Chapter 15: Sunstorm
Author's note: Up to this point I'd written all of Sunstorm's chapters in one day. So that's why Sunstorm's story was so closely related and not so time jumpy as the others. I had a headache at the end, so I hope this chapter comes off clearly. Enjoy:
"I hope you find your way home," Forest meowed.
"I hope I do too," Sunstorm sighed. "Thanks for your help."
"Thank you for yours."
She just nodded even though she knew she hadn't done much for this yellow-ginger tom. She hadn't solved his problems. She might have even made them worse. But she'd tried. And now it was time to return to StarClan. He'd led her to the edge of the black forest after they had a meal of fish. Hawthorn had long since disappeared somewhere, but Forest was sure to find her like always.
"Go with the sun," he murmured to her.
She twitched her tail and started off away from the water and away from the trees. The sand irritated her aching paws, but she tried to ignore it, hoping they wouldn't start bleeding again. It had only been two days since she'd woken up on the beach, water lapping at her back legs. Her claws had been broken and cracked, her bones and joints and muscles ached from her fall off the mountain.
The ginger-brown she-cat glanced behind once. She could see the forest of black trees growing on the edge of the water. Gray leaves fluttered above with a breeze. It reached her, blowing her fur the wrong way. She could definitely say she was glad to be leaving that gloomy land. So dark, so unhappy. It seemed to mirror the feelings of Hawthorn.
Sunstorm shivered and picked up her pace. She couldn't wait until that place was out of sight. She turned her attention to the sand in front of her. It seemed to stretch on endlessly. The water pushed and pulled to her right, covering the horizon, islands dotted the rolling waves. To the left, the sand stretched on. Somewhere there she thought she could see a shadow. Perhaps it was another forest. It was too far to reach in one day, but she hoped to arrive there by tomorrow.
Suddenly the sand became damp in front of her. She looked up and saw she'd arrived at the stream. She sniffed around. Yes, this was the place she'd woken up. Though starting to fade, her scent still coated the area.
Sunstorm took a drink from the stream. The cold felt soothing to her. When satisfied, she looked up, judging that she had almost half-a-day to walk. The sun had started to sink in the sky. It dipped down toward the wide water. Sunstorm watched it for a short time and then started walking away, keeping the stream to her right. Behind her the waves continued to pull at the sand. Whsssh, whsssh. She knew the water had taken her here, so the water would take her back. Once she found the mountains, she felt she could find StarClan.
The plan couldn't fail, she decided. Unless what Feathertail had said were true.
"... it varies for some reason. The border lands always do. Only when a territory is marked does it stay the same."
Sunstorm snorted. As if. The sky couldn't change all the time. The sky had to say the same, whether cats live there or not. There was no possible way the land would shift and change. So she continued walking, the shadows ahead of her, her eyes on the dark line.
When darkness came, she curled up in a sandy nest. She dug out a small dent in the sand and lay down. Just like Forest would have done, she decided. Her paws hurt when she was finished, but she was glad she'd managed to make one on her own. She wasn't as helpless as she could have been.
Morning came bright and too early in her opinion. Without the trees and leaves blocking the glare, the ground and air quickly became warm in the brightness. She was panting before sunhigh. She was grateful for the stream by her side. It provided nice drinks and then when her pelt felt too warm, she dipped in, rolling to coat her back. She didn't get muddy, not like on the mountain, because here it was only grit and no mud. The water would soaked in to her skin, taking away the burn from the sun. It also helped sooth her aching paws.
She licked them, feeling the pads toughen up again. There wasn't much she could do for the claws, but they'd grow back. She continued to walk and by night fall, she actually saw what she'd been heading for. She quickly hurried forward, not caring how dark it got.
In front of her rose trees of different sizes; some short and wide, with branches that reached downward, these were tall, thin and white, a few were little more than bushes. Others were great rounds pines and junipers and cedars. And below it all, were nice lush fern fronds; narrow, upright milkweeds; multiple colors of flowers; and moss climbing up the bark. And through it all, Sunstorm could hear myriads of sounds. Chirping of crickets, songs of birds, squeaks of mice, rustling of leaves as squirrels raced among the branches. She breathed in deep and the familiar smells hit the roof of her mouth. She felt like she was home already.
Stars glittered above in the sandy waste. No plants grew anywhere in the shifting grit. His paws sunk in deep and he found it hard to keep his balance. Somewhere ahead, he thought he could hear a repetitive sound. It seemed familiar somehow, but through it all, he could only think about how this place was comparable to the mountains. He and the others had to cross the high slopes and jagged peaks, feeling cold even though it was supposed to be greenleaf. There hadn't been many trees there either. He lived for trees, to be near them. But he had to abandon them on this quest.
He muttered to himself, pulling his paws out of the sand. He marched onward, his golden eyes wide in the darkness. He flicked his ears. He was probably lost. He didn't know the way back home, but that really didn't matter. Finding that she-cat was more important. She was probably lost too. No wonder he couldn't find her. It all seemed hopeless. That he'd never catch her.
His nose twitched as the sand smell suddenly was taken over by another. He paused and looked up. A rolling plain of light rushed toward him, then pulled back, then rushed again. He realized it was the source of the sound he'd been hearing most of the night. It seemed to be a giant lake. He stared out at it, as the moon's almost full shape illuminated the water. Stars reflected off of it, disappeared as the water moved.
Eyes blinking, he realized just how tired he was. This water was soothing. He almost wanted to curl up right there and start dreaming. Instead, with a sigh, he turned around, keeping the water to one side, and started following the shoreline. It was obvious no cat could cross this water, so his quarry had to be elsewhere.
