• -Chapter one: Welcome to ThunderClan!!

    The vicious snarling of another creature woke Rob up. He looked up blearily to see Krystal spitting at an approaching fox. He sprang to his paws, fur beginning to fluff out as he prepared to defend his mate.

    But a different battle yowl sounded before Rob could even bunch his muscles together. What looked like a ball of fire exploded into the clearing, ramming into the fox so hard it toppled onto it's side. Rob stared in an amazed daze as three more cats emerged, tails lashing and lips drawn back in a snarl, flashing ivory teeth at the russet intruder.

    One of them, a young tortoiseshell tabby she-cat with amber eyes, spared Rob and Krystal a glance. Surprise flared in her gaze. She nudged one of the bigger cats, a golden-brown tabby tom, and flicked her ears at them. The tom glared at them, his own amber eyes glaring. "Why are you on our territory?" He snarled, claws unsheathed.

    Rob eyed the glinting claws warily. "What questions you have will be answered when the fox is safely driven off." He replied calmly, his own claws unsheathed. He felt reassured by their sharpness. If these cats attacked them, they would be in for a nasty surprise. Rob leapt forward, muzzle drawn into the beginnings of a snarl. But he had to duck quickly to avoid the same ball of flame as it was tossed over his head. It collided into the trunk of a tree, a gasp of pain escaping it.

    "Flamepaw!" Shouted one of the cats, a cream-colored tom.

    A fire-colored tom lay still at the base of a tree, unmoving and fearfully still. Krystal rushed toward him, fur fluffed out in fear. She sniffed at the still body before turning to Rob. The gray tom felt himself relax at the relief in her eyes. "He's alive!" She called.

    An eye cracked open as the small tom rose to his paws. "Of course I'm alive." He croaked out, legs buckling as he attempted to stand. "It takes more than a fox to kill me."

    The tortoiseshell tabby snorted as she dug her claws into the fox's side, hauling herself up to it's shoulders. "How about a tree?" She called over. "Just imagine the report to Bramblestar. 'We're so sorry, Bramblestar. We couldn't save dear Flamepaw from the wrath of the deadly tree'-EEEE!!" Her mew turned into a shriek as the fox beneath her bucked her off.

    "Morningpaw!" yowled the golden-brown tom. Morningpaw landed next to Rob.

    But the young she-cat was on her paws in an instant, tail lashing in rage. "Excuse me!" She hissed at the fox. "I was speaking!" She darted forward, clamping her jaws on the fox's bushy tail.

    Rob risked a glance at Krystal. To his horror, Flamepaw had collapsed again. Blood was welling up from a wound in his side. Rob's mate was licking away the crimson liquid, gathering up fallen leaved with her tail and desperately pressing them against the flowing breach of flesh.

    The fox shook off the three cats clinging to it and charged toward Krystal and Flamepaw, toward the blood trickling down Flamepaw's temple. Rob intercepted it, claws unsheathed and teeth bared. But for a second Rob froze. When he looked into the eyes of the fox, they weren't the eyes of a usual fox. Normally, when a fox was attacking him and Krystal, the eyes were wild and crazed by the smell of the pregnant she-cat. But these eyes...They weren't wild and crazed. Black cold eyes watched him calculatingly, eyes that, had he not been defending his mate, could suck him in until fangs closed over his neck and killed him.

    But, as it was, when the fox jumped for Krystal and Flamepaw, Rob met it in mid-air, his weight pushing the fox and himself several mouse-lengths away from the downed young cat. Rob ducked just as teeth snapped just where his ear had been. He lunged forward, wrapping his own ivory fangs around the fox's flesh. The russet creature reared back with a pained howl, shaking it's body to dislodge the cat hanging on to it's neck. It's movements were growing fainter as the metallic taste of blood flowed into Rob's mouth. The gray tom refused to let go until it's struggles stopped completely. Rob released the fox and stared down at himself. His entire chest was covered in the fox's life's blood. A feeling rose in his chest, one he hadn't felt for a long time. The tom let out a triumphant yowl, claws still unsheathed and covered in blood.

