Chapter 12: Sunstorm
Sunstorm and Redfur looked for the cat. She'd heard him, she just couldn't see him. He was hidden here, somewhere in the darkness. She peered beneath the thick undergrowth and then hesitantly gazed upward into the leaves. Nope, not there either. The shadows moved near a tree where thick vines curled over in something like a den. A cat sat in the dip near the roots, his fur dark and hard to see except when he moved and the lights on her fur highlighted him. White jutting teeth held her attention. These incisors jutted down to his chin, making him look like some ancient cat breed; broad-shouldered, large head, huge paws. But he was normal size otherwise.
"Why are you here?" the long-toothed cat asked. "It's rare to see any StarClan warriors in this place. His eyes peered at them. She could see interest and longing.
"We came for a visit," Sunstorm meowed confidently. "I've never been here and wondered what it looked like."
"You want to stay?" the cat asked. He seemed amused. "Cats would give anything to leave but I think you want to stay."
"Not at all," Redfur snapped. He approached the other tom, his fur standing on end and his tail twitching. He loomed over the vine den as if seeking to push the other tom back inside.
"Hold on," the other cat meowed. He looked at Redfur sideways, but didn't move. "I'm not threatening you."
The ginger tom frowned and then backed away, giving the Dark Forest cat room.
"What's your name?" Sunstorm asked, walking to the former WindClan cat's side. She sat next to him, her ears still alert for any other cat they might not have seen. Even now this cat seemed to fade away, his fur disappearing in their light.
"I could have guessed," Redfur meowed.
Longfang seemed amused. "If you had, I would have told you another name."
Sunstorm tilted her head. Was that not his name then? Perhaps he'd changed it many times. Who knew how long he'd been one of the Dark Forest cats.
"So why are you here?" Longfang demanded.
"We want to know what you cats are up to," Sunstorm told him bluntly.
"Huh." It was more of a statement, not a question. He must not have been impressed. "You have a nice glow."
She looked down and tried not to shift uncomfortably. It just wasn't a good idea to have so much light. It made her too noticeable. It would be better to remain unseen in the Dark Forest. Now they had to figure out what to do with this Longfang. He'd give them away to the other cats.
"I wish I was in StarClan." The tom sighed and looked away.
"But you came here," Redfur told him harshly. "You deserved to be here."
Sunstorm blinked in surprise and even Redfur looked taken back. This evil cat was admitting he was supposed to be in the Dark Forest? That he had done bad? It seemed odd. By the StarClan lake, she'd heard the Dark Forest cats all lived in denial, believing they'd done nothing wrong, that their way had been best for the Clan, that deaths were necessary.
"I- I killed for no reason," Longfang continued. "I was wrong. I know that now. I've been here for seasons. I don't even know how long. But being alone, I started doubting myself and my actions. Then Tigerstar called us. He brought all of the Dark Forest cats together and I could suddenly see what all the cats I'd terrorized feared about me. What was wrong with me. These other cats, they are awful, cruel, without shame or sympathy. I am them, they are me. They are evil." He swallowed, not even looking at them, his eyes locked onto his black paws. "I didn't realize it until I saw them. I know that I'm evil. I was wrong. I hurt my Clan and StarClan when I was alive. I want to make it up. I need to make amends for my. . . sins."
He stared at them with his golden eyes. They pleaded. "I don't want to stay here forever. I want to go to StarClan."
"Um," Redfur shifted. "We don't really have authority on that decision. But we could tell our leaders. Maybe they'd consider it."
Longfang smiled at them. His grin looked wicked. Sunstorm shuddered. But he really couldn't be bad if he realized he'd done wrong, if he wanted to make it up. It was just his teeth that made him seem scary.
"Then could you help us?" she asked him. "Help us find out what Tigerstar is doing? We could use your help."
He nodded. "I'll show you. Come on."
He stood up and moved away from his vine nest to the thick undergrowth. There were ferns, but those were choked out by thickets of thorns: thistles, bramble, gorse. Longfang started pushing his way through, ignoring as the thorns bit through his black and gray fur. He didn't flinch as if he didn't feel it although lines of dark blood leaked through. She just winced, her bleeding paw ached.
"Where are you going?" Redfur demanded.
"I'm taking you to the Darkpool," Longfang replied, looking over his shoulder. "Move quickly before the bushes close back in."
She could see now that he was making a path through the thick thorns and weeds. There might be enough space for them to squeeze through. She hurried forward, but Redfur's claws caught her shoulder.
"I don't trust him."
She stared at him and nodded. "A part of me doesn't either. But we do have to give him a chance. Perhaps he is being honest with us. We have to trust him at least once."
