Chapter 13: Lakefrost
Most of the Clan was sleeping now, sheltered in their dens. He could hear soft breathing from the warriors and the apprentices were snoring. Only the kits seemed to be awake, wondering why everyone else was asleep and not out, why their mother wasn't playing with them. She did keep an eye on them, not wanting them to disappear again, but she didn't get much sleep, even with Mallowstalk by the nursery keeping an ear open. Fallingstar, Brownfeather, and the deputy sat near the Large Stump, speaking quietly, shifting and gazing around the fortified camp. Above, the sun rose in the sky, changing the olive green into a crimson and orange mixing with blue.
Lakefrost was awake, although Honeybee and Badgerface slept, exhausted by the night, having to tell Fallingstar everything and then helping to find vines, thorns, and branches to build up the camp. They fortified dens and the very few camp walls. ShadowClan wasn't a place full of undergrowth and Fallingstar now found that a disadvantage. ShadowClan worked with ambush and cunning and swiftness. It wasn't good when they were the ones ambushed.
Of course what was even more confusing was when the sun rose that morning without sight nor scent of an enemy Clan or of the Dark Forest. Everyone had been uncertain, staring around in confusion and then looking at Lakefrost doubtfully, but Fallingstar simply said the Dark Forest must have known they were warned. They'd attack on another night when the Clans were least expecting it. So she sent them all to their dens to get some rest, scheduling a hunting patrol for later.
He sat by the warriors' den, another look out. He'd asked Fallingstar to be the one awake, he couldn't sleep. He'd been shocked when the Dark Forest didn't show. The full moon had finished without incident. He'd broken up the Gathering for nothing, and he felt bad about it, wondering how Fawnfur was. He got his answer.
The bushes near the camp entrance rustled. Fallingstar and her companions looked up, their claws coming out. Lakefrost knew it would be silly for the enemy to attack from the entrance, but he still tensed up, a growl starting in his throat. Then she came out. Her ginger and brown tabby pelt was ruffled and dusty. She walked stiffly, hunching over as if in pain, her eyes wide and staring. She didn't seem like the same cat who'd left the island last night.
Lakefrost rose, hurrying to her side.
"Fawnfur," he meowed, nosing her side.
She looked at him dully. Fallingstar was soon there.
"What happened?" The ShadowClan leader demanded. "Is ThunderClan all right? I just knew it; the Dark Forest targeted one Clan while we were separate!"
"No," Fawnfur murmured quietly. "Nothing happened. They're safe."
"Then why are you here?" Fallingstar asked, seeming confused.
"I've been banished," Fawnfur choked out. "Bramblestar exiled me! Nothing happened last night. They didn't come! There was no Dark Forest and Bramblestar's right, I lied to everyone!" she wailed.
She sobbed and sat down, hiding her face. Lakefrost's stomach clenched and he looked at her, not sure what to do. She seemed like she was in pain, that she'd lost everything. Before he could come up with some kind of comfort, Fallingstar was curled around the former medicine cat's apprentice. She was licking the young she-cat's face, murmuring sympathy to her. This went on for a while as Fawnfur leaned into the leader's side. Finally she pulled away and just sat there, sighing.
"Why did you come here?" Brownfeather meowed when no one else would.
"I didn't have anywhere else," Fawnfur got out, looking at him. "They won't take me back. I know I was wrong now. There can't be any Dark Forest or StarClan. My Clan wouldn't even stand up for me. Bramblestar made sure Jayfeather couldn't come with me. He threatened to leave too. He's the only one."
She looked down and seemed as if she might start wailing again.
"You can stay with us," Fallingstar told her quietly.
Fawnfur looked at her with big eyes. "Are, are you sure? I mean, I'm from another Clan. And I was wrong about the Dark Forest. They aren't attacking."
"Hush," Fallingstar whispered, licking her head again. "I will take you in. Bramblestar is a fool. There are more full moons to come, other Gatherings the Dark Forest can attack. You are a good cat. You were firm in your belief and tried to help ThunderClan. It is their own fault if they won't listen."
"But the past," Fawnfur muttered, looking up then away, her ears flattening.
Fallingstar was quiet, considering. Lakefrost didn't know what Fawnfur was referring too and just watched. Finally the ShadowClan leader meowed, "that doesn't matter. You tried to help me then, now I have to help you."
"Thank you, Fallingstar," Fawnfur meowed.
"So is she joining our Clan?" Tigerheart asked.
Fallingstar nodded. "If she wants to. But for now, I think we'll just take care of you, Fawnfur. Perhaps later, you'd like to go back to ThunderClan."
"Why?" the ginger-brown tabby demanded. "They don't want me. I lied to them. There must not be a Dark Forest at all. I must have dreamed it all."
