Chapter 11: Fawnfur
I looked over the herbs I'd collected in the last few days. They filled the small storage area in the medicine cat den, almost piling out. Soft, fresh, newly collected. It was pleasant not to have to worry so much about running out of supplies. I stared at it, breathing in the calming scents of thyme and chamomile, my heartbeat slowing and my tense muscles relaxing but still sore. I purred, believing I'd done a good job. Even with Owlface stalking me behind every tree.
My face hardened and my nose wrinkled. I really had to do something about him. Maybe get him interested in another she-cat. Someone available or who didn't care how many toms she flirted with.
"If you keep this up," came Jayfeather's familiar meow behind me, "We won't have anything to do. Cat's don't get injured that often."
I turned to face my mentor, my ginger-brown tabby fur brushing the narrow passage. "If a battle is coming, we need to be prepared." I still feared we'd all be in a battle we couldn't win, where ThunderClan would be destroyed utterly.
He blinked his sightless blue eyes at me and I stared into their depths. In the dim light from the entrance I could hardly see his light gray tabby fur. It just looked dark gray in the darkness. Somewhere beside us, the small waterfall trickled into the pool; another soothing sound. The cave was oddly silent, bare of any usual cats. It was greenleaf and so sickness wasn't too likely, injuries would only come from thorns or fox and badger attacks, or else some cat would overeat and need our help. I suddenly realized it would be kind of boring without anything to do. Now that I'd filled the storage area, I couldn't really gather more herbs unless Jayfeather was willing to give up his nest.
I looked upward in exasperation. I'd just worked myself for nothing, in a frenzy of certainty something would happen soon. I quickly looked back at my mentor, sitting down.
"Have you found anything?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "No. No one is even thinking about attacking or destroying the Clan. I could almost say I wonder if StarClan is mistaken. But they've been right all too often. Even if they are unfair and cruel about it." He took a deep breath.
I nodded. He had many experiences with StarClan, not all of them pleasant. They sometimes thought they were doing best when it hurt many cats. I hoped Firestar wasn't being like the rest of our dead ancestors. I hoped he still cared for the living. If I thought back I could almost remember what he'd said to me that one night. Had it just been two days ago? Three? Time seemed to blur and suddenly I was taken back.
-Line to the past-
The stars glittered overhead through the dark leaves of the trees and over the quarry. Vines trailed over the walls, looping over the cracks in the stone, a few flowers hanging off. No other cats were out and I was alone as I sat outside of the medicine cat den. Dark shadows and bright moonlight streamed down on me as I sat there, contemplating. Jayfeather went to the Gathering without me because he felt I had to stay in camp. I looked up into Silverpelt, wondering which one was my sister when suddenly I smelled a familiar scent next to me.
I turned quickly and met the face of Firestar. He sat up against the quarry wall, relaxed and smiling. The flame-colored leader looked healthy again, probably like he had before I was born. He was strong and had a friendly glint in his eyes which were longer tired. He was no longer frail as I'd last seen him. He was the strong leader StarClan had called in the old forest. I looked at him in awe. Never before in my short time as medicine cat had StarClan come to me. I'd only seen them at the Moonpool and we didn't talk for long.
"Fawnfur," Firestar meowed, his voice steady, not like I last remembered.
"Firestar," I bowed my head. "Why have you come?"
Firestar looked away, his eyes suddenly sad. For a long time he said nothing, just looked around his former camp. The squeaks of bats that flitted high overhead filled the silence. The rest of the ThunderClan camp was calm. No one was around or they slept in the dens. Then Firestar looked back at me.
"StarClan has one last message for you, Fawnfur," he meowed.
My ginger-brown ears went back. 'One last'? That sounded ominous. Was I going to die too?
"There are cats who want to destroy ThunderClan," he meowed, his eyes boring into mine. "They are both living and dead. If they are not stopped, ThunderClan will be no more and eventually the other Clans will fall. You are needed to stop the fraction of the living. StarClan is doing its own against the cats of the Dark Forest, but you have to stop the cats from this side from following the dead."
