Chapter 7: Lakefrost
Lakefrost could still see in his head as the WindClan cats turned away and disappeared into the lower tunnel, leaving behind the two kits above the river. The two kits playing on unaware of the danger. And in his head, the gray tabby tom could hear his sister's voice.
"That's what they said. That's what the voices were saying!. . . The tunnels will flood and if we don't get out we're going to die!"
He reeled. For a moment he felt lightheaded. Die? Below ground, away from the stars? He was too young, he didn't want to die!
"Lakefrost, Lakefrost!" Honeybee rubbed her head against him. She pushed him, trying to get his attention. Somehow she got it, snapping him from the terror that gripped his throat. He stared at his sister, just catching a glimpse of her golden fur from the gray light that came from the crack in the cavern's ceiling. Down dripped the water, pouring across the roots holding back the dirt. Dripping down to fill the tunnels beneath the Clans. He could feel it on his paws. They had mud on them and that was growing slicker. His ear tips drooped with mud and water, his back was damp. It really was true.
"We have to get down there," Honeybee meowed. "We have to follow the way the kits took. You and I both know we can't jump down that opening."
She nodded to the hole they'd been looking through. The hole they'd seen WindClan abandoned two ShadowClan kits to a horrible fate. There wasn't any way the two warriors could climb down the steep, smooth sides. They'd have to keep following the narrow tunnels deeper. Hopefully they could find the kits soon enough.
"Yes," he gulped for air, trying to calm his racing heart. "You're right. First we have to warn them."
She nodded and sat within the small chamber while he went back to the hole. He looked inside the great deep cavern. The two kits still played on top of the ledge above the river where it gushed through one large tunnel into another. If his eyes and the dark weren't deceiving him, it looked as if the water had risen and was flowing faster.
He looked and spotted Pinekit and Chestnutkit. One of the brown kits had the other pinned on the ground. But the one below shoved upwards with its back legs, throwing its sibling away. Lakefrost's breath caught as the kit tumbled a bit too close to the edge. The kit didn't seem to notice, its tail waved in the air, a cheerfully indignant chirp coming from an open mouth.
"Pinekit! Chestnutkit!" he yowled. His voice echoed through the cavern, distorted. He yelled again, needing to get their attention. A set of ears tipped upward, a face twisting side to side. Lakefrost yowled again, leaning out through the hole. "Get out! Hurry!"
Pinekit nudged his sister. They both looked up. Their eyes sparkled against the light, as they turned in his direction. Lakefrost shouted again, waving a paw in the air. "Get out! Get outside!"
Chestnutkit's muzzle went to her brother's ear. It flicked and then the two waved their tails at him. He didn't know if they'd understood him or not. It worried him that they might stay there, expecting him to get them. Or else they would hide the moment he let them out of his sight. But they couldn't stay there. All four of the ShadowClan cats had to get out before it was too late.
Lakefrost pulled back inside the chamber. He looked at Honeybee and nodded. She led him back to the tunnel. One black hole sloped upward, a faint breeze of fresh air blew down on him and into his nose, calling him out into the forest where it was safer. Water ran down from that trail, sliding through his paws. Another tunnel not far from the entrance led downward. It had to be the one the kits had taken to get into the cavern. Honeybee led the way inside.
He ducked his head as his ears touched the dirt. There were no roots this deep, but moss still padded their feet from the hard bits of stone in the compact earth. Lakefrost's legs ached as he stayed low. His sister's tail brushed his nose as it flicked side to side. He could smell her own fear, but she was holding it back. He was glad she wasn't muttering about seeing things anymore. That made him even more nervous when she thought there were cats in the tunnel with them. Cats who spoke and said things only she could hear.
The tabby tom followed her, trusting her. But they kept going down, and then suddenly the tunnel shifted and they were walking up again. Lakefrost wasn't certain, but he felt as if they were headed away. It was taking too long. The kits would have been inside the cavern and back. It hadn't even taken them very long to leave the camp and get below ground. This was taking too long.
