6. Unknown Skies Book 2: Wandering Through

Chapter 5: Honeybee


Honeybee dreamed. She knew it was a dream. She could feel the slight detachment she had in every dream; the one where if things happened she didn't mind, the one where she could fly like the birds, or even the one where she and Orangestripe were just walking, had nowhere to go, didn't have any reason to hurry, but just walked, side by side. This was the same, one of those. She walked through a field of tall grass, toward a lone pine tree on a distant hill. She had to get to the tree to meet someone. She didn't know who, but this cat was going to tell her a secret.

"We'll be able to defeat RiverClan with this!" Lakefrost meowed by her side, prancing along, somehow taller than her. He strode through the grass as if it were barely there. She had to struggle to keep up, almost blinded as the stalks leaned back to hit her in the face.

"Why? I didn't think we were at war with them," she meowed.

"Don't you remember?" Suddenly it was her speaking, but she was a different cat now, looking at her own body, a small she-cat walking through the grass.

"They stole Fallingstar from us just yesterday; we have to get her back."

The small cat that looked like her, that was her, but wasn't all the same--because she was in the tall cat now who used to look like Lakefrost--nodded.

And then the dream changed again. Suddenly the tall grass shortened into green blades interspersed with hard dirt. Thistles poked their way through, sharp like a cat's claw. The small cat disappeared and so did the hill with the pine tree.

Honeybee blinked glancing around. She stood in the center of a clearing. All around her a dark forest full of yews, spruces, hickories, oaks, elms, all kinds of trees, circled her, boxing her in. The trunks stood tall and straight, hard to climb, and undergrowth filled the ground beneath, covering the roots, clinging to the trees as if trying to choke the life out of them. Harsh smoke wreathed the tree trunks, curling about them, moving slowly. The tang reached the golden she-cat and she coughed, disgusted by the taste. Was there a fire burning somewhere?

Suddenly she could tell she wasn't in a dream anymore. She could feel and she was worried. Her mind was not reacting slowly and she was confused, not like in dreams where even though she asked a question she already knew the answer. She didn't know the answers here. She didn't know where she was.

She quickly glanced skyward. There was nothing there. She blinked, staring at the eternal black. It seemed to go on forever, but at the same time loomed so close to her, she felt she were trapped. She knew that if she were to go under the trees she wouldn't even see this black sky. Her ears flicked as her eyes widened. Where were the stars? Where was the moon? She curled her tail around her body and huddled, sitting next to her thistle bush, watching the spikes, somehow convinced they were reaching for her. The ground felt hard and ungiving, the grass blades dry as if there had be no rain for seasons.

How was she was supposed to get out of this place? She wondered if there were any other cats. She listened, turning her ears, searching for any sound of movement, but even the undergrowth was silent. It should have been teaming with prey, hiding and searching for food, but there was nothing. She could feel the wrongness of it. It wasn't leaf-bare and even leaf-fall, which this forest seemed to be in the midst of, should have had something.

A branch broke suddenly, a loud sharp crack in the still air. Honeybee's ears rose higher and she turned her head, staring in the direction she'd thought she'd heard the noise. Steady pawsteps padded through the undergrowth, unafraid, unhesitating. The sound grew louder until suddenly from behind a large yew bush a dark gray she-cat emerged. The shadows seemed to cling to her as she walked and Honeybee could barely make out the she-cat's ginger belly. She knew this cat. She'd heard stories.

"Eveningbreeze," she squeaked out. She was sure her eyes were almost out of her head. She just couldn't keep her eyes off of this cat who'd been dead for almost two leaf-bares.

"Correct," the she-cat meowed, striding across the clearing. The yellow eyes stared unblinkingly as Eveningbreeze got closer, not slowly down in her approach.

Honeybee swallowed, the fur on her back rising. 'If she doesn't stop now. . .' she thought, nervously. She knew Eveningbreeze had killed Kinkstar, one of the former ShadowClan leaders, she knew Eveningbreeze and Fallingstar--then Fallingsnow--had been enemies. She didn't know if this dead cat wanted revenge or not.

