Get ready for craziness and madness alike, in this edition of…
Trailing Stars: Chapter Eleven
Edited by: Embersky
illustrated by Jayfrost
Jayfrost was woken by the feeling of warm sunlight shining on her pelt. She scrunched up her eyes, stretching out her limbs as she reveled in the warm light. It was so comfortable; it was hard to imagine getting out of her nest. Finally, reluctantly, she opened her eyes fully, lifting her head.
As she blinked blearily in the warm light, the warm comfort of sleep fading, the sharp hunger settled back in. The gnawing, empty feeling in her stomach had become a familiar part of her days now. No one in BlogClan was getting enough to eat. What little food was caught was given to the kits and elders of the Clan; the warriors and apprentices barely got enough to make it through the day.
Jayfrost started to stand, but a warm bundle moved against her, groaning in protest. “’Dun wanna get up,” she mumbled incoherently. Featherkit curled into a tighter ball, snuggling up closer to Jayfrost’s side, two other kits sleeping soundly beside her.
The gray-brown she-cat stared uncertainly at the kits beside her. Since there weren’t any actual queens in BlogClan, and no one wanted to leave the kits defenseless and motherless in the nursery, the she-cats and some of the toms in the Clan had taken turns staying in the nursery, looking at the kits and guarding them at night. Jayfrost understood the reasoning behind it, but it wasn’t one of her favorite duties. She was horrible with small children.
After a moment of hesitation, she scooped slowly away from the kits, trying not to disturb them as she got to her paws. “Sorry, kids,” she said quietly. “I have to go.” The kits squirmed slightly at the loss of warmth. The huddled closer together, creating a little kitty pile.
Jayfrost padded out of the nursery, stepping carefully around the other temporary queens and their charges. There wasn’t much of anybody up and about in the center of the camp. She could see Swiftfire and Shiveringrose talking, and a couple of apprentices gathered by the fresh-kill pile, but other than that, no one was awake yet. It was too early for anyone but the dawn patrol and they had already left.
The she-cat made her way to the fresh-kill pile, which was really just a pathetically small pile of a couple mice and some bits of Twoleg food. Jayfrost curled her nose at the sight of it. Most of it was old, and starting to go bad. Bits of chicken, pizza, and some sort of brown meat-looking substance that had some mold and green stuff growing on it. Under normal circumstances, Jayfrost wouldn’t touch it, let alone eat it. But now, she reluctantly leaned down and nibbled at the stuff, licking up a few flakes. She tried to ignore the bitter taste as she forced it down her throat. Now that food was so scarce, she couldn’t afford to be nearly as picky as she was as a Twoleg.
The apprentices by the fresh-kill pile eyed her curiously. “Good morning, Jayie,” Sparkpaw mewed cheerfully. The gray she-cat was in the company of two of her denmates; Stonepaw and Mosspaw.
Jayfrost dipped her head. “Morning,” she returned quietly. She spared Sparkpaw a quick smile, and then padded away. Ever since the fights had started, Jayfrost had become skittish around her Clanmates. She was not one for fights, nor was she one to take sides, unless it was a matter she felt very strongly about. Right now, her plan was to keep her head down and wait for this tension to ease up. The whole situation was making her antsy. She didn’t even stick around to talk to Sparkpaw, who was a good friend of hers. That was how on edge she was.
A few moments later, Cakestar’s voice rang out. “All members of BlogClan, please gather beneath the High Ledge for a Clan meeting.”
Jayfrost looked up, flicking her ears towards the High Ledge with wary interest. She just hoped there wasn’t going to be another big argument this time. Reluctantly, the gray-brown she-cat padded towards the High Ledge, sitting at the farthest edge of the crowd that she could find. For a moment, she considered going to sit beside Swiftfire. But when she saw how many cats were surrounding her, she decided against it, sticking to the very edge of the crowd.
Cakestar was at the top of the High Ledge. Jayfrost watched her leader warily, remembering the coughing fit she had suffered during the last meeting. The red-brown she-cat was holding herself with confidence, gaze shining brightly as she looked down at her Clan, but Jayfrost couldn’t tell whether she genuinely felt better or whether she was covering up her illness. Jayfrost wondered, if Cakestar was busy looking after BlogClan, who was looking after Cakestar.
