Bound to Stars

Chapter 32 || Glittering Stars

Batchaser scaled the large tree branching near ThunderClan’s territory, heavy leaves dipping into the lake and pulling away only when a gust of wind blew by. The black tom flexed his claws, ears pricked and alert for any signs of danger- mostly from Doestar and her warriors. He’d only been lucky to escape. Next time, he knew the odds would most likely not be in his favor.

⠀⠀Grunting, the StarClanner seated himself on the grass blanketed below his feet, tickling his paw pads, the green blurring his vision for a moment. Being in the real world again...he wasn’t sure how to feel. Batchaser hadn’t been here in moons. He guessed that time passed slower down here than in StarClan, because his chest felt heavier and his paws sunk into the ground. Was he really getting old? Could you age in StarClan? Was he weak again?

⠀⠀Well, it didn’t do much thinking about nothing. Huffing under his breath, the black tom moved farther away from the tree, tail-tip flicking and gaze sharp for danger. The others should have been here by now; Batchaser was growing impatient and he didn’t want to have to wait any longer. He figured that Jackalstar, Cypressfall, and Rushingpaw would have at least passed by here at this point. Galewhisker was most likely already near the Moonpool...as was Shellstar. The black tom craned his head up toward the sky, watching the sky blue melt away into a heavy navy, orange and pink streaks spinning through the sky, reflecting off of the lake. It was sundown; that meant Batchaser would be able to hide under the darkness of night. Another good thing about his black pelt, including that it pointed out his ShadowClan heritage. Not that it’s hard to guess based on my attitude...

⠀⠀Sighing, Batchaser decided to go ahead and make his way to the Moonpool. His paws moved expertly over the terrain, stalks of wheat clumps blowing back in his face, black fur brushing over the long grass that would often rise up to his shoulders. The hills spilled away around his sight, rising and falling with no pattern. The lake was growing farther and farther away as Batchaser closed the gap between he and the Moonpool. The black tom twitched an ear, glancing over at a white blur of movement- it was only a hare. His stomach rumbled with hunger, which felt odd, but now was not the time to try and catch prey he had no chance of killing. Moving on, Batchaser eventually saw the dip in the land, revealing nothing but shadows. But as the black tom neared, that was not the case at all.

⠀⠀The pool wound through a small stream, softly trickling into the hole, casting little lapping waves into the hollow encircling. A light flashed in Batchaser’s gaze as he neared the pond, paws fitting into the deep clefts left by ancestors long ago. He swished his tail, ears flicking back, eyes widening- even to this day, he felt the Moonpool was a regal place. A direct connection to StarClan that only the Clans knew of... what could be more enticing?

⠀⠀“Welcome.” A soft hum caused Batchaser to jump, fur bristling as he whipped around. It was only Galewhisker. The gray tom dipped his head, sliding forward into the dip, paws dancing around the pool as he seated himself across from Batchaser. The gray tabby blinked, looking up at the black tom with emotionless blue eyes. “Do you know where the others are?”

⠀⠀Hesitating, Batchaser eventually shook his head. “No. I was going to wait for them, but they were taking too long. I thought Shellstar was here..?”

⠀⠀Galewhisker paused. “Yes, he was earlier. I believe he went to hunt around the moors.” The gray tom’s whiskers twitched in amusement. “This was his home, after all.”

⠀⠀Batchaser tilted his head. He’d nearly forgotten Shellstar had been leader of WindClan many moons ago. Of course, not during the black tom’s life.. “Right..and were you a part of ThunderClan with Jackalstar?” The warrior noted how the two stuck together at the hip. Perhaps...they’d been mates before? That thought sent Batchaser reeling in jealousy. Surely not? Jackalstar didn’t seem like the kind of she-cat to settle with someone else, especially not with a feline as calm as Galewhisker.

⠀⠀At this question, the gray tom’s eyes flashed with an unreadable emotion. “Yes, I lived in ThunderClan,” he answered quietly. “But was never able to get to know my parents well.”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s heart suddenly felt heavy in his chest. He knew all too well how much it hurt to lose his family. “I’m sorry,” he eventually murmured, looking down at the glittering stars flickering in the pool. That’s what it looked like, at least.

⠀⠀The two were silent until a rumble of pawsteps neared. Batchaser looked up at the mostly dark sky, seeing a small strip of the moon shining down. Good. This was no medicine cat meeting. Sniffing, the black tom soon realized it wasn’t normal Clan cats- no. Only dead ones here.

