Foxpaw woke at the chill to see the branches and tendrils of the nursery mixing above her head. She stood, stretching the stiffness out of her legs, and walking out as not to disturb Emberkit and his littermates. Curious about her new nest, she padded over to the apprentice’s den, fluffing out her long red fur against the chilly Leaf-bare breeze. For a moment, she wished Brightpaw was beside her- but she pushed the thought away. Foxpaw could fight all the cats around the lake; she could handle a little wind. But it’s a cold wind, Foxpaw argued with herself. Brightpaw is warm!
Once she had reached the bramble that shielded the apprentice’s den, Foxpaw padded inside, careful not to step on her sister’s tail… again. Usually the apprentices had to duck to get to their nests, but Foxpaw and Briarpaw were so much smaller they could go right in without even grazing their ears on a hanging tendril. Briarpaw was curled up in a tight ball, her paws flinching as if she was in a dream.
“Briarpaw?” Foxpaw mewed, keeping her voice low so she didn’t wake the senior warriors. The sun was just casting a few cautious beams above the hollow, but a shadow still lay over the dens. Foxpaw could tell the dawn patrol had left already; a few trampled nests made their home where four of the warriors had been.
Briarpaw shuffled, draping her skinny rose-colored tail over her ears.
“Briarpaw?” Foxpaw repeated, forgetting to keep her voice down.
“Foxpaw, where were you last night?” Foxpaw stared questioningly at her sister. Her muzzle hadn’t moved. “Over here!” Foxpaw spun around to see Brightpaw, his eyes still glazed with sleep.
“Oh, sorry Brightpaw. I slept in the nursery last night.” Foxpaw swept her long, bushy tail over the sandy earth and gave her chest fur a few licks to hide her embarrassment. Of course Briarpaw wasn’t meowing to you, Mouse-brain! She scolded herself.
“Why didn’t you sleep in here?” Brightpaw mewed, rubbing his flattened fur with his forepaw. “I lined you and Briarpaw’s nests with the feathers from my sparrow.”
Foxpaw’s pelt grew hot. “I’m sorry,” She began. She had forgotten Brightpaw was making her a nest. “I-”
“Don’t be sorry.” Brightpaw interrupted with a dismissive flick of his tail. “I wanted to stay in the nursery when I was apprenticed too. Kestrelflight had her first litter and I was going to miss them. I do miss them.”
“Are you two going to sit there and gossip all day? I didn’t go on the dawn patrol so I could sleep, I may as well have left.”
“Sorry Kestrelflight. We were just talking about you.” When the kestrel colored she-cat had put her head back on her paws, Brightpaw flicked his tail again, shaking out his fur as if shaking off the memories of Kestrelflight’s first litter. Though Foxpaw was too young to have known them, she knew the four kits had gone to StarClan moments before they were named. The kits were gone when she named them, but the poor queen wanted them to be named in StarClan, and knew the names were hers to give. Now here she was, older than most of the warriors. Some of the senior warriors were put into the apprentice’s den because there was so little room in their own den, and it was warmer here than it was anywhere else. “Your nest is over here. I made it next to your sister’s, and in the warmest spot of the den.” Brightpaw gestured to a neatly made nest beside him and Briarpaw.
I get to sleep beside my two new friends! Foxpaw settled down in the nest. It was the softest she had ever been in. Thanks so much, Brightpaw. When we’re warriors, I’ll make sure you have the best nest ever. She closed her eyes and drifted into sleep once more.
Foxpaw felt something stir beside her. She opened her eyes, blinking away sleep. Powerful rays beat down on the hollow, and most of the warriors were out in the clearing. A cold wind struck Foxpaw, sharp as thorns. Leaf-fall and Leafbare were the only seasons she remembered, but the nursery had kept her warm enough to block it out. She wondered what the camp looked like in Newleaf, covered in green and flowers, the sun shining warmly instead of blue. Foxpaw turned to her side; Briarpaw was gone. On her other side, Brightpaw was pressed up against her. He was licking his paw as Foxpaw lifted her head.
