Weeeeeeeeeeeeelcome! Welcome to Float!
So, I have to say, if you're here for the first time: Hey! Youuuuu probably don't want to read this right now. You should definitely go and read my story Sidestep first, as this is the sequel. I mean, youcould read it if you really want but...you won't understand. XD
So! Down to brass tacks!
This is gonna be another long one. I'm talking 100K+ We're gonna be aiming for another 300 reviews! So let's do it, guys!
I don't have any reviews yet, so...no review replies. XD Funny how that works. X3
Let us begin the story~! With a quote from the song this entire story is based off of! "Shattered" by Trading Yesterday
EDIT: Well, there used to be song lyrics here, but do to copyright infringement, I thought it would be much better to leave a nice quote for the people actively looking not for good and well-written stories, but for needlessly stupid reasons to flag fics. So here you go.
"I do desire we may be better strangers."
As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2
The starless night sky echoed with the howls of dying cats.
Declan raced through the forest, his heart in his throat. All he could hear were the heaving, thudding pawsteps of the cats chasing them and the sound of his own pounding heart.
They're going to kill me, he thought wildly.
The ground was sandy underfoot, impossible to get a good hold in. Declan dove down the side of the hill, where the grass clung in bristly patches like loose fur. Beneath him, he could see the silvery glow of water, hear the soft rushing of it, smell the high bitter taste of it.
He dived down the hillside, using studded rocks as footholds. He hit the bank of the river with a thud, whipping around to see the howling shapes of cats, wraithlike in the dark misty air.
He turned towards the brook, eyes wide, chest heaving with fear, and dove into it.
The iciness of it hit him like a physical wall. It crushed the breath from his lungs, paralyzed his limbs as if he'd been electrocuted. Everything was dark, dark, dark, rushing bubbles pushing up his whiskers as they forced their way out of his open throat, allowing water to pour in. He choked, coughing and spluttering, clawing his way to the surface.
He broke into the air with a great gasp of breath. Blind from water trickling into his eyes, he made out in the direction he thought the opposite bank was, churning the turbulent water with his paws.
Soft sand scraped beneath his pads as he hauled himself up onto shore.
The night air cut into his fur like glass. He shivered violently, water dripping out of his eyes, mouth, and nose as he lay there for a moment, recovering.
"There he is!" someone hissed from behind him.
Declan shoved himself to his paws and careened into the forest without a backwards glance.
There was snow on the ground here, pockets of it that caught into his soaked fur, twisting it into crystals of ice. The cold was so overbearing, seeping into his skin, into his bones. His lungs burned from running and from the water he could feel clinging to his throat, making him cough. They'd hear him for sure, he thought as he slumped against a tree trunk, attempting wildly to catch his breath. It was impossible for him to be quiet now.
The forest was deadly silent. Declan didn't trust it for a moment.
He moved on after a moment, reluctantly confident that he was undetected here. He kept his head low, his eyes watchful, taking in everything around him with suspicion. The trees were dark, shadowed somehow with a thick curtain of mist, and the ground was thick green grass here.
He turned around, blinking. Over there, snow was still on the ground. The trees were bare of leaves, looking like nothing but a batch of sticks clawing the air.
The forest was silent completely. Not even Declan's pawsteps made a noise; he could feel each impact, the soft give of the grass beneath his paws, but it was absolutely soundless. It was as if he'd walked into a bubble in which there was only the forest and the night, with nothing in between.
Strange, he thought now as he walked at a more leisurely pace. The forest didn't seem very threatening now, and the danger of his pursuers was fading into the back of his mind. The path beneath his paws was well-scented with something he couldn't quite distinguish: a thick, mellow smell, like decomposing tree bark. It coated his tongue in an acrid layer.
Ahead of him shone a glimmer of light. Declan squinted at it, head to one side as he tried to figure out what it was. It flickered slightly, dancing between the leaves of the undergrowth.
He picked up his pace until he was trotting steadily towards it, eyes half-lidded against a layer of suddenly thick air. The smell sharpened in his nostrils, turning into something stronger, more powerful.
Smoke, he realized, with a thrill of horror.
The light up ahead roared into fullness now, a crackling thunderhead of flames and lightning. It lashed out over him, coating the air above him in a tumult of dangerous sky, turning the night red. Declan yowled, back-stepping quickly, but the cloud engulfed him. He felt it compress around him, strangling him, suffocating. He could scarcely breathe as it flooded into his lungs, so much more powerful and horrifying than the water that had been there not so long ago.
