Well look who it is! Me again, of course, with another random update. Unfortunately this chapter is nearly all dialogue- basically nothing happens in it. However, conveniently, it sets the scale nicely for the rest of the story, which will (with a buttload of luck) be finished soon. Yay hahaha. Don't count on it, but, as I said- at some point it WILL be finished. Meanwhile, all you random people browsing for Tailchaser fic (and not finding it haha) here's for you lol. Whoosh.

Chapter Six – arrival

"I'm sorry," Thinbone snapped as he led them at a brisk pace through the forest, "How was I supposed to know you didn't know, anyway? I'm sorry to hear about Jumptall and the others—we all thought the two-legs had taken them as well." Fritti and Pouncequick had been doing some quick explaining on the way—Roofshadow seemed to be laying low and speaking only when something vital was passed over.

"How are they catching us?" the small ginger tom demanded, ears laid back flat to his skull with the weight of his stress. "The Folk are and have always been too quick for the M'an's clumsy hands."

"They have driven off much of the prey, so that the hunters have little to catch," Thinbone was meowing darkly as they steered finally past a clearing. A scattered arc of their wooden dens could be seen hazily across the field. Parting the flaxen stems with his muzzle the gray-and-yellow feline stepped through without hesitation. Slightly more wary, the three followed.

Thinbone turned, "This is where many of us have been hiding out—there are dogs in the forest, Tailchaser, and traps of the M'an." Where once a cat might have shuddered Fritti almost flicked an ear—compared to the Clawguard, dogs were nothing. He'd seen the group of coaly animals feasting on one. And he still failed to see how a trap made by those flimsy paws could be anything of menace to his Clan.

"Cats have been disappearing since I was born, though, surely-" Tailchaser objected, swishing his gingery tail. Thinbone cut him off, "—all work of the M'an. We've been puzzled by the way cats suddenly disappear, almost in their sleep. Yes, recently some of it has been the red-clawed monsters you call dwellers of your Mound—who as you tell me, I am relieved to know, are dead. However… the m'an, above all, have taken their toll on our Clan."

Roofshadow nodded, interjecting smoothly with concern in her tone, "Where do they go? Are they taken as prey?"

"No," Thinbone said, but it was not reassuring in tone. "No, and I don't know, Roofshadow. Away. Perhaps at the Meeting Wall tonight some cat will know."

Fritti had remembered abruptly when his own mother had disappeared—she and all his siblings, leaving him alone and bewildered. He knew, truly, that not all of the m'an were bad. There had been those who had fed him in his younger days before he had left home after Hushpad. And then there had been those who looked after the silver fela herself. She seemed almost like a dream, a hazy memory, now…

But now, perhaps, for the first time in cycles of the moon, a tiny hope was fluttering in his heart—could then, perhaps, his mother still be alive? His family still live, imprisoned by the two-legs? Would they want to come back, if he went out after them like he had his old heart-friend, or would they be plump and content and refuse to come home?

Thinbone must have seen that gleam in his eyes because, tactfully after a moment, he mewed, "Tailchaser, heart-friend—your family was taken moons and moons ago. We must speak to the Elders and they will figure out something to do. Do not take this on your own heart."

Firsa had turned those eyes to him with sympathy and understanding, though her face was still cool—he wondered unhappily if perhaps she was angry at how little he seemed to be speaking with her. But he was so glad to be home. And since Fritti was occupied with Thinbone, Pouncequick had been altogether ready to strike up more conversation with her.

In a murmur behind his back the two chatted, and a small spark of jealousy plagued the orange tomcat for a moment. It should not have been there, of course—Roofshadow had originally been Pouncequick's friend in the first place, and the easy way they spoke to one another was granted. Really.

The cat turned his pale brow back to his friend, watching him with something like amusement hidden in his whiskers. Twitching an ear, Fritti lashed his tail for a moment and meowed determinedly, "All right, Thinbone. At the meeting tonight, we shall see."

"Very well," the tabby purred, nosing the reddish hunter's shoulder, "It is good to have you back. Even in times such as these."

