A second Epilogue. Why? Because I had 2 prologues. It just felt right and one was too long.
Hiding beneath the dome of thorns, she held her breath. Her heart pounded as strong as rumbling thunder. She could feel the blood coursing through her chest, where it leaked from the scratches on her golden legs and sides. The wounds hurt. Caused by the thorns she wasn't used to treading.
She could hear them outside the dome. She could hear them brushing against the thick undergrowth, grunting as they pushed against her defenses. There were three of them. They'd been hunting her for a few days now. She was running out of places to hide. They'd found her in the hollow tree, the evergreen bush, and then the one time she was just hiding in the thorns. She'd kept running, running out of the small territory she'd created as her own--the place she'd woken up in and become familiar with.
It had been so long ago. She didn't know when. She couldn't tell the time here. There was nothing, just darkness. No stars, no moon. Just a canopy of golden and red leaves mixed in with thick pine and fir needles. For a time she wondered if the Dark Night had never ended, that the world had become this wild land. But it became familiar to her. She'd been here before. She was in the Dark Forest.
"This, smell," the she-cat's voice was little more than a coughing whisper.
"Blood," growled a tom.
"Hers?" inquired the last.
There was no reply. Honeybee could imagine them nodding. Her breath gasped out in a terrified shudder. They would find her soon. She knew this was a mouse-brain place to hide. She'd done this before. It was so obvious.
"I see it! I see a light!"
Honeybee's eyes widened. She could just make out brown fur in the gaps behind the thorn branches.
Her golden fur sparkled with little specks of silver light. She tried to have it not show, rolled in mud to hide her brilliant fur and cover the light, but the effort was ineffectual. She could see it now, the light glimmering and making the shadows bow away from her. Leaking right out to where the hunters were.
She whimpered, covering her muzzle with one scabbed paw. She backed away, pressing against the thorns at her back until they pierced. She looked around, hoping for an exit. She didn't know which way to go that they just wouldn't catch up to her again.
"Here, kitty, kitty," purred the brown and white tom.
The she-cat snickered her breathy laugh.
"This is going to be fun," meowed the last.
They circled closer, pulling at the thorn branches with their claws. She could see their eyes now, reflecting in her light. She swallowed and watched them. They surrounded her and the dome. There would be no escaping now.
"No!" It was a quick thin wail.
The three hunters froze and looked up. They focused on something distant that Honeybee couldn't even see through the thorns. She thought she could hear something skittering through the undergrowth. A terrified racing.
"Mouse!" the she-cat whispered, breathing deeply. She stared at her companions and started running.
Honeybee could hear the sharp squeaking and then the small creature raced away in a new direction. The loud crashing and yowling of the three who gave chase. She sighed in relief and sank back down, closing her eyes. She had a brief thought that they weren't ever going to catch the thing. They were being to loud.
"Get out of there." It was the unknown cat.
Honeybee's eyes flashed open and she stared into the face of a light tabby she-cat.
"I didn't let that mouse get away just so you could stay here," hissed the newcomer. "Those things are rare and I just gave up my meal for you. Come on."
Honeybee stared in confusion as the she-cat stalked away, pushing effortlessly through the thistles and thorns. She reluctantly followed, not wanting to be in the dome when the three came back.
"Wh-why did you do that?" Honeybee asked, trotting behind in the empty wake, avoiding the undergrowth by following the new path.
The tabby glanced back. "You're StarClan. Lost too."
"Yeah," Honeybee blinked. She felt nervous following along. Who knew what this Dark Forest cat had in store for her. But at least she'd been saved.
"How do you know about me?" Honeybee asked.
"There are others."
"Really?" She was almost glad. She wasn't alone. There were others who'd ended up here too. But why?
"Uh, huh. Just got a glance at the others before. You can tell because they glow. Like you."
"Did you save them?"
"No, they could handle themselves. Or else they were already caught. I'm a hunted she-cat too; it's not like I have the time to save everyone who gets themselves caught."
