Chapter 6: Sunstorm
Disclaimer: Warriors by Erin HunterThanks to reviewers: Darkness of the Eclipse and Chat et ChocolateSunstorm looked up. The shadows of the branches and leaves leaned down on her and through them she could see the bright sky. A few clouds traveled over head, but not thickly at all. On occasion they'd block the sun, sending the forest below into shadows. Lush undergrowth filled in the gaps between the variety of trees. The broad green leaves fluttered above, perhaps feeling a slight breeze. Or maybe something was hiding within the branches. Squirrels and birds would have been the likely choice, but Sunstorm knew better.
Not a bird sang near them, though in the distance she could hear a dove cooing. Squirrels did not chitter or run on the ground in search of nuts. No, there was something else in the treetops. Someone else. Someone with revenge in their small heart.
"Do you understand the plan?" Redfur meowed.
She turned to the ginger tom and nodded. "I know. Walk forward as if we don't know they're there and then scare the little fox-hearts witless!"
Perhaps it was mean to talk about kits like that, but she knew better. The two might look like kits, but they were older than her. They played and teased each other, and then any cat who came along, but once that cat was in their trap, they'd never release her. The same had almost happened to Sunstorm until Redfur came. But now the kits were hunting them. They were determined to see the StarClan warriors die although they were already dead. She still couldn't figure that one out, but something about their threat chilled her. She might be dead, but bad things could still happen to her.
"Right," he nodded to her. "We'll go forward. But wait until the one hiding in the bushes comes."
"I think she'll be first, trying to drive us under his attack," Sunstorm meowed. "We have to wait until he's falling down."
Redfur thought about that, tilting his head to one side. Finally he nodded. Then he led the way back to the two trees. Not much time had passed since they saw the little dark brown tom climbing skyward on the thick bark. The she-kit tortoiseshell had hidden elsewhere, preparing an ambush. Sunstorm had wanted to avoid them, but Redfur had other ideas and she approved. She didn't want to constantly run from them, scared. She wanted to warn them off, say that she wasn't some easy prey and they'd better learn to respect her. She made her own decisions. They'd never force her into staying with them.
A low lying fern brushed against Redfur's ginger fur. It stroked downward and started bobbing until she reached it and had the same treatment. Once passed that, she could see the large tree. The kits were nowhere in sight. But she could smell them. It was their territory this forest. They knew it well.
"Just walk," he murmured back at her. "Don't act suspicious."
"Well that would just be mouse-brained," she hissed back. "We know they're out there, of course we have to be cautious!"
His ears lowered and he nodded. She could tell by his stiff walk that she had embarrassed him. She looked down, her own ears flattening. That had been rude of her. She quickly walked forward and matched him step for step, despite her limping back paw. She nudged him. He glanced back up at her, his golden eyes wide. She smiled at him about to speak.
"Yeeee ahhhh," a voice, thin and reedy yowled behind them. "GRRRRR!"
Sunstorm flinched, her heart racing. She glanced behind. A stinging pain slid down her left leg and she scrambled forward away. The bushes and grass stems shook behind her as the she-kit forced her way through, yowling and growling. The kit was unafraid to use her claws, striking both Redfur and Sunstorm. She didn't want to stand and argue and hurried forward, the ginger tom by her side. He winced and trotted forward away from the she-kit. They reached the low bows where the brother had hidden.
Down he fell, silent as before. She would have missed him if she didn't know his trick. His legs were spread wide as he fell, claws out, his eyes narrowed and teeth bared. His tail twisted and swirled, keeping him balanced. She watched him from the corner of her eye, turning around in the slightly open ground to face the she-kit. The tortoiseshell glared at her and spat, bringing up one paw.
"Now, Sunstorm," Redfur growled.
The ginger-brown tabby closed her eyes and though of brightness. A blinding light so warm the shadows fled from her. As she did, the star-chips in her fur suddenly illuminated. Brighter they came, glittery specks all along her body. When she opened her eyes, she appeared to be nothing but a cat of light.
The she-kit had pulled back, her body low on the ground. She stared up with wide eyes, chest heaving and ears as flat as they could go. And the tom. . . he had diverted his falling course, landing somewhere behind where Redfur was. She couldn't see him, but that didn't matter, she had her own thing to do.
