Disclaimer: Any similarities between Erin's fourth arc and this trilogy are accidental. Mine takes place seasons in the future to her books. Of course not all of her cats are dead, just a bit older.
The wheels of life keep turning./Spinning without control;/The wheels of the heart keep yearning./For the sound of the singing soul.
--"Gates of Dawn" by Secret Garden
The undergrowth grew thick and tangled between the trunks of the knobby trees. Roots and fallen branches remained hidden from sight beneath the tangled thorns. A thick haze permeated through the gloom, reminiscent of a burning fire. Above, the leaves turned muted gold and red, blocking the sky from view as they mingled with the needles of the yew trees. Had a cat been able to peer beyond the vault, they would see nothing more than a sky void of stars or moon hanging overhead as an ever-present reminder just how far away from StarClan they were. In this Land of Eternal Night, they were punished to walk alone.
Yet they were no longer alone. Tigerstar had gathered them. Gathered all the cats rejected by StarClan and their precious code. Codes that many of these cats believed they'd followed or else utterly refused to. She was one of them. She'd chosen the way that would best help her Clan. Save them from falling into nothing. They'd been dying, growing weak with feeble leaders and disloyal Clanmates. She'd tried her best, only to be rejected by them and then StarClan.
"I didn't even know StarClan existed," Eveningbreeze growled to herself. "I didn't know I faced this place if I died. But if I had, I would have still been against them."
No one replied-- they hadn't heard her. They didn't even know she was there. At least not yet. She sat in the back of the crowd, eyes on the thin, ragged coats of her fellow prisoners. They faced away from her, eyes on the dark brown tabby who paced in front of them. His amber eyes flashed as he spoke.
"You have been improving," Tigerstar meowed. "Your fighting skills excel with practice; you prove your intelligence and motivation with every day. We find others hiding in the darkness to help our plight, but there will never be enough of us. Not enough to take on everyone at once. We were daring to not follow the rest of the Clans, to see StarClan's code could not solve everything. We held the answers in our own paws. And StarClan rejected us. They like conformity. They hate those with ambition who seek improvement for themselves or their Clans. They despise those who long for power. Yet they are the ones that demand control! They desire to control everything! Even our descendants' lives. We must free the Clans from them. Or else free StarClan from the Clans."
His smirk was met with the roar of agreement from the cats who waited below. Encouraged by agreement, he went on.
"We must destroy StarClan's favorite Clan first. The ones they've gifted season after season. We must kill ThunderClan."
Again the cats yowled, many jumping to their feet as excitement coursed through them. After so long of hiding in the shadows, hearing and smelling others but not able to see them except by chance, these cats were able to do something. Able to interact with the world. Now they wanted to. To get their revenge on the Clans. All the Clans.
"You know our plans. I've kept you aware of our goals. The night draws nigh when we can break free from our Dark Forest! Our living helpers are ready. They seek their revenge against StarClan as do. Or else they are deluded in to thinking they will have power. Are not the living foolish?"
The cats harshly laughed and Eveningbreeze, too, had to smile. The living either thought they would be the new rulers of the lake once the old life was destroyed, or else they didn't care about ruling but were blinded by their own anger. Both types were useful to the Dark Forest. These cats were gaining followers who would help on the dark night.
"Would the representatives of the Clans approach," Tigerstar ordered. He flicked his tail, amber eyes narrow as he searched the crowd.
Eveningbreeze stood. Her dark gray pelt blended nicely into the darkness and she was little more than a shadow as she made her way through the bodies. Her ginger belly was the only light on her fur and she knew she stood out strikingly. She walked forward coming to Tigerstar last. The other four had been in the front, wanting to be seen and be near their glorious leader. She was different. She didn't seek to please him. It was all for herself. Let the other cats look to her when she spoke, respect her when she came.
It worked, all eyes turned to her, wondering at the one who came from behind. They watched her walk, watched her slightly bow her head to Tigerstar, not enough to show servitude, just enough, as if equals. His nod back was stiff. She turned away and joined the line.
