Chapter 8: Lakefrost
"What are you doing?"
His heart jumped. He looked over his shoulder at Knotfur. The black she-cat with tangled fur stood staring at him, her features stiff with annoyance and disdain. She was the only one in the camp that morning. Everyone else was still sleeping or on the patrol, but that would end very soon as more cats awoke for the day.
"You aren't trying to escape from camp again are you?"
He quickly shook his head. "No. I was going to look for Honeybee."
Knotfur blinked, her face relaxing, her eyes taking on a sympathetic cast. "Yeah, she didn't come back last night did she?"
Once again, he shook his head. He suddenly felt guilty. Maybe he should have stayed up to wait for his sister, and he knew he probably shouldn't to use her as an excuse to covering up what he'd done with Fawnfur. Everyone had thought Honeybee would come back eventually, so it was odd that she was still missing. As the day went on, they might start fearing for their lost Clanmate.
"Let's look for her then," Knotfur meowed, her tail straight, a smile on her muzzle. "Come on."
He stared after her as the black she-cat wove passed him. She was going to help him? She'd been avoiding him lately since his punishment. When he'd run off on her during hunting. He felt a spark of happiness in him. Were things going to be different? The way they'd been before the Dark Forest? He hoped so. He couldn't stand the hate she stared at him.
He trotted after her. He caught up as they passed the first tree. The low needles waved at them in a small breeze. The ground underpaw was coated with fallen brown needles and the occasional old leaf. Birds called around them, a squirrel bit into a nut, and he could catch the faint smell of fox. Side by side they hurried through the territory, Lakefrost following her, just happy to be near her again. She knew where they were going, she had a destination in mind. He didn't know the first place to look for his sister.
Knotfur led them to the border where the battle had taken place. Lakefrost hadn't been part of the group to rush back after the defeat. He'd been required to stay at camp. Probably no one trusted him. They all thought he had a mate in ThunderClan anyway. He shook his head and looked around. Leaves lay strewn about as if flung, patches of bare ground shown through, plants pressed down. There were the scents of old blood and many cats, the smell of anger, and over it all were the very fresh scent-markers of both ShadowClan and ThunderClan.
"She was here last," Knotfur meowed as Lakefrost took in the different scents. "I guess something must have happened if she didn't come back. Maybe she needs help right now. It was foolish of me to not look for her. I was leading that patrol and I let her down. She could have been really injured."
Knotfur seemed apologetic for losing his sister, her tail tip touching the ground, her whiskers forward as she looked up at him.
"What happened?" he asked even though he'd heard the story. "Who started that fight?"
"Like I told the Clan last night, it was unprovoked. They were waiting for us here. Waiting to attack. Ashpaw just gave them the excuse. He was mouse-brained to go over like that." She shook her head.
"Who told him to?"
Her ears tilted. "Pricklethorn I think. I can't really remember. It was either him or that Morningsong. The other two were just their lackeys. I hope ThunderClan punishes them for this," she hissed.
"I doubt it," Lakefrost muttered. Not after what Fawnfur had said. ThunderClan thought ShadowClan had started it. They saw their Clanmates as heroes, so they wouldn't punish them for that. He flicked his ears and started searching for his sister's scent. He found it just over the border. He hesitated to cross, but most of the fight had taken place on ThunderClan land. He stood, leaning over, his eyes on drops of blood splattered on the leaves. His tail stiffened. She had been injured, but not badly to judge by the small amount and that she'd been able to run.
Knotfur's pelt brushed his and he pulled away from the border line. She flicked her tail.
"Her scent leads this way."
He turned and started following her. His sister's smell led back through their territory. Though faint, fainter than even Fawnfur's, it was easy to follow. No one had traveled over Honeybee's scent, blurring it. As they walked, they didn't speak. He was too worried about keeping on his sister's trail and what they'd find at the end. The smell led deeper into the territory, starting for camp, but then it suddenly veered away. By sunhigh, they'd arrived at the stream. This was upstream of the lake, and the ribbon of water veered alongside the tree-covered mountain, trailing away through the trees out of Clan territory. Her scent was almost washed away by the damp ground and smells of growing things.
"She's not coming back," Lakefrost meowed, staring upstream.
Knotfur brushed his shoulder with her tail. "We have to tell Fallingstar."
He nodded and slowly turned away. What was Honeybee thinking? Why had she left the territory?
When Lakefrost and Knotfur returned to camp, a group of cats clustered around Fallingstar and the Large Stump. The gray warrior shared a glance with Knotfur before they trotted forward through the entrance. He strained his ears, picking up on the problem.
"We know they were there," Olivespot meowed earnestly. "We caught their fishy scents. And the prey was hidden, as if something had frightened them."
The others in the patrol nodded, murmuring that was what they'd seen.
"What is going on?" Fallingstar meowed, blinking. "First ThunderClan and now RiverClan? It's as if they're trying to take our territory from us."
