Chapter 14: Fawnfur
When I woke up, an odd taste lay on my tongue. I opened my eyes and there was darkness. When I breathed, a smoky haze rushed through me. I coughed at how burned it was. Perhaps this was where the awful taste came from.
The trees around me were dark and tall. For a moment I thought I was still in ShadowClan as there were pines and spruces, but then I saw the other trees. Golden and deep copper leaves hung down on stem tips and above, there were no stars. A great sky loomed just over the tips of the leaf-fall trees. I could only stare in shock, wondering how much time had slipped away.
I could remember leaving ShadowClan, walking away from Lakefrost, knowing clearly what I'd planned to do. Return to ThunderClan because I couldn't leave them alone to the Dark Forest. But there had been something else.
My head ached and I closed my eyes. What was I forgetting? Still lying down and my eye closed, I tried to recall what it was. I could see myself cross the border, I could remember the strong scent of ThunderClan everywhere as if defying that anything was wrong. But I couldn't remember the camp. I don't think I made it there. Something had happened.
Darkness rushed through me like a swift cloud and I flinched. I retreated from my memories and looked around at the odd forest I was in, wondering how I'd gotten here and where "here" was. I couldn't stay. I still had to get back to my Clan. I got up, my legs shaking as if they didn't want to hold my weight. Waiting while I recovered, I stared at the thick undergrowth that grew every-which-way, some tall, others short, some curling over like new ferns, but all tightly tangled together like a net. It would be hard to push through. Again, it seemed like I was in my territory, but not. I looked upward, but there were no stars; now that I looked, there was no moon. I felt terror. Had it already happened? Was the moon completely gone, swallowed by the Dark Forest's power?
Behind me was a thick wall of vines, tangled together, draped across the ground, undergrowth twisted together in the trailing, leafy things. I couldn't even see the trees behind them. Not knowing what lay in that direction, I walked in the opposite one. I pushed through the undergrowth in the less concentrated areas, high stepping where I could and ducking other places. There were still thorns and they cut through my fur, scratching my skin. I flinched away, just falling into another bush. Perhaps I was making too much noise because I hadn't gotten far when I met a patrol. They forced their way through the bushes and stems like a snake through the water.
"What have we here?" asked a silver she-cat with gray and white splattered markings.
I looked up into the glowing eyes of four cats amused by my plight. One she-cat and three toms. One brown tom sniffed me over and I stood very still as if maybe they'd forget about me, or suddenly not see me.
"Is it a new one?" he asked, glancing at his leader and then back at me.
They all just looked at me, considering. I stared back, not sure what they meant.
"No," the silver she-cat replied. "She can't be new. She isn't one of us. If she were, she'd be arguing, trying to take control. Also, her fur would be darker."
I looked down, examining my fur. The same ginger-brown color, tabby stripes along my back and legs, a small white patch over my chest. Then I looked at them. They did kind of look darker, edges blurry and shadowed even in the darkness.
"She's not another-?" the tom trailed off, looking nervous as he glanced around the shadowed trees.
"You," barked the silver she-cat.
I looked at her, my heart pattering rapidly inside. What was going on? Where was I and what were these cats?
"You're from StarClan?" the patrol leader demanded.
"N-no," I answered, surprised. Why would they think that? They weren't from any Clan I recognized.
"See, she's not," one of previously silent toms meowed, sounding pleased. He had a shaggy black and white pelt, the end of his tail curling delicately, but his fur was tangled with stems and thorns.
"Then what is she?" demanded the last. He had a whiny, nasally voice.
"Maybe she's like you," teased the black and white tom.
The silver she-cat and brown tom ignored them, glaring at me now.
"On occasion rogues end up here," the brown tom muttered, eyes narrowed. "Are you a rogue or loner?"
"Does it matter?" the she-cat hissed. "We need to take her back, put her in the caves. Tigerstar said capture all trespassers."
