It had been nearly half a moon since Sparkfrost had taken his leave from ThunderClan. Dacepaw's understanding of the passage of time was still limited by age and experience, but the significance of the length of his absence wasn't lost on the she-cat. She had told Beartooth and Oakstar the day after Sparkfrost left, but neither of them had seemed particularly surprised to discover that he had left. Her explanation was met with odd responses she didn't understand - awkward shuffling and dark concern and uncomfortable pausing and uneasy nodding and acceptance of her confession. It didn't occur to her that she might not know the truth, or that they might know something she didn't. If they knew anything of his great journey, they said nothing. Perhaps only she had been trusted with that knowledge. She had know way of knowing she'd simply been given a lie.
The days continued on even when Sparkfrost was gone. Dacepaw still had no mentor; perhaps some part of her knew that things relating to her were still uncertain - that Oakstar was still waiting for something. Though Dacepaw couldn't imagine why she hadn't received a ceremony yet, it didn't slow her down. She continued to brightly follow Houndpaw around during the days he was available and to play with Duskkit or help out with the elders or queens when the older apprentice was away. That part of life in ThunderClan was something familiar; she had cleaned dens and pulled ticks and cracked fleas in her few days as an apprentice in RiverClan. But outside of camp...
Fresh scars adorned both of Dacepaw's cheeks, reminders of the first battle encounter she'd ever had. A strong and skilled warrior named Dawngaze had been there to help keep Dacepaw from being hurt even worse, but it hadn't prevented the encounter. It was terrifying. She had been hesitant to exit the camp since then, opting to spend more time tidying up or doing menial labor than going out for border patrols or hunting lessons. Dacepaw didn't know that such a thing could have happened to any cat, anywhere; all that mattered was that Sparkfrost had left, and the unfamiliar forest seemed now almost hostile. Only camp was safe now, and even that felt empty of meaning.
The greatest appeal of the forest came from the direction of the sound of roaring water. RiverClan. Dacepaw's birthplace - her birth Clan. Her mother Dappleshine was there; her grandfather, Scorchclaw, too; Magpiepaw, her friend; Uncleberrycloud and Auntivybrook, whose names Dacepaw had never been corrected about; Wasppaw, Minkpaw... The small tortoiseshell's heart often ached to see them or simply to return. Was it possible, though? Her mind swarmed with her father's last words to her; his last wishes. "My wish for you, Dacepaw, is that you find what you're looking for. . . that you find everything you could have ever wanted in life. I hope that ThunderClan can play a part in providing that for you."
The last words kept her frozen in the strange Clan. Here Dacepaw had only Houndpaw and Duskkit. Mossbloom had seemed pleasant enough when helping her take care of her raccoon scratches, but the she-cat was older and wiser than the former RiverClan cat could understand. What if ThunderClan couldn't help Dacepaw be happy? But what if she just thought they couldn't help her? It was overwhelming, and so the apprentice flitted about in indecision, trying to keep herself distracted with kit-play and busy work.
The moon hung in the air, looming over camp and washing over it with silver light that dulled the landscape. The moon was nearly full; the Gathering would be soon. Would Dacepaw be allowed to attend? She'd never been to a Gathering before. She wondered if she could ask Houndpaw, but as she rolled over in her nest she heard his deep, slow breathing beside her. She stopped on her back with her paws dangling against her chest, turning her head to look at her sleeping friend. Well... maybe she would still remember in the morning when he was awake. She stayed on her back, staring at the ceiling of the den for several long moments filled with the quiet of sleeping apprentices and the night forest. She supposed she'd find out at the full moon.
Dacepaw took a long, slow breath, and then she began to murmur under her breath, "Houndpaw..." I accidentally woke him up when I was stretching this morning. He must've been really busy today; I couldn't find him anywhere. But he was there now. "Duskkit..." We played mossball for a while, and then some tag. "Bonewatcher..." He came and watched us play for a while. He's Duskkit and Hazelkit's dad's brother, like Uncleberrycloud is to Sparkfrost. That thought pained her. She continued her list softly with deep breaths in and out. She flicked through all their names and faces in her head over and over as she went on. Had she left anyone out? The thought made her stomach knot.
When her names were spoken, the little she-cat closed her eyes and sighed, murmuring the final name that was part of every night's prayer. "Sparkfrost." I love you daddy. I'm trying to find what I'm looking for, but I wish I could find you. I'm still doing my best. Sleep drifted over Dacepaw at last, settling her into dreams of leaves rippling like the river.