⠀⠀Shellstar was first to enter, carrying a small bone that Batchaser could only guess was from a rabbit. Next, Jackalstar, and finally Rushingpaw and Cypressfall. “About time,” Batchaser grunted, eyeing the four as they scattered around the pool.

⠀⠀Looking into the water, Cypressfall seemed the most amazed. “Wow,” she murmured, showing the slightest hint of a smile. “Back in the old territories, we had the Moonstone...but this is beautiful.” Her eyes flashed. “I do miss the forest.”

⠀⠀Batchaser huffed. Ugh, ThunderClanners... But his pelt prickled with unease thinking back to Doestar and whatever she’d attempted. The black tom honestly didn’t really want to know what would’ve happened if she’d succeeded.

⠀⠀“Well.” Jackalstar stretched her limbs, splitting her jaws into a wide yawn. “I suppose we should talk in-depth about what’s going on in the territories now.”

⠀⠀Shellstar nodded, eyes dark. “Yes. While I was hunting earlier, I could feel a change in WindClan. Something is shifting, and I don’t know what it is. It’s unnerving me.”

⠀⠀The black tom rolled his eyes. “Feelings aren’t going to help us much. What we do need is facts: such as ThunderClan being insane!” His hiss gained disapproving looks from Jackalstar, Galewhisker, and Cypressfall. The warrior sneered. “What? It’s true! Their leader is crazy! First off, they captured me with no reasoning whatsoever, called me a rogue-”

⠀⠀“You do look like one,” Cypressfall noted, shrugging.

⠀⠀Batchaser huffed. “Then, they imprison me in their camp with some lowly apprentice guarding me! I mean, how dumb are they?! However, I was unable to escape due to the guards posted in the front and back, there was no way I would’ve been able to slip through. So, inevitably, they lead me to Doestar’s den. And it was...weird..” The black tom’s fur ruffled uncomfortably. “Of course, I escaped, but not without some information. ThunderClan is not good here, at least their leader and most of their warriors aren’t.” Jackalstar frowned. “Doestar has something weird going on, I’m not sure what it is, perhaps simply a need for control, but I don’t doubt she has a plan hidden under her paws, we just need to watch and see what they’re conspiring about.”

⠀⠀Jackalstar sighed, her brown and white fur ruffling with the breeze. “I knew this would happen,” she admitted grimly. Batchaser’s ears pricked with surprise. “Lilacstar was a fine deputy. And after my death, she chose Cedarstar, who in turn... chose Doestar.” The leader grunted. “Doestar was always a lowly warrior. She acted special, but it wasn’t difficult to see through her mask. I suppose Cedarstar fell for it, the idiot...”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s fur bristled as Galewhisker spoke. “Whatever the case, ThunderClan needs help, most likely sooner than I would have hoped. The other Clans will have to wait, it seems.”

⠀⠀“Now, wait a second.” The black tom showed his teeth. “Yes, ThunderClan is in trouble, but so is every other group. What if cats die because we only focus on your stupid Clan?”

⠀⠀“They’re not stupid,” Jackalstar hissed, tail lashing. “ThunderClan is strong; they just need a little push. A ripple to get things moving on the inside.”

⠀⠀Batchaser stood up, not missing Rushingpaw’s widening eyes. “And? Are you telling me ShadowClan isn’t in danger?”

⠀⠀Jackalstar leapt to her paws. “Oh, you act like you’re not selfish, don’t you? But you’re just as hypocritical as the rest of us.” She narrowed her sharp blue eyes. “You just want to fix ShadowClan first because it’s where you were born! Well, news flash, ThunderClan needs the help more!”

⠀⠀“And RiverClan...” Rushingpaw muttered, pressing himself into Cypressfall.

⠀⠀“And WindClan!” Shellstar snarled. “Something is wrong! I just can’t pinpoint what it is...I’m sure I can soon enough, though!”

⠀⠀”Enough!” Galewhisker rose, eyes blazing, fur bushing with fury. Batchaser snapped his jaws shut, eyeing the gray tom. Maybe the ThunderClanner would have a plan. “Arguing won’t get us anywhere. Perhaps it would be wise to split up between Clans.” Cypressfall growled. “Shellstar and I can infiltrate WindClan to find out what’s going on. Jackalstar, you can spy on ThunderClan and report back information as it’s found. Batchaser, you explore ShadowClan and figure out what’s going on.” Galewhisker turned his gaze to Rushingpaw. “Cypressfall, Rushingpaw, you two should travel to RiverClan and figure out what the problem is.”