Her voice certainly seemed clear enough as she announced, “Today we are going to build proper dens.” Jayfrost felt a flicker of interest. Maybe if BlogClan was given a task to do that wasn’t as hopeless at hunting, it would boost their spirits a bit. She began to zone out as Cakestar assigned cats to dens, only to be jolted back to reality at the sound of her name. “Jayfrost, Cinnamonpaw and Silverpaw – I want you to patrol the territory to look for Sandykit. She has been missing for a few days, and she needs to be found. Report back to me when you are done.”
Jayfrost felt a rush of relief. The sand-colored she-kit had gone missing two days ago, and since then, there had been a surprising lack of effort to find the poor thing. She understood that cats were starving and they had enough on their paws trying to feed themselves without going on rescue missions as well, but for StarClan’s sake, it was a kit. A few patrols had looked around, but there hadn’t been any official rescue mission yet. Now, it looked like there finally was, and she was in charge of it.
The warrior didn’t wait to listen to the rest of the meeting. She picked the two apprentices out of the crowd and headed out of the camp. Once she was in the forest and out of the earshot of the rest of the Clan, the warrior finally relaxed.
“So, where do we look first?” Cinnamonpaw asked.
Jayfrost thought for a minute. “We should split up,” she decided. “It’s the best way to cover the most amount of ground. Cinnamonpaw, you do a sweep from here to the river, go beyond it if you can. Silverpaw, you check around Twolegplace. Maybe Sandykit got hungry and decided to try finding someone to feed her. I’ll check around the rest of the forest. We’ll meet back here by sundown.” The gray-brown tabby was surprised to find herself giving orders. Normally, she did whatever it took to avoid being in a leadership role, but she supposed it was easier now that she knew the BlogClan cats better. Or maybe hunger was just making her sharp.
Cinnamonpaw and Silverpaw dipped their heads, then turned and padded off in the directions Jayfrost had indicated. The warrior waited until they were gone before she started off into the forest, nose to the ground. She knew Sandykit’s scent, vaguely, but she wasn’t sure if she was the right cat to be looking for the kit. Her sense of smell had been horrible as a two-leg, and even now, as a cat, she got the feeling her nose wasn’t as sharp as her Clanmates’.
She made her way slowly through the forest, trying to smell every bush and fern to make sure it didn’t carry Sandykit’s scent. The forest was full of BlogClan scents, trails of cats on patrols crisscrossing over each other, but none of them smelled like Sandykit.
Jayfrost let out a frustrated huff of air. Several hours had passed since she’d started searching. This was taking forever, and there was no guarantee of finding the poor kit before she starved to death in the woods.
Suddenly, she caught a whiff of something. Wait. She paused, nose pressed against the grass as she tried to identify the scent. It smelled like… yup, she thought to herself, it’s Sandykit. It was a two-day-old scent trail, faint, but not impossible to track.
Jayfrost started trotting after the scent, nose brushing against the ground. Sandykit’s scent wove around brambles and bushes, lingered in leaf piles and muddy patches, and basically just meandered through the forest. It took some careful navigation to follow it without getting off-track.
She was so intent on following the kit’s scent that it took her several minutes to notice another, stronger scent. It was bitter and rank, and it was getting closer. Jayfrost’s fur began to prickle, her hackles rising without her meaning for them to. Whatever was up ahead, it was making her uneasy. She slowed her pace, muscles tense as she crept towards the foul scent.
When Jayfrost poked her head around the bush in front of her, she found the source of the odor. A huge animal was asleep, lying half inside of its burrow, the front end hanging out of it. It had a huge, powerful chest and burly legs that could crush a cat’s spine, and long claws that could slice though a cat’s throat. It had a large head, with a long, tapering snout, and a white-and-black striped face. The eyes were closed, but the warrior could imagine them open, small and black and beady. Any warrior’s worst nightmare. Jayfrost froze in terror. A badger.
The warrior shrank back behind the bush, pelt bristling and back arched in terror. Her heart was pounding against her chest, blotting out every other sound except for the deep snoring of the badger. Normally, Jayfrost loved badgers. As a Twoleg, they had been one of her favorites. They had seemed kinda cute with their stout bodies and their striped faces, and as a Hufflepuff, she had enjoyed the connection to the creatures. But now, the animal seemed massive and terrifying. All Jayfrost could think of when she looked at it was how many ways it could kill her.
