This chapter brought to you by...
For making the laptop that allowed me to type this up faster than normal!
Though... I dun like this chapter :(
It's okay I guess. I cut it off early though. And took like four days to type it up. Probably because of the DISTINCTIVE LACK OF ACTION. But whatevs, I'm getting the dominos set up so I can knock them all down :))
(that was way too cheesy wasn't it)
She awoke to Crowfrost's brooding murmur.
"Daisy and Graystripe. That's good," he mused. "ThunderClan is crumbling at last."
Pinenose stretched and blinked. Her glossy black coat had grown dull in the past half-moon, and it ruffled halfheartedly at her Clanmate's declaration.
He lifted his chin. The rising sun gave the white patches of his fur an orange tint. "Time to check the traps."
Pinenose's ears flattened. She had never been entirely on board with this idea, and the notion of lining them with thorns caused her pelt to prickle. But she nodded and trailed her partner from underneath the spacious bush. There was still an adder left over from the night before, and the two pulled it in half to make a morning meal. Pinenose had never been a fan of adders; the scales got stuck between her teeth, and she preferred amphibians or mammals to prey of a reptilian nature. However, she was glad to have food at all, and ate it without complaint.
Once they had finished, Crowfrost rose to his paws, and Pinenose followed. The first trap they reached was undisturbed, and thankfully so. But as they approached the one set near the RiverClan border, soft gruntings and scrabblings met their ears. A grin spread across Crowfrost's face, and he motioned to Pinenose to keep quiet. Her tail stirred with worry, discontent about what was to come. Killing in defense against another cat who was just as willing to kill, that was one thing. But attacking a trapped cat, helpless to their own fate? That was another.
She crept to the edge of the pit with Crowfrost and stared into the face of a lean white-coated she-cat. The cat smelled very faintly of WindClan, and her yellow eyes narrowed as she bared her teeth at her attackers. It was a bold gesture, for the lines of the she-cat's face were drawn tight in pain; one of her hind legs was twisted awkwardly beneath her, and patches of her fur were singed.
"Why, hello there!" Crowfrost greeted the she-cat - Whitetail, as Pinenose remembered - with mock warmth. "So glad we could make your acquaintance today."
"Stay away!" the she-cat growled. She scraped her claws against the side of the pit, but seemed more afraid than forceful.
"Now, now," Crowfrost clucked. "You know you're not getting out of there on your own with that leg of yours."
Pinenose tried to read her partner's expression. She could not tell yet whether the imposing tom planned to kill the WindClan cat or let her join them. He was enjoying himself, that was for sure.
"Don't tell me you mean to help me." Whitetail narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
"Oh, but of course," Crowfrost announced gaily. He flicked his tail at Pinenose to come forward, and she followed until her paws touched the rim of the trap. Crowfrost leaned down and grasped Whitetail's scruff in his jaws. Pinenose did so as well, digging her claws into the earth for alance. The stubborn white she-cat stiffened as they hauled her over the lip of the pit and onto the grass beyond.
They stepped back, and Whitetail stood quickly, fur ruffled. Her right hind leg was held carefully in the air. "Well - that's great, I guess - but I really must be goi - "
"Oh, not so fast." Crowfrost's kind voice suddenly turned menacing. "We did something for you; it's only fair you do something for us in return."
Her gaze darted between the two of them, and she gave a wavering smile. "I'm sorry but - my Clanmates do need me - a-and - ah..." She lulled into silence, seemed to make a few final calculations, and bolted.
She managed to put up a good chase, but her injury did her no favors, WindClan cat though she was. Finally, Crowfrost gathered the ground beneath him and made a final leap, sending her toppling to the earth. Whitetail cried out in pain; the position put pressure on her injured leg, and her expression wobbled, but Crowfrost made no move to change it. Pinenose hung back. As always, he was making the decisions, and she had no say.
"Funny," he snarled. Whitetail hissed as his claws dug into her chest. "You seem to think you have a choice."
With that, he clambered off of her and pulled her to her paws. She swayed and lowered her ears. Pinenose continually glanced at the injured she-cat as she limped after them back to their makeshift camp.
Upon their return, Crowfrost asked Pinenose to scout out the other traps - and reset them if necessary - while he made sure Whitetail didn't run away. She agreed hesitantly, though she wondered when anyone would have time to hunt if someone would always have to be watching Whitetail - or what use she was to them at all. Perhaps she had to earn Crowfrost's trust to function on her own...
Pinenose neared their camp, a squirrel hanging from her jaws, when the metal tang of blood hit her nose. Almost dropping her squirrel, she raced towards the camp, heart pounding in her chest. As she burst out of the bushes and tossed her prey to the ground, she opened her jaws to yowl his name, when a low whimper cut through the air. She quickly pinpointed the noise as coming from beneath one of the two bushes. Her eyes widened as she crept forward. Whitetail was curled up in a tight ball under its swaying leaves. Blood, red as deathberries, was seeping onto her plush coat from fresh wounds.
"Whitetail!" Pinenose exclaimed in shock. She could see the damage more clearly now - there were scratches down the WindClan cat's chest and flanks, long but shallow. The bleeding made them look worse than they really were.
She was just about to do something when Crowfrost whisked around the corner with a bundle of leaves in his jaws and a forepaw swathed with cobwebs. His pelt was as unmarked as ever, and his eyes were glowing.
