A/N: Yay. A new story. Longer, especially the first chapt. I might not update very frequently though...
The night settled slowly across the moorlands, stretching lazily over the expanse of amber field that faded to a misty grey in the moonlight. There were stars in the sky, bright and clear, watching over the land, seeing, seeing...
Two dark shapes bounded through the heather and gorse and bracken. One ran ahead and circled back again, ears pricked and alert. The other travelled more slowly, crouching low in the plants, her round belly and bushy tail brushing the ground.
They were too large for cats, too small for dogs. Amber eyes gleamed above pointed muzzles, but the foxes carried no malice. All they wanted was a home - for themselves, and for their cubs.
The dog-fox returned to his mate, padding beside her. "This place is good, yes. Plenty of prey - plenty of food. There are cats, but they probably will not disturb us. We can protect our cubs from them, easily. If it satisfies you, Amber..."
She tilted her head to one side, breathing the sweet night air. "Yes. It is good."
They found an empty badger set, hidden by a gorse bush. It was perfect - deep and cleanly dug, with two exits, uninhabited with only a faint lingering musky scent that told them of its original residents.
That was where their cubs were born.
As the morning sun's rays warmed the moor, Stonestar emerged from his den, huge grey paws padding soundlessly across the well-trodden soil. The powerful leader bounded up to the top of the Tallrock and yowled to summon his Clan. A skinny tabby warrior emerged from the cleft behind him and followed him up.
"All cats old enough to catch their own prey, gather here beneath the Tallrock for a Clan meeting!"
His amber gaze swept the cats of WindClan.
"Swiftstep, tell us what the dawn patrol found."
The warrior stepped forward, his brown ears twitching nervously.
"Greenfern, Larkwing, Berrypaw and I were along the river, headed towards the Twoleg farms. Larkwing was testing Berrypaw on what she could smell when she scented fox. It was fresh. We followed it and found a den; there's maybe a male and female with cubs."
The listening cats broke into murmurs of unease, heads shifting and muscles tensing. "Our kits are in danger!" "Those creatures will steal our prey." "Vicious brutes, the lot of them!"
The grey leader quieted them with a wave of his tail. "WindClan. I'm sure I do not need to tell you what a danger the foxes are to us. They must be driven out as soon as possible and not be allowed to raise their cubs on our territory."
He bared his teeth. "A patrol of warriors will be sent to drive them out."
The deputy - Goldenstripe, a wiry tabby, sprang to her paws. "With your permission, Stonestar, I'll lead the patrol."
He nodded to her. "You may choose your cats and leave at sunhigh. No apprentices, mind - it's too dangerous."
As Stonestar descended from the rock, the pale golden she-cat looked around, narrowing her green eyes. The Clan waited expectantly.
"Swiftstep, Dunpelt, Longwhisker and Burntfur will come with me. Get your strength up, we're gong soon."
The meeting dispersed with excited chatter and a sense of expectation, maybe even a little fear. Foxes were bad. They stole prey and took kits. They were quick and cunning and often deadly.
At sunhigh, the warriors gathered at the camp entrance. Goldenstripe looked them over calmly. "I don't have to warn you of the danger," she meowed, echoing Stonestar's words. "You all know full well. All I can say is: fight your best and we'll send those foxes crying out of here like kits for their mother."
A ripple of amusement passed through the warriors. They followed the deputy, as she turned and bounded out of the camp. Calls of "Good luck!" and "Good fighting!" rang out after them.
They bounded over the territory, led by Goldenstripe and Swiftstep because he knew where the den was. When he slowed to a stop and fell into a crouch, they followed. The brown warrior pointed with his ears towards a large gorse bush. "Over there." His voice was a hoarse whisper. Fox scent hung heavy in the ear.
Goldenstripe meowed, in a low voice, "Swiftstep, Burntfur and Longwhisker - find the back exit and guard it. Dunpelt and I will enter from the front.
When all were ready, the deputy slid silently forward, low against the ground. Her eartips barely brushed the tunnel entrance as she ducked into the gloom, her eyes quickly adjusting. Dunpelt, behind her, stifled a sneeze - the smell was almost overpowering.
Straining, Goldenstripe heard movement below, then a low growl. She'd dealt with foxes before - she knew the male would probably defend his den while the female escaped with kits.
She was ready when he came at her, fangs bared, driving at her neck. Her warrior training took over - she barrelled forward, bearing the fox over and onto his back, digging her claws into the red fur. They tumbled together, snapping and snarling, onto the floor of the den.