⠀⠀Rushingpaw looked excited, smiling up at a content Cypressfall. Even Jackalstar mirrored happiness. Shouldn’t I be happy? Why wasn’t he?

⠀⠀“Seeing as RiverClan’s scent was stale, you’ll have to cross the river and find out what is happening over there,” Galewhisker went on, blinking. “Shellstar, you are content with going to WindClan with me?”

⠀⠀The huge white tom shifted on his paws, frowning. “There’s something I’ve not spoken about quite yet.” Everyone looked the leader’s way, willing him to continue. Batchaser narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “The current leader of WindClan is my great nephew—Owlstar.” Jackalstar’s eyes widened in shock—the black tom was surprised she hadn’t known about this, and it seemed no one did. “I don’t think he’ll notice me, but I remember when he was born. That was close to before I died.” Shellstar’s gaze hardened. “Now that I’ve returned to the real world, I remember how I died. The cat that murdered me nearly killed Owlstar’s son, Snakepaw, too. Of course, I only saw this before the Star-filled Pool closed.” The black-striped tom’s claws tore into the ground. “I fear there is a murderer in WindClan’s ranks. The vision I had in StarClan was dark, and it dissipated before I could tell who the cat was. What if they are still here, roaming around? And what if they recognize me?”

⠀⠀For once, Batchaser saw fear sparkle in Shellstar’s eyes. He still didn’t fully forgive the tom for killing him in cold blood, but understood the reasoning behind it. Honestly, Batchaser would’ve killed himself, too.

⠀⠀“You don’t know what the cat looked like?” Jackalstar asked, tail tip twitching. “The one that, you know, killed you?”

⠀⠀Shellstar looked embarrassed and flattened his ears. “No. There was a flash of dark fur but my vision was covered by blood before I could figure out who it was. Besides, I didn’t remember my death in StarClan... though I wish I had.” The white tom looked at Batchaser, frowning. “I’m sorry for what I did to you, Batchaser. I sincerely am. I was selfish and angry and... I shouldn’t have done what I did. I’m no better than the cat who killed me...” Shellstar bowed his head, shaking.

⠀⠀Rushingpaw stood up and padded around the pool—much to Cypressfall’s surprise—and nuzzled his head into the crook of Shellstar’s neck. The huge tom grunted in surprise, but seemed to relax at the apprentice’s warmth, smiling softly. “And you, Rushingpaw.... I will never forgive myself for doing the same to you. You’re innocent, and you didn’t deserve to see so much death—from yourself, no less. I hope you can forgive me, and if you can’t, I understand.”

⠀⠀Rushingpaw blinked up at Shellstar, shaking his head. “I know it was just an accident. I shouldn’t have gotten in the middle of it.” The little silver tom’s eyes flashed. “I remember how I died, too...”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s heart leapt into his throat, feeling surprise that his friends were finally understanding what it felt like to die and to remember it so vividly. “I.. I fell in the river, my sister was there.” The black tom’s head snapped up. Sister?? “I couldn’t swim...and she couldn’t save me. I want to see them, back at home. I know they’ll recognize me! And that will restore their faith in StarClan if it has been lost at all!” Rushingpaw smiled. “But I don’t really know how to swim... how will I get across the river?” The idea that Rushingpaw had a sister and he hadn’t known was nagging at Batchaser’s mind, but he had little time to ponder over it when-

⠀⠀“How will weget across the river,” Cypressfall corrected, standing and glancing at Rushingpaw through slitted eyes. “We’ll find a way, don’t worry about that.”

⠀⠀Batchaser scoffed. “You can’t even swim, yet you want to accompany him on this journey to RiverClan’s camp? Did you miss the river part?”

⠀⠀“And I’m sure you can swim!” The calico retorted, fur fluffing up and fangs showing.

⠀⠀“I do know how to swim!” Batchaser curled in his claws. “All ShadowClan apprentices were taught to in the lake!”

⠀⠀“Yes, the lake. Doesn’t sound like a river to me!”

⠀⠀“It’s better than nothing!”

⠀⠀She growled. “You don’t even know how to take care of him! You’re just a mean old badger that snaps at him any time you want! Don’t you know what that does to a cat?!”

⠀⠀Batchaser stalked forward, shoving Galewhisker out of the way. He probably wasn’t allowed to fight at the Moonpool, but doubted StarClan was watching. They had their own issues. “And you know better? The cat that introduced herself as a psychopath?! I doubt you even had kits!”