Honeybee blinked and examined this tabby. She had scars on her body, but nothing overly fresh but the marks on her legs, the usual fare from the thorns. She hadn't been fighting.
"You weren't in the battle, where you?" she just had to ask. The she-cat hadn't fought in the Dark Night?
"No." A quick shake of the head. She didn't even turn around, but kept her determined pace. "I was buried down below."
"What?" Honeybee lowered an ear, not sure what that meant. It sounded horrible.
"Tigerstar thought he'd use me to draw my sister out," the she-cat growled. "So he had be buried in a small chamber. She never even came!" Her tail thrashed. Her cold voice reminded Honeybee that the Dark Forest cats were in the Dark Forest for very good reasons.
"So how did you get out?" she asked quietly.
"The guards abandoned their post on the Dark Night, and I dug my way out. I've been on the run ever since."
"But you just caught a mouse."
"That I did. They're around, if you try really hard to get one. Rare though. There've been fights as who gets it if others see you with a catch."
"Thank you," Honeybee whispered. She knew how hungry one got in the Dark Forest. She wished for a mouse or a frog. Even a slimy fish would do.
The she-cat glanced back. "You're welcome."
Another glance. "Well." She shifted uncomfortably, then paused. She turned around. The two she-cats faced each other and Honeybee shifted nervously. She wished yet again she was a better fighter. What if the tabby turned on her?
"This might sound odd."
Honeybee kept silent, not sure how "odd" it would even be. She was in the Dark Forest after all, and she obviously wasn't supposed to be.
"Okay, well, I want to start a Clan," the she-cat declared.
Honeybee's jaw dropped. "What?"
"I said it would be silly." Her ears lowered and she stared at the ground.
Honeybee wasn't sure what to say. Clans in the Dark Forest?
"I'm tired of this all," the tabby continued. "I-" she licked her whiskered. "I think that we'd be better off if we could take care of each other. There'd be protection with more cats and maybe we could catch prey. It's a lot better than living on your own expecting to be ambushed any second. The others already have their small groups, but I want a Clan. They're stronger and safer."
Honeybee nodded. She did agree with that. "So how many cats do you have?"
"Two," the she-cat meowed. "If you join."
Honeybee tilted her head. This she-cat seemed honest. She wasn't snarling or trying to kill a StarClan cat. But with just two of them there wasn't much advantage. Especially since Honeybee glowed like her own little star and would draw enemies.
"Who else do you have in mind?" She questioned. She took this Clan business seriously.
"All of the lost StarClan," the tabby replied.
"All?" Honeybee squeaked. "How many is that?"
"Quite a few, I think. I know you probably don't trust me, I mean I don't trust any of the cats here either, especially not my fox-hearted sister. I did everything for her. Listened to her, did as she ordered all my life. And this is how she repays me. Abandons me to Tigerstar and his lot. Let's them torture me for fun! I'm tired of it all, this horrible forest and being afraid I might run into somecat that wants me gone. So I want a Clan. And only StarClan cats will work. You have a reason to band together and I know I'll be safer with you."
"That's. . ." Honeybee couldn't form words. The tabby meant what she said. It was obvious. She felt she could definitely trust this she-cat. And she would feel safer in a Clan too. And with other StarClan members, even if they weren't in StarClan.
"I'll join," Honeybee meowed. "I'll help you find the others and convince them to join."
"Really?" the tabby she-cat looked thrilled and hopeful.
"Thank you! You can be deputy!"
Honeybee couldn't stop a foolish grin from crawling up her face. Perhaps they were just playing Clan-building, but it was still exciting. She'd found her first friend here in the Dark Forest.
"My name is Honeybee," she told her 'leader'. "What's yours?"
"Fernstripe, formerly of ShadowClan."
And with that introduction they started their search for more Clan members. Honeybee not realizing that perhaps one day, the real StarClan might find her and take her where she belonged.
It was easy merely walking here. Nothing to fear, no reason anyone would attack him. The border was back to normal, scents strongly coating the plants. Scentmarks from both ShadowClan and ThunderClan. He yawned and swung his tail, continuing to walk to the lake. He might have been hunting, but it felt nicer just to stroll. The sun was warm on his back. He felt like finding a rock to lie on and soaking.