Goldenstripe was underneath, now; she felt a flash of pain as the teeth bit into her ear, taking a sizeable chunk out of it. She retaliated by clawing at the creature's belly with her back legs - he only had fangs, but she had fangs and claws. Then Dunpelt leapt into the fray, latching on to the fox's shoulders and dragging it off the deputy. It staggered to its paws, narrow yellow eyes glaring in fury and fear, then launched itself at them. In a split second, the warriors' eyes met and they made the descision- they would have to kill it, or it would kill them. They dived aside, one to the left and one to the right, then attacked together, forcing it back against the wall. It was doomed and it knew it.
Goldenstripe lunged forward and sank her teeth into its throat. Its last breath rattled out of it, quietly.
They stood and looked down at the fox. It looked smaller, somehow, now that it was dead. Blood leaked from its many wounds, staining the red fur even redder.
The deputy realised she'd been holding her breath. She found her voice. "Are you all right?"
Dunpelt nodded. Blood stained his face from a wound above his eye and he was limping, but there wasn't anything very serious. "You're worse off than me."
She shrugged. Yes, her wounds did hurt badly. Her left paw felt - crushed, the fox must have bitten it. There were bloody bite marks all over her. And she was pretty sure she was going to have a permanent nick in her ear.
But she would be fine.
"We'd better check on the others."
They scrambled out, relieved to be in the fresh air again, after the oppressive darkness and scent of the den. At the back entrance they found the three warriors standing over the body of the vixen. They were bleeding, but otherwise unhurt.
"She fought like she was possessed, but she didn't have a chance," Longwhisker meowed, his eyes bright from the heat of battle.
"She was protecting her cubs. She wouldn't leave without them, so we had to kill her," explained Swiftstep. "Um, Goldenstripe, about the cubs..."
"They're still alive."
The deputy followed his gaze to the three small bundles of downy fur, mewling and shivering. Their eyes were still closed, their pointed ears flat against their tiny skulls. They were all a dusky brown.
The warriors stared at them.
"We can't kill them," whispered Dunpelt. "That'd be just like killing kits."
Burntfur spoke up for the first time. She was the oldest warrior, and respected for her experience and fighting skills. Her blue eyes were icy as she meowed, "We have to. They're foxes, for StarClan's sake."
"But they're only cubs," the young dusty-brown warrior countered, turning to face her.
Burntfur met his eyes coldly. "Exactly. Cubs."
Swiftstep glanced at the deputy, then meowed, "Dunpelt, they may look like kits, but you have to remember: they'll grow up to be vicious brutes. It's their nature."
Longwhisker moved forward to stand beside his brother Dunpelt, facing Burntfur and Swiftwhisker. "Are you so sure of that?" he growled. "Maybe they think we're vicious brutes. We just killed their parents, after all. Goldenstripe, what do you say?"
Goldenstripe hesitated. She knew she was the deputy: she had to make the decision. But...
She looked at the cubs again. They looked so small, so helpless. She tried to imagine them grown up and raging through the camp, killing cats - and failed. Didn't they owe the baby foxes something? They had killed their parents. Yet at the same time shouldn't they kill the cubs for the same reason they had killed the parents? Could they save these cubs if it posed a risk to the Clan?
With a tired sigh, the deputy meowed, "We'll take them back to camp and let Stonestar decide."
Burntfur bared her teeth in disgust. Swiftstep sighed. Longwhisker and Dunpelt glanced at each other, then at Goldenstripe, and picked up two of the cubs.
Goldenstripe picked up the third, carrying it as if it were a kit - gently, in her strong jaws. she led the way back to camp.
For the second time that day, Stonestar called a meeting. This time, the shadows were just lengthening, the sky just darkening. The patrol stood at the base of the Tallrock with the cubs on the ground before them, crying pitifully for warmth and milk. The assembled cats watched the tiny foxes - some with wariness, some with pity. Uneasy whispered meows rippled through the crowd. Nightsky - the medicine cat - had his ice-blue eyes narrowed as he wrapped cobwebs around Goldenstripe's injured paw.
"Report, Goldenstripe," the leader meowed.
The pale-furred deputy raised her head and cleared her throat. "We were forced to kill the adult foxes. They would not leave without their cubs. The fight was difficult, but we are all fine."
Her ears twitched as the medicine cat growled quietly, "Fine? You call this fine? Deputy or not, you're not invincible - and neither are your warriors."
Goldenstripe blinked meekly at him. The old tom was known for his crankiness, even - or perhaps especially - towards injured cats. She continued, to the Clan, "As for the cubs-"
A hoarse voice cut her off. "Yes - what about the cubs? Why did you bring these squalling pieces of mousedung here? You dare to call yourself a deputy when you show such softness towards enemies?"
