Fox Blood

Chapter 4

After Thornstripe and Duskstar (such weird names) introduced themselves, I had seen blackness on the bottom of my vision threatening to swallow me, so I had laid down, hoping that Duskstar wouldn't notice and say more cat's names.

But no. The darkness kept coming, and I passed out, only hearing Duskstar's friendly suprise and him telling Thornstripe or maybe another cat to carry me back to a camp, whatever that was.

Yeah. Now I was curled up in a bed of feathers amd moss, in a dim cave with smells of herbs coming from the back. I could hear water somewhere, but my eyes hadn't yet gotten used to being open so I couldn't see it.

A fluffy young mottled brown she-cat, about eight moons old, I'd guess, with bright amber eyes padded out of the darkness in the back of the cave, holding a small bundle of herbs in her mouth.

When she noticed I was up, she dropped the bundle and rushed over to me, happiness and relief all over her countenance.

"You're awake! I can't wait to tell Skyfeather!" She turned with an exited shine in her eyes and rushed through a wall of lichen, which probably led out of the den.

I lay there, confused. Skyfeather? Probably another of those weird names. I don't know why, but I kind of liked them, regardless of their foreign orgins. I rolled towrds the wall and groaned sleepily, yet still keeping a n eye on the lichen.

A beautful calico she cat with sky-blue eyes poked her slender head through it a while later, and affectionately smiled at me until the rest of her body appeared. The young mottled she-cat followed her, introducing me to the calico. My body tensed. What if the friendliness was just for show? The small she-cat opened her jaws.

"This is Skyfeather! She's our medicine cat. I'm the medicine cat apprentice, Owlpaw, so she's training me to be just like her!" I'd wondered when the plain brown apprentice (?) would offer her name. (I also wondered if she could have a whole conversation with another cat without that over-exited tone in her mew. That wasn't important) But I sort of understood the medicine cat part- before my family passed through the big twolegplace, we were traveling through woodland. When Falcon discovered herb-plants, she was downright fascinated by them. A few nights that I couldn't sleep after the massacre, Falcon had me eat some kind of tiny black seeds and I fell asleep right away. I also have a suspicion that she also was treating her own injured shoulder with some other herb-medicine stuff. I sat up somewhat groggily, sensing she would explain.

I guess that Owlpaw noticed my *slight* confusion, so she piped up. "Apprentices are cats that are older than a kit and yet too young to be a warrior, so they have mentors that teach them the nessecary skills to be a warrior, like hunting and fighting. I see that you're a bit young to be an apprentice!" She added, flicking her thick mottled tail over my ear playfully.

"Hey!" I pouted, huffing. I stuck my forelegs out in front of me and arched my back, stretching as far as I could with my small torso.

Serious again, but still excited, she continued. "I'm a different kind of apprentice. I'm not training to hunt and fight, but training to serve my clan in ano-" Skyfeather stuffed her tail into Owlpaw's mouth.

"Owlpaw," she started with smiling eyes, "I think you can stop there. Now isn't the time to stuff this kit's mind with unfarmiliar information." She opened her eyes and turned to me. I was all-out stretching, not paying attention much, so I un-squinted my eyes, shook out my semi-thick fur, and straightened up and met her gaze, even though I had to tilt my head. My cheeks momentarily grew hot with embarrassment.

She smiled. "Anyway, Duskstar wanted to see you."

Well, okay.

I felt a lot better, so I could have walked by myself, but Skyfeather snatched me up by my scruff before I could react and carried me towards th entrance of the den. I squirmed free just in time that the first impression of me to any cat out there wasn't the same impression of a newborn kit.

I somewhat patiently waited for her and Owlpaw to stop giggling. Once they finally calmed down, Skyfeather cheerfully brushed past me through the lichen and out of the den, murmuring "I get your drift." I rolled my eyes, following her as Owlpaw fell in behind me, who was trying to hide her muzzle. I was positive that she was still smirking. I let my white-tipped tail reach up to tickle her nose. I heard her quietly sneezing behind me.

Ferns brushed my fur on both sides, sending shadows dancing over the ground. I could see the sun in the middle of a clear blue sky above me, and relished the warmth seeping through my pelt. The thick growth suddenly dropped away into a large, steep-sided hollow. Before I surveyed the hollow, I took a glance backwards past Owlpaw and realized that there were only two huge fern plants. My eye twitched. Seriously? I thought that was a tunnel...

I turned back to the clearing, Skyfeather and Owlpaw on each side of me. To my right I noticed there was a tumble of rocks leading up to a small overhang with a cave in the rock that was about halfway up the high cliff. On the other side of that, there was a well-enforced bramble bush den that looked like it could house a mother and her kits. To my left was an elder bush, the dark elderberries swaying in the light breeze in clumps, and two more bramble bushes, one large and the other as big as the first. A young ginger and white she-cat was gnawing on a squirrel, alone, in front of the third bramble den. Two scarred toms, one a dark, dark ginger tabby with blind blue eyes and the other, a green-eyed large light brown cat with white ears, muzzle, chest and paws and a mysterious skinned tail. A few more scattered cats wandered the clearing

I noticed deep vertical claw-scratches circling the steep walls of the hollow, too many to count. I wonder what those are for... I didn't have time to ponder. Skyfeather herded me towards the rocky slide-thing, Owlpaw still tailing behind. Mainly, I was trying not to get stepped on by either of them or fall down the pebbly slope. I was relieved when I heaved myself over the top to a small ledge overlooking the clearing, which seemed crowded with a medicine cat, medicine cat apprentice, and kit (Not me. So not me.).

