ƬΉΣ PӨIƧӨПΣD ΛПD ƬΉΣ PЦЯΣ

A Visit Down Under

It took Morningstar three days to decide who would accompany her on the highly anticipated raid. As soon as Strongclaw had hatched his ridiculous plot, he'd dashed off to plant the seed of an idea in his mother's mind. It hadn't taken much to convince her; the prospect of untethering herself from her kits, the raw promise of blood. Morningstar was not designed to sit out her days in a nursery, hushing the squalling of kits. The dappled she-cat needed air and freedom- and death.

Strongclaw had suggested they wait several days, half a moon or so, before setting off. Their territory would need to be fortified in the absence of so many warriors. Besides, Morningstar's kits would be weaned by then.

That was the first part of their plan, and it went exceedingly well. So Strongclaw thought, at least. Sablefrost was doubtful their success would continue; who wanted to lug a pregnant she-cat to the Twolegplace? She wasn't entirely sure that she wanted to go, but Strongclaw insisted. The plan would be impossible if she kitted in camp, because a tiny kit or two would not survive for long on a tedious journey west. Her pair insisted it was the only way to save unborn lives. He, for once, appeared to sport a strong sense of morality.

It agonised Strongclaw, those three days waiting. He wasn't confident with his ability to manipulate Morningstar, but Sablefrost told him he was his mother's son. There were more implications in her reassurance than she'd intended, and for a while the calico had remained silent, sullenly brooding.

It was almost a relief when Morningstar called together an assembly with her usual informality.

"Let all cats gather!" she cried, perching atop the Speaking Hill. "I said gather, you lumps!"

Grumbling inaudibly, PureClan huddled on the dirt stretched in front of the hill. It was peppered with small green clumps of grass, but the constant activity over it and frosty nights had prevented much more than a thin downy cover from growing over the exposed ground..

Morningstar's call woke Sablefrost; she blearily blinked open her eyes to see that the nursery was deserted. She rolled clumsily to her paws, still slow with drowsiness, her stomach feeling heavier than air. She felt as though she'd eaten several rocks instead of fresh-kill that morning. She emerged just as the Clan settled down in the main embodiment of camp. Sablefrost hurried to join them, seating herself in a vacant spot beside her pair.

"About time," Morningstar snapped, eying the black queen moodily. "But anyway. Tardiness is unfortunately not the subject of discussion at this here meeting." She paused, as if waiting for the Clan to chime, "Then what is o' mysterious leader?" in rehearsed synchrony.

"As some of you may have realized, our stock of Tainted has run unacceptably low. I have decided to schedule another raid, which is now currently half a moon away."

Murmurs rippled through the assembly; Clan life had been rather stale, tepid for a few moons. Too little blood had been spilled and this did not bode well with the collection of cutthroats.

"I must acknowledge that the entire Clan cannot raid the city," Morningstar continued. "So I have chosen an elite list to accompany me. I will lead the raid, while Iceface leads PureClan in my absence. I have picked Coldbone, Strongclaw, Slatethorn, Charpaw, Shimmerleaf, Fussyfur, Meadowmist, Crookedflower, Sleetclaw, Fleetstorm and Thornstreak."

Sablefrost heard Nettlecloud mutter a string of profanities from a few feet away; the heavily pregnant she-cat was once again annoyed she'd missed out on the opportunity to raid. The black she-cat herself was unsurprised; she'd hinder the raiding party, not help it.

Strongclaw looked deflated, sending her a small sympathetic glance. His slot on the party had been guaranteed, they both knew it; just as they knew Sablefrost's place was in the nursery, patiently waiting for the kits that could be the death of her to arrive.

"What does this mean?" she murmured under her breath, watching the Clan drift apart as their leader dismissed them.

"It doesn't mean anything," Strongclaw swore. "I swear on my life, you'll be on that raiding patrol if you have to sneak out of camp to join us."

"Wow, this plan is too intricate for me to comprehend," Sablefrost snapped, climbing somewhat clumsily to her paws. She felt the weight in her stomach even more acutely than ever, but it was the burden on her shoulders dragging her to the ground.

Her pair looked bewildered as she hurried away. She ignored him, because whatever Strongclaw felt, said, planned, he would live beyond this. Her flattened ears heard a familiar sigh, a sound of scuffling as Strongclaw got up to go after her. Normally, she couldn't fault Strongclaw for his tenacity, but today she was not in the mood for his stubborn insistence.

