Chapter 1: Lakefrost
Lakefrost crouched among the shaded roots of the Great Pine. The bird pecked at the berries on the ground, oblivious to everything else. It felt it was safe. There was no undergrowth for a predator to hide in. It felt it would be warned in time to take flight. It thought it could see everything.
Lakefrost grinned. It hadn't met a ShadowClan cat before. His Clan knew how to hide in the deepest shadows, to sneak up on anything, and how to patiently stay quiet. He'd already killed a squirrel and this wren was begging to be caught. His muscles rippled as he skimmed low over the ground. The fallen pine needles caught in his belly fur as he hurried onward. The needles compressed under his feet, providing him with a soundless approach. But because of the needles, he didn't see the small stone. His claws hit it, making a click that was loud enough to scare the bird. As the rock rolled away, the bird, alerted, spread its wings and was in the air in a heartbeat. Lakefrost hissed and leapt after it. His body twisted in the sky, his claws reaching for the bird. They hit the tail feathers and held on. The bird dropped with the light gray tom attached to it. The bird squawked in shock and fear, but was quickly silenced when Lakefrost buried his jaws in its neck.
"I can't catch anymore," he sighed regretfully. Now that the bird had scared everything else off, there was no point in staying in the area. He picked up the wren and went to find the squirrel.
When Lakefrost returned to camp he saw Batwing, a gray she-cat with large black ears, following her two kits as they explored the ShadowClan camp for the first time. Their father, Acornpelt, was out on a border patrol. The only other cats in camp were Knotfur and Oakfur. Oakfur was the only elder and he was really old. Everyone thought he would be leaving any heartbeat, but still he hung on like the fur off of his bones. At the moment he was smiling as the kits came his way, eager to bother another cat other than their mother.
Knotfur, a black she-cat with long, tangled fur, was sitting guard. She was to protect the kits if anything dangerous came. Luckily she didn't have to do much as no wild animal would attack a camp full of cats. ShadowClan had grown after that greencough epidemic so long ago. No foxes bothered them ever near camp. They were like a normal Clan again.
"Hello, Lakefrost," Knotfur called to him, her yellow eyes lighting up as she saw him.
Lakefrost meowed something back. It wasn't very audible through the prey. He set them down on the fresh-kill pile and turned to her.
"Hello Knotfur," he meowed back. "How has the camp been?"
"Slow," she sighed. "Olivespot's hunting patrol came back before you did. Oakfur didn't want to eat anything and the kits have been too busy. They're the most interesting thing around here. I'd play with them but if Fallingstar came back, I don't want to be caught not doing my duty."
Lakefrost nodded with a smile. It wasn't as if Fallingstar would punish Knotfur, but Knotfur felt obligated to do as the ShadowClan leader told her. Fallingstar had rescued Knotfur and her brother Orangestripe from the horseplace between WindClan and RiverClan territory.
The two were daughter and son of Smoky and Floss, the barn cats. The twolegs they lived with were known for getting rid of any kits the barn cats had. Fallingstar had known this and so offered to the two cats that if they had any kits she'd be willing to take them.
At that time ShadowClan wasn't very big and had just lost four cats: Snaketail, Kinkstar, Fernstripe, and Eveningbreeze. Add to that the loss of Darkfire, Needlefur, and Hickorypaw, who had gone back home to Summerheat Camp, and their small Clan had shrunk to less than a mouse morsel. Fallingstar had been in trouble and looking for outside help. Her Clan had not objected when she brought the two kits in, knowing one day they'd be warriors.
Lakefrost had been a kit at the time, son of Fallingstar and Brownfeather. The two new kits had become his friends. They were older than him and had their apprentice ceremony before him and his siblings, but that didn't change the fact Lakefrost still enjoyed their company. Besides, Knotfur was an available mate and he had a feeling she liked him. His only rival to her affection was Baderface, Lakefrost's brother, but Badgerface had never really been interested in love, devoting himself to battle training.
"Well, I'll see if they want something now," Lakefrost meowed.
He picked up his squirrel, his bird, and a mouse. Mouth full he padded toward the group. Batwing was sitting next to Oakfur, talking to him as the elder flicked his tail back and forth, teasing the two kits. They batted at it with their clumsy kit paws. The elder smiled contentedly at them, listening to Batwing meow about which kit was growing faster than the other. The elder loved the kits and Lakefrost often wondered if the old tom had ever had any of his own. Were any of Lakefrost's Clanmates children of this old warrior? The thought intrigued him. That could be him one day, watching his prosperity.
Batwing smiled when she spotted Lakefrost. "Is that for us?" she asked.
"No thank you," Oakfur meowed, his whispery voice so raspy it was almost hard to understand. "The kits can have it."
Lakefrost put the prey down, but he looked at Oakfur in concern. It looked as if the elder needed to eat, but he hadn't been lately. Why not? Was he afraid to take any from the rest of the Clan when he would die so soon? Did he think it was wasted on him? Lakefrost hoped not. Oakfur had served his Clan and deserved being treated fairly and kindly until he died.
"Please, Oakfur," Batwing meowed, sharing the same feeling as Lakefrost. "It would make me feel better and the kits can't eat it all, they're just getting used to meat."
