Ivypaw struck a blow at him, then dodged his blow. I'm shaping her up well, Hawkfrost thought. She'll be ready to fight the Clans in no time. Ivypaw noticed that he was distracted, and she knocked him over. But Hawkfrost would not make a fool of himself, especially now that he saw Tigerstar watching from the darkness.
He pummeled at her belly. Ivypaw gasped with pain. In this moment of weakness, Hawkfrost pushed her off and pinned her. He bared his teeth triumphantly. Hawkfrost peered into her blue eyes. Suddenly, he felt a stirring in him that he had never felt before. It wasn't the same satisfaction as he got when he defeated an enemy, but it was just as good. He looked at Ivypaw, to see if she was feeling the same. But she reared up, pinning him.
"I win!" she yowled.
"The fight was over, mouse-brain," he growled.
"Yes, but you say that we always need to be ready! And that its good to catch cats by surprise!"
Hawkfrost grunted. "All right, now get off me."
Ivypaw haughtily stood up with grace, her beautiful flowing tail rushing behind her. The strange glow of the dark forest made a pale outline around Ivypaw's pelt, making her blue eyes luminescent. The stirring came up in him again, stronger, when she looked at her. And he knew it was more than just how good a warrior she would make against the Clans.
Tigerstar padded out of the shadows. "You did great, especially you, Ivypaw," Tigerstar said, "Hawkfrost, I would expect that by now you won't get all moony and distracted! You easily let Ivypaw win!" he nodded to Ivypaw. "You may go."
Tigerstar hissed at him, and struck him hard against the face. "I expect better from now on," he growled. Then he stalked off into the shadows. Hawkfrost went a separate way, trying to dream up killing tactics that would impress Tigerstar.
He was so lost in thought that he walked right through Mapleshade. She let out a throaty hiss. He could easily see the tree behind her fading form. Then Hawkfrost had an idea.
"Hey, Mapleshade, you've been around for a long time, right?" he said.
"Yeah," she grunted, "What do you want?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Well get on with it then!" Mapleshade snapped. He cleared his throat.
"When I was holding a training session with Ivypaw, something strange happened. When I looked at her, or into her eyes, I got this stirring feeling. It felt good, like I had someone to count on. What is it?" he finished.
A low growl came from Mapleshade's throat. "I know exactly what it is. You're in love. In love with Ivypaw."
"But is that okay? It doesn't affect the final battle, right?"
Mapleshade rounded on him. "Of course it affects the final battle! It leaves you weak like a mewling kit! Whatever you do, don't let this evil feeling take over you. I was in love once, and it ripped my life apart."
Hawkfrost nodded, and padded away, furious with himself. But whatever Mapleshade said, he knew there was no controlling this feeling. He enjoyed it, and hoped to train with Ivypaw some more. He liked love. But if it left him weak...no. He would not tell Ivypool. He would just praise her fighting, and that was it. He would keep his love for Ivypool secret, so he would not be weak when the final battle came.
Starlingpaw walked to the ShadowClan camp, carrying a fat frog in his mouth. He had been praised by his mentor, and on a normal day, he would've been thrilled, for it was one step closer to becoming a warrior. But now, his feelings were occupied with a silvery apprentice with eyes like the great blue lake.
Starlingpaw was put in charge of guarding Ivypaw earlier that day. He could sense Ivypaw's anger and frustration, which made Starlingpaw feel bad, even if Littlecloud really needed that catmint. Then she never cowered or seemed afraid, even when she was in a terrible position. And the way she retorted to him, as he told her to leave the mischevious kits alone.
And the way that she showed such beautiful perfection and grace as she defeated him at the battle just before then; ThunderClan was a bunch of fox-hearts, that's for sure. But not Ivypaw. Starlingpaw would've liked to defeat her, but just the expertise of her fighting moves intrigued him. Starlingpaw knew it then deep inside; and he knew it now for sure. He was in love with Ivypaw.
Hawkfrost cast his senses over the Clan territories; he had done it before, he could do it now.
He was standing in the ThunderClan camp, to see all of the fox-hearted warriors, groveling to that foolish kittypet Firestar. ThunderClan was just a group of half-breeds. But Ivypaw's mother, Whitewing, was the daughter of Cloudtail...the kittypet! But not even that blemish could ruin Ivypaw's beauty and skill.