They were drawing close. So close, Skinwretch said, that at times his nose felt nearly inflamed from how strong and clear the scent was growing. Scratchnail could not say the same, but he too was excited. It pulsed in the air in dark clouds around the two creatures, prowling through the dusk. Before them, almost as if they were herding her, a skinny silver fela stumbled. It was an odd sight, through the fog—odder still that when the glimmering arc of Meerclar's eye began to open across the mountains the three did not stop—did not falter before they pressed into the small forest where indeed Fritti and his friends had passed less than a day ago.

"We have made good time, friend," Skinwretch hissed pleased, as he hurried along. His grotesque wound had finally faded as the strength Hearteater had built into his subjects took care of the maiming.

"Good time indeed, worm," the Clawguard agreed in a heavy rasp. He didn't take his lamp-yellow eyes away from the she-cat before him, however—he no longer dared. Since they'd corrected their course and strengthened their pace, Hushpad had given up pretending to come along willingly and had been streaking off at every opportunity.

"I'm tired," the thin cat complained, swishing a long, striped tail that caught Scratchnail's attention. He watched it wind, curl, before he took his gaze away and bared his teeth.

"Correction," Skinwretch added, "We made good time for having been misled and hampered down chasing after the stupid cat you had to bring along, Scratchnail." The pantherlike being leered at the pretty little fela, but something twanged at him inside.

"Well, she made good pace… for a sun-rat." Hushpad lifted her chin as the coaly beast took his eyes off her and looked back towards his blind companion. "The daylight shall grow, soon, scum—do we dare halt? We are close enough now that she may dash off and warn little Starface."

"I don't think we do dare, Scratchnail," the Toothguard said, troubled, "We would do best to disable her before we took any kind of rest." The furless face turned towards where the gray cat trembled and the creature bared his rows of teeth. Claws were sliding out of the great, wrinkled folds of skin around his toes.

"Skinwretch, there is no need," the Claw snapped, slightly troubled by the way his partner was acting, "Stop that." Skinwretch faltered, his grimace becoming one of puzzlement as he turned his face up to the dark animal's. "Ssscratchnail," he said darkly, "I am very tired. We have been tracking Tailchaser and running after this foolish slave's escape attempts for days." He spoke slowly, as if the chieftain was particularly slow and there should be no reason why the spot-bellied animal would stop him

Hushpad had unconsciously slid behind Scratchnail for shelter, and the bristling creature bared his own teeth. Not that Skinwretch would be able to tell. "NO," he snarled, "If you are hungry, go and hunt. I will watch the prisoner." Skinwretch's jaw dropped with astonishment as the creature's flaring, batlike face writhed in astonishment and indignation.

"You cannot be seriouss, my friend," the animal hissed, lashing the ratlike tail, "We must not quarrel like this! Our revenge has to be unified, after all." Scratchnail's tail had brushed out and he was uncommonly aware of the shaking fela behind him. Her fur brushed his and he had to work not to kick out reflexively. This, as they all knew, unlike the frequent bickering the two constantly were doing, was a real fight.

"Then do what I say," the black animal snapped, hackling. Bloodred claws dug slightly into the ground, "Go hunt, I will stay here. And as for our revenge, she is part of it, and I do not want her harmed before then!" His blazing eyes by the Toothguard went unseen, but his anger was not, and bitterly the other animal bowed his head in acceptance.

"Very well," but Skinwretch's voice was nearly mocking, "I will be back. Enjoy your tender moment." His sneer was the last sound before he slithered off into the brush. Scratchnail was left behind feeling suddenly troubled, conflicted, and left in the company of Hushpad who had finally edged back out from behind him.

Concerned, he glanced at her to see her fur lying finally flat. The Tooth hadn't touched her, but she'd known as well as he had that the threat was real. He wondered suddenly if his statement about wanting her whole was entirely true—in pieces was as good as any, to horrify Tailchaser.

"Th… thank you," Hushpad was whispering. Whipping around and glaring at her, he was annoyed to see she didn't shrink back from his yellow eyes. "Don't thank me," he growled, "You're only here because I want your little mate to see you die himself."

She bristled, and Scratchnail was surprised as she snapped, "Fine! If THAT'S why I'm along! And he's NOT my mate—Tailchaser is my friend, as Skinwretch is yours—no more. Why do you hate him so much, Scratchnail?"