Finally the old tom nodded. Lakefrost gave him the mouse since it would be easier than pulling off hair and feathers. Next he passed the bird to the kits, knowing they'd play with the feathers later. They started to stalk the bird the moment they noticed it.
Batwing nodded her thanks and then started eating. Lakefrost returned to Knotfur, willing to talk. AS it was greenleaf, he didn't have much to do and hunting wasn't difficult. One or two patrols was enough to feed the Clan. Lakefrost shared tongues with Knotfur and she shared stories with him.
Lakefrost didn't notice how much time had passed until the camp entrance shook. Knotfur immediately flexed her claws, ready to attack if it was a threat. Then a cat poked its head out of the bushes. It was Acornpelt. His dappled body was followed by Stoneheart, Dappleflower, and her apprentice Bluepaw. The sunhigh patrol had returned.
Knotfur relaxed. "Trouble?" she asked.
"None," Acornpelt replied. "RiverClan is staying in their borders because of the twolegs and ThunderClan is as arrogant as ever, certain they don't need to cross anyone's borders and that no one will cross theirs. We didn't see pelt of them."
Knotfur sniffed critically. Like all ShadowClan cats she didn't care much for ThunderClan. However, Lakefrost felt a twinge of guilt. Acornpelt didn't need to speak like that. Lakefrost was half ThunderClan, so in a way, anyone who spoke badly about the large Clan spoke disparagingly of him.
Fallingstar had been a ThunderClan cat until she joined her mate Brownfeather in ShadowClan. Through a series of events she'd also become the youngest leader. The ShadowClan cats did not despise her despite her youth or her maturation in an enemy Clan. She'd renounced ThunderClan at a Gathering and never looked back. Since her leadership she'd even devised ways to make ShadowClan strong again. This involved making all the Clans rely on ShadowClan so they wouldn't think about attacking. It had worked and now ShadowClan was strong.
Acornpelt wandered off to his mate and kits while the patrol took hurried to the fresh-kill-pile. They ate their food in their usual spots: Stoneheart sat alone; his daughter Bluepaw sat with her mentor; Dappleflower patiently listened to all her apprentice's questions. The mottled she-cat was patient and replied to what she could. Life was peaceful. There was no turmoil like in the stories Fallingstar had told him as a kit. Lakefrost liked this peace. There was nothing to fear. The Clan was prospering.
"Do you want to go hunting with me later?" Knotfur asked, breaking into Lakefrost's thoughts.
He nodded his head. He'd like that.
As sunhigh reached its, peak the rest of the Clan came back, including Lakefrost's sister, Honeybee. She seemed to be hanging off of Orangestripe's every word. They weren't carrying any prey, not like the others in their patrol.
"She must have distracted him again," Knotfur sighed, shaking her head. She'd stopped eating her vole to stare at them.
"Probably," Lakefrost agreed.
His sister was known distract toms, whether they had mates or not. Sometimes he got frustrated with her. It was like nothing really mattered to her other than toms. He wondered why Fallingstar had let her become a warrior just last moon with the rest of his siblings. Honeybee should have been held back. She didn't know how to fight properly or hunt some creatures.
"I wish she'd get it over with and choose her mate," Knotfur muttered. "Orangestripe so wants her and loves it when she pays attention to him, but then she goes off and speaks with Stoneheart, Redsky, or even Scorchtree. He tries his best to make her talk to him and then that makes him not help the Clan as much."
"I know what you mean," Lakefrost meowed. "If only she could be like Mallowstalk."
Mallowstalk was Lakefrost's other sister. She was one of the best hunters for her age. She could hardly be brought back to camp at times. She always wanted to be out and hunting or at least exploring. She'd always been the adventurous kit. Sometimes Lakefrost was afraid she'd leave the territory just to explore another Clans' or that she would leave ShadowClan and become a loner.
Speaking of Mallowstalk, there she was trailing behind Dawncloud and Wrenpaw. Her tail drooped and she kept glancing back into the forest. He knew she'd go back out the first instant she could. It was as if the forest was her Clan and not ShadowClan. It was hard to explain to himself, Lakefrost thought. He doubted even she'd be able to.
When everyone was gathered and eating, Fallingstar jumped to the top of the Large Stump. The Clan sat up and waited for her to speak.
"I know many of you want to go to the Gathering this night," Fallingstar meowed, her brown tabby fur with gray marks shining bright in the sun. Her green eyes, heritage of Dewstep, her ThunderClan father, and Firestar, her great-grandfather, gleamed at them. "But I can only take a few of you. I am proud to say, you all have done something worthy to get you to the Gathering and I'm glad to say that I've such a large Clan, but only a few of you may go. I will be taking Tigerheart, Snowbird, Ivytail, Dappleflower, Knotfur, Lakefrost, and Bluepaw with me."
The rest of the muttered their disappointed. However it was good-natured. After all there were other nights and Fallingstar was fair in her selections. Lakefrost shivered with pride. His first Gathering as a warrior. Beside him Knotfur twitched her tail and shook her whiskers in excitement.
"We will leave at dusk," Fallingstar meowed.