The WindClan representative was first. The long-furred black tom stood up. "Buddingpaw has listened to me and has started speaking with the other apprentices. They've found more entrances to the underground caves. They will start informing WindClan's warriors about them and encourage them to look around. There they might just find ways to get into other territories."
"Well done," Tigerstar meowed. He nodded to the next cat.
"RiverClan is doing well," meowed a gray and silver she-cat. "However, the twolegs are getting closer to the camp and taking fish. They are starting to get hungry. Dustyhead will start heading into ShadowClan to hunt. She might just convince a few others to go with her."
Tigerstar nodded again and turned to his son, Hawkfrost. The tom's icy blue eyes had only eyes for the grand leader. "The kits of ShadowClan are growing restless. I've convinced them to go wandering. They may end up in RiverClan or in ThunderClan where they will leave their scent and perhaps convince Fallingstar and the others they might have been stolen. If I can lead them to the tunnels and WindClan finds them it would be better still."
"Yes," Tigerstar purred. "We may be able to have them meet up. And once the Clans realize WindClan have been hiding the secret tunnels from them, they will grow angry. Better yet to have the kits die down below. ShadowClan cannot resist retaliation then."
Hawkfrost seemed to glow with praise.
Eveningbreeze never looked his way. A frown contorted her face. Listen to them, she thought, trying to please him. Hear what I did, wasn't it good? Oh please agree. She snorted. It was as if they had no confidence in themselves that things would work out. They didn't trust their cats well enough. Perhaps they haven't found the right motivation, she thought and smirked. Oh, her contact had the motivation all right. The rage and anger at StarClan, not caring what happened to her Clan as long as she got her revenge. Now that was the type of cat to rely on.
"Eveningbreeze," Tigerstar meowed.
It was her turn. She licked her front paw and then stood. "My contact is agreeable," she meowed. "She is ready for the next level. She will start a fight over the border. Already she has followers, each willing to work for her. Though they don't realize she is on our side, she has promised them things after the other Clans are gone. Out of all our living, I think she will be the most successful."
Hawkfrost glared at her and she watched him from the corner of her eyes.
"After all," continued the former ShadowClan cat, "A warrior is much more useful than kits or apprentices."
The black tom representing WindClan glared at her and even Hawkfrost spat, baring his teeth.
She smiled openly at him now, pleased she could goad him. Just see how much more useful I am than you, she said with her eyes. Even the cats in the crowd could sense the tension. They flexed their claws and sized up the cats around them. Ever willing to fight and to improve their skills, they were eager to use their claws. When their leaders started, they would too. It didn't matter for what cause as long as they could do something.
"Enough," Tigerstar growled. The cats settled and the growling stopped, but the snarl never left Hawkfrost's face.
"We are pleased with any cats from the living Clans," Tigerstar meowed, narrowing his eyes at her. "Each are important in turning the cats against each other. Eveningbreeze, your cat has the best advantages for now, but that just means more is expected from you and her. Continue to improve on her rage, and we might just need to go to the lake to clean things up afterwards."
The dark gray she-cat smiled and felt her heart beat with pride. He did think she was right after all. He did appreciate her. But then he turned away without another word. Her breath caught. No, she was lying to herself. She just wanted to believe he saw her as more than just a tool. He was only using her like she used the ThunderClan she-cat. As tools for revenge.
I want revenge against ShadowClan. He wants to destroy ThunderClan. Similar goals, but completely different. He could care less about her. Only if she messed things up for him would he ever feel more about her.
She couldn't stop a growl. She didn't get any respect from him. She was better than all these cats. She'd helped him. She'd first started the idea. She'd contacted that lonely, angry she-cat and convinced her that StarClan was evil. With ThunderClan in her paws, she'd shown Tigerstar. He'd found her plan worthy for attention and took over, sending cats to all the Clans to find who would be most susceptible, who wanted attention or power or revenge. Now he'd seemed to have forgotten. He didn't appreciate her anymore. She wanted to stand up and strike that arrogant expression off of his face. How dare he just turn away from her?
"And what news do you bring?" the dark tabby asked the last cat.
"StarClan gave a prophesy," the small ginger tom meowed. "And they've stopped communicating with the Clans."
