“And remember; step lightly.”
“Uh-huh. Step lightly. Got it.”
“Not a sound.”
In the bushes, a pair of cats crouched there, their eyes on a bushy tail, watching it flick to and fro. The younger one, a tabby she-cat, crept closer, her belly fur scraping the forest floor. Her mentor watched in silence.
Before she pounced, the she-cat stepped on a twig, alerting her target. The bushy tail vanished from sight and rustling told her that the squirrel ran away.
Sighing, she returned to the older cat, tail dropping in disappointment.
“What did you do wrong?” her mentor, a dark tom, questioned.
The she-cat looked away. “I stepped on that twig,” she murmured.
“Why did you step on the twig?”
“Because I wasn't watching where I was putting my paws.”
The dark tom lifted his chin. “So next time, you'll do what?”
“Pay attention to my surroundings,” the she-cat ventured.
Her mentor dipped his head. Then he got to his paws. “Let's return to camp. It's nearly mealtime.”
The younger cat blinked. “Actually, D-Darkstar, I was w-wondering if I could try hunting by myself. I’ll be back before the sun sets.”
Darkstar stared coldly down at his apprentice, and the she-cat had to force herself not to shy away from him. He was very scary when he looked at her that way.
After what felt like ages, the leader finally gave a curt nod. “Very well,” he meowed. “But be back before the sun sets, and I want you to add something to the pile.”
“Yes, Darkstar.” To herself, she added, If I can .
She started to move away, only to pause when her mentor called her back. “Oh, and Pricklepaw; don't go near the twolegplace.”
Pricklepaw gulped. “Y-Yes, Darkstar.”
Darkstar turned and stalked into the bushes. Once he was gone, Pricklepaw let out a long sigh, relaxing now that she wasn't under the cool stare of her mentor.
Making sure none of her other Clanmates were around, Pricklepaw slipped through the forest, keeping to the darkest shadows in case a patrol passed in the distance. But she made it to the edge of her territory unnoticed. She stared ahead, her gaze moving over the large, bumpy things on the horizon. Her paws tingled with excitement.
Running the rest of the way, she was panting by the time she got to the first of the nests. No time to rest if she was to be back at camp on time, she skirted the front of the twolegplace until she spotted something familiar: a bright colored creature crouching beside a nest. Its black paws were round and it looked like it was asleep so Pricklepaw quietly slipped by.
She came to a hard, black path that she's crossed countless times now. She paused at the edge and sniffed. The air had an acid smell to it and it was impossible to make out any other scents.
She made sure it was silent, then dashed to the other side. She passed several gardens before finally arriving at one that she knew better than all the rest. She approached the door and sat down, letting out a long meow.
After a couple of moments, the door slid open and a twoleg stood there.
“Hello there,” said the female twoleg with a smile, and she crouched down, running a forepaw along Pricklepaw's spine.
Pricklepaw purred loudly. She rubbed her body against the twoleg’s legs.
The twoleg giggled and picked the she-cat up in her arms. Then she went back into her nest, closing the door behind her. She sat Pricklepaw down beside a bowl that had white water in it. Pricklepaw licked at it hungrily.
“I'm glad you came here today,” the female twoleg went on; Pricklepaw hardly paid attention to her. “Because I'm moving away and I'd hate to lose my kitty friend.”
Pricklepaw sat up when she smelled something delicious. She turned to see the twoleg pouring food into a bowl, and placing it in something with walls and a floor and a door and much, much smaller than the twoleg nest.
Pricklepaw eyed it suspiciously. A weird place for food. But she shrugged. She was hungry and letting the twoleg feed her was a lot easier than catching her own food.
She crept into the closed-in space, and tucked into the food, gulping it down. The sound of something snapping together made her look over her shoulder.
Spinning around in the cramped space, Pricklepaw stared in alarm. She was trapped!
“Where is it? Where is it?”
Jumping to one side, Bingo dodged a flying object that his owner, Bob, threw past him. The black-gray puppy cocked his head. He was joined by his brother, Rolly.
The tan puppy echoed Bingo's thoughts out loud. “What's Bob looking for?”
“I don't know,” Bingo answered. “But we--”
He was cut off when Bob rushed by. “It has to be here somewhere,” the human insisted. “But it's nowhere. Oh, what am I going to do?” With a sigh, he flopped down on the sofa where his purple tabby cat, Hissy, was napping. But when Bob threw himself down, it bounced her into the air. She grabbed onto the back of the sofa to save herself from falling.
