First things first, guys I really want to say I'm sorry for the delay in posting this chapter. I've gotten caught up in a bunch of life stuff recently and yeah it's exciting to have things to do, but also it's completely dried up my motivation for writing. The only reason I really was able to finish this chapter is because I had most of it written already, except for a tiny part at the end, which it's taken me about three weeks to write and then finally get back to editing the entire chapter with Leafy's help (as always).

I'm really sorry to have to say this, but I don't think I'll be able to post anything for the next little while. I don't know when I'll get back into the swing of writing, unfortunately. I just want to say thank you to all of you for all your support of my writing and, indirectly, me. It's really meant so much and it's why I've kept writing since I was about twelve or so and posted my first ever fanfiction. Thank you all so so much and I really hope I can start up with writing again soon.


The light slowly strengthened in the cavern as the sun began its slow journey skyward, but I barely noticed. I remained where I'd fallen, huddled in a corner, my unfocused eyes fixed on the stony ground. My mind felt numb, blank. It was as though Felix had stolen away a piece of me when he went to join the Yaksha Tribe. It just felt impossible to comprehend that he was gone.

Out in the cavern, the snow had been cleared away, providing an open space for Felix to lie directly in the center. I couldn't see his tiny body now, not with his family clustered around him. Cephas and Avalon, of course hadn't left their son's side since Kahuna had brought him back. Fable and Lumi crouched beside them, their expressions filled with a mixture of confusion and grief, uncertainty and hollowness. They kept glancing up at their parents as though seeking reassurance, though I doubted they found any. Cephas, at least, had finally completely fallen apart.

A few tail-length away from the grieving family sat Peter and Simon. Both toms had given up their usual facades and now cast tender, sorrowful looks in their brother's direction. I wondered if they felt how I did; utterly broken, but sensing my presence might be unwelcome. This was a time for Felix's family to come to terms with their pain, not friends and extended family. Not yet.

Hearing pawsteps somewhere across the cavern, I twitched my ears but didn't look up. It was probably Saffron or someone, going out to hunt. It felt wrong, somehow, that life kept going on, that we would be hungry soon, that we'd need to eat and sleep and move on with life. I didn't like the idea of moving on, not without a little ball of white fluff dashing out of the nursing tunnel to greet me every morning. It didn't feel right for Felix to remain stuck in the past while the future moved on without him.

"Cats of the Avanti Tribe," a voice called. After a moment, my dulled brain recognized it to be Kahuna's. Perhaps it'd be smart to look up after all. But somehow, I couldn't summon the strength or the willpower, so my head remained bowed toward the ground.

"We have suffered a great loss this day," Kahuna continued, sweeping her long tail around her body. "I, like every other Avanti, feel the loss of this young soul most keenly in our time of trouble." She paused for a moment, gazing around the cavern. "For it is because of this trouble that Felix's life was lost."

A slight murmur traveled around the camp's edges. I pricked my ears, listening a little closer.

"It is with… great sorrow… that I must identify this kit's killer." Kahuna took a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh. "It was my—my murderous brother, Nova. Nova is responsible for Felix's death."

I couldn't stop a small gasp from escaping my lips. Somehow, I suddenly found myself staring up at the guru, open-mouthed. From the rather noisier disturbance around me, I knew the rest of the tribe must have reacted in much the same way.

"I couldn't believe it either, at first." Kahuna grimaced, bowing her head. "I found him lying at the bottom of a cliff and thought that, in all the darkness and snow, he'd accidentally slipped off. But when I picked him up to take him back to his family…" She shook her head hopelessly. "I found the merest trace of Nova's scent upon his fur. Though I did not want to believe it, I felt I had no choice. How else could that scent have gotten there?"

No… not Nova. Nova wouldn't… Already I felt the denial rising in my mind. But… but what if? What if he had? I hadn't known him all that long before I came here; he could easily have just put up a mask of sorts. Now that I really thought about it, I'd only joined the Rebellion because Moki had, because Moki had believed it was in the right, because her brother had believed it was in the right. So many cats had joined; they couldn't all be wrong, could they? But… what if they were? What if it really was all a lie? What if Nova wasn't the noble leader I'd thought he was after all?

