Chapter 21: Sunstorm
The moon was revealed and as Redfur and Sunstorm watched the stars fall from the sky and StarClan fight the shadows, they knew it was time to leave. The Dark Forest cats would come back soon. She didn't want to be there when Tigerstar and the others returned. They would be angry at their defeat and want revenge against StarClan. As Redfur and Sunstorm were the only two in the Dark Forest that would qualify, they better leave before the return.
"All right," Sunstorm stood up and looked at her friend and sister. "Let's go."
"How?" Morningsong questioned. "Do we jump in?" She nodded at the Darkpool.
It had shrunk down to a tail length. Sunstorm eyed it, thinking how small and uncomfortable it would be to jump in. After reaching this size, the black water level seemed to remain constant. It no longer dried up and Sunstorm was worried it might have completely stopped. But leaving the Dark Forest took precedence. She did not want to be stuck in the cave again, or worse.
"We'll think our way out," Sunstorm declared. "I don't really want to use this if I don't have to. Besides, I don't think it works in StarClan. Only on the living world. I'm just guessing of course."
"Then the StarClan spy would have to come here," Redfur meowed, tilting his head. "Because the Dark Forest cat couldn't leave."
"Yep," Sunstorm nodded. Then she frowned at him. "Don't bring that up again. I'd prefer not to think that someone would betray us."
"There was one in every Clan, Sunstorm," Morningsong meowed. Then she shook her head. "So. . . How do we leave if not by the Darkpool?"
"We think," Sunstorm smiled, knowing her sister wouldn't have any idea what that meant.
Morningsong stared blankly at her, her face a disbelieving mask. There was an eagerness about her as they spoke of StarClan. Sunstorm knew she really wanted to go. And Sunstorm wanted her sister with her. Morningsong hadn't expressed anything as she stared into the Darkpool as they watched the Clans die. There had only been silence. Horror and ill-feeling from Redfur and Sunstorm. Silence from Morningsong, but there was a weary sigh on occasion. They'd watch their own Clan during the fight. ThunderClan and Fawnfur.
"Close your eyes," Sunstorm told her sister. "And listen to my voice. When I tell you to walk, take a step."
Morningsong nodded and closed her eyes. Redfur looked at Sunstorm, their eyes meeting and they held gazed for a few heartbeats before he closed his golden orbs. Sunstorm let out her breath and darkness filled her vision.
"There is a lake. Much like the one you know. The forest grows thickly around it. There are reeds and streams, a wild field and a place of fallen boulders. There are cats. The land is bright. The sun shines high, except at night of course," she frowned at her mistake. "There is a soft wind, and everything glitters with starlight."
She could feel herself there and behind her eyelids she was sure a soft light pushed through. And the smell, it was different. The smoke was gone; there was soft grass everywhere, tickling her fur as the moon shone down on her, full and grand. And there was Hazeltail, her friend and mentor. Sunstorm had to smile at the memory. Wouldn't Hazeltail be surprised to see her again after so long.
"Now walk," she breathed out. She took a step. . . . and opened her eyes to an empty land.
She shook her head, staring around. It was so silent. She could see the lake to her left, a line bobbing and rising with silver light. And there was the moon above. The light looked so weak. It was completely full, but was still covered with slight darkness. And all around her there was silence as if the whole of StarClan had vacated. It was strange, because as long as Sunstorm had been in Silverpelt the lake area had been active. You could hardly take a step without disturbing someone's hunt. There'd been cats everywhere. Mentors training apprentices, kits tumbling about, cats hunting, mock fights. All sound and yowls, hardly any room to move without stepping on someone else.
"If I didn't know they were below, I'd think something wiped them out," Redfur meowed, shivering. He sat beside her, the only cat Sunstorm could see from either horizon. His fur had slightly lost the luminosity it shone with in the Dark Forest. But she wasn't surprised. The moon could easily drown out their natural light. It also didn't catch her interest.
She looked around, craning her neck, searching in the long grass. Her nose twitched and she breathed deeply. Yet she couldn't see or smell Morningsong.