He thought guiltily of Mapleshade's advice. But he just had to see Ivypaw once, before her next training session, she was just so beautiful....
He looked all over camp. She wasn't to be found. He gave up, and his soul retreated back to the dark, reaching branches of the Place of No Stars. Slimy weeds squelched underpaw, and strange noises echoes through the black trunks. And he saw Mapleshade's orange-and-white tail whisk away as he was padding back through the trees.
It was past moonhigh, and Starlingpaw hadn't gotten one wink of sleep. He slipped out of the apprentices' den and towards the entrance of the camp.
Shrewfoot was on guard. "Hunting?"
And Starlingpaw slipped into the darkness to do what ShadowClan cats did best. He tried near the camp, with no luck. Finally, he decided to try near the border. 'He veered toward the ThunderClan border. But instead of hunting, he found himself staring wistfully across the border, thinking of a certain silvery apprentice. And how it simply was not to be.
Ivypaw saw Dovepaw's disappointed face, as Firestar called the Clan meeting. If anyone deserved to become a warrior, it was Dovepaw! She had worked so hard on her training, but her stupid powers had distracted her, giving her bad luck! Then she had to go off to rescue Icecloud. If it wasn't for her sister, Icecloud would still be stuck down that hole!
But to her relief, Firestar had made Dovepaw a warrior, now Dovewing. And she had become Ivypool. They sat vigil, side by side. Hawkfrost is going to be so mad, I'm missing a night of perfect training....
But of course, she wasn't fighting for the Dark Forest for real. She was sent there to spy. And she knew that the final battle was drawing nearer with every pawstep.
Starlingpaw had been chosen to go to the Gathering, along with Ferretpaw and Pinepaw. Pinepaw had been mooning over him for days, but he really didn't care, because she was annoying. Ivypaw was much better than her.
And he just had to see her once.
He crossed the tree bridge, Pinepaw babbling behind him.
As he got on the island, he tried to find a flash of silver, or a glance of beautiful blue eyes. But he saw nothing.
The leaders called the Gathering to a beginning. Blackstar reported, then Mistystar, then Firestar.
"We are very strong, considering it is leaf-bare," Firestar meowed. ThunderClan cats mewed in approval. ThunderClan. So vain.
"We have two new warriors. Dovewing is currently on our patrol to the mountains, but Ivypool is at the Gathering now."
Starlingpaw turned to see her, shuffling her paws, yet looking ahead bravely. "Ivypool!" he yowled to the full moon.
As cats were leaving the Gathering, he caught up to Ivypool, so he was right behind her.
"Ivypool!" he hissed under his breath.
"Huh. Starlingpaw, right? Well, what is it?" she snapped. Obviously he had not forgotten his rude behaviour as she was prisoner in ShadowClan camp.
"I...I....um..." now that he had the opportunity, he could not bring himself to say it.
"Ivypool! Come on!" yowled Brambleclaw. She bounded away, without one glance over her shoulder. And it hurt.
"We should be getting more recruits tonight," Tigerstar meowed.
"Who?" Shredtail questioned.
"Oh, Blossomfall of ThunderClan, Scorchfur of ShadowClan, Applefur of ShadowClan, Heathertail of WindClan, and Starlingpaw of ShadowClan," he responded.
"Hmm. Trying to train those cats? Heathertail? You think that weakling would dare join our cause?" Mapleshade hissed.
"Well, she is so dumb, she can be easily tricked. Same with Blossomfall," Hawkfrost contributed.
"Mmm. That ShadowClan apprentice shows some promise," Brokenstar said.
"Sure does. Maybe someday his claws will spill the blood of that traitorous Lionblaze, or maybe that weakling Brambleclaw," Mapleshade agreed, "Hawkfrost? Will you be the one to invite him? I think that will be the most suitable."
"All right. I will."
Hawkfrost waited by the murky river of the Dark Forest, waiting for this 'promising' apprentice to come. But he never did.
Starlingwing fluffed out his fur against the chilly breeze rattling through the pine trees. It was his warrior vigil, along with Ferretclaw and Pinenose's. It was getting to be new-leaf, after the hard and chilly leaf-bare, but the temperature still dropped in the nighttime. Pinenose looked at him from a few fox-lengths away, her gaze playful. He looked away. Go annoy Ferretclaw, he thought.
