Chapter 15: Sunstorm
The first order of business: roll in some mud. Sunstorm felt uneasy as the Tribe cats led her to the side of a river in the long plateau. Thick mud lined the banks of the water. She felt disgusted by what they wanted her to do. She had to roll in this to cover her fur and hide her fiery pelt. It was gross. She'd just managed to get the stuff off her paws yesterday, thinking she had to look neat for the Tribe. Here they were telling her it was necessary.
"It helps us blend," Moss on a Gray Stone, or Moss, insisted. The she-cat introduced herself when the patrol started back to the Tribe of Endless Hunting's camp. Sunstorm wasn't sure if Moss was a gray or green cat. The mud effectively hid the she-cat's true colors.
"But how do I get it off later?" Sunstorm meowed. Then her eyes widened. What if they never took it off?
"What is it?" Moss asked.
"Do you even take the mud off?"
Moss laughed at Sunstorm's reaction. Sunstorm watched cracks appear in the stiff fur. No wonder the rogues called the Tribe stiff-backs. They did look it.
"We take it off at camp," Moss answered after she stopped giggling. "There's a still, lower pool used for cleaning."
Sunstorm nodded and watched as Feathertail got onto the mud. The gray she-cat used her claws to steady herself on the slippery surface. She lay down and started rolling.
"Feathertail is accustomed with this," meowed the patrol leader, Wing Shadow of Bat. "Just do as she does."
Sunstorm nodded again and paid attention as Feathertail smeared the mud onto her fur and rubbed her face against the ground. The dusty gray covered her until she looked like a stone made alive. When Feathertail got out of the mud, Sunstorm stepped forward.
"Remember to hold your breath," Feathertail meowed.
I know, Sunstorm wanted to snap back. I'm not mouse-brained. She didn't want to breathe in that stuff. She quickly walked to the river. The mud felt cold against her paws. Her claws came out as she lost her balance. She fell and hit the ground, sliding forward, her chin against the mud.
"That's one way to do it," Moss meowed. Her green-golden eyes shined.
Sunstorm grumbled, but when she realized she wasn't moving any longer she quickly rolled over. The mud clung to her sides, seeping into her undercoat, covering her ginger-brown in gray. She reached her back, rubbing, her eyes on the blue sky above. Her tail thrashed, getting muddy. Rolling back onto her belly, she breathed in deep. Making sure to keep her eyes closed and hold her breath she rubbed her head into the thick goo. When she recovered, she looked up seeing if she'd managed to cover herself.
"The top of your head," Feathertail meowed. "And your legs."
Sunstorm nodded and worked on that. When she finally stood up, she felt heavy as if a large tree had landed on her and she had to carry it around with her. As she pulled herself from the mud and to the firmer, grass and moss covered ground, she could already feel the mud drying. It cracked and flaked, but still held.
"Good," Wing meowed. "Let's show them the camp."
Sunstorm quickly joined with them, her pelt like any other. She sniffed but found the mud covered any scents of her companions. Thoughtfully she realized the mud really was useful in more ways than one. The patrol of four cats quickly led them to the ridge Sunstorm had spotted before. She noticed they followed beside the river in the direction it flowed, the banks becoming less muddy and rockier. Behind them the mountain reared up to the higher, cloud filled peak. Other mountains surrounded them on the horizon.
The cats reached the ridge where the river veered off, curving around the side, disappearing where the ridge lowered.
"Up, over, and down," Moss meowed as they started to climb the slope.
Sunstorm flicked an ear to show she'd heard. She kept her mind on her task, her mud filled claws not quite able to grasp. Her heart pounded by the time she reached the top of the ridge. She looked down, expecting a longer hike. Instead a long and low valley met her eyes before sloping up to another ridge. To the side, the river poured downward, smaller now, into different ledges, where a pool of water collected before falling over the side into the next pool. It finally ended far below where it ran through the middle of the camp and finally petered out into a boggy area. Reeds thrust up, accompanied by flowers and croaking frogs.
Cats -not covered in mud- lay about in the valley, resting in the sun, while others pretended to fight, ate, or taught smaller cats that must have been apprentices.
"This is the Tribe of Endless Hunting," Moss meowed. "Over there is the Edge Trail, the nests when it isn't raining, and the small marsh. That's Cloud Where Starlings Fly training his to-be. Poor thing just died last Frozen Water."
Sunstorm noticed Moss pointing her tail at a white tom with ginger spotting in front of a brown apprentice--or to-be.