"Help!" Declan yowled, but the sound was lost in the roar of the fire. It fell down around him, licking at his flanks, scorching his fur, until he was drowning it in and there was fire everywhere and the smoke was in his head blocking his thoughts and—
A pair of malicious yellow eyes glinted at him through the whirlwind of fire. "You are mine," a sibilant voice hissed in Declan's head.
"No!" Declan shrieked, and suddenly everything was quiet.
He was standing in the woods, just out of view of the Warren. There was no fire, no lightning or screeching. It was a calm, normal night, the sounds of owls calling in the distance and the rush of wind ruffling his ear fur. Above him, the nearly full moon shone down on him, flooding the ground with soft white light.
Declan stood stock-still, chest heaving, eyes watering. Was I…sleepwalking?
The dream had seemed so real, so lifelike. He could still smell the harsh tang of smoke, see the flickering fire. It still burned behind his eyelids.
As well as those yellow eyes, glowing like hot coals.
Head aching, Declan pushed that to the back of his mind. He couldn't deal with that—not again. Not when everything had almost seemed back to normal. Shaking his fur out, he turned and headed back to the Warren, paws feeling suddenly leaden.
Six moon cycles had passed. Six moon cycles full of peace, calm, and the cold season. Now at the very end of it, the snow was just beginning to melt, to clear the ground and allow for grass and flowers to spring up, though the cold chill still lingered in the air. Six moon cycles and Declan still couldn't get the smell of blood out of his nostrils. He still couldn't rid himself of the gut-wrenching agony of the smoke treatment's side-effects, ones that he'd been trying so desperately to hide from Twist.
Twist. She didn't suspect him at all, he didn't think. Even after being with her for what felt like forever, he couldn't bring himself to tell her. What would she think of him? Would she think him weak that he couldn't control his own mind? His own body? This wasn't the first time he had woken up in the woods, fighting enemies that existed only in his dreams.
After that day when she'd come back to him—the brightest and clearest day in Declan's entire life—he was still so uncertain. He had to keep her with him, at all costs. What if he told her about this and she decided she couldn't trust him anymore? It would surely break him.
Twist wouldn't do that, the reasonable side of his brain whispered to him, but he couldn't stop that cowardly fear from coiling in his chest like an adder. Six moon cycles and he couldn't shake the fear that he would do something unforgiveable: what if, in the grips of a nightmare, he turned his claws against Twist? He wouldn't be able to live with himself.
The Warren's gate was empty. No one stood guard much these days; the Claws hadn't bothered them since the morning after the battle. Declan still remembered that day clearly.
He walked into camp, Twist at his side, to see Lucky speaking to the entirety of the group.
"The Claws will be released from our hold," he said, his dark gaze sweeping the wounded cats there. "If you require assistance, the Sliders will provide it for you. Otherwise, we kindly request that you depart from our lands and never return. I am afraid we will have to take drastic measures to make sure you stay away."
The Claws, clustered in a tight pack around Sorrow, looked nervous. For the first time that Declan could remember, they were frightened. Utterly leaderless and broken, they didn't look like they knew what to do next.
Sorrow wasn't much help. Her marked eyes were filled with a depthless emotion; she looked lost, as if she didn't know how she got there or what she was doing. Bronze was sitting further away from her, eyes burning with hatred. The Shredder was missing completely.
Lucky padded up to Sorrow. "Please leave now."
Sorrow looked up at him blankly. For the first time really, Declan saw a kind of relation between them. They were, after all, uncle and niece. Sorrow in her current state looked much more pitiable, with her wet fur and hunched shoulders, but still kept a kind of hardness about her, like a broken window. "Where will we go?" she rasped. "My father is dead. Braiser is dead. The Claws are finished."
Lucky's eyes hardened. "I do not know. That is for you to decide. The duty falls to you now, as his eldest kit. If you wish for the Claws to continue to survive, you must work hard. Honest work. Have your cats hunt for the weaker, the elders and queens protected, and the kits cared for. With decent work and strength, you will prevail."
Sorrow nodded along with his words as if in a trance. "I…I don't know if I can do it."
"You can. You have the same conviction as he did. Though hopefully, not the same intents." His eyes sparked. "I will not have my cats attacked. Ever again."