"She's still there," Redfur meowed quietly answering her fears.
Sunstorm swallowed a sudden ache in her chest. "Maybe she doesn't know how to get here. We should go back. Maybe she should use the Darkpool." She was just babbling now, hoping that something might work that there was a reason her sister wasn't with them.
"Hush, Sunstorm, hush," he purred, pressing close until his chin was on top of her head. She leaned into him, closing her eyes tightly. "I've retrieved spirits before," he told her softly. "They came easily. It was as if they knew the way already or were drawn here. If she didn't come, it's because. . ."
He couldn't say it. She didn't want him too.
"I can't leave her there," she sighed, eventually pulling away from him.
He stared at her with his golden eyes, slowly looking down. "I didn't want to say this. But she. . . she's meant to be there. She did wrong, she did evil things, let them happen, knowingly guided the Dark Forest into destroying the Clans. She is a Dark Forest cat. She deserves to be there."
Sunstorm swallowed and glared at him. How dare he say that! Her sister was a good she-cat deep down. She would not give up.
"Take me to the leaders," she growled.
"What?" he stared at her.
"Take me to where the leaders will meet. I know they'll want to talk after they get back. Take me there wherever they ll be."
"They're the only ones who can permit Morningsong into StarClan. I will convince them to let her."
"They will listen to me!" Sunstorm spat. "I will make sure they listen. I don't care what you say, but my sister should not be left there. She only made a mistake. Why should that ruin the rest of her afterlife? Will you take me?" she asked softly.
He wasn't watching her, his gaze on the moorland.
"Yes," he sighed, closing his eyes. "I will take you. They will decide."
Redfur was limping again on his broken paw. He still led the way. Sunstorm recognized their path. As StarClan territory was based on the lake, she knew they were heading for the Moonpool. As they walked, she could suddenly see little specks of light flare around them. Cats were returning, forming into beings as they returned from the land below. They seemed pleased, purring, laughing, and chasing each other in merriment. But there were the occasional few who just stopped, staring into the distance as if someone they knew had died or what they'd seen had hurt them. Sunstorm felt like the latter. This war had wounded her.
Eventually they made it to the plateau. It wasn't quite like the Moonpool below. Sunstorm looked around in interested. This was her first time going. The way to the pool was much steeper and covered with trees. They followed a narrow rocky stream up. The Moonpool was hidden behind the forest, on top of a plateau. She looked at a nearly vertical stone face and thought of the Tribe of Endless Hunting. There were ledges along the way and she knew it wouldn't be easy, but they'd get there.
"You've been there before?" she questioned Redfur.
"Never," he meowed. "I just know of it because Harestar told me they meet here. I'm sure there are many other places the leaders go, but this is the only one I know of."
They struggled to the ledges and the small path upward. Redfur wincing all the way, favoring his front paw, unable to use it fully. She felt an ache inside her watching him. She knew this activity wasn't healthy for his paw and it wouldn't heal any quicker, but she'd insisted. Now that they were so close they couldn't turn back. There were a few close calls, Redfur almost falling on her, but she kept careful watch, ready to catch him.
They reached the top. There were no trees here, but the ones growing below reached tall, covering the lake from her sight. She sat at the edge, panting and staring out into the green dark. She became aware of a light behind her. Her shadow stretched down and away from her. She slowly turned.
The slope continued onward and slightly higher where more trees had taken root, but where the water and waterfall were was almost barren, just stone, swirling gray and brown, speckles of quartz, glimmering in the moonlight like stars. The water was the clearest blue and it rippled in a small dip. Cats sat around it. Glowing cats.
They looked at her, seeming almost shocked that she was there at all. Redfur was near her side, his head bowed as if in reverence.
"Sunstorm?" It was Firestar.
She spotted the flame-ginger tom near Bluestar. And there were other leaders and even medicine cats, but not all of them. She knew they'd never all fit on the plateau near the water. They were just the more recent additions. If recent meant generations. She didn't know all of them and didn't really care. Some she'd seen before in passing, never realizing they were even leaders or medicine cats.
