Chapter 12: Sunstorm
The black trees stood like the shadows of some great forest. The gray leaves shook overhead, sounding as if it were a warning call. Everything was strange here. No color. No undergrowth. The sand underpaw didn't make very firm ground; her ginger-brown paws kept sinking. The grit dug into her paw pads and into her cracked nails. It aggravated her, making blood seep out, dotting the trail behind her.
Sunstorm sighed, wishing for soft grass. She longed for birdcalls, for the squeaking of mice, and the chattering of squirrels as they searched for nuts. Instead she was stuck here in this black forest, following a tom. The yellow-ginger tom padded ahead of her. His tail swung through the air like a flitting bird. On his face was a smile, making her think of a kit with a ball of moss. She wondered how it must have been for him to live for so long in this gloomy place with just his mate. The mate that refused to speak with him or even listen to him.
Hawthorn let Forest take care of her. She let him fish and bring the prey to her. But she refused to listen to him when he wanted to talk, when he wanted to apologize for killing her. Hawthorn kept running away. But Forest followed, insisting on making amends, to have her understand. He longed to make up to her and to show her how much he changed. Sunstorm thought that must be love. Or devotion. Or else just insanity. She could be stuck in the Black Forest with two crazy cats.
She didn't even know where she was in the sky. For all she knew she could be on an island. Islands like the ones she'd seen across the wide water. She shivered at the thought. If that was so, she'd never make it back to StarClan. She'd given up on wanting to go to the Tribe. Of course she'd still like to see what happened to Moss and the others, but home sounded more appealing. She wanted to be by the lake and take the opportunity to look down on ThunderClan. All this talk of the Clans made her miss home like never before. She wanted to see Fawnfur again. To see Morningsong.
"Here we are," Forest meowed.
Sunstorm looked up. They'd reached some spot in the Black Forest. Patches of sunlight glinted down through the leaves, splashing onto the sand. Laying down in a dip of sand, splayed out in the center of one sunbeam was Hawthorn. The white she-cat with black belly opened one blue eye and stared at them, before it closed once more.
"Go away, Forest. I told you I don't want anything to do with you."
"I know, but this she-cat wants to talk with you."
Hawthorn opened both eyes and looked at Sunstorm. "What?"
"I haven't introduced myself," Sunstorm meowed, suddenly realizing Forest didn't know what to call her. "My name is Sunstorm. I am a warrior of ThunderClan."
"Hello then," Hawthorn meowed, closing her eyes and curling tighter. "Now goodbye."
Sunstorm's ears went back, one eye twitched. "No thanks for saving you yesterday?"
Hawthorn frowned. "Saving me from what? This tom came and found me later. A big help you were."
Sunstorm sighed and shook her head. "We got to talking," she meowed. "He was nice and showed me a place to sleep and he brought me food."
"No wonder the fish was half eaten."
Sunstorm glared. Hawthorn wasn't the most cheerful cat she'd ever known.
"Well, we were talking again this morning," Sunstorm continued, keeping her voice bright as if Hawthorn wasn't making a kink in her tail. "And I discovered I knew some things about your son Deepforest."
Hawthorn's eyes shot open and the she-cat was on her feet in an instant.
"You know my son?" She sounded excited. An eager, happy looked spread across her face.
Sunstorm just nodded, not wanting to get into any complicated answers.
"When I was alive, he came to the lake where I lived. He joined a Clan nearby."
"My son is still alive," Hawthorn smiled. Then she frowned. "Well, go on."
Sunstorm licked her whiskers and nodded. She explained everything she'd told Forest just that morning. About how Deepforest disappeared and then he and Eveningbreeze wanted to take over ShadowClan. She told Hawthorn about the life-that-might-have-been between Deepforest and Fallingsnow. Then she said how Deepforest left the lake.
Hawthorn listened to it all. Her eager face turned to sadness quickly and by the end, the white she-cat's head swung side to side, her eyes closed.
Sunstorm quickly stopped wondering what the matter was. Had her words somehow hurt this older cat? She'd tried to gloss over the parts where Deepforest had caused the most trouble, but she hadn't wanted to lie either. Now she wondered if coming had been a mistake.
"Hawthorn?" Forest meowed, quietly. He took a step nearer to his mate.
She froze, and looked up. Her eyes were like fire, glaring at him.
