ADOPTED BY ARTI. :D
At the bottom of the hills that SwiftClan lives in, a forest lies. But every cat that goes into the woods, never come out.
But one apprentice, Lilypaw, wants to know the truth about the Neverending Forest, as the older cats call it. She gathers her two best friends, Goosepaw and Foxpaw, and together, they enter the Neverending Forest, determined to find the missing cats.
Will the three apprentices find the cats they seek, and the exit? Or be forever trapped in the woods, as the others?
The mottled gray cat was panting already, but she forced her legs on faster.
I should've been out of the woods by now, she thought to herself as she finally brought down the rabbit she'd been chasing. She killed it with a bite to the neck and sat up to look around.
Wait a minute. I've seen that tree with the oddly tangled roots four times now! I'm going in circles! The gray cat whipped around, trying to find something that would show her the way home, but found nothing. She picked up her rabbit and pelted through the forest, desperately running in circles, but found no evidence that the forest every ended. Crazed with panic, she dropped the rabbit, fell to the ground, and let out a shrill screech.
I leaned forward, intent on hearing the end of the story. But Bumblewing was looking exhausted and tired. I hoped Pinknose wouldn't notice, but the white she-cat herded Goosepaw, Foxpaw, and I out of the den the second the silvery-gray elder started snoring.
"Aw, Lilypaw," Foxpaw whined when Pinknose pulled the brambles tightly shut behind us. "Why'd you have to bore Bumblewing so much that she fell asleep?"
"I didn't!" I protested. "It was probably Goosepaw's asking her what Pebblenose looked like that put her to sleep." The black-flecked tom turned his yellow eyes on me, wide with disbelief.
"Oh, like you didn't want to know!"
"I could've gone my whole life without wondering nor caring what she looked like!"
"Enough!" It was Foxpaw's father, Harestep, who also happened to be the deputy. "Honestly, you three are worse than badgers!"
Goosepaw ducked his head in embarrassment, and Foxpaw muttered, "Sorry," under her breath. The white tom flicked his tail and padded away.
"You don't think that Neverending Forest is real, do you?" Foxpaw murmured, turning to face us. "If it is..." She trailed off and chewed her lip. I sigh.
"I know. All those cats, gone in and never seen again?" Foxpaw nodded anxiously.
"The Clan must've lost a lot of good warriors," Goosepaw mussed, pawing at a feather as it drifted past his nose.
"Like Pebblenose?" I mumble, staring in the direction of the forest.
"Exactly." Goosepaw stretched. "Anyways, it's obviously not true, so why bother wondering? I'm going to get the fattest rabbit I can find, then I'm going to go curl up in my nest." He loped off, leaving Foxpaw and me alone. Foxpaw gulped.
"So am I," She mewed hurriedly, racing after him. But I feel to buzzed to relax. I bound out of camp, a gorge between two hills, and race towards the direction of the setting sun, where Bumblewing had said the Neverending Forest lay.Before long, I see the shadow-dark stretch. I slam to a stop, not trusting myself to go any closer.
So there is a forest here, I think as I whirl on my paws and bound back to camp. Question is, is it Neverending?
Since the first moment you open your eyes, the Clan will drill the rules into you. Don't talk back. Don't go out of camp. Don't disrespect the elders.
But most importantly: never, ever go into the Forest.
Kits, apprentices, warriors, and even leaders have sucumbed to it's lure and vanished. We only ever found one cat and there was much of him left to find. I remember the day they brought the bones back. They'd been found at the edge of the Forest, almost like the Forest was giving us it's own reminder to stay away. Like we needed another reminder.
I remember the braver kits telling us about stories they heard from Warriors whispered conversations. How the Forest changes every night, like a moving maze. How there are flesh-eating creatures, waiting for the next cat to walk in. How no one who went in ever came out...
But I can't explain my facination with it. With the way it entices, then traps. The way it moves, the branches that never sway in the wind but seem to beckon...
"How long has the Forest been there?" I ask my mother one day.
Frostfall looks mystified, "It's always been there," she meows eventually, "And I expect it always will be."
"But why can't we go in it? If we stay in sight of the way out, I mean."
Frostfall huffed in exasperation, "That's what Pebblenose said! What Rockstar said! What every single cat who went into the Forest has said! So don't think you're the special one who will find a way out. Because you're not the first one who's said that and you won't be the first to come out!"
"But Mom-" I begun.