The Dark Forest cats murmured in surprise.
"How long ago?" Tigerstar demanded.
"A half moon. They seek balance. If they stop, then we will be forced to."
Tigerstar growled and his long claws plunged into the ground. "How much time do we have?"
"I don't know," the ginger meowed. "You visited the Clans for a long time before gathering the Dark Forest. We may not have long before the pool dries."
"As long as it stays until the next Gathering," Tigerstar meowed, his amber eyes slits. "That is all the time we need."
"What was this prophesy?" Eveningbreeze spoke up. All eyes turned to her. "It must be important."
"I don't know," the ginger tom shook his head. "No one I know heard it."
"Yes," Tigerstar rumbled. "Only the dead medicine cats and leaders would have it. Of course they want to keep their power even in death."
The crowd murmured in agreement. Teeth flashed and growls sounded at the leaders who had forced them to come to this forest.
"Well I might be able to help with that," Eveningbreeze meowed. She smiled when all eyes turned to her again. "My contact saw."
Now Tigerstar's eyes widened. "What did she see?"
"Firestar came to a medicine cat and told her there was danger. He tried to tell her more when the StarClan leaders cut him off. They won't even let him protect his Clan. The Clans have nothing to go off of. They know nothing about us."
Tigerstar smiled. "Of course they won't let him say much. They also must have made sure he didn't stay long so they could keep this 'balance'."
He started to face the crowd of cats again. Eveningbreeze glared at him, her body tense. Just when she had his attention, he had to turn away. It was so frustrating.
"And my contact saw something else," she hissed.
Everyone stared at her again. Eyes flicked in the silence. What other news did this dark she-cat have, they wondered.
Oh, I have a lot. But I won't tell you everything, just enough to keep you interested and keep the power in my paws.
"Fawnfur, the medicine cat, contacted four ShadowClan warriors," she meowed when she could feel the silence becoming too much even for Tigerstar. If she hadn't told him, he might try to claw it out of her. "They apparently are supposed to help stop us. It's a shame Hawkfrost never heard about this before."
The tom in question snarled at her. "I-"
"Was busy playing with kits," she yawned.
That got a laugh out of almost all the cats. Even Tigerstar looked amused.
"Perhaps you should concentrate on the Clan and what is going on in it. You might find more than kits to help us," the tabby leader meowed.
Hawkfrost glared. "The cats don't want to listen to me. They've had enough of fighting and ruling. They want nothing to do with it anymore. If Eveningbreeze hadn't gotten them all scared of fighting or listening to dreams and not being weak, I might have more than kits helping me."
"Don't blame me for your problems," Eveningbreeze spat at him. She got to her feet. "If I have to go there and find a way to get cats on our side or helping us, it will show just how useless you really are. You're only here because of your father."
The other cats yowl around her. She knew they believed her. They all could see that son and father were close, that Hawkfrost would do anything for Tigerstar. He was given a higher position in the forest because his father was the leader of them all. A few must have resented it. Hawkfrost must have resented it. He must know that they only followed him and listened to him because of his father.
He growled and stood. Even as he lifted his head above hers, he lowered his shoulders in warning. She flicked her tail and let her claws out of their sheaths. She waited for his move.
Tigerstar stood between them. "Stop."
"Oh, so you need your father to help you out of this one too?" Eveningbreeze meowed cheerfully.
Hawkfrost yowled and leapt around Tigerstar. This time the dark brown tabby did nothing. Instead he looked at Eveingbreeze with narrowed eyes.
You wanted this, he seemed to say, so you are going to get it.
She braced at Hawkfrost came down.
"Maybe this will help," Fernstripe meowed. She pulled the leaves off of a low bush. The light tabby managed to avoid being scratched by the reaching thorns. She held the browning leaves in her mouth and turned to her sister.
Eveningbreeze glared. Fernstrip wasn't any medicine cat so why was she even trying? Still, the dark she-cat held still as Fernstripe dropped the leaves onto her sister's side. She pressed them down with her nose. They soaked up the blood.
