His paws ached from walking but pure determination kept him going. He hadn't been permitted to attend the last gathering, but he heard all about it. Tribemates spoke of two rival leaders that seemed ready to brawl in the middle of the peaceful night. Stag had intended to ignore until the mention of NightClan. Ears perked and heart hammering, Stag wanted to know more but at the risk of seeming too interested, he kept quiet. His adopted-brother had already commented about the funny smell on his fur. Lucky for Stag he had already prepared the lie and delivered it smoothly. Not that it felt good to lie, he just wanted Cinderfur to himself. He considered the feelings for Cinderfur to be sacred. No one needed to know until he felt the time was right.
why had the Tribe settled so far away from the Clans? What good was that if something bad were to happen?
The thought soured his walking but not that it truly mattered. He had arrived at the usual meeting place. Ducking into a bush, Stag was careful to hide a bit. Cinderfur had warned him plenty of times that NightClan did not take kindly to strangers. He preferred to keep his fur on his body and his ears unscored. For him waiting was near torture, but he could manage.
He watched the sun shift from sunhigh to just below before he caught the change of the wind. An almost familiar scent caught his attention. Emerging from his hiding spot, head turned toward the scent he grew curious. Careful to not cross the border, he called out. "Cinderfur? Is that you?" Amber eyes settled on the rustling brush before a smokey tabby emerged. Eyes pale green and narrowed.
"Why are you calling for a NightClan warrior?" Gracklestrike's tone came harsh and demanding. Stag fought the urge to flinch.
"I was just wanting to talk with h--"
"Why?!" Her words caught him off, a snarl edging with the sharpness of her reply.
"If he isn't around I can leave," Stag sensed the she-cat in front of him wouldn't be any help. Easier to turn tail and walk away. Try again on their next meeting day.
"You won't be going anywhere without answering my question, Why do you want to talk to Cinderfur?!" Her growl rumbled loud enough Stag's spine tingled. His amber eyes shifted downward to see that her claws had scrapped dry earth between them. A subtle threat. One he wasn't skilled enough to deal with. His talents were spent on protecting his tribemates from large birds. Not fighting off another cat. Cinderfur had offered him some fighting training but never enough to be truly effective against, what he assumed to be a warrior.
"I mean no offense, I'm leaving," Stepping back, careful not to show his back Stag fell back. The she-cat advanced, crossing the sparse border to invade in his space.
"I've seen you around, lurking in the bushes. You will tell me how you know Cinderfur or I'll bring you to him in a heap," Her maw drew back to reveal sharp white teeth, they seemed eager to sink into his fur. Swallowing audibly, voice lost. His claws extended, preparing for the worst. "Tell me!" She shouted lunging forward.
Stag, only marginally taller, fell back kicking out to get her off. Gracklestrike didn't falter, claws digging into his shoulder, drawing blood. Stag yowled in pain giving it one more go to rid himself of her. A moderate success. Gracklestrike tumbled off him, digging her claws into the ground to stop herself from sliding too far. "Tell me!" She roared this time sprint toward him, he anticipated her move and reared up, only to see the fault in his choice.
She maneuvered quickly to claws further at his chest. Blood dripped down, with each rake, Stag continued to try the defensive. He bested her only a few times until falling into a heap on the ground. Whimping and weak.
"Tell me!" She growled again, standing over him, eyes wide almost rabid. Stag stared back at her but failed to find the strength to answer her. He entire body fighting to stay awake. To live.
Cinderfur had been walking slowly, mind whirling through the same thoughts that had been bothering him since he'd met that wretched tom on the border. He'd begun to distance himself from the rest of the Clan- hunting alone, more withdrawn as he went on border patrols, barely interacting with his Clanmates as he had before. He sat alone in the camp to eat, confused as to what he was supposed to do, wondering if any of it even mattered. Part of him was even annoyed- just because he knew didn't mean anything had changed. He was being stupid and overly dramatic... but he didn't bother going back to the cat he'd been.
