Chapter 16 || Wolf Howls
The night had dragged on for what seemed like centuries. Cypressfall didn’t want to take many breaks so they wouldn’t have the chance of getting attacked by another wolf, and water and food was hard to come by in the Darkening Forest. Not only that, but Batchaser could hardly keep his eyes open anymore. He was tired and injured. All he wanted to do was sleep.
⠀⠀The sky was much dimmer now, the red sun shifted into a darker crimson moon. A breeze blew through the trees and whipped Batchaser’s whiskers back, but he enjoyed the wind. It reminded him of StarClan.
⠀⠀“Cypressfall?” The black tom heard Rushingpaw’s exhausted croak. “H-How much longer?”
⠀⠀The calico she-cat’s tail lashed behind her. “You’ve been asking me that all night. We’ll rest when it’s absolutely needed.”
⠀⠀“It’s absolutely needed.” Batchaser shoved his way to the front and stopped in front of Cypressfall, his blue eyes dark. “We’re resting here. Now. We haven’t even seen a wolf for hours.”
⠀⠀The she-cat’s eyes narrowed. “That’s a bad idea.”
⠀⠀“If you’re in such a hurry go ahead and leave,” Batchaser growled. “We won’t catch up to you unless you die, but really, either one is fine with me.”
⠀⠀Cypressfall’s eyes flashed with hurt but it was gone not a moment later. She shrugged. “Fine. Whatever. Do what you want.” The calico trudged to one of the nearby trees and curled up beside it, closing her eyes and not making a sound.
⠀⠀Batchaser turned to Rushingpaw, who seemed to have not even heard he and Cypressfall’s exchange. “Come on. We’re resting,” he grunted.
⠀⠀Just like the calico she-cat had, Batchaser stumbled over to a large tree and fell to the ground. He let out a heavy sigh and set his head down, almost getting pulled into a deep sleep.
⠀⠀Until Rushingpaw messed it up.
⠀⠀The gray apprentice walked over, not uttering a word as he laid next to Batchaser. The black tom’s head snapped up, his blue eyes narrowing at the sight of the apprentice so close to him. Purposely.
⠀⠀The black tom used a weak paw to push Rushingpaw a few inches away. He turned his back on the apprentice, not wanting to be near anyone right now.
⠀⠀“B-Batchaser,” Rushingpaw suddenly whispered, his voice scratchy as his teeth clattered together. “I-I’m cold.”
⠀⠀“Deal with it,” the black tom snapped.
⠀⠀Batchaser could imagine the look of rejection on the small gray tom’s face but tried not to think about that. He needed to be alone or else he was going to blow up. And that’s not something he wanted Rushingpaw and Cypressfall to deal with.
⠀⠀Cypressfall can shove her tail down her throat. I’m doing this for Rushingpaw, not her.
⠀⠀Was that true? Was Batchaser truly not doing something selfish for once? The black ShadowClanner knew he had a bit of an ego, but again, that was more of his mask... that snappiness was just for show. But it had become a part of him now. Ever since Lynxbite... the mask had come to him, and Batchaser had welcomed it. But now? He wanted it gone, though it was too late. It was always too late.
⠀⠀Suddenly, a low rumble made the black tom jerk back into reality. He stayed still, examining the dark terrain and looking for any sign of red eyes. Batchaser didn’t see anything, but his heart felt like it was in his throat. Fear caused his pelt to spike up, but the ShadowClanner hoped that lying here without any movement would drive whatever creature was in the forest away.
⠀⠀“You heard it too?”
⠀⠀Cypressfall’s mew nearly caused Batchaser to jump out of his skin. The black tom swiveled his head to the she-cat, brows furrowing as he nodded silently.
⠀⠀She craned her head up toward the tree the two were closest to. “Get Rushingpaw up there, quickly. I’ll run over there when you both are safe.”
⠀⠀The black tom nodded silently and slowly turned to the small apprentice, prodding him with his paw. “Rushingpaw, wake up.”
⠀⠀A grunt only came from the runt.
