Chapter 18: Sunstorm
The ginger-brown she-cat followed the two kits. All around her waved fronds of large ferns. Sunlight streamed downward from above through the thick layers of tree leaves. Deep shadows crossed her path as she hopped over a few roots. She landed on a small indent and stumbled.
"It isn't much farther is it?" she meowed. She stood up straight and watched as the kits jumped over a fallen log with the ease of much older cats. She wondered how long the two had been dead for and if they were able to catch their own food.
The tortoiseshell she-cat stood up on the top of the fallen tree. Her little nails dug deep into the pitted and mossy bark. She stared down at Sunstorm with narrowed eyes, a smile on her spotted face.
"We're already playing," the kit squeaked. "It's follow the leader. Now come up."
Sunstorm sighed and shook her head. She couldn't believe she'd allowed them to talk her into this. First the two kits stalked her through the forest and then their pleading eyes for another playmate drew her away from the stream leading her home to StarClan. At first deciding to stay with them had seemed the right thing to do, but now she realized just how much time she was losing.
She shook her head again and jumped onto the log. Her claws dug in the smooth bark, pricking the green moss. It felt cold on her pads. The warmth from the sun settled on her pelt and her throat felt dry. What she wouldn't do for a drink.
"I'm tired of this," the little tom growled. His brown pelt was so dark it almost looked black until a ray of sunlight glanced over his fur. He paced on the ground on the other side of the log.
"You were the leader," the tortoiseshell she-kit protested. "How can you be tired? I'll lead then!"
"No," he grumbled. "Let's play scent-and-seek."
"All right!" the kit's ears rose and she kneaded the log, tearing shreds of moss off. "You okay with that?" She turned to Sunstorm.
The ginger-brown tabby nodded slowly. She had agreed to play after all and that meant any game they chose.
"Great!" the tom chirped. "I'll close my eyes and you hide."
"When will you come after us?"
"When the next dove coos." He closed his eyes and sat down, a frown narrowing his features.
"Come on," the she-kit giggled, turning away and touching Sunstorm with her tail tip. "We have to hide."
Sunstorm tilted her head and gave a small smile. This was starting to remind her of when she was a kit. Of course it had been different with her siblings' gifts. There were times when they knew exactly where to find each other, either having SEEN where they'd hide, where they were going to hide, or as they hid.
She jumped from the log and followed the she-kit behind a bush.
"Where do we go?" she whispered.
The kit giggled again. "Anywhere. Make it good too. He's a good tracker."
Sunstorm nodded and carefully slunk away. She kept her step light as if stalking a mouse and tried not to brush her fur against any plant. Her yellow eyes were alert, searching for a place to hide. She saw a ditch in a clearing and lowered herself down until her belly fur touched the cool sand. She peered over the edge of the dip, her ears carefully low. She heard a dove cooing mournfully, echoed by its mate. She smiled. He was coming.
She stayed in the ditch until she saw him approach a long while later. His sister bounced by his side, her eyes dancing from patches of undergrowth to roots of tees. The tom had his head lowered, his breath sending puffs of dust from the sparsely covered path they walked. He froze and lifted his head. Ears twitching, he grinned, staring right at her.
"You have to catch me before I give up!" she shouted.
She sprang up and ran for a leaning tree which top rested against the side of a low hill. Beams of sunlight scattered along her pelt as she raced away. The ground became soft underpaw as more grass and fern sprouts replaced the sandy clearing. The kits shrieked in joy and she could hear them pounding after. She leapt up, grabbing the tree with claws out and heaved herself up the sloping plane.
She reached the top and jumped down to the hill top. There she turned around, sides heaving. The two kits scrambled up the tree, slipping but determined to keep going. When they were almost to the top, she started padding away, eyes alert for the next challenge. She spotted a boulder and hurried over as two thuds sounded behind her. They raced after her. A small body leapt onto her and she stumbled. The next kit pounced and she fell to the ground. On her side, she gazed at the kits standing on her.
"Got you!" they yelled, wild grins on their panting faces.
"I give up," she moaned and flopped her head and tail back down.
They laughed and let her up.
"First to the top?" she meowed, flicking an ear to the gray bumpy boulder. They nodded, eyes shining.
"Then you find us next!" the she-kit meowed.
Sunstorm nodded and shifted her legs, preparing for the climb.
The day past more quickly than she'd thought possible. Twilight cast a gray and red haze between the trees. Sunstorm enjoyed her time with the kits. Though her paws started aching again, her claws seeping blood from all the use, she'd been happy. Yet her mind wandered before the day was through. She felt the need to start her journey. While the day had been fun and diverting, she had to get back to StarClan. So when the kits finally laid down, curling together in a fresh mossy nest, she thought of what to say.