Finally the other tom nodded. Before I could even protest or say anything more, the two were on me. Their teeth buried into my shoulders without reservation. I yowled in pain as the blood ran. They ignored me, dragging me along. I struggled, but I couldn't move my front legs and my back were just dragged along behind. I was still in pain, but when I stopped struggling, it didn't hurt so much, so I just let them take me. As we went, the black and white tom and the whiny tom forged ahead, their bodies pushing through the thorns and undergrowth, forming a path. They were cut and little scratches ran with blood. Other things I hadn't noticed before caught my attention, like places where the fur grew wrong or was missing all together. They were used to a hard life, to these thorns.
We got to a hill in the middle of this odd dark forest with strange mean cats. At the base was a hole, two boulders on either side. A faint light shined out, highlighting curves on the three cats waiting outside: a black and gray tom with long fangs, a snowy white tom, and a gray she-cat with white spots.
They sat up as we approached, looking at me in interest.
"Here, another prisoner," the silver she-cat meowed, releasing me. I winced, my shoulder stinging now that it was released. The brown tom quickly took his teeth out of me too and sat down, cleaning off his muzzle. The three guards moved away from the entrance of the cave. I looked at it. Roots, some small and stringy, others as thick as my body, formed the entrance. Dirt hung off the plant bases as if it had been freshly dug. Perhaps this cave had been a series of dens at one time but was converted into a place for captive cats. The shaggy tom and whiny one started pushing me forward. I really didn't want to go in, but I didn't have anywhere to run, so I walked in. All the while, the guards and the patrol spoke behind me.
"I thought you were on your way to the Dark Pool?" the black and gray tom meowed.
"We were on our way," the silver she-cat replied. "We found her. She isn't StarClan."
"But when is the invasion starting?" snowy tom demanded.
"Soon," the silver she-cat purred, I could hear the pleasure in her voice. "The moon is quickly fading, can't you feel it? Soon we will go out."
She and the rest chuckled darkly. My ears went back, trying to listen, but I was inside the cave and it echoed. I knew there had to be more cats in here other than me. I was 'another prisoner' after all. I glanced over my shoulder at the cats, but the silver she-cat looked anxious to get to the Darkpool. The guards seemed to want them to stay. I could see the white tom talking to the shaggy black and white tom, whispering as if trying to convince him to stay and guard instead.
I turned away and started down the cave. There were a few other tunnels but I wasn't interested in going down them. I wanted to find that light. It was faint, but growing stronger the farther I went back. It was behind one of the turns, down another tunnel. Brighter it got, and I squinted. I finally curved around one of the burrowing roots and came against the back of another cat. Over him (I knew it was a tom, I could smell him) I saw a very familiar ginger-brown she-cat with tabby markings and a white chest. But although she looked like me, she had little glowing flecks in her fur.
"Su-Sunstorm!" I squeaked, sounding like a kit.
Her yellow eyes widened and she stared at me. The ginger tom, also with glowing flecks turned, his fur standing on end, starting to hiss.
"No, Redfur," Sunstorm meowed, standing up, waving him down with her tail. The tom stop snarling and backed away, looking at me in utter shock as he realized I looked just like my sister. She ran forward, squeezing passed her companion to lick my face and nuzzle me. I winced when we she hit my injured shoulders, but she helped me clean off the blood.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, grinning happily.
"I was caught," I told her, just as happy to see her. I covered her with licks, bumping against her.
"Yeah," Sunstorm nodded. "But how did you get to the Dark Forest?"
I blinked. I was where? I was actually in the Dark Forest? That was so odd. I hadn't intended to come here as far as I knew, but again my head ached and the memory of black washed over me.
"I don't remember," I told them, frowning. "I just woke up here."
"Someone must have called you then," Redfur meowed.
I just tilted my head, not sure what he meant.
"We were talking to one Dark Forest cat before he turned on us," Sunstorm explained. "He said that they used the Dark Pool to talk to the Clans, call cats while they dream, and they're going to use it to invade."
"They really are?" I asked. "Truly?"
"Well, yes," Sunstorm nodded. "They've been planning for a while and we've been here at least one day. The three out there, Longfang, Snowclaw, and Cinderblossom, they're being left behind. We had to listen to them complain about it."
"I was thinking they wouldn't," I meowed quietly. "They didn't come yesterday, and that was the night of the full moon. StarClan said the Dark Forest would attack on the night of the full moon, the Dark Night. The Dark Forest never came."