I stared at him. Me? I was supposed to do something? I was just the medicine cat! I'd become that to help everyone heal, not defend them or fight!
"Who is it?" I urgently asked. "Who is trying to destroy us?"
Firestar looked pained as he answered, "I cannot tell you. You are meant to figure it out on your own. But you will have help. Four warriors will help you. StarClan will contact them and once they find you, you must work together to stop ThunderClan from being destroyed."
"Who's going to help me?" I asked. "How am I supposed to stop ThunderClan being destroyed if you won't tell me who?"
Then I noticed he was fading away. His starlit fur was beginning to get transparent. I stared desperately at him, hoping he'd answer me.
Firestar looked worried and then suddenly spoke, "It is a cat close to you. Only you can stop it. The warriors are not from your Clan -"
He was cut off, his mouth open as if to continue. His form disappeared completely and I was left alone in the dark. I stared at the ground where he'd been. There was no indentation where his paws had been. Even his smell was quickly fading. He'd been about to tell me something important but he couldn't. I'd always thought StarClan could choose how long they'd stay but in that moment, I had a feeling he'd been forced to leave. Someone hadn't wanted him to continue. The cats from this mysterious Dark Forest? StarClan?
-Line to the present-
I shook my head as time rushed back to me. Jayfeather calmly waited for me to speak, already knowing what I'd done. He knew my powers as I knew his.
"It has to be someone in the Clan," I mewed, my voice shaky. "I don't have anyone close in the other Clans. I only know the medicine cats!"
"And no medicine cat in their right mind would try to destroy a Clan or go against StarClan," Jayfeather meowed, nodding. He sighed. "I'll try again. But I have a feeling whoever it is, knows how to hide from me. My mother, Leafpool, she was good at hiding her thoughts and I respected her not to search."
I knew he had a hard time talking about his real mother. At least I knew who my mother was, even if she was silent on who our father was. Sometimes I wondered if I ought to go back in time and check, but something always held me back. If I knew who he was, would I think less of Cinderheart? Or less of him?
"We'll both keep trying," I meowed.
He smiled at me and opened his mouth to say more, when I heard a yowl outside. My ears pricked and I tried to look around his shoulder. The entrance was not too far away, but the bright sunlight blocked my view.
Jayfeather quickly turned around, heading for the quarry. His whiskers and the familiar steps underpaw guided him. I quickly followed after, wondering if now we were being attacked. I would feel foolish if all my planning was for nothing.
Outside I looked down to see four unfamiliar cats in the center of camp, their paws on the dusty, bare, sunlit ground. Jayfeather stood beside me, his ears listening for what his eyes couldn't see. I could see fine. I saw a gray tabby tom with blue eyes who looked quite similar to my mentor. I could only blink in confusion. Then I remembered. I had seen him before. He and Brownfeather had helped me just two days ago. They'd helped me carry catnip from the abandoned twoleg nest right up to the ThunderClan camp. I watched him before turning to look at his companions.
A ginger she-cat with black paws and a white chest stood behind him, a yellowish-golden she-cat beside her, and huddled behind them a dark brown tabby with green eyes. They stood encircled by six of our warriors. Bramblestar stood on the Highledge, gazing down at the four with hardened amber eyes. I could tell he wasn't pleased.
"Why are you here?" he growled at them.
Their voices warbled as three of them tried to speak first. I couldn't make ears or whiskers of what they were saying. Their explanation didn't seem to coordinate very well. Obviously it had been some hare-brained idea of the four to come into our territory. If I sniffed, I could just catch a whiff of their scent from where I stood.
"ShadowClan," Jayfeather growled, his lip curled.
