Chapter 9: Sunstorm
The sun filtered through the gray leaves, shining off of the black bark. Sunstorm opened one eye and then the other. She could spot the blue sky through the leaves. She slowly stood and stretched. Her sore body had become stiff. She still ached, but it wasn't as intense. She got out of her dirt nest and padded away from the tree. With enough room, she started spreading her limps, easing out the stiffness with stretching.
Part of the morning was gone by the time she felt loose and better than she had yesterday. She sat down and looked at her paws. The claws were still broken and little more than nubs. She wouldn't be good in any fight. The best she could do was bite and dodge, and hope she had enough power to hit. She licked her paws, cleaning out the dried blood which stuck in the fur between her pads stiff and hard. When she was done, she realized how hungry she was. The fish last night hadn't been very appetizing. She sniffed, hoping for something better.
There wasn't any smell of mouse nor were there birdcalls. She hadn't expected much, but she could still hope. She yawned and then stood up. She looked around and listened for the push and pull of the waves. It wasn't long before she found what direction it sounded from. She started walking.
She broke through the black forest trees. The distant horizon rolled, flecks of white jumping into the green air. Underneath her paws, the sand became looser, sloping down to the water's edge. She stared out, just letting a cool breeze rush over her, blowing her ginger-brown fur.
"Sometimes I wonder if there's anyone out there."
Sunstorm looked over her shoulder and saw Forest. The yellow-ginger tom with brown stripes came nearer. When he came close enough, she could see his different colored eyes, one circled by white.
"I followed your scent," he told her.
She nodded and turned away. She felt better with him somehow. He wasn't as threatening as he'd been the other day. Now that Hawthorn was gone and not playing the helpless she-cat, Forest seemed like a nice and caring tom. Of course, she still couldn't get out of her head that Hawthorn had said he'd killed her.
"I look out here when I need space from Hawthorn," he meowed. "If you look harder, you can spot islands."
She glanced at him and then back to the water. She squinted, fighting against the rolling motion of the waves and the glare as the sun rose higher in the sky behind her. There. She thought she could spot one still space. It almost seemed like a boulder just sitting on top of the water, far out there, but not as far as horizon.
"Do you think there are cats there?" she meowed.
"I'm not sure," he answered. "I hope to find out one day. When I leave the Black Forest with Hawthorn."
She turned her head to stare at him. "What exactly happened between you two?"
He blinked and lowered his head. "When we were alive, we were mates. I couldn't stay in one place for long, so I wandered. I'd always come back to her though. Then one day I saw her with another tom. He was a dark brown tabby with a stub tail. She rubbed her head against his and her tail wrapped around him. They stood so close together."
He took a shaky breath. "I thought she'd betrayed me and my love. I knew it was her though. She had the same white fur, and black belly. Not many cats look like that. Later, when I went to our meeting place I confronted her. She didn't know what I was talking about. I thought she was lying to me." He swallowed. "I got so angry at her. I-I killed her. I thought because she'd betrayed me, she wasn't worth even loving and to punish this other tom, I would take her life from him."
Sunstorm stared at him with wide eyes. "Then you killed yourself?" she meowed.
He shook his head. "No, I wouldn't do that. I left her there and started walking away, determined never to come back to that part of the forest again. Two nights later a storm came. I waited it out under a bush. I saw a dark brown cat wandering, getting wet. I would have thought he was older than twelve moons, except that his head and paws were bigger than normal. I realized he was still young, probably not much older than a kit. So I called to him. I invited him to spend the night with me so he wouldn't get wet. He accepted. He seemed a bit, well. . . annoyed really, but something in his eyes looked desperate, as if he'd lost something. I took pity on him. The next morning we spoke. I don't remember what about, but I probably asked him his age and his name. I invited him to come with me. He probably needed someone to care for him, and I was tired of traveling alone. He declined and left."
Forest stared into the distance. What had happened to him in his last days of life? She wondered what it must have been like for him to have killed his mate, even in anger. What sort of jealousy could drive a cat like that? Or was it no emotion at all?
"It wasn't long before the tom returned," Forest continued. "I thought he'd changed his mind. We spoke and I offered him the mouse I'd caught. It looked like he might accept when she came."
Sunstorm's ears went up. He'd said that so oddly, with so much longing.
"She looked exactly like my Hawthorn. I was stunned. I couldn't even move. It seemed as if my mate had risen from the dead to find me. I said her name. The white she-cat spat at me. 'No,' she growled. 'Her daughter you monster.'. . . And then I knew. Oh, then I knew. I'd made a mistake. I hadn't seen my Hawthorn with that other tom. It was this she-cat. My daughter. A daughter Hawthorn had wanted to show me. We'd had a family together and I didn't even know it."
He swallowed and Sunstorm saw his eyes water. She could only hold her breath, her heart stilled in shock. This was just incredible to hear.
"And then the tom came," Forest meowed quietly. "The brown tabby tom with the stub tail. I knew then it had to be my son. And the other tom, the one I saved from the rain. That was also my kit. I looked between them. I didn't know what to make of it. How had they found me? I was too much in shock to defend myself when they jumped on me. They pinned me down and I couldn't struggle free as the she-cat started clawing me. It hurt. It hurt almost as much as my heart when I realized that I had killed my mate for no reason and my kits were seeking revenge. Then the tom I'd rescued from the rain took his turn, and he plunged his teeth into my neck. I died."
