Disclaimer: All characters and concepts behind "" are the sole property of Tiffany Wynne, otherwise known as Senashenta or "Sena". Please do not use/reproduce/etc. any of said characters or concepts without direct permission from the author herself. Thanks.

Notes: Righty-o! Welcome to Animal Tracks, where I am the author, you (yes YOU!) are the players, and the characters are merely puppets to our collective will! *crashing thunder and lightning* ...what? Anyway, the general idea is that you lot choose who you want the fic to follow. Similar to a Choose-Your-Own adventure, I suppose...

Anyway, read and then choose which character/player you want to continue with! The one with the most votes will be the main focus of the next chapter...


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Welcome to Animal Tracks!

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For their entire existence, all they had ever known were those four black-and-grey-flecked walls, and for their entire existence the only other people they had known were the five others who shared it with them.

They all had our own ways of dealing with the emptiness of our world, but they all tended to be retrospective. Meaning that they did a lot of thinking, and a lot of dreaming—mostly about what the world outside might be like. Would there be more color, maybe? Would there be more people?

Leopard paced a lot, back and forth across our world, muttering to himself under his breath as he did so. He was tall and assertive, with spotted markings that trailed across his face and back, and ran down his arms. He also sported a nasty temper, so the others did their best to just stay out of his way most of the time.

For the most part, Raven stood in one corner, leaning against the wall, watching the rest of them in silence. He was quiet and retrospective, with a guarded outward appearance but the heart of a philosopher or a poet.

Cricket and Mink played a lot of word games, and gossiped about everyone else, even though there wasn't much to gossip about, given their restrictions. The two, despite their differences, had been best friends since their Creation: shy and soft, Cricket was a follower, while Mink, who was bright and bubbly, was situated firmly in the leader role.

Sometimes, Mouse played games with them, and sometimes chatted with Raven, but normally just sat by himself and thought, or made up tales to entertain himself and, he hoped, the others. Mouse was a dreamer...

And Orca spent her time sleeping, or snoozing, or napping, or, if she was feeling really energetic, dozing. It wasn't that she was lazy—she just liked to sleep, but when she was awake one would find her to be intelligent, innovative and friendly.

Occasionally, two or three of them would decide to have a sparring session: as they were all outfitted with their own unique weapons, it seemed a fitting thing to do, and it helped to pass the seemingly endless time...

"Keep your elbow down, Cricket."

A quick nod of her head, and the girl tucked her elbow into her side, shifting her grip on the staff in her hands. "I'm ready now. Go ahead."

Orca looked unsure, but shrugged anyway and twirled her daggers, something that she made look easy, though no one else who had tried it had managed to do so. "Alright, here I come—"

She blurred into movement, her patchwork white and black hair flying around her as she streaked toward Cricket, who held her staff in a wholly defensive position: when she wasn't sleeping, Orca was a talented fighter and brilliant tactician.

"Step up, Cricket!" Mink called from the sidelines, "don't just wait for her to—"

The warning came too late, as Orca slammed into the other girl, knocking her backward and following her as she stumbled, slashing with her daggers in an amazing show of speed. Cricket, at least, knew better than to squeeze her eyes shut as she had in the past. Ducking past Orca's slashes, she swung her staff around to connect with her side—

—and Orca leapt backward, avoiding the swing, before dancing sideways and slamming her forearm into the side of Cricket's neck. The olive-haired girl gasped as her breath was choked off, and then fell to the side from the force of the impact.

"Ooh!" Mink winced visibly. "That one hurt..."

"Are you alright, Cricket?" Mouse sounded concerned, and moved from where he had been leaning against the wall, heading toward Cricket. Crouching down, he tilted his head to the side to get a better look at her. "Well?"

"I'm—I'm fine." She managed to gasp. One hand was propping her up, and the other was held against her throat. She glanced upward at Mouse, offering a faint smile, "just... a little out of breath."

"I bet." Mouse chuckled. His black eyes flitted to her staff, which had fallen from her grasp and clattered across the ground to stop a few feet away. "You need to learn to take the offensive once in a while."

"That's what I keep telling her." Mink commented from the sidelines.

Cricket laughed weakly, and proceeded to climb to her feet with Mouse's help and under Orca's watchful gaze. Once standing, she rubbed at her throat for another second or two and then moved to bow in Orca's direction. "Thank you, Orca-dono."

Orca bowed quickly in return, a jerky motion that made it obvious she wasn't used to the formality. "Its fine Cricket... are you sure you're alright, though?"

"Hm." A nod. "I'll be fine."

"If you're sure," Orca's eyebrows raised slightly, and then she shrugged again and sheathed her daggers, turning to return to her regular place, which was, of course, sleeping in the corner. Orca's life was strange in that way: an existence that consisted of a lot of sleeping, but with fits and starts of blinding, almost frantic activity.

"Here, Cricket."

She turned toward Mouse, who handed her back her staff. "Mouse-san!"

Cricket's odd habit of using Japanese honorifics in regards to the others had developed only hours after the Creation, and had never gone away. No one else used them, and in the beginning they had all found that particular mannerism of hers to be a little on the odd side... but they had very quickly gotten used to it.

