Chapter 5: Fawnfur
"No, no," Bramblestar shook his head. "I can't believe you."
"But the Dark Forest is-"
"The place where dead cats go that aren't worthy to enter StarClan," he interrupted me, staring at me with wide amber eyes. "I know it."
"But . . . how?" I meowed. I was aware StarClan didn't want the Place-of-No-Stars general knowledge. They wanted it that way to preserve their 'balance', but it seemed as if my leader already knew. Had something happened I wasn't aware of? Had I missed something? Had they spoken with him after all?
"Does it matter how?" he meowed. He sighed and closed his eyes as if he would never open them again. He sat so still for a long time, head bowed, ears down. It was dark inside the leader's den and not much better outside. "But I cannot believe you. They could not destroy our Clan. They are dead!"
"You have spoken with them before," Jayfeather meowed calmly.
Bramblestar's head jerked up and he stared at Jayfeather with widening eyes. My mentor had been quiet during my tale, letting me take control. It seemed now he would speak up for me. I was glad to have him with me and I realized he could help verify my story. I looked over at him when he spoke. The tom sat staring straight ahead like usual, but his ears were halfway down.
A low hiss started from Bramblestar. "You've been stealing it from my mind!" I flinched and then watched as my leader tensed up, his teeth bared. "All this is lies. You are only telling me what I would believe. Things only I would understand and other cats would not."
I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Leave now," he growled at us, taking a step forward. "Get out of my den and take your tales with you!"
"Come on," Jayfeather meowed quietly into my ear. I stood up quickly and backed away. Bramblestar stared after us with his wide eyes. We left the den. Outside a few drops of rain hit the ground, round dark splatters in the sand.
"What was he talking about?" I demanded, looking back over my shoulder when we reached the quarry floor. I could see him there, half hidden in the shadow, looking out at us, his eyes wild. It made me nervous like never before. What had happened to my leader?
Jayfeather glanced back up as well, but I knew his eyes couldn't see Bramblestar. He was possibly only reading the tabby tom's thoughts.
"He's been contacted by the Dark Forest before," Jayfeather told me quietly. "He knows about it. It was his father."
I blinked. "Tigerstar?"
Jayfeather nodded. "I'm sure you could See it if you wished, how the two met and spoke. But I. . . from what I'm hearing from Bramblestar, it was a dark time for him. He almost murdered. . . for the Dark Forest. In the end, he killed his brother. Hearing you say the Dark Forest had agents must have affected him. Reminded him that he once worked for them. He thinks I've told you everything and that you're saying things just to make him believe you. I'm afraid we've pushed him further away."
"But I'm telling the truth!"
"I know it."
"How does he know about your power?" I asked as we started for the medicine cat den.
"One time, he and Firestar figured it out," Jayfeather told me. "Lionblaze, Dovetooth, and I have never specifically told him our talents. But he knows."
I shivered at the thought. Someone else who knew my powers and fear them. It seemed this knowledge was driving our leader to madness.
"What do we do now?" I meowed quietly.
"You have to tell the Clan," he replied.
"But they won't believe me either! And he'll just tell them I'm lying. They'll never ever listen to me after that."
"Then your only course is to tell everyone at the Gathering, and hope your four friends will be there to back you up. And you better pray it isn't too late, that you can tell everyone before the Dark Forest attacks. It will be the Clans' one and only chance."
I quickly came up the sloping ledge, prey in my mouth. I could see Jayfeather sitting by the pool on our mossy nests. We were going to share prey, going to wait out the storm together while we planned what we were going to do now that Bramblestar would never believe me. I set a mouse by my mentor s side and then went to the storage cleft to look for chamomile and thyme. I had a feeling that Bramblestar should have some herbs to calm him down. I was wondering who we could get to take it to him and make sure it ate it. Our leader might be suspicious of us now and claim we were trying to kill him. What would the Clan think then?
"That is a good idea," Jayfeather meowed. "Perhaps if Squirrelflight or Cinderheart took it."
I nodded, and pushed away a pile of borage leaves. Suddenly I could hear frantic pawsteps and ragged breathing. I paused and turned to look as a black she-cat with creamy-white vertical stripes down her back legs hurried away from the light and into the darkness of our den. I could smell her even over the herbs, as Jayfeather was likely doing to identify Lightningwhisker. The queen stopped in front of Jayfeather, chest heaving, her eyes white rimmed.
"Please come," she meowed. "My kits. They're coughing and I don't think Graykit is breathing!"
"Fawnfur!" he meowed.
I was already digging through the piles for what we needed. Catmint, feverfew, coltsfoot, and perhaps juniper for the breathing. Jayfeather didn't even see what I'd gathered. He raced out of the den, letting Lightningwhisker lead him to the nursery, all the while asking more about what she'd noticed. Their voices faded away. I couldn't hear them anymore and though I tried, I realized I could only hear the sound of falling rain. It pittered and pattered on the sandy floor, falling softly and thinly for now.
When I was finished and had the supplies tucked in a leaf, I came after the two. Outside a cold wind stirred in the quarry. The rain had coated the ground in mud. I spotted some cats peering out from the dens. Hopping down, I wrinkled my nose. The rain covered my back, darkening my ginger-brown tabby fur. My ears got soaked and the tips dripped. Water ran down my chin and I breathed swiftly out to get it out of my nose. I ducked my head to protect the leaf and supplies and continued. The mud underfoot and clung to my paws.