Ahead, a yowl dragged him from his thoughts and he looked up, ears perking before alarm flashed across his mind as he recognized Gracklestrike's voice. This was bad- he was outside of NightClan's border, and he knew that the little clearing he met up with Stag in now and then was just ahead. Right where his sister's voice was coming from. Springing forward, the dark tom crashed past one of the bushes that ringed the clearing, took in the scene with a quick look- his sister pinning Stag to the ground with claws unsheathed and teeth bared, and blood staining the grass. His own lips curled back and he charged forward, knocking his shoulder solidly against Gracklestrike's and bowling her over, off Stag.
"What are you doing?" he snapped, and all of the confusion and anger boiled to the surface, now that he had something to pin it on. "Are you insane? You could have killed him!" He stood between Stag and his sister, tail lashing back and forth; he knew he wasn't a match for the battle-savvy she-cat, but he was far more able to defend himself against her than Stag was, and if she wanted a fight then by StarClan she could have one. With him.
He wanted to call out for help but each breath came as a rattle. Rib cage aching from expansion. Had she broken something in him? Staring upward at her pale colored eyes, her expression seemed almost demonic. Maw curled into a snarl, eyes wide with anger. It appeared she planned to repeat the phrase but instead of hearing it a sharp huff took it's place.
Another cat came out of nowhere, bowling the she-cat off him. For a split second, he feared the second cat would be a threat, then he caught a glimpse of who saved him! Cinderfur! Despite the pain in his body he found joy to fill him up. Too woozy to get up, his head shifted against the ground to look toward him. Relief washing over him.
Once bowled over, Gracklestrike quickly righted herself. Snarling loudly, hackles raised and tail lashing. The urge to strike out against Cinderfur burned her claws. She barely contained it. His question came as an insult. She spat against the phrase, a hiss displayed her teeth. A threatening gesture.
"I should kill him! He is a trespasser!" She shot back. Eyes narrowed at her brother, why did it matter? She had already taken down her fair share of loners. While she hadn't confirmed every death, she had inflicted enough wounds to strike fear into loners. This loner would be no different. All she wanted was the answer to her question before he found his way to whatever hell waiting for him.
Stag had managed to sit up, bloody and pained he managed to find his foot. Shaking as he was, he spread himself to maintain balance. "Cinder, please help me," His voice small, intimate. Gracklestrike attention shifted from her brother to the loner then back.
"Cinder?" She spoke the name, confusion heavy in her voice. Why would a loner talk to her brother in such a way?
Then it clicked.
Her eyes went from anger to confusion then back to anger. This time focused on Cinderfur. "You know him? He comes here to see you? She didn't wait for the answer."How dare you!" She growled, claws extending. "Wasting your time with a loner when you should be focusing on NightClan. Where is your loyalty?!" Gracklestrike seethed. "Have you no shame?" Blinded by NightClan's dogma. Cinderfur went from kin to traitor and traitors were meant to be left for dead. Lunging for her brother her forepaw went for a heavy swipe.
note: you have my permission to have cinder best grackle in a fight, like pin her down. similar to how coal did in that old training thread. she is no good when out of control. i'm sure it will be a bloody one on both sides just letting you know ^-^
"He's nowhere near the border," Cinderfur retorted, keeping his yellow gaze fixed on Gracklestrike, but his ears flicked backward as Stag's voice reached them. He couldn't help, not right now, and his body tensed as his sister's green eyes flared, fury twisting her face.
"Where is your loyalty?" she spat at him, and he flinched- only to brace as she leaped at him, claws unsheathed and aimed at him. Cinderfur took the blow on his shoulder, letting his thick fur absorb the worst of it and meeting her charge with all four paws holding him steady. The breath rushed from Gracklestrike's lungs at the impact, and Cinderfur took the brief moment that she gave him to retaliate. Gripping her scruff firmly in his jaws, the tom simply used his greater strength and size to pin her beneath him, both front legs across her shoulders.
She twisted onto her side, paws flailing; one caught him on the cheek, opening a gash that bled, and he turned his head away, eyes closed to protect them. Her hind legs lashed out at his flank, raking through his pelt to the muscle beneath, but though he winced at the pain he didn't move. "He's not a loner," he spoke, unsure if she'd even listen but trying anyway. "He's a Tribe cat. Yes, we meet here often. I like him." His voice wavered, eyes turning toward the brown-furred Tribe tom. "What's loyalty anyway, Gracklestrike? If it means hurting cats who haven't done anything to us, just because we're told it's the right thing to do to hurt them, then I don't want any part of it."