Beofore Skyfeather and Owlpaw could give me a chance to catch my breath, they padded through the entrance of the dark cave-den, and I groaned before slowly following them. It had the same dim lighting as the medicine den, and once my eyes adjusted I noticed Duskstar sprawled out over a neat moss nest, clean rabbit remains next to his paws. He gave the back of his ginger paw a last lick (I think he'd been grooming himself) and straightened up, his golden eyes catching the slightest light filtering through the entrance. For a moment a flicker of fear traveled up my spine. Does he intend to punish me for entering their territory? I glanced sidelong at Skyfeather, but she was focused on Duskstar. I lowered my eyes, not wanting to make him angry or aything.

"Fox."

I angled my ears toward him, but otherwise didn't move a whisker.

I heard him crouch in front of me. I warily allowed my eyes to rise. Punishment? Should I be running right about now?

Duskstar met my gaze with an intense stare. "Fox, I'm not about to hurt you. You should have known that since you ran into us. You're only a kit." He searched my now-wandering eyes, over and over. "Why were you alone? There's no way you could have survived long without help. If you really were alone awhile and survived, we wouldv'e known about a mother and kits running around near our territory."

Pffft. I come from nowhere close. Me and my littermates traveled a moon to get here!

I stayed silent, but could feel Skyfather's curious gaze burning into my fur. Somehow, Owlpaw had siently exited the den, because her presence had dissapeared. I wish I could do that right about now, and beeline out of here.

I only gathered my courage, stepped back once, and straightened up. "Duskstar," I experimented, trying to add a strong hint to my voice, trying not to let it quiver in fear. "I know. I wasn't alone. I'd just like to know if you're going to punish me. A stupid kit that can't tell when she crosses a border." I glared at Skyfeather's paws, letting the bitterness trickle into my mew.

Suddenly Duskstar wa speaking in a soft, humorous voice. "Careful, or you'll end up like Dustywing."

I returned my gaze to him. "Dustywing?"

"Oh, just a certain WindClan warrior."

WindClan? Another Clan? This was definitely the place Mom wanted us to go. Or maybe just me, now. I fought back surging, tidal emotions.

I continued the subject, hopeful. "How many Clans are there?"

Just then, before Duskstar could reply, Owlpaw padded into the den, carrying a plump vole. My eyes widened at the sight. I hadn't realized it but I was still starving from the days of hunger before. Guess I'd gotten used to it.

When she dropped it next to me, I realized that it was nearly as big as me. Dismissing the fact, I started ripping into it. Skyfeather, who had been silent this whole time, leaned in next to me, startling me.

"Famished, weren't you?" I hardly slowed my *cough* famished gulps.

She padded up to Duskstar and they excanged a few words before she walked out of the den, Owlpaw following.

When I finally finished the vole, I felt way overstuffed and sat in front of Duskstar, all traced of wariness gone. There was no reason to let it linger, so I let it go.

"Story time?"

He smiled and also sat.

"Yup."

~~~~~

Falcon

Falcon felt a twinge of guilt as she waded through a black, shallow stream. She had left Fox alone to face the forest night creatures, while she was fleeing to open moor. She could tell that it was ahead, she could smell the free-flowing wind and light night breezes twisting freely aroud the spaced trees on the other side of this stream.

She shook her pelt on the other side, hoping that the disgusting dampness would just dissapear. She shivered. That stuff was cold.

She gathered her strong hauches, and took off at her top speed past the towering trunks. She panted and huffed, but didn't slow. Eventually the trees dwindled into thin saplings, then into nothing. She skidded to a stop at the edge of the leafy plants and looked out over the open, rolling hills.

To her right in the distance was the lake, the one that the Clans lived around. Probably. But now that her, Fox, and Birch had been separated, this had to be the place or they might never see each other again. Falcon felt like breaking down right there and crying for mother, but she only shook out her thick brown tabby fur and started running again.

As huge heather bushes rushed past, she wondered if she was in a Clan's territory now. She could feel herself growing more and more exited. Mom wanted us to join the Clans, right? So... if there is a Clan here, I'd love to stay! She thought. But suddenly a dark one entered her mind. Just like Fox wanted to stay in the forest...

She shut her eyes and wrenched her head back and forth. No. She... she's gone now. So is Birch. Our only hope is the Clans now. I just hope that they both find their own, if they can't find each other.

Suddenly Falcon was tumbling through a line of heather, bell-shaped blossoms flashing past her vision.

And then the ground gave way beneath her. She fell down into a shallow dip in the moor, yowling loudly as she rolled. She heard yelps of surprise echo around her, and she thought, What have I gotten myself into...? She clamped her jaws shut, trying not to nip herself.

When she finally tumbled painfully to a stop, she fell limp, coughing up small streams of blood. Owww... She heard a cat's voice call for another... Appa Kepp, maybe?

She could sense many full-grown cats bustling around and above her, blocking all availible air. A firce voice ordered the cats around her, "Go back to sleep, mouse-brains! The kit needs some air!" Falcon could hear shoving as the Appa Kepp shooed of the other cats. She could finally breathe, gasping the biggest gulps she could manage. But some blood blocked her airways, so she coughed some more.

"Oh, StarClan..." She could hardly make out a white muzzle with dark amber eyes staring down at her. She stopped coughing, realizing that some of her blood was spattered over the tom's face.

She could feel herself shifting as he picked her up by the scruff and carried her past the other cats and into an abandoned badger set in the ground. She was deposited in a warm and dry nest of bracken and moss, and fell asleep right away.

The last thing she heard was the white cat murmuring, "My name is Applestep. Welcome to WindClan, little kit."


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