All around, cats were muttering to each other, their expressions hardening into anger, into hatred. I spotted Saffron whispering fiercely to Theola, who nodded every few heartbeats or so. Peter nudged Simon, reaching over to speak into his ear. Emil looked up at Kahuna, his eyes narrowed and his claws kneading at the ground. Even Cephas had looked up, eyes bloodshot from tears and exhaustion, staring wordlessly at his guru.

"Fellow Avanti," Kahuna called over the rising level of noise, "Would you allow a kit-murderer to reign on this mountain? Would you let him trick your former tribemates into blindly following his bloodstained path? Are you going to let this atrocity go unchallenged?"

"No!" Peter replied, his tail beginning to lash.

"Never!" echoed Saffron, her ears flat against her head.

Kahuna dipped her head, closing her eyes momentarily. "You do me proud," she meowed, her voice returning to its previous softness. With her change in volume, the rest of the cavern quieted, too. "We will devote this day to grieving the innocent kit, Felix, whose life was stolen from him last night. But tomorrow…" her eyes flashed, and I could've sworn her gaze paused on Simon, "tomorrow we will begin planning our revenge. Nova will soon regret his actions."

Her speech finished, the guru leaped off her rock and padded into her tunnel with a flick of her tail. Almost immediately, Peter got up to follow her.

Instead of following him, though, my eyes remained fixed on Simon, who was left alone a few paces away from Cephas and Avalon. If Nova really was lying, should I tell him my true identity? Would he tell Kahuna; would I be punished for my crime? But no, if I voluntarily acknowledged I was wrong… they surely wouldn't start keeping me prisoner. Would they?

Perhaps it'd be best to discuss it with Phantom beforehand. Glancing around, my eyes raking through the familiar faces, I caught a glimpse of his figure before he vanished into one of the larger tunnels on the side opposite the prey-pile. That'd probably be the main sleeping den, then. Maybe he was going to get a bit of rest. It was probably smart of him—he hadn't gotten much if any sleep last night, and there was the half moon tonight.

The half moon! My stomach twisted at the thought. I was supposed to go tonight and tell Nova about Simon trying to steal the Rebellion's plans. After Kahuna's speech, though… I wasn't so sure if I really should. If Nova was the wrong side, then telling him would completely derail any chance Kahuna would have of winning this battle.

Ugh. I let my chin fall back onto my paws. Why did I have to be stuck in the middle like this? Why couldn't someone just tell me what the truth was? It was so much harder to figure it out on my own. I just wanted to know what was right. Was that really too much to ask?

"Rae!" A soft voice called across the cavern and I pricked up my ears once again. It was Avalon. The sides of her face were streaked with dampness and, like her mate, her eyes looked bloodshot, her eyelids drooping with exhaustion.

"Wh…" My voice came out as a soft, raspy warble and I had to clear my throat. "What is it?"

"Come join us. Felix…" She swallowed hard. "He—he'd want you here too."

I dipped my head and, using what seemed to be an excessive amount of energy, pushed myself to my paws and stumbled across the cavern. It seemed my paws were numb, either from the cold or from lying on them for so long. Honestly, though, I didn't really care to figure out which it was.

As I crouched down beside Avalon, she wrapped her plumy tail around my body. Almost unconsciously, I relaxed into her embrace, pressing myself into her thick, warm fur. I shut my eyes, welcoming the sensation of being held. When, at long last, I blinked my eyes open again, I felt marginally stronger. Gathering up every last piece of courage I could muster, I gazed down at Felix's body.

Almost at once, I felt tears welling up at the corners of my eyes again. His little body lay curled on the ground, carefully arranged to cover his injuries. His fur appeared to have a slightly shimmery coating, as though the lingering ice crystals from the snow still refused to melt. That must mean his natural body heat was long gone, I realized. Sure enough, when I reached out to brush my muzzle against his pelt, it felt like nothing more than frozen grass against my skin. I choked back another sob.