The Clawguard snarled and fixed her eyes with his own firey orbs. "Because he destroyed me, scum!" He tore at the earth with those great claws, "Because he took everything away from me—my rank, my sanity, even my home!" Something like despair was suddenly clenching at the massive animal as he half-crouched. "Skinwretch and I are the only two left of our kind—he's killed my race as well. Extinct," he said bitterly.

His head rose for a moment to see the silver fela's eyes wide, looking at him, and there was something like understanding and shock on her face before it closed again, looking defiant. "And you think that if you kill me in front of Tailchaser before you kill him yourself that will get you what you want, Scratchnail?" the fela demanded, "Why don't you find new friends, find a new home? The light doesn't burn your eyes anymore. And you're nearly a cat like any other. Hearteater was still one of the Firstborn—you're still one of Meerclar's children!"

A snarling, guttural laugh of echoing despair left his hoarse mouth at the thought. "Look at me, you fool slave! I am not one of your Folk—I was created, born to kill." His unsheathed claws he stretched out towards her and she cringed back—but he merely flexed them in front of her, bitter and wild. "These are meant for BLOOD," he cried, "That's why they're red. See? Or are you as blind as Skinwretch?"

"Skinwretch may not be able to see, but at least HE can feel!" she shouted, still quailing back at his fury, "Look at him! You're his best friend, Scratchnail, and you treat him like dirt—yet he still likes you!"

"Nobody likes me," Scratchnail growled bitterly, and with a blow of his paw he knocked her onto her back. Her defiant, wild eyes shone up as he stood above her, the inky feline's powerful legs straddling above each side of her as she snapped, "Everyone has a choice, Scratchnail—you have no master now. You don't have to do ANYTHING you don't want to."

"I DO WANT TO!" he nearly shrieked, and then a hiss of amusement curled like a wisp of smoke out of the brush. The wrinkled, furless pelt of Skinwretch slid out, the body of a long-nosed hound towed behind him.

"Well, well, well," the furless creature purred, seething with amusement. The carcass had already been neatly half-stripped of meat and he seemed to be in a better mood. He sat down and smirked neatly. "I do believe I sssee what's going on here," the Toothguard meowed, quite smug.

"That makes one of us," Scratchnail retorted, glowering at the she-cat. He realized abruptly where he was and a surge of embarrassment colored his dark ears as he self-consciously stepped away from the fela. She glowered back at him as she pulled herself up. Skinwretch merely smirked again and did not reply.

Scratchnail occupied himself eating the meat, trying not to think about everything Hushpad had been shouting at him. What did she mean? What did Skinwretch mean? To distract himself, he asked disgruntledly, "Where did you catch the dog?"

The blind animal scratched at one giant ear with a back leg. "It was ssstrange, actually," he said, a bit puzzled, "There were several in the forest. At first when it saw me I think it thought I was one of the sun-rats." He grinned that fearsome smile. "That was a mistake. The woods reek of the m'an. I was going to try for something smaller— one of her Folk would have been plenty for us—but there was no sight or sound of any, anywhere."

"Mmmph," Scratchnail grumbled, and happened to glance over at Hushpad. She had a puzzled, odd expression on her face as she watched him—he sent a glare her way and snapped exasperatedly, "Oh, can't you go catch some grubs or something?" She narrowed her eyes and whatever searching, open expression that had colored her gaze for a moment vanished.

"Why don't you go with her, Scratchnail?" the furless Toothguard slipped in, slyly, "You can continue your… conversation?" He gave Skinwretch a fuming look and gruffly snapped, maybe a little too quickly, "Never mind, let's go on."

That smirk on his friend's face didn't leave it even after they'd left the corpse far behind and walked among the trees. The ordinary chattering of the Rikachik was strangely extinguished where they passed as bright eyes wide with shock and fear watched from high in the treetops.

Hmmm. It occurred to me this is a little like Warriors. However, when I thought of it, I totally was not thinking of Warriors. Maybe it was subconscious- maybe Warriors just stole my idea xD who knows! In any case, keep around for the next chapter... likely it'll come soon. xD