Eveningbreeze had licked herself clean after the battle, but her wounds still ached. No one had come off the victor as she and Hawkfrost fought. But she believed she'd won. She'd had him on the ground, claws deep in his chest, his belly clawed open. Although his teeth had been buried in her neck. At that point, neither were giving up and no one could actually die again, so Tigerstar had separated them, telling them to go to different parts of the forest like some sort of kits.
She had limped away. Her sister found her later and tried to take care of her. Eveningbreeze tolerated the tabby she-cat only because she insisted on staying. They'd found each other after they'd died. Not even a day apart, they'd both been killed by the Clan. Eveningbreeze on the claws of her father, Fernstripe after being swallowed by the ground and buried in one of the underground tunnels.
After traveling together for a short time, who knew how long in the darkness undivided by daylight, a cat found them and brought them to the camp. There they met Tigerstar and heard how he'd been gathering cats to get revenge on StarClan. He didn't quite know how at the moment, but he needed the army first.
Since then, the camp had grown and Tigerstar finally developed a plan.
With my help of course, Eveingbreeze thought as she watched her sister gather more leaves.
"Do you ever wish there was prey?" Fernstripe meowed. "Sometimes I get hungry, but I can't find anything here."
"We're dead, mouse-brain," Eveningbreeze growled. "We don't need to eat to live."
"But I still want to," Fernstripe meowed quietly.
Eveningbreeze snorted, but privately she agreed. For a time she'd been hungry, but the feeling faded as the seasons passed down below. Now she didn't care. She only waited to heal after every battle, just so she could fight again.
"I don't know why you even listen to him," Fernstripe was meowing, spreading out the leaves on the worst of the wounds.
Eveningbreeze looked up, her ears flat. "Who?" she meowed.
"Tigerstar," Fernstripe replied, pulling off the wetter leaves. She didn't even look at her sister. "It's like you want him to pay attention to him or something. Like you love him."
Eveningbreeze rose up and struck her sister. Blood dripped down the tabby face. Fernstripe sat down, cowering away.
"Sorry," she whimpered. "I didn't mean it. It just seemed like when you were with Deepforest was all."
Eveningbreeze blinked and lowered her paw. The claws retreated.
"It is, isn't it?" she murmured, remembering the tom from across the mountains. How she wished he'd died that day as well. Then they could have spent the rest of time together in the dark. "He doesn't even know it does he? Just like Deepforest wasn't aware I loved him."
Fernstripe quickly shook her head but didn't otherwise move.
Evenignbreeze snorted. "I must have a thing for dark brown tabbies. First Brownfeather, then Deepforest, now Tigerstar?" She shook her head. "I can't believe myself."
"Well," Fernstripe tried to be helpful. "At least you're both dead."
Eveningbreeze glared at her sister and spread her claws.
"Sorry," Fernstripe squeaked and lowered her head. "I really only wanted to say I thought it was odd you were taking his orders."
Eveningbreeze frowned. Who else's was she supposed to take? He had these cats in his claws, no one else was going to take over leadership from him.
"Why are you even talking?" Eveningbreeze turned her back on her sister. "When you were alive, you didn't question things. You've changed."
"So have you," Fernstripe meowed quietly. "I always looked up to my sister. She didn't let anyone order her around. Now you listen to him constantly. He says don't go to the Darkpool, you don't. Unless he wants you to talk to that ThunderClan she-cat. You're letting him handle everything. But you and I both know this was entirely your plan."
Eveningbreeze frowned. For once her sister was actually talking sense.
"I guess dying changes a cat," she meowed quietly. She turned around and faced her sister. "You are right. So I'm going to change some things."
Fernstripe straightened, her ears rising as she realized the danger had passed. "Like what?"
"I'm going to visit the lake," she meowed. "I'm sure I can do a much better job than Hawkfrost. I'm going to show Tigerstar just how much he needs me. I won't be second best. I am the she-cat who came up with everything. I deserve a bit of respect from him."
"So?" Fernstripe asked, padding after her sister as they started through the forest to the Darkpool.
"So, I'm going to visit some cats. I might even let you join me."
She grinned and Fernstripe hesitated a smiled back. Things were definitely going to change, she decided.