But there seemed to be something off about him, even considering his complete stillness—something not quite right. I brushed my nose over his flank again, wondering what it could be. Was it the odd angle of his legs? No, those were safely tucked under his body. Was there some dried blood still on his fur? No, it was as white and soft as it always was. What, then?

As I inhaled deeply, wondering if Saffron's hurried treatments had stolen his scent, an idea suddenly occurred to me. In Kahuna's speech, she'd mentioned smelling a hint of Nova on his pelt. Now, however, even though I could smell Felix and Kahuna perfectly, I couldn't catch even a whiff of the Rebellion leader.

My heart leaped jerkily at the thought. Was it possible—had Kahuna been lying? Had she made up Nova's scent entirely for the sake of blaming Felix's death on him?

But no, that would be much too hard a detail to overlook. Surely if Kahuna was, in fact, lying, she wouldn't dare make up something like Nova's scent. Anyone with a nose would be able to see through it, then.

But then why hadn't anyone else called her out on it? Maybe there really was Nova's scent on Felix, and I was just missing it? Inhaling again, though trying to keep my breaths quiet in order to avoid rousing Avalon's suspicion, I passed my muzzle over Felix's curled form one more time. My search yielded nothing, however, and I was forced to slump back into a crouch, confusion fogging my mind. Was it possible Kahuna had just completely made up the lie, trusting her tribe's grief to let them overlook or even imagine Nova's scent there?

Or perhaps Kahuna's scent had merely covered over Nova's. Kahuna had only mentioned smelling the scent after she'd picked up Felix. Maybe her breath and her muzzle's fur had rubbed over any trace of Nova, so that now I couldn't smell a thing.

Yaksha, I don't know what to believe! I sank my muzzle onto my paws, heaving a deep sigh. And, of course, I had to decide who to follow by tonight, when the half moon would rise and Nova would come to meet with Phantom. If I went, I could tell Nova about Simon's attempts to steal his plans. If I stayed here, Simon would probably succeed in coaxing their battle plans out of his Rebellion friend.

My decision today would probably affect the outcome of this entire war, possibly even decide it. Obviously, I wanted the right side to win. The only thing was… which side was right? Which side was telling the truth?

I hate being a spy. This is too much pressure, too much stress. Why does all this have to fall on me? Why can't I just heal properly and go back to Rowanpaw?

Perhaps I could just ask Phantom about it. He had more experience being a spy, after all, even if only by a couple moons. When compared with my measly half moon, Phantom was practically an expert. Of course, there was that whole him-not-talking-to-me thing. Yes, he'd been civil with me last night, and had even carried on a sort of regular conversation, though that could also have just been due to the shock of finding Emil missing. I had tried to talk to him before about Simon stealing the Rebellion's plans, and he'd just brushed me off like a speck of gravel on his pelt. I didn't want to repeat that humiliation. And, of course, I probably didn't need help anyway. I could deal with this on my own.

Couldn't I?

My eyes found the tunnel leading to the Avanti cave, its mouth darkened by shadows. I couldn't see anything about a tail-length inside it, much less anything all the way down into the cave itself, where Phantom no doubt slept, exhausted from last night's events, preparing for his trip to the border tonight. He knew where his loyalties lay. He was so certain Nova's side of the story was, in fact, the truth.

I should probably trust his judgement, shouldn't I? After all, he was the only cat I knew of who kept his allegiance despite living full-time in a tribe based entirely on an opposing opinion. If he was so sure of Nova's truth, shouldn't I feel the same? There must be some solid reason why he hadn't turned tail on the Rebellion, right?

Perhaps I could go down to the border tonight and see how Nova acted. If I mentioned Felix, would he respond at all? Maybe his body would give him away with the twitch of a tail or an ear. If I watched carefully, even in the darkness of the night, maybe I could figure out who was really responsible for this… this… this loss.

A smaller figure crept up from behind, pressing itself into my fur. Glancing down, I recognized the long, white fur as belonging to Lumi. Clenching my tongue between my teeth, I leaned down and gave her a nuzzle.