    But a paw in the face cut him off, as well as sent him flying away. He skidded to a stop, next to Krystal and Flamepaw. He raised his head, bewildered, at the fox he thought he had just killed. It was on it's paws, slowly backing away. Morningpaw, the cream-colored tom, and the golden-brown tom were advancing on the vicious creature, snarling in rage and hostility. The fox's dark eyes darted to each cat in turn, landing finally on Rob. His claws itched at the challenge in it's gaze. Then, to all of their amazement, it spoke. "This is not over, gray one." It said. "We will finish this battle later." It backed away, till it's bushy tail hit the underbrush. "My name is Kaala. Remember it, for I will be the last thing you see!" Then it turned and ran away, toward the stream Rob and Krystal had jumped the earlier night.

    The three cats leapt forward, fully intending to see the fox off of their territory. But Rob stopped them with a yowl. His green eyes flashed in a glare. "We have more important things to see to." He growled, twitching his ear to the fallen Flamepaw and sitting himself by Krystal.

    In an instant, both the cream-colored tom and the tabby tortoiseshell were by his side, glaring down at Flamepaw. "How many times do I have to tell you?" He growled. "Don't go charging in without knowing what you're facing!"

    Flamepaw glared at him weakly. "Like I actually listen to what you tell me." He croaked out.

    Morningpaw shook her head. "You should!" she hissed. "Then maybe, just MAYBE, you wouldn't have been stupid enough to get injured like this!" She touched his head-wound for emphasis. Flamepaw hissed a bit in pain.

    Just then, Krystal shoved her way between Flamepaw and the two berating cats, glaring at them. "Now isn't the time to point out his stupidity." She meowed. "Your friend is injured. If you don't have a designated cat to take care of him, then I will..." She trailed off looking between all four of the now gaping and staring cats. "What?" She asked defensively.

    Rob chose that moment to come up to her side. He brushed his tail against her flank soothingly. "I think it not a wise decision to antagonize these cats when we are the intruders, love." He muttered to his mate, a smile tugging at his lips. Rob stepped forward, dipping his head in greeting. "Hello." He meowed formally. "My name is Rob. This is my mate, Krystal." He gestured to Krystal with his tail. She nodded her own greeting.

    The tortoiseshell tabby stepped forward, ignoring an angry hiss from the golden-brown tabby tom. She nodded back to them. "My name is Morningpaw." She meowed. "This is Thornclaw," she pointed to the golden-brown tabby tom with her tail, "Berrynose," the cream-colored tom, "and his mouse-brained apprentice, Flamepaw." She gave the scowling tom a playful flick on the ear with her tail, taking it back quickly when Flamepaw made a move to bite it.

    "Flamepaw." Rob meowed, eyeing his fire-colored pelt. "The name suits you."

    Krystal nodded her agreement. "We'd like to help you." She mewed gently, a pointed look at Flamepaw's bleeding head. "All of you." She swept her eyes around all the cats, including Rob, surveying their injuries. "Except for you." She glared at her mate. "You should know better by now than to attack a fox head on like that."

    Rob shrugged helplessly. "Not my fault the fox is a blood-thirsty beast." He looked at Morningpaw, the seemingly nicest of the group. "If you don't want our help, then point us toward unclaimed territory so our kits may be born in peace." Behind Morningpaw, the three toms flash a look to Krystal's swollen belly. Rob touched his tail to Krystal's flank and backed up a few paw steps. "We will give you time to discuss it." Krystal followed him obediently to the edge of the clearing, out of hearing range but still in sight.

    Rob kept his eyes on the conversing cats while swiveling his ears in a circle, listening for even the slightest sound of pawsteps. It wasn't that he was listening for an ambush. If there were more cats around, they would have helped with out the fox, Kaala. But as a matter of fact, it was the she-fox he was listening for. He really had no idea if she left the territory or not. Thinking of her made her departing words. "My name is Kaala. Remember it, for I will be the last thing you see!"They were directed at him. There were so many questions he wanted answered. Why could she speak cat? And why was she so intent to kill him? It was a rare thing for a fox to single out a cat. Was it because he was so close to killing her? Or was it because he was so adamant in protecting Kyrstal and Flamepaw?

    He supposed he would never find out, because the four cats were walking toward them. Krystal leaned against him, seeming to take strength from their brushing pelts. Thornclaw was in front when the patrol stopped.

    But it was Berrynose that spoke. "We have decided to take you to the camp." He meowed. "But it's up to our leader, Bramblestar, to let you stay."

    Rob dipped his head in gratitude. "Thank you." He meowed softly. "Because of you our kits will...be..." He trailed off as he noticed Thornclaw glaring almost hatefully at him. "Yes, can I help you?" He asked, annoyed.

