Chapter 3: Sunstorm
--"The Edge" by Michael Card
The two warrior cats of StarClan lay out in a sunbeam. The night had passed uneasily as they were uncertain where the two kits were hiding. There had been sounds which kept both on edge, unable to sleep, wondering what was going on. But now the sun rose, filtered through the leaves of the tall trees. There was no sound but the usual forest movements. The two warriors curled together, staring at each other as their bodies created a circle, feet touching, tail tips flicking against each other. She felt grateful to be with him again.
"So how did you find me? Why did you leave?"
"When you left that morning, I couldn't get you out of my head," the ginger tom meowed. "I didn't want to wait more than a moon too see you again. So I left the territory to meet you in the Tribe of Endless Hunting. I just got lost on the way is all." He looked sheepishly at her and she just had to laugh.
She leaned in and licked his nose. "Keep going," she encouraged.
"Well, I did," he grinned. "I followed your scent from the lake, but then it disappeared. Since then I've been wandering around trying to find you and get back to StarClan."
She nodded in agreement. She knew what that felt like, having just started that search only two days ago. Of course she'd been sidetracked from the start, but she was glad she had. Redfur had found her because of it.
"It wasn't until about three days ago I woke up in a land of endless sand. I walked, hungry, as I hadn't found food for a long time. Then I found your scent. There was blood near the stream, so I followed it to a forest next to a big lake without a shore. There I saw a tom and made him tell me where you were."
"Forest!" she interrupted, straightening from her curl. Her leg kicked his side and both of them winced. Her foot got twisted last night as still ached.
"That's what I said," he meowed, licking her injured foot.
"No, that's his name," Sunstorm meowed.
"Really? Tell me more."
"When you're done," she promised.
He smiled and said, "I scared him a bit and I guess I was harsh. I feel bad now that I know he was your friend. But he helped me get to you. I just followed the stream like you did, but then your scent left the water's edge. I was scared I would lose you again. Then I realized your scent was everywhere, as if you were lost or just recklessly ambling on. I had a confusing time trying to narrow down where exactly you were. And the rest you know."
She nodded. Then he'd rescued her from two murderous kits last night. Kits who seemed cheerful and only wanted to play, but tried to keep her captive for the rest of eternity as their playmate. She wasn't sure she could die again, but it hadn't been worth the chance. After all, she'd heard them say "others". She shivered and curled up tighter against the ginger tom. He licked her head and gave a sympathetic blink.
"What about you?" Redfur asked. "We aren't in the Tribe of Endless Hunting. This doesn't look like mountains to me."
He stared at round the green forest. Tall trunks reached skyward, wide leaves blocking the sun light from descending straight down. Thick corded vines wrapped their way down the ragged bark to the ground where ferns, bushes, weeds, and flowers grew between the tree trunks. Patches of hard dirt scattered through the undergrowth where cat-made trails wove their way through the forest. The two lay in a clearing away from the undergrowth and in the brightest place they could find so they'd be able to see any advancing threat.
"Where is Feathertail?" Redfur asked.
Sunstorm thought about the former of RiverClan warrior. The gray she-cat had led her from StarClan to the Tribe. Sunstorm had insisted a lot to get Feathertail to agree to take her away from the starry lake.
"Still with the Tribe," she meowed. "I've been separated from her for a while. The Tribe had some problems with a giant hawk. It was stealing their Clanmates. Well a few of us went up to a high peak to rescue one cat, but the hawk attacked. And I fell off of the mountain. I fell into water and it carried me all the way to the sun-drown-place."
He blinked that he understood.
"Then I woke up bleeding and made my way from the water's edge to the black forest."
His eyes widened and he stared at her, the fur along his spine raising. "The black forest? You mean the Dark Forest?" he hissed.
"No," she shook her head. "That forest that you found the yellow-ginger tom in. It is completely black in the daylight. It isn't the Dark Forest at all. Well, I met him and his mate. They're having troubles," no need to tell him exactly what. It was confusing and annoying even to her. "I tried to help him and Hawthorn, but got nowhere. So I left. I walked here, met the kits, played with them and then ran when they tried to kill me. Thank you again for saving me."
"Well, I prefer talking to you after all," he purred.
"Now we'll go back to StarClan together," he meowed.
"Yes," she agreed. "It might take a while, but we'll make it."
After sharing their stories, the two got up from the clearing and went hunting. Unwilling to let Redfur from her sight, Sunstorm followed after him, limping a bit on her back paw. She'd tripped over a root last night and her foot still hurt. She still had some injuries from her fall off of the mountain as well, but those were starting to heal, her claws starting to grow long again.
Redfur glanced back, making sure she was with him, and guided her through the forest. The calls of birds echoed around them. The bushes rattled in the passing of mice and squirrels. A dove cooed. Her ears twitched, recalling the sound.