The deputy's eyes flared fiercely as she tried to struggle to her paws and face the speaker, a skinny grey elder with eyes that were milky with blindness. "What did you say?" she spat.
An authoritative yowl from Stonestar cut them off. "Enough! Sit down - you too, Fogeyes. Goldenstripe, explain yourself."
The deputy exhaled slowly. Her glare could have cut stone as she meowed, "Our patrol was undecided on what to do with the cubs. Two wanted them killed, while two wanted to save them. I decided to bring them back to camp for you to decide."
One again, uneasy murmurs from the Clan.
The dark grey leader stared at the kits, his face more impassive than a wall of stone could ever be.
Goldenstripe's heart thudded against her ribcage. There were cats who would kill the foxes. There were cats who would save them. Whatever Stonestar's decision, there would be conflict. Would these two tiny cubs tear the Clan apart? And if they did...the deputy wasn't sure which side she was on. For a moment she felt the heaviness of destiny; as if all the cats here were caught inextricably in a tangled web woven by StarClan, with the baby foxes at its heart.
Then the moment passed, broken by a cry from the medicine cat beside her. Nightsky leapt to his paws, his blue eyes wide and wild.
"WindClan! StarClan have sent me a sign!"
Goldenstripe realised she had been holding her breath. She let it out. No Clan-cat would defy StarClan's will. She whispered a silent thank you to those watchful ancestors. StarClan would not let WindClan turn on itself.
"I had a vision - I saw the fox cubs," he continued. "They were older, grown up, and they were sharing tongues. Lying under the Tallrock and sharing tongues, like warriors. They were warriors. It is StarClan's will that we take these cubs into the Clan and care for them."
Mutters swept through the Clan. Stonestar waved his tail for attention. "StarClan has spoken - so be it. Now we have to consider how to care for the cubs."
A slim queen rose to her paws, a mixture of regret, resignation, concern, anxiety and a mother's instinct swirling in the depths of her green eyes. Her voice was quiet but clear. "I - my kits are..." She stopped, shook her head, eyes clouded with grief for a moment. Then, "I can mother these cubs. I have milk and no kits to drink it."
Stonestar's eyes were considering as he gazed at her. "You really would care for these foxes, Patchedtail?"
The black-and-white cat nodded.
"Very well. You can take them into the nursery now. We will discuss these cubs further when the need arises. WindClan, dismissed."
The cats started to disperse, but were brought up short by a cry from Swiftstep.
Stonestar narrowed his eyes, then nodded for the warrior to speak.
"Is it...is it really wise to bring them into the nursery? Foxes...they...kits..."
Goldenstripe looked at her brother, and understood. The red-pelted hunters were known to have a fondness for kits' flesh, and Swiftstep's own kits were still in the nursery.
WindClan's leader raised his head. "StarClan has decreed that we care for these cubs as if they were our own kits. We must treat them fairly; the nursery is the best place for Patchedtail to take them. And they are only young - they pose no threat to our kits."
Swiftstep bowed his head, and the meeting broke up.
In the nursery, safe and dark, Patchedtail nosed the cubs. They smelt unfamiliar, felt unfamiliar, but still...she believed that only on the outside were they different from kits. In youth, in innocence, in vulnerability - they were the same.
She knew she was lining herself up for heartbreak. She might not ever be a real mother to these foxes. She would never be able to give them fox milk, or teach them a fox way of life.
But she would try her best to teach them the warrior's way of life.
But. But would they accept the Clan, and, more importantly, would the Clan accept them?
She didn't know. She sighed, then jumped as a a gentle tongue licked her ear.
Her sister's eyes shone in the darkness. Heatherfoot was nursing kits herself - Swiftstep's kits. But the mother apparently did not share the father's sentiments.
"Whatever you do, dear, I'll always stand by you. You know that, Patchedtail." The voice was both affectionate and soothing.
"How did you know what I was thinking?"
The amber-eyed queen laughed. "You've never been able to keep your emotions out of your eyes, you know. And you always try to save the world."
She continued, more seriously, "With you to look after them, they'll grow up no different from any other kits."
In his den, Nightsky laid his head on his paws, deep in thought. He remembered the vision he had seen - that he had related to the Clan, but not the powerful voice in his ears. It was undoubtedly a prophecy, and it sent chills down his spine. StarClan, please watch over us, he prayed. He knew they were always watching, but still. Look after our Clan.
"When the enemy raised within the nest spreads its wings, the Clan will take the test and fly or fall."
A/N: How's it? (: Hope you enjoyed it. Review if you wish, I'm keeping the cookies for myself. Muahaha.