Trailing Stars: Chapter Twenty Two
Edited by: Lionfire
illustrated by Jayfrost
Jayfrost’s patrol was back. She had the herbs.
Darkpaw felt a wave of relief swamp over her as she greeted the patrol, she and several others were demanding them to tell them what they did. Curiosity filled the air, and Jayfrost had pressed herself to the ground, overwhelmed by all the questions. Darkpaw stepped back and flicked her tail at Foxpaw, who was standing next to her. The dark, reddish-brown she-cat acknowledged her and stepped away from the crowd.
“SHUT IT!” Bluepaw snapped from somewhere nearby, and several cats quickly snapped their jaws shut and shifted away from her.
Eventually the other BlogClan cats realized that poor Jayfrost was trying to escape from the crowd of cats closing in on her and, one by one, they started to retreat.
Darkpaw watched as Copperclaw clambered onto the ledge, upon which she called meetings. Cakestar was beside her, and the sleek black apprentice felt a rush of sympathy as she saw her once-vibrant amber, eyes clouded with pain.
“BlogClan, gather here for a Clan meeting!”
Darkpaw flicked her gaze from Cakestar to Copperclaw. The copper-brown tabby began to speak after a long and tension-filled moment.
“Jayfrost’s patrol is back with the herbs. Nowー”
Copperclaw was cut off by the BlogClan cats cheering. Darkpaw shot a few of them pointed glares, accompanied by Bluepaw, soon quieting a few. Satisfied, she tipped her head back up to see that Copperclaw looked thoroughly annoyed with them, her ears pressed back and her eyes narrowed to green slits.
“Now we need to focus on the badger. We need to do something about it,” Copperclaw continued, her tail flicking to and fro.
The badger… Darkpaw thought with a twinge of immense aggravation, lashing her long, fluffy tail at the memory of the badger. Twitching in hostility, she could just imagine sinking her claws into its filthy, mange-ridden pelt, forcing it to pay for what it had done to her Clanmates. She felt a threatening shiver run down her back and she lowered her head, her claws sliding out.
“Like what?!” one cat snarled, her voice reflecting perfectly what Darkpaw was feeling at the moment. She lifted her head and saw a mottled gray tabby she-cat crouched there, mirroring her almost completely. Her head was lowered, her claws unsheathed, her lips peeled back in a snarl. “It’s not as if we can just tell it to leave! Look at what it’s done!”
Copperclaw held her ground and glared back at her. “We’re going to trap it, Willowpaw. And you’re joining the patrol to do it.”
Willowpaw’s leaf-green eyes went wide. “Wait, what?!” she squeaked, shrinking back and appearing to be the opposite of what she had looked like only moments ago.
“You will be joining Russetfeather…” Copperclaw declared, Russetfeather twitching in excitement. “Who else…” She hesitated briefly, before completing her sentence, “Um, Frostflower.”
By now much of BlogClan was pleading for the deputy to choose one of them to join the patrol. She appeared to have a hard time choosing. Darkpaw stared hard at the copper-brown tabby, desperately willing her to make her come along. “Rosefur and Hazelburrow…” Copperclaw murmured.
A long-furred ginger cat was even more desperate than Darkpaw, which she thought was impossible until she heard her. “Copperclaw, Copperclaw,Copperclawー” the she-cat yowled, sounding like an overgrown kit, rearing up on her hind legs and losing her balance and collapsing to the ground, moments before leaping back up again. Copperclaw ignored her and attempted to look past her, but Darkpaw had to laugh when the cat simply vaulted in the air, yelling Copperclaw’s name over and over.
“How about Bluepaw and, um… Darkpaw, I guess,” Copperclaw mewed, her voice faltering. Darkpaw’s ears pricked up as she realized with a jolt that Copperclaw had announced her name. Her pelt prickled with excitement, followed by a flash of dread. Any of them could get hurt, and they needed a plan. A good plan, at that. “And they will be led by…”
“Copperclaw! Copperclaw! Copperclawー”
“You know what, fine, Lionfire will lead them,” Copperclaw growled, looking quite annoyed, and an air of disappointment spread over the crowd of cats. Unsatisfied, they began to turn away from the ledge on which Copperclaw was perched. Darkpaw clamped her paw over her mouth to keep her from chuckling out loud. Her body shook with muted laughter.