Hellion || Gracklestrike controlled with Heli's permission!
I won't suffer, be broken, get tired, or wasted Surrender to nothing ~
"I like him."
The world shifted at her brother's words. Stumbling backward to put space between them, heart pounding she regained focus on him. Each statement made after only furthered to widen the divide. The cat in front of her wasn't Cinderfur anymore. He was no more NightClan then the brown lump of fur barely standing on weakened legs.
Had they really grown so far apart in such little time? Rage and anger fueled the smokey tabby to the point it often seeped into everything she did. Spread itself like poison, till all she had left to keep herself sane was to seek out loners and the unwanted. Sharpen her claws on their backs, the poison purged from her body. It was something she enjoyed in her apprentice moons and carried over to her warrior days. To some, it would seem like madness but to her it was life. She came into the world covered in her mother's blood, she planned to go out covered in her own only after bringing glory to NightClan's name. The loners slain in her pursuit were but fodder, practice rounds for the real fights against real warriors.
Didn't Cinderfur want the same?
"Do you care more about him than your kin and your Clan? We are NightClan warriors, we were born to serve NightClan or die trying!" Claws still damp with her brother's blood curled into the ground. Her gaze shifting to the tribe cat, who had gathered enough courage to step closer to Cinderfur. What did he offer that NightClan didn't already give? The tribe lived so far detached from the valley it might as well be an entirely different world. Was that the appeal? Cinderfur had been acting different, not that Gracklestrike offered support. It wasn't in her. If he wanted comfort he'd have better luck seeking it from Starlingcry. Guilt refused to grow in Gracklestrike, she had done no wrong. Even her attack on Cinderfur could be justified. A scuffle between siblings if Cinderfur asked for forgiveness and went home or an attack on a traitor if he did the opposite.
"You would choose a tribe cat over NightClan?" Her words dripped with disgust, the moment her attention shifted back to him.
MADE BY VEL OF GS + ADOXOGRAPHY 2.0 Lyrics: Attack - 30 Seconds to Mars Tag: Taxx
Gracklestrike had always been for NightClan. Every breath she took, every bite of prey she ate, all served to keep her going, to do what she could to serve her Clan. Cinderfur knew it- admired it. Even now.
He shook his head, denying that he had been born to serve; it was a cat's choice. Loyalty counted, quite heavily in NightClan, but cats had left before. For love, for a change in life. They might be viewed as traitors by the ones left behind, but loyalty to self was important too.
It wasn't the question she asked next that pricked at him, it was the tone she used- like her view of him had dropped. Like he was as vile as some fox she'd come across. As if he was no more important than the ground beneath her paws. "Why not?" he snapped back, tail lashing as he straightened. "Like mother, like son, right?"
She hadn't known, had had no idea. Maybe it was better for her to know- maybe, by some slight chance, she might find in herself some small mercy for loners. If she knew that she shared blood with one of them. "Sootfeather sought a mate outside the Clan. And look, here we are. Before you judge me, Gracklestrike, take a good long look at yourself. You're only half NightClan. I can show you to the tom who sired us if you think I'm lying."
I won't suffer, be broken, get tired, or wasted Surrender to nothing ~
Dread entombed her face, burned itself into her expression. Ears tucked back, maw slightly ajar, she started to stammer before ceasing to make noise. For the first time in many moons, Gracklestrike felt true fear.
"It can't be true," She barely managed to mutter, watching Cinderfur's expression for any hint it wasn't true. She wanted him to be lying, but it wouldn't be like Cinderfur to lie about something so destructive. Something that crushed her spirit completely.
Everything shifted on its axis. She was half of something meant to be hated. Only half important, only half wanted. Bile rose in her throat, threatening to overwhelm her into a full-blown panic. She tried to ground herself, shake away the fear that twisted her inside but failed to find solid ground. Relying on her claws dug deep into the ground, she barely remained upright.