He just wished that his chilly vigil would be over, so he could get a good night's sleep, where his dreams would undoubtedly be infected with Ivypool.
That apprentice hadn't come the night before. They could snatch him up in his sleep, and take him to the Dark Forest to be trained to fight the Clans.
Hawkfrost sat in silence, same place as the night before, waiting for Starlingpaw to come.
Starlingwing slipped into some much-needed sleep, curled up in his new nest adjacent to Pinenose's, unfortunately. But she was sleeping peacefully now, not disturbing him at all. His mind began to go blank as he finally slipped away.
He was hoping for some dreamless, refreshing sleep, but instead, he woke up in a dark, murky wasteland. Tree branches arched over his head, like they were going to grab him, and spear him on their evil talons. Is this a nightmare? Starlingwing thought.
Then someone spoke. "Hello, young one. And welcome."
A brown tabby tom with ice-blue eyes stepped out of the darkness, a strange glow on his pelt.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Hawkfrost."
"Wait...you mean the Hawkfrost that died mysteriously by the lake, all those moons ago?"
"Mysteriously? Huh! I was murdered viciously by someone of the Clans. Someone still living."
Starlingwing didn't want to pry, especially with this intimidating cat. "Where am I, anyways?"
"You're in the Dark Forest."
"That doesn't sound too good."
"We were thrown out by the Clans. Cast out because of our power. But now, we are going to help you become the best warriors you can be to prove ourselves. We have invited you specially, even though you, ah, were absent last night."
"It was my vigil. I'm Starlingwing now."
"Congratulations! Now, we can start our training...well, if you wish."
Starlingwing hesitated. Hawkfrost sensed it. "I can give you anything you want. Power...as in a leadership. And even the she-cat you desire. Pinenose...is that the name of her?"
Pinenose wasn't the one he desired. But he nodded. "Now. Let's start our training." Hawkfrost hurled himself at him, taking him off guard.
They trained for awhile, Hawkfrost teaching him amazing fighting moves, ones that Blackstar wouldn't dream of. And he finally felt like he had a cat to talk to. Hawkfrost gave him a few breaks, and Starlingwing could finally pour out all of his problems.
"Can I meet the others training in the Dark Forest?"
Hawkfrost grunted. "Sure. But keep in mind, this is only your first night. You will be on a much tighter schedule once you get experienced."
Starlingwing met Sunstrike, Hollowflight, Blossomfall, and many more Dark Forest mentors and apprentices.
"There's one more cat I want you to meet. Her name is Ivypool. She is a very experienced Dark Forest cat, and she is allowed to train the others. She used to be my apprentice, in fact."
Starlingwing's breath caught in his throat. Ivypool.
She was in another weedy clearing, talking to some cats.
"Your best tool is the element of surprise," Ivypool explained. But then she stopped short as she saw Hawkfrost and Starlingwing walk into the clearing. "hi. Who is this? A new recruit?" she asked.
"This--" Hawkfrost began, "--is Starlingwing."
"Oh. Hi. I suppose you could train with us for a while."
Starlingwing's cheeks began to grow red. He wondered if Ivypool remembered their brief conversation.
"Hi, uh, Ivypool. Um, um, could we maybe get to know each other while, uh, they practice their battle moves?" Starlingwing said awkwardly.
"You're here to train, not talk," Ivypool said.
Hawkfrost shot her a glance from across the clearing. For a moment, Starlingwing thought he saw fear in Ivypool's expression, but soon, it was cleared away. "All right. You're from ShadowClan, right?"
"I remember you talking to me at that Gathering."
"Mmm. Sorry about that."
She laughed. "Oh, you really weren't doing anything wrong. It's all fine, I was just in a snappy mood."
Starlingwing found himself stepping closer to her as she began to talk about how things were run in the Dark Forest.
"Do you want me to show you some fighting moves now?"
"Um, okay, sure."
"Here. We can practice if I have you cornered. When in that situation, you crawl back upwards against whatever you're trapped against and spring at your enemies." Hawkfrost's eyes from across the clearing were like chips of ice.
"Oh, and yeah, try to cause as much damage as possible," Ivypool hastily added on.