"When will you come after us?"
"When the next dove coos."
So started her game with the little kits and the tortoiseshell she-kit claiming her brother was the best tracker and she'd better hide in a good place. Sunstorm shivered at the thought. She'd underestimated the two. They'd been around for a long time. They only looked and behaved like kits on occasion, but they must have been dead longer than her. They had the muscles of a trained warrior and the seriousness of an elder when the mood took them.
Something fell down from above. The shadow drifted across her face and she flinched. But when she opened her eyes a green leaf softly settled on the ground in front of her.
"You all right?" Redfur asked, hurrying to be by her side.
She stared at him, her eyes wide and heart beating. "Yeah. I just got startled. I thought it was them again."
He stared at the leaf and then back at her, glancing around. She let her eyes rove over the trees, trying to pierce through the thick shadows, searching for any cat eyes.
"I first saw them when the tom fell from a tree in front of me," she explained, not wanting to sound crazy. "I thought maybe they'd come back."
"I don't know if they will," he told her, brushing his head against the side of her face in comfort. "I scared them last night. I doubt they'd attack two fully grown cats. One they might be able to take down, but two? Not a chance."
"Yes," she agreed quietly, but doubtful. They couldn't have just given up like that? Redfur might have scared them, but once they got back their courage, wouldn't the kits return, eager for revenge? Why else had they not slept very well last night?
"Let's keep going," he meowed. "The sooner we're out of this part of the forest, the better." He shivered. "What are you in the mood for? Squirrel or mouse?"
"No rabbit?" she teased, picking up her feet so she trotted forward. She flicked her tail playfully, trying to block the uneasy feeling that they were being watched.
"I don't think we'll find many in here," he purred, hurrying after her. "But I sure wish there was one."
She laughed. "You poor WindClan tom. These trees must bother you!"
He laughed back. "No. I got used to them in StarClan. In fact I like having some trees nearby, but my first love will always be moorland."
"Not me?" she gasped, mocking him.
He paused, one paw in the air and tilted his head to look at her. She ducked her head, feeling her ears burn. She hadn't quite meant to say that. What would he think of her? She couldn't just admit she felt some admiration for the tom. She'd been drawn to him from the first time she met him, but not until he came looking for her had she realized how deeply she might care for him or he for her. She'd feel embarrassed if she was wrong and he just wanted to make sure she was okay.
"No. I'll never love anything as much as I do you," he meowed. He stepped forward and licked one of her warm ears.
She smiled at him, feeling her heart swell and beat rapidly.
The bushes shook, sending Sunstorm jumping away from the ginger tom. She stared as a kit raced for them. The tortoiseshell stared at them with wild eyes. Her lips pulled back, exposing her sharp white teeth. Her claws were out and she used them, reaching up to slash Redfur's face. He just stood there, startled as he was attacked. Only when the pain got to him did he yell a war cry, flinging out one paw to catch the kit. But he missed. She raced on, leaping for the undergrowth on the other side of the trail.
Redfur growled and leapt after her, disappearing behind the ferns. Sunstorm remained on the dirt path and stared after them. She could still hear the WindClan warrior yelling, crashing through the undergrowth like a new apprentice. She was alone.
Her pelt prickled as she realized they'd fallen into the kits' trap. There was no sound at all. Even the birds had stopped singing. She glanced around, searching for the other kit. Now that they were split it was one-on-one. She didn't see him until it was too late. Down he fell from above. His legs spread out, claws reaching, his eyes dilated to nearly black. The shadow of his passing blocked out the sun for an instant.
She looked up and he crashed down on her. She yowled, stumbling back. He bit in, catching the skin above her eye. She lowered her head and shook, trying to pull him off with her claws. He put all of his weight on her, his back legs off of the ground as they tore into her chest. His front claws grasped the side of her head, pinning down her ears.
She couldn't breathe, her nose buried in his thick dark brown fur. She yowled again, but the sound was muffled by his pelt. She couldn't even see, only squinting her eyes. The ginger-brown tabby shook her head again and leaned downward, pressing him into the dirt and rubbing. He just dragged his right paw down her face and she pulled up in shock, backing away only to bump into a tree.
She reared up, but fell back down, overbalanced and unable to stand only on her back legs as one was still sore. The kit clung on like an overgrown tick, refusing to move, not even uttering a sound. He continued to tear, bringing his teeth back into play as he nipped at her one lifted ear.
Sunstorm swung her head, making him crash into the bark of the tree. The breath went out of him and for a moment his hold loosened. It was enough for her to pull him off. Her claws dug into his belly, holding him on the ground as she stared down into his yellow eyes.
He glared defiantly back, hissing and baring his teeth. Red dripped from his jaws. Sunstorm suddenly felt the stinging. Blood trickled down from above her eye.
"I don't kill kits," she growled. "So what do I do with you?"