"Fox-dung," Fallingstar growled. "My kits did not dream it. Neither did you. I know the Dark Forest will come. They want their revenge. They may just come tomorrow."
"But that wouldn't be a full moon," Tigerheart reminded her.
"Might be close enough for them," Fallingstar shrugged. "Besides, I think I've heard of there being two full moons in a row once and a while."
Lakefrost's ears went back. Really? So they could still attack. He was still shocked they hadn't last night, but he had accepted they might arrive on another full moon. But if they could really come the next night, a night when there wasn't normally supposed to be a full moon, that would startled all of the Clans. WindClan and RiverClan must have already doubted what they'd heard last night.
"Get some sleep," Fallingstar was meowing to Fawnfur. "We'll just have to wait and see. Everyone needs their strength for later. Lakefrost."
He looked up and stared at her. She nodded to him, slowly unwrapping from Fawnfur. He stood up and nudged the former ThunderClan she-cat guiding her into the warrior den.
"I'm sorry," she whispered to him as he clawed moss into a nest for her.
"What for?" he meowed.
"For lying. For causing this mess."
"Fallingstar already told you," Lakefrost reminded her. "The Dark Forest is just manipulating us. They will attack."
"How can you believe that?" she meowed, not lying down. He watched her gaze settle on his Clanmates as they slept, their sides rising and falling with every breath.
"Because I know StarClan wanted us to do this. They wouldn't lie to us about something this big," he meowed. "We just have to wait. I wanted it to be last night. I expected it and this morning I almost collapsed. It was just too shocking that they hadn't come. My Clan wasn't sure what to do either until Fallingstar made them see how devious the Dark Forest, full of evil cats, could be. They all went to their nests. But I'm sure she doubted us too, she made us explain again what we'd heard."
Fawnfur watched him. He stared back at her, hoping to make her see everything would be all right, that he had been affected and shocked, but that he would still go on believing until the night the Dark Forest finally came. He'd listen to Fallingstar. She was the voice of reason right now until StarClan decided to explain things.
"I'm glad you came here," he meowed, ducking his eyes and then looking back at her.
"This was the only place left," she whispered. "I had to know I wasn't dreaming, that someone believed me."
"We still do," he purred, licking her ear. "Now believe in us."
She nodded and sighed, laying down, curling slowly and then readjusting. Her eyes opened and closed and she looked around again. He lay beside her, his pelt against hers. He wondered suddenly what it would be like if Fallingstar had exiled him and his siblings, and possibly Ashpaw as well. Where would they have gone if Fallingstar didn't believe them and wanted them gone because they'd embarrassed her and 'lied' to her?
"Where would have you gone if Fallingstar didn't let you stay?" he asked. Her breathing had been even and for a moment he wondered if she'd been sleeping.
"To Summerheat Camp," she finally answered. "I think they'd let me stay. As far as I know, they accept any Clan cats."
"Then if this doesn't work out," he meowed. "If we really are wrong, let's go together."
"All right." She didn't laugh about it. She said it so quietly that he was sure she was starting to doubt herself again. He sighed and shifted. It wasn't long before his eyes closed and he fell asleep into dreams.
Ashpaw stared at Fawnfur with white yellow eyes, a smile on his young face.
"I-I don't know," she got out.
Lakefrost watched her look around camp as if asking for help. No one did save her, they had work to do this sunhigh. The camp still needed fortifying and other cats were training or sharpening their claws. Fallingstar had a few hunting patrols out, it seemed Ashpaw was on one.
Fortunately, the cats of ShadowClan had accepted exiled Fawnfur. Once they heard her story, they felt sympathy for her and weren't about to chase her out. They had angry ridiculing comments for Bramblestar. He'd gotten rid of a medicine cat. Even an apprentice had more knowledge about StarClan. She'd know these things and yet he'd been convinced she was wrong. The Clan didn't like that and welcomed Fawnfur in. Even if they didn't have much time to be friendly or talk with her, Lakefrost could still see she felt at peace. Now Ashpaw was taking a step in the right direction.
"I'm not really a hunter," Fawnfur told the apprentice.
"But you aren't a medicine cat anymore," Ashpaw argued. "And you know how to hunt. Come on!"
"Ashpaw," Brownfeather walked over. "Don't bother her. She doesn't need you to talk off her ear."
Fawnfur bit back a smile as Ashpaw frowned at his mentor, muttering something about being nice.
"Lakefrost," Brownfeather turned to the gray tabby tom.
He looked up.
"Stop stand around watching Fawnfur like a mother badger," the brown warrior meowed. "Come on the patrol with us."
"I'm not staring," Lakefrost defended himself. "I'm guarding the camp."
"Against inside threats?" Brownfeather scoffed. "You'll be more useful hunting. Fawnfur, you can come too. It might be good to get out of camp."
