Chapter 19: Lakefrost
He struck at the grinning tom in front of him. The hit was direct across the chest, but his paw passed through the insubstantial body. It felt like plunging his paw into cold water. It resisted, pushing against him, but he couldn't land a mark, couldn't make it stick, and ultimately he went through.
The Dark Forest warrior continued to grin at him, knowing just as well as he, that Lakefrost couldn't hurt him. This tom struck out next, his paw as black as the sky, the claws on the end like sickle moons, pale and almost see-through. This tom had the colorings of a blue-gray tom with white underbelly, but the dark shadow that formed him made it so dark, Lakefrost was only guessing.
The paw came up and his concentration broke. He only had enough time to duck, but his ear was caught by the wicked claws. It tore through and immediately pain stung at him. He kept his head low and rushed forward, slamming his head into the dark cat's chest. The cold sensation went over him, but this time the enemy gave way, falling back as if the breath had been pushed out of him.
Lakefrost stood straight recovering in time for a she-cat to hook her claws about his back lower leg and pull hard, trying to trip him. He wobbled, but used the other three to turn on her using both paw and claw tips to aim for her throat. He knew he couldn't kill her. He'd tried already with another opponent. He also couldn't wound her deeply. So far the Dark Forest cats didn't seem to bleed. Unless they fought themselves. Which he had seen when they angered each other or got in each other's way. The only thing he could do was startle her, or knock her out.
His claws went up her throat to her chin, rattling her teeth until they clicked. She looked dizzy when he left her. He raced away to the camp wall where Dappleflower was backed up against it. She was alone, had been cornered by two Dark Forest cats, forced away from a small group that had disintegrated. There was a third cat behind the wall, reaching through, claws tearing at her tail and back legs, trying to tear the muscles there that would enable her to walk. She couldn't back away from the bushes too much else the two in front would be on either side. She fought bravely, yet without control, waving her claws violently side to side to keep them away. Though the Dark Forest cats weren't flesh, they couldn't walk through everything or even pass through solid objects. That the Clan had learned quickly, using that to their advantage, fighting near the Large Stump and trees, near the few camp walls. Brambles and thorns didn't deter the evil cats and after Lakefrost had been to the Dark Forest, he knew why.
He leapt forward, tumbling down and over a black tom who had white legs and long fur. Down they fell, giving Dappleflower, time to concentrate on one foe. She left the bush's side and yowled, charging and knocking the last tom over with her shoulder. Lakefrost jumped off of his foe and ran by Dappleflower's side to the Large Stump. Fallingstar was on top, Brownfeather by her side, preventing the enemy from getting above or on top of the other cats. She would jump down to allow another cat to rest and this strategy had worked most of the night. Beneath, in the leader's den, Batwing was with her kits, guarding the entrance from the inside. Flametail was with them, a bundle of herbs with him that he would quickly use on any injured cat near the entrance.
There were Dark Forest cats surrounding the remaining Clan, a circle for a circle, looking for an entrance, a weakness. They struck out, and paced, walking by, snarling insults. Everyone was bloody and tired. And there were some cats that weren't around. There used to be a second group as not everyone in the Clan could fit around the Large Stump. Lakefrost and his siblings had been a part of it on their return. But they'd been scattered. A warriors few had run away into the forest, Mallowstalk one of them. Fallingstar wished them luck even though Dark Forest cats had been on their tail. Lakefrost couldn't keep track of where everyone else had gone. It was hard enough to fight for his life.
Lakefrost could still see the body of Oakfur laying out near the elders' den. He'd been the first to go, according to Snowbird. Quickly. After that the Dark Forest cats took their time with killing, playing and teasing before delivering the death blow. Ivytail and Scorchtree were of that number and perhaps others Lakefrost didn't know of.
It was horrible and Lakefrost didn't want to think about it.
"You have to get Wrenpaw."
Lakefrost panted and looked down. Ashpaw had made it to his side. The gray apprentice looked up at Lakefrost.
But their inattention cost them. A brindled golden tom with white and black lines on his face lunged forward, grabbing Ashpaw by his neck, pulling him from the circle.
"No!" Olivespot yowled, racing out, but she was jumped on by other Dark Forest shadows. Lakefrost was closer to the apprentice and leapt forward, ducking under a she-cat's swing.
"No, no," Fallingstar yowled from where she was. "Stay together. Stoneheart, help Lakefrost. Brownfeather, to Olivespot." She jumped downward to fill in the gap while the warriors went to help. But she made a mistake. The empty stump was a perfect spot for the Dark Forest cats to go. They leapt for it, for the high ground and for the advantage it would be for the ShadowClan cats' backs. Dappleflower saw that and jumped up. Three cats collided, falling back down. ShadowClan couldn't help but scatter.