A faint chill of coming leaf-fall was in the air. The leaves had brown or yellow ends, starting to curl and lose their green. There were more nuts in the trees, more squirrels leaping about, burying their caches. He'd caught two already.
The gray tabby's thoughts drifted. He wished his mate was with him, hunting. It was nice hunting solo, but some of the excitement and fun was gone. He'd rather be with someone. He'd rather be with her, sharing in the catch, eating with her. Instead she had to stay in the camp, caring for their kit. Little Ravenkit. A long-haired black just like she was. Except for the white at his throat and nose. Recently kitted three days ago, Ravenkit was in no condition to hunt with his father or have his mother leave him for a more than a trip to the dirtplace.
Lakefrost's chest swelled with pride. Ravenkit might only be one kit, but he was Knotfur's and Lakefrost. Their kit. Something they could care for, a symbol of their love.
They weren't the only ones with kits either. Surprisingly Mallowstalk was heavy and had joined Knotfur. They enjoyed talking together in the nursery. Even Wrensong--though her ears and tail had been maimed to where Flametail needed to cut them off--found Orangestripe to love. They were the first with kits about two moons ago. Lakefrost still had a feeling Orangestripe thought of Honeybee. Wrensong tried to distract him and it worked mostly. Perhaps Orangestripe loved her because she looked the least like Honeybee and wouldn't be able to remind him of his dead love. Wrensong's siblings were happy for her. Ashfall and Bluefern visited their niece and nephew every day.
Fallingstar held reservations about so many kits to be born near leafbare. Brownfeather tired to soothe her fears. They were a strong Clan and could provide. They had enough territory and the other Clans weren't threatening. The latest Gathering had been mostly peaceful, if less attended. Many cats had died and the other Clans felt the loss. Out of them all, ShadowClan fared best with only four dead.
The warrior ceremonies of Wrensong, Ashfall, and Bluefern didn't leave the apprentice den empty. Pinepaw and Chestnutpaw were very busy. They'd only been apprentices for about a half moon but had to clean and care for everyone. They seemed happy to finally have responsibility and tried to act like warriors, not like kits. They denied ever being young. Lakefrost was amused by them. Chestnutpaw was his apprentice and though he trained her, she always looked up to her father Acornpelt. Sometimes Lakefrost would let the spotted tom take his daughter on patrols.
"I might as well bring something back for Knotfur," he meowed. He picked up his pace and widened his ears, twitching for the sound of prey. A bird would be nice for her.
The sound of his name brought him to a halt. His head came up and he looked around, searching for the cat. He heard his name called again and looked back. She was running along the border. A spring to her step. She'd filled out. She wasn't looking so depressed or harried. She looked pretty. The sunlight rippled down her ginger-brown back, the leaves patterning shadows.
"I almost didn't smell you," she panted, licking her lips. She sat down, just outside the border line.
"Yeah, the scentmarkers were renewed recently." It was nice to see her again. It had been so long. He'd almost feared she hadn't returned from the Dark Forest. If Ashfall hadn't said anything about seeing her at the Gathering, Lakefrost would have thought she was dead. So many had been lost in that battle.
"I didn't see you at the Gathering," she meowed, tilting her head.
"Well," he scuffed a paw on the ground. "Fallingstar kept her word about my punishment. I couldn't go to three Gatherings. This is the end, so I might be at the next."
Fawnfur had a surprised and shock look on her face. "But I thought that didn't matter anymore. I thought she wouldn't punish you. I mean you were helping me try to find out about the Dark Forest."
"It was actually more for my protection," Lakefrost shrugged, smiling gently. "She thought the Clans might be angry that we didn't warn them sooner."
Fawnfur slowly nodded. "I see what you mean. When I went, WindClan was bothering me about it and so was RiverClan. Their medicine cats didn't want to talk with me. They haven't at the half moons."