⠀⠀“I did!” Cypressfall’s wail broke the air like shattering fragments of the sky. Batchaser cringed, ears flicking back. “Now come with me! And I’ll tell you why I’m going with him!” The tortoiseshell roughly grabbed the black tom, dragging him a few fox-lengths outside of the Moonpool and nearly shoving him down the rolling hill. “You idiot! I really hate you sometimes!”

⠀⠀Batchaser stood up, curling his lip at her. “What? I was just being rational! If you don’t know how to swim, then it’s a mouse-brained idea to lead Rushingpaw back to his home! Even if you had kits-”

⠀⠀“Rushingpaw feels like my own kit,” she snarled, eyes gleaming. “After I lost mine... Well, I found them in StarClan, but then I was killed. That was years of not seeing my children. I don’t even know where they are anymore...” Tears welled in her mismatched eyes, a new sight Batchaser hadn’t expected to see. “Most likely in the old forest. They probably weren’t told to follow the others- and now they’re all alone, with no one to watch over them, wondering why their mother abandoned them..” The she-cat shook with heavy breaths. The black tom sighed and slid forward, wrapping his tail around Cypressfall’s shoulders and holding her close. He didn’t particularly like being so near another cat, but it was for a friend. Someone not completely idiotic.

⠀⠀“You know...” The calico finally began, spluttering out a dark laugh. Batchaser figured this wasn’t really that funny. “My sister is the one that killed me. In StarClan, I mean. She always hated me. Why? Don’t really know, she was a stuck-up little brat.” Cypressfall growled. “I was born with Icekit to my parents, Almondsong and Robinfoot. I suppose I was different from the other ThunderClan kits. I didn’t want to play- I hated games. I always had a colder outlook on life, never really laughing or smiling...pretty sure my parents thought I was crazy.” I don’t blame them... “So, my parents generally avoided me. Not like I cared that much..” Batchaser twitched his tail. He could tell she cared, but it was easier to try and convince herself that she didn’t.. “As apprentices, I was given a highly respectable mentor, Ivywind... Icepaw believed she had an ‘average’ mentor. What that means, I have no idea, but I was so angry at her for being so narcissistic all the time, believing that she was the center of attention, thinking she was the best. And my parents agreed! They further encouraged her insane ideas! And they hated me...”

⠀⠀Batchaser hesitated. “You know, you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to-”

⠀⠀“No, I want to,” she said, fur bristling and eyes wide. “I’ve never told anyone else this story...I’d like to finally get it off my chest.” Oh, great.... why me out of all cats?!

⠀⠀“Anyway...” Cypressfall cleared her throat, continuing. “I loved my mentor. She was more of a mother to me than Almondsong. She taught me well- I became the best fighter in the Clan, but Icepaw was always seen as better...just because she could hunt and climb.” The calico scoffed. “She could hardly defend herself from a mouse!”

⠀⠀“Wait, do you actually have to defend yourself from a mouse?”

⠀⠀“Quiet! We both became warriors- of course, Cypressfall, and Iceslash. Terrible name, she didn’t even know how to unsheathe her claws right.. Somehow, we were on good terms. Me and my sister would fight less often and we actually got along some of the time. My parents would even include me in conversations- I think Ivywind spoke to them, but I suppose I can never be sure. And then...” The she-cat’s eyes darkened. “Leaf-bare came. It was not an easy season- in fact, it was a very white one. Ivywind was growing older day by day.” She began to shake. “She... she was taken by Greencough. Our medicine cat tried his best to revive her, but she was already too far gone..”

⠀⠀Batchaser twitched, entwining his warmth around Cypressfall. How was he expected to comfort her? He had no idea what to do... “Wh-When Ivywind died...my sister laughed.” Hatred lapped in the depths of the calico’s gaze. “I never forgave her after that. In fact, I wanted to kill her. So I walked away, but not without leaving a piece of my hatred in Iceslash’s memory.” She curled her lips back into a snarl. “I stuffed my sister’s favorite prey with deathberries, because she was a horrible binge-eater that only did so when she was stressed. I knew her too well. And when she ate that finch... she was going to suffer.” Cypressfall’s claws extended and Batchaser tensed up, wondering if he should let her continue. But her eyes melted into a pool of grief and regret, her fur smoothing back down on its own. “Instead, my father ate the prey. I had forgotten they were so alike- Robinfoot and Iceslash- even same in coloring. And.... well, he’d ate all the deathberries so that no evidence was left behind. His convulsions were based on a seizure- from shock over my mother’s death. I grieved for my father. He’d been kinder than Almondsong. But all I cared about was seeing Iceslash cry. I wanted to break her between my claws, slowly and slowly until she was hardly even living. I...” She paused, breathing out. “I admit, I was a little far gone, but I couldn’t control my emotions. I wish I had been able to...”

