Chapter 9: Sunstorm
The walk through the large forest took just a quarter moon. The lush undergrowth of moss, ferns, bushes, gorse, and vines hid plenty of food for the two she-cats and was soft enough for a nest every night. They had nothing to fear because the sky was a place for cats. They didn't have to be frightened that a dog or a fox would come.
The two sat down at the edge of the forest, a slow wind gusting through their fur as the sound of birds whistled behind them in the forest. A few young, trailing trees spread outward from the forest edge and into a field of tall grass. Blue, gold, and red flowers bobbed in the breeze. Sunlight shone down, hazing the land around them. The heavy warmth made Sunstorm's eyes droop and her body relaxed even under the shadows. She felt it would be nice just to lie down and fall asleep for a short time.
They sat just a hollyhock bush. The large, broad leaves draped down over their backs, tickling them with the breeze. Sunstorm twitched her ears at a bee as it buzzed around her face, searching for one of the purple flowers.
"That was really quick," Feathertail commented.
"What makes you say that?"
The ginger-brown she-cat stared up into the mountain range. The mighty rocks towered above, their peaks hidden in clouds. Everywhere else the sun shone in blue sky. Her tail fur stood on end. She'd never seen anything so high. She glanced across the field of tall grass that led to the foothills of the mountain. She knew that on earth the area would have been covered in twolegplaces. She was almost more willing to cross one of those than go over the mountains.
"Usually it takes more time to get across the forest," Feathertail meowed, reminding Sunstorm she'd asked a question. The silvery she-cat licked her chest and continued. "The unknown territory must be on our side."
Sunstorm shared the she-cat's smile and nodded. She'd never been outside StarClan territory before but Feathertail had made it sound dangerous. Supposedly unless cats had claimed a territory the land always changed, and a cat could get lost wandering around the unknown. After crossing it and never once getting lost, Sunstorm just thought it was all a joke the old StarClan leaders had told all the cats to make them stay together.
Feathertail glanced upward at the sky. "Well, we have half a day to go," she meowed. "We might make it to the cliff side if we hurry."
Sunstorm sighed and reluctantly stood.
The silver she-cat looked back, her long tail fur bobbing in the wind. "You know we don't have to go. I can just take you back."
Sunstorm knew Feathertail had been reluctant to take her, but they'd come so far.
"No," she purred quickly. "Let's get up there."
Feathertail looked down and then glanced up, her eyes partially hidden. "They don't really like strangers. Not since that rogue Clan came. It might be safer if I don't take you."
"It won't matter," Sunstorm answered. "Once they know I'm with you, it'll work out."
Feathertail smiled her sweet smile once more. "You are so confident. Sometimes I envy you."
Sunstorm grinned. "I always envied you. Even when my grandfather Brackenfur told the stories about the Great Journey and how you and the others found Midnight and traveled through the forests. I wished I'd been born then to go with you."
Feathertail lost her smile and looked off into the distance, her eyes sad. "There are better cats to envy. Those with better ends."
"What better end is it to sacrifice yourself for someone?" Sunstorm asked, her yellow eyes bright. Then her face hardened. "It's better than being caught in an accident."
She could still remember the branch as it hurdled for her head, bobbing downstream on the river. She hadn't even really seen it in time. She'd just had a short warning from StarClan and then nothing. Nothing but the stars in her fur and the nine cats who should have made her leader in the seasons to come. (A/N As seen in When Gifts Fail). What a glorious end for a ThunderClan cat. Not doing anything but drinking while on a patrol. It wasn't in a war either so no cat had cleverly planned out some devious trick of shoving the large branch downstream to kill the ThunderClan cats. It had just been an accident. One mouse-brained mistake.
The fluffy tail brushed down her body and Sunstorm looked up. Feathertail's blue eyes held sympathy. The she-cat leaned in and licked Sunstorm's head.
"I'm sorry. You did have so much more to live for."
"You did to," Sunstorm acknowledged, trying to push out her angry thoughts.
"Crowfeather and I would have never made it," Feathertail sighed.
"Your kits could have been the three," Sunstorm meowed.
Feathertail smiled again. "No, it had to be someone related to Firestar. That was the prophesy long before the Great Journey. StarClan saw it so long ago."
Sunstorm looked away. StarClan didn't know anything. They hadn't helped her in time. They'd promised her the gift of seeing the future but in the end it had failed her. What did they know of the Three? It could have been someone else, not Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Dovetooth. There were so many things it could have meant. She wasn't ready to believe just yet the prophesy held one outcome. There were always possibilities.
"Let's go," she meowed and took a step out of the shade and into the tall grass. The sooner they got there, the sooner she could explore a new territory. After all, she'd never been on top of such a high mountain before or spoken to another Clan of dead cats. They might have some exciting things to do.
Feathertail shook her striped head and followed, bounding into the grass. It swallowed their slight forms, covering their heads until they became nothing more than a dark shape, pushing her way through. Only their long tails poked out like signals, Sunstorm's blending more than the gray Feathertail.