"So you're still a medicine cat?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah. And still in ThunderClan. Although you can see that." She looked at herself and the line she hadn't crossed. "Bramblestar welcomed me back."
"And you decided to accept just like that?" She'd been so devastated when she'd been exiled. Lakefrost would think she'd never want to return to the Clan that didn't believe her and cast her out. He was almost annoyed that she had stayed. He would have liked her to stay in ShadowClan with him. But then he and Knotfur wouldn't have had Ravenkit. He thought about that. He would miss Fawnfur, not having her as a friend, but truly, he loved his mate more. He always had no matter what other cats implied.
He looked at Fawnfur. She sat calmly, yellow eyes on him, her spotted ear twitching, listening to the sounds in her territory. She looked like before. When he first met her. A lonely feeling flooded into him. He never really got to know her. She was Fawnfur of ThunderClan, all he knew was her name and her status as a medicine cat. Not her likes or dislikes, her favorite places to hunt or pick herbs, who she'd treated, what she dreamed of as a kit, or what made her choose to become a medicine cat when she learned to be a warrior.
"I guess you want to know why I decided to stay," she meowed, misinterpreting his silence. She looked down. "My Clan needed me. I couldn't abandon them. Jayfeather. . . I couldn't just give up on him either. He taught me so much. Running to Summerheat Camp wouldn't have solved anything. I couldn't just hide there from my troubles. I had to face them and challenge, thrust my problems behind me. So I accepted to be a member again. I hope Fallingstar doesn't mind."
"She doesn't," Lakefrost assured her. "She thought this might happen."
Fawnfur nodded. "She did give me the option of returning. I'm sorry."
"That I didn't tell you sooner."
"How could you?" Lakefrost meowed. "I'm ShadowClan."
She gazed at him and Lakefrost could see how wide the gap really was between them. Not a physical tail length, but more. The way they saw each other and couldn't share everything.
"Morningsong is dead," she meowed. She lowered her eyes and sighed.
Lakefrost's ears twitched. He'd wondered what happened to her. Had the Clan done something?
"I never told the Clan," Fawnfur meowed quietly. "I just couldn't. I just let them believe the Dark Forest killed her first and came after the rest of us. Was I wrong?"
He shook his head. "No. I'd do the same."
He wanted to tell her about Honeybee. How his sister was dead. He wanted to tell her about Badgerface and how Stoneheart had taught the siblings this other way of communicating. That on the days Badgerface couldn't hear, they could still make him understand them. He'd had to relearn a few hunting techniques, but he and the Clan were adjusting. Sometimes, though, Badgerface voluntarily did apprentice duties so he wouldn't have to leave camp. Lakefrost wanted to tell her about Ravenkit. He wanted to tell her all of this, but he found he couldn't. They weren't as close. The danger brought them together. Their Clans were forcing them apart.
Paws pounded behind him and he glanced back. For a moment his heart froze and he wanted to hide somewhere, sure some cat was going to come and tell him to stop talking to Fawnfur. He almost expected everyone to forget what had happened and that ThunderClan and ShadowClan were enemies fighting over the border like usual.
A little brown she-cat raced through the trees, a sparrow dangling from her jaw. She blinked wide eyed at him and then dropped her catch, glancing at Fawnfur with suspicion.
"Look what I caught!"
"I see," Lakefrost nodded. "A good catch. The queens would love to have this."
"I wish Oakfur was still alive," Chestnutpaw sighed. "He would have told me stories if I brought him this."
Lakefrost nodded sadly. That old tom had been elder ever since Lakefrost was young. It was odd not having him or any elder around.
"Who is this?" Fawnfur meowed, interested.
Chestnutpaw went back to looking at her, with narrowed eyes.
"This is my apprentice, Chestnutpaw," Lakefrost introduced them. "This is Fawnfur. A friend."
Fawnfur blinked almost regretfully at the way he said it. Nothing more. Just a friend. Not how they'd supported each other or gotten in trouble just to meet. Faced the wrath of their Clan leaders and Clanmates.