"So do they ever grow up here?" she asked.
"No," Moss shook her head. "He'll always be a to-be in training for prey-hunter. It is sad when the young die."
Sunstorm nodded her head. She couldn't imagine dying so young. And not able to become the cat you were destined to be. She had hoped maybe here just young cats could grow. She knew they didn't in StarClan, but there was always the faint hope elsewhere would be different.
"We need to see Stoneteller first to tell him you're here," the patrol leader meowed and started down the slope.
Sunstorm thought. "So which Stoneteller is in charge here?"
Moss smiled. "The last one alive of course. The others are around here somewhere. They became either prey-hunters or cave-guards and took back their names they received as kits."
Then Moss had to stop talking and followed the others downward. Sunstorm was the last and she quickly followed, stretching herself down the steep slope to the ledge below. She looked down at the line of cats, not certain which one was Feathertail. Their backs all looked the same. She thought maybe her friend was behind the patrol leader, following him down the large boulders. She expected to stop at the bottom but the ground stopped before a large cave opening near a narrow waterfall between ledges. Some water trickled its way inside the opening of the earth.
"You can go," the patrol leader waved his tail at the other cats. "Bring some food after we return."
They left, Moss promising to meet Sunstorm later, and the patrol leader lead Sunstorm and Feathertail inside. The cave stayed light in the entrance, but the tom led them farther into the back and the light dimmed around them.
"The cave is the same down in the Tribe of Rushing Water," Wing meowed. "Stoneteller doesn't leave the cave often, just like in life. I suppose it's familiar. When the new one comes, the healer loves to leave, to see what we've all been talking about."
Sunstorm listened. She thought that sounded interesting. A leader not coming out to lead. Doing what they did in life. She was glad she didn't have to spend the rest of eternity in a cave. It didn't seem very fun. She looked at the high, gray walls. Parts seemed to reach down to her, pointing at her as underpaw, the ground became rough, jabbing into her pads.
"Stalactites and stalagmites," Feathertail whispered into Sunstorm's ear. "The Cave of Pointed Stones is even better. The Tribes communicate there."
Sunstorm's ears lifted. She was actually going to see it? She hadn't even been to the Moonpool in StarClan. The leaders hadn't let her even see it. The first few days she'd been dead they were scared she'd try to go back to ThunderClan, and then afterward something secretive had happened and everyone was banned from even speaking to their living friends. They could still watch from the lake though.
The cave narrowed into two tunnels and the tom led them down one of them, following the stream. The cave grew lighter and Sunstorm looked up. Jagged cracks lined the rocks above, letting in light from the sun. It illuminated puddles of water and pillars of the pointed stones. Sunstorm couldn't tell how big the cave was.
"Who have you brought, Wing?" A cat with spiked fur covered in mud came from behind one of the pillars.
"Stoneteller," Wing meowed. "Feathertail has come back. She's brought a new cat with her."
"Not Graystripe or Silverstream?" the old tom meowed.
"No." Wing motioned Sunstorm forward.
"My name is Sunstorm," she meowed, lowering her head to the tom.
Stoneteller looked at her, his eyes glancing along her body before returning her gaze.
"And you are from the lake?"
"You may just be the one we've waited for," Stoneteller meowed, looking pleased as he turned away.
Sunstorm stared at him. "Wha-"
Wing coughed and whispered into her ear, "He tends to do that. He still thinks he's getting prophesies. Sometimes he does of course, to tell the Stoneteller in the Rushing Water Tribe. But right now, he just needs time to adjust."
Sunstorm nodded, still not sure. She glanced after the healer as he disappeared behind the pillars. She supposed they'd been dismissed. She looked at Feathertail. The mud-covered she-cat didn't seem surprised at Stoneteller's actions. She just turned away with Wing as they made their way from the cave.
Outside Feathertail was quickly surrounded by her old friends. Wing disappeared into the crowd, going to what looked like a fresh-kill pile. Sunstorm licked her lips, eager to join him.
"What did he say?" the voice of Moss came from a stocky, gray she-cat. The gold-green eyes looked the same and Sunstorm knew this was her friend all cleaned up.
"Nothing really," Sunstorm answered. She glanced over at Feathertail, but the former RiverClan she-cat was too busy talking to notice. "He just wanted to know where I'd come from and said something about how I might be the cat he's been waiting for."
"Not that I believe him," Sunstorm quickly meowed.
Moss nodded. "He's different from our old Stoneteller."
Sunstorm wanted to change the subject and get some food, so she started walking down the ledge to the valley floor.
