Chapter 20 || Memories
The memories flashing aside the maze were those Batchaser would rather not remember.
⠀⠀His blue eyes strained ahead, his ears pricked and his movements sharp and precise. He didn’t want to hear the words he spoke to former Clanmates, or the screeches that wrenched from his throat every night after Lynxbite had died, or anything about his living life.
⠀⠀Those were memories better left stored away. But anxiety prickled in his chest and he felt growing fear based on the fact that he had oh-so-stupidly left his companions.
⠀⠀Mouse-brain, he cursed at himself, you shouldn’t have even left.
⠀⠀Then again, Batchaser didn’t regret seeing his mate. Even if she was in another place in the skies, she was still with him, in his heart. That’s all that mattered.
⠀⠀Stop being a sappy idiot, the black tom snapped in his head. Find your. . . He caught himself on the word “friends.” . . . Travel buddies.
⠀⠀That sounded a little better.
⠀⠀Lost deep within his thoughts, he didn’t even see the blur of movement beside him. His breath caught in his throat when he tripped over a cat. Batchaser hissed and whirled around, claws unsheathing and his tail whipping furiously behind him. He was ready for a fight, until—
⠀⠀“BATCHASER!” Cypressfall yelled, but it wasn’t one full of joy. The ShadowClanner hadn’t expected it, anyway. No one ever enjoyed seeing him.
⠀⠀Except maybe Jackalstar, but that back-stabbing idiot meant nothing to Batchaser anymore.
⠀⠀Clearing his throat, the black tom rolled his shoulders forward. “Maybe you should watch where going.”
⠀⠀Cypressfall’s lip curled. “Maybe you should watch where you’re going!”
⠀⠀Batchaser responded with the roll of his eyes. He turned around, narrowing his blue eyes. “Where’s Rushingpaw?”
⠀⠀The calico was quiet for a few moments. “I don’t know. He wandered away.”
⠀⠀“Wow. Great job at keeping your companions together,” the black tom accused.
⠀⠀“Hey!” she spat. “This is your fault, remember? You wandered away and that’s when Rushingpaw scampered off like the—”
⠀⠀“Like the little rat he is, I know,” Batchaser said in boredom, examining his claws. “Whatever. He’ll turn up.”
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner turned to continue on until he was stopped by Cypressfall’s oddly quiet voice. “You saw it too, didn’t you?”
⠀⠀Batchaser turned toward her, his tail flicking back and forth. What did she mean? Had she seen memories of her past as well? What had they been of?
⠀⠀Like he cared. Ripping his gaze away, the black tom idly nodded and went on without another word.
⠀⠀The two continued to walk in silence. There was no scent of Rushingpaw that Batchaser could pick up, but he wasn’t too worried, to be honest. He knew the small gray tom would turn up eventually.
⠀⠀Unless he was eaten by some giant plant, oh, I hope. StarClan— AGH! I hate that word. Whatever, it would just be awesome to not have him around right now.
⠀⠀Did Batchaser really believe that? Or had he just convinced himself he truly didn’t care?
⠀⠀I don’t care.
⠀⠀That couldn’t be true.
⠀⠀I. Don’t. Care.
⠀⠀“Batchaser? Is that the end of the maze?”
⠀⠀He flicked his head upward, noticing the walls enclosing into a grassy field. The black tom nodded, continuing to walk forward, but Cypressfall wavered.
⠀⠀“What?” he asked, turning around when he realized the calico wasn’t following.
⠀⠀She opened and closed her jaws. “I have a feeling that Rushingpaw is still in the maze.”
⠀⠀Batchaser huffed. “Wouldn’t it be more sensible to look for him out in the open field? Not in a stupid enclosed maze when we’ll inevitably get lost again?”
⠀⠀“Not if he isn’t out there,” the she-cat argued. “Maybe we should look harder—”
⠀⠀“Or maybe you should just stop worrying so much,” Batchaser interjected.
⠀⠀“Well someone has to worry!” Cypressfall protested. “Since you’re acting like a stuck-up little kit—”
⠀⠀Batchaser laughed. “Oh, please. Like you didn’t act like some insane prophet of the moon when I met you.”
⠀⠀“And you’re acting like you weren’t a scared little baby when I met you,” she hissed.
⠀⠀The black tom’s neck fur spiked up. “You want to play the insulting game? Okay, how about when—”
⠀⠀A soft cry pierced the air.
⠀⠀Both Batchaser and Cypressfall lifted their heads in confusion, turning to look around at whatever was making the noise.
⠀⠀“Rushingpaw,” they both said in unison when the realization hit them, the two running toward the source of the cries.
⠀⠀They ran into a few dead ends, Batchaser’s frustration quickly growing. Ugh! When will we find that stupid brat?
⠀⠀The black tom backed into another part of the maze, his eyes widening when they landed on Rushingpaw. He was slouched over, his body jerking as sobs echoed from his jaws. The black tom tensed up, raising his tail to halt the calico when she came up behind him.