Jayfrost held her breath, forcing herself to control her trembling and her terror and really, truly think. She couldn’t let the badger know she was there. Couldn’t let it wake up and find her. If it came down to it, she could probably outrun the creature; maybe climb a tree to escape it, but then what? She couldn’t run and lead it back to camp, and she didn’t have anywhere else to go. No, better to escape now. She just had to keep quiet.
The warrior was about to creep away when she heard a soft rustling behind her. She swung her head around to face the sound, fearing the arrival of another badger. Instead, she saw a small hole in the ground, too small for a badger. Still wary, the tabby crept towards the hole, every muscle tensed and ready to run for it.
As she stared down into the hole, she saw a small, huddled shape on the ground. Two brown eyes blinked open, staring at her in terror. Jayfrost stared back in surprise. It was Sandykit, the missing kitten. Her mouth opened in horror, her pelt bristling.
As Sandykit started to cry out, Jayfrost quickly shushed her. “It’s alright, it’s alright, I’m from BlogClan. Shh, it’s Jayfrost.” The kit fell silent, her pelt starting to lie flat, but her eyes still full of terror.
“I didn’t see the hole,” she whispered, her voice hoarse and cracked. As Jayfrost’s eyes adjusted to the light, she could see the outline of the kit’s pelt. Everyone in BlogClan was starving, but this poor thing was hardly more than skin and bones. Jayfrost felt a jolt of horror as she realized the kit probably hadn’t eaten anything since she’d gone missing. “I saw the badger and I tried to run, and I fell. I think I broke my leg. Can’t climb.” The kit was trembling violently. Her eyes were wide and pleading as she stared up at Jayfrost.
The warrior hesitated, thinking. She had to get Sandykit out of there. The kit wasn’t going to survive in that hole much longer, and that leg needed to be seen to. But if the badger woke up, she wouldn’t be able to run as fast with the kit in her jaws. How could she get them both safely out of there?
Well, she thought, nothing for it. “I’ll get you out of here,” she hissed. “Just stay quiet.” The kit hesitated, scooting back away from the warrior. Jayfrost sighed. “It’s okay. I won’t let the badger get you. Trust me.” Sandykit stared uncertainly at her for a moment. Finally, she gave a tiny nod.
Jayfrost wasted no time. She began to push her head into the hole, pushing dirt aside with her paw to give herself more room. As she worked to reach the kit, Jayfrost was very conscious of the badger sleeping only a few yards away. If it woke up right now, she was dead.
Jayfrost’s muzzle finally brushed against Sandykit’s pelt. Some sort of feline instinct took over. She grasped the kitten’s scruff gently in her jaws, Sandykit going limp in her grip. As she began to pull the kit up out of the hole, there was a pause in the badger’s snoring, and snuffling sort of noise. Jayfrost’s heart stopped. Every muscle froze, her pelt prickling with horror.
A moment later, the snoring resumed, and Jayfrost’s heart remembered how to beat again. She pulled Sandykit out the hole and began creeping backwards, her tail tucked firmly between her legs and her gaze fixed on the bush that hid the badger. Every leaf crackling under her paws, every rustle of the tree branches above her, seemed ten times louder. It seemed all too easy for the creature to wake up and find them. But she had to get them out of there, so she kept going.
Only when she was a good, long way away did Jayfrost dare to turn and start running. She pelted through the forest, Sandykit bumping against her chest. The she-cat finally let herself feel the terror she’d had to reign in before. There was a badger in the forest. A very real, very dangerous badger. BlogClan just couldn’t catch a break. On top of all the starvation and the fighting, there had to be a bloody badger in their territory. What were they going to do? How could they possibly fight an enemy like that?
Not long after the sun started setting, she raced past Cinnamonpaw and Silverpaw, who were waiting where Jayfrost had agreed to meet them. “Where in StarClan were you?” Cinnamonpaw asked irritably. “We were about to go looking for you!” But Jayfrost didn’t stop. She just pushed past them and kept running.
Not long after that, Jayfrost finally burst into the camp, wild-eyed and terrified. Sandykit dangled from her jaws, and her chest and sides were heaving with the effort of her run. Cats looked up as she entered, staring at her with alarm and murmuring. They all seemed to be gathered; there must have been a meeting of some kind. But she couldn’t focus on that now.
