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Chapter One ~ Leafbare Hunting

The snow was thick and heavy as it fell. The forest was silent. . .
It always felt as if Leafbare was the hardest season in MountainClan. Probably because it was. Not to say it wasn't hard on all the other clans. Windclan's prey hibernated throughout the season; Riverclan's water froze over every year. . .
She couldn't imagine what it would be like if all of your hunting grounds were cut off for three to five moons, depending on the weather and snow-fall.
But when the snow fell this heavily, the mountains always got hit the hardest. The rocks were too slippery or too covered with snow drifts to climb. That meant chipmunks and whatever finches hadn't left in flee of the cold weather were out of the question.
The lake and rivers froze over, as Riverclan's did, and though fish wasn't usual fresh-kill for the Mountainclan cats, it was out of the picture as well.
The valley and meadow were less plentiful snow heavily pressing down on the tall grass, making it hard to move in, and there was no cover to stalk through as there was in the spring and summer. Hares were too hard to catch in it, and most were hibernating. Even if there was one out in the snow, it would hear you coming a mile away as your pads crunch down on the snow that had fell the night before, an icy layer on top.
So, that left only one choice; the forest.
The tall pine trees usually held back the snow-fall in their thick branches, standing strong under the weight. Little to hardly any snow would hit the ground.
Leaves, however, coated it in a thick layer. This made it hard to sneak up on the occasional mouse or squirrel, the only prey left that could be caught out of their dens and holes during this hard season. Pressing just a pad down made a loud crunch, and it usually scared off all the fresh-kill that was hiding inside the forest for the rest of the afternoon.
She sighed.
With the lack of options, all she could do was sit and wait. . .
Her ear flicked back when she heard a rustling in the leaves. A squirrel scurried through the dead vegetation behind her before clawing its way up a tree and resting on a branch. Its chest rose and fell rapidly from its quick climb.
Lioneyes scowled, taking a cautious step closer. Tree climbing had never been her specialty, but she wasn't bad at it. Gathering her weight in her haunches, she quickly launched herself up, reaching high with her large, black front paws. She easily landed one of the thicker branches, about seven feet up. Unfortunately, the squirrel heard her step and scurried up farther. She jumped to another branch after it, but huffed and let it go. As much as she loved a challenge and a chase, she wasn't small enough or light enough to scurry up the tall pin as fast as the nimble little squirrel.
She scowled, turning carefully and jumping back down to the forest floor, the only place where she always had the upper hand in a fight, a chase, or a hunt.
A gentle puff of small flurries whirled around her as she landed, softly padding away from the tree.
She was just about ready to give up when she heard something rustling behind her, something much larger then a squirrel, rumbling about in the crispy-leafed bushes.
Normally, she would've sent herself hurtling through the bushes, claws unsheathed and ready to attack, but maturing these days, she took a moment to scent the air. Relief flooded over her when she recognized, the warm, familiar Mountainclan cat scent.
Before she had time to pad over, the struggle stopped, and the bushes fell silent again, like the rest of the snow-white wonderland.
Her eyes narrowed, but she was taken aback before she called out the cat's name, and a sleek black object sprang from the snowy bushes, blurring in front of her.
Lioneyes quickly stepped back, unable to take in the scene as the cat moved so quickly in front of her. The black cat in front of her turned to face her, bright sapphire eyes shimmering in the mid-day sun.
"Ravenfrost," she meowed breathlessly, "You startled me."
Ravenfrost smiled, though it was hard to see; a plump grey mouse hung from his jaws.
He gently layed it at his feet and sat back on his haunches. "Sorry," he mewed quickly as he licked his jaws clean.
Lioneyes exhaled softly with a forced smile, "Nice catch." she nodded. The compliment was true, it was a large mouse, but she couldn't help feeling a pang of jealousy that the tom had caught something before she had.
Ravenfrost smirked. She knew he was picking up on her feelings; he always did. "Thanks," he brushed the half-hearted compliment off, like always. "I saw you almost caught that squirrel earlier," he looked over his shoulder to the tall trees behind him before glancing back, his blue eyes sincere. "That was an impressive jump."
Lioneyes huffed, sitting back on her haunches as well. "But I didn't catch the squirrel, so it proved to be useless. My brawn is both a gift and a curse."
Ravenfrost smiled amusedly, turning his gaze away from her as he began to groom his ruffled chest. "And why's that?" He asked with a suppressed grin, glancing up as he combed his tongue through his short black pelt.
Lioneyes huffed, "I excel at fighting, but when it comes to hunting it seems as if I have a measly thirty percent success rate. What use is being the strongest warrior in the clan if I can't even catch a squirrel?"
Ravenfrost scowled, looking up at her and breaking from his grooming, "Don't put yourself down like that. It was in a tree. Hardly any cats are as agile as squirrels, even on the ground. Even Windclan cats have a hard time catching the furry little things. You're a Mountainclan warrior, Lioneyes, and an excellent hunter."
He smiled, standing and padding over to her. He nudged his shoulder into hers playfully, "But whoever said you were the strongest Mountainclan warrior?"
Lioneyes smiled, releasing her frustration in a breath and accepting the challenge good-naturedly, trying not to dwell on her failed attempt to catch a squirrel in a tree.
Ravenfrost chuckled as she tackled him.
Try as he might, he couldn't unleash his attack as they rolled around in the dead grass and crisp leaves.
To be fair, she did have the first move and she was considerably bigger then he, with her African heritage and all.