"What happened?!" Pinenose demanded. "I got back an - "
"How were the traps?" he interrupted, placing the leaves on the ground. He moved up to Whitetail, who glared hatefully at him out of eyes misty with pain.
"Well - two were empty - another killed a gray cat and a badger," she stammered.
"A badger?" He gave her a swift glance of surprise. "And you reset it?"
"Well yes but - Crowfrost!" She glared at him. "What happened?"
"Whitetail here," he meowed, flicking his tail at her, "required some persuasion to spill the beans on her Clanmates."
Pinenose gaped at him in outright astonishment. Was he implying what she thought he was implying? "C - Cro - Crowfrost!" she spluttered. "That's no-ot like you! That's - against - the warrior code!"
Crowfrost turned to fix his burning glare on her. He stepped forward until his nose was a centimeter away from hers, and his voice was menacingly low. "Pinenose. We - are - in - the Games. The warrior code has no meaning here. The only thing that has any meaning here is to survive, and StarClan help me I will go to whatever lengths I feel are necessary to survive!"
"Bu - "
"And if you have a problem with that, Pinenose," he hissed, "I suggest you leave. Quickly."
"Bu - I - I - no, I'll stay! Please, Crowfrost! I'll stay!"
He stared at her for another moment, eyes narrowed into slits. Then he whipped around, tail whisking about his legs. "Then I expect you will trust my experience and do what I need you to do?"
She swallowed the feeling of unease that swirled in her stomach. Without Crowfrost, she had no chance. She would be dead by morning.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I will."
Leafpool sprang to her paws at Tigerheart's frenzied cry. The squirrel she had been eating went skidding across the muddy ground. Instinctively, the group of five dre closer together, pelts bristling and claws unsheathed.
Slowly, deliberately, a cat crept out of the undergrowth. She smelled him before she saw him - a scent she knew as well as her own.
Her heart sprang into her throat the moment his name sprang into her mind. The usual jumble of emotion she felt whenever she thought of him swept through her body: regret, confusion, sorrow, resentment, and still, always, that faint pulse of love, that electrical fluttering of excitement, both barely alive beneath her skin.
He stepped into the open, and she saw that he was not alone. A ragged WindClan she-cat - Heathertail - slumped against him, looking as if she could barely stand. Cobwebs were plastered rather messily across some parts of her body.
His eyes met hers and darted away lightning-quick.
"Crowfeather," Brambleclaw meowed cautiously. "We don't want to fight you, and - "
"You think I came here to fight?" Crowfeather responded. "You're as harebrained as ever, Brambleclaw." Leafpool could hear his weariness as he spoke, and if it were not so complete that it seeped into his voice, she knew he would have been snapping.
Silence hung thick in the air.
"No," he went on. "I - we - came here to join you. We were caught in the fire. We barely escaped with our lives, you know." His lip curled.
"Why us? Why now?" Brambleclaw demanded.
"Let me think," Crowfeather replied. Sarcasm dripped from his voice. "Ashfoot's dead, and Whitetail's StarClan-knows-where. I happen to come across the cats I spent moons running over mountains with. What should I do?"
"Yeah, yeah," Brambleclaw muttered. "Save it. Are all of you fine with that?"
Murmurs and nods of assent rippled through the small group, and Brambleclaw sighed. "Fine. Come with us. But I need to be able to count on you if we meet Whitetail in battle."
Heathertail stiffened and narrowed her eyes, hissing in his general direction. "Oh yeah? Well what if you meet Brightheart in battle?"
His claws dug into the ground. "That won't happen."
"Well then neither will that," Heathertail growled, and no one cared to challenge her logic as Crowfeather helped her over to a bush, where she curled wearily on the ground.
The tight huddle began to disperse, though tension was still evident in the wary glances the group was giving each other. Squirrelflight moved silently up behind Leafpool and pressed her pelt to hers. The ginger she-cat flashed her sister a sympathetic look, and Leafpool offered a faint, grateful smile.
Leafpool crept up to Heathertail, who regarded the former medicine cat with narrowed eyes, her distaste clear. Leafpool's ears flattened and she meowed as calmly as she could, "You're hurt. I'm going to help you."
"I don't need your help," the tabby growled.
"Don't be stupid, Heathertail," Crowfeather called from behind them. His hoarse voice seemed to settle somewhere in Leafpool's chest, like a stone and a feather all at once. "You need a medicine cat and you know that."
Heathertail turned away and snorted. "Of course you'd say that."
Brambleclaw stepped forward and let out a low, menacing growl. "I'm the last cat to approve of their actions. But if you want to be a part of this group you'd better stop acting like an ass and listen."
Heathertail narrowed her eyes. A quiet hiss escaped her jaws, but she looked away and said nothing.
Leafpool could tell this was going to be a long day.
Okay two things. First, the response to Cherrypetal's question about what happens when they die. I was thinking along answer a- they go to StarClan, then the DF is like "why hello there *evilgrin*". And as for the winners for sponsoring, they are Stormfeather of IceClan, who sent dog fangs to Grasspelt, and Gigigue, who sent cobwebs to Heathertail.
Next time's POVs:
Pebblefoot & Squirrelflight
And our evil friend action will be back :)