Lakefrost and the others nodded. It did seem that way, and both in two days. The Clans on either side fighting over a slice of their land, trapping them in. Something was wrong. As wrong as Honeybee deciding to leave. The Dark Forest must have been rising like StarClan warned.
"I suggest we do patrols again," Tigerheart meowed."We need to make sure perhaps a foolish apprentice didn't cross over or a kit on a dare."
"And to also make sure the Clan isn't stealing or planning an attack, we watch them," she finished for him. "I agree. Plan border patrols tonight. I want it doubled; one group than the other a few heartbeats later. That will throw them off."
Tigerheart nodded and stared calling names. Lakefrost instantly stopped listening to the tabby deputy. He usually wasn't called for anything since his punishment. He was supposed to take care of the elder. His ears went back as he realized he'd forgotten to change the mossy bedding for both the nursery and elders' den that morning. He had some time before evening to collect it, but first he had to talk with Fallingstar.
"I'm telling Fallingstar what we found," he told Knotfur, waving his tail to catch her attention.
"Need me to help?"
"No, I'm sure she'll believe me." He winced, remembering that lately the Clan leader had not. His excuses hadn't sounded very plausible before, but at least Knotfur could tell Fallingstar the truth if the leader insisted.
Lakefrost quickly walked around the group to his mother, who had leaned back to speak with Brownfeather. He cleared his throat to get her attention. They both looked at him.
"I haven't seen you around camp all day," Fallingstar meowed quietly.
"I was with Knotfur," he told her.
"You've made up?"
He shifted, looking at his paws. "Not quite. We went looking for Honeybee."
Fallingstar's ears pricked. Even Brownfeather looked anxious to hear.
"Did you find her?" he looked around, but not seeing her said, "She's not dead is she?"
Lakefrost hesitated. "She's . . . left the territory."
His parent's eyes widened, but they didn't say a word.
"We found her scent and followed it. We never found her. If she was coming back, the scent would have been fresh."
"But why?" Fallingstar meowed. "Why is she gone? Did she join ThunderClan?"
Lakefrost briefly wondered why she'd ask that, and then told them. "No, she followed the stream out of Clan territory."
Now Fallingstar gasped. For a moment she didn't even look like a Clan leader, just a young mother who had lost her kit.
"What is she doing?" she asked again, this time only a whisper.
Lakefrost didn't watch as Brownfeather leaned against his mate, murmuring into her ear. Fallingstar hunched over, her eyes closed. Only her ear flicked as Brownfeather spoke. Lakefrost realized now would be the time to leave her, respect her confused grief that Honeybee had left the Clan for no apparent reason, but he felt he had to stay. There was something he wanted to do.
"Let me go after her," he meowed.
The ShadowClan leader's eyes flashed open. The green orbs stared at him. "Why?"
Brownfeather held his tongue and waited for his son to answer.
"I know you could get better warriors than me to look for her," he started to explain, "And I know I m still being punished." His nose flared. He probably shouldn't have reminded her. She might still be angry with him or didn't trust him or something and if this went wrong, he'd still have a moon-and-a-half left of sleeping in the apprentice den.
He continued, "But I'm worried about her. She's my sister and I want to find her and if she won't listen to anyone else in the Clan, maybe she'd explain to me why she wanted to go. She might have a good reason, might be embarrassed or ashamed, or maybe she's on a mission for StarClan." Doubtful as that was. She already had one and that was here in ShadowClan.
"But when she won't talk to the Clan, she might to me. Send me. You need your other warriors here to deal with RiverClan and ThunderClan. I'd only stay at camp anyway. No one even counts me anymore or takes me places. So I can go and no one would really miss me."
"No," Fallingstar meowed, shaking her head.
His heart dropped, his cheeks sagging. She'd refused.
"I can't let you go alone. It's dangerous out there."
His ears pricked and he looked at Brownfeather. What did his father think?
"She's right," the dark brown tabby meowed. "The Clan keeps us safe. You can't just go."
"I'm a fully trained warrior," he reminded them. "And you need everyone else here. If I must take someone, I'll bring Ashpaw."
Now they both blinked at him in surprise. Fallingstar looked wary.
"He still needs training," Brownfeather meowed. He was the apprentice's mentor and would know. "It's one thing to send two warriors, another to send out a young warrior and an apprentice."
"One who you have reason to dislike," Fallingstar meowed dryly.
"We're over that," Lakefrost waved his tail. Ashpaw might have caused so much trouble that last moon, but things were different now that the apprentice knew of StarClan's prophecy.
"We don't have much time to waste," he told them. "She could be getting farther and farther away."
Fallingstar blinked and looked down. Slowly she nodded.
"Are you sure you won't take anyone else?" Brownfeather asked, leaning into his mate's side.
Lakefrost shook his head. "The less to worry about and care for, the better."
Brownfeather wished him well.
"Bring her back," Fallingstar told him.
Lakefrost stared into her eyes. "I will."