"I wanted you dead," Sorrow said softly. "I wanted you to die so that my father could live. I didn't…I didn't know that—" She stopped herself. "My father was wrong. I hated his obsession with you. I wanted to come here to kill you."
"I am afraid that would put quite the damper in my plans," Lucky said lightly. "I would much prefer us to remain apart. The far edge of the forests can still be Claw territory but I must request a larger portion of the woods atop the hillside. We will protect what we lay claim to. You owe it to us after we have cleansed your group of the sickness that was polluting it."
Bronze's hackles rose. "Watch what you're talking about," he spat. "Whether you believe he was evil or not, he was still our father."
"And you were his favorite son," Sorrow shot back. "Yes, we all understand that. But he's dead now and I'm in charge. If you don't like it, then leave. We might be blood but I've never liked you. A spoiled, selfish little kit dying for his father's attention. You sicken me. Sparrow's worth ten of you."
Bronze snarled, his teeth bared. "And what, you think you can lead us? You? You can't even run a camp without your loyalties getting all mixed up. I know you wanted cats that weren't smoke-treated just so you could twist them to your mindset!"
"Yes, and you ran the pits so well, didn't you, Bronze?" Sorrow's voice was painfully sarcastic. "Cats starving to death. That black Slider tom dying under your watch. You've definitely proven your worth as a leader."
In the crowd, Declan saw Lightfoot's head whip up and fix Bronze with a lethal look of hatred. Her vivid green eyes, calculating now, didn't waver from Bronze. She didn't even blink.
Bronze cursed under his breath. "That was an accident."
"An accident. Huh. You know, I've managed to avoid accidents in my running of a camp. Must just be luck." Sorrow glowered at him. "You're such a waste."
Bronze gritted his teeth. "I don't have to take this. I'll just take control of the Claws by force!"
At once, the Claw guards who had been licking their wounds looked up. They rose as a single body, limping and bloody but standing, and got between Bronze and Sorrow, eyes gleaming and claws unsheathed.
"I don't think that's going to work very well," the black tom Midnight growled.
Lucky, who had been watching with a sort of clinical interest, said, "I think that is your answer, Bronze."
Bronze coiled closer to the ground, his hackles raised. "Is there no cat that will follow me?" he demanded. "None at all?"
The Claws didn't even blink at him. Sorrow, behind their lines, watched her brother with smug, gleaming eyes.
Bronze let out a furious hiss. Whipping to Lucky, he demanded, "And what of the Sliders? Am I allowed among your ranks?"
Lucky's eyes widened in surprise. "Surely you are joking."
"Why would I be? I'm the one who told them where to find my father." He jerked his chin in Declan and Twist's direction; Declan felt Twist jump in surprise.
"To save your own skin. I do not believe that is what they call bravery."
Bronze's hackles were so high now it looked like he had a stripe of darker fur against his tabby pelt. "So I am to go with the Claws?"
"That is your choice, no one else's. I hope you think seriously."
"Don't think you're welcome here," Sorrow spat. "I've had it with you. I only put up with you because Father doted on you. Now that he's dead, I have no need for you. Do what you want, but if you come with us, be prepared to fight. I'll turn you out like a rotten piece of meat."
Growling viciously, Bronze arched his back at his sister but Midnight and Zib moved forward at the same moment, blocking him from attack. Bronze snarled at them wildly but they didn't even twitch.
"Sorry, friend," Zib said, painful irony in his voice. "You best be on your way. Our leader has spoken."
Bronze jerked back. Casting his eyes around the clearing, he looked for someone to speak for him, someone to take him in, but no one said a word. The eyes of the entirety of the Claws and Sliders both were on him, watching, judging, and Declan could see the physical effect it was having on him.
"You know what?" Bronze said. "Fine. Fine. I don't need you anyway. I can find my own way. And I'll be much more successful than the both of your rotten gangs together."
"Good luck," Sorrow said, sardonically sweet, and Bronze snapped his teeth at her, only to be sent rolling by Zib.
Gathering himself to his paws, clutching at the shreds of his dignity, Bronze stalked towards the exit. "You will regret this," he growled beneath his breath. And then he disappeared out into the new morning.
Lucky said, "Well, I believe you are in luck with the exit of that cat. He seems like quite the bad egg. I imagine he has more of my brother's blood than it would appear."