"Not quite. Here," she adjusted him, her gentle paws brushing against his legs as she moved them.
"You're a really good fighter, Ivypool," he said. He involuntarily shuffled toward her, and she did the same.
"Thanks," she mumbled.
"No. I mean really. I swear, there could never be another cat in the forest like you, Ivypool," he mewed.
"And in what way do you mean that?" Ivypool mumbled, obviously trying to sound tough, and failing.
"I mean, I think I need to tell you something."
Hawkfrost's claws dug into the slimy earth. How could that cheeky young warrior think that he wouldn't notice one thing from across the clearing? They weren't fighting, they were jabbering! And it was possible that he could just feel a little bit jealous.
Okay, a lot jealous.
The other apprentices obviously didn't notice a thing, and Mapleshade or Tigerstar or anyone wasn't in sight.
He wouldn't let Starlingwing just stroll into the Dark Forest, and take Ivypool like this.
Because poor Ivypool's heart would lie shattered, in a million pieces, if she let that haughty ShadowClan tom fall in love with her. But would I be any different? There were other things to think about, he thought grimly.
Like establishing the fact that Ivypool was his.
"Before you say it, don't think that I don't remember how you treated me as I was held prisoner in your camp," Ivypool meowed back at him.
Starlingwing was about to come up with a good response, not unfriendly, but not too lovey-dovey. But then he saw Hawkfrost padding towards him. His blue eyes looked like twin shards of ice glittering coldly in the eerie light of the Dark Forest.
"Do you want me to start training him now?" Ivypool said very quickly.
"Yes, that would've been good before. But now....I'd rather just have a talk with our new apprentice. Go train those others; they're beginning to get off task." Ivypool nodded. "Okay. Whatever you say, Hawkfrost."
"So...what would you like to talk to me about?"
"This is a place for you to learn and become something! NOT a place to shop around for mates!" he snarled at him, catching him off guard. Starlingwing didn't know what he had done wrong.
"But-but you said that we could get to know each other...."
"I saw you with Ivypool! Don't think you can pull this past me! You're in different Clans!"
Starlingwing was getting angry. How could this dead cat be inviting him into his forest and then telling him which she-cats he could chase after!
"Yeah, well according to you, we're all Clanmates in the Dark Forest, right? And what gives you the right to tell me what to do!" Starlingwing shouted.
"I'm the mentor, and you're the apprentice!" Hawkfrost hissed back.
"Yeah, well nothing you say changes the way I feel about Ivypool! I'm not letting you get in the way! She loves me back, deep inside, I just know it!" he exclaimed, glancing to see if Ivypool had heard a thing.
Hawkfrost tensed up, growling. "No," he said simply.
"What do you mean, 'no'?" Starlingwing hissed.
"Ivypool is mine, you hear me? I've trained her. She knows me. She's loyal, and she will stay by our side as we attack the Clans! I love her! Much more than you could ever love her!" Hawkfrost stopped, realizing he let several things slip.
Starlingwing knew he was foolish to believe that this place ever held any promise. But why was Ivypool there then? It didn't matter.
Starlingwing felt as if he were about to hurl all of his feelings back at Hawkfrost, but instead, he just muttered under his breath to Hawkfrost.
"You shut up, you heap of fox dung."
Hawkfrost let out a screech, and leaped on top of Starlingwing, his claws tearing his flank. His weight squashed Starlingwing, so he could barely breathe. But he twisted out from under him, and raked his claws across the side of Hawkfrost's face. Blood spurted from his eye.
Hawkfrost reared up, and bashed his paw across Starlingwing's face. He fell to the ground, dizzy, and out-of-sorts. Starlingwing took the opportunity to rake his claws along Hawkfrost's stomach. He let out a screech of pain, and was about to bite down on Starlingwing's neck.
But just then, an orange-and-white shape flew out from the bushes, knocking Hawkfrost off of him.
It was Mapleshade.
She hissed. "I wouldn't mind seeing your precious blood spilt, but that wouldn't be polite now, would it?" she hissed at him, "Go."
And Starlingwing woke up, finding himself curled up in the warriors' den, next to the gently snoring Pinenose.
"I am disgusted!" Mapleshade hissed, still having him pinned.
"Sorry," Hawkfrost grumbled.
