Chapter 12 Sunstorm
After a while the way up the mountain became a bit easier. Though the clouds still reached down into the cats' fur, coating the world around them in hazy mists and rain, making the way muddy underpaw, Sunstorm could feel the slopes and see perhaps just a tail length in front of her. They traveled on a slightly narrow ledge that curled around the mountain, leading upward. They'd found that on the second day after scaling the narrow ledges in the cliff side. This ledge was more like a path, littered with bushes and other hanging plants. It was only a cat tail wide and not much to sleep on, but it was worth it.
Sunstorm couldn't see past the cloud cover. She couldn't see the ground anymore or the forest she'd left behind. She couldn't see the emerald green leaves or the golden waving grasses or the clear blue river and lakes. Sometimes she wondered what was so interesting about being on top of a mountain. The only color it came in was gray. Rocks were gray, with some mixing of brown, the air was gray, the plants were muted green to gray, and Feathertail was gray. Only her own ginger-brown pelt stood out in the gloom like some sort of beacon. She wondered if that was why they hadn't caught much prey in the last few days.
Her stomach growled hungrily at her, gnawing until her sides ached. She'd thought once she was dead she wouldn't feel that way, but she did. She wondered if it were possible to die again.
Feathertail's fluffy gray and silver form trotted ahead. Sunstorm got a good look at her back and the faint stripes there. Her paws were sure and straight on the muddy path and coated in the thickness. Sunstorm paused and looked at her own paws. The dusty grey mud clung to her, crawling slowly up to her belly. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. She did not want to clean that off. It would taste nasty.
"Hurry up," Feathertail called from the trail. Sunstorm looked and saw the path had started to curve. She couldn't see the rest of the mountain, just Feathertail clinging out there on a small ledge, her body outlined in faint glowing light.
She hurried forward to catch up and when she came to the bend, her eyes filled with brilliant sunlight. She blinked, wincing away. When her eyes recovered, she slowly opened them and gasped. Down below wide canyons opened up, jagged rocks slipping away into deep crevasses, yawning shadows. A few flat plains littered with boulders and struggling plants spread out on the sloping ground and peaks. Above this all, a great sun hung over the sky in bright yellow, the orb warming her pelt. Jagged mountaintops were only silhouettes in the light. The cloud cover slowly blew away, the last wisps curling and clutching the mountain peaks in a rosy colored sky. It was hauntingly beautiful.
"Almost there," Feathertail assured Sunstorm. "I bet you didn't think the Tribe's territory would be anything like this?"
She grinned at her companion.
Sunstorm just shook her head, captivated by the sight. She looked down off of the path and saw the mountainside leaning outward away from her, riddled with caves and one long winding path to disappear in to the lower clouds of mist. She couldn't see the ground she'd come from. And suddenly she could believe there was nothing in the world but the mountains. The rest of the sky territory was just a myth. There were no other Clans of dead cats anywhere. There was just the Tribe.
She shook her head, dizzy from the sight and thoughts. She looked back at Feathertail.
"This is. . ." she didn't have any words.
"Incredible," Feathertail finished. "I thought the same when I first looked at all this. A few days after I died, Silverstream and I made our way back to StarClan. It was nothing I'd ever seen in life and nothing you'll ever see again anywhere else in the sky."
Sunstorm believed her. "Are we close to the territory?"
"Very close," Feathertail nodded, starting to walk again.
Sunstorm quickly followed, finding it hard to take her eyes off of the sight, but also finding it difficult not to watch where she put her paws. She didn't want to fall after all. She glanced down again and thought she caught the glimpse of a shining river down below. The sun shone on her, spotlighting her against the mountain. Her fur quickly dried out, but so did the mud clinging to her paws and belly. It started getting heavy and flaking off. She followed her companion, impatient to get to the Tribe of Endless Hunting.