He was right. That's what they smelled like, but they also smelled like something else. Someone familiar. I looked again at Jayfeather and the light gray tabby in the group. Related. Then I realized. These were Fallingstar's kits. No wonder they'd seem similar. They had family in this Clan. I wondered what they were doing all the way from ShadowClan territory.
"Silence." Bramblestar yowled. He was probably tired of their bickering. After trying to talk to the ThunderClan leader, the ginger and the gray tabby had started hissing at each other in some disagreement. They quickly grew silence, eyes on Bramblestar.
"Pricklethorn, where did you find them?" Bramblestar asked the patrol leader.
The dark tom with even darker spots stepped forward from his warrior friends and quickly explained. "They were foxlengths over the border. The two she-cats and the brown tabby tom actually ambushed the gray tabby. It looked like they were trying to take him back over the border when we heard them arguing."
"Use their names please," Bramblestar interrupted. "I can't quite keep it straight."
Pricklethorn looked annoyed to be stopped in mid-explanation, but he quickly pointed out the cats with his tail. "Gray tabby is Lakefrost. Ginger she-cat is Mallowstalk. The yellow she-cat is Honeybee, and the dark tabby is Badgerface."
Bramblestar nodded like he already knew their names. He probably did, I realized. He had to keep track of who Fallingstar's kits were. They were part ThunderClan after all. Maybe he paid attention to who they were to see who would be dangerous to our Clan or want to join. I sure hoped these four didn't want to be ThunderClan. They'd make horrible warriors: crossing borders and arguing all the time. I wondered what ShadowClan had come to if they allowed warriors who still acted like apprentices to be in their Clan.
"As I was saying," Pricklethorn meowed. "Lakefrost had some freshkill with him, though he claims he caught it on the ShadowClan side of the border. By the time we found the four, they'd already torn it apart and blood was over him and the ginger."
I caught Mallowstalk glaring at Lakefrost and now that I looked, I could just make out dried blood on the two. Lakefrost had some on his belly and his throat and Mallowstalk had it on her face and paws. This tale was getting stranger.
"When they saw us, Honeybee and Badgerface looked like they'd run back over the border, but these two held their ground. We started to fight over the stolen prey and trespassing when Lakefrost said he wanted to speak with you and Nightshade about something Fallingstar wanted. So we had to bring them."
Pricklethorn looked at Bramblestar and it looked like the patrol leader didn't believe a word Lakefrost had even said. Bramblestar looked over at the senior warriors. Only a few looked thoughtful. The rest seemed amused and angry. After all, stolen prey was serious. It wasn't even during the middle of leafbare, where such an occurrence, though wrong, was still understandable. Right now prey was plentiful. Why would ShadowClan try to steal from us?
"Well, what is the news from Fallingstar?" Bramblestar addressed the gray tabby. "Why couldn't she tell me during the Gathering three days ago?"
Lakefrost looked up, his ears lowering a bit. I could just catch his fear scent. He hadn't thought through his lie very well, I thought. What a silly tom. He was just an impulsive kit.
"Well, it just came up and it couldn't wait for the next Gathering," the tom meowed, digging his grave just a bit deeper. How would he get his way out of this one? I wondered. The worst that could happen to him was Bramblestar letting his warriors fight them and chase them from our territory, the best would just hand them over to Fallingstar. Of course, maybe the four thought differently, I reflected. They'd also have to deal with punishment from Fallingstar and she could be harsher than Bramblestar. These warriors weren't lucky at all.
"And what is the message?" Bramblestar asked after Lakefrost dithered a bit more.
He glanced at his siblings, his eyes begging for help, but Mallowstalk glared at him and turned away. Honeybee looked down and Badgerface, who hadn't said a word at all or looked anyone in the face, continued to stare at the ground. Lakefrost swallowed and looked back up at Bramblestar, helpless. He looked around the walls at the other cats, his eyes skimming over me.
Suddenly he blinked and fell on the ground. I watched in surprise as he started shaking, his limbs twisting in the air, his eyes half closed as his tail thrashed. His siblings jumped away in surprise. Even ThunderClan scattered, the patrol leaping for the quarry walls. Once everyone realized Lakefrost wasn't attacking they calmed down.
