Chapter 13: Lakefrost
Disclaimer: Warriors by Erin Hunter
They found the twoleg nests the next day before sunhigh. The stream curled away into the trees, but Honeybee's scent led them to the edge of the forest where the nests started. A short length of open ground spread out before their sides and the wild. Lakefrost lead them over that, looking up at the dwellings. They were tall and brown, reaching into the blue sky. Two layers of squares reflected early midday sunlight. Bushes lined their sides. They walked between two and to the black edge of a thunderpath where short grass grew. There Honeybee's scent was lost, a strong tang covering it up.
He glanced around as a monster roared by, suddenly appearing around the bend behind the dwellings. He jumped, pulling back. Even Ashpaw flinched. When the beast was gone, Lakefrost became cautious, looking both ways. He spotted a flattened squirrel on the black path. Its fur was pressed down, the bushy tail sticking away from it, blood everywhere. He shuddered.
"This is strange," Ashpaw whispered. "I don't like it."
"Neither do I," he murmured.
"Why did she come here?" the apprentice whimpered, pulling back as if he wanted to retreat to the forest.
"You're a ShadowClan cat," Lakefrost meowed, standing straight, trying to stop his legs from shaking. "We're on a mission. We don't retreat, we don't give up on our Clanmates."
Ashpaw looked up at him, and swallowing, stood. "Let's go."
Lakefrost nodded and padded to the very edge of the thunderpath. Ashpaw pushed against his pelt, but Lakefrost didn't move, as comforted by the feeling as Ashpaw was trying to be. He waited, glancing both ways. Nothing. No sound. There must not have been one coming around the bend, if there was, he wouldn't see it until too late. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
"Go," he meowed harshly.
Feet pounding, they fled across. When they reached the other side, his heart was hammering in his chest. He'd heard such stories, and finally seeing the monster relit the fear of being flattened like that squirrel. When his paws touched the soft, short grass, he realized how much is paw pads had been scrapped by the hard surface of the thunderpath.
He glanced at Ashpaw. The gray tom was panting, his fur fluffed out, his eyes wide. Obviously he'd felt the same fear.
"Let's go," Lakefrost meowed hoarsely. He wandered for the next set of nests, watching for movements of rats, twolegs, or dogs.
"Can you smell her?"
Lakefrost shook his head. He couldn't. Not over all these new, stranger scents.
Ashpaw looked disappointed. He lowered his head, sniffing the grass. His nose wrinkled and he sneezed. "This place is gross."
Lakefrost smiled a half smile.
The two toms wandered in the nests along the thunderpath, a few monsters flashing by. The dwellings got wider and fences and hedges surrounded them. The sun sank overhead, not long until evening. A few clouds, white and fluffy, traveled across the blue sky. The toms had only hidden a few times from twolegs walking dogs and monsters. But they soon learned the monsters wouldn't leave the thunderpath, unless they traveled up to the nests, but then they slowed down first, giving the ShadowClan cats enough time to scatter. The twolegplace was not as bad as he'd though it'd be. There were a few tall trees, bushes, flowers, and grass. The twoleg gardens could be wild or oddly straight, but they'd found food in birds and squirrels.
Once they caught sight of a cat on a fence, but it hissed at them, threatening with claws. Not wanting to get into a fight, Lakefrost led Ashpaw away.
They didn't find anyone else, as if the cats knew they were coming and had hidden. They needed help, a guide, or at least someone who had seen a new cat like Honeybee. They couldn't spend the rest of the quarter moon in this twolegplace. They had to be with their Clan when the Dark Forest attacked. What if they returned and no one was there, or only the dead bodies of their Clanmates? He shivered at the thought.
"Lakefrost!" Ashpaw squeaked. He frowned, realizing his voice had been high and lowered it. "I found her scent!"
Lakefrost bounded over. At the bottom of a green and flowery hedge, Honeybee's familiar scent washed over him. He looked at Ashpaw and smiled. They hurried along the hedge, unwilling to go under if she wasn't on the other side and not wanting to hop on top to get a good view because they'd fall through the branches. The hedge was straight, following the thunderpath and they could easily hurry along. They caught her scent again, stronger this time. They walked on and found another. Heart pounding, he realized what his sister was doing. She'd scent-marked, staking her territory and warning others away.