"Leave us now," she growled, stepping forward. "Do not bother the spirits of the stars!"
She shrieked and lunged, slashing down with her claws. The kit scrambled away, a dust cloud where she had been. Sunstorm's strike missed. She watched as the ferns swayed where the kit had gone and then looked back. The kit's brother wasn't there.
She let out a smile and turned to face Redfur. A grin lit his face and the two stared at each other before bursting into laughter.
"That was great!" Redfur purred. The light on his fur dimmed. He gazed at it, with his half smile. "A good thing we're in StarClan. No other cats in the skies have this."
The ginger-brown she-cat nodded her head in agreement. Her own light went lower, but she didn't get rid of it all the way. It was a gift all StarClan cats had. They could even decide when and if they wanted the stars to glow. Usually the cats forgot about it around the lake as it was a part of them and others, but on her journey, Sunstorm didn't want them glowing as it attracted too much attention.
"We should leave before they come back," she meowed, suddenly feeling depressed again. She knew that once they overcame the shock, the pair of miniature killers would be back, even more angry and aware of their foe's skills. "We have to leave before they get their courage back."
He nodded, his mouth pulled down into a serious face. He looked around and breathed deeply. "Know which direction?"
Sunstorm looked around. They were both lost. They didn't know what direction would take them out of the kit's territory or deeper in where the dirt trails crossed. She lifted her shoulders and tail and told him any direction was fine. She started off, continuing between the ambush site. He followed along, by her side, his tail swinging and his step light. She let his good mood come to her, letting her body relax enough to breathe easier.
Late sunhigh light streamed through the trees. Sunstorm licked her lips, feeling dry. She wished there was a stream nearby, something to quench her thirst. She looked around and sniffed. Nothing. There was no way they'd find the stream she'd followed to get into the forest, not unless they asked for directions. And the kits would probably lie. She glanced over at Redfur and he gave her a soft smile before turning away. Then his face went back to sagging. She flicked an ear. He must have felt as depressed as she did.
The ginger tabby shook her head and sighed. Then she saw something from the corner of her eye. She jerked her head over, turning to look behind them. The dark brown tom stared back at her. He was frozen in midstep, his legs spread away from him as if he were hunting. His yellow eyes stared at her unblinking, his face blank. He crouched farther behind them, just peeking out from a holly bush. She stared at him, but he didn't move.
"Redfur," she hissed.
The ginger tom looked behind and blinked. The kit still didn't move.
"Do you see the sister?" he meowed, turning around.
The StarClan cats didn't move. They stood still, facing each other, glancing everywhere in the forest for the other kit. Sunstorm peered through the shadows. She didn't see anything at all. It was as if the she-kit wasn't there. The warrior tilted her head up, but nothing stirred in the leaves.
"He isn't doing anything," she finally meowed, turning back. "Let's keep going, just keep an eye on him."
Redfur nodded and then the two started walking again. She tilted and ear back. She could hear pawsteps. Rapid and light. She turned to look again. The tom had moved. He was closer now, but still in that odd spread out stance. He wasn't moving now. His eyes looked up at her. They seemed wide and unafraid.
She turned away and kept walking. She heard him follow. She whipped around, claws raised. The brown kit had moved again, closer still, but now frozen as she stared at him. He didn't say a word, didn't utter a sound. Just stared, legs askew. But he was still too close for comfort.
Redfur tilted his head back, looking at them both. She could see him swallow. Her own heart fluttered nervously. She glanced at the kit and then away. She didn't want to move. If she did, he would follow. If she didn't, they would stand that way all day. She licked her whiskers, tail waving side to side.
"We better run for it," she whispered to the former WindClan warrior. "Before whatever his sister doing catches up to us."
He nodded. His eyes darted around, searching for the tortoiseshell. He stepped forward. She started backing away. The kit, rose slightly up, eyes narrowing as she slowly turned around. She wanted to keep her eyes on him, but she couldn't if she wanted to run. She faced away from him. She could feel his gaze on her, waiting for her to move. She glanced at Redfur. He blinked back at her. Her legs tensed and lowered, preparing to run.
