* * *

Cinderscar should have known better than to turn his back on his brothers. They had all been down to their little stream for a quick morning drink when Ravenbrow and Copperfire began wrestling in the water, splashing and carrying on with no consideration. Fieldspirit was busy corralling the newborns, who thought their antics were highly amusing and wanted to join in. When he had had enough Cinderscar stepped away in an effort to get ahead of the now waterlogged duo before they dragged him into it. He didn't make it.

Naturally Ravenbrow led the charge, bowling him over with a mid-body hit. Copperfire hung back, barking encouragement to his brother while barring Cinderscar's escape. The black-haired sibling barely made an effort to fight back, only taking the obvious attacks presented and merely trying to avoid being hurt. He had learned long ago that he couldn't compete against his brawny brother, and to put up no fight at all meant a worse beating. He knew exactly how much effort it took to make Ravenbrow loose interest the quickest.

As suddenly as it started the assault was over, the offending pair galloping off in a fit of hysterics. Cinderscar lay panting for several seconds before he could stand, the itch in his scar irritating him once again. Fieldspirit finally had a handle on the three cubs and was making her way over to him, but he turned and fled before she could reach him. He loathed to be pitied, even by his mother. By the time he stopped he wasn't sure where he was, exactly, but the trickle of nearby water told him he was still close to the river. He then sat and soothed his misery until sleep overtook him.

A rustling in the brush jerked the youth awake, bringing him to his feet. The rabbit was just as surprised, but not for long as instinct steered it away from the dark predator and fuelled its flight. Cinderscar gave chase, as eager to hunt as he was to eat. The bobtail was fast and light, able to dart amongst the underbrush and areas he couldn’t easily reach. He never gave it a moments rest, however, hassling it even when it tried to hide in a rotten log or rocky hollow. He always managed to scare it out and the chase continued for several minutes until the rabbit made its final mistake. The exhilaration was intense and Cinderscar regretted that it had to end, even for a needed meal.

As the day grew late he decided to make his way back to the den. He knew his mother had seen him leave and by now he would be missed, at least by her. The others may notice his absence, but he doubted they would think twice about it. The evening rounds would be starting soon, meaning Stormdancer and their sire would be gone before he got back. The other two would only miss him if they got bored of harassing each other.

When the cliff side came into view he slowed his pace. There was no point in hiding his return as he knew Fieldspirit would be watching for him, a harsh reprimand prepared. He could see Ravenbrow chasing a squirrel he had cornered, while Copperfire sprawled in his usual lounge spot. The cubs would be nestled in the den already, no doubt tired from the trek to and from the river, while Fieldspirit sat at the cave's entrance watching her surroundings. He tried to be discreet but his mother's steady gaze still found him as he wandered into the small clearing. She stood gracefully and approached, freezing Cinderscar in his tracks as he closed his eyes and prepared for her admonishment. He was completely caught off guard when he felt her gentle touch and soft lick of comfort and didn't know how to react. She broke away as a small cry came from the den, drawing her attention away from her outcast son to one of the newborns, roused by the draft her absence allowed in. By the time she had ushered the little one back in and returned Cinderscar was gone again, close but lost in the shadows of twilight.

Page 3 4 5