"Why did you wash off the mud?" she meowed.
"It's time for me to rest," Moss meowed. "We each take time to guard and hunt, relax and sleep. We didn't use to do this before. Then we went out in groups whenever we felt like it, but now we all have schedules."
Sunstorm nodded. Those rogues must have really changed the lifestyle for everyone in both Tribes. Moss seemed to know where Sunstorm was going and quickly led the way.
"This is our caught-prey pile," she meowed waving her tail. "Do you want to share with me?"
Sunstorm nodded, looking over what the Tribe had caught. There were some frogs, mice, other things she wasn't sure about, and finally large birds with taloned feet. She blinked at them.
"Hawks," Moss meowed, picking one from the pile by its large wing and dragging it to a cliff side where other cats lay down, passing one piece of prey between each other. "We hunt these too. I sure can't wait until you try to catch one."
Sunstorm watched the other cats, remembering what 'sharing' meant to the Tribe and decided to copy them. "Have you caught one?" she asked quickly.
"Once," Moss answered, passing the hawk to Sunstorm. "I wasn't supposed to. I am a cave-guard after all. But when I was alive my friend caught one but she didn't see its mate. So I had to rescue her."
Sunstorm purred, her mouth full, feathers clinging to the mud around her muzzle, others on her chest. Moss's eyes crinkled as she stared at the other she-cat.
"Is it good?"
Sunstorm nodded, swallowing. Moss laughed and took her bite after pulling a few more feathers off.
After their meal, Moss led Sunstorm to meet some of her friends.
"This is Water that Falls Softly," Moss meowed.
"Just call me Water," the tortoiseshell she-cat nodded her head.
"All right," Sunstorm agreed.
"Has Moss talked your ear off enough yet?" Water meowed.
Sunstorm just shook her head. "She's told me things I need to know. I appreciate it." The ginger-brown she-cat dipped her head to Moss.
Moss looked pleased.
"Well, I can do more than just talk to you," Water meowed. "How about we go hunting?"
Sunstorm's ears rose. She'd like that very much.
Sunstorm waited, her eye on the mouse. It huddled near a slope under a stumpy bush, small seeds fallen from the flat leaves. She watched the small brown creature and then glanced at the sky where gray streaks of clouds formed, curling around the mountain peaks and slowly descending. What if a hawk never came? Could she just kill the mouse then?
She looked over at Water crouched beside her. The tortoiseshell fur was covered beneath a layer of mud. She wanted to ask, but she'd been told to keep silent as long as she could, because if anyone spoke, the prey would hear and they might mess up someone else's catch. But Sunstorm had to know. This didn't look like weather for birds to be flying in.
Sunstorm looked over Water and could barely make out the three mud-covered cave-guards. They stood in a circle, ears and eyes alert for anything. On occasion Sunstorm saw them look skyward. Another prey-hunter had joined Sunstorm and Water. A once light brown tabby she-cat, before she rolled in the gray mud, Flower Clinging to a Rocky Slope wandered off farther away to hunt. She didn't have to teach Sunstorm after all. Water had taken on the role of mentor for the new cat, willing to teach the stranger.
Sunstorm turned back to her companion, twitching an ear to attract her attention. Water looked away from the mouse, question in her eyes. Sunstorm motioned to the mouse.
"Patience," Water breathed so quietly. "It will come."
Sunstorm shook her head, flakes of dry mud falling off. These cats took all day just to catch anything! The sun was already starting to set and Sunstorm wasn't looking forward to wandering back to camp in the dark. She didn't want to fall off the side of the mountain after all.
Motion caught the ginger-brown she-cat's attention. Her head whipped around and she stared at the mouse. It had froze. Sunstorm looked for what large thing had moved. She gazed upward, but there was nothing in the blue-gray sky. Just then the shadow returned.
Sunstorm rose as a shape jumped downward from the slope. The cat landed on top of the mouse, claws digging in. Wild, yellow eyes stared at Sunstorm before the cat raced away, the mouse in her jaws.
Water yowled in anger and rose up from the ground to give chase. A cave-guard raced after the two and Sunstorm stared in confusion. Flower ran up from where she was hunting. She stared in the direction the three cats had run off, already out of sight in the land of cliffs, valleys, and rocks.
"Why is she chasing that cat?" Sunstorm asked.
"It's a rogue," Flower answered with a shrug. "They keep stealing our prey. She must be a new one or she wouldn't have been in this part of the mountain. The cave-guards usually keep it clear. Do you want to go back to camp now?"