"What are you doing here?" asked a querulous voice. A brindled tom frowned at them. "Only we are allowed here. I don't remember anyone inviting you."
"Harestar," Redfur murmured. "So good to see you again."
The brindled tom glared at him.
Sunstorm's ears tilted. And she'd thought they were friends. The brother relationship must have faded over time.
"If you came for a visit, it might be best if you leave until later," a black medicine cat spoke up, smiling at them.
"Is it really important?" some she-cat asked, peering around larger shoulders.
"Yes," Sunstorm meowed. She looked among them, but her eyes kept returning to the familiar faces she knew. She looked at Firestar. "I ask you to pardon my sister."
"Which one?" Harestar interjected. "That Fawnfur who told the Clans all about the Dark Forest when we told her not to, or that Morningsong who worked with our enemies?"
Sunstorm frowned at him, her whiskers forward. She really didn't like him.
"I ask you to pardon Morningsong. She acted out of grief. She died while trapped in the Dark Forest and should really be here. With me."
"Not possible," a dark brown she-cat shook her head.
"But you can make that decision, take someone from the Dark Forest and bring them here," she protested.
"That is the rumor," Bluestar nodded her head. "But really we don't."
"We have the ability to guide dead warriors to StarClan," Tallstar meowed, "but actually changing judgment we can't do."
"Judgment?" she asked. "Whose judgment?"
There was a general silence as if no one wanted to venture into that territory. She turned her eyes to Firestar.
"I am not acquainted with many things here," he meowed slowly, brow creased. "But I believe our spirits go to either the Dark Forest or to StarClan based on what they've done in life. Greater good against the greater wrong. Whether we were selfish or caring, killed or helped others. Not quite as strict as the warrior code, but not flinging it away like dirt. If we meant what we said and acted as we spoke. Your sister's actions condemn her to the Dark Forest."
"And you can't change it?" Sunstorm whispered.
"Unless everyone is in agreement, or the majority," Firestar meowed. "I don't think so."
"But there," she jumped on his words. "You said it wasn't possible to bring her here, but you said you all had to agree to change it."
"Changing destinations is a tricky thing," Bluestar meowed. "We can't watch while every cat of the Clan dies, or even blood relatives to the Clan. Nor do we know where everyone winds up. That is why we have guides. We must send one of our own to guide the recent dead into StarClan and teach them. If left alone, the spirits might stay on earth or go somewhere else. But usually the cats of the Dark Forest arrive without any help."
"But you can get them out." She didn't care about the rest, just that they could, that it was possible they could permit Morningsong into StarClan.
"I don't think she should be here," Harestar growled.
Sunstorm hissed at him, and rose to her feet. Just one more nasty word, it didn't matter if he was a leader or not, and he was bedding.
Then a tail brushed down her side. Redfur tried to calm her. He glared at his brother. Pleased with his support, Sunstorm took heart.
"The Dark Forest is a place of punishment," Tallstar meowed.
"Cats go there because they don't deserve to be with the rest of us," meowed some other cat. "It is a place they can think over all the wrong they've done, and maybe, possibly, change, feel regret and sympathy."
"In that place?" Sunstorm spat, remembering the thorns and darkness. "No cat could change there. Not with all the darkness. It's inhospitable and unfriendly. A cat has to be hard just to survive there."
"And how would you know?" Harestar asked, his voice just as irritating.
"We were there," Sunstorm told them. "We were there and saw it. Saw the Darkpool, all of the cats, and how horrible it was."
"You were not permitted there," the leaders and medicine cats all seemed to say in one way or another. "We don't go there and they don't come here. We stay out of each other's territories."
"We went to stop Tigerstar directly because you wouldn't," Sunstorm growled, glaring at them all. "And we learned something. There is a spy among you. They were feeding the Dark Forest information about you, all of your moves and what you learned. About Fawnfur and the prophecy you gave her and the ShadowClan cats."