After she realized that no cat around her was laughing she bit her lip hard to force herself to regain control of herself.
“Well, go on, then,” Copperclaw prompted, her tail flicking irritably.
“Fine,” Willowpaw replied, then whipped around and stormed out of camp. There was a ripple of murmurs as the BlogClan cats wished them good luck. Without a word, Darkpaw stood up and lashed her white-tipped tail again, her claws still unsheathed. She stalked after the mottled gray she-cat, Lionfire and Russetfeather on her tail. Frostflower and Rosefur silently exchanged worried glances as they padded after them, and Bluepaw lagged behind, hissing softly.
A chilly breeze swept through the dense trees, ruffling Darkpaw’s sleek black pelt. She suppressed a shiver and slowed her pace, sniffing the air, her whiskers twitching. Russetfeather stalked the undergrowth in front of her, and her long, fluffy tail brushed a clump of fallen leaves in her face. Darkpaw sneezed; the she-cat flinched and whipped around, but relaxed when she saw Darkpaw there. “Sorry, Russetfeather,” she whispered. Russetfeather rolled her eyes and turned back around.
The patrol spread out and stalked toward a glade nearby, wary of any surrounding predators. More specifically, the badger.
Darkpaw’s hackles raised, as did Frostflower’s. “We need a plan!” the latter hissed. “We can’t just rush in and expect the badger to be patient with us when we trap it!”
“Exactly. Who has ideas?” Lionfire asked, sitting back on her golden haunches.
The eight of them just stood there, looking at each other, willing each other to give an idea. Hazelburrow opened his mouth numerous times to say something, but he snapped it back shut each time. Darkpaw racked her brain for any decent plan ideas, turning out negative, when a flash of movement caught her eye. A blackbird.
Without thinking, Darkpaw leaped at the bird, and it shrieked and jumped into the air. Darkpaw’s fangs crunched on the blackbird’s neck, and it fell limp in her jaws. Her paws landed neatly on the ground, her tail lashing back and forth. She took a step forward, her single white paw crushing the dry leaves beneath it. She glanced up to see her seven companions giving her disapproving looks. Looking away, she set the bird’s glossy black corpse on the grass, wishing she had just ignored it, her pelt burning with shame.
“What are you doing?” Rosefur groaned. “We’re not supposed to be hunting, Darkpaw…”
Darkpaw opened her jaws, about to give a ridiculously stupid answer, embarrassment creeping through her fur, but she shoved them closed with a clicking sound before anything could slip out.
“Maybe we could use it as bait?” Frostflower suggested. “So we could lure the badger into a trap of some sort.”
The other cats nodded, and Darkpaw felt relief wash over her. Her catch hadn’t been for nothing. She mulled over the idea, hoping to possibly add more onto it. “Uhhhh,” she mumbled, though she regretted saying anything at all immediately after, and her pelt prickled uncomfortably as the cats twisted around to lay their eyes on her.
“Yes?” Hazelburrow prompted gently. Darkpaw squeezed her green eyes shut, digging her claws into her own tail, hoping that the pain would wake something up in her mind.
Come on… Come on, Darkpaw, think…
Her fur burning with humiliation at the fact that she couldn’t think of anything plus the agony she was causing in her tail was enough to force her brain to work. “IーI guess we could try andーand, umー”
Darkpaw jabbed her claws in deeper, sending a jolt of pain up her spine. “What if we were to trap it in a hole or abandoned den of some sort? Something that it can’t dig or climb out of or anything?” she blurted out.
Frostflower looked like she approved of the addition to her original plan, then glanced, concerned, at Darkpaw’s tail; her claws were stained red with her own blood and so was the dark grass underneath. She removed her claws from her tail and sheathed them. “Alright,” the silver-and-white tabby agreed. “Sounds good.”
“Alright, genius,” Bluepaw snapped, her blue-gray tail lashing, “Where do you suggest we start?”
“Hey, I’m leading this patrol,” Lionfire complained, but everyone ignored her.
Darkpaw felt a wave of uneasiness overwhelm her as the patrol turned to face her again. “It’sーit’s not all up to me! I’m not the only cat on patrol here! Put Lionfire on the spotーshe’s leading the patrol.”