What was I thinking? I shouldn't be planning my night right now, not so soon after Kahuna had returned. Lumi, Avalon, Cephas, Fable—they all needed my support now more than ever while they grieved for the little kit before us.

Wrapping my tail around Lumi much like Avalon had done to me, I drew her closer and lay my head on my paws, pressing my cheek against her fur. Letting out a hiccupping breath, she leaned into me and grew silent.

Across our little circle, Peter padded hesitantly forward to join Cephas. He and I shared a glance, and, though I wasn't all that fond of him, a sort of agreement passed between us. It was our job to support this shrunken family now. We were here to help them through their vigil today.


I stayed as long as I could before leaving the family. Though I probably should've stayed longer, the sky was quickly darkening and I knew I'd most likely have some trouble finding the meeting place again. After all, the last time I'd been there was a whole half moon ago, and I'd approached it from the other side.

I forced myself to smother my doubts. How hard could it be, after all? Phantom went there two or three times every single moon!

Saffron sat guard tonight, her tail wrapped tightly around her paws to ward off the chill. She cast me an inquisitive glance as I slipped past her, and I muttered, "Going for a walk." Though it sent a sharp claw deep into my chest to use Fe… to use him as an excuse, the blue-cream tortoiseshell's sympathetic, understanding expression gave me the confidence she wouldn't try to follow.

I'm sorry, Felix. I'll make it up to you, I promise. But this is important; surely you can understand that.

I padded farther into the dark, snow-covered forest, shivering as a chilly breeze whispered its way through the leafless branches overhead. Yet again, I wished my pelt was thicker or longer or both, to help insulate my body from the Frozen-Time cold. At least I blended in with the snow, I supposed, glancing over my shoulder to make sure I'd passed out of Saffron's sight. Though I wasn't entirely sure where I was headed, it would probably be best if she didn't see which path I took.

Well, the meeting-place was probably somewhere near the border, right? As long as I headed down the mountain, I'd probably run into Rebellion scents sooner or later. Then it'd be a straight shot around the slope until I found the place. It wouldn't be too far away, surely, or else the Avanti would notice Phantom's absence every half moon. He'd have to be out and in again in about the same amount of time as it'd take to make dirt. And if it wasn't too far away, there was virtually no way I'd end up missing it.

With a bubble of confidence slowly rising within me, I set off again, aiming my steps down the steepest path I could find, stumbling through the snow by the light of only a few scattered stars (the clouds from yesterday had apparently not yet vanished, blocking the light from the half-moon).

As I skidded down slope after slope, spraying snow everywhere with each movement, I realized I was leaving an incredibly easy path to follow straight toward the Rebellion. My stomach turned over and I glanced back up the trail, wondering if there was some way to cover my tracks. Unfortunately, though, they appeared to be too deep and too wide to merely scrape some snow back over again. If I continued like this, I'd just lead the Avanti directly to the meeting-place, thus giving away both myself and Phantom. That certainly wouldn't be good. Then, Phantom would actually have a legitimate reason for refusing to acknowledge my status as a spy. No spy in their right mind would give themselves away so blatantly, after all.

Well, what could I do instead, then? I cast my gaze around, looking from the grayish trees to the shriveled foliage to the open space of my path. Perhaps I could crawl under the bushes like I did with the kits? Except… no, that wouldn't work; they were much too spaced apart. I'd have to leap about ten tail-lengths into the air to make it from one to the next, and, unfortunately, I did not happen to have that skill.

Maybe instead I could climb the trees? My eyes flicked upward, eying the bare branches. Each one was covered in a layer of snow, mounded precisely so that if I stepped on them, it would immediately crumble off. Even if my tracker didn't notice the extra snow on the ground, they'd probably immediately see the clear branches and follow those as easily as a ground trail.