Forest sighed and closed his eyes. "Then I woke up here in this black forest. Alone, not sure what was going on. I wandered away, looking for someone to explain. Then I found my Hawthorn. She was here with me. She looked starved, frightened. When she saw me she ran. I chased her, determined to tell her I was wrong, that I was sorry for killing her. She never listened to me, but I took care of her, catching fish for her to eat, making sure nothing happened to her, all the time, just trying to talk. I even asked her about the kits one day. She told me their names: Sky, the she-cat; Rabbit, the tom with the stumpy tail; and Deepforest, the kit she'd named for me."
He gave a sad smile. "I just wished I had let her explain to me that day instead of striking out. I could have known my kits. I could have helped her raise them. I don't even know what happened to them after they killed me. I don't think they even knew who I was."
"I'm sorry," Sunstorm meowed after a pause. Those were the only words she could think of.
He swallowed. "Now you know what happened. Why I need to talk with her. Sometimes I get frustrated when she doesn't listen. But this time I went too far. She just needed to stay still and I thought that if I could hold her, she might actually listen for once."
Now Sunstorm could see why he'd attacked his mate just yesterday. If she had to live hear alone with Hawthorn, knowing she was responsible for the other's death, she would try to make up too.
"Should we find her?" Sunstorm asked.
"Why?" Forest replied. "She'll just run again. I need to give her space for a few days. Then I'll try again. If she sees how patient I am, maybe she'll change her mind. I'd hoped that one of these days she'd come to me. But it's been moons. Even when I don't bring her fish, she refuses to find me, or to hunt for herself. So I have to help her."
Poor Forest, Sunstorm thought, looking at him. He tried to help his mate and she still didn't pay attention to him.
"Well, maybe I can help," Sunstorm told him. "If I tell her how much you are sorry, she might listen to you herself."
"I hope," he meowed.
She stood up and shook her body. The sand dropped from her belly and legs. In front of her the water continued to move and behind her leaves rustled in the wind. She turned to the yellow-ginger tom and looked at him. Something moved in her memory. Something he'd said sounded familiar to her.
"What did you say your kits were named?" she asked.
"Sky, Rabbit, and Deepforest," he answered. "Why?"
"Deepforest," she muttered. "That name sounds so familiar. What did he look like?"
Forest titled his head and watched her. "He was a dark brown tabby tom. He had the greenest eyes too."
Then it hit her. The rogue. Her eyes flashed as she remembered that leaf-bare. "He came to visit our Clans once," she meowed.
Forest's ears lifted. "You know him? Is he dead? Is he here?"
"Oh," she shook her head. "No. It was when I was living. I was teasing you yesterday about being older. I only died this newleaf. It should be greenleaf down below, so it hasn't been long. Deepforest came to our Clans two leaf-bares ago."
"You're saying you've meet him?" He seemed almost desperate to know.
Once again Sunstorm had to shake her head. "I never met him. Ever. But I know about him. He caused a war to happen between our Clans. You see, Deepforest used to be in RiverClan when he disappeared suddenly. Everyone thought he'd left just like he'd come. But that leaf-fall trouble started. Prey was stolen from WindClan, ThunderClan, and RiverClan territory. They all wanted to start fighting each other, to find the thief. Then the ShadowClan deputy died. That leafbare everyone met up on the WindClan moor. There was this huge battle and many cats died. Then the ShadowClan cats came and they had Deepforest with them. They claimed that he and a ShadowClan she-cat were planning on taking over ShadowClan and then the lake. They killed the she-cat and decided since Deepforest had hurt everyone, they could do what they wanted with him. So WindClan took him. He escaped that night because everyone was exhausted and no one's seen him since."
Forest looked at her. He was obviously confused. She probably hadn't made much sense to him. He'd have to know the Clans and the terms after all.
"I was a kit then," she told him. "I just heard about everything. And I also saw it."
"What do you mean?"
"I had a gift when I was alive. I could see the future on occasion. And I saw Deepforest in ShadowClan. Mostly I saw one of my Clanmates, a Fallingsnow. She and he were connected somehow. It was during this time I wasn't sure what would happen or who would even win. Because things kept changing. But there was one future that stood out more than the others. One where Deepforest and Eveningbreeze did succeed and took over ShadowClan. They became the leaders. Deepforest and Fallingsnow became mates and she finally convinced him to go back to the old way of life. Eveningbreeze was going crazy, killing off cats she thought were against her, and the other Clans were thinking about attacking, because they thought she was trying to take their territory. Well, Deepforest killed Eveningbreeze and peace came back to the lake, and Deepforest became leader of ShadowClan and had the name Deepstar. He and Fallingsnow became some of the best rulers of the lake, they made ShadowClan strong."
"So this happened?" Forest questioned.
Sunstorm shook her head. "It was only a possibility. It didn't happen because Eveningbreeze didn't succeed in taking over ShadowClan. In the end, Fallingsnow became the leader, in a roundabout way. She's a great leader too. And Deepforest left, so he could be anywhere."
"That's, I guess, good news," Forest meowed. "I never knew one of my kits could do so much, or have to potential to be a leader."
Sunstorm tried not to roll her eyes. Didn't he even hear her say that Deepforest was a killer? She frowned. He probably already knew that. His own son had killed him.
"We should tell Hawthorn," Forest was meowing. "I think she'd like to hear about her kits. It might help her listen to me. Will you come and tell her what you told me?"
Sunstorm paused. She had said she'd helped. Maybe this was her chance. Anyway, Hawthorn might just trust her over her mate. She might be able to repair the damage Forest had caused. If she could get them talking, then she could feel she'd done something right for them.
"All right," she agreed.
For those of you who do not recognize the names, the other characters are from "Forest and Shadows". This chapter connects "Unknown Skies" and "Forest and Shadows" tells you how Forest and Hawthorn got to the Black Forest.