"Honeybee?" he meowed. "Is there more than one tunnel?"
There was silence. Finally she spoke. "I felt more than one as we passed by. I thought we should take the main one. I'm sorry."
He blinked and continued to look into the blackness. She hadn't said anything about other tunnels.
"Turn around," she meowed. "Maybe we can find some of them again."
Without a word he started back. His body felt cramped as he slid sideways, then doubled up. His muscles strained as he flipped around. He could hear her moving as well and suddenly he was leading. His steps were quick as they headed back up. He listened more, his whiskered against the tunnel sides, looking for more openings. The problem was, he wasn't certain which one to take. If they went straight they could get back to the sky, but if they did that, they'd lose the kits.
The water oozed around his paws and he stumbled, slipping until he almost fell on his chin. The ground wasn't stable beneath him. He could barely climb upward. He extended his claws, feeling for the moss to pull him along. There was only darkness and mud and the smell of water and old things everywhere.
He could feel space to one side of him. He turned and sniffed. Another tunnel. He paused. Should he go in? He did, stepping through. It was colder in that one, but the sides were wider. He could stand straighter. He walked on, listening as his sister panted beside him. On they walked. And Walked. And walked some more. Each time the tunnel curved or sloped in one direction or another, or he suddenly found another opening to go through, Lakefrost's chest got tighter.
Splash. He stumbled forward, his leg falling into water almost chest deep. He backed up into Honeybee. As the water dripped from his leg, he stared sightlessly forward. He could hear the water now. A slight flowing sound. It wasn't fast. It didn't need to be. It had them. It had all the time. Because there was no way the siblings were getting out. No way, because they didn't know the way out.
"We're lost," Honeybee meowed. It wasn't a question.
"We have to find the tunnel out," he meowed back, his voice quavering.
He closed his eyes and scrunched his face. "There is any way we're finding them now. We have to leave them." It was the hardest thing to say. It burned his throat until he had to choke it out. For once, his own life was more important. He couldn't find them, couldn't rescue them. He had to rescue himself. He and Honeybee had to get out before the water filled up over their heads.
"Go back," he whispered.
"Did you say something?" she meowed.
"I said we had to go back," he made his voice louder until it echoed back against them.
"That's what the voices are saying," she meowed, her voice tight.
"Voices?" he hissed. "Not that again!"
"But they are here. Cats. Young ones. I can see them in the darkness. They're watching us. There's one, an ugly furless tom with bulging eyes. He has a stick in his claws. He just sits in the cavern. The other cats around us, they're telling us to leave-"
"Enough!" he hissed. He turned to her, feeling her warmth in the darkness. "There are no voices! There are no cats with sticks. We are alone in here. And we are going to die!"
Silence answered his words. His breath came out in gasps. She was silent. She probably had her ears down, a twisted expression on her face. But she didn't argue. That wasn't her. He waited for something, anything at all. There was no reply. She didn't deny what he said or agree with it. She wasn't going to apologize.
Suddenly he heard something falling in the water behind them. He looked back, but didn't see a thing. But he could hear movement as something pushed through. Something was getting closer. His fur rose and he just stared, willing his claws out. He'd attack if he had to.
"Are you still there?"
He blinked, his ears pulling back. The confused and high voice was familiar. It shouldn't have been down there with them.
"Lakefrost?" she meowed, pulling herself from the water. It dripped down her fur, pattering on the ground as she walked forward.
Honeybee huddled by his side, listening to this cat that came for them.
"Mallowstalk?" Lakefrost whispered.
"Lakefrost!" meowed the ginger she-cat, their other sister. Mallowstalk rushed forward and pressed her wet self against her brother. He purred and leaned into her. Honeybee licked her sister's chest clean.
"You came down," he meowed.
"Yes," was her breathy reply. "I came."
"But you were scared!"
"I still am. Everything is too enclosed." She shivered.