Sunstorm must have heard the misery in my voice and she leaned into me. "How did you know about this?" she asked.
So I told her everything just as I had told the cats at the Gathering. She and Redfur listened and nodded. They were surprised that the StarClan leaders had contacted anyone. Then they told me their adventures. For a time I was glad to hear about them, to be with my sister once more. Since she'd died, I'd felt alone. Now I got to hear about her time in StarClan and learn she was as adventurous as ever. It was great. I got to escape from my own problems. And then I had to remember the lake was in danger.
"There isn't any way out of here," Sunstorm explained. "We tried to rush the guards earlier, but we didn't get far. Redfur has an injured paw."
He showed me his front paw. It was bent oddly and he usually kept it tucked against his chest. I examined it, nosing and then licking. I knew he was doing the right thing, not using it, but I wish I had some herb to ease the swelling and bind it tightly in cobwebs. I told him, but they didn't have anything in here either.
"We can try the entrance again," I answered. "With me, we're evenly matched."
They slowly nodded and we crept back to the entrance. I looked out, realizing just how dark it was. In the light from the starry flecks everything else paled in comparison, even the guard's fur looked more dull and dark, like they weren't real cats. They didn't turn, and I tilted my ears forward, listening.
"What do you think will happen when the cats die?" Snowclaw was asking.
"They die, mouse-brain," Longfang growled.
"Yeah, but can they even get to StarClan? I mean, those weaklings are blocked off without the moon, so if the Clans die, how can StarClan guide them to the stars?"
Longfang seemed stumped.
"Drifting, lost, wandering
Darkness blocking silver specks
Alone without a cause
Sneaking within the darkened trees
Join our ranks lost ones."
I stared at the she-cat wondering if something were wrong with her.
"She usually talks like that," Sunstorm whispered. "Even those toms are annoyed with her. For a while they tried to make her speak in monosyllables. Didn't work."
"So they might come here?" Snowclaw worked out Cinderblossom's cryptic poem.
Longfang laughed. "That would be the day. Get nice little cats here. Maybe they'll change some hearts."
"Now you're just making fun of us," Snowclaw exclaimed, jumping to his paws. He snarled into the other tom's face. Longfang answered his challenge, quickly taking a swipe at him. But Snowclaw was fast, backing up and then leaping forward while Longfang was still swinging.
"Now would be good," Redfur reminded us.
We quickly charged forward. I might not have been a warrior for a while, but my blood got hot as I charged and I felt excitement shoot down to my tail tip and claws. I could remember a few lessons from Dewstep. How I had to keep my feet, don't look where you're attacking or it gives away your plans, make sure you know where and how you'll land, watch your back.
Sunstorm targeted the toms. While Snowclaw had Longfang's ear in his mouth, she landed on both, making them stumble and fall. Redfur ran out in a limping gait, aimed a swipe at a back leg and continued on. I had Cinderblossom. Her amused look changed to surprise as we attacked. I shoved into her then pulled back with my claws. I got her chest and she yowled, bringing her own claws up, aiming for my face. I dodged and followed after Redfur. Sunstorm had hopped off of the toms, springing for the forest. I raced after her.
"Where are we going?" I panted. The thorns were everywhere, cutting into me, tripping me. I was already lost. I wouldn't know the way back to the Clans.
"The Darkpool," Sunstorm yelled back. "We can escape there. Maybe we can stop the invasion."
"It's too late!" Redfur yowled at us both. "It has to be, it's too quiet everywhere. They must already be attacking!"
"Then we have to seal the pool somehow!"
I could hear the three Dark Forest cats crashing behind us. They had an easier time because we were already carving out the path for them to follow. Suddenly the ground sloped beneath me. Startled I let out a half grunt half yowl, sliding down the plantless slope. I reached the bottom before the other two. I lay on the ground, dizzy.
Redfur reached me, helping me to my feet. I swayed and leaned on him. We both breathed heavily.
"You're right," Sunstorm meowed quietly. "No one is here. Look in the pool."