Sunstorm blinked. "We aren't going to wait?"
Flower shook her head. "Water will come back to camp with Grass. It's getting too late to hunt anyway."
Sunstorm finally agreed, but as the group turned away, she couldn't help feeling sorry for the rogue she-cat. She'd seemed so desperate. She had to be brave to steal that mouse from so many Tribe cats.
"Don't the rogues have a Clan here?" she asked Flower.
The mud-covered cat shrugged.
They probably didn't, Sunstorm thought to herself. They were only rogues after all and had a newly created Tribe of their own. They probably didn't think there was life after they died.
The she-cat cave-guard didn't say a thing as they walked away, but the tom had something to say.
"Let's hope they do return."
"What do you mean?" Sunstorm turned on him.
"The large hawk might get them," the tom replied, his blue eyes anxious.
"Torn," Flower snapped. She glared at him.
The tom looked down and didn't say anything else. Sunstorm narrowed her eyes, staring at Flower, but the she-cat held her tongue. Sunstorm wondered if she'd ever figure out what the large hawk really was. Could it really be what it sounded like? A large hawk? They seemed big enough now, bigger than a cat by half, so what could scare the Tribe so much?
"Tell me about the large hawk," Sunstorm meowed.
"Not now, Sunstorm," Moss murmured, her head wrapped in her paws. "It's nighttime."
They lay in small depressions in the valley. Cats rested everywhere on the ground. Pieces of moss and feathers and fur lined the depressions for a comfortable and warm resting spot. Stars shined overhead through the wispy clouds as a fine mist coated the land above the valley. The half moon hid behind mountain peak. The thin light entered the valley, lighting the pools of water.
Sunstorm, now cleaned of the mud, could hardly sleep. The small waterfalls were loud trickling in her ears. She could hardly imagine how the Tribe of Rushing Water could live behind their large waterfall. She also found it strange to be sleeping in the open like this. She'd done it enough on her way up the mountain side, but never with a Clan of cats beside her. She'd thought there would be cover she could sleep under when she reached her destination.
"Now is the best time to share stories," Sunstorm meowed.
"It is not," Moss protested, opening one eye. "Everyone wants to sleep, not listen to me."
Sunstorm narrowed her eyes. "Then we can go up there." She pointed to the ridge with her nose.
"Why do you want to hear about the hawk this much?"
"Because Water hasn't come back."
Moss opened both eyes, staring at the ginger-brown she-cat.
"What about Grass?"
Sunstorm shook her head. She hadn't seen either of the two after sunset. Admittedly the Tribe was large, but she'd been anxious for the two and looked for the tortoiseshell until nightfall.
"This is bad," Moss meowed, standing up.
Sunstorm looked down. "So did the hawk get them or did the rogues?"
Moss sighed. "Come on."
The stocky, gray she-cat led Sunstorm around the cat bodies and to the top of the ridge. Now Sunstorm looked down on the Tribe, seeing just how many there really were. Their numbers weren't even comparable to the Clans at the lake.
"The hawk started bothering us three moons ago," Moss started explaining. "We could handle the rogues. We set up cave-guards watches all over our territory to make sure they stayed out. Then the hawk came and started taking away cats. It didn't care if we hunted alone or in pairs. It would come and take cats away. We haven't seen them since."
Sunstorm stared so hard she thought her eyes would fall out. "They just disappear? You don't think it ate them?"
Moss gasped. "No! What makes you think that?"
"Well, we eat don't we? The mice eat and the hawks eat the mice, so. . ." Sunstorm swallowed. "Do you think there is another level of death? When you die here, or fade away, you go there?"
Moss blinked. "Maybe." She seemed doubtful. "All I know is that no one ever came back. We try to hunt and guard in large groups now. That seems to deter it and if it does attack, we can all force it down and then maybe we can kill it."
"I hope you can do that," Sunstorm meowed. "To bad you can't go to where it lives and kill it there."
"We don't know where it lives, only somewhere up that mountain peak," the gray she-cat waved her tail to the peak that hid the moon. "Stoneteller said if we went, we would die. We had to wait for the day the sun went under the water."
Sunstorm squinted. "He's mad! Bees must be in his brain!"
Moss nodded her head. "I can hardly imagine so much water that it covers the horizon and the sun disappears under it. I heard that some of your cats found such a place."
Sunstorm nodded. "In life they did before finding the Rushing Water Tribe. I heard it sinks there every day."