“It’s time for training.” He purred. “You slept in. Thrushsong has been yowling his head off; he says no cat should be in their nests in Leaf-bare. Except the elders, of course. And the kits! Training will be extra fun today,” Brightpaw went on. “We’ll be hunting together!” Foxpaw’s paws pricked. She would be training with the other apprentices today!
“Is Marigoldpaw coming?” Foxpaw questioned.
“You bet!” Brightpaw was so cheerful.
“What about Briarpaw?”
“We’re all going!” Brightpaw stood up and ducked out of the den, looking back to make sure she followed. Foxpaw got up after him and stretched until her tail quivered. The Leaf-bare cold was easier to deal with in the thick bramble den of the nursery. Padding out after Brightpaw, she saw Sunmask, Ravengaze, Poppyspots and Jaggedclaw in the clearing, meowing on about squirrels. Poppyspots, the ThunderClan deputy, was standing with her tail kinked over her back.
“I have great news for Thrushsong!” She mewed to Sunmask, barely loud enough for Foxpaw to hear. “I’ll be kitting in about four moons.”
Sunmask let out a small gasp of shock. “Who will be deputy while you’re in the nursery?” Poppyspots shuffled her paws.
“Should I stay a deputy at all?”
“Poppyspots! ThunderClan has never had a better deputy. Do you even know how many battles you’ve stopped?” Sunmask wrapped herself around the baffled queen.
“Maybe ThunderClan needs a cat who is willing to fight more battles.”
“You mean to shed more blood?” Foxpaw chimed in. “Why would ThunderClan need that?” Poppyspots looked up at her, pride in her shining amber eyes.
“My sister had fine kits. Maybe Mistclaw should be deputy while I’m away.” She mewed, half to herself.
“I don’t know…” Sunmask murmured. “Maybe I could do it?”
The deputy raised her head higher, and Foxpaw wondered if she’d heard Sunmask’s eager suggestion. “Let’s get to training. Marigoldpaw!” The pretty golden apprentice came racing to her side.
“Battle practice?” She meowed. “I’d be glad to show the new ones some moves.”
“Hunting.” Sunmask replied dryly. “Maybe we could show Briarpaw and Foxpaw some moves later.” Marigoldpaw’s tail drooped. For the first time, Foxpaw realized how big the other apprentice’s were. I’ll never be as big as them! Foxpaw thought.
“Let’s get going,” Ravengaze’s voice jerked her back into the chilly hollow. “Long day ahead!” Happily, Foxpaw and the other apprentices pushed their way through the thorn barrier behind their mentors. Foxpaw and Briarpaw went between Sunmask and Ravengaze, with Brightpaw and Marigoldpaw taking up the rear and Poppyspots and Jaggedclaw in the lead. Something light and cold hit Foxpaw at the base of her tail. Before she could stop it, a shiver went down her spine. Brightpaw, his Gray patched fur soaked from the dew, pushed himself against her.
“Cold?” He mewed, sympathy glowing in his icy blue eyes. I don’t need sympathy! Foxpaw wanted to yowl it to the whole forest. She was the strongest warrior around the lake!
“No,” She began, flicking a fleck of water from where the cold thing had hit her. “I think a wet leaf just hit me.”
“That’s not a leaf!” Marigoldpaw’s meow sounded from behind her. Foxpaw spun around, gaping in astonishment at a flurry of white specks falling from the sky.
“What’s that?” Briarpaw mewed.
“It’s snow.” Ravengaze let out a mrrrow of amusement. Foxpaw could barely keep herself from frolicking like a kit. The little spots of Leaf-bare fluttered all around her. Brightpaw’s eyes grew wide and he batted at the air with one forepaw. Foxpaw reached out her tongue and caught a bit of snow in her jaws. The little flake had melted the moment it hit her.
“Snow is amazing!”
“They’re like little falling stars!”
“It’s so cold!”
The joyful shouts continued as the apprentices frolicked in the snow like kits. Foxpaw saw her sister leap up and catch the snowflakes on her tongue.
“Try to catch one!” She yowled. “My first prey!”
Foxpaw and the other apprentices began hopping around in an attempt to catch the little floating white specks. After only a few heartbeats, Foxpaw collided with Brightpaw as they went for the same spot. She tumbled, sending the freshly fallen snow up into her mentor’s faces and up everywhere around her. Brightpaw landed on top of her, and she let out a little shriek as he smushed her tail beneath his back.