Gently as she could, Jayfrost set the kit down in front of her before lifting her head to face her Clanmates. In a voice shaky with horror, she announced, “There is a badger in the forest!”
Gasps of terror rang through the crowd. Jayfrost could see her Clanmates, so confident moments before, worn down by fear again. Cakestar was standing on the High Ledge, staring down at her warriors with fear in her eyes. She wondered what was going through her leader’s mind. Was she imagining the cats in her charge being ripped apart by the badger, bleeding at her paws because she couldn’t save them?
Dawnmist was the first to break the silence. “Sandykit!” She rushed forward, anxiously licking the kit at Jayfrost’s paws.
“Her leg is broken, and she’s almost starved to death,” Jayfrost informed her. The medicine cat lifted Sandykit gently in her jaws, blinking gratefully at Jayfrost before turning and padding away towards the medicine den.
“Where’s the rest of your patrol?” That came from Swiftfire. The red-brown she-cat was staring at Jayfrost with horror and worry.
Jayfrost shrugged. “I passed them on the way here,” she supplied. A few moments later, Cinnamonpaw and Silverpaw entered the camp, looking confused and concerned, but not fearful yet.
“What did you run for?” Silverpaw asked. “Where’s Sandykit?”
Jayfrost blinked, but before she could explain, Cakestar’s voice sounded. “Everyone, listen.” The Clan was already gathered, so there was no need to call for a meeting. “There’s a badger in our territory, and we need to deal with it.” The moment she finished speaking, other cats started talking over top of each other in high, fearful voices.
“How long has it been there?”
“Did it attack Sandykit?”
“How are we supposed to fight a badger?”
“This is the last thing we need right now!”
“Silence!” Cakestar hissed. A violent cough escaped her chest, forcing her head down as it rattled in her throat. That, more than her anger, silenced the Clan immediately. Jayfrost’s earlier concern floated to the front of her mind. Cakestar is falling ill.
There were several moments of silence. After a while, Copperclaw spoke, her tone thoughtful. “I wonder if the badger is part of the reason we’re having trouble hunting? That it’s hunting our food source?”
Cakestar tipped her head. “It’s possible,” she agreed. “If there’s a badger out there trying to feed itself, that means less prey for us.”
“So what should we do about it?” Dawnfrost asked. “Hunt down the badger, chase it out?”
Rainbowheart snorted. “Fight a badger? Are you mouse-brained? We can barely hunt, how do you expect us to fight?” Fearful whispers rippled through the crowd. Jayfrost could feel the morale of the Clan falling apart. Her Clanmates were terrified. She knew, because she was scared too. How would they possibly be able to deal with this? How could they fight something as big as a badger?
Cakestar provided the answer a few moments later. “We’ll have to learn how.” The Clan fell silent, staring at their leader in shock. She flicked her tail, looking commandingly at her Clan. The weakness shown moments before was gone. “Rainbowheart is right. We aren’t ready to hunt down a badger. But we need to prepare ourselves in case any of our cats run across it. We have to be ready.” Her gaze scanned the crowd, finally coming to rest on the gray-brown warrior. “Jayfrost, I’m putting you in charge of battle practice. Take some cats into the forest and start training. There’s a few daylight hours left we can use. It’ll be a good start.”
Jayfrost felt a flicker of surprise, not to mention anxiety. She was in charge of battle practice? To prepare for a badger attack? That kind of responsibility was pretty nerve-wracking. The gray-brown warrior swallowed as the rest of the Clan turned to look at her. She hesitated before dipping her head. “Yes, Cakestar,” she mewed quietly.
The she-cat glanced anxiously around the crowd, wondering quietly to herself which cats she would want to start with for training. At last, she mewed, “Swiftfire, Leopardpaw, Dawnfrost, and Sparkpaw,” she decided at last. “Let’s go.”
Jayfrost turned and padded off, trying to disguise the way her pelt was fluffing up anxiously. The cats she had chosen followed her past the camp entrance and out into the forest.
“So, how is this going to work?” Leopardpaw asked.