"No buts!" her eyes flash, a wicked blue, "You are absolutely forbidden to go near the Forest! If anyone sees you skulking about there again, you will be grounded in camp for 5 moons!"
"Mom!" I wail.
She turns away, "It's for your own good."
I flop on the ground next to Foxpaw and Goosepaw.
"Harsh," Foxpaw whispers sympathetically.
"Yeah," Goosepaw meowed, "But maybe it's for the good! Maybe you shouldn't be so obsessed-" My glare is enough to make him back off the topic.
"I wish you guys were more curious," I huff. "We could go in, poke around and come out. We'd be heroes! and aren't you the teensiest bit curious about the Neverending Forest?"
They shared a glance that made me seethe.
"No," Goosepaw meowed, "And you shouldn't be either. It's not normal."
Foxpaw meowed, "I think maybe your mother was right. It's best if you stay away."
They both go back to their mice, leaving me gazing out of camp furiously. It's not fair. I just want to know. But then I shock myself with a question:
Why do I care so much?
I usually sleep very late, but the pitter-patter of raindrops on the den roof wakes me up.
"Oh great," I mutter. Because now I'll never get back to sleep since I'm awake now. And I hate rainy days. They're cold and wet and dreary. And thunder and lightning isn't exactly peaceful.
"But that can't be..."
"Are you sure....it seems..."
My ears flick as I hear my mother's voice. I creep out, making sure not to wake Foxpaw or Goosepaw and not to alert my mother and whoever she's talking to that I'm here. It's not easy.
"Goldfur," my mother meows. I almost miss what she says next because I realize she's talking to our medicine cat. I strain to catch the end of her sentence, "...think Lilypaw's....Marked."
I gasp, very nearly giving myself away. My mother jerks her head, peering intently at the bushes. But she doesn't see me because she turns anxiously back to Goldfur.
I sit back on my haunches, ignoring Goldfur's reply. The Marked are the ones who become obsessed with the Neverending Forest. There's nothing really wrong with them at all, it's just easier then saying 'The ones who become obsessed with the Forest'. There was a legend that the Marked were the only ones able to escape the Forest, but, as it became obvious, no one can escape the Forest. Not even the Marked. Being one of the Marked is a death sentence. It's acknowledging that you will one day disappear into the Forest like the others of your kind and never be heard of again.
And I am Marked.
I back away, bumping straight into Goosepaw. "Ready for patrol?" he asks brightly. I nod mutely and we head out into the clearing.
Frostfall jumps at our sudden appearance, but Goldfur just nods calmly, "Off to patrol?"
I nod, "Unless there's anything you want to tell us." I look straight at my mother.
She doesn't even have the decency to look away, "No, you're free to go."
As we turn away, she meows, "Oh, remember to stay away from the Forest!"
I grit my teeth and unsheathe then sheath my claws. My mind is made up.
I have to find out about the Forest.
I'm going tonight.
At night, I make sure everything is ready. I leave my most prized possession- a leaf that blew out of the Forest- in my nest so my mother will know exactly where I've gone. I took a few mice and have them hanging from my jaws at the moment. I felt a bit bad abut that, but I figure if I can find the Lost Cats it'll make up for it. I went to the Dirt-place and I'm ready to go.
I look at the camp, a prickle of doubt nagging at me. What if I never see this place again?
I shake it off, turning and trot away from camp. I run and run, the mice swinging from my jaws, the feeling of freedom and relief light in my paws. I've done it. I know that this is the right thing to do, that I was meant to do this. I'm doing what I'm supposed to.
You just think that because you're Marked. A little voice nags inside of me. I ignore it, finally seeing the Forest. I slow to a trot, then to a walk, standing outside the Forest. The mice drop from my mouth and I want to bend down and retrieve them, but something holds me in place, staring into the yawning darkness of the Forest. My paws are frozen in place and my eyes are wide as I gaze into the seemingly endless dark. But I know better. There's an end. There's a way out.
And I will find it.
And the cats who are inside.
I finally bend over to pick up the mice and take a step, placing myself at the Forest's mercy. I take a deep breath. Finally.
"Lilypaw!!!" Goosepaw's voice makes me take a step back. But when he tackles me, we both tumble into the Forest.
"Get off!" I growl, shoving him away. I hop to my paws, only to fall back to the ground. "Foxpaw, don't do that!" I yowl.
She backs up a bit, "Sorry."