Then I noticed the darkness. It ebbed and flowed, silver on black, a ring of stones around it. Inside I could make out shapes and then a pale color entered. I was looking at a forest, trees of brown and white grew skyward to the deep blue, the few leaves shot through with dark green, but colored oddly. There were shadows among the tree roots and brighter cat shapes full of color and life were falling back against the dark tide. And in the sky. . . a full round moon was copper red. I gasped, staring down, suddenly recognizing the cats of ThunderClan.
At the top of the slope Snowclaw leaned down, staring at us. The others were quickly by his side, fur mussed by the undergrowth.
"Hey, yourself!" Sunstorm yowled up. "Get down here and fight!"
Longfang pulled Snowclaw back before he descended. "They can't do anything."
"They could escape! What do you think Tigerstar will do to us when that happens?"
"They don't know how to use the pool, mouse-brain!"
I stared back at it and suddenly the water darkened utterly. I blinked in surprise. Gold and red leaves filled my view, then I was through it and I could suddenly see a border. It knew it was a border because of the difference in territory. There were leaf-bare trees at the edge of a large lake surrounded by green grass, and there were stars fighting shadows. But through it all I could see a smoky pale shape that didn't glow and by his side were three others.
"Lakefrost," I breathed, watching him race away from the StarClan lake and into the Dark Forest. "No, don't!"
"What's the matter?" Sunstorm asked, turning to me.
"Lakefrost," I told her, starting at her. "He's here in the Dark Forest. I have to find him!"
"Then go," she told me. "Get him here. I think this is the only way out. We tried thinking ourselves into StarClan before, but we couldn't get there."
I nodded. I had to find my friends or they might meet some angry Dark Forest cats. Besides, they should have been helping their Clan survive. Yet something bothered me. Hadn't I told them to meet me somewhere? I couldn't remember. It was blocked off by a black memory, something I couldn't look passed, didn't want to look passed.
"We'll hold these three rats back," Redfur told me.
"Thank you," I told them both. I scrabbled back up the slope, the opposite side from the three guards. They'd have to go a long way around to get me, so they didn't even try, just glaring at me as I raced away, somehow sure I'd find my friends. I ran, leaping over the thorns, climbing over fallen trees. There just ahead was a sycamore, split down the middle, yet still alive. Beyond this light brown tree thick vines blocking off the rest of the forest. I could remember wakening by some vines. Perhaps that was the border of the Dark Forest? I knew Lakefrost was there with in the vines.
I pushed through feeling as if snakes were all around me. My ears twitched with the faint sound of voices. Then I saw cat shapes. I was out, the vines trailing heavily across my back. And I saw my sister.
"Morningsong," I meowed, confused.
She turned to me and then I could see the others. Lakefrost and his siblings side-by-side, horrified anger in his eyes that was slowly turning into shocked relief. And there on the other side of my look-alike-sister was a dark gray she-cat with a ginger belly. Eveningbreeze. She frowned at me, her muzzle turning from laughter to rage.
And then I suddenly could see passed the darkness in my mind. My gift of seeing the past overtook me
-Line to past-
I closed my eyes, Lakefrost lying beside me. We'd just been talking about how welcoming ShadowClan was. And I found myself in the middle of ThunderClan territory, darkness above me, the stars shining, a crisp chill of newleaf. The leaves were just starting to unfurl in the trees. And I was another cat.She stood there, rage in her heart. A faint white mist puffed from her nose, her teeth ached with how hard she clenched her jaw together. "Why did this have to happen?" she yowled, glaring at the stars in anger.
The new leaves on the trees did not hide the cold sky from her. She glared at StarClan in hatred. They'd let her sister die. They hadn't warned Sunstorm of the danger she faced on the patrol. She had the ability to see the future. She wouldn't have allowed herself to die. She should have known not to go to that stream, to jump out of the way before the branch came down. Why hadn't her powers worked? Why hadn't she seen it?
Why didn't I? Morningsong thought, her mind suddenly bleak. The rage left.
"Why did I see it?" she whispered, lowering her head, letting the real reason for her anger to fill her. Why did she have to be told to know what had happened to her sister? When Millie and Berrynose met her just outside of camp, Morningsong had been unaware of the event. Why hadn't she seen it and been prepared? She had the power to see the present. Why hadn't see been warned, known before coming back to camp the same time as that patrol, suddenly spotting the limp body between the cats. She could still see her sister's face in her mind. Skin peeled from the muzzle, dried blood on the lake wet fur, the yellow-white of bone poking through. And there was Millie and Berrynose telling her about the death at the stream.