⠀⠀Batchaser made a face and reluctantly muttered, “So... continue..”

⠀⠀Cypressfall shook for a moment before regaining her composure, tail flicking nervously behind her. “My sister noticed my change in behavior- of course she did- and the poor idiot tried to call me out on it. I guess telling her she deserved it ended that quickly.” She shrugged nonchalantly, but her eyes betrayed the expression. “I was right. She did deserve it. I don’t regret telling her so, either.”

⠀⠀But the she-cat changed for a moment. Her jaw clenched, her ears pricked, brows furrowed. “That’s when it began. I saw Iceslash sneaking out one night under the midnight moon, she didn’t even make a sound as she slipped out. Of course, I was curious, so I pursued.” She let out a soft huff. “She traveled to the large Twoleg tunnel between ThunderClan and ShadowClan territory. There was a black tom there, they were meeting up, as if they’d done it before.” She growled. “His name was Shadestalk. Handsome, charming, flirtatious, all the things I hated and all the things Iceslash loved. I decided that, after they went their separate ways back home, I would convince Shadestalk to stop seeing my sister! And then I would inform Treestar of the situation!” The calico grunted, shoving herself away from Batchaser roughly. “I was stupid, I was a brat and I was a snitch. But it was all out of spite. Anything to see my sister crumble beneath her own mistakes.”

⠀⠀“After a few idle hours, Iceslash left to return to her nest and I pounced on Shadestalk before he could walk away. But... he wasn’t upset, in fact, he was amused! After I’d attacked him, no less! He found my anger cute, those were his words. I bluntly explained to him that I was Iceslash’s sister and was telling my leader of this forbidden relationship, unless Shadestalk called it off the next time they met. He thought for a moment, then said he... he’d rather meet me. That he could change my mind about the situation.” She turned her hopeless gaze to Batchaser. “I suppose I was young and stupid. We continued meeting behind Iceslash’s back, but I wasn’t doing it out of spite anymore.... I truly did love him.”

⠀⠀“...Did..?” Batchaser questioned.

⠀⠀Her eyes flashed but she didn’t answer. “I know Shadestalk ended his relationship with my sister soon after we began meeting, I could see it in the way Iceslash moved, she would cry at night for seemingly no reason. My Clanmates were worried about her, not me though. She could die for all I cared. In that moment, the only one I cared about was Shadestalk.” She smiled nostalgically, but it was a far away look that ruffled Batchaser’s fur. “After our deputy was killed in a fox attack, Iceslash was named deputy under Treestar’s rule. The anger was restored in my heart, not because I wanted the position, but because I knew my sister did not deserve it. However, Shadestalk convinced me not to act on any transgressions, and I listened to him. For once, it seemed a cat actually cared for me, and I couldn’t have been happier.”

⠀⠀A bolt of lightning flashed in the corner of Batchaser’s eye, causing him to jump and grimace at the loud boom! the thunder left. Cypressfall seemed chillingly unaffected. A storm was coming, but the tom wasn’t sure if that could apply elsewhere. “A few months passed by and I learned that I was pregnant. Icestar had taken over as leader and, of course, didn’t choose me as deputy, but it was fine... I didn’t want it, not at all.” She smiled, but it looked broken and sad. “I told Shadestalk, and he seemed...different, I suppose. But we planned to meet up back at the tunnels the night before the next full moon and run off, raise our kits in a place with no rules, only us as their guidance, no Clanmates glaring at us or at them for their heritage...” Cypressfall hesitated. “It became obvious I was pregnant, Icestar was first to notice and continuously questioned me about who the father was, but I told no one. It would be unwise, my sister was capable of anything. A few days before the planned meet up I realized I was having my kits. But- but I wanted Shadestalk to be there, I wanted to meet with him and have him at my side when our kits were born. So I stumbled out of the nursery and made my way toward the tunnel under the Thunderpath...”