"Nice to meet you," Chestnutpaw blinked.
"The same," Fawnfur smiled. "Weren't you that kit that got lost in the tunnels?"
"She prefers not to remember how much trouble or danger she was in doing that. Following her dreams."
Chestnutpaw's frown got deeper. "I would never be so silly. I know better than to trust strange cats anymore." She looked pointedly at Fawnfur. "Can I go back to the camp now?" she asked, turning to Lakefrost.
He nodded. "Of course. Take your catch. See if Flametail could use any help. If not, you can do what you like."
"Thank you!" she purred, scooping up her sparrow and ran off.
He admired all that energy. It was hard to remember that he was like that too. That Ashfall not long ago was also rambunctious and eager for adventure.
"She'll get a sharp tongue," Fawnfur shook her head.
Lakefrost glanced over. Perhaps he had let his apprentice talk a bit much, almost rudely to a medicine cat. But it didn't bother him as much as it once would have. He knew she didn't mean ill by it. She just didn't find interest in the other Clans.
"I'll work to correct her," Lakefrost meowed. "What else are mentors for?"
He spoke, but his eyes were caught by movement in the ThunderClan territory. A silver shape moved beyond the tree line. His eyes darted up instantly, centering on the silver tom with the wide white face. Fawnfur could sense his tension and looked over her shoulder.
"Owlface," she greeted.
The ThunderClan warrior nodded. He looked over at Lakefrost and they shared a glance. Lakefrost tried not to narrow his eyes or hiss at him. He really didn't like this tom. He was certain he would be chased away. Usually when they met, there was some threat and claws. Today that didn't happen. They didn't even speak. Owlface came closer and stood behind Fawnfur.
"Cinderheart wants you," he meowed.
"All right," Fawnfur nodded. Lakefrost supposed Cinderheart had planned meeting Fawnfur at a certain place that morning.
"I'll tell her that you are on your way," he meowed. He turned away without another word.
"At least he isn't bothering you now," Lakefrost whispered, remembering Fawnfur's reaction to the older warrior.
"At least," she meowed back. "His attention stopped after the battle. He's not interested in me, or if he is, he doesn't show it. He either respects me now or is ashamed of what he's done. He's tried to be extra polite lately. I better go now." She stood up. She didn't look like she really wanted to leave, but she turned away. She once glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled.
"Good luck," Lakefrost yelled after her.
She waved her tail and disappeared into the undergrowth. He wasn't sure when he'd see her again.
He sat in place for a while more. A bird flew by overhead and he looked up. It had been so long since they'd been together and real friends banded together against a common enemy. Things were different. Things were. . . normal. He almost missed the excitement. He certainly missed his sister and hoped she was well in StarClan.
He blinked at the clouds floating by and turned away. The Clan came first. He walked away into his territory, thoughts on Ravenkit and the two squirrels he'd caught that morning.
A year has gone by and so the trilogy finally reaches its conclusion. Thanks to all those who've reviewed and read and will continue to review in the future.
Sorry if the ending was lame and anticlimactic. It just covers stuff that happened after the battle. Although Honeybee's could be a start to another story. But I won't be doing it. Just think, Clans in the Dark Forest, fighting each other and marking territory! For safety and to see which Clan is more powerful. Join or be prey!
Questions are answered, others remain.
Badgerface will stay a warrior and now knows another non-verbal language his family can talk to him with. Mallowstalk finds love and a family and learns to overcome her fear of rejection by other cats.
Lakefrost and Fawnfur have grown apart, realizing they don't know anything about each other and are better in their own Clans. She lives a long life, and uses her power sparingly.
Sunstorm and Redfur live together in the stars. Eventually they go on other adventures in the Unknown Territory. She is determined to find Forest and Hawthorn and see how the two are.
What will Honeybee and the other lost StarClan warriors do? Will they survive and can they really trust Fernstripe? Do they ever get back to StarClan? Well, you'll just have to figure that out for yourself.
For one last fanfiction read "Retaking Summerheat Camp".
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, StormikatWrite a Review