Did Darkstar know? Would she cast them out? Chase them away from the only home they had ever known. Darkstar wasn't the type to keep something like that a secret. The NightClan leader had been the only cat Gracklestrike found worthy to admire, aside from Blackwolf. The loss of Darkstar's acceptance would be a fate worse than death. Caught up in her dilemma, Gracklestrike only shifted her gaze when the tribe cat moved, painfully slow, to her brother's side.
"Cinder, I know this isn't the right time, but come away with me, leave his all behind, please." His plea was soft-spoken, meant for Cinderfur's ears alone. His amber eyes staring at Gracklestrike to gauge if she'd rush them again. He hoped that shock of this news and the fight between siblings would sway Cinderfur to join him. He knew they could be happy in the Tribe. They'd never have to worry about a needless war. They could be free, together.
MADE BY VEL OF GS + ADOXOGRAPHY 2.0 Lyrics: Attack - 30 Seconds to Mars Tag:Taxx
Guilt at his sister's expression flooded Cinderfur, and he had to look away. The utter shock and dismay at the news, news he wished he could go back and stop himself from saying, remained burned into his memory. He'd done that. He hadn't meant to, and he knew all too well what the truth of it would mean to her. To almost any cat who was NightClan. He'd let his anger get the better of him and now that the words were out- no badly he wanted to, he couldn't take them back. Shame scorched him, making his fur prickle, and Stag offered the perfect excuse to turn away so he didn't have to look back into his sister's eyes and see how he'd hurt her. "I'm sorry," he muttered- didn't he owe her that much? "I... I can't... Please tell Privetshade and Starlingcry I love them."
He didn't- couldn't- look back. With Stag at his side he turned to leave NightClan behind. His duties, his responsibilities... his family. He tried not to think about what Darkstar would say, and he wondered if he might meet Smokefur or Shadowchaser on one of their trips to the Moon Tree. Would Shadowchaser understand why he'd left, or think badly of him- for running away? Or did it even matter anymore what the medicine cat thought?
Blinking, Cinderfur focused on Stag, his gaze drawn to the blood staining the other tom's side and the slight limp. He quickened his pace to pad side-by-side with Stag, flashing a glance over at him. "Sorry she went after you like that. Sometimes- she doesn't really think before acting."
"It's okay," the Tribe cat replied, glancing back at Cinderfur. "Skyteller will see to them. At least she's not following."
Skyteller- the Healer. Like the Clans' medicine cats. Cinderfur hadn't met him, but he'd heard plenty from Stag during their visits. "Mine too. And you're sure- none of them would mind me showing up unannounced? They won't be suspicious?" He could imagine what would happen if a stranger pranced his way into the middle of NightClan's camp- if he even made it that far. They probably wouldn't kill him, but he certainly wouldn't escape unscathed.
"No, they'll be welcoming. We've had plenty of other cats joining us- some former Clan too," Stag replied, looking and sounding more relaxed as they kept going. "I mean, some might be wary, but they won't do anything if Skyteller welcomes you. And you'll have me, and my siblings."
A twinge at the mention of siblings made the dark tom falter, and he had to force himself not to look back. It was suddenly clear that where he was going, he'd be as good as an outsider. No kin to come home to after a long patrol, to talk to or listen as they described their exploits. And he couldn't go back, because he'd be labeled a traitor. None of the Clans welcomed a traitor. "I suppose. You know them better than I do- I'll trust you."
Stag nodded, hardly seeming to notice the bland reply. "And once you get settled and your name changed, I'll help you learn all you'll need to know about..."
"Wait- what?" Cinderfur paused, blinking at the Tribe cat. "What do you mean, get my name changed? It's... I like my name. I worked hard, I earned it. Why would I change it?"
Glancing back, Stag paused too. "It's... it's a Clan name. Sure, it's nice- I like it too, but you'll be a Tribe cat. You'd fit in better if you changed it. Like- like starting over, see? New name, new life. You'd be like a butterfly after leaving its cocoon. And you won't have to worry about fighting in their silly battles anymore. We think of cats as friends, not rivals."
