the food chain (p. ember)

╰☆☆ Briar would not be happy with Flicker if she knew where she was going. She'd be even less thrilled if she knew why. But the tortoiseshell has never done anything in order to please another cat, and she will not begin doing so today.

The sun is just beginning to rise, washing the sky in pinks, and as she steps through the pine forest, she finds herself in awe of the way the forest floor is speckled with gold. Her paws brush against pine needles, sending their spice into her nostrils. She sneezes, though the sensation isn't entirely unpleasant.

Why has she decided to come here? After her last visit past the marshes, she's become wary of angering Briar. She had not been present when Rain and some of his kittypets had come to call on their leader, but she knows, of course, it had been over that young tom Willow had attacked. She associates that day with chaos, the scent of blood, confusion.

Her opportunity to fight for her territory, and she had not been able to. She could not have joined Willow in attacking Finch. He was younger than her, and he hadn't been expecting the blow. Flicker can hardly boast about how she beat a kittypet from behind.

She sighs, and her paws slow to a creep. The heat hasn't set in yet, but her paws are prickling warmly. She is daring much to be here, but she is curious to see who she might find--and what might happen.



There was a familiar scent on the air. A stink that stood out starkly from the scent of her groupmates that so permeated this land. Her fur stood on end with the memory of the only other time she had smelled it. Even then the marsh cats had not dared venture so deep into the pine forest. What cause could they have to do so now?

The scent caused her creeping steps along the tree branch below her to halt, her hunt forgotten. She weighed her options. She knew what Rain would want her to do. Run back to camp and get help. Get together a patrol to root out the threat. However. she also remembered keenly what had happened on her last patrol. What had happened to Finch on her watch. No, she would handle this herself.

No one else was going to get hurt.

Quietly as she could, she danced between the treetops. Following her nose. Until a familiar pelt of midnight and amber came into view. She considered the sight for a moment before she made herself known. The molly appeared to be alone, but Ember wasn't eager to fall for the same trick twice. Still, she did need to confront the marsh cat.

Scanning the treetops about her though, she at least felt safe in the certainty that there weren't any cats up there with her. At least, not close by. So she'd just stay up above, she reasoned, safely out of reach until she could appraise the situation. Aside from that, she didn't have a plan, exactly. Though she was sure she'd figure something out.

"Hello again!" she called down, making a show of relax languidly on her branch. Dangling a paw over the edge. "Back so soon? With more friends in the shadows keeping you safe?" Ember teased with a laugh.
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╰☆☆ The voice that calls to her from above is a somewhat familiar one, and she jumps ever so slightly off the earth. Orange eyes shoot to the branches of the trees, hidden by their thick coat of pine needles, before she glimpses the cream-colored pelt in question. Flicker regains her composure after a moment, as it seems she's alone.

"Why, you scared?" She jeers, angling her face towards the flame point defiantly. The last interaction she'd had with the other molly had been so strange, it had caught her off guard. Almost as if she'd had no idea her group had invaded Briar's territory. As if she didn't know how her kittypet friends were leeching off of the earth while wildcats like herself starved.

Her smirk is almost bitter. She stalks closer to the base of the tree, but eyes it hesitantly. She's not much of a climber. I should learn, she thinks to herself. The pine forest cats all tend to taunt them from the tree tops. It'd be funny as hell to meet them where they're at.

Instead of attempting a sad scrabble up the trunk in front of the flame point, Flicker gazes back up at her. "Why don't you come down here and talk to me face-to-face?" The tortoiseshell's voice is challenging. "One on one. I'm alone, and so are you." This she says with a touch of doubt. There could very well be an ambush waiting for her in the branches where she can't scent them through the cedar, but she's taking her chances here.


Why, you scared?

Ember blinked at the question. "Not really." She shrugged. "I could probably take you and your friends too." Her reply is earnest, and she taps her chin in consideration of it. Now that she thought about it, she did think she could do that. There had been what, four of them last time? Four on one wasn't that bad. It was winnable.

That didn't make it a good idea though. If her mother were here, or even just Rain, they'd doubtless try and talk her out of it.

The molly let out a long sigh as she weighed her options. Then she glanced back down. "This isn't a trap is it?" she asked, "Because it really feels like a trap." She was practically itching to take the dark tortie up on her offer. The idea of just sitting up here and watching seemed so boring and, more importantly, it wouldn't really do anything to protect her groupmates. She hummed in consideration. "How about this; I'll come down there if you promise there isn't an ambush waiting for me." she proposed with a grin. "Oh, and if you tell me your name! I asked last time but you didn't give me an answer."