Sorrow, still watching him leave, said, "I would imagine so as well." Then she turned to him. "We will comply with your demands. There will be no more attacks by the Claws."
"Good. I would also like to see the remaining Sliders released from your control."
Sorrow dipped her head. "Fine."
"Thank you, Sorrow."
Sorrow curled her lip, still too proud to accept Lucky's words, then turned, flicked her tail for her cats to follow, and was gone.
Now, even so many moon cycles later, Declan could still remember the healing process of that deal. River and Gravel, returned to the Sliders, were ragged and skinny, clearly underfed. Twist had greeted the two of them as if they were kin, with all the affection he had seen her bestow upon Viktor. Flint came back a few days later, seeming more reluctant than his gangmates. In the moon cycles after, Declan would often catch him lost in thought. He was quieter, calmer. He was no longer the scatterbrained cat he had been before his capture—he had grown somehow, matured into an adult. And he had taken over Snit's position as the Sliders' healer, taking up residence in the healing den with the help of Kite and an extremely reluctant Audrey.
The ginger she-cat had been so quiet after the battle had ended. For days and days, she had said barely anything to anyone, keeping to herself. She was slowly sinking down into herself, curling into a tiny ball in the deepest corner of her heart. Declan thought sometimes when he looked into her eyes, he was looking through her, as if her eyes were dusky green windows with nothing on the other side.
In fact, he hadn't even seen her the day before. He generally sought her out and forced a few words out of her everyday but he couldn't find her. No one had even seen her. That worried Declan. After Snit's death, she seemed so broken. He was afraid that the slightest wind would shatter her into a thousand pieces and no one would be able to put her back together again.
The coldness of the night raked through Declan's pelt as he ducked into the metal tunnel, the worn ground smooth beneath his pads. He could almost find his way around the Warren with his eyes closed: at the end of the tunnel, he would turn right, taking a pathway down among a twisting spiral of box-nests, down to where the warmest sections were. He and Twist had the nest between one shared by Max and Marco—now best friends bonded with enemy's blood—and Vivian's. The tiny white she-cat had decided to stay with the Sliders after all, as if the battle had charged her blood with adrenaline she couldn't get rid of. She was constantly trying to get onto patrols with Lucky, learning everything he would teach her with an open-mindedness that was shocking coming from the little cat. She had proven herself to be a highly capable hunter, able to sneak down into the smallest crack to get at mice and rats.
Declan hesitated at the entrance to the den, one paw in mid-air. What if Twist had been awoken by his sudden departure? He couldn't remember standing up. All his dreams opened the same way: he was always running from something, too terrified to turn and fight. At the end, he would always be standing in the woods somewhere, confused and disoriented.
Shaking it off, tiredness bone-deep, he ducked his head under the flap of the box-nest and crept inside on gentle paws.
Twist was curled away from him, the curve of her shoulder visible from the little gap she had cut in the roof of the nest, allowing a pool of moonlight into the darkness. The light of the moon lit her dark tortoiseshell fur silver, framing each hair as if it were coated in white fire. Her gentle breathing filled the nest, calming him at once.
Declan dropped to his belly, resting his chin on the ground. He watched her, the slight rise of her breathing, the twitching of one front paw as she dreamed, the flick of an ear as a draft hit her. She was almost indescribably beautiful in the moonlight. She was everything he had never known he wanted in a she-cat—brave, confident, alternating between playful scorn and undiluted affection as quick as he could blink. Everything she said, everything she did, made him fall in love with her all over again.
He sighed before he could help it.
Twist rolled around onto her other shoulder until she was facing him. Her white-streaked face was cut with shadows from the angle of the light, but her eyes were still closed. Still sleeping.
Declan curled his paws against his chest to repress the desire to touch that peaceful expression on her face. If only he could borrow some of this sleepy tranquility. Perhaps it would soothe his heart and mind of all his worries.
Twist's eyes opened slightly, the gold just glittering slits. "Declan?" she asked blearily.
And now he reached out for her, pressing his paw so gently against her cheek. "I'm here."
"Where'd you go?"
His heart froze. All his worst nightmares made real. "I needed some air."
"Bad dreams?" She already sounded like she was falling back asleep.
Declan let out a humorless hum of laughter. "Something like that."
Twist scooted up to him, resting her head on his outstretched forepaw. Yawning widely, her bristling whiskers brushing his face, she snuggled into his chest fur. "You should wake me up next time. I'll sit up with you."