The sun started to disappear beyond the distant horizon when Feathertail hopped between two boulders. She pulled herself along the narrow path between the two large stones and Sunstorm peered inside to watch her. The ground sloped up under her, leading into a narrow strip of light. Sunstorm winced, trying to see through, but she couldn't make it out. Wherever the path led, it was to stay a mystery unless she crawled under there.
When Feathertail blocked the sunlight and hopped through the hole, Sunstorm quickly followed into the leaning boulders. The gray sides closed in around her, forcing her fur and body against itself. She found it hard to breath and her fur felt very warm. She started panting as she pulled herself along.
"Come on, you can do it," she whispered to herself, not getting enough breath to do otherwise. She swallowed and though her chest ached she continued on, her eyes only on the light ahead of her. By the time she pulled through, the cold air felt good against her pelt. She stood there, letting the constant wind blow over her as she looked around.
Feathertail was nowhere on the wide, flat land she found herself. Thick grass grew along the ground, mixed in with moss clumps. A few bushes popped up, round and light green. Not too far away, a steep cliff side jutted upward. She sighed, eyeing it. More climbing. She licked her hardened paw pads, wondering how the mountain cats had lived this way for so long.
"Feathertail?" she called out, searching for her companion, wondering if she'd been abandoned. Nothing moved in the open area. She sighed and realized she'd probably have to wait for the former RiverClan cat to come back. She was probably scouting the area or looking for food.
Sunstorm lay down on a nice piece of moss and started cleaning her belly fur. She was right; it did taste nasty. The dry clinging dust became mud in her mouth and she got really thirsty. She kept cleaning though. If they were meeting the Tribe, she wanted to be as neat as possible. The sky deepened to orange and dark blue as the sun sank somewhere in the sky.
She was still licking off her underside when she heard pawsteps.
Good, she thought, Feathertail is coming back.
"Did you get anything?" she asked without looking.
Sunstorm's head shot up. That wasn't Feathertail's voice. She turned and faced two toms. One was a long haired black and white the other a ginger and white tabby. She quickly stood up not liking the leer on their faces.
"Are you with the Tribe?" she asked, keeping her eyes between them.
"Those stiff-backs," the black and white growled. "No."
Sunstorm's eyes narrowed. Then who were they?
"What do you want?"
The toms shared a glance.
"You. You're on our territory."
Sunstorm growled and slid her claws out. "Not on your life."
They laughed. "We're over and done with that, Sweetheart. You ought to know."
The ginger tabby stepped away from the black and white. He started to walk around Sunstorm. She hissed. She couldn't let them get an advantage on her. She didn't wait for the ginger to stop. She jumped for him. He flinched, startled, and tripped. Sunstorm jumped over him, landing on the other side. While he was down, she struck for his head, digging in her claws.
He yowled in pain, struggling to get up. The black and white tom came to the other's rescue. Sunstorm was expecting him and quickly backed away, getting back on balance. The black and white tom jumped over his friend and faced Sunstorm. His claws came out and he quickly reared upward, trying to crash down on her.
Sunstorm snorted. These two didn't know how to fight at all. She stayed down and rushed forward. The tom looked triumphant as he quickly came downward, but that changed as Sunstorm dodged around him. She was behind him now and quickly pulled her front paw under his back legs, making him fall on his side.
The ginger tom was up, and though his head dripped blood, he bared his teeth, ready to face her. Sunstorm snapped at him, challenging. He rushed for her and she dropped to her side. Her paws caught his belly and she flipped onto her back and to her other side, slinging him over her so he landed on top of his companion.
The two toms struggled to get up, growling at each other and complaining. Just then Feathertail came back.
"What's going on here?" she demanded. Two pieces of prey rested by her front paws.
The toms got up and, glancing between the she-cats, quickly took off. They ran by Feathertail to the only piece of cliff side that looked climbable. The black and white tom ducked down and picked up the prey in his mouth.