"Now," she mewed. She sprang forward, leaping up over a tree root and landing on a small fern on the other side. She didn't stop, her paws raking the ground as she sped forward. Beside her, Redfur pounded and behind she could hear the pattering of the smaller paws. They raced, not wanting to stop this time. It didn't matter where they went as long as they could get away.
The cry was a thin wail. Sunstorm looked over. The tortoiseshell kit was running to them on the left between a tree that had been cut in half. She looked almost terrified. Sunstorm didn't let that bother her. She continued on, finding more strength within her to push through the low trailing leaves of a willow. She ran onward, pushing through, letting the leaves trail over her. Redfur was to her side, a pale ginger shadow. Behind she could hear the tortoiseshell yell at the young tom.
Suddenly there was no ground under her. The world lurched. Her paws went out from under her and she fell. She fell out of the willow tree vines and down. The sandy slope slid under her. She couldn't keep her balance and fell downward. She tumbled, the sand coating her fur and getting into her eyes. She rolled, the horizon spinning in her eyes until she shut them.
Eventually she came to a stop. Hard gravel dug into her shoulder. She opened her gummy eyes. Clouds floated by in an open, blue sky and water bubbled over stones nearby. On the other side of the stream another forest started. And above it, Sunstorm could see a mountain covered with trees, not like the Tribe's territory at all. The ground they stood upon was full of round stones, a treeless slice following the water's edge. It was peaceful. She could hear some birds singing nearby. The she-cat stood up and looked at the trail of darker sand she'd brought with her to the stream's edge. The dark trail led up a long curving slope where a wide willow tree leaned over. Two little faces peered down at her. She looked over and saw Redfur. He lay beside her. One eye opened and he looked at her and then at their surroundings.
Feeling he was all right, she turned her attention back to the kits. They stayed at the top of the slope. They didn't even come down, just sat there, glaring down, teeth bared. She suddenly knew. Just knew for certain. She and Redfur had left the kits' territory. They were safe. She let out a huge sigh, closing her eyes.
"I hope you never find your way home! I hope you stay lost forever in the Changing Lands!"
Her eyes snapped open and she stared back at the two. The yell had been distant, but loud enough to hear clearly. She glared back up at them. She didn't even want to reply. They might have been her friends once, but they'd made themselves her enemies.
"What do they mean by Changing Lands?" she meowed, turning to Redfur.
"The lands are always changing," he meowed. He stood now and shook the sand from his fur. He looked at her and his tail flicked to the stream. "Want to drink?"
She nodded and then followed him. After she was satisfied and her eyes and fur clean, she looked at him. "Tell me more."
But he didn't get the chance. The leaves started blowing and they seemed to fall. A blurring of green wreathed the tree tops and the trunks became nothing but a brown wall. Above on the slope the sand came tumbling down. The two kits pulled away and disappeared back behind the willow tree. The mighty tree stared fading from her sight while the rest of the world went to chaos. Only the stream remained the same. And only where they stood. Farther on, she watched it change course, suddenly the bank on the other side grew until it was steeper and there was a waterfall about two fox-lengths pouring down. And the mountain disappeared. There were only trees now. The blurring stopped. They were surrounded by trees in the middle of a forest. A pine forest. There was no undergrowth, just a thick covering of needles.
"Changing Lands," Redfur shrugged when it was over. "The only remain the same when a cat's claimed it as territory. One heartbeat you might find yourself in a desert, a moorland, or back where you started that morning."
Sunstorm just stared. Nothing at all looked the same. She had never ever experienced this. Feathertail had warned her, but she hadn't listened, she hadn't believed. Now she knew and it almost frightened her. Almost, except for the fact Redfur was still with her and this had helped them escape from the kits.
"This is odd," she meowed quietly. "Does this happen everywhere?"
Redfur nodded. "Yes, accept in territories. Ties to our descendants help us find our way home and stay with them. This was why on the Great Journey we could never speak with the Clans. We would have gotten lost and been in other skies if they'd given up on us."
She blinked at him in awe. "So how do we find our way home to StarClan?"
He only shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe something will call us."
She certainly didn't feel any calling. But she did feel hungry. "Mouse?" she meowed. He nodded and they went off.