"Not where we can see it, so no one will try. We just have to believe Water and Grass are sleeping out there and they'll come back tomorrow. Now, let's get some sleep."
Moss quickly led the way back down. Sunstorm didn't feel tired even now, but she had to try. Moss still had to guard tomorrow. Maybe Sunstorm could join her.
Two days had passed, but Water the tortoiseshell cat didn't come back. One cat was affected the most by her disappearance. Star of the Red Dawn, her mate, a dark ginger tom with gray stripes. The prey-hunter spent most of his time looking for her. A few cave-guards went with him for protection.
"I think he's looking to get swooped up," Flower muttered, watching him disappear up the ridge one morning.
"At least he'll be with her," Sunstorm tried to say.
Flower stared at her. "I doubt it."
"The bird might just drop cats wherever it feels like it," Moss explained. She and Sunstorm shared a glance.
Or eat them, Sunstorm thought.
"Well let's go," Moss meowed brightly as if to banish the gloomy mood.
The three she-cats started walking to the ledge. The rest of their group, formed of cave-guards and prey-hunters, met them at the slope. Among them was Feathertail. The former RiverClan she-cat looked happy to be among the Tribe. She hadn't seen Sunstorm for a while now. Not that Sunstorm cared. She was having enough excitement without the other StarClan cat. They would see enough of each other on the way back to StarClan.
"Hello, Cloud," Moss meowed to the white tom.
He nodded back, his to-be copying him.
The seven cats started up the ledges. Feathertail and Sunstorm ended up close together.
"Hello," Sunstorm meowed.
Feathertail nodded back, a smile on her face.
The group almost made it to the muddy riverbank when Star rose up from the mud, his dark ginger fur hidden behind the gray. He was alone.
"Star," Moss meowed. "Where is everyone else?"
"They didn't want to help me," he growled as the other cats started rolling in the mud.
"I told them I was going up the mountain and they told me I was foolish. They don't want to risk themselves for my mate."
Sunstorm stared at him. He wasn't seriously thinking of going up there was he?
She looked at the mountain peak. It wasn't so far away, but the very top disappeared into the clouds. The mountain range continued beyond the nearest peak and Sunstorm wondered if the hawk didn't live somewhere else. "You can't go alone," Cloud meowed.
"I have to," Star growled back. "No one else wants to help me."
"We'll do it," Moss spoke up.
Now Star stared at her.
"I don't care what Stoneteller said," Moss continued. "It's time to stop living in fear. We have to stop that bird."
Star lowered his head. "You'd go with me?" he whispered.
"I will too," Cloud meowed.
"Me too," his to-be squeaked.
"No," Cloud told him. "You're staying here."
"But I want to come," the to-be whined.
"Will you come?" Moss turned to Sunstorm.
Sunstorm nodded. "You aren't going to leave me out of this. I'm sure I know a few tricks that hawk won't be expecting."
"Okay, you've convinced me," Flower spoke up. "I'll join you."
Sunstorm glanced at the light brown tabby. She couldn't remember anyone inviting her.
"Let's go then," Star meowed, suddenly happier.
"First we need to get covered in mud and tell Wing we're leaving."
"I heard," the formerly black tom answered. He and the rest of the group stood by the riverbank, now covered in mud and ready to hunt. "I would try to tell you not to go, but I know I can't. Just don't do anything more beetle-brained than you're already doing."
"We'll try not to," Moss purred. "You'll see us later. After all, I heard the sun sinks under the water everyday down below."
Wing looked down and didn't say anymore.
Sunstorm and the other cats started to walk onto the mud, ready to disguise themselves. Suddenly a gray covered she-cat got in her way.
"You seriously can't be considering this," Feathertail protested.
Sunstorm looked up into her blue eyes. "I'm going."
"Don't be mouse-brained. I have to return with you to the lake."
"You will," Sunstorm answered. "When I get back."
Now Feathertail frowned at her. "I don't want to bring bad luck, but from what I heard, you might not return."
"We only live once, Feathertail," Sunstorm replied. "I'm doing this. I wanted adventure when I asked to come to the Tribe. This is it. I'm also helping a friend. You can't stop me."
Feathertail's eyes burned, but Sunstorm pushed her away without another word. It might be foolish to even attempt the climb, however Sunstorm wanted to. Star wanted to save his mate. Moss and the others to keep an eye on him and finally stop the hawk. Why shouldn't she help them?
The Stoneteller in this chapter is the same one that the Clans in the Erin's books meet. I thought he was old enough so it was time for him to die.