He brushed his muzzle between her ears. "I didn't want to wake you up. You were sleeping so peacefully." He rested his nose on her forehead for a moment, realizing that he could be with Twist like this every night for the rest of his life. It sent a little tingle of happiness down his spine. "Go back to sleep."
She didn't need much persuasion. Resting her nose in his fur, she murmured sleepily, "Love you."
Declan looked at her. At this angle, her eyelashes looked so delicate. Like soft downy feathers. "I love you, too," he whispered to her.
But she was already asleep.
The next morning, Declan was awakened by a paw on his cheek, pushing his fur up to cover his eye. Blinking open the other one, he saw Twist with a mischievous expression. "Good morning," he greeted, his voice garbled by her squishing.
"You were talking in your sleep," she said.
Jerking upright, he demanded, "What did I say?"
With a totally straight expression, she said, "You expressed a passionate desire to become a mouse. It was actually quite moving."
He laughed. "I'm so sure."
"Don't worry. This is a no-judgment zone. If you want to be a mouse, you can if you'd like."
"If I were a mouse, what would that make you?" he teased, nudging her shoulder. "The hunter waiting to catch me?" He stretched his legs behind him, one by one, feeling the sweet strain of his muscles.
Behind him, he heard her say, "No. I'd be a mouse, too. Of course." He turned to her too see a slanted kind of glittering look on her face that made his pelt flush hot.
Stars, I love her, he thought. He pressed his forehead to hers, purring. "Shall we go find out the schedule for today?"
Her eyes looking up into his, she said, "Race you."
They tore to Lucky's den with Declan in the lead. At the very last second, Twist sidestepped him, whipping out a paw and knocked him to his side just as they reached the tunnel. Leaping lightly over him, she slowed to a leisurely trot, smirking at him over her shoulder.
Gritting his teeth, Declan followed her.
Lucky was standing in the middle of his den. He was as striking-looking as usual; his creamy tan pelt, now marked with shiny scars, was cut through with darker tabby stripes, including one that shot down his spine like a shadow. His dark eyes, framed with similar dark markings, flicked to Declan's as he walked in, a kind of easy delight lighting in those nearly black eyes. "Good morning," he greeted cheerfully.
Declan liked this new Lucky. The battle had changed him, brought out his real personality, though the one that Wisp sunk into him turned this buoyant Lucky into a weird kind of formality: despite whatever unexpected thing came out of his mouth, it was always said with complete decorum. "Good morning."
"What are we supposed to do today?" Twist, as usual with any other cat but him, got right to the point.
Lucky put his head to the side. "I would like you, Declan, Marco, and Max to patrol around the territory by the brook."
Declan frowned. "Have the Claws been around there?"
Lucky shook his head. "Not as of late. But I would like to make sure that the status stays, as they say, quo. Yes, I would like the status to remain very quo."
"We can keep it quo," Declan assured him, lips twitching.
Lucky didn't seem to understand Declan was teasing him. "Thank you. That would be very fine."
"Why Marco and Max?" Twist asked.
"I believe they are in need of some, er, guidance."
"Meaning that they're getting under the pelts of all the Sliders?" Twist translated.
Lucky put an ear behind him nervously. "Er, yes. I believe that would be an accurate description."
Twist sighed. "Alright. We can take them with us."
"Very well. Try to head all the way down our section of the brook. Remember, it ends when you meet the willow grove."
"Yes, we remember." Declan turned to go but Lucky stopped him.
"If you can, will you hunt? I will send out other hunting parties but we cannot spare any prey that we might find. Every bit of it is precious when the cold season is like this."
"Understood," Twist said curtly. "Come on, Declan."
As Declan said his goodbyes to Lucky, he couldn't help wondering about Twist. Why was it that she only showed her softer side to him? Didn't she want to have friends? Regardless of her standoffish nature, she had accumulated friends within the Sliders—Vivian, Audrey, River and Gravel, Kite and Viktor, her new little tagalong Streak, who was now considered almost old enough to go outside. Declan didn't seem to have the same problem with friends—even though most of the ones he had were shared with Twist. He and River had grown closer since the red tom's return, though they didn't share nearly the same depth of a bond as he and Twist did.