╰☆☆ Flicker scoffs at the pine she-cat's response to her accusation. "Not really." The infuriatingly cheerful molly remarks she could take Flicker and three of her friends. The tortoiseshell gives her an incredulous look.

"Are you saying you, a kittypet, could take me on in a fair fight?" She's not even going to address the rest of her comment. It's just too frogbrained. Three marsh cats were probably like... she thinks. Like seven kittypets. Or something like that.

She gazes around her. No one has followed her, that she knows of. "I don't need back up to take you on," she confirms. She puffs out her chest ever so slightly. If this cat--Flicker remembers her name being Ember--thinks she can take her, she's got another thing coming!

Ember says she'll come down, but adds, "If you tell me your name." The marsh cat scowls, thinking she owes this girl nothing, but she says, "It's Flicker. Don't forget it."


"Yup." Was the glib reply to the marsh cat's incredulous question. Of course she won in a fair fight. Not that she expected to be believed, but that wasn't going to stop her from telling the truth. Though, after a moment, a frown pulled itself from her face as the full meaning of the words dawned on her. "I'm not a kittypet though." She clarified, confusion writ across her features. Where had she gotten that idea?

Ember wavered even as the tortie claimed she didn't need any backup. It wasn't the promise she was looking for. Technically, it was not even reassurance that there isn't an ambush, just boasting about how it wouldn't be needed. Once she got a name though, she folded. "Good enough for me!" she said with a shrug.

She descended in a rush, bringing her face to face with her would be foe. "Nice ta meetcha Flicker!" The molly greeted brightly.
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╰☆☆ A cloud crosses over Ember's sunny golden face. "I'm not a kittypet, though." Flicker only stares at her, wondering what she means. Perhaps she doesn't know what a kittypet is, she reasons to herself.

The tortoiseshell backs away a pawstep once she sees Ember begin to scramble down the bark. Flicker has to admit she's slightly surprised the other molly has decided to take her challenge. She couldn't have predicted that.

Almost before she can think twice, there's a girl with rainstorm-colored eyes in her face. "Nice ta meetcha, Flicker!" She stands stock still for a moment, just long enough for flame to be quenched by the downpour.

And she takes a single pawstep backward, face creasing. "You've got a worm's brain," she grumbles. "What if I'd lied, huh? What if I had a whole bunch of cats hiding out there and you just didn't know about it?"

Some of her instincts are asking her--begging her--to spring at Ember, to finish what Willow had started. But she can't forget what the flame point had protested--

"What'd'ya mean, you're not a kittypet?" Flicker stares at Ember. "Why are you there and not here, then?"

Her muscles are still tense. She hasn't decided she won't attack... but she finds herself curious more than anything else. They don't make 'em any weirder than this, she thinks, exasperated. It'd be unfair to attack Ember. That's what she decides.
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Ember could only laugh as she got told she had a "worm's brain" for coming down. These marsh cats had so many funny expressions! She took a moment to get control of her giggles before responding the insult preceded. "Butcha didn't!" she replied simply with a shrug and a smile. She stepped past the other molly, touching her tail to her side affectionately as she did. Flicker might be a nasty marsh cat, but at least she was an honest one.

"Besides, you're the one that came wandering into our territory. What were you gonna do if you ran into a whole bunch of cats instead of just little old me? Challenge them all one by one?" A snort escaped her as she contained more laughter at the thought of it. "Maybe they'd line up to take their turn."

She glanced back, confusion writ once more across her features, as the word kittypet came up again. "Huh?" What was Flicker even talking about? She blinked a couple times as she struggled to figure it out. "What do you mean there and here?"

╰☆☆ Flicker almost jumps at Ember's touch, feather-light and more of a subconscious gesture than anything. The tortoiseshell scowls. "Just 'cause I haven't clawed your fur off yet doesn't mean we're friends," she says, though she still makes no move to attack.

"What were you gonna do if you ran into a whole bunch of cats instead of just little old me?" Flicker turns around, facing the other molly once more. Her scowl transforms into a confident smirk. "I could take any of you softies with my eyes closed."

But Ember's confusion is apparent. Flicker loses what little semblance of patience she has. "Yes! Kittypet!" She shakes her head. "That's what most of your group are. Twoleg-loving pets who live in nests with them and have all their needs met. Eat pellets instead of prey. Don't have to hunt or fight." Ember claims she isn't a kittypet, but...

"I mean, Flicker huffs, stepping closer to the flame point, "that if you really were a true wild cat, you'd have sided with Briar! We were here first. Born in the wild. We belong here!" She narrows her fiery eyes. Regardless of her place of birth, Flicker knows Ember does not belong in the pine forest. That much is certain to her.