The forest was not much of a retreat- at this point of the day, most of PureClan treaded its paths- but its shade was soothingly dark, the birdsong and chatter muted.

"It's not a game," Sablefrost spat.

She was no longer as limber as she'd once been, didn't possess the speed of youth. Her newly acquired weight made any amount of swiftness an impossible dream.

"It's the game of life," Strongclaw proclaimed dramatically. "Sorry," he amended, when she hissed. "I know that this is a deadly serious matter. I know that whatever happens you're at risk."

She kept up her hobbling pace; her pair lingered a few paces behind, carefully avoiding her lashing black tail.

"And I'm privileged, is that it? It would be so easy for me to slip free from this situation, but you're stuck. You have no leeway and I have my bloodlines."

"We're running out of time," Sablefrost said, scowling, ignoring every word in Strongclaw's statement; where had he learned to read her so well, or did his own fear simply mirror her own?

"And our plan is full of holes. I may be fat now, but it only takes a single thing going wrong for me to slip through the cracks. I may as well take my mother's path and find some poison while I have time."

Her paw slipped in a patch of mud; she went sprawling on her side, streaking her pelt with wet dirt and lumps of clay. Before she could straggle to her feet, Strongclaw loomed over her, fury crackling in his blue eyes.

"Look, Sablefrost," he snapped, and so she looked at him. She took in his bristling fur, the angry twist of his mouth. "Your life may not matter to you, but it does to me. It matters to your children. If you think I'd let you murder not only yourself but unborn lives then I think you'll find that you're so very, very wrong. Now come with me, we're going to see my mother."

Morningstar was not pleased to have a second audience that morning. She made the pair stand in the tunnel, two feet from her nest.

She'd refused to see them at all, at first, until Iceface informed her that it was her son and of-a-sort daughter here to see her.

"Because it's them," she'd said, relenting, but it seemed that she planned to spend as little time with them as she could. Meticulously grooming her kits appeared to provide more entertainment than what Strongclaw wanted to say.

Her greeting was an undignified grunt. The low sound was almost lost among the high-pitched peals of protest from Willowkit as she dragged him across the moss to be groomed.

"Mother," Strongclaw said cooly. "We have a matter to discuss with you."

"So discuss it," Morningstar muttered.

"It may be something of a controversial subject," the calico tom warned. "But I want Sablefrost to come with us on the raid."

"No," Morningstar replied tetchily. "Too much trouble."

Strongclaw abandoned the the façade of politeness and stepped into the excavated cave, pleading now.

"Sablefrost would love to come raiding with us. She wants to make up for….the previous situation and feels this may be her last opportunity for a very long time."

"Hate to shatter your dreams and aspirations, dear, but you're going to have kits," the leader pointed out. She turned her head and spat, swiping dark brown hairs from her tongue with one paw. "So once again, no."

"Pregnancy would never stop you," Sablefrost argued.

"Yes, little queen, but I'm me, in case you forgot. Morningstar."

"You remember the day," Sablefrost said, "when you executed that Tainted, when I was only a kit. You showed me that no matter what the situation, we are always able to overcome the poison and we must always continue to do so- no matter our physical constraints."

Morningstar began to stare at her, a look of resignation heavy in her eyes.

"I think this is an opportunity, Morningstar. It's a test. You've passed. I want to know if I can."

"The city is no place for a PureClan queen," Morningstar snapped. Willowkit shambled woozily away from his mother, collapsing on Sunkit's flanks.

"Exactly," Sablefrost agreed, and tasted the defeat in her leader's eyes.

Sorry it's been so long! So so so much sorry ;-; Yes, it's a little chapter for a long wait, but it's kinda important O.o Kinda. We're approaching the end! It's still like maybe 5-10 chapters away, depending on how long I can keep dragging this out ;p

Anyway. I was so tempted to let Strongclaw say, "It's the game of thrones. You win or you die," but he's totally not old enough to be watching Game of Thrones yet.

My beta Auri said:

OH HO HO. No mistakes

Maybe in a couple years he can watch GoT. xD

I just have one point to raise. There's a lot of people who've followed and favorited this, but for a long time, my last chapter only had a very small amount of reviews. It kinda PMO, to be honest, because I love reviews and chapters used to get 20 reviews apiece. I feel like the quality of my writing is going down or something. Anyway, that's just me having a small rant.

Here's to hoping the next chapter will be out soon, hmm? Please don't hurt mee.

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