I hop to my paws, "What are you two doing here you daft-brained furballs?!" I turn in a circle, wondering which way leads home. But I can't see even the faintest light other then what filters down from above. Small panic begins to set in. Goosepaw can't have thrown us that far...
"Are we lost?" whimpers Foxpaw.
"No," I meow, much more confidently then I feel. I pad forward, in a random direction. "The light was coming from mostly this way before because the moon was sinking," I recall, gibbering, "So the way out must be this way."
Goosepaw nods and follows, Foxpaw trotting after fearfully. We walk for what seems like forever. I stop, panting. Goosepaw flops on the ground.
"We're lost," he meows in between gasps, "Hopelessly, utterly, terribly-"
"Where's Foxpaw?" I meow, suddenly afraid.
"Wasn't she behind you?" he looks up, eyes wide.
"No! I thought she was with you!"
And then we're up, calling for Foxpaw, but apart of me knows she will never call back.
The Forest has taken her.
And it has taken us too.
"Fox-dung, fox-dung, fox-dung..." Goosepaw's eyes are wide with terror. I don't blame him, I'm pretty scared myself. And it's not his fault he's here. I basically led him here. Him and Foxpaw.
"Shush, I'm trying to scent for her!" I hiss. I know it's not fair, taking my anger out on him, but I can't help it.
Goosepaw falls obediently quiet and I return to my fruitless task. After a few moments, Goosepaw meows, "It's been almost an hour Lilypaw. I don't think she's coming."
I sink to my paws, "This is all my fault.."
"Nu-uh!" Goosepaw's shakes his head madly, "I persuaded her to follow you with me. We wanted to make sure you didn't come here but when I tackled you...." he whimpers, "It was an accident."
"It's not your fault..." I wrap my tail around him, trying to give him comfort. I can feel him shaking but I don't know what else to do.
"Maybe the other cats are nearby," I meow hopefully, "Maybe they have a Clan and know a way out...I mean, some of them have been here for a while."
"Maybe," he meows doubtfully. But he stops quaking and I sigh in relief.
I stand again, Goosepaw rising with me. I pace our small clearing. I can smell squirrels and I can hear the steady flow of a stream. So we can survive. But where will we go? Are there other animals like badgers and foxes? Where are the other cats? Are they even here?
Where is Foxpaw?
The questions overwhelm me and I sit again, taking a deep breath before bounding to the edge of the clearing.
"Lights!" I yelp.
"What?" Goosepaw meows, coming up beside me, "I don't see anything."
"There's a little light!" I meow in excitement, "Right over..." I trail off, seeing his bemused, confused, and worried expression.
"Maybe the shock is making you feel funny," he meows slowly, "I've heard of that. Goldfur told me-"
"I think we should follow it," I meow, making a split-second decision.
Goosepaw eyes me wearily, weighing the hopelessness of this to his trust in me. The trust wins and he nods.
"Okay, fine," he sighs, "Let's follow the crazy light that may or may not be there."
It's been a few minutes and we haven't arrived anywhere yet. But the light keeps moving forward, and, reluctantly, so do I.
"It's been forever!" Goosepaw meows, not really complaining. He knows as well as I do that this could be our only chance.
"Yeah," I meow, "But we've been seeing new forest, not the same things over and over again. We're on a path, not walking in circles. And the light hasn't gone away."
"I'll take your word for it," Goosepaw mutters. We continue our trek.
I try to soak up as much of the Forest as I can and my brain, which usually blocks out fighting moves and hunting techniques, suddenly opens, letting me memorize every twist and turn and sound and tree. Maybe I am Marked. But right now I don't care much because it seems to be keeping us alive.
Suddenly I am aware that Goosepaw has vanished. I turn, crying, "Goosepaw!? Goosepaw?!"
"Yeah?" he appears behind me, dragging a rabbit. "I was hunting."
"Never do that again!" I yell, "Do you want to be lost like Foxpaw? Do you want to die out here?"
I crumple to the ground, the enormity of the situation hitting me. I could've lost Goosepaw. I could've lost both of them.
Goosepaw wraps his tail around me, "I'm sorry," he whispers, "I'm so so sorry."
It takes a while for me to cry myself out until I realize that we may have lost the light. I jump up, spinning around in terror and-
There it is.
I breath out a sigh of relief. Then realize that Goosepaw is gone again. I spin, "Goosepaw!? This isn't funny!!!"
"No," a weight hits me out of nowhere, from up a tree. "It isn't."