⠀⠀His fur fluffing up with anger, Batchaser jabbed him in the side. Rushingpaw gasped and jumped to his paws, looking around. “What’s going on?!”
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner huffed. “Come on, we need to climb.” Batchaser jerked his head toward the tree behind him.
⠀⠀Rushingpaw gulped. “O–Okay. Why?”
⠀⠀“Just go!” he hissed, the tom’s claws flexing.
⠀⠀The small tom didn’t respond, gasping as he scampered up the trunk. Batchaser watched, his tail twitching as he looked around cautiously.
⠀⠀“Batchaser! Look out!”
⠀⠀A pair of snarling jaws was right behind the black tom. He quickly ducked, sliding under the wolf’s belly and grasping onto the tree. He began to lift himself upward, tucking his tail in as the wolf snapped for him. Batchaser managed to clamber atop a branch, just below Rushingpaw, watching the creature with wide eyes.
⠀⠀Cypressfall! Where is she?
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner twisted his head around and watched as Cypressfall quietly climbed one of the other forest trees. Her mismatched eyes glinted in the dark, watching the wolf sharply. It whined as it circled around Batchaser and Rushingpaw’s tree, drool dripping from its mouth.
⠀⠀Suddenly, a scream wrenched from the apprentice as he began to freefall toward the ground. Batchaser’s heart leapt into his throat and he swiftly reached forward, grabbing Rushingpaw’s tail in his jaws. The black tom groaned as he hooked his sharp claws into the tree, trying to keep them both hoisted up. However, the wolf was already jumping hungrily toward the small gray tom, and Rushingpaw’s squirming certainly wasn’t helping.
⠀⠀“Stop moving!” Batchaser spat through a mouthful of fur.
⠀⠀The branch, flimsy on its own, was beginning to slowly lean down toward the ground. Batchaser felt fear rip through his body as they grew closer and closer to the jumping creature. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cypressfall trying to leap to their tree, but the space was too far.
⠀⠀This is it. We’re going to die, aren’t we? Anger churned in Batchaser’s chest. I hate StarClan. Always have, always will. All they do is ruin everything. They don’t even care about the cats they hurt, like me. They erase your memories and tell you you’re special. But no one really is.
⠀⠀“BATCHASER! WE’RE GETTING CLOSER TO IT!” Rushingpaw shrieked.
⠀⠀The black tom’s fur spiked up. “I know,” he said. “I can’t do anything.”
⠀⠀A huff from the wolf drew the ShadowClanner back into reality. He watched with a shocked expression as the gray creature fell to the ground, the life clouding out of its eyes. Batchaser let the two finally fall before the branch snapped, hitting the ground with a thud. Rushingpaw staggered to his paws, leaping back from the wolf as it twitched one last time before it died.
⠀⠀Cypressfall leapt from her own tree, padding over to see what had happened. She narrowed her eyes and placed her paws near an arrow in the wolf’s side, then another, and Batchaser could see four arrows stuck in the creature.
⠀⠀“Who could’ve done this?” Rushingpaw whispered, creeping forward slowly.
⠀⠀“I don’t know.” Cypressfall shrugged. “Another cat, I guess. And they made arrows. I thought that was only a Twoleg thing.”
⠀⠀“Me too,” Batchaser grunted. “I’ve seen them once before, when we had to battle some stupid kittypets. Their Twoleg had a whole supply of arrows. It was weird.” He narrowed his blue eyes. “But the question is who did this?”
⠀⠀More rustling in the bushes caused the three to jump, whipping around to the source of the noise.
⠀⠀“A–Another wolf?” Rushingpaw whispered.
⠀⠀Cypressfall scented the air. “No. It’s... it’s not a wolf... it must be—”
⠀⠀Two dark shapes appeared from the foliage, their eyes glowing as they stared the three other felines down. Batchaser drew in a breath, Rushingpaw hid behind the ShadowClanner, and Cypressfall slightly narrowed her eyes.
⠀⠀And then one of the strangers spoke. “You’re safe now.”