Eveningbreeze did not slow. Her dark pelt brushed against a thistle bush and she got closer, almost to the center of the clearing, almost to Honeybee. The golden she-cat quickly leapt to her feet, ready to run.

She started to turn when Eveningbreeze sat down hard. They were hardly a tail length apart. Honeybee felt it was too close for comfort and started backing away.

"Stay," Eveningbreeze hissed, her eyes glaring.

Honeybee froze, her ears suddenly flat.

"Now sit," the dark she-cat growled. "We have things to discuss." When Honeybee sat, if reluctantly, the only thought on her mind was, 'why am I doing this?' What things did she and a dead cat have to talk about? How was this even possible?

"What did we need to talk about?" Honeybee hesitantly asked.

"The Clan," Eveningbreeze meowed. Her nose flared as if smelling a skunk.

"ShadowClan is fine," Honeybee meowed. "We're strong. We're getting bigger. I don't think there's anything we need to talk about."

Eveningbreeze lowered her head and stared at Honeybee, her lip curled.

Honeybee shut her mouth. Obviously the part about discussing only meant Eveningbreeze could talk. Honeybee was okay with that. As long as Eveningbreeze didn't hurt her.

"We need to talk about the weak, useless warriors inside our Clan," Eveningbreeze meowed, taking a deep breath as if trying to calm down.

"No one is useless," Honeybee meowed, indignant. "We all do our part. We're stronger that when you were alive."

Eveningbreeze's eyes burned, her head rising, and her sharp claws flexed. Eveningbreeze let loose a snarl, her ears flattening back on her head. Honeybee swallowed and got ready to stand up again.

"You may have more cats than when I walked the land," Eveningbreeze hissed, "but you will never be the strongest Clan! Not like in the old forest when we were feared."

"Fear isn't everything."

Oh, StarClan, why was she trying to lecture this cat? She didn't understand it. She certainly knew she wasn't in StarClan now, but she knew this cat was dead. This evil cat. What did that make this odd dark place? Wait. The Dark Forest. The place StarClan had warned her of.

"Fear is everything," Eveningbreeze meowed. "The one who controls it, is the winner of any fight. Not that you'd understand that."

She looked away as if Honeybee was nothing but a silly kit.

"I understand," Honeybee protested. "I know that fear causes retreat."

Fear that Clanmates would die or be badly hurt made some cats give up. But she had a feeling it wasn't the same kind of fear Eveningbreeze spoke about. They were two different she-cat who'd led different lives and lived different experiences. Whatever hardships Eveningbreeze had faced to make her a traitor of her Clan wasn't something Honeybee could ever understand or even wanted to understand.

"That is a start," Eveningbreeze meowed. "So perhaps you do understand, or could learn."

"Learn?" she blinked. She'd heard stories, warnings, about cats who taught others in their dreams, other evil cats. She shuddered. "No thank you. I am not going to harm my Clan for you."

Eveningbreeze's anger left swiftly to become amusement. "Thought not. But I had to give it a try."

The silence suddenly grew and Honeybee became impatient, her nerves still tingling from the danger she felt and knew was there.

"If that's all we're going to talk about-"

"No, we aren't finished. We haven't even started," Eveningbreeze growled. "No, I came here to discuss you."

"But you said before it was about our Clan," Honeybee meowed in confusion.

"About the weak, useless cats, yes," Eveningbreeze purred.

Honeybee blinked. "Hey!"

Eveningbreeze chuckled, a suddenly beautiful smile on her bitter face. "Now you understand."

"That isn't nice," Honeybee angrily growled. How dare Eveningbreeze trick her like that! Calling her one of the useless and weak ones.

"Life isn't nice, Sweetie," Eveningbreeze growled right back, baring her teeth. "Life isn't fair, it isn't polite, it isn't caring. Life is cruel, devastating, and unfair. The weak lose and the strong win. The kind are pushed aside and die when they try to help their Clans. They aren't understood and no one will help them."