She slowly nodded. "I guess I am in the way."
"Nonsense," the older warrior told her. "You should just be relaxing. Your job is done. Leave it to the fighters."
She sighed. "I'll come."
"I'll come too," Lakefrost meowed.
Ashpaw's eyes twinkled and he smiled at Lakefrost. "Lakefrost and Fawnfur sitting on a cloud, l-i-c-" He shrieked and ran for the camp walls as Lakefrost pounded after him. The gray tabby tom could hear both Brownfeather and Fawnfur laughing.
Later that day most of the Clan sat around camp, sharing tongues. Knotfur and Fawnfur sat side by side talking quietly. Lakefrost tried to keep an eye on them, but the two kits were tumbling around the fresh-kill pile and then pouncing on him, even when he walked over to a different part of camp. They seemed to have heard he'd seen StarClan and when they weren't attacking his tail they wanted to know more about the starry warriors. He told them but still they followed him around. Batwing and Mallowstalk stared on with amused smiles. Lakefrost just felt annoyed but he couldn't do anything about it, until the kits got bored with him, he wouldn't be left alone.
The moon was rising over the tops of the trees. It wasn't quite evening, the sun was still half way on the horizon, but there was the moon, a pale orb slashed by the branches and speckled by leaves. Honeybee asked the question everyone else was thinking. "Is it full? Are they going to come?"
"No," Flametail answered. "It looks nearly full, but it's not. I can see a very small piece is gone."
The whole Clan sighed and murmured to each other. It wasn't quite in relief, but there was a tinge of disappointment. If the full moon wasn't tonight, they'd have to wait until the next Gathering. But Lakefrost felt as if he'd been saved. He wasn't ready for any battle. The Clan could do so much more to prepare. They could contact the other Clans, decide on where they'd all go when they were ready to challenge the Dark Forest, and they could all fight together. He had a feeling the moorland would be a good place to fight, not too many trees in the way and a lot of cats could join, but ThunderClan would be good to, with thick undergrowth to block some attacks.
Lakefrost continued to think of battle plans, but when he finally looked up he noticed how miserable Fawnfur really did look. She probably thought StarClan had failed her again. He went over to comfort her. Eventually most of the warriors retreated to the den, and only a small group when hunting. The stars appeared in the great black above where a lone owl swooped between the trees.
"Do you like it here?" he asked her.
"It's nice," she told . "Everyone is friendly and accepting."
"That's what Fallingstar said when she left ThunderClan," Lakefrost smiled.
Fawnfur just smiled back. Her yellow eyes rose to the sky. He saw her frown, her ears twitching. "Does the moon look different to you?"
He glanced up. The moon was higher in the sky and it looked less full than it had just that evening. He frowned at it. It couldn't have gotten smaller. That just wasn't possible. It must have always been like that. He just shrugged in reply and she sighed, shaking her head.
"I guess I'm just hoping for something."
"It's always good to hope," he purred to her. Just then the hunting patrol got back. They came inside the camp, carrying various prey. Instead of placing it on the freshkill pile, Olivespot took her mouse to the nursery and Dappleflower went into the elder's den. The two watched the patrol return and nodded to them as they went inside the warriors' den for the night.
"I wish I could help my Clan," she whispered. "I feel bad about giving up on them. I know they cast me out, but, I feel as if I should have done something more. I just think I'm missing something," Fawnfur sighed. "Something vital. I think it had something to do with what Brownfeather said earlier to you. I just wish I could remember." Her ears relaxed and her eyes went blank. He stared at her, wondering what was wrong. Suddenly she gasped and her eyes got back their light. "That was it! Inside threats!"
"What just happened?" he meowed, tilting his head. "What are you talking about?"
"Why didn't I think of it," she shook her head. "I never realized I could look and see when the Dark Forest had contacted the living."
He just stared at her, not understand. See 'when'?
She closed her eyes again without another word. He watched her body grow still, her breathing calm as if she were sleeping, but her eyes didn't move. She stayed that way for a long time, her mouth growing relaxed, her head drooping. During which, Honeybee approached, looking like she wanted to ask something. She paused while Fawnfur appeared to sleep.
"Is she doing that again?" his golden sister asked.
"Doing what?" Lakefrost demanded. "I have no idea what's going on, but she seems to think she can see something that's already happened."
"She can," Honeybee shrugged.
Lakefrost just stared at her, wondering when the world had gone crazy and why he was only just noticing.
He felt more than saw Fawnfur grow tense. Her eyes opened but they continued to stare into the distance, yet the edges were crinkled as if in stunned shock.
"I have to go back," she meowed suddenly. She got to her feet and started for the entrance of the camp.
