Epilogue

The Cloud that Swallowed the Stars

He was a complex individual of indisputable courage, valor, and a sorrow too charged to be healed. In the end, despite his many faults and the numerous crimes and atrocities he may have committed, Cloudstorm managed to maintain the one thing everyone else had sworn he'd lost.

His soul.

If it wasn't for the selfless actions of Cloudstorm there's little chance any trace of this forest would still be standing. All the cats old enough to remember back then know the true extent of how severely close we all were to be annihilated that night.

The same night I returned to the forest from the Place of No Stars I awoke to a world thrown into turmoil. I suddenly find myself surrounded by bedraggled, waterlogged cats being battered by howling winds and fighting to climb over toppled timber and find higher ground as the land was drowned by a violent torrent of raindrops, reducing everything into a murky swamp. The sky roared as several streaks of lightning shot across. I feared we had only moments before we were washed away like ants when something remarkable happened.

One moment we're on the very crust of being swept away when suddenly the sky brightens, cascading us in a shower of light as if the sun had miraculously decided to rise. Awestruck, my eyes widened then as a gigantic glowing storm cloud swept its way into sight and suddenly engulfed the entire sky.

As if someone had just jammed a large stick into a leaking hole, the rain and wind stopped. The impenetrable shroud of darkness that had previously dominated the sky was all being sucked into the storm cloud in a swirling mass of rumbling thunder and bright lightning. Everyone stood in an entranced state of stunned disbelief as we all watched in silence as the cloud swallowed the black storm.

An array of faint twinkles caught my eye as the miniscule forms of stars streaked across the sky before being swept along inside the storm cloud, disappearing. The storm cloud then began to shudder and swell, expanding further across the sky in a churning flare of green and blue flashes. Just when it appeared the storm could expand no further and was on the verge of exploding…it simply poofed out of existence.

The darkness dispersed and what had felt like for the first time in an eternity, we were greeted by the serene backdrop of the night sky. The moment was almost too surreal for anyone to grasp, but I knew what had happened. I knew what that glowing storm cloud had symbolized the moment it'd appeared in the sky. Cloudstorm had saved us.

Countless seasons have come and gone now, and with it have come change. Although Cloudstorm managed to save the majority of us, the Clans still suffered heavy losses. The forest was in shambles, nearly every Clan having their territory ravaged and homes left in ruin. There were many deaths that occurred that night as well, countless cats lost and having perished before and during the storm. It was a humbling experience that left everyone's belief in StarClan shaken and weary for what the future held for them.

The two Clans of ThunderClan and WindClan had suffered the most casualties from the storm, with both of their leaders and deputies' dead along with both camps destroyed. It was a tough time for them and all us, but the cats of the Clans are strong and we would survive.

In the moons that passed the Clans combined efforts to help hunt and salvage material to help rebuild each other's camps. It was a rough period, but slowly as the moons flew by, the forest was returned to its former glory with a few alterations.

ThunderClan and WindClan decided to combine to become one Clan to make up for the number of cats they'd lost, although they spent the next few seasons nameless unable to come up with a name for their newly assembled Clan. That was of course until a certain ardent ginger she-cat rose her way through the ranks, rising to the status of leader and finally seeing fit to bestow her Clan with a name that would inspire continued change and growth.

Everyone thought she'd chosen to name the newly christened, CloudClan, after the storm cloud that had miraculously saved us all from destruction, but I knew better. It was actually named in memory of the mysterious tom that'd befriended her and saved her life as a kit.

No one seemed to want to linger on what had happened to their warrior ancestors and because of it StarClan had become something less than a distant memory to everyone. The Clans having come to an unspoken agreement that maybe, just maybe they'd spent too much time worshipping the dead instead of relishing the living.

For the longest time I lived with the belief that all of StarClan had perished when I received a strange dream, trailing aimlessly in a plain forest I'd never encountered before. It was there that I ran into Leafbreeze. Overjoyed, I rushed to greet my mentor but she stopped me from getting any closer with a sharp flick of her tail. Confused, I sat and listened to her tale of how Cloudstorm came up with the plan for her to use her heart to transfer all the surviving cats of StarClan and the Dark Forest to a middle plain free of barriers.

When I questioned her why she'd waited so long to contact me, I was surprised to discover that she had only come to say goodbye as the cats of StarClan had all agreed it was best that the Clans be left to operate independently of their warrior ancestors. With what had transpired from their moons of meddling in Clan affairs it was decreed the Clans be left to live in peace so that another incident like Cloudstorm would ever transpire again.