In a way, Declan wondered if Twist was friends with so many older toms because she was looking for a father in them. She had never really had the best of kithoods—not like his own pampered pet life—so perhaps it was that. She certainly seemed to think that Viktor in particular hung the moon, the way she drank in his every word as if it were precious.
Marco and Max were still sleeping when they reached their den. Marco, who outweighed Max now almost double, was sprawled out across the entire floor, his tail and one hind paw hooked over Max's shoulders. Max was curled into a neat little ball, his tail tucked over his nose. He didn't seem bothered by his friend's pokey feet, though his only remaining ear twitched as Marco's tail flipped over his face.
Declan couldn't help the sadness he felt when he looked at Max. The poor little scrap was still tiny, small and lithe like a cat half his age, but the scars that curved down under one eye and across the tattered remains of his ear aged him.
Twist shook Marco first, who awoke with a startled snort. He kicked reflexively, knocking Max right in the shoulder and sending him spinning across the floor, rolling to a stop at Declan's paws.
He opened his eyes, looking disoriented. "Morning," he greeted almost unintelligibly.
"Morning," Declan replied. "Time for a patrol."
"This early?" Marco heaved himself into a sitting position, shaking out his black-and-white pelt. He yawned widely, scratching an ear with his hind paw, and then asked, "What are we doing?"
"Brook patrol. We're going to hunt afterwards, too."
"Okay!" Max bounced to his paws, eager as usual. It was good that his injuries hadn't dampened his spirit, Declan thought, as the group made their way out of the Warren and into the woods. Something as serious as getting mauled like that could have easily crushed a cat with a weaker heart.
The forest seemed so unlike his nightmares. It was bright, sunny. The clouds above were soft and white, unlike the unrelenting gray of snow-swollen skies. Even the ground below felt warmer, as the soft dirt was being heated from below. It was such a pleasant day. Today's hunting would be good for sure.
Twist was chatting to Max about hunting skills. Despite his injury, the young white tom's hearing had been undamaged. He could hunt almost better than Marco, who was too impatient to be very good at anything that took time and concentration. He had shown his prowess in battle, though that was becoming a forgotten skill as peace wore steadily on, like a soft warm breeze.
Declan sighed happily. He was out in the forest, it was a beautiful day, and Twist was beside him. It couldn't get better than this.
And this could be everyday for the rest of our lives, he thought. He glanced over at Twist, a little surprised to see her looking at him, too. Her expression became infinitely softer when their eyes met.
Declan sighed again.
"Hey!" Max yowled. "I see something!"
That broke Twist away. Cuffing him over his good ear, she growled, "Well, if I was prey, now it sees you too, bumblepaws."
"It's not prey." Marco, who had run up ahead to look through the breaks in the trees, sounded very odd. Stiff somehow.
Declan pushed his way forward, nudging his way through the undergrowth. He squinted, seeing something further on in the forest, just off the path in a feathery patch of long grass. Stepping over a fallen branch, he found himself in enough room to look down at whatever it was.
His heart froze in his chest immediately.
It was a cat, a tom. His brown tabby fur was ripped and soaked with blood, a larger drying puddle pooling beneath his stiff limbs. His eyes, marked eyes, stared blankly up into the sky. His paws were curled into claws, stretching out in front of him as if he was reaching for something. He was very clearly dead.
"Twist!" Declan called, his voice high with panic.
She was at his side in an instant. She let out a noise then, half-gagging, half-gasping. "Stars," she whispered. "That's…it's…"
Declan said grimly, "It's Bronze."
No one had seen the former Claw in the past six moon cycles. In the short, terse meetings between Sorrow and Lucky, she had reported him as missing as Wisp still was. No one had said a word about his whereabouts. No one had had a clue.
Though, Declan thought, that was not a problem now.
Max let out a squeak that sounded almost kit-like. Clearing his throat in embarrassment, his pelt spiking with horror, he said, "He's dead!"
"We've noticed," Marco said thinly. "What killed him? A badger?"
"I don't know," Twist said. "We need to get him back to camp."
"Move him?" Marco sounded stunned. "But he's all…stiff and bloody!"
"We can't just leave him out here," Declan said, immediately coming to Twist's defense. "Whether anyone thinks he was a good cat or not, he was still a cat. Still one of us. He doesn't deserve to lay out here and get eaten by scavengers."
Max, half-slunk behind Twist, peeked around and said, "What if a cat killed him?"