The puppies walked over to their owner and big sister, and a moment later, they were joined by their robot brother, A.R.F.
“What's wrong, Bob?” Rolly asked.
Bob looked up at his family but made no sign that he had heard Rolly. With a sigh, he stood up. At the same moment, the phone started ringing. Bob answered it.
“Hello? Oh, hey Mama. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Oh, no I haven't found it yet. What am I going to do if I can't find it?”
Bingo turned to his brother. “We have to help Bob.”
“But how?” Rolly asked. “We don't even know what he's looking for.” Frowning, he sat down.
“I'm afraid I forgot it at the campsite,” Bob admitted.
“Campsite?” Bingo looked at Rolly.
“You mean when we went camping last week?” Rolly questioned. “But what did he lose?”
“Without my compass, when I go camping, I'm gonna be lost,” Bob told his mother.
“That's it!” Bingo excitedly turned to Rolly. “He lost his compass!”
“His compass!” Rolly exclaimed. Then he paused. “Um… what's a compass?”
A.R.F. appeared beside the puppies and pulled up a hologram of a compass. “A compass. An instrument containing a magnetized pointer which shows the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it.”
“Oh, that sounds important.” Again, Rolly paused. “Um… right, Bingo?”
Bingo nodded. “And we need to find it for Bob! Come on, Rolly. We got a mission!”
When they got to the campsite, they immediately started sniffing for the compass. Then Rolly turned to Bingo.
“Um… what does a compass smell like?” the younger puppy asked.
Bingo hesitated. “I don't know,” he admitted.
Rolly glanced around. The campsite was empty except for a married couple setting up for the night. The puppies watched them as they thought of a way to find their owner's lost compass.
“Oh, Frank, it's gorgeous here, isn't it?” The female human turned to the male.
“It is, Esther,” her husband agreed with her, finishing setting up the tent. “Oh? What's this?” He bent over and parted the grass. Something shiny was sparkling in the daylight.
“Oh, a compass!” Esther joined Frank. “It's lucky we found it because I forgot to pack one.”
Frank picked it up. Bingo turned his ears in their distance. “Did you hear that, Rolly?” He excitedly turned to his brother, but the younger puppy was staring down at the lake. He jumped when Bingo spoke.
“No,” Rolly admitted, shifting his paws. “I was watching that kitty. She seems sad.”
Bingo turned to see a young tabby she-cat crouching on the shore, her head bowed. Bingo blinked. She did seem sad.
“But… But Bob's compass.” Bingo glanced wistfully over his shoulder. The couple was making for a trail heading into the woods, away from them, and with Bob's compass!
“Bingo, if I was sad, I'd want someone to cheer me up.”
Rolly convinced him. “Okay, Rolly. Let's go cheer her up!”
They ran over there. Alerted by their pawsteps, the cat jumped to her paws and arched her back, letting out a furious hiss. The puppies skidded to a halt, startled.
“I'm sorry if we scared you,” Bingo stammered. “But it's okay. We won't hurt you.”
“We saw you sitting here,” Rolly added. “And you looked sad so we wanted to cheer you up. Are you okay?”
The kitty cat still looked scary, and she growled,” No, I'm not okay. Two dogs just came running at me. How am I supposed to be okay?”
“We're sorry,” Bingo repeated.
“We were just checking on you,” Rolly insisted. He and Bingo crouched down to show the cat that they meant no harm.
After another moment or two, the kitty finally relaxed. “I'm not used to dogs talking to me. Usually they just chase us.”
The puppies slowly sat up. “We wouldn't chase someone who looked sad,” Bingo reassured her.
“What's your name?” Rolly asked. “I'm Rolly, and this is my big brother, Bingo.”
“I'm Pricklepaw of NightClan.”
Bingo and Rolly exchanged a look. “NightClan?”
Pricklepaw nodded. “There's four Clans: AirClan; WetClan; BrambleClan; and I belong to sneaky NightClan.” She crouched down and smirked at the puppies. Then she frowned and sat up. “But I was taken away from my Clan by a twoleg and now I've no idea how to get back home. I've been gone for days now, and honestly, I'm not even sure if any of my Clanmates miss me.” She bowed her head again, clearly miserable.
“I'm sure they miss you,” Bingo reassured her. “They are your family, right?”
“Some,” Pricklepaw replied.
“So of course they miss you!” Bingo ran in a tight circle, his tail wagging as an idea came to him. “Rolly, we may have failed in our mission to return Bob's compass. But now we have an even more important mission.”
