Morningstar decided to boost the low morale of the Clan with a raid; a long-anticipated event. There hadn't been one for moons, and PureClan needed some blood beneath their claws. The far-off Twolegplace was, despite being quite a distance from their territory, an ideal area to pick up strays and naïve kittypets. The announcement was made a quarter moon in advance- just days before Strongkit's apprentice ceremony.
Meadowmist ruthlessly grilled Sablepaw in the arts of brutal butchering. Her downy white fur and plump belly belied her skill; she fought like a badger. Session after session, the black she-cat found herself sprawled in the dust and dirt of the Training Grounds. The dry riverbed was parched and cracked. Each fall sent a jolt running up her spine that exploded in front of her eyes. When this happened a cloud of black swirled across her vision. She could hardly see but Meadowmist always shoved her back onto her paws anyway.
Sablepaw could rarely best Meadowmist. Often her attempts left her with stinging pink scratches raked along her pelt.
She returned from the Training Grounds after a particularly nasty episode had bestowed upon her variously shaped and sized lacerations, and found that Morningstar was calling a meeting. The tawny she-cat looked relieved; there was no trace of pride in her eyes as she stared down at her solitary son.
"PureClan," she called, as Sablepaw hastily took her seat beside Nettlepaw. "Today we honor a young apprentice with his new name. No longer shall he be known as Strongkit. He is Strongpaw now, from this moment forwards, until he earns his warrior name. Thornstreak, you are a strong and loyal warrior-" here Morningstar leveled her narrow gaze at the tabby tom- "and you shall mentor Strongpaw to be a true warrior of PureClan."
Sablepaw bit back a hiss of displeasure at the announcement; she didn't like Strongpaw, never had. He acted as if leadership ran through the bloodlines and he expected to become his mother's predecessor. Sharing training sessions with him would be barely tolerable; sharing her father was even worse. She glared at the two toms as they bumped noses roughly. Pepperpaw didn't look too pleased himself.
"I will also be announcing the raiding party," Morningstar yowled. A wave of silence flooded the meeting place. Each cat hoped their name would be announced. Raids held a certain thrill that nothing else could touch. Something about spilling Tainted blood was irresistible, addictive. Once they started they never wanted to stop, filled with a wild righteous joy.
"I will lead the raid. Thornstreak, Tallstorm, Redsong, Tornear, Sleetclaw, Meadowmist, Sedgewing, Strongpaw, Smokepaw and Sablepaw will accompany me. The rest of you will be left the guard the territory and hunt to provide for the queen, kits, apprentices and elders. Is anything unclear?" Morningstar asked. A cruel light shimmered in her eyes.
Sablepaw gave Nettlepaw a sympathetic nudge but her mind was whirling and her claws itched to slice through Tainted flesh. Strongpaw gave a triumphant snarl but Smokepaw was outwardly calm. His deep eyes meet Sablepaw's; with a shudder, she wrenched her gaze away.
The quarter moon crawled by. Sablepaw hunted, trained and waited with a hungry thirst for the raid. Meadowmist trained her even harder until slivers of scars could be seen beneath her thick black fur and wiry muscles rippled below her skin. She'd often crawl to her nest with shrieking muscles and flowering bruises underneath her pelt. Vain efforts were made to sleep the cramps off, but in the morning the pain seemed only intensified.
On the journey of the raid, Sablepaw crawled out of her den with stiff, wooden limbs. She hid a grimace; nothing was going to ruin her chance of going to the Twoleg place. Perhaps she did not realize the exact measure of destruction and chaos that would follow their visit. Perhaps, like a true PureClan cat, she did not care.
"Sablepaw," Meadowmist greeted her apprentice calmly, drawing her tongue over one sleek white paw. For once she was up early. A vindictive glow lit her forest-green gaze; she relished the thought of spilling Tainted blood. Though blood on white fur was not exactly pretty, she put up with it for the fervour and thrill.
Sablepaw dipped her head to her mentor and scanned the camp. Most of the raiding cats were up- with the exception of Strongpaw- and were gulping down packets of herbs from the medicine cats.
"Go eat your traveling herbs," Meadowmist commanded dismissively, shooing her reluctant apprentice away. Sablepaw went to stand uncomfortably by Sparkpaw, who leaned against her den with a casual, sleepy air.