The thought disgusted Declan. "We don't know that for sure," he said gently. "Let's not assume anything, okay? Now let's get him back to camp."
"I'm not touching that," Marco protested. "He's basically ant-food now. I don't want to—"
"You'll do it or you'll be on dirt-cleaning duty for the rest of your life," Twist growled. "So shut up and pick a side. We'll all carry him."
Marco, looking rather mollified by Twist's threat, gingerly grabbed Bronze's scruff. His nose wrinkled, whiskers bristling, but he complied without another word.
Declan grabbed the other side, nodding to Twist, and they were all off.
Gasps of horror met them when they pulled Bronze's body into the Warren. As if he'd been summoned by the atmosphere of disbelief, Lucky appeared, Viktor and Kite at his side. His eyes widened more than Declan had ever seen them go as he rushed forward.
"Oh my," he said faintly. "We need to get him into a den right now. Viktor, tell Flint to prepare for a body. Get someone else to help—Willow or Jenny will do—and tell them to be ready. Kite, if you will spread this crowd away. I will speak to them on the machine-paw tower." To Declan and Twist, he added, "To the healing den, please. I will be down shortly." He walked away, raising his voice to speak to the Sliders, "If you will come to me, I would like to speak to you, please!"
It was difficult to get Bronze's body through the tunnel but they accomplished it, sliding down the smooth tunnel into the healing den. It was well-lit as usual, Lucky's bizarre genius at work, and Flint was standing in the center of the den with a pile of what looked like wet moss and herbs.
Flint looked immediately shocked, his jaw dropping. "Bronze!"
Declan set down Bronze's scruff, allowing the body to flop rather alarmingly to the ground. "We found him on the brook's side just inside the forest. He was already dead."
"Clearly!" Flint went to work, using the moss to clean away the dried blood from the body. Willow, a silky gray she-cat, helped him, rubbing sweet-smelling herbs across Bronze's fur, making the smell seem less offensive. It didn't take long before they had finished, arranging the body to make Bronze look more peaceful and less horrifying.
Lucky slid down the tunnel, Viktor just behind him. He surveyed the body with critical eyes, taking in the deep wounds at Bronze's neck and throat, his chest, his flanks. "How did this happen?" he asked softly when he was finished, sitting down delicately and turning politely to Declan and Twist.
Declan related the entire story, with Twist and Marco chiming in with more specific details. Max seemed far too distracted by Bronze's glazed open eyes than the story; Flint noticed this, passing a paw over Bronze's face to gently close his eyes.
Lucky waited for them to finish, thinking it over, then said, "Flint, what do you believe killed this cat?"
This cat, Declan thought. As if he doesn't know who Bronze is. He's his nephew!
"A cat, definitely." Flint brushed a paw across Bronze's throat, parting the fur there. "These are kill-marks. Like you'd use to hunt prey. Bronze was taken by surprise in this attack. At first, anyway. He fought back. Look." He pried Bronze's claws back, pulling out a patch of white fur.
Lucky bent to sniff it. "I cannot detect a scent," he said softly.
"It has been a few days since Bronze died," Flint explained. "All the scent is gone."
"Hmm." Lucky straightened his back, sitting completely still for a moment, before saying matter-of-factly, "It appears that our peace is over."
Yaaaaaaay! How's that for a set-up? XD And da fluff~ Float: Now with eighty-percent more fluff! XD~!
So I've only got twelve days of freedom left, guys. T~T Fwirl's starting school tomorrow so I'm gonna be soooo bored all day long with no one to talk to. You guys should just review lots or PM me so I'll have some sort of contact. XD
I was going to say something here but now I forgot. Ummmm...
RANDOM FACT TIME!
Did you know that Pancho Villa's last words were, "Don't let it end like this! Tell them I said something!"? No? NOW YOU DO.
I'm really too nerdy for my own good, I think. I've got a whoooooole bunch of last words memorized. I hope I do last words well. I mean, I've only killed off like three cats in this story. I might need to fix that problem. }:3
Oh! And tufted titmouse, CONGRAAATS~! You win the challenge! You were the 300th reviewer! -throws confetti- So now you get to pick what you want a oneshot to be about! Three rules: has to be Warriors, it's not something really weird, and it can't be about this latest series of books, as I have not read them. Kay? KAY!
So I think I'll go do something now. Something to prove that I do indeed still have a life. Or at least, the remains of one. XD
You know what to do!