Rolly put his head to one side, confused.
Still wagging his tail, Bingo ran around Pricklepaw, coming to a halt next to the kitty. “We're going to return Pricklepaw to her Clan!”
“Really?” Pricklepaw jumped to her paws. “Oh, thank you! Thank you! I won't forget this, ever.”
Bingo nodded. “So, Pricklepaw, what can you remember about your home?”
Pricklepaw looked thoughtful. “I know NightClan lives in a dark pine forest beside a Twolegplace.”
“Do you know where a dark pine forest is?” Rolly asked his brother.
“Hmm, there's one close by if I remember correctly,” Bingo replied.
“Let's go!” the puppies said together, hurrying away with Pricklepaw close behind.
Bingo and Rolly, with their new kitty friend, walked through a dark, scary pine forest. At every sound, Rolly jumped and jerked around, only to relax when his big brother comforted him. “It’s okay, Rolly,” Bingo assured him. “It was only a bird.”
“But what about that?” Rolly asked, startled by another noise.
“A squirrel,” Bingo answered.
Rolly laughed nervously. “Sorry. It’s a bit spooky in here.”
“It is,” Bingo agreed, then quickly added,” But nothing scares you, little brother. We have to do this for Pricklepaw.” He turned to the kitty. “So, Pricklepaw, is this your home?”
Pricklepaw paused and sniffed deeply, looking thoughtful. With a frown, her tail drooped. “No,” she said with a shake of her head. “I don’t smell any of my Clanmates.”
“Don’t worry,” Bingo told her cheerfully. “We’ll find them. What else can you remember about your home?”
Pricklepaw started pacing, quickly. “I… remember a strangely shaped tree near the forest where I live.”
“A strangely shaped tree?” Bingo echoed. “What does the tree look like?”
“A cat,” Pricklepaw answered, and she stopped pacing.
Bingo and Rolly exchanged excited looks. “We know where a cat shaped tree is!” Bingo announced, his tail wagging. “It’s close to the dog park. We pass it every day!”
“Yeah!” Rolly bounced up and down. “We can take you there!”
Pricklepaw stared at them, joy coursing through her. “Really? That's great! Can we go now?”
“Sure,” Bingo answered.
When they got to the dog park, Pricklepaw spotted the Cat Tree. She started running towards it. “I'm nearly home!”
But suddenly barking exploded behind her and she froze. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a huge gray bulldog racing across the dog park to her. A small purple dog chased after him.
Meowing in surprise, Pricklepaw darted away in the opposite direction from the Cat Tree. She didn't want to lead the dogs to her Clan.
More barking sounded on the other side of the park. Turning tail, Pricklepaw found herself face to face with the gray bulldog.
“Quick, Pricklepaw! Over here!”
Pricklepaw spotted Bingo and Rolly waving at her. She dodged the oncoming dogs and ran to the puppies.
“Quick, hide!” Bingo gestured to a tube looking thing. Pricklepaw jumped in.
The pursuing dogs stopped in front of Bingo and Rolly. “Where did that cat go?” Cupcake demanded.
“What cat?” Rolly asked innocently.
Cupcake narrowed her eyes, then spun around. “Come, Rufus. Let's check over there.” The other dogs followed them.
Pricklepaw climbed out of the tube. “Thank you, thank you!” the kitty panted.
“No problem,” Bingo responded. “Now come on. Let's get you home.” He ran across the dog park, toward the Cat Tree, with Rolly and Pricklepaw right behind him.
They made it to the tree unchallenged. “Here we are,” Bingo announced, wagging his tail.
Rolly frowned. “It was fun traveling with you. I'm gonna miss you.”
“But she lives close by,” Bingo reminded his brother. “We can come visit her. Right, Pricklepaw?” He looked hopefully at the kitty.
Pricklepaw hesitated. Finally she shook her head. “I don't think that'd be a good idea. The Clans don't like strangers, especially dogs. We've been lucky that not many dogs have noticed us, being so close to the dog park. If my Clan knew that I led dogs right to us, my mentor would have me looking after the elders for moons !”
“Right you are,” a voice growled behind her.
Pricklepaw spun around. “Darkstar! W-What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” her mentor retorted. He narrowed his eyes at the puppy dogs.
“T-This is Bingo and Rolly,” Pricklepaw told him. “They… helped me find my way home.”
Darkstar sat perfectly still, only moving his head to look at Pricklepaw. “And where have you been?” he asked coldly.