Ugh! I spun in a circle, my eyes flickering from shape to shape, trying desperately to think up another method of traveling through the snow undetected. Unfortunately, though, my search yielded nothing. Biting down on my tongue, I blinked hard, fighting back a resurgence of the tears that had lingered just under the surface ever since I'd found out about Felix. Stupid, stupid snow! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!

I stomped a paw into the fluffy layer, sinking it all the way to the frozen ground. It didn't do much to affect the snow, instead just letting it cling all the more to my fur. Shaking off my foot with a growl, I swiped my claws through a drift, scattering snowflakes everywhere. Only, that did virtually nothing, either.

Fighting hard to contain a frustrated yowl surely loud enough to wake the entire mountain, I sprang into action. My paws became mindless blurs of motion as they slashed, stomped, pounded, scraped, and pummeled the icy snow. I rolled and romped around the path, lunging at drifts and trying to force them into submission. I even tried to use my tail, though it was nowhere near strong enough to help.

"Rae?"

A soft voice cut through my fervor. I skidded to a halt, panting, staring around for its source. It took me a moment to find it, but I eventually spotted Phantom (of course) slinking out from behind the shadow of a large tree. He blinked at the snow clumping around my paws, astonishment and confusion battling for superiority in his expression.

I glanced around, wondering what exactly he was looking at. Shock pulsed through my body as I realized I'd just about cleared an entire section of snow from the path. Had I really just managed to do that?

Phantom paced cautiously forward. "What are you doing out here? What… what are you doing out here?"

"Um." My frustration had begun to ebb away. In its absence, I realized I couldn't quite summon up a good reason for my actions. "I wanted to, er, find a way of not making tracks in the snow."

"Well, I hate to break it to you, but… I don't believe you've exactly accomplished that."

I ducked my head, the warmth of embarrassment spreading under my fur. At least it warded off the chilled air; I only hoped Phantom couldn't see the flush through my pale fur.

"But, Rae," Phantom continued, his confusion lingering in the tilt of his eyebrows, "you didn't answer my first question. What are you doing out here? I mean, well…" He trailed off, looking away.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing."

Well, now he'd gone and piqued my curiosity. He couldn't just stop now and expect me to forget about it. "What?"

"Nothing."

"Come on!" Phantom didn't reply. I paused for a moment, gathering my thoughts, then meowed, "Okay. You answer my question and I'll answer yours."

For a moment, I thought he'd refuse again. He certainly kept me hanging for several long moments, silent and motionless as a shadow amongst the snow. Then:

"Fine." Phantom's voice sounded more like an exhale than true speech. "Only, I asked my question first. You go."

I blinked, a counterargument rising within me. But then again, if I didn't answer Phantom, it was probably virtually impossible he'd answer mine. "Okay, then. I… well, I came out here to, er, go to the, the half-moon meeting." Halfway through my reply, I realized Phantom would almost certainly disapprove of my choice of action. Rubbing one forepaw nervously against the other, I waited uncertainly for his reaction.

He didn't move at once. I had to remind myself it was probably just his way, concealing his thoughts and emotions and such; he'd probably built it up during his time as a spy.

"Oh. I see."

I noticed that he still hadn't moved. Was he angry? Frustrated? Resigned? Impressed? I had no idea.

"A deal's a deal," I tried, wrapping my tail close to my side nervously. "You answer my question now. What were you thinking I was out here for?"

Phantom didn't even acknowledge that I'd spoken, instead letting the silence drag on horribly. My tail grew progressively tighter around my hind leg until I felt a tiny jolt of pain around the site of my fracture. Even if Phantom was giving me the silent treatment again, I couldn't let myself worsen my still-healing injuries again.

"Why would you think it's necessary for you to join me at this meeting?" Phantom finally said, his voice reminiscent of the Frozen-Time sky—cold and distant.

"Er, well—" I began, but forced myself to stop. I had no reason to act like a kit caught misbehaving. I had every right to go and give a report to Nova, too. We were both spies, at the same rank and about the same age. He shouldn't have the ability to lord that over me. Tilting my chin up, I shot him a glare. "Why wouldn't I?" I replied icily. "After all, you refused to listen when I relayed my findings to you. If you won't listen, perhaps Nova will."