    Thornclaw snorted. "We already told you." He scoffed. "It's up to our leader to accept you. But of course," he sneered, "our great leader seems to have adopted Firestar's love of taking in outsiders."

    Morningpaw bristled, despite supporting Flamepaw. "You got something against ex-kittypets?" She spat, eyes flaring in anger.

    "Hey now," Berrynose scolded, his tone light. "That's no way to talk to a senior warrior."

    Flamepaw nudged Morningpaw gently. "No one is talking about you." He mewed mockingly, an amused grin on his muzzle. Morningpaw gave him a scathing glare before pulling away. Flamepaw, having been leaning on her, fell on his side with an audible 'ooph'. Morningpaw followed up by sitting on him, putting all of her weight on the injured tom. "Ow!"He yowled loudly. "GET OFF!"

    "No." Morningpaw replied easily, repeatedly smacking him on the head with her tail. Hard. "This is what you get for being a mouse-brained jerk."

    Rob took notice of the two toms staring strangely at Morningpaw, as if she were a badger with two heads. Thornclaw shook his head. "What is Brackenfur teaching you?"

    Morningpaw replied without missing a beat. "How to deal with mouse-brained jerks." She finished abusing Flamepaw with a final flick on the ear, this one playful, before finally getting off of him.

    Flamepaw didn't waste any time getting to his paws. He stared incredulously at Morningpaw, his amber eyes wide in disbelief and...somewhat awe. "Jeeze, Morningpaw!" He exclaimed. "Sometimes I think you're half-ShadowClan, half-fox with how vicious you are!"

    Rob and Krystal exchanged confused glances. Krystal raised her tail for attention. "Excuse me!" She called over the sudden clamor. When she was sure they wouldn't start bickering, she spoke. "But, uh, who is ShadowClan?"

    Thornclaw and Berrynose exchanged anxious glances. Thornclaw turned and waved his tail in one lash to summon all the cats in the clearing. "You will learn far more about the Clans in the camp." He bounded away into the forest. The patrol, plus two cats, followed swiftly.

    Rob stayed in the back, refusing to leave Krystal's side. Flamepaw, seeming much more rejuvenated after teasing Morningpaw, ran at his shoulder. Morningpaw ran beside Krystal on her other side. "So," Rob meowed easily, his mate's ragged breath in his ear, "where is your camp?"

    Morningpaw answered. "ThunderClan, that's us," she gestured to the patrol with her ear, "make our camp in a stone hollow. High walls that could break a cat's neck if they fall over it protect us from outside intruders. Our leader is Bramblestar."

    Flamepaw flicked his ears. "In a Clan, the rleader...well, they lead." He shrugged his shoulders while running. "Simple as that."

    Thornclaw shot Flamepaw a scorching look. "It's not 'simple as that'." He scolded. "Leaders have to make decisions. They have to decide what to do about intruders, prey-stealing, and if one of the other Clans attack."

    "Also," added Berrynose from Thornclaw's shoulder, "leaders decide what an apprentice's warrior name will be." His purr sounded loud, even through the whipping winds. "I remember my warrior ceremony." He meowed wistfully. "I was afraid Firestar was going to name me Berrystumpytail." He leapt high into the air and shook his rump for emphasis. His stump of a tail made no movement.

    Rob and Krystal exchanged confused glances yet again. "I'm guessing this Firestar was leader before Bramblestar." At Flamepaw's nod, he went on. "I wonder why all the leaders seem to end in -star? Firestar, Bramblestar, Russetstar-"

    Thornclaw skidded to a halt, causing Rob to run straight into him. The golden-brown tom whipped around, his eyes flashing in unconcealed rage and suspicion. "How do you know Russetstar?" He demanded.

    Rob waved his tail dismissively to where he and Krystal spent the night. "She and a group of her cats chased us off their territory last night. We tried to explain our situation to her..." He shrugged helplessly. "She wouldn't hear of it."

    Berrynose nodded sagely. "That does sound like Russetstar." He rested his tail on Thornclaw's shoulder. "Stop worrying so much. If they were a spy or thread to ThunderClan, Rob wouldn't have fought with us against the fox and Krystal wouldn't have offered to help Flamepaw."