For a moment after Mouse returned the staff, there was silence—and then Mink bounced to her feet, short sword in hand, and headed for the center of the room. "Come on, Raven! It's our turn now!"

Raven's eyes glittered darkly behind the shadows of his cloak, and then he reached up and undid its tie, allowing the midnight black material to drop to the ground behind him. His bow-knives were propped up next to where he had been standing, along with his bow and quiver, and he stopped to pick them up without a word before pacing toward where Mink was waiting.

Orca had already slipped into a dreamless sleep, leaning in her corner, but Cricket and Mouse moved out of the way to watch what was about to transpire with interest.

Mink didn't wait for Raven to be ready. Instead, she raised her sword to chest-height and lunged—"haa!"—straight toward him, leaving what she thought was no time for him to react.

Unfazed, Raven brought one of his bow-knives around in a sweeping arc, knocking Mink's sword side, and then spun out of the way as Mink, under her own momentum, half-stumbled forward and almost fell—then managed to catch herself at the last second and whirled around to slash at him again.

Steel slashed through the air, and crashed into the ground when Raven ducked out of the way.

"Stay still, why don't you!"

Silence from Raven, and he slammed his weight into the girl, making her trip sideways and scramble to keep from losing her balance completely. With her momentarily distracted, his bow-knives flashed, and Mink's sword was jerked from her hand and left to skitter across the floor and out of reach...

Growling, Mink allowed herself to fall forward—and then caught herself, spinning on the heels of her hands, and kicked outward, catching Raven's ankles with her right boot and forcing him to abandon his own weapons in favor of not falling on his face.

"Got you now—"

But Raven was a bit more spry than she was giving him credit for. Catching himself with his hands, he spun onto his back and flipped himself to his feet before she could connect with him again. Cursing, Mink lashed out with a fist—only to have it caught in midair.

Raven was, give or take, a foot taller than her, and he looked down at her impassively for a moment—then something akin to amusement flashed through his eyes and he twisted her arm, spinning her around and pinning it behind her back. "Forfeit, Mink. The match is over..."

Snorting, Mink wrenched at her arm, but Raven's grip wasn't that easily loosed. Annoyed, she slammed her elbow backward... but he intercepted that, too, and before she knew it both of her arms were out of commission. So she kicked him. Hard. In the shin.

He only grunted, his eyes narrowing, and swept her own feet out from under her in one smooth motion, releasing her hands at the same time and leaving her to fall, hitting the floor with an echoing thump and an equally loud string of curses. Where she learned them, no one knew...

"Ow." Mink rolled onto her back and flung her arms out as far as they would go, breathing in winded gasps, and looked upward at Raven expectantly. "Well? Go ahead. You going to finish me off, or what?"

One of his eyebrows quirked—a barely visible twitch—and he silently offered her a hand. "You have the opposite problem from Cricket's." He told her in a monotone; "while she has no offense, you, Mink, have no defense."

"Yeah, yeah." Grasping his hand, Mink allowed him to haul her up to her feet. "Some day, I'm going to kick your ass, Raven."

"Of course."

"I'm sure he's shaking in his boots." Leopard growled sarcastically: he was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and head down, faded-gold hair hanging over his eyes, which flashed an angry green. "You're nothing by a child when it comes to battle."

"You got a problem, Leopard?" Mink demanded, obviously annoyed. Her own hazel eyes very clearly conveyed her dislike for the man as she reached to retrieve her sword, and Raven's bow-knives at the same time. "Raven—" she handed his knives back to him absently, and he took them without a word.

Still huffing, she shot another glare in Leopard's direction and then stalked over to Cricket and Mouse while Raven returned to where he had been standing and quickly pulled his cloak back on, disappearing into the shadows of the hood once more.

"Um..." Cricket wrinkled her nose, "has Leopard-dono ever fought?"

Mouse blinked at that, and favored her with a surprised look. "You know, I've never seen him fight at all..."

They both looked over toward Leopard, who hadn't moved since his scathing comments in regards to Mink. He was a large man, tall and well-muscled, and his presence bordered on menacing—the huge sword that was constantly strapped to his left hip didn't help matters.

"He doesn't think he should waste the time." Mink snorted, and crossed her own arms angrily. "He's just a jerk, that's all."


"Well, he is! You hear that, Leopard? You're a goddamn jerk!"

Leopard's eyes flashed toward them, and he shifted his position, turning to face the three of them even as his mouth twisted into a frown. "Just because you're a lousy—"

"Bring it on, buddy boy!"

"Mink, come on..."

Ignoring Mouse's exasperated plea, Mink whirled to face Leopard and stuck her tongue out childishly, making the hulking man scowl in her direction. From his corner, Raven's eyes watched silently, and Orca lifted her head a bit, looking out from under dark eyelashes as Leopard took a step forward and Mink moved to meet him—

And then everything seemed to freeze.

None of them could move, and none of them could speak. Mink's eyes jerked around wildly, as did everyone else's as they tried to figure out just what in the world was happening—and then the roof seemed to lift away from their little world, vanishing into a blinding light beyond, and they were bathed in brilliant, eye-watering white...

For once, everyone's thoughts rang together: what in the hell is going on..?

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