Something small is wavering inside of her, though. She can't name it, can't know that it's a little flag of doubt, but all the same, it makes her paw pads prickle with discomfort.


Another fit of giggles overcame her at the reaction her lightest touch got. It was so easy to rile Flicker up! She just couldn't resist racing over to her, quick as a hare, and attempting to rub up against her in an over the top show of affection. "Aww, why not?" she faux whined, her tone still light and mirthful. "Don't say it's cause ya don't like me, cause I'll know that's a lie~" Ember teased in sing-song tones, dancing away before the nasty marsh cat could retaliate. This girl was just too fun to mess with.

The suggestion that Flicker could take her on only redoubled her giggles. Her gleeful grin verged on a smirk. "Come on then! Come and and prove it!" she insisted, jumping about as she spoke. "I'm a big ol-" Her taunts paused abruptly as she realized that she was actually a bit shorter than her foe. Hm. "Well. I'm a lil softie and I'm here for the taking~" Despite her animated movements, the molly stayed light on her paws as she leapt about. Ready just in case she was taken up on her challenge.

Not that she was actually all that worried she'd lose, of course. But her mother had taught her better than to not be prepared for a fight.

What she wasn't prepared for though, was for the word thrown in her face. She recoiled, made a step back to match the step forward. "I know what a kittypet is." Ember clarified with a blink. "I'm not stupid and I'm not a kittypet." She let the words sit in the air for a moment as she struggled to find more. Something about what Flicker had said didn't sit right with her, but she couldn't put a paw on it. "There are kittypets in our group, but I'm not one." She repeated. Her ear flicked. "You're wrong about them though."

Her nose scrunched up as she struggled with her thoughts. "I mean, you're right that kittypets get fed and pampered and stuff. But the rest- I've hunted with them, fought with them, and they're good at it. They're nothing like kittypets are supposed to be." Each word was spoken painfully slow, as she still worked through the thoughts behind them. "Besides, a lot of 'em aren't kittypets anymore, they just used to be. Being a kittypet isn't just living with twolegs, it's being their pet. Giving up your freedom for it. Now they wanna be free, they wanna be like us!" She shot Flicker a brilliant grin, her eyes alight with dreams. "Isn't that wonderful?"

A laughed bubbled up from her. "And if I'm not a "true wild cat," then what am I meant to be? Honorary kittypet? That part doesn't even make sense." She stated with a shake of her head. "No, I'm a wild cat, and I belong wherever my four paws can get me."

╰☆☆ Flicker's scowl dissolves into an almost comical expression of astonishment as Ember presses her golden flank against the tortoiseshell's dark one. "Don't say it's cause ya don't like me, 'cause I'll know that's a lie!"

Her face burns, and she can't help but for her jaw to drop. Like her! I could never like someone this infuriating! Flicker takes a step back, a stumbling and awkward one that almost causes her to fall. Her tail lashes again, but it's more out of pure energy than anything else.

"I know you're a softie," she grumbles. "But--"

She loses her train of thought. It's okay, though, because Ember seems to have caught herself on one of Flicker's derogatory terms. She claims she's not a kittypet, and she's not stupid. She knows what they are.

"They wanna be free, like us?" Flicker's frown returns, but her anger is mostly gone. There's a pensiveness to her, masking something dark and dreary that she struggles to contain. What she wouldn't have given to have someone around to care for her still. To not have to struggle. She's already given up everything to be alive.

She flicks an ear, a smirk replacing that brief, lost-kitten expression. "You're a wild cat, huh?" She shakes herself, all of the strange emotions Ember has brought out of her meant to go flying like so much dust. Flicker crouches in a meant-to-be fighting pose, but it's purposefully playful. "Show me how wild you are, then. Softie."
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Ember's grin only grew as her own words were repeated back to her, and with it her confidence in them. All her kittypet friends had just as much a right to be here as anyone else. They hunted and fought like wild cats, and that was enough to qualify them in her eyes. Besides, if they all went back to twolegplace then she wouldn't be able to see them anymore, and she wasn't going to have that!

Flicker saw that, she just knew she did! That was why she was standing around and chatting instead of just like, jumping her or whatever. They were practically friends already!

Well, almost.

Ember still hadn't forgotten Finch.

Still, she wasn't going to let that stop her. The nasty marsh cats had done nasty things, she knew that. She didn't forgive them. Yet. She wanted to though. As vivid as the memory of the kid bleeding next to her was the leader, Briar, who had dragged his attacker off of them. This could all still work out, she was sure of it.