He turned away and went off to find Ashpaw. The meeting was already disbanded, many of the cats wandered off. They respected their leader and didn't get involved in private issues. Only Tigerheart remained, waiting to talk with Fallingstar. The deputy nodded to him. "Good luck."
Lakefrost nodded back to his grandfather and looked around camp. Ashpaw was resting beside the apprentice den, eating a sparrow. Lakefrost's stomach growled. He hadn't eaten since last night. He would choose some food and then he and Ashpaw could leave.
"So what do we do when we find her?" Ashpaw asked.
He leaped up, pushing with his back legs off of the ground, batting a low leaf. It was a great jump, good for catching flying birds, but Lakefrost wasn't impressed. He was impatient. They were on serious business, no time for games.
They'd left the territory a while back. This was all new land. The stream flowed to their right the mountain rearing up on the other side. A small bank dipped down to the water where tall reeds with fluffy tips grew. Some stones rippled the surface of the water into white. All around them the trees were pine and spruce, but it changed to the leaf baring variety, and undergrowth was thick beneath the trunks. He wasn't quite sure where to go in this place that wasn't claimed by the Clans. He could only follow Honeybee's scent and the stream which she'd followed for a short time. He could still catch her scent on the reeds or tall grass, find clumps of fur on thorns as he she'd just ambled along, no more certain that he where she was headed.
"Well?" Ashpaw chirped.
Lakefrost glanced over to the ash gray apprentice. A hopeful look was in his yellow eyes.
"Why did she even run away?" the young tom asked.
"You'd know better than me," Lakefrost muttered. He was starting to regret bringing his companion. He'd forgotten how annoyingly talkative the apprentice was and how grumpy he got when things didn't go his way. But Lakefrost had brought him because Ashpaw knew the truth and because he wanted some company. His siblings had to stay at camp. They had their own mission to fulfill.
"She was pinned down," Ashpaw meowed quietly when Lakefrost finally thought the apprentice would be silent and realize how serious the journey was. He glanced back over his shoulder where Ashpaw trailed near the stream side.
"I was busy fighting," the ashy tom continued, "but when I sent Rosepaw fleeing, I got a break. I could see her under a she-cat who looked just like Fawnfur. The ThunderClan warrior seemed too much like her that I didn't want to attack. I thought Honeybee would fight her off. When Orangestripe yelled for me to help, I just turned away. It's my fault she's gone isn't it? If I'd helped her, maybe she wouldn't feel so alone."
Lakefrost stared at the young tom. He really seemed depressed. His ears and tail low, his eyes not focused on the path his paws took.
"Of course it's not your fault," he meowed automatically. "She made her own choice. We'll find out why when we catch up. Now are you hungry?"
Ashpaw looked up, his eyes still drooping as he nodded.
"Then we'll hunt and stop for the night."
"But her scent will fade!"
"Not so badly," Lakefrost meowed. "She's only a day ahead-" StarClan what a long time it seemed! "- and I don't think she was hurrying like us. She had to sleep sometime."
Slowly the apprentice nodded.
"We'll meet here by the stream at first star, okay?"
Ashpaw nodded again. Lakefrost sighed when the apprentice was finally gone. He really did wonder now why she'd just left. Was it because she'd lost to Morningsong? It seemed like an odd reason. Warriors lost fights all the time. They didn't like to talk about it, but it happened. Or was Mallowstalk right? Lakefrost thought back to camp before he and Ashpaw left.
After eating a finch, Lakefrost found his other siblings. They rested by the warriors den before the double patrol they were assigned to be in. No one else was around and he felt confident about being clear with them. He quickly told them what he was about to do."You still have to find the cats working for the Dark Forest," he told them afterward. "I'm sure they're causing this trouble. You might find the RiverClan ones at the border."
"I have no idea what makes StarClan think we can even do this in a quarter moon," Mallowstalk muttered. "We don't even know which cat in RiverClan or WindClan it is, and we only have a choice of four from ThunderClan." She shook her head, looking skyward where the sun started curving down."They trust us to do this. And I need to find Honeybee. We need her, she's our sister."
He suddenly wondered if they were angry that he had the easy job. He would be too, he thought, flicking an ear. They had this almost impossible task and all he needed to do was find one cat. He looked at them to see what they thought. Badgerface just had a confused and concerned look on his face, not uttering a word.
Mallowstalk had the hard, angry flash in her eye."What makes you think Honeybee isn't the one we're looking for?" she demanded. "What if she's the cat in our Clan working for Tigerstar?"
"How can you say that?" he hissed suddenly, his claws digging into the dirt and pine needles.
Before he could continue, Mallowstalk spoke, "She ran away right after speaking to StarClan. Maybe she was feeling guilty, maybe it's just a distraction ploy on her part to keep us from finding the others. She took a long time to side with you and Fawnfur."
"Well so did you!" he snapped in her face. He turned away, his tail thrashing, his fur raising, pricking against his skin. How dare she. She couldn't be right. Could she?