The hedge ended and a small wooden gate replaced the plant. The white, vertical slats revealed a small garden, a diagonal piece distorting their view. He could smell his sister strongly and didn't hesitate as he squeezed through. His shoulders caught on the slats, but he forced his way in. Ashpaw hurried behind.
A nest stood at the end of the garden. A red and gray stone path cut its way through from the gate to the door. On either side were patches of straight plants. There was a smaller, white nest with one window. The door was open and he could see metal and red pots inside. Not a den, he realized, more like a storage place. Next to the shed was a small apple tree. Half of the branches were sheared off and it leaned over the pathway, the fruit just starting to grow.
At the very end of the path near the nest door, Lakefrost could see a twoleg bending down. At the creature's paw tips a golden she-cat stood up, leaning into the strokes. The twoleg murmured something soft, scratching Honeybee's head. Lakefrost stared in shock, expecting his sister to run or to fight back. Instead she leaned into the touch, a purr rumbling from her throat.
"Come on," Ashpaw hissed, nudging Lakefrost.
The gray tabby jumped, startled, but he dived after Ashpaw.
They hid behind a tall plant that wound its way up a short pole. The air around them filled with the strong scent of sage. The two stared at each other, speechless. There were no words to describe what Honeybee was doing. He felt ashamed at her actions. Something about it made his fur flatten the wrong way and made him queasy. She was so close to that twoleg, something so big and powerful.
A thud caught their attention, breaking their eye contact. Lakefrost peered around the plant, keeping his ears flat so he couldn't be seen. He spotted his sister on the porch. The twoleg was gone. The she-cat leaned over a bowl. He could hear faint crunching noises as if she were eating something.
Making sure no twolegs were around or in hiding, Lakefrost left the plant, stepping off of the dirt onto the stone pathway. He hurried over. Ashpaw stayed behind, eyes on the gate. Perhaps the apprentice was going to give them privacy, not shoving his nose into personal things this time. The warrior got close to the nest and she noticed him. Pulling her head from the bowl, she avoided looking him in the eye, ears down in embarrassment. She sat as if refusing to be moved.
"What are you doing?" he hissed quietly, eyes darting around, glancing at the door, making sure there was no twoleg ambush. There was no answer and he looked back at her. "We have to go home. Why did you runaway?"
"I'm not going back," she answered, her voice only a quavering whisper. "I'm not a good warrior."
He stared at her, his eyes wide. He sat down in shock. What was she talking about?
"We have to go," he meowed. "Our Clan-"
"I'm useless," she replied, her eyes shining. "I lost my first battle. I realized then how much I was just a burden to ShadowClan. You don't need me back."
"You're my sister," he breathed. "You aren't useless. Who told you you were a burden?"
"No one," she meowed too quickly as if lying. She looked him in the eye after a pause. "Name me one thing Fallingstar has trusted me with," she growled. "Any assignment, to lead a patrol, any cat coming to me for advice or help."
He couldn't think of anything. A sudden pain was in his chest as he stared at her.
"You can't because it never happened," she told him when he didn't reply. "I can't be a warrior."
"But why here?"
She sighed and looked away.
A bird sang in the apple tree. Lakefrost glanced at Ashpaw but the apprentice didn't even seem to be paying attention.
"I like it here," she meowed, drawing him back into the conversation. "It isn't so bad. I have food whenever I want. I got it just this morning without having to hunt. The twolegs didn't harm me. They're nice. Even though their touch is odd, they know all the right places where to scratch that I can't reach. My ears, my back. The other cats are friendly. We aren't at war here. I won't ever get hurt again."
He blinked and finally saw the healing wound on her shoulder. A bare patch in her flawless golden fur.
"I can't go back." She hunched over, her legs shivering.
He could smell her fear. He leaned over, licking her head, trying to comfort her. She looked up at him.
"We need you," he whispered. "StarClan called you."
"They don't need a cat like me."