"What findings? I never heard any findings."

"Oh, yes you did! Remember—" even amidst my rising anger, I reminded myself to lower my voice, "—remember when I told you about Simon trying to steal the Rebellion's battle plans? You did nothing, nothing, to reassure me you'd relay those tonight. I felt my only choice was to give Nova that information myself."

Phantom stared at me for a heartbeat, snow-heavy clouds gathering behind his eyes. He opened his mouth to retort, but his voice froze in his throat as his ear swiveled around, back up the path I'd come.

After straining my own ears, I heard it too—heavy footsteps crunching through snow. Someone had found my trail and was apparently following it. Did they know our secret? Were they going to reveal us to Kahuna?

My heart pounding loudly in my ears, drowning out the sound of pawsteps, I stared open-mouthed at Phantom, whose anger had melted away. He looked petrified.

Mismatched ideas whirled around and around inside my mind like a windstorm. Could we make a run for it? But no, our follower would see our trails, or at least my trail, and keep following us. What if we hid somewhere, like behind Phantom's tree? Again, no, that wouldn't work; after seeing the path end, whoever it was would search around the area to find us. Perhaps if…?

A plan crashed into sudden existence. "Phantom," I hissed, "you go on ahead. Go meet Nova. I'll lead them away."

If it was even possible, I thought I saw his eyes stretch even wider. After a heartbeat of consideration, he gave me a brief nod and darted past me, leaping lightly into the snow. I shot a quick glance over my shoulder to see him twist his paws into a shape reminiscent of a squirrel's print, his tail sweeping over the ground behind him, before I darted in an entirely different direction, sliding down a short slope before darting along a flatter ridge, kicking up as much snow as I could in the process.

I could only hope Phantom's and my pursuer decided to follow me instead of the squirrel.

As I rounded a close stand of rowan trees, I skidded to a halt, my shoulder throbbing gently and my sides panting from the exertion. Straining my ears, trying to peer through the thick growth of trunks, I fruitlessly attempted to slow my breathing. Had they followed me? Or had they gone after Phantom?

Seconds passed, each a flurry of nervous heartbeats. As the silence grew, so did my nerves, building up inside me like a heap of prey. It was dumb, I now realized, for Phantom to imitate a squirrel. Any sane Avanti would obviously go after the food. After all, it was Frozen-Time, when all the prey either died of cold or burrowed deep underground, too far away for us to reach. Especially after the past day, since half the tribe had been… well, otherwise occupied. No one had really felt much like hunting.

After a moment, I forced my thoughts aside. Our follower must have gone after Phantom. Maybe if I moved fast I could catch them and… divert their attention somehow. I had to keep them away from Phantom while he met with Nova.

I'd taken about two steps back along my path when I caught a glimpse of movement up ahead. Heart suddenly beating faster than a bird's wings, I pressed myself back against a tree.

Whoever it was must've decided to follow me after all. As soon as they rounded the clump of trees, they'd catch me.

I had to move. Now.

It felt almost the same as before, when I'd trampled the snow. My paws appeared to take on minds of their own as they sent me surging forward. Leaning from side to side as I wound through the trees, dodging low-hanging branches and lifting my knees to avoid exposed roots, I flashed through the copse. I didn't dare slow enough to glance over my shoulder; a moment of blindness could send me hurtling straight into a tree. The pain in my shoulder and tail had vanished.

My wide pupils focused on what appeared to be a clearing up ahead. Instinctively, I aimed for it, only realizing as I burst out of the rowan trees that if I could see better, so could my pursuer. I had to lead whoever it was as far away as possible from Phantom. And if they never realized my identity, maybe that'd be best. That way I wouldn't have to think up a good cover story for being out in the forest this late.

In the darkness, I almost didn't see the faint glimmer of starlight on ice. As it was, I just barely stopped in time, sending pawfuls of snow tumbling down the short slope.

I'd hit the stream.