"How dare you bring her here," she hissed. "Telling me about my son. The life I couldn't see him live because you killed me. I couldn't be with him there to see him or to save him. It's all a punishments. Wounds to my already hurting soul. Death hurts," she hissed. She bared her teeth, glaring at Sunstorm. "I can do nothing here. I must listen to him. Be chased by my murderer, never left alone. Constantly tormented by hunger and the silence. Blocked in by water on one side and land without trees on the other. Now I have to listen about my son. Knowing that I'll never see my kits again, never have kits anymore. I'm being punished," she wailed, her head tilted to the sky, calling out her anguish. "Punished for loving this tom while in life. For even letting him be my mate. Punished for leaving my home so young. Torn from my life before I was ready, forced to stay here, be followed by memories. Why can't you just leave me alone and give me peace?"
She fled from them. Her back paws kicked dust into the air and she ran away through the trees. Still Sunstorm could hear her wailing. It faded off as Hawthorn left them. Sunstorm swallowed, looking at the last place the white she-cat had disappeared.
"She doesn't see this as a release, does she?" Sunstorm whispered. She knew so many cats that looked forward to death after long lives of service to their Clans. She'd seen kits, who hated having to die before even starting life, but accepted death and found new things to look forward to do. Never had she seen a cat think death was a place against her, a thing to torment her.
"Sometimes I think she looks for things to punish herself. Things she believes are against her or are placed to give her pain," Forest replied just as quietly. "She might have grown up in a family that believed when you died, there was nothing good to look forward too. I'm just not sure."
"I'm sorry," Sunstorm meowed. "I guess I didn't help after all."
"It's not your fault," Forest sighed. "I'd just hoped we might help her."
Sunstorm looked at the defeated tom. He'd tried so much, but still Hawthorn found reasons to hate him. She knew then what made him continue after every refusal. It truly was love.
Later that day, Forest led her to the stream. This branch flowed from the one Sunstorm had woken up next to. While that one fed the large body of water, this small stream pooled in the center of the forest. The deep blue depths held shadows of fish. Forest leaned over, careful not to scare them away as he stuck his claws in, throwing one of the slippery meals to the sand. Sunstorm caught it while he struck for another one.
"Why don't you just leave her?" Sunstorm asked. Her paws held down the fish on either side of the flopping body. She struggled to keep it down so it wouldn't hop away from her. Who knew fish could be so hard to catch?
"What would she do then?" Forest replied. He buried his jaws in the fish, right near the gills. The gray creature stopped moving. Sunstorm quickly copied him. Her own fish ceased moving. The strong repellant taste filled her mouth resting on her tongue. What she wouldn't give for a mouse.
"She'd be alone here," Forest continued. "She doesn't know how to catch fish, the only prey I've seen here. I need to be here for her. Maybe one day she might. . ."
Sunstorm looked up at him. It seemed hard for him to say.
"I'd hope that one day she might realize that she's been running away for the wrong reasons. That she might remember herself. I have to be there then. I have to stand firm and never leave her, so that when she does need me, I'll be there for her."
Sunstorm looked down. She knew by now she would have given up on a cat as crazy as Hawthorn. The white she-cat just didn't seem to listen. Forest had been trying for moons, but still he was patient enough to wait for longer.
"What is it like where you live?" Forest asked.
"I live by a lake," she meowed.
"But I thought that the Clans lived by a lake."
She could see he was confused.
"We both do," she meowed. "In the skies above and the ground below there is a lake for both of us. We can see the Clans by looking into the lake. There is also a forest. And a wide grassy moorland. I left it actually. It was boring after a while."
And she told him about going to the Tribe and what she'd done there. He listened. His eyes glowed with interest, his tail twitching.
"I want to go there," he meowed when she was finished. "I mean, I am worried about your friends, but I want to see all these places you've been talking about."
"I'm worried about them too," Sunstorm agreed. "But I know what you mean. You were a rogue when you were alive-"
"Roamer," he meowed. "We called ourselves roamers."
"More descriptive," she consented. "But you liked to wander then, so staying here must bother you."
"I want to take Hawthorn with me when I go though."
"She has a very good tom," Sunstorm purred. "Whether she knows it or not."
He smiled back at her and Sunstorm realized she'd found herself a friend.
Golden eyes flashed in the darkness. Stars shone overhead, a half moon hovering in the sky like a cat's eye. His paws stepped on long grass, his body low. His ginger ears twitched as overhead bats flew and swooped, squeaking their pitched calls. His nose twitched, breathing in the scents of the dirt, the blooming flowers, and one small mouse in front of him. Jaws dripping and stomach growling, he lightly stepped down. He needed this catch, this kill if he were to continue. He couldn't afford weakness now. Not in his search.
The scents of the she-cat had faded long ago. He didn't know what direction she'd gone. But he'd find her. He had to find that she-cat with the ginger-brown fur. He must find Sunstorm.