The tom continued until he reached a stream in the middle of his path. He quickly leapt over, reaching the other side. That's when he caught the scent. The ginger tom froze, his nose twitching and his eyes wide. She'd been here. The scent of blood rose over the sand. His lips rose over his teeth as he bared long fangs. She'd been injured somehow. He quickly started following the blood. It pooled in her pawsteps, leading to a dark shadow. When he reached the shadow, he realized they were trees. Dark trees rising into the sky, sand underpaw, no bushes anywhere. He sniffed, searching for her scent.
There had been others, he realized as their scents mingled with hers. It became confusing for awhile as he singled hers out, and followed it deeper into the forest. She'd been with someone. He could catch this other tom's scent. The golden eyes narrowed. Who had this been? Had he injured her?
The tom wondered if this had been where Sunstorm got hurt and she'd bled her way to the stream. He gave a low growl and continued searching for her. He was so close. So very close.
The scent grew stronger and his heart beat picked up. The tom stopped. In the dark, he could see a lump in the sand. He breathed deep. It was the smell of the tom with Sunstorm. His ears lifted and he hurried forward, low to the ground, eyes only on the cat lying in the sand unaware.
He sprung. Claws out, he landed on top of the sleeping tom. With a yowl, the cat awoke, flipping to his back, using his legs to push the attacker away. The ginger tom flew, but landed on his feet. A growl in his throat.
"Where is she?"
"Who?" this other tom demanded. His two different colored eyes flashed in the moon light, glancing side to side as if searching for someone.
"The ginger-brown tabby," the ginger tom insisted. "I must find her. She was just here. You were here with her. I could smell her blood. Tell me now, or I will hurt you."
Sunstorm rose as the sun dawned. The leaves bled green everywhere. Even the bark on the trees seemed greener. She smiled. This was what a forest should look like not that horrible place by the wide water. She stood up and stretched long and slow. Then she went hunting, searching for something that tasted a lot better than fish.
By sunhigh Sunstorm became restless. She kept the stream to her right, following it. Having to duck under low branches or jump over bushes and fallen trees. The stream cut deeper into the ground and rush lower than her. If she paused and looked down she could see stones lining the bottom. She didn't lean too far over, scared of falling in and not being able to come out. It was much deeper here, and the banks much higher and steeper.
She started to get lonely. There wasn't anyone to talk to or listen to talk. For a while she even wished Feathertail was back with her. She'd had someone with her this whole journey. It was strange to have no one now. She wondered how long it would take to get back to StarClan.
Her ears went back. It could be moons. She didn't know how far the water had carried her. Moons alone. Clanless. Her eyes widened. It seemed so bleak. She'd never thought being exiled was a punishment. But now she could realize how much it was. If she'd been driven away, whenever anyone saw her, family or friend, they'd have to drive her off. She'd always be alone unless she found a cat to travel with and that cat wouldn't believe in StarClan or the code. She wouldn't have anything to do all day. No one to care for. Just hunt for herself or keep walking. That's what life was like now, she could see, but at least she had a destination. No matter how long it would take, she'd make it to StarClan.
The ferns moved ahead. She froze, crouching down, making less of a target. She looked, her ears swiveling to find what had brushed the undergrowth. She hoped it was just a squirrel. She'd feel silly, but at least she'd be safe. Nothing moved for a short time and Sunstorm had a feeling whatever it was had left.
She stood up and started walking once more. She kept her steps light, her ears still listening. Still, she wasn't prepared when a furry bundle fell from above. A small dark shape landed in front of her. Large yellow eyes stared up at her, and then the kit raced away. Sunstorm stood there, one paw raised in the air, her tail starting to puff out in fright. She could still see the ferns shaking where the kit had disappeared.
She glanced around, wondering if it would come back, but nothing move. She started walking, not sure if she wanted to continue in the direction the kit had gone. It wasn't exactly dangerous, but that kit had frightened her. The scent continued upstream and Sunstorm was forced to follow. As she walked, she thought she could hear voices following her.
She glanced around, but still she couldn't see who they were. Finally she had enough.
"Get out here now!" she growled. "Stop following me and show yourselves."
The area around her went silent as birds realized she was there and the crickets stopped singing. Nothing moved. And then a dark shape pulled itself from the bushes. The little kit she'd seen before stood in front of her. It shivered as if scared. Head lowered. For a while, she just stared at it, sniffing. It smelled like a tom.
He kept his head lowered, but she could see him looking.
"Get out here," he whispered.
"No," a reply hissed from the bushes.
Sunstorm looked up and spotted a little tortoiseshell hiding under the low leaves.
"Move it," Sunstorm growled.
The eyes widened and out popped the kit. Now two of them stood in front of her.
"There aren't any more of you are there?" she questioned.
They shook their little heads, not meeting her eyes.
"Good. Now, why are you following me?"
The tom nudged the she-kit. She shoved back and then they were hissing at each other.
Sunstorm felt highly amused. These were definitely kits.
"Stop it," she meowed, waving her tail.
They lowered their own tails and turned to her.
"Would you play with us?" the tom asked.
She blinked at him.
"We need someone else," the she-kit meowed. "Please?"
Sunstorm wasn't sure how to answer. "Where are your parents?"
Now they didn't know what to say. Sunstorm suddenly realized how mouse-brained her question really was. This was StarClan: the skies. They'd died. That didn't mean their parents had.
"All right," she meowed. "I'll play."
Their eyes glowed. "Hurray!" they yelled.
Sunstorm really didn't know what she was getting into.