He huffed, pushing his paws into her shoulders with all his might. Finally, with enough momentum on their next roll in the flurries of snow, he gained enough strength to pin her below him.
She smirked. Not quite the largest accomplishment for a cat like Ravenfrost, but still, she knew he was feeling proud of himself. Perfect timing.
Shooting her legs out from under him, she sent him flying up. Using her large paws she slammed him down on his back. "Pinned ya," she grinned.
Ravenfrost smiled, slipping his paw out from under her and swatting her ear playfully.
She giggled as he shot out from under her and ran. She sent herself flying after him and in moments her paws were back on his shoulder and he was on his back.
"Pinned ya again," she meowed triumphantly.
Ravenfrost huffed dramatically and pawed at her face, pushing her off him, "Alright, alright! I give up, you win!" She smiled, leaping off him.
Ravenfrost smirked, jumping to his paws and shaking out his pelt.
He playfully rammed his head into her shoulder before grooming his poufy chest again.
Lioneyes grinned. "So? Who's the strongest Mountainclan warrior??" She asked playfully.
Ravenfrost rolled his clear blue eyes. "Not you. Thornfrost," he answered. "I thought you were never one to gloat," he muttered.
Lioneyes smirked. "My mother would win in a play-fight with my father, hands down. And so would I."
Ravenfrost smiled, but didn't give her the satisfaction of a reply. He exhaled softly and began to pad back to where he had left his plump dead mouse.
Lioneyes smiled and followed him back. His gaze was fixated on a large black bird in the sky as they walked back towards the shelter of the pine trees.
Lioneyes scowled, "Where's the mouse?"
Her meow brought Ravenfrost back from his trance of watching the bird soar high above. He looked ahead of him to see a bare patch of forest floor, soil wet and the area where he had laid the dead mouse vacant.
He scowled, "I swear, I left it right here..." he sounded shocked.
Lioneyes nodded, trying to keep a calm head as her thoughts immediately rushed to the worst-case scenario. "I know, I was with you." She answered.
Ravenfrost shook his head before scenting the air. "Whatever took it is long gone by now. We wouldn’t have a chance at catching it now…”
Lioneyes scowled, scenting the air all while he spoke. She grimaced when she caught the scent of the thief, her bright golden eyes glowering as Ravenfrost looked back to her.
"Sure we would," She hissed, lunging forward in a long, springing stride. "You just need to keep up."
Ravenfrost's brow furrowed as he quickly raced after her, keeping pace but only for a short time before he started to fall behind.
He scowled, forcing himself to match her stride.
Lioneyes grimaced, inhaling sharply to keep on track with the scent. She knew by now what had stolen Ravenfrost's mouse, and wasn't all too happy with the outcome. It was hardly worth fighting over the silly mouse, but she knew the thief would bury it for later eating, and when food was so scarce in the clan, they needed all they could get.
The scent was of a male red fox, and it was getting stronger as she raced through the forest, gracefully dodging trees.
All her moves were quick, agile and fluid. Her legs carried her quickly over the forest floor, her paws barely made a sound. It wasn't that foxes were too large. No, she was about the same size, if not larger. But it was their cunning personality and their vicious temper toward cats that was going to be a problem getting the mouse back. The mouse was hardly even the reason she was chasing after it. A fox on the clan territory meant there was a danger for the upcoming kits in the next few moons to come, so getting rid of it now, despite the snow, would cause less trouble later on.
She glanced over her shoulder to Ravenfrost, who was a few fox-lengths behind her, and continuing to fall farther back as her speed finally began to pick up.
She returned her gaze ahead of her and had to concentrate on how fast she was running in this wood; too fast and she'd end up running into a tree, or coming too close to the fox. Too slow and she'd lose it.
She managed to keep her speedy pace just fast enough and she began to see the tail of the fox ahead. She knew then she would either have to attack, or flee and this chase would have been wasted. She knew she stood a chance against the fox, but fighting it alone would most certainly lead to a bloody mess and wounds that would take moons to heal.
She could hear Ravenfrost calling from behind, but his words were barely audible, as the wind filled her ears and blocked out almost every sound. She could only truly count on her scent and sight at the moment.
She pulled herself up short when the fox made a sharp turn and broke off from his straight path, causing her to skid in the dirt and crispy leaves; it was well aware of its' pursuer.
Lioneyes could barely gain enough traction as she fought to turn herself toward the fox, and she nearly toppled over to her side. By now, it was useless in chasing it. She was fast enough, yes, but what was the point now? She would just have to report the events of the afternoon to Silverstar and have her send out a scout patrol to take out the fox. She was only really concerned for the kits.
As she panted and shook out her pelt, Ravenfrost managed to finally catch up with her. "Didn't you hear me?" He asked breathlessly. Lioneyes shook her head no and continued to pant heavily.
Ravenfrost scowled. "I said we should go back to the camp. The mouse isn't worth fighting over anyways; I'm more worried about what could happen if the fox is settled in the clan territory and it isn't dealt with. When spring comes, we'll have kits,"
All of this was unnecessary information to give her, because she already knew; it was the first thought that came to mind. She nodded, but didn't start an argument with him.
It just then occurred to her that she had been chasing the fox on a very familiar path until it took off to the right. Her eyes widened. She had been chasing it in the direction of the camp! It was as if she had flooded him out! She grimaced, turning her wide golden gaze to Ravenfrost. "We have to get back to camp!"

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