Bramblestar looked down in shock and then looked over at the medicine cat den. I caught his eye and quickly hurried down, worried. What in StarClan's name would make a cat do this? Jayfeather hurried down with me and when we got to Lakefrost's side, I could see foam at the tom's mouth corners. His teeth were bared frighteningly, his eyes senseless. I tried to hold him down to examine him, but he just moved too much, struggling from my grasp.
Suddenly the ginger she-cat got in the way. She stood in front of her thrashing brother, blocking him from my sight.
"What are you doing?" Jayfeather demanded.
"Ignore him," Mallowstalk growled. "He's doing it for attention. He's just faking."
I blinked at her and wondered what she was talking about. How could any cat fake this fit?
"Move aside," Bramblestar growled. He'd jumped down from the ledge and stood by my side, growling at Mallowstalk. "Your brother could die. Let our medicine cats look at him."
"You don't understand," she meowed as two warriors pushed her out of the way.
Honeybee and Badgerface stared at Lakefrost in shock as if they didn't know what was going on. Honeybee had such a worried look on her face; I couldn't believe a word Mallowstalk had just said. No cat would fake this. He could die and Mallowstalk would have killed her brother for getting in our way. Already the gray tom was starting to slow down, his movements jerking, and his limps tense. I could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest as if he were exhausted. Jayfeather and I managed to get on top of him, holding him down. I could feel the twitching, taunt muscles beneath his fur and I pressed my nose against his neck.
Over the smell of the blood I concentrated on his heart. It beat rapidly, almost too fast for normal, his breathing just as ragged.
"What do you think?" I asked Jayfeather, the rest of the quarry falling away into nothing. It was just the three of us. We had to treat a patient.
"Poppy seed maybe," my mentor meowed back. "But that might just put him farther into shock."
"But what is it?"
"Falling sickness? Shaking sickness? White foam?" Jayfeather listed things. I hoped it wasn't the white foam disease. All cats went insane if one caught it. We could be next; we'd touched him after all.
Suddenly he stopped moving. The body under mine ceased heaving and I wondered if he'd died. But no. He was still breathing. His chest rose and fell and I, who laid on it, rose with him. I looked down at him and saw his closed eyes flickering. Was he sleeping? I sniffed his face, my whiskers tickling one of his white spots. His eyes fluttered open and he looked at me in confusion. He twisted as if to get me off.
I quickly jumped off of him, standing on my own feet as I stared at him. Was he better? I looked over at Jayfeather. My mentor seemed as uncertain as me. The world came back and I could see cats standing on the quarry wall, peering outside of dens. Bramblestar stood nearby, waiting with Lakefrost's siblings.
When Lakefrost shakily got to his feet, he stared around him at the walls and wide eyes of the cats. His eyes finally rested on Bramblestar, but they seemed dazed.
"What was the message?" Bramblestar asked.
I stared at my leader. He'd just asked that? He could have asked any other question, but he was back on that one? He should have asked what that was all about, why had he come to the territory, why had he and his siblings disagreed.
"Message?" Lakefrost asked. He licked the saliva from his lips. He stared at his paws and I could tell he wanted to clean up but now was not the time in an enemy camp.
"What am I doing here?" the tom asked. He looked around at the quarry, staring at everyone. He looked intimidated. His ears and tail drooped, fear scent everywhere. I couldn't tell what was his or the rest of the Clan's.
Bramblestar frowned, a slight growl in his throat. He looked over at the siblings but each gave him a blank stare. They obviously didn't know about this message Lakefrost spoke about. This fake message.
"Lionblaze," the leader meowed, raising his voice. "Take these four back to ShadowClan and make sure Fallingstar gets her kits. Explain to her what happened."
Lakefrost's eyes widened but quickly dimmed as he twisted his head to look around.