Honeybee's eyes narrowed. Did Eveningbreeze think she was the kind one. . . ?

"And I know ShadowClan will never survive if it's letting cats like you become warriors."

Honeybee blinked, staring at the other she-cat. What in the world was she saying?

"You're so soft, you aren't even a warrior," the dark she-cat spat scornfully.

"Yes, I am," Honeybee meowed sharply. "Fallingstar-"

"Gave you a name." Eveningbreeze laughed twice. "Only because she gave them to your siblings. Cats that deserved it. Do you think she wanted to hold back a daughter? Keep her an apprentice forever?"

Honeybee opened her mouth to protest, hurt by the accusation, but Eveningbreeze continued too quickly, "She had to do it. If she didn't, then she'd have to exile you. Such a worthless cat in the Clan would never work. You're a kittypet."

Honeybee stared at the dark she-cat's jaws. What had she just said?

Eveningbreeze's eyes flashed and a grin spread on her face. "You heard me. A kittypet. A soft, pathetic creature who loves to stay in the sun all day, letting Twolegs drag their filthy paws all over you. A cat that actually enjoys that, letting others get the food for them." She laughed again. "What good are you to the Clan? You can't even fight!"

Honeybee blinked.

"You can't even hunt."

Honeybee flinched now, hurt by the words. "I-I've hunted. I caught some things."

"Less than even the youngest apprentice," Eveningbreeze hissed. "You know what your mother does. She lets you tag along after any cat. She doesn't order you around, doesn't give you duties. Doesn't that just prove how useless you are? She doesn't have any confidence in you, as a leader or a mother."

Honeybee gaped, her mouth hanging open as she stared at the dead she-cat. She hadn't ever realized, but now that she thought on it, Fallingstar had never ever given her special missions or let her lead a patrol; it was 'go wherever you felt like it', 'please watch over her will you?'

"The truth hurts doesn't it?" Eveningbreeze meowed, her eyes narrowed. "Especially when you know it's true."

"It's not," Honeybee protested, her ears burning with shame. "I am too important to my Clan."

"Kittypet. Kit-ty-pet," Eveningbreeze slowly taunted gleefully, pronouncing every syllable.

"I'm important," Honeybee continued.

"Kit-ty-pet."

"Fallingstar made me a warrior because I deserve it!"

"Soft, lazy, frightened, kittypet."

"No, stop it. Shut up!"

Honeybee turned, her chest aching, unwilling to hear anything more. She ran for the opposite end of the clearing in the forest of darkened trees.

"Yes, run, Honey, run. Run like any cat not worthy to have the name of a warrior or protection of a Clan. Run back to your twolegs! Even the horseplace cats are more useful than you!"

By now the cackling voice was fading as Honeybee slipped into the forest. The thick undergrowth caught in her legs. The thorns tore her fur. She stumbled over it, dodging the trees, unused to the thickness, unused to the darkness permeating under the black trees. She could hardly see, she couldn't even walk straight, and her head rang with the taunting of a dead cat. She had to get out of this place!

"Honeybee, stop moving around so much!"

The voice of her brother filled her ears, jerking her from the realm of darkness and into the camp. She opened her eyes. Her breath came rapid, her chest rising and falling quickly in time with her swift heartbeat. Her legs felt sore as if she'd been running for a long time through the undergrowth. She looked around to make sure she wasn't in that horrible place still with Eveningbreeze.

The camp filled with sunhigh sunlight. It slanted down from above, warming the ground around her, her fur growing warm as it shed the chill of the dark place. The nursery rustled with the two kits fighting inside, their happy squeaks filling the air. Batwing, lying outside of the bush opened one eye, peering to make sure they were okay, before closing it again and resting. Other than Batwing the camp seemed abandoned, all others on patrols or wandering about the territory. Honeybee sighed and turned over to stare at her brother.

