Stirring awake in her den, Firestar rose up, her body sore but in decent working condition. Recent events had left Firestar a jumble of nerves. The once calm and maternal figurehead of LightingClan had sunken into herself. She became stoic, easily annoyed and lost a large part of herself. The only one to share her pain also knew the depths of it was her mate Russetfall, but even he didn't have much to say anymore.
Exiting her den without pause to see if Russetfall was okay, Firestar looked onto the camp. The morning was bright but cold, signally the change in season. The heat of Greenleaf was fading away quicker than she expected. Soon frost would cling to the grass and stunt its growth. Firestar only prayed it would grow rapidly with rainfall, at least enough to provide shelter for prey animals. The last thing Firstar wanted was to see her Clan starve.
Leaving behind her den and thoughts of starvation, Firestar headed for the half-rebuilt apprentice den. Poking her head inside the she-cat spied Lynxpaw with ease.
"Larkpaw, wake up. Today you start battle training," Her voice remained curt and sharp, perhaps waking a few other sleeping apprentices. Firestar's assigned apprentice Lynxpaw was still recovering from the smoke he inhaled. A similar condition that Larkpaw's mentor was in. Unwilling to let another apprentice slip through the clutches of training, the leader of LighingClan decided to take the she-cat out instead. Leaving the den entrance, Firestar made her way toward the fresh-kill pile, meager and disappointing, Firestar made a note to mention it to Redscar to up the hunting in the burned areas. Prey animals would be attempting to find their old dens, leaving them open for attack.
Larkpaw startled awake at the summons from her leader, squeaking softly and rolling over in her nest. She was still having nightmares from the fire, but as an apprentice she couldn't exactly crawl into Brightpool's nest anymore. So her sleep was often punctuated by dreams of fire and burning to death. It didn't help that her mentor and some of the apprentices were suffering from the effects of breathing in the smoke caused by the blaze. Still, she got to her paws and crept over to Firestar's imposing figure.
Though most wouldn't refer to LightningClan's leader as an imposing she-cat, Larkpaw found her to be so. She wasn't really sure why, and hoped it was something she got past before she became a warrior. If she ever became a warrior, as bad at everything as she was. Her only saving grace was she was fast on her paws, outrunning several of the other apprentices. At least, she liked to think she could. If it was the only point of confience she had, rather true or not, she'd hold onto it.
Battle training. Her most dreaded of all the training requirements for an apprentice. She knew she'd have to learn to protect herself and fight for the clan, but she didn't have to like it. As they went to the fresh-kill pile Larkpaw looked at the meager pickings and silently hoped they'd find more. Not for herself, not for the warriors either, but for the ones that couldn't or shouldn't have to go out hunting for themselves. The queens and new weaned kits, the elders.
The tiny apprentice looked at her paws even as she spoke to Firestar. "Thank you for giving me the chance to prove myself." She meant many things, but mostly that the calico she-cat was allowing her to stay from the time she was little better than a scrap of fur with no use to the clan. Now she was still little better and with little use, but at least she was trying to make up for the kindness they'd shown her.
Firestar's ears flicked toward at Larkpaw's words. They came at a surprise and it showed on the leader's face. She couldn't remember a time where a cat of Larkpaw's age and background ever uttered a thank you for being allowed to stay. It was a refreshing statement. Firestar nodded her head to unable to find words in the moment to respond.
With the moment past, Firestar picked up a small quail and ate part of it. Her appetite had dropped to an almost dangerous level. She found it difficult to eat, the stress keeping her stomach in knots. Instead, she pushed the other half to Larkpaw. Silently offering the meal for her to finish. It was important in times of little fresh-kill that every bite was taken. Nothing to be wasted.
Firestar waited for the she-cat to finish before rising back to her paws and taking the lead out of camp. There was little instruction given considering Firestar expected the she-cat to follow.
The duo made their way to the trampled clearing, still dusty from the blaze, but still accessible for training.
Moving away from Larkpaw, Firestar stood before her and focused her attention.
Larkpaw hadn't expected to eat, that was why she hadn't picked anything for herself. There were others that could use the meal more than her, despite her still being very thin from her recent growth spurt. She'd probably always be small, but her legs were starting to show the signs of an older cat's body, rather than the short stubs of kitten legs. So when she was offered the food she looked at Firestar for a long time before eating it. It didn't take long, and she absently buried the inedible parts when she was done.