Pricklepaw's ears dropped. She had no choice but to reveal her secret. “I've… been taking food from… a Twoleg. She grabbed me the other day,” she went on in a rush. “I was so scared, and I ran away the first chance I got. Then I met Bingo and Rolly by a lake. At first they took me to another pine forest, but it wasn't home. They knew of the Cat Tree, so they brought me here. And then that's when you showed up…” Pricklepaw let her voice trail away, crouching down low.
Darkstar was silent for a moment. Finally he turned his head. “Go on then,” he growled, gesturing to the forest. “The Clan is waiting for you. You have a lot of catching up to do, but before you can get on with training, the elders need looking after.”
Pricklepaw looked down and didn't move.
“ Go !” Darkstar snapped.
Springing up, Pricklepaw ran into the forest.
“Let's go,” Bingo whispered to his brother, and they turned to leave, but Darkstar called them back.
They stood there for a couple of minutes. Then Darkstar sighed. “Thanks for bringing her home,” he said.
“Don't you think you were a little hard on her?” Bingo nervously said.
Darkstar didn't reply right away, and Rolly added,” It wasn't her fault she was taken.”
Suddenly anger blazed in the dark cat's eyes. “Yes, it was. She shouldn't have been taking food from twolegs. It's against the warrior code.”
“What's that?” Rolly asked.
“It's the guidelines we live by,” Darkstar responded.
“Oh!” Rolly exclaimed, jumping up and down. “It's like my code. A dog's gotta chew what a dog's gotta chew ,” he sung.
Bingo considered this for a moment. “I don't think so.”
“The warrior code tells us what we can and can't do,” Darkstar explained. “If some cat goes against it, they must be punished. Pricklepaw ignored the code so she's in trouble.”
“I'm sorry,” Bingo said. “We don't understand.”
“Because you are dogs. Only a Clan cat would understand. Now,” he added,” it's time you puppies were heading home. It's getting late.”
“He's right, Rolly. Bob'll be home soon,” Bingo realized.
“And if we're not there to meet him, he'll be so sad,” Rolly added onto what his brother said.
“Goodbye!” the puppies barked as they ran off, toward home.
Bingo and Rolly walked down their street. “It's too bad we failed our mission to return Bob's compass,” Rolly said sadly.
“But we did return Pricklepaw to her Clan,” Bingo reminded him. “I say today was a great day.”
Bingo and Rolly stopped walking and affectionately rubbed faces together. Footsteps heading toward them had them look up to see the married couple from the campsite walking down the sidewalk.
“It sure was fun camping,” Easter said with a huge smile.
“Yeah,” Frank agreed. “Sure wish we could have stayed, but we had to come back.”
“Yeah, to plan more trips!” Easter bounced in her excitement, which made her whole bag shake. Unnoticed to the couple, something fell to the ground.
Bingo and Rolly ran to it. “Should we tell them they dropped this?” Rolly asked.
Bingo started nodding, then gave the thing a closer look. “It's Bob's compass!” he realized, jumping up and down. “We did it!”
“We did it!” Rolly echoed. Then he froze. “What did we do?” he asked confusedly.
“Our mission, Rolly, getting Bob's compass. We completed our mission.”
“Oh, yay!” Rolly spun in a tight circle in his excitement.
Whistling made them look up to see Bob walking down the street. Snatching up the compass, they hurriedly ran into the backyard and through the doggie doors. They made it to the living room just as Bob came walking through the front door.
“Hey, puppy dog pals,” he greeted Bingo and Rolly. Then he noticed his compass. He took it from Bingo. “I was looking for this! I must have dropped it outside. Thank you for bringing it back to me,” he said as he scratched behind their ears in turn. He stood up. “I better put this in a safe spot for the next time we go camping.” With his compass, Bob went upstairs.
“Bob looks happy,” Bingo observed.
“I'm glad we found his compass and brought it back to him,” Rolly said, wagging his tail happily.
“High paw,” Bingo said, and Rolly wiggled with excitement, high pawing his brother
Hissy jumped up beside them. “Good job, guys. How did you find the compass?”
“Finding the compass was easy,” Rolly explained. “Finding it again and giving it back to Bob was the hard part.”
“And don't forget the Clans,” Bingo said to his brother.
A.R.F rolled up, and Hissy exchanged a look with him.
“It's kinda a long story,” Rolly warned. Hissy and A.R.F sat down and made themselves comfortable, a sign that they wanted to hear.
“Okay, it started with us leaving to go find Bob's compass...” Bingo began.