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Oct 16, 2019 4:35 PM
That sure is one weird-looking kitten.
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"Poppy seeds, please," Tornfoot sighs. "Leg's acting up. Where's Spottedleaf?"

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"Poppy seeds! Right, right, I can get those..."

Snowpaw heads into the den and hunts around for the painkillers. 

"Oh, um...she went to help one of the queens give birth, I think?" 

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"Oh, Whiteblaze's litter?" Tornfoot swallows the seeds gratefully. "That's good, it's pretty late in the season. Hey, do you know anything about dogs? Or does Spottedleaf, I guess, but I can't ask her."

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"Ummm..."

The grey cat looks a little panicked. 

"Yyy...no?" she guesses. 

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Tornfoot looks amused. "Odds are you're about to, then." She glances at the sky. "I'm going to take a nap. If I'm not up by dusk, could you come wake me, please?"

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"Of course!" 

Snowpaw sits up a little straighter, proud to have been trusted with even so simple a task.

"Bye! Have a nice nap."

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Tornfoot wakes up from her nap when the sun begins to dip below the treeline, and goes to fetch two mice from the fresh-kill pile; one to eat, and one to take to the doglet. She leaves the camp, hoping he'll still be where she put him.

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The little dog is maybe not exactly where she left him.

At some point in the last few hours he must have been distracted by a passing butterfly, or a particularly bold sparrow, and has rolled about the immediate area, tearing up the grass in places. Then, having mostly forgotten about the cats, he started digging a hole under the roots of a nearby tree.

When Tornfoot arrives, all she can see is his stubby tail waving in the air between sprays of earth, the rest of her charge having disappeared down the emerging tunnel. 

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She delicately avoids being showered in dirt and sets the mouse down to the side.

"Hey. Hey, dog thing. Hey! Food. I hope you eat normal things."

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As soon as he hears her voice, he wriggles backwards out of the hole as fast as he can, tail wagging so fast it blurs.

Bounding up to her, he sniffs around and discovers the mouse, setting on it like he hasn't eaten in a while. He's covered in dirt, getting muckier from tail to nose, but he seems happy. 

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She leans back a little. Okay, so clearly not old enough to have learned how to clean himself yet. She wonders if he'll need more than one mouse, and resolves to teach him to hunt as soon as possible.

In the meantime....

"Tell me you can talk," she says to him, already pretty much resigned that this won't work. "Please say something. Anything. Tell me you're smarter than a badger."

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He is still eating, rather messily but with great enthusiasm, and doesn't appear to be paying her much attention. 

When he finishes the mouse, he licks thoroughly around his mouth to catch any stray bits, and looks at her hopefully.

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She sighs. "I don't have any more," she tells him shortly. It's mean, but she's woozy from the poppy, her leg hurts, and all she wants to do is go back to sleep. "If you're still hungry you better go catch it yourself."

Tornfoot stops and sighs again. She knows he can't do that, but if she goes out hunting now, she'll have to bring back twice the prey to satisfy Bluestar.

"Okay," she decides. "Hunting crash course, here we go." She gestures at the doglet - watch me - and settles into a crouch before stalking and pouncing on a nearby leaf. Then she stands and gestures again. Now you.

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What a good new game!

Bending his front legs into a clumsy imitation of her crouch, he wriggles his back end and bounds forward onto an unsuspecting leaf, then spots another one and does it again.

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Tornfoot watches him. Well, he has the right general idea, even if his execution is on par with a concussed kitten. Hopefully he'll get better with practice.

While he's distracted, she sneaks up behind him, as quietly as she can.

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That might be made more difficult by the way he keeps changing direction, jumping around to follow the movement in the corners of his eyes. 

If she's patient, though, she'll be able to manage it.

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Well, she's trying to teach him to hunt, not to be hunted. She reaches in and taps his heel with her paw, claws in.

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"Yowww!"

The doglet jumps, whirling round to face her and skittering away in a panic. 

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She flicks an ear but otherwise doesn't react, waiting for him to calm down. When he does, she drops into a hunting crouch, moves a few silent paces forward, then stands to see if he was paying attention.

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He shrinks back, huddling on the ground and watching her nervously.

On the other hand, he is paying attention. 

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This is turning out to be way harder than Tornfoot thought it would be. She's only a year old, she's too young to raise a kit!

She tilts her head back and closes her eyes, trying to convince herself she can just leave him alone until he gets hungry enough to figure out hunting on his own. It's a futile struggle; she doesn't even know how old he'd be if he was a kit, and can't in good conscience leave him to starve. Stars, but she's tired. She just slept, why is she so tired? Fine. She'll feed him something now. In the morning she can ask one of the queens how they get their kits ready for apprenticeship.

She opens her eyes again to see if he's still in the same place.

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He doesn't appear to have moved at all, apart from the trembling. 

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Yeah. Okay. She's done for now. She trots back into camp, fetches a mouse, is thankfully not accosted on the way back out, and drops the mouse in front of the doglet.

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It is devoured just as eagerly, and messily, as the first. Once it's all gone, he seems to be satisfied, and doesn't pester her for more. 

Stomach bulging slightly, he curls up for a nap in the grass. 

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The next morning, Tornfoot ducks into the nursery to find Whiteblaze purring over three hungry, healthy kits. They're adorable. Whiteblaze catches her watching and flicks her tail to beckon her over, clearly exhausted but content.

"What are their names?" Tornfoot asks, quietly so as not to disturb the kits from their breakfast.

Whiteblaze nods at each of them in turn. "Grasskit, Softkit, and Loudkit." She gives Loudkit a lick on the head; he breaks off suckling to mewl at her. It is, true to his name, a piercing sound.

"I guess that answers my next question," Tornfoot says, amused. "How are you doing? I wanted to ask you something, but I can come back later if you're tired."

Whiteblaze yawns, but says, "I won't be any less tired for the next two moons. What do you want to know?"

Tornfoot hesitates. "I was wondering - I know this isn't your first litter - how do you prepare your kits to be apprentices? Is there any advice you give them, or any way you give them any training?"

Whiteblaze looks surprised. "Well, honestly, no, not really. I just let them do what comes naturally. They usually sort out any roughhousing between each other, or a couple cuffs does the trick. By their second moon they're usually so eager to be apprentices they'll half-train themselves. Why do you ask? Are you going to have a litter next season?"

"Something like that," Tornfoot sighs.

"Well, I'm not sure how much help I can be," Whiteblaze says apologetically. "Feel free to ask me if you have any more questions, though, and I can do my best."

Tornfoot thanks her and leaves her to her squirming kits, blinking as she emerges into the bright midmorning sun. Well, that was basically useless. It occurs to Tornfoot that she doesn't actually know how old the doglet is. Maybe he's only a moon old or something; that would explain a lot.

As much as she wishes she had a plan, she doesn't, and time won't stop for her to come up with one. She heads out of camp to find her charge. Maybe he ran away, she thinks, just for a moment, and then feels horrible. It's not his fault.

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