“Ow!” She squealed.
“Sorry!” Brightpaw mewed. He stood up slowly and looked at her, his eyes clouded with concern. “Are you okay? Can you get up?” The snow covered apprentice stared at her.
“I’m okay,” Foxpaw began awkwardly, shaking the water droplets from her fluffy pelt. “I’m all wet now though.” She shivered.
“Your fur isn’t quite thick enough for leaf-bare yet since it’s your first.” Purred Ravengaze, his long black tail kinked over his back. “We can head back for you to warm up if you want.” Foxpaw nodded, cold dew dripping from her ear fur as she tilted her head. Now that she looked, Brightpaw’s fur was much thicker than her own. It must have kept him warm. But his pelt would be soaked for longer…
“Here.” Brightpaw’s soothing voice brought her back from her thoughts. He leaned over her, covering her in his soft fur. The warmth and his scent reminded her of the nursery, and that Emberkit was waiting for her. She got closer to him, burying herself deeper into his pelt, thinking of being back in a den to keep herself warm. Foxpaw was glad he was there.
The sun was beginning to go down by the time the patrol had returned. Marigoldpaw had gone off to help the elders, while Brightpaw and Briarpaw crouched by the fresh-kill pile.
Foxpaw stalked around the camp to avoid Briarpaw’s gaze. She snuck towards the nursery with a small shrew from the pile in her jaws. Catching prey was hard when the snow crunched beneath her paws and the fresh-kill was running low. Foxpaw was ducking down through the nursery brambles when Brightpaw called out behind her.
“Hey, Foxpaw!” The spotted apprentice was gingerly picking at a thin squirrel. “Do you want to join us?” He gestured with his tail to a space between Briarpaw and himself.
“Er…” Foxpaw stuttered. She hadn’t eaten with Emberkit in a while. Her paws scuffed the snow letting out a crunch. “I was just bringing the queens some fresh-kill. I’ll be back out in a minute.” Foxpaw casually padded into the nursery where Emberkit, Darkkit, Twigkit, and Frostkit came to greet her. They were all getting too big for the nursery. Everyone except Twigkit, who could still go through the bramble entrance without even snagging an ear fur on the top.
“Are you going to stay with us?” Frostkit asked, her muscles tense. Foxpaw wanted to, of course, but she had told Brightpaw she would be right out.
“No, sorry.” The kits’ tails drooped and their ears flattened as they looked up at Foxpaw with wide eyes.
“Pretty please?” Twigkit mewed, her blank eyes directed at her.
“Yeah, you’re our favorite apprentice!” Frostkit added.
“I’ll be everyone’s favorite when I’m a -paw!” Darkkit stood up, his paws tensing. He was quite strong for a kit, maybe even stronger than some apprentices. Him and his sisters tussled, and he pinned them easily, while Emberkit stared sadly at Foxpaw.
“Why Brightpaw? He’s boring.” Emberkit was clearly jealous. The moment he had meowed about Brightpaw, Oakfur turned around from separating the other kits.
“You apologise Emberkit. Brightpaw is a very fine young cat.” She defended. Foxpaw was startled by the flash of anger that had shone in the queen’s eyes. It was quickly replaced by a motherly understanding though, which Emberkit had clearly noticed.
“I’m sorry. Brightpaw seems nice. You do spend a lot of time with him is all.” At that moment, Emberkit’s apology was so sincere it made Foxpaw feel like she should retch. Most cats his age would have lashed their tails and complained.