Her eyes burned, her throat choking.
No, she shouldn't blame herself. It had nothing to do with her. It was StarClan's fault, those great starry ancestors who gave them gifts that didn't work. StarClan had been working against her. Morningsong snarled up at those cold stars that probably really didn't hold any cat spirits.
"I hate you," she hissed. "I won't ever believe in you again! You did nothing to help! StarClan is a lie!"
"Hardly a lie."
Morningsong's head snapped to where the voice had come from. She could barely make out a dark she-cat hiding under a bush. The yellow eyes stared out at her. It was almost like she wasn't there at all. Even the other she-cat's ginger belly blended into the shadows.
"They haven't done anything for me," Morningsong growled, instantly tense. Something was wrong.
"But they're still there, you think?"
Morningsong didn't answer. Who was this she-cat and why was she there? She sniffed, trying to catch a scent, but there was nothing.
"Do you want revenge against them?" It was a polite voice and yet held meaning.
"I would," Morningsong meowed. Yes she wanted revenge. They'd let her sister die and had blocked her gift from seeing it happen. They were cruel to her so she would be cruel to them.
"I could teach you," the dark she-cat offered. Then her tail flicked. "You should get back to camp. I will see you again."
Then the she-cat faded into nothing. The shadows had just swallowed her.
"She was never really there was she?" Morningsong asked herself. She felt disappointed. At the same time she felt relief. She didn't like that strange cat. There was something odd about her, but revenge against StarClan interested Morningsong.
Yet there were other meetings, I'd seen the others, the ones where Eveningbreeze and Morningsong met and my sister told the Dark Forest she-cat the secrets of the other Clans. When she spied on me and Lakefrost. Then how she convinced Pricklethorn and Owlface to help her, although they never knew they were working for the Dark Forest, believing they were protecting the Clan. My sister had slowly changed without me realizing.
And then once again I was plunged back to the present time, yet it wasn't quite present. This was after moonrise, after my talk with Lakefrost, and after I'd seen the truth about my sister. I watched myself approached the ThunderClan camp, but before I got there, before I got even halfway through the territory after leaving ShadowClan behind, a ginger-brown she-cat stepped from the bushes. She carried a dried poppy flower in her jaw. I stopped and waited while she set it on the ground. She wasn't surprised to see me. She must have realized I was coming.
"What are you doing?" I demanded.
She sat and looked at me, her yellow eyes still. She didn't really look like my sister anymore.
"I told you to leave it alone," she growled. "I told you to stop seeing Lakefrost."
"I can't, not when my Clan is in danger! StarClan wanted me-"
"StarClan StarClan," she mimicked, her voice high and mocking as she interrupted me. Then she snarled, "They can't do a thing. It's too late for them! The moon is being darkened."
I glanced upward. There in the sky, the moon more than halfway covered. One side was so dark as if a shroud of black mist had covered it. The other side glowed valiantly on. Still the darkness crept on like a slow cloud.
"Why are you doing this?" I asked. I had to understand. Why would my sister side with the Dark Forest, why would she want her Clan to be destroyed?
"Why are you here?" she asked of me, ignoring my question.
"I have to stop you," I whispered.
"I didn't want to involve you," she meowed. Her voice was quiet and softer. Her eyes, once hard, were partly closed as if she were in pain. "I didn't think. . . I didn't think StarClan would call you, ask this of you. I had to stop you from doing this."
"I have to stop you," I answered, blinking in confusion. It was like she thought I was the one doing wrong, as if she were stopping me from helping the Dark Forest take over.
"But now," she continued as if she hadn't heard me, "You're too deep in. You refused to back off! I can't let you help those ShadowClan cats."
I was reminded I didn't have much time; I had to get to the Moonpool. StarClan had contacted me during my last vision, telling me that I and the others had to meet them at the Moonpool before the moon was gone. That they'd tell us how to stop the Dark Forest, what they were using to get to the living. But I'd told Lakefrost and the rest to go there, that I'd meet them. Confronting my sister had been important.