Badgerface peered at her with his green eyes, concern on his tabby face. "You kept meowing in your sleep and kicking the ground. I've never been so dusty."

He shook out his fur and Honeybee saw the air shimmer with the rising haze. She would have smiled if her head wasn't filled with what had just happened.

"It must have been one bad dream," her brother continued, still watching her.

She nodded silently, unwilling to say anything about it. Who would believe her? And if they didn't, wouldn't they be suspicious of her meeting Eveningbreeze? They might start thinking she was the Dark Forest's contact. She shuddered. She couldn't tell anyone.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Where is everyone?" she meowed.

"After they finished eating they all left," Badgerface meowed with a shrug. "Fallingstar wanted everyone active and out."

"Why are you guarding the camp?" she asked. "You've done it almost every day this quarter moon!"

"You were still here," Badgerface meowed, looking down. "And well, I volunteered."

"Why didn't anyone wake me?" Her voice was almost as quiet as his.

"Fallingstar thought you might like to stay. We were up very late last night."

"No one ask for me to come with them?"

He shook his head.

Honeybee's ears burned. Eveningbreeze was right. Everyone thought she was useless. Completely useless that she shouldn't be included in any patrols. Too silly to be woken up from a sunhigh nap. Even if she and they had been up speaking with StarClan, her siblings had managed to fulfill their duties and asked to go places. Her throat ached and she quickly licked a paw to avoid looking at Badgerface.

"But I think Orangestripe wanted to go on a patrol with you later," Badgerface offered, his voice just a bit brighter. So he'd noticed her disappointment.

"I guess," she sighed.

"Maybe you could find him now?" her brother suggested.

She nodded but made no move to get up. If no one wanted her and she was just a tick to the whole Clan, why should she force herself on him or the others? She sighed and rolled away from Badgerface, letting the sun warm her other side. She didn't sleep though. She kept her eyes wide open, staring at the Large Stump as she waited with nothing to do, just playing a sham that she was even guarding the camp. At least Badgerface was dedicated. What good was she?

"Did you say something?" Badgerface suddenly asked, walking over to face her.

"No," she shook her head. "I didn't." She sure hoped she hadn't said anything out loud. The thought was embarrassing. She had to be in more control.

**^.^**

Later that day Orangestripe did ask her to join his patrol. She lagged behind while he pranced forward, lunging at fluttering leaves, just to return, grinning widely, sure she'd praise him. But she gloomily blinked at him just to sigh and walk on.

"Orangestripe," Knotfur chided after a short time. "Stop showing off. Honeybee isn't interested. And we have a border to mark, not play kit-games."

Orangestripe froze, his ears suddenly turning red. He shuffled, his paws dragging in the soft sand. Honeybee felt bad for him but said nothing. She glanced upward at the pines mixed with leafy trees. They were so near the ThunderClan border that here the leaf-baring trees combined with the pines and it was hard to tell where ThunderClan or ShadowClan started if not for the scentmarks. But it only reminded Honeybee of that dark forest where all kinds of trees grew. She shivered. Luckily there was no undergrowth here. She was free to walk proudly along, unafraid of tripping over anything. Just a few bushes and toadstools scattered here and there between the roots and trunks. Nearer the border, the bushes increased, enough for a cat to hide.

And one was hiding. As Knotfur, Orangestripe, and Honeybee got closer, a dark shape leapt outward, springing from the bushes, the leaves rattling his passing. Honeybee flinched and almost started running before she realized it was just Ashpaw. The gray apprentice with black paws stopped just before Orangestripe, a wide grin on his face.

"I scared ya, didn' I?"

"Yes," Knotfur sighed. "My heart is still racing."

His grin widened and Honeybee saw his paws kneading the ground.

"Don't you have anything better to do than scare warriors?" Orangestripe growled. "Where is your mentor?"

"Brownfeather told me I had the day to myself," Ashpaw mumbled. He dragged one paw on the ground.

"And so you took to stalking the ThunderClan border?"

Ashpaw looked up, his yellow eyes wide.