Feathertail snarled at him. She struck out, catching her claws in his long fur as he passed by. The two toms were soon gone, clawing their way up the cliff to disappear into the higher mountains.
"Those fox-hearts," Sunstorm growled, looking up at the place they'd disappeared.
Feathertail glared too as she made her way back to Sunstorm. "I can't believe they stole our meal. What did they want?"
"To be annoying," Sunstorm sighed.
"They didn't look like Tribe," Feathertail replied when she stopped in front of Sunstorm, quickly nosing her friend for wounds.
"No, they definitely weren't," Sunstorm told her. The silver she-cat touched a sore spot and Sunstorm winced. She looked at her back but couldn't see any blood. The stones from the mountain had just dug into her pelt. She'd been lucky not to be injured.
"Did you get anymore prey?" she asked hopefully.
"Yes," Feathertail assured her, the worried look on her face leaving. "I caught more. Let's get that."
While Sunstorm and Feathertail walked away from the grassy area, Sunstorm looked around, wondering if the two loners would be back. She hopped they wouldn't. She wanted a good night sleep before climbing some more.
The next day the two she-cats traveled on a flat plain, cut through with dips and jutting rocks. There was a slight slope but it wasn't that much of a problem. Sunstorm could still make out a few higher mountain peaks around them and she wondered just how many mountains there were.
"How much farther?" Sunstorm asked. "It's been a moon since we left the lake."
"Not much," Feathertail replied. "This area is familiar and I know we're getting close. I just don't want to go straight to their camp. It would be better to meet some than startle them."
Sunstorm paused. Yes, Feathertail had a point. They couldn't just walk into camp and expect to be welcomed. Though cats might recognize Feathertail in time, there had to be a lot of dead cats and no one could know everyone.
"So how do we find these Tribe cats?" she asked. Her eyes scanned the area, looking for something that resembled a camp. She could only see a few gray boulders and the small hills might be good to sleep next to, but there weren't a lot of cats here.
"They have to f-"
"Hey look!" Sunstorm lifted her head, looking at the horizon. "I can see cats."
Shadowed forms moved on a small ridge in a line.
"Let's catch up to them," she meowed.
She raced ahead of Feathertail. Just then a gray form rose up from the side of a boulder. It blocked her path, teeth white, and eyes golden. Sunstorm quickly stopped and growled, ready for a fight.
She glanced around, wondering where Feathertail had gotten too. The she-cat was somewhere behind her, surrounded by other gray-cat forms. They were surrounded by a patrol.
"Leave our land," the cat facing Sunstorm growled.
"Are you the Tribe of Endless Hunting?" Sunstorm meowed quietly.
The cat nodded, the stiff, odd fur cracking and flaking off. Sunstorm blinked. These cats were covered in mud! No wonder they had blended into the rocks.
"Then we've been looking for you!"
The yellow eyes narrowed.
"My friend and I," Sunstorm meowed, waving her tail at Feathertail who was brought forward, "we've been looking for you."
"Why?" the cat hissed.
"It's me, Feathertail, remember?" Feathertail spoke up. "We came to visit."
The patrol murmured.
"Feathertail," they sang, suddenly friendly. The tense tails lowered, the claws came in. Sunstorm even watched them do the little bow she'd heard so much about.
"We're sorry," the patrol leader meowed. "We thought you were the rogues. We've been having problems ever since they took the Tribe of Rushing Water's territory. Whenever they die, they come here and we chase them off."
"Then it was rogues we saw yesterday," Sunstorm meowed.
"You had problems?" a she-cat asked.
Feathertail nodded. "Sunstorm was attacked yesterday while I went hunting. She fought them off, but they were trouble."
The patrol nodded.
"Well did you want to come back to the waterfall with us?"
"Yes," Feathertail agreed. "I want to show Sunstorm all the cats and maybe teach her some new hunting skills."
"First," the patrol leader grinned. "You'll have to learn how to hide. Your fur is like fire."
Sunstorm wondered what he meant.