"Whitewing, Sorreltail, Morningsong." Lionblaze flicked his tail and the cats he named quickly followed him, surrounding the three siblings. I watched my sister, who looked exactly like me, come down off of the quarry wall after visiting the elders. Her eyes were hard but attentive as she stood by Honeybee. I wondered how long it had been since I'd spoken with her. I really had to sometime now that I wasn't that busy.
Lionblaze started to escort Lakefrost to the group. The blue eyes flashed in my direction before returning to the ginger tom. Jayfeather suddenly cleared his throat. Bramblestar looked in our direction.
"Take Fawnfur," my mentor meowed. "He might start shaking again. She can go to make sure he doesn't hurt himself."
Bramblestar slowly nodded. I shot my mentor a glance. What did he think I could do? The last time we both didn't have any idea how to help the ShadowClan cat, so what did he want me to do this time? Point and laugh?
Jayfeather didn't seem to sense my glare as he turned away. His head turned to the nursery where some kits were squeaking in excitement, probably reenacting the event. I hurried after Lionblaze and the others as we left the camp. The gorse bush shook around us. I stayed near Lakefrost's side the whole way. He was shaky and limped a bit and seemed uncertain in the undergrowth. In fact all of the ShadowClan cats seemed uncertain. They made loud noises with every step, cracking twigs and other things, brushing against low leaves. No wonder they'd been caught so easily.
Lionblaze led us through the forest, Sorreltail near his side, Whitewing in the back with me, and my sister near the side. I walked along keeping an eye on my charge. He seemed all right now. Just a bit nervous. His eyes kept roving around, resting on me, going back to his paws, me, the sky, me, the trees. I was starting to get worried. Why was he giving me all this attention? When the ShadowClan border came I almost sighed with relief. Soon he wouldn't be mine to worry about. Flametail could take care of his Clanmate.
The border neared and Lakefrost got even more nervous. His tail flicked and his paws slowed. I wondered if he'd go into another fit. He glanced over at Whitewing. She looked at him and then back at his siblings. She was keeping an eye on us. I almost felt relieved. At least if he attacked I'd have another cat to help me.
"We have to talk," I heard him breathe out.
I could barely hear him. My ears flicked to him and I stared at his face. For once he refused to look at me. The sun glinted through the green tree leaves, slanting shadows down his face like an extra set of stripes.
"What?" I stared to ask.
"Quiet," he hissed almost silently.
I glared at him and whispered, "What are you talking about?"
"We have to talk sometime."
I stared at him. "Why? I don't want to talk to you. Stay in your territory this time!"
He looked over at me. His brow creased and he looked at a loss. He obviously wasn't sure what to do now. Then suddenly his blue eyes cleared.
"StarClan sent me," he whispered as if it were a big secret. He glanced at Whitewing. She stared at us. She probably heard our voices even if she wasn't sure what we were saying. I noticed how close I was walking to the gray tom, our pelts almost brushed. Of course we had to walk this way, I realized. How else was I supposed to hear what he said to me?
His breath felt warm on my ears. "Well?"
I leaned over to him, my whiskers on his face. "Fine."
And then we were at the border.
"Fawnfur," Lionblaze meowed.
I looked up and saw that our patrol had stopped. Sorreltail and Lionblaze looked at us and I moved away from the tabby tom.
"You can go back to camp," Lionblaze told me. "If Lakefrost passes out in ShadowClan territory, their medicine cat can take care of it."
I nodded in relief. I still wasn't sure I trusted Lakefrost, but he had said StarClan had sent him. I had to believe that, or at least listen to what he wanted to say.
I started walking away but then I realized. He hadn't said where we were supposed to meet. I stopped and looked back, but already they'd walked over the border. I saw his blue eyes flash at me as he turned to look. He must have thought the same. We'd have to meet somehow and somewhere. Before the next Gathering. Because that's when I ran out of time. Firestar had said so.