They stared at her in silence. She could see them sharing glances.
"We would like to hear about your adventure," the dark brown she-cat spoke up. "One of these days. How you came to get there." It was obvious they didn't realize she'd been out of territory for more than a moon. "But first, we will tell you you're mistaken."
She blinked and wondered what this leader was taking about.
"We gave them that information," Bluestar meowed. "We gave them information we wanted them to know. That spy was our plant. He worked for us, telling us what the Dark Forest was doing."
"Oh." That was the only thing she could think to say. "What of my sister?"
"We will not let her be one of us," Harestar meowed without consulting any of the others. "She did wrong. She tried to kill the Clans. End of story."
"She isn't even sorry," the black medicine cat meowed. "She feels justified for her actions. Glad that we've been hurt. And hurt we have."
"And how do you know that?" Sunstorm demanded. "What are you? Are you reading her thoughts?"
The medicine cat's head shook. "No, it is just obvious. Given time, she might change. Then we'll bring this up again. Then we will speak to her."
There was a general agreement among the cats. Sunstorm's eyes widened. They wouldn't even consider it anymore. She tried to speak up, but Harestar and a few other leaders herded her to the narrow path they'd used to walk up. She and Redfur had to retreat. Leave the Clan leaders and medicine cats to talk about their victory. But Sunstorm wouldn't give up so easily.
"You didn't even say anything," she grumbled.
"No," he agreed.
"Why?" she snapped, glaring at his back as he led the way down.
"Because I agree with them, okay?" He glanced back up at her. "I don't think Morningsong is ready to live in StarClan. Just being with her made my fur stand on end. She only wants here to be with you. She wants to be here because it s all she's ever known she's supposed to come to, and she's seen the Dark Forest and doesn't like it. But she was quite happy with letting StarClan fail, let the Clans be torn apart."
Sunstorm felt a part of her agreeing with him. She knew it was right what the leaders and medicine cats had said and decided. She knew that her sister had done wrong and watching the Clans in the pool had stirred an angry, disgusted feeling inside her. But there was the other part. The part that knew Morningsong as family and that she couldn't give up on her. Morningsong was her sister. The smiling she-cat kit who SAW the present and was smart and enjoyed hunting.
"We're going back," Sunstorm meowed.
"Back?" Redfur was confused.
"We have to tell Morningsong what happened. Maybe then she'll change."
He sighed and nodded. She closed her eyes and without another thought, went to the Dark Forest. It was easier than expected, the shift to the other level, to the darkness.
She opened her eyes. She was in the dip again, near the black water as if she'd never left. But the water level was so shallow and small now, just the size of a cat head and was getting smaller heartbeat by heartbeat. Her sister sat nearby, gazing at it.
"I'm sorry," Sunstorm meowed. "I tried, but you can't be a part of StarClan yet."
Morningsong looked at her with large yellow eyes. At her sister s words, she frowned. "I knew I couldn't trust them. Everything is their fault." And she stood up, scrambling up the slope, stones falling down around her as she raced away into the forest.
"Morningsong!" Sunstorm yowled. She tried to follow, dodging the stones hurling down at her, but Redfur caught her scruff and pulled her back. The ginger-brown tabby pelt of her sister disappeared over the crest to some unknown destination.
"Why did you stop me?" Sunstorm demanded, turning on Redfur.
"I can't let you get lost," he meowed.
"I won't get lost! I can go back to StarClan whenever I feel like it!"
"Then think!" he yelled back. "You'll get attacked by Dark Forest cats. Attacked and put into some den as a prisoner. Maybe they'd fight you or torture you if you got caught. It was foolish coming back so soon after the defeat."
Sunstorm's eyes widened and her heart leapt. She whirled around, looking for the other cat. A dark gray she-cat with ginger belly stood on the crest. The other side of the slope than Morningsong had taken. Dark crimson blood ran down from multiple wounds. One eye was squinting, the tail broken. She stood as if her back were twisted like an elder. Blood bubbled at her nose at every breath. She looked like she should have died a second time.
