Rain and Whisker were by the preyhollow, sharing a squirrel. A white and grey she-cat padded up to them. The two novices looked up as she approached, dipping their heads respectfully.
"Good afternoon, Wing," meowed Rain.
"Your fighting assessment is today. I will be in the forest somewhere. As your stealth assessment, you must successfully find and ambush me. Claws sheathed. Use your agility to outmanoeuvre me and avoid getting swiped. If you do a good job, you pass."
Whisker swallowed his mouthful of squirrel. "What if we don't?" he asked nervously.
"Then you fall behind and have to do this moon of fighting again," Wing said sternly.
Whisker twitched his ears timidly. Wing stalked away.
"Don't worry," Rain murmured. "You'll do fine."
The toms finished off their squirrel with a few more hungry gulps. They picked up the remnants and padded out of camp to the dirtplace a few fox-lengths from camp. Rain dug away some of the dirt and they buried the bones and fur.
"Come on," Rain meowed as Whisker kicked the soil back over. They bounded through the undergrowth, their mouths open to detect their hunting teacher. They searched for a couple of sunsteps before they caught her scent near Pinelands. The acrid tang of the swamp wafted around them, staining their nostrils and making them wretch in disgust.
"This is gross!" Whisker hissed, pulling a paw away from the mud.
"Wait here," Rain whispered. "And keep your voice down." He hooked his claws into the trunk of the nearest tree and hoisted himself up. Slowly he scaled the smooth tree, thanking Star Tribe that he was one of the best climbers in the Tribe. Eventually he reached the top and looked out across the forest. A small white and grey speck caught his attention, moving through the eastern edge of the Pinelands.
Rain leapt down from the tree and recoiled as a spray of brown water showered over the two toms. Whisker twitched his tail in annoyance.
"Thanks so much," he said sarcastically.
"I saw Wing," Rain reported. "She's over this way, travelling north." He pointed with his tail to the east. "So if we move around to the south and travel upward, we can ambush her." He looked at the peaty mess around them. "And we roll in this, it will disguise our scent."
Whisker followed his gaze and gaped in horror. "No, Rain, no! You can't make me."
Rain pounced on his brother, pushing him into the water. "Do you want to pass or not?" he purred.
Whisker leapt out of the water, but was already covered in brown slime. Bits of half-rotten vegetation clung to his pelt. "Yuck!" he cried. "I'll never forgive you for this."
Rain ignored him and rubbed the gunk across his own fur. "Okay, let's go."
The two toms padded silently through the trees, stepping lightly to avoid the telltale squish of paws against mud. Rain scaled the trees thrice more to check where she was, and as they advanced Rain's excitement mounted.
"Okay, she's just beyond those pines there," he meowed, climbing down. "You go right, I'll go left."
The Pinelands were thinning as the cats approached the Falls, leaving the murky swamp behind as they entered the light forest around the waterfall. The sound of running water met their ears, and they breathed deeply as fresh air greeted them.
They separated, Rain travelling left. He crept through the undergrowth, keeping his tail down and ears alert. He saw a white shape through the trees, and recognized the flash of amber eyes. He stalked closer, hardly daring to breathe for fear of Wing hearing him.
He was a fox-length away. Wing had stopped and she sat, looking around. He ducked behind a bush just before her gaze swept over where he was. He watched her through a gap in the thicket until he was out of her sight again. From an angle he noticed Whisker crouching behind another thicket bush a couple of fox-lengths away, watching his teacher intently. His haunches twitched anxiously as he prepared to leap.
Rain bunched his muscles and sprang, landing on Wing's back with a loud caterwaul. As she swung around to throw him off, Whisker leaped forward, batting at her nose with sheathed paws. She turned and hissed, throwing her head around in an attempt to fling Rain off her back. She lunged forward at Whisker, but remembering his agility training, he darted out of her reach, and she closed on empty air. She rolled over and hurled Rain off. Whisker jumped at her belly, but she kicked with strong hindlegs and he went flying into a gorse bush. She rounded on Rain, her eyes glinting amusedly as she pounced on the grey novice. He rolled out of her way, giving her ear a good thump before bouncing out of reach again. Whisker leapt onto her back and batted at her nose with heavy paws. She reached up to pull him off, but he jumped down and rammed her. She got up, shaking her head in defeat.
