"D'you smell that?" Sedgewing asked, wrinkling his nose in typical PureClan distaste.
Thornstreak, scenting a Tainted on the slight breeze, nodded mutely. Together the two toms crossed the thin Thunderpath, skirting the grimy puddles with frowns. Rain slicked their pelts and ran in rivulets down Thornstreak's tabby stripes.
Far away, a siren wailed and a cat shrieked. It almost made Thornstreak pause. It sounded so young and feminine, so full of pain, and for a moment, he thought it could've been Sablepaw. The warrior brushed aside the thought; she was a good fighter, fierce and cunning. Nothing could touch her. She was stronger than her mother.
"Down here," Sedgewing murmured, scurrying into an alley.
She was stronger than her father.
"Don't rush into a trap," Thornstreak cautioned; his warning was sickly ironic.
Sedgewing's creamy tail twitched and he murmured, "We can handle it."
There's no we. Just you, and me. And then soon, me alone. He grunted in reply and tasted the air again.
Sablepaw was simply better than him.
"Up here," Sedgewing commanded, leaping lithely up onto a row of spiked wooden planks. Thornstreak followed him without a word; if the other tom noticed his silent state, he did not comment.
The creamy patched tom hissed and shook his paw, before ducking his head to pull a small splinter from the pad of his paw. It was a perfect opportunity, but Thornstreak let is pass. Morningstar would be angry if he returned without a Tainted, and Sedgewing was the best tracker in the Clan.
But not for long.
The other tom finally straightened up and began to pick his way over the pointed planks of wood.
"She's down here," he murmured, reaching a junction between the wooden fence and a wall of mismatched red rocks. He jumped off the fence and landed with a small huff; Thornstreak was silent as he joined him in the kittypet Tainted's tiny territory. The Twoleg den was brightly lit and yellow light spilled across the short green grass. a border of crusty dirt framed the grass, but there were no trees or plants.
Sedgewing darted into the shadow of the rock wall, and gestured impatiently with his tail for the tabby to do the same.
"We have to wait for it to come out," he whispered, his eyes drifting to stare at one of the transparent coverings illuminated by the false sunlight.
"How long?" asked Thornstreak; partly because he was bored and partly because he felt he should say something, anything. Sedgewing's last hour should not be lonely.
At this, the patched warrior turned to stare at him, a gleeful light glimmering in his eyes- all warriors loved to kill, to chase and taunt. The leader's pair was no exception.
"We could lure it out," he suggested slyly, climbing to his paws. He darted toward the Twoleg den and stopped beside the tallest covering. Thornstreak had to strain to hear the sound coming out of his mouth; a small, piteous mewl.
He shrank into the shadows as a face appeared at the covering. It was a wide face, pale grey in colour, with a pair of strikingly blue eyes. It pushed its way through a filmy flap attached to the covering and onto the dewy lawn.
"Hello?" the grey tabby asked, taking another step onto the lawn.
Thornstreak's eyes met Sedgewing's, and he understand what the other warrior wanted him to do.
A breathy whine wound out of his throat, and she-cat took a step in his direction. Another, and another. She squinted into the darkness, but her bright eyes were not wary.
Thornstreak slunk further into the shadows and the she-cat followed.
"Who's there?" she asked. "If you're hurt, my housefolk can help you-" her words were cut off as Sedgewing leapt on her back. Instead, she let out a wail of terror and collapsed on the ground. He growled and raked his claws down her back.
Thornstreak rushed out of the shadows and shoved him off.
"What are you doing?" Sedgewing snarled, landing on his back. "Have you gone soft?"
"Leader's orders," Thornstreak growled back. "And quite frankly, I never liked you, brother."
Morningstar had not wanted a quick, easy death, but Thornstreak insisted on it. It was a condition, he said, and to his surprise, she agreed. He found his teeth bared, and he lunged, sinking his teeth into the cream tom's neck. Sedgewing tried to hiss at him, but all his efforts achieved were bubbles of blood that spilled out of his mouth.
Confident that his death was imminent, he turned and fixed the grey she-cat with a cold stare.
"You're coming with me," he snapped, and it wasn't a question. Sedgewing gurgled behind them.
She averted her pretty blue eyes and rolled to her paws with a whimper. Thornstreak roughly nudged her to the fence.
The Tainted tried to talk with him as they travelled, tried to plead with him to let her go, but he ignored her. He'd just killed his littermate, after all, and deserved to be dwelt on, brooded over, for at least a few moments.
"Thornstreak," Morningstar murmured, her breath warm against his ear. "Is it done?"
Is the scent of blood on my fur not enough? "I did what you asked; of course it is," he muttered. He'd returned to the rendezvous alley with the tabby she-cat in tow. She crouched a few feet away, shivering, blood matting her once-sleek fur. The other cats were gathered in a circle a few fox lengths away; in their center the captured Tainted huddled.
Tornear rose and shoved the kittypet into the ring.
Morningstar's shoulders slumped and a breathy sigh of relief passed her lips. She slow rose to her paws before crying, "Sedgewing! Sedgewing is dead! My pair has been killed!"
The raiding party looked up at her, murmuring their regrets, but no true sadness shone in their eyes.
Morningstar turned back to him, tail tip winding in the air. "By the way, I think your daughter is dying."
Thornstreak felt his mouth drop open in shock, before he remembered to close it.
"She what?" Morningstar didn't reply- she was too busy masking her happiness- and simply pointed to a limp black shape lying in a corner.
The tabby tom forced himself to take slow, calm steps toward his prone daughter. Sorrelstorm sat in front of her, chewing on a leaf and pasting green gunk on a scratch on her flank.
"What happened?" Thornstreak asked woodenly, taking a seat at Sablepaw's head. She looked twisted, ruined; blood clumped in her pelt, and her hind leg was bent, bent into a horrible angle, white bone poking through the black-and-crimson- fur and flesh.
"Monster," Smokepaw said. Thornstreak started; he hadn't seen the young tom sitting in the shadows.
Sorrelstorm nodded and spat out a glob of chewed-up leaves. "Now that you're back, we can start heading back to the territory. She needs proper treatment and we can only get that back at camp."
Thornstreak looked away from Sablepaw, at the cats starting to climb to their paws at the word of Morningstar. She shot him a glance and motioned impatiently for him move."
"I'll carry her," Thornstreak murmured.
"Me too," Smokepaw volunteered.
You're playing a dangerous game, Thornstreak thought warningly, but he let Sorrelstorm drape the injured apprentice over their shoulders.
I played that game and I lost.
"To me, PureClan!" Morningstar yowled, darting out of the damp alley. Thornstreak followed, taking the broken body of his only daughter home, fur brushing against the pelt of a tom who did not know what a mess he had created.