"Tigerstar is angry, as are the rest," Eveningbreeze meowed. Her throat was sore and that was why Sunstorm hadn't recognized it at first. "They failed to destroy the Clan and somehow StarClan stopped them." She laughed a hacking cackle. "I watched you three. Watched you wait for the moon to come back. Such loyalty for Morningsong, waiting with her to take you with her. Too bad she isn't as perfect as you two."
"You," Sunstorm hissed, glaring up at her. "You did this to my sister. Made her get trapped here. You're the cause of her pain!"
Eveningbreeze shrugged her ripped shoulders. "I didn't force her into anything. Everything was her choice. But a word of warning, little StarClan cats, you better leave before the others arrive. They'll want to see how far the Darkpool is gone. They'll want to know how much power they have left. Perhaps for another assault."
"Will they be able to use this?" Redfur asked while Sunstorm shook with anger.
Eveningbreeze peered down at the Darkpool, something like regret in her eyes. "It is going. What power we have left. . . I don't know what they'll do with it. But things here have changed anyway because of it. I don't think we'll ever walk alone again."
"I don't know if I believe you," Redfur growled at her. Would all the power be gone soon? Would the Darkpool ever return?
Eveningbreeze smiled her familiar smile: a mixture of cruel pleasure and cheerful glimmer in her eyes. "You shouldn't of course. Goodbye." Her ears twitched as if she heard something coming. She started turning away, to limp into the forest.
"You're why my sister is here. This isn't over between us!" Sunstorm yowled after. Eveningbreeze was going to pay for what happened to Morningsong. Sunstorm would make sure of it.
"It never will be," Eveningbreeze growled back, glaring down at the two StarClan warriors. "But that doesn't bother me. You're just another enemy to add to the list. Everyone hates me now. They blame me for causing our failure, for using up too much of the Darkpool's power, and I don't know what else for. Well I don't care." She glared, snarling, the calm demeanor gone in a flash. "I don't care what you do or if they hunt me to the ends of this forest. It was right what I did. My plan would have worked if you hadn't gotten involved. If Hawkfrost hadn't killed Morningsong or stopped me from reaching ShadowClan."
Sunstorm looked up, wondering just what plan Eveningbreeze was talking about. Had there been something she wanted to do with ShadowClan but unable to fulfill it? And then she realized Eveningbreeze had told her who'd murdered her sister. The rage burned just behind her heart.
"Leave before I decide to capture you myself," Eveningbreeze spat down at them. "You're lucky I'm not on good terms with anyone, or you'd be in the caves again." This time she left for good. Sunstorm could hear her disappear into the bushes and thorns.
Sunstorm snorted. How nice of Eveningbreeze to let them go. She stared at the Darkpool, but it was only the size of a paw. She was sure it would be gone eventually.
"Hey! StarClan!" The call was an alert.
She and Redfur looked up. There was a cat above, standing on the same side of the gap Morningsong had gone. He was calling to other cats.
"We better get out of here," Redfur meowed.
She completely agreed. As they left, she looked at him. He really was patient with her. She doubted any other tom would put up with her demands, follow her out of the territory, and to the Dark Forest itself. Stick by her side even when he disagreed with her. He truly was kind. She smiled at him, but he didn't see, because his eyes were closed.
The next time they opened, the two were back in StarClan.
Sunstorm is determined to believe her sister belongs in StarClan. She didn't see everything that Morningsong did in her past, and can only remember when they were apprentices and kits. She feels sympathy and would rather believe it was a mistake that her sister is in the Dark Forest. After all, Forest from Wandering Through did wrong, but he was ultimately a good cat.
Morningsong however feels sorry for herself. She wants to go to StarClan because she knows the Dark Forest having visited it often and she knows horrible cats live there. She doesn't like what she faces. However because she's now trapped in the Dark Forest, she is secretly pleased that she could get away with her plan, that she could hurt StarClan by letting the Dark Forest attack and giving Eveningbreeze and Tigerstar the information.