She was silent as she followed the calicon she-cat from camp, looking around at the destruction caused by the blaze. She felt like she should be hunting, out looking for food like all the other warriors had been doing on and off in shifts since they'd returned to camp. But she was an apprentice, not a warrior, and she had to go where she was told.
The question startled her and she ducked her head because of the answer. "Please don't laugh." She pleaded softly before taking a breath. "This is the only thing I know how to do." She'd been a kit when her brother had shown her what to do in case she needed to chase something away from her. And it wasn't always guaranteed to work. So she puffed up, her fur standing out on end so that she looked bigger than she was. She held it for a second then let her fur smooth back down to normal. "That's it."
Witnessing Larkpaw's display had Firestar focusing on not frowing. Most kits at a young age tussled with their littermates or nursrey mates, the fact that Larkpaw had little knowledge of play fighting was conerning. Not that it was the young she-cat's fault. In fact Firestar had to place blame elsewhere. Larkpaw had been young when Brightpool brought her to camp and for awhile she was on her own. It wasn't until recently that it seemed nearly half a dozen kits had been born. Newleaf had been kind to them, but that didn't help Larkpaw any.
However, what drew more of her attention was Larkpaw's lack of confidence. The way the she-cat talked negatively about herself bothered the maternal figurehead of LightingClan. Her tail flicked in annoyance but she stilled it after awhile.
"We will find what you are good at because everyone is good at something," She stated simply before rising up and moving to stand beside the she-cat.
"You are small which means you have to be faster than your enemies. No matter what keep your claws extended even if you aren't planning to strike. You need to be able to dart around your enemy," Firestar explained, putting her paw forward to show as she extended the claws back and forth. Her claws scraping against the ground.
"The faster you are the harder it will be for them to hurt you or the ones you care about," She added before taking a few side-steps.
"I want you to race me, from here to that burned bush about ten fox-lengths away and back. I want to see how fast you are now." Firestar instructed, using her claws to claw a mark in the ashy dirt.
"Ready, set go!" Firestar yowled before bolting forward. Expecting the she-cat to start with her.
She'd been underweight and too small to really play with the other kits that had been in the nursery the same time as her, too weak to play with the youngest apprentices and too much an outsider for any but a pawful of cats to even bother. "Wildstripe let me climb on him when I was in the nursery." Because the blind tom was large and she was very small. It had comforted him so she'd kept it up even when she became an apprentice and left the life of a loner behind for good.
But Firestar was teaching her and she nodded rapidly at the explination, little claws coming out experimentally as she did what she could to please the calico she-cat. She could be fast, it was something she was good at. Little ears perked up at the words from the other cat. She had to be faster because she was small, she could do that!
"A race? Okay!" She jumped up and down where she stood, and when the race started tore off towards the indicated bush. She had little paws but she ran with all her might, not checking to see if she bipassed the older she-cat. So long as she tried she didn't expect to win. Though she did need to work on stopping, as she slid to stop and overshot the bush, ending up tumbling tail over nose to land with a stirring of ash around her.
And all the stress, the worry about how things were going, the sheer intimidation of being around some cats caught up to her, and lain out on her back with her head on the ground and rump curled over the top of her as she'd fallen, Larkpaw burst out laughing.
At the mention of Wildstripe, Firestar's ears perked before her thoughts drifted to her older brother. She had failed him, rarely visited and hadn't gave him any support beyond helping him back home. A the guilt fell on her just as quickly as his name was uttered. Exhaling loudly Firestar tried to push away the guilt for the another day. Too many had happened in such a little bit of time, it was almost too much.
Grateful that Larkpaw seemed interested in the race, Firestar faked a smile. 'Stay strong,' She uttered in silence to herself. The last thing anyone in her Clan needed was to see their leader break down. She had to appear together and whole, she needed to keep up the mask.
As they took off, Firestar used all her speed and strength. Her claws dug deep into the ground and pulled her forward at a greater pace. Her tail, even if it was short, provided some help in keeping her steady. Firestar didn't bother to look back to see if Larkpaw was behind her, it would most likely result in her tripping. Instead, she narrowed her eyes to focus on the bush.
Sliding to a halt, Firestar attempted to anchor her front feet and use the moment of her speed to turn on a pebble, but all that was forgotten as Larkpaw overshot the bush. Stopping entirely, Firestar went to the apprentice's side afraid she was seriously injured, but instead, she heard the laughter erupt from the she-cat.