"Orangestripe, stop scaring him," Knotfur meowed. "It was all in fun. Do you want to come with us?"

Ashpaw looked up and nodded eagerly.

"All right, let's go."

Knotfur took the lead once more and Honeybee walked beside Orangestripe. Now that the apprentice was in the patrol, the ginger tom didn't jump and play like before. He walked, almost strutting, as if now trying to show how much older and better he was than the apprentice. Ashpaw meanwhile strode beside Knotfur, his tail swinging happily. Honeybee's heart was still racing from the mock attack and she wondered if she'd really have run if a real enemy had attack.

Ashpaw didn't seem tired after last night. Honeybee was surprised Brownfeather let the apprentice wander around on his own. The five had returned to camp just early enough before the other warriors got up, but the night guard knew they'd stayed out all night. She hadn't seen them in the den at all. So the guard had taken them to Fallingstar, where Ashpaw admitted to hunting in the night and getting into some trouble and needing the rest to help him out. Then he said how he'd been too embarrassed to come back to camp because he was scared he'd get punished. So it had taken them all night to convince him to come back to the Clan. Somehow Fallingstar believed him. She let Brownfeather handle the apprentice's punishment and things returned to normal. She didn't even remark on how Lakefrost smelled like garlic.

The patrol continued peacefully for a while, marking where the scent had faded, all the time aware of the ThunderClan scent growing stronger. Honeybee figured a patrol had to be on their way. She wondered if they'd meet.

"Here they are."

Honeybee looked up and saw a group of four cats sitting by the border. Knotfur and Ashpaw halted and waited for Orangestripe and Honeybee to catch up. She eyed the four of them, recognizing Morningsong, a light brown-ginger tabby; Pricklethorn, a dark brown tom with black and white splotches; but not the other two. One was ginger apprentice and the other a long-haired silver tom with a large white face.

"Yes, Pricklethorn here we are," Knotfur acknowledged. "What brings you here?"

"Border marking," the dark tom replied.

"The same for us," Knotfur nodded. "By why are you sitting here? Were you waiting for us?"

The five cats' eyes shifted and Honeybee instantly tensed. She knew something was wrong.

"Why weren't you?" Pricklethorn meowed.

"Why should we?" Knotfur asked, confused. Even Honeybee didn't understand. Why would they have to wait for ThunderClan?

"If you're going to re-mark the border, at least wait here to confront us and give us fair warning."

"Re-mark?"

"Yes, your stench is all the way over to that tree," Morningsong nodded to a maple tree just a few fox lengths over the border.

Honeybee and Orangestripe shared a glance and he raised his head, sniffing. "I don't believe you," he finally growled. "I don't smell a thing."

"Not this close you wouldn't," Morningsong meowed, her eyes narrow. "You can only smell yourselves on that side of the border."

"Come over here and see," Pricklethorn meowed.

Only Ashpaw accepted the offer. Before anyone could warn him, the apprentice put a paw on the border and quickly hurried over. The ThunderClan cats let him pass, their eyes on him as he walked through them to the tree. Honeybee's heart was in her throat as he approach the maple.

He paused and sniffed around. "I don't smell a thing."

He seemed confused and started walking back. That was when Morningsong twitched her tail. The ThunderClan apprentice rushed over with the white-faced silver tom. They quickly tried to capture Ashpaw, but the apprentice leapt out of the way, dodging around the ThunderClan apprentice. The silver tom hissed, using his claws to pull Ashpaw to the ground.

The gray apprentice squeaked. "Help!"

"Don't just stand there!" Knotfur yowled at her Clanmates. Without hesitating, she leapt across the border, slamming into Pricklethorn.

Orangestripe hurried over to defend Ashpaw, quickly clawing the back end of the silver tom. He shrieked and let go of Ashpaw who immediately pounced on top of the ginger apprentice. Honeybee watched them before stepping over and getting face to face with Morningsong. She thought it was strange how similar she was to Fawnfur.