"I don't care who you kill or do not," he hissed back. "But you are dead! We will not let another cat leave us!"
"That isn't your choice to make," she meowed, pushing down harder until her claws pierced his pelt.
He winced and blood leaked around her claws.
She heard movement. One ear flicked up and then the other until her whole head looked toward the undergrowth. The ferns moved, jerking sharply. A ginger shape pushed through. Redfur came back; face bleeding lightly where the tortoiseshell had struck him. He panted, staring at her.
Pain shot up her leg and she yowled, drawing back. The tom opened his mouth and released her leg, turning over and racing away for a nearby gorse bush. He disappeared in the thorns. Redfur just watched him go. Sunstorm spat and started licking her wounded leg. She wouldn't follow the brat either. Not to get torn up. Only a kit could fit through the small gaps of a gorse bush.
"I'm sorry," Redfur meowed, quickly walking over to her. He started cleaning her ear, gently licking away the blood. "I shouldn't have gone after her."
"They're smart these two," Sunstorm sighed. "It's just hard to believe kits could do this, that's why we keep underestimating them."
Redfur nodded. "I didn't even catch her. She led me on a tangled chase until I realized I'd left you. She knew exactly where she was going, every dip and bush." He shook his head.
"Let's get out of here," Sunstorm whispered.
He nodded and led the way down the rest of the trail. Sunstorm suddenly didn't want to be on it. The kits had made these paths from constant use. The two knew exactly where each one would lead and where to place another ambush. She quickly left the dirt and Redfur followed. Though he didn't walk very elegantly through the thick undergrowth, he managed to keep up and keep going.
It wasn't long before the sounds of rustling crept after them. Sunstorm flicked her ears back and glanced at Redfur. He nodded. The kits were back. The movement caught up to them. When Sunstorm looked to either side, she could see the kits there, jumping along, hurrying to stay by their side. It was like an escort. The shadowed forms kept pace with them. Just in sight, but just out of reach.
"You won't escape," a whispered hiss echoed to her.
"You don't know the way out," the other kit continued.
"Quiet," she growled back.
They giggled, glancing at her with unblinking eyes as they padded forward.
Redfur just growled. The fur along his spine rose. This time however, he didn't run after them.
The four continued walking along for a while. Then the kits suddenly disappeared. Sunstorm knew it wasn't over. They had something else in mind. She was right, because the next instant the kits came back. The two ran like streaks of shadow. The tortoiseshell darted around Sunstorm, drawing her sharp claws along the tabby's legs. She tried striking, but the kit was just too quick and small.
Redfur gave an irritated growl and Sunstorm had a feeling the tom had received the same treatment from the kit's brother. The two young cats were gone the next instant, disappeared into the undergrowth. The weeds waved as they traveled away.
"They're just too quick," Redfur muttered, hurrying until he was by Sunstorm's side.
"They're smart," she meowed back. "They know they can't beat us in a fair fight. So they'll use sneak attacks. They want to break us apart again. Keep watch. Next time get against my back and we'll defend from either side."
"Unless they come from above," he nodded skyward.
She glanced up as well. "Unless then," she agreed. "We better get out of this territory before nightfall. I don't want to spend another night with these two."
He nodded in agreement.
The StarClan cats hurried along. Although hungry, they wouldn't stop to hunt. Leaving behind the kits was priority.
The next attack came and was similar to the last. But when the kits saw Redfur and Sunstorm facing either way and were unable to get between them, they backed away into the ferns, glaring.
"How could these two get this way?" Sunstorm asked. "I thought only good cats got to go to StarClan."
"We're not in StarClan anymore," he answered.
"You know what I mean," she snapped. She felt irritated that they couldn't get rid of the two and that made her short tempered. "Don't all bad cats go to the Dark Forest?"
Redfur was silent. She glanced over at him. Maybe he didn't know.
"I don't think they started out bad," he finally answered. "Kits rarely are evil. So I think being alone so long they forgot themselves."
"Why didn't they fade?" she demanded. "I've seen other cats fade away."
He only shrugged.
"They must have been abandoned by so many cats," Sunstorm spoke out loud. "Maybe they asked everyone to play but too many cats refused. And then one day they decided they'd make cats stay by threatening them."
"It makes sense," he agreed.
"But it's not going to help us now." Her ears flicked as pawsteps sounded around them. The kits were back. She glanced for them, waiting to see the movement in the nearby bushes. The sound faded off.
"They're ahead," he growled.
She looked up and saw the two. One had started climbing a tree trunk, clinging to the bark and pulling up.
"We'll avoid them," she meowed. "No reason to go to their trap willingly."
She started away, walking between two narrow trees.
"Wait," Redfur meowed. "We have to end this."
"How?" she asked, staring back at him.
"I've got an idea," he replied, blinking slowly. He waved a tail and she returned to his side.