I approached the wall on the other side of camp and hopped up to the thick bramble and gorse bush. Bumblethroat, Lightningwhisker's mate sat just outside. He glared at me and then started coughing. I tried to ignore him while I shook off just outside the entrance and ducked inside. I felt some resentment toward the light gray tom. He'd given his kits the same cough and it was much worse for them.
"Fawnfur," Jayfeather meowed, turning to me, "Do you have coltsfoot?"
I nodded and set down the leaf packet. Out rolled the supplies onto the soft and mossy nest. Jayfeather quickly sorted through, identifying by smell and feel. I looked around. The rain failed to leak into the thick and comfortable nursery. It was dark inside and warm. Only Lightningwhisker crouched inside by her two kits: Blackkit, a black she-cat with white chest and paws, and Graykit a gray tom with dark gray stripes. The later was so still, laying on his side, legs splayed as if he'd collapsed. His sister sat huddled beside her mother, wheezing and coughing. She looked at me through her streaming eyes.
I blinked back, trying to be reassuring. I knew these kits well. They'd often been sickly since their birth, but now seemed the worst.
"I'll help Blackkit," I told Lightningwhisker. I started to walk forward, but she hissed at me. I stopped and stared at her.
"Just stay away," the queen growled at me. "It's because of you they're sick!"
"StarClan is punishing us because of you!" Lightningwhisker snarled. "You've turned traitor with a ShadowClan tom!"
"Quiet!" Jayfeather turned on her. His blue eyes burned, staring through her.
The black queen backed away, seeming to shrink before my eyes. Even the kit looked frightened. Her streaming eyes blinked and she whimpered before hacking out a cough.
"Fawnfur is no traitor!" my mentor hissed. "Now please let her help Black-kit. I'm busy with Graykit and your daughter needs help. If you stop my apprentice, I will have you removed."
Lightningwhisker glared but bowed her head, her ears folding down. "Fine," she spat.
I cautiously I walked forward, my eyes darting between her and my mentor. He turned his back on us, working on Graykit. His paw rubbed the kit's chest and then patted. Jayfeather chewed the coltsfoot in his mouth and licked it onto Graykit's nose. But the kit didn't respond. I blinked and looked away, concentrating on my own charge. I leaned down and sniffed Black-kit. Her mother watched as I cleaned away the tears and snot. I could feel her glaring eyes and tried not to be bothered.
Lightningwhisker glared at me the whole time and I felt uneasy. It made it hard for me to concentrate and I wanted to look like I was doing a good job. I never looked away from Black-kit. Neither did Lightningwhisker. She hunched over like a hawk on a branch, judging my every move until I felt like one mistake would be my end. When I was finally finished, Black-kit was breathing easier. She lowered her head and went to sleep. Then I looked at my mentor. He sat, watching us. His tail wrapped around the body of Graykit. From the look on his face, I knew it was over.
"Lightningwhisker," he meowed.
She stared at him and then at the kit by his feet. She moaned and hurried over. Jayfeather backed away and let her nuzzle her dead son. I could hear her whispering, but could not make out the words.
"I am sorry," he told her quietly. She didn't reply. He waved his tail at me and I quickly hurried out of the nursery, picking up the remaining supplies as we left. The rain poured down around us. Thick, pounding, unrelenting. I was soaking before we started down the quarry side. The slick stone was hard for me to maintain a grip. I almost fell.
"You shouldn't be out in the rain," Jayfeather meowed. I looked up and noticed Bumblethroat still standing there. He was completely drenched, his fur flat and dripping where he huddled against the bush side. "You make your own illness worse."
"What about my kits?"
"Graykit is gone."
The gray tom looked as if he might rush into the nursery, but Jayfeather held him back. "I know you want to see them, but I can't allow it. You would endanger your last kit even more. Go to the warrior den and clean off all the water. Try to stay dry. When the rain stops, send someone to take the body. You can go to his burial."
My mentor jumped off of the ledge and started for the medicine cat den. I started to follow him across the thick mud. Bumblethroat thudded behind me. I looked back. He seemed miserable. His ears lowered by more than water, his eyes were dull and his tail dragged. I stopped, wanting to comfort him. I placed the leaf on the ground and waited for him to reach me.
He noticed my presence and his head rose marginally. Eyes narrowed, he bared his teeth at me. I swallowed and suddenly realized this wasn't a good idea. He didn't want my comfort.
"You," he hissed low. "It's your fault my Graykit is dead. You did nothing to help him."
"I could do nothing," I told him, sitting straight. "Jayfeather did his best, but your kit is with StarClan."
"It is only because of you all this is happening," he meowed as if he hadn't heard me. "You and Owlface. You've caused our problems."
I looked around, hoping Jayfeather was near, but my mentor's tail disappeared into the gloom of our den. He hadn't even realized I had stayed behind. I started to leave Bumblethroat, not wanting to be near him now. He blocked my path, not letting me near my den.
"Get out of this camp," he hissed. "I don't ever want to see you here. Because if I do, I won't care if you're a medicine cat."
My heart beat fast. His yellow eyes started into mine with a cold fire. He was serious. I knew I wasn't at fault, but there was nothing I could do. No way could I convince him. I could only wait for him to see reason. That when he understood and accepted his son's death, he would see how foolish he was being. I swallowed and nodded. I looked around the camp. Through the rain, I could see their eyes staring down at me. Lightningwhisker from the nursery, Owlface from the warrior den. I thought there were others, but none of them stopped this. None of them walked out and made Bumblethroat leave me. They wanted me out as well. They didn't want me in their Clan. I turned away, not going to the medicine cat den, but for the gorse entrance of ThunderClan. I was headed out into the forest.