"Why?" Lakefrost asked. He got to his feet, following her, still not sure what was going on.
"I suddenly know who it is. I have to stop her. And StarClan spoke to me. They need us tonight."
"The Moonpool?" Honeybee asked, quickly coming after, not seeming confused at all.
Fawnfur nodded. "Go there. I'll meet you if I can."
Lakefrost stared between the she-cats, wondering what he was missing. Then Fawnfur left the camp, disappearing into the dark. He shook his head, wondering if he should follow or not. He started to, but Honeybee was already walking to the warrior's den.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, torn between who to follow.
"Waking the others," Honeybee meowed. "We need to get them up to go to the Moonpool. Go tell Fallingstar where we're going."
So reluctantly he went to the Large Stump and told his leader what had happened. But as he was done and she agreed to let her children go, her eyes peered out of the wooden den. He could see the moon reflected in her green eyes. She blinked and continued to stare. When he turned around, he noticed how even more of the moon was gone. Half of the moon was cloaked in darkness, dimmed as if something were covering it.
"Go," Fallingstar told him. "I'll wake the Clan. I think the Dark Night is here."
The moon behind them darkened slowly as if it were going through all the phases at once. He could feel it at his back, arching higher, the darkness growing around them. The Dark Night had come and perhaps ShadowClan were the only ones to know. Unless Fawnfur got back to her Clan and warned them in time. He still didn't think it was a good idea to let her go back on her own. They might hurt her, but there was nothing he could do. StarClan wanted them now, perhaps to give them the secret of how to defeat the Dark Forest after all? He certainly hoped so. He'd rather be with his Clan now to fight the evil cats than climbing the slope between WindClan and ThunderClan.
The water flowed beside them, a loud gurgle as it bubbled over the rocks and next to the muddy banks. Honeybee was beside him, Mallowstalk leading the way. Behind them came Badgerface, a silent shadow. They didn't talk, just saving their breath as they got higher. By the time they got over the rocky hill, the pool below in the dip surrounded by cat prints, the moon was only a crescent of light."Do we wait for her?" Lakefrost meowed, looking around the hollow, expecting Fawnfur to show at any moment.
"We don't have time," Mallowstalk told him. "She'll meet us there."
So they bent their heads and lapped the cold water from the pool. As they laid down, Lakefrost glimpsed the last of the moon disappear. From the center of the dark orb, a copper color began to spread. His eyes sank down and he knew only darkness.
There were flashes of light in his dream, like lightning on a dark stormy night. He thought he could see cats with stars in their fur fighting black shadows. The shadows seemed to be winning, pushing the starry warriors back from a lake's edge and others from a smaller pool. Just then from the edge of the misty fight he thought he saw a she-cat crouching. Her ginger belly was bright and it drew his attention. She saw him and grinned as if pleased by his coming.
"They cannot win," she whispered, her voice echoing through his head. "They don't know how. They know nothing of the Darkpool."
She laughed again and plunged back into the dark bushes behind her. Lakefrost glanced over at the large field surrounded by trees where the battle raged, where fighting cats had stars in their pelts, and where stars blazed overhead. But he couldn't stay; he turned back to the Dark Forest thick with undergrowth. She'd said a Dark Pool. He hurried after her, hoping to catch up.
He suddenly noticed that his siblings were at his side. He could suddenly feel a cold breeze through him, the hard ground beneath, his feet becoming tangled in thick thorny undergrowth. The trees over head were rich with leaf-fall color. Far away the sounds of the battle came, but he ignored them. He had to follow this she-cat.
He could catch a glimpse of her dark gray tail ahead as she ran through the undergrowth. Suddenly it disappeared behind a veil of vines. He pushed through, panting, his legs stinging with scratches. By the time he and his siblings got through, the she-cat was waiting. She sat, wreathed in a smoky fog, watching them.
"Eveningbreeze," Honeybee growled when they stood before her.
"Hello, kittypet," Eveningbreeze smiled.
Lakefrost's ears went back. How would she know? She seemed to read his mind, staring at him and then to the others.
"I know all about you, the chosen warriors from StarClan. My contact was very reliable."
Mallowstalk growled. "What is going on? Why are we here?"
"Perhaps my contact will explain. Would you like to meet her?"
Eveningbreeze turned her head and looked at a dead tree which had been split in two. From the base strolled a cat. She wasn't like Eveningbreeze, who faded away as if part of the shadows. This new cat looked like Lakefrost and his siblings- real, living. He first saw her ginger-brown pelt. Then he saw her yellow eyes. A familiar smile on her face.
"Fawnfur," he whispered, his eyes growing wide. "It's you? You're the ThunderClan traitor?"
She laughed a familiar laugh and her voice was achingly beautiful. "Of course. Who else could hold off your victory for so long?"