"You asked for it!" She cheered, lowering herself into a crouch. Her eyes alight with excitement. This was going to be her first real fight since joining the pine group. Not hunting, not sparring, just a real match of skill. "Just promise me ya won't regret it, 'kay?" The memory of her practice with Blinding Star still hung heavy in her mind, along with the lesson it had taught. No going easy, no holding back. No claws or teeth, she didn't wanna hurt anyone of course, but aside from that? She was gonna give this her all.

It was gonna be so much fun.

With blistering speed, she raced toward her opponent. Her gaze locked on the flame colored eyes staring back at her. It was at the last moment she changed course, veering out to the side and lashing out at the twisted angle, intent on knocking her opponent off-balance and pinning her down. Another trick her practice had taught her.
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╰☆☆ Flicker watches with mild amusement as excitement lights the flame point's gray-blue eyes. "You asked for it!" She sounds genuinely excited, and her crouch is immediate. Not only that, but it's an expert crouch, not meant for kitten play but for genuine battle. "Just promise me ya won't regret it, 'kay?"

She snorts. "Regret it? Why would I--"

Her voice is cut off with a strangled mew of surprise. A golden-cream blur rushes toward her, and although their gazes are locked at first, Ember changes course and gives Flicker a sideways strike with sheathed claws.

The tortoiseshell is knocked onto her back, and Ember pins her with ease. Flicker's earlier bravado vanishes. Kittypet she was not.

"Trickster," she grumbles, catching her breath. She uses both back legs and would attempt to dislodge Ember and send her stumbling backwards. If successful, Flicker would charge her head-on, using blunt strength instead of speed in a shoulder-to-shoulder tackle.


"Regret it? Why would I--"

The tactic worked just as well as it had on her. In a flash she was staring down at a dark-furred tortie pinned beneath her, and all she could do was giggle. "That's why~! One for me. So, ya wanna give up now or-" She sung cheerfully, moving to boop Flicker on the nose. Only to have two legs connect with her stomach and tragically throw her off the moment before her paw connected. As she stumbled backwards, she blinked in surprise. She hadn't expected such strength from such an underfed looking cat.

Still staggered, there was no time for her to react to the shoulder that came slamming into her. It connected. She cried out in alarm, going tumbling. It took a moment before her paws found purchase, and she managed to scramble back upright.

She shook her head, blinking as she attempted to recover.

"Well," she laughed, shooting Flicker a dizzy smile. "We can call that one for you, because I'm generous." Grappling was a mistake, that was the lesson Ember decided to take from their interaction. There was no pinning an opponent that was stronger than her. Not easily, at least. No, better she play to her strengths. Stay light on her paws, and safely out of range.

With that in mind, she aimed to race past Flicker, tapping a paw along her side as she passed to indicate the swipe she could of made if she wanted to. Hopefully going fast enough to get out of range before any retaliation.

╰☆☆ Ember's weight is mercifully removed from Flicker, and she even succeeds in sending the flame point hurtling to the ground with her well-placed shoulder tackle. She snickers as the she-cat finds her paws again, her laugh that she'll let Flicker have that one because she's generous.

"Thanks for the gift, then, Softie," she jokes, lowering herself into an approximation of a crouch. But it's lazy, and it's slow, and she's caught off guard again at Ember's whirlwind speed running straight for her. Flicker feels a forepaw brush against her flank, and she is too slow to do anything about it.

"Hey--" She twists her body around, so the two are still able to face one another. She wants no tricks. "For a cat as well-fed as you are, you sure are fast," she says, flicking an ear.

There's an element of skill to Ember's battle techniques that Flicker had not expected. Is it foolish of her to expect all of Rain's colony have the fighting skills of a blind kit? She frowns, studying her opponent with new eyes.

"I'm sure we'll meet in battle for real someday," she says, and her voice takes on the teasing, taunting lilt it normally has. "Hope ya won't take it easy on me when that happens, Softie."

As it is, Flicker thinks, I need to rethink my own techniques.


"Two for me now!" she cheered once she got safely out of range, bouncing on her paws. Her grin only grew with the compliment thrown her way. "Aww, thank ya Flicker!" She purred, resisting the urge to rub herself up against the other molly again. They were still supposed to be fighting after all.

The talk of a real battle is something Ember can only blink at. Once again she found herself unsure quite what they were supposed to be talking about. "Uh, sure!" she said with a shrug. "But, are we still fighting right now? Because I'm kinda already beating you. Don't know why I'd have to try any harder than this." A giggle bubbled up within her, and she stuck her tongue out at Flicker playfully.