Night came and the two slept in the foothills. The hills rose up from the ground in rolling mounds of grass and dirt. Rocks, long fallen from the mountains, scattered around: white, gray, and misty blue. Moss clung onto the sharp edges and some vines crawled up to the tops, breaking into the hard surface, crumbling the stone to the ground.
The two she-cats made a nest next to one of the boulders, hiding in the lee so the constant wind would not blow on them. Sunstorm, laying in her nest, gazed down the hill at the grass waving around them. Light bands replaced by dark on the grass stalks as a waving ripple. The wind blew through the rocks a constant but soothing hum. What looked like silver moonlight shone down, brightening the deep shadows into something like soft snow.
Next to her, Feathertail shifted. Her long body curled up loosely and deep slow breaths rose from the small chest. Sunstorm's ear tilted back as the she-cat murmured, "Not yet . . . . I still . . ."
Sunstorm covered her pink nose with her paws and closed her eyes, remembering the conversation she and Feathertail had while sharing a rabbit earlier that evening.
"How are we supposed to climb that?" Sunstorm had asked.
"It's not as sheer as it looks," Feathertail blinked. "There are cracks and ledges. Trails lead up and boulders jut out. It won't be easy, but it is possible."
"So is this the Tribe of Endless Hunting's territory?"
"No." The she-cat shook her head. "Their territory is farther up."
"So why doesn't this change?"
"Because they're the mountains. Just like the lake, it'll always be there."
Sunstorm took a bite of the rabbit, thinking. Then she asked, "StarClan--I mean the sky," (what an odd concept to think that not every place in the sky was StarClan. When she was young, it was the only thing she believed. That Silverpelt was the whole sky and StarClan controlled it all) "It isn't like the earth."
"No," Feathertail agreed. "There are so many different things. We don't have to worry about twolegs at all. Or death, or our next meal. Nothing but our decedents."
Sunstorm really hadn't meant that. She'd been thinking more about the landscape. She wondered what the ground under this sky looked like. Did it have the foothills? Were the mountains as high?
"If only I'd been alive to explore all this," Sunstorm sighed, opening her eyes once more on the night. Her gaze shifted down to the stars in her fur. They shone like silver dots all over her. She flicked her tail, but the glow followed, clinging to her still. She sighed and looked away. Only her sisters still had the ability to travel on the ground. They could take this journey and really experience it. But Fawnfur wasn't fond of traveling and Morningsong seemed to have other goals. Both she-cats had relied on their sister for the adventures.
"If only I'd still been there."
She lowered her head and tried to sleep. Tomorrow would be exhausting. Even though she was a StarClan cat and already dead, it was strange how she needed to sleep and eat. She wasn't sure how much StarClan imitated life. She'd never really done much. Hazeltail wasn't the most encouraging of mentors.
Morning came and Sunstorm heard a bird warbling next to her. She lowered her ears and opened her blurry eyes. A bird with a yellow belly and black wings hopped on the ground next to her, chirping and singing a melody. The grass underfoot wiggled with bugs and the bird enjoyed its last meal.
Sunstorm didn't have to shift much to get on her feet. It also didn't take much effort to rush forward and use her claws to pin the songbird to the ground. She quickly ended its life and started pulling the feathers off. The constant wind blew at her back, brushing her fur the wrong way and making her feel a little chilled. She quickly retreated into the stone's side.
As she pulled off the rest of the feathers, she watched the horizon start to glow golden. Pink filled the sky above the gold as the black and dark blue retreated. The silver light of the moon faded off of the stalks of grass as bright yellow filled the air. Slowly the rim of the sun rose above the horizon and Sunstorm had to look away, easing the pain in her eyes. She started eating the bird, letting the feathers float away on the gusting wind.
Shortly after sunrise, Feathertail woke up. The silver she-cat stretched, her sharp claws digging into the dirt as her back arched. The sunlight glinted down, reflecting off of her dark stripes.
Sunstorm nodded and started licking her paws.
"I'll catch something and we can leave," Feathertail meowed. She walked off, her steps light as she parted the grass before her.
Later the two she-cats started up the cliff side. Sunstorm looked up at the towering rock. It seemed to sway before her eyes. Large rocks dangled perilously off the sides and narrow cracks slitted the rock upwards. A few ledges lined the way. The narrow, kinked branches of bushes perched on the cliff side danced in the breeze. Sunstorm shook, fluffing out her fur and looked back the way they'd come. The hill sloped downward to the waving grass, their colorful flowers still fighting the breeze. A few petals tore off, flying away.
Rocks clicking together caught Sunstorm's attention. She looked up to see Feathertail leaping up a sloping trail. Sunstorm didn't want to be left behind and gathered her feet under her, jumping onto the ledge. She scrambled upward, her claws slipping on the slick rock. She kept her wide eyes on Feathertail's low back. The she-cat didn't stop moving until she reached another ledge. She pulled herself up with a bush. Sunstorm quickly joined her on the flatter surface, her paws balancing on the jagged rocks. The wind threatened to blow them down.
"This hurts," she moaned licking one of her aching pads.
"The Tribes have very hard feet," Feathertail panted. "You'll get it too depending on how long you stay."