Breathing heavily, every exhale sending a cloud of pale vapor into the air, I quickly scanned my new surroundings. I realized instantly it didn't look good; the stream itself was much too wide across to jump and, though it was covered with a layer of ice, I didn't think I'd trust it with my weight. It curved around me in a wide arc, extending on either side back into the dense stand of mountain ash trees.

The only way forward seemed to be backward, but of course that was where my follower was—and, judging from the faintly crunching pawsteps, they were coming closer.

Perhaps if I squeezed around along the stream? If I hid behind a thick enough tree, I might be able to backtrack long enough to return to my original path and head back to the cavern. Trying now to quieten my breathing, I began trotting along the bank, my eyes fixed on my destination.

"Rae!"

I stopped dead, as frozen as the stream except for my foggy exhales. Squirrel tails, I cursed mentally.

Pawsteps again. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a cream-colored figure padding toward me. Caspian?

"There you are," he meowed, smiling gently. "I… well, I saw you leave. I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"W-what?" I blinked at him.

"Well, I thought maybe… what with, well, you know." He trailed off, his smile fading.

"Oh."

Silence fell. Caspian shuffled his paws a little, then murmured, "Yeah. Only—" He cut himself off.

"What?"

"Uh, well," he hesitated again. "I, um, couldn't help but notice you seemed… well, rather purposeful. Like you were going somewhere."

My heart began to pound again. If I'd guessed right as to where he was headed… this was not good. Not good at all.

"Except, Rae, I didn't think that was true. Because if I were to guess, I'd have to say I thought you were going to the Rebellion."

He paused again. I tried to keep my body completely still, like I was a tree or a rock. An innocent tree or an innocent rock.

"…but you weren't… were you? I mean, that'd mean you were, I dunno, a spy or something."

I had to say something. I had to. Or else Caspian would think I was, in fact, a spy. I just couldn't say the wrong thing either.

"I, uh, I—I was just, just going for a walk," I stammered. "Um, to—clear my head."

"Mmm."

Oh no. He didn't sound convinced. I'd said something wrong. "Uh, what are, what are you doing? Out here, I mean? In the cold?" I glanced vaguely around. "It's, um, kinda dark for a walk."

"I came looking for you, as I just said." Was it my imagination or had one of Caspian's eyebrows inched upward a little? "After all, it isn't exactly the optimal time for a walk. As you just said."

Great Yaksha. This was not going well. Not at all. I couldn't stop my eyes from wandering to either side of Cephas, searching for an exit. I doubted he'd let me slip past him, though, not when I hadn't properly answered his question yet. I opened my mouth again, but couldn't find anything to say.

A crease appeared between Caspian's eyebrows. "Rae? Is… is there something you're not telling me?" He spoke softly, his voice almost drowned out by the wind-rustled branches overhead. "Is there something I should know about?"

I can't tell him. I can't tell him I'm a spy. He's a member of the Avanti. He stayed here because he believed Kahuna. He stayed even though most of his tribe followed Nova… including his family… All of a sudden, the spark of an idea appeared amidst the darkness of my mind.

"Okay. Okay, fine. You're right." I hung my head, grimacing at my numb paws. "I… I was going toward the Rebellion."

I heard Caspian inhale sharply, though he tried to muffle it. He remained as silent as the snow, wordlessly encouraging me to continue.

"But—but it's not what you think. I'm not a… a traitor. It's just…" I nibbled at my lip, lifting my chin to be sure Caspian would see. "Well, what I mean to say is… I just wanted to see my brother again."

Confusion settled on Caspian's face like a snowflake upon his nose. "Phantom?"

"What? Oh—no. Not Phantom. My… my real brother."

"Phantom isn't your brother?" Caspian took a step forward, leaning down to stare into my eyes. I had to look away from the intensity of his gaze. It was like trying to look into the eyes of a car.

"No," I shook my head. "I met him… before I arrived at the Avanti Tribe. I needed treatment and he agreed to help me." Yaksha, why was I telling him this much? I'd only wanted to mention Rowanpaw, not dive into my entire backstory!