Lakefrost wasn't really sure if it was because she was cold or really was scared. It could have been both. Instead he wondered how she'd found them. What had made her overcome her fear and get them?
"The kits got out," she meowed to his unasked question.
"Yes," Mallowstalk nodded. "They came out some time ago. I was worried when you didn't show... so I came." she sounded as if she were ashamed. Lakefrost wondered why.
"So do you know the way out?" he meowed.
She shook her head. "No. The tunnel was filled with mud as soon as I got to the bottom. We're stuck."
Lakefrost suddenly couldn't breathe. They were stuck. Stuck because of a mudslide. And the water kept rising.
"I only found you because of your scents. And because Lakefrost was yelling. I don't know if I can get us out. The water is making it harder, washing away all the scents."
"You can still find fresh air can't you?" Honeybee was meowing.
Lakefrost couldn't really hear. It was all just background noise.
"I'll try. Let's get moving."
They nudged him and then realized he wasn't really responding. In the end they had to pull him along. When they got to water, they pushed him in. He came up sputtering, the ringing in his head gone. He swam to the edge and pulled himself up.
"That's deeper than I expected," Mallowstalk meowed.
"You just threw me in too see that?" he demanded, growling.
"Hey, if you're going to go catatonic, do it someplace safer."
"But we aren't ever going to get out!"
"Don't say that," Honeybee squeaked.
Lakefrost moved away from the water. It had risen as he sat there, curling over his paws. His heart still pounded, but he was a bit clearheaded. He realized they needed to find the way out, not sit and wait for the water to take them.
"How hard was the rain?" he meowed.
"It was fair when I got in," she meowed. "But suddenly there was a torrent. That s what brought down the mud."
He knew then the water would just get worse.
"Quick," he meowed. "Do you smell anything at all?"
"I might," was the answer in the dark. "But we have to go passed this water."
"Yes," Honeybee breathed. "That is what they're saying too."
Lakefrost's ears went back and he stared in her direction. What he suddenly feared most was that they'd all go insane from spending time below. Honeybee was just the first to crack.
"All right," he meowed. "Across the water then."
He turned back and slowly slipped in. But once there, he panicked. He didn't know how to swim. He wasn't RiverClan! But his legs churned, if in elegantly, and he moved forward. They jumped in behind him, gasping in the cold. They went on and he grew tired, wondering how long the water would be. His head hit dirt. He gasped and went under, his head aching. He tried to get up again, but his nose only pressed more dirt. His heart pounded and he claws his way across the tunnel ceiling.
Suddenly there was air. He took big gulping breaths as his sisters broke the surface around him, yowling and sputtering and just as desperate for air.
"Are we getting anywhere?" he croaked.
"I can smell the air," was Mallowstalk's only reply.
"The cats are gone," Honeybee whispered. "They didn't go into the water. They are scared of it."
"Hurry," he gulped. "We have to find land."
They swam forward, though not as fast as he would have liked. They did find land eventually, and though he wished to rest there, Mallowstalk insisted they kept going. She led them on where a stream of water pushed at their feet, almost forcing them downward. The tunnel was low and very narrow. She struggled on, leading them up. And suddenly light filled Lakefrost's eyes.
Mallowstalk's ears were haloed in the light. She was only a dark shadow against the light up ahead. He moved faster, pushing against her even though he stumbled and almost slid down into Honeybee. Mallowstalk was just as anxious. She started running upward. Bits of water flung into their eyes, but on they went.
They broke through. Honeybee was the last out. The three stood, turning around, a small sloping tunnel behind them, wondering where they were at. There was undergrowth everywhere: thick ferns and bushes, flowers and grass, and dipping weed stems. Tall trees thick leaned and towered, their leaves shuddering and spinning in the rain.
"I smell ThunderClan," Mallowstalk whispered.
And then the rain stopped. Under Honeybee's back paw, the dirt crumbled. She stepped away. The three cats watched as the soil crumbled and collapsed. Soon the only thing left of their escape was a very wet dip in the ground.