Lakefrost pushed off the she-cat who'd jumped him and started to stand, his eyes only on Ashpaw whose neck was still in the brindled gold tom's mouth. Away the apprentice was dragged, farther from the stump. Another cat clawed his belly as he passed and the apprentice squirmed, crying out in pain. The brindled tom snarled and paused hitting the cat that dared hurt his catch. They glared at each other. Lakefrost realized he could catch up. And then the black and white cat behind him jumped onto him. He fell, chin landing painfully on the dirt ground. He tried to stand and almost managed but another she-cat had gotten in front of him, tripping him back down. The cat on his back buried their teeth into the back of his neck. He froze, feeling the teeth get deeper and press down hard. Harder. He could feel it against bone.
Then it was gone. The weight lifted, the teeth tore out. His back grew suddenly warm as the shadow cat was knocked away by Stoneheart. He stood up quickly and snarled into the face of the she-cat in front of him. He lowered his head and slammed into her. That seemed most effective way to fight. More weight behind each motion, more body for more impact. In addition it didn't hurt as much as it would, knocking heads with another cat. It was just a lot colder.
She stumbled away and Lakefrost went to help the cat who'd saved his life. He could feel the blood dripping down the back of his neck to his shoulders and down farther. But he was glad of it. The feeling meant he was still alive.
Stoneheart held his own against the opponent and with Lakefrost's help they had him on his back. Stoneheart moved on. Lakefrost had noticed the dark gray tom would seem petrified when they came near the Dark Forest cats. He would look into their faces and then relief would rush over his features as he attacked. Lakefrost had the feeling he was hoping he wouldn't see a certain familiar cat.
Both disengaged, they raced for Ashpaw. The apprentice wasn't alone. Wrenpaw, lost from the smaller group was by her brother's side. She stumbled over, blood dripping from the stumps of her ears and now nubbed tail. She hunched over him and he did his best to protect her as a third cat approached, grinning. The brindled cat who'd stolen him now had his shadowed silver teeth in the neck of the cat that had challenged him for Ashpaw. They drew blood from each other, a dark crimson in the moonlight.
Lakefrost got in the way of the new threat as Stoneheart helped his kits to rise. He hurried the apprentices back to the stump. Lakefrost slowly backed away, keeping the cat in sight. It advanced as he retreated, measuring when the best time to attack would be. The two fighting seemed to realize their prey was getting away. And after one last snarl and swipe they started coming after the four Clanmates.
Lakefrost glanced behind his shoulder at Stoneheart and the apprentices. They were making for the Large Stump, but the circle there had been broken. A Dark Forest cat sat on the stump and below the Clan fought one by one, or by two if they were lucky, against the shadowed cats. There was no circle. There was no protection, and down went the tired and wounded. It was quite obvious as the three Dark Forest cats closed in there was no way he could win. His Clan was being destroyed. It would not win, ShadowClan was finished. Only those who could escape the massacre would live.
The three came closer. There was something warm by his shoulder. He looked down. Ashpaw was by his side, face contorted until his teeth glimmered and eyes burned. Stoneheart and Wrenpaw were on the other side and the four of them formed a line as they faced the attack. The Dark Forest cats just seemed amused, an odd hunger in their eyes. Blood leaked down their jaws and coated their paws. They came closer, and finally the brindled tom lunged.
Stoneheart went to meet him, yowling loudly a challenge. Wrenpaw went to help; the damaged she-cat still had vigor. She almost seemed to shine even. The light catching and highlighting the silver in her brown fur. He shook his head. It was too bright for that. The moon was supposed to be darkened. He had to look up. He broke his gaze from the fight and stared toward the sky. He couldn't see the moon at all. The red had been leached out, gone. But there. . . he could see it among the black and the speckled stars. . . a very small slice of white and silver. It grew bigger and wider.
He glanced at the Dark Forest cats. They had also paused. For a moment everything was still and silent as they looked up through the tree tops to the sky. Everything seemed so bright after the darkness. The evil cats seemed to fade away even more. Their bodies a bit darker, the colors fading away. They looked shallower, smaller. For a moment he was convinced they might actually win.
But the Dark Forest cats didn't care. Though the moon had come, they didn't leave and didn't retreat. The attack renewed with vigor and Lakefrost found himself pinned down on the ground by some cat, Ashpaw struggling to get him free. He was laying on his back, claws dug deep into the bones by his lungs. He could see the tree tops rocking in the wind. Bright green the leaves seemed. Needles rained down around them. His eyes locked onto Silverpelt. The stars were thick and bright. He knew then it was his time to go. He would be in StarClan before the night was over.
Then he saw it. A bright streak across the sky. So quick he could blink and miss it. There was another. And soon much more, but this time they didn't go away. The streaks of bright light stayed in the sky and seemed to come closer. Closer until he suddenly couldn't see a thing. He thought that was his death. That he was gone now. For the claws had disappeared and he couldn't hear a thing. But it all came back too soon. The yells of terror and pain. The fact that his bloody back was getting sticky and picking up dirt and needles, that some small pebble was jabbing into his shoulder. That Ashpaw was in his face, yelling and smiling.