His face darkened. "So you've been lying to the tribe all this time."

"What? No! I mean—" I floundered for words. "I—I mean, um, I, I didn't want to. But…" Bring it back to Rowanpaw. "But I didn't think the tribe would accept me if they knew I had a brother in the Rebellion."

Caspian blinked. "Your brother… is in the Rebellion."

I nodded. "His name's Rowanpaw. He wanted to come with me, but… well," I hesitated, unwilling to mention Nova's name. Caspian had already looked about ready to kick me out of the tribe once tonight. "Uh, it probably wouldn't have been best to give Phantom two siblings to watch out for. He's already got his paws full with me."

Caspian remained silent for a moment. I noticed his eyes looked a little unfocused and had drifted sideways a hair, staring not at me but at the shadowy forest behind me.

"I, um. I saw your sisters there. And your parents. When I first arrived, I mean." I hesitated, trying to discern any change of Caspian's features, but found none. "Lukan dressed my wounds before I came to see Cephas."

My heart sank as, still, Caspian didn't react. That, after all, had been my idea—to tell him about Rowanpaw and remind him of his family. We both had family in the Rebellion. I'd thought maybe he'd relate and forgive me for trying to reach the Rebellion. If that didn't work I didn't know what else to try.

"I see."

I had to prick my ears to hear over the wind; he'd spoken so softly. For a couple heartbeats, I teetered on the brink of replying, but in the end figured it might be better to just let him elaborate.

It took him several drawn-out moments to continue. By the time he finally opened his mouth once again, I'd started shivering. "So what you're telling me… is you lied to the Avanti Tribe to be healed."

My stomach turned over. "No! I—I mean," I hastily backtracked, "um, I didn't want to. B—but I thought… well, I thought the Avanti wouldn't take kindly to my having a brother amongst their enemies."

"They accepted me," Caspian pointed out. "They trust me."

"I didn't know you back then. And, uh, also, you were raised here, weren't you?" I paused, waiting for his confirmation, but none came. "So, uh, they'd be more likely to trust you since they knew you. I was a complete stranger."

Caspian grimaced. It might have just been me, but I thought I saw a glimmer of focus returning to his pupils. "I don't like that you lied," he muttered gruffly. "It's wrong to tell a lie. You should know that. They have a habit of hurting others. But…"

My eyes widened in the silence, though I tried to keep my overall body language neutral.

Caspian sighed. "But you do have a point. And… and it can be tough to leave siblings behind. I know."

"I think about him at least once a day," I confessed, watching his expression closely from under my eyelids.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah." He paused, then continued, "Sometimes I'll be reminded of Ceranna or Calyx. Something someone says or a little twitch of their ear."

"Rowanpaw and I used to be inseparable. I guess that just makes it harder to believe I haven't seen him in an entire half moon."

"Us, too. Ceranna and I used to take these long walks around the mountain. Calyx used to tease me nonstop about how much worse I was at stealth than she."

As Caspian's voice trailed off again, a strong gust of wind rattled the tree branches overhead, flattening the fur along our flanks. I shuddered again from the sudden blast of cold, crouching instinctively to conserve my remaining reservoirs of heat.

Caspian blinked, his eyes widening. "It's so cold out. Let's get back to the cavern, okay?"

I nodded as he padded around to my side, nosing me to my feet again. We leaned against each other as we started back up the mountain.

"Caspian?" I murmured through numb lips.

"Mm?"

"Are you… are you going to tell anyone about Rowanpaw?"

His slight hesitation sent a swarm of butterflies flooding through my ribcage. "No. I don't think I should give them any reason to doubt your loyalty. After all, just having a sibling in the Rebellion doesn't mean you're about to turn traitor."

Though his words partially eased my knotted stomach, I couldn't completely shake off the lingering sensation of unease. After all, I was intending to betray the tribe. Once I learned their plans, I could help Nova win the war.

At least, that's what I had assumed before I started this whole spy thing. Now, though, I wasn't sure what I should do. I groaned under my breath; why did everything suddenly have to be so complicated?