Bluepaw’s fiery blue eyes, blazing with irritation, drilled into the black apprentice, but Darkpaw tore her vivid green gaze away to stare at the ground. What had she gotten the other cats into?
Darkpaw finally looked back up. Lionfire was undaunted by the seven cats staring at her, and she appeared to be making up a plan. Her ears were buzzing and she swayed on her paws, not listening to a word the ginger she-cat was uttering. She had felt so confident before about getting rid of the badger, but her self-assurance was draining by the second.
“…We could try to find a large ditch in the ground and lure the badger in with that blackbird,” Lionfire was saying, her feathery ginger tail swishing slowly from side to side. “We need to make sure whatever we trap it in is big enough and deep enough so it can’t get out.”
Russetfeather nodded, her dark green eyes glittering. “We also need to assure that the trap is far away from the camp.”
“Yeah,” Darkpaw interjected, surprising herself. She stepped a bit closer to the other cats and raised her voice. “If it gets anywhere near the camp, we’re doomed. We should keep it as far away as possible so it can’t attack us again.”
She felt her pelt growing hot as she lifted her head to meet Russetfeather’s gaze, not meeting any of the others’.
She felt a chill in the air as a crisp breeze slipped past, flicking her ears forward. Leaves of countless plants in the forest quivered and rustled, the gentle wind maneuvering the branches to make them look like they were clawing at the air; the thin limbs reminded Darkpaw of the badger’s fangs, slicing through flesh, forcing them to pay for nothing.
We have to do something. Now.
“We should get going,” Lionfire announced, suddenly sounding more confident and less whiny than before. Darkpaw nodded, agreeing, and so did Russetfeather and Frostflower.
Bluepaw lagged behind again as the patrol pranced through the forest, dodging low branches and ducking away from brambles. Hazelburrow paused for a moment and lifted his snout upward, probably to scent for the badger. Darkpaw copied him, her nose quivering slightly as she halted to sniff the air; to make it easier to pick out a single scent, she shut her green eyes.
The faint whiff of some kind of herb with a sharp scent touched her nose, along with the soft fragrance of what smelled like a rose. A quick snapping sound alerted her to a nearby squirrel, and its musky scent followed soon after.
Darkpaw swiveled her left ear around as she sensed Hazelburrow abruptly freeze; she opened her eyes to see his turquoise ones widen slightly, the pupils becoming small black slits in the irises.
“What is it, Hazelburrow?” Willowpaw asked, voicing Darkpaw’s thoughts, though the black she-cat was guessing what he had smelled.
“I caught its scent,” the hazel-colored tom murmured, “and it’s nearby.”
“Let’s go,” Lionfire hissed softly, turning to dash away, but stopped and glanced back over her ginger-furred shoulder. “Do you have the blackbird?”
“Sure do,” Frostflower piped up, her voice muffled by feathers, at the same time as Bluepaw grumbled, “Yes, now GO.”
“Okay, okay,” the ginger she-cat squeaked, then spun back around and darted away. Darkpaw followed, grim determination set on her face, knowing that they were heading into dangerous territory.
The hot stink of the badger now wreathed around her as she ran, choking her as she breathed in. The patrol was close. Darkpaw could feel it.
A ripping sound was emitted from the forest nearby.
Darkpaw froze, as did the others. Bluepaw pretended to look bored, though it was clear that she was just as frightened as the rest of them of what they were about to do.
Another rip, and a crack followed this time.
Lionfire backed up quickly, shoving the others backward as well, as the dark face of the badger poked out of the forest.
Its beady black eyes blinked up at them, then narrowed in fury.
“We’ve gotta run,” Willowpaw gasped, turning tail.
Sprinting after the others, panting hard, Darkpaw glanced back at the badger’s face. A white stripe blazed down its snout. Gleaming white fangs poked out from under its lip. Huge claws tore through the undergrowth, breaking twigs and ripping through leaves.
We have to lead it somewhere it can’t get to us, Darkpaw thought, wincing as she snagged her claw on a root. Our Clanmates are counting on us. We can’t fail.
And if we fail… StarClan knows what will happen to the rest of us.