The ginger-brown she-cat blinked at her and looked her up and down. "Easy stuff," she meowed. Well, maybe not too similar.

Honeybee's eyes narrowed and she growled. "I'll show you what's easy!"

Morningsong smiled at the challenge and lowered herself, letting Honeybee make the first attack. The golden she-cat struck out with her front paw, not even hoping or believing it would make contact. It didn't. Morningsong swung her front paw up, blocking the attack, and quickly reached out to claw Honeybee's attacking leg.

Honeybee hissed in pain and the sharp claws scratched downward, drawing blood. She pulled away and showed her side to Morningsong, ready to fall on the other she-cat. Morningsong moved forward like expected, eager to hit the easy target, but Honeybee was quick. She moved her hind end, hitting Morningsong hard in the head, her tail whacking. Morningsong shook her head but quickly recovered, pressing forward and pushing Honeybee to the ground.

She struggled under the sudden weight, her back to the ground. She pulled her back legs under her body and tried to shove Morningsong off, but the she-cat just hung on, her claws deep in fur and flesh. Morningsong turned her head to bite Honeybee's shoulder. Honeybee's eyes widened as the pain hit and her mind screamed at her how close Morningsong was to her neck. The ThunderClan she-cat could just move a bit over and her life would be ended. She struggled even harder, uncertain now how to get Morningsong off.

Oh, why didn't I listen to Acornpelt more, Honeybee's mind wailed. If she'd paid more attention during battle training than watching Orangepaw or wanting to lie in the sun, she might have actually defeated Morningsong. But here she was stuck, her life possibly in the balance.

"I give up!" Honeybee yowled, surprised even at herself.

Morningsong froze, her eyes widened as she slowly released Honeybee's shoulder. The blood poured down to the ground and Honeybee was afraid to watch it, keeping her eyes on the she-cat on top of her.

"What a kittypet," Morningsong scoffed, rising off of the golden she-cat. "Go back to your Clan silly kit."

Honeybee suddenly felt ashamed. She glanced over the warrior's shoulder and saw her friends still fighting. Knotfur swept Pricklethorn's paws out from under him and the tom went down hard. Ashpaw rode on top of the silver tom, holding on with his claws and teeth, eyes wild. The ginger apprentice had run off somewhere and so Orangestripe worried the silver tom with the owl-like face in other ways, distracting him so he couldn't roll and hurt Ashpaw.

"Don't even try it," Morningsong hissed, pressing forward. "Give up now, and I might let your friends go."

Honeybee swallowed and felt for an instant that she ought to fight back, but then Morningsong hissed, rushing forward, her mouth open, teeth ready to tear. Honeybee shrieked and, tail low, raced away beyond the border and into the pines. She left behind her Clanmates.

Morningsong laugh behind her. "Kittypet!"

Honeybee's eyes and throat hurt as she ran. Morningsong was completely right. So was Eveningbreeze. Both knew what a coward she was. How little of a warrior she was. She'd lost her very first battle. She hadn't even helped her Clanmates.

"I have to leave," Honeybee choked out as she slowed to a walk, glancing behind where she thought she couldn't hear calls of anger and pain. She wasn't any help to her Clan at all. Fallingstar shouldn't have made her a warrior.

Honeybee swallowed back her grief and quickly strode away, the ache in her shoulder suddenly becoming apparent. She stopped and licked her wound, cleaning away the drying blood. It tasted horrible on her tongue. She closed her eyes suddenly seeing many more wounds. If she continued to be a warrior she would just get hurt like this over and over again. She shook her head. She couldn't live like this. So she wouldn't be a warrior.

Honeybee opened her eyes and glanced away from ShadowClan territory.

"I heard there were twolegplaces upstream," she meowed. Someplace far from home where no one would be able to find her. Where no one would remind her of her shame. A place she would never had to tell them about it. She swallowed, her nose suddenly running. She glanced once more at her camp--no ShadowClan's camp--and started limping away. She would become a kittypet. The only thing she was good at being anyway.

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