I wasn't paying attention to her, wondering if my friends were on the way. She leaped for me. I was so startled, I didn't defend myself. I just crumpled under her, struggling and squirming uselessly on the ground as her back claws tore into me. She kept hitting my head with her front paws, the claw tips barely out. And then she hit hard enough I laid still, dazed. She left me, walking off.
My eyesight hazed out and I just lay, dizzy, feeling like bile was in my mouth. I could just see her padding back to her poppy flower. The ginger-brown she-cat dipped down and picked it up, carrying it to me. She shook it roughly and the little black seeds scattered across the leaves covered forest floor. A few hit me and I flinched reflexively. She went jumping off after the scattered seeds, searching. She found some on moss leaning against a tree stump, carefully cupping them in her paw and hopping over, concentrating on not dropping them.
I was recovering and tried to rise, but she was on me, using her claws to pry open my mouth. And the little poppy seeds were on my tongue, sweet and delicate. Out of reflex I swallowed. And she backed up, watching me.
"How many?" I demanded, somehow knowing if I'd swallowed too much I would sleep and never wake up. The easing death. It was for fatally ill cats that needed a gentle way to go, that had no chance at recovering and being awake would cause them pain. If I'd taken more than five then I was doomed. I would sleep though, no matter what. Already I could feel drowsy, the pain from my aching head slipping away.
"Enough," she told me. And then I closed my eyes. I didn't know anything else. My vision shifted now though and I could watch what I'd missed.
Morningsong waited until her sister was sleeping. She took Fawnfur gently by the scruff and dragged her to camp. She knew she couldn't take Fawnfur inside the camp. The others would just attack her. And she wanted to put her someplace safe so that when the Dark Forest cats came, they wouldn't kill her.
Morningsong dragged her to a tree, digging out the small dent between the roots. Her paws got muddy, the claws tearing bits of small stone. When it was deep enough, she put Fawnfur inside the dip and placed leaves over her sister, covering so no fur shown through. It wouldn't matter the next day, if that ever came, but for now, no passing cat or fox or badger should see or smell her sister. To make sure, she found some garlic flowers and brought them back, hiding the scents.
Satisfied she made her way back to camp. She was the only night guard tonight. She was supposed to be there, to warn of danger. No one would miss her when she didn't go back to the warriors' den. They were all sleeping snuggly. She passed by the gorse and bramble entrance and walked to the top of the quarry. She peered down, but it was too shadowed to see, and above the moon was only a crescent of light. She ducked under a bush and closed her eyes, stilling her breath until she was almost asleep, only the thoughts of the Dark Forest in her head.
Eveningbreeze was there when she opened her eyes. It was a secret little nest high in the branches of two leaning trees, made from mud and leaves. It looked like a squirrel's nest, but no cats on the ground could see it. Eveningbreeze was safe here. Her sister, that annoyingly whiny Fernstripe had long since disappeared. Tigerstar had her captive somewhere, hoping to draw Eveningbreeze out so he could capture her.
"What are you doing here?" Eveningbreeze demanded, standing up.
"The moon is almost dark," she told the Dark Forest she-cat.
"I know, I was going to visit the Clans when everyone else was gone," Eveningbreeze meowed, her nose wrinkled. "That isn't news. Why aren't you with your Clan?"
Morningsong explained what her gifted vision had shown her. That Fawnfur had discovered the secret and that the ShadowClan warriors were on their way to StarClan.
"The fools," Eveningbreeze growled. "They'll never be able to talk."
"But they might," Morningsong meowed. "Even with StarClan fighting Tigerstar's elite, a few might talk to the four."
Eveningbreeze growled. "Fine. We'll stop them. Distract them until the battle is over. Let's go. I'll meet you at the sycamore near the vine border."
Morningsong nodded and the two slipped down from the tree tops to the undergrowth below.
-Line to present-
I opened my eyes, brought back to the present. I looked at my sister near the sycamore tree, remembering it all and finally understanding the line to the prophesy about the morning and evening destroying ThunderClan. It wasn't the night; it was my sister and an evil she-cat. I could only look at them in horror.