Chapter 19 || Grief
“Batchaser, can’t you slow down?”
⠀⠀Cypressfall’s sharp mew made the ShadowClanner’s pelt prickle more. They’d already reached more dead ends than the actual path, and Batchaser wasn’t exactly having fun in this stupid, terrible maze. What a waste of time. Nothing was even stopping them!
⠀⠀Rushingpaw raised his leg, sticking his tongue out. “Now I have mud all over my paws.”
⠀⠀“Tough,” the black warrior growled, “but you’re the one making sure we don’t get lost, and that means making a trail with paw print impressions.”
⠀⠀Rushingpaw didn’t respond. Batchaser didn’t care, flicking his ears forward when he heard a soft voice. He stopped suddenly, Cypressfall yowling as she ran into the ShadowClanner.
⠀⠀“Watch where you’re going!” she hissed, mismatched eyes narrowed. But Batchaser didn’t pay her any mind, his shoulders squaring and his jaw tensing up.
⠀⠀Rushingpaw stared at him, wondering why he hadn’t given his usual snappy response. “Batchaser...?”
⠀⠀The black tom saw a bushy tail streak by one of the paths. His heart began to race and the adrenaline coursed through his body and he suddenly felt like his spirit had been lifted.
⠀⠀“Lynxbite...!” His joyful mew broke the silence and he raced forward, the wind flying through his fur. Batchaser’s companions called after him but he didn’t care. He felt like he was flying.
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner darted through the maze, not bothering to keep track of where he was going. A smile, for almost once in his dreary StarClan life, crossed his muzzle. “Lynxbite!”
⠀⠀“...Batchaser! Stop! You’ll get lost...”
⠀⠀The voice faded away as the black tom ran faster, trying to escape the others attempting to restrain him. Batchaser would not be restrained. This might be the only chance he had of seeing his mate.
⠀⠀Things slowed down. His ears pricked, the tom dodging weeds sticking out of the ground. The only noise was the buzzing of locusts.
⠀⠀“Batchaser...” The voice sounded far-off and dreamy. The ShadowClanner held his breath, not wanting to make a sound. She was here. She had to be.
⠀⠀Wait... no. No, this couldn’t be real. Sadness tugged at the tom’s heart as he realized that. Of course it was fake. Lynxbite hadn’t believed in StarClan; she obviously hadn’t died there, so it was impossible for her to truly be in the Forgotten Eternity.
⠀⠀Mouse dung, he cursed under his breath, his tail drooping. Batchaser turned to go back the way he came.
⠀⠀It was Lynxbite.
⠀⠀Batchaser froze, stiffening and staring at the beautiful she-cat that had been his mate. The she-cat that had once carried his kits. Before... before she was murdered. Stars entwined her fur, her green eyes soft, yet a blazing defiance flickering in them at the same time.
⠀⠀“Is it really you?” Batchaser managed to splutter out, but it was barely a whisper.
⠀⠀There was a period of silence before she responded. “Yes.”
⠀⠀The black tom closed his eyes, exhaling. “Oh, Lynxbite. It’s so good—” But when he opened his eyes again, she was gone.
⠀⠀“Lynxbite?” Panic rippled through his chest, but it was soon replaced with a burning anger. “Hey! Lynxbite! Come back!”
⠀⠀Batchaser bolted after her. It felt like a hot ember was burning in his chest, lapping his emotions in flames and dampening them with the rage that ran deep within his bones.
⠀⠀“LYNXBITE!” he yelled. His short breaths eventually grew into drawn-out pants, which turned into a wheezing and he forced himself to stop. Batchaser’s chest felt constricted, like the fire was puffing out more and more smoke until it had drawn out completely.
⠀⠀After the ShadowClanner was able to catch his breath, he raised his head, trying to catch sight of any stray stars that had left Lynxbite’s fur. “L-Look,” Batchaser called out. “Just come back, one more time. That’s all, just once. Then... then you can do whatever, it doesn’t matter. Just return for the last time. I want to... to see you again.”
⠀⠀He waited. And he was patient. Batchaser thought his bargaining might actually work, but after the dragging of many minutes he let out a pitiful sigh. “So. You’re not coming. I see how it is.”
⠀⠀An empty pit weighed in his stomach, like a stone lodged between the pine trees that wouldn’t budge. His eyelids fell, his fur flattening completely and numbness eating away at his body.
⠀⠀He had failed. The one time Batchaser might have been able to see the love of his life, the light in his darkness, she had disappeared, and he had been too weak to catch up to her. He was too weak, too pathetic, too stupid to understand what he had lost. He was a failure.
⠀⠀Just when Batchaser had almost lost hope, just when he thought he had failed everything in life... she appeared. And her smile made Batchaser smile, and her everything made him smile, and he rushed over to her, locking her in an embrace and curling his tail around her’s. She was real. She was here. That sweet, sweet pine smell still clung to her pelt, causing the black tom to remember his time in ShadowClan, when he’d been alive and when Lynxbite had been alive.
⠀⠀It was truly an amazing feeling.
⠀⠀“Don’t worry, my dear...” she murmured, her voice silky, sounding like it was coated in honey. “Things will turn out alright. Never lose hope. Always rely on your heart.”
⠀⠀Batchaser closed his eyes. “Thank you, Lynxbite. I love you. I love you so much, and I’ve missed you more than you even know.”
⠀⠀“I know,” she said. “I’ve been with you this whole time. This is the only place I’ve been able to manifest.”
⠀⠀“Thank you,” he whispered, joy filling him up from his nose to his tail-tip.
⠀⠀“Of course, Batchaser...”
⠀⠀Her voice faded away, and before he knew it she had disappeared, but her sweet smell was still here, and so were the stars that had been flung off of her pelt, and he remembered her voice and remembered why he’d fallen in love with her.
⠀⠀“I’ll miss you, Lynxbite.” He smiled. “And I know you’ll always be in my heart, no matter how rough things get.”
⠀⠀And the acceptance finally filled him through and through. For once Batchaser felt content, excited, happy, loved. It had been moons upon moons. Why had he ever let himself slip into who he was now?
⠀⠀However, that feeling didn’t last long. Because when he truly realized where he was, what he was doing, and the friends he’d left behind, a breath wrenched from his throat.
⠀⠀“Oh, StarClan. I’m lost.”