"That once might hurt us."
"But we have nothing else to go on."
Finally he nodded and then let her go. The path was already closing in, the thorns leaning down. She walked on, carefully stepping between the branches and roots on the ground and trying to get away from the thorns, but they were still close, brushing her, but not quite tearing. Longfang waited ahead. When they caught up he continued on, making a path for them.
"What is the Darkpool?" Sunstorm called.
"Our connection to the living. We can see them, watch the Clans, see their dreams. We can even talk to them. Kind of like the Moonpool. I've never seen that, but the cats I've spoken to say it's the same."
"I suppose," Redfur meowed. "I've never seen it either."
Sunstorm's ears flicked. She wasn't sure if that was true or not. Obviously he hadn't seen it while alive, but he'd never been there as a StarClan warrior? Admittedly, neither had she, but Hazeltail had spoken about taking her there to visit her sisters. Now that would never happen.
"That reminds me," Longfang meowed. He turned and faced them. "I never did hear your names."
His golden eyes narrowed. They stood in a very small open area, long thorns pointing toward them, the trees leaning down, the red and yellow leaves oddly still. There were little rivets everywhere in the dirt, cracks of a dried river.
"I'm Firepelt," Redfur said before Sunstorm could speak. "This is - Dawnflower."
Sunstorm's ear twitched and she glanced at him. Now they were taking on fake names? Well, it would make sense that Redfur didn't trust this tom, so maybe this was a good idea. Hopefully Longfang hadn't heard his hesitancy when he made up her new name.
"Well, Firepelt and Dawnflower. There is one thing I will tell you about this place. Watch out for the stinging ivy." He looked at one of the bushes. It was the only one without thorns, the leaves were jagged edges and long, three leaves to a stem. She looked at it, wondering what was bad about it.
"If you touch it," Longfang continued. "Your skin with itch and burn. And when you try to lick it off your tongue will swell and you won't be able to breath for a while." With that he turned away and walked on.
Sunstorm eyed the stinging ivy plant, her eyes wide. She followed after him, trying furiously to remember it in case she ever met up with it again. What he'd told her was terrifying. There wasn't anything like this plant in the living forest or in StarClan. No wonder, the Dark Forest was meant to be punishment and a bad place.
The dark black and gray tom led them through the forest, passed various dead trees and gaps in the ground. Through clearings and around towering rocks. She looked around in awe. The golden and red and yellow leaves glinted above, catching the light from her fur, seeming just to scrape the black sky looming above. The place had its own type of beauty. A very scary one, but it held her interest. Finally he started down a slope. Little rocks trickled away from their paws, tumbling down to the dip below. The ground around them was completely bare, no trees or plants. She concentrated on not slipping or falling and didn't realize they'd reached the bottom until Redfur gasped. She looked up, her heart racing.
Redfur had his eyes on some black thing at the bottom of the slope, a ring of smooth stones surrounding it. Sunstorm stared and blinked, realizing it was moving. Little waves dipped and crested, ripples moving outward from the dark center. It was water, she realized. Her dry throat suddenly ached, but she didn't want to drink from this puddle.
She looked at Longfang. He was staring back at her. "This is it?"
"Yes," he nodded. "The Darkpool."
She looked back down. It was so odd that this small thing, perhaps only two cat lengths wide was the power of the Dark Forest, the way they were going to attack the living. It made no sense to her.
"So how can we fill it in?" Redfur asked. He dug his claws into the ground, trying to loosen the hard, hard dirt. Thin slits crumbled, but it wasn't deep, certainly not enough to fill in the Darkpool.
"There isn't any way," Longfang meowed simply.
Sunstorm's eyes went back to him. He was watching them, his eyes half closed, his long front teeth revealed even more in an odd smile. Pebbles trickled around them. one rolled and landed next to her paw. She looked up one of the slopes and saw cats appearing from the thorny bushes. They all seemed to be dark furred, even the ones with while and ginger pelts. They were like phantoms made from shadows, their eyes glowing, claws out, catching the lights from the star chips in her and Redfur's pelts. She realized they were surrounded. She stared at Longfang who just tilted his head in a sort of bow. She knew then they'd been betrayed. He'd lead them here to be caught.
Redfur stared at her then at the cats who were starting down. There was no way they could fight so many and win. But she wouldn't give up. She stood, her claws coming out and her fur on end as one of the she-cats came closer. She pounced, her legs thrusting away from the hard earth. She slashed down with her claws, aiming for the she-cat's face.
