clans," Falconpaw sniffed.
Yarrowpaw rolled her eyes. "Ignore him," she said. "My friends will like you."
"I'd like that," Lynxpaw said quietly; relishing the warm press of the other she-cat's shoulder against her own. "I'll make sure to listen for anything interesting," Lynxpaw added. "That way you can feel like you were there with me."
The other smiled at her. "I'd like that," she echoed.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully; and before she knew it, Lynxpaw found herself by Rainstep's side, following the rest of the cats up a steep hill. "Remember," Rainstep whispered, "you're allowed to talk to the other clans, but you're not to get too close to any of them."
Lynxpaw resisted the urge to snap I know, everyone's already told me. That wouldn't be fair to Rainstep—her mentor was just trying to look out for her. But she had heard it a dozen times already at least—especially from the members of the clan who most distrusted her.
The complaints on her tongue fell away the instant they reached the ridge, though; the clearing laid out before them was bathed in beautiful moonlight, cats milling around; younger apprentices leaping over the streams that crisscrossed the sandy ground.
"It's…beautiful," Lynxpaw murmured, mostly to herself—the rest of the cats, already accustomed to the sight, had crossed over the ridge and begun to descend into the clearing. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Lynxpaw hastily bounded after them.
Birdclan was the last clan to arrive; and so once Owlstar had joined the other leaders on the giant tree stump in the middle of the clearing, Troutstar stepped forward to deliver his report. "Minnowclan is doing well," he meowed. "Two of our queens, Rootpelt and Rosetail, have given birth to healthy litters. The streams are plentiful, and we haven't had any border skirmishes with rogues. Additionally, we have two new apprentices—Hollowpaw and Onepaw."
At that, the cats around Lynxpaw shifted, and began to chant the names; and Lynxpaw joined in, the voice of the clans swelling. "Hollowpaw! Onepaw! Hollowpaw! Onepaw!"
Once the voices died down, Troutpaw dipped his head and stepped back, allowing Owlstar to pad forward. "Birdclan is flourishing as well," she said, voice carrying across the clearing, "and we have a new apprentice, Lynxpaw." There, she paused to allow the clans to chant Lynxpaw's name.
Among the sea of voices, Lynxpaw found herself humbled; and she dipped her head, ears twitching. After the voices died down, Owlstar continued. "However, my patrols have encountered multiple rogue scent marks in our territory, going towards Leopardclan territory. There are three of them, perhaps more—I advise that the other clans keep a watch out for them."
Servalstar stepped forward. "Thank you, Owlstar," she meowed. "I'm sure my warriors will be able to deal with any threat they may come across."
For a moment, the two she-cats stared at each other unblinkingly, before Owlstar dipped her head and stepped back, allowing the powerfully-built leader to deliver her speech.
The cold night meant that the clans began to disperse soon after; and Lynxpaw slipped to Rainstep's side. "May I take a detour to hunt on the way back?" she whispered. "I only managed a small catch of prey earlier today."
Rainstep hummed, whiskers twitching, before she meowed, "Alright, just don't stray too far."
"I won't," Lynxpaw promised.
Keeping her paws light, she managed to catch two shrews and a vole; and began to trot back to camp when a speck of red caught her eye. "What…" she breathed, dropping her catch as she turned to take in the sight fully—an entire warren of rabbits, bloodied and ripped apart.
A second later, a small rabbit hopped out of the warren, covered in blood, and bared its teeth at her.
"Ancestors save me!" Lynxpaw shrieked, and hastily snatched her prey and fled back towards camp, the image of the bloodied rabbit burnt into her mind's eye.