Jayfrost blinked uncertainly. She had chosen Leopardpaw because technically she was her apprentice, but she hadn’t spoken to her much since the whole humans-into-cats thing had started. Really, she hadn’t spoken much to anyone since the fights had started. And now she was in charge of training them.
The problem was, Jayfrost knew absolutely nothing about fighting. She’d never been in a fight in her life, not as a two-leg, let alone as a cat. How was she supposed to figure this out?
“Jayfrost?” Swiftfire asked. Her golden eyes were soft with concern as she looked at the gray-brown tabby.
Jayfrost took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and threw her mind back; trying to remember the fights she had read about in the books. What could Warriors give her that she could tell these cats? For some reason, Cloudpaw came to her mind, in a fight with RiverClan early in the series.
In a slow voice, she began, “Badgers are dangerous because of their strength. Their paws deliver heavy blows that can break cats’ bones. When you’re facing one, you have to do your best to avoid their paws and their muzzle.”
“How do we do that and land blows at the same time?” Dawnfrost asked. “We’re not fast enough for that.”
Jayfrost hesitated, but in the end she decided to go for her idea. “I think the best idea is to try and get on the badger’s back.” Cloudpaw had done the same thing with a RiverClan warrior that had been attacking Fireheart, and Brackenpaw had done it to Nightwhisper. It seemed like a good tactic for fighting a larger enemy. She slid her claws out as far as they would go, holding up her paw for the other cats to see. “Our claws are like hooks. If we can climb onto that thing’s back and really dig our claws in, we’ll be able to hold on long enough to deliver some damage.”
“If you’re using your front paws to hold onto the badger, use your back paws to attack.” She flipped onto her back, kicking out her hind legs to demonstrate. “Pummel your legs as hard as you can against the badger’s back. You can do a lot of damage that way.” That one she had actually learned for her pet cat Amber. She used to fight her toys that way.
Swiftfire and Sparkpaw were listening with interest, but Dawnfrost looked skeptical. “How are we supposed to balance on a badger’s back and move our legs at the same time?”
Jayfrost shrugged. “We’ll practice,” she mewed. “If you can’t manage it, then just bite the thing instead while you’re hanging on.” She shuffled her paws, feeling anxious again. “Do you want to try it? I’ll be the badger, you be the cat.”
Dawnfrost blinked. “Alright.” The long-haired cream cat got to her paws, facing off Jayfrost. The two cats circled each other, neither breaking eye contact. Jayfrost lashed out with a paw, pretending it was the heavy, club of a foot a badger would have. Dawnfrost dodged the blow easily, her blue eyes sharp with concentration. She lunged at Jayfrost, bowling into her, but not quite reaching her back. It resulted in the two cats tumbling in the dust.
Jayfrost untangled herself from the other cat, shaking the dust out of her pelt. “Good,” she said, not really sure what else to say. “But try to jump higher. I’m not nearly as tall as a badger, and you’ll want to get a good grip on its shoulder or back. You’re really only going to get one shot.”
Dawfrost nodded. “Alright. Let’s go again.” Her fur was mussed from landing on her side, and her ribs were clearly showing, but her eyes were glittering with determination. Jayfrost gave a quick nod of assent. The two cats began to circle again, but before Jayfrost could lash out, Dawnfrost pounced, landing on Jayfrost’s shoulders. Her paws pushed hard against Jayfrost’s back, imitating claws hooking into her pelt, and she swung her hind legs onto Jayfrost’s back. The warrior started to pummel her sheathed paws against Jayfrosts’s back, but the weight of an entire cat on her back was too much for Jayfrost. She collapsed, letting out an undignified oof as the wind was knocked out of her.
Mrows of laughter sounded from Swiftfire and Sparkpaw, who were watching the fight with clear entertainment. Dawnfrost looked down at Jayfrost, who was currently squashed against the ground. The she-cat purred with amusement, “Yeah, I don’t think you’re big enough to play the badger.”
Jayfrost blew out a sharp puff of hair, blowing Dawnfrost’s long fur off of her muzzle. “Ya think?” she mewed dryly. But she couldn’t mask her amusement, and her relief. This was working. She was really training these cats to fight. It was possible for them to act like a real Clan and learn from each other. They could get through this after all.
Jayfrost got to her paws, hers paws surging with new confidence. “Alright. Let’s see how we can make that work.”