"You left yourself weak! See, you just chased away a perfectly good recruit! Did you listen to my advice at all?"
"What's going on here?" Brokenstar grumbled as he walked into the fight.
"Go away, and leave this to me!" she snarled. Even the mighty Brokenstar flinched as he backed away.
"I didn't mean--" Hawkfrost continued.
"That doesn't matter! What matters is that you are a disloyal heap of fox dung! Think about it! What just happened now could've affected our chances of winning the final battle!"
"Well, I don't see how!" he said, instantly slapping his tail over his mouth.
"What did you say?"
"I will always love Ivypool, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!" he yowled freely, now that Ivypool and the apprentices had gone.
Mapleshade slashed his face, leaving it bloodier.
"No matter what you do, you can't stop me!"
"We'll see about that."
And just like that, Mapleshade was gone.
Hawkfrost stalked away. Nothing. Nothing she can do to control me.
"Good night," Ivypool murmured to Dovewing as they fell asleep. Ivypool knew that Dovewing had started mooning over Tigerheart again, and she didn't like it. She had seen enough of him.
But then she thought of the night, a couple of days ago, when she had met Starlingwing in the Dark Forest. She didn't really feel anything for Starlingwing, true. But the way he had been so awkward and yet so charming was quite a difference from his behavior when she was imprisoned in the ShadowClan camp, all those moons ago. And she didn't want to hurt his feelings once again. She felt guilt nagging at her as she drifted off into sleep, still tired from WindClan's attack, which had occured also a few sunrises ago.
She let out a low groan as she woke up to the rotting trunks and barren grounds of the Dark Forest. I should've known, she thought.
She wandered through the trees, trying to find Hawkfrost, or Brokenstar, or someone she could check in with. But instead, she ran into someone else. Literally.
She stood there, half of her body inside of Mapleshade, half out. She was so transparent, that she could barely make her out. "Sorry," Ivypool said, pulling herself out. For the very first time, she heard Mapleshade purr.
"It's fine. Say, could we talk, before someone swoops in and takes you for their selfish purposes?"
"So, why don't we just....chat for a moment?"
"Okay. You seem in a good mood," Ivypool said, instantly regretting it. Mapleshade's eyes remained expressionless.
"So, how are cats in the Dark Forest right now? Like, oh, Tigerstar, or Hawkfrost, for example?"
Ivypool stopped dead in her tracks. Mapleshade had bit the mouse straight on the neck. "Yeah. Hawkfrost has been acting weird lately."
Mapleshade leaned in closer to her. "Listen. This is what I wanted to talk to you for. Hawkfrost. I think that he's betraying us to those starry-eyed fools, and giving us weaknesses. The traitor. So now, I have a special job for you. Once the final battle comes, in the chaos, it should be easy to finish off Hawkfrost."
"So..you want me to kill Hawkfrost?" she squeaked. She hated Hawkfrost with all her heart, but she didn't like killing. She had done it once, and was not eager to do it again. Mapleshade's eyes began to gleam angrily.
"It wouldn't be possible that you're afraid, would it? Could it be possible that you are conspiring with Hawkfrost," Mapleshade meowed with conviction. Ivypool was suddenly very afraid of what would happen to her if she didn't oblige.
"Okay, I'll do it! I'll finish off that crow-food eating traitor!" Ivypool said.
And Ivypool woke up, never finding out what Mapleshade had to say.
"It is time."
Tigerstar was saying, as he walked in front of the strong line of Dark Forest warriors.
"What about the recruits?" Shredtail hissed.
"They will meet us in the real forest."
"Why waste time talking when we could be killing?" Mapleshade hissed, "Let's go!"
Hawkfrost raced after the cats of the Place of No Stars as they dashed to the Clans for the final battle.
Starlingwing heard the thundering of pawsteps, and the cries of battle rang through the air.
"They're coming!" Tawnypelt yowled.
"Coming? They can't be here already!" Kinkfur screeched.
"Quick! Guard the nursery!" Blackstar commanded.
And just like that, the Dark Forest warriors were on the camp.
A huge tom jumped on him from behind, letting out a throaty hiss. Starlingwing flipped around, and pummeled the tom's belly with his hind paws.
He screeched, and crushed Starlingwing.
It was like he was drowning, suffocating in mounds of brown fur. the tom was about to bite down hard on his neck, but Starlingwing lashed up first.