Another cat leaped from the side, knocking Sunstorm over before she could land a blow. She tried to get back on her feet, but a third cat was there, holding her down. A rock dug into her side. She twisted onto her back and started tearing with her back claws as her first attacker bared down, aiming for her face with his teeth. She pushed him off and snapped at the cat by her shoulders.
She heard Redfur cry out in pain and it wasn't long before she echoed him. A cat had her tail gripped in her mouth, biting hard while another tore his claws down her side. She kicked and struggled, managing to get upright, clawing faces and chests as she attempted to get through. But it was hard. The slope was difficult to climb up and there were too many bodies everywhere.
She heard the low command. The Dark Forest cats slowly backed off, blood leaking from a few. She stood there and heaved, trying to get her breath, feeling exhausted and hurt all over. She glanced around and quickly saw Redfur's shining pelt, then him as he got to his feet, one paw tight to his chest. She looked for the cat who had stopped the fight . A dark brown tabby stood at the top of the slope. By his side was a similar tabby with a white chest and blue eyes. He caught her look and just stared down at her, no pity in his eyes.
"Take them away," Tigerstar ordered. "We don't need them interfering."
"Where should we take them?" a tom asked.
"To the caves," Tigerstar meowed. "And gather the others. We need to prepare for the invasion."
He turned away, disappearing back into the bushes. Hawkfrost stayed behind and ordered four of the cats to surround Sunstorm and Redfur. The rest of the Dark Forest paced near the Dark Pool, while the StarClan warriors were escorted from the slope. Sunstorm gasped for breath at the top, not much better than Redfur who had to use his hurting paw to get up.
Hawkfrost continued to lead them, seeming very happy if Sunstorm could judge by the quick and bouncy walk he displayed. His tail swung side to side as he pushed through the jagged thorny bushes. They soon reached a hill. There between two boulders was a dark hole. The opening was jagged, little roots danging through the clumping dirt.
"Put the prisoners in," Hawkfrost ordered.
Sunstorm was pushed by Longfang although she dug her claws into the hard ground. He lowered his shoulder and shoved. The darkness swallowed her, but it quickly faded in her light to reveal a round chamber, branches of tunnels leading away. Redfur bumped into her and she stumbled farther in. Sunstorm turned around and saw two cats facing inward, watching her. She could see them silhouetted against the dark light of the Dark Forest. The stars in her fur lit up their dark faces, making their eyes glow.
"You okay?" she whispered to Redfur. He nodded, but she nuzzled his broken paw anyway, ignoring his question if she was hurt.
"You three stay here and guard these StarClan cats," Hawkfrost ordered, his tail waving to a white tom, to Longfang, and to a dark gray she-cat with white specks. They looked at him and frowned.
"But we want to go to the battle," the white tom argued.
"Well you won't get to go," Hawkfrost growled. "You still haven't been excused for using the Darkpool out of turn."
"Eveningbreeze-" Longfang spat.
"She will be caught," Hawkfrost snarled. "She will be punished for her misuse and for training you three."
"Then isn't that grand," the white tom growled, his fur standing on end. "We get punished and the others get off lightly."
Hawkfrost snorted. "We only saw you three at the pool that day. Everyone else denies use."
"And you believe them."
"Of course, Snowclaw," Hawkfrost smiled frostily. "Should we not trust loyal Dark Forest cats' word?"
He gave a low chuckle and walked off. The fourth cat silently followed as they disappeared into the undergrowth. The guards glared back into the cave at Redfur and Sunstorm. Redfur gently pulled her back. They walked inside, looking perhaps for a way to escape. They peered down tunnels but mostly saw dead ends or the tunnel curved form sight, no light anywhere. Her head was full with the fight and with what the guards had just argued with Hawkfrost about. Apparently the attack on the Clans was coming soon and these three were being punished for some reason. And the name Eveningbreeze. It was familiar. She quickly remembered, as she'd been followed by the name most of her life although never having met the other she-cat before. She then wondered what that dark gray she-cat with a ginger belly had been up to and how she'd angered the Dark Forest's leaders.
"You can't get very far in there," Longfang called to them. "We can still see you, nice little star bugs."
"Shining brightly, golden stars
Hold them in your paw
Extinguishing the light
The voice was singsong and high. It must have been the she-cat. The speech, poem, or whatever it had been, sent chills down Sunstorm's tail. Apparently she wasn't the only one bothered.
"Quiet, Cinderblossom," Snowclaw growled, turning his back on the cave and staring into the leaf-fall frozen forest. Redfur and Sunstorm were left within the caves, their own light the connection back to StarClan, knowing the invasion was soon, but unable to help the living Clans.