"Herbs?" the she-cat asked, making a valiant effort and failing to appear awake. Sablepaw merely nodded and watched the sun slink above the horizon. It stained the sky a glorious, vivid red with hazy crimson claws, like a prophecy of death and doom. Sparkpaw shambled off into the dimness of her den, her ginger fur ruffled from sleep. Specklefrost's grumpy snarl issued from the bush as she shoved the green packet at her apprentice.
"I thought you made up all the packets already!" she snapped. "Now, tansy, poppy, lotus roots...there they are."
Sparkpaw shuffled from the den, blinking blearily in the suddenly bright light. She placed the leafy packet at Sablepaw's paws before sinking to her stomach on the grassy earth. Sablepaw gulped down the herbs, frowning at the bitter taste. It lingered on her tongue as she wandered back to Meadowmist, who was the swiping the air with her claws. Without warning, she turned and lunged at the black apprentice. Primitive instinct seized her muscles and she jerked backwards, hissing. Meadowmist's paw stopped short in front her nose.
"What was that for?" Sablepaw spat, staring at the pearly claws that hovered inches before her eyes. Meadowmist put her paw down and began to groom calmly. Between licks she answered, "No point lugging you along to a bloodbath if you can't defend yourself, is it?"
Sablepaw didn't bother to argue; her logic made perfect sense.
At that moment, Morningstar strolled out of her den, her tawny fur tinged with copper and gold in the dawning light. The cats in the clearing raised their heads; conversation ceased.
"PureClan,"she called, stalking up the Speaking Hill. "Who's ready to raid?"
"We are!" the Clan thundered. Several startled birds darted into the sky at the sudden commotion.
"Who's ready to spill some Tainted blood?' she screeched.
"We are!" PureClan roared; it seemed their leader needed no more encouragement. She trotted towards the forest, gathering her raiding party to her as she went. Meadowmist and Sablepaw drifted to join her as she paused at the leafy threshold. Sorrelstorm followed the warrior, herbs clenched between his jaws. Once, in their place, it had been seasons of kits carted off to their doom.
"Iceface is in charge!" Morningstar reminded the remaining warriors as she stepped onto the worn path that wound through the forest. "For now," she whispered under her breath, grimacing. Then Sablepaw did not hear anything else the she-cat had to say; she was too busy racing across the forest floor in a crush of mottled pelts, anticipation humming in her blood. Savage cries filled the air. What little prey that had ventured outside of their burrows fled. Even a soft-furred deer bolted from her grazing spot as PureClan crashed through the undergrowth.
The party slowed to a more sedate pace as they exited the trees. They were in the meadow on the eastern side of their territory. Sablepaw hesitated as they passed the border, then dived over as if taking a plunge into icy water- she'd never been so far from camp in her life. A step behind her was the untainted haven; sprawled in front of her was a disease-riddled, festering world where love ran rampant and choked cats with it poisonous, deadly grip. Meadowmist snorted at her apprentice and moved to travel beside Morningstar.
Sablepaw was left with the three male apprentices. She wasn't sure if the rules about talking to them applied outside of the territory, but she kept her mouth shut anyway. Smokepaw and Strongpaw kept a small, strained conversation running, which Sablepaw ignored. Pepperpaw remained silent too, and stared solemnly at the hazy skyline.
"What about you, Sablepaw?" Strongpaw asked. The she-cat jerked back to attention, turning her confused gaze on the two toms.
"How many Tainted are you gonna kill?" he asked, laughing grimly. Smokepaw looked vaguely perturbed by Strongpaw's blunt question.
"As many as I can lay my claws on," Sablepaw answered mildly; she did not give the stereotypical, squeamish she-cat reaction Strongpaw had been probing for. He didn't seem to mind, only laughed harder when she replied before whispering something in Smokepaw's ear. The grey tom recoiled, disdain flashing in his eyes.
The Clan stopped traveling when the sun set, and settled down to rest in a sheltered grove. When Sablepaw glanced to the skies, she realized the stars seemed duller, muted. A distant glow lit the horizon.
With a spark of excitement that quelled her fatigue, she realized it could only be the fabled Twolegplace.
Whoo, another chapter! Can someone please remind me what season it is PureClan's sunny world? ;-; I lost count of the months.