⠀⠀Batchaser was about to call his name out until the ground rumbled. He and Cypressfall exchanged a glance, mostly out of confusion but with the slightest flicker of worry.
⠀⠀“What... was that?” Cypressfall asked in a wheeze.
⠀⠀The walls of the maze suddenly began to shake. The black tom took a tentative step back, looking around. Oh, no. No no no no. Is the maze collapsing?
⠀⠀“Stars,” Cypressfall breathed. “It’s time oriented.”
⠀⠀“What?” Batchaser snapped, whipping his head to her.
⠀⠀“The maze,” she began, “we only have a certain amount of time to get out before... before it destroys itself.”
⠀⠀The black tom knit his brows together suspiciously. “And how exactly are you sure about this?”
⠀⠀“I always said no cat had gotten farther than the Darkening Forest... but I remember, rarely, the ground would start rumbling lightly. I just imagined it was some small earthquake. But...” She lifted her eyes to the shaking walls. “Clearly I was wrong.”
⠀⠀“How would the maze know when to collapse, though?” Batchaser asked.
⠀⠀“The memories,” the two said together again.
⠀⠀“Okay, whatever, we can figure this out later,” the ShadowClanner concluded. “Right now, we need to get Rushingpaw out of here before we’re toppled over by falling rocks.”
⠀⠀“Can’t argue with that,” Cypressfall muttered, following Batchaser closely.
⠀⠀“Hey— Rushingpaw!” The black tom’s bark was rough and edged with venom. When the gray tom didn’t respond, Batchaser realized maybe a... less harsh tone would be more approachable. By the look on the calico’s face, she seemed to agree.
⠀⠀“Uh— Uh... Rushingpaw? Hey, buddy?” he began, taking a small step forward.
⠀⠀Stars, I am totally the wrong cat for this. He paused. Stars. I like that. It’s a better alternative than StarClan. I guess I can thank the crazy she-cat for that one.
⠀⠀“Less thinking, more moving!” Cypressfall hissed when the ground shuddered again.
⠀⠀Batchaser growled something under his breath and flicked his tail back and forth, trying to hide his sympathy with annoyance. It’s what he did best. Make cats feel terrible.
⠀⠀What a reassuring thought.
⠀⠀Sighing, Batchaser wrapped his tail around the small tom’s body. Rushingpaw reacted with a small flinch, but said nothing more. “Rushingpaw? Hey, Rushingpaw. Look, err— we kind of need to get out of here or it could lead to a certain death. We don’t really know where you go when you die for the third time but, uh, can we go? Please? I really don’t want to be buried alive.”
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner was about to speak again when there was a long period of silence, until the apprentice finally said something.
⠀⠀“Whisperkit...” he whispered. “A-And Bushkit... my parents... RiverClan... I left them. I l-left them behind in ruins.”
⠀⠀Batchaser scowled. “Don’t be stupid. Blaming yourself for a death you couldn’t control is non-sensible.”
⠀⠀“I drowned,” Rushingpaw blurted out. “I saw my death. Whisperkit was there... we snuck out, we were playing by the river.”
⠀⠀“′We’? You were an apprentice. Why would you need to sneak out?” Batchaser inquired. Cypressfall shot him a look that said “hurry up or I’m going to claw your pelt off, unless I die instead because of your slow tail.”
⠀⠀Rushingpaw didn’t reply to the question. He only hesitated and continued. “So... so then I fell in. A RiverClan cat, drowning in the river. How can I ever forgive myself for being such a failure?”
⠀⠀“Rushingpaw, you dying wasn’t your fault,” Batchaser said, his eyes flashing. “I was murdered. You think I don’t want to get my claws on that mouse-brained, good for nothing, idiotic—” Cypressfall cleared her throat impatiently, “—uh, whatever, but I felt terrible when I found out about my death. You’re young. You shouldn’t have to feel that way. If you want to blame anyone, blame your mentor for not teaching you to swim sooner.”
⠀⠀That didn’t seem to give the small tom ease, but his shoulders dropped and it felt like his body was a feather. Finally! Batchaser grabbed Rushingpaw’s scruff and whirled around, pummeling toward the exit of the maze and gasping as the walls began to crack into pieces behind them. One nearly smashed into the ShadowClanner, but he swerved around it and managed to make it to the clearing. Cypressfall was there as well, the small gray tom secured safely in Batchaser’s jaws.
⠀⠀Gasping for air, the black tom turned his head and watched the maze completely destroy itself. He dropped Rushingpaw, staggering to his paws and making sure the calico wasn’t hurt.
⠀⠀“Is everyone okay?” Batchaser asked, eyes flickering to his companions.
⠀⠀“Just dandy, thanks,” Cypressfall groaned. Rushingpaw didn’t respond.
⠀⠀Batchaser raised his blue eyes to what was in front of them. Another forest spread out, but it resembled ThunderClan’s territory more than anything. Definitely not as scary as the Darkening Forest.
⠀⠀“Well...” Batchaser drew himself forward, his ears pricking. “Let’s get on with this quest.”