He blinked, sadness in his heart. He wasn't going to change her mind. She was determined to stay in the twolegplace and become a kittypet. It hurt him so much. He didn't want it to affect him like this, the fear that he couldn't take her back home that he might never see her again if he left. He wouldn't be able to keep his promise to Fallingstar. He cleared his throat, trying to force the tight feeling to leave.
The only way he could do it was with anger. He sparked it, drawing on the feeling of betrayal. She was giving up on him and the Clan. She'd let them all die by the Dark Forest's claws just to be safe here and eat well. He knew she was lying to him. There was something more. Something must have made her want to come here, change her mind about helping him and the Clans. How dare she hide this from him!
"Are. . ." she started slowly, swallowing. "Am I missed?"
He stared at her, his eyes narrowing. The tightness was still there, even though he tried to feel rage. Perhaps it was best she stayed here after all. She would be safe. She might not be able to help him or Fawnfur, but she would rather be here. He couldn't force her.
"Yes," he got out, his voice hoarse. "They don't know why you left."
"Don't tell them about this," she whispered, her tail curling over her front paws.
"What do I tell them?" he demanded, standing up to tower over her. "You abandoned us. We only have until the Gathering!"
She flinched away in his anger, refusing to look at him. "I don't want to be a coward. I can't go back though."
He slowly nodded. It was best if she thought that way. Then she would have no reason to return. No reason to see the devastation the Dark Forest would leave in its wake.
"Good luck," he meowed stiffly, turning away.
"Wait!" she stood, taking a step after him.
He paused but refused to look back. If he did, he knew he would beg her to come with them.
"Aren't you going to stay the night?" she meowed.
The shadows were growing as the sun started to dip below the horizon. Unseen, it colored the sky lilac and blue, the clouds growing thicker, a strong feeling hovering in the air.
"We have to get back," he told her. "We don't have long and I want to be there when the Dark Forest attacks."
She said nothing and he started walking away. He could feel her eyes on his pelt and it burned him, but he refused to look back.
"Good bye," he thought he heard her whisper.
The path felt hard underpaw, not like the soft dirt and grass and needle covered forest floor. He couldn't understand how she could choose to live in this place. He shook his head as he reached Ashpaw. The apprentice stared at him and then glanced back at Honeybee. Lakefrost passed him, starting to squeeze through the gate.
Ashpaw sighed and started to follow, his claws ticking on the stones. Suddenly the sound stopped. Lakefrost looked back to see what was going on. Ashpaw had turned to Honeybee, staring up at her. The golden she-cat sat, her ears tilted, hope in her eyes.
"StarClan needs you," Ashpaw yelled up at her. "They asked you! They knew you could help them. If they thought you were useless or not a proper warrior they wouldn't have asked. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Come on!" Lakefrost snapped.
Ashpaw and Honeybee stared at him. Ashpaw just looked confused and Honeybee lowered her head as if ashamed. Her eyes glimmered at him as Ashpaw forced his way through the small opening and out to the Thunderpath. The apprentice growled in frustration but Lakefrost walked away. Ashpaw had to hurry to keep up.
They walked along the hedge, Honeybee's scent all around them.
"I still don't understand," the apprentice meowed.
"She made her choice," Lakefrost answered. "She feels she's suited to this life more than ours. We can't just drag her back, so we must leave her."
"I mean you. Why did you stop me? We could have gotten her back."
He looked at his paws. "She's better off here. Do you think I want to drag her back to camp when she's terrified of fighting? She suddenly saw she couldn't do it. She's safer here. I don't want her dying."
"It's just not right. StarClan wanted her." Ashpaw waited for a reply.
Lakefrost said nothing. He couldn't. He felt conflicted. He wanted her with him, fighting by his side. He knew she wasn't as worthless as she thought she was, but really, what had anyone wanted her to do for them? How could see feel wanted? What would make her return? Why would he want her to go back to a place that was just going to be in a war? He knew she was safer here and that was why he wanted her to stay. He couldn't decide which was more important. And so he couldn't answer Ashpaw. He also couldn't spend more time in the twolegplace deciding which course to take. The Clans needed him.
"You do know the way back right?" Ashpaw asked.