Sunstorm thought about that as she rested. She didn't quite know. She wasn't excited so far about returning to StarClan, but after a moon that might change. Sunstorm looked over at the sliver she-cat as Feathertail looked up the cliff side for another trail.
"We're going to have to jump," Feathertail meowed suddenly.
Sunstorm's head came up. Jump? She looked over and saw another ledge jutting out just a fox tail over and up. The jutting stone led a short way up to an even larger ledge. She looked at the rock under her paw and at the ledge a few lengths away. It was all smooth stone. She slowly leaned around Feathertail and looked down. A straight but long fall to the ground below. She swallowed. Did it hurt to fall? Would she break bones?
"Why does it have to be so difficult?" she growled, taking a step back.
"I assume it's the Tribe's protection. One way to keep cats they don't want out," Feathertail answered. She held her bright blue eyes on Sunstorm. "It is actually easier getting down. Are you ready?"
Sunstorm closed her eyes and quickly nodded her head. At least she wasn't quite at the top yet. If she fell from that height, she'd hate herself. So close just to fail.
"Just follow me," Feathertail smiled assuringly.
The silver she-cat backed away and took a running leap at the next ledge. Her fur clung close to her body as she jumped, her paws outstretched. Sunstorm watched, holding her breath as Feathertail landed. The she-cat's back paws slipped over the edge and Feathertail landed on her side. She slowly got up and looked over her shoulder, unable to turn around because of the narrowness.
"Follow me when I get to the next ledge," she yelled back. Her voice just carried over the roar of the wind.
Sunstorm nodded and watched as Feathertail clawed her way up along cracks to the even bigger ledge. She quickly disappeared over the side and Sunstorm blinked. It was even bigger than she thought. When Feathertail didn't appear again, Sunstorm got worried. She had a feeling Feathertail might have fallen into a ditch or a very large ravine in the rock. She continued watching but still no former RiverClan cat head poked itself over the side.
Heart pounding, Sunstorm started running. She closed her eyes at the last second as she shoved her back legs. She sprang into the air, for a short time sailing. Her eyes flinched open as her front paws landed on the hard surface of the ledge. Her back legs didn't stop moving and she raced up the cliff side, her claws seeking the cracks. She slipped twice, her claws failing to hold on the slippery moss hiding in the crevasses. She continued to pull herself up, relying on luck more than anything else. And then her paws reached the ledge. She caught hold of something and heaved herself over the side.
Exhausted she lay there, her paws under her and her muzzle resting on the cold rock. The wind blew over her, swirling her short ginger-brown fur. She breathed, listening to the roar. She slowly realized it wasn't the wind anymore. She looked up, pulling her aching legs from under her. Many fox lengths away she saw a large river falling from a higher level on the mountain side. She stared, watching it pool and then weave its way down another slope, disappearing over a cliff. She realized she wasn't on a ledge like she'd thought. It was hard to explain but it was like the ground. A large part of the mountain had given way for this cave-like platform. Above her the rock curled outward which from below made the area look like a ledge when it really was just a large open space.
A silver shape hunched over the water near the pool, one paw raise in the air, poised over the water. Sunstorm growled and shakily stood up. She made her way over to Feathertail over the scattered rocks. She approached the roaring falling river, her ears pulled back at the noise. Mist rose in the air, making the ground wet and slick where the moss didn't cover.
"Thank you so much for being there for me," Sunstorm hissed.
Feathertail flinched and looked quickly over, suddenly ignoring the fish swimming in the pool. She looked shocked. "I-I'm sorry. I just didn't want to get in your way."
"I thought you'd fallen," Sunstorm meowed, her teeth clenched. "You didn't even peek over to tell me it was okay."
Feathertail looked down, her blue eyes sad but understanding. "I hadn't realized. I'm sorry."
Sunstorm wanted to hiss again. Why was Feathertail so annoying? I'm sorry, I'm sorry. She growled to herself and stalked off in the direction of the back of the cave.
"This river leads to StarClan," Feathertail meowed, her voice straining over the sound of the waterfall.
Sunstorm stopped and glanced over. Her tail twitched as she debated going over or punishing Feathertail by saying nothing. Finally curiosity won.
"What do you mean?" She turned around and walked back to the pool.
Feathertail looked down and continued. "This water starts in a river high above in the mountains. A part falls over to the Tribe's home cave and after a series of waterfalls it leads to the bottom of the mountain. If you look down," she raised her head over the place the water disappeared. "You can see the river. Depending on how high we get you can see that it leads to the divide between our StarClan and Summerheat's StarClan."
Sunstorm's ears went forward and whiskers twitching she went to get a better look. She walked close to the edge, but not too close, and looked. Just as Feathertail had said, far below a shiny blue river twisted its way through the waving, purple-looking grass and into the green tops of the forest. It disappeared for a short time under the green only to reappear in a black divide near a shining golden lake. Breathless Sunstorm could only stare.
A figure appeared at her side, close to her, almost forcing her off the cliff. Sunstorm swiftly turned around and faced Feathertail. The she-cat glanced at Sunstorm and then looked down below as well. Heart pounding and eyes narrowed, Sunstorm backed away, retreating to the safer part of the cave.