"Well done," she purred. "Although it probably helped that there were two of you."
Whisker and Rain held their heads and tails high as they accepted her proud words.
"Next moon you'll be learning to kick and strike," she meowed. "Now, let's get out of this vile place. You passed your hunting assessment, which I believe was rabbits, so you are now 3rd-moon novices. If you don't mind, could you wash yourselves at the Falls. You smell like wormfood."
Whisker and Rain hurried alongside the strong she-cat. Whisker let out a sad meow. "Tomorrow we have to clean the dirtplace," he complained.
"Yuck," Rain agreed. The day before every Moonfull, after they had finished their assessments, all the novices had to pull out any vegetation that was growing at dirtplace. Because that was where they buried their prey remains and dirt, it was heavily fertilized. They had to use large strips of bark to carry and distribute the nutrient-rich soil around the territory.
"Oh, stop whining," Wing laughed. "It's an important part of Tribe survival."
They reached the Falls and the two toms waded into the water, shivering as the cold seeped into their fur. They used their paws to scrape off the mud and vegetation that clung to their pelts. After a brisk shake, they were on their way back to camp.
Wing raised her nose to the air. "I can smell a rabbit," she meowed. "Too bad I don't know how to hunt."
Teachers specialised in their subject – hunting teachers were terrible at fighting, and fighting teachers didn't know much about hunting. After seasons of teaching novices how to fight, Wing had gradually lost her ability to hunt, and relied solely on the Tribe to feed her belly.
"I'm sure you two 3rd-mooners could catch it though," she added.
"Just watch me!" Whisker boasted, bounding forward. Rain and Wing followed silently. They both stopped at the sight before them.
"What in the name of Star Tribe?" Wing whispered, her head tilted in confusion.
A rabbit was lying in the middle of a small clearing, its pelt ripped off and its head missing, leaving a bloody red mess. Beside it was a huge set of silver jaws. Whisker padded forward cautiously.
"Whisker, stop!" Rain yowled, pushing his brother out of the way. His leap sent a twig flying into the jaws, which snapped over it with a sickening clash.
The three cats stared in horror.
"What is it?" whimpered Whisker.
Wing crept forward and sniffed at the carcass. She recoiled in shock. "It has an odd smell around it. Like how Heather's wound smelled when she was bitten by that rattlesnake."
"Maybe it's poisonous," Rain suggested.
"But what put it here? What type of creature could, or would, decapitate, skin and poison a rabbit, then put vicious jaws beside it to tear apart the next poor animal that wanders too close?" Wing said gravely.
"We need to get back to camp and warn the Tribe," Whisker meowed.
"But it's nearly sundown," Rain pointed out. "Half the Tribe is out hunting. Chances are someone will come across it before they hear, and they may not be as cautious as us."
"Let's bury it," Wing said. She pulled a pawful of soil over and pushed it over the carcass.
They worked for almost half a sunstep, covering the pitiful sight with soil and vegetation, until it could be neither seen nor smelt.
Just as they were finishing off, Berry and Fern walked into the clearing. "What are you doing?" Fern exclaimed when she saw them patting down the last layer of leaves. "You have a body under there?"
"Yes," Wing replied. "The body of a rabbit, which was mauled by an unknown creature and poisoned, then left as bait. There were also silver jaws, which snapped a twig clean in two. We decided to cover it over so that no cat would find it and eat it."
Berry's amber eyes opened in terror. "What would do such a thing? You must tell Birch."
"We plan to," Rain answered. "But not everyone is in camp, so a hunting cat would have found it before they knew. I guess it's a good thing we did bury it because otherwise you and Fern might have taken it back to camp."
"We need to warn them," Fern said. "Who knows how many more of these carcasses are at the preyhollow?"
Wing nodded. "You can continue hunting if you wish. We will go back now."
"Okay, we'll tell any cat we see," Fern declared. "And may we never meet the creature that did this."
The humans have taken revenge for what happened to the boy last chapter. If you're confused, then read my website. It has everything you need to know on it =)