    Thornclaw grumbled a bit before nodding and turning and running back away. Everyone followed. After a brief answered Rob's question, ducking under a low-hanging branch. "No real reason. I suppose it's just to distinguish them from regular warriors." She shrugged. "Just as kits end in -kit and apprentices end in -paw. It's just a way to tell what rank someone is."

    Rob gave a nod of understanding. "so, you and Flamepaw are apprentice." He stated matter-of-factly.

    Flamepaw nodded, a grin on his muzzle. "You catch on pretty quick." He meowed, leaping over a log. Rob landed next to him, waiting for Krystal to scrabble over the mass of wood. "All the Clan liver here, by the lake. We all follow the warrior code, and every cat within each Clan protects each other the best we can." And then Flamepaw was off again.

    Rob kept his eyes on the ground flashing beneath his paws. "Kind of like how we fought against Kaala..." He murmured, more to himself than Flamepaw. 'Perhaps it wouldn't we so bad to live in a Clan..." He thought to himself. "You mentioned other Clans." He meowed, flashing a curious look to Flamepaw.

    He expected Flamepaw, or even one of the other cats to answer, but suddenly found himself in a clearing. Stone walls rose high above him, closing him in. Many pairs of eyes were staring at him, a few gazes hostile. They had arrived at the camp without him knowing.

    A clatter of pebbles and rocks drew his attention to the cliff face. A large tabby tom with a dark pelt was bounding toward them from a ledge. His amber eyes were narrowed in anger, and he was glaring at Thornclaw and Berrynose. "Why have you brought these two intruders to our camp?" He demanded, voice low and dangerous.

    Thornclaw shuffled his paws, nervous under the intimidating gaze. But Berrynose met the tom's eyes easily. "The gray one helped us fight off the fox and the silver one is close to kitting. What would have us do, turn them away? ShadowClan, nor WindClan, would receive them nicely, and they wouldn't get off our territory fast enough before she gave birth."

    'There's that name again.' Rob thought scathingly. "So," he started, eyes narrowing, "are we ever going to get an explanation on who ShadowClan is?" He asked gruffly.

    Bramblestar turned his piercing glare on Rob. "No." He meowed through clenched teeth. "Now get off of our territory."

    A ginger she-cat stomped forward from the crowd of cats, her fur bristling in anger. "Bramblestar, look around you." She ordered. "Most of our cats are getting old, and it would be long until ShadowClan starts up again." She looked directly at Rob. "If he fought well enough that these two would risk your wrath to bring him to camp, he may be a pain in ShadowClan's tail." Then she looked at Krystal, and her green eyes softened in sympathy. "And this poor dear needs to rest."

    "I'll say!" Meowed a gray tabby tom with jay-blue eyes. They gazed sightlessly at Krystal. "I could smell her pregnancy over the mouse-bile I was preparing for Bumblepaw." He approached Bramblestar. "She's less than a quarter-moon from kitting. If you turn her away now, she and their kits will die." Now he met Bramblestar's eyes, ignoring the incredulous whispering of the watching cats. "And I pity the cat that wouldn't feel guilty for condemning kits that haven't lived yet to death."

    Bramblestar watched him stalk away, disbelief making his eyes wide. Silence reigned in the stone hollows, as the Clan and two cats waited with baited breath for his decision. Bramblestar finally heaved a defeated sigh. "Very well." He meowed grudgingly. "If you sigh it, you may join ThunderClan."

    Rob let out a breath of relief. "Thank you." He muttered softly, dipping his head low in the deepes trespect. "I promise, Krystal and I will fight with our lives to protect your Clan."

    Bramblestar's eyes were hard when Rob lifted his head. "See that you do." He meowed coldly before padding toward the ledge.

    The dark ginger she-cat rested her tail comfortingly on his shoulder. "Don't worry about him." She mewed gently. "He's been under pressure from the other Clans because he's been accepting more cats than aren't Clanborn. He'll come around, just you wait." Now she looked at Krystal, her eyes bright. "Follow me. We'll get you a comfy nest in the nursery." As she and Krystal padded away, he heard the she-cat meow, "My name is Squirrelflight. Come meet my kits!"

    Rob only turned his head when he heard Flamepaw yawn. The flame-colored apprentice was stretching, his spine in a perfect arch. "Well, that's that then." He meowed casually. Flamepaw stretch his neck until his nose touche Rob's ear; a friendly greeting between family. "Welcome to ThunderClan!"

    End Chapter one