Blood spurted from the tom's neck. He collapsed to the forest floor, and faded away.
Starlingwing looked at the blood on his paws, horrified at what he had done.
"Starlingwing! You need to help the elders get to safety! Come on!" shouted Rowanclaw.
Snaketail, Whitewater, Cedarheart, and Tallpoppy were trying to leave the camp unsuccessfully, a Dark Forest warrior barricading their way.
"Step aside, crow-food!" Starlingwing snarled, Rowanclaw at his side. Rowanclaw and Starlingwing screeched in unison, and leaped on the cat.
Realizing he was beaten, he streaked away to go terrorize another cat.
"I can still walk by myself, you know!" Whitewater grumped.
"You're worrying about your pride now, of all times?" Starlingwing hissed.
"Now, don't get mouthy with me, youngster."
"But--" Starlingwing stopped short as a sleek she-cat leaped on Whitewater.
But it was too late. Whitewater slumped to the floor, dead. "Whitewater!" Cedarheart yowled.
"Come on! We'll get her later!"
They got the elders out of the camp, and began to race back to the ShadowClan camp, which was quickly being overwhelmed.
Was it like this for Ivypool? he wondered. Elders being slaughtered unmercilessly, kits mewling for their mothers?
Then he remembered.
Ivypool was with them.
But why? She was an amazing cat, not the type to be conspiring with murderers.
But she could be getting hurt, no matter what side she was on, and Starlingwing was scared for her. Because he couldn't deny that he loved her, even if she was from a different Clan, and on a different side of the gory, terrifying battle.
"They're coming!" Dovewing yowled. Soon, the forest was alive with the sound of screeching, fighting cats.
Ivypool fought off a gray she-cat with emerald eyes, baring her fangs, and trying viciously to sink her teeth into Ivypool's flesh. She sliced her claws through the she-cat's eye, making her screech with pain. Ivypool ran off, before she could attack again.
"Are the kits safe?" she asked Brambleclaw. "Yeah, they're fine."
It seemed like moons of constant fighting, Jayfeather sneaking away cats for treatment with Leafpool, and blood spattering the forest floor. Ivypool fought as if she were the whole of LionClan, slashing wildly with her paws, until they were stained with red splotches.
She saw the blue-black flash of Hollyleaf's pelt as she fought off a burly tom. Suddenly, Thistleclaw, Hawkfrost, and Snowtuft went for Hollyleaf all at once.
Hawkfrost. She hated Hawkfrost more than any cat in the whole world. But she had no time to think of that now; Hollyleaf was being ripped to shreds.
Ivypool thrust herself between her and Hawkfrost as he attacked. She screeched, and ripped at Hawkfrost's fur.
She heard a sigh of distress, and a whump as a body hit the floor. It was Hollyleaf. Her throat was slit open, blood pouring out. "Hollyleaf! No!"
Hollyleaf lay dying. Hawkfrost crashed into her. Then Ivypool remembered Mapleshade's command. Why should I be following what a Dark Forest cat said? It wasn't for Mapleshade, she thought grimly, it was to avenge Hollyleaf.
She let out a battle cry, and began to tear and Hawkfrost furiously. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, like he was indecisive about hurting her. Then he swatted her across the face, with his blunt paw, sending Ivypool reeling.
She felt white-hot pain as Hawkfrost tore at her flesh with his thorn-sharp claws. She felt like she had no fight left in her. Would they win this battle? If she died, then would she have any StarClan to go to?
He felt an utter sense of betrayal. Ivypool was a traitor. Ivypool. The only cat that he truly loved. And now, she was attempting to rip his guts out, as he tried to do the same.
He began to slow down, in horror, for Ivypool was so bloody that it was even disturbing to him. How could he?
Suddenly, Brambleclaw came into the picture. Brambleclaw. The one he hated most.
He tried to fight back, but found that he was petrified with pain from his wounds. He stood there as Brambleclaw attacked, and Hawkfrost attempted to fight back.
Ivypool slowly opened her eyes and got to her paws. She was going to be all right! She tried to help Brambleclaw. But Brambleclaw bit down hard on Hawkfrost's neck, killing him.
The last thing he ever saw was the beautiful glow of Ivypool's blue eyes.