⠀⠀Batchaser wasn’t sure where this was going, but ultimately concluded that it would end with her death. The horrified glare in Cypressfall’s gaze told him just as much. “I had my kits before the tunnel, alone, drenched from the storm, muddy, and horrified...I’ve never felt such pain in my life. I hated the process, but what was given to me was more than I could have ever asked for.” Her eyes welled with tears and she began to choke on her words, emotions swelling in her throat. “I didn’t want to name them after Clan names... so I concluded that the dark gray she-cat was Lilac, the fully black tom was Panther, and the one that looked just like me, tortoiseshell fur and all...” Her voice broke. “I named her Pumpkin, not even wondering if Shadestalk wanted to name them... but it didn’t matter, did it? Because I looked through the tunnel when I felt a presence. It was him, yellow eyes peering at me. I was unnerved, I couldn’t move, I just wrapped my tail around my beautiful little kits and asked why he was here. After all, we hadn’t been meeting. But Shadestalk hardly gave me a word, he moved forward like a shadow, and he snapped my leg like it was a feeble twig.”

⠀⠀Her eyes watered and her paws shook. Batchaser hesitated, not moving too close to her yet. “He was so much stronger than I was...he grabbed my shoulders and threw me to the side, I didn’t have time to react, I couldn’t move... my leg prevented me from doing so, I was weak from the kitting, but I still tried to dive forward when he grabbed my little Panther, when he spilled open his belly with a single claw and watched the blood pour out-” Cypressfall began to sob, quivering and holding herself against Batchaser, hot tears leaking out of her eyes. Shock ripped through the black tom’s entire body, he couldn’t move, stiff as a tree. “Shadestalk buried Pumpkin- b-buried her alive, as if she was a piece of prey to be deposited before returning back to camp. I couldn’t reach the hole, not before he slammed L-Lilac into a-a tree, k-killing her almost instantly...” She gasped out, sobbing quietly. “And then h-he killed me, leaving me to no last words, not giving m-me any reason, just like that...and wh-when I awoke in StarClan to meet my kits, I couldn’t remember how I died. I was almost surprised I was in StarClan instead of the Dark Forest, to be honest.”

⠀⠀He wondered if this horrid story would be over soon, because Batchaser was done listening and he feared he was going to throw up. How could she even be okay? “When Icestar died she told me of my death, how ThunderClan had tried to avenge me and my kits by following Shadestalk’s scent into the wilderness but...he was just... gone..the skies only reach so far, and unfortunately for us, not too far from the Clans. When he dies, he’ll either go to the Dark Forest or another ancestor miles away from here.” She narrowed her mismatched eyes, trying not to shake anymore. “And then Icestar killed me in StarClan because I still hated her. She wanted me to kiss her paws for trying to avenge me... but of course, I knew why she’d done it, because it made her look good and because those should have been her kits. I could see through her mask. It angered her, so she killed me for not being thankful.” Cypressfall snarled. “I was sent to the Forgotten Eternity, wishing to return back home for years. I saw few come and none ever returned from their journey to the mountain. You and Rushingpaw were kind enough to help me, but I still lost my kits in our old home, I’m sure of it, but perhaps my sister did one good thing and stayed back to watch over them. Because if she traveled with the Clans to this new territory.” Her teary eyes gleamed with murderous intent. “I’ll make sure she never breathes safely again.”

⠀⠀Batchaser wasn’t sure what to say. He swished his tail, fur dampening with the she-cat’s dribbling tears, and he wondered how much longer she would stay like this. But Cypressfall stood, pushing the tom away, ears perking. “Now you see why I need to go with Rushingpaw. I cannot lose another kit. Please, Batchaser.” She turned her broken gaze toward him. “Let me to.”

⠀⠀As much as the black tom wanted to, as much as he hesitated to say no, Batchaser knew the two would never be safe alone. Cypressfall didn’t know the territory and Rushingpaw was incapable of defending himself. Besides, neither could swim, Batchaser could do more than those two combined. Didn’t that mean something? “Cypressfall, I understand your good intentions, but you must understand that Rushingpaw will be safer with me. I know the territory, the scents, how to swim, where the camps are..” He paused, meeting her narrowed glare. “And I promise, I will be kind to him. No more harassment and bullying from me, you hear?”

⠀⠀This seemed to calm the she-cat down a little. He sighed, blowing back air in relief. “So does this mean...?”

⠀⠀“Yes, I suppose,” she sighed, wiping away the tears gathered around her eyes. “I will allow you to go. But Batchaser, if anything, and I mean anything happens to him, you’ll be first on my list of cats to kill.” Her claws flashed in the pale moonlight, stars twinkling in the sky high above. And the black tom didn’t doubt her words for a moment.

⠀⠀“I promise,” he finally agreed, dipping his head. “It’s a deal.”

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