She sat not too far off on her own moss. They'd collected it as the sun started to fade, finding a nice clearing to rest in. Her stomach rumbled. They hadn't eaten all day and she was starting to feel weak from hunger. She decided that a nice good by meal wouldn't hurt. She got up and started walking away.
"Where are you going?" the tom meowed.
She looked over her shoulder and saw his eyes had opened. He got up and his sister untangled from him to stand by his side. They stared at her as if confused.
"I'm hunting," she told them. "Before I leave, I thought we could share a meal."
"We haven't eaten for a long time," the she-kit meowed quietly. But her soft, longing voice was drowned out by her brother's.
"You can't leave," he hissed. He walked forward, his teeth bared and glinting.
Sunstorm's fur rose as an uneasy feeling settled in her chest. The she-kit moved forward as well, her eyes growing hard.
"I'm sorry, but I do have someplace to be," she replied. She held her ground though she felt like backing away. The kits came forward, little paws taking great strides, their eyes shining eerily.
"You aren't going anywhere. We won't let you," they spoke at the same time now.
Her eyes widened and her breath caught. She hadn't realized how scary that could be. No wonder somecats thought she and her sisters were odd when they were kits.
"You're too fun. We have to keep you."
"And if you don't," the she-kit mewed.
"We will have to kill you," the tom continued. "Like the others."
She blinked and one hind paw went back. Kill? Others? These two kits? It seemed incredible. They'd been such sweet and fun loving young cats only wanting to play with someone else. She looked at them now. Their teeth were all too obvious as their lips pulled back. Their sharp needle-like claws out, muscles unlike any kits she'd seen before rippled under their dark pelts. And it was their eyes. So different from before: narrowed, but almost black. She could believe it now. They meant what they said. They would try their hardest to kill her.
The two stopped in front of her, looking up into their face.
"And if I stay?" she meowed, refusing to back up anymore.
"Then you won't be harmed," the tom told her.
"We only want someone to play," the she-kit meowed, her voice deceptively high and pleading, seeming odd on her terrifying face.
"And how long must I stay until I am allowed to leave?"
"Forever. You can never leave us," the tortoiseshell blinked her softening eyes.
"You are too much fun," the tom purred.
Sunstorm gritted her teeth. As much as she was scared they could cause her damage in an attempt to kill her, she couldn't let them do this. She couldn't stay forever. But she didn't want to hurt them trying to defend herself. They were still only kits after all, if very dangerous ones. Besides no one could die once they were already dead. Could they? Again the questions tugged at her mind. What had happened to those cats the hawk took? What about the mice and birds she'd eaten? What of the cats that faded away or never rose from their deep sleeps?
"I'm sorry," she got out from clenched teeth, "but I can't do it. I have to return to my Clan."
"Then we are sorry too," the she-kit whispered, her eyes dulling.
"Grrar!" the tom shrieked and leapt for her.
She raised her front paw in time, slapping him away. The she-kit jumped from the other side. Sunstorm couldn't defend herself. She wouldn't be in balance if she struck out. She ducked and the tortoiseshell hit the back of her neck. There she hung on, back paws pummeling. Sunstorm could feel her skin rip. She shook herself, trying to get the kit off. Her brother got up from where he'd fallen and charged her. The StarClan warrior fled. She turned tail, feeling his teeth snap on the very end and pull out fur. The she-kit lost her balance and fell off with a squeak.
"You can't run!" the tom calmly yelled after her. "We know these woods. We will find you!"
Sunstorm gasped for breath but plunged through a crack in a wall of bushes, leaving the resting clearing behind. She could hear them, pounding after as fast as they could.
Suddenly a shadow reared up in front of her. Startled, she fell back, but her paw caught on a root and she tripped. The kits rattled the bushes as they pushed through. The shadow moved, leaping over her prostrate form. He landed behind her, in front of the kits.
"Run away, you fleapelts before I tear your ears off!" he snarled.
She heard his claws land a blow. A kit shrieked in pain. Pounding paws skittered away over fallen leaves. She slowly got up and turned around to get him in her sight. Her back paw wouldn't hold her weight and she picked it up, balancing on the others. She stared at her rescuer. His ginger fur caught in a moonbeam, spiked in anger and his tail thrashed behind him.
"How did you know?" she asked.
His ears rose and he faced her. She couldn't breathe. She knew him.
"I could smell your terror," he meowed softly, so much different than the fierce tom who scared away the kits. "No cat runs like that from friends."
He walked over to her and placed his head on her shoulder. "I missed you," he purred.
"You came to find me," she whispered, closing her eyes and leaning on him in relief. "I thought you never left StarClan anymore."
"I do for you," Redfur answered. "And now we'll go back together."
"Yes," she meowed. "Together."
A sappy one, I guess, but next comes the final part of the trilogy: Night Divides the Sky
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