"Get up, get up. You have to see this. They came!" Ashpaw yowled and leaped away. For a moment Lakefrost thought he'd gone insane. He heaved himself to his paws and thought he saw stars. They jumped and danced, glimmering about him like starbugs, the little glowing insects only found in RiverClan and WindClan territory.
He realized the stars were attached to cats. These cats of light, fighting the darkness. So many more of them than there were of the Dark Forest cats. He'd seen them before, he realized. Seen these cats and spoke to them.
"StarClan," he breathed.
"Yes, yes," Ashpaw agreed, grinning and panting as he whipped his head around. Lakefrost thought he might injure himself.
"What are they doing?" Lakefrost shook his head in confusion. Why were they here, why had they come? He spotted a lone cat that seemed to be watching. Possibly the leader of the attack.
"You have to go back," Lakefrost meowed.
The dark brown she-cat with fur that spiked every-which-way looked at him.
"You're ruining the balance even more; you have to leave," Lakefrost continued. He knew that if they stayed, the Dark Forest would just have more power and their Darkpool would grow. StarClan couldn't stay. As much as his Clan needed the ancestors and could thank them for their lives, StarClan couldn't stay.
She seemed to understand.
"We couldn't abandon you," she nodded. " So we came as we promised." She glanced at Stoneheart who, out of all the ShadowClan warriors, seemed the least surprised. He smiled, lowering his eyes as he wandered away.
"The Dark Forest will leave when the moon is free of shadow. By the light of dawn they will be no more," the leader told him. "You will have nothing to fear anymore. StarClan!"
The StarClan warriors and apprentices left in camp looked up. But others had gone, racing after the shadows into the forest.
"It is time for us to leave. Twitchwhisker, Branchpaw, find the others and bring them back."
The named cats nodded and walked away from camp. The StarClan warriors who stayed said their goodbyes to the Clan. A happy reunion for some as they recognized friends and family. Then they faded away. The brightness went first. Then the cat, disappearing as the streaks continued within the sky above. Lakefrost had a feeling the other Clans were receiving their help as well.
Flametail raced to his den for herbs and the remaining Clanmates fell with exhaustion, or found loved ones. Lakefrost found Fallingstar near the stump. She wasn't moving. She didn't look to be breathing either. He sat next to her, terrified she might not wake up. But her eye twitched, then her whiskers. She opened her green eyes and saw him. A smile lit up her face.
"You're alive," she whispered. "I was so afraid. . ."
"I'm alive," Lakefrost agreed. He smiled, suddenly happy for that revelation.
"The falling star will bring the shadows into light," she murmered and Lakefrost wondered if she were going to sleep. "It was never just about me," she laughed. Then she caught the odd look he was giving her. "Gather the Clan," she told him. "Find Tigerheart. Have him. . ."
"I'm here," her deputy meowed. He came over, limping, missing an ear. Claw marks on his tabby sides deep and bleeding.
Lakefrost backed away so they could speak. But he heard her say something about gathering the dead bodies once Flametail was done with his herbs. Lakefrost wasn't too badly injured, or at least he decided he wasn't, so he found Acornpelt with his mate and kits and they went to the cats laying on the ground. It hurt worse than he imagined. Seeing cats he knew. His Clanmates. The ones he'd grown up with and had always been there. It hurt inside his gut to look at them. Not moving, eyes staring sightlessly, snarls of pain on their faces. He wanted to sit down and just close his eyes, flee from it all. But he didn't realize how much more he could hurt.
"Lakefrost!" Acornpelt yowled. He sounded nervous or terrified. Lakefrost quickly hurried over, pushing through the bushes, leaving the dead Ivytail behind.
She was lying there just outside the camp wall. Stretched out on her back, her legs broken and dislocated. Her chest had been crushed, but that must have been the last injury and the deathblow, because she had other major wounds along her golden form. Lakefrost stared at her, suddenly unable to breath. He felt dizzy and swayed, collapsing on the ground.
"Honeybee," he moaned.
"Lakefrost!" Acornpelt yelled, startled when his Clanmate fell.
But the first call had summoned more than just Lakefrost. Other cats had come to join them outside camp. Orangestripe rushed passed the both of them, burying his ginger head into her throat, sobbing and shaking.
"You can't go, you can't," the tom kept repeating. "Don't leave me! Not again!"
Lakefrost just couldn't watch. He covered his eyes with his paws. It was all his fault. He'd brought her back. He'd led her home just to die. Honeybee's death was his fault. She would have been safe with the twolegs. She would have still been alive. Sitting on the porch, smiling, sunlight glimmering through her golden fur and resting in her blue eyes.
"I'm so sorry." It was a soft voice. She pressed her fur against him. He could feel her blood drip down onto him. He didn't want to look at her. Didn't want her to know that it was his fault. He was the guilty one. But Knotfur seemed to understand. She just stayed there by his side, sitting beside him, licking his head with her warm tongue while his body shook.
I knew the moment I sent Honeybee away to the Twolegplace that I was going to do something bad to her.