Relaxing, Firestar nosed her way to check over Larkpaw's body for any sign of blood or injury. Deeming the apprentice unharmed, Firestar took a step back. "Perhaps we should work on your agility instead, which is a mixture of beign quick thinking and very aware of your body," She told the she-cat, while her words were still heavy with instruction, her tone was light.
Larkpaw kicked her back paws a few times before she was able to flip herself back over, still giggling like an idiot. But, in the long run, she'd rather look silly than be a bundle of nerves. "My paws move faster than I can control sometimes." She admitted sheepishly, grinning and smoothing down her very fluffy pelt absently.
Aware of her body and quick thinking. Okay. She looked at herself as much as she could, especially the lengthening legs that made her clumsy. She wasn't going to be a big she-cat, she had already accepted that, but her legs had started showing where her adult height would be. If she was bigger than Firestar she'd be suprised. Larkpaw mused that she was going to be positively dainty when time finished with her. Oh well, maybe StarClan would grace her with speed if she worked hard enough while she was an apprentice. There was no way she'd ever have the brute strength of some of the bigger cats in LightningClan. So she'd have to outthink and outrrun both prey and enemy to suceed and be useful to the clan.
"I'm more fluff than anything else." She said it with a grin, though it was true. "Firestar? Am I going to be this scrawny forever?"
Firestar waited until Larkpaw righted herself before stepping further back. There was a nearby collection of low growing bushes. Not at neatly in a row as Firestar would have wanted but with the loss of Sunstones it would be second best way to train agility.
Mapping out the shift in training the leader of LightingClan nearly missed the question altogether but caught the tail end of it. A flicker of confusion shone in her pretty amber eyes but she was able to mentally backtrack and made the connection.
"It is very likely you will always be short but that shouldn't hold you back. I'm on the smaller side and I've worked hard not to let that hold me back," She explained rotating her shoulders and flexing a bit to show the muscles carried well on her small frame.
"If you worry about being scrawny, focus on building muscle. Train even when you are tired and go further than your denmates. Over time you will be build up strength and look less scrawny," Firestar also added as she returned her thoughts to the training ahead.
I want you to dart around those bushes back and forth. The trick is to know when to dig your claws into the ground and when to let her momentum keeping you moving, She told her before flicking her tail to signal Larkpaw to watch carefully.
In a flash of calico fur, Firestar bolted in a modified clover-pattern, similar to a figure-eight but with a third 'leaf'. Firestar showed Larkpaw the pattern before stopping. "Copy me,"
She nodded rapidly, soaking in any advice her leader had for her. Firestar was small, and she was an amazing huntress and warrior. So if she put her mind to it Larkpaw could do the same thing. She'd work as hard as she had to in order to become a useful member of the clan. "I'll do my very best!" She chirped, sitting down so she could watch the example Firestar was showing her. She already knew she was going to run into the bushes, it was inevidable while she was learning. At least she was going to keep at it until she was good enough.
Once the calico she-cat had shown her the manuever Larkpaw got back to her paws. Copy her she said. Easier said than done, with her clumsy paws. But she launched herself forward, managing to zig around the first bush before plowing into the second headlong.
That didn't stop her from pulling herself out of the bush and trying it again. And again. And again. Each time she ran into one of the bushes, until her pelt was filled with brambles and leaves and she was panting from the exertion. The final time she pushed herself to try she managed to get around the first two bushes then slid into another and got stuck.
Back paws dug at the bush and pulled and squirmed, but she couldn't get lose. "Firestar? I'm stuck."
Firestar wanted Larkpaw to succeed just like any mentor would, but she knew the task given to the young she-cat was on the more difficult side of things, but Firestar looked forward to her trying. Sitting once her breathing was under control, her amber eyes settled on Larkpaw's form.
The she-cat was still growing into herself and looked more and more familiar to her each day. While it wasn't sure who her mother, Firestar had a feeling there was some LightingClan blood in her even if it was distant.
Pushing away the distraction of the she-cat's heritage, Firestar waited for her to start. She pleased her to see Larkpaw trying the pattern over and over again, it would be the better way for her to learn.
However, her training came to a halt when Larkpaw landed in the bush and seemed unable to remove herself from it. "Hold still, I'll help you. It's not the first time I pulled an apprentice out of the brambles. Wildcall, my son, often needed myself," She told Larkpaw between short tugs until the apprentice was free.
"I think we are done for the day, lets head back and you go find Brightpool to have her help you clean your fur," Firestar told Larkpaw as she flicked her shortened tail and waited for her to join her on the walk back home.