That was the last time I saw Leafbreeze and since then I've continued my work as the ShadowClan medicine cat; having loyally served my Clan for several seasons now and having taken on an apprentice in that time period. He's a reserved tom, but buzzing brightly with the energy of youth and a knack for absorbing knowledge. He'll become a great medicine cat one day with more practice.

The forest has settled in a comfortable lull of peace, the impending threat of the storm that nearly destroyed us all now a distant memory. Some days, as I'm gathering herbs outside the camp, I find my mind ever so often drifting to Cloudstorm.

He truly was the unsung hero of the Clans, but would anyone outside of me ever know? It almost didn't seem fair that no one would ever know of the gray tom's great sacrifice. The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky, bathing the forest floor in a warm glow. I gave myself a brisk shake, telling myself that maybe it was best this way.

The Clans had crossed over into a new dawn of peace and prosperity. The storm had brought with it many changes, but they had all helped shaped us into what we were now. Besides, Cloudstorm wouldn't have cared about being known as the Clans savior. The last time I'd seen him before we went our separate ways forever; he'd asked me for a final favor.

I still vividly remember that day when I traveled through a thicket of saplings and shrubs, taking in the echoes of the forest and feel of the earthy, rich soil beneath my paws as I traversed the wreckage of the storm. I'd traveled there completely from memory, but there wasn't a guarantee it would still be there with how vicious the storm had been.

I picked my way through the shards of wood chippings and bark not sure what to expect to find. It was a long shot, but I'd promised Cloudstorm as his last wish I'd do this for him. I scrounged through the mud and bark, digging my paws deep beneath the muck in search. Had it been buried underneath all this or possibly squashed by a tree?

I dug uninterrupted for what felt like ages. And then, just as I was starting to think it'd been washed away in the storm, my paw brushed against something soft. Digging deeper, my claws latched onto a scruff of fur and I pulled, dragging out Cloudstorm's lifeless body.

Upon close inspection the body seemed unscathed, keeping free of scars or wounds. If I didn't know any better it could've been speculated that Cloudstorm was simply sleeping, an almost tranquil look of peace splayed across the tom's face. Crawling underneath his body before struggling upwards with a great heave, I continued on the final trek of my promise, carrying Cloudstorm's body.

The trek was agonizingly slow and strenuous, having to carry Cloudstorm's body all by myself to its final resting place, but I'd made a promise that I'd do it for him, and accomplish this task I would.

Near sundown I came upon the spot that had formerly been known as the ThunderClan, RiverClan boundary and stopped to slide Cloudstorm's body off of me. I began digging. Silently, I recalled Cloudstorm's final words to me before I'd disappeared back into the world of the living.

"I want to find my body and bury it at the boundary that separates ThunderClan and RiverClan. It shouldn't be that hard to find. I went to sleep inside that log on ShadowClan territory that I used as shelter when I found Cherrypaw out in the blizzard. If I'm going to disappear forever then I'd at least like my body to be near Amberheart's."

I stopped digging when I felt I'd got the hole to a right enough size before lowering Cloudstorm's body into the hole. I still remember the dull pang of grief that hit me with every drop of dirt that hit Cloudstorm's body. I was saying goodbye to a tom who I'd had the pleasure of calling a friend. He was far from perfect, but when the chance came to redeem himself, Cloudstorm more than made up for it by giving his life to ensure that the surviving cats of the Clans lived on.

Thanks to him we had a chance to experience this new era of peace and whether the cats of the Clans knew it or not Cloudstorm's influence was rooted in everything here, from the youngest kit in the nursery to the deepest root of trees and stalk of flowers. His memory would live on; although I doubt even Cloudstorm, himself, would have thought it was possible.

Whatever had happened up there in StarClan that fateful night all those moons ago, I hope he'd gotten to leave us behind with a smile on his face and peace in his heart. It was probably a lot to wish for considering the circumstances of how this had all turned out, but if any cat deserved just a fraction of happiness in his last moments it was surely him.

He was a legend amongst the Clans already, but not in the way any of us would have expected. Even now, as I'm heading my way back inside the Clan with yarrow clasped in my jaws, I can hear the elders entertaining the kits with the story of the glowing storm cloud that engulfed the sky and saved the forest. It's the tale of the cloud that swallowed the stars. And what a tale it was.

A/N: And that my friends is the end. One final time I'd like to thank all of you for your continued support and readership throughout this story. It was a long road getting here, but one I'm proud to say is official complete.

Oh, and for any of the readers out there, if there's anything specific you want to know about the story or anything you're confused or curious about that I didn't make clear in the ending feel free to PM me or leave a review. Anyway, thanks again guys. You've all been great!

-Lightning