Cinderfur shook his head, annoyed. Some of what he knew about the Tribe had fascinated him, but he didn't want to hear about the fanciful world he would he joining. "Starting over. So I'm just supposed to forget everything about NightClan? Forget my brother, my sister- my grandmother? Who cares about them, right, so long as I fit in as a Tribe cat."
"No, I didn't mean it like that." Stag looked confused- this wasn't how he'd expected it to go. Why wouldn't Cinderfur be okay with letting go of a group who willingly threw themselves into battle when they could be sharing? It made no sense to him, no matter how Cinderfur had tried to explain it. "But why do you want to remember them? Your sister- your own kin- she attacked you for no reason!"
Shaking his head, Cinderfur's tail lashed. "She had a reason. She was defending her territory, and I tried to stop her. You don't get it, you don't understand how she thinks, so don't act like you do. Loyalty to the Clan is what matters above all. To the whole, not the individual. That's what she was doing. If you knew how to fight a little better, you could have held your own. Do you know how to fight at all?" If he hadn't shown up, would Stag be even more worse off than he was now?
"Of course we do, but not against other cats." Stag's voice had risen, distress creeping into his gaze. This wasn't right, it wasn't what he wanted. He gazed at the dark tom, his tail flicking restlessly for a moment before he continued. "Do- do you? Are you like her? Do you enjoy hurting others that much?"
Yellow eyes stared back, and Cinderfur's reply was calculated. "A Clan cat does what he has to, to keep his Clan alive. We don't aim to kill, but we defend our borders and our prey. We have to, or we would starve. We stand together against any who would threaten us. What do you fight for, Stag? What do you do to ensure your Cl- Tribe's survival?"
Defensively, Stag stared back. "I protect them. I keep them safe from danger- eagles and treacherous paths. I guard our cave. I do plenty to look out for them, and I don't need to claw a cat to be useful. Don't you want that?"
That was it? Guard duty, every day and night? He hadn't mentioned patrols, or hunting, or anything. Just- watching. It couldn't have sounded more boring if he'd tried. "I want to stand with cats who know what I know. Who I can trust to have my back if it's necessary. Are you that cat, Stag? Are your Tribe able to be what I want?"
Suddenly bristling, Stag's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean? We're trustworthy! We stick together against threats too, and just because we don't fight other cats doesn't mean we don't know how to fight! And none of us would turn on our own family."
"Some cat should tell your father that, then," Cinderfur shot back, and the intake of breath from Stag was loud in the quiet that followed, the Tribe cat's green eyes widened in shock and hurt before they turned away.
The silence stretched out, longer and longer; Stag was the one to break it, lifting his gaze back to Cinderfur's. "Okay. I thought- I thought we could make this work. I guess I was wrong. I have to go. And you should go back to your Clan. I think you're right, you wouldn't fit in with us." Without another word he turned and padded off, and Cinderfur, still burning with irritation, just watched.
He hardly moved as the tip of Stag's tail slid out of sight, and even then he stayed still, still staring after the Tribe cat. A faint tremor seized him suddenly and his legs shook until he had to sit, misery sweeping through him like rain clouds slowly covering the sky. What was he supposed to do now? He couldn't go back, and now he couldn't go to the Tribe. Not after what he'd said to Stag. Was this it, then? He was going to be exactly like his own father, a loner, a wandering tom who fought for every meal and place to sleep, with no cat to turn to or lean on. Part of him wished that something would find him and end him and his misery before it got worse.
Head hanging, Cinderfur squeezed his eyes shut and curled into a tight ball, not bothering to seek shelter. Why? That'd just make it harder for anything to spot him. Maybe he'd stay right here and starve.
When the pad of pawsteps came, however, they were too light to be anything but a cat, and when he peeled back an eyelid he was surprised to see Gracklestrike. Lifting his head, he blinked at her. "What are you doing out here? I thought- you'd gone back to camp. To tell them I'd left."
"Stupid furball," she growled back at him, and it was almost funny how much better it made him feel, having her glaring down at him and cursing in her familiar way. "Get up and stop mewling like a kit. We're going back home. You're NightClan, Cinderfur, and that's where you belong." Swinging around, the lanky tabby headed off again, and with only a moment of hesitation Cinderfur began to follow.