“Heh… it’s okay.” Foxpaw quickly backed out of the thorny bush to keep away from the tumbling kits and awkward lectures. She padded across the camp and flopped down between Brightpaw and her sister, being sure to squeeze herself into Brightpaw’s fur. It was like it never got cold. The rest of the clan was sharing tongues in different areas of the camp, while Sunmask and Lionstar laid below Highrock and discussed hunting parties and some ShadowClan cats on the border. The sun peeked over the edge of the stone hollow, and the crisp air froze Foxpaw’s mind. She was quickly brought back to the fresh-kill pile when Brightpaw nudged her. Looking down at Brightpaw’s squirrel, Foxpaw noticed that he hadn’t touched it since he had asked her to sit with him, despite the wait in the nursery. They took turns taking bites of the squirrel, the taste of fresh-kill making her muscles feel sore and tired. Brightpaw had obviously chosen a fresh one, and a plumb one too. Thank StarClan, Foxpaw thought. I’m so hungry and cold I could eat every squirrel around the lake! Eventually they were done and Briarpaw went off to her nest, leaving Brightpaw and Foxpaw out alone. The sun had gone now, and the last few orange clouds began to turn gray as the first warriors of StarClan appeared in Silverpelt. Brightpaw was clearly exhausted from the day, but he hid the weariness in his eyes well. Foxpaw sat there silently, staring at SandPuddle. A thin sheet of ice and snow covered it, making it hard to drink from unless some cat broke it with their paw. StarClan was reflected in it, letting the sand beneath the ice barely show through.
“Hey, Foxpaw.” Brightpaw yawned, reminding Foxpaw of his presence. “This snow stuff sure is great right?” He was obviously desperate to break the silence. She had to agree with him though, the snow was pretty great.
“Yeah.” Foxpaw finally replied. “It’s really loud when I try to hunt though. It gets my fur all wet too.” Brightpaw stood up slowly and stretched his legs before dropping into a crouch. The snow laid silently beneath him, the milky gray sky reflected on the shiny surface. “Woah.” Foxpaw mewed, amazed. “How did you do that?”
“Look,” Brightpaw flicked his tail and stared down at his paws. “If you spread your paws out more, and arch your back less, it spreads out your weight so you don’t sink in.”
Foxpaw crunched over to the deeper snow and dropped into Brightpaw’s odd new crouch. Her paws slipped almost immediately and she sank in until her chest fur wasn’t even visible.
Foxpaw’s eyes flashed with embarrassment and Brightpaw twitched his whiskers in amusement before hauling her out of the hole by her scruff. After a few heartbeats, Foxpaw shook and he corrected her paws with his muzzle. She stood above the surface and looked up at him triumphantly.
“I thought you never hunted in snow before.” Foxpaw mewed, staring back at the unbroken sheet of snow beneath her paws.
“I haven’t.” He purred. “Jaggedclaw and Lionstar showed me and Marigoldpaw how to go over dead leaves like this last season.”
“You’re amazing!” Foxpaw purred, leaping and landing on his back, tackling him to the ground.
“Ah!” Brightpaw rolled over on her and pinned her. “I got you now!” He batted at her with sheathed paws until she sank back into the snow.
“Now I’m soaked again!” Foxpaw hissed jokingly, lashing her tail. “You’re madder than a fox in a fit!”
“Pfft.” Brightpaw pinns her again with one paw. Foxpaw wriggles helplessly underneath him. “She-cats.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Foxpaw reaches and pulls his head toward her, licking it all over. “I’m going to eat you!”
“What are you, ShadowClan?” Brightpaw flattened his ears and meowed as if he was shocked.
“Perhaps.” They stayed that way, his muzzle still in Foxpaw’s paw, until Moonhigh. “It’s really cold out here now that the sun’s been gone for a while. Our mentors would kill us if they knew we were out this late too.” There was a flash of sadness in Brightpaw’s eyes as she spoke, but he nodded.
“Yeah. That’s what makes it fun though.” Brightpaw stood and shook some snow unto Foxpaw.
“Stupid furball.” Foxpaw stretched her short legs and shook the chills from her fur. She pulled a twig from behind Brightpaw’s ear.
“Hehe. Thanks.” Slowly and shaking, their fur dripping from the snow, they padded side by side into the darkness of the apprentice’s den. They avoided the other apprentices and some of the senior warriors, knocking some brambles off their paws as they got to their warm, soft nests. When Brightpaw laid down, Foxpaw snuck down into his nest and collapsed beside him. His fur was soaked but warmer than her own, so they tried to share the warmth. His breath ruffled her ear fur and made it tingle. Foxpaw eventually let her weariness overwhelm her and she drifted into sleep at the rise and fall of his flank.