Chapter 22 || Dead Isn't Dead
Batchaser didn’t have even a moment’s time to react until the creature had Rushingpaw locked beneath its claws. It snapped at the apprentice, snarling as spit flew from its lips, its almost decaying gray fur splitting open cracks in its body. Batchaser’s eyes widened in horror and panic tightened his chest but he threw himself forward, slamming his front paws into the creature and rolling on the ground with it.
⠀⠀The ShadowClanner pinned it down with his paws, staring into its lifeless gray eyes that sparked hunger and fear. Batchaser’s claws trembled as he was caught in a trance until Cypressfall dragged the black tom off of the creature, slitting open its throat. The decaying creature halted and staggered forward, body spasming as it tumbled to the ground.
⠀⠀Batchaser has expected a pool of blood to leak around the creature, but instead there was nothing. He stepped forward tentatively, rolling the creature over and examining its features. The slit throat was like a gaping hole in the middle of its throat, Batchaser able to see the darkness of its insides.
⠀⠀He closed his eyes and drew back, disgust crawling up his throat. He let out a shaky breath and looked over toward Rushingpaw, who was shaking madly as Cypressfall wrapped her tail around his body and whispered motherly things.
⠀⠀Turning his attention back toward the deceased... or deceased-again creature, Batchaser was finally able to determine what it was. The rotting corpse of a smudged silver cat, once dead but alive again. It didn’t make sense, but he knew who this feline was.
⠀⠀“This is the cat I saw in one of the orbs,” Batchaser said. “The she-cat, surrounded by fear as she was murdered by a group of other cats...” His gaze fell toward her throat. “She must’ve died here. That’s what the cats that attacked her were. It’s why she was so afraid... and then her fear became an orb, and now she’s trapped here like the rest of them.”
⠀⠀“So... dead isn’t dead, then?” Cypressfall grumbled.
⠀⠀“Apparently not.” His tail waved behind him, eyes serious. “Living but dead cats... whatever they are, they don’t bleed and are very vicious. We need to get out of here, now.”
⠀⠀“Fine by me.” The calico led Rushingpaw away from the corpse, Batchaser shooting looks back behind them. He heard the rustle of leaves and his ears pricked, his heart beating rapidly in his chest. No. No. I will not be afraid. I have to protect my friends.
⠀⠀Batchaser hadn’t though of Rushingpaw and Cypressfall as friends much before. But after what they’d been through, after the ShadowClanner had helped Rushingpaw into StarClan, after they’d teamed up with Cypressfall to escape the Forgotten Eternity... it seemed apparent they weren’t just acquaintances. Batchaser would defend their lives and they would do the same for him.
⠀⠀That didn’t calm him down nearly enough when a low, bone-chilling moan echoed through the forest. Batchaser froze, heart pounding in his ears as he turned around. He stopped breathing as a hoard of dead-but-alive cats tumbled after the group, mouths gaping horridly, blood smeared over their bodies and some with decaying limbs.
⠀⠀Stars. We have to get out of here!
⠀⠀“MOVE!” Without even thinking twice, Batchaser whipped around and shoved Rushingpaw forward. Cypressfall hissed as she staggered to the nettle-covered floor bur was back on her paws, bolting with the gray apprentice close behind. The ShadowClanner followed, the wind blowing his whiskers back and whipping through his fur. The groans of the dead-but-alive cats grew louder and Batchaser’s fur spiked. They wouldn’t be able to escape!
⠀⠀Thinking fast, he craned his head up toward one of the trees and barked the order: “CLIMB THE TREES! NOW!”
⠀⠀Hopefully they understood. Trembling, Batchaser hooked his dirt-covered claws into the bark and hoisted himself upward. Fear and adrenaline pushed him forward and he curled his tail close to his body, the dead-but-alive cats attempting to climb but failing.
⠀⠀He gasped heavily, his breath coming out in pants every so often and his ears twitching with every snap of a twig. Batchaser tossed his head over his shoulder to make sure Cypressfall and Rushingpaw were okay, which, thankfully, they were.
⠀⠀Letting himself suck in oxygen, the black tom’s fur eventually began to smooth as the dead-but-alive cats sort of gave up and stumbled away, inevitably looking for more prey to munch on. He waited for what seemed like hours until he hopped to the ground, the ShadowClanner watching his two friends do the same. He